Sunday, 28 December 2014

12 popular articles on digital innovation from 2014

I have had a look back over Marginalia on Engagement to bring you some of the most popular articles from 2014.

Big data and digital transformation

Many businesses today find themselves overwhelmed by internal data, paralysed by internal silos, and undecided on how to make decisions to grow and differentiate. In Big Data Marketing, Lisa Arthur suggests a strategic road map for executives who want to clear the chaos and start driving competitive advantage. Read more

A Cambrian moment: review

'A Cambrian moment', is the special report by The Economist that describes the entrepreneurial explosion happening virtually worldwide. "Digital start-ups are bubbling up in an astonishing variety of services and products, penetrating every nook and cranny of the economy. They are reshaping entire industries and even changing the very notion of the firm." Read more

Building a social organisation

How do organisations create a more collaborative culture? Angela Ashenden, has been putting large businesses under the social microscope. She is the Principal Analyst Collaboration at MWD Advisors. I met her at the Connected Business Expo 2014 where she delivered a talk on building a collaborative culture. Read more 

Luis Suarez, agent of change

Luis Suarez was Social Business Evangelist at IBM until a couple of months ago, helping 400,000 employees embracing the new way of working socially. He is a dedicated member of Change Agents Worldwide with the vision of helping to shape the future of work, one human at a time. In this exclusive interview, he shares important moments in his career, why social business has to become an imperative, and what he believes the future of work is going to be. Read more

Truzign blends external with internal knowledge

For a leading company in technology solutions and enterprise applications, Cognizant's Truzign is open to adopting new apps that promise to improve internal collaboration and facilitate work. One of these is Teamgum, an app launched this year for teams to discover and share any articles available on the Internet without leaving their internal platform. Read more

A Social Recovery in Financial Services

How are the latest digital tools reviving the financial sector? While social media creates challenges for heavily regulated environments such as the financial sector, it also represents a window of opportunity to become more likeable, accessible and personable with both external and internally stakeholders. Read more

British Gas breaks down silos with Yammer

British Gas, the largest UK energy and home services company, started to pilot their Yammer-based employee social network (ESN) in October 2013. "Initially, we trialled Yammer with a small group of 500 staff. We wanted to see if it was worth investing in the BG Network for the longer term. Eventually it was!" says Liam Kilminster, Social Media and Collaboration Manager. Read more

"The Digital Workplace in the Connected Organization"

The 8th annual study by Researcher Jane McConnell, seeks to understand how an organisation, its people and tools are shaping new ways of working. In her 182-page report, she examines how the digital workplace impacts and is impacted by processes, structures, leadership, culture and mindset. “The digital workplace is much more than technology. It is a blend of capabilities, enablers and above all, mindset.” Read more

Stowe Boyd predicts big changes in the enterprise

Back in 2007, he coined the terms #hashtag – yes, the popular icon that we all use in our social interactions today, as well as social tools. He is Lead Analyst at Gigaom Research, exploring “the future of work and the tectonic forces pushing business, media, and society into an unclear and accelerating post normal era.” In this exclusive interview, Stowe Boyd shares his view on the state of enterprise social, plus, what he believes the future of leadership is going to be. Read more

Aaron Levie brings collaboration to the next level

The 'Lead Magician' (and CEO) of enterprise platform Box, Aaron Levie, discussed the future of work at Business Without Boundaries in London. The event hosted in London by the cloud content management and collaboration platform Box, was an opportunity to understand how different organisations are evolving and innovating through the use of this modern application, recognized as a leader in Gartner’s Magic Quadrant for Enterprise File Synchronization and Sharing. Read more

Brian Solis on Digital Transformation

He is an award-winning author, prominent blogger, and keynote speaker on digital transformation. He defines himself as “a digital analyst, anthropologist, and futurist” who studies the effects of emerging technology on business and culture. I caught up with Principal Analyst at Altimeter Group Brian Solis, to learn what organisations are doing to adapt to the 21st Century. In this exclusive interview we also discuss about their recently announced partnership with Capgemini Consulting. Read more

Le Web - exploring the future of innovation

Passion and commitment to explore innovative solutions that solve problems and change lives for the better; this is the sense you get when you go to Le Web. The established tech conference in Paris this month was an inspiring investigation of the future of digital innovation. Read more

Sunday, 21 December 2014

Innovation at Novozymes – when crowdsourcing meets design thinking

Using crowdsourcing for running scientific innovation projects is something Novozymes has been doing for years on their internal social network COLIN. But, is it possible to combine this cross-over process with design thinking?

An opportunity to answer this question arose when Alain Benchimol at Stavnsholtskolen, a local primary school, contacted Frank Hatzack Head of Innovation Development at Novozymes with the desire to run a joint project on innovation.

The Danish leader in industrial enzymes and microbes took the opportunity and opened up its social idea platform. The experiment involved 60 school children aged between 14 and 16 in a two-week campaign called ‘The Future of Laundry’ focused on innovating consumer laundry solutions.

The educational purpose 

“The school purpose was to bring in “real life” and educate the children in how companies work with innovation. This knowledge, especially the innovative process, was after words used in an exam related project with almost professional accuracy”, says Alain Benchimol, teacher at Stavnsholtskolen.

The business purpose

Novozymes’ business purpose to be involved in this campaign was to see whether or not this method was effective to find out consumers’ needs and explore innovation opportunities. “With a traditional consumer survey one could have thousands of people answering many questions. Here we said: ‘Let’s try something different. Let’s bring a smaller group inside our platform, letting them describe their experiences in their own words. And, let’s look at their stories to see if we can infer some major trends and headlines,” says Frank Hatzack.

The business outcome was surprising and encouraging. “Not only did it lead to innovative concepts but working with such a young crowd was a very uplifting experience: they bristled with motivation, creative energy and fantastically naïve curiosity.”

Emotional perceptions

To start with, students were asked to interview their parents and older siblings of their family on how they did the laundry. This involved describing the procedure as well as the emotional perception of the task. “We asked them to gather information not only on the step by step process, but also the experience. Is it positive? Is it negative? Is it neutral? Is the washing machine easy to use?”
Children had also asked their family members to imagine how doing the laundry should be in the future.

Once all the stories were collected, students were invited to post them on COLIN. They added pictures, drawings, commented on each other representations and endorsed them through a system of ‘likes’.

Please go ahead

Bringing this young group into the corporate virtual platform was surprisingly easy. “The adoption of the tool was very fast. We created a space only for them and showed them how to use the tool. They were keen and learned very quickly. After all they communicate through social media all the time!”

Of the 60 students involved in the project, 30 were actively engaged by sharing their stories and giving others their feedback. 

Hatzack also noticed a difference between female and male pupils. “Girls tended to post richer and more detailed stories.” They not only described how their family were doing the task but also the social dimension involved with it. “They described how they were splitting the chores among family members telling a story of how they were relating to each other.”

From a technical viewpoint, Hatzack collected children’s email addresses to give them access to COLIN with a proper user account. This was done after the consent of their parents and school.
How about security concerns on the side of the company? “None. Before embarking on this project I asked the permission to the leadership team. ‘Please go ahead and see what you can learned’ was the answer.”

Collect and sort

After a period of two weeks, the children had recorded around 30 stories. You wouldn’t normally expect that describing an ordinary task like doing the laundry can bring much detail. Instead, “we were amazed to learn how different these stories were. We received a wide variety of inputs on how families went about washing different textiles accurately, or how often they did it and how they felt about it.”

Despite this diversity there was also a high degree of consistency around the basic steps of laundry: collect and sort, add detergent, choose the program, wash, dry and collect and sort. The same applied to the key elements that most families cared about: “people cared mostly about saving time, high convenience, low costs and environmental impact.”

The overall emotional perception of doing laundry was neutral to negative. “It turned out that the task was complex. To most families, doing it was a necessary plight. They felt they were spending too much time.”

Most interestingly, the digital exercise revealed three innovation themes: ‘Robotic wash’, ‘Magic detergent’ and ‘Smart laundry service.’

“People would like to have more intelligent machines that could make the task easier. For example, there were suggestions about having clothes with multiple labels and chips able to communicate the type of colour and garment directly to the washing machine and other connected devices.”


With these results emerging from the platform, Hatzack decided to carry out a face-to-face brainstorming session with the children. “We used poster-size templates for each step in the laundry process. We split up the group of 60 students into three subgroups. Each subgroup had to capture both their positive and negative comments around each step as well as give their ideas on how to improve it.”

This led to frenetic posting, resulting in over 180 inputs within just half an hour.

The same exercise was conducted for the three innovation themes that surfaced during the online phase. Hatzack asked the students to develop these concepts by giving them a catchy name, stating the key functionalities and benefits, sketching a drawing with key features and doing a web search on already existing solutions or otherwise enabling technologies.

The future of laundry

The final stage of the campaign saw students pitching their concepts. “The most popular ones were crowd-selected by dot-voting.”

Winning ideas were about robotic laundry technology. But, other concepts were captivating too. “Many of the envisioned innovative features seemed realizable and have the potential to improve key aspects of current technology.”

Opening up to innovate 

Hatzack is now thinking about applying the same method for future crowdsourcing and design thinking projects.

“This campaign showed us that by opening up our social network to the external community we can better understand consumer’s needs and explore with them innovation opportunities in an unprecedented way.”

This article originally appeared on simply-communicate 

Sunday, 14 December 2014

Le Web - exploring the future of innovation

Passion and commitment to explore innovative solutions that solve problems and change lives for the better; this is the sense you get when you go to Le Web.

The established tech conference in Paris this week was an inspiring investigation of the future of digital innovation.

It is broadly accepted that companies need to adapt fast to remain competitive in the digital age. To be ahead of the game they have to re-imagine themselves as agile organisations. This can be rather difficult for corporations unable to switch off from rigid legacy rules, hierarchy and compliance. The critical challenge is developing effective approaches while considering a multitude of societal, economic and technological forces.

With many prominent speakers, visionaries and experts in the field, Le Web gave full credit to the many who are leading one of the most exciting periods in our history.

Here are a few personal take-aways from the first two days of the event.

The social impact of the Web

“It is incredibly rare to be able to meet and listen to an individual who has changed the way that billions of people live and communicate.”

Co-founder of Le Web Loic Le Meur introduced the man who invented the Web.

As we are at the 25th anniversary of the web, it was exciting to listen to Tim Berners-Lee talking about the future of what he created.

He touched upon areas such as his support for Net neutrality, “Net neutrality is critical” and the need to encourage more women to code, “women are great coders.” He had something to say about the right to be forgotten, “at the moment, it seems to be dangerous. The right to access history is important."

He was open with his concerns about silos of data and interactions. He shared his view that “native apps are boring.” Not surprisingly, he suggested developing web apps to allow social conversations to flourish.

"If you just take your magazine and put it in an app, it is boring. It is not part of the discussion. I cannot tweet about it. You lose my enthusiasm. Everybody loses if it is not on the Web. If you build it as a web app, every place in it has a URL. People can link to it. People can tweet about it. It can be part of the discourse."

Berners Lee is a man with a mission, and sent the audience a touching message.

“Fight to keep the web open. Think about the societal implications of what we you build [on the web]. Think about all the social networking sites where you are sharing… promoting culture. Think at making it better by breaking down barriers.”


"Mobile is exploding. Sensors are entering our body."

James McQuivey, Vice President & Principal Analyst at Forrester Research and author of the book Digital Disruption led the session on wearables.

While in the early days devices like fitness trackers or Google Glass were rather functional and experimental, coming into 2015 they are poised to become popular. Today, much of our attention goes to the Apple Watch, but it is really the entire category that has found legitimisation.

Forrester’s J.P. Gownder showed that the door is now open; dozens more devices are coming out to fill the growing desire for wearable tech. “While those devices have indeed suffered from a hype bubble, demand for them is real.”

He revealed the results from Forrester’s new survey showing an unexpected demand from consumers as well as businesses. “45% of US and 32% of European online adults say they are “intrigued” by the prospect of getting a wearable device.”

Within the enterprise, he mentioned companies like Thiess turning to wearable technology to take care of their workers by tracking their activity level, heart rate, blood oxygenation, and temperature.

“If people want them, then businesses want them even more – and they’ll equip workers, then create new business services and models based on wearables.”

2015, the year of the crowd

Founder of Crowd Companies Jeremiah Owyang, researches how large companies embrace the collaborative economy. At Le web he released his latest version of the Collaborative Economy Honeycomb, a graphic that showed the rise of crowd-based business models impacting almost every industry.

Owyang published the first version of his graphic in May, defining ‘honeycombs’ as “resilient structures that enable people to access, share and grow resources among a common group.” At that time it contained six sectors being impacted by the peer-to-peer economy (P2P): goods, food, services, transportation, space, and money. However, as the phenomenon quickly expanded into many other industries, Owyang updated the Collaborative Economy Honeycomb.

In fact, the illustration that we saw at Le Web contained a wider expansion into new areas, from health and wellness, to logistics, corporate, utilities, municipal and learning. “This is a sign that 2015 is the year of the crowd,” he said, making a few predictions for next year:

“Startup will emerge and overcrowd each hex in the honeycomb. Yet, funding and execution will dictate winners.

“Mature platforms will launch APIs – beyond Uber – resulting in a flurry of growth, analytics, and Collaborative Economy software suites.

“A global debate about user safety, only privacy and sharing of data will wage.

“As the crowd demands startups to share value with people, new ‘open source’ software and coops will emerge to offer a solution.

“Disrupted governments and large corporations realise that they must adopt - mainstreaming the movement.”

The invasion of European startups

It was interesting to hear that a number of promising European startups are growing and flourishing. Often born from small technical teams, this new generation of tech starts are having a global reach, high growth, profitability, and limited VC funding.

One of those is BlaBlaCar, recently named a World Economic Forum tech pioneer. This Paris-based inter-city ride-sharing service is expanding internationally. Today they transport over two million people every month. The transport network that they have created competes with trains, buses and airlines. Co-founder & COO Nicolas Brusson said that they had to move fast to dominate the European market because, a similar ride-sharing service based in Germany, already existed.

So far 10 million members in 10 European countries as well as Russia, Ukraine and Turkey have joined BlaBlaCar.

In August the company raised $100 million from Index Ventures, Accel Partners, ISAI and Lead Edge Capital. They now intend to use that capital to expand to India and Latin America.

Core to their successful operating model is a deep understanding of the local markets. Brusson said that they have created an environment where entrepreneurs have plenty of autonomy and can run their own business within BlaBlaCar.

The company is hiring in all of its offices around the world. To other startups with the same big ambitions to expand internationally, Brusson suggested making sure their service is multilingual from the start. “Hire people with different language skills from day one and have people working in three, four or five locations early on.”

Making people smarter in their work lives

"PowerPoint is a lot of what is wrong with the world today. There is a much more elegant way to work."

Phil Libin gave a passionate talk about Evernote’s vision of making people smarter in their entire workday. “Work should be improved by the tools workers use to do it.”

However, it is not just about the work, it is also the achievement of results with teammates. “The connections between working and communicating are loose. A workspace tool should foster collaboration.”

That is why they recently launched Work Chat, adding a social component to the app. “Why should you stop writing or doing whatever you are doing on Evernote to go to another app to communicate with colleagues? It doesn’t need to be this way.”

The new feature lets colleagues discuss their work right in Evernote, share notes and notebooks, exchange ideas and receive feedback from as many or as few people as they like.

They are also placing great attention on design and augmented intelligence “to make people feel that they are working in the now.

“The best decisions come from a combination of communication and awareness—an ambient knowledge of what your team is working on.”

The application brings additional contextual information as people work. For example, it alerts users when a colleague is working on something even if they are not looking at it. That way they can decide to start a conversation or review their co-worker’s addition.

“This is a new step in Evernote’s development. This workspace is about building conversations. We’ve spent years building a great product that will improve the quality of work.”

Drones and 3D

Iconem is a young an innovative company founded in Paris by architect Yves Ubelmann and a helicopter pilot Philippe Barthelemy. They use drones for creating large-scale 3D digitalisation of archeological sites.

Iconem partners with research centers like INRIA (national institute for computing science), ENS (Ecole Normale Supérieure) and Microsoft, developing innovative tools for interpreting and reconstructing sites through photogrammetry. In the domain of cultural heritage, they work with organisations like UNESCO or World Bank.

I met Ubelmann at their exhibition stage. “We want to digitally save the memory of a country where its heritage is disappearing.”

The makers’ ecosystem

This year for the first time LeWeb hosted a Pop-Up Lab letting the audience experience the DIY culture. They could learn more about how the makers’ ecosystem is experimenting with design creating innovative solutions impacting traditional business. For example, the ‘Water Light Graffitti. When Water becomes Light’ produced by Art2m, a start-up that specialises in digital art and design.

Water Light Graffitti is a surface made of thousands of LEDS that illuminate when they come in contact with water. It allows people to create graffiti with a water pistol, a point brush, a water brush, a water spray, fingers or anything damp. Its aim is to propose a new smart material to draw or write ephemeral light messages. It represents a novel form of interaction with architecture in the 21st century.


Le Web was a source of inspiration. The future of digital innovation looks bright: there are plenty of opportunities for those who make a conscious use of new technology.

With all its challenges and unanswered questions, this movement is led by the desire, optimism and resilience to change the world for the better, seeding new ideas, and shape new business propositions that solve problems and have a positive impact on society, people and relationships.

That’s great news for internal communicators and employee engagement specialists. This is the time to bring, involve and empower our people to make real things happen and achieve concrete results.

As Global Director of Social Media and Search at LEGO Lars Silberbauer’s put it, "you need to get out in the ocean and ensure to have a talented team to run the boat."

Photos courtesy of Le Web Flickr gallery

Saturday, 6 December 2014

Profusion moves to the 4th Office

Profusion, the London-based data science consultancy company, uses the 4th Office to collaborate internally. CEO Mike Weston is among the most enthusiastic users of this virtual workspace.

“We started to use the 4th Office two years ago. We wanted to be much more collaborative in the way we work."

Mike Weston is the CEO of Profusion, a London-based data science consultancy company specialising in the interactions between organisations and people. The services they offer to clients require them to collaborate internally on an enormous amount of sensitive material. Being able to do that securely, easily and at any time was among the key reasons they decided to move to the 4th Office in 2012.

This agile workspace in the cloud integrates tools like emails, newsfeeds and third-party enterprise apps. It also combines project management, document and file sharing.

With them, Profusion seems to have found the balance between flexibility and structure. So much so that the tool "has become the centrepiece of our digital workplace. We don't use the intranet any more."

Where are our documents? 

Probably the best way to explain why they started using the platform is demonstrated by Weston's personal experience with searching documents. "In the past it was almost impossible to figure out where my presentations were placed among thousands of folders. I was struggling when looking for confidential business contracts and other information of similar nature. Being able to control our document management system was a major need and a big step toward working better."

Since adopting the 4th Office they have switched from a complex tree document structure to a more dynamic one, integrating it with applications such as Dropbox and Pipedrive for content management system.

Another issue that was particularly relevant to Weston was the ability to work collaboratively on shared documents. "The truth is that the system is not perfect, but the live editing of material works very well. That has been another big plus for us."

The solution is also mobile-friendly; "it works very well on tablets, enabling remote employees to collaborate from anywhere."

A useful communications tool

Eventually the 4th Office grew to encompass Profusion's enterprise social network (ESN), which they have called the BCS.

"As well as the document management system the tool give us all the benefits of sharing, commenting and discussing. We use that capability to fuel our social conversations and internal campaigns. It has become a useful employee communication tool."

The BCS is largely used for blogging. "We made the point that blogging at least once a week is important for the business. Why do we do that? Because it allows us to share what we think as an organisation. It is a way of giving anyone a voice and personality."

Blogging as part of the business

The toughest challenge corporate communicators face is explaining to their CEO the benefits of using social media inside the enterprise. That is not the case at Profusion; Weston thinks that it is both a necessity and responsibility of everyone in the company "to put their thoughts on what is out there, even - and perhaps most importantly - when they do not necessarily agree with each other." That is why he also believes that blogging should not be performed purely by the marketing team.

To give an example, he talks about a blog post that one of their consultants wrote a few weeks ago. It was about the tension between banks having access to data on what their customers are doing (e.g. booking an holiday) and how they should act based on that information (e.g. blocking their credit cards once abroad). This can have huge implications (e.g. creating frustration to customers in a foreign country).

That blog post opened up a meaningful discussion around finding the right balance between the sensible uses of data and having secure processes into place. "We asked ourselves, 'How can we, as data scientists, support banks in understanding the context in which these types of situations emerge?'. Those conversations helped us think things through."

Talking points

While the BCS is mainly used for core business activities and has groups set up mostly around projects, employees also use it to discuss their passions. This helps to familiarise reluctant users with the tool. "For example, we run a photography competition when we launched the BCS. We invited staff to upload their pictures and describe them through presentations. We saw a huge amount of images and interactions coming out of that, which was important to drive the network."

Another popular non-work related group is Talking Points. Employees use it to share and discuss any type of external content - from news about what is happening in the world to cartoons and movies.

"It is the place where the social capabilities of the platform are really standing out - information just flows freely!"

Those leadership meetings

The BCS is also enabling leaders to have better meetings. Every Monday they gather together to discuss how they are doing as a business.

"In the past we used to spend two to three hours only to give each other updates on the previous week. Today instead, we post our briefs on Friday so that colleagues can read them and be ready ahead of the meeting."

This saves time and allows them to have much more focused discussions when they meet. "We just talk about the things that really matter. Ultimately, it leads to better decision-making."

A self-perpetuating habit

The early and late majority have now adopted the 4th Office inside Profusion. "It has become the fabric of the way we work." With a new office to open in Dubai soon, "being able to interact across countries through the platform will be even more key."

Weston thinks that the use of the tool has little to do with job titles or functions but rather with how people think about collaboration.

For the early adopters he suggests not forcing people. "Do not dictate, or they will find a way around to resist the change.

"It is better to give them the time to experiment. Ultimately, you will find that it becomes a self-perpetuating habit."

This article originally appeared on simply-communicate 

Sunday, 30 November 2014

Jonathan MacDonald’s digital revolution

"When setting out a mission to innovate, grow and change, it is imperative to start with a purpose."
Jonathan MacDonald is the author of '28 Thoughts on Digital Revolution', a collection of ideas that he developed between 2006 and 2014 with regards to the digital transformation we are currently experiencing. He is also the founder of 'Thought Expansion Network' (TEN) and a world-renowned speaker of the potential of technology and the new realities of business influenced by relentless change. Pretty impressive for someone whose start in life was not exactly a bed of roses; he was given up at birth.

I caught up with him to discuss some of the thoughts he addresses throughout his work: social media, change, data privacy, noise and leadership in the digital world.

Social media and beyond

"The world of social media opportunities is a minor part of what is actually happening in society and business."

MacDonald talks about the increased power that people have to create, edit, publish and share content, which means "whatever an organisation delivers into the public domain can be instantly adjusted and promoted."

This removes the traditional levels of control and predictability that companies once had over how people would behave.

Yet, it is not just about communications. "This affects the entire value chain...every single aspect of doing business."

A major point to consider is that social media can be underexploited due to misinterpretations, including looking at it purely through a fixed lens of marketing communications campaigns.
"It is tempting for companies to start with a channel perspective, asking themselves 'What can we do with an app to promote our brand in this campaign?', 'What platform can we build so people engage with us?' However, this is a rather limited perspective."

To MacDonald, the new landscape is one of "earned media", which relies upon a language of passion and belief. "In simple terms - what people care about and what matters to their lives."

Hence, companies should invest considerable amount of resources in building trust. "They stand for something we can believe in, and truly mean it in everything they do, rather than just everything they say."

He cites LEGO as an example. For them, releasing new product lines is the tip of an iceberg that run through a wider strategy of direct citizen involvement and experimentation in crowdsourcing.


Change is a theme very close to MacDonald's heart. After several years of working within and alongside many organisations, large and small, he has become fully aware that the current and future business environment is anything but stable and predictable.

"Over my entire career I have faced negative reactions to change. Change is the enemy of the competent as it re-defines the safe place within which they dwell. Ultimately, it makes them scared as what they think they know is being challenged. However, change is persistent and unrelenting in the face of those who resist it."

Hence, his desire to help companies deal with it and be innovative in "an agile and relevant way." He suggests businesses focusing on five tangible elements.

People: Identify those who are most comfortable with uncertainty in senior enough positions so as not to suffocate the chances that could be taken. "It's unfortunately suboptimal if only junior staff have this characteristic."

Purpose: Be extraordinarily clear on what your purpose and vision is, so that every single person inside and outside the organisation knows the mission you are undertaking. Plus, regularly check how well the purpose is understood. This requires monitoring and being involved in conversations.

Finance: Separate innovative, unproven activities in the balance sheet. This should help to evaluate "the risk of not moving forward with the costs of the funding of exploration."

Facilitation: Facilitate those who are positively proactive in trying to push things forward whilst enabling them to initiate flexible projects that do not have a defined outcome. "Remember not to link their activity to an expected outcome, however tempting."

Learning: Learn from all outcomes regardless of what you may have once perceived as 'success'. "Feed this into iterative projects for constant adjustment at the speed of change."

The privacy dilemma

"If you are thinking of innovating in the social network space my advice would be to differentiate around the issue of privacy."

MacDonald has something to say about who owns our data and the access to private information in the digital age. He is clear that we are living in a new world where trust can only come from respecting those areas.

"I believe citizens should be in control of their own private information. It is a basic human right and is central to our identity." He calls it the 'privacy dilemma', one of the main differentiators of the winning tools, platforms and channels in the future.

The challenge for him is how to change the behaviour of those "eagerly looking and paying for more and more personal information."

He is also concerned about companies who run practices that are ethically questionable. For example, "when people enter into environments where their data is held and used, that information should be upfront, enabling them to have the freedom of choice - not hidden within a cluster of terms and conditions or un-readable screens."

Noise and decision-making

For MacDonald another important aspect to consider today is the volume of noise coming from connected technology, which "is competing for our attention making decisions progressively harder.

"I am convinced that as things progress, there will be an increasing need to 'de-noise'. This is the activity of filtering meaning out of distractions."

He likes to refer to Sydney Finkelstein of Tuck School of Business and author of 'Think Again - Why Good Leaders Make Bad Decisions'. The professor looks at three factors to good decision-making:
  • Open-mindedness: decision makers should be more open to new ideas and not afraid to look outside their comfort zones.
  • Own up to mistakes: being brave enough to admit when something goes wrong.
  • Awareness and acceptance of change: in the author's words "good leaders will get multiple sources of information and get honest feedback to make sure they are not missing or ignoring something that should be obvious."
MacDonald believes the third point is the most problematic. "The reality is that it's becoming increasingly hard to perceive information effectively as there's so much information to process. However, paradoxically, we need to access more information to ensure we are aware of what is happening around us."

He is convinced that the antidote to this situation lies in companies and individuals developing filters. "Filters will be used as solutions to the most paradoxical problems, the toughest decisions and the hardest philosophical dilemmas."

It is within

MacDonald is a person with a mission and he topped off our interview with an inspiring piece of advice on how to harness internal courage:

"The popular quote 'feel the fear and do it anyway' is essentially a summary of the need to feel comfortable with the feeling of insecurity. This is not to say that feeling insecure is good. This is to say that feeling at ease with a lower level of security often opens the door to higher achievement.

"From being given up at birth to experiencing times of hardship, loss and constraint, I am living testament to the fact that anything you commit to and focus on is achievable.

"Whilst the others wait to receive what they think they deserve, you have the absolute power to go out and get what it is you believe in. It is within."

This article originally appeared on simply-communicate 

Sunday, 23 November 2014

Getting employees' Insights through Waggl

Global people development company Insights uses Waggl to crowdsource employee feedback on the corporate culture. Leaders in 30 countries gain a new level of awareness around their internal environment. 

"Rather than having our executives telling us what our culture was all about, we wanted to hear that from our people."

Doug Upchurch is the Head of Learning and Development at Insights. The global people development company operates across 30 countries with the mission of "making a positive difference in the world by supporting individuals in understanding both themselves and others."

In order to help the outside world however, the company needed to offer a system to enable better understanding of their own internal environment.

Upchurch was looking for a solution to explore, collect and document the company's culture in all its offices around the globe. "Part of my challenge was to engage our people in all these different zones. I wanted to ask them what they really thought about working at Insights.”

But, he did not want to commission a traditional survey. “It was really about creating a company-wide conversation on the topic."

That is when Waggl came into play. The real-time communication tool helped Upchurch's team to crowdsource employee feedback in a totally transparent and innovative way.

Five questions... and beyond

Waggl was used as part of an internal campaign called "Culture Jam”, which lasted for a week. The idea was to talk about the Insights’ culture collaboratively. “As in a musical jazz session where the players build on each other’s sounds, we wanted to spark meaningful conversations by building on everyone's inputs."

The digital tool was separate to Insight’s intranet, One. It is a hosted virtual system integrated into the company's SharePoint platform. Staff were invited to go there and answer five open questions:

• 'What one adjective would you use to describe our culture and why?'

• 'What symbol, image, object, or place would best represent our culture and why?

• 'How would you describe our culture to a friend of yours that is thinking about coming to work at Insights?'

• 'If our culture had a tag line of mantra, what would it be?'

• 'Share an experience you have had or heard about at Insights that you believe best exemplifies our culture.'

Upchurch received the highest number of responses compared to all the surveys he had ever done in the past. He cites a number of factors that contributed to this success. First, "the system was very simple to use. People could choose which questions to answer in a straightforward way." It was also mobile friendly and staff could join it easily from any device.

But, what was really powerful about using Waggl was that employees could see the answers of their colleagues and vote on them. Those votes would bring the most popular answers to the top.

"As people were voting on each other’s answers, we started to see what they really liked and thought about working here.”

While a traditional survey is one-way and people never see what their peers are saying, "the situation here was entirely the opposite."

That openness made all the difference. “That was the point of using Waggl.”

Staff could answer and vote as many times as they wanted to. "They would go back at the end of each day to see which new answers had been added, and to place their votes. It created the same appetite that people have when checking updates from their friends on Facebook, but in a corporate environment."

A new language

The whole exercise unveiled novel ways to describe the Insights' culture: "In employees' words. No corporate speak."

In fact, a whole new language was forming to describe the company. For example, on the question, 'What symbol, image, object, or place would best represent our culture and why?' the answer that came up at the top of the list was a 'campfire'. The metaphor used by an employee said that Insights was like ‘everyone being on a camping ground playing his or her part. Some people would cook, others would gather wood or light the fire, etc.’ Other images included a tree, the ocean and a colourful school of fish.

On the question, 'If our culture had a tag line of mantra, what would it be?' the most popular answers included ‘Be yourself, be connected, and enjoy the journey,’ ‘Helping to bring out the best in each other’ and ‘The hugging company!’

“These were the words that our people used, liked and understood. Far away from any business jargon.”

Acting on Insights 

After over 2,000 votes the process started to bring in new insights. "We began to see how employees were really perceiving our culture as opposed to what we thought it were. It was both surprising and revealing."

For Upchurch, one of the most important aspects of adopting Waggl was the chance to listen to employees' feelings and emotions and take action in real-time. "There is no benefit at all in inviting people to share their views if nothing is going to change as a result. We are talking about two-way communications and interactions.”

Inevitably, he got several pieces of negative feedback from some staff. "For example, someone said that our culture was over-critical. That feedback was striking, yet very important. We considered ourselves to be a fun place to work for. We realised that it was not all flowers and candy.”

Upchurch did not get defensive; quite the opposite. "We had always said that we valued differences and transparency. Now, we had the opportunity to prove that. We had to be able to hear those words if we wanted to be true to ourselves."

What Upchurch did with all that content was to create a 'Culture Book' to send back to the whole organisation. It is a written document describing the culture based on all employees' responses, both positive and negative. “It reports exactly their words. The Culture Book is now the official document for Insights' staff and job candidates to get a sense of who we are and what it looks like to work here.”

Additionally, he produced a short video to orient new hires on the culture of Insights.
Most importantly, all the data generated through Waggl was integrated into new leadership development programmes. It sparked further conversations among executives. "This is what our people are saying about our culture. What does it really mean to us?”

"One thing is to get the data; another is to act upon it."

Crowdsourcing the future With Waggl, Upchurch has found an interactive way to get employees' feedback on an ongoing basis and from virtually everywhere.

He is already thinking about using it for future internal campaigns. “It is just the way it works. It is so easy to use and candidly more communicative than any normal survey.”

The main benefit is the ‘collaborative improvement’ where “my ideas become better because of everyone else’s inputs. I am inspired by my peers’ thoughts. And all of that happens in a virtual space, which breaks down geographical boundaries and time zones.”

There are other crowd-sourcing tools available, but the power of Waggle is how it brings culture alive from the bottom up at insight. 

This article originally appeared on simply-communicate 

Sunday, 16 November 2014

Dialogue - the key to engagement

In his new book, 'Strategic Internal Communication', author David Cowan captures why creating dialogue pays dividends in the networked era. 

"Dialogue does not need to be constrained to a single issue or strategy; it can feed into the bigger picture," - so argues David Cowan in his new book.

What I liked of 'Strategic Internal Communication', is the emphasis Cowan puts on connections, interactions and relationships to build new knowledge and understanding inside the organisation. The process is not easy and "we have to be prepared for difficult conversations." However, when constructive dialogue is created, the result is a more engaged and productive workforce.

A few hallmarks of our age

We live in an extremely crowded communication age with the volume of digital information increasing 10-fold every five-year period. We are all interconnected and interdependent and our workplaces are increasingly diverse. "The rate of change and flexibility of attitudes and trends means there is greater transcience in our society with people moving places and positions more frequently."

Everything is considerably faster while our attention spans have become considerably shorter. Getting our messages out is cheaper, while hiding information is more difficult, which means "we have to communicate transparently." At the same time, there is also an increasing demand on privacy and a sense of discomfort that transparency has become intrusion.

Yet, most organisations are still using 20th-century approaches to communicate to a 21st-century workforce.

While in the past internal communications was primarily focused on the 'what we do', today it should emphasise the 'why of what we are doing'. Cowan's book is an invitation to engage, to extend our reach to connect one another while creating positive participation and change.

We are all networked as people

The position the author takes in relation to the notion of being interconnected challenges some sacred cows of internal communication. He points out the changing role of the function inside the enterprise. "Who in your organisation can you get a message to so that you reach a greater number? They need not be 'communications people' or important managers; they are simply your natural communicators."

In our age we are discovering that we are all networked as people. "Everyone is a communicator and networker, and communications has to be both a leadership function and a job for everyone."

Communication is not technocratic as it was in last century but rather people-centric. This indicates that technology must be at the service of people and not the other way around.

Introducing the 'dialogue box'

We commonly think of the new world of communication as open and free, in which vast distances shrink.

But Cowan reminds us that we have also created significant new barriers by overwhelming people with information through a wide range of tools. "It is significantly difficult for people to see the wood for the trees."

To address this major problem, Cowan suggests dialogue is key. "To get attention in this crowded, fast and transient space does not mean continuously embracing new technologies and hurling more information faster at colleagues."

Cowan instead invites organisations to figure out targeted and experienced-based ways of communicating by focusing on "dialogue rather than just creating more chatter."

In doing so, the author introduces what he calls the 'dialogue box', a simple but effective framework to overcome the communications challenges described here. It consists of five zones, namely 'intelligence', 'emotion', interpretation', 'narrative' and 'dialogue'.


"Things will often turn out the way we expect, but often, and in the biggest cases, they will not."

The first component of the dialogue box is intelligence, described by Cowan as "our capacity to be rational and pursue a path of reasoning to reach a decision or conclusion about something."

While we all have intelligence and "as human beings we have this amazing thing called the brain," there are many barriers to reaching intelligent conclusions including unknows, biases, assumptions and attention spans. "Our minds are limited".

The author suggests exercising the brain in the workplace to improve employee engagement. "If we can get employees to give their attention to certain things, then we will be supporting them to corral their ideas, their knowledge and their emotions to match with the needs of the organisation." This implies focusing our attention on others and connect with them by using role models and stories.

However, we need to look at the role of emotion to fully grasp this process. In fact, the problem with purely intelligent communications is that it behaves as if the organisation is normatively logical and calm, and receptive to the message. This is not always the case. Often, employees are emotionally disengaged and distant from the hopes and enthusiasm of their leadership. "This is the complex emotional organisation you are in dialogue with, which is multi-faceted and ever-changing."


"It is important to understand emotion if we are to understand communication."

Emotional management is a dimension of internal communications that is often overlooked. But managing people is about managing emotions as well.

The point made by Cowan is that emotions can communicate a lot of information. Organisations should be aware of that and keep an open mind.

For example, taking emotion seriously in the workplace can allow managers to resolve dissonance. Dissonance occurs when employees are torn between their own goals and those of the organisation, or between their needs and the needs of those around them. This can lead to a feeling of uncertainty about their role, skills and suitability, which may be reflected by a range of moods - from anxiety to joy, participation and withdrawal. "If you observe these signs you can take a shortcut to helping them solve their problem."

In times of emotional disturbance, managers are invited to communicate feelings rather than reasons, by showing understanding and empathy. "To be wise in a situation means to listen. See things from the other person's point of view."

The issue for the emotional manager is whether they have the courage to present in person the difficult decision. "Managing emotionally means allowing others to share their, and your, personal space without fear of exposure or ridicule. There is a journey of trust to be taken if this personal space is to be opened and remain opened, rather than being a site of power."


"How can you make communication more meaningful in your organisation? In areas such as values, ethics and sustainability, do you think the right words are being used critically?"

Cowan's dialogue box proposes that interpretation is pivotal, since it derives from the intelligence and emotions of individuals synthesised into understanding. People interpret events both subjectively - from their own viewpoint and prejudices - and objectively, by trying to understand the truth of the matter and giving a fair viewpoint to all the agents involved in the situation.

In the effort of making sense of things, we often fill in the gaps in our data and knowledge. This can be either effective or disastrous. For example, through assumptions we try to define what seems to be a natural trajectory, thereby creating a self-fulfilling trajectory of our thoughts. As a result the author urges us to focus attention on meaning:

"Meaning plays a role in this, because words and terms can be used to fill in the gaps. Such meanings can work across the organisation to describe an individual or unit. Hence, a successful interpretation or popularly accepted meaning becomes currency in the marketplace of organisational morale, as negative or positive interpretations can lead to an undermining or uplifting of spirits in the organisation."

We may want to keep things rational or managerial in our understanding of the organisation, but in internal communications we are also dealing with what is meaningful in individuals' lives.

Once again, the author likes to remind us of the importance of connections. "Language does more than simply describe or communicate: it affects the way we look at the world and the way we respond to other people." This means our boundaries are not so clear either. While the organisation defines boundaries for work, the relationships and connections people make often will break these boundaries. For example, beyond being 'positions', 'bosses' or 'functions' people can connect through something in common outside the workplace, including watching last night's TV programme, family moments, weather and so on. "The issues of meaning and interpretation are the most complex elements in the life of the organisation. Meaning is subject to emotional, psychological, political, spiritual and philosophical norms, and what we define meaningful is not the same as our work colleague."


"Narrative informs our relationships, and causes us to change our dealings with other people, allowing us to know another person or to understand our relationship to them."

Within an organisation people are constantly communicating. A variety of stories are shared, which can reinforce good things happening in the business, or lower the morale of staff.

It may be helpful understanding narrative on two levels. On one level there are the stories that individuals tell, which "can illuminate, contradict, challenge, inform, or so on." They may be stories about people, customers or the organisation.

The second level, is "the major narrative that emerges out of the stories circulating in the organisation." The dominant stories inside the company thus create "a new and guiding grand narrative," the strongness of which will depend on how internal communications have managed to tell the corporate story.

I particularly appreciate the attention Cowan gives to circulating stories. He returns to his established point that there are many communicators inside our organisations. "The fact is we are all story-tellers, some of us better than others. The important task is to find out who these 'natural communicators' in your organisation are, and how to work with them to help promote engagement."

The author offers tips worth repeating such as respecting the audience and being authentic. "Have a rhythm that reflects the ups and downs, threats and achievements. If we structure our narrative so that we only allow for the positive or motivational stories then we end up devaluing the narrative elements. Contrasts draw us in, but they also reflect real life."

He also emphasises using stories to engage with people, not talking at them. "Get people thinking not just about the story but how it applies to them and how it affects their perception of themselves and others. Narrative that talks at people creates only silence."

What internal communications should strive for is open dialogue: "the give and take of engagement."

Ensuring effective dialogues

"Dialogue will help pave the way to innovate the future of organisational structure, and the more innovative you are in your dialogue the more innovative your solutions will be."

Cowan argues that the four elements above help to create space for the right kind of dialogue to have in any given situation. He puts this at the heart of employee engagement, asserting that "dialogue is not simply talk" but "an opportunity for encounter." In dialogue, people are in a position of influencing and helping to shape business outcomes. They strengthen existing relationships, or forge new ones. They can correct misperceptions or previously taken positions. "Not only are we describing the world, but we are also changing the world."

Within the process, "a little humility" may not harm. "We may be confident in our dialogue position and the intelligence we possess, but there can be a fine line between obstinacy and certainty." When things change people can change their minds too. Hence, the importance to be open to the impact of changing facts and to continually seek understanding.

Are you willing to be in dialogue?
In 'Strategic Internal Communication', the question of dialogue becomes a fundamental one to ask ourselves: are we willing to connect to others and to meet in a process of mutual discovery?

Cowan has no doubt that in our diverse and globalised world this is becoming increasingly more important. People have valuable contributions to make to the ideas and plans on an organisation. Connecting and listening to them is both respectful and a creative way forward.

His framework may serve as an helpful tool for internal communicators who want to work more productively in this direction. As a framework it of course tends to the general and may miss the nuances of working in a real complex organisation. However, the book also provides a practical workshop-type set of exercises to help make use of the dialogue box, either in an individual setting or as a group session. So there is plenty of scope for the reader to use Strategic Internal Communication as the basis for building employee engagement and - indeed - performance.

This article originally appeared on simply-communicate 

Sunday, 9 November 2014

Brian Solis on Digital Transformation

He is an award-winning author, prominent blogger, and keynote speaker on digital transformation. He defines himself as “a digital analyst, anthropologist, and futurist” who studies the effects of emerging technology on business and culture.

I caught up with Principal Analyst at Altimeter Group Brian Solis, to learn what organisations are doing to adapt to the 21st Century. In this exclusive interview we also discuss about their recently announced partnership with Capgemini Consulting.

Joining our conversation is Altimeter Group’s Chief Operating Officer Shannon Latta.

Gloria Lombardi: Digital Transformation. What does it involve? And, which companies are doing well?

Brian Solis: In our report “Why and How Companies are Investing in New Business Models to Lead Digital Customer Experiences” we analysed some of the best companies doing well in this space. These include Starbucks, Intuit, Sephora, Lego, General Motors, and Ford.

Each of them is going through digital transformation in their own way. But, the stories we heard were phenomenal across the board. I will save the concrete examples for the report since it is free to download. However, here I’ll share some highlights.

Everyone begins at the same place. It starts with asking a simple question, “How is my digital customer and employee different from those who are traditional?”

From there, you learn about journeys, expectations, behaviours, and preferences. You start to see that the investments you make today are indeed showing signs of decay or irrelevance.

However, seeking these answers, is how we begin to learn the “why” and “how” of digital transformation.

For example, Starbucks' CDO Adam Brotman started with digital customers and mobile platforms. “I started with mobile; that was the heart of it where we really acted as a team,” he told me. “That worked well and catalysed, moving into web where we were charged with figuring out what our mobile web strategy looked like and how it connected to our loyalty and payment groups. From there, it snowballed pretty quickly.”

Digital transformation is also about building relationships and alliances inside the company to expedite and scale change. Digital leaders must open the door for passionate employees throughout the company who have the energy, passion, and experience to champion change. As LEGO’s Lars Silberbauer, Global Director of Social Media and Search, shared with me, “It's about finding those people in different departments who are willing to risk things to be a lead within the company. There are a lot of people who want to take a company forward.”

Once you have support, digital transformation will lead to new vision and operating philosophies as well as models and processes.

Another example is Motorola Solutions. The partnership between IT and marketing was elevated to an entirely new level. Dubbed the “MIT Group,” Marketing and IT formed an official alliance to focus on an integrated approach to digital customer experience and change.

GL: Based on these studies, what are the challenges to digital transformation? 

BS: Too many companies are approaching their digital transformation from a technology perspective.

But at the heart, digital transformation is the story of how people are changing.

Whether we realise it or not, the way customers and employees make decisions, the technology they use, and how preferences and expectations evolve or detour, are stories for us to discover. These are the insights that guide the transformation. Technology adoption is not the solution: it is merely an enabler for transformation.

It takes vision to make the change. I will share with you an example from our second report on digital transformation.

The State of Digital Transformation” revealed the organisations supposedly undergoing digital transformation. (After studying the best companies out there, we wanted to compare them with everyone else).

88% of these enterprises stated they were going through digital transformation efforts. However, within the last year, only 25% of them completely mapped out the customer journey to get a clear understanding of new digital touch-points.

GL: With these findings at hand, what's your view for the future of digital transformation? 

BS: Digital transformation means different things to different people. That’s OK. The future is going to either happen to businesses or because of the changes they undertake today.

Change has to start somewhere. Strategists will realise that their digital customers and employees are not only different from their traditional counterparts, but also different from the executives who think they know them.

The future is really about empathy. Without empathy, there can be no real change. Without it, businesses will succumb to something that I call 'Digital Darwinism', when technology and society evolve beyond the ability to adapt and thrive

GL: The consulting industry is facing its own digital transformation. Recently you partnered with Capgemini.

Shannon Latta: We share a common vision on digital transformation as evidenced by our respective research on the topic.

We started talking several months ago about this and quickly identified a powerful new offer for the market by joining forces on research and client engagements.

Altimeter Group has participated in Capgemini Consulting’s training events and internal meetings. We have been able to assess cultural and strategic fit of the partnership. In all these events we felt completely aligned in terms of business values, style, and areas of focus.

A partnership like this one will help us increase the value we give organisations through greater thought leadership and new offerings.

GL: A shared vision around digital transformation. Could you tell us more? 

BS: Altimeter and Capgemini's work is not only complementary; clients and prospects already substantiate it.

Capgemini takes a holistic view of digital transformation across the entire enterprise - from manufacturing to marketing, service, support and everything in between.

Initially, Altimeter Group focused on the digital customer experience and employee engagement. Our view was inspired by the work we were already doing around social media, content strategy and mobile. We learned that significant budget and resource investments are led by sales and marketing to update ageing infrastructures and to pursue the digital customer more effectively.

Our initial research was designed to help marketers and IT professionals think beyond technology. We wanted to encourage them to invest in strategy, system and process roadmaps, which are relevant for discerning, sophisticated, (and impatient) customers and employees.

GL: How will Altimeter Group and Capgemini work together?

SL: In addition to publishing joint research, we will help large enterprises with digital transformation initiatives. The combination of Altimeter's leading research and industry recognition with Capgemini Consulting’s transformation and implementation skills will provide a full spectrum offer for companies seeking to transform around digital.

Both firms are client-first organisations: everything is done to create value and satisfaction for them.

We share several common clients and we are actively exploring how to leverage that synergy.

Initially, we will focus our work on high tech, financial services and retail sectors. We have already worked on one joint client engagement and are in discussions with other prospects.

GL: Which type of networks will be involved to leverage that synergy?

SL: Altimeter and Capgemini Consulting each have vast networks of people who are the digital change agents inside their organisations.

To inform our research, together we are tapping Capgemini Consulting's portfolio of brands at different stages of digital transformation. The same applies to Altimeter Group's network of influencers and strategists that we have cultivated through both our research and client work.

GL: In terms of research, what will the partnership focus on?

SL: We have planned studies across the two companies’ complementary focused areas: digital transformation, big data and innovation. We expect to deliver joint research to the market before the end of the year starting with the idea of a framework for innovation.

GL: Innovation. Is there anything we can anticipate Brian? 

BS: Innovation doesn't always correlate to technology. Most of the time, it starts with perspective: seeing things differently. It is something that touches processes, models, and corporate vision.

This is a key area of focus. We look forward to sharing more in the coming months. 

This article originally appeared on simply-communicate