Are Your Leaders Ready to Listen?

One of the primary objectives for most new communities is to give employees a way to become more social, voice their opinions and allow your company to move away from one-way push communications towards two-way conversations.

You’ve chosen to build a new community for your employees, giving them the voice they’ve been requesting for eons. But are your leaders ready to listen to what they have to say?

It’s the right direction for you and for them. Congratulations, you know it and you’ve managed to persuade your enterprise that it’s the right way to go. Your leadership have agreed that they want to hear what their employees really think - in a very public transparent forum, but are they really ready for what is about to happen?

We often see senior leaders who are fearful of the potential for what may come. It is sometimes unfounded, but often not. They probably already have a pretty good sense of the feelings amongst employees but feedback in a public forum can be different. A strategy for dealing with what arises, both good and bad, needs to be agreed before you launch.

You’re going to need to measure the maturity of your organisation, and keep measuring it as your journey continues. It will change, and it will probably mature faster than it has previously with the addition of your new community. 

It’s worth remembering that you’re bringing tools into the workplace that employees are already comfortable with. They’ve been crying out for them, so you can expect it to take longer for the senior leaders to learn to deal with the new operating model than it will for the employees to learn to use them.

The main point to convey is that your new community will not (or at least is very unlikely to) generate ill feeling within the company.

It will highlight where that ill feeling already exists, and it will give you an insight into what it is, but you know what? It existed before the platform did.

Now, you get to see your employees talking about it when you couldn’t before. As an effective leader would you rather know what your employees are feeling and be able to react in a safe environment, or would you rather continue in blissful denial?

It does mean listening, acknowledging the issues that may arise and explaining the leadership position behind the subject.

Most companies operate with an annual attrition rate of around 12%. It is often the case that the best and brightest talent will leave quickest because their path is smoother. They are in demand and they want to work somewhere that they - and their co-workers - feel appreciated.

You now have the chance to prove that your enterprise is one of those places. One where it is encouraged to speak up and make the collective working environment a better place. But if you give them the chance to do that they will take it. And that means your leaders have to be ready to listen to the feedback and act upon it.

This doesn’t mean agreeing with every request, or ending up in a company with double pay and free lunches.

It does mean listening, acknowledging the issues that may arise and explaining the leadership position behind the subject. And hey, maybe some of the concerns are actually valid and easily fixed for employees, making them happy and motivated again. Wouldn’t that be awesome?!

As you embark on this open conversational model, keep the following points in mind.

Respond, respond, respond. People have taken the time to raise issues, questions or concerns to you.
  1. Stick rigidly to your usage policies and community guidelines. Constructive feedback is good but workplace concerns can be very emotional to employees. Manage the tone of the conversations carefully.

  2. Never remove or censor content unless it breaks those guidelines or rules you’ve put in place. Removal or censorship of content will destroy the trust in your community immediately. Your community needs to be seen as a place for employees, not a place for senior leaders to control employees.

  3. Remain authentic. Use extreme caution when responding on behalf of senior leaders. If a response from a senior leader is required, make them post it. Users need to trust that they are in a conversation with the person they think they are, not a ghost writer.

  4. Respond, respond, respond. People have taken the time to raise issues, questions or concerns to you. The fastest way to neuter your new community is to have people think it’s a waste of time because they never get heard when they speak. The response does not always have to be a resolution, but manage the expectation of the employee and let them know you are aware.

  5. Continually measure the state of the community to see if you’re making a difference. Your aim is to increase employee engagement, so keep measuring it to prove you’re making the difference. This is a big change and a big investment for senior leaders, so you’ll need to show them it’s making things better.

  6. There will be tough times and prickly conversations. Deal with them head on. It’s better that they are happening in your community instead of on GlassDoor.

Train by Audience, Not by Feature

Know your audience. Rather than set up general training sessions, use the broader sessions to explain WHY you’re doing this, and what the benefits are.

You’re there! The platform has launched and excitement from your employees has reached fever pitch. They can’t wait to get in and simplify their lives, and you can’t wait for that return on investment to start paying you back for the hard work you’ve put in so far. So what’s next?

Think about all those sales and product demos you sat through during the selection process. Now think about the weeks and months of preparation it’s taken you to get to the launch day. Remember the use-cases you were validating against? You selected a platform and you invested in something that can do hundreds or even thousands of different things. And those are just the ones you know about. Wait until it gets into the hands of the people.

You’ll probably start by putting together user guides, training and support materials and endless presentations about how awesome the new world is. Then you’ll set up Webexes, town halls and gatherings in offices across the company. You’ll even make sure to do them at reasonable times to account for your global workforce in multiple timezones.

And then you start to see the issue. How long can those sessions be? An hour maximum? How are you going to get through that 95-page deck in that time? How can you even begin to spend enough time on each killer feature and still leave room for the inevitable questions? The answer is you can’t. It’s simply not possible, and even if it was the chance of everyone in the room or on the call being interested in every feature you show them is non-existent.

Don’t overwhelm everyone. Know your audience. Rather than set up general training sessions, use the broader sessions to explain WHY you’re doing this, and what the benefits are. Then tell people they can attend training sessions specifically aligned to their role.

Those audience focused sessions should concentrate on a handful of useful features related to that group. Give them just enough info to make sure they get something useful from it and are able to start discovering related features as they go. Perhaps you’ll set up training for executive assistants which focuses on how to find people, manage profiles and set up meetings. Or maybe a session for project managers detailing how to manage projects and documents, agendas etc.

As soon as you arm your users with enough knowledge to make the platform useful for them, they’ll explore more and realise that it is worth their time understanding what else it can do for them. You don’t need to show every person every feature. Show them what they need, then let them discover the rest and they’ll end up showing each other.

Finally, extensive use of in-context help/training will always be well received. If you’re able to surface your help materials in small relevant chunks at the time the user needs them they’ll be much more useful than being hidden away in decks or brochures in a dedicated training area.

This article will help you define your launch training strategy. As your community matures, and as new features are released you will need to take a different approach - which we’ll address in a different article. Remember, this is a large change management process you’re about to undertake but it never truly ends. Every new starter will need to be onboarded, so remember to build this into the onboarding process too.

Now that you’ve shown your users how to use your new platform, you need to show them how to use it, and actually make a difference to your business!

So How's That Transformation Project Going Anyway?

Your ability to answer questions from senior leaders about the status of the project in a business-centric way is emblematic of your ability to succeed on your projects

Good Answers and Bad Answers

You are sitting in a meeting with a senior leader and he or she asks "So how's that digital transformation project going?"

In this situation you probably want to answer with something better than "Good, thanks!"

A good answer would be "We're currently projecting an 11% uplift in conversions in the first year of platform operations that will make us an additional 8 million dollars by Q1 2017" or "We're currently projecting an average savings of 28 minutes per employee per week in time savings that equates to 1.2 million dollars in operational savings after the first year of post-launch platform operation."

If you're not able to answer this question in such a manner you need to figure out why. Did you put a framework in place at the beginning of the project in order to answer this question in a way that relates to how your senior leaders see it from a business perspective? Do you have an answer you feel confident in? Is it an issue that senior leaders need to ask you how things are going instead of having easy access to a way for them to check real-time on the project status?

Measurement is Credibility in Your Communications

Your ability to answer questions from senior leaders about the status of the project in a business-centric way is emblematic of your ability to succeed on your projects. It validates their decisions to fund what you're doing and helps to justify why they should continue to invest in the direction you're setting.

In addition to the ability to measure your progress as it impacts the business you need to be able to meaningfully communicate that progress to the rest of your organization. This is something that you cannot just tack-on mid-process once you are already rolling along. You have to know at the planning stages of the project what your goals are, the meaningful metrics that relate to those goals, and the benchmark you will use to measure your impact on the business through the course of the project.

In future posts we'll break down the process of how to establish meaningful goals you can measure against, how to structure your measurement work stream, how search and user experience plays a major yet largely hidden role in measurement success, and other deeper measurement topics.

Honing vs. Sharpening

Do you know when to realign an existing resource versus replacing it with a new one?

There’s a difference between honing and sharpening a knife. Honing is where one realigns the teeth of a blade while sharpening strips away the metal in favor a new teeth. You generally hone a good kitchen knife every day and sharpen it once a year. Your digital enterprise transformation should be thought of in the same way.

Transformation begins with honing. You work with what you have and realign the teeth of your blade so that each one works in tandem with the next to produce an edge. People often confuse the two and think that rough metal pole that comes with your knife set is a sharpener. It’s actually a honing steel and is designed to leave your teeth intact but keep them all working smoothly on a day to day basis.

You can also apply this idea to the importance of understanding your tools as well. Your enterprise may already be running platforms like SAP, Sharepoint, Workday, Eloqua, etc. which are a great stack of tools when implemented to play to their strengths and downplay their business weaknesses. If you implement these tools in a piecemeal or purely technology-driven fashion without this consideration you can cut your business off at the knees.

You generally hone a good kitchen knife every day and sharpen it once a year. Your digital enterprise transformation should be thought of in the same way.

So you start your transformation by honing. In many if not most cases there are “better” tools out there but you can’t migrate everything at once so you hone what you have and “sharpen” your tools once a year by replacing an old implementation or platform every cycle in phases while slowly honing the key ones you can’t live without.


Planting the Garden. To Govern, or Not to Govern.

The culture in your enterprise can dramatically affect the governance approach you take during the launch of your new community. Are you happy with the culture? Is changing or adjusting that culture an objective of the initiative at all?

When launching a new community, how tightly should you control the content being created and how does your governance strategy differ as your community matures?

Many conservative enterprises try to control the types of content that can be created in their communities. User interest groups and other “non-work” subjects are not allowed. New groups of discussion areas need to go through an application review process and get created and managed centrally. Other companies take a more flexible approach and allow employees to create and manage the community without governance.

As is often the way, the ideal approach is somewhere in the middle. It is advisable to have a small centrally managed network of places where corporate content can be posted. For example, information about company structure, business units, HR policies. These official areas have a tighter level of governance on them to restrict who can create and manage content in them and to make sure that employees have an easy way to navigate to the important information they need. Keep this network as small as possible though. Remember, every time you create an area which is managed centrally, you’ll have maintenance overhead to manage the content there.

Giving your employees the freedom to discuss non-work subjects serves a number of useful purposes...it teaches them to use the new platform.

For the rest of the community, the most successful implementations take a much more flexible approach. No restriction on who can create groups or communities, and no restriction on the content - other than ensuring it meets the usage policies you put in place.

This does mean you’ll end up with groups and discussions about the weather, cats, music, movies, food and recreation etc. Keep the faith though. While your new investment may not appear to be returning the value you anticipated immediately, it will come. Giving your employees the freedom to discuss non-work subjects serves a number of useful purposes:

  1. It teaches them to use the new platform. While they’re discussing cat outfits, they are understanding how the application works, and learning how it will be useful for their jobs.

  2. It creates connections. Your company is successful because of the people in it and if they’re more connected to each other than they were before simply because they have been to the same vacation spots or enjoy the same hobbies, you still win.

Create an acceptable use policy and make sure all community participants accept it. This allows you to set the acceptable and unacceptable actions upfront, however you define them.

Most companies who shy away from the flexible approach do so because they are afraid that employees will be wasting their time discussing recipes rather than working. This is an unfounded fear in almost every community we’ve seen. The activity in your community is visible to everyone in the company. It’s like broadcasting the watercooler conversations to everyone. With that, it becomes very obvious when an employee doesn’t have enough work to do and spends too much of their time not working. If you have employees who don’t have enough work to do and choose to advertise that publicly then it is probably a very good benefit of the platform that you’re able to identify them!

We also see that the amount of time spent in the recreational conversations diminishes as the community matures. Employees understand when to use them. They also get diluted as the community expands with business content and the fears withdraw with that.

Whichever governance path you take there are some vital steps you must always take.

  1. Create an acceptable use policy and make sure all community participants accept it. This allows you to set the acceptable and unacceptable actions upfront, however you define them.

  2. Enable moderation. You won’t be able to see everything that gets posted, so you must always give employees a way to be able to send something to the moderation queue for you to deal with if they think something unacceptable has been posted.

  3. Use your community managers to help manage the direction of the community as it grows. If there are multiple groups being created around the same subject, combine them before it’s too late so that you’re not creating communities in silos.

  4. Be transparent and explain your approach. You have smart people working for you, it is important they feel they are being treated fairly.

What to Bring with You: Defining Your Migration Strategy

How do you begin to tackle the migration of content from legacy systems into your new enterprise platforms?

Your platform is selected, your training plans are ready. Your users are eager to experience the easier life you’ve promised them. But where’s the content?

An efficient productive enterprise is about the relationship between people, places and content. You have the people, and they have their places and workflows which they use to get their jobs done. They are busy and managing their transition from legacy systems to new tools will be your goal for the foreseeable future. Getting them there is only half the battle though. They need their content to get their work done. So what do you do about it?

It’s likely you are making this significant change because you’re experiencing the same issues we see every day. Outdated, complex and cumbersome tools, poor search, bad user experience, inability to find what you need, multiple copies of the same content causing confusion. You may have thousands or even millions of documents to contend with.

Your migration strategy should focus on only moving what you are certain needs to be moved.

Content migration is a costly and complex exercise. We’ve watched many companies take the all or nothing approach and here’s what we know. If you simply lift and shift everything, you’ll end up with exactly the same problems in a shiny new box.

So answer this question. Do you know what content is important and what content is not? In some cases you do, but if not, how do you find out? Perhaps you have great analytics which will tell you, but if you’re about to move to a new platform from a legacy system, it’s unlikely. If you ask the employees, they’ll exclaim “We need it all!”.

Your migration strategy should focus on only moving what you are certain needs to be moved. Make sure it has all relevant meta data associated with it. Make sure it is attributed to a person, and make sure it has an owner.

The curation exercise they’ll go through when moving what’s important to them is vital for a successful transformation.

That probably gets you 10% of the way there. For the rest, you’re going to need to ask your users to move the rest for you. Yes, that’s difficult because they’re busy and they don’t have time, but you’re giving them more efficient ways of working, and this strategy comes with three major benefits:

  1. They know what’s important. It turns out that “We need it all!” only counts when it’s being moved for them. The curation exercise they’ll go through when moving what’s important to them is vital for a successful transformation.

  2. When they are moving their content, they are learning how to use your new platform. Don’t underestimate this. It’s like training on steroids. After their migration, creating new content in there will be a breeze for them.

  3. Content is attributed to them as they move/create it. Our systems and platforms are smart and one of your goals will be around identification of expertise within your enterprise. As the systems learn to relate the content with the author/creator during migration, you’ll be kick-starting the data behind the expertise identification engines.

Of course not all content types can be moved by your employees e.g. conversation threads, so you need to determine the value of those before deciding whether to perform an automated migration, but if you do - always make sure everything is attributed to someone because content that exists with no owner will always get in your way later.

Have you been through a migration recently? How have you tackled the process? Let us know how you got on, and share any lessons you've learned on your journey with other readers by commenting below.