Sunday, December 31, 2017

Company-wide culture change (evolution): is it an art form, corporate bluff, or is there a coherent methodology to guide practices?

I was reading this Guardian article on New Year's Eve

The article looks back at the management history which gives me some inspiration on how to improve organisation life in 2018, and how best to evolve an organisation culture. (Note: I intentionally not use the word "change" the organisation culture, because this implies a non-communicative top-down push approach to change people, more on this point later in the blog). 

Quoting the article, "If we hope to improve organisational, then a good place to start is by reducing the amount of bullshit our organisations produce. Business bullshit allows us to blather on without saying anything (...) As we find our words become increasingly meaningless, we begin to feel a sense of powerlessness."

I agree with the author, this does not need to be the case. Company wide culture change cannot and should not be fluff that is filled with meaningless words. The issue I like to think through Is "how" to design culture program in a coherent, practical and repeatable way (that is not based on a cookie cutter recipe)? 

I try to experiment and practice in my corporate life the following:

- Instead of using "big words", I find ways to have genuine dialogue with my colleagues, to understand one another the purpose of our jobs, why we think/behaviour in certain ways at work, where we struggle, where we could help one another, and sharing our dreams. 

- And, I know I must be pragmatic, knowing that to achieve this "utopian" level of exchange, I  must overcome some thorny challenges. The deep sharing won't happen by chance, certainly not through spontaneous conversation, it has to be done by design. I am mindful that there are experts (people-in-power, thought leaders, bureaucrats, nice people) who will intentionally or unintentionally silence the voice of those who are not like them, and so not all the colleagues are willing to speak up, and many voices and passion will remain hidden. They become labelled as the " uninitiated group" who are not willing to embrace change. 

- Spontaneous communication seems easy, nice to do. Let's have a meeting or run a townhall to talk about culture change! Let's have an interactive training and knowledge exchange session!  Talking and sharing always make people feel involved. This is not what I am talking about here. Meetings and talking shops do not mean building deeper understanding, nor would the quality of exchange lead to better informed decisions to change things for the better. 

- I believe there is a need to have genuine conversation to share ideas and knowledge  - based on equal status that everyone has something to offer, there is give-and-take, based on a fundamental belief that coming out from the conversation, everyone involved experience some changes  - and I believe one has to put in extra effort to attend to power issues if we want to communicate in a communicative way. It is really hard, it requires deliberate practice and deliberate interventions, communication procedures. And ithey form the core foundation methodolody to design any company-wide culture evolution program. 

- I constantly remind myself: if I want to play a part to evolve the company culture, I should start by changing myself, not changing others. The first step is to change the way I facilitate communication, listening to myself and one another, bring out people's needs, pains and dreams in a communicative way. 

Some experienced communicators, facilitators or coaches call this an art form. They bring out best ideas and make people listen to one another. The limitation is that only these experienced people can make it happen. 

I am interested in experimenting ways to scale company-wide culture evolution, by introducing interventions/practices that are informed by a set of coherent theorectically informed methodology. I am inspired and indebted to  Dr Brenda Dervin's Sense Making Methodlogy and her 40+ years of research evidence to guide my thinking and my practices. 

If you are interested, this is a good reference article to go deep into the theory. (Mind you, I don't use the theoretical language in my workplace, I do not ask my executives team not my colleagues to read academic papers at work, I don't want to make it too abstract. These theories inform what I do, I stay very pragmatic and result oriented at work, designing practices to achieve business outcomes). Yet, I know my blog readers have diverse interest, so I share an article here. 

Dervin, B. (2015). Dervin's Sense-Making as theory, meta-theory, methodology, and method, pp.59-80. In Nasser, A. & Saif A. Understanding information  science: Twenty key theories. Hershey, PA: IGI Global. 

I welcome your thoughts and anyone who are willing to share any alternative approaches to design culture program. Get in touch! 

Saturday, September 09, 2017

Information Literacy in the Workplace: Who cares?

The ability to identify the need for information, to access, to effectively use and present information - from an individual or a group perspective - is critical for any knowledge worker to be effective in the workplace. Business executives strongly support the idea that knowledge workers need to continue to develop themselves, to further understand external customers' (or internal customers') needs, to draw on information and personal/collective experience to make decisions and present ideas. Information literacy enables employees to effectively undertake these activities and fulfil business goals.

However, if information literacy (IL) is so important, why do we commonly hear only of the need to upgrade employees' leadership, communication, time management, project management, team management, lean/six sigma or digital skills, but rarely hear of employees being encouraged to attend "information literacy" professional development course?  

Does that mean information literacy is unimportant? Or do business leaders assume that all employees are equipped with information literacy skills from the education system? Do business leaders expect their employees to acquire information literacy skills on the job? Outside the library and information science community, does IL mean anything? 

Having worked in numerous global companies and working with senior executives establishing information/knowledge management strategy to become knowledge-driven companies, I concluded that the phrase Information Literacy does not mean anything to knowledge workers / business executives; IL are disguised within different functional labels, and business processes which are specific to the business context.

In fact, the embeddedness of information in the business context makes it impossible to talk about "information" or "information literacy" out of context. This make the promotion of information literacy in the workplace extremely difficult (but not impossible)! 

Why has information literacy not gained much traction in the workplace context. If information professionals are aware of the challenges, we are in a better position to make a difference. Consider these 3 angles:

1. Think about knowledge workers working in these functions: R&D, innovation, sales, marketing, client services, IT support, product management, business analysis, they have to interact with information to carry out their work. Information literacy is obviously needed. IL is "hidden" in their respective function labels. 

2. Knowledge workers face different demands at work at different times - ranging from the need to "drive efficiency/reduce costs" vs "increase effectiveness" vs "innovate" vs "handle crisis situation" - and in different context, information is defined and handled in different ways. There is no one-size-fit-all information literacy process/tools that work under all business scenarios. 

3. The level of information literacy exhibited in a workplace is highly influenced by the company culture. Whilst organisations with open, networked culture value information literacy, those with hierarchical, command-and-control culture would not value information literacy as much.

I am going to be a keynote speaker for the European Conference on Information Literacy ECIL 2017  and I look forward to explore these topics in more depth with the conference delegates. My presentation is based on a book chapter titled "The hidden value of information literacy in the workplace context: how to unlock and create business value" in the "Information Literacy in the Workplace, edited by Marc Forster, published by Facet Publishing in Apr 2017. 

Friday, October 07, 2016

Digital Transformation inside Enterprise: Redefining the Future of Work

I recently presented in a Conference Board unConference event in Brussels. The theme of the event is the Futue of Digital Transformation and Innovation. I presented on the topic "How will the work change as we digitalise the workplace: new leadership, new work practices, new relationship?"

In this event, I am privileged to meet up with many thought leaders who understand how digital transformation is impacting on society, business, industry and innovation, and we all recognise it is a long and difficult journey to get it right, yet we all believe and are passionate to co-create a way forward. It was a thought provoking meeting, and I am grateful to be invited. 

See this infographic created by Conference Board which sums up the keynote sessions:

To me, digital transformation is not about automation, i.e. applying the same process to get work done faster using new technologies. Digital transformation is about how we achieve business objectives with a different / better model, made possible by the new technologies available. 

When looking at digital transformation inside enterprise, it is going to redefine employees experience at work. No longer limited by time and space, digital changes the foundation and engrained assumptions in terms of how work gets done:

- Talents can work anytime and anywhere in a personalised way. Space is no longer a constraint. Clock-in-clock-out is no longer the only way to demonstrate productivity. What if physical and digital space can extend, compliment and blend together?

- Talents can choose to get work done on personal or work devices and set preferences tailored made to individual needs. One-size-fit-all device and business application based on conformity to the lowest common denominator is no longer the only option. What if each talent can define his/her user experience at work?

- Talents can build relationship, connect, communicate and share ideas and knowledge across boundaries quickly and easily. The hierarchical management, top-down communication, silos team working is no longer the only management model. What if work can be organised around a peer-to-peer networked model?

Despite the opportunities on offer, change is hard. Redefine the rule of the game means people who manage the status quo, and the associated policies, processes, tools, incentive schemes to support the status quo are feeling the ground is shifting, resulting in unease and resistance to change. The journey is not easy, and when getting it right, the outcome is impactful and transformational. 

Saturday, February 27, 2016

Digital transformation with business purpose: Leadership 2.0 required at all levels

Talking about digital transformation. Does digital come first or the business need to transform come first? 

Very often, digital evangelists (including intrapreneurs) embrace everything digital and excitedly introduce them to their colleagues, only to find out that their colleagues "really didn't get it". Typical responses are:
- We have always done it this way and it works, why should we do it differently?
- Does this replace what we are doing today? Does this make me/my team more efficient, so we can do more with less time/resource? How do we measure success? 
- These new digital tools are too overwhelming, does that mean I have even more to don more updates, communications to read? I am already overloaded.
- They are for my kids, they are for digital savvy people, they find it very easy, but I think otherwise. I am not good with digital, I feel inadequately equipped to go digital yet. 

The challenge does not stop here. The next challenge is what is this "digital thing" suppose to transform? Could it be: 
- adding digital to what we currently do ("Let's digitalise the training materials so they become elearning modules". "Let's digitalise the marketing message, so it is now published as a blog on the website").
- using digital to achieve efficiency savings ("Let's go digital and do what we do faster. Instead of sending email to target audience, let's blast them with more messages via multiple social media channels.)

Who ultimately make the decision on digital transformation? I would say the business with a digital mindset (and if in the transition period when a company is building up the digital capabilities, business with input from the digital transformation team).

Why do I mean?

There is nothing wrong for the business setting efficiency and cost saving goals. In the past decades, machines and computers have enabled automation which allow us to do  repetitive calculations or reduce labour. Most leaders can visualise what to expect. This is good, but perhaps not good enough.

What if business leaders start to ask "what if" digital can enble my business to doing something differently, rather than doing the same thing faster or a little bit better? What if business leaders start asking what are the possibilities and opportunities to use digital to fundamentally choange how we work and how we conduct business. What if business leaders start to ask what would the future or work / future of business / future of government look like? 

Digital transformation requires a deep understanding of the business, why the company exist, and the value it aims to create for the customers. It also requires a mindset shift, ie to face up to the digital challenge (when one will never be able to catch up with new digital products being rolled out every day) and learn to swim in it and try things out even though we do not grow up with them. It requires the leaders to learn to feel comfortable when one do not know it all and that one can trial and fail fast, and keep moving on. In a highly networked world and when digital content are exchanged at the speed of light, digital transformation requires business leaders to create the capability for employees and partners to collaborate and work with one another when new issues or opportunities emerge.

This new ways of thinking and working, with clear business purpose and delivering value for customers in mind, require senior managers, experts, designers to let go of our ego and start to listen, learn from our younger persons, people with less experience and with different perspectives, and all employees at all levels need to learn to better listen and learn from one another as we explore new uncharted territories. 

I call this leadership 2.0, and digital transformation (whether it is enterprise 2.0, Web 2.0 or customer service 2.0 etc) needs leadership 2.0 at all levels. Every employees, at all levels, need to change and embrace change, as change become the new constant. We all need to learn to have an open mind, able to learn and unlearn, have genuine dialogue across hierarchy to get there. 

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

8 weeks after launching a social intranet and collaboration platform: What are the surprises?

Since April 2014, I have been partnering with many colleagues from across the business to introduce a new way of working/interacting/sharing knowledge in my company (Industry: financial service). This new way of working is enabled by a new social intranet, networking and collaboration platform which has been rolled out in mid June 2015. This is part of a wider cultural change initiative to future proof our business, build capability for change and to empower all our talents.

Since launch, all employees (3500+) join in within 4 weeks. I am not excited by the figures, and more by what my colleagues are doing on this new enterprise-wide digital ecosystem (which comes with seamless integrates with MS Office suite, online chat and telephony, email). They are embracing new behaviour and using this ecosystem to get their real work done. The use cases come from all business area (e.g. HR, communications, marketing, operations, IT, risk management, legal, leadership development, sales, senior executive). They help to illustrate that we are not rolling out a new shiny social chatting, time wasting social platform. Instead, this is about real business and real work, and together we are redefining the future of work.

So 8 weeks later, after I came back from the summer holiday, I wonder how the adoption is going, how colleagues are adjusting to this new way of working, has the novelty effect worn off, and what are the surprises. My reflection is as follow, when compare to the time when the ecosystem is first launched, 

1. My team got many calls for 1:1 coaching (not just training on how and where to click), especially from the senior management and middle managers level, colleagues want to know how to make the platform truly useful, purposeful and impactful at work, they want to understand the principles and what/why they need to behave differently. They want to understand the consequences. This thought process is encouraging. It is signaling to me the project is enabling cultural and mindset change. 

2. Many colleagues are beginning to worry they receive too many email notifications, and that not everything is relevant to them. At launch, some colleagues feel they are "forced" (or a better word "encouraged") by their managers to follow specific people (boss, peers) and groups that are meant to be relevant to them. However, they are not necessary getting relevant messages because the communication model is exactly the same as the old email push model based on organisation hierarchy and structure. Coachng them that it is alright to unfollow and search, find and follow what they truly find value-adding is needed after 8 weeks. Would I do it differently? No. Because our adoption strategy is to start within colleagues comfort zone, and then show them the real empowerment comes from their ability to opt in and out, and access ideas/people which previously they would not have access or do not even know exist.

3. Some colleagues start to worry about duplicate content posting, fragmentation of topics, and creation of duplicate communities/groups. It is a valid point, and they are introduced to the "emergence" principles, ie instead of assuming every posts or interaction have to be orderly, let's accept the messiness in getting work done. We need to coach our colleagues to learn to let go, let the interaction/content surface, facilitate the dialogue amongst fragmented group or content owners. Ask them "should these groups be more joined up? Do they serve similar purpose?" Building the understanding and having the dialogue on its own is more beneficial than trying to fit content into boxes.

4. There is less than expected resistance to move out of an existing old-style document centric static intranet to this new social intranet as colleagues want to provide the modern experience, and benefit from the real time metrics (to track how many people view a post), the improve searchability of content they own and want to share globally, and the ability for the target audience to follow and stay connected. They found it so much easier to manage content, design the user experience UX. 

Reflecting on what happened 8 weeks after the launch, I noted the coaching/training/support that my colleagues' need have changed. I believe it will be changed again in another few months. It is important that we continue to adopt an agile and flexible approach to help our colleagues to move out of their comfort zone and to embrace a new normal way of working. What works at launch need to be adjusted based on emerging patterns (questions, complains, needs) of our employees. I continue to remind myself that it is important to go with the flow and make adjustment quickly, don't foget it is people and culture I am dealing with, and so I must respect our colleagues as dynamic, living, breathing human beings and co-evolve the company culture together.

And the change journey continues.

Saturday, February 14, 2015

Social business and business transformation: where are we heading?

I am preparing my talk at the Henley Conference Forum 25 and 26 Feb this month. Reflecting on my publication on Social Strategies in Action: Driving business transformation (2013), my experience in the past 12 months driving business transformation within a highly regulated financial institution , and on McKinsey's latest research on Transforming business through social tools, I understand the huge challenge leaders are facing and I am also excited about the future.

Whether you call in Social Business, Enterprise 2.0 or use of social media in the extended enterprise, it is now seeded in most enterprises and is considered becoming mainstream. We are finally scratching beyond the surface, and get ready for deeper transformation.

What do I mean? Here is how I experience it and where I am playing my humble part to shape:
1. Enterprise 2.0 is no longer about introducing new digital social tools to employees
2. Enterprise 2.0 is about embracing a new way of working to create value in a much more networked world, and it means rethinking what "management" means and what management processes and practices are relevant in this new world. It also means employees need to relearn how to behave when they are not being "managed" (or perhaps for some being "control") in a traditional way. 
3. Enterprise 2.0 is about empowering employees to change old habits and build new reflexes on an individual level in the context of doing their day-to-day work. The change is on a micro-moment level and so it is hard because it is so personal, so real and so intense. 
4. Enterprise 2.0 requires Leadership 2.0 (which I advocated in 2009) and it means making a conscious effort to be mindful and cultivate good practices around communication, conversation, listening and dialogue, and feeling comfortable navigating in an uncertain environment. In an open and network enterprise, this is required at all levels, not just a requirement for leaders.
5. As all of the above happen, it means that we (leaders, managers, employees) will build new reflexes, redefining the norm, working together, communicating, collaborating in a different way, And the business workflow and day-to-day process as a result will be transformed. 

Now that the real hard work begins, as we pay attention to people, and how they communicate and how they work together. How can we create an ecology that create value, unleash employees' potential, help our employees and even our clients to grow and learn? I expect a lot more experiment and innovation in this space.

I look forward to exploring my ideas further at the upcoming Henley Conference in Feb, and with my blog readers here.

Sunday, September 21, 2014

On a social collaboration platform, knowledge does not sit still...

On a social collaboration platform, Knowledge never sits still....

What do I mean?

If your company has a vibrant social collaboration platform which is embedded in the day-to-day business process, I expect your employees would be adoption the following new behaviour:

- instead of going to the intranet homepage to check out what is new, employees receive real time updates on their acitivity steams.
- instead of waiting for the newsletter curated by the communication or knowledge manager to summarise all the useful resources, employees are following people, content relevant to them, and getting the updates before they receive the newsletter
- instead of waiting for the next knowledge sharing meeting to connect with other community members, employees can connect with one another online before the event. 
- Instead of only getting to knowing colleagues via face-to-face meeting or working on same project/team, employees can get to know, exchange ideas and learn from colleagues belonging to a completely business different network
- instead of relying on knowledge managers to organize and categorise approved content which goes into a knowledge base, employees can organize what they need according to their own preference, employees can create their own set of dynamic feeds and alerts to useful resources. 
- When employees need something, they can do a search, or ask a question on the community, and go direct and interact with the experts (but not via the intermediaries).

In this environment, KNOWLEDGE DOES NOT SIT STILL. It constantly gets updated, viewed by employees who want to know, get challenged and changed by the conversation, comments, insights exchanged between the author and the employees. It gets created more rapidly. It becomes obsolete quickly too (if it no longer serves the purpose). Policies, pitch decks, product brochures are updated faster with continuous user feedback.

So what is the role of knowledge manager in this networked workplace? 

If knowledge does not sit still, knowledge capturing and organizing can be costly and time consuming but its value can be very short lived. We have to be selective to pick the strategic content that we must invest time/effort to manage, and let go of the rest.

I would argue we need to seriously focus on managing the "flow" of knowledge rather than managing information/knowledge as content objects. We need to pay attention in designing the time-space moment when "knowledging" happens, ie help employees discover what they need just-in-time, create an environment where they can make sense of the knowledge they encounter (including listening, reflecting and commenting with context), and enabling them to create new knowledge and disrupt outdated ones at a unprecedented speed. (Note: if you like to dig deeper into "knowledging" see this paper I co-author with my mentor Dr Brenda Dervin)

We need to continue to acquire new skills and embrace new mindset to operate and add value in the networked enterprise. 

Fellow knowledge managers, what are your latest innovation to facilitate knowledge flow? Please share....