Sunday, 26 January 2014

Big data and digital transformation

More data does not equal the right data, and data alone does not equal insight” (Lisa Arthur)

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.

What is interesting in this book is how the author links the success of marketing's activities to the need of reinterpreting internal communications. This requires to reinvent organisational processes, structures, roles and interactions. It also demands to rethink how technology and data are changing culture. Communications are led by a continuos stream of digital information, conducive of ongoing discovery and analysis. At the end of reading Big Data Marketing, you should feel more confident and aware of what to do to build a responsive organisation capable to condense big data into meaningful actions.

Data driven organisations

How should a company react to digital transformation? According to Arthur, organisations must respond by using, leveraging and applying data all across the organisation. They need to become data driven to lead relevant, real-time interactions.

“First, companies need to create more holistic views of their data. Then, they need to analise that information for actionable insight. Finally, they need to put the processes and tools in place that enable them to execute based on those insights,” write the author.

Starting with a vision

Every solid strategy starts with a clear vision, but unfortunately, too many companies choose to skip over the vision thing. Then, since these companies lack vision, technology – not strategy – becomes the driver, and that is a recipe for disaster. Technology is never the panacea. It's the enabler. That is why aligning behind a shared vision is critical. A shared vision paints the picture that the broader organisation need to support.”

Once the vision is established , it is time to work together to develop a broad and comprehensive plan, which according to Arthur should include: customer interaction strategy, analytics strategy, data strategy, organisational strategy and technology strategy.

The author strongly emphasises the need of “keep learning” within the whole process: “The journey will illuminate new questions and fresh ways of looking at strategies. As you uncover new data and trends, remind yourself that you don't know what you don't know, and be open to the discoveries and opportunities you encounter along the way. Big data insights may take time to emerge, and the process is continually evolving.”

Tear down internal silos

The walls separating departments are high and wide in many companies. Plan for an ongoing conversation. Think of transformation and innovation as marathon – not sprints.”

“The need for change agents to tear down silos has never been greater,” stresses Arthur. Organisations need to foster an environment of collaboration, coordination and connections. If the ultimate goal is to provide compelling services and experiences, companies need mechanisms that allow information sharing, division of labor, and decision making that occur easily across company boundaries. “It is imperative to activate teams and drive cross-functional initiatives that require them to break down silos across the broader organisation.”

An example is Teradata Applications. They established a cross-functional team, the Demand Gen Council, to enable various teams within sales and marketing to efficiently stay informed in all the department's initiatives. A biweekly conference call gathers team members from applications strategy, sales, marketing operations, marketing finance, field deployment, data, and media teams. During each meeting they work to align messaging strategy with execution and pitch, they prioritise overall campaign ideas, and they fine-tune the timing and logistics of executing initiatives. The sales department joins regularly to provide the input needed to prioritise program and to drive alignment based on what they see in the market. “While it may seem like this conference call could become unproductive, a strong leader, a tight agenda, and the clarity of each individual role tears down the silos,” writes Arthurs.

Untangle the data hairball

Data and actionable insights are quickly becoming the core of every company's competitive advantage. How to access the data and use it to be more effective? “Start with talent. You need someone on your team to help drive the data strategy. Make sure you bring together people who get it.” The team needs to be multileveled, reach deep into the organisation, across multiple departments and geographies. Also, everyone need to be willing to challenge the status quo.

In addition, the author suggests to have the right partnerships, data, models, and tools: identify the data requirements (be certain you understand what types of data you need); find the source of data you need (take inventory of what data exists and where. Make sure you look across the entire enterprise); use a combination of technologies to achieve a single source of verified data (e.g. big data analytics discovery platforms); consolidate, integrate and iterate the data to inform strategy and initiatives; and test, expand and evolve (measure and assess progress, test the data to ensure you have the right information).


The next step is to prove that all the efforts are adding value to the business. So “make metrics your mantra,” writes the authors and “focus on results.” The C-suite won't be impressed with the number of website clicks, followers or 'likes'. Executives want results. They don't want to look at metrics for metrics' sake. So use metrics that demonstrate contribution to the company objectives.”

It is imperative to understand what metrics are really important for the specific organisation. Which ones help to drive true value? “What works for others may not work for your company.”

Arthur stresses the importance of keeping the vision always in sights, not get lost in data, and most importantly take action on the insight taken. Finally, “don't lose faith that each step along the way , from accessing new data that can improve measurement, to aligning groups around what to measure, is a victory.”

Integrated processes

A final consideration goes to 'process.' According to Arthur, as complexity increases, well-defined processes become necessary to align the appropriate people with the right activities. An interesting point she makes is that “processes are a way to simplify what doesn't differentiate your company, so you can then apply strategy to what does make you unique.”

There are many benefits of integrated processes highlighted in the book. These include improved agility, collaboration (data that has been aggregated and analised is easier to communicate and share), innovation, the ability of extracting the most relevant information from the constant deluge of big data, helping to develop benchmarks, and accountability.

Remember: you goal is to use big data insight to drive value. Read, listen, talk and network. Apply the best of what you learn to transform your own business and organisation.” - Lisa Arthur

What do you personally think of big data? Have you ever applied some of the principles described in Lisa Arthur's manual? Do you have any story to share on the subject? I would love to hear from you.

If you were interested in further exploring social collaboration, enterprise analytics, tearing down silos, fostering better communications and driving innovation though social business, these themes will be featured at SMiLE London on 17th March – the conference on Social Media in the Large Enterprise – by simply-communicate.

Sunday, 19 January 2014

Factory-girl writers and employee voice

An important chapter in the history of internal communication was marked by the Lowell Offering. This is the first recorded company magazine written by female workers between 1840 and 1849 at the New England Lowell Cotton Mills. For the readers of Marginalia on Engagement I wanted to further explore its story, and this is what I found out: despite a large amount of historical coverage there are still a lot of ambiguous areas to understand.

Author Harriet H. Robinson (1825 -1911) described the life cycle of the publication in The Lowell Offering.

“At the time the Lowell water-power was utilized, the era of mechanical invention had not begun. The industrial life of New England was yet in its infancy, and almost every article in daily use that is now made with the help of machinery was then “done by hand”.

“There was neither railroad, steamboat, telegraph, nor telephone; and direct communication was kept up by the lumbering stage-coach or the slow-toiling canal which tracked its sinuous way from town to city and from state to state. The daily paper was almost unknown, and the “news of the day” was usually a week or so behind the times.”

At that time people lived in pastoral simplicity with retail business being done by barter. “But into this life there came an element that was to create a new era in the activity of the country.” Robinson refered to the mechanical industry which would build the cotton-factory and “call together an army of useful people, open wider fields of industry for men and, what was quite as important at the time, for women too.

“We can today hardly realize what a change the cotton-factory made in the status of the working-woman. Hitherto woman had always been a money-saving rather than a money-earning member of the community; and now for the first time the labor woman, as a class, had a money value.

“Some of these women, both young and old, had some objects in working in the factory besides using the money they would earn. There were not a few who came to Lowell on account of the circulating libraries that were soon opened, the lyceum lectures, and the social advantages to be found in the companion-ship of those of similar tastes with themselves. They discussed the books they read, debated social questions, compared their thoughts and experiences, and advised and helped one another. And so their mental growth went on and they soon became educated far beyond what their mothers and grandmothers could have been.” 

These women kept studying and advance their education while working at mill. What happened next?

The Lowell Mill Girls

According to Robinson, “their work was monotonous and was done almost mechanically, but their thoughts were free and they had ample time to digest what they learned or to think over what they had read. Their mind were not crammed, and an idea had a chance to “turn round” before another came to crowd it out or take its place.”

Some women decided to form a “little society for “mutual improvement,” where they could meet together at intervals, submit to each other what they had written, or talk over the books they had read.”

Soon, a selection of the articles that were read and shared during those meetings was published “in pamphlet form, under the joint editorship of Mr. Thomas and Mr. Thayer.” The Lowell Offering was born.

The first number was realised in October 1840, while the last one was issued in December 1849. Seven volumes were published in total. The publication was small, thin, with one column to the page and a plain title. In 1845, the magazine had on its cover vignette.

“Of the merits of the Lowell Offering, as a literary production, I will only observe – putting out of sight the fact of the articles having been written by these girls after the arduous hours of the day, - that it will compare advantageously with a great many English annuals.

“The Lowell Offering did a good work not only among the operatives themselves, but among the rural population from which they had been drawn. It was almost the only magazine that reached their secluded homes, read and re-read, and thus set the women to thinking, and added its little leaven of progressive thought to the times in which it lived.

“These authors represent what may be called the poetic element of factory life. They were the idea mill-girls, full of hopes, desires, aspirations, - poets of the loom, spinners of verse, artists of factory life.”

The author concluded by writing that: “these factory-girl writers did not confine their talents within the pages of their own publication. Many of them wrote for the literary newspapers, and they also became authors of books. Some become artists, some teachers and “some of them are and have been well known as doing good and successful work outside the domestic sphere.
The cotton-factory was to them a means of education, their alma mater, or preparatory school, in which they learned the alphabet of their life work.”

Employee Voice

The Lowell Offering is and will remain an important stage in the historical development of internal communications. 

However, despite the appearance of its independence, the representation of a true employee voice is put in doubt by different studies. For example, Kevin Ruck and Heather Yaxley point out that the Lowell Offering was in fact very much controlled by the corporation. “Industrial editing was overwhelming involved selling the company policy to employees.” Their research also suggests that “the importance of the employee voice was not recognised until mid-1990s, with emergence of social media and a return to valuing personal communication.”

What we are seeing today is that social media inside the large enterprise is creating new opportunities for transparent dialogue. The "factory-girl (and -boy) writers of the 21st century" seem to have a new kind of genuine voice. If listened to, it could dramatically help to shape the future of organisations. 

Do you have any thoughts on this or experiences to share? I would love to know your view.


If you were interested in exploring further the topic, Kevin Ruck will join SMiLE London - the conference on Social Media in the Large Enterprise by simply-communicate - on 17th March. He will be moderating an interactive table on the link between employee voice and social media.

Sunday, 12 January 2014

Design thinking for social innovation

"Leaders now look to innovation as a principal source of differentiation and competitive advantage; they would do well to incorporate design thinking into all phases of the process" - Tim Brown, CEO of IDEO

The management philosophy commonly referred to as design thinking strives to cultivate a creative and human-centred company culture to foster innovation. Today many social businesses are applying its principles to achieve extraordinary results.

A look at the concept

Wikipedia refers to design thinking as "the ability to combine empathy for the context of a problem, creativity in the generation of insights and solutions, and rationality to analyze and fit solutions to the context.

A popular author on the subject is Roger L. Martin. In The Design of Business: Why Design Thinking is the Next Competitive Advantage he writes about "a form of thought that enables movement along knowledge. It requires a different kind of thinking, which demands a different way of organising work."

Martin suggests the employment of "the stance, tools and experiences."

  • Stance: is our view of the world and our role in it. "The designer thinker develops a stance that puts a priority on seeking validity and making advances in knowledge, even if that stance places the thinker at odds with the organisation's culture."
  • Tools: are the model that we use to understand our world and organise our thinking. "In addition to mastering tools for analysing the past and using that analysis to predict the future, the design thinker develops the capacity for observation, for seeing features that others may miss."

  • Experiences: are what build and develop our skills and sensitivity over time.
"Design thinkers use their experiences to deepen their mastery of the current knowledge forward to the next stage."

Another authoritative voice in this field is CEO of IDEO Tim Brown. In an Harvard Business Review's article titled Design Thinking, he examines the common traits of design thinkers:

  • Empathy. They imagine the world from multiple perspectives by taking a "people first" approach.

  • Integrative thinking. They exhibit the ability to see all of the salient - and sometimes contradictory - aspects of a confounding problem and create novel solutions.

  • Optimism. They assume that no matter how challenging the constraints of a given problem, at least one potential solution is better than the existing alternatives.

  • Experimentalism. They pose questions and explore constraints in creative ways that proceed in entirely new directions.

  • Collaboration. The increasing complexity of products, services, and experiences has replaced the myth of the lone creative genius with the reality of the enthusiastic interdisciplinary collaborator.

In an interview with Ideas Projects, the author expands on the implications of communications technology for businesses.


Design thinking and social innovation

As Brown suggests in the video above, there is much to benefit from 'thinking like a designer.' Organisations can support the flow of engaging conversations and innovative ideas to advance business results.

Today, this is especially applicable thanks to the rise of social media in the large enterprise. Networks amplify voices and the co-creation of content, services, and products globally. Multiple players are involved in re-shaping organisational's symbols and meanings. Broader interactions and diverse perspectives come together and enable a new type of 'social innovation'.

The opportunity for managers is to facilitate the movement of knowledge across the nodes to bring insights to the next level and transform it into business value.

For example, a company doing this is manufacturer of pumps Grundfos. They are driving growth and innovation by making social both the way of doing business and a vital management competence. "Key skills for the manager of the future are related to communities, collaboration, empowerment and business technologies," says Grundfos's Thomas Asger Hansen. His colleague Martin Risgaard Rasmussen also adds that this change requires a new degree of "confidence" as well as an experimental attitude." The company has created a Social Business Council that work on the strategy both internally and externally by generating priorities. It helps the organisation to better leverage opportunities. Internally they work on social empowerment, digital literacy, social CRM, and social business intelligence. Externally they look at improving cross company collaboration as well as customer service communities.

"It is about people, communication, relationships and behaviours. As such, it requires a new mind-set which recognises the value of engaging in dialogues rather than purely broadcasting messages" - Martin Risgaard Rasmussen, Grundfos

If you would like to know more about Grundfos, you can read the whole story at simply-communicate.

Grundfos will also be featured at SMiLE London - the conference on Social Media in the Large Enterprise by simply-communicate - on 17th March 2014.

Sunday, 5 January 2014

Mind your #BrandVandals employees

Today, thanks to the Internet, communication between an organisation and its audiences can no longer be one-way: everyone has a powerful voice through which they can share their opinions. This means that anyone can also publicly criticise and be a 'brand vandal'.

This is the subject discussed in #BrandVandals by Steve Earl and Stephen Waddington. The book examines the impact that social media-empowered individuals can have on organisations, and proposes some answers for the future of organisational communications.

I had the pleasure to meet and interview Waddington for a recent article on simply-communicate. On the occasion, he kindly gave me a copy of #BrandVandals which I read with keen interest.

For the readers of Marginalia on Engagement, I chose to focus on the chapter 'Pigs and lipstick' which brilliantly points out that every employee is now a spokesperson.

Brand Vandals are not just members of a company's external community, but they include workers too. "Now employees communicate freely online and everyone is a spokesperson irrespective of whether they mark up their social media profiles with a note about personal disclosure," writes Waddington.

The author notes that social media does not subscribe to the rules of traditional hierarchies within an organisation. Connections have always been created across boundaries and departments through information networks (e.g. the smoking corner, the football team, the squash club). However, "now internal organisation has been flattened thanks to technologies that allow instant communication and social networks such as Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter and Yammer."

To illustrate the point, Waddington shares his and Earl's personal experiences. Both of them changed jobs recently and joined large companies. In the period between their appointment being announced in the press and they each beginning their new roles, staff from each organisation made contacts with them directly through social networks such us Twitter and LinkedIn. "These new introductions and connections occurred spontaneously without the support of the human resources department or management interventions." That meant that on the first day in their new job they had already developed internal networks.

According to Waddington, despite the huge shift made by organisations to communicate more openly with their staff, "we are a long way from a nirvana of organisational transparency." Whistle-blowing is an indication. "Whistle-blowing has always happened in organisations and will continue to do so; it can't be stopped just as an organisation cannot control what people think or say about it, either privately or publicly." It is not going to disappear as a result of social media; in fact is more likely to increase. "Social media makes it easier than ever before for employees to leak information about an organisation's errant behaviour." This is why communicators need to be aware of and deal with this phenomenon as they do with other forms of communications.

To elucidate the relevance of the last point, is the story of HMV. Last year the company went into administration and thousands of jobs were put at risk. Some members of the staff with access to the Twitter account of the company, @hmvtweets, started to share news about the redundancies. Several tweets were posted before HMV could regain control of the account. Waddington observes: "The lesson from this story and others of its type is that organisations must have robust governance and risk management in place so that when an employee leaves a company the username and password for branded social media accounts aren't leaf open to abuse."

When employees turn to social media for sharing their grievances a company has some major issues to deal with. This can be perceived as a threat by those organisations that are not prepared and willing to listen to their people. On the other hand it can be a big opportunity for proactive companies that care about their employees' voice, want to engage with them more and encourage an honest working environment.

"One of the best outcomes when whistle-blowing happens is the review of internal processes when a company admits it got things wrong and takes steps to rebuild and openly communicate with employees. It is a healthy means of rebuilding trust."


Are there any 'brand vandals' employees stories or personal thoughts on the topic that you would like to share?