Posts Tagged ‘communication’

Is change or transformation viewed as a ‘problem’ to be ‘solved’?

Posted in Communicate / Collaborate on December 7th, 2009 by Leanne Fry – 2 Comments

I subscribe to the Gurteen Knowledge-Letter, which never disappoints.  Issue 113 – November quoted from and linked to an online booklet from David Block .

 This quote caught my attention:

We cannot problem solve our way into fundamental change, or transformation.

David Gurteen raised it in context of the Knowledge Cafes he runs, where people often expect ‘tangible outcomes’ and don’t appear to see the value in conversation.

The quote relates to what the author identifies as a deeply held belief that the way we make a difference is by defining problems and then finding solutions.  The overall aim of the article is to define the toolsets communities can use to bring a vision into being. It’s about how to create that future for communities.

It rings true for the enterprise as well. So many aspects of corporate operation have a strong problem solving function and culture. But we can’t define change or transformation in the same terms we use to define a problem, and then recommend actions to solve it. If the underlying context hasn’t changed, then nothing much really changes.

‘Authentic transformation is about a shift in context and a shift in language and conversation.’ The author notes that to achieve a change in context, a rethinking of roles, accountability, partnering, and commitment is required. When you think about successful change programs, they have genuinely changed the context within which people operate, think, connect and converse.

My strongest experience of this is action was when I led a strategy program for a major organisation. It involved core services and touched every single aspect of the business. It required a new way of thinking and viewing the services. And it required revisiting roles, responsibilities and accountabilities. Some of those conversations were challenging. But we started shifting the context from the minute the project started, with the people who would play a key role in the future. We did this a number of ways, both formal and informal, and a key characteristic of both was conversation. We designed a new future that became much more than just diagrams and powerpoint presentations.

There are plenty of intangible benefits to be had from conversations within business, but they are rarely measured and often unacknowledged.  It’s easy to gloss over the conversations a team might have to clarify an issue, to come up with a new product or service, to offer a truly innovative approach to a business service. When business seeks to formalise activities so that everyone is clear about what is needed, it’s not surprising that project plans rarely contain activities under the following headings: conversation, syndication, socialisation. You might tell me they are part of a communication and engagement plan, but the primary approach of many communication and engagement plans remains broadcast.

So many of our day to day business tools are still firmly anchored in the desktop suite, which has as its primary purpose packaging information and interaction neatly up into clear buckets and clear pathways. So it’s not surprising that unstructured web 2.0 tools come with quite a barrier to adoption. When it can be hard to identify tangible, financial outcomes from say, an active internal blogging community, web 2.0 struggles at the hurdle.

But perhaps, in an organisation that wants to learn how to value conversation, they provide a very real opportunity to start shifting the context. The strength in a number of the enterprise 2.0 toolsets is in the fact that they sit outside traditional corporate hierarchies. It’s all about the content and the conversation.

Channels and context in Web 2.0

Posted in Communicate / Collaborate on October 1st, 2009 by Leanne Fry – Be the first to comment

A couple of recent instances have reminded me of how much communication has changed. (And some will read this post and say ‘so tell me something I don’t know’.)

But they represent such a challenge, to some of the assumptions underpinning  the communication function in organisations, that I want to highlight them.

You can’t keep a message in just one ‘channel’

I have a very close involvement in children’s services, so follow any issues touching on the welfare of children closely. So when a recent radio stunt set a dangerous precedent regarding the welfare of a child, I rattled off a response to the Australian Communications and Media Authority.

They rang me, and the first question they asked was ‘had I heard the broadcast’? I didn’t need to. The message, and the offending interview, was all over the web.

There’s a real issue here for regulatory authorities who monitor and have authority over particular channels. And a real issue for organisations that think they can still ‘control’ the message. If the topic is interesting enough, someone will take it, tweet it, link to it, bookmark it, discuss it and comment on it.

If you have a role in managing (note that I don’t say ‘controlling’) that message in any way, you need to be engaged in all those possible channels.

The new order has fewer contextual guides

Context in communication is provided by the format, the channel, and the relationship. We have had a myriad of well understood rules that sit around what we read each day. But new channels and user generated content change those rules.

On one of my Twitter accounts, I frequently link to interesting articles online. I will always add the shortened url to my first tweet. But after that, it there are several tweets, I am reluctant to give up 30 characters of my 140 to repeating the url. I’ll usually finish up by putting the url in again, sort of like a bookend.

I am assuming that my followers, knowing what I usually tweet about, will understand the ‘set’. A great number of them, with whom I actively communicate, will also know ‘my voice’. They’ll have a fair idea as to what is opinion, and what is reportage.

So the contextual guides are there for experienced players. Many of those contextual guides rely on the fact that it is a transaction, not a one way broadcast. If every single tweet has to stand alone, then I’ve lost the conversation. Or 140 characters is simply not enough.

There is still control in the new order, but it is of a different shape and hue now.

Social media for local government

Posted in Communicate / Collaborate on September 11th, 2009 by Leanne Fry – Be the first to comment

Saw an interesting post from a UK social media practitioner, Simon Wakeman, on social media relations for local government. He defines what social media is, why public sector organisations would bother with it, and then the possible benefits.

He highlights the two way engagement that is the great leap for many organisations to make. I’d suggest that the additional challenge is the speed of the interaction. Larger enterprises, particularly those with high regulatory or public accountability structures, generally don’t move that fast. Communication is controlled for very valid reasons. Not the least of which is the time commitment and cost of resources dedicated to multiple conversations.

Taking on social media just because it is there is a bit like signing up for the gym because everyone else goes. Someone told you it was good for you and an essential part of a carefully balanced life, but you would really rather be doing something else, and quite frankly, you’re not convinced that the benefits are really there, or that you can’t get the benefits from doing something you enjoy more. It’s an effort to get to the gym because it is a complete change to your routine, and… you get the picture.

The questions are the same: why should I do this, what do I want out of it, how will I know it is worthwhile, will I enjoy it enough to continue?

And so the fundamental question for an organisation is: who do we need to engage with and why would we want to engage with them?

Over a decade ago we used question and answer forums on a corporate intranet, to take the temperature of the organisation in relation to some really thorny issues. We had the view that it was better to have the questions out in the open, and properly answered, than hurtling along the grapevine and potentially doing damage. I recall using the words to some senior executives more than once: ‘Don’t ask for questions unless you are really prepared to answer them.’

So a simple blueprint for an organisation eyeing off all the ‘promises’ of social media might be:

  1. Education: Understand the levels of engagement and interaction that social media provides,
  2. Assessment: Understand the engagement model you have with your customers/stakeholders etc, and the one you aspire to and why,
  3. Commitment: Understand where the benefits of increased engagement will come from, and what it will take from your organisation to commit to that.

KM Australia 2009 conference summary

Posted in Communicate / Collaborate on September 9th, 2009 by Leanne Fry – Be the first to comment

If you didn’t manage to get to the KM Australia conference, held in Sydney in August, Nicky Hayward-Wright has written a great review, complete with links, of the sessions. You’ll find it on the NSW KM Forum site.

Is Enterprise 2.0 just too risky?

Posted in Communicate / Collaborate on August 27th, 2009 by Leanne Fry – Be the first to comment

I met with the members of the Knowledge Management Roundtable in NSW yesterday to discuss Enterprise 2.0 and the opportunities for business it provides within the firewall.

Marie O’Brien is the very capable and entertaining facilitator, and the sessions I attended were all strongly practical.

A couple of the questions asked reflected the very real issues that organisations are wrestling with, either in just opening up social sites to employees at work, or in working out how to leverage social networking in an organisation. I thought they were worthy of noting:

If you provide access to social sites, will people spend their time surfing?

This issue isn’t going to go away anytime soon. Will you see productivity plunge if you allow employees access? I first heard this concern over 10 years ago, when as part of a global intranet roll-out we provided internet access to all our employees. And the talented director I reported to, when asked by me for an official response, commented ‘that is entirely an issue for management’. The mechanisms for time-wasting have always been available, some just more or less visible than others.

Blanket bans may well be counter-productive. The benefit ‘back then’ was that we wanted web savvy employees, people who understood the internet and how it might assist business. I would like to suggest that is still applicable. How can you come to grips with social networking, either within your organisation or for partners and customers, if you don’t understand it yourselves?

The interesting thing about internet access all those years ago was that we saw a spike on the first day we rolled it out to each group of employees. By about day 3 access levels were back down to acceptable levels.

If you provide blogs within an organisation, how do you select the topics and the contributors?

This made me stop and think. On my last project we certainly seeded our first blogs. By that I don’t mean we chucked the technology at a likely suspect and hoped for the best. We worked out a cross-section of influencers, from the leaders to the workers, talked to them about why a conversation might be a good idea, and got the ball rolling. But within a very short time the requests started flowing. And the interesting thing was that everyone who contacted me wanted to start talking. They had people they wanted to connect with, and stories or business information they wanted to share. The technology came second. Sure the technology was a bit interesting and fun, and a whole lot more flexible than an email newsletter, and it might have even inspired a few people to ramp up the communication again, but people wanted to share.

So a mix of understanding the conversations, understanding the corporate dynamic so we knew which conversations carried what impact, some marketing 101, and then visibility and word of mouth, meant that we didn’t have to drag people to the altar!

With all due respect…

Posted in Communicate / Collaborate on July 27th, 2009 by Leanne Fry – Be the first to comment

I was at a meeting recently where someone began nearly every sentence with the words ‘with respect’.  The topic was fairly contentious, and so I suspected the intent was to diffuse any tension. But after a couple of hours relentless use, even I had to wonder whether it was a habit the user had become unaware of, or whether in fact it was being used to indicate a lack of respect.

In legal practice many years ago, I recall waiting for a matter to be heard by a Supreme Court registrar. Another practitioner, after an altercation with the registrar on a missing document, finally began a new sentence with the words ‘With respect…’ The registrar fixed the practitioner with a steely look, flipped the case file to the associate and said ‘matter dismissed’. While there were grounds for the matter to be dismissed, I’m sure the ‘with respect’ phrase sealed the practitioner’s fate. The sub-text to the registrar was ‘you’re wrong’.

And that’s how it began to sound in the meeting. The sub-text began to play each time the person spoke – ‘you are wrong and I’m going to explain why’.

So a word of warning: be aware of phrases you use frequently, take care in using them, and understand the meaning of them in particular contexts. You may be saying more than you realise.

Organisational blogging is all about communication

Posted in Communicate / Collaborate on June 1st, 2009 by Leanne Fry – Be the first to comment

It’s the old ‘what am I buying when I go to the hardware’ example. I might look like I’m buying a drill, but what I’m really purchasing is a ‘drilled hole’.

Blogs are a bit like that.  And your company implementation might fail if you don’t address why they are really being used, and what needs to be in place to nurture them.

Westpac-er David Backley, speaking at the Enterprise 2.0 Executive Forum, was candid about web 2.0 initiatives in his organisation. In relation to blogging, he noted that the technology was too new and management too risk averse at the time.

“Parts of the organisation were too scared to put comments in because they didn’t know what the consequences were,” he said.

So that’s all about culture, isn’t it? And the underlying purpose of a blog. Which is to communicate.

So maybe rolling out blogs is a new communication project, not a technology one?

Bloggers on the web have something they want to say (ego), something they want to share (altruistic), or something they want to sell (commercial). They learn by mistakes and the lack of regulation gives them lots of latitude.

Those models might map to people within a business. But in organisations communication is generally divided, deliberately, into formal and informal.

Formal communication within organisations is handled by a skilled team, and there are good reasons for that. They know how to write and they know what to write. They are in tune with those in the organisation who make the news.

Generally, at worker bee level, I communicate with my team, the people I report to, partners, and maybe some customers. Most of that is done face to face, by phone or by email.

But suddenly you are providing me with a blog that not only captures and retains my communication, but gives me a much wider audience? But I may not be given any more communication training about what I should/can/might/shouldn’t say. And I might not have a very receptive audience, especially in these early days.

This is why the implementation of many web 2.0 tools in organisations continues to challenge. A lot needs to be in place before take-up will be successful.

Understand the conversation first

Posted in Communicate / Collaborate on May 28th, 2009 by Leanne Fry – Be the first to comment

For any organisation considering an Enterprise 2.0 implementation, we recommend you first understand the conversation that is going on.

Years ago, in another time and place, I had a meeting with a marketing director. With a growing sense of disbelief he went around the table of product managers, asking them for a particular input. When the result was one blank stare after another, he dismissed the team, and then turned to me, as the most senior manager. domain list . He was simply furious that his instructions had not been followed.

Now we weren’t all actively trying to sabotage him. We were an enthusiastic and capable team, quite innovative and had been successful in meeting our marketing targets. I tried to explain to him that no one had heard, or understood, his requirement. When not one person had heard the message and delivered to it, something had to be wrong with the original communication.

It took some skill to calm him down. Not only had he not been given the input he wanted, but I was querying his communication style.

Communication starts with people. New and fabulous tools aren’t going to make us all better communicators. Petesorratep I can tweet myself silly but every 140 characters I post may still be unclear, uninteresting, unamusing, self-absorbed, and worse still, boring.

So before you roll any Enterprise 2.0 tools over the top of your organisation, make sure you understand what the communication lines are, who they are between, who they should be between, and what conversations are occurring.

Communication lessons from Obama

Posted in Communicate / Collaborate on May 28th, 2009 by Leanne Fry – Be the first to comment

By now you will probably have read or watched Obama’s speech, if indeed you didn’t stay up and watch it. Obama is a talented orator, and with good copy his speeches are moving, inspirational, interesting and uplifting.

So how good was his inauguration speech? That’s up to you to decide. There has been some discussion that, given the almost impossible level of expectation that was beginning to build around him, he pulled back, toned it down.

But for all that, there were a number of things he did extraordinarily well. And these things are relevant to us – from any CEO talking to their people, to any one of us presenting at a conference or to a client.

Let’s start with the person. Obama speaks well. He speaks carefully, it is well paced and his voice is well-modulated (easy to listen to). He has a measured gaze and holds eye contact.When you consider how verbal communication is core to any job we do, acquiring and honing these techniques is valuable.

Then it’s worth looking at the mechanics of the language he uses. He uses active language rather than passive (see for a good description). Passive language is usually impersonal – it is remote from the speaker, often does not tie an action to anyone in particular, and rarely discusses just how things will be implemented. When you read Obama’s speech, there are many active terms: we can, we will, we come, we reject. You’ll be surprised how passive language can creep into a proposal, RFP response, email or a presentation.

Obama also uses simple language. By doing this he has the greatest chance of connecting with the greatest number of people. Once you introduce jargon into any presentation or discussion you run the risk of losing someone in the audience. The words he uses the most in the entire speech are ‘we’, ‘us’ and ‘our’. Very inclusive.

He uses some powerful imagery. He says to those who are corrupt ‘… we will extend a hand if you are willing to unclench your fist.’ Personal, dramatic and easily visualised. And straight – no ambiguity there.

If we turn to the content of his speech, there is also good discipline at work:

  1. Know the purpose: sounds really obvious, doesn’t it? But Obama’s speech is not a one-off, it comes after the campaign and sets the stage for his term. It’s part of an ongoing relationship. So he delivered what the people wanted to hear. He spoke as president, not candidate. He set expectations.
  2. Show yourself: of course this depends on the circumstances, but Obama mentioned his father twice. That reinforced a sense of history, and also Obama’s personal relationships. Leadership and your ability to influence is intrinsically tied up with who you are as a person.
  3. Themes: be very clear about what you want to cover and structure your speech or presentation accordingly. Obama starts with the challenges, draws on history to show why success is possible, shows people what they personally need to step up to, and describes what success looks like. Simple and amazingly successful.

We all know a lot of work goes into any speech, presentation or proposal, and the law of diminishing returns can easily apply. Too many cooks can turn the best efforts into mush. But some thought about the basics will pay you dividends.