Employee activation, digital disruption and measuring the unmeasurable

Image result for ee voice podcastSharon McIntosh, Sharon Phillips and I talked last week about the pressures on companies to communicate differently with employees in an era of intentionally itinerant workforces whose networks may be more powerful than those of the companies in which they work. Here’s a link to the podcast.



Ethan McCarty can freak you out, particularly if you’re an internal communications professional. For example, he recently wrote a blog entitled, “Don’t Measure Internal Communications.”

Wait … what?

And when I heard him speak at a Poppulo conference last summer, I knew he’d be a terrific EE Voice guest. Because he’s doing some definitively measurable work as Global Head of Employee and Innovation Communications for Bloomberg. He didn’t disappoint.

Some of the arresting topics we discuss:

Internal communications vs. employee communications
How to balance transparency and integrity
The importance of measuring behaviors over awareness
The need for agility in digital transformations (and why Ethan is SCRUM-certified)
Why we might want to look at a three-month plan instead of a three-year plan
And much more.

You can follow Ethan on Twitter, @ethanmcc, and read his blog, where he writes “intermittently but with gusto” at http://www.ethanmccarty.com.

The leaders & culture ‘digital’ demands

fluxcTwo pieces came across my transom today — one a summary of a meeting with IBM’s Ginni Rometty and Jon Iwata, the other a post from friends at Bloomberg Beta. Both indicate to me the direction that winning companies need to take and, you guessed it, I see Communications at its core. Especially communications with and among employee populations.

The first is a post to Fortunes’ CEO blog about the necessity for  industry incumbents to get off of their disrupted tushies and make the best use of their inherent knowledge, data and the capital they’re sitting on to take advantage of emergent AI. But, “the biggest problem they face is not technology, but rather creating a culture that can embrace and adapt to technological change. As Iwata summarized their view: ‘Culture is the number one impediment… Culture moves in a linear way; technology moves exponentially.’”


But as I began to learn at IBM (under Jon’s leadership, no less) years ago — company culture is a killer app, or just a killer. Depends. Mostly on how (or whether) or manage it. And by the way, the culture extends internally, externally and across time in ways that are damn hard to address. But digital networks of employees (future and past) leave evidence of behaviors, ideas and artifacts of feelings as never before. Observable…and therefore measurable…and manageable?

(Hint: I most certainly think so.)

The second post — coauthored by Roy Bahat and James Cham — suggests that industry needs a kind of Digital Drucker. Someone with some new ideas about management informed by the capabilities of machine learning. We need fewer genius/hero CEOs and more leadership who understand how machine intelligence can propel their firms (and their increasingly loosely-coupled-recombinant-adaptive workforces) to success. These new managers will “understand how to manage models, which are the flux capacitor of making software go beyond workflows to decisions.”

Couldn’t. Agree. More.

So in both of these articles — ostensibly kinda sorta about technology but really more about adaptation — you have an insight about how Communications as a profession must proceed. The best communications professionals will be consiglieres to their CEOs as their firms develop products, policies, platforms and employee populations open to ‘digital’ (for lack of a better term.) If we’re looking for a ‘seat at the table,’ then our best bet will be to understand the methods of communicating with and through digitally activated populations assisted by many, many flavors of machine intelligence.



So what should journalists do?

I’m a member of a professional group called Page Up composed of communications executives at big multinational firms as well as senior folks from various PR agencies. And while there’s much talk about the nature of the media and news business these days given the political environment, there’s also a ripple of shock and fear running through the corporate comms industry. I mean, you basically have a cottage industry that relies on being able to influence an at-least-superficially-objective media. The disintermediation is unrivaled as far as I know — having the President berate companies through an unfiltered platform is bigger than anything I’ve seen. Bigger than websites. Bigger than blogs. Bigger, even, than Second Life!!!!

So a fellow Page Up m,ember sent me a link to this article by Ken DoctorNewsonomics: Rebuilding the news media will require doubling-down on its core values following a conversation we had about the future of our profession (crisis communications, by the way, is looking like a growth industry, amiright?)

Now, it’s worth reading, but I’m not sure if I agree entirely with the premise. My better angels want a return to journalism’s core values to work…I just don’t think our new media landscape will find the traditional tools of integrity and fact-exposing all that effective. Publishers have simply been too weakened by the Facebook/Google aggregation duopoly (h/t Ben Thomson) so cannot afford to support journalism that strives for objectivity — there’s no mass market anymore to appeal to and sell advertising into: this is the age of niche and therefore the polemic.

That said, I found some of the tactics the author suggests in the tail end of the article really interesting. They kind of take the truth-exposing to another more ‘digital’ level — data-driven story-telling — which can adhere to those trusted principles — could be a way to take the fight to the fascists. Journalists at the NYT and some other outlets are increasingly using visualization and immersive media to contest falsehoods — that seems about right to me and looks like a lot better way to steal the attention back from the burning dumpsters that seem to constantly rekindle themselves like trick birthday candles all over social media.

Another thought: there may be hope in applying the superhuman powers of machine learning and chatbots (intelligent agents) to confront the hordes of trolls on the internet — twitter, facebook, instagram, google and others have started spinning these up in recent years. Though largely the effort has been to either identify and remove copyrighted material, obscenity or hate speech, it could just as well be applied to pants-on-fire level fake news. The DNC and other political organizations looking for the next frontier of confrontation would do well to invest in AI, surely their competitors are already.

Mostly publishing stuff elsewhere

I’ve been neglecting my blog…but it’s not for lack of online content creation. Far from it! Here are some links to some articles and podcasts I’ve worked on in recent months for other sites.  I’m having a great time doing it and may ultimately re-post some of it here or revisit some of the topics in greater detail.

For now, the links:

Social Media Week Shines a Light on Social Business

This week the digerati and the everyday netizen alike will look up for a moment from their laptops and smart phones to focus their eyes on Social Media Week, a worldwide series of interconnected events and activities about emerging trends in social and mobile media across all major industries.

The people who shape the future of our digital lives will share ideas, strategies and insights with an eye towards improving digital experiences for the people and organizations they care about most. While social media has significantly shaped how we communicate and connect in our personal lives, there’s a related trend that the most sophisticated enterprises have already begun to embrace: social business. Engaging in social media through Facebook,  YouTube and the like represent just one element businesses can explore, but business is more than media – so how can businesses apply the principles of “social” to other dimensions of their organizations to improve outcomes?

In today’s business environment, organizations must become more agile, creative and innovative in order to compete. Forward-looking organizations amplify the benefit of human interactions in just about any business process by making them social (as opposed to trying to engineer the human interactions out of the business process, which is the unfortunate legacy of many enterprise systems.) For example, interacting with the sales team of a social business might include benefiting from digital artifacts of human interactions reaching deep into that company’s supply chain or research division. A really sophisticated social business might have friendly and easily navigable visualizations of these artifacts of interactions. So this is to say that social business is a superset of interactions that includes social media — since media is just one dimension of interaction with an organization.

According to Forrester Research, the market opportunity for social enterprise apps is expected to grow at a rate of 61 percent through 2016, reaching $6.4 billion, compared with $600 million last year (“Social Enterprise Apps Redefine Collaboration,” Forrester Research, Inc., November 30, 2011). Ignore this emerging market and you choose to lose.

Social Media Week is the perfect time for organizations to think about how they can get social and do business at the same time.

Consider just a few of the possibilities of becoming a social business:

Global Collaboration: Extending beyond just document collaboration, social business tools enable organizations to build a team based off their skills, rather than location. Unified communications capabilities allow global teams to collaborate even if they aren’t in the same room (or on the same continent). Actively-managed digital communities of practice provide an opportunity for teams to collaborate and learn on the fly, fostering a greater sense of belonging.  Social organizations can expect to retain more of their best employees as they feel part of a common goal and have a voice in the decision making process.

Mobility: I’ve personally been a mobile employee for nearly a decade – and I’m not alone.  With the mobile workforce expected to reach more than 1.19 billion by 2013, according to research firm IDC, nearly 1 trillion Internet-connected devices will be in market in 2012, generating 20 times more mobile data by 2015. Equipping these employees with social connectivity to collaborate and innovate on the fly has become a major requirement for many organizations. Mobile capabilities for workers that extend beyond email, calendar and voice will be imperative. Document editing, access to enterprise social networking tools, feature-rich data and IM on the go are becoming the new norm. Imagine the opportunities for productivity, innovation and responsiveness when you are part of a team with mobile devices and tablets equipped with social enterprise capabilities.

Social Analytics: Organizations can now integrate and analyze massive amounts of data generated from people, devices and sensors and align these insights to business processes to make faster, more accurate decisions. By gaining deeper insights into customer and market trends and employees’ sentiment over social networking platforms both internally and externally, businesses can uncover critical patterns to not only react swiftly to market shifts, but predict the effect of future actions.

The Currency of Social: People and culture are the drivers for social business success. As consumers have become accustomed to social practices in their personal lives, they are seeking the same capabilities in their workplace. People form networks based on trust and transparency. With social business technology at their finger tips, employees can tap into the creativity, intelligence, and community of their organization to accomplish business goals faster and more efficiently.

The opportunity for social business to transform how we connect people and processes, and increase the speed and flexibility of business is limitless. A successful social business breaks down collaboration barriers and puts social networking in the context of everyday work, from the mobile device or delivery vehicle of your choice, to improve productivity and speed decision-making.

The critical turning point for social business is the realization that the collective knowledge of networks of people can provide businesses with a unique competitive advantage. Social tools are building the next generation of competitive and profitable businesses – and if you’re not latching on to the social movement – you may be doing business with blinders on.

(Originally published in Social business News)

Are you an expert? (Or willing to be called one?)

One of the programs I’ve been working on at IBM relates to creating a system that enables IBM’s experts to appear in digital experiences at scale — this means going beyond the age-old editorial system for identifying key spokespersons and, instead, creating a web service to identify and describe tens of thousands of experts and put their pictures and profiles in relevant digital contexts.  That first bit, it turns out, is the easy part.  The tougher part is, naturally, trying to devise a system to make the expert interactions valuable and safe for all involved.  I’ll talk about that more another time, but the past few days I’ve been thinking about the word expert itself.

I see a lot of companies using it in their web presences — Cap Gemini, Intel, Siemens, GE etc.  But I wonder what the implications are in digital social spaces that, for one thing, span new cultural boundaries and cross new legal hurdles daily (sometimes with varying degrees of success) and how we can scale up the interactions meaningfully.

Despite its power as a word, I have always had misgivings about the term ‘expert’ because…

  • I don’t think it is a culturally neutral term (as traveled to Korea, Japan, France etc last year I found that not every language uses this word in the same way…and not every group of people have the same level of comfort with declaring their expertise publicly as many Americans do.)
  • The credibility of ‘experts’ is not always greater than the credibility of ‘just some guy.’  I’m in the midst of buying a new A/V receiver and have read countless reviews from ordinary consumers along with reviews from expert audiophiles…I’m balancing both inputs to my decision.
  • I think people who self-proclaim as ‘experts’ can be in a pickle…it is hard to be wrong when you are an expert.  My dad used to say “an expert is someone who can’t admit they are wrong.”  That may be an unattributed quote from somewhere else, but still 🙂 Basically, I think the typical understanding of the term ‘expert’ isn’t really compatible with IBM’s notions of collaborative innovation.
  • Asking people to self-select as an ‘expert’ can actually work as a passive filter that excludes people who would be worth including (such as extremely humble subject matter experts who might be the best face of our brand in digital interactions!)
  • There is potential legal landmine here — if someone is declared and ‘expert’ by your company and they say something wrong, your company could be exposed.

How is your company/organization qualifying experts?  Have you found a clever way to describe individual experts in your organization (I’d really love to hear about it!)?

By the way, you can see examples of the expertise-locator system we’ve built on IBM’s centennial site and IBM’s smarter planet site…we’ll be adding the service to many more sites, blogs,  apps and experiences this year.

It’s cultural — people in my region don’t like to use the web

I have been traveling the world quite a bit lately for IBM (I am for example in Bangalore, India right now) — primarily meeting with digital marketing and communications folks as part of the digital strategy work I do for the company.  One of the things that I keep hearing is that “people in my region don’t like to use the web.”  There is a kind of dogmatic repetition of this phrase — that business decision makers want to conduct all business in person. That it’s cultural.

But I just don’t buy it — especially when the same marketers show me the trends of digital adoption in their regions rising precipitously.

I think there is real misunderstanding about the way people use the web.  I mean, we can say conclusively that there is abundant traffic to our website nearly universally and that our search terms are getting clicks in Google and other search engines etc.  So maybe it is not a misunderstanding as much as it is a kind of willful disbelief — and the resulting cognitive dissonance causes a lot of stress.  There is such confusion about how to use the web and such deeply ingrained habits around in-person events that we just keep repeating the words “But people in my region don’t use the web — we’re different, it’s cultural” despite the fact that they are patently false.  but leaning on the term “culture” stops the argument in its tracks.

Does our goodhearted desire to be culturally sensitive translate into an excuse to do the minimum when it comes to the web….which results in a poor user experience…which perpetuates the cycle?