True Collaboration is Scary


Collaboration is a strategic imperative for UBM – you can’t have a high performing culture or a high performing business without it.

But knowing collaboration is important and doing it are two different things; after all, collaboration is hard and collaboration is scary.

Working out loud is a key behaviour of social collaboration, but it takes courage. Collaboration happens in the open, and it takes guts to share what you’re working before you’ve finished; it means working through your mistakes openly, sticking your head above the parapet, and sometimes it can feel like bearing your soul in pursuit of an idea.

So while we’ve already taken the step towards making collaboration easier with the Hub – the tool which enables us to share, discover and debate our thoughts, ideas, templates, knowledge, strategies and processes with our global colleagues – it doesn’t make it less scary.

But bravery does pay off. By getting other people’s eyes – and more importantly their brains – on your work it helps you get things done and makes the outcome of your project/campaign/pitch/strategy much better than if you’d developed it in isolation or the perceived safety of your silo.

Your colleagues want you to do well and, more importantly, they want to help you get there. Collaboration doesn’t have to be scary.

Photo credit: ‘ColLABoration’ by edlabdesigner is licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0

If you’re serious about social, you’ll need more than just your brand

ConnectionsIf you’re not a Coca-Cola of this world – a brand with near ubiquitous awareness – building reach and engagement for your brand can seem like a bit of a slog; a lone voice battling against the increasing social media cacophony.

Another challenge faced by branded channels is that they have a habit of acting solely as owned media rather than helping to drive earned; often being used to push stuff out rather than pull people in. Getting people to engage with a brand can be tricky, people tend to follow people, and brands are…well, brands. To realise the full value of social within your business you need a way to drive credibility, scale and reach.

An often overlook strategy for achieving this is to embed social sharing within the culture of your business and harness the networks and reach of the people you work with.  Think about it, rather than having one channel talking about your brand, why not tens, or hundreds, or thousands of trusted voices (people to people) sharing your message?

The data we see around the reach of our event brands shows us time and time again that our branded channel reach pales in comparison with the reach our communities can achieve when they’re talking about us. Your people are plugged into the communities you serve; actively encouraging social sharing by your colleagues will earn you so much more than restricting yourself to the official brand channels alone.

The real opportunity for social media comes when your business is being social, and that’s about more than just your brand.

Photo credit ‘Connection’ by jazbeck is licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0

It’s leadership, but not as we know it

The World Technology NetworkLast night I went to a truly mind blowing talk, ‘Manifesto for a New Civilization’, with James P. Clark, Founder/Chairman of The World Technology Network. I fully recommend watching the full presentation which is available here.

One of the many, many things his presentation got me thinking about is where does leadership come from within an organisation? How is this changing? What do we need to be considering as individuals, colleagues, business leaders and employees of the approaching future?

There is no doubt that we are living in a time of unprecedented and accelerated change due to digital technologies. James’ presentation attests to the notion that we’ve had more change in the past 20-30 years than we did in the previous 2,000-3,000 years of human history.

And this has vast implications for corporate organisations as we know them today. In an era of rapid acceleration, knowledge becomes a hindrance as you have more to unlearn; experience starts to work against you when the future landscape is so significantly different to the past. In this environment the traditional rewards and hierarchs of companies start to become irrelevant. Seniority and pay based on time served or wisdom accrued becomes redundant, rather ideas, collaboration, and sustainability become the new corporate currency.

The democratisation of publishing tools is driving this organisational transformation. The tools of change are now in all of our hands, not just those at the top of the company pyramid. Some organisations are already adjusting to this shift through the introduction of enterprise social networking and digital collaboration platforms. These platforms are accelerating the spread of the democratisation of new ideas and innovation within businesses; the means to create change is no longer for the chosen few but for the collective minds of many.

And this leads me back to my original question, in this future landscape, where does leadership come from within an organisation? One comment which really struck me during James’ talk was about the Arab Spring. Can you name a leader? Revolutions of the past had a central figurehead, a driving force of change – think Fidel Castro, Nelson Mandela, Martin Luther King – but we’re now moving into a era of leaderless revolutions. Could we also be moving into an era of leaderless organisations – or at least leadership as we currently understand it?

The significance of this is profound, but it doesn’t take too much of an imaginative leap to get there. People follow people and in an organisational structure where everyone’s voice carries the same weight thanks to digital technologies, where our traditional notions of knowledge work against us, and hierarchs become irrelevant, who and where will you be choosing to put your trust? In the old system of pyramids based on outdated wisdom, or in the collective intelligence of your peers?

Those organisations who survive this change will be those who have restructured themselves around flexibility and resilience, and embraced sustainability and the democratisation of information. And that goes for us as individuals too, are you ready?

Enterprise social networking is here to stay, are you connected yet?

Light blubWhile lots of businesses are now recognising that ‘social’ is something that needs to happen, usually the focus is very much on the external, the ‘what are we doing about (insert the social network of your choice here)?’ type of concern. Very few are looking internally and recognising the power of connecting the efforts of employees through social and collaborative digital tools to drive business success.

Back in late 2010, McKinsey published some research about the rise of the networked enterprise, finding that companies using the Web intensively gain greater market share and higher margins. It also specifically referenced the internal benefits of using Web 2.0 to become an internally networked organisation, the perks including ‘more flexible processes…information is shared more readily and less hierarchically, collaboration across organizational silos is more common, and tasks are more often tackled in a project-based fashion’. And who doesn’t want that?

At UBM we have our own internal network called The Hub which sits on the social business collaboration platform from Jive Software. While the platform currently has its limitations, the concept is sound and I quite simply couldn’t do my job to the best of my abilities without it. It’s now so integral to what I do that I’d have serious reservations about working for an employer who wasn’t using an enterprise solution.

If you don’t yet have a similar collaboration platform, here are my top 10 reasons why your business needs more social in its corporate life:

1 – You can harness the power of many

The greatest innovators of our time didn’t create in a vacuum, they surrounded themselves with the best people to help them get their vision accomplished. By using a enterprise social platform you can connect the minds of many and turn this to your competitive advantage by generating collective intelligence.

2 – You don’t need to continually reinvent the wheel

Ask Mark Twain said, ‘there is no such things as a new idea…we simply take a lot of old ideas and put them into a sort of mental kaleidoscope’. Your enterprise platform is your business’ mental kaleidoscope. Chances are, someone, somewhere in your organisation has done something similar to the project you’re about to start work on, and wouldn’t it be great to tap into that knowledge and find out what worked – and perhaps more interestingly – find out what didn’t?

3 – It can support a global culture

At UBM the Hub is the only system which connects everyone around the world and this makes it pivotal to the development of a company-wide culture by enabling the free flowing of ideas, information and values. Many large companies, especially those built on acquisition and partnerships like us, can really struggle to foster an internal global culture, so by connecting employee behaviour and encouraging collaboration using these tools you can really support cultural connection and future proof your organisation.

4 – You can reduce your reliance on email as your number one internal communication tool

Email is a very poor communication tool, it’s not collaborative nor conversational. It makes working on projects tricky, it creates misunderstandings, trails of information get lost, attachments get misplaced. It makes people lazy –  opting to send an email rather than have a conversation. People hide behind it and use it to shield themselves from blame (“It’s not my fault it didn’t get done, I put it in an email”) rather than communicating properly in the first place. Internal social tools help reduce an organisations’ reliance on email by moving the communication and collaboration employees are trying to do over email into a platform specifically designed to support them. Take a look at this article on Social Media Today for more on what makes email so inefficient.

5 – You can find the people you need

In larger organisations it can be difficult to find the right people, whether that’s the right people to join your next project or simply to ask a question of. The big advantage of having an internal social tool is that not only does everyone have their own profile which cover their skills and experience, but you can read the content they’ve posted about the projects they’ve worked on. This can give you a real insight into the person before you’ve even picked up the phone. The flip side of this is that interested people can find the projects you’re working on and can proactively offer their skills and advice before you’ve had a chance to track them down. And don’t underestimate the power of a system which stores everyone’s photo – it’s invaluable if you’re meeting in busy place for the first time or just trying to find them on the floor of an open plan office.

6 – It’s a great career development opportunity

Everyone’s individual profile acts as an internal CV. If the content you’re producing and sharing attracts attention, you attract attention. As a result people can quickly start to build their reputation and increase their visibility at a speed unheard of without an enterprise solution. For hiring managers and those involved in talent management this is an absolute godsend as it enables you to identify and fast track your leaders of the future and make stronger internal moves and hires.

7 – You can foster ideas and innovation through democracy

Social tools offer a level playing field to everyone within the business – everyone’s voice and content carries the same weight. For organisations who are looking to harness the power of collective intelligence to drive the development of ideas and innovation it is essential for everyone to be able to contribute and to feel comfortable in doing so. By democratising the idea development process rather than having it assigned to a certain department or job title, you’re able to foster a feeling of equality, which in turn creates the collaborative culture needed for collective intelligence.

8 – You can track trends and changes in your global marketplace

Wouldn’t it be great to be able to see into the future? Well an enterprise platform is the modern day crystal ball for business as it enables you to see global shifts occurring and respond to them before you’ve felt the effect across the entire company. So if your Asia office reports a developing trend, your US office can be much more proactive in responding and adapting to this shift by having both the internal knowledge available to make informed decisions, and the time to put these plans into place to either capitalise on an opportunity or reduce a potential threat.

9 – Manage internal and external projects on a single platform

The great thing about enterprise social tools is not only can you use them to harness your internal collective intelligence and run more efficient projects, but that you can open them up to your wider community too. By opening up projects on your platform to your clients, customers and partners you can improve information flows, communication, idea generation and manage expectations in ways that you would never be able to via the phone, meetings and email alone. Why develop in isolation from your clients when running a more open project reduces the risk of miscommunication and poor quality outcomes?

10 – Leadership for the digital age

Leaders shouldn’t underestimate the importance adding social media skills to their repertoire. To really see the organisational benefits of social business platforms, senior executives need to be walking the walk as well as talking the talk when it comes to content creation, sharing and engagement. With employees becoming increasingly social savvy there is an expectation to be led by people who know how to really exploit these tools to their full advantage – I can’t stress enough how important the art of blogging is becoming for all business leaders. If you’re in any doubt, have a look at the six social media skills every leader needs from McKinsey and I regularly recommend Euan Semple’s book Organisations Don’t Tweet, People Do to our senior execs who are keen to improve their understanding and skills in this area.

Becoming a truly social business means dealing with feedback

One of the things which social channels do really well is highlight where your business is failing to provide the experience expected by your customers. And this can get quite expensive, not only because you risk losing your customers, but also because you have to hire extra people to manage and monitor all those pesky digital channels which people can complain by nowadays.  Often referred to as Twitter Tax (see this awesome blog by @jonathansalem) this is the price companies pay because of the ‘chronic mismatch between what consumers expect from brands and what they ultimately get’.

By engaging with communities on social media, you do inevitably open yourself up to all sorts of feedback – some good and some bad. But it’s important to remember that it’s not that your audience weren’t thinking about this before, it’s just you can see it now…as can the rest of your community…rather than a handful of their mates down the pub. And this means that you have to not only be open to feedback, but ready and willing to respond to it too.

None of us want to think of our customer experiences not living up to expectations, but it happens, and people are going to use social media to tell us. At Ecobuild this year respected industry blogger Su Butcher started a #nextyearecobuild hashtag to source thoughts and ideas about how to make the show better for 2014. As you can see from her blog post there were plenty of ideas and suggestions from the community which we might not have been privy to through the traditional post-show survey – Twitter is the live window into people’s thoughts and feelings there and then, rather than an emailed survey link which could get lost in busy inboxes.

In response we created an area on the Ecobuild website to house our community’s ideas for the following year. Using UserVoice as our feedback software we encouraged our social community to tell us more about what they’d like to see on site. What we really liked about the software was that the community could also vote each other’s ideas up and down, giving us an indication about what’s hot and what’s not.

By combining the social feedback with our traditional survey results, we have had a greater insight into the challenges, needs and desires of the community like never before. When we welcome everyone back to ExCeL in March 2014 we’ll not only be closely monitoring what’s being said, but encouraging more live feedback so that we can keep on improving and developing the event for all our stakeholders.