Greg Smith, The Secret of Viral, And The Chamber of Engagement

This article was published in Social Media Today on 18 March 2012 by the same author.

Check this out: Greg Smith, a vice president in Goldman Sach, posted the reason for quitting his job in the New York Times. And said that his former boss was at fault for the deteriorating corporate culture. Goldman, he said, cares more about profit than its customers.

Greg Smith stories went viral on the internet. And scores of career consultant throw their hat into the ring by offering opinions on career management. Did Greg Smith commit a career suicide? You bet. Whatever Greg Smith does in the future, it won’t be related to the banking industry. His banking career is over!

I totally agree with Amber Mac, a respectable career consultant, on why you and I shouldn’t follow Greg Smith’s example. Like Amber Mac said in the article, you should quit your job gracefully when you know it is over. And one way to do so, is to keep your (negative) opinion about the job to yourself. Just because you want to quit, it doesn’t mean you have to burn the bridge.

Since this blog isn’t about career management, I’d like to offer social business’ perspective to Greg Smith’s story. There are two thought bubbles that pop up in my head when I read the story: (1) Why did Greg Smith’s story go viral? What’s the secret sauce of viral stories?; (2) What should be the platform for real conversations between management and rank-and-file staff?

The Secret Sauce of Viral Stories

Greg Smith’s story is by no means unique. Watch the above video clip. And you would see another man, Joey DeFrancesco, who also quit his job publicly. And like Smith’s story, his story went viral in the internet. This begs the question: Why the seemingly ordinary stories of people lives can go viral?

The main reason is empathy. We can empathise with both stories because of the bigger picture. DeFrancesco quits because the unfair treatment that hotel employees usually receive. He becomes the voice of all hotel employees who silently suffers from the gross mistreatment. While Smith quits because the deteriorating corporate culture in Wall Street (read: greed).

Those reasons appeal to many people. And because we can relate to Smith’s story and DeFrancesco’s story, we feel the urge to like or to forward the story to our friend, colleagues, or family members. That’s how the story went viral.

So the secret sauce of viral story is the emotional hooks that the story has. Can you position the story to appeal to many people? Can you make people feel emotional through your story? If you can do that, then there is a high chance that your story will go viral.

Social Intranet is The Right Chamber for Employee Engagement

Greg Smith and Joey DeFrancesco wouldn’t be folk heroes if what they say doesn’t make any sense. Organisations need to do more about employee engagement than just conducting the infamous corporate climate survey.

It is unfortunate that Smith and DeFrancesco used the wrong media to tell their story. In the age of social intranet and social organisation, they could have expressed their displeasure within the corporate walls, i.e. via internal blogs, discussion forum or video repositories.

If they are brave enough to tell their opinion in social media, then surely they are brave enough to share it with all their colleagues. The management could then conduct closed-door honest conversation with the relevant people.

No matter how bitter they are, Smith and DeFrancesco should have given the management a chance to tell their side of the story. By going public, they are killing off the opportunity to do real dialogue between them and the management. The social intranet, not the social media, is the right chamber for engagement and conversation.

Arguably, a real dialogue is only made possible if the management doesn’t punish people for expressing their opinion in the social intranet. But at the very least – you, I, and other rank-and-file staff, should extend our hand and give the management an opportunity to prove that they care about employee satisfaction.

When all else fails, look for another job! Discreetly of course.

Comments? Do you agree with me?

The Pursuit of Happiness: How Gamification Unleash Total Engagement

I was in barcamp Shanghai on 3rd March 2012, to give a talk, titled the Pursuit of Happiness: How Gamification Unleash Total Engagement.

In this talk, I shared how engagement has become the new competitive advantage. Alas, many organisations are clueless about engaging their people. This is about to change, however, thanks to a new emerging field called gamification.  Successful organisations are those who know how to gamify the workplace to engage their people.

Here is the video clip of my talk.

And here is the presentation slides

If you like this talk, then stay tuned. I will come up with a more exciting version of this talk for my TEDx talk this month.

4 Key Issues/Challenges in Championing Innovation

I’ve been thinking about Innovation lately. As a matter of fact, I’ve been thinking about Innovation since I started working about eight years ago.

I believe key challenges in championing innovation can be summarised into four.

The first key challenge is defining innovation and prioritising areas for innovation in the organisational context. Different people define and interpret innovation differently. Without a common understanding on innovation, the organisation can’t spur innovation. So the challenge here is about creating a common understanding of what innovation means, how to do it, and what the priority areas are. To address this challenge, I suggest conducting focus groups to seek inputs from staff and top management, to merge the definitions of innovation, and to prioritise areas for innovation.

The second key challenge is engaging staff to innovate. According to 2006 Gallup study, engaged staff are more likely to innovate. Thus to spur innovation, organisations will have to engage their staff. Although there is no easy sure-fire way to engage staff, engaging staff is not an impossible feat. Based on my experience, the best way to engage staff is by conducting regular staff communication sessions between staff and top management – for e.g. Townhall meeting – where staff can have a dialogue with the top management on organisational issues and on ideas to improve business processes

The third key challenge is creating safe-fail environments in the organisation. Innovation requires collaborative and supportive environments where passionate like-minded staff can connect, can prototype ideas, and can innovate upon each other’s ideas. Alas, nurturing such environments in the organisational context is difficult. To address this challenge, I suggest cultivating communities of practice, i.e. communities of passionate like-minded people who meet regularly to solve organisational issues. Thriving communities of practice create safe-fail environments that encourage experimentation and give people time to fully develop innovative breakthroughs.

Last but not least, the fourth challenge in championing innovation is incentivising innovation. Rewarding people with monetary rewards or other extrinsic rewards isn’t sustainable, because people will soon demand for bigger extrinsic rewards. On the flip side, giving intrinsic rewards such as recognising and/or giving resources (time and fund) to staff who propose innovative ideas, can spur and sustain innovation. Thus, to address this challenge, I recommend designing recognition system which raises the profile of staff who propose innovative ideas, and setting up innovation funds to provide staff with the necessary resources for innovation.

What do you think? What’s your experience in championing innovation?

Social Organisation – Definition and Three Advantages

It’s 2012 folks! This year marks the end of era where “average-joe” intranet rules, where SOP is preferred over empowerment and engagement, and where customers keep mum about their dissatisfaction. And this year means screw business-as-usual! Organisations have to transform themselves to be social organisation or face slow-painful-death.

What is Social Organisation (a.k.a. Social Business/Enterprise)?

So what is social organisation anyway? You probably heard of the term and confuse it with social business (social enterprise) - a term made popular by a nobel price winner, Muhammad Yunus. According to Yunus, social business is a cause-driven business ala Tom Shoes (Tom Shoes commits itself to give a free pair of shoes to those in need, for every pair of shoes purchased).

Yunus’ concept on social business is beautiful. The world certainly needs Yunus’ social business model to beat poverty. Too bad, the IT and KM folks use the same term to mean organisations that use social technology, i.e. social media and social intranet, as competitive advantage (for examples, case studies, and definition, please read how IBM consulting describes social business).

For the sake of clarity, in this blog, I will use the term social organisation to refer to businesses empowered by social technology. I will avoid using the term social business/enterprise - unless I want to talk about Yunus’ version of social business (very unlikely as microfinance is not my passion. Social technology is). I suggest you do the same too.

Alas using the term social organisation doesn’t end the confusion. Some experts like two Gartner analysts: Anthony J. Bradley and Mark P. Mcdonald, use the term to refer to organisations empowered by social media application to business. Others like a Forbes contributor: Fred Cavazza, use the term to refer to organisations empowered by both social media and social intranet.

So, which version of social organisation is correct? It depends on what you believe in. I believe corporate (internal) and consumer communications are converging, and thus I think social organisations have to be supported by social media and by social intranet. So I agree with Fred Cavazza’s definition of social organisation.

I also think the main purpose of social technology is to build communities. Combining these thoughts, I get the following definition of social organisation:

Social Organisation is organisation that maximises the use of social media (technology) and social intranet, to improve consumer and employee engagement and to build communities for innovation.

Why Organisations Have to Be Social Organisations?

Three big benefits underpin the need to become social organisations:

First, improved ability to engage employees, esp. the gen-Ys. Gen-Ys are moody bunch. This generation was brought up with a belief that the sky is the limit. They have a high (often unrealistic) sense of entitlement to pursue their dream/passion. The Millennials demand empowerment and bask in entrepreneurship working environment. Social organisation offers them such environment – an environment where they can be engaged and have the freedom to pursue their passion.

Second, improved ability to build communities. Social technologies are great community-building tools. They allow people with similar passion to “gather” and connect beyond the physical limitation, i.e. geographical boundaries and time difference. In other words, social technology is a catalyst for community-building. And we all know that passionate communities are breeding grounds for collective learning and innovation.

Third, ability to build relationship with social customers. Many people use social media like Facebook, Twitter, not only to improve the way they interact and live, but also to give recommendations and voice-out displeasure. Organisations would be wise to maintain presence in social media, to engage the social customers, to capture their testimonials, and to address their concern real-time.

Any thoughts? Write them down in the comment box below.

Recommended Readings:

Bradley, A., J., and McDonald, M., P. (2011). The Social Organisation – Chapter 1: The Promise of Social Organisations. Harvard Business Press.

Cavazza, F. (2012). The What and How of Social Business. Forbes.

N.A. (n.d.). Social Business. IBM.

Neisser, D. (2011). Move Over Social Media; Here Comes Social Business. Fast Company.

Why Smart Organisations Use Social Intranet

To win in today’s business competition, you need a social intranet. I’m dead serious. The future belongs to organisations who can use the power of social intranet for employee engagement, productivity, collaboration, and innovation.

Yep, practically all the things that the management wants. So what is this social intranet?  Social intranet is an intranet with social technology tools like social networking, blog, discussion forum, comment box, wikis, etc.

If this sounds like social media stuff, it is! Social intranet is about using social media within the organisation. There is a subtle difference between social technology and social media. Social media is usually referring to Facebook, Twitter, Linkedin, or any other web 2.0 tools in the internet. Social technology, on the other hand, is a more generic terms that cover the whole array of web 2.0 tools in internet and in intranet.

Smart organisations are investing in social intranet rather than simply allowing the use of social media in the organisation (I know it is difficult to stop people from using social media at work, thanks to the ubiquitous iphone and other smart-phone devices).

Here is why. Employees can make use of their free time to share ideas and to connect with their colleagues in social intranet – rather than in social-media sites. The big idea is, to contain the sharing of ideas and social networking within the organisation.

Why not use social media? Social media isn’t ideal because people can “inadvertently” share sensitive information to the public. And it is impossible to link employees’ social activities in social media to the benefit of the organisation.

I know what you are thinking. You are probably going to criticise me for not embracing the concept of Open Innovation, i.e. collectively innovate through idea-sharing with the public, competitors, amateurs, etc. I gotta tell you this: I’m an advocate and ardent believer of open innovation. Yes, I’m.

But, I’m also a very practical person. I don’t think organisations can entirely open-up their business processes, or can crowdsource strategic decision-making to outsiders. Open Innovation and Crowdsourcing can be used in situations where the organisation is exploring something new that it has no expertise in.

Okay, enough of open innovation and crowdsourcing. Let’s get back to our discussion on using social intranet in organisations.

With social intranet, you can:

  • Increase employee engagement. Work is no longer boring, when part of your work is to pursue your professional interest/passion, and to build your personal brand within the corporate intranet. Plus, you get the chance to connect with cool people in the organisation (people who have similar interests with you).
  • Increase productivity. Looking for corporate information or contents owned by your colleagues? Well, it’s going to take awhile if you are using traditional intranet. But with social intranet? Seriously, you can get it within a blink. That’s because in social intranet, contents are tagged using corporate taxonomy and your own tags (social tagging or folksonomy) – which means you can retrieve contents faster by refining your search according to those tags. And if you have a very good social intranet like Sharepoint 2010 (Too bad microsoft don’t pay me for endorsing their hot-selling product), you can search contents based on social distance, i.e. your “friends’ contents” get prioritised in the search engine. So, you can jump straight to contents authored by people whom you trust.
  • Improve social collaboration. It’s hard to collaborate using email, because you are often get confused on which version is the latest and on whether the document has been vetted by the bosses. In social intranet, you can use collaboration space as one-stop centre for collaboration. You and your co-workers can add, edit, amend, or delete contents at easy because every changes made is recorded. You know which version is latest in collaboration space. Plus, you can create a workflow to route documents for approval.
  • Increase innovation. In social intranet, cultivating communities of practice (CoP) is easy. Employees have more opportunities to find like-minded colleagues and to start building a community around a shared-passion. When employees have supportive-environment (the CoP) and the means to experiment with their ideas, there will be more innovations in the organisations.

Does your organisation use social intranet? Tell me whether it has made an impact to your work or how it has benefited the organisation.

Further Readings:

  1. Hinchcliffe, D. (2010). Social intranets: Enterprises grapple with internal change. ZDNet.
  2. Ward, T. (2010). The Rise of Intranet 2.0: The Social Intranet. CMSWire.
  3. Berg, O. (2010). The business case for social intranets.
  4. Lupfer, E. (2010). Creating a Social Intranet where Employees can Learn, Plan and Do