Maybe one of the reasons why “social” is scary to public sector folk

I’ve been thinking a lot recently about the opportunities and challenges of all things social within my council and the wider public sector and wondering what it is that might be at the root of some of the fears or issues people have around embracing or adopting social within the mainstream operations of the organisation.

I’ve spoken to a number of people who have shared various reasons as to why they can’t possibly use social tool, but none of them really are actually “real reasons”, they are mainly born from alternative perspectives and a lack of awareness of what social is really about.

“It hasn’t got anything to do with technology” is what I often say and it usually helps the conversation along better than saying “Facebook has about 1/3 of the UK population so you better get a move on or you’ll be left behind”

What I’ve started to hear more of is that the thought of all staff having direct access to the public is quite a scary situation to suddenly jump too from perhaps a situation where only a limited few and those who actually understand how to deal with the public…yes we have to learn how to deal with the public before we can interact with them…

This isn’t an insurmountable challenge but you should really take stock and look to understand your local context and the short history of how some of your existing communications and customer access channels and technologies evolved. I think this may help you devise a strategy to how you can socialise the business without focusing on the technologies and tools.

For illustrative purpose your short history might go something like this:

In beginning your organisation only had reception areas and those staff were trained to work in those environments and you rarely got to phone an officer direct.

Once the telephone became more pervasive, cost-effective and mainstream you could continue to visit the reception areas but if you were unable to travel you might also check your local yellow pages or phone book and try one of the 100’s of phone numbers that emerged to contact the various departments. You were unlikely to get a “friendly” service if you got through to someone who had never previously been in a direct customer contact role…if you had dialled the wrong number or simply wanted to deal with more than one enquiry you were often asked to phone back on a different number.

You were essentially witnessing and experiencing the traditional hierarchy and structures that are now breaking down in local government.

Moving on…

After the phone became the default access channel – staff were often sent on customer service training to ensure that those who called got a consistent experience, not always but that was the intention.

Then email came along and this was initially used as an internal system for sending memos etc, but again once the use of emails became more commonplace and more pervasive we started publishing email addresses as a way to contact the council. This also happened to coincide with the emergence of very simple and narrowly focused websites (primarily tourism and visitor information based sites).

Now that email is an official contact channel, standards and training emerge to support those staff who have responsibility to respond…now these standards were different to the phone as the standards included things like acknowledge within 1 day respond within 3 days. This presented challenges to the staff who have worked a particular way for at least the previous 10-15 years plus without any major change to they way they do their work.

The website…

In local government terms the web really became a major channel between 2003-2005 when the government at the time embarked on the national eGovernment programme which among many other things had a target that all councils would have a website and that 100% of services were available online.

This was also the time when contact centre within councils became an official “channel” and the 100’s of numbers were rationalised into either one or at least a consolidated set of numbers to make it easier for the public to contact the council.

As a citizen or customer, you could access the council through a number of channels 24/7, 365 days a year – a major shift and something we should sit back and reflect on for a moment.

In my personal view, organisations could create effective websites without fundamentally impacting their organisational culture and I don’t believe that actually changes anything in the long-term.

Now to the last couple of years and the emergence of  social channels

A completely new approach to contact and the biggest thing is the impact and implication adopting social means to the organisation as a whole.

This means your whole business needs to be social and customer focused if anyone in your business can be contacted via social channels. It represents a flatter structure, one in which knowledge flows inside and outside your organisation seamlessly.

Going back to the comment about contacting anyone in the organisation so suddenly is quite scary for people, this is one of the reasons why it scares them. It challenges everything that know about their current role and job and that will change, in fact it will also change and that is also scary for most if not all people.

So it is worth taking a bit of time and thinking about how you might “sell” or “communicate” all things social within your organisation as there are people who do not want to change and will fight to keep things as they are now. We all know they won’t last or stand a chance but they believe they do…



How to tell if your organisation is ready for change!

The following is speculation and i can not at this stage back any of this up. However i do fundamentally believe in what i am about to post.

In the current economic climate there are huge pressures to reduce costs and to increase value and this often leads organisations to either announce “radical” changes or even large scale “transformation” programmes. You can see it in all aspects of society and government and it features quite heavily in all political manifestos to some degree.

However how can you really tell if an organisation is really up for “radical” change or “transformation”? There a few ways in which you can do this but i want to suggest a simple measure.

If an organisation is seriously considering the use of Social Software to improve ALL aspects of their business then i believe that they are serious about “radical transformation”

Now i don’t mean organisations who on face value seem like they are doing stuff but when you scratch the surface all you see is one person working very hard to make it work (Long live these people by the way). But i suspect that if they left then the desire to continue would also leave with them.

The reason i say this is because to fully embrace the adoption of social software means that you are prepared to fundamentally review your business strategy, business structure, engagement strategy, communications strategy, knowledge management strategy, workforce development strategy and your ICT strategy. It will mean a fundamental review of your organisations current thinking. This is the radical transformation that will be required to fully embrace and adopt social software platforms.

The organisations who are prepared to do this, in my opinion will be the ones who succeed and not just succeed but build sustainable relationships with staff and customers.

Ok so a simple test maybe but one i believe will give a measure at least as to how ambitious and transformational a particular organisation wants to be.

Overcoming the Obstacles To Social Business – Conversation Starter –

An interesting post on the HBR website, about the organisational challenges and some ways to overcome them around social media and building a more social business.

The 3 areas are:

  1. Culture Shock
  2. Legal Treadmill
  3. Riskphobia

They suggest there are many more, but this is a great start on sharing some useful stuff around making progress.

I will post again soon on some of the learning and challenges here in due course, so will contribute to the conversation, but for now i’ll leave you with one example in the culture shock section:

Find the change agents within your organization who are passionate about making your company better and harness their passion for the benefit of your business.

via Overcoming the Obstacles To Social Business – Conversation Starter –

Organisations as Culture Filters – Social Media and Culture Change Series Part 1

This is the first of a series of posts about Social Media and Culture Change. My aim is to share my thoughts and learning around social media and how it can help transform organisations as well as connecting organisations (well the people in them) with the ever increasing communities that are developing in these new social spaces.  I also hope that others will want to contribute, validate or challenge what i post.

This first post will look at Organisations as culture filters.

What i find interesting about this is the contrast to how people interact with their friends, peers and social networks in their personal lives and how they conduct the same kind of functions within the work place. This contrast is essentially why i have titled this organisations as culture filters, however we do have to accept at this point in time there are logical reasons why this is happening, but that doesn’t mean that it should continue.

The following i hope provides a helpful comparison and is a broad view, which i feel applies across the public sector and perhaps the private and voluntary sectors as well. but i can’t comment on those.

Personal Life

  • we pretty much all have mobile and flexible lifestyles
  • personal devices are multifunctional – mobile phones are also music devices, personal calendars, email clients, GPS devices and internet browsers
  • our interaction with technology is shifting from traditional methods of using keyboards and a mouse to speech and movement recognition, the nintendo Wii is a great example of how this technology is transforming and creating new opportunities for engagement with technology and networks on a global scale
  • We have greater freedom to choose what we want in terms of what technology choices fit within or broader lifestyle – apple mac or PC, windows or linux, nokia or iphone, broadband or wifi, digital tv or satellite/cable, the choice is pretty much ours in all cases, depending on affordability and practicality.
  • ease of upgrade – we all “secretly” want the latest gadget or at least strive to have the best fit gadgets for our lifestyle and it can all be achieved easily generally via an upgrade or a download or even swapping with friends and colleagues.

This personal life has also evolved a culture behind it which is fundamentally different to organisations and this difference can not continue, something has to give.

Aspects of the Culture

  • we now tend to have an “us” culture and not a “me” culture
  • communication is one to many or many to many and not one to one
  • we prefer digital not analogue
  • we prefer flexibility and mobility over fixed and stable
  • we have a consumer control environment and not an organisational control environment

Organisation/business life

  • there is a move toward flexible and mobile working but the technology has not yet caught up to effectively support that approach for all, so it still feels exclusive to a lot of people.
  • you may not even get additional work devices to perform your job, a PC of some kind or maybe a laptop, mobile phones are meant for mobile calling and are not meant for mobile working and multifunctional purposes, even if they are capable, they can often be disabled of their core functions.
  • we still very much interact with a keyboard and mouse (unless of course for accessibility reasons you are already using alternatives)
  • there is corporate control over the desktop and over applications which may or may not be supportive to an individual.
  • new products and applications are often blocked and often access to web based services is blocked.
  • there is still very much a corporate police role in the public sector as a whole which is more about risk aversion then risk management. Managers often talk about new tools being socially based and a waste of time, they only have a negative impact on teams. This distracts from the view that managers don’t manage people they manage time, which in my view is counter productive and often encourages misuse.  The reality is that the web/internet as a whole began as a “toy” and was for some considerable time seen as something for tourism information and academics and not online business and interaction. If we could only learn from the last 15 years we would be embracing the new wave now.

aspects of Culture

  • Command and control culture, top down and everything in order
  • communications has elements of one to many, however the feedback loop is often closed and doesn’t effectively feed into improvement but rarely provides many to many.
  • strong support for digital, but there are barriers, sometimes outside of public sector control over usage and take-up
  • we encourage flexibility but often lack the skills and knowledge to manage this new way of working effectively. How often do you hear, there are some jobs that simply can not be flexible. That may be accurate due to current business processes and technology, but unless you ask the questions, what does someone need to perform this task from home or on the go, you will never truly have a flexible workforce
  • Organisations still want and demand control, there is a political aspect which often conflicts with some of the changes required. But strong leadership will always be effective when massive change is inevitable.

The role of social media/web 2.0…

Social media for me and from personal experience has proved very useful. i can find tools that connect me to others with similar interests, i can connect with others who can help me, i can also help other people i am connected with. All of this has essentially been done outside of a “corporate framework” and has been achievable because all of the tools i have started to use are web based and are easy and simple to use.

Social media or even web 2.0 depending on whether you look at tools or outputs, has shifted culture towards a new way of thinking. For me the world seems much smaller, flatter and collaborative then previously thought and witnessed.

New generations (so called digital natives) are working in groups to solve problems and are seeking and discovering new ways to connect with each other. Now whilst i believe the future will be very different, most of us now seem to be split between personal life and work (the old don’t mix business with pleasure scenario). New tools are increasingly blurring that line and new business models are emerging.

In terms of change and rapid growth and adoption of new technologies, we have all been here before, the era, showed that. Whilst the majority of businesses failed during this time and lots of people got their fingers burnt, some great innovative companies succeeded and have continued to grow and dominate their field.

The reality of these new approaches is the fact that the cost of failure is small or non existent, the risk to participate and try new things has reduced significantly that anyone in there bedroom can become the next big thing and try many versions of something without needing huge capital funds to get off the ground.

I have recently started to believe that social media and web 2.0 is more than just technology it is a statement about you, a direction of travel for most people, if you participate, it actually says a lot about you –  for example:

  • you want to be part of a community and many communities regardless of geography or religion or race or ability.
  • you want to share what you create and are happy for that to be passed around the globe and reproduced without making any money from it, only recognition.
  • you are happy to tell everyone what you are doing at any given time, from “making a cup of tea” to “just seen something hilarious”
  • you want to explore and evolve your identify (avatars, second life, WoW, online gaming etc)
  • you are happy to share information (often not normally shared) about yourself with friends and friends of friends and even networks and communities
  • you don’t see organisational barriers to learning and sharing knowledge, information is power and we all seem happy to share
  • you want to be part of practical communities who can make a difference, who can influence and enable large scale change.

This is a new way of thinking and one which challenges most of what people hold dear to them now. The reality is everyone still has a choice and that is what makes it so appealing. I can participate if i want to, and it doesn’t have to cost me anything to do that.

The new thinking is very altruistic in its nature as it ensures that the wider network succeeds even if some individuals loose the ability to gain relative to what they contribute. That does depend on what you want to get from it. It seems to be a global exchange system, where you can do someone a favour today and in return they will help others on the basis that when you need help you will get it. Very new world and radical, but it seems to work and it is growing rapidly. I for one, support this as when you are actually part of it, you don’t feel alone, you feel connected with everyone and that is a powerful thought to hold on to.

So as this post comes to a close, it is worth exploring, why these tools seem so popular and how they have rapidly integrated themselves into our daily lives and are on the verge of transforming organisations and to some degree countries themselves. My next post will focus on this topic – “What is driving the culture”