In the previous two posts (Shawn's on his forthcoming presentation and Chandni's about collaboration between Google and P&G) have used specific examples to illustrate how collaborative practices can add value to an organisation.
In many cases, the value of collaboration is difficult to articulate using numbers. We (not surprisingly I guess) strongly advocate that organisations systematically identify, collect and communicate their collaboration 'success stories'. Our experience is that these stories are critically important when the inevitable question gets asked about why we are investing in collaboration. We have developed a CoP Health Check and stories are a key part of this process.
A recent article in the Washington post (via Seth Kahn and the Working Stories list) describes how an Indian company has a 'chief belief officer' who uses mythology to help managers make meaning of their roles. A quote from the article is very relevant given the way many companies are reacting to the global financial crisis
He likens layoffs to the slaughter of cows, which Hindus revere as symbolizing life. "The standard Western management principle is 'If you can't measure it, you can't manage it,' " Pattanaik said. "In our ethos, 'if you measure it, you destroy it.' "
We have blogged previously about the fallacy of the 'if you can't measure it ..." mindset previously. But for those with roles related to collaboration etc this can be a nervous time as companies look to shed staff to save money. Word on the street is that some of our friends have already been 'made redundant'. It might look good on the P&L, but it can also be like draining the life-blood out of organisations.
Stories help us communicate value when things can't be measured, and they are powerful tools in persuading people and changing their minds. As an example, some time ago, Rio Tinto produced a video on one of their success stories and made it publicly available (I notice it is now available on YouTube). We have used this video extensively as it provides a concrete example of how collaboration creates value and how communities of practice can operate. In late November, I met with a CEO who had been tolerating the creation of communities of practice in his professional services firm. I showed him the Rio Tinto video and his face lit up and he said "I get it. That's what I want. Why didn't I get shown this video years ago?"
So, if you have lots of metrics but not many examples it might be time to sniff out and articulate a few success stories.
For years software vendors and consulting firms have been developing SAP software components for NSW government agencies and on-selling the same software to numerous other NSW government agencies. These practices are only possible in an environment where the government agencies do not collaborate. In 2008 these agencies got together to share how they were using SAP and worked on ways to collaborate on new government-wide developments. In the first few days of collaborating a tiny piece of code to change how invoices were handled was shared across multiple agencies—each of the receiving agencies saved $5,000 by sharing rather than reinventing. And some of the developments cost millions to develop. The potential benefits are staggering.
When times are tough it’s important to make the most of available resources. Organisations of all shapes and sizes have spent millions of dollars on ‘collaboration’ software yet the level of sophistication in the way we collaborate hasn’t improved dramatically. It’s time to be more systematic and effective collaborators and this starts with understanding what it really means and not fretting over the functionality of communication software, regardless of how alluring the latest web 2.x version looks. We need to build collaborative cultures and skills.
This presentation describes why collaboration matters now more than ever. It paints the picture of what we are up against but shines a light on what’s possible. And by understanding the different ways of working together and the different types of collaboration we can create a new mental model as our collaboration foundation.
Most of the presentation, however, will focus on the practicalities of developing effective collaboration cultures and skills with plenty of illustrations from our work with organisations like NSW Government, Rio Tinto, BAE Systems, and a sprinkling of examples from around the world.
The foundations are there. The software is available. The need is clearly here. 2009 will mark the tipping point where organisations will move from emphasising collaboration tools to placing the effort on people, on their behaviours and capabilities. We mustn’t forget: it’s people who collaborate.
When: Monday March 2, 12:00 - 2:00pm
Where: Treasury Theatre, Lower Plaza, 1 Macarthur St. East Melbourne
Light Refreshments provided
To RSVP click here
You might like to read our paper on collaboration as pre-reading.
Google and P&G are both known for their innovation capabilities and strict internal policy. Driven by market forces, they made an exception. They swapped about two-dozen staffers who spent weeks dipping into each other's staff training programs and sitting in on meetings where business plans get hammered out. This is terrific example of purposeful collaboration delivering results.
The Wall Street Journal reported that about a year ago, P&G's then global marketing officer, Jim Stengel, was concerned that one of the biggest initiatives in the company's laundry-soap history -- a switch to smaller bottles with a more concentrated formula -- didn't include enough of an online search-term marketing campaign. Google, on the other hand, was interested because they were keen to get a slice of P&G's $8.7 billion annual ad pie. (Read full article here.)
The opportunity to collaborate generated many tangible benefits for both companies. And that's not surprising because a collaboration experience can improve the level of conversation, energise teams and have a positive impact on the bottomline. This example illustrates three ways that companies can profit from a simple collaboration program.
1. Identify missed opportunities
In April, when actress Salma Hayek unveiled an ambitious promotion for P&G's Pampers brand, the Google team was stunned to learn that Pampers hadn't invited any "motherhood" bloggers -- women who run popular Web sites about child-rearing -- to attend the press conference. "Where are the bloggers?" asked a Google staffer in disbelief, according one person present. ...With mommy-bloggers, Pampers was quick to follow Google's advice. After failing to invite any to its April Pampers press conference, in July it invited a dozen or so to visit P&G's baby division in Cincinnati. The bloggers claim to have drawn anywhere from one-hundred thousand to six million visitors to their Web sites.
2. Learn how to embrace changeThe big question that P&G grappled with was "How does a brand morph from one-way to two-way communication with the consumer?"
One of the first results of the collaboration was an online campaign inviting people to make spoof videos of P&G's "Talking Stain" TV ad and post them to YouTube... In the end, of the 227 spoofs submitted, a handful were deemed good enough by P&G to air on TV. The campaign was successful enough that Tide plans to use more consumer-generated content in the future, P&G says.
3. Understand each others' language
Google job-swappers have started adopting P&G's lingo. During a session on evaluating in-store displays, a P&G marketer described the company's standard method, known as "stop, hold, close": Product packaging first needs to "stop" a shopper, Mr. Lichtig said. "Hold" is a pause to read the label, and "close" is when a shopper puts the product in the cart. Google's Ms. Chudy gasped. "This is just like our text ads," she said. The headline is the "stop," its description is the "hold" and the "close" is clicking through to the Web site. "This is going to get so much easier, now that I'm learning their language," she said.
External collaboration can have many advantages. The biggest being that it allows new ideas and disciplines to enter the organization, some (or most) of which challenge the status quo of practices, processes and the way the industry works.
Something to think about:
- How can you profit from collaboration?
- Who are the people you can invite to collaborate with?
- What will be your first step to getting started?
Filed in Communities of practice.
In the latter half of 2008, we worked with a number of companies to establish communities of practice. In training the people with key roles in the communities (such as the coordinator, core team members and those with support roles outside the communities) a common question arose..."what do we do first?"
Of course the answer to this depends on the specific context. Nonetheless, we have had a crack at listing the four things that community coordinators should focus on to get things going:
- Build membership. Phone people who might be interested in the domain and ask them who else they know that is interested in the domain and what are the key challenges the domain faces. Recruit people to help the coordinator - the core team for the domain. Organise a face-to-face meeting to launch the community.
- Establish a rhythm of activity. Get the discussion list working actively. Set a regular time for meetings/teleconferences.
- Focus on action. Ask the group what they think is important to the domain. What things would make the most difference in their domain? What things are they interested in working on? Note: this last question is likely to get very different answers than the previous questions. Use the action oriented model for community development.
- Collect success stories. Use a few key metrics as indicators, but not too many. Ensure the workload to collect them is low. Do not make the indicators into targets. Consider using Net Promoter score as an indicator.
The rationale in reducing the list to a few key things is to help the coordinator to focus their efforts, and to help them figure out where to start. Are there other key things that should be included in the list, or replace any of the areas listed?
Yesterday I spend the day with 40+ other TED enthusiasts at Monash Uni watching and discussing TED videos. We believe it was the first independent TED event in the world. Lot's of interesting people there including presentation guru, Les Posen, who has just returned from MacWorld after giving a two-day workshop on a cognitive perspective on using Keynote, and Stuart French, who told a gruesome story of murder in his backyard. There was also my new Jelly co-working colleagues Susan, Pieter, Sjors and Jason. Sjors had a big hand in organising the event. Great job!
Most of the day was spent watching the videos and chatting about them in small and large groups. It was great for sparking new ideas. There was one live speaker, Dr Ninian Peckitt, who told us about how he rebuilds people's faces using manufactured implants made from titanium. This talk was fascinating if not a little gruesome. Not for the faint hearted. Amazingly there are strong political forces against manufactured implants because they are less expensive and surgeons don't make as much income from using them. Major face surgery that would normally cost $80,000 can be done for $40,000 using Ninian's approach.
Here are the videos we watched:
- Do schools kill creativity by Ken Robinson
- Why are we happy? Why aren't we happy? by Dan Gilbert
- My stroke of insight by Jill Bolte Taylor
- How ordinary people become monsters ... or heroes by Philip Zimbardo
- A 3-minute story of mixed emoticons by Rives
- Our priorities for saving the world by Bjorn Lomborg
- The art of collecting stories by Jonathan Harris
- Sliced bread and other marketing delights by Seth Godin
- The mystery box by JJ Abrams
- Why we age and how we can avoid it? by Aubrey de Grey
The video that had the most impact for me was Phil Zimbardo's talk about the Stanford Prison experiment. In particular I liked the point that more often than not it's not the bad apple that's the problem, it's the bad barrel. This got me thinking about why we often go after the bad apple. Perhaps it's because our major sensemaking device is our ability to tell ourselves stories and the most compelling stories are about individuals. At lunch Jason made the point that perhaps groups are represented in stories by archetypes or gods so that the story remains compelling. This idea has lots of ramifications for blame, scapegoats, performance appraisals etc.
Just a word of warning on the Zimbardo video. It contains many pictures of the Abu Ghraib tragedy, which are shocking.
Filed in .
Dates and costs for the London workshops this June have been announced.
Check out the workshop details here.
More people will be looking for jobs this year. Sadly unemployment is rising. Getting a job interview will be tough so it will be doubly important to make the best possible impression as the interviewer pokes and probes to get an idea of who you are and whether you’ll fit in.
Job interviewers these days know the importance of stories. They know that stories give a good insight into your capabilities and experience. They call it behavioural interview technique, which is just a fancy title for collecting stories from you. So you’d better have some stories to tell that reveal your character, skills and attitude to life.
Many people talk about stories but I’m continuously surprised how many of these people can’t differentiate between a story and an opinion. This is important because you need to know what a story is so you know what you are looking for.
Here’s a simple rule of thumb for identifying stories: if what you are saying starts with a time marker such as, “In 2003 ...” or “Three months ago ...,” then there is a good chance you're telling a story. If after that time marker you recount a series of events, one connected to the next, then you are telling a story.
The previous 4 paragraphs do not contain a single story. Here is an example of a story (personal experience, an anecdote):
I ran my first anecdote circle in 2000 while working for IBM. I was helping Land and Water Australia develop their knowledge strategy and my first session was with a group of CSIRO scientists. Before the session I remembered the advice given to me by my colleague, Sharon Darwent. She said: “Just be comfortable with any silences and when someone provides an opinion ask for an example.” So I started the session and ask my first question. Everyone just looked at each other in complete silence. I held my nerve for what seemed liked an eternity and eventually one of the scientists spoke up with a sigh, “OK, I’ll go first ...” After that the stories flowed. They went for a couple of hours non-stop.
You can see the video version of me telling this story on YouTube.
Finding our own stories
There are two ways we remember our experiences: attached to emotions or attached to imagery. Therefore we need to use both to recount what we know.
Start by drawing a timeline of your career. Plot the significant events (work and personal) and jot down next to the events how you remember feeling: excited, angry, pumped, disappointed.
When an event springs to mind recount it out loud to yourself, or even better, tell it to someone. Avoid writing these recollections down verbatim. Just right some rough notes. Otherwise the temptation is to recount the experience they way you’ve written it which will sound unnatural.
You should have 4 or 5 stories now. Let’s switch to visual queues to remember some more. Head over to flickr or iStockphoto and select 30 images at random. Look at each one and see if any experiences spring to mind. Again recount them and jot down some rough notes.
One of the best ways to remember your own stories is to hear others. Find a couple of colleagues, friends and just get reminiscing about the good old days. Make notes about any anecdote that springs to mind about your own experiences at work focusing on the ones that set you apart. In fact you should always carry a story notebook to jot them down because they often creep up on you by surprise and I will guarantee you will forget it instantly if you don’t either write it down of have the opportunity to tell the story a couple of times.
Practising and improving your stories
Your first retellings will tend to be rambling and, quite frankly, boring. The rambling nature of the story, however, is often reduced by telling the story to people and watching their response. Getting feedback in the form of their response to your story (facial expressions, comments - nothing formal) will tell you what to keep and what to jettison. But you can do more.
You can increase the impact of any story in three ways:
- be specific and avoid generalisations. Instead of saying, “I once worked for company that sold database software.” Say, “While the pre-sales manager at Oracle Systems ...”
- the story has to about a specific individual trying to achieve something, ideally with some obstacle that they eventually overcame. Avoid stories about companies, departments and even teams. Tell stories about people who have names. Instead of saying, “In 2004 the risk assessment team was facing a problem ...,” say “Charles Kleiner in risk assessment was facing a problem.” And of course you were instrumental in helping Charles overcome this obstacle.
- help people visualise what’s happening. The best stories are ones that the listener can picture vividly in their mind’s eye. Instead of of saying, “We drove up to the vineyard ...,” say “We drove up to an adobe-style vineyard with acres of vines all around us ...”
Every story we tell gives people an insight into who we are. They are quite revealing. So before you tell them to an interviewer it’s a good idea to tell your stories to a friend and ask them about the qualities they inferred about you based on the story. Is it resilience, courage, persistence, creativity etc.? You will surprised to find that a story which you thought, for example, was about persistence, comes across to the listener as arrogance. You will want to avoid those ones.
Speaking of things to avoid, no one want to hear your life story. They can read that in your resume. They want to hear about the specific moments in your life where you made a difference. Use your stories.
Now you should have a dozen good stories to tell at the interview. Practise them whenever you can. In casual conversations, when the time is right, say something like, “Yes, that reminds me of ...” By practising your stories in natural, conversational settings you will be in a better position to repeat your story in this natural way at the interview which will convey tremendous confidence.
Good luck with the job hunt and let me know whether your storytelling efforts made a difference.
To change the way we work we need to change our mental models, and that requires insight.
In The Neuroscience of Leadership David Rock and Jeffrey Schwartz describe how our improved understanding of the brain is helping to reorient how we design organisational change initiatives.
The article recommends leaders create situations where their people get a new insight into how they view things: what is the dominant mental model?
One of the most effective technique to help create this insight is archetype extraction. It involves collecting anecdotes from people in the organisation on a theme such as customer service and extracting the archetypes from the many stories.
An archetype is a embodiment of the organisation's culture in the form of a complex yet familiar character. An archetype is usually partly good and partly bad; a complex mix of traits. Not to be confused with a stereotype, which is typically an oversimplification based on simple categorisation or role: "Oh, he's a librarian."
We take these anecdotes into a workshop of 10-20 thought leaders and influencers who could benefit from an alternative perspective.
The workshop participants identify the characters and their character traits from the collected anecdotes on customer service and using a facilitation process they morph into the archetypes, which are often drawn by a cartoonist for greater visual impact.
The cartoons in the post depict some of the archetypes that illustrated the culture of a large Australia organisation. Once the archetypes are identified people can then use them to discuss some of the un-discussables without getting personal.
Most importantly the participants will have obtain a new insight on how the organisation views itself or another group.
Many posts ago, we shared the example of the Ritz Carlton demonstrating that 'A company that values customer service should be teeming with customer service stories'.
We've challenged our company to create 100 customer service "sparks" over 100 days. The sparks can be simple gestures or grand WOW experiences. The catch is that they must be something we may not have done before this challenge.
Isn't it just a wonderful way to engage staff in doing the right thing and inspiring good action (through stories of their colleagues). And this can be so easy to implement.
Not a bad challenge to start the new year with!
When I was at IBM leading the software services group in Melbourne I suggested in one of our leadership meetings that we should introduce a set of group-based incentives. I was howled down and accused of being a communist. I'm not kidding. While I know fact, data and rationale alone cannot persuade someone to change their mind (and if not used carefully can reinforce the status quo - see the confirmation bias), I'd wish I'd known about this study described in Keith Sawyer's book, Group Genius.
Ruth Wageman spent four months studying more than eight hundred service technicians in 152 groups at Xerox Corporation. One-third of the groups has assignments that needed only one technician to solve, one-third worked on more complex tasks that required teamwork to solve, and one-third worked on assignments that required some solitary work and some teamwork. Wageman then manipulated the incentive structure: manager feedback on how well they were performing, merit pay increases, profit sharing. Sixty of the groups got group rewards, fifty-five got individual rewards, and seventy-seven got a hybrid combination of both.
The group reward condition resulted most consistently in high performance, although individual rewards worked just as well for the teams that were assigned solitary tasks. But when the task required teamwork, the group reward resulted in the highest effectiveness. (Sawyer, 2007:72)
Sawyer, K. (2007). Group Genius: The Creative Power of Collaboration. New York, Basic Books.
Wageman, R. (1995). "Interdependence and Group Effectiveness." Administrative Science Quarterly 40: 145-180.
Filed in Collaboration.
The beginning of the year is a good time to take stock of where things are going and try and get a handle on the macro trends affecting our work. For me that means enterprise collaboration in all its forms. Here are six major trends that will encourage leaders to take action and help their organisations to be even more collaborative.
Six global trends that encourage enterprise collaboration
- Global financial crisis. Customers are tightening their belts in preparation for a tough year. Companies are looking for ways to reduce costs, and importantly for collaboration, this also means getting the most out of what they have already invested in. Sometimes this investment is in collaboration technology, which to my mind mostly under-performs because it's often implemented without supporting practices and processes. Mostly, however, the investment is in the salaries paid to their people who could become more productive with a systematic approach to team, community and network collaboration
- Increasing speed of business. Things will continue to speed up and it looks like, despite the GFC, economic growth is likely. This means opportunities will appear and disappear in a flash. Competitors will appear from nowhere and only the fleet of foot will survive. But organisations cant move fast enough by merely building their own capabilities. They'll need to partner and collaborate to create new products and services faster than their competitors.
- Rise of Gen Y. By some accounts Gen Ys make up a third of the population and are pouring into our workplaces. These guys expect to learn, to change, to have responsibility and they are already using a range of communication technologies to collaborate and expect similar capabilities in the workplace.
- Information explosion. This trend has been in play for sometime and it doesn't look like slowing down. It's a fact of life: we will never know everything and the percentage of what anyone knows is diminishing. At the same time, as our next trend describes, problems are getting trickier, more intractable. The only way we will be able to make progress is to combine our collective intelligence to nut these tricky problems out.
- Increased complexity. The world is getting more connected in all sorts of ways. We know more people, we visit more people, organisations are partnering, flights are increasing, information networks are getting more joined up and so it goes. When we increase the connections in a network things become more unpredictable. Small things in one part of the network can have a disproportionate impact in another part. There are no single rights answers in these situations. But groups of people can come together and work out initiatives to make progress. When things get complex, collaborate.
- Outsourcing to Asia. Dan Pink observed that outsourcing to Asia is a solid trend. Last week I heard a good example of collaboration directly related to this phenomena. Sony has been outsourcing some of its customer service functions to a range of outsourcing companies in Asia. The people in each of the outsourcing companies thought it would make sense to get together to share what they knew about being a Sony customer service representative, so they establish a community collaboration initiative.
Are there other macro trends that will encourage or discourage collaboration?