Monday, December 21, 2009

Using Web2.0 tools together with good communication practices to support ERM's strategy development process

I like to share with you a few paragraphs from a book chapter which showcase ERM's recent use of Web2.0 tools to engage all staff to shape our company's future strategy. The title of the book is
Delivering business-critical knowledge management.

"At Environmental Resources Management (ERM), we don’t start with Knowledge Manageemnt (KM), we start with business issues and then look at ways in which the KM team can resolve them. Knowledge sharing requires very good two-way communications and it has to be carefully designed rather than leave it to chance,” Bonnie adds. “You may unintentionally bring ineffective face-to-face communication practice online, and as a result, the loudest voice may dominate the discussion, the ‘shy’ people do not have their voice heard, and the senior leaders may broadcast rather than listen. ERM continues to find ways to allow genuine dialogue by paying attention to these issues.”

“I have been asked to partner with the senior leadership and strategy development team to help them leverage the company’s collective knowledge, insight and ideas to help shape the future strategy of the company,” Bonnie explains.

The aim of the project is to enable leaders to gain insight from the company to inform the strategic plan – some staff input may confirm existing thinking, while other insights might challenge leadership assumptions. “It will help them to focus on the issues that are being raised by our staff worldwide,” says Bonnie. “There may be an area that they haven’t paid close attention or even considered.”

The discovery phase of the strategy development process, which has just closed, ran from mid-September to mid-November 2009 – a period in which Bonnie was responsible for collecting masses of employee ideas from multiple channels. “We have used as many Web 2.0 tools as possible – for example, a range of blogs and discussion forums; a confidential e-mail box; a tweet site, called ‘strategy tweet’, so people can Blackberry tweet in very short ideas of 140 characters; a hotline, where people can call in and record their ideas; as well as a narrative database in which people can tell stories based around our prompting questions.”

Bonnie and her team also organised another CEO Jam, this time round comes with an audio component, where Bonnie acted as ‘DJ’ facilitating a ‘live radio show’ allowing senior leaders to share what they have learn from staff (4 weeks after the consultation began) and to invite staff to call in and share further insights directly with the leadership team. This “CEO Jam” was broadcasted live on ERM knowledge sharing platform (Minerva) and for the staff who missed the event they can listen to the replay after the event.

While senior leadership will make the final decision over the strategic plan, collecting firm-wide insights and ideas is considered vital to the process as it is the staff who are out meeting clients every day and who have the practical insights to help inform business strategy. Allowing staff to contribute to the process will also help ERM gain the buy-in of employees to the final strategic plan.

I am happy to discuss if you want to find out more about this project.

Best wishes,

Monday, September 14, 2009

More on the secret recipe to success for Enterprise 2.0

Since I came back from my summer vacation, a number of EHS managers/directors (by the way, EHS stands for Environmental, Health & Safety) have got in touch and asked for ideas to improve internal communication and staff engagement with regard to Safety issues. I am not an EHS expert, they came to me because they heard about the Intranet 2.0 tools we have experimented in ERM, and wanted to know how they can use them to re-energize their company's Safety program which is getting dull overtime.

In my mind, while Intranet 2.0, Enterprise 2.0 and Web 2.0 all these tools sound very exciting, I believe one thing has not changed.

If you are in charge of internal communication and want to use 'some kind of tools' to engage with all staff on Safety issues (or any other issues), you need to start with a genuine willingness to promote two-way communication. With that attitude, you can fully exploit the new Enterprise 2.0 tools to listen, to invite dissent voice, to debate, to reflect and to use the ideas shared to help staff to better understand an issue, and also to help you (the communicator/the leader/EHS Director) to understand the issue and your staff. Everyone who takes part learn something through the ideas exchange process. Great ideas are taken on board to inform decisions. It is much more than 'informing' staff and expect them to listen to you and act as you tell them to.

But be careful, with all good intentions and even with a willingness to listen to what staff have to say, the Enterprise 2.0 tools can result in merely more conversation (or perhaps 'noise') but not necessarily productive conversation. I think Enterprise 2.0 has to be carefully designed to facilitate great dialogue, otherwise it will result in online conversation dominated by the loudest voice, by the people-in-power, by the tech-savvy staff. How can we help all staff to have their voice heard, and help them to listen to and learn from one another? Should we leave this to chance?

It is very easy to unintentionally bring the bad face-to-face meeting design online. Think about the last time you attended a face-to-face meeting when a group of enthusiastic participants took turns to voice their comments (but not really listening to one another), and another group of staff were silent and too shy to voice their thoughts. Without good meeting design, communication and facilitation procedures, none of the participants felt they personally connect with the issues discussed, as a result leaving the 'talking-shop' meeting unsatisfied or feeling it was a total waste of time.

How can we avoid replicating this kind of experience online? It is down to the Enterprise 2.0 design. It has to be carefully thought out. If it is done nicely, the employees will have a great experience. I wonder how many of the Enterprise2.0 designers out there seriously think about facilitating great online conversation (beyond aiming at getting more people to contribute)?

Could the answer be the secret recipe to success for Enterprise 2.0?

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Intranet 2.0: increasing global dialogue and engagement at ERM

I will be speaking at the 8th Annual Strategic Communication Summit 2009 in Oct this year in London

In this 50-min presentation titled 'Intranet 2.0: increasing global dialogue and engagement at ERM', I will share with other communication professionals ERM's recent experience in engaging with all staff during tough economic times.

Here is the abstract:

Progressive intranets can improve an organisation’s global internal communication, develop a shared vision for business strategy and allow employees to work collaboratively. While Intranet 2.0 can allow more user-generated content, it may lead to too much talking, too little listening and the prevention of genuine dialogue. Environmental Resources Management (ERM), a leading environmental consulting service firm, has recently built an award winning Intranet 2.0 named “Minerva” [1].

Informed by Dervin’s Sense-Making Methodology (SMM), this session will explore ERM’s approach to:
• Providing a space for global dialogue and, as a result, breakingdown corporate hierarchy and increasing employee engagement
• Leveraging its collective expertise to respond faster to customer needs, increase peer-to-peer learning and subsequently, increase sales.

[1] Top 10 Best Intranet Award 2009, Neilsen Group

I look forward to catching up, learning from and exchange ideas with the participants.

Tuesday, July 07, 2009

Invitation to join 22 or 23 Jul Webinar: Using Web2.0 technologies to stimulate Safety discussions

If you are interested to learn more about how ERM use Intranet2.0 to stimulate safety discussions, this free international webinar could be of interest to you. Since ERM won Neilsen's World's Top 10 Best Intranet Award 2009, many colleagues have approached me for more information. I have decided to run two webinars in July. If you are interested, please register and 'see' you there. This is especially relevant to Environmental, Health & Safety (EHS) professionals who want to learn how to use new web technologies such as blog, online forum, podcast etc to engage and excite staff to discuss Safety issues. If Safety is not your focus area, you will learn how ERM deploy Web2.0 in practice. If you think your colleagues may be interested, invite them to come along. Remember they also need to register.

This is a short description of the event and registration information which can be found on website:

"In these cost constrained times where budgets for expensive and elaborate safety change programs are being cut back it is important to focus on what you can do to maintain and improve safety performance on a reduced budget. Over the past two years ERM has developed an award winning and truly innovative intranet site called ‘Minerva’ which has played an instrumental part in transforming the safety performance of ERM across the globe. This on-line workshop will demonstrate specifically how the design, implementation and everyday use of the intranet has helped to communicate, engage and excite ERM’s staff about safety issues and drive improvements in safety performance at ERM. If you are keen to find out how you can upgrade your HSE intranet site so that it is a positive force for change then this event will be perfect for you."

There are two options available both 60-min long with lots of time to allow interaction with the participants. Please RSVP to get the joining instruction.

Date: Wednesday 22 July 2009
Time: 8am - 9am UK time
Click here for local time listings

Date: Thursday 23 July 2009
Time: 4pm - 5pm UK time
Click here for local time listings

Having trouble registering? Don't hesistate to contact the event facilitator:

Sunday, June 14, 2009

KCUK2009: How ERM uses Intranet 2.0 to address the economic recession?

In the recent KCUK2009 conference, I prepared 2 examples on how ERM used Intranet 2.0 (simply speaking, 2 online discussion forums + a CEO blog) to faciliate global dialogue to address the economic recession. From the tweets I read, I know that my audience remember this tag line: To make Intranet 2.0 work, we need Leadership 2.0.

So how did ERM do it? What did our leaders do? I have shared 2 examples. The first one is about supporting the business goal of growing sales. The second one is about supporting the goal of keeping staff informed and maintaining staff morales during tough times.

In the first case, ERM leaders use an online discussion forum to gather clients intelligence from any client-facing staff worldwide (who share their ideas, insights, client intelligence gained after face-to-face meetings). The insights shared on the forum are reviewed on a monthly basis to inform decision making (e.g. refine existing services, roll out new services etc.). What ERM clients like is that our consultants bring with them these global insights and discuss with them during their face-to-face meetings. Our clients find them extremely valuable to help them to see a broader picture (such as how other companies are struggling as well and how other companies overcome tough issues) and they love the value that ERM has added as a truly connected global company.

In the second case, ERM leaders (Global CEO, regional CEOs) conducted two global 60-min online dialogue (similar to IBM Jam) with all staff using an online discussion forum on our intranet's homepage on 15 May. The Global CEO first initiated the conversation 6 weeks ago on his CEO blog, posters were circulated to all offices to raise awareness and invited all staff to join one of the 2 sessions. If any staff wanted to submit anonymous questions, they can send the questions to the facilitator (i.e. me) or submit online (and by doing so, their names are attached to the questions). Our leaders welcome our staff to pose tough questions, and as a facilitated, I posted the unedited question online for the senior leaders to answer. Our senior leaders made the time available, but have not prepared any 'corporate speech', they sat in front of the computer terminal, digested the questions and typed very quickly and provided 'uncanned' candid answers on the fly. Feedback from staff have been positive as they have gained a broader understanding of the businss situation and learn how they can play a part to overcome the economic recession. The leaders have learnt from the staff as well, some questions being raised were not the questions on their radar, and they seriously took them on board to inform future thnking.

Back to the tagline: To make Intranet 2.0 work, we need Leadership 2.0. What kind of Leadership2.0 does ERM leaders demonstrate? In short:

  1. Willingness to solicit input from any staff worldwide (regardless of ranks, years with the company, anyone, anywhere)
  2. Willingness to listen to things which can be hard to hear and ready to be surprised
  3. Willingness to learn from the staff and make adjustment in decision or refine future direction based on what staff have shared
  4. Willingness to try new online communication tools to engage, going beyond their comfort zone
To me, the willingness of ERM staff and leaders to learn and grow together is amazing. Have we made mistakes, could we have done it better? Yes, definitely. I feel there are ways to faciliate the dialogue better, to have deeper conversation, to design the tools/interface better etc.

Have the staff got all the answers they need? Our leaders managed to answer 95% of the questions submitted. Are the answers what the staff want to hear? Some answers are tough (because the economic reality is tough, e.g. cost cutting is a reality that staff need to understand). The conversation is not designed to help the leaders to give answers that staff like to hear; nor for staff to ask 'happy' questions that leaders like to hear/answer.

I believe a good dialogue is that when we all come out from the dialogue, both sides develop better understanding of one another's viewpoints and even though we don't agree (or like) an answer, knowing how we come to our viewpoints help build understanding within the company, espcially when times are tough. A number of staff have got in touch with me and asked 'could we do this in good times as well?'

Saturday, June 06, 2009

How can you take your intranet onto the centre stage to support your business?

Here is some food for thought if you are planning to come to my session titled 'Supporting the business: Redesigning and improving your intranet' at KCUK2009 (Day 2). I am going to share two examples on how ERM has recently utilised our intranet to address two critical business challenges.

Have a think about these questions if you are committed to take your intranet forward:
  1. What situation is your company facing?
  2. What are the stay awake questions and confusion your senior executives, board members and/or employees have?
  3. How can you take your intranet onto the centre stage?
  4. How can you help your company not only to use your intranet to reduce costs but also to lead the business into the future?

Feel free to leave questions that you want me to address here, and please feel free to come look for me during the event to discuss your ideas. I look forward to learning from you all.

Sunday, May 31, 2009

Intranet usage: what really needs to be tracked?

A colleagues asked me what I would consider to be the most important factors of intranet usage to track, considering both the need to demonstrate the effectiveness and ROI of the intranet, and also to use tracking results to drive future intranet development.

My short answer is:
  1. To demonstrate so called 'ROI', it is always useful to show overall usage (e.g. no of hits, no of contributions). Coming from a library and information science background, information and lbrary professionals know that usage/hits does not mean 'users getting the help they need', however, many senior executive/board members do like to read the numbers, so give it to them.
  2. I find the tracking of search query useful, as I look at the search queries every month and ask myself 'if users are looking for something using these search queries, does our intranet give them what they want?'
  3. To drive continuous improve, I think intranet team need to really understand what users find useful (or not) as part of their day-to-day work. Look through the users' eyes (not the intranet designer's eyes). Ask users to talk about their work and how they got help (and see if the intranet is even mentioned!). Don't ask them a direct question such as 'how does the intranet help?' The intranet should come out naturally if it does help them to solve problems, get ideas, access information.
In ERM, myself and my team have been collecting stories from users on a regularly basis. They all going into a narrative database (thanks to David Snowden and Steve Bealing who help to set it up, having said that, a good excel file works as well). Listening and analysing the patterns from these stories tell us where we are lagging behind. I use these stories to inform our quarterly planning exercise, to identify areas of improvement and to challenge my own assumptions.

So here is my suggestion, give the quantitative figures to decision makers, and listen carefully to your users' voices if you want to drive continuous improvement beyond looking at usage figures.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

New change management approach: emergent meaning or prescription?

David Snowden has posted a blog titled 'Emergent meaning or prescription?'. I reflect on my own experience, and have to say I can't agree with it more.

From my experience, change management consultancy typically starts with the leaders wanting to change the staff. Communication is about telling staff what to do (even if some user research is included in the scope of work). This new approach starts the change management program by changing the leaders/experts' mindset, ie the consultants have to be changed, and the senior leaders have to be changed. This is the tough part, as not all the leaders who commission the consultancy work expect this. I also think really good consultants (not driven by consulting recipe) who are regarded as trusted advisors, who can bring controversial ideas to the table to add value has a higher chance of making this happen.

Monday, May 04, 2009

To make Web2.0 work, we need Leadership 2.0

This is a typical question I got very often ever since my company Environmental Resources Management (ERM) has received the World's Top 10 Best Intranet Award.

'Dear Bonnie, We're now looking to re-launch our intranet as part of a wider projectalso involving our website and extranets, and in advance of this I had one particular question I wanted to ask you. I can foresee that there isgoing to be particular aversion from key members involved in this project to the use of various web2.0 technologies, particularly the useof social media internally...'

Here is my thought which I have shared with many colleaques whom I met in conferences. Simply speaking, I think we are not only asking our employees to change, we are also asking the leaders to change.

Projects often hinge on getting the buy-in of senior managers. As important as it is for end users to buy into a system, they often look to senior leaders and follow their lead. If senior managers use and rely on the intranet, in encourages the rank and file to do so as well. I wanted to make sure that the managers understood this imperative prior to launch of the new site.

Before the launch of ERM's intranet, Minerva, I conducted a workshop with the top senior managers to prepare them for the launch. The focus was not merely to train them to use Minerva, but also to discuss the new leadership required to truly embrace the intranet.
During the workshop, I offered them two options: (a) you are in it; or (b) you are still in it. The point I was trying to make was that the leaders had to be committed to supporting Minerva, and its range of Web2.0 features. They could not delegate the need for change. I was trying to make the point that they had to change themselves and lead by example and most importantly use the tool themselves as well.

Let me share some of the highlights of the leadership workshop:

  • Be prepared for the consequences: Allowing employees to share and communicate openly and online comes with its pros and cons, so leaders/managers really need to be prepared for the consequences. On the one hand, it can allow new ideas and lead to innovation and on the other, it will surface diverse views, dissent and challenges also, challenge people in power. Many organisations out there are struggling with the latter and have decided to 'suppress' and/or 'manage' these diverse views and have failed to implement Web2.0.
  • Embrace Web 2.0: To embrace Web2.0, the organisation has to open up communications and promote the following ways of working:• New ideas / input• Praise / Support• Innovation• Engagement• Dialogue• Clarification• Deeper understanding• New learning• Multiple perspectives
  • Be prepared for the challenges: The organisation has to be aware of the challenges that come from an open and transparent communication culture. Some of the key words to describe those challenges include:• Diversity• Challenge• Dissent• Sub-groups• Surprise• Uncertainty• Emergence• Unable to plan too much• Less control
  • Be prepared for challenging dialogue: Since the launch of Minerva, ERM has seen some controversial dialogue in the CEO’s blog. Some comments were direct and blunt while others outlined gaps they see which can hinder company’s growth. The negative comments could be hard to hear especially when they are posed in the public intranet space.
    In a case where members of staff are not willing to share their views publicly, they are encouraged to email senior managers directly. This has also resulted in leaders having to face the questions and find ways to make improvement.
  • Accept the “inconveniences”: ERM leaders truly believe that in order to grow the business to the next phase, we must connect all the ‘brains’ within the organisation, and use them to serve our clients’ needs. It may come with some ‘inconvenience’, but the leaders truly believe the benefits can outgrow them. Our leaders are still learning. Most importantly, they are willing to learn. They see this as a way to increase competitive advantage and to allow ERM to deliver world-class solutions to the clients.

Friday, May 01, 2009

Hosting a webinar with Steve Denning on High Performance Team

On the 6 May 4pm London time, I will be co-hosting a webinar with Steve Denning who will be talking about 'High Performance Team', a topic of personal interest to myself, and I hope all my team members at work can benefit from. Steve asked me a few weeks ago if I would be happy to be the host, and I said yes, partly for my own learning. To prepare for the event, that means I have to read his latest books/articles and I also want to use this experience to prepare for an online conversation which I will be hosting internally within ERM to allow senior management and all employees to have a genuine two-way dialogue about the economic situation.

Let me give you a preview of the webinar, Steve will share with the audience ten big surprises in his research about high-performance teams:
1. High-performance teams are quite common.
2. People already know what high-performance teams are.
3. These are not teams of extraordinary people: these are teams of ordinary people who become extraordinary.
4. High-performance teams are mainly self-organizing teams.
5. People instinctively know how to create high-performance teams.
6. Cognitive diversity is a key ingredient in most of teams.
7. Many people and firms are already creating high-performance teams in large numbers.
8. The improvement in performance that comes from getting into a high-performance mode is dramatic—they are differences in scale.
9. High-performance teams usually don’t die of natural causes: they are killed by management.
10. High-performance teams are geographically distributable and scalable. so that large projects and even whole organizations can be run on this basis.

All for now.

Friday, April 03, 2009

Facilitating an online conversation between senior leaders and employees worldwide

I am in the process of designing an online event to facilitate a global dialogue between senior leaders and 3000+ employees. The online conversation will last 60-mins. Do you have experience hosting online conversation on your intranet? Do you have any tips/checklist/guidelines/philosophies/methodologieis which you find helpful? I understand that preparation is the key to a good online conversation event. To me, this means that I need to put in some effort and thoughts to design the communication procedure to allow genuine dialogue to happen, and to address any power issues which may silence some people and favour others.

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Information Literacy in the Workplace

A old friend of mine, Mark Hepworth, who specializes in information literacy and learning asked me 2 questions today. I want to share my quick thoughts.

Firstly, why do people generally shy away from thinking about how they learn. I think this is because they do not 'shy away', they just don't think about it, this is what they do 'naturally'. Thinking about 'learning' or 'thinking' is a higher level skill which perhaps educators/organization development managers (perhaps also parents) think about. And if these people do a good job, it would become so seamless to the students/employees/children, and therefore the students/employees/children again don't need to think about it. But most importantly, the outcome is that 'they are learning'.

Secondly, why do organisations seem unwilling or don't appreciate the need to spend time and money developing people's information literacy and information management skills i.e. their information processing capacity? I think this is because all knowledge workers are expected to have certain level of skills to process and use information, this is what they do everyday (but they may not be calling it information literacy/management skills). If one starts to introduce these skills out of context, it becomes meaningless and out of touch with the 'real business'. However, when one starts to put it into context, the phrase 'information management skills' or 'information literacy' disappear, it becomes marketing, strategic planning, innovation program, helpdesk FAQ support, knowledge management, sales etc.

They are tricky questions and it is a real dilemma that I try to handle tactfully/polically/carefully in the workplace. I avoid the 'woolly' labels in business. I need to use the language that clicks with senior leaders/businessmen.

Read more on my Libri paper:

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Blogging again

I have set up this blog in 2005 and have not touched it for 4 years. Today, I have deleted all the old posts and I decide to start fresh. In the past 12 months, I have been writing an internal blog on Minerva, ERM's knowledge sharing platform. However, this means only colleagues working in Environmental Resources Management (ERM) can read the posts. I want to see if I would be able to manage a public blog. I have also started twittering on If you have a question for me, or have suggestions or ideas to improve practices in promoting knowledge sharing to create value for employees and customers. Get in touch.