A simple and effective recognition system

I was recently working with a group that wanted to recognize collaborative behavior and inspire more people to work that way.

Pretty quickly, we started talking about badges and point systems. But these kinds of systems are hard to get right, often producing unintended consequences.

As we wrestled with producing something new, it occurred to me that we weren’t making use of methods we already had.

So, if you’re trying to engender more collaboration, here are 5 basic things you can do right now.

1. Formalize a few collaboration roles

People can certainly volunteer to collaborate, but there are limits to what purely voluntary grassroots efforts can accomplish.

One of the best ways to let employees know that your organization is serious about collaboration is to formally recognize key collaborative roles.

“…grassroots change movements as diverse as charities, open-source software, and crowd-sourced content actually all have well-defined structures.

Even in wikipedia, in which anyone can make an edit, there are key roles of administrators, bureaucrats, and stewards, each with clear guidelines on what to do and how to do it.”

Formal roles recognize the additional contributions of certain people while signaling the entire organization that collaborative work is important.

Thing to do: Approach your HR staff with some specific job descriptions that fit collaborative work in your firm. If you don’t have any clear roles, then consider forming internal communities of practice as a way to bootstrap your company’s social business efforts. Roles like Community Leader and Community Manager are then natural roles to add.

2. Get the boss to write a letter

Does this sound old-fashioned? Yes.

Yet, even with the social business revolution, your boss still matters. As long as there is an org chart, it’ll be the hierarchy that determines pay and promotion.

So, a simple thing like a letter from a manager recognizing collaborative effort makes a difference. It’s a formal statement to the employee – and to all the people he tells about it – that collaboration is recognized and rewarded.

Thing to do: every time you see collaborative work worth recognizing, write it up and send it to the person’s manager with the suggestion they send the employee a letter.

3. Use existing awards

Many firms already have awards to recognize employees. They tend to be great for the individual but they recognize a very broad range of achievements.

By submitting applications based specifically on collaborative achievements, you’ll be using another formal mechanism to endorse collaborative work.

Thing to do: submit an application for a specific example of collaborative work. Then, tell everyone else who cares about collaboration to do the same. Helping a greater share of public awards go to collaborative work helps demonstrate the importance of collaboration.

4. Use existing communication channels

The people in your internal communications department are hungry for stories of good work going on throughout the firm.

You’d be making their job easier – and using one of the best recognition channels in your firm – by writing up stories for them. A story in your division’s newsletter or on the company portal goes a long way to raising awareness about the kind of work the firm values.

Thing to do: write up a story of collaborative work and send it to your local comms person. Then share the story widely once it’s published.

5. Say “Thank you”

Finally, the simplest of all techniques is a hand-written thank you note:

“A personal note written by your own hand inside matters far more than a few lines of type into a window that’s so easily available at your fingertips. It shows you care enough to take an extra step.”

Thing to do: buy a pack of Thank You cards and a nice pen and tell someone you appreciate the way they collaborate.

It starts with you

You can recognize someone today with a simple thank you note. Or send a story of remarkable collaborative work to a person’s manager or your communications person. More formally, you can submit someone’s work for an internal award or talk to HR about new roles. Or start a community of practice if you don’t have such roles.

You can do any of those things now. Or you can wait for a new system or for someone else to organize something.

If you truly want to change how your firm works, which one will you choose?

Genomics, polio, and turning social business into a discipline

Why is the work in most offices around the world so inefficient and ineffective?

Hundreds of millions of people suffer through pointless meetings and bad presentations. They wade through bureaucracy and email. And it all seems to go from bad to worse.

We complain. We share Dilbert cartoons. Yet, despite the extraordinary waste, we seem resigned to the way things are.

Well, the way things are stinks.

It’s time to change the way people work in offices around the world. It’s time to treat office work as a discipline that’s urgently focused on improving things.

Advances in Genomics

In technology, we’ve grown used to continual advances. And that’s particularly true in genomics.

In a recent TED talk on genomics, Richard Resnick talked about the amazing advances over the past few decades. When I was a kid, people didn’t think it would be possible to ever sequence the 3 billion base pairs in the human genome. Now we do it routinely, and it’s becoming faster and cheaper.

“The price to sequence a base has fallen 100 million times. That’s the equivalent of you filling up your tank in 1998, waiting until 2011, and now you can drive to Jupiter and back. Twice.”

The scale of such a change is unbelievable. And such incredible change isn’t limited to just technology.

Advances in eradicating polio

In another brilliant TED talk, Bruce Aylward talks about the incredible efforts underway to eradicate polio. And his sense of urgency is palpable.

So far, smallpox is the only disease we’ve eradicated from the entire planet. And polio presents numerous other challenges. The vaccine is more fragile. More people are affected. And there are no visible signs when someone is infected, making it easier to spread.

To eradicate polio, Aylward needs more than technological advances.

“We’ve had to create one of the largest social movements in history…There are over 20 million people in the largest internationally coordinated operation in peacetime [who] vaccinate 500 million children every single year.”

Imagine organizing, supplying, and training 20 million people (mostly volunteers) to go into some of the most remote regions in a variety of cultures and conduct a medical procedure on children.

It’s impossible. And they’re doing it.

The human benefit is immense. And there are financial benefits, too, as we eliminate costs associated with treating people.

“One congressman in the US thinks that the entire investment that the US put into Smallpox eradications pays itself off every 26 days….And if we can finish polio, some of the poorest countries on Earth will save over $50 billion in next 25 years.”

Saving lives and saving money. No wonder Aylward has such a sense of urgency.

Advances in social business(?)

Isn’t it odd that we don’t have such a sense of urgency when it comes to improving business practices?

With all of the people affected and the money at stake, isn’t it crazy that we’re not more focused on changing how hundreds of millions of people work?

The technical barriers are far lower than those in genomics. The social barriers are less daunting than what the polio teams are facing. And we already have the knowledge to do better. Countless books, blogs, videos, and conferences that tell us “how to.”

But we have no discipline. And we need one.

We need to create new roles and structures. To constantly collect and analyze data. To codify practices and continuously seek to improve them. To share failures and successes among practitioners.

That’s where the social business movement should aim. Going beyond a desire to work better to instilling pride in what we do and creating a framework for driving changes in a sustainable, scalable way.

That’s the movement I want to be a part of. Those are the kinds of contributions I aspire to make.

Forget Likes. Your bank should be your best friend.

Recently, someone sent me a list of the “Top 150 Banks on Facebook.” There was a note attached pointing out how the banks at the top of the list were out-innovating the others who were failing to achieve “social media success.”

That’s ridiculous.

It’s a tough time to be a bank – or a banking customer. So banks shouldn’t be using social platforms to be popular. They should use social platforms to make banking better.

Here’s a real example.


BillGuard is a small start-up that “alerts you to hidden charges, billing errors, misleading subscriptions, scams and fraud on your credit cards.”  They claim 9 out of 10 people don’t check their bills, or merely skim them quickly for large purchases (that’s certainly true for me). So they aim to make it easier to catch problems on your bill.

When you sign up for their free service, you register your credit cards by giving them your login and password. They scan all your charges, looking for possible problems based on their own data and analytics as well as a unique crowdsourcing approach to fraud detection:

“Every day tens of thousands of people report bad charges on their credit and debit card bills to their banks and merchants. Millions more post their complaints online. Up until now all that knowledge hasn’t been benefiting the most important person of all, you. BillGuard is a free service that harnesses our collective vigilance to protect everyone from hidden charges, billing errors, forgotten subscriptions, scams and fraud.”

Real “social media success” for banks

Billguard is a great idea and I use it every month. But isn’t odd that I’m giving all my credit card data to a small start-up?

Shouldn’t my bank provide this valuable service for me?

  • They already have my data and my money.
  • They already have sophisticated fraud detection mechanisms.
  • And they could have a huge social network of their own to crowdsource further improvements to their data on fraudulent charges. (Bank of America, for example, has 40 million cardholders.)

It’s another opportunity for banks to apply network thinking. An opportunity to engage their huge customer base to solve old problems in new ways.

Instead of getting me to Like them, my bank should treat me as a friend – a really good friend who’s trusted them with all my money and needs help taking care of it. In doing so, my bank would improve their reputation, my loyalty, and their value.

That would be real social media success.

An idea for saving 10,000,000 dollars + 10,000 lives

When you think of social business case studies, you might think about new ways of communicating or supporting customers or generating sales leads.

But the range of social business is actually much broader than that.

“What you’re really trying to do is create a culture of network thinking.” (A quote from the very smart Rachel Happe.)

If you do that – if you use a social business lens to take a new look at old problems across your firm – it turns out you can create some wonderful solutions.

Here’s an example.

An age-old problem

Large companies routinely pay for resources that employees no longer need or want. It’s a big but mundane problem that might escape the attention of social business advocates.

Most cost management is usually focused on the approval process. Once an item’s approved, though – whether it’s hardware, software, market data, or even real estate – it’s inherently difficult to know when something’s no longer required unless the employee leaves.

Also, employees often don’t know what’s being charged on their behalf. And, if they do, they don’t have much incentive to give things back (even if they knew how). So, as people move and re-organize, and as needs changes, the waste adds up.

In a company of 100,000 people, just $100 of waste per person adds up to $10 million. Given increasing technology costs, you’ll probably find more than that in your IT department alone.

Applying network thinking

At most firms, all of the data about who uses what is locked up in different golden sources in different divisions. And the traditional approach is to produce reports and have business management-types look for possible cuts.

A better way – a “social business way” – is to let everyone see their own data, crowdsource the quality of that, and provide feedback mechanisms to share what’s working.

Making the data available and easy to change

Getting access to the data is usually the hard part, but the social business platforms are making this easier than ever. Companies like Jive and Tibco ”give your legacy apps a social life” by “exposing data from backend systems.”

With platforms like these, employees already have a rich profile with data from HR and other systems. And this is a perfect place to display an employee’s personalized bill – all the resources the firm is paying for on their behalf – along with ways to communicate a change to the right service provider.

Making people care

Even if everyone knew their costs, though, they’d need to have a reason to look at their bill and change it.

How would you make them care?

The Dragonfly Effect” offers useful examples. (It also provides a great framework for driving enterprise change in a scalable way.)

It demonstrates how to engage people by “creating a personal connection, accessing higher emotions through deep empathy, authenticity, and telling a story. Engaging is about empowering an audience enough to want to do something themselves.”

Saving money for your big corporation might not inspire you. But what if, for example, a percentage of those savings went to providing clean water to people who don’t have it?

Organizations like WaterAid can give someone clean water for as little as $25. What if you knew that by simply reviewing your bill that you could transform a life? Or several lives?

Sharing the change

Now comes the social part: connecting people across the firm with the people they’re helping and with each other.

Whenever you talk about bills and resources, you show the video of a village turning on the tap for the first time, talking about the difference water makes. Not just statistics, but real people in real places.

And whenever you’re promoting the impact your initiative is having, you talk about the teams in the firm who are making a difference so they can inspire others to do the same.

It’s those stories and those connections – those virtuous feedback loops – that turn a good idea into a movement.

They can take a common business problem in a big firm and turn it into something that can change lives. A movement with real commercial benefits that employees can genuinely care about and want to be a part of.

That’s the power and the possibility of social business.