The engineer who Works Out Loud

Vincent has been working in a big German company for more than a decade, mostly in a manufacturing plant and now in a quality management role. Our first interaction was when he sent me a message on LinkedIn, telling me he was enjoying the book.

Later, he joined a Working Out Loud Circle, and he wrote me again to say he “can already see some improvements.” I thanked him, replied with some questions, and that led to an ongoing exchange. With his permission, I wanted to share some of his answers below.

As you read them, notice how his original goal is quite simple: he wants to use some of the new collaboration tools at work. Yet as he takes steps towards his goal - practicing making contributions and deepening relationships at work - he sees how he can apply his new habits and mindset to other goals. 

His last sentence is full of hope and possibility - and confidence. 

Why did you join a WOL Circle? 

I joined because I wanted to learn and improve myself as a professional and a person. I learned about it and as I was disconnected from social media (latecomer for many good and bad reasons) I thought in the first place that it could help me to reconnect (Which it did!).  

What was your goal in your circle? 

My goal is: 'I want to set up a personal blog, which enables me to share my work with others, to give back to communities that will enable me to connect with people I don't know yet.’

What did you expect to get out of it? 

I was expecting to deepen my social media understanding and how to use it in a professional setting. Also to have my own blog to share work and ideas that comes up.  I started a personal blog on our internal company social network. At first, I thought about sharing only technical content I created to help others improve quicker and avoid the traps I've been in. Some other ideas are starting to come up…It’s interesting to see how it develops, how ideas pop up all alone.  

I also created connections I didn't have…and reconnected with people. So it's great, because I start to have a solid experience with social media, where I was feeling lost before, didn't know what to do with it and how to behave. 

How does this apply at work? How might it help you be a better engineer?

I'm in a department of quality experts, mostly much older. An official target of this job is to improve the processes, challenge them, and introduce social media for collaboration with the other departments. 

That's where WOL kicks in. I will have to set communities and improve the collaboration between QM and the plants that applies the standards defined by the department. We also need to speak about the standards within our division, post them in our blog, and collaborate with other divisions with the same specialties. I think of promoting it to the Deployment of Business Excellence team in our division. It would be a fantastic complement to introduce social media for the managers. Also to promote WOL for team initiatives inside my department.  

I personally consider that when you share your knowledge, your work with others, in the end you are helping others with your work, then becoming more sure of your knowledge. It allows you to take a step back and improve your practice. It will allow me to participate, confront my ideas with others, and then create a 'virtuous circle' of questioning myself. Keeps me humble, feet on the ground, then more open minded. I really think that networking and sharing makes you a better 1. Person, 2. Professional. 

What might you do differently in the future? Asked another way...what changed for you or about you? 

I came from this restricted vision to something broader. For example, I post other things than my work. I post thoughts, advice, experiences. On a personal aspect, I'm less worried to post my thinking publicly, to praise the work of others, to create contacts and invite these people in my network when I feel I know them. A clear enabler to the improvement of my network through social media and 'gift' sharing.  

In the future? I'll extend this to my utilization of social media out of my company. I will try to become a circle moderator, as I think I can handle it. Also, I'll surely join other circles, but perhaps with goals more connected to my personal (selfish?) aspirations. That changed for me, I have personal wills that are sleeping, time will come when I'll need to wake them.  

Working Out Loud in Berlin

Brandenburg Gate in Berlin I’m sitting on a plane heading back to NY, reading notes from 70+ people about working out loud.

I met those people at the Social Business Collaboration Summit in Berlin. There, with attendees from companies as diverse as IKEA, KPMG, and Asian Paints, I got the chance to ask:

“Did they see the benefits of working out loud?”

“Were they having difficulties helping people at their firms change how they work?”

Here’s what they said.

The easy part: benefits

Contributions during the World Cafe

Groups of 15 or so convened for 30 minutes each in a World Cafe format. After a brief description of working out loud - “making your work visible and narrating your work in progress” - each group quickly listed a series of benefits:

  • makes it easier to spot duplication and identify collaboration opportunities
  • improves quality and timeliness by getting feedback in the early stages of work
  • makes it easier to discover and develop knowledge and expertise
  • helps teams, particularly global teams, feel closer
  • helps break silos and connect the dots across teams
  • fosters innovation by allowing more people to use knowledge in different ways
  • gives people control of their reputation and taps into intrinsic motivation

One woman, with a lovely accent and a sense of the poetic, added “it helps your work develop new routes.”

A simple example from IKEA

"Finding competence"

A woman in the communications division at IKEA told a story of how working out loud helped her team “find competence in unexpected places.” In her area, people around the world have similar jobs managing their local communications sites. Every month, they’d get on a conference call to share information but it wasn’t very effective. The timezones made the call inconvenient for some. And not everyone was comfortable speaking in English. So the calls were dominated by those most confident and awake.

Then the team decided to augment their calls by using their new social platform. And, all of a sudden, “someone who never said anything on the phone was making all these contributions online.” He shifted from being invisible to “becoming influential and a leader in the group.”

“Great,” I said to the others, “now how many stories do you have like this at your firms?”

An uncomfortable truth

As you might expect, most people at a social business conference are used to working out loud themselves. But the number of people doing so at there firms remains woefully low. Even getting people to simply login to a collaboration platform remains a challenge.

This seemed to be true across industries and cultures. Why? All we had were theories and anecdotes:

“Maybe people are too busy.”

“Maybe they’re uncomfortable talking about their work in public.” 

“Maybe their managers suppress them.” 

“Maybe they’re simply surrounded by people working a certain way and it’s too difficult to work differently.”

“Maybe some people would rather be invisible at work.”

So while more and more companies have social collaboration projects, the pace of change is very, very slow.

Getting started

Evolving the way we work

In answering the question “What can we do?” the groups were both positive and practical. Most agreed that it’s about developing new habits. So that meant using the same techniques that work for changing other habits.

  1. Make it simple. Just changing someone’s home page can make the platform seem much more accessible. And curated suggestions of people, groups, and content relevant to a person’s division and location make the value more apparent.
  2. Start small. Create situations - such as town halls and other events - where people can find material or ask a question and feel the benefits themselves.
  3. Make it safe. Give every team a private online space to make posting seem less risky.
  4. Leverage social influence. Spend more effort on getting influential people, especially senior management, to model the behavior.
  5. Make it relevant. Provide more content and more integration with daily processes so it’s part of the daily work and not yet another thing to do.

Are we there yet?

After a few years of attending conferences like this one in Berlin, we’ve moved from just talking about the possibilities to having firms of all kinds actively working to change things. We’ve enabled a first wave of experimentation and have our first meaningful sets of stories across a wide range of companies. But how long will it take until a critical mass of people in large firms of working differently?

Later in the week, at a meet-up of early adopters in Frankfurt, I said I thought it would take 3-5 years. When I asked people in the room what they thought, the majority said “a generation.”

Time to get back to work.

Working Out Loud in Berlin

Brandenburg Gate in Berlin I’m sitting on a plane heading back to NY, reading notes from 70+ people about working out loud.

I met those people at the Social Business Collaboration Summit in Berlin. There, with attendees from companies as diverse as IKEA, KPMG, and Asian Paints, I got the chance to ask:

“Did they see the benefits of working out loud?”

“Were they having difficulties helping people at their firms change how they work?”

Here’s what they said.

The easy part: benefits

Contributions during the World Cafe

Groups of 15 or so convened for 30 minutes each in a World Cafe format. After a brief description of working out loud - “making your work visible and narrating your work in progress” - each group quickly listed a series of benefits:

  • makes it easier to spot duplication and identify collaboration opportunities
  • improves quality and timeliness by getting feedback in the early stages of work
  • makes it easier to discover and develop knowledge and expertise
  • helps teams, particularly global teams, feel closer
  • helps break silos and connect the dots across teams
  • fosters innovation by allowing more people to use knowledge in different ways
  • gives people control of their reputation and taps into intrinsic motivation

One woman, with a lovely accent and a sense of the poetic, added “it helps your work develop new routes.”

A simple example from IKEA

"Finding competence"

A woman in the communications division at IKEA told a story of how working out loud helped her team “find competence in unexpected places.” In her area, people around the world have similar jobs managing their local communications sites. Every month, they’d get on a conference call to share information but it wasn’t very effective. The timezones made the call inconvenient for some. And not everyone was comfortable speaking in English. So the calls were dominated by those most confident and awake.

Then the team decided to augment their calls by using their new social platform. And, all of a sudden, “someone who never said anything on the phone was making all these contributions online.” He shifted from being invisible to “becoming influential and a leader in the group.”

“Great,” I said to the others, “now how many stories do you have like this at your firms?”

An uncomfortable truth

As you might expect, most people at a social business conference are used to working out loud themselves. But the number of people doing so at there firms remains woefully low. Even getting people to simply login to a collaboration platform remains a challenge.

This seemed to be true across industries and cultures. Why? All we had were theories and anecdotes:

“Maybe people are too busy.”

“Maybe they’re uncomfortable talking about their work in public.” 

“Maybe their managers suppress them.” 

“Maybe they’re simply surrounded by people working a certain way and it’s too difficult to work differently.”

“Maybe some people would rather be invisible at work.”

So while more and more companies have social collaboration projects, the pace of change is very, very slow.

Getting started

Evolving the way we work

In answering the question “What can we do?” the groups were both positive and practical. Most agreed that it’s about developing new habits. So that meant using the same techniques that work for changing other habits.

  1. Make it simple. Just changing someone’s home page can make the platform seem much more accessible. And curated suggestions of people, groups, and content relevant to a person’s division and location make the value more apparent.
  2. Start small. Create situations - such as town halls and other events - where people can find material or ask a question and feel the benefits themselves.
  3. Make it safe. Give every team a private online space to make posting seem less risky.
  4. Leverage social influence. Spend more effort on getting influential people, especially senior management, to model the behavior.
  5. Make it relevant. Provide more content and more integration with daily processes so it’s part of the daily work and not yet another thing to do.

Are we there yet?

After a few years of attending conferences like this one in Berlin, we’ve moved from just talking about the possibilities to having firms of all kinds actively working to change things. We’ve enabled a first wave of experimentation and have our first meaningful sets of stories across a wide range of companies. But how long will it take until a critical mass of people in large firms of working differently?

Later in the week, at a meet-up of early adopters in Frankfurt, I said I thought it would take 3-5 years. When I asked people in the room what they thought, the majority said “a generation.”

Time to get back to work.

The Value of Collaboration #4: Reducing the cost of internal communications

How much does your intranet cost? The Intranet

In addition to the core infrastructure, add all the different applications - content management systems, Sharepoint, blogs, wikis, etc. Then add the engineers that customize the tools to make them look like modern websites. Then add the people dedicated to producing the newsletter and e-zines and other corporate content.

How much does all of that cost? You probably have no idea.

It turns out that most large firms can comfortably reduce their total intranet spend by $3 million to $7 million if you effectively use modern social platforms and practices.

The problem

In an era where anyone can cheaply and easily publish their own book, ebook, or blog - where even the best newspaper are cutting costs while citizen journalism is on the rise  - most firms are spending far too much money on tools and specialists dedicated to communications.

If I want a beautiful, mobile-friendly, professional website complete with social features, analytics, and more, I can create one in a few minutes for free. Maybe add a few dollars a year to eliminate ads or select a premium design.

Now try and do that at work. You’ll be pointed to a variety of poorly integrated tools, most of which will require customization to have basic features like comments and customizable pages. And that customization, multiplied by 100s or even 1000s of websites, adds up. (A popular statistic, cited here and here, is that for every dollar a firm spends on Sharepoint licenses, they spend $6 to $9 on customization.)

Worse, there are a lot of people involved in producing and governing content. Traditionally, we’ve relied on dedicated communications professionals tell employees the news of the organization. They’re often gatekeepers, too, deciding whether you’re even allowed to have a presence on the intranet. Now, though, the news spreads much more quickly and cheaply, and Communications departments must either be smaller or change what they do.

The solution

The solution involves replacing traditional intranet tools with a social platform and replacing traditional Comms practices with a greater reliance on employees publishing and sharing information.

A modern social platform makes self-publishing at work as easy as it is at home. They tend to support a wide range of content (sites, documents, video, photos, blogs, discussions). Search works extremely well. And the best ones have social and mobile features as core elements of the platform. In all the benchmarking we’ve done, almost every firm that introduced a modern platform has eliminated old tools and greatly reduced their use of dedicated staff or design firms for customization.

And when it comes to content, you may still need people to craft the latest org announcement or news about quarterly earnings. But, since around 2008, people have increasingly relied on social filters for their news rather than professional curators. It’s the popularity and ease-of-use of social platforms that are the cause of that shift.

When everyone can publish, the information flow in your organization can be more relevant, more real-time, and cheaper than ever before.

What’s it worth?

The reduction of communications costs comes in 3 areas.

Consolidating the intranet: Firms I’ve spoken to have eliminated up to a dozen or more  applications and hundreds of websites. That reduces software licenses, hardware, and engineers who develop and support the tools. In all cases I know of that have pursued an intranet consolidation strategy, the savings exceeded $1 million.

Customization: This is one of the most insidious and often the most poorly-controlled costs because it’s typically found in pockets throughout the firm without any central oversight. Combined, my estimate is that large firms spend between $2 million to $10 million on intranet customization by staff and by 3rd-party design firms. (My own group, for example, once spent over $100,000 customizing Sharepoint to support our communities of practice. I’ve heard of internal sites at some firms costing 5x or even 10x that amount. And a large firm might have 100s of groups doing customization of some kind.)

The era of spending large sums tweaking intranet sites should be over. Firms should slash their customization costs by at least 50% for savings between $1 million to $5 million.

People editing content: Perhaps the most contentious and political category is the number of people producing official content and governing the intranet. Of course, most  Communications departments do far more than this. But a considerable subset of what they do is “focused on the announcement of management conclusions and the packaging of management thinking into messages for mass distribution to the 'troops'".

Adding up all of the work related to this subset could easily equate to 50 people across a large firm. And this should be reduced by at least 20%. Assuming a fully-loaded cost of $100,000 per person, that’s another $1 million in savings.

Why doesn’t everyone do it?

The biggest barriers seem to be control and fear. The people who own their particular tool or website cling to it as part of their value to the firm. And it’s the rare person who actively seeks to reinvent their job while trying to keep it.

But even communications professionals recognize the need for change, as described in this useful post entitled “The Internal Communications Department of the Future” by a former Communications head:

 “No longer can we afford to (only) cascade messages down from the top. Our organizations have become too complex and too slow to rely upon such an antiquated method. We need to be more nimble, transparent, and inclusive."

He then points out that the story can be about more than cutting communications costs. It can be about changing the very work of Communications to make it more useful and meaningful:

"...Even though I advocate a future where everyone is a communicator, communications professionals still have a pivotal role to play: helping others, throughout the organization, to become better communicators, and highlighting the best of employee contributions, while also reinforcing key messages around strategy and values. Such reinforcement aids in prioritization, so that scarce resources are more productive on the right things.”

In addition to saving millions, such a change would be good for the firm and all the people in it.

7 questions you’ll face as you modernize your company

The 7 Questions

“Yes”, I was thinking to myself, “I’ve been there.”

I was talking with two more large firms this week about modernizing work and they were sharing the challenges they’re facing. One firm is considering buying a social business platform and the other wants to make even better use of the platform they already have. And for all of the many differences between the companies I see, it turns out we tend to face the same questions, in roughly the same sequence, time after time.

As a company evolves, the questions shift from fear of the unknown to a desire for utility to excitement about innovative possibilities. And the answers tend to be - or can be - the same across companies.

Knowing the questions and answers in advance might help you modernize your firm more quickly. Or at least provide some comfort that others are sharing in the same challenges and struggles.

“Can we do that?”

If you suggest using a social platform at work, you’ll quickly face a range of concerns from different departments - compliance, legal, HR, data privacy, data security, IT - and it can be overwhelming.

It’s work to sort through the rules. To do the research and benchmarking so you know what others have done. To meet with each department and have the same meeting multiple times until they’re comfortable. To write the policies and guidelines. But the short answer is “Yes, you can do that.” Hundreds of large firms have shown that, if you do the work, you will absolutely be able to get past this initial question.

“What if people say something they shouldn’t?”

People are messy. If there are enough people using your platform, someone somewhere will indeed post something that’s offensive, wrong, in violation of your terms & conditions, or just stupid.

The good news is that this rarely happens. By not allowing anonymous posts, you greatly limit the most egregious behavior. In addition, platforms support a “report abuse” feature which allows posts to be hidden (and subject to moderation) with a single click if you like. In addition, all posts can be retained and monitored.

After 16 months, we’ve had less than two dozen questionable posts and all were resolved without invoking the moderation process. Not all firms are so lucky, but none that I’ve met have found objectionable behavior to be a major problem.

“What’s it worth?”

You’ll face this question when you first consider using a platform and you’ll continue to face it for almost the entire life of your project. I avoided answering it at first - “It’s too hard to calculate the ROI!” - and that was a mistake.

It turns out there’s an entire class of collective efficiency ideas that will pay for your collaboration program many times over. Even before you work with businesses to generate more revenue, you can gain credibility and trust by using social tools and practices to identify and eliminate waste. (Some may even change your culture and save lives.)

“Will anyone use it?”

Before we started, we really didn’t know how many people would use our platform. Our own team’s estimates turned out to be woefully low compared to what actually happened.

But that’s not a guarantee. Too many firms treat collaboration as an IT project and wind up surprised when they hit a plateau, having exhausted the supply of eager early adopters.

Still, almost all firms wind up getting a critical mass using their platform within the first year or two. People seem to naturally like the ease of publishing and the interaction. But your firm will want more than that, and the questions get harder from here on.

“Is it official?”

You’ll face this question after you have significant activity on the platform but before the institution itself - namely Comms and senior managers - have embraced it.

For Comms, it’s often a question of control and of sunk costs. If a group has invested in a web site and is the only one who can publish on it, they're more likely to resist the tide of self-publishing that comes with modern platforms. For executives, they're simply waiting for Comms - or for other executives - to show them that it’s worth their time and that it's safe.

This is one of those questions that fades over time. More and more groups will opt for the ease, the interaction, and the social features of a modern platform. Those groups will influence other groups to do the same, and the old intranet controlled by Comms will, slowly, fade away.

For an increasing number of firms, their social platform is the intranet. What’s “official” will be more a question of who is doing the publishing than which content management system you use. And that’s how it should be.

“Will businesses use it?”

Some divisions will be more likely to make use of the social platform than others. IT, for example, is typically more comfortable with the tools and might place more value on social recognition than, say, salespeople.

The key to engaging people beyond the early adopters is to focus on specific use cases that help specific sets of people become more effective. Social isn’t the headline, value is.

For businesses, that typically means relying more heavily on curated content (e.g., information about clients) and on ready-made networks to provide support or answer questions (e.g., client teams and product teams). It also means a relentless drive for greater convenience, adapting your platform for a businessperson’s everyday workflow instead of trying to adapt businesspeople to your platform.

This is hard. And the only times I’ve seen firms come close to making progress is if they have a small center of excellence that can spend dedicated time in the field working on business-specific use cases and flows.

“What else can we do with it?”

If you get this question, take a moment and savor it. It means you’ve come a long way and put most of the other questions behind you. It means people in your company have moved beyond the basics and the barriers and are open to new possibilities.

Very few firms are at this stage. (We hear this question only occasionally.) But as you grow your portfolio of value stories, as more people use your platform for everyday work, as your culture shifts to one of greater openness and genuine collaboration, you’ll hear this question more and more. And you’ll be bounded only by your creativity and inspiration.

Getting to the 7th question

It seems more and more companies are tired of being 10-15 years behind what we see on the Internet. Frustrated with the overwhelming amount of email and meetings used to share information. And genuinely worried about the lack of engagement and the lack of appeal for younger generations.

But it took decades to create the deeply-rutted habits of how we work today.  And it will take a comprehensive strategy, a wide range of tactics, and dogged persistence to modernize how work gets done in big companies.

We’re only in the second year of that shift and it may take 3-4 more years, maybe longer. Meeting with other companies and writing this post reminds me of how far we’ve come and how far we’ve yet to go.

How about you? Are their other questions you face? Would you like to meet and compare progress and challenges? By sharing what works and what doesn’t, we can all make work more effective and more fulfilling, more quickly.

If Abe Lincoln had a social network

What would Lincoln do? Last week, my coach and friend, Moyra Mackie, wrote a good post about the value of management by walking around (MBWA) and about the benefits of managers being available for their teams.

She described how Lincoln is credited with using this technique during the Civil War. How Hewlett-Packard executives practiced it in the 1970s and Tom Peters and others wrote about it in the 1980s.

Now, modern managers will nod their head knowingly when you mention this useful practice. But an incredibly small number of managers are taking advantage of an improvement to the technique that’s available today - one that Lincoln could have only dreamed about.

MBWA

It’s the unplanned, unfiltered nature of MBWA that results in the manager receiving useful information. Here’s a helpful definition from Wikipedia:

“The term management by wandering around (MBWA), also management by walking around, refers to a style of business management which involves managers wandering around, in an unstructured manner, through the workplace(s), at random, to check with employees, or equipment, about the status of ongoing work. The emphasis is on the word wandering as an impromptu movement within a workplace, rather than a plan where employees expect a visit from managers at more systematic, pre-approved or scheduled times. The expected benefit is that a manager, by random sampling of events or employee discussions, is more likely to facilitate the productivity and total quality management of the organization, as compared to remaining in a specific office area and waiting for employees, or the delivery of status reports, to arrive there, as events warrant in the workplace.”

Lincoln in the 1860s

In the Lincoln biography, “With Malice Toward None”, Prof. Stephen Oates asserts that Lincoln invented MBWA. And Moyra writes about why he did it:

 “During the American Civil War, President Abraham Lincoln would surprise his generals and their men with impromptu troop inspections. By seeking out and listening to ordinary soldiers and observing what was happening, his habit of unannounced visits allowed him to get an unfiltered view on which to base future decisions.”

Instead of waiting for information to come to him, perhaps tainted by the interests of generals, Lincoln went and got it himself. (Over a hundred years later, Deming noted “If you wait for people to come to you, you’ll only get small problems. You must go and find them.”)

In addition to this valuable feedback leading to better decisions, Moyra describes how Lincoln’s direct interactions with troops could also “kickstart a two way process of communication and learning”.

Lincoln today

MBWA, when done well, does indeed have these benefits. But even for Lincoln it was incredibly limited: the time required to travel to meet troops in the field; the very small number of people he could interact with; the difficulty of getting honest feedback from a private to the President. It was easy for MBWA to devolve into just speeches to large crowds or staged tours to meet a few pre-selected soldiers.

If Lincoln had a social network, he would complement his historic trips by virtually walking around his organization. From the White House, he would see what soldiers across the country were saying when they didn’t think he was listening. He would provide feedback and encouragement that everyone could see. Inspiration that everyone could read and share. Lessons and directions that everyone could learn from.

He would still go to the field. But he would augment the practice he invented with modern techniques that would make him even more effective and help his troops be even more engaged in their mission.

Modern managers, more pressed for time than ever before, could learn a lot from what Lincoln did - and would do.

If Abe Lincoln had a social network

What would Lincoln do? Last week, my coach and friend, Moyra Mackie, wrote a good post about the value of management by walking around (MBWA) and about the benefits of managers being available for their teams.

She described how Lincoln is credited with using this technique during the Civil War. How Hewlett-Packard executives practiced it in the 1970s and Tom Peters and others wrote about it in the 1980s.

Now, modern managers will nod their head knowingly when you mention this useful practice. But an incredibly small number of managers are taking advantage of an improvement to the technique that’s available today - one that Lincoln could have only dreamed about.

MBWA

It’s the unplanned, unfiltered nature of MBWA that results in the manager receiving useful information. Here’s a helpful definition from Wikipedia:

“The term management by wandering around (MBWA), also management by walking around, refers to a style of business management which involves managers wandering around, in an unstructured manner, through the workplace(s), at random, to check with employees, or equipment, about the status of ongoing work. The emphasis is on the word wandering as an impromptu movement within a workplace, rather than a plan where employees expect a visit from managers at more systematic, pre-approved or scheduled times. The expected benefit is that a manager, by random sampling of events or employee discussions, is more likely to facilitate the productivity and total quality management of the organization, as compared to remaining in a specific office area and waiting for employees, or the delivery of status reports, to arrive there, as events warrant in the workplace.”

Lincoln in the 1860s

In the Lincoln biography, “With Malice Toward None”, Prof. Stephen Oates asserts that Lincoln invented MBWA. And Moyra writes about why he did it:

 “During the American Civil War, President Abraham Lincoln would surprise his generals and their men with impromptu troop inspections. By seeking out and listening to ordinary soldiers and observing what was happening, his habit of unannounced visits allowed him to get an unfiltered view on which to base future decisions.”

Instead of waiting for information to come to him, perhaps tainted by the interests of generals, Lincoln went and got it himself. (Over a hundred years later, Deming noted “If you wait for people to come to you, you’ll only get small problems. You must go and find them.”)

In addition to this valuable feedback leading to better decisions, Moyra describes how Lincoln’s direct interactions with troops could also “kickstart a two way process of communication and learning”.

Lincoln today

MBWA, when done well, does indeed have these benefits. But even for Lincoln it was incredibly limited: the time required to travel to meet troops in the field; the very small number of people he could interact with; the difficulty of getting honest feedback from a private to the President. It was easy for MBWA to devolve into just speeches to large crowds or staged tours to meet a few pre-selected soldiers.

If Lincoln had a social network, he would complement his historic trips by virtually walking around his organization. From the White House, he would see what soldiers across the country were saying when they didn’t think he was listening. He would provide feedback and encouragement that everyone could see. Inspiration that everyone could read and share. Lessons and directions that everyone could learn from.

He would still go to the field. But he would augment the practice he invented with modern techniques that would make him even more effective and help his troops be even more engaged in their mission.

Modern managers, more pressed for time than ever before, could learn a lot from what Lincoln did - and would do.

“So she posted her solution online, and then...”

Catarina Mota on TED.com If you watch TED talks, you’ll hear this phrase over and over and over again. People who are aspiring to make a difference will share their work online so others can use it and improve on it.

Yet it’s a phrase you might never hear at work.

Why not? And what can we do about it?

Eliciting contribution

What the people who deliver those TED talks know - and what any open source developer or student of the Internet knows - is that when you share your work online, you tend to identify relevant experts and elicit contribution.

This may seem obvious for famous examples like Wikipedia and Linux. But it’s true for an incredible range of things. Drones, genetics, gardening, production methods and materials, education. There’s even a blueprint for an entire civilization. Almost anything you can think of can benefit from the contribution of other people.

Given the incredible diversity of examples on the Internet, it follows that people doing similar project work for their firm would also benefit by posting it online where other employees could see it and build on it. And that firms would benefit from a culture of sharing and contribution.

3 barriers to sharing at work

Of the many possible reasons why people at work don’t emulate what we see on the Internet, there are 3 reasons I come across most often:

"I don’t know how." Despite the large number of examples on the web, the vast majority of people have simply never experienced sharing their work online and collaborating with others as a result. And some may not have a convenient facility for publishing content at work.

"I don’t know if it will be useful." For the minority of people that know what to do and have a way to do it, there’s often an uncertainty as to whether their contributions would be valuable. They also struggle with how to get the attention of relevant people.

"I won’t get credit." A more insidious barrier is when people feel their contributions won’t be recognized. Particularly in a management system of competitive ratings and bonuses, there is a heightened sense of internal competition. Feeling like you’re fighting for your share of a finite pie will grossly inhibit your willingness to contribute and collaborate.

One way to start improving contribution

Instead of trying to convince everyone to share and then hoping that specific topic-based networks form, you can form those networks first. Then you focus on helping a few people in that network lead through contribution. (This assumes you have a social platform at work. If you don’t, this might help you implement one.)

Here’s one possible sequence:

  • identify a specific role or kind of job at your firm
  • create a role-based community of practice to connect those people
  • teach people in that community to work out loud - making their work visible and narrating their work as they do it
  • help the community manager recognize contribution and share stories of personal and commercial value
  • work with community leaders and your initial contributors to teach others

This approach addresses the top 3 barriers. By focusing on a smaller group of people, you can better help them work out loud effectively. By concentrating the effort in a role-based community of practice, the relevance of the contribution - what you might contribute and who might use it - is more obvious. Now, individuals who are contributing don’t have to figure out how to identify relevant people because you’ve already created the exact network they need to leverage.

And credit? This comes in several forms. Social recognition from relevant peers is often powerful enough to drive continued contribution. Beyond that, though, it’s the role-based community that knows about all the good jobs within the firm. When individuals contribute, they do so for their own reputation and their access to opportunities in addition to the good of the community.

To get started, you don't need everyone to contribute. And you’re not trying to convince people about the value of social media or connecting. It's just the Internet at work.

Community by community, you're simply helping people apply the tools and practices we see on the Internet to make work better inside our firms. The value that will create is what will power a movement towards greater openness and contribution at your firm.

 

“So she posted her solution online, and then...”

Catarina Mota on TED.com If you watch TED talks, you’ll hear this phrase over and over and over again. People who are aspiring to make a difference will share their work online so others can use it and improve on it.

Yet it’s a phrase you might never hear at work.

Why not? And what can we do about it?

Eliciting contribution

What the people who deliver those TED talks know - and what any open source developer or student of the Internet knows - is that when you share your work online, you tend to identify relevant experts and elicit contribution.

This may seem obvious for famous examples like Wikipedia and Linux. But it’s true for an incredible range of things. Drones, genetics, gardening, production methods and materials, education. There’s even a blueprint for an entire civilization. Almost anything you can think of can benefit from the contribution of other people.

Given the incredible diversity of examples on the Internet, it follows that people doing similar project work for their firm would also benefit by posting it online where other employees could see it and build on it. And that firms would benefit from a culture of sharing and contribution.

3 barriers to sharing at work

Of the many possible reasons why people at work don’t emulate what we see on the Internet, there are 3 reasons I come across most often:

"I don’t know how." Despite the large number of examples on the web, the vast majority of people have simply never experienced sharing their work online and collaborating with others as a result. And some may not have a convenient facility for publishing content at work.

"I don’t know if it will be useful." For the minority of people that know what to do and have a way to do it, there’s often an uncertainty as to whether their contributions would be valuable. They also struggle with how to get the attention of relevant people.

"I won’t get credit." A more insidious barrier is when people feel their contributions won’t be recognized. Particularly in a management system of competitive ratings and bonuses, there is a heightened sense of internal competition. Feeling like you’re fighting for your share of a finite pie will grossly inhibit your willingness to contribute and collaborate.

One way to start improving contribution

Instead of trying to convince everyone to share and then hoping that specific topic-based networks form, you can form those networks first. Then you focus on helping a few people in that network lead through contribution. (This assumes you have a social platform at work. If you don’t, this might help you implement one.)

Here’s one possible sequence:

  • identify a specific role or kind of job at your firm
  • create a role-based community of practice to connect those people
  • teach people in that community to work out loud - making their work visible and narrating their work as they do it
  • help the community manager recognize contribution and share stories of personal and commercial value
  • work with community leaders and your initial contributors to teach others

This approach addresses the top 3 barriers. By focusing on a smaller group of people, you can better help them work out loud effectively. By concentrating the effort in a role-based community of practice, the relevance of the contribution - what you might contribute and who might use it - is more obvious. Now, individuals who are contributing don’t have to figure out how to identify relevant people because you’ve already created the exact network they need to leverage.

And credit? This comes in several forms. Social recognition from relevant peers is often powerful enough to drive continued contribution. Beyond that, though, it’s the role-based community that knows about all the good jobs within the firm. When individuals contribute, they do so for their own reputation and their access to opportunities in addition to the good of the community.

To get started, you don't need everyone to contribute. And you’re not trying to convince people about the value of social media or connecting. It's just the Internet at work.

Community by community, you're simply helping people apply the tools and practices we see on the Internet to make work better inside our firms. The value that will create is what will power a movement towards greater openness and contribution at your firm.

 

The best innovation program isn’t a program at all

Most innovation programs are broken Despite 1000s of years of evolution and countless books and studies on human motivation, we’re still using the Innovation Program and it’s cousin, the Suggestion Box, to inspire people to create change.

These devices - and the general “let’s offer a prize!” mindset at work - are overused, demeaning, and ineffective.

If you want to improve work, there’s a better way to bring good ideas to life.

How to disappoint people 97% of the time (or more)

The problem with most innovation programs is they ask for ideas and then apply a filter to reject most of them. This week, Nick Milton posted a cogent argument on “Why the Funnel model doesn’t work for small process innovations”:

“I saw a presentation the other day from one company which included a description of their Ideas process. This process was like a suggestion scheme, based on a funnel model, with online submission, and a series of filters which refined the idea until it was accepted. The presenter describing the system said that ideas were sought on improvements at all scales, and that to date they had received 35000 ideas and implemented 1000 of them.

You can hear this statistic, and think ‘Hey, great, 1000 implemented ideas’, or you can think ‘Hmmmm - 34000 disappointed people and wasted opportunities’.”

This kind of ratio applies to most idea programs. mystarbucks, for example, is one of the most celebrated suggestion programs, recently celebrating their 5th year and the 275th idea they've implemented. But that was out of over 150,000 submissions.

Of course it’s nice for people to have a voice. And sometimes, like Starbucks, you need significant resources to change products or processes. But for most improvements, the act of filtering out the vast majority of ideas using a central decision-making body, typically people who are far removed from the work, does more to kill innovation than promote it.

The place for prizes

One of the motivations for people to submit a suggestion in the first place is often a prize of some sort. Perhaps an iPad or gift card or recognition on a corporate website.

And sometimes prizes do produce results. The Royal Society of the Arts, for example, produced 1000s of innovations in the 1770s from the spinning wheel to advances in naval construction. The more modern X Prize helped launch the private spaceflight industry.

But in the successful examples, the money wasn’t simply for an idea. Instead, it was to provide resources to implement the idea or to otherwise reward people who had to expend considerable resources on implementation. The real motivation comes from the ability to implement as well as the potential rewards after the idea is implemented.

At work, a small reward for simply having an idea is patronizing and perhaps worse. There’s plenty of research showing that offering monetary rewards actually limits creative thinking. And when there are successful programs - as with Toyota’s famous suggestion program seeing over 80% of the ideas implemented - it’s not because of better prizes, but because people intrinsically wanted to make their work better. And, as Nick Milton points out, because the suggestions they made were approved in a localized, distributed process by people much closer to the work.

A different approach

Want innovation? Connect people.

And so, the best innovation program isn’t a program at all. Because what firms need isn’t soliciting more ideas and waiting for managers to do something with them.

What they need are new ways of  bringing ideas to life. New ways for people who are passionate about something to find each other and experiment with implementation so they can drive change.

One of the best and cheapest ways a firm can increase innovation in this way is to connect employees with a corporate social network and encourage them to use it. Since creating such a environment, we’ve seen improvements in customer service, elimination of waste, executive communications, and other areas. The innovations with the biggest commercial and cultural value never came out of a program and there were no prizes. Instead, the spontaneous online movements were motivated by intrinsic rewards of peer recognition, learning, social connections, and making their own work better.

Want more innovation? Remember that passion and perseverance among connected individuals trumps an idea in the hands of management.