What is social collaboration and learning? How can organisations benefit from using these? To find out I’ve had a chat with James Tyer who is the Global Lead of Social Collaboration at Kellogg Company.
You are a Global Lead of Social Collaboration, what does that mean?
I could start off just explaining my background’s all in learning and development and over the course of my career, I got more and more interested in how I could help people learn from each other through connection and networks than writing formal courses for them. Of course there is always a need for the formal but I got far more interested in the social and the informal. So I was employed by Kellogg Company a year ago to make a specific piece of social technology, in this case it’s Microsoft’s Yammer, successful globally. And I was given a very wide remit of, “Go make it successful.” It’s a very new thing to Kellogg. It requires quite a change in company culture, and I was lucky enough to be hired under a group that is all about the future of IT at Kellogg. And it’s been interesting as IT is not my background, but I’ve been learning a lot as well.
Why do companies need social collaboration and learning?
Well lots of companies have pretty outdated business models. They tend to be structured very hierarchically, focus on command and control. We’re going back to Frederick Taylor, and Henry Ford, and management making the decisions and everyone else doing the work who are kind of cogs in the machine that just did one thing. But as the world’s got more complex, and especially the amount of information that’s available to everyone, companies are starting to realise, “Well, how do we tap in to this more networked way of thinking?” You can be more networked, you can be more agile, you can respond to consumer demands, industry market demands, and employees. And it tends to be that if you focus on specifically the behaviours and culture that make social collaboration, and social is in quotes, collaboration has to be social, that’s the term that we use. If you put these things in place, then you tend to have a more engaged work place. It’s more of a community feeling. There’s more transparency from leadership. There’s more accountability as well, and that can lead to greater innovation as ideas are shared more freely and people have more ownership of those ideas and, of course, workers can be more productive because a lot of the politics and organisational process that gets in the way of their work, slowly gets removed.
How do you measure ROI from social collaboration and learning?
It is difficult, especially as companies that are used to asking for an ROI. There are two parts to it. The first is you have to really believe that it’s going to be the case. And I think most people get the social piece at heart. They’re like that at home, they’re like that with their friends and their family, and tend to see the success from social groups and things like that, but the ROI piece, you can get some numbers and you can bring it down to reduction in emails, for example. We all have hundreds and thousands a week, but if you could bring those down, you’ve got some numbers that you can give, and you could start to step bit further and say you could look at your employee engagements scores over time and you could also look at you innovation pipeline. Are you getting more ideas, are you getting better ideas? There are a number of ways that you can quantify as well.
To implement this in your organisation, where do you start?
Well I think that first place that everyone has to do is do some kind of cultural assessment. We talk about the technology. The technology firms talk about their technology, but really, and the technology firms might not like this too much, but all of it does the same thing. They do some bits better than others, but you’re really dealing with the culture. So understand the culture. How are employee connections made? What is leadership like? What is the command process like? How are decisions made? All of those kind of things, and once you have a good understanding of that, you can also probably have a really good understanding of how the business actually works. And I’m meaning both the formal way that people may think the business works, and the more informal of how people are actually doing their job.
And once you get that far, you can actually start finding use cases, and I find the way that you have to approach this is it’s one conversation at a time. It’s maybe one person. It might be five people that you just have a conversation about what do they find frustrating. What are they hoping to achieve? What are their business goals? And then see if you can find a way to use some of the technology to help that. Very importantly, you have to find some leadership engagement. For me, I am getting there and it takes a good amount of time for the ideas to permeate. So you have to be prepared. This is a no instant win. This is a long term change process that could complement like a more official organisational development change process, or it could be something on it’s own that just happens on more grassroots level.
What are some of the mistakes companies do?
You see them a lot of the time, and I think, sometimes, it comes down to the sales process at the technology companies too, but a big bang doesn’t work. So we’re all used to decades of, “Here’s a big new IT software launch. Go use it, and we’ll give you lots of information about it, and, oh, that hasn’t really taken off,” or, “We had a big peak and then it just completely dropped off.” This, as I said, is something about that that takes a long time, it’s a lot of conversations, it’s about behaviour change, bringing new habits and culture change that result from that. New processes, too. So no massive launch where you get everyone on it, and then pretty much what they do is go, “I don’t know what to use this for. Why are you giving this to me?” And then it’s twice as hard to get anyone back to trying it again.
And the second one is, if you don’t have any leadership involvement, you’re not going to get that culture of transparency and engagement you would do if they’re involved, and active, and modelling those behaviours that you want others to see. I mean, we spend a lot of money organisations on leadership programs, and the same stuff is taught over the last 20, 30 years. Being accountable, being situational, being transparent, being authentic. Those kind of things, but people come out of those programs and see that their peers or their superiors don’t model the very same behaviours that they’ve been told to, so they don’t. They learn the culture of the organisation and how to be successful, so when it comes to this social collaboration technology, and the culture that you want, you need to engage leadership early, so you have some of those people at the top showing others what success looks like.
What leaders are best to get on board first?
Honestly, it’s just through the conversations that you find them. You find those ones that happen to have a more informal feel in their departments. I was lucky enough that Yammer had already been started by someone else, and he’d done a good job at just getting up and running for a couple of departments, and so I could start with them. And I like the idea of Trojan Mice by Peter Fryer. I learned of it through Euan Semple, who used to be at the BBC, and the idea is rather than Trojan Horse, you fit everything in this one big thing and you launch into the organisation and it explodes out, you just do it through conversations. You touch one person, they go touch the next person. I know Trojan Mice makes you kind of think of the plague, and that’s the idea, but it’s a bit more positive than that.
What’s Working Out Loud and how do you do it?
Actually, well, a lot of what makes organisations and the culture of organisations the way they are, are the assumptions we carry about what people are doing, and what they are thinking, and what they’re working on, and especially being a remote worker, it’s so hard to get out of that mindset of, “Oh, I’ve got to appear like I’m doing something,” and everyone has that culture of busy that happens. So Working Out Loud is a way of getting out of your head and into a place where other people can see what you’re doing.
Another way of calling it is ‘narrating you work,’ and there’s some great people that speak about it. I urge anyone listening to go look up John Stepper, Simon Terry, or Jane Bozarth, who has an awesome book called Show Your Work as well. And what they say is if you share what you’re working on, whether it’s in a draft, or it’s an idea, or if it’s, I don’t know, a photo, it could be anything, then others in your organisation will see what you’re doing and you can accomplish a number of things. First is a lot more ideas. People will share their ideas, they’ll give you your feedback, all of those kind of things, so, from there, you can get new products, new services and all that kind of stuff. You can avoid repeating the wheel.
I know from Kellogg, that when I’ve encouraged, I’ve hosted Working Out Loud weeks, we built some connections across the company where two people were doing the same thing, the same amount of effort, and the same amount of work, and they were able to join together and stop doing that. So the idea is once you’ve got used to sharing what you’re working on, then it’s adding the why as well, so you’re adding that whole accountability piece to it. So I’m doing this and this is why I think I’m doing it, and being confident enough to know that people may disagree with you, they may not like it, or they may think it’s the greatest thing ever, but it’s actually just putting out what you’re doing. And there are two ways of looking at it. One is you do it just internally. You might have like Yammer, or Jive, an internal social network, but also, there are a lot of people that work out loud through external social media, too. Twitter, Facebook, there’s a Work Out Loud week that happens, and you can just go to.
LinkedIn profiles vs. intranet employee profiles: Which are better?
That’s a difficult question. It’s a bit of a jump, but if I’m thinking that I’m working out loud, I’m putting some of what I’m doing internally externally into my networks and hopefully bring some value to them, so people can learn from me, just as I do from others. I think something that your LinkedIn profile, which is outward facing and internal facing, because anyone can go and see it. Why would you spend a lot of time completing an internal intranet profile, when you can have a much more active, live LinkedIn profile, or about me, or a blog site, or, doesn’t have to be LinkedIn, of course. Why would you spend all this time with this internal only facing thing, when there’s something much more open and transparent for everyone to see?
Then what’s the point of internal social networks, as they are not public?
I think you’ve hit the nail on the head of what are the Working Out Loud people and this more forward thinking of ways of working like Harold Jarche and Jon Husband, exactly what we all say is, ideally, the boundary between the internal and the external should be much, much smaller than it is. There’s very little that is actually intellectual property and those kind of things, and if you want a company to learn, then keeping everything internal is not the way to do it.
But as companies are not used to sharing even internally, you start with the internal first, and hopefully, by people getting used to internal social, then you can start saying, “Well, did you know if you built yourself a very good Twitter network, you’ll be learning far more by sharing there than you will be internally,” and you want employees to understand the huge value that comes from having a wide variety of networks and being part of them. And the more that you’re part of and active in, I believe, like I said, this is something that you have to believe, you will be more successful. I think there actually was a study, and I can’t remember where it’s from, but it came out HBR or MIT Sloan a few weeks ago that said, “If an employee is a member of five or more social networks, and active, and bringing value, they tend to correlate with more successes an employee.”
How do you design a social collaboration centre and make sure it’s a living network?
So part of my role is to make Yammer a success, so in my mind, I need to take a step back and do the whole culture and business piece with the technology as the enabler of it. So, for me, the older idea of having an X, whatever name is, centre, or centre of excellence in an organisation, is a sort of ivory tower place where you go and tell other people what they can’t do as opposed to what they can do, and shut things down, and it’s pretty traditional. I think I don’t see myself as anyone who’s telling people what to do. I tend to view it as a network where I ask questions, and I listen, and I’ll suggest ideas for them. Hopefully they think they’re good ideas, but the idea is to find a whole network of people that think similarly to the way that I do, and slowly you build it over time, and it becomes, and I want to give credit to the people, Dion Hinchcliffe, who’s another super interesting guy on Twitter. His book was one of the original ones I’ve read on this, but you build a network of excellence.
So no one owns it, and the value is what people put in to it including yourself. So that’s how you ensure it’s living. There’s a whole piece of community management to this or facilitation rather than management and so seeing yourself as a network or a whole community of change enables you to really engage people a lot more I think.
What does ‘bringing the outside in is passive’ mean?
Yeah, I should admit I was being a little flippant in trying to provoke a few people. So many organisations are focused on paying external consultants to come in and tell them what they’re doing wrong and what they should do, or going to conferences and listening to things. We must bring the outside in so we must bring in articles that are externally and share them internally. But that’s a very narrow way of thinking about what networks can bring your organisation and success in them, especially if we’re talking about working out loud, is you need to take your inside out as well. So rather than just accepting what consultants say, are you consulting or, not necessarily you have to be like your company as a consultant, but are you helping others do the same thing outside your company?
Rather than going and listening to conferences, are you trying to speak at them and share what you’re doing? And I think it’s a difference between benchmarking yourself against others and being those benchmarks against which others want to measure themselves against. So if you take your inside out and share and be confident enough that people won’t agree, that some people won’t like it, but many, many people will, I think that just shows a completely different way of organisational learning.
Can you support social if you don’t practise it yourself?
It’s true, and as you probably know, you’re talking about social branding and all that kind of stuff. You couldn’t go and suggest on others as to how they could do this unless you did it yourself, and I think there’s quite a big culture in organisations of, “We’ll get some social collaboration now. You guys go do it, but I’m not going to,” and I think it’s a habit that you have to develop yourself so you have to work out where your sources of information are, how you make sense of them, and where should you share them. Like where does it make the most value and how do you make them valuable to others?
And the framework that most people find useful, and I do ever since I took a course with him about three or four years ago, is Harold Jarche’s personal knowledge mastery. I suggest anyone to go take a look at it, and it’s very simple in concept, but it’s how do you got all these networks and you’re building them slowly. How do you bring value to them, and once you’ve done it, then you can help others to do it. It’s a bit like lots of executive coaches who maybe have never been an executive. It’s a bit of being able to put yourself in the shoes of the other in order to empathise and really help them try something different.
What’s the best technology for social learning and collaboration in your opinion?
I don’t think any one technology is better than the other. It’s the behaviours, like habit building, the personal knowledge management that really help. And it depends on where your industry is, it depends on where the people are. For me, I find Twitter is one of the most helpful for my learning networks. Although, you have to remind yourself when you get in to some of them that you’re talking to people that probably think very similarly to you as you get in to these networks. You want to have a diverse array of opinions, if you can get them.
So Facebook might be great for something, the internal social networks, Yammer, Jive. I’ve forgotten all the others. There are so many now. All of them can work for your company. It depends on are you a Microsoft company or are you a Google company. All those kind of things as well. It just all depends on what you’re looking for, what you’re trying to learn, and where those people are and join them there. And one thing that I did when I was first trying to learn all of this, was I tried setting up some things myself. So I created a Google+ community and we had a hang out with about 10 of us who were in this internal social space before there was too much support for it, and we were our own support group, and we did it for about a year until my daughter was born, then I ran out of time. But you have to build your own networks too. So it takes time to get in to them and to show that you’re valuable to them and also, you have to meet the people where they are.
What will happen in the next three years in the social collaboration and learning space?
Well, the one I see happening directly because I have to use Yammer, is we seem to be going back to big enterprise suites again as Microsoft pushes Office 365 and a lot of the HR systems and other systems are a sales force and so forth, are trying to bring everything back in to the one big thing again, and it’s actually a shame because, I think it’s David Weinberger that said that we want small things kind of loosely connected with people as those connections. So you can have a number of different networks but it’s all about the people and as the technology gets more, the cognitive load that it places on you gets more, so it’ll be interesting to see what happens and whether some of the smaller companies, with specific offerings will actually get bigger traction.
Analytics is going to be one. Internal social analytics, I think, are going to get bigger, and in the learning space, of course, learning analytics as well. We haven’t talked too much about the formal learning space, but just because of where I sit. And I think just more good examples of what’s happening, and especially, I think, through mobile as well. I think that’s something that’s not looked at hugely, so far, even though most of us probably access all of our social stuff on our phones these days.