social networking

Making knowledge management manageable


Heavy industry of KM

I’ve been thinking about knowledge management (KM) over the last few days as we have a new KM programme kicking off in BT. This is good news as KM has languished a bit over recent months.

Inevitably, the meetings have begun to happen and the latest set of KM papers are starting to circulate for comments/sign-off etc. (… good news is they are in a wiki for anyone in the company to edit/comment upon 🙂 ).

The problem for me is that we are also at the stage where the enormity and complexity of the task ahead becomes apparent in an organisation as large as BT. The temptation is to wheel out the old heavy industry KM powerpoint decks so the strategy becomes so complex that the whole things grinds to a halt and becomes a long series of turgid meetings discussing impenetrable diagrams and concepts.

The truth is, I don’t think we have any chance whatsoever of managing knowledge in BT – if it’s actually possible to manage knowledge anywhere. What we can do is help people to help themselves and others as simply as possible.

It got me thinking about what we can reasonably expect to achieve and which would actually make a difference to the way people share what they know.

If we could achieve three things, I think we will have made more progress in the field of KM than we’ve ever managed before. Those things are:

  • expose in the network who people are and what they are interested in/working on/thinking about …
  • provide a way to search through the above and then offer a simple mechanism to connect like-minded people together in networks
  • automatically expose the activities of individuals to those in their networks through activity streams.

That’s it … simples!

Well … possibly not as simple as it sounds … but achievable at least.

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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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Come out, come out, wherever you are …

I had an interesting meeting with some of our internal comms folk yesterday talking about social media and its impact on them and their roles. It really felt like pushing at an open door which is very refreshing. I guess now that we have these tools, none of us can ignore the impact they might/are having.

One of the big things I tried to impress upon them was the importance of their own personal on-line brands. Until now, internal comms people have been the invisible fixers behind the scenes – orchestrating, organising and feeding words into mouths. In a social media space, they need to come out of the shadows.

To employees, internal comms managers represent the ‘company’ – which could make it very difficult for them to engage in social media channels without getting an automatically hostile response. Getting a hostile response is significantly more likely if an internal comms person suddenly appears in a channel from no where and starts to present the company’s view. That’s why internal comms people should be building relationships and their own personal brands with their audiences now … building trust … before the time comes when they might have to deliver uncomfortable or unpopular messages. The danger is that employees are busy building networks and trust relationships among themselves cutting out the internal comms managers to the point where it will become increasingly difficult to engage and join those networks when they need to become involved to fire-fight or propagate messages.

For me, internal comms has always been about facilitating the relationship between the management and employees of an organisation. With social media tools I think the line between management and employees within an organisation disappears … suddenly, we’re all just people. It doesn’t matter where you sit in an increasingly irrelevant organisation structure, what matters is your influence on those around you. If you don’t join in, build your own brand, build trust … you will inevitably have no influence and become irrelevant. That’s not only true for internal comms people, but for all of us in any kind of organisation or network.

We all need to build trust relationships and influence now so that we have something to support us when times get tough … and tough times are always just around the corner!

Recreate or integrate … that is the question?

As we’ve busily rolled out one social media tool after another within BT, one question has got bigger and bigger in my mind and has become increasingly troublesome … what’s the right balance between recreating stuff on our intranet that already exists on the internet, and just integrating tools from the internet into our intranet toolkit for employees through our permeable firewall.

Not sure how well I articulated that?? Here’s an example … someone in BT has produced an internal version of Twitter … the question is, do we need an internal version of Twitter or can we just use the real thing … as indeed my team currently is? Why would anyone want to tweet in two places? Also, the great thing about having a Twitter network is that it incorporates people from around the globe with whom you have common interests and ideas. A closed, corporate, twitter-replica would surely be a shadow of the real thing in terms of value to the individual as it would only have a very limited gene pool from which to create interesting and vibrant networks. Trying to integrate an internal and external version would be very confusing and could lead to employees posting internal stuff to external networks …

This question became very troublesome for me after we launched our internal enterprise social network a few weeks ago. It was a long time in gestation and is a great tool with lots of similar functionality to Facebook like status updates, message board (or wall), contacts (friends) etc. However, the glaring question is why would someone who uses Facebook (or indeed any one of the many other social networking sites) want to use an internal, closed version of the same thing with a limited gene pool of knowledge and ideas from which to draw. Indeed, even if someone wanted to use the internal version, how would they do so without duplicating activity on both or losing value/possible opportunities by only doing it on one and not the other …

Since we launched our internal blogging platform, I have had an internal blog as well as this external one. My internal blog has two posts on it …

The balance between recreating and integrating I think is going to be what makes or breaks our internal social media tools in the future. We need to give it some serious thought … I need to give it some serious thought. I don’t think we’ve got the balance right yet …

Enterprise social networking has landed in BT

Last weekend we launched our internal enterprise social network … my profile page is below (still a bit empty as I haven’t had a chance to play with it yet).

BT enterprise social network

So what’s on offer on this page?:

  • top left is the normal friends functionality … only we call them contacts because it would never do to have friends at work 😉 … this also displays a newsfeed of your contacts’ current activities or status (you can edit your status at the top of the page)
  • below that is My personal FAQ which is a place that you, or others, can pose questions that you would like answers for … searchable, of course
  • top right is social bookmarking … although mine is currently empty
  • below that is a newsfeed of activity on my profile page
  • out of sight below the fold is wall or message board functionality.

All good stuff – but what I REALLY like are the two sections (also just below the fold in the central column) called skills and interests. When you type in a new skill or interest, if someone else has already typed in that skill or interest, you are offered that option in a drop down menu. If you select that interest from the drop-down, the system connects you to the other person with the same skill and creates a group page on which you can collaborate … lush! … as my 7yr old son says.

We’re looking at integrating Twitter and blog posts etc. to ensure the page fully reflects all your social activity. It’s very exciting and I can’t wait to have a play! 🙂

Charting the decline of org charts …

A tweet by @simonmcmanus quoting the Cluetrain Manifesto : ‘Org charts are written by the victors’ reminded me that I meant to post about the evils of organisational hierarchies a while ago to throw my weight behind the view that organisation charts are a physical manifestation of out-dated and ill-conceived command and control management.

In my view they stifle innovation and creativity, promote conformist thinking and ‘in-the-box’ leaders and leadership styles, encourage the creation of fiefdoms and create self-destructive organisational politics resulting in organisational incoherence.

It has long been recognised that, other than oiling the wheels of the corporate machine, nothing actually ever gets done through an organisational hierarchy. Things get done through networks. That’s what makes new social media collaborative tools and social networking such exciting propositions. Making networks visible to the organisation and to its people and allowing people to follow the energy through their network to connect and collaborate with colleagues, marks the beginning of the end for the organisation chart in my view – and not a moment too soon.

Additionally, as it is now universally accepted that organisational change is a constant, the last thing an organisation needs is a rigid hierarchy – apart from anything else, change never happens through command and control management but through networks – the stronger the personal bonds in a network and the more fluid those networks are, the easier change becomes for everyone.

I’m convinced that, as social networks are adopted within enterprises, the organisational hierarchy will become increasingly irrelevant to the point where it withers and dies completely.

Give them a voice and they might just use it ….

Here’s an interesting dilemma … as a forward looking organisation you let your employees have access to blogs and social networks because you want them to join the conversation.

On a social utility service, like Facebook, some disgruntled customers set up a ‘hate’ group about your organisation. In among the rants appear some negative comments from one or two of your own employees! What do you do??

On the one hand, you invited them to join the conversation in the first place and they’re just expressing their views … on the other, they’re damaging your brand. Leaving them to continue making negative comments feels uncomfortable … leaning on them through their line managers feels like censorship. Accepted social media ‘wisdom’ says you should engage ‘in the channel in which the comments were made’ to try to turn things around … but do you really want to get into a ‘dialogue’ with a mixture of disgruntled customers and employees??

What would you do …?

Depressed and disconnected (2) …

One of the objectives of developing suburbs around towns was to get people to buy more stuff. Unfortunately, it worked rather too well. While I wouldn’t wish to blame suburbs entirely for the break down of community, they did help release the brakes on the juggernaut of conspicuous consumption which is used by many people today to fill the emotional voids they find around them. Apparently, 25% of Americans say they don’t have anyone to confide in.

Following on from my earlier post about being Depressed and disconnected, I was wondering if the explosion of social networks will help to reconnect people and build sustainable communities or whether the popularity of social networks is just another example of conspicuous consumption. Take Facebook for example. What motivates someone to join dozens of groups, add dozens of applications to their profiles and have lists of ‘friends’ running into the hundreds? Is it a desire to be connected or just more conspicuous consumption? How does it feel to land on a profile page that is 3 ft long? Does it feel good … do you want to be the person’s friend … does it make you feel envious and/or inadequate?

It is well understood that happy lives are full of human interaction … does social network activity constitute ‘human interaction’ … does having an active Facebook profile make you a happier person?

As an aside, since we’ve set up a world that ‘feeds’ itself emotionally by buying stuff, how can we expect to control global warming – the byproduct of that feeding frenzy – without first filling the emotional voids in our lives with something more nourishing than consumer goods? Surely we can’t fix the environmental ecology without fixing the social ecology too.

Depressed and disconnected …

As we get wealthier as a society we get more miserable, disconnected and depressed … the economist Leoplod Kohr put it down to ‘size’ – ‘… there seems only one cause behind all forms of misery: bigness’ (i.e. as the organisations around us get bigger, we feel smaller, alienated, lose autonomy and control and become institutionalised – we become, ‘… dominated by gigantic, impersonal, bureaucratic, standardised entities’).

I wonder whether the phenomenal popularity of social networking sites like MySpace and Facebook are another manifestation of this malaise, or part of the solution?