Wikis in moderation

Had a great debate during a workshop last week. I was discussing how Web 2.0 technologies can be applied internally to improve knowledge sharing. Opinions (and expectations) about the use of tools such as blogs and wikis vary – from being rose-tintedly optimistic about their potential benefits through to being thoroughly pessimistic and convinced their use will be a disaster.

In this instance, the customer raised a valid and common concern – that innacurate information could be posted on a wiki page or blog and become relied upon, leading to misinformation being distributed internally and (worse) externally. It’s a fair comment. Information tends to be sticky – once we learn something, we hold onto it until we learn the hard way that it is no longer applicable or true. See previous blog post – Sticky Information.

But it is a mistake (and hence the debate) to assume that, without wikis and blogs, misinformation doesn’t occur. It does, through email and conversation. The difference is in the discoverability (or lack of). Wikis and blogs are transparent – published on a web site for all to see. If somebody publishes inaccurate information, it can be quickly corrected for all to see. The same is not true for email and conversation. But such corrections rely on people to moderate the digital conversation.

Wikis are a great way to democratise the sharing of information and knowledge, but do not consider them a labout-saving device. The reverse is usually the case. The most successful wikis balance open editing with moderators who keep a check on the quality and accuracy of information being published.

Web Wisdom

A follow on to the Web Naivety post…

Not everyone is panicking and padlocking the computers to prevent people ‘wasting’ time on social networking sites. Found over on the blog of Shel Holtz, a comment from the CEO of Serena Software who has introduced ‘Facebook Fridays¨

“Each Friday, employees are granted one hour of personal time to spend on their Facebook profiles and connect with co-workers, customers, family and friends.”

Even better is the title of the press release: Serena Software Adopts Facebook As Corporate Intranet. If that doesn’t get the vendors of web content management tools panicking… 😉

The CEO – Jeremy Burton – has a more grounded approach towards Web 2.0 tools than most. He wrote an article for ZDNet Asia – Bringing Social Media To Work – describing why social activities are inevitable within the workplace. And he includes the best analogy yet for why and how to embrace social computing in a positive way. IT departments should take note:

¨For most people, the human drive to connect and share is stronger than the duty to spend every possible moment “being productive”. No matter what, people will find ways to socialize and share during work hours. It might be best to treat this like sex education: If your employees are going to “do it” anyway, why not encourage them to channel their social-media impulses in smart, safe ways that can potentially help your business?¨

Genius! 🙂

Related post: Web Naivety

Filed under: Changing Systems – Work; Systems Design – Social Networks

Technorati tags: Social Computing; Web 2.0

Changing Management

The Internet has changed how people interact with organisations yet, for too many organisations, internally they look the same as they did a decade or three ago. The result – a disconnect between what could be achieved and what actually happens. And the finger of blame usually points in the same direction -> middle management.

McKinsey has a stomper of an article – Innovative Management – A conversation with Gary Hamel and Lowell Bryan (free registration required to read) – discussing the challenges facing organisations. Traditional production line management in a world of change creates an inverse relationship with performance and profits.

Gary Hamel identifies the fundamental challenge:

¨When you read the history of management…, you realize that management was designed to solve a very specific problem—how to do things with perfect replicability, at ever-increasing scale and steadily increasing efficiency.¨

This should sound familiar to a lot of people, right back to the Pyramid builders. Do you have a standard job title and description shared with peers throughout the organisation? Are a set of standard objectives used to measure performance? That’s traditional management. Define a role and reproduce it to scale outputs. For those in the role – your job is to ‘do’ not ‘think’. What does the future look like? More of the same…

The challenge facing organisations is that more of the same no longer works. In the current environment, the winners are those who can adapt and change, quickly. But there is a hidden opportunity lurking inside all organisations. It turns out, who would have thought, thinking is not confined to managers. Lots of people do it. It’s actually quite normal, a common human trait. Redundant in a production line that wants replicability. Invaluable when value comes from connecting ideas and expertise.

Back to Mr Hamel:

¨The winners will be those that enable their thinking-intensive employees to create more profits by putting their collective mind power to better use

…You cannot command those human capabilities. Imagination and commitment are things that people choose to bring to work every day—or not.¨

So what’s stopping organisations from doing this? There are two issues that I think are common place.

The first is the outdated assumption about plebs* and managers: Plebs do the work, managers think and plan it. Plebs aren’t concerned with strategy or the future, that’s what managers worry about. Doing is replicable therefore plebs are easy to replace. None of this philosophy sticks when the ‘doing’ involves ‘thinking’. But managers are still running the show and therein lies the problem…

The step from pleb to manager usually results in the heady combination of more money, more power and less work (‘doing’ is often measured in time-based outputs such as utilisation targets, management is about results). You might as well dish out free drugs while you’re at it. Once addicted, few want to go back to doing and, somewhat ironically, the management club also looks like a production line:

Once you are in The Club, it can be all too easy to forget the messy life of doing. Names representing individual strengths become replaced with job titles in plans – this role will be doing that. (See also: Distracting Data) As job roles change, it is increasingly likely that managers make decisions about roles they have never actually done and therefore have little idea of what is or isn’t achievable. Non-management opinions struggle to be heard, particularly when they challenge the plan. Reports (and rewards) focus on what the plan has achieved that it set out to do, not the missed opportunities and costly mistakes that result from refusing to change it. ‘The benefit of hindsight’ is used to justify inaction.

There is an added challenge if you live in a country with legislation protecting employee rights. Replicatable work is the easy option for management to help justify that everyone is being treated equally (that doesn’t equate to fairly or correctly). It’s lazy management. You can ensure equal opportunities and still embrace individual talents to increase performance. But more effort is placed on management to keep track of what’s going on. That kills off the ‘less work’ part of the deal.

So what should management look like in the 21st Century? Yet again, Gary Hamel comes up trumps:

The management challenge is akin to urban planning. The art of it is that you must enable people to make thousands and thousands of individual decisions about how to live and work, but you have to create the infrastructure to make it easy for them to do so.

Management is becoming a more essential and skilled role than ever – coming up with, and executing, new ideas is much harder than repeating an established process. But so are the thinking-doing roles. Becoming a manager should not guarantee a move three rungs up the ladder of respect from non-managers. Organisations who insist on the pleb-management divide risk letting their best assets walk out of the door to become their next competitor (See also: The Digital Natives Are Leaving).

Related blog posts:

Filed Under: Changing Systems – Work

*I use ‘pleb’ in its original context – the plebeians. It seems ironic these days that ‘pleb’ is often used as an insult. Open and global access to information has shown how level the playing field is when it comes to acting with wisdom or stupidity…

Web 2.0 one-liner

Tim O’Reilly has a timely post rebuking attempts to define Web 3.0 – Today’s Web 3.0 Nonsense Blog Storm. As he points out, most such attempts tend to describe incremental changes to the technologies that have come to represent Web 2.0 as opposed to a major disruptive shift that will define the next generation of Internet maturity.

But best of all, his post includes a one-liner that perfectly describes the potential value and purpose of Web 2.0:

“It’s all about building applications that harness network effects to get better the more people use them”

Whilst the reference is to companies building Web 2.0 applications (and why the backend – the data center – is what really matters), this definition could (and should) be equally applied to businesses looking to adopt Web 2.0 apps like wikis, blogs and social networks, particularly any solution involving the word ‘knowledge’ or ‘collaboration’. Many customers I talk to want the Wikipedia/MySpace/Facebook effect, but they are reluctant to open such tools to the entire organisation. Instead, the preference is to stay within a manageable comfort zone of ‘a few editors and everyone else is read only’. But that approach prevents those network effects from taking hold – it cripples the solution and limits the benefits to be gained from deploying such technologies. If you don’t want people to participate, stick with traditional web content management solutions… costly to maintain with content that is often out of date (or non-existent)

Technorati tags: Web 2.0; Enterprise 2.0

Blogging tips for business

I always try to add commentary to links here rather than simply link to what others are writing about, but there’s not much I can add to the following. Euan Semple highlighted a great post written by Matt Moore – how to do corporate blogging. The closing comment is included here but go read the full list:

Blogging allows you to:

  • Talk to customers and partners at all levels
  • Scan the environment for change
  • Identify potential thought leaders

All for very little cost

Good advice.

Found via Euan Semple’s The Obvious blog – Corporate Blogging 101

Beware the script

If there is one clue that business should take from blogosphere, it is that you need to change the way you connect with your customers if you want to sell them something…

Last Friday, I received a phone call from a BT sales person. I currently pay BT for 3 services: telephone line, ISP provider and dial-up Internet connection. The BT man kindly reminded me that I was a valued customer (I wonder how many unvalued customers they call?) and told me he wanted to help reduce my telephone bill. So far, so scripted. On to the killer question. “How are you finding your Internet service?” He asked. “Well, since you ask…” I replied, “bloody awful, I’ve been meaning to call BT to switch from Anytime to Pay-as-you-go ‘cos it’s a waste of money .” Hmmm, that wasn’t quite the response his script required to lead on to the next question.

Now I wasn’t expecting a sales guy to solve my Internet connection problems. But if he wanted to sell me something, he could have at least recommended that I call the support number, or even offered to get a support person to call me (that would have won some loyalty points). But nooooo, that’s not why he’s calling – he’s got a script and he’s going to stick to it…

“When do you make most of your phone calls at home?” (If you checked my account, you’d know the answer… ) “Daytime.” (Not entirely true.) “Ah, well, did you know that for the incredibly small amount of £24.99 per month you could have super fast broadband access to the Internet including free telephone calls during the day. What do you think about that?” (sigh, if he had bothered to ask instead of tell, he’d discover that I know all about BT’s broadband talk offer.) “Lovely. Send me an email with the details and I’ll think about it.”

What do I really think? That BT just spammed me – a mass-produced scripted sales call designed for ‘the customer’ and outsourced to a sales agency to save costs. What I’m thinking is they couldn’t be bothered to find out what I really need and sell me something I want. What I’m thinking is, if they don’t want to listen and help solve an issue with their service, why would I buy anything else from them?…

Did BT man ever send me that email with details of the offer? Did he hecks.

What did this whole experience remind me of? The Push model of doing business – treat your customers as an entity – the ‘customer’ – uninformed and waiting to be sold something. But in this emerging Pull era, customers often know more about the products than the people paid to sell them.

When off-shoring became fashionable, business jumped at the chance to lower the operating costs of running a call centre without first questioning the effect it may have on customer service. Given it costs a lot more to win a new customer than it does to retain an existing one, creating a system that frustrates your existing customers and reduces the quality of service is perhaps not the wisest strategy. Lower operating costs are of little use if the cost of sales has to rise to compensate for the customers you lose.

The same is becoming true for selling. It may be cheaper to use untrained contractors, armed with a script and a list of telephone numbers, to mass sell a new service. But lowering the cost of selling is of little use if it annoys your customers so much they cancel what they already pay for and go somewhere else.

How should the call have gone?

  • For starters, don’t tell me I’m a valued customer, find out if you are a valued supplier – thank me for purchasing your services
  • If you are going to ask what I think about your services, be prepared to deal with the response – if I tell you there is a problem, try and fix it before you try and sell me something else
  • Be honest – don’t tell me you want to help reduce my telephone bill when you don’t (switching from Anytime to Pay-as-you-go would reduce my telephone bill, subscribing to broadband would not)
  • Do your homework – BT itemises my telephone bill and would know that I barely make any telephone calls during the day from home so why ask the question?
  • Don’t assume that I haven’t already done my homework – if BT man had asked, he would have found out that I had spent the best part of last month studying BT’s various services and knew all about the broadband talk offer
  • Instead of trying to sell me the product you decide I should be using, match the right products to my needs – if BT man had tried, he would have found out that I use wireless a lot in coffee shops and have been considering buying a BT OpenZone account

If BT had invested in proper sales tactics instead of using canned scripts, they would probably have:

  1. Sold a broadband package in half the time it took to waffle through the script
  2. Also sold a BT OpenZone account

That would have increased revenue on my account by £35 per month. Instead they got less than nothing – I will switch my Internet account to Pay-as-you-go (it should save £10 per month). Prior to the call, I had no intention of buying broadband from anyone else, now I’m not so sure BT are worth the extra cost… Oh, and opinion of BT before the call: 7/10. Opinion after the call: 5/10.

Now that’s a lesson in how not to sell to your existing customers…