The moral of my medieval fable ( #intranet #digitalworkplace )

Following my last post, several people asked me to explain further what I meant by my Medieval Fable … some even seemed a little upset (<- sorry about that) … so, here goes!

Evolution of the intranet

Simple diagram on the left

In May 2011, I published the simple diagram on the left asking the question about the relationship between the intranet as we then knew it and this new-fangled Digital Workplace thingy which people were beginning to talk about (if you have time to read through the comments on the original post, they make quite interesting reading).

You see the ‘graph’ on the right of the simple diagram on the left … er … well, that’s the moral of my fable.

WHAT, you need MORE explanation??? Seriously, what’s not to get???

OK … I’m going to go out-on-a-limb here and make some assumptions (<– I realise that this is tantamount to sticking a ‘Kick Me’ sign on my own back, but here goes …!)

Assumption 1: Any company worth its salt has an intranet of some description.

Assumption 2: An intranet is an environment/platform/whatever where content is published (<- I know the word published is a bit 1990s, but it still pretty-much covers what has to happen to stuff for it to become visible to other people on an intranet).

Assumption 3: Most – maybe all (?) – intranets have an Intranet Manager of some description.

Assumption 4: Intranet Managers are appointed because they know something about intranets (even those who don’t could pick up the basics from half-a-day’s reading of a handful of great intranet blogs). Intranet Managers know stuff like: good governance is essential; intranet strategy needs to support the business objectives; put users at the centre; business- not technology-led; blah blah; etc. etc.

Assumption 5: Given all the above, being an Intranet Manager is not rocket science (<- that doesn’t make it easy by the way!).

Assumption 7: Intranet Managers can’t count (<- just checking you’re still paying attention).

Assumption 6: As a company’s intranet matures, the list of stuff in Assumption 4 becomes business-as-usual and things start to run themselves to some extent.

Assumption 7: lots/many companies have probably got to Assumption 6 in their maturity cycle (<- OUCH … who kicked me!?).

Assumption 8: So, the more effective we are as Intranet Managers, the more invisible we are to users and, ironically, to senior management who only really take an interest when something goes wrong and they are looking for someone to blame (<- that probably came across a little more cynically than I intended but you know what I mean!).

… and then, along comes the Digital Workplace Monster. As my simple diagram on the left shows, the Digital Workplace Monster gobbles up the intranet. By gobbles up, I mean the intranet as we now know it, suddenly becomes a (small?) component of a bigger ecosystem known as the Digital Workplace.

To put it another way, the intranet becomes the utility cupboard under the sink in the Digital Workplace kitchen … the place where stuff (content) gets put so you can grab it when you need it. The stuff in the cupboard under the sink is important if you need to unblock the plug-hole, descale the kettle or clean the sink etc. … but, frankly, it’s not very exciting. It’s reliable … always there … and useful when you need it.

So, here’s the thing … six months ago you were the Intranet Manager – the go-to-guy (or guyette) guiding your organisation digitally into the twenty-second century. Today … you manage the cupboard under the kitchen sink.

It’s worth thinking about … that’s all I’m saying!


Dear Senior Manager – please play nicely in our social channels #internalcomms #intranet #socialmedia

If I had to give a senior manager a bit of advice about how to be successful in using social channels on our intranet, it would be something like this:


The critical success factor for engaging in a social channel as a senior manager is getting the tone of your engagement right. You need to ensure that you maintain the right balance between being authoritative as a senior manager and being an individual engaging in a conversation with another individual. Influence in social channels is something you earn over time by engaging in the right way and not something automatically conferred upon you because of your role in the organisation.

 Influence comes from being part of the conversation, not part of the establishment.

 It is also important to accept that your people need to collaborate in social channels to be effective in their jobs – they need to trust that you endorse this activity and that they are not being judged negatively for being active participants. Your early interactions, as a senior manager, will be critical to the health of social collaboration by your people going forward. 

The following points should help you find the right tone in your responses. When responding to an individual in a social channel, you should never

  • preach at them or talk down to them
  • hide behind quotes from company literature or use management speak as a surrogate for authentic engagement
  • use jargon, abbreviations and marketing/business language
  • throw your weight around and act in a heavy handed manner because of your position in the company.

You should always:

  •  listen first
  • be honest, open and authentic in all your responses – which includes owning up to mistakes as quickly as possible
  • deal with negative sentiment head on – ignoring negative sentiment inevitably results in it spiralling out of control – remember … negative sentiment almost always comes from an un-met need which you can probably meet
  • stick around and follow-up on comments you might make in a given conversation – making a comment and then leaving is not engaging in a conversation.

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In conversation: social media and corporate culture

The fourth in the series of in conversation with Red Sky Vision talking about social media and corporate culture. It’s quite long (6 mins: 53 sec) but I think it’s quite interesting (I would wouldn’t I 🙂 ).

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Employee comms people need therapy …

I was on the expert(?) panel at the CIPR Inside event last night at the very nice Soho offices of Hill & Knowlton. The event was about leadership communications and an interesting debate ensued. I won’t attempt to post notes here covering the whole event, as Scott McKenzie of H&K took copious notes and will probably publish them somewhere at some point …

I thought I’d share some of my own deliberations on the subject as I can just about remember them!

The original question the panel was asked was: What do leaders want from their internal communications people?

My immediate response was: relationship counselling (they might not know they want it, but they definitely need it!)

Here’s why … if you accept that internal comms is about building and managing the relationship between the management and employees of an organisation, then the discipline itself is really macro relationship counselling.

I think leaders want their people to trust them, respect them, be loyal to them, and be inspired and enthused into action by them. This will only happen if leaders have a healthy relationship with the people concerned. Leaders who don’t have this kind of relationship will find that, while they might have power, they’ll have no influence … the worst kind of leadership imaginable.

To help create and maintain relationships you need to REALLY understand human nature … the best way to understand what makes people tick, is to find out what makes you tick first. One way to do this, is to have some therapy!

So, my top tip for the best training available for internal comms people is six month’s psychotherapy! 🙂

As an aside, given what I’ve said above, I personally think employee relations better describes the discipline than employee communications.

[I’ve talked a bit about leadership before on this blog: here and here. There’s also an article on the future of leadership communications]

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Feel the fear and do it anyway …

For the first time, I’ve started writing a blog post without really having a clear idea about what I want to say or what point I want to get across. Given the growing tide of bad news battering our lives at the moment, it felt like a good idea to write something about … well … feelings. I’ve no idea where this is going, but here goes …

Sustainability has become such a buzzword these days that it’s become almost meaningless … but, there is a dimension to sustainability that seems to get little attention – personal sustainability … in other words not the external, macro-level sustainability talked about all the time, but an inner dimension that is personal to each of us and that fuels and energises us each day … a sustainability that offers periodic renewal so that we can embrace life and work with new enthusiasm and through fresh eyes.

Over the last few weeks in BT we’ve had a series of much publicised announcements that have made people feel uneasy … nervous … frightened even. We’ve had announcements about poor business performance in our global services division; the need to cut costs and jobs; possible changes to our pension scheme which will make it less attractive to members going forward; … to name but a few!

Don’t get me wrong … all these announcements have been handled VERY professionally … employees have been, or are being, consulted and we get very thorough and timely communications. And, frankly, these changes have been a long time coming and are absolutely essential for BT to be a sustainable (… that word again!) and profitable business going forward. However, while deep down I know that these changes are necessary and far from a surprise, it doesn’t make me feel great to hear them.

So, I hear you say, what the hell have my feelings got to do with my employer?? Quite a lot actually … if I’m not happy and fulfilled I’m certainly not going to be loyal, motivated and probably won’t give a damn about my work. If I don’t give a damn about my work, I certainly won’t be engaged and probably won’t give a damn about the customers annoying me all day. If I feel isolated and disconnected from my colleagues, I’m going to suffer more deeply and internalise or depress these feelings, making them even worse. If I don’t have an outlet to express my feelings and if I don’t feel heard, I’m going to get frustrated and angry.

Wow … lots of touchy feely stuff there … I can feel the suits getting anxious 🙂

While I’m not supporting the notion of nanny-plc, I do think companies have a responsibility to provide ways for employees to become connected, to express how they feel, and to engage in conversation. Companies also have a responsibility to support an environment of trust and openness in which employees feel safe to participate in these activities without fear of retribution.

And, when a company does provides these tools and creates the right atmosphere, employees have a responsibility to use them … to express how they feel … both good and bad … to engage openly and honestly however hard that might be to do. Employees also need to learn to help themselves … to get connected, build relationships … make their presence felt so that when bad times do come, they are as well equipped as possible to get through them.

A healthy relationship is an open relationship and all those in that relationship have responsibilities to make it work.

So, I guess what I’m saying in a very roundabout kind of way, is that creating the kind of company that will be successful and that people will want to work for requires tough choices and great leadership … from both management AND employees. Getting social technology working successfully inside the enterprise is more than just another technology implementation project … it’s about understanding people and how they think, behave and FEEL … a lot of the old rules won’t apply … the question is, when our backs are against the wall and when every penny counts, who will be brave enough to acknowledge this?

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Social networking in business study

AT&T, in association with a consulting firm called Early Strategies Consulting, published a very good short white paper last week called: The Business Impacts of Social Networking. As well as a nice, simple introduction to some of the principles of web 2.0, it lists ten predictions and ten challenges for businesses in this space. I’ve reproduced them below:

Ten predictions:

  1. Corporations will change the way they communicate
  2. Corporations will change their vision
  3. Corporations will change their organization
  4. Collective intelligence and customer experience will lead innovation
  5. Networking will be key to employee excellence
  6. Employee mobility will increase
  7. Corporations will adapt their motivation and career path systems
  8. IT/telecoms applications will mutate
  9. Corporate adoption will happen at different speeds
  10. Social networking may allow increased revenue

Ten challenges:

  1. Adopt new ROI model
  2. Security
  3. Intellectual property
  4. Adoption
  5. Storage
  6. Interoperability
  7. Speed: will the corporate world ever keep up
  8. In direct benefits of social networking not appreciated
  9. Risk of loss of employees, losing human and intellectual capital
  10. Capturing the value

What I like about the report, apart from the fact that I agree with almost every word, is that it is simply laid out and written in pretty jargon-free, plain language. If you were thinking of creating a PowerPoint presentation on this subject, you could do a lot worse than use the headings from this report as your structure!

I think a good way to use this report would be to send it to some of the key influencers within your organisation who you have identified as being key to getting social media tools onto your intranet, and then follow up with a call and meeting to talk about the contents in more detail.

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Adapt or die …

It’s weird, you spend your whole life never having heard a particular quote, and then it pops up everywhere … the one in question in this case is this one:

It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent that survives. It is the one that is the most adaptable to change – Charles Darwin

In these surreal times where shouting “boo!” too loudly can bring down a bank, I guess it’s not that surprising that this quote should surface in all kinds of different contexts and be bent in many different directions to support various arguments and points of view.

Other quotes peppering senior management communications and interviews include: “… more leadership, less management”; and “… think like a small company” … both nice, neat little sound bites which, while conveying a nicely packaged sentiment, are in danger of becoming meaningless and lacking in any kind of authenticity when fired into the crowds at random.

While supporters of social media are shouting as loudly as they (we) can that: “IF YOU WANT ADAPTABLE, AGILE, LEADERSHIP, <<INSERT BUZZ WORD OF YOUR CHOICE>>, THEN SOCIAL MEDIA CAN DELIVER IT!” … we all know it will deliver none of these things on its own. Social media is not a bolt-on component but the mechanism for supporting a different way of working, collaborating, interacting, relating … a different kind of organisational culture.

If ever there was a time for a complete organisational drains-up, then it must surely be now. Out of adversity springs unique and unparallelled opportunities … I can’t help feeling that social media’s time has now come to break into enterprise settings big time … it’ll be interesting to see how companies in crisis react – reach out, or lock out!