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!