I think we are missing the point

I have written quite a few posts recently about not focusing on the technology or the tools when speaking about social media and that is what I believe (I could be wrong), but we really have to take people on a journey in order that they can see the real impact of all of this stuff and that is the “behaviour change” and “expectation” this all creates in individuals (staff and citizens), mostly everyone recognises this but we rarely focus on this when speaking to folk.

Ok so twitter, Facebook, WordPress, Flickr, YouTube and many others are all the tools that people use to share stuff with friends, family and pretty much anyone interested in their stuff.  But the key point to focus on is the behaviour change all these tools are driving and the expectations they are creating in everyone we meet.

I’ve been to two events in the last week where this issue has popped up – last week I attended the Guardian ICT Leadership Forum in London and yesterday I attended a lecture at the Met Office (for Met Office staff primarily) by @AnnHolman on the impacts of social technology on business.

The thing that kept coming up was that people get fixated on the current tools and make comments like “I’m not in Facebook, or on twitter so I can’t see the value” or “surely Facebook and twitter will go away of be bought by someone and we’ll need to get on the next big thing”.  The answer to both of these comments is “your missing the point”….

The point is (for me anyway) and I made this at the Leadership forum as well as the Met Office meeting (although Ann had already said exactly the same thing at the beginning of her talk – it is about behaviour) is that these tools are not the things we should be primarily concerned about, it is the impact on people and the expectations and behaviour changes they foster in people…

  • the fact that friends and family can instantly communicate via any device to each other from anywhere in the world.
  • the fact that I can share precious moments with people via video or photo as soon as something happens or even broadcast it live over the internet
  • the fact that i can learn new topics and subjects and watch videos on how to play the guitar or learn how to use a software package by simply searching google
  • the fact that i can access a huge amount of information about what my friends like and what they are doing, thinking, watching, listening to, who they are with all from my mobile phone
  • the fact that email seems like it takes too long to get a response and I might as well instant message someone instead
  • the fact that i can touch a screen and it responds instantly to my gestures and I can explore information in new ways
  • the fact that when i work on something i expect friends and people I’ve never met to help and assist me with my tasks.
I’ve not mentioned any particular tool here, but I could…but what value would that add to the conversation?
These are simply some of the basic changes people expect to see, I’ve not mentioned or referred to location based services, mapping, workflow, task management, i could go on and when you take these expectations into a local government context you can see the challenge we are facing. Challenges we *must* overcome or we will become irrelevant to pretty much everyone.  The issue is we expect these kinds of solutions in an organisational experience.
The challenge/question for ICT leaders and managers is can consumer grade products provide 80% of the functionality to reduce costs across the sector…or do we spend lots of cash on enterprise grade products that can’t change as quickly and force uniformity on everyone – the web allows individuality?
The impact of social media isn’t whether or not you have a twitter account, Facebook profile, YouTube channel, Flickr stream – It is whether your organisation wants to be relevant and able to communicate with people how they communicate with each other.
This all means we need to rethink everything about our organisations and keep the stuff that is relevant and change the rest that isn’t…for some (if not most) that will mean everything.  We do need to face some potential obstacles though and we can not ignore them.
  • Security – we need to think about security in a pragmatic way that allows us to stay in touch and relevant whilst maintaining our legal duty.
  • Risk – we need to think about our approach to risk, we need to manage and mitigate, not avoid.
  • Thinking – we need to change our thinking, we *must* focus on opportunities presented to us by new thinking
  • People – we need to accept that all of this is about people and changing people’s behaviours.
  • Culture – we need to challenge existing cultures by empowering people to adopt new thinking, to take risks.
But saying all of this, sometimes it helps to start with twitter and work out very quickly to the wider issues, but we need to make sure we don’t stay focused on the tool, it is the behaviour change we need to champion.

 

 

 

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…

 

Unblock Access – ‘Social’ is Key to Improving Performance

The issue of whether an organisation blocks or bans access to social media platforms has always been an interesting area. When speaking to colleagues in other councils who are not able to access, a common reason why access is blocked is due to a perceived fear that staff will simply waste time “messing about” or “chatting online”. It has been a personal desire to look for an approach which directly links the success of an organisation to the use of or at least access to social tools.

Without having any direct evidence – I’ve had to look to theoretical models and frameworks which help to explain the relationships between an organisations performance and the ability of staff to use and engage with social software, social media, enterprise 2.0, social business or whatever the current trend is for naming the variety of tools available.

Last week however a key part of the puzzle presented itself, in the form of a set of slides which I linked to in my previous post by Richard Veryard.

This is my current view is the all public sectors organisations need to unblock access to all social tools (external), and promote the use of social tools (internally) otherwise they restrict and reduce the chance for the organisation to improve its performance.

Given the current financial and organisational pressures facing the whole public sector, improving performance would be a key priority. The very least we would all agree that reducing barriers to improving performance should be a priority. This is where I now firmly believe that Social is the key to improving organisational performance.

I’ll try to give some context to my thinking by referring to some of the slides that Richard posted. I apologise in advance for some of the complexity in the following paragraphs  – believe me I have tried to keep it as simple as possible without losing the meaning 🙂

In “Modelling Intelligence in Complex Organizations”, my observations and interpretation of some of his slides are as follows:

Slide 5 – Cognition only makes sense for individuals
As individuals we seek out data/information, in doing this activity we essentially bring a meaning to that data/information and in turn provide the interpretation  and therefore we create and often share an understanding.
Organisations can not perform the same tasks, as organisations can only aggregates the collective view of all people within the organisation by bringing together  – perception, knowledge, learning and intelligence. This in the past has been restricted either to formal systems which require facts and statistics and would not include people’s views and opinions. The social element to an organisation would be in the informal social networks facilitated by water coolers and coffee machines.

Slide 7 – The illusion of individual performance
Individuals perform tasks which are supported by a variety of systems, the slide highlights 3 examples, but in a public sector context, this is even more relevant. For example an individual local government officer has a complex system environment, which could include Peers, Press and Media, local demographic, local political influence, national political influence, training, policy framework etc.

Essentially an individuals performance is the result of the ‘systems’ own restrictions and ability to achieve and facilitate outcomes.

So what I’m thinking in relation to this is that when an organisation restricts the “social” element within it, it actually restricts the ability of the system and the individual to achieve better outcomes. By providing “social” tools the organisation gains access to a greater organisational intelligence. I believe that the Knowledge Hub would in fact allow the public sector organisational intelligence to grow and in turn help facilitate better outcomes across the whole sector.

Slide 20 – Intelligence Strategy
In my post Move aside Intranet, here comes the super powered Extranet I share the vision for my authorities intranet/extranet and considering this new viewpoint, what that is contributing to is in fact the organisations Intelligence Strategy. The main benefit of integrating the Knowledge Hub into the core infrastructure of the council is the increased connections that it provides for each individual member of staff. It will provide them with a larger organisational intelligence system and my conclusion would be that this contributes directly to better outcomes for citizens and improved services.

In the second set of slides “How Can IT Fix the Problems of Stupid Organizations?” – I have thought about the wider linkages to a range of core business activities and capabilities which are and will become more critical in public sector environments even if they choose to adopt a commissioning agenda.

Slide 23 – Tools for organisational intelligence
The key challenge for publica sector organisations are not related to individual issues such as business intelligence, social networking, knowledge management and even customer relationship management (CRM), but are in fact how you plan and architect the links between these kinds of tools to achieve and facilitate organisational intelligence.

So the main takeaway for me is that ICT can directly improve the performance and intelligence of an organisation – however an organisations architecture needs to be designed with this outcome in mind otherwise you will fail to deliver the benefits.

Conclusion

I would recommend that any public sector organisation who is blocking access rethink that decision and consider how there organisation facilitates organisational intelligence and improved performance.

On a practical level, staff who abuse access should still be subject to existing policies around employee code of conduct – but the potential for a whole organisation to improve its performance and increase its intelligence far outweighs the risk of one individual mis-using an internet connection, which they can also do via their personal mobile phone.

Public Sector Organisation Intelligence

I’ve been following Richard Veryard on twitter for some time and have found his tweets and blog posts very useful and thought provoking in relation to my role here at the council.

Earlier today Richard tweeted two links to some slideshare presentations related to Organisational Intelligence (I’ve embedded both of them below)

The first one “Modelling Intelligence in Complex Organizations” is very good, it is high level and I suggest you take some time to go through this. I particularly like slide 27 which highlights 6 socio-technical capabilities that organisational intelligence needs

The second “How Can IT Fix the Problems of Stupid Organizations?” looks at the IT role in helping achieve organisational intelligence and the new challenges IT people and departments face in supporting this transition. Slide 20 in my view reminds people that IT is about Information “and” Technology.

Enjoy.

Overcoming the Obstacles To Social Business – Conversation Starter – HarvardBusiness.org

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 – HarvardBusiness.org.