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or Fool?

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Strategic advice and experience on making the most of  being social in the workplace

Entries in tacit knowledge (4)

Sunday
Oct102010

Social Chat - The Modern Day Water Cooler Conversation

We all, at some time or other, have stood around the water cooler in the office and discussed solutions for the big dilemmas of this world:

  • How do you solve world hunger?
  • How can you reduce your carbon footprint?
  • Why on earth doesn't the iPad support Flash?

But in the modern day, we need to find alternative solutions to crowdsourcing that can support those whom are not office based and bring diversity into the conversation by including other countries and cultures. This is where social technologies like Twitter can really add great value in the workplace.

About five months ago I was invited to join a KMers.org online chat which discusses knowledge management topics using Twitter with professionals from other companies. It was a very organised and well structured chat event that was highly productive and resulted in some good conclusions through sharing our experiences from our respective companies (even with only 8 people participating).

And this got me thinking, what if we could bring this type of crowdsourcing solution into the workplace, behind the firewall, and have employees debating key business issues and challenges? After all, a company's most valuable asset is the explicit and tacit knowledge of its employees, so why not try to maximise that asset?

It could also encourage better employee engagement into the business and generate new social relationships that could have long term benefits.

So I did just that and this is the result...

Social Chat - The Modern Day Water Cooler Conversation

What is Social Chat?

"Employee driven online chat event in the workplace, that utilises crowdsourcing techniques and social technologies to discuss and resolve business issues and challenges"

What are the objectives?

  1. (Primary) To create new social connections within the workplace
  2. (Secondary) To utilise crowdsourcing techniques to improve business processes and solve business challenges
  3. (Tertiary) To subtly integrate social technologies into the workplace

What tools are used?

Oracle Alchemy Ideas Centre is used as the topic bank to capture discussion topics and for employees to vote for their favourite each week.

OraTweet is used as the internal chat solution built by Noel Portugal (this is not an official Oracle product, the code is FREE and is based on Oracle's Application Express (APEX) which is also FREE. See http://oratweet.com for more info).

How is Social Chat structured?

Social Chat is an open crowdsourcing solution, that is behind the company firewall, allowing any employee to participate.

Employees submit topics into the topic bank and vote for their favourite topic throughout the week.

The winning topic is then announced and employees choose to join the 60 minutes online discussion on a Friday afternoon if a) they have the time and b) if the topic is of interest to them (Friday afternoon is a great time to host this as people are winding down for the weekend).

The Organiser (person responsible for the general running of Social Chat) and the Moderator (person who submitted the winning topic and therefore facilitating the conversation that week) work together on identifying three distinct discussion points. These discussion points are introduced at 20 minute intervals to keep the conversation fresh.

The following video is a sample of a real Social Chat event that took place recently where the chosen topic was "How can we make homeworkers feel more connected?":

What happens after the discussion?

Once the discussion has finished, a transcript of the raw tweets is downloaded and a one page summary / conclusion is produced. This transcript and summary / conclusion is then shared with all members of the Social Chat group.

It is also shared with the appropriate business area / department to see if any of the conclusions drawn can be utilised to improve current business processes. For example, the video demo above regarding making homeworkers feel more connected was given to the HR department.

What lessons did we learn?

We have hosted about 12 Social Chat events now and learnt a lot along the way before making this a viable and integrated business solution. If you are thinking of implementing a similar solution you may find the following useful:

  1. This type of crowdsourcing solution is not for everyone
  2. Set initial expectations for newcomers as it is a unique style of conversation
  3. The Organiser and Moderator need to draft their introductory tweets prior to the event so it's a simple copy and paste when the event starts (one of those tweets needs to be "Be polite,  respect one another's opinions and above all have fun!")
  4. Have the Organiser and Moderator on a teleconference during the event so any technical issues or general support can be given. This provides a smooth discussion and enjoyable experience for the participants
  5. Send a tweet just before you partake in the discussion, apologising that for the next 60 mins your followers may see a higher number of tweets flowing in their stream than usual whilst you are partaking in Social Chat
  6. At the start, the Moderator should ask people to introduce themselves (name, length of time at the company, business area they work in) as this initiates a social connection
  7. Always start with a short video for people to watch that aligns to the discussion topic, but make it a funny related video (YouTube is obviously a good source)
  8. Do not try to follow every tweet during the conversation
  9. Respond to other participants tweets by including their name (in OraTweet any tweets directed at you personally have a different colour background making them stand out from the rest of your stream - really nice feature!)
  10. After the event, provide a transcript and summary / conclusion of the entire conversation and distribute to the Social Chat members as quickly as possible (within 24 hours)

Summary

We have only been running this event for 3 months and todate we have 120+ people folllowing the group, and many more lurkers (a lurker is someone who does not actually participate but follows the conversation). The Social Chats are always interesting and informative and the output has been used to improve a number of business processes.

What I have found really interesting is that Social Chat has inadvertently created a flat hierarchical structure (i.e. everybody is equal) during each event that has resulted in very open and frank discussions. This is something that is difficult to achieve in face to face meetings or telephone conversations as the loudest and more senior representatives tend to do all the talking.

But the biggest achievement for me is the primary objective and seeing new social connections develop and prosper into a business benefit. There are a number of people who didn't know each other before Social Chat who are now better socially connected and knowledge sharing with their peers.

I myself am also a recipient of a recent new social connection because of Social Chat, where the result could be that we are able to build our all singing and all dancing Social Workplace Maturity Model.

Again, I have to thank KMers.org (Eric Weidner and Johan Lammers) for the initial inspiration, and I look forward to seeing Social Chat go from strength to strength.

Do you see Social Chat working in your organisation? Do you partake in any other form of crowdsourcing activity in the workplace?

Tuesday
Sep142010

What's the cure for Infoglut?

I'll be honest, I had never even heard of infoglut until recently when it was voted the winning topic for discussion for our weekly Social Chat event last week. But I now realise I am a sufferer.

Infoglut (also known as "Information overload") is a term popularized by Alvin Toffler that refers to the difficulty a person can have understanding an issue and making decisions that can be caused by the presence of too much information

So what's the cure for infoglut?

Before I try to answer that, let me take you back a couple of years at a time when I first out started on my "social media is about people" crusade and how I overcame, what I now perceive as, infoglut.

In order for me to make the right business decisions to create The Social Workplace, I needed to keep an eye on the market and understand how social media was being used as well as listen to what my customers needed. This is a lot of information to wade through, a lot of infoglut.

It was never my objective to reduce my email traffic in the beginning, but with all this information being directed to my inbox it soon became apparent that email overload was a major contribution of my infoglut and it needed addressing.

These are the various stages, and thinking, I went through to overcome my infoglut (you might recognise some of these stages...):

Stage 1 - Toe dipping
My social network was small, I was reading a couple of blogs a week (receiving notifications via email) and expanding my knowledge and understanding of social media at a slow but manageable rate.

Stage 2 - The RSS Reader
As my social network grew and I was reading more blogs and listening to podcasts, my email inbox began to overflow like a blind barman pulling his first pint.

I needed a way to segregate the various bits of information to digest at a more convenient time so I started to use an RSS Reader (www.feeddemon.com allowed me to monitor information inside and outside my company's firewall) which helped me to structure my information flows and to separate it from my day-to-day email traffic.

Stage 3 - The power of Communities
By this time I was becoming better socially connected and whilst that was the goal it did mean that there was more demand for information on socialnomics and social technologies. The more email requests I received the slower I was to respond, and the slower I was to respond the more requests I received asking why I was slow in responding (oh the irony!).

The accessibility of an employees tacit knowledge is a highly under-valued commodity in most businesses and I wanted to tap into and utilise this expansive knowledge network to reduce my infoglut level. By introducing a couple of Social Business Communities (one focused on the business aspect of social media, the other focused more on social technologies) I was able to channel all requests into these online communities. This resulted in a significant reduction in my email traffic, allowing the communities to become self-sustaining (over time), and prevented me acting as a bottleneck of information.

Stage 4 - Working with Workspaces
This redirection of information to a social platform reduced my infoglut considerably and allowed me to refocus my energies on my "social media is about people" crusade once again, which is where I began defining and driving new projects and initiatives to create a more socially connected enterprise. Introducing online workspaces to work collaboratively with users on these new projects and initiatives was a really effective solution until.....

Stage 5 - Defining Favourites
I now had over 30 active workspaces. Workspaces to work with my team on identifying and managing their fiscal objectives, workspaces for managing projects, workspaces for team meetings, workspaces for task force meetings, even a workspace for sharing large files....so I started tagging my favourite workspaces and my favourite blogs, choosing to prioritise my time and energy.

Stage 6 - The Supermarket Scanner
Having worked so hard to have all this really useful information at my finger tips, I'm not willing to discard it but I don't have the time to read everything. So I now scan, choosing the key bits of information to respond to within the permitted time frame. And I have become an effective scanner, absorbing information at a fast rate (though I don't go beep once finished).

So what's the cure for infoglut? Is it to reduce the amount of information flows?

Sadly, I haven't found a cure to-date but...

"The objective is not for me to reduce the amount of information flows I'm connected to, but instead evolve how I manage them, whilst maintaining my productivity levels"

And I realised this is exactly what I have been doing over the last 2 years, constantly evolving how I choose to receive my information flows and how I engage myself and others with them and not becoming a slave to the data.

So next time you feel inundate with too many emails and overwhelmed by so much information from different sources, take a step back and assess how you are managing your own infoglut level and find a suitable solution to ease your suffering. Do this regularly and choose to be more productive.

How are you preventing you own infoglut suffering? What actions have you taken and what positive results have you seen?

Tuesday
May252010

Going that extra Social Media mile

Here's a little experiment I conducted:

About 6 months ago I put two searches in my Tweetdeck (my tool of choice to follow what is going on in the twitter sphere), one for Web 2.0, the other Social Media.  Every 2 minutes I would be notified of how many new references were made to these particular search terms. After about an hour, the average ratio was about 3:1 in favour of Social Media. For every mention of Web 2.0, there would be three mentions of Social Media. Today, I conducted the same experiment, under the same conditions, and the ratio had increased to approx 12:1.

OK, this experiment is not conducted under strict labatory conditions but it does show a trend in how things have evolved, and it is supported by the fact that instead of having conversations with technical gurus about web 2.0, I am now having conversations with executives about Social Media.

But why has there been this sudden upturn towards Social Media?

It's because executives are beginning to take social media seriously, to see it as a game changer in not only advertising but also in customer engagement.

This might be an obvious statement but you would be surprised at just how many businesses feel they are already engaged in Social Media because they have a blog or a YouTube channel (in some cases multiple creating serious disparity in its message). That is like dipping your toe in the water and saying that you have been for a swim. You cannot approach social media in this way (remember the slideshare Social Media in Business: It's just a bunch of tools right?), you have to put in place a long term Social Media strategy. O2's Glen Manoff, director of communications and reputation, is doing exactly this and said in a New Media Age article recently:

"We're pulling our social media activity together into one place and creating a clear strategy and a consistent face to the world."

"There's a lot of crowdsourcing and people helping each other online, but the big role for us is to answer their questions about products. We want to participate more and help where we can."

Other businesses will soon start to follow O2's example, and begin thinking about their customers social activities and how they can engage better with them through Social Media.

But as well as an external social media strategy, you need to go that extra mile and develop an internal one to help engage the right employees and departments in responding to customer issues, questions and potential opportunities. As Mikal Belicove (contributing editor for Entrepreneur) wrote recently on how Starbucks is building meaningful customer engagement through social media:

"The magic of social media is that you can recognize the opportunity quickly. The challenge is in responding just as quickly."

In short you also need to socially connect your employees as well as socially connect with your customers. By socially connecting your employees you are also able to access their tacit knowledge, a commodity many companies forget to utilise (see my early post Social Media is the key for sharing tacit knowledge).

As you have probably seen on the news today, there has been a small upturn in the UK economy (0.3% growth), and businesses are now beginning to come through the recession. However the businesses that will continue to grow are those that have embraced social media and made it part of their long term strategy, externally and internally.

Is your business going the extra Social Media mile?

Friday
Mar122010

Social Media is the key for sharing Tacit knowledge

There is no greater asset to a company than the tacit knowledge an employee possesses and the possibilities if you could tap into and utilise that knowledge.

"Tacit knowledge is not easily shared. Tacit knowledge consists often of habits and culture that we do not recognize in ourselves. In the field of knowledge management, the concept of tacit knowledge refers to a knowledge which is only known by an individual and that is difficult to communicate to the rest of an organization....With tacit knowledge, people are not often aware of the knowledge they possess or how it can be valuable to others" - wikipedia

Social Media is the key to help a business reveal and disseminate tacit knowledge.

For the last 12 months I have been striving to adopt a new way of working, a more "socially open engagement" concept in my organisation, to help share the tacit knowledge of our employees.  We are making headway but I have to be honest, it has been a challenge, particularly in a company that is very technology focused and Generation X heavy.

I tend to relate it to as hard a challenge as it was to convince people that mobile phones would be a great idea in the 70's, because let's face it what I am asking people to do is to swim against the current of company culture.

But it’s not an insurmountable challenge.

We have just finished developing and deploying the Social Project Office here in EMEA, and this social technology could be a giant leap forward in helping us to disseminate our own tacit knowledge.

This new social technology has a Facebook style interface, capturing conversational input throughout the life cycle of a project whilst allowing employees to become a Fan.

Whilst encouraging employees to openly participate on projects or initiatives that are of interest to them is not a new concept (Google have been doing this for years), but encouraging them to share their tacit knowledge in this way as a contributor (i.e. someone who prefers to contribute from the sidelines rather than be actively engaged in the project) is a concept many may struggle with. A form of community based project management.

Even though this new tool has not been officially announced, people are already adding projects and becoming Fans to actively participate. Over the next few months it will be exciting to see how people engage with the “socially open engagement” concept and the tool itself.

However one thing is clear, technologies like the Social Project Office, Facebook, Twitter etc… are good examples where Social Media can really help us disseminate tacit knowledge and help shape the way we manage our business.

Are you ready for the change…..?