User Engagement – What does this mean to you?

User Engagement sign

The term “User Engagement” has been bandied around the IT industry for decades now. To my knowledge the only other industry that refers to its customers as “Users” is the illegal drug industry. There are some similarities. The users are demanding, can’t get enough of what they want, pay too much and inevitably end up disappointed. Jokes aside however, when it comes to systems designed to facilitate collaboration, like Enterprise Social Networking (ESN) software, it leads to confusion as to what “user engagement” really means. IT heritage thinking would have it mean “how the user engages with the IT system”. Its all about how users enter something into a system and get something back out in return. So when it comes to measuring and monitoring how successful an IT system is, it invariably comes down to usage. How much was the system exercised? How available was it? Did the user get out of it what they wanted?
User Engagement Machine

When we talk about collaboration and collaboration systems, our heritage IT thinking kicks in and we want to measure how many people are using the system as the key measure of success. So we start to measure User Engagement in terms of system utilization. But what about how users engage with each other? Isn’t that what collaboration is all about? Isn’t that the real ultimate measure of user engagement? It’s not that system utilization is irrelevant, its not. But if the focus is on the system utilization we could lose sight of what the real objective is. Think of it like a dating site that measures its success by how many people they sign up or how many profile searches are made, rather than measuring themselves through the true measure of successful matches. It’s unlikely that such a site would have a very long life.

User Engagement PeopleAt SWOOP we focus on relationship centered metrics. We believe that user engagement should be about how people engage with other people in collaborative activities. As part of our ESN comparative analytics framework, we include the following “User Engagement” measures:




Mean 2-Way connections

A two-way connection exists when an activity is reciprocated e.g. You ‘liked’ my post and I ‘replied’ to your post, or similar.

Looks to mimic reciprocity. The higher the score, the more ‘engaged’ users are with each other. Reciprocity is a foundation element of trust, which underpins effective collaboration.

Post/Reply Ratio

Total number of posts divided by total number of replies.

Seen as ‘pump priming’ for the network. A value > 1 may be required to launch a network but should settle below 1 once traction is achieved. See our persona post {Ref}


% of Likes and Mentions.

A ‘Like’ or a ‘Mention’ is a form of recognition, something that should be encouraged in a social system. Recognition promotes user engagement.


% Notifications.

A ‘Notification’ is like a ‘cc’ in an email. Usually it is used to direct attention of the receiver. A common management activity.

Response Rate

% of discussion threads longer than a single post.

In the absence of context, this is the best measure of ‘value’ generated. A high response rate shows that people are benefiting in some way from participation.


% of messages that are public messages, is posted in a group (public or private) or to all.

(Private messages are those that are sent directly between users using the ‘Send message’ feature. It is the same as email).

The objective of an enterprise social network is to promote transparency. Measuring the split between public and private message tells us the extent to which transparency is being achieved. Users are more likely to freely collaborate in open and transparent environments.

We suspect that the above measures might be quite foreign to those used to the traditional systems utilization measures. But just like the dating site, until we start to measure success in human terms, rather than system activity measures, our users will continue to pay too much and still end up disappointed.

Can Online Personas Improve your Collaboration Behaviour?

When we hear the term “Personas” we often associate them with profiles that marketing organisations develop to categorise the buying behaviours of consumers for targeted attention. Personas are therefore strongly linked to behaviours. In the world of Enterprise Social Networking (ESN) we are also very much interested in the collaboration behaviours that have been facilitated by the ESN.

 The idea of developing a way to profile ESN behaviours comes from one of our customers, Liz Green, who is a social media strategist at Telstra, and a leading facilitator of their Yammer installation. We liked the idea and decided to design and incorporate an online persona classification based on some of our core social networking analytics, which we are sharing here.

Here is the framework of Personas that we designed:

Persona Framework The vertical axis partitions those that are active on the platform from those that have minimal interactions. We identify those users who have interacted on the platform less than once every 2 weeks and classify them as “Observers”. For those that have interacted more than once every 2 week, we then break them up according to our Give-Receive balance measure. The give-receive balance was inspired by Adam Grant’s In the Company of Givers and Takers and Sandy Pentland’s The Science of Building Great Teams, where they find that those organisations and individuals that balance their giving and taking/receiving are the strongest performers. Our Give-Receive measure simply balances contributions made e.g. a posts, replies, likes etc. and received e.g. replies received, likes received etc.. We classify those active participants that are able to balance their giving and receiving as “Engagers”. The Engager is our aspirational profile, in that we believe these people are the heart of the network, successfully balancing talking and listening online.

 For those people who are active but lean toward the “Receiver” side, we label “Catalysts”. These are people that are able to attract significant responses (replies, likes, etc) from relatively fewer contributions. You might consider a popular blogger or tweeter as catalysts for change. It is a skill and plays an important role in energising the network and attracting new participants.

For those active participants who fall toward the “Giver” side, it infers that they make far more contributions than they gain reaction for. We further partition them into “Responders” or “Broadcasters”. We use a Posts/Reply ratio measure to partition those that mainly contribute through Replies (Responders), from those that mainly contribute through posts (Broadcasters). Responders provide value through providing visible listening to contributors. They are like the ‘care givers’ in the community. Broadcasters tend to favour posting original content over participating in conversations. While this is not necessarily a bad thing, there is likely to be other channels available for broadcasting, while the ESN should be prioritised for conversation.


 For the community manager we believe that these personas can be used to characterise the overall network at a given point of time. We would envisage targets being set for Engagers (maximise), Observers (minimize), Broadcasters (limit), Catalysts and Responders (encourage). We would also encourage individuals to look at their own persona, and adjust their online behaviour toward the role they feel they are best placed to play and contribute.

 We have now tested our design on several data sets. The detailed results are beyond the scope of this post and will be reported later. It is worth noting though that the overall profile make-up will change with ESN maturity and also the time period selected for assessment. With SWOOP we have already started to enable individuals to monitor these personas in real-time, enabling individuals to make adjustments as they see fit. Likewise for the community manager, it can provide an indication of trends that could be either amplified or dampened as appropriate. For consultants or advisors that assist organisations on their efforts to improve collaboration, the personas will also be a great way to target interventions where it will provide the greatest return.

 So what do you think? Would you or your organisation benefit from online Persona profiling?

Working Out Loud with ESN and ESN Analytics : A Conversation Starter

WOL graphic

This week is Working Out Loud week #Wolweek. In celebration of this important event, this article continues our theme on smashing the productivity sound barrier; in this instance by Working Out Loud (WOL). We have chosen to focus on WOL in the enterprise, facilitated by the Enterprise Social Networking platform (ESN) and ESN analytics. While it could be claimed that the rise of ESN technology provided a key impetus for the acceleration of the WOL movement, ESN analytics support of WOL practice has not been extensively discussed. In this post we are providing some propositions on how particular ESN analytics could support and facilitate WOL and consequential breakthrough productivity performance.

We have framed our propositions around specific key WOL messages provided by John Stepper in his book Working Out Loud, someone who as much as anyone, is responsible for the WOL movement. We have selected key messages verbatim from the book. We then humbly provide some suggestions on how we believe ESN analytics could help individuals effectively WOL. We have no evidence on how effective these initiatives may be. In the spirit of WOL, we are simply putting them out there for comment and improvement suggestions.

We apologise in advance, for the length of this list. Stepper identifies so many important issues, that it was hard for us to leave any out, so we hope you will persevere to the end with us. Perhaps we could develop a virtual WOL circle for those interested in WOL analytics?

So here it is….

1. “Working in an open and generous, connected way helps you tap into your innate psychological needs. A richer, more diverse network gives you access to more opportunities”

 So how do we find out how diverse our networks are? Is my network more or less diverse than my peers? What measures can I use to find out how diverse my network is? There are proven measures of diversity that can be employed to assist with this task. Might we be able to use those?
2. “ There are 5 key elements for WOL: Purposeful Discovery, Relationships, Generosity, Visible Work, a Growth Mindset”

Can we track and measure any of these elements in a way that we could monitor self-improvement? Perhaps “Visible Work” is the simplest if we can track ESN postings made. “Relationships” could also be measured, both in number and intensity/quality? Generosity could perhaps include all ESN contribution, posts, likes, replies, notification and mentions made. How about Purposeful Discovery and a Growth Mindset? Any ideas?

3.    “Purposeful discovery is a form of goal-oriented exploration, to guide your decision making and lead to better possibilities. It is equivalent to lean startup….your initial goal orients your activities. As you get feedback and learn, you adapt your goal accordingly”

We could monitor replies you get from your postings. You might then identify how often your goals have been adapted, based on some specific feedback. But what if you have got little feedback online to work with?

4.    “Your network, if developed properly, gives access to knowledge, expertise, and influence. Ideally your network includes clusters of strong ties with people who trust you so you can exchange valuable information, as well as weak ties with people who are different from you, who have information and contacts that you and your strong ties don’t have.”

Bridging and bonding ties are the core analytic principles from social network analysis (SNA), so there is a vast science available to exploit to help us with the above. Using ESN logs it is possible to identify the mix of online strong and weak ties one has:

Annotated Screen Shot Network mapCould you see yourself using information like this to help build your network?

5.    “Self-interest and other-interest are completely independent motivations: you can have both of them at the same time.”

Much has been written about your “Give-Receive” balance and in fact how important it is to be balanced. Adam Grant in his best selling book Give and Take: A Revolutionary Approach to Success identifies how givers, receivers and matchers can best manage these complementary roles. Sandy Pentland’s research on what makes great teams, goes further, to emphasise the importance of short, sharp give and receive interactions.

We think that a personal give-receive measure identified by your posting/replying etc. behaviour would be a valuable contribution to this aspect of WOL. You could simply review your recent ESN activities and count posts, likes, mentions etc. made and received. Is this something you would be comfortable doing?

 6.    “The interesting part isn’t the technology, but the benefits people experience from using the technology….you don’t have to be online, but your online presence extends your reach, multiplying your possibilities.”

It goes without saying that to benefit from analytics you do have to work out loud, online, as much as possible. But clearly there will be challenges with this. Do you think the benefits will outweigh the personal costs of going online?

7.    “Focus on getting better, instead of being good…emphasizing improvement instead of performance can make a significant difference in effectiveness and confidence. To help you avoid the resistance to change, frame the entire process as a learning goal. Focus on getting better, rather than being good.”

Systematic improvement methods have been with us for decades. While there are many improvement themes, from Total Quality Control, Lean Manufacturing, Six Sigma, Business Process Management, the common factor is performance measurement. This makes ESN analytics central to any improvement initiative. The Stepper WOL book provides many excellent examples of manual and semi-automated ways of tracking performance. Would online analytics that can make this task easier help you sustain your focus on this improvement process?

8.    “Who can help you with that goal? Start by thinking of people who are already doing something related to your goal…”

Inside the enterprise these people could be framed as fellow “stakeholders” in your goal. Some may already be in your network. Others you will need to recruit. Once you have identified your ‘hit list’, you could start to selectively reach out via the ESN. Some stakeholders will have complementary goals to yourself. ESN analytics could then be used to monitor your hopefully growing stakeholder relationships, over time. Is this something you could practically see yourself doing?

9.    “Dale Carnegie principle “Give honest and sincere appreciation”. A small gesture of appreciation is to recognize the other person’s work online….”

A ‘Reply’, a ‘Like’, a ‘Mention’ provided are all signals of appreciation from you. Why not total them up and monitor them as your personal ‘recognition given’ index, over time. Of course, it also works in reverse, for recognition received. It seems quite a trivial thing to do when one considers the level of appreciation it can engender. Who doesn’t like getting likes! Do you agree?

10.    “You want to develop the habit of regularly reviewing your relationship list asking, “What do I have to offer that can further develop the relationship? You also want to review your contribution list and, for each item, ask, “For whom might this be a contribution”. By repeatedly working your lists, thinking in terms of relationships and contributions will come more naturally over time.”

This sounds like a customer relationship management (CRM) system, where experience tells us that the data recording part is the most onerous. This is where ESN relationship interaction capture can reduce the workload and provide you with more opportunity to assess the analytics that might identify how well your network interactions are aligning, or not, with your current relationship focus list. How do you feel about this? Over the top? Or a necessary means to an end?

11. “Keep track of a few things for each person – your last contribution, the date of the contribution, and the date for the next one – can turn your relationship-building efforts from ad hoc to systematic”

Like with the previous point 10, manual tracking can prove too onerous for many people to sustain. ESN analytics already tracks much of this data, which can then be selectively reported for your convenience. But again, as for the last point, would you be comfortable doing this? Let us know why or why not?

12. “How your contribution will be received depends on how well you know the person and how you present the gift… even asking for help can be framed as a contribution.”

By using ESN analytics to identify and list your strong and weak/non-existent ties, you may be able to tailor your messages appropriately. But would you trust the identification of your strong and weak ties to an analytics system? Do you have any better ideas to achieve this?

13. “By the law of the few, some people in your relationship list have much more influence than others. Putting extra effort to identify and develop relationships with them will produce outsized results.”

A core value achieved from SNA is the identification of the influencers in a network. Using ESN data and SNA is likely to provide stronger evidence of who the real influencers in your network are, than simply solely relying on your intuition. We know that SNA is good at this identification of influencers, but it can never be 100%. Would the provision of a ‘prospective’ list be of value though?

14. “To deepen relationships…go beyond liking and commenting on other people’s work to creating your own original contributions”

In our work on ‘Personas’, we identify four common behaviours: Observers (minimal activity); Commentators (a preference for responding); Catalysts (an ability to attract many responses from their posts) and Engagers (those that can balance catalysing and commentating). This point is about learning how to be a catalyst i.e. posts that can engage an audience. ESN analytics can monitor your ESN interaction behaviours. There are many of you out there who are excellent catalysts and can write extremely engaging posts. Any tips for those catalyst aspirants?

15. “Enabling and encouraging an audience to be part of your work helps amplify it.”

This is a reinforcement of the previous point 14 on “how to be good catalyst”. Writing an engaging post or reply, that gains a significant response, is about how it is written, as well as the audience it is directed at. Writing something for your strong ties (once you have identified them), is likely to result in a good response. ESN analytics might help not only identify your potentially most receptive audience, but also report on the response, both in volume and timing. Is this something you would find valuable?

16. When you’re a linchpin, your purpose is no longer about what you might accomplish, but what you and your network could accomplish together.

In point 13 we noted how influencers might be identified in your network. Once you have achieved ‘linchpin’ status you will indeed be identified through your ESN interaction patterns, as an influencer. You will most likely now show ‘Engager’ type behaviour in your larger than average network. ESN analytics can help you measure and monitor your journey to linchpin status. For early ESN implementations, we regularly see the ESN community managers as linchpins. We sense though that while a community manager might feel good about being acknowledged as an ESN linchpin, their heart is in creating many more linchpins across the organisation. Are we right in thinking this?

What tomorrow looks like: WOL and Analytics together

Let’s now try and visualise what the enterprise might look like should all these propositions prove true. Would the enterprise be able to achieve “breakthrough” productivity improvements through ESN and ESN analytics deployment?

In this scenario we would see:

  • All staff at all levels using WOL practices, both online and offline.
  • The ESN has replaced email as the ubiquitous communication channel of choice.
  • Through WOL at all levels, enterprise goals are evolved through active participation through the ESN.
  • Cascading of organisational goals is no longer required as all staff have had the opportunity to participate in their setting in the first place. They have also aligned their own personal goals with input from others in their network.
  • Adapting to changes in environmental conditions no longer requires extensive organisational change management programs.
  • WOL allows all staff to be appraised of both enterprise and the personal goals of their colleagues, in real time.
  • Working with their strong-tie network, teams can now execute on team activities without the need for continual review and approval processes. At the same time, all staff will now and have access to their weak tie network, the prime source of innovation and new value creation for the Enterprise.
  • Online ESN analytics becomes the predictive data platform, which the organisation relies on, to achieve the agility and adaptability required to thrive in challenging marketplaces.
  • While staff are well connected internally, their networking performance is not constrained by Enterprise boundaries.
  • Market intelligence is no longer only the purview or the marketing department, but something that is potentially accessible by all staff, as it happens.

Would a world like this be able to smash the productivity “sound barrier”? We think so.

In the spirit of WOL and WOLWeek, we are keen to facilitate a virtual WOL circle on ESN and ESN analytics for WOL. With our SWOOP social network analytics platform in mind we want to create a product that is totally in synch with WOL principles and practices. At the same time, we anticipate that participants in this WOL circle will have their own goals for joining up, that are not related to buying a new tool or analytics product. For us the key value for joining a WOL circle like this is to work toward a common vision we all have for WOL and to have fun breaking through that productivity sound barrier together, both for yourself and your respective enterprises.

Are you up up for it? Then reply here….


5 Ways to Blast through the Productivity “Sound Barrier”: Trading Pipes for Platforms


We are in an age where the vast majority of large organisations in developed economies are struggling to find ways to seriously boost productivity. The recent OECD report on the future of productivity identifies the growing gap between those super-productive organisations and the rest. They highlight ICT playing a key role in the future of productivity. The now ubiquitous “digital disruption” phrase, in the USA in particular, is providing real-life examples of the productivity boom enjoyed by successful digital platform businesses. Businesses like Ebay, Amazon, AirBnB, Uber, Facebook, Linkedin and the like have already blasted through the productivity “sound barrier” with their relatively small staff and high impact business models.  But what about those established large businesses that are often the target of these upstart platform providers? How can they match these productivity behemoths in the marketplace?

Through our organisational network analysis work we have taken hundreds of organisational x-rays of traditional organisations over the past decade or more. Many of these firms are looking to collaboration for a step change productivity boost. Organisational network analysis identifies how work is really happening, under the cloak of the formal organisation chart, by surfacing the real people to people dependencies. Importantly it identifies the true internal influencers, many of whom are invisible to formal line management. The over-riding theme that we see is the predominance of productivity silos. In essence the formal business units are collaborating intensely within their own walls, but with precious little connectivity between them. In most cases the productivity of one business unit can be totally undermined by the productivity aims of another. Regularly firm KPIs will even encourage internal competition. Its not surprising that the OECD has found that for the majority of organisations, productivity growth is stagnating. We found that when organisations leveraged their identified internal influencers, at all levels, good stuff happens, and happens fast.

Lets reflect a little on how we got here in the first place. Before the “age of the platform” the big productivity toolsets were engineering toolsets. Total Quality Management, Six Sigma, Lean Manufacturing, Business Process Management were designed to bring well-engineered systematic methods to productivity enhancement. As useful as they have been, we are now in marginal returns territory. No productivity sound barrier will even be approached by pushing these familiar themes. Where we are seeing sound barrier breaking productivity is in the world of “platforms” that facilitate human initiative to connect and produce.

Here is the crux of the problem: Compliance versus Initiative. Sangeet Paul Choudary elegantly describes this as “Pipes vs Platforms”. Traditional firms work as pipes, trying to push as much through the pipe to the customer, as cheaply as possible. This requires people to essentially “comply” with codified business processes to achieve this. Boosting productivity in the pipe means more rules and bigger, more expensive pipes. But here is the rub. The rules rarely work in all situations. The pipes regularly leak. Increasing and costly overheads are required to manage these leaks, But it’s a losing battle. So what we get is flip flopping between departments in the service centre; off spec products sitting in the warehouse with nowhere to go; continuous delays waiting for the only person who knows what to do to come back off leave; falling through the cracks is now more like toppling into the crevice.

But it doesn’t have to be like this. How is it that Buutzorg, the Dutch neighborhood nursing organisation can grow to a very profitable market dominating 7,000+ employees in 7 years, with no “pipe” style business process management in place? Indeed how have all of the successful platform companies like Uber, AirBnB, Ebay, Amazon achieved their success with scant regard for the “accepted” productivity tools mentioned? The key is that they have leveraged human initiative. They have established platforms on which individuals can leverage their own collective initiative to succeed in the work they want to do. Its not a world without rules though. The rules however are designed not for compliance to a pre-determined process, but for sustaining productive interactions in a busy digital marketplace.

But what about you; stuck in an old world bureaucratic organisation, being weighed down by increasingly onerous compliance regimes and time-wasting overheads to your main work? Should you just leave for greener pastures? One school of thought suggests that “too big to let fail” is exactly the wrong thing for governments to support; as these organisations will never be able to change sufficiently to meet the required productivity levels. But pragmatically, if 90% of the world’s firms sit in this space we need to find another way to break through that sound barrier.

Here are my recommendations for both organisations and individuals who feel trapped in that productivity wasteland:

  1. For business processes requiring human judgment, change the management style from pipe to platform i.e. remove the process rules and let people self manage.
  2. If a process can be automated with 0% chance of failure, automate aggressively.
  3. As an individual, work to be a linchpin. This does not mean to become a bottleneck, in fact the exact opposite. Be seen as the “go to” person that can get things done. Ask for forgiveness rather than permission. Once you have achieved this status, help as many others around you to do the same.
  4. Find the linchpins in your organisations and leverage them ahead of any formal processes.
  5. Finally, value relationships over processes. In the longer run breakthrough, sustainable productivity is a human centered trait.

See you on the other side of that sound barrier!

Why 90% of Organisations would NOT Survive a Digital Disruption

Really? 90%? Well let me qualify that and say that that 90% includes those organisations that also try to take advantage of a digital disruption opportunity and are not successful. Nevertheless it’s still a big number, so here is how we are justifying it. We provide some compelling  ‘reality data mining’ analysis to support our case.

Surviving a Digital Disruption will require a major change in the way organisations currently work

Not as controversial? Well let’s look at how Organisational Change guru and Harvard Professor John Kotter sees it in his recent book XLR8. He bemoans the fact that some 70% of major organisational change initiatives fail (so that is 70% already right?). Kotter introduces the concept of the ‘Dual Operating System’ where he places the informal Organisational Network right up there side by side with the formal Hierarchy and Business Processes:

Kotter’s claim is that to successfully achieve an organisational transformation we must now appreciate the power of the informal network to resist change, and therefore, it is appropriate to acknowledge the important role it plays in transformational change. In fact it should not be a competition, but a confluence of the formal and informal, if successful transformation is to be achieved.

Now just a ‘little bit’ of science

Those of you who have been following our activities at Optimice will know that we are passionately focused on relationships and the networks that they form; in essence the ‘network’ side of Kotter’s dual operating system. However, we also pay homage to the formal structures by identifying, through our analytics, how networks transcend the formal hierarchy. In fact this is where our clients get the majority of their value from our work. Hence, as you can imagine, Kotter bringing the dual operating system to the attention of the business community was music to our ears.

Recently we studied the interaction habits of a mid-sized specialist consulting firm with over 700 staff spread between offices in each of the major Australian cities and several others throughout Asia and the UK. As well as surveying them to identify the people that they had met face to face with over the preceding month, we also analysed the connection patterns contained within their Email (Outlook), instant messaging (Lync) and Social networking (Yammer), and their timesheet records on client project tasks that they shared with each other. We were therefore able to build a very rich picture of how this organisation collaborates over both business/geographic, as well as core discipline lines. Below are the summarized results for all relationship channels for cross- Location (business unit in this case as well) and Discipline:

The bars show how many relationships between colleagues the various channels have created. The lines show the proportion of these relationships that are formed between people from across Location/BU and Discipline.

The bars show that e-mail is still by far the most dominant digital channel that connects the highest number of people. However, when we look at each channel for the % of staff that are connecting with a colleague outside their own home business unit/location (red line), there is a clear trend. As one would expect, the physical face to face is heavily influenced by location, as this organisation’s lines of business match their geographic location, so only about 5% of face to face interactions happened with staff outside that location/business unit during the month. About 16% of staff recorded time against a task belonging to another business unit. For Email and Lync the number grows to around 32%, but close to 70% for Yammer.

When we look at the cross discipline interactions we can see the percentages for outside the core discipline are higher, but Yammer is still the highest at 65%. Email is close to this, probably reflecting the cross discipline nature of the projects being undertaken. Note that Enterprise Social Networking is often used to help organisations deepen their connections across disciplines, through establishing discipline specific groups. In this case perhaps the Yammer diversity across disciplines may not be a good thing, if strengthening disciplines is an objective.

So what is going on here? Our assessment in the context of Kotter’s dual operating system, is that only one of these channels is supporting the ‘Networking’ side and that is Yammer. It is also the least used channel currently. For Email and Lync, we believe they are mostly reinforcing the formal interactions represented on the formal Hierarchy/Process side.

We then decided to explore the overlap between the different channels e.g. for say the Email channel how many of the staff connected by Email are also connected by Yammer; or how many of the staff who have indicated a face to face connection are also connecting via Lync of Email? To be able to achieve a fair comparison we decided to use a common minimum set of participants for the digital channels. In this case that set was the 171 staff interacting in Yammer (the smallest network), during the selected period. The chart below show the raw number of overlapping relationships for the different channels. We use a network correlation technique to remove the effects of the different sizes of the networks. Coloring is used to provide a “heat map” effect: 

We can see that Email is the dominant communication channel by far, which created 4,250 relationships. Intersections with the Email network will therefore be far greater. One can clearly see that the Yammer connections are differentiated from the other channels by its lower correlations.

We can also see that the higher correlations between Face-to-Face, Email, Lync and Timesheet suggest that these channels are reinforcing each other. Timesheet data represents customer facing projects, so clearly this is formal, business transactional. This is reinforced by Face-to-Face, Email and Lync; strengthening the ‘formal’ Hierarchy side of the business. We were able to confirm Thomas Allen’s surprising results, where he found that the drop off in communications with physical distance is also mimicked in the same predictable way in electronic communications. Using a subset of some 80 staff co-located on a single floor, we were able to assess how close the different communication channels followed the Allen Curve.

Incredibly some 53% of email interactions with co-located staff were to people sitting within 6 metres of each other. For that same 6 meter separation, nominated face-to-face contacts were a comparable 56%. The Allen curve was less evident with Lync (31% to those within 6 metres) and not evident at all with the Yammer data.

So what does this mean for the Business and Digital Disruption?

We have a framework we use to identify performance in a networked organisation. Essentially we look at two dimensions; Depth (cohesion) and Breadth (diversity). Ideally for maximum performance we expect an equal balance between the two. Kotter has a similar framework with equivalent axes that he labels “Ability to Innovate” (Our Diversity dimension) and “Ability to Execute” (Our Cohesion dimension).

In general we can accept that for radical innovation, e.g. a response to a digital disruption, we need diversity. To get things done efficiently, we need cohesive networks, where we know what each other is doing in some detail.

The challenging quadrant on the top right is where we try to balance diversity and cohesion. But here is where we get maximum performance. This is where there is a sufficient critical mass of diverse thought to combat the ‘group think’ around ‘Business As Usual’ (BAU) operations alone. This balance is what we need to exploit digital disruptions, as opposed to being run over by them.

This is a significant challenge for most organisations. As our study identifies, most organisations will have the majority of their attention on BAU tasks. This is actually reinforced by the digital channels of email and instant messaging and likely file share systems like Sharepoint as well. In addition to the channels analysed, the vast majority of business analytics provided by ERP providers are about “activities” related BAU, and not the relationships that distinguish the network.

We can plot our 5 communication channels on our performance matrix:

 This chart plots each channel’s Diversity as %External (to location/business unit) against the Cohesion or Density of each network (number of connections as a % of all possible connections). The relative size of the bubble indicates the number of connections.

Currently Email, through its sheer volume, is the channel providing most connectivity, but mostly within the formal lines of business. We can see that Yammer stands alone in terms of diversity, but is still very immature and lacking a density of connections, as well as actual numbers of participants.

From Lync, Timesheets and Face-to-Face, using the equivalent Kotter chart, we could say that Yammer provides a ‘high ability to innovate’ channel, but at this stage, little ability to execute on this potential.

In other words, at this point in time, for this case, any ideas emerging from the Yammer channel is likely to be swamped by the BAU channels. So the balance is clearly in favour of the formal Hierarchy/Process side. A 90% bias is probably conservative when we take all evidence into account. Yet unless an organisation’s Network/ Hierarchy imbalance is effectively addressed they will not survive a digital disruption.

 So what can be done to redress the imbalance?

The good news is that there are a lot of resources and support out there for helping organisations work more ‘as a network’. Frederic Laloux’s recent book on “Reinventing Organisations” provides an in depth coverage of structures, practices and philosophies for working holistically as a network, covering everyday issues like how decisions are made, how budgets are set, even how salaries are decided on. Zappo is a company moving rapidly toward self-organisation. Their CEO recently recommended Laloux’s book as recommended reading for all staff and controversially added that the company would offer a generous severance payout for anyone who was not comfortable working in a holacracy. Holacracy is now a management theme promoting “anti-hierarchy”. While both of these resources provide practical help in establishing a self-organising organisation, for most of us it will be more about achieving a balance between the ‘Network’ and the ‘Hierarchy’, rather than a complete takeover bid.

One of Laloux’s key findings was that each successful case study he reported on had a passionate founder/leader who could ‘protect the space’ of self-organisation. This may be a little beyond reach for many organisations, but what we are seeing in the market place today is clear evidence that leaders of large hierarchical organisations have now conceded the value by allowing the ‘network’ to build within their organisations, if not yet wholly embracing it. The sales of Enterprise Social Networking (ESN) platforms have been accelerating along with the acquisition or development of ESN offerings from the major IT vendors like Microsoft, IBM, Oracle and Salesforce. It is our belief that it’s now up to the individual staff to embrace this opportunity and take the initiative to create a workplace that they can truly engage with. The alternative will be to fall back to hierarchical control and all the negatives that go with this.

Some specific things that you can do to not only survive, but thrive in a digital disruption

There are many things that you as an individual can do to help build your network presence, and therefore your organisation as a whole’s network presence:

  1. Start working out loud. This doesn’t mean you have to blog about everything you are doing. It does mean however that you should aim to make your work more visible and then engage in conversation about ways to make it better. It could be as simple a posting a question on a forum about a challenge you are facing at work, through to posting your own hints and tips on things that may have worked well for you.
  2. Think twice about private messaging. You have seen from our analysis that Email and Instant Messaging (Lync) are Hierarchy reinforcing channels, rather than Network enhancing. It doesn’t have to be that way. Both channels have the facility to message to multiple people; and when done appropriately, does not result in spamming. In my knowledge management days at BHP and Computer Sciences Corp., two of the most successful knowledge sharing systems was simple ‘Request for assistance’ sites set up using simple email lists. Today the ESNs play that role, but if your organisation hasn’t yet acquired an ESN, start using the group features to help you ‘work out loud’.
  3. Use your ESN or lose it. Those organisations that have invested in ESN platforms regularly are challenged with adoption rates and needing to report on value achieved. The non-adopters often quote a ‘lack of time’. As you can see from our analysis, much of that ‘time’ is spent using the digital tools to enhance our BAU tasks. While this may be a good short-term use of your time, one should always be looking out to the future. A digital disruption has the power to make your BAU job redundant in the blink of an eye.
  4. Use your video channel to network. Many of us in our home lives have used Skype to connect with friends and family online and around the world. My own daughter has been living on the other side of the world for nearly a decade, but our weekly Skype calls have contributed substantially to bridging that distance. We don’t set an agenda for our Skype calls. We don’t ask ourselves what we need to achieve on the next call. While we may have a regular but flexible time to call, the time we spend conversing is quite flexible, depending on what we have on at the time. Well guess what? Microsoft now owns Skype, and those ‘free’ calls are most likely coming to an organisation like yours! And no doubt the competition will quickly follow. So why not start to use your video channels to network, rather than to just execute BAU work? Turn it on in your coffee/lunch breaks and share some networking time with your colleagues elsewhere in the world.
  5. Get help if you need it. It may sound strange that we might need help to do what should come naturally, and that is to network. What is hard however is balancing our organisational networking with the demands of the organisational hierarchy. Recall from our performance matrix, that this is where maximum organisational value can be gained. And this is where Social Business Consultants earn their living. This is not the place for a ‘Social Business Consulting” directory but here are a few references to organisations that we have had some reasonable contact with in this space:

 Open Knowledge, Italian headquartered, have developed over many years a ‘Social Business Index’ to assess your readiness for working as a network.

Ripple Effect is an Australian headquartered social business consultancy, former part of the UK Headquartered Headshift.

Post*Shift is UK headquartered and the prior founders of Headshift before its sale to US based Dachis group; who in turn was acquired by Sprinklr. US social business consultancies seem more focused on Social Media, than employee engagement, though eventually the two will meet.

For those that prefer ‘big end’ consultants, most have a social business consulting practice. Perhaps the most notable is Deloitte, who regularly report on social business trends.

We have for a long time seen the value of monitoring social networking connections in real time. With the rise of ESNs we have recently designed an online social network analytics platform called SWOOP , to provide real time feedback on many of the digital collaboration channels mentioned in this post. Our vision is that individuals, line managers, community managers and senior executives will be able to view their performance through the lens of the dual operating system i.e. Hierarchy + Network. In its initial release it works with Microsoft’s Yammer. Feel free to explore, there is something there for all roles and levels in the organisation.

AFR BOSS Magazine: Power and Influence Index

Screen Shot 2015-03-13 at 5.33.58 pmWe’re excited to have been working with the AFR BOSS Magazine on developing the 2015 Power and Influence Index. We have analysed all ASX listed companies (more than 2,000), and ranked all of the 5,000+ non-executive directors drawing on data from Thomson Reuters’ Connect4 database.

The underlying methodology for determining influence is based on social network analysis, which we have used in more than 100 projects across Australia, Europe, North and South America to help our clients improve organisational performance.

Our work around the mapping of networks has previously been covered by the AFR BOSS Magazine, and also in an article we had published in the Harvard Business Review (Italy) and HR Monthly.

You can read more about the problems we solve on our website.

Corporate Communications: Talk or Tell?

“Communication” is a powerful word with a multiplex of meanings. The dictionary throws up definitions like “…a document or message imparting views, information etc…”; “the science or process of conveying information especially by electronic or mechanical means…”; which in the world of corporate communications, its all about crafting and sending the message. But if we look at some other definitions we see a concession that communication can also mean a two-way interaction “… the imparting or interchange of thoughts, opinions or information…”.  Now we often hear from corporate communications and their sponsors of wanting to ‘engage’ with their stakeholders, whether they are external or internal. The complication with this however is the sheer number of stakeholders that have to be ‘engaged’ with.

I recall many years ago, when working for a large corporation, I was asked to attend a ‘focus group’ being conducted by the corporate communications folks. The organisation was going through some significant changes at the time and corporate communications had been enrolled into the whole ‘organisational change management’ effort. As we were ushered in to take our seats in the meeting room one of my fellow attendees asked of the organisers as she was taking her seat: “Is this a Talk or a Tell Session?”.  I was initially amused by the question and I expect the organisers were less so. But there was a serious side to the question. If this was a “Tell Session” then basically we could just sit back and ingest the carefully crafted PowerPoint slides, perhaps ask some clarifying questions, and then quickly go back to our workplaces feeling better informed about what our leaders were looking to do. Corporate Communications could tick the box on another focus group having been ‘communicated to’. On the other hand, if it was a “Talk Session” where we were genuinely being engaged for our opinions, with a realistic expectation that actions might be changed or adapted because of our feedback, then this would be different. Our hearts and minds would be elevated to another level and we would actively look to engage in constructive dialog with our corporate communications brethren, who would then faithfully report the results back to the leadership for review and action. Unfortunately in this case it was the former, rather than the latter.

The above episode was before the age of social media and social networking. There were some practical reasons why the Corporate Communications staff at that time was more about crafting and sending the message with little or no feedback opportunities. Today social technologies are facilitating a real interchange of thoughts and opinions. We have seen corporations seriously damaged by negative feedback from their clients.  We have seen Governments overthrown with the help of social media. As public social networking migrates into the corporate world, with the advent of Enterprise Social Networking systems, all of a sudden the vast numbers of staff that Internal Communications is tasked with ‘communicating with’ now have a voice. For the Internal Communications officer it is no longer simply about publishing. It really is now about engaging in two-way dialogues. In other words its now “Talk, not only Tell”.  As intimidating as this may seem to someone who has mainly dealt with the publishing side of communications; it can also be seen as a real opportunity for Corporate Communications to become the key change agents in organisations.

The opportunity exists for them to become the critical link between senior leadership and both internal and external stakeholders at large. It will however require a significant change in perspective and capabilities; “from Teller to Talker”

Specifically here are some insights/indicators that I think the Corporate Communications folks should take notice of in making this transition:

  1. Social Media and Social Networking are here to stay and will give a substantial voice to the organisation’s stakeholders; so embrace, don’t ignore.TorT growth graph1TorT Growth2

If you are of the view that social media/networking is a passing fad; then this data might influence you otherwise:

  1. Staff ‘Engagement’ cannot rely on ‘Top Down” communication. Our research indicates that staff engage, and are influenced by, a multiplex of peers and leaders, far in excess of their own line manager. The trick is to identify the real influencers at all levels of the organisation; and target them for engagement. The chart below shows an extract of a social network analysis we conducted recently, showing the networks that exist at only the bottom two layers of a financial services organisation. TorT Network MapTypically, staff at this level are the most client facing and therefore should be a clear target for internal communications. The network map shows the peer connections. The larger circles represent people who have been multiply nominated as influential by their peers. The chart on the left shows the 80/20 power law of networks in operation, whereby engaging with the most influential 20% only can potentially reach the remaining 80% through a trusted connection. Hence they are important people for Corporate Communications to target.
  1. Communications professionals need to assess their own personal networks. Are you truly acting as a link between the leadership and staff/clients? Or do you find that the majority of your connections are within your own function? Ideally Corporate Communications professionals should aspire to be the corporate ambassadors, or at least very effective agents.TorT Archetypes
  1. Do your stakeholders see you as an authentic individual, or simply a mouthpiece for the executive?

Its no longer enough to plead “don’t shoot the messenger”. Corporate Communications needs to be viewed as a “conversation leader”, facilitating an authentic interaction between the leadership and their stakeholders.TorT Engage

  1. How balanced are your ‘sends and receives’? Researchstudies have shown that productive conversations (Talk) would see a 50/50 spilt. Whereas “Telling” is 100% Send. Try monitoring your own conversations. What proportion of the time are you “telling” versus “listening”.TorT conversation

So what’s it to be ….Talker or Teller?

Communicating Diagonally: New Value Pathways via Enterprise Social Networking?

Diagonal communication

One of the keystone value claims for implementing an Enterprise Social Networking (ESN) platform like Yammer, Jive or IBM Connect is facilitating horizontal communication paths across the enterprise. Traditional organisational hierarchies have proven to be poorly suited to sharing information and knowledge sideways, as designed communication pathways at the base of the hierarchy would have information move vertically upward before moving across and then downward to its waiting audience. A lot can happen to an intended message as it makes this tortuous path, often resulting in a poor communication result.

But what about “Diagonal Communication”? By this we mean communication paths that connect leaders of business units to non-leaders of other business units and visa versa, as shown by the dashed diagonal pathways below.
Diagonal structure

A natural response would suggest a potential undermining of the leaders’ authority i.e. if I as business leader, were found to be communicating directly with a staff member of another business unit, would this be disrespecting that member’s own business unit leader? Likewise, if as a non-leader, I seek to communicate directly with a leader of another business unit; am I disrespecting my own business unit leader by not involving them in the communication? It is this reticence that no doubt hinders this style of communication in traditional hierarchical organisations; arguably at some cost to the organisation.

Recently we completed an analysis of collaboration patterns with a major financial services company by analysing the usage logs of their ESN (Yammer). The objective was to understand the value being gained to date by applying our social networking analytic measures. Because this was a ‘relationships centred’ analysis, we aimed to go beyond the simple usage traffic measures and only include connections where a true reciprocal interaction had occurred i.e. to be included in our analysis a specific two-way interaction between two individuals had to have occurred to produce a link. As anticipated, the horizontal collaboration paths across internal business units were indeed prominent, but perhaps the bigger surprise was the size of the diagonal communication paths: 

Diag Comms Table

The results indicated that the diagonal linkages were nearly three times the number of the vertical, within business unit, connections. One can only speculate as to why. Perhaps the ESN was seen to give license for this form of informal communication, without the concerns attached to more formal communication. Perhaps it is a response to such  ‘protocol’ constraints by releasing a pent-up demand for communicating diagonally in a more timely fashion; with the knowledge that the formal channels can be enacted should the communication escalate to something significant.

Whatever the reason there is significant value to be gained though opening up diagonal channels of communication. Firstly, the opportunity to accelerate more radical enterprise innovations. Radical innovations typically result from the bringing together of inputs across a diversity of sources, like other business units. Formal channels can kill off an innovation opportunity simply through its bureaucratic nature. Secondly, organisational politics can result in mixed messages as communications move up and down a hierarchy. Diagonal communication can open up a more open and active narrative across the organisation, leading to more informed and responsive decision-making. Last but not least, ESNs, by opening up informal diagonal channels of communication, while potentially not undermining the formal channels; allows organisations to get the best of both worlds: Social + Business.

Book Review: “Networked: The New Social Operating System” – Lee Rainie and Barry Wellman

Holiday breaks are a good time to catch up on your reading and I had put this one aside for just that. I won’t be offering a full chapter-by-chapter review as I’m sure that has been done elsewhere. This is more of a personal reflection. Having spent considerable time researching in field of Social Network Analysis (SNA), Barry Wellman was well known to me. We have never met face-to-face but I had met up with a number of his Netlab colleagues at a couple of INSA Sunbelt conferences. My first recollection of Wellman’s work goes back to some of his early pre-Internet research on electronically facilitated communications and the social network.  Even then there was the fear that such communication technology could lead to de-socialization with less face-to-face contact and a subsequent loss of community.  Wellman argued then that rather than replacing face-to-face socialization, collaborative technologies would actually lead to people meeting up more than they did before and with a broader circle of connections. This counter-intuitive theme continues to run through the book, with Rainie’s Pew Internet research results and Wellman’s networking research providing plenty of factual supporting evidence.

Rainie and Wellman focus on anther apparent contradiction that they refer to as “Networked Individualism”. One of the claims made that did catch my attention is that the authors believe that the networked world has matured to the extent that groups and communities are no longer a prime focus. Individuals will belong to multiple groups and communities of practice; and will therefore share their attention amongst such groups as their individual need or context demands, at any given time.  The focus has therefore moved from the group to the individual. The onus is therefore now on the individual to learn how to navigate their networks for personal benefit, rather than relying on group or community leaders. When I look at my own use of Linkedin groups I would have to agree. Some groups I lurk in just to get a sense of what is important to that community. I can move in and out of such groups as the context demands. Others that I am closer to, I will more actively participate on a regular basis.

The other key theme from the book is what the authors call the triple revolution: Social Network, Internet and Mobile. While the authors go to some pains to say the book is not about technology, it is hard not to see these revolutions as technology driven. I’m not sure that is matters. Having spent most of my career at the leading/bleeding edge of technology, for me there was nothing particularly new or novel that I hadn’t read about before, though Rainie’s Pew Internet Research added some additional colour to the coverage. That’s not to say I didn’t enjoy reading about how these technologies have evolved over the past 20 years or more. Like me, I suspect the authors entered the workforce before e-mail was invented in the 1970s. Reading about how that first email was sent, how hypertext and the first Internet browser was developed and our first mobile phones, which were the size and weight the equivalent of a house brick, made me reflect on just how fortunate one has been to have lived and worked through such an exciting era of technological change. The authors talk about how individuals are now equipped with smart phones which equips them to operate effectively as a networked individual. I can recall on my first day at work of being impressed with having my own telephone on my desk! Of course it could only ring in and out internally (does this sound like some Enterprise Social Networking implementations?).

One area I was particularly looking for was networking ‘at work’. We hear a lot about networking in the ‘friends and family’ space, but enterprise networking provides a whole new suite of challenges. A single chapter is devoted to ‘Networked Work’. Again the historical story telling made it an interesting read. Even if it was not perhaps new to me it will interest those wanting to understand how networking is changing the world of work. The Boeing examples of their networked approach to airplane design provide good and instructive reading. One point that did stand out however is that collaborative technologies have not reduced the need for business travel and face-to-face connections. In fact the opposite has happened; reinforcing the theme identified earlier in that the technology is not replacing the need to connect in person, but is actually facilitating more face-to-face connections. If anything this book is not short of supporting facts and figures.

 Finally the book is full of anecdotes from Wellman’s Gen Y students. In fact some of his students helped co-write some of the chapters. One of the insights I gained from some of the Gen Y voices was how they were using social networking technologies mostly to organize face-to-face meet-ups. These interactions were often short, sharp and multi-modal i.e. text, voice, IM etc.. These examples reinforce Wellman’s long-term theme that the collaborative technologies are not replacing face-to-face communications, but augmenting and expanding it.

I see some common threads here with research by MIT’s Sandy Pentland on high performance teams and Tom Allen’s research on communications and physical separation. Additionally it also provides some comfort for me in explaining some of our initial work in developing a ‘give/receive’ social analytic measure based on Pentland’s work. Pentland found that the most productive teams have balanced short and sharp interactions. As we were developing our metrics we noted that many of these supposedly highly productive conversations were around organising meet-ups. Our initial thoughts were that we shouldn’t really count these; but after having read this book, perhaps the most productive thing that we can do is to organise a meetup!

Choosing a path – topdown vs network

pathWhich path to follow?

A few weeks ago I wrote a post called The Network of Cities and Organisations about Dave Troy’s Peoplemaps initiative. After having spoken about how cities can be viewed as networks and how we can get new insights using this perspective, Troy finishes his TED Talk with these words: “We have the ability to reshape our cities in a new way: Let’s do it.”

My message was the network perspective also provides new insights into how organisations work, and that we should do the same with our organisations. But how do we reshape our organisations? Is there anything we can learn from urban planners who have been analysing cities as networks?

Assistant Professor Zachary Neal of Psychology at Michigan State University (@zpneal) has written extensively about cities as networks and how we can reshape these. When Neal applies the network lense to cities, each element (or node) in the network is a destination, eg. a library, and streets/paths connect these.

 In his book The Connected City[1] Neal refers to three guidelines for optimum city design:

  1. Build connections between nodes that are different but complementary (e.g. neighbourhood to shopping mall is better than shopping mall to shopping mall)
  2. Consider the scale of the network as we don’t want to walk too far (don’t make us drive everywhere)
  3. Streets/sidewalks are expensive to build and maintain. Only construct when they are truly useful (vs. decorative).

Neal then makes this important point:

 “ …cities should be designed in the specific order that makes them liveable: first define the location of the green spaces and pedestrian areas, then design the network of pedestrian paths, and finally arrange the buildings and streets. This has been the process for many older cities, but newer cities are often built in the opposite order, leading to networks that are good for cars, but bad for people.”

Many organisations seem to be designed just like ‘newer cities’. First the business units and reporting lines (‘buildings and streets’) are determined. Then dotted reporting lines (‘pedestrian paths’) are created to increase coordination, and finally  – maybe – collaborative tools/cultures are considered (‘green spaces and pedestrian areas’).  

This way of designing organisations may have been useful in the past but it is not anymore. Decisions need to be made faster than what can be accomplished when the organisation is designed from a hierarchical top down perspective.  It is on this new reality that The Responsive Organisation initiative was formed. Their manifesto[2] outlines the transition that must happen from the old to the new ‘responsive’ organisations:



  • Efficiencies
  • Responsiveness
  • Hierarchies
  • Networks
  • Controlling
  • Empowering
  • Extrinsic Rewards
  • Intrinsic Motivation
  • Office and Office Hours
  • Anywhere and Anytime
  • Customers and Partners
  • Community

When we empower people to determine with whom, when and where collaboration has to happen, things happen a lot faster. This brings me back to the city-as-a-network analogy and another quote from Neal:

“Frequently in parks, or on college campuses, although there are many sidewalks, there will be a few well-worn paths through the grass. These informal paths show where people really want to go, and where the paths should have been located in the first place.”

To be responsive we must ensure that a collaborative culture supported by collaborative tools is at the centre. The way the organisation is structured will always be playing catch-up to present day needs. People know how to get things done fast. Don’t let hierarchies get in the way.

(Also read my post on Network Leadership inspired by the efficiencies of roundabouts to get traffic moving)

[1] Neal, Z. “The connected city.” How Networks are Shaping the Modern Metropolis. London and New York: Routledge (2012).