All posts by Ian Heggs

To Chat, or Not to Chat, for Effective Business Communication?

“To Chat, or Not to Chat: …”

…that is the question”, to paraphrase William Shakespeare, but, in the context of effective business communication in a mobile-centric world, is this question really the one that you should be asking?

business communication
“To chat or not to chat?” may not be the right question to ask for effective business communication.

It seems that business organizations today are looking to borrow from the consumer world and implement chat solutions to improve the way they communicate and collaborate. The main reason for this appears to be because that is what their employees are using to communicate via their phones and tablet devices to their family and friends so why not use their preference in this area to make it easier to communicate with colleagues across the organization?

We have been here before. A few years ago there was a drive to become ‘social’. Not to be confused with being generous to your local community, social business was about breaking down silos within an organization, sharing knowledge, fostering innovation and improving engagement with employees as well as with business partners and even customers. A variety of solutions emerged: Jive, Yammer, Clearvale, Podio, Huddle and so on and so on; all leveraging what was happening in the consumer world but bringing the capabilities within the business organization as an ‘Enterprise Social Network’ or ‘ESN’, i.e. what became known as ‘Facebook for business’ or ‘Twitter for business’ (before Facebook themselves started promoting their own application for business!) reflecting this penchant for all things ‘social’.

However, whilst there have been some companies that have successfully adopted these ESN solutions, for a large majority it was a step too far as users failed to embrace the activities required. Many saw it as another communication channel alongside email that needed to be checked and responded to or just used it for real social activities with work colleagues: organizing the five-a-side league; lunchtime jogging sessions; after work get-togethers and so on. That is, idle chit-chat and nothing really to do with knowledge sharing or collaboration on work initiatives; and, of course, many simply reverted to email as their communication tool of choice despite email’s shortcomings for effective business collaboration.

Today, with the likes of ‘WeChat’ and ‘WhatsApp’ being extremely popular as an alternative communication channel, organizations are now looking to embrace this type of application for an ‘Enterprise Chat’ solution to go alongside the use of personal phones and tablet devices for business use; what is known as ‘BYOD’ (bring your own device).  But this trend potentially could end up in the same place as their ESN solution. Just being yet another channel on top of email and that needs to be checked. So, rather than replacing email these ‘Enterprise Chat’ solutions simply add to the current communication overload and fragmented discussions prevalent within organizations. They may be useful for small teams on specific short-term projects, or even for customer service teams to engage with customers via a channel the customer has a preference for, but, at the end of the day they are not really doing anything to foster effective business collaboration and engagement or to drive productivity improvements across an organization.

Enterprise Chat might be something that organizations think they want to improve business communication and collaboration, especially as many employees are using their own mobile devices anyway, but is it really what they need, especially if the anticipated productivity improvements are not likely to be forthcoming.  Why add yet another communication channel when what is really needed is something that is in tune with the way people work today whether they are in an office, working from home or travelling on a regular basis; on a desktop or on a mobile device, that actually reduces the communication overload and facilitates the effective collaboration and engagement necessary to drive knowledge sharing and improve business performance. Chat is only one part of business communication so focusing on this aspect only might not be the best move in the path to true collaboration and engagement in a mobile-centric business world.

To paraphrase William Shakespeare again: “Alas, poor (insert Enterprise Chat solution of choice)! I knew him, Horatio: a solution of infinite jest, of most excellent fancy …”

Want more on this subject? Read 6 Reasons Why You Need Mobile Collaboration in Business and 6 Business Communication Trends.

HR Performance Event 2012 – BroadVision Seminar Sessions

Enterprise social network solutions, as well as changes in employee expectations regarding communication and collaboration at work, are placing additional challenges on HR Departments as the guardians of organisational culture. Both the desire for and the nature of these social business solutions is here to stay. HR need to navigate their way through the various interests in an organisation to manage both the bottom up ‘viral’ adoption that we have seen from various discussion platforms in recent years as well as the strategic initiatives for employee engagement. The key thing is that your organization’s culture and challenges are unique; blanket approaches such as: ‘Let’s get everyone on xxxxxx’, may not really solve your specific business problems or facilitate the transformation required.

The business benefits of social collaboration are real; unlocking knowledge; driving innovation; faster and more informed decision-making; and improved productivity. However, many social business projects fail to gain wide adoption, either through underuse and a perceived lack of real benefits; or through overuse and a perceived lack of productivity. Ultimately, whether the perception is positive or negative will tie closely to the quality of the interactions between employees and other participants, e.g., the value of the content they contribute. HR has a significant role to play both in the choice of an enterprise social network solution and in setting out a plan for adoption.

BroadVision is proud to be sponsoring the ‘HR Innovation and Technology’ Arena at the HR Performance 2012 event November 21st and 22nd at ExCel  in London where we will be presenting two key sessions on driving value out of your investment in an Enterprise Social Network.

The first session on Wednesday November 21st (10:15) will examine the way employees’ online behaviour may differ to real-life behaviour. This presents both opportunities and challenges in developing employee engagement strategies to unlock the knowledge of all participants in your enterprise social network.

The second session on Thursday November 22nd (14:15) will look at how to get the best out of your enterprise social network solution. Your social collaboration platform must be more than an additional discussion channel. To be truly effective your solution needs to be a place where real work gets done. To achieve that, the network needs to be the host of real business processes, whether they are new processes or existing processes migrated into the social network from elsewhere. Simply taking an existing business process and hosting it in a social network fails to take advantage of the inherent benefits of a social environment. This session will examine what is a “social business process”, and how does it differ from what we have seen before.

For HR, the opportunity to help drive superior business performance by designing and implementing strategies to increase and reward effective collaboration has never been more apparent. If you believe your organization can achieve significant competitive advantage by more effective internal communication, collaboration, and teamwork, then you as an HR practitioner will definitely benefit from both these sessions. To book please see the HR Performance 2012 event seminar sessions.

Event 2.0 – Digital London 2012

It’s all happening in London in 2012. Not only is London hosting the Olympic Games (July) and the Paralympic Games (August), but the Queen celebrates her Diamond jubilee (June) as well! And kicking it all off is Digital London, one of the year’s most significant events to be hosted at ExCel, the international exhibition and convention centre, in Docklands on March 13th – 14th.

This 2-day conference and supporting exhibition aims to establish London as the Digital capital of Europe, putting London’s tech City ‘on the map’ as well as helping to develop the local and national economy. The Mayor of London, Boris Johnson, has actively championed the event and he will open the conference with a keynote presentation on 13th March.

“Digital London is a fantastic showcase for the city,” said Johnson. “London’s position as a centre for technology, innovation and creativity underpins its growing position as the digital capital of Europe.”

BroadVision is one of the 5 founding sponsors and has been working closely with their partner and Digital London event organisers, Maven Cast, to deliver a new approach to event engagement through BroadVision’s enterprise social network solution, Clearvale. Clearvale has been configured and branded as Maven Connect to connect delegates, speakers, exhibitors, and sponsors associated with Digital London in a single collaborative platform. Maven Cast are the pioneers of hybrid events and Digital London is no exception; the event is designed to mix the immediacy and intimacy of a live conference and exhibition with the versatility and broad reach of digital.

The event brings together industry innovators, entrepreneurs, solution providers, business leaders, and executives to discuss digital innovations & enabling technologies, and to explore opportunities in the digital economy.  The conference has 4 key themes: digital solutions, content and services; innovation, creativity and technology; digital cities and smart infrastructure; investment, skills and resources. It has been developed with everyone from solution buyers in business, public and consumer sectors to CTOs at technology companies and service providers in mind. Sessions will showcase the latest innovations and advances, and consider how the latest digital devices, solutions and services are being harnessed to sustain and vitalise private enterprise and the public sector.

Adam Malik, founder and CEO, Maven Cast, said:  “We will be inviting visionaries, policy makers and technology leaders from around the world to share their experiences on delivering digital services for both public and private sectors and creating an environment for innovation. At Digital London, event delegates will benefit from increased value by having a single platform of engagement prior to, during, and after the event so relationships can build and continue post event.”

Maven Connect has been designed to foster engagement not only for Digital London but also for other future events. It will provide a forum for discussion and guidance to compliment event topics, and deliver a legacy after each event to unite all parties: continuing conversations, collaboration activities and helping to shape future agendas, providing added value for everybody involved in Digital London and beyond.

Showing the Money

All the analysts seem to agree, socialising across the enterprise will deliver benefits. But how do you translate these soft benefits into real ROI?

Having spent the past few months introducing HR Directors and Internal Communication Managers to Clearvale and the topic of Social Intranets, there is a clear theme emerging: Employee Engagement. Existing intranets/portals are too static to engage an employee, content is in the hands of ‘the few’, and user generated content is frowned upon. Email is point-to-point even if you are on the cc list.

There have been many studies by academics in the HR world to illustrate that employee engagement is associated with high levels of performance and reduced intent to leave. It is therefore legitimate from a corporate perspective to focus on and to prioritise improving levels of employee engagement. A ‘people-centric’ strategy will deliver sustainable competitive advantage; so where’s the return?

We often quote the Towers Perrin (now Towers Watson) ISR Employee Engagement Report whose studies over a 12-month period showed that those companies with high employee engagement scores demonstrated a 13.7% improvement in net income growth whilst those with low engagement saw net income decline by 3.8%. These metrics are still valid. Towers Watson also points out that those companies with a highly engaged workforce improved operating income by 19.2% over a 12-month period, whilst those companies with low engagement scores saw operating income decline by 32.7% over the same period. This is a significant differential.

Gallup, that well-known survey group, cited in Melcrum’s report on Employee Engagement found that engagement levels can be predictors of sickness absence with more highly engaged employees taking an average of 2.7 days per year, compared with disengaged employees taking an average of 6.2 days per year. The UK CBI reported recently that sickness absence costs the UK economy more than £13 billion a year!

On the issue of retention, the UK Corporate Leadership Council highlighted that engaged employees are 87% less likely to leave an organisation than the disengaged. The cost of high turnover among disengaged employees is significant some estimates put the cost of replacing each employee at equal to annual salary and those with considerable length of service with retained knowledge and IP, at considerably more.

The analysts and academics agree: give employees a voice; develop a sustainable open organisation and culture of trust; develop a communications strategy leveraging Web 2.0 technologies with regular evaluation on the use and effectiveness of these technologies. Engaged employees take fewer sick days, they are less likely to leave, and engaged employees are much better advocates of their own companies. The latest blog on people management continues to promote the theme that employee engagement is good for the bottom line

Employee Engagement: What makes the difference?

“Employees are an organisation’s greatest asset”, or so we keep getting told, and you’ll probably find it written in some shape or form in the ‘Corporate Responsibility’, ‘Corporate Values’ or ‘Our Employees’ section of most organisation’s websites . . . but why is it that many organisations still fail to fully engage their employees and leverage that ‘asset’. Is it because organisations are still in a process-centric mindset and focused on their key business processes, like ‘order-to-cash’, that drive an organisation to achieve its objectives and deliver shareholder value? Employees know their role and know what is expected of them, which is all well and good, but are they truly engaged and invested in the organisation?

Achieving engagement in the workplace is challenging and there are many studies and treatise and blogs and forums on ‘employee engagement’ to guide organisations as to the most effective approach to realise it, but no-one seems to have found the panacea as there are still many studies and treatise and blogs and forums on the topic! Obviously if it was that easy we would all be doing it; perhaps it is not as straightforward as we think. The 2010 Towers Watson Global Workforce Study reports that only one-fifth of employees are truly engaged in their work, i.e. they are fully engaged and would “go the extra mile” for their employer. The rest ranged from the disengaged (38%) to the indifferent (41%). Clearly this is an issue that needs to be addressed.

According to Management consultant and author Cindy Ventrice, for an employee, engagement comes down to feeling valued in the workplace, that their thoughts and opinions matter, and that there is opportunity for learning and advancement. Clear communication, personal development, respect and recognition from managers and peers alike are all important factors.

A recent Canadian study on employee engagement endorsed this view. When asked what organisation leaders could do more of to improve engagement, the respondents identified the following:

  • Listen to employees’ opinions (71%)
  • Communicate clear expectations (68%)
  • Give recognition and praise (58%)
  • Provide learning and development opportunities (57%)
  • Help find solutions to problems (39%)

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“To keep staff engaged, organizations need to give them the opportunity to use their skills, to be creative and, most of all, to be listened to.” Mark Fitzsimmons, president of Psychometrics Canada, March 2011.

This study also emphasised that it is the work environment and processes that drive engagement, and therefore employee engagement can only really be affected by the people with influence over these element: an organisation’s leaders. Good working relationship with management and an organisation’s leaders are vital to success but this may not be as effective in a process-centric organisation; what is needed to facilitate true employee engagement is a clear people-centric approach.

A people-centric approach will give employees greater control over their work and provide them with a better opportunity to share knowledge and ideas, driving innovation. ‘Management’ should be seen to be recognising their employees’ accomplishments and providing clear communication on the organisation’s strategy. Encouraging greater communication and transparency builds trust between employees and managers. In a people-centric world employees can contribute ideas without fear of being ‘wrong’ making them feel valued and part of something.

So, don’t be afraid, embrace the social nature of your business and initiate your people-centric strategy. Get your employees excited and making meaningful contributions. This will have a positive impact on your business and deliver real, measurable results . . . but that is a topic for another day.