Can Working Out Loud Inspire Creativity and Inclusion?


Collaboration – for all the rhetoric – is much harder , and for many of us less preferable, than working in isolation.

Today we’ve woken up to find the  UK has made a historic choice. A choice that could be interpreted as a desire to go it alone rather than working with others. To seize ‘control’ rather than work within a large and complex network.

The biggest innovation challenge we have today and in the years ahead – is that we simply stop talking to ourselves. That we value inclusion and collaboration above all.

The opportunity afforded to us by digital networks was meant to open up a new era where organisations committed to improving people’s lives (that’s most of us, right?) commit to open learning, sharing and collaboration.

It won’t happen without a lot of hard work. Most organisations and sectors thrive on insularity. It’s the way we’ve been raised. Working with others is messier, less predictable and more complex.

The issue is , right around the world , people are working on solving exactly the same problems. Huge amounts of talent seeking to address, income and health inequality, lack of affordable housing, unemployment, ageing, digital exclusion and loneliness.

Yesterday I spoke at a conference led by Suzanne Rastrick. It was organised by the NHS – the single biggest employer across Europe. It filled me with a lot of hope for the future. I like the way that Suzanne and her colleagues are reaching out to other sectors to get their ideas. Reaching out to communities to provide a less paternalistic and more human health and wellbeing service.

Most of our challenging business issues, fall into the category of Wicked Problems. These aren’t amenable to the single organisation, top down instinct to define, analyse, dissect and process.

These issues are incapable of being explored through hierarchical corporate machinery, a single sector or even a single state. They need an open network of rebels and pragmatists, doers and doubters, idealists and investors. Only through truly open innovation will we tackle them successfully.

That means working out loud – something we’ve begun to do at Bromford but needs far more development.

  • It means opening up your organisational borders to fresh thinking , new partnerships and ideas.
  • It means moving away from intranets – the death of corporate innovation – where all your knowledge is locked away from those outside your organisation. (And often from many within it too).
  • It means stopping wasting money on conferences where sectors congregate to talk to themselves. Instead we need strategies aimed at purposive inflows and outflows of knowledge to accelerate internal innovation.
  • It means generously sharing your knowledge , successes and failures through blogs , accessible dashboards and other digital tools.

However it feels right now, we are much better connected. Digital technology means we can share and learn in ways unimaginable even 10 years ago.

We still have the opportunity before us to connect communities, businesses and sectors – boosting our capacity and capability for innovation and change.

We still have the opportunity to connect with others across real and imagined borders and form movements and partnerships that change things for the better.

In that respect – today I’m just as hopeful as I was yesterday.

Six Ways To Kill Email

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Every week more and more organisations are waking up to the tyranny of email, and the part it is playing in the impending death of the office. We spend hours each week , up to four years of our lives, shifting low value (or no value) information from one place in our organisation to another.

Despite this, email apologists will tell you it doesn’t really need to be tamed . There really isn’t a problem: email , for all its faults, is the best thing we have right now.

I don’t believe that for a second.

ATOS chief Thierry Breton , who has banned internal email, estimated that barely 10% of the 200 messages his employees received on an average day were useful. ATOS calculated that managers spent between five and 20 hours a week reading and writing emails.

Nick Atkin of Halton Housing has announced that internal email will end from this February. He’s said it’s part of a fundamental rethink of how the organisation works, stating “We are taking back control from some of the systems and cultures we have all allowed to develop during the 20 years email has been part of our working lives.”

Email is undeniably wasteful but my problem with it runs deeper.

Email represents anti-social business. It locks down knowledge in silos. It reinforces hierarchy and disconnected thinking. It promotes an insidious system of cc’ing and , even worse , bcc’ing as a way of denying accountability. 

Despite that I do use email – it still has uses, but needs replacing as the default way we choose to do work.

Is it possible to seriously tame email without turning it off completely?

Yes. I’ve managed to reduce the time I spend on email by about 75% by adopting six rules.

The results speak for themselves – when I took nearly 3 weeks off work last September I returned to only 20 emails.

So , in the spirit of open knowledge sharing, here’s my six tips for a saner inbox:

1: Don’t send any 

This is by far the most effective thing you can do. Every email you send begs a reply – sometimes several. By pressing send you are literally making work for yourself – which is a pretty stupid thing to do. Copying people in to every email is not effective information sharing. There are loads of better tools for keeping people informed of what you’re working on (Note: they probably aren’t interested anyway.)

2: Use WhatsApp for chats

Since the formation of Bromford Lab , we’ve turned off in-team email and moved to Whatsapp. WhatsApp is great for creating groups and promoting a more social place to chat and interact without the annoyance of email threads. It eliminates team spam about cakes and whose birthday it is. And it’s loads more fun too.

3: Create a “Yesterbox”

I’m shamelessly stole this tip from Zappos CEO Tony Hsieh.

The idea: Only deal with yesterday’s emails today. 

The rule: If it can wait 48 hours without causing harm, then you are not allowed to respond to any emails that come in today, even if it’s a simple one-word reply. You need to psychologically train yourself to not worry about emails that are coming in….

You can read an outline of the concept at Yesterbox.com

It’s worked well for me as you have a much better sense of which to prioritise – as well as ruthlessly deleting any that aren’t worthy of attention. Which leads us to…

4: Delete any that are three days old 

This takes some bravery – but trust me it works. If you haven’t looked at something for three days it simply can’t be very important. Delete it. If anyone is bothered they will chase you up on it. 90% of the time they don’t – it was low value work that never really needed doing.

5: Restrict mail to just four sentences.

If you do get an email from me you’ll see this:

Screen Shot 2015-01-19 at 19.44.59

By cutting down the waffle and getting to the point you save time for yourself and the recipient. The link takes you to this site which explains why verbose mails are toxic. If you want to be more radical you can take it down to three lines, or if you’re really hardcore, two.

6: Unsubscribe from everything 

Make it part of your day to unsubscribe from at least five email lists. Email marketeers breed like rabbits but you can stem the flow by turning off their constant distractions.  Don’t just delete them and hope they will go away – they won’t. Also go into the notification settings of any work networks like Yammer you are part of. Turn them off – you’ll see a huge difference instantly.

I’ve seen radically different results from using these six tips, I hope you found them useful.

Please share any of yours in the comments section – if we get enough I’ll turn it into a slide deck.

20 Signs You’re Probably Not Working For A Social Business 

If innovation is the most overused word of 2014 , then “social business” must be the most misappropriated term.

Every other organisation I come across is claiming to be one. But what does it mean to be a social business?

Altimeter Group defines it as:

The deep integration of social media and social methodologies into the organisation to drive business impact.”

Indeed Brian Solis has written about the need to distinguish the two:

A social business is more than social media and the Likes of Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, et al. Yet, it’s a term that’s often confused with social media strategy. But, there’s an important difference between a social business and a social media strategy.

Social business is a philosophy; a way of business where social technologies supported by new approaches facilitate a more open, engaged, collaborative foundation for how we work.

 I also really like this description from Andrew Grill

A social business is an organisation whose culture and systems encourage networks of people to create business value.

I’m lucky as I get to talk about social business with lots of people , and the ones who ask my advice almost always mention culture as the main organisational barrier to the adoption of social and digital technology.

We all want to be a social , collaborative business. How do we know when we’ve achieved it?

Here are 20 signs that we’re probably not there yet:

  1. Internal meetings happen behind closed doors rather than being distributed and networked.
  2. You are doing nothing about email. You just add more of it everyday.
  3. People have to seek permission to have a social media presence.
  4. You can only talk about work stuff on social media. You can’t be human.
  5. You measure followers , fans, likes and web hits rather than relationships.
  6. People put time in the diary to “do social media”.
  7. Your social media accounts switch off at 5pm and weekends.
  8. You don’t turn internal reports into publicly available blogs , videos and infographics.
  9. You think it’s job done as your CEO has a twitter account.
  10. There’s no evidence of social removing hierarchy.
  11. Most of the people who like your Facebook page work for the company.
  12. Social media is treated a channel of its own rather than part of an integrated whole.
  13. You just promote your own organisation rather than being a generous sharer of other peoples knowledge and content.
  14. You borrowed someone else’s digital services plan and copied that rather than think of your own.
  15. Your Comms team runs social media. Because it’s just a Comms thing.
  16. You still say things like “Not many of our customers use Twitter”.
  17. You still say “Our customers are quite elderly – they don’t use social”.
  18. You don’t know who are the influential members of your social community.
  19. You don’t follow customers and potential customers back and get to know them.
  20. Your organisation still exists in departments –  HR, IT, Operations. Knowledge is sorted accordingly. Compartmentalised. Siloed.

Truth be told – very few of us work for a truly social business.

We are all on this journey together.

What would you add to the list? I’ll add any suggestions to a special Haiku Deck!

Managers are waste: Five organisations saying goodbye to the boss

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“Until there is a monumental shift in the leadership dynamic from the old fashioned command and control to a collaborative, status free, matrix way of working, then the debate about the need for an office (in the traditional sense) will be a long one.”  – Tracey Johnson commenting on Why The Death Of The Office Can’t Come Too Soon

For lots of people the traditional office – a place many go to simply to attend meetings and do emails – has become toxic.

But many readers of my recent post thought I was overstating the problem, believing if we tackled those two big time wasters it could be restored to a former grandeur.

I personally favour more radical solutions – as alluded to by Tracey in her full comment here.

Emails and meetings, together with outdated reporting and approval systems, are part of a wider hierarchical culture that is at odds with the onset of truly social business.

One of the barriers to adopting more transformational ways of working is often not the executive leadership of the organisation but the point at which it can all start to go very wrong.

The manager.

Management is the greatest inefficiency in any organisation.

Many of you will be familiar with the work of Gary Hamel – but it’s worth revisiting his examples on management waste in the context of the death of the office.

Typically a small organisation might start off simply – one manager and 10 employees. 

But as it grows it will often keep this ratio and sometimes reduce it. So an organisation with 100,000 employees will have at least 11,111 managers. Because an additional 1,111 managers will be needed to manage the managers.

And that’s before you go near management related functions whose entire function is , well , management.

It’s very easy to make yourself busy as a manager:

  • The one to ones and appraisals.
  • The team meetings and management meetings.
  • The reports you have to write and the reports you have to read that other managers have to write.
  • Authorising peoples annual leave and expenses or explaining why you won’t authorise peoples annual leave and expenses.

You could fill up 40 hours a week with just being a manager.

This multi-tiered management model piles inefficiency upon inefficiency. Decision making slows. People become less empowered.

Unsurprisingly, a number of organisations are now exploring the manager-less organisation. And it’s a trend that will only grow as social technology enables very different ways of working, both across the organisation and even across sectors.

One of the biggest has been Zappos, the online shoe and clothing store, who have adopted a system called holocracy – which replaces top-down control with a distribution of decision-making.

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Here’s how Tony Hsieh  (who was CEO before they all gave up job titles) describes his vision:

“Research shows that every time the size of a city doubles, innovation or productivity per resident increases by 15 percent.
But when companies get bigger, innovation or productivity per employee generally goes down.
So we’re trying to figure out how to structure Zappos more like a city, and less like a bureaucratic corporation. In a city, people and businesses are self- organising.
We’re trying to do the same thing by switching from a normal hierarchical structure to a system which enables employees to act more like entrepreneurs and self-direct their work, instead of reporting to a manager who tells them what to do.”

Rather than by managers,  Zappos is being run via a series of self organising teams. Instead of going up the chain of command, decision-making is entrusted to groups of employees, called circles.  People can assume whatever roles they want within these circles to focus on the task in hand.

Whether it’s successful or not – it marks a shift in how large organisations are dismantling long established models to encourage greater agility and innovation.

Here are some other organisations that are worth looking at:

Valve

Valve, the video game developer , have a culture built on the premise that there are no managers, with each colleague able to choose the project he or she is working on. Don’t like the project? Fine , just get up and move to one you like. Valve also have a wonderful employee handbook which is a must-read.

Medium

Medium, the blog publishing platform, have adopted a philosophy of “No people managers. Maximum autonomy”. Adopting a form of holocracy, people can build versatile roles for themselves that speak to their whole skill sets — rather than just a single ability.  This goes against the standard , and completely wasteful , practice of recruiting for roles rather than people.

Treehouse-1

Treehouse , the online interactive education platform, have not only adopted the #NoManager philosophy but have also combined it with a four day working week. Over 90% of employees voted to adopt a manager less structure (the other 10%, presumably, were managers) with the rules of the new organisation being written by collaboration on a Google doc.

Gore

And it can be done at really large companies. At  WL Gore –  a multi-billion dollar company with 10,000 staff, people choose their own bosses – or “sponsors” as they call them.  There are “no chains of command” and instead associates communicate directly with each other.

It’s interesting to contemplate why the public sector – most of which requires far more radical transformation than the likes of Zappos – has not explored the #NoManager principle.

Social media has distributed knowledge across countless networks. On Twitter , for example, you can connect and learn from anyone. The unlikeliest people can become leaders, knowledge sharers and super-connectors.

Exactly the same thing will happen in organisations as people seek out people who inspire them rather than who manages them on a structure chart. And just like social media , you will not be able to control it.

The traditional manager , just like the traditional office, has to adapt or die.

Why The Death Of The Office Can’t Come Too Soon

“We literally followed people around all day and timed every event [that happened in the office], to the second.

That meant telephone calls, working on documents, typing e-mails, or interacting with someone.

What we found is that the average amount of time that people spent on any single event before being interrupted

was about three minutes.” – Gloria Mark, Professor in the Department of Informatics at the University of California

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If you are working in an office today you will be interrupted – or you will interrupt yourself – every 3 minutes.

And what’s worse is it will take many of you up to 23 minutes to recover from that distraction.

If your boss lets you – go home. It’s the most productive decision you’ll make this year.

Here are four reasons why the office should have died by now:

  1. UK workers spend a year of their lives in meetings. If you work in the public sector it’s even worse – with nearly 2 years waste clocked up for every worker.
  2. You spend another year of your life commuting to and from work. At a total cost of about £50,000. 
  3. You spend about 60% of your time on email.  That’s about 4 years of your life.
  4. The office doesn’t have great long term prospects. Only 14% of UK workers want to work in a traditional office environment in the future.

And that’s before we go near writing reports. Around 90% never get cited anywhere and 50% of them are only read by the authors and commissioners.

So that’s 7 years off your life and and financial costs of at least £50K.

Only long term smoking can compare to the corrosive effects of the office.

But it gets worse.

You’re highly unlikely to ever have a single creative idea at work as detailed in the graph below:

Creativity

Most people simply don’t have the time to be creative at work. They are too busy shovelling email and being bored in meetings.

Personally speaking my best ideas come not only when I’m away from the office , but when I’m as far away from it as possible.

The initial outline of what will become our online customer portal was done on a beach in Egypt. The first Power Players was developed and written in a bar in Jamaica. The concept of the Bromford Lab was initially sketched out waiting for a boat in Bali.

Bromford get the best value of out of me when I’m nowhere near them. And your employer probably does too.

So why do we all turn up at the office?

Well – there’s a wonderful scene in the original Dawn of The Dead where two characters observe the mass of zombies circulating an abandoned shopping mall.

“What are they doing? Why do they come here?” asks one.

The other replies “Some kind of instinct. Memory of what they used to do. This was an important place in their lives.”

And it’s this – a memory of what we used to do – that explains why we are locked into a pattern of coming to a place to sit at a screen and do emails.

That – together with a failure by organisations to trust in people and take advantage of social technology.

One of the major benefits we’ve found of launching the Bromford Lab is we are encouraged to throw off the shackles. We haven’t created new rules for meetings – we’ve eradicated the need for them altogether.  We’ve eliminated reports by updating blogs and social sites on a regular basis. We are killing email by using more collaborative forums like Basecamp, Trello, Whatsapp and even Snapchat.

I find it amusing that the question most often asked of the digital evangelists is “how do you find time to use social media?”

The people I know who are the most social are the people who (coincidentally?) call less meetings, send less email and demand less reports.

Think of the leaders who are not regular social users, who scoff at the idea of digital leadership,  and I think you’ll be close to identifying the problem.

But social leadership is more than being on LinkedIn and tweeting when you go to a conference. It’s about considering the strategic use of social technologies and the broader change to your culture.

  • It’s about asking yourself if you started again in 2014 whether you’d have that meeting, require that email or need that report.
  • It’s about re-evaluating your business and the way you operate in a world that is permanently connected.
  • It’s about asking yourself whether you need to physically see people in front of you to trust they are doing a good job.
  • It’s about designing out 7 years worth of waste.

The death of the traditional office and all the trimmings can’t come too soon.

The future of work is less about a physical place and more about social business: the value you bring to your network,  the trust you inspire in people and the way you share knowledge to make things happen.

Let’s bring it on.

Throwback: Our Social Journey (So Far….)

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Your life story is being told by the digital content you produce 

One of the downsides of our digital lifestyle is that we simply can’t retain the information that passes through it.

I couldn’t tell you what I tweeted last week, much less a year ago.

Digital storage is changing our memories. We don’t need to remember specifics anymore – we know they are in the cloud somewhere. Searchable if we want retrieval.

This has risks, as we forget the experiences and learning that shaped where we are today.

Last week I was reminded by Timehop that I’d missed the 3rd anniversary of Bromford on Twitter.

Timehop – in case you don’t know –  is an app that sends users a daily reminder of moments from their social media past. A digital flashback.

It isn’t a new app but popularity has been boosted by trends like  Throwback Thursday (or #TBT) in which people share memories from across the social web.

It’s quite a novelty for people like me. I get reminders of photos I don’t remember taking, never mind posting.

But 3 years of Bromford as a social business? Is that all? It feels like a lifetime..

I’ve met more new and fascinating people in the past three years that I did in the previous 10 – and that’s purely down to professional (and unprofessional) use of social networking.

We should never forget our journey and the people who helped us on our way.

So this post is my personal digital throwback. A timehop through the past three years that brings together some  significant posts and slide decks.

Christmas 2011 – Our first baby steps

This post in which I picked my Bromford highlights of the year sees the emergence of key themes I still bang on about today. Losing the fear factor. Digital leadership. CEO visibility. I’d say transformation is nigh on impossible without those three things.

Spring 2012 – A Social Future

This was a key date – for me personally and for UK Housing. The Northern Housing Consortium hosted what would be a pivotal Social Media conference. It was chaired by Nick Atkin – who I didn’t really know at that point. It’s very easy to criticise digital evangelists like Nick and others but I think people should remember what the sector was like before.
Siloed. Lethargic. Bureaucratic.
The sector really only cared about the big associations – some of whom are now almost invisible in the post-digital world. Nick and the guys at Halton Housing have been genuine disruptors in that sense.
 The conference was also the first to open its doors to (shock, horror) non-housing people like Helen Reynolds.

Summer 2012 – Our first social media birthday

“12 months ago – nobody had access to social media at Bromford. Today everybody does. Unrestricted.

My hybrid work/personal twitter account @paulbromford was created exactly 1 year ago. Our Facebook pages opened 1 year ago. Our 1st blog appeared 1 year ago.

We still have no policy as such. There is no big list of rules. It’s a system run on trust and common sense rather than rules and procedure”

Think that says it all. But you can find more in this post capturing the six lessons we learnt in our first 12 months.

Christmas 2012 –  Myths from the year Housing went social

This attempted to sum up learning – and bust some myths. Here’s my favourite:

“Myth: Our Customers Are Not Online

I knew this to be false when a Customer Board Member emailed me to say they didn’t have internet access. People are online,  but they often choose not to tell their landlord. And sometimes they don’t even realise they are online. A customer recently told me they didn’t need broadband as they only ever used Facebook. Although I don’t deny that exclusion exists – the emerging issue is digital literacy and confidence rather than lack of access.”

Spring 2013 – 20 Things They Never Told Us About Going Social

Originally presented at Housing Goes Digital – this slide deck represents my greatest learning: Keep it simple. Keep it short. Make it fun.

With nearly 90,000 views it’s also my most successful post about social media – by far.

Summer 2013 – Five Unexpected Benefits Of Being A Social Organisation

This post , for Comms2Point0 , gives an overview of the cultural change that has happened at Bromford.

Here’s a quote:

“You Start Talking Like Normal People

Social transforms the organisation’s tone of voice.

Our workplace language has been developed through years of formality – the daily grind of reports and emails. And without us knowing it we passed our jargon on to our customers.

But if you start talking like that in the social space – you look a bit odd. Real people don’t talk about Stakeholders and Efficiencies.

So you start talking you do in real life. Because social is real life. And your customers will love you for it.”

Winter 2013 – How social helps us cross organisational borders

This post – on the rise of super-connectors – points to a future of new possibilities. A time where we have moved beyond talking about social media and concentrate more on social business. This is what I find most exciting about the new world – where our organisations are a lot less important than the networks they inhabit.

Summer 2014 – How to be a social media superhero

This brings us up to date with lessons from #powerplayers14 and a fun analysis of social media behaviours.

That’s my personal Timehop.

Here’s to the next three years!

Social conversations: time to move beyond broadcasting

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Man is by nature a social animal; an individual who is unsocial naturally and not accidentally is either beneath our notice or more than human – Aristotle

That’s the intellectual stuff out of the way.

Let’s talk about Instagram and social conversations.

People sharing their passions and interests is what social is all about for me. Whether it’s a love of food , dancing , dogs or a desire to change the world, most of us connect better when we see the person behind the brand.

Far from being a modern phenomenon these passions have been shared between people for thousands of years. The fact we are now sharing them through digital media is a change in the tools available to us – not our human behaviour.

Earlier in the year I went on a trip to Vietnam. I didn’t think I tweeted much but it was enough to prompt the following in Inside Housing – the social housing magazine.

Screenshot 2014-05-05 12.48.41

I thought it was pretty funny and shared it online.

The responses were interesting and split three ways.

Some thought it was amusing. It annoyed others who saw the call for ‘disconnecting’ as missing the point of social.

But some people agreed with it – and suggested I keep my holiday updates to myself. They’d followed me for insights on innovation and customer experience – and now they were getting photographs of my breakfast.

I was initially dismissive of this. I even playfully reminded them that social networks are subscription services – if you don’t like a persons updates you can always switch them off.

Indeed a couple of people took me up on this advice and promptly unfollowed me! This , on reflection, was short sighted of me , it’s important to try to understand the expectations of your community.

In ‘It’s complicated – the social lives of networked teens’ , danah boyd explores changing attitudes to digital identity from the point of view of young people.

The book articulates how teens are becoming increasingly sophisticated in adapting their identity according to the audience they are addressing. Or the audience they imagine they are addressing.

Digital communication is different.

In face-to-face communication we carefully assess the context of the interaction in order to decide how we will act, what we will say, and how we present ourselves.

But social media technologies collapse multiple audiences into single contexts. And every blog you write , every photo you share , every message you tweet can be transported anywhere in the world and interpreted in an infinite number of ways.

This excites many of us and scares others.

A girls message left on Facebook with an intended audience of her close friends is sometimes misunderstood , usually by adults, who have no clue as to how it fits into the context of a larger conversation.

This is why many organisations have such an uneasy relationship with social media. They obsess about how their output has to be “on message” and not be capable of being misinterpreted. They are trying to put a set of rules around social media that simply doesn’t work.

As Mark Schaefer has said – internal process is usually optimised for “campaigns,” not “relationships.”

Rewiring our organisations for building relationships through conversations is one of our great challenges.

Clearly many will struggle to adapt to a more connected culture. This need for digital leadership was discussed last week with Mark Brown and Shirley Ayres. The highlights are in this slide deck.

We are moving beyond broadcasting.

And if social media can lead to social good it requires us to build relationships with others who share our passions and interests . These relationships are no longer restrained by physical location , our immediate peer group, our employers, or our sectors.

We have an opportunity to say this is who I am and this is what I want to achieve. A opportunity of following and being followed by people who believe in your cause.

And that conversation may start with what you had for breakfast. And it might annoy a minority of your followers.

I reckon Aristotle would have loved Instagram , our emerging digital intimacy , and our very social conversations.

 

Lessons In Social Business (via Vietnam)

Vietnam

6am December 29th , Con Son, Con Dao Islands

I’m woken by the crackle of a public address system. It’s the Communist Party giving their twice daily update of the official state news.

Welcome to Vietnam.

I walk outside. The early rising vietnamese are up and about. Getting ready for school. Heading to work on scooters. Checking their smartphones. Nobody seems to be listening to the broadcast.

I’m wide awake – so I check the news on Twitter.

Except Twitter doesn’t work.

Although the Facebook ban was lifted a couple of years ago, Twitter still suffers from many blocks. The Communist Party are undecided about the value of social media. It has become a potent means of challenging the state’s official narrative and authority. Indeed – Internet access and smartphone ownership has spread exponentially in recent years.

It’s a fairly unsophisticated Twitter block though. A quick google of “How to get around Vietnam firewalls” plus a few iPhone settings changes has me tweeting again in minutes. 

This DIY mass communication is a source of frustration to the Party. Through blogs and social media, the people are bypassing official broadcasters and getting their information from sources they trust. People just like themselves. 

Change is happening at a faster pace than the state would like. They are forever dealing with a wave of online protests that are becoming increasingly difficult to contain.

A connected generation. The rise of the individual as social influencer. New and unlikely collaborations threatening hierarchy and removing silo mentality.

The Vietnam story is just 2014 organisational change writ large.

If we’re honest, many western organisations are just as uncomfortable with the change brought about by new social networks. They don’t jail bloggers for sure – but they do have a number of ways to limit personal autonomy:

  • The blocked access to social media sites (which just like in Vietnam takes seconds to circumvent from any smartphone)
  • The approval proforma submitted to a Comms team to get a social media account (I was told only last week of an organisation where employees have to “earn the right to tweet”)
  • The long policies with lists of things you can and can’t say. (So it’s safer not to say anything)
  • The ubiquitous – and completely meaningless – profile use of “These are my views and not my employers”.

It’s time to decide which side of the fence you’re on.

On one side – the organisations who think individuals are the important voices. These are businesses comfortable existing in a state of flux as they adapt to the digital landscape. It’s fast paced and flawed. Structures and policies are discarded in favour of (sometimes reckless) innovation. Hierarchy gets weakened every day. They happily admit they don’t have all the answers and seek out collaborators. 

On the other – the organisations who prefer structure , order and process. Data drives decision making by the few. The collective voice is the official channel. The organisation projects authority. Everyone knows the part they play and they rarely depart from their position, pay grade or job description. Their digital presence is more monologue than dialogue.

These are both valid options for any business, although the latter seems to be less viable with each passing day.

We are still at the very early stages of the adoption of social business models. Indeed many leaders, probably a majority, still think of social as a set of tools rather than it being a much broader cultural philosophy.

Those in the know are clear: Social business is less about social media and more about technology as an enabler of wider cultural transformation. It’s using tech to make organisations more human.

In Vietnam – the growth of collaborative technologies is rapid. They are fuelling new social movements and calls for radical change. The “official”  line is being subverted and increasingly ignored in favour of myriad social networks.

But this isn’t just Vietnam. It’s your organisation – right now.

Our challenge is whether we choose to work with it or against it.

State advertising (or propoganda) - Ho Chi Minh City
State advertising (or propaganda) – Ho Chi Minh City

The Value of Critical Friends – Guest Post from @ShirleyAyres

Only 17% of companies identify their social and digital strategy as “mature” – Brian Solis , The State of Social Business

Slide_CriticalFriends

This is a guest post from a Super Connector.

Shirley Ayres is one of those people who have taken advantage of digital to develop a new way of working – uniting like minded people regardless of which sector they work in. As co-founder of the Connected Care Network , Shirley has formed a movement aimed at developing digital engagement strategies using technology & social media for social good.

The reason I’ve asked Shirley to guest post is that I’m increasingly concerned that not enough of us have a fit for purpose engagement strategy. Too many think it’s about Twitter and Facebook when it’s actually about generating business results through digital leadership and culture.

As the social space gets increasingly crowded we’ll have to develop more sophisticated approaches to getting and keeping attention.

Here Shirley describes the benefits of having a review:

“Over the last few years we have been carrying out an increasing number of ‘critical friend’ reviews. These have been for a wide range of organisations – public, private and not for profit. But what is a critical friend review and what value does it have for organisations?

A critical friend review is an external opinion of an organisation’s positioning, strategy or initiatives. It comes from a perspective that is sympathetic to what the organisation is trying to achieve. But it should reflect the context in which this positioning, strategy or initiative sits and be able to identify opportunities as well as likely challenges and pitfalls.

It addresses three fundamental questions:

  • Where are you now?
  • Where do you want to be?
  • How are you going to get there?

In answering these questions, the emphasis is on ‘telling it how it is’. To be effective a critical friend review must be unafraid to comment on where the chosen approach is unlikely to deliver the desired response. It must also suggest improvements which can make it more fit for purpose.

Why is this valuable now?

The simple reason is that we are in a challenging economic and political climate with rapidly changing expectations of care and support. Consequently organisations have to develop radically new and unprecedented ways of working.

As one Assistant Director of Adult Social Care said to me recently: “Our approach to the Care Bill needs to be different from anything we have done before”. With fewer resources available, and with more riding on outcomes than ever before, organisations cannot afford to make mistakes in the way they respond to these challenges. Yet this is often means going into uncharted territory.

So it is crucial for proposed approaches to be subjected to independent scrutiny. However the feedback will not inevitably be negative: it will identify what is being done well and can highlight strengths and opportunities that may have been missed. A great deal of our work consists in recommending organisations, initiatives and resources which our clients may be unaware of – but which could greatly assist in the achievement of their objectives.

Successive governments have recognised the importance of critical friending for the public sector.  We draw on the ‘Critical Friend Framework’ published in 2004 which identifies three dimensions of critical friending: ‘inputs’ (looking at the skills and experience involved in a project), process and structure (considering the way in which projects are organised) and outcomes (evaluating what the project is aiming to achieve and prospects of success).

In acting as a critical friend, we are able to draw upon many years of working with adult and children’s services, health, housing, social enterprises and charities. Our knowledge and expertise encompasses policy, research, marketing, communications and digital technology. This ‘width and depth’ – together with an ability to look at a situation from a range of different perspectives – is really an essential requirement of a critical friend. There is little value in being told what you already know!

What this means in practice is illustrated by a comment from the Barnwood Trust, one of our recent clients.

“Embarking on a new website and a whole new approach to the way we were working, and on top of that a new brand for it all, was a big and sometimes daunting job. We spent a long time researching, planning and testing each of our ideas and concepts, making sure that we were developing something that people wanted and felt would be useful to them. It was during this process that we came across Shirley and her work as a critical friend.

“Shirley took on the role of critical friend for our new brand and website, You’re Welcome  and provided us with a completely different and invaluable perspective. Not only did Shirley provide a thought provoking report from which we have been able to develop and also strengthen our ideas but she also provided support throughout the review on the phone. It was extremely useful to talk our work through with someone with as much knowledge and experience as Shirley. To have a report at the end of it really helped with the work and how we developed it. Shirley was an absolute pleasure to work with and we will definitely be looking to draw from her skills and experience again in the future.”

Transformational change across the health, care and housing sectors requires digital leadership and  new approaches which encourage radical thinking.

To explore how a critical friend review would help your organisation contact Shirley.Ayres@btinternet.com ”

(Picture Credit: Bill Ferriter)

How social helps us cross organisational borders

data-brain

 Social is no longer just about collaboration; it’s about unlocking the engines of collective knowledge, differentiated expertise and rapid learning across the whole organisation.  (In 2014) we’ll see workplaces and marketplaces fusing together like never before; enterprises will be thinking and acting differently in the context of social – Andrew Grill , Social Business in 2014

This indeed might be the year when the walls in organisations really start crumbling.  Those departments, structure charts and policies that have kept us safe and protected for so long are beginning to slip away.

There’s still a way to go.  But it’s happening – new and powerful connections are being born and there’s nothing a social media policy can do about it.

Two things happened in the past week that made me ponder the huge impact this will have on how business is conducted in future.

Borderless Leadership

First of all I was in a meeting with the Bromford Executive team – pitching a business case about how we should begin a new approach to developing innovation.

One of the elements of the pitch was that 75% of what we work on could result in failure. We should expect just a 25% success rate and give explicit permission to fail. Nobody would then waste time and resources trying to make an idea work.  Just move on to the next one.

It’s a difficult pitch anyway you dress it up.

But a weird thing happened. As the report was discussed two people quoted lines from the blog of Chris Bolton that were hugely supportive of this thinking. I’m not sure if they knew they did. But they did. Chris , who regularly posts on risk and failure,  had infiltrated the consciousness of Bromford.

He doesn’t get paid for it , he’s never visited our offices, but due to his social influence he played his part in getting my business plan approved. Thanks Chris!

He , and others like him, are part of a new breed of influencer. Not a stakeholder , partner or colleague. More of a social supporter – someone who identifies with the values of an organisation and influences people within it despite being nowhere on a structure chart.

Note this trend: People connecting with people and organisational brand becoming less important. Personal brand and quality of connection becoming the key ingredient for future relationships.

Borderless Sectors

A few days later I was at Connected Care Camp.  It saw people from all across the country give up their time on a Saturday to get behind a movement to reimagine social care.

The interesting thing is how many different sectors were represented. Health , Housing , Tech, Social Care , Communications.  This collective had not been brought together by their respective industry bodies – but by the power of social to connect people and to begin a movement for change.

I’ve called these people super-connectors – those who are moving effortlessly between sectors and connecting those aligned with their interests.  Increasingly they are circumventing artificial and created barriers to facilitate change.

Indeed  social business is now starting to enable the things that sector leaders have failed to do – the removal of silo thinking , the rapid dissemination of information and the mobilisation of people into action.

Note this trend: Organisational influence becomes less pronounced. Expect people to seek out people with passion and influence regardless who they work for.  Some of the biggest changemakers work for the smallest organisations or don’t work at all. 

Of course this isn’t just about organisations.  At Connected Care Camp there were also service users present.  And this is where truly disruptive things will start to happen.

When you have the super-connectors collaborating directly with connected customers – you’ll see wholesale change to how business is done.

Truly – new and powerful connections are being born.

The Unexpected Benefits Of Becoming A Social Organisation

It’s little over two years since Bromford lifted any restrictions on social media and offered complete freedom to every single colleague. Our world didn’t end. In fact it got better.

It’s almost impossible to remember what life was like before the wall came down.

Hundreds of Bromford people have online profiles and blogs. Virtually all are members of our internal Yammer.

Truth be told we didn’t really know what we were unleashing. We didn’t know how it would change us or the organisation.

Perhaps that’s how it should be.

The social web is organic, messy and uncontrollable. And that’s why it’s so much fun – it’s relentlessly unpredictable.

One of the problems of making a business case about use of social media is that you genuinely can’t anticipate what the results will be.

Things get democratised , decisions get made in public , people form their own communication channels and networks.

Scary. Exciting. And Unexpected.

Here’s my pick – 5 things we could never have predicted:

Your Brand Can Go Global

If you let your people run loose on social media , guess what happens? They become brand ambassadors. It’s natural – most people are proud of what they do for a living and they like to talk about it.

On the social web this has a unique power as you move beyond broadcasting the latest company press release. Your community is now engaging with you through the emotional bond they have with your people.

And your brand moves way beyond its usual stomping ground. I’ve seen Bromford content posted on sites in South Africa, Indonesia and Mexico.  All the way from Wolverhampton.

Second Screening Becomes The New Water Cooler

When you bring the social walls down – you obliterate the way company news is distributed. It no longer exists within 9-5 boundaries and doesn’t face the geographic limitations of an office.

A great deal of our daily communications are done in the evening, or at weekends , as colleagues chat with each other from tablets or mobiles whilst watching TV. The second screen provides a link to each other in ways the physical workplace cannot. This is incredibly inclusive – particularly for colleagues who spend a good deal of their day out and about talking to customers.

Recently I found out about a colleague getting a promotion from one of my Twitter followers who has nothing to do with Bromford. The division between internal and external communications is blurring. How weird and wonderful is that?

Social is the New Internal Interview

In the social workplace you find out peoples passions and skills outside of formal settings.  What music they like , what films they love. Their ambitions for the future. Leaders have the opportunity to get to know people like never before.

And it’s a way of spotting talent.

I’ve currently got a colleague working on a project for me. I didn’t need to interview them. I knew from reading their blog they were the right person.

Work Has No Boring Bits

In the social organisation if a meeting is boring you can just go online.

OK, I exaggerate for effect. But the digital leader knows they must be engaging to an increasingly distracted audience. Death by PowerPoint just doesn’t cut it anymore.

Meetings have morphed into far more interactive, co-owned forums that make use of presentation styles like PechaKucha , Haiku Deck and Prezi to engage and collaborate with colleagues.

People share what’s happening in their meetings in real time on Yammer.

The agenda just got crowdsourced.

You Start Talking Like Normal People

Social transforms the organisational tone of voice.

Our workplace language has been developed through years of formality – the daily grind of reports and emails. And without us knowing it we passed our jargon on to our customers.

But if you start talking like that in the social space – you look a bit odd. Real people don’t talk about Stakeholders and Efficiencies.

So you start talking just like you do in real life. Because social is real life. And your customers will love you for it.

These are my unexpected benefits – I’m sure there are loads more and I’d love to hear other people’s experience.

[This post originally appeared on the excellent Comms2Point0 site. Make you visit it or follow them here]

How Social Are Your Organisational Values?

Be Different

One of the most repeated laws of the social web is that people trust word of mouth recommendation via personal networks more than they do advertising or PR.

With that in mind , it’s odd that more organisations don’t harness one of the most powerful resources at their disposal-the people they employ.

If ,for example, you look across the UK public sector – there are only a handful of organisations who have a significant employee social media presence. This seems counterintuitive –  as the average employee is regarded as a more trustable brand advocate than the Chief Executive. (Source: Edelman Trust Barometer 2013)

One of the reasons we don’t see more employee social presence is that it doesn’t happen by accident. Organisations that are on the journey to being a social business have cultures that have been developed over time. Cultures that are reinforced every day , not just by the leadership , but with active collaboration from people at every tier of the business.

These are organisations where employees identify with and believe in the company values and are only too keen to promote them.

And some of the organisations who are doing the most exciting things on the social web have company values that actively encourage people to behave differently.

Let’s face it – most Mission Statements and Company Values are a complete waste of time. They exist as tacked up bits of paper on a wall rather than something that sits in the hearts and minds of people.

So I want to look at three organisations from very different industries who are doing things differently:

Zappos

Zappos1

Zappos , the online shoe and clothing store, are known for their unique culture and values. Their CEO Tony Hsieh has said his company’s number one priority is the company culture. “Our whole belief is that if we get the culture right, then most of the other stuff, like delivering great customer service or building a long-term enduring brand or business, will just be a natural by-product of that.”

Here are the Zappos core values that are designed to be different:

Deliver WOW Through Service 

Embrace and Drive Change 

Create Fun and A Little Weirdness 

 Be Adventurous, Creative, and Open-Minded 

 Pursue Growth and Learning 

 Build Open and Honest Relationships With Communication 

Build a Positive Team and Family Spirit 

Do More With Less 

Be Passionate and Determined 

Be Humble

With the call to “create fun and a little weirdness”, Zappos are making it OK to have a unique social presence.

Buffer

Buffer

I love the service and the culture of Buffer, a service that helps you share to social networks.  You can feel the genuine enthusiasm for the organisation from the people who work there and what they tweet and blog about.

The Buffer team has jointly decided which words define the culture and put together this list of the 9 Buffer Values , a continual work in progress:

Always Choose Positivity and Happiness

Default to Transparency

Have a Focus on Self Improvement

Be a “no-ego” Doer

Listen First, Then Listen More

Have a Bias Towards Clarity

Make Time to Reflect

Live Smarter, Not Harder

Show Gratitude

Having dealt with Buffer on a number of occasions I can say their values are displayed both in 1:1 dealings and in their online social presence: Listen First , Then Listen More.

Bromford

be-bgdc

(Disclosure:  I work for Bromford and my handprint is on these values – but I think it’s worth sharing the story!)

Imagine screwing up your mission statement , vision and values and handing it over to internal colleagues to start all over again and pitch it direct to the CEO. That’s what Bromford did and it’s how they came up with their Bromford DNA.

Mainly developed in an intensive 90 minute session and presented to the Board without so much as a report being written – the Bromford approach sets outs an expectation that colleague and company behaviour should follow the Four B’s.

So to Be Bromford you should:

Be Different

Be Brave

Be Commercial

Be Good

The aim was to have something simple that colleagues could remember but also be something they could live by.

I think this post by my colleague Andy Johnson gives some of the best examples of how these values are being brought alive and built upon by colleagues. It’s a hashtag ready set of company values.

Although there is never going to be a “best way” to lead a social organisation – the key differentiator will be the way their service is delivered through people.

We should aim for values that set people free to be unique and memorable – during the 9-5 and beyond.

I’d love to hear other examples of great values you have seen or are developing.

The Connected Homeless

homeless2“It’s amazing how nice their Smartphones are. Some would actually go without food rather than lose their Smartphone.”

This quote is from a manager of a homelessness hostel.  Someone who has observed up close that, for the Connected Generation , staying in touch with their networks isn’t a luxury- it’s a necessity.

This isn’t something particularly new. Many reports have established that homeless people are making use of online networks to find shelter, food , and to keep in touch with relatives. And there are examples of the homeless starting online support groups as a very practical means of staying in touch with each other.

This week I helped out on a project to develop a digital hub and social network for the homeless. Mobile and social technology give us unprecedented opportunities to reach out to the most marginalised in society.

The research has identified that under 25 year old homeless are “highly proficient” in the use of social networks to maintain contact with relatives and friends. Additionally smartphone ownership amongst the single homeless is becoming pervasive “regardless of circumstance”.

But it also identifies that existing service provision often isn’t equipped to engage online.

 “Why can’t I be on Facebook? I have as much right to that as anyone else. Just because I am homeless does not mean that I don’t care about this stuff, you know? My family is on Facebook. My friends are on Facebook. People who care about me are on Facebook.”

Some of us will find the concept of homeless people spending time on social networks and possessing smartphones as puzzling.  Have they got their priorities right?

It’s because we can’t truly imagine the trauma of becoming homeless and the things we would hold onto when we have lost pretty much everything else.  For many people – the phone is no longer a phone. It’s a small computer containing address details of friends and family, photographs of loved ones , and diary notes describing important memories. It’s a very personal item.

Additionally many of us have a false perception of the cost of smartphones.  We often still think of it as expensive technology.  But you could be paying as little as £10 per month for a decent phone and data plan. That’s less than the price of a Costa Coffee each week. If you were homeless , which would you choose?

Many public service organisations don’t realise that they are missing out on huge opportunities to engage with groups that would have previously been classified “hard to reach”.  That’s not just the homeless , but ex-offenders, young people not in education or employment , people with multiple health needs. The list could go on.

But whilst it’s revealed that many of the homeless have access to the latest digital resources , the organisations and professionals they have to deal with sometimes do not. There is still a lack of access to Social Media.  As one person I spoke to commented, “How can I tailor services to the homeless on Facebook when Facebook is still seen as a time waster by my manager?”

Then there are repeated stories of internet access to “sensitive” sites being blocked. One IT Manager was quoted as saying the company firewall is “doing it’s job well ” by preventing access to a site on HIV prevention.

But even more common is the story of front line practitioners without the tools to do the job. Using basic phones that can’t text properly never mind access the web.

John Popham has written about this in his blog – correctly asserting that organisations who don’t equip staff are “sending people out to do their jobs with both hands tied behind their back.”

There is a huge irony here – the “hard to engage” are no longer the customers and service users.  It’s us. The service providers.

In 2012 – a Smartphone ceased to be a luxury. It’s not a gadget – it’s a completely new interface for staff and service users to engage , collaborate and design better services.

If the homeless get that , why don’t we?

How Social Is Your Organisation? 5 Things To Look For….

How social is your organisation?  Are you the life and soul of the party? Or are you perpetually in the kitchen?

And what do we even mean by being a social organisation anyway?

In his thought provoking post “Let’s get Sociable” , Phil Jewitt asked what role digital engagement could play in connecting with the public . A public often disengaged with authority.  It also asked how digital can effectively contribute to social change and impact, rather than just been seen as something that can save money.

It got me thinking about how an organisations online behaviour might indicate whether they are truly sociable. Here are 5 things I look for in “sociable” organisations:

  • They don’t broadcast –they engage. They know its not about them. They never act as if they are more important than the customer.
  • They show some personality and post thoughtful and relevant content. They share more of other peoples work than they do of their own. They promote others rather than themselves.
  • They are more than business. They seek out and rub shoulders with other people who have a similar social purpose – and they collaborate without regard for organisational boundaries. They demonstrate through their actions and outlook that they are seeking to make change happen.
  • They employ social people. Helen Reynolds has commented that she is “beginning to think the most effective way to achieve better government is to recruit people who display friendly, social qualities”. I can only agree. As more and more of our work gets automated the truly social organisation needs people who are interested in other people , not policies.
  • They take considered risks. They get out from behind the desk and try new ways to engage.  They walk the talk and try and reconnect with people where it’s most relevant to them.  Compare the disastrous public engagement exercise of the Police Commissioner elections with how The Royal British Legion used new media to engage the online world on Remembrance Sunday. Worlds apart.

That’s my five , but I’m sure you might disagree or can think of others.

I would love to hear your thoughts.

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