You probably know Kare Anderson already but, just in case, let me juggle your memory with that very short and limited excerpt of her bio.
Kare was the Obama campaign team collaboration coach. Diagnosed as “phobically shy” as a child she went on to become an Emmy-winning former NBC commentator and a journalist for The Wall Street Journal in Europe and the U.S.
Although I was not diagnosed as “phobically shy”, I am sure I could have if my mother had taken me to a specialist. From that perspective I feel a connection with Kare. Not that I claim achieving anything anywhere close to her career; I do believe that overcoming this overwhelming shyness must have triggered similar experience with that respect. We will have to compare notes one day!
Back to the topic of interest: social media and collaboration… We all still remember the strategic effect of Social Media on the presidential elections. Well beyond a simple viral effect, the expert use of Social Media has enabled people all around the United States (if not world-wide) to collaborate and get organized. Kare played a major role in this election. I was very honored when guru Kare joined our readership on this very blog and praised our contribution! Wow!
When Churchill Club announced that Kare was going to be interviewed by Kym McNicholas (Forbes.com), we jumped on the opportunity to meet in person.
I must admit that I was interested in meeting both the person and the expert. Kare has a pedigree that impresses of course. The very topic of Social Media and Collaboration is fascinating! Don’t you think?
Let’s start with Kare’s definition of Collaboration:
Self organized self managing groups
As you know, Carlos and I started experimenting a few years ago with blogs, Twitter and a couple of communities we started (one for Blaze Advisor at FICO and our product-neutral Decision Management Community). We made some mistakes; we learned a lot.
Listening to Kare was a great opportunity to validate our experience at large and get a few nuggets. Let me share a few take-aways I found interesting.
Resistance is futile
Among the topics that came up, engagement was obviously an important area of concern.
Personally I was interested in getting Kare’s perspective on how to address the traditional roadblocks:
- Social Media is for kids that do not care about privacy… Fools!
- We are doing things our own way here and have been for years; we do not need technology to change our habits!
- My Rolodex is my value. I do not want to share it! (oh boy, how many sales guys have said that before…)
- I want to make decisions on my own terms; transparency kills my power!
- Collaborating? For people to steal my ideas???
I could go on and on…
There are some valid points of course in some of those arguments — and some not so valid.
Everyone agrees that privacy is a key issue. Collaboration and social media should not compromise private data of course. We all agree on that. There is value though on sharing and we should be empowered to use our best judgment on deciding what is private and what can be shared. I worry sometimes when I see how much my teen nieces publish on Facebook but, as adults, I trust we think more about consequences — and we may worry irrationally anyway about what our teens do regardless of whether there is real danger or not: Parental instinct! Talking or not talking is not a new concern since we have had to worry about PR forever. What is new is that personnel that were not exposed to it now are. There will be some faux-pas but they do happen already in less visible ways today when you share sales details over the phone in an airport full of competitors (true story). So, whether you are embarking on a social media experience or see your team enroll into collaboration sites, remember to trust your good judgment.
I also want to stress that social media is not a fad about using a toy or not. Social media, in my perspective, is a set of new capabilities that support the very basic need to interact. The key focus is on the interaction, not the tool. I have met companies with a strategic initiative to do “social media” and felt the need fulfilled by a corporate wiki or discussion board. I was relieved to hear business owners scream for *solutions* that have an impact on the bottom line. Wikis are great *for a purpose*. Any social media capability is great *for a purpose*. Having the mere capability with no guideline as to its usage is madness. Do not expect your personnel or teams or partners to automagically organize without a purpose. The tools do not do it alone. Wikis have been very successful for me when we needed an evolving repository of knowledge to share across teams. We set it up with a structure and taught people how to use it. Not the “click here to update a page” functionality training, but rather training around the rules of engagement. One person stated in a past conference that their corporate discussion board turned into a series of postings on cafeteria food. If you expect more than comments on the weather and ramblings, you need to prime the pump and communicate on what it is the tools is to be used for. It will help people feel more engaged if they understand the value of their contribution. It will help people add value if they understand what is expected of them. Don’t throw a tool at them, give them guidance.
IP is another serious concern. It goes both ways. You do not want to say more than you should and reveal your IP. Contributors may be afraid to give you ideas for free. Or you may be worry that contributors will claim IP on the products & services that come out of the effort. All of those points are valid of course but fall into the former category of “good judgment”. There is a value in sharing, whether it is publicly or not. The same guidance applies in person. There is value in providing feedback to your technology providers so that they will improve their solutions in a way that benefits you in the long run. Forget the media and focus on the value of the exchange. Use your best judgment on what to say and whether a private email would be more appropriate than a public post.
Kare addressed many of those objections with a simple but powerful statement. It all boils down to benefit. Is there more value in sharing than not sharing? In today’s economy, can you afford to not leverage those ecosystems? She stressed the upside of Collaboration: in a bad economy, in such a connected world, to remain competitive, you need to increase productivity and innovate.
If you ask publicly your customers what they want, you are going to gain much publicity and invaluable input than your competitors. It is a critical aspect of Product Management: do you create your products inside-out? Of course, there are different ways to ask your customers about what they want. I certainly hope that you already have those conversations in person with your customers. Creative ways to engage customers can multiply tremendously the benefits you get out of the interaction: you can turn a disgruntled customer into a champion, you can create marketing buzz that far exceeds what your marketing budget would have allowed… And let me say it aloud: this is NOT manipulation! Making a customer happy is a win-win situation (if you obviously focus on “angel customers”). You must have heard the Comcast story a thousand times: they assigned customer service personnel to monitor Twitter and solve in no time the issues of disgruntled tweople. Great PR for them. An easy escalation mechanism for social-media-litterate people.
Marketing is the typical use case that we refer to. I want to highlight the operational efficiency as well. Think about Salesforce.com and Chatter. You are a sales rep closing a deal with a major client. Chatter gives you transparency into the company’s relationships (think LinkedIn). As you follow your own accounts, you can be proactively alerted of unusual tech support activity or other red flags that are better addressed early. In my experience even in not-so-large companies (hundreds to thousands of employees) is that it is a nightmare to get the information. You have to call and call and call again. It is always after the facts under the pressure of the by-then angry customer. Collaboration inside the company brings efficiency and quality of service to levels unprecedented — when it is done right.
The caveats to the benefits offered by Social Media & Collaboration are that you need to know what you are doing, to have a plan and to have engagement.
Trust versus engagement
Kare shocked a few people when she said that “trust was not as critical as engagement” or something along those lines. As I chatted with a fellow attendee at the conference, I put the emphasis on starting a Collaboration initiative. Trust is obviously critical in a successful endeavor but you cannot necessarily expect trust to exist when you get started. Collaborators may not know each other. It is important to ensure engagement of all to derive value for the group.
The way Kare recommends to start is to publish rules of engagement. Make sure that all in the group know the purpose of the collaboration project, what is expected of them and how to interact. Some of the most typical rules of engagement are around format of course:
- Be on time
- Let people speak
- Do what you say you were going to do
But some other important rules of engagement you may want to publish early are about the triggers to kick someone out of a project!
Clear expectations & no surprises will help your collaboration effort be successful. It is okay if goals vary from one member to another as long as they all subscribe to the rules of engagement and deliver on those expectations.
Incentive, incentive, incentive…
That leads to another important topic around collaboration… How do you get people to engage?
I wish there was an easy answer to that question. When you work 60 or 70 hours a week, have a family to take care of, how can you find the time to participate in Collaboration projects? Well, certainly some projects are part of your assigned work (like the Sales rep scenario above). There are lots of communities out there that are voluntary. They likely intersect with your work as a topic of interest but they do not fall into your duties — although I imagine that we will eventually have such goals in our comp plans.
Kare talked about incentives that motivate people.
Incentives can be financial. This is not quite different from the traditional focus group “token of appreciation”.
Incentives can be gifts.
Incentives can be recognition.
An interesting approach that Kare suggested was to have the collaboration “reward” up for discussion as part of the collaboration effort. You might be surprised what people ask for. She referred to a couple of example where one employee asked for more flexibility in working from home.
3M is a great use case for innovation. They encourage employees to come up with new ideas. If they can convince 3 people to work on their project they can get funding and be rewarded upon success of the new idea. This is not exactly a case of Social-Media-empowerment as they have innovated with this new approach 25 years ago!
Well, in conclusion, Collaboration is not a new phenomenon but thanks to Social media we now have an opportunity to expand Collaboration to a unprecedented scale. With a sound vision, you can create value-added collaboration projects inside or outside the walls of your company. Keep in mind that if you use your best judgment and follow the rules of engagement, we can all benefit from working together.