Why would these manufacturing companies want to Work Out Loud?

This month I began working with three new clients: a mining company, a chemical company, and a steel company. These are not the kind of clients I ever expected to have, and yet there I was, helping each of them spread Working Out Loud Circles

Why would they care?

In the mining company, it’s HR sponsoring the initiative. They’re integrating WOL Circles into a graduate training program and a digital leaders program, and both groups are looking for ways to help employees be connected, effective, and engaged.

The Chief Digital Officer sponsored the kick-off in the chemical company. They have a wide-reaching remit, including expanding the use and impact of the internal social tools, and Circles will help them tap into more intrinsic motivation for using those tools.

The steel company was different. The initial effort was sponsored by the head of internal communications, who wanted to drive adoption of tools and make the culture even more open and collaborative. But HR was also involved, and we quickly began talking about other challenges where WOL could help.

There is no one best way to introduce Working Out Loud into an organization. It depends on the people, the environment, and the culture. Sometimes WOL is another skill you can learn in the corporate training academy, and sometimes it’s integrated into an existing program like one of these:

  • On-boarding
  • Graduate training
  • Digital transformation
  • Career mobility
  • Talent development
  • Leadership development
  • Diversity
  • Innovation
  • Mentoring

To find your own best way, join a Circle yourself or spread the first few at your organization. A mining company, a chemical company, and a steel company are all ready to try something new: scalable, hands-on, social learning to help their people develop new skills and make their organizations better. 

Are you and your organization ready? 

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.

“If the news is that important, it will find me.”

Back in 2008, it was already clear that people were consuming information differently.

Rather than going to professional portals, people were increasingly relying on their social networks to deliver relevant and highly personalized information.

So why do you still have a home page at work? And what should you have instead?

The media shift

Barack Obama’s run for the presidency was a watershed campaign in many ways, including the use of media. Eight months before the election, his internet videos would garner millions of views despite receiving little attention from reporters.

Behind all those views were links from 500+ bloggers and individuals sharing the video via Facebook.

A NY Times article in March, 2008, described the behaviors of younger voters:

“According to interviews and recent surveys, younger voters tend to be not just consumers of news and current events but conduits as well — sending out e-mailed links and videos to friends and their social networks. And in turn, they rely on friends and online connections for news to come to them. In essence, they are replacing the professional filter — reading The Washington Post, clicking on CNN.com — with a social one.”

That last line is the key. More and more, people trust their social network over a paid professional to filter out the noise and deliver useful content.

As one blogger wrote: “the very fact that someone you know — or trust — has passed on or blogged or Twittered or posted a link makes it more likely that you will read it.”

A student put it even more simply: “If the news is that important, it will find me.”

The future of internal communications

Fours years later, we still have editors and critics. They just don’t have the same influence they used to have.

At most companies, though, we’re communicating like it’s 1999, relying on internal communications to broadcast messages to staff.

A post titled “The death of Internal Comms?” sums up the feelings of most employees:

“Sending a weekly dirge of “What’s happening in MegaCorp, Blue Widgets Division”, will just get your message canned. Sending a series of links *may* be better, as at least you won’t be quite so hated, but probably won’t get your message across better.”

We know the prevalent internal communications methods don’t work well. Now, we’re just starting to see what the future looks.

In the years since the Obama campaign, companies are beginning to use social platforms and more authentic voices to “get the message across.” We’re learning that people want to hear from other people - not institutions - and that they’ll rely on their network to discover what’s important enough to read or comment on.

An example

Recently, there was a large conference at work with many senior managers in attendance. Traditionally, the internal communications staff would write up an article after the event, post it on their intranet portal, and send an email to employees with a summary and a link.

This time, though, those same communications people selected more junior staff (outside of communications) to attend the conference and serve as roaming reporters. The reporters posted live updates throughout the conference using the firm’s new collaboration platform. Communications staff also posted but they added to the conversation instead of dominating it.

Now, without email and without searching, people at all levels from around the world were following the conference by following real people (“I felt like I was there”). And, more importantly, they were able to participate.

The graduates were particularly active, asking questions and contributing content. But senior people at the event also used the social platform, soliciting ideas and feedback, adding comments to other conversations. People discovered the hot topics via their newsfeeds, added comments and likes, and interacted with people across their division (and some from other divisions).

We’d never had anything like that before.

Better for the individual and for the firm

Far from being dead, the internal communications function at that conference became much more valuable. They went from producing impersonal content with few readers and zero feedback to using social tools and practices to engage a larger audience in more meaningful ways.

Whether you’re a communications professional, a senior manager, or just someone who has something to say, that kind of transformation is available to you.

If you’re still relying on people coming to you for your message (or visiting your portal or reading your email), then you’re missing one of the biggest communications shifts in history.

We know there are better ways. What are you waiting for?

“If the news is that important, it will find me.”

Back in 2008, it was already clear that people were consuming information differently.

Rather than going to professional portals, people were increasingly relying on their social networks to deliver relevant and highly personalized information.

So why do you still have a home page at work? And what should you have instead?

The media shift

Barack Obama’s run for the presidency was a watershed campaign in many ways, including the use of media. Eight months before the election, his internet videos would garner millions of views despite receiving little attention from reporters.

Behind all those views were links from 500+ bloggers and individuals sharing the video via Facebook.

A NY Times article in March, 2008, described the behaviors of younger voters:

“According to interviews and recent surveys, younger voters tend to be not just consumers of news and current events but conduits as well — sending out e-mailed links and videos to friends and their social networks. And in turn, they rely on friends and online connections for news to come to them. In essence, they are replacing the professional filter — reading The Washington Post, clicking on CNN.com — with a social one.”

That last line is the key. More and more, people trust their social network over a paid professional to filter out the noise and deliver useful content.

As one blogger wrote: “the very fact that someone you know — or trust — has passed on or blogged or Twittered or posted a link makes it more likely that you will read it.”

A student put it even more simply: “If the news is that important, it will find me.”

The future of internal communications

Fours years later, we still have editors and critics. They just don’t have the same influence they used to have.

At most companies, though, we’re communicating like it’s 1999, relying on internal communications to broadcast messages to staff.

A post titled “The death of Internal Comms?” sums up the feelings of most employees:

“Sending a weekly dirge of “What’s happening in MegaCorp, Blue Widgets Division”, will just get your message canned. Sending a series of links *may* be better, as at least you won’t be quite so hated, but probably won’t get your message across better.”

We know the prevalent internal communications methods don’t work well. Now, we’re just starting to see what the future looks.

In the years since the Obama campaign, companies are beginning to use social platforms and more authentic voices to “get the message across.” We’re learning that people want to hear from other people - not institutions - and that they’ll rely on their network to discover what’s important enough to read or comment on.

An example

Recently, there was a large conference at work with many senior managers in attendance. Traditionally, the internal communications staff would write up an article after the event, post it on their intranet portal, and send an email to employees with a summary and a link.

This time, though, those same communications people selected more junior staff (outside of communications) to attend the conference and serve as roaming reporters. The reporters posted live updates throughout the conference using the firm’s new collaboration platform. Communications staff also posted but they added to the conversation instead of dominating it.

Now, without email and without searching, people at all levels from around the world were following the conference by following real people (“I felt like I was there”). And, more importantly, they were able to participate.

The graduates were particularly active, asking questions and contributing content. But senior people at the event also used the social platform, soliciting ideas and feedback, adding comments to other conversations. People discovered the hot topics via their newsfeeds, added comments and likes, and interacted with people across their division (and some from other divisions).

We’d never had anything like that before.

Better for the individual and for the firm

Far from being dead, the internal communications function at that conference became much more valuable. They went from producing impersonal content with few readers and zero feedback to using social tools and practices to engage a larger audience in more meaningful ways.

Whether you’re a communications professional, a senior manager, or just someone who has something to say, that kind of transformation is available to you.

If you’re still relying on people coming to you for your message (or visiting your portal or reading your email), then you’re missing one of the biggest communications shifts in history.

We know there are better ways. What are you waiting for?