Building a community to improve an industry

Saving our industry will require a lot of good people

We’re still moving too slowly.

Big firms know they need to change, but most are spending too much time wrestling with technology, policies, and a scarcity of good use cases. For banks and insurance companies, change is even slower due to regulations and a culture of information hoarding.

It’s time to try something different. And, earlier this week, we did.

A symposium

On Monday, 19 banks and insurance companies convened on Wall Street to talk about improving collaboration at their firms. How to make work better – more efficient, effective, and fulfilling. Unlike other meetings or conferences, the focus wasn’t on presentations but on building a community – a purposeful network whose goal is to accelerate learning.

For example, everyone is trying to interpret country-specific data privacy regulations so we know what content we can store and share. It’s important to get this right but the lack of clarity is slowing everyone down. If we could share interpretations and implementations that were already approved, we could all move on more quickly to work that would generate more value.

Banks can share, too

This wasn’t a secret club talking about trading algorithms. The discussions were on basic issues like ways to eliminate waste or the best ways to build a community. Things you might read online or hear at an industry conference.

The key difference was the focus on connecting people who care about specific topics and understood the specific issues in our industry so they could accelerate change. In this network, there are no vendors selling products or fees to join. The motivations are more intrinsic: the desire to make work better.

“Why would you do that?”

Later in the week, I was speaking to a large consulting firm and happened to mention the symposium. They were a bit taken aback. “Why would you do that?”

Because our industry is in desperate need of eliminating waste.

Because our industry and our customers need more innovation.

Because the millions of people in our industry want more fulfilling work.

Because, in just a few hours working with peers at other firms, I learned of ways I could realize more value for my firm, more quickly, than I thought was possible. And now I have friends (yes, the “f-word”) who can help me.

“Oh,” they said. “That makes sense.”

What’s next?

One meeting doesn’t make a community. It will take quite some time before we develop the personal relationships and the trust we need to call it that.

But we took a step. Now, we’ll use an online space to share questions and some simple content. We’ll organize working groups to focus on specific problems we discussed at the symposium. We’ll share stories and back each other up so we can take greater advantage of precedents. As we learn and as we build trust, we’ll be ready to share and do more.

To achieve the kind of change our industry needs, it’s time for a different approach.

The paradox of “they”

Is this what “they” look like?

“I wish they would recognize my work.”

“If only they would listen.”

“They laid off people today.”

Just this week, I thanked them for an opportunity and cursed them when they slighted me.

Who’s “they”?

It’s personal

Your access to opportunities and pay is driven by a complex human calculus. It’s individual people, not “the firm”, who decide who’s naughty and who’s nice, who’s a top performer and who’s expendable. For most knowledge workers, there are few objective criteria available to compare the wildly different types of jobs and circumstances. So managers substitute other, simpler, questions instead:

Do I know and like this person?

Am I dependent on them?

Do they work in an important area? 

Do they have important connections?

Can I improve my own standing by helping or hurting them?

When a recent survey asked what would make you happier at work, 65% said a better boss. (Only 35 percent chose a pay raise.) 58% said they would be more successful in their career if they got along better with their boss.

It’s personal. When you change managers, it’s like working for a different company.

And it’s not personal

Yet for all the truth in work being about relationships, large enterprises can also be seen as machines that transcend relationships. People come and go – from CEOs and Presidents to double-digit turnover of entire firms. Different cogs, perhaps, but the machine keeps functioning.

Sometimes what happens to you isn’t about you. Or about your boss. It can just be a result of working in an incredibly large, complex system where luck plays a big role. Sometimes you win and sometimes you lose.

What can you do?

My new t-shirt & best business icon ever from the 7 Summits Agency –

As I was leaving for work one day, my youngest daughter, Hanako, asked why I had to go. Thinking quickly, I blurted out that “the world is broken and I have to fix it”. Being 4 years old, she accepted that explanation.

I kept thinking about that job description and how “they” would never let me do that. But the world of work is undeniably broken and somebody needs to fix it. Why not me?

I realized – almost too late – that I have more control than I thought. Instead of hoping for a good boss or for good luck, I realized I could try to create my own future. In the face of fear or uncertainty of personal and impersonal forces, I could take a bit of control by investing in my skills, working out loud, and building a purposeful network.

Cue the Bon Jovi music:

It’s my life…

I ain’t gonna be just a face in the crowd…

Tomorrow’s getting harder make no mistake

Luck ain’t even lucky

Got to make your own breaks

We’ve got a world to fix. “They” can only stop us if we let them.

Some nice surprises

I was in Las Vegas this week for JiveWorld, a vendor conference that’s actually the best business conference I know of.

When I attended last year, we hadn’t used the product yet. I felt like a new kid at the dance, standing along the wall, watching all the other customers who were changing their firms.

Now, having experienced 40,000+ people using our social platform, it was a different conference for me. And I was surprised at how many other things were different.

The perspective

The tone of the entire conference has shifted to be much more commercial. In the early phases of social business, vendors and practitioners spent a lot of time on evangelism instead of value. This week, though, everyone was talking about money, from the CEO to individual customers.

There was less emphasis on product features and the abstract goodness of connecting. In its place was more focus on – and many more examples of – using collaboration tools and practices to reduce costs and increase revenue.

The progress

Perhaps the biggest shift was the huge increase in customers with meaningful implementations. The early adopters like Claire Flanagan at CSC continue to push the envelope of what’s possible, delivering commercial value (and considerable brand value) for their firms. Scott Tweedy at T-Mobile, another pioneer, showed how they continue to build on what they started and accrue significantly more benefits.

In recent months, new customers like PWC connected 90,000 of their consultants, improving the time-to-market and quality of their solutions. Verizon built a customer community of 1.7 million(!), reducing service calls while improving customer satisfaction. Capital One connected 20,000+ employees across their bank, completely replacing their intranet with a simpler, cheaper, and better environment. And there were similar stories from Thomson Reuters and many others in session after session.

In addition to there being more transformational implementations, the knowledge of what to do and how to do it has continued to get richer. Rachel Happe’s talk on her community management framework, for example, was insightful, detailed, and extremely useful. It’s the kind of talk that’s made possible only by working with many companies over several years.

The small club I wanted to join last year is becoming a mainstream movement. And with more than half of the people at the conference this year attending for the first time, there is a another building wave of new implementations underway.

The people

I was also surprised at something that didn’t change. The people were all…nice. It might seem like an odd observation but it’s a genuine one. The people at Jive seem to sincerely enjoy working there. And the customers are eager to share their experiences, both good and bad. Perhaps it’s because they feel like they’re part of something bigger. Their goal goes beyond their own work to wanting the vendor – and each other – to succeed.

There’s no snarkiness in the crowd. No edge. Just a very positive, generous feeling that comes from a few thousand people coming together to make work better.

And then there was this

The last surprise was an award for the work we’re doing at our firm. To be sure, there are other firms that have accomplished more. If there’s something a bit different about us, it’s how we work out loud, chronicling what we’re doing and connecting firms in our industry. In doing so, we hope to accelerate our learning, thus realizing more value for our firm while helping more individuals shape their reputation and control their career.

I’m thankful for the award. And I’m even more thankful to work in a firm that lets its employees take risk, work with people I consider family, and take part in a movement that’s making work better and more fulfilling.

“Collective efficiency” – from possibilities to programs

Over the past few weeks, I’ve been writing about ways to use collaboration platforms to reduce costs at work. More self-serviceLess printing. Lower mobile bills. They’re mundane topics but the value of just these 3 solutions is about $23 million to a large firm.

These examples, and many more like them, are part of an entire class of cost management possibilities we call “collective efficiency” – solutions that use social tools and practices to help a firm identify and eliminate waste. Other classes of solutions produce revenue – e.g.,  through improved innovation, cross-selling, or lead generation. But costs are tangible and revenues are in the future. If you can reduce costs, you’ll earn credibility and the right to do more business-building work.

To realize the potential of collective efficiency, though, you’ll need the power of grassroots efforts combined with the structure and process of successful programs.

Why we need collective efficiency

The usual way to cut costs is top-down, perhaps through an overall goal that’s apportioned and cascaded throughout each department and sub-department. This works reasonably well in some cases. (Only the real estate division, for example, can decide on what buildings to occupy.)

Yet, there are at least 2 problems with this approach. The first is that it tends to limit cost-cutting to things aligned to organizational boundaries. After all, budgets are allocated to organizations and you can only cut what you own. The second problem is that there are often unintended consequences of cuts aligned by organizational boundaries. The costs you cut in one area may well increase costs somewhere else in the firm.

By enabling individuals across the firm to identify and eliminate waste, collective efficiency solutions complement the top-down methods and open up new ways to realize value.

From possibility to proposal

To come up with ideas for collective efficiency, you don’t need a complicated innovation program. (The first 3 solutions described so far are evidence of that.) You can start by looking at all the different places your firm spends money and, for each one, think “how could connecting people and best practices result in smarter spending?”

Turning the ideas into proposals requires things you’d find in any business proposal: the problem you’re trying to solve, how much could you save, and the resources you need to save it. (For example, your firm’s total printing costs $30 million, you have specific 5 ways to reduce printing by 20%, and you need 1 person and $100k to do it.)

But since it’s a social business effort, you’ll need 2 additional things.

A community structure

Though collective efficiency solutions get their power from individual contributions, they require a structure to drive change in a scalable way.

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

While the movements appear “natural and spontaneous,” all the successful efforts create specific roles and rules that concentrate responsibility and help with decision-making.

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.”

The structure for each solution (e.g., increasing self-service) echoes the structures in most successful communities. You’ll need a passionate leader/community manager. You’ll need local champions in different locations. You’ll need people to head up each idea that comprises the solutions. If there are 5 ways, say, to increase self-service, then each is a working group or special interest group with its own set of roles.

Without formal roles you’ll dilute the effort and limits its impact.

An engagement plan

Also akin to communities, you’ll need an engagement plan to attract people to the effort and sustain contribution. That involves finding a way to grab their attention, creating an emotional connection, and enabling people to take action and make themselves part of the tribe.

The best framework we’ve found is from the “The Dragonfly Effect”. It’s called the FGET framework (for Focus, Grab Attention, Engage, and Take Action) and we’ve described it in a previous post and applied it in the solution for reducing printing.

Applying this framework will benefit every proposal in your collective efficiency portfolio.

From proposals to programs

Lastly, you’ll need a formal link to the org chart. Why? Because tying the effort explicitly to a spot in the hierarchy transforms the solution from a volunteer effort to one that is recognized by the firm; one that’s tracked and reported on and made part of people’s objectives. It changes the effort from a nice-to-have to a must-have.

Here’s an excerpt from a post on the need to “embrace the org chart”:

“This may seem at odds with the spirit of social business efforts. After all, they’re typically associated with a self-organizing, emergent, network-style of getting things done. And so Andrew McAfee, author of “Enterprise 2.0,” tackled the question: “Does or should the network render the hierarchy obsolete?”

His straightforward answer was “No.”

Rather, the new form of management is “a fantastic complement” to the more traditional ways of getting things done. “You don’t have to abandon roles, job titles, and chains of command.” In fact, you need those things to implement the kinds of changes the social business movement is after in the first place.

As Bertand Duperrin also said “enterprise 2.0 is the ally of a hierarchy that wants itself to be agile and efficient.”

Yes, social tools and practices make it possible to connect expertise, coordinate efforts across divisions, and drive behavioral changes in ways that weren’t possible before. And to realize the full value of this at your firm, you’ll need to turn these possibilities into specific business proposals and connect those proposals to the org chart.

That’s how you’ll be able to turn ideas into institutional priorities. That’s how you’ll be able to programmatically implement collective efficiency across the firm and realize its full potential.