Monday, September 26, 2011

Unisys leverages social media to share knowledge and increase engagement

I just read a well written article in Bloomburg Businessweek about how Home Depot is using social media to engage their customers. (Special thanks to the Social Media in Organizations group on LinkedIn for the reference).

I've read similar articles in the past, and always wondered, how can these lessons be applied to businesses for internal use? What are some creative ways that businesses can use social media to engage employees to share knowledge, increase morale and improve productivity?

So I was intrigued when I read this article in the Harvard Business Review. Seems the folks over at Unisys have jumped into the fray and are leveraging social media internally with great success.

I especially like author Jeanne C. Meister's  break out of the 8 keys social media to implementation, obtained from this infographic on It's really good content presented in an easy-to-digest format.

Note also how the success of this rollout began with Unisys CEO Ed Colement leading by example. As the article and infographic point out, executive support is absolutely critical to making social media tools work, and I believe the more open and transparent leadership is by nature, the more likely they are to really support social media (as opposed to only stating they support it because "everyone else is"). As I've said to clients in the past: if you don't really intend to support this effort, then don't move forward. You can do more harm by implementing social tools and letting them die on the vine than by not implementing them at all.

Again, this often comes down to a sincerity issue. Employers want to get employees engaged, but they must be prepared to do the engaging. Old school leaders assume the technology will do the engaging for them, and that too often only compounds the lack of engagement said leaders are trying to break down.

New school leaders not only join the discussion, they put themselves out there and start it. That's the first step to engagement, knowledge sharing and productivity.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Technology doesn't change the truth: Honesty isn't easy

As you may have heard, Research In Motion (RIM) posted disappointing results this week. It seems consumers and enterprises are abandoning BlackBerry in favor of the coveted iPhone and Android smartphones.

Raise your hand if you're surprised. Didn't think so.

I, for one, couldn't wait to dump my old Storm for an Android. For me, the BB operating system (OS) is just too clunky, and the Android OS is way more fun. RIM continues to herald the security of their system for enterprises which, as this week's results prove, isn't really convincing anyone to stick around.

With that said, I don't want to debate the merits of one smartphone over another here. What I'm interested in is how clueless RIM's leadership seem to be about how lame most consumers think their product is.

This only reinforces my belief that the biggest challenges facing internal communication professionals is getting our clients (typically leadership) to be honest, first with themselves, then with their employees. Yet this is no easy feat. Honesty takes a lot of self-awareness, humility, vulnerability and, ultimately, a genuine desire to do what's best for the company.

How's this for clueless - Edward Snyder, an analyst for Charter Equity Research, said the following about RIM's leadership:
"so far their track record for being able to predict their own performance has been abysmal."
"I don't think anybody believes their guidance. Managements' credibility is at an all time low." 
Finally, the worst:
"We're well past the point these guys should be replaced."
Ouch. It sure sounds like RIM's leadership are not being honest with themselves, I can't imagine they're being honest with their employees. (In fairness, I have NO idea what RIM's leadership are saying to their employees. I'm the first to admit I'm making assumptions here.)

Here's the way I see it - today's employees, and the new generation of employees entering the workforce in particular (read: Gen Y and younger), demand an extraordinary level of transparency and humility from their leaders. Unfortunately, many of today's business leaders are not prepared to be as vulnerable as that level of honesty requires.

Simply having your CEO blog will never be enough. What does he or she post there? Is it genuine? Does he or she admit mistakes? Are accurate critiques acknowledged?

Rather than viewing critical comments as "negative", I suggest that there is valuable data in there to be leveraged. For every criticism, employees should be encouraged to suggest alternative courses of action. If even one suggestion is useful, then the honesty will prove invaluable.

Anything less than consistent, ongoing, HONEST participation will set off employees' bullshit alarms, which can do more damage than good.

I wonder what's being said around the watercoolers in RIM's offices today.

Is this something you've struggled against with your clients? How did or are you working to remedy it?

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Society for New Communications Research Launches Study To Examine the Use of Social Media “Behind the Firewall”

Here's something that's well timed:

Society for New Communications Research Launches Study To Examine the Use of Social Media “Behind the Firewall”.

It's about time we get some numbers pertaining to how companies are using social media and technology internally. I was just reading a recent Pew survey regarding usage of smart phones and "apps", and couldn't help but notice that, while 38% of those surveyed indicate they use their phones or tablets to access the internet, none listed "business" as a use. This got me thinking... isn't anyone out there using mobile apps to improve their employees' connectivity?

I can't be the only one who's thought of this, especially for environments where employees aren't in front of a PC all day. Wouldn't it be common sense for, say, plant managers working in a manufacturing environment to have custom applications on their phones that enabled them to access internal tools to report incidents or submit timesheets? These are just two obvious uses that come to mind.

What about sales teams or consultants... wouldn't mobile access to company resources, either through their smartphone or tablet, be an obvious value?

As I said, this must be out there, but despite my research I have yet to find any concrete examples of this happening. And assuming it is, I'd really like to know how well it's going. Hopefully the SNCR's study will shed some light, so I'll follow those results and comment on them here.

Are you or anyone at your company doing this? And if so, how's it going for you?

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Technology doesn't engage people, people do

I recently rolled out a social media platform for a client to improve internal communications and, among other things, further engage employees with senior leadership and the company overall.

After a couple weeks of limited responses from employees, one leader asked me, "Why aren't our people getting more involved in the blogs?"

I quickly responded, "Because blogs don't engage people, people do."

After weeks of pushing and prodding these leaders to post to the new blogs and initiating discussion threads, it became clear to me that I had overlooked a critical misperception by leadership - that the technology alone would be sufficient to get their employees "engaged".

Furthermore, when pushed to leverage these new tools, many of my clients (the very leaders wondering why employees weren't participating) passively resisted with responses like "we can't say that", or worse, "can't you draft it for me first?"

As the author of this blog, I'm obviously a huge proponent of leveraging new technology to improve internal communications. Yet the slickest tech on earth isn't going to do much if leaders aren't actively using and advocating it. Their participation is critical, not only to show their support for the new media, but also to demonstrate through example that they sincerely want to engage with employees.

Technology is a useful tool through which leaders can connect with their people, but it's not a magic bullet. It can't do the work for them. Business leaders who are serious about engaging employees will put forth the effort necessary to do so.

That means taking risks by being more honest than they've ever been before. It means allowing employees to disagree with leadership in a public forum, and allowing those disagreements to stand in black and white. It may even mean changing course due to valid opinions expressed by those who disagree.

But this is also the advantage of the technology. If leaders are willing to take those risks, they can reap the benefits of the collective knowledge and thinking of their employees, and that is truly engaging.

Anything less, and you might as well not bother.

Have you faced these or similar challenges in your work? And if so, what do you think are the major roadblocks preventing leaders from trusting your advice and participating actively?

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Welcome to medium communications

Here it is, yet another blog about communications and communication media.

I'll use this space to post musings about social media buzz, but I'm going to look at things in the context of the internal corporate communications space. Specifically, how can these new technologies help businesses communicate to and with employees? How can they help business leaders engage with their people, to keep them both informed and interested in what's going on?

I'll also offer my insights into the power of these technologies as it relates to keeping people engaged, and that starts with acknowledging that these tools are simply that - tools. No amount of blogs, wikis, podcasts, micro-blogs (twitter, basically) or discussion boards will engage employees in-and-of-themselves. It takes actual human involvement to do that.

The role of communicators like me is to advise our clients on how to fill these tools with interesting and engaging information. Therein lies the keys to success and, of course, the challenge.