Sunday, 31 May 2015

The Role of Social Power inside Organisations

Organisational network analysis (ONA) may be best known for its essential and lasting contribution in studying unstructured communication and the dynamics of social networks within an organisation.
Since middle 2000 many companies have used this methodology to understand their network structures, however, according to Jason Langley (pictured right) and his research at London School of Economics (LSE), ONA also allows organisations to measure their social power.

Langley, who defines himself "a sort of hybrid", is a Lawyer with over 15 years of experience in Media, a passion for data analysis and a strong interest in employee engagement. In 2012, he decided to go back to academia to carry out an on-going study on the role of the power within organisations.

I wanted to talk with him to explore how measuring social power can help improve internal communications. In this interview, Langley shares his view on the relationship between structure power and social power, the role of the influencers inside an organisation, and how communicators and change agents can make the most of ONA.

Gloria Lombardi: Your research focuses on the role of power inside organisation and how it links to engagement and performance.

Importantly, you focus on the distinction between structural and social power. Can you explain that distinction?
Jason Langley: There is a massive distinction between structural power and social power.

From an organisational behaviour perspective, John R. P. French and Bertram Raven were the first to identify this in the 50s. If we define power as the ability to influence others, we can find five dimensions:

Legitimate - you are my boss or manager, and because of your position you have the legitimate power to tell me what I should do.

Rewards - you are my boss or manager, and because of your position you have the ability to reward me for the work that I do (e.g. pay, bonuses).

Coercion - you have also the ability to punish me (e.g. you fire me).
Those three sources of power are structurally endorsed. But, there are two more dimensions, which are socially endorsed:

Expertise - You are an expert in this field. If I have a question about it, then I may want to come to you and ask for your guidance. You are not formally connected to my position but, because you are known for having an expertise, you are absolutely influential over my thoughts and actions.

Reference - This is about friendship, but not just in terms of 'we are friends'. It is also about the fact that I respect you and admire you. I may want to emulate you because of the type of person that you are. Often the people who have this power have been in the business for years; they know everybody and are well liked and respected, which results in them having influence.

GL: What do those dimensions of power tell us?

JL: French & Raven’s body of work has been accepted and used inside organisation for years. 

However, most academic studies and practitioner insights have strongly emphasised structural power over social power. The whole command and control mentality of management is based on this idea that structural power is far more important.

When I started to study the topic I was shocked. Intuitively, I would have said that social power is at least as relevant as structure power. But, there was very little research to support this.

So, I decided to focus my studies specifically on this - I wanted to reassert the concept that those two sources of power are independent, that they can be measured and can co-exist.

GL: From a research point of view, how can you bring back the idea that social power is at least as important as structural power? It is hard to talk about it in absolute terms so how can you measure it?
JL: Power can't be measured in the absolute, but only in its effects. This is why it's relatively easy to look at an organisation’s hierarchical chart and understand where structural power may lie. Until recently it was near impossible to do this for social power. However, organisational network analysis gives managers the ability to understand where social power sits within their organisation.

The ONA that I use is based on a very simple questionnaire methodology. I ask individuals to think about the people who they trust inside their company, the people they like to collaborate with and share information with, and the people from whom they get energy and motivation. These are questions around social power - both reference and expertise. Then I ask them about the people whom they have been interacting with in the last week, in the last month, in the last six months and in the last year.

Ultimately, I create an alternative organisational chart; one which is based on social power and looks completely different from the structural power of a traditional organisational chart. The ONA allows us to see where the social influence sits within a business.

An ONA lets you analyse the power of the networks - how teams work and collaborate as well as how communications flow. Importantly, you can also identify the key influencers and key brokers inside the organisation.

GL: What's the difference between an influencer and a key broker? How can identifying them can help communications?

JL: An influencer is someone who is highly influential within a network. The broker is highly influential across multiple networks.

From a communications and employee engagement point of view those people are highly valuable. If you can have them on your side, you are half way through succeeding in any change programme.

There is plenty of research, which goes back to the 90s, showing that key opinion leaders are absolutely critical in helping to change behaviours and attitudes.

GL: Can you tell me more about those studies?

JL: In the early 90s a serious viral infection started to spread in the US. Many hospital and doctors were struggling to inform and educate the population at risk. There was plenty of structurally enforced communication going on - from leaflets, to websites, and TV commercials. But, it was having minimal effect. Simply put, people were not changing their behaviours.

At that point, a new healthcare initiative took an interesting experiment. They identified the key opinion leaders who were absolutely trusted by the community at risk and pulled all their resources just on educating them. Then, those opinion leaders started to disseminate all the relevant information about the virus. They created an amazing support, which ultimately resulted in a massive reduction of infection rate.

GL: Based on your experience, how do organisations react when they see the organisational chart based on the social power? I would imagine it could be quite impactful.

JL: Two things often happen when I introduce the results to the board. First, they go very close to the screen to look at where they are in the chart - instinctively they want to know how much social power they have.

Secondly, there is astonishment. 'Why is that person there? How can she have such an influence?'

It can be very difficult for some senior managers, particularly in highly hierarchical organisations. Many of them feel like they should have known all that information, but often this information sits outside of their own network and is impossible for them to know. For managers who are able to acknowledge and accept that, then this information is incredibly valuable and can be used for leadership development, communications strategies and engagement programs.

GL: So, it is about blending structure and social power; using both. Have I understood correctly?

JL: Absolutely. In my opinion, social power and structural power are equally important. The problem is that many traditional communications initiatives ignore social power, still relying on a top-down cascade approache. While the email sent to everybody by the CEO is still OK, you cannot ignore the most influential people in the business and the potential ability that they have to build connectedness and collaboration across networks. However, this has to be structurally supported, it cannot be a mass of undirected social power.

GL: Can we give some advice to internal communicators? How can they make the most of ONA?
JL: Social power exists, whether we like it or not. It is also becoming more vocal as social media platforms - Facebook, Twitter, – give it a voice and the emergence of Millennials takes hold. This presents a range of challenges that internal communicators must face.

At the same time, an internal communications team has a set of objectives that they have to achieve. Neither may they be able to tap into their organisation’s social power networks easily. For me, the answer is in co-creation – listening to what their organisation’s key opinion leaders have to say and working with them to co-create stories that meet the social and structural power needs of the organisation. The internal comms team establish the end goal, but the key opinion leaders help create the narrative on how to get there.

For many, recognising social power means letting go of some control. However, by doing this internal comms teams also get access to a huge amount of power. The alternative is to keep the control but of a much smaller amount of power and influence.

GL: Can individuals develop and nurture their social influence? For example, leaders who have high structure power but may be poor in social power.

JL: There has been little research around it, but in my opinion, social power comes from having Emotional Intelligence (EI). In this context, I think it is the ability to establish authentic connections with a range of people within your organisation. This is a personality trait, but traits can be nurtured and developed. For those people for whom it does not come naturally they can learn to become more open and social.

Equally, it may not be always necessary. I have recently done an ONA for an organisation where the CEO came up as lacking in social power and appeared distant from many key opinion leaders in his organisation. This CEO has very low EI and relies heavily on structurally endorsed power. This is quite common for people in leadership positions.

The solution in this situation was not to change his personality – as actually he was well liked and respected across the organisation – but to ensure that he was strongly connected with a small group of individuals who had high levels of social power. This allows him to connect with his organisation’s social power network, both to absorb and disseminate information.

GL: What happen if an influencer is highly disengaged?
JL: This happens often. Just because someone is high in social power, it does not mean that their opinions are aligned with the organisation’s.

The win-win situation would be to work with that individual, to drive up their engagement. 
 As soon as you shine a light on someone, giving them the attention they feel they deserve, then the situation often changes quickly. I see this frequently, where the organisation’s biggest distractor quickly becomes the strongest advocate.

The beauty of the ONA is that it allows you discover all of this. Before organisations had this methodology available to them it was impossible to analyse connectedness - or lack of - among the network, flow of information, emotional distancing and when social power and structure power conflict.

Now, you can use all of this data to help your organisation make better decisions. 

This article originally appeared on simply-communicate

Sunday, 24 May 2015

#DW24 - digital workplace taken forward

The digital workplace is not a bigger or better intranet. The latter is a starting point - it is just one piece of the jigsaw; the former is transformational.

A digital workplace unifies communications, mobile, human resources systems, procurement and all the other aspects that would not be considered purely as part of an intranet. The digital workplace requires a flexible mind-set - in a holistic and integrative way of thinking about it, it implies an entire new perspective around work.

Trying to understand which factors impact on digital transformation and enterprise effectiveness is therefore an important job. It is also a tricky one since there are many misconceptions and competing views.

But, the Digital Workplace Group (DWG) has found a nice way to help with this challenge. This week they have produced a virtual global conference called Digital Workplace 24 (#DW24). The live event ran for 24 hours in a row with over forty speakers sharing best practice and thinking across the world. It covered hot topics and organising principles including cultural change, collaboration, internal communications, mobile apps, user experience design, strategy, governance, gamification and the future of work.

Below are a few personal take-aways from some of the live tours that I attended.

a-LIVE, literally

The new generation of employees demands the same level of intuitive technologies to connect and communicate with their colleagues that they use in their personal lives. In 2012, to meet the expectations of their young workforce adidas Group's communications and IT teams started to work together on a-LIVE, the company's new SharePoint 2013-based internal platform.

Being aware that less is more they came up with a solution that is "shockingly clear and simple," as Digital Manager Stefan Hierl put it. 

Today a-LIVE creates a consistent experience for 30,000 employees. Its homepage has been designed to be social, to be highly personalised and to easily create connections while eliminating complexity. Staff customise it with their favourite Apps - for example, the Corporate Info Centre, News Centre, Ask the Management and Bulletin Board - as well as with Workspaces that are most relevant to their jobs such as private and public projects.

The social elements of a-LIVE are similar to many employee social networks - micro-blogging for discussions, following and being followed by colleagues, working on communities and finding experts across the business. Yet, the site's appealing design and an easy and fast user experience, facilitate the collaborative way of working together. The same applies for a-LIVE dedicated mobile app.

According to Hierl, from an internal communications point of view, the platform is "tearing down hierarchy" and breaking silos. Indeed, it is a journey - adidas Group keeps listening to their staff to ensure that they feel empowered to do their job while connecting across departments and countries.

Electrolux’s journey from intranet to the digital workspace - See more at:

Electrolux’s journey from intranet to the digital workspace

Ralf Larsson is Electrolux's Director of Online Employee Engagement and Development. His live tour focused on E-gate, the company's internal platform based on IBM Connections. 

What I found interesting about E-gate was the way its branded corporate news has been embedded with social and commenting functionalities. The deep integration between information and collaboration has created a strong interest among employees in interacting with content that otherwise could be easily neglected. In fact, social is leveraging Electrolux's reach - staff actively interact with, share and comment on stories.

his live tour will show

Electrolux has an appetite for , which comes down to the of the organisation. Yet, without taking it for granted the company provides plenty of training on how to use E-gate. This can take the form of short video tutorials.

Another useful insight shared by Larsson was about the Electrolux Communications Toolbox, which aims at helping everyone at improving their communications skills. In fact, it is a repository of best practice, which the workforce can consult to broaden their knowledge on communications skills. 

Most importantly, it is a collaborative source of information, where every employee has the opportunity to share, consult and add any articles. The toolbox provides tools, methods, ideas and tips that come from the knowledge and experience of their colleagues across the globe - anything from creating a communication plan, to delivering a speech or hosting a meeting.

Indeed, it is important not only to capture knowledge, but also to make sure it evolves and improves accordingly with the evolution of the organisation and business' needs.

Larsson stressed the importance of people profiles and directory, which have become key to easily find, connect and interact with co-workers despite business functions and locations. On E-gate people can download the e-cards of their colleagues as well as access their full Report-to-Chain, which means seeing the people that manage them or are managed by them.

The same applies to the ability of accessing the whole network of any employee, as well as following their activities. 

The Square - the intranet for a very diverse audience

The Square is American Express' internal platform based on SharePoint 2013 and accessed by 60,000 employees and contractors on a daily basis. The solution is currently on premise but future plans include going to the hybrid cloud, according to Director of Online Content and Platforms Ashley Lucio.

Dynamic and multimedia content is key to make staff want come back to the site. Most importantly, The Square avoids corporate language. Other features that are highly appreciated are the live blogs from senior management and investors meetings as well as the quick and topic news called Dailies.
Similarly to E-gate, great emphasise is given to employees and leaders profiles as well as explanatory features in the form of 'how it works' or 'where did that come from.'

The intranet is responsive, which allows mobile employees to have the same level of experience as their colleagues accessing The Square from their desktop computers.

Once again, customisation of content is an important component of an internal platform. The Square enables employees to easily access the tools relevant to them, along with the resources that they use most frequently - from expenses, to travel, HR, and projects.

For me, the fact that the personalisation has become so crucial marks an important transition inside many corporations - the realisation that employees are not passive users. In contrast, they are more likely to feel engaged if they are empowered to get their work done. A digital workplace should enable precisely this.

A killer homepage and mobile intranet

Sprint's internal platform is among the 2015 Intranet Design Award Winners identified by Nielsen Norman Group (NN/g) at the beginning of the year. After attending the session by Terry Pulliam, Director of Communications at Sprint, I could figure out why the team at the US telecoms giant was given such a recognition.
uses OpenText for their intranet content management platform and SharePoint 2013 for team collaboration and enterprise search. - See more at:

Sprint uses OpenText for content management and SharePoint 2013 for team collaboration and enterprise search. The platform has been designed after listening carefully to employees' requirements. That listening paid dividends - currently 30,000 members of staff are enjoying the simplicity of the navigation and the lively use of colour and photography.

The combination of other cleverly thought-through components makes the site engaging - from the megamenus, to its faceted search, its flat design, the good use of short videos posted by staff and the interactive homepage carousel.


The social elements, especially in the form of personal stories, encourage dialogue and help develop a greater sense of community - Sprint's employees get to learn more about their colleagues both professionally and personally, helping them feel more engaged and part of one big team. Ultimately, this focus on narratives drives most of the traffic to the site.

This is a great reminder that featuring real people rather than corporate speeches and brochures is vital to generate and maintain interest. Quite simply, individuals prefer to read about other individuals.

flat design

Equally important, Sprint's platform supports ideation-collaboration based on the concept of crowdsourcing. Whenever they have an idea that could help improve the business, employees can submit their suggestions in the Idea Network space.


Last but not least, the platform enables employees to socially promote services to customers as well as gather feedback on products and campaigns through Q&As and quick polls.

Culture is 'undiscussable' 

"Culture is undiscussable. Organisations don't spend enough time on trying to understand employees' different behaviours."

Dave Gray is Co-Founder and Partner at Boardthing. He is also author of several popular books, including Gamestorming: A Playbook for Innovators, Rulebreakers and Changemakers and The Connected Company.

Gray gave a short, yet powerful speech, reminding the audience that the human side of change is often the most difficult part of any digital transformation.

While organisations need to be innovative, entrepreneurial and team-focused, most companies are still rather process-driven.

But Gray argues this is the wrong philosophy; taking enough time to appreciate the cultural setting of the enterprise is necessary. This implies learning about all the different sub-cultures and ways of 'doing things are here' that permeate any working environment.

After years of helping organisations solve complex problems with visual thinking, Gray came up with a Culture Map Model. The tool aims at re-thinking and re-imagining the corporate culture of companies that need to become more agile. It allows them to understand the factors that contribute to the erosion of trust or to identify where the innovators in the system are and whether they are disconnected from decision makers. Those are just a few examples of what the model can do.

There are many frameworks out there. The Culture Map Model is one of them. Yet, what resonated from this session is the undeniable need of every business to understand the cultural sensitivity of their workplace. After all, almost all failures in enterprise transformation come from shortcutting the “elephant in the room."

Keep it live

Here I have reviewed a few of the many virtual sessions provided by the Digital Workplace Group this week. The conclusions are personal rather than definitive. The points that I emphasised cannot say for sure that they are the way to go. But they do imply that these best practices and thinking would be worth looking at.

This is an evolutionary journey, in other words. The relationship between humans and technologies at work is complex, multi-faceted and unpredictable. Wearables, artificial intelligence, machine learning and virtual reality, they say, are already entering the business world. I think that we have to accept that a large proportion of today's steps will be out-dated at any given time in future.

This is also why we need to keep the conversation live! Let's not switch it off.

This article originally appeared on simply-communicate

Sunday, 17 May 2015

The state of Internal Comms – Academically speaking

Kevin Ruck is the Co-Founder of The PR Academy and course leader for the CIPR Internal Communication qualifications delivered by his institution.

He is the editor of Exploring Internal Communication, a textbook for students and practitioners, which is now in its third edition.

Through 2012 Ruck was chair of the CIPR Inside group for internal communicators and launched their first annual awards. He also ran their first measurement summit leading to a framework for measuring internal communication. Last but not least he has been awarded the Arnoux bursary to undertake a PhD in Internal Communication at the University of Central Lancashire.

I wanted to talk with him to explore the state of internal communication from an academic perspective. In this interview, Ruck shares his view on the strengths and weaknesses of the profession, its opportunity and challenges, employee engagement and advocacy, career development and the impact of new technology on practice.

Gloria Lombardi: Based on your studies, what are the most remarkable changes that internal communication (IC) has faced for the last five to ten years?

Kevin Ruck: There have been two major forces. The first one is the impact of internal communication on employee engagement, which in turn is influencing the practice of the profession. We all know about employee engagement now - at least, it is a familiar term. But, ten years ago it was still emerging. What David McLeod and Nita Clarke of Engage for Success did in 2009 really highlighted the relevance of strategic narrative and employee voice. This has had big effects on the internal communication practice toward engagement.

Secondly, all the changes in technology, especially enterprise social networks (ESNs). They are transforming the way internal communicators do their job.

GL: Tell me more about the last point. How does an ESN change the role of internal communication?

KR: The functionality enables more conversations. It gives employees a better way of having their say. Going back to employee engagement, voice is a big component of it. We have been talking about it for a long time. Now, the technology allowed by an ESN makes it easier for people to have their opinions heard, interact much more and give feedback on content.

This challenges the mind-set of internal communication practitioners - it moves them away from just producing content that is very corporate into having to facilitate dialogue and curate content.

GL: When I interview and speak with both organisations and social media providers, I often hear that IC is not always making the most of this opportunity. Practitioners may be afraid of losing control of the message, something they were used to in the past. 

KR: Yes. This is right. Both IC practitioners and senior managers are concerned about the way an ESN can open up a dialogue. They may feel it is 'too much'.

Some organisations are keener on adopting these tools than others. It is difficult to say whether there is a particular sector embracing them more than other industries. You may find examples of strong social collaboration from businesses that you may not necessarily anticipate.

Interestingly, while someone would expect technology companies to be the most advanced users that is not always the case. A piece of research conducted a while ago with three telecoms corporations looked at their internal social media usage. The results showed stark differences: one organisation was widely adopting its ESN; another one was not using the platform at all. The third enterprise was in the middle road.

Most of time, success and failure come down to the attitude of the IC teams and senior management. When both of them embrace the opportunity offered by ESNs, then it is more likely to see real benefits emerging. In contrast, when they use those networks as just an additional one-way broadcast channel, adoption efforts do not fulfil their potential.

GL: I'd like to explore the career development of the IC practitioner. What are the skills and expertise required by to work effectively in today? 

KR: There are ten knowledge areas that I strongly suggest them focusing on. And, there are attributes and attitudes, which need to be considered too.

Firstly, practitioners need to understand leadership communication. How do leaders communicate? What are the best approaches for leaders to take for a specific topic or situation?

Secondly, change communication. How does IC ensure that the changes are effective?

Thirdly, the sophistication of understanding different needs of employees in different situations is emerging. For example, it is about knowing how to communicate with colleagues who don't have access to the intranet or email. This goes down to individual level - each person has his or her needs and preferences. My research shows that some employees still like email briefings; others want face-to-face meetings and some favour video communications.

This leads to the fourth knowledge area, which is channel management. It is about using strategically all the available channels depending on people's needs as well as the nature of the content.

The other areas include employee voice, employee engagement, measurement, planning and research.

GL: Those are nine. What's the final knowledge area? 

KR: Community Management. This is relevant to the conversation around ESNs. It is a move away from the old technical skills - like event management or video production if you like. Indeed, those skills are still required. But community management is different altogether. It has to do with facilitating conversations through the network.

GL: You also mentioned attributes and attitudes. What do you mean by that? 

KR: A robust academic study conducted for a European communication and innovation programme in 2013 highlighted the top three attributes for IC practitioners. First, there was empathy. Secondly, courage. Thirdly, curiosity.

All three make perfect sense, but, what stands out for me is courage. It reflects some research that I did a few years ago: IC came out with the need to be more assertive.

Internal communicators need to have the courage of their convictions to be able to coach and challenge senior managers. It takes courage to say to leaders to have conversations with their employees, to blog about what is happening inside the organisation rather than doing the usual 25-slide Power Point presentation. It takes courage to teach them that sometimes they have to be prepared to receive comments that may be a bit challenging. It takes courage to start going away from your comfort zone, and really listening.

GL: Building courage. How can IC practitioners start being more courageous?

KR: They need knowledge and confidence. Each plays a part in developing courage.

To prove the validity of their position, they need data - robust research that shows what employees require and want.

But, they also have to have the ability to coach senior managers. And, to say to leaders that they need to communicate differently, it takes confidence. It also includes building trust by developing a deep relationship with them.

GL: Another interesting area that you have been researching is employee advocacy. How do you see the role of IC in that respect? 

I am particularly fascinated by the fact that IC can go beyond the traditional remit of the profession and its internal channels. Going out to external social media; then bringing back added value inside the organisation. 

KR: It is an interesting time to explore that. IC has always been seen poorer in relation to Media Relations inside organisations. Getting involved in advocacy gives IC the opportunity to raise the importance of their profession, influencing the way employees talk about the company outside of work on external channels.

Interestingly, this may start shifting the balance between IC and Media Relations. At least, IC would reach parity.

But, there are some traps that IC professionals need to avoid - they are in danger of losing the credibility of what employees say. Research shows that customers believe what an employee says far more than what the CEO or an official company release says. However, IC is in danger of losing that credibility if it just force feeds employees with corporate information to use in their social media posts.

GL: You mean the danger of demolishing authenticity.

KR: Yes. If it is not an authentic act, if it is not an employee's own words, their Facebook friends will spot that in a matter of seconds. If that happens on a large scale, then customers will think the same of employees as their think of the corporate release.

GL: Following this observation, how can IC support employee advocacy without getting into that trap? 

KR: By having employee engagement in the first place. Employees are not going to be advocates of the organisation if they are not engaged.

We have to go back to what makes employees engaged. According to my research, this comes down to two things: keeping them well informed and giving them a voice. If organisations focus on those factors, they are more likely to have employee advocacy.

GL: Anything else?

KR: Another thing that IC can do is to make very clear to staff what they should and shouldn’t say on social media. I am not referring to rigid rules. It is about making clear that there are some boundaries, behaviours that employees are expected to adhere to when talking about the organisation on digital channels.

Presently, too many employees feel unsure about what they can and cannot say on Twitter, Facebook and so on.

GL: To move forward we need to know where we are coming from. What are the current strengths and weaknesses of the profession that we need to acknowledge and be aware of?

KR: The main strength is that today's communicators are good at keeping their employees informed. Research indicates that in the majority of organisations, up to 75% of the workforce are aware of what is going on at corporate level. This may not sound a particularly positive score. However, taking into account all the changes happening today inside any business, that number is not small. In fact, we can say that IC is doing much better than in the past.

However, the weaknesses are two: research and measurement are still poor. The same applies to employee voice.

We live in a TripAdvisor world where everyone comments on anything - it feels strange if that is not the case. It represents a deep change in society. Yet, when it comes to the workplace employee voice is still limited.

I am talking in general here. Indeed, there are organisations that are doing much better than others. The Exchange program from HSBC is a great example of giving employees a voice. We should see more of that.
This article originally appeared on simply-communicate

Sunday, 10 May 2015

How to improve internal comms and be creative? Get a Pie!

Havas Creative Group is an international agency specialising in advertising, marketing and corporate communications. They have around 11,000 employees in over 100 offices across 75 countries. At the core of what they do is using creativity to build bridges between people and brands.

But, to make innovation enduring, it is important first and foremost to build internal connections. That is where Pie can come to hand. Havas Creative Group has been using this enterprise chat app for brainstorming and sharing creative ideas for a couple of months.

This short amount of time has been enough for their Creative Technologist Dillah Zakbah to say, "It has already replaced an enormous amount of unnecessary emails between our teams. Everything happens much faster and in a more efficient way. Plus, all our knowledge stays safely stored."

In fact, Zakbah, who is based in Singapore, is working on making the tool more available company-wide.

Pie - back to the business need

When Zakbah joined Havas Creative Group around seven months ago, she found she needed a tool for herself and all the creative teams to make brainstorming more effective. "The agency was receiving many briefs, and we had a lot of brainstorming sessions to run. For time constraints, not all of us had the opportunity to speak and share their own ideas during those meetings. On top of that, we were in different teams and sometimes we had conflicting schedules."

Zakbah was looking for a solution that could help all the creative staff to raise their opinions on each brief, but also store those ideas and other relevant information for the pitches. "We needed a central place just for that. Even if someone was travelling or might not be able to contribute during a meeting, they could still catch up and have a say at their own time."

"Every time we have new ideas, it is crucial for us to save them. Otherwise they just get lost - or they get messy if we do that exercise through emails."

Testing, testing, testing

Zakbah tried out different enterprise apps and social platforms before embarking on Pie. "Some tools were too technical for our staff. Others were too much 'corporate looking'."

In contrast, Pie was "extremely simple and user- friendly." For Havas Creative Group's employees less prone to technology "on-boarding on this solution was very easy."

Plus, "it looked cool and fun, with bright colours and plenty of emoticons!" Indeed, never underestimate the power of design. "For our creative people, it is actually very important. It made this virtual space much happier. But, it still preserved its serious aspect on the way it functions for the business.

Additionally the app integrated well with other application that Zakbah's were using. For example, often they have their copy stored on Google Docs as well as videos that they may want to share from Dropbox. From Pie, they could search and find those files easily.

"Basically, the tool was the most useful for our purposes and the most pertinent for our organisational environment."

Getting back the luxury of time

Zakbah works with colleagues in Singapore as well as staff members from Bangkok and Indonesia.

The value of Pie for their communications is clear. "We can keep updated as never before. Now, we always know what is going on in the different offices. Working together has become much easier."

Zakbah claims that the tool has become the central place for discussing anything pitches-related. "For every pitch, we do really need to have everyone's head in one single place - we need to be present. With Pie, we have got back the luxury of time. We can discuss a lot more but in a time-efficient manner."

The app allows to archive group and individual chat logs, which can be easily referenced at a later point.

Every time Zakbah's teams have a new project, they create a related community on the app. 
They have used Pie to chat for projects for our client’s such as Tokio Marine Insurance, PayPal and Magner’s Irish Cider.

"On each group we share all our inspirations, findings and research around the brief." Plus, a lot of "work from competitors." 'Check Out!' This is the message that Zakbah usually posts when she sees the competition doing something new or interesting or different. "We do share plenty of this type of information; then we discuss it all together."

Ultimately, she has found that what they could achieve with one week of work, can now get done within two-to-three days. This also means "saving the company a lot of money."

In fact, for Zakbah "it is really no-brainer for the rest of the company to start using it."

Social bonding

Chat rooms work very well also for strengthening relationships. Alongside all the main work-related groups, Zakbah's colleagues have created a community called 'Cool digital things to do'. Here is where everyone submits their ideas about digital-related extra activities to do in the office to build connectedness with peers.

Another popular community called 'Mish Mash' has become the place for sharing "funny news of the day, funny images and trends found around the web, as well as funny things going on inside the company."

Being mobile

Another relevant quality of Pie is its mobile capability. Zakbah likes to call it 'The WhatsApp for work'.

"It is as intuitive as the external facing consumer app. We are all on mobile. We like to take pictures wherever we are and share instant messages whenever we have a new idea."

Zakbah uses Pie also to share the pride for a work well done with the rest of the team. "Recently, I was walking to the train station. I saw that the latest advertisements we had worked on for Tokio Marine – ‘Ready for what’s next’, were plastered all over the place."

She took a picture with her iPhone and shared it with her colleagues on Pie. "I wanted to make them feel proud. Everyone liked the photo and started commenting on it, saying how much they were pleased to see that. Some of them went even further - they wanted to go the station after work and check the ads by themselves. They also kept similar pictures and shared them though the app."

Emoticons as a mean of communications

Besides, Zakbah appreciates that the mobile app makes many emoticons available. "We use emoji and stickers frequently. Sometimes, they are useful to quickly get your message across."

This is particularly true when there are disagreements within the team. "For example, rather than saying to someone that you don't like their idea, we put a frowning face instead. That is enough for that person to understand and move on. And, you have not hurt their feelings with words like 'I don't like that.' For creative people that could be very upsetting."

A digital assistant 

When you share a lot of information, having a good search capability matters. Pie's search engine is managed through a system of hashtags. Every time Zakbah shares an article or starts a conversation she tags it. All those hashtags are then listed on the main search button.

On top of that the system remembers everything that has been uploaded even without being labelled. This is particularly useful. "For example, I share a lot of trends around digital technology. It would be impossible for me to remember exactly where to find each file. In that respect, Pie functions as if it was my personal assistant. It just lets me find it within a matter of seconds."

Tips to get started with new technology

Listening to Zakbah her enthusiasm is overwhelming; yet not everyone has the same level of energy and positive attitude towards experimenting with tools.

I asked her to share some tips on helping others to get started with new technology.

"It is really tough to get people adopt something that they have never tried before. Especially if they have been comfortable with using old means of communications for years."

In her experience three things are crucial when introducing an enterprise solution in the company.
"First, you need leadership support. That doesn't mean necessarily having them on the platform, but having, at least initially, their OK."

Secondly, "it is important to test the solution with different types of employees to gather their feedback."

Thirdly, "ask your colleagues to help you to evangelise the tool." Indeed, this doesn't mean telling everyone that there is a new solution available for them. It is about spending time with them to show how the tool can support their work. "Your colleagues will be keen on using the technology, only if they find out that it can be very useful for them."

Back to school

As many of us are experiencing at work, Zakbah has ended up using many different tools.

"Different tools have different purposes. We need all of them. Key is to be very clear on the purpose of each of them. For us, Pie is the place to do brainstorming on creative ideas; the Microsoft Office Suite is where we collaborate on editing. Then, there is Skype for Business for the various video conferencing calls and so on."

To make her point Zakbah finishes with a nice analogy. "It is like at school. You have different tools for different subjects. You don't pick the English book to study Math. I guess the same is with enterprise software solutions."

This article originally appeared on simply-communicate

Sunday, 3 May 2015

#UCEXPO - Towards unified workplace communications

The enterprise world is going mobile. Many organisations have already grasped the benefits of mobility and integrated it within their communication strategy. This is not only driving collaboration and business alignment, but also efficiency and flexibility by giving companies a fast and easy way to respond and act on challenges from anywhere. 

With all these advances in technology the move to mobile is only going to accelerate and become a de facto modus operandi. This is the conclusion I reached while attending the Unified Communications and Collaboration (UCEXPO) event at Olympia London last week.

Bringing it all together

Mobility is different and more significant than just equipping staff with mobile devices. The latter is only the first step in enabling a truly mobile organisation. Instead, it is about integrating different network technologies to maximise the value and experience of digital communications.

Marianne Calder from Cisco spoke about an "integrated experience from the pocket to the boardroom."

She described Cisco’s strategy as to “bring it all together” - unified communications, conferencing and collaboration. The latter includes collaborating with employees, as well as partners and customers.

"Traditional management approaches have failed the modern agile worker. Employees just want to get things done. For teams to excel they need a platform that is pervasive and provides a seamless, connected experience."

Presently, 95% of Fortune 500 companies and over 200,000 customers use Cisco Collaboration Portfolio worldwide. Among its users we heard about the nurses and doctors at Airedale NHS who are supporting local care homes via video link. That way they have been able to reduce emergency admissions by 35% as well A&E attendance by 53%.

Another example comes from the financial sector. Nationwide is using Cisco Collaboration to empower remote expert teams, who so far, have increased sales performance by 70% while lowering the cost of sale by 66%.

Calder didn't forget to remind us that 'disrupt or be disrupted' is part of a journey. While today digitisation is already enabling innovation and business growth, new models such as the Internet of Things (IoT) and the Internet of Everything (IoE) are also emerging.

In fact, it seems as if they are the future of the enterprise - the value at stake has been estimated to be $19 trillion (£12.35 trillion). Most importantly, people and process represent 60% of the IoE value.

"IoE success will depend on innovative application of technology to improve the "people" and "process" elements of the business."

By listening to Calder it almost felt like the next few years are expected to be game-changing for the workplace of the future.

Digital transformation is thinking mobile first

Another interesting session was by AT&T's Vishy Gopalakrishnan. He shared some impressive statistics to make the case for the pervasiveness of mobility and the cloud in the workplace.

For example, Strategy Analytics predicts that the global mobile workforce will increase by 1.2 billion in 2013 to 1.7 billion in 2018. According to CIO Magazine over 15 petabytes of new data are created every day. Cisco expects video to represent 78% of all Internet traffic by 2018. Meanwhile, IDC anticipates that 46% of all IT delivery will happen through the cloud by 2016.

Those numbers are quite telling. "It’s not the 'tied to the desk' immobile office any longer. The workplace will see many more changes that are coming even faster. This makes having a single user environment that extends across devices and geographies - a necessity to meet the changing demands of today’s mobile workforce."

In fact, the combination of cloud and mobile makes businesses more agile and responsive. Plus, it helps them become more cost efficient, productive and innovative. Businesses have already started to mobilise unified communications to solve business problems - from collaborating on demand in the field, to deploying and managing content in online and secure environments as well as running virtual face-to-face meetings across the globe.

One way AT&T is responding to the need of the mobile market is by extending their networked technology to key cloud service providers including Box, Salesforce, VMware, Windows Azure, IBM and Amazon Web Services.
The company has also launched AT&T Mobile Office Suite, a collaboration solution that combines the productivity applications of Microsoft Office 365 with cloud-based voice from AT&T.

Yet, it is not just about the technology. Similarly to Calder, Gopalakrishnan emphasised the importance of focusing on the people - "empower employees to communicate and collaborate"; process - "automate time-critical and resource-intensive business process into the mobile cloud" and assets - "gain unprecedented visibility and drive utilisation of assets."

Plus, "don't forget the ecosystem!" What he meant is that an organisation can also benefit from collaborating with their suppliers, customers and partners.

Indeed, as Gopalakrishna finally put it: "Possibilities are endless. Transformation is happening now."

The intelligent enterprise starts with collaboration

It is always a pleasure to listen to technology professionals talking passionately about workplace creativity and relationships. Stuart Cochran, the CTO of the London-based enterprise content collaboration platform Huddle, is one of those people.

He spelled out from the start that a digital workplace should be "social by nature, trusted, easy to use, mobile and secure in the cloud." Most importantly, his talk reminded us that successful transformation needs effective change management: "Remember, collaboration is about greater transparency and innovation among teams.  Beyond the technology, ensure adoption through wider policy change, effective change management and communication."

He is spot on. Cochran spoke about articulating clear objectives, forcefully considering all the people involved in the change - "champions, preachers, blockers and sleepers" - and nurturing adoption with dedicated support and guidance. He also talked about having a customised plan, which also includes defined content and measurement. Those elements are the pillars on which Huddle's services are built.
An example I found particularly interesting comes from the Department for Work & Pensions. Their platform is enabling them to communicate quickly and effectively with key stakeholders such as the local authorities. That is great news from a government organisation that requires saving time and resources. Since the tool is very intuitive to use, all staff have easily adopted it.

Another business that is benefiting from this platform is Centrica. From finance and project management through to HR, Huddle has made them much more focused and efficient by reducing the use of emails and streamlining processes.

Mobile meetings

Today, a meeting has become much more than a 30-minute group-call; audio, web and video collaboration services are expanding to serve the needs of the entire organisation. Just think of how easily colleagues can join a web conference through their mobile from anywhere in the world.
This is the power of Universal Communications and Collaboration (UCC) described by PGi's Mike O' Boyle. UCC is empowering workers through the combination of devices and end points (e.g. mobiles, headsets, tablets, touchscreen interface); UC applications (e.g. voice email, IM, conferencing); infrastructure (e.g. Wi-Fi, cloud, network switches) and other applications (e.g. BYOD management, document management, call recording, ERP).

Perhaps, one of the best examples is the recently announced Skype for Business. Microsoft's new technology brings together the best of both Lync and Skype, it gathers groups of people from anywhere in video and audio meetings and integrates with Office, connecting to the full enterprise communications full set. 

Yet, "UCC is not about technology" said Boyle. "It is about bringing together different communication modalities to create a more productive way of working, improve business processes, reduce costs and enable business transformation."

Ultimately, despite all the techno-jargan it is all about human change. Boyle highlighted some of the biggest threats to success including lack of a business case, silo thinking, IT-led projects, business not engaged, lack of skills and knowledge as well as of manpower. "Many company focus on the technology and underestimate the impact of the cultural and operational change."

While understanding the technology requirements is a prerequisite for realising the vale of UCC, so it is for having buy-in up front, involving all teams, identifying business value, ensuring executive sponsor, recognising cultural aspects. The same applies to governance and measurement.
Indeed, it is about recognising that UCC is there to improve the productivity and efficiency of the user.

UC - This is not utopia

For many people unified communication (UC) may still be a promise of utopia or a beautiful dream rather than something actually achievable inside the enterprise.

However, UCEXPO showed not only that these new working practices are already in place but also that their adoption is increasing at exponential speed. The rapid adoption of digital technology as well as the demand of more agile and flexible working practices are clear drivers. Certainly we have just scratched the surface of what is possible. Wearables are also entering the world of work and disrupting the way communication happens.

What the event proved is that the vendors and system providers are doing their job to build a more integrated experience inside the enterprise. Big players have invested many millions and are betting that we will be using their tools on the go and every day - and even wearing some of them too.
The question will be whether such unified communication and collaboration will be our slave or our master in the future working lives of all of us.

I am hopeful of a positive outcome.


This article originally appeared on simply-communicate