How Can Yammer Match Facebook Performance?

Ever since the Gen Y’s started marching into the workplace with their mobile devices and Facebook accounts, “Enterprise” leaders became paranoid about time wasting on “non-work” activities, often instituting a plethora of policy attempts to ban the use of social networking applications in the workplace. In recent times however the attitude to social networking at work has softened somewhat. The business use of applications like Linkedin and Twitter have actually been encouraged by some forward looking enterprises, with some even providing training in how to improve your Linkedin profile (cynically, this may have been because this organisation was just doing a round of retrenchments!). We have also seen the rise of “Enterprise Social Networking” (ESN) software, which essentially is Facebook/Linkedin/Twitter packaged for enterprise use. Current market forecasts predict a healthy future for ESNs, with the promise of improved collaboration. Microsoft’s Yammer, Jive and IBM Connect currently lead the charge from a host of fast followers. What enterprise does not want to improve their collaboration? So what is the risk?

Here’s where things get a little interesting. We know from past experiences with knowledge management systems that just sharing information is not enough to reap the full rewards from collaboration. We knew about the importance of social interaction for sharing ‘hard to codify’ tacit knowledge 20 years ago, when Nonaka and Takeuchi first framed their SECI (Socialise/Externalise/Combine/Internalise) framework for knowledge sharing.

Knowledge SharingThis has more recently been reinforced with research from Knoco, who found that “connections” are 14 times more effective at sharing knowledge than “collections”.  So with ESNs focused precisely on “connections” one would think that ESNs would indeed have a healthy future. For the large part however, ESNs are struggling with adoption. Hard working Community Managers are having a difficult time engaging their fellow work colleagues into using these platforms for collaborating. While some would previously have argued about functionality, most of the functions have now been “borrowed” from the public social networking platforms, for which adoption rates are still booming. So what is the problem?

Work/Life Balance

 We don’t have to look much further than the broader tension around what we call “Work/Life balance”. At home we can be relatively relaxed about how we might use Facebook, Linkedin or Twitter to share with our friends and connections. There is no-one dictating to us on how, when and where we should be engaging on these platforms. It’s basically our decision on how, what and where we share. Privacy is an issue for all of us, but on the whole, the majority of use have felt the benefits of being able to connect, engage and share far outweighs the privacy risks that are ever present. When we go to work however, there are other people tasked with “guiding us” on how to share and collaborate. We have policies from above that tell us what we can and can’t do. We have ‘confidential’ information that we need to be sure isn’t inadvertently leaked. We have a whole raft of functions in the organisation that have a vested interest in drawing the line on what can and cannot be shared, as far to the conservative end of the scale as possible. If that’s not enough, the majority of organisations today are still slaves to the formal organisational structure. Sharing across formal organisational boundaries, though no doubt encouraged by the senior management, can often be seen as a negative by business unit KPI driven middle management. So what can be done to change this situation?

Why ESNs Underperform

 Why is it that ESN adoption underperforms when compared to their public social networking brethren, despite comparable feature richness? Invariably ESNs have been implemented like any other piece of enterprise software. The senior executive will make the announcement; there will be an official launch with said executives prominent. Community Managers and change agents will be employed to help with the adoption. The IT department will be central to the effort to ensure the platforms stay ‘secure’. Things will go swimmingly for a period post launch, until the cynicism starts to creep in. What is the ROI here? Why are the forums full of trivia or people just complaining? Why haven’t we seen more evidence of collaboration outcomes?

The core of the problem we believe is that we are applying the same “top down management lens” to an ESN implementation as we might have done when we implemented an Enterprise Resource Planning or Customer Relationship Management or Enterprise Document Management System.  These systems are information-centred, not people-centred. They are designed to reinforce the organisation’s designed business processes, whether it be to track a product through the supply chain, capture a customer contact or ensure a record is kept for compliance reasons. Top down management oversight is required and expected to ensure that uniform compliance to these designed “best practices” are adhered to.

Social Networking software is different. Its strength is not in supporting pre-designed collaboration practices. It’s not even substantially about information, though collaboration may occur around information artifacts. Its strength is in engaging people around constructive conversations. Being people-centred, ESNs are designed to facilitate and sustain profitable connections. Management oversight is for the purpose of facilitation, not direction. People volunteer to join ESNs because they personally benefit from doing so; not for their manager’s or even the CEO’s benefit. If the organisation has not enrolled the individual into the mission of the enterprise to an extent where they can be trusted to collaborate appropriately, without oversight, then no amount of management coercion will substitute.

ESN analytics have also fallen into the “top down” management mantra. They track traffic in the same way as one would track a product through their supply chain. They focus on quantity, rather than quality with “number of posts” being given precedence over “number and depth of engagements”. Individuals are left with reports on their individual activity levels rather than the measures that might help them to enhance their network and progress their careers in the organisation. While the Community Manager requires “top down” analytics to help them do their facilitation job, Facebook/Twitter/Linkedin levels of adoption performance will only be achieved if employee-led, not management-led.

Recommendations

To have your Yammer/Jive/IBM Connect performance up there with Facebook/Twitter/Linkedin levels we suggest:

1.  Think like Facebook/Twitter/Linkedin. What do you need to do to encourage the individual to join in? What features would encourage the individual to log in multiple times every day.

2.   Show trust by letting the individual choose and manage their own privacy levels, rather than applying a top down blanket policy.

 3.  Show trust my moving the ‘enterprise risk’ marker from the far ‘conservative’ end to the ‘managed risk’ end of the scale.

 4.  Make it as easy to get to your ESN, especially on mobile devices, as you can get to your Facebook account.

 5.   Move from activity based metrics to engagement metrics. For example, rather than posts, count responses. Look at the density of conversations, rather than the number of them. Help staff connect to people they are looking to connect with (like Linkedin).

 6.   Reward connectors. Look for those people who are connecting across formal organisation boundaries and look to reinforce and reward such behaviour.

 7.   Encourage the development of more ‘campaign based’ groups that are competency, task or innovation driven. Use relationship analytics to predict performance of these result driven groups, thereby addressing the ROI question.

Will Fitbit ever be able to get you Net-Fit?


Wearable heFitbitalth trackers are the rage at the moment. A thin wrist band wirelessly connected to your smartphone can pretty much monitor your activity and general health, in the same way that only a short few years ago, required a hospital room full of computers, screens and wires attached to you while you slogged away on the walkinfitbit analyticsg machine. People wear them because they want to improve their health and well-being. And they can become positively addictive! Fitbits [1] provide analytics about you and your personal physics. But the other side of you that also has a big effect on your overall health and well-being is your ‘social physics’ , being your social connections. So the question is… will devices like Fitbit ever evolve to help you enhance your social connections, be they work related, or purely personal? i.e. get you ‘Net-Fit’.


Well thSociometric Badgeis may not be that far away. We have already seen the creation by MIT Labs of the experimental ‘Social Badge’ that collects data on your face-to-face
interactions; like your body language, physical proximity and even your conversational style. It wouldn’t be too much of a stretch to see social badge features incorporated into a future versions of wearable fitness devices. Devices like Fitbit already take advantage of social cues by allowing you to share your data with friends, in the guise of creating some friendly competition and motivation to reach and surpass the fitness goals that you might set yourself.

Now lets change contexts a little. Its now a few years on and your Fitbit is now equipped with the latest social physics features, all wirelessly connected to your smartphone, which is also selectively synchronised to your employers’ cloud based servers. As part of the ‘new-age ‘care for your employees’ climate, your employer is interested in your health and well-being. Its not all philanthropic though, there is good commercial reasons for having healthy employees who take fewer days off sick and can come to work with a healthy mindset.  Likewise with social monitoring, there isn’t an enterprise around today that does not have aspirations for its staff to improve collaboration. The senior executive would be equally enchanted by the prospect of monitoring their staffs’ social interactions at work. This is where things start to get a bit uncomfortable. This is when we start to hear the terms ‘big brother monitoring’, ‘privacy’ and the like. All of a sudden we have progressed from a simple self-monitoring device from which I can set some personal goals and monitor them privately, to one where potentially my every move and utterance can be monitored.

Here is the gist of the article. As we move technology from the personal world into the world of work the traditional methods for introducing enterprise wide technology needs to change. No longer will a CEO pronouncement, a raft of carefully crafted corporate communications and a truckload of organisational change consultants be sufficient. We are entering an age of customer and employee empowerment, facilitated by the vast and affordable technology becoming available. For the enterprise to thrive, senior executives can best facilitate staff and client motivations in the desired directions by providing a climate of trust and empowerment, whereby staff and customers choose to work together for communal benefit.

Lets now take a little journey into the future. How could this future customer and employee empowered world look? 

We are clearly now in the ‘bring your own device’ world. I can wirelessly synchronize my personal data at a local, group or enterprise level, if I choose to do so, it’s entirely up to me. I quickly find however that it’s not good to keep all my data to myself. I do need to get my profile out there. Without a personal brand none of the resourcing co-ordinators will know that I exist. It’s not like the old days, where there was always a line manager there to make sure everyone was occupied. I also quickly find out that its not enough to just blast everyone with by profile page. It seems that the people that get the best jobs and get promoted the fastest are the ones in most demand from their peers. I really do need to know ‘who’s who in the zoo’ if I’m to achieve my own career goals (which are privately programmed into my Fitbit).

Network-SwoopMy organisation has provided us with a comprehensive enterprise wide social software platform. I don’t have to use it. There are no managers imploring me to use it like in the bad old days, when these systems first arrived. I find that if I want to progress in this organisation I have to engage with other staff, and they need to engage with me. The platform is my way of exposing the collective value that I am providing by being a part of several high performing teams. I also find that as my network evolves I am having greater success in reaching out to ‘hard to get to’ specialists and experts in our organisation. In the bad old days we were always directed to the ubiquitous “Directory” to connect with people. Unfortunately the directory didn’t have information like ‘how approachable is this person?’; ‘is this person really an expert?’; ‘would they be willing to help me if they don’t know me?’. I find that reaching out through my network provides me with ‘qualified’ leads that can make my job so much easier. In fact my work colleagues are now all thinking the same way. I’m comfortable now sharing most of my Fitbit data, with the knowledge that it would not be misused. The difference now is that I have the choice. It’s my decision.

So what has my new socially enhanced Fitbit done for me?

 Well here are just a few things:

  • We now have a work-based community who I can walk with at lunch times, meeting our activity goals together. It’s so much more fun.
  • I have found out that my work network only gives back on the basis of what it receives. I’m much more careful now with my forum posts and blogs, to write them in a way that they can really provide value and engage others. I also find that I’m much more willing to engage with others’ contributions by actively commenting or sometimes just with a simple ‘like’….but not too much. We are all now attuned to people trying to ‘game the system’.
  • I’ve also learnt to balance my conversational style when interacting both face-to-face and online, so that I don’t talk too much or too little. We now know that high performing teams have balanced contributions from all of their members. The social tag features of the Fitbit monitor this for me.
  • It has helped me make a career move from technical specialist to client service Archetype-Swoopmanager (eventually I want to get into general management). I did have to research the client service area well before cultivating new connections in the area. Over time they started to value some of my forum contributions that drew from areas of my technical expertise; and eventually they offered me a job. I intend to do the same for my next move, but I’m convinced that things will move faster as my network grows. In fact on our platform I have private access to my own network graph, so I can actually see it growing and changing over time.
  • In my new role I find that I’m becoming the ‘connector’ between our clients and my former technology area. I feel good about being able to facilitate the connection between a client need and a technical capability that we have. I note that on the personal network profiling provided on our social platform I have moved from the ‘specialist’ quadrant to the ‘agent’ quadrant now and I’m starting to edge toward the sought after ‘ambassador’ quadrant….how exciting!
  • I’m also monitoring my ‘Network Performance’ score, which I share with a few close colleagues … we like to egg each other on. We understand that the score is based on Gauge-Swoopa combination of how cohesive and yet diverse your network is. It is all about tradeoffs, but essentially maximum performance is gained by achieving the right balance. Too much cohesion might lead to close mindedness and ‘group think’. Too much diversity might lead to ‘wheel spinning’ with lots of ideas but no ability to execute.
  • As a final comment I’m glad we have moved on from the ‘bad old days’. Its now fun to come to work; collaborate and engage with people I like to work with; to be part of energised and agile teams that are delighting our clients, without the threat of the old meaningless targets. I mostly appreciate the ‘light touch’ approach management have these days. They now set the scene and the let us get on with our work. We have the tools to work with, it’s now all just up to us.

 Now back to the present. All wishful thinking or are we on the verge of a big shift? What do you think?

 

[1] I don’t currently own a Fitbit, I’m not promoting them, just using it as an example.

Celebrating the ‘Quiet Achievers’ …. Quietly…

What is it about quiet achievers that people like?

In this fast paced world where to be heard one needs to be increasingly loud and visible, the quiet achiever can be increasingly pushed into the background. Inevitably those that achieve visibility have to be loud, confident, extroverted and sometimes even a little arrogant to get attention. We are bombarded by media channels fronted by celebrity extroverts competing for our attention, to the point that we can become cynical in our search for genuine people. Sandra Cain’s Ted Talk on the “Power of Introverts” certainly struck a chord with the audience, which is essentially a call for the quiet achievers. According to Cain, introverts can use their private time away from the limelight to reflect more deeply on game changing ideas and innovations. And when forced into the limelight, like Mahatma Ghandi, their humility becomes more engaging and therefore more influential.

 So how do we find the quiet achievers?

By definition, one might feel that because they are ‘quiet’ achievers they would be hard to find. Interestingly though inside organisations they are often not that hard to locate. Think about the last time you needed to locate some specialist expertise in your organisation. I suspect you started the process by asking someone you know to help direct you. It’s likely that you will find the quiet achiever you are looking for in three or less calls. This is the power of networks. Referral networks are not something you will see published in the corporate directory. But through the use of Social Network Analysis (SNA) these referral networks can be exposed. Typically the “quiet achievers” will be heavily nominated central players in the referral network. Additionally, we will often find that those referring to them are drawn from a broad and diverse range of peers.

We regularly use the following network leadership framework to characterise the roles individuals play within organisations based on their networking profiles:

 Quiet Achievers

Individuals identified in the top right quartile demonstrate the unique leadership trait of attracting a high number of nominations for value adding to their peers, with the nominators coming from a diverse range of business units and/or locations. Such individuals are in a particularly influential position in the organisation. Regularly individuals occupying these roles are senior executives, whose power comes from their position in the hierarchy (ambassadors). However, those individuals that can sustain such a network position without the privilege of hierarchical power are indeed our quiet achievers.

Quiet Achievers Lead ‘Quietly’

As SNA practitioners we get excited when we find a heavily nominated staff member who sits relatively low in the formal hierarchy and/or are short tenure members compared to their more long tenured colleagues. It’s not uncommon for us to find these special ‘quiet achievers’. They are what we have previously referred to as ‘leaders without authority’ in our blog post on “Leading from the Bottom”. We don’t know for sure that they are introverts, but what we invariably find out is they are not usually visible to the senior executive. One such find was recently reported in the AFR BOSS magazine article on “Secret Power Brokers”. The back story on “Elvis”, who is featured on the cover, is that out of some 700 staff, Elvis was a newcomer at the lowest level in the organisation, yet his network profile was right up there with the top 5 senior, long tenured executives. We knew there was something special about Elvis and when we queried the leadership team about him, no-one knew who he was. We went down a level in the hierarchy and still no-one knew of him until one of the fringe members of the team, the business improvement manager, walked in and yes, he knew of Elvis. While he was a simple storeman he had the power to reject goods received into the store if they didn’t meet certain standards. Rather than misusing this power, Elvis was seen as extremely helpful and accommodating in helping staff across the organisation to rapidly access their procurements. He quickly became the ‘go to’ person in the store from all levels of staff across the organisation.

Senior Executives intuitively “know” the value of Quiet Achievers

One of my early SNA studies was conducted across a global network of some 2000+ engineers at BHP BIlliton. Our sponsor, Paul, was a former head of Engineering but by now the President of BHP’s largest revenue earning operation. He made it clear very early that he wanted to find out who the quiet achievers were so that he could make a point of personally visiting them and thanking them for their contribution. We duly delivered a couple of names of engineers who made the top 10 most nominated list, yet were regular engineers located at remote mine sites. Having himself come up through the ranks, Paul was well aware of the value that the quite achievers contribute to keeping the business running effectively. As a senior executive he commented that in his experience it’s the ones who just get on with the job, without feeling the need to “tell the boss” about everything they had done that week, that invariably contributed the most.

Unanticipated Consequences from Quiet Achievers

Sometimes the “quiet achiever” is nominated for unexpected reasons. In one exercise we conducted for a large rail utility, the General Manager (GM) was surprised as to why one of his technical staff, Tim, was in such high demand from his peers. On investigation we found out that IT services had been recently outsourced, making access to computer systems support bureaucratic and cumbersome. Tim was good with computers and always happy to help out to the point that he had become the de-facto IT support officer, taking him away from his real work. The GM was able to use this evidence to gain preferential attention from the outsourced IT providers, freeing Tim to do his real job.

Quiet Achievers don’t “fit” the Traditional Leadership Archetype

In one of our recent studies for an energy utility we again found a heavily nominated technical specialist that was somewhat a surprise to senior management. Some months later I met with the Head of HR who revealed that based on our results they had invited this person to address the executive team on his area of speciality. She indicated that they were largely unimpressed. He didn’t appear to show the confidence and presence they would have expected from an emerging leader. This was somewhat troubling to me. Sandra Cain elegantly identifies how the western world has come to expect our leaders to always exhibit confidence, extroversion and statesman like behaviour. Quiet achievers in contrast are likely to be more introverted and more comfortable responding to people looking for help, more so than pushing themselves forward and promoting themselves to others. In fact it is the humility trait that endears people to them in the first place. It is therefore somewhat disturbing that their value to an organisation might be measured against a leadership archetype suited to leading in a traditional hierarchy. I’m confident that as organisations flatten into more networked forms of operations, it is the networked quiet achievers that will come to the fore. While we might want to celebrate them publicly and put them on pedestals as role models for the future, I suspect that quiet appreciation from their workplace peers will be reward enough.

 

 

 

 

AFR BOSS Magazine: Secret Power Brokers

ElvisThe July 2014 issue of the Australian Financial Review’s BOSS Magazine is featuring a story about the results three of our clients have achieved from the use of Social Network Analysis.

It is yet another sign that SNA is becoming mainstream, and we are very grateful that  Qantas, Telstra and Lend Lease all wanted to contribute.

Many thanks to the BOSS Magazine for allowing us to share the story available with our network.

Download the article: Secret Power Brokers – The ties that bind our workplace

Roundabouts and Network Leadership

Last week I came across a Mythbusters video Shawn Callahan mentioned in a post on Facebook. In the video the two hosts, Adam Savage and Jamie Hyneman, test the effectiveness of a traditional 4-way stop versus a roundabout. Having grown up with roundabouts I wasn’t particularly surprised to discover that roundabouts got almost 20% more cars through compared to the 4-way stop. 

Traffic cop

However, what made me sit up was that they also ran a test where they put Jamie Hyneman in the middle of the 4-way stop playing the role of a policeman directing traffic. They simply wanted to test if the decision-making a traffic cop is making is more efficient at getting cars though than the decision-making all the individuals in the cars can do by themselves. 

Here is what really surprised me: The ‘top-down’ traffic cop approach was 30% less efficient compared to the 4-way stop. In other words, when decision-making is removed at the local level efficiency is significantly reduced. However, when we replace the traffic cop with a roundabout we get a 60% improvement!

For me there are strong parallels to the way we manage our workplaces. I often see a battle between ‘old style’ industrial top-down traffic-cop approach where management is clearly visible, authoritative and controlling, versus the emerging network leadership approach, where management sets out the principles but pushes autonomy down through the organisation.

While the network leadership approach is emerging, the winds are changing fast. According to research by the Chief Executive Board, employees’ work is getting more and more inter-connected, and the need for coordination continues to grow. According to their 2012 report ‘Driving Breakthrough Performance in the New Work Environment’ 67% of respondents (of which there were more than 23,000) stated that greater amount of collaboration is required, and a large majority (ranging from 57% to 67%) said that they regularly coordinate work with people on different teams, at different job levels, in different organisations and with people outside their own department or function.

Tasking managers to be traffic cops directing collaborative efforts across and between organisations is – as the Mythbusters show demonstrates – simply too inefficient. Rather, we need to let employees coordinate work among them, and in our view the role of management should be all about creating the equivalent of efficient roundabouts:

  • RoundaboutSet the overall rules and priorities
  • Help employees connect
  • Empower employees to make decisions locally
  • Monitor what is going on and adjust rules and policies accordingly
  • Only get involved when there is a need, e.g. resolving conflicts

Welcome to the world of network leadership.

 

Did Yahoo’s Marissa Mayer Really get it Wrong in Banning “Work from Home”?

Ordering Yahoo workers back to the office certainly gained its share of critics for Marissa Mayer when instituting this Yahoo policy some 18 months ago now. There are a couple of reasons for me to reflect on this at this point in time. Principally, my upcoming presentation at the Social Business Forum 2014 in Milan at the beginning of July is one. My presentation is entitled “Who would you like to sit near at work?”, and  is not unsurprisingly about co-location and collaboration. Here is a sneak preview from an earlier blog post.

The presentation will not be about leading the charge back to the office though. I’ve been presenting at the Open Knowledge social business forums since the very first one in 2008 held in Varese and pioneering what was then called Enterprise 2.0. It was my first introduction to the serious use of twitter (less than 2 years old then) and its use to connect the world to an innocuous event held in a quaint but sleepy town in northern Italy. In recent times I have been providing twitter maps and  affinity mapping (feel free to join up) to support networking at the forum. Interestingly, while Open Knowledge provide a rich suite of recorded talks and presentations supporting the forum, my sense is that the forum also provides a rallying point for conversations, led by the abundantly ‘followed’ keynote speakers. The following map emphasizes just how global this twitter audience is. A majority of the participants were nowhere near Milan.



The second ‘event’ prompting my reflections on the topic is a recently submitted doctoral thesis entitled “Creativity and Innovation in Virtual Teams” by Hari Sangha, who I was supervising, and therefore reading his thesis closely. Hari’s research was a case study of his own government agency workplace and the introduction of a new system. His organisation is a mature user of virtual teams technology and he was interested in how well factors like presence, trust, group identity and implementation effectiveness impacted innovation success. Hopefully without stealing Hari’s thunder, he did find that indeed the presence factor for virtual teaming did not interfere with the overall success of the innovation, in his context. What did catch my eye though were some of the comments extracted from his qualitative interviews. Several of his interviewees complained of not having on-site support during the critical “first impressions” installation stage. The “canned online training” fell far short of providing the organisational change support required when convincing an end user of the need to move from the comfort of a well-loved legacy system, to a new “integrated” system.  In fact the new system suffered substantial criticism on installation, that took some time to overcome. For me it was evidence that there is definitely a case to choose wisely when to apply both your virtual and co-location initiatives.

The “co-location touch points” tend to occur where the human factors of organisational change substantially outweigh the efficiency of process compliance. In Hari’s context it wasn’t so much about training in the operational aspects of a new system, but “communicating to me why I should be changing in the first place”. To give Marissa Mayer her due, it must have been a shock to come from the highly energised and innovative Google environment to one at Yahoo that had been reduced to something akin to clock watchers. The size of the organisational and cultural change perhaps dictated her mandate. That said, I was intrigued by comments made to us by Lend Lease’s head of workplace Natalie Slessor, that the business case for activity-based working is not principally about space now, but collaborative performance. And its not just about having an environment that staff will be comfortable in attending; but one where staff choose to come to because there is no better place that they would prefer to be, in doing their work; a place where they can collaborate with who they need to collaborate with, at these critical touch point times. No doubt this is something Google did get right from all reports.

While context will often dictate where these touch points are in your business, I’ve had a go at identifying where I think they are in an innovation context:

 Colocation zones

The Social Business Forum Twitter network is a ‘searching for inspiration’ network and therefore can comfortably work virtually. However, acting on an inspiration to design a new product or identify how to gain a brand new client requires some high touch collaboration and co-operation. Once a design or plan is settled on, the execution of the design/plan etc. could be accommodated by a mature virtual team. The next high touch point is when engaging the ‘early majority’ i.e. key buyers, influential users etc.. Here we need all ‘hands on deck” to rapidly respond to previously unseen or unexpected issues, objections and/or complaints. Inevitably with any innovation there will be issues that will require an agile response from a team of people. Once adoption is assured we can then move back into virtual customer support mode, perhaps even engaging our customers into a social business support community.

So did Marissa Mayer get it wrong?  Well maybe just a little. A few months after her policy was introduced she rationalised her decision with a comment:  “….  they’re more collaborative and innovative when they’re together. Some of the best ideas come from pulling two different ideas together.” This looks like my first “high touch zone”. But does that have to mean that those doing standard IT builds or providing after sales customer service should be made to feel dictated to? And what about creating an environment where Yahoo staff actually want to show up to by choice?

 

Social Physics: Oxymoron or Big ‘Social’ Data Tipping Point?

I’ve long been a fan of Sandy Pentland’s work at the MIT media lab. Pentland is perhaps best known for his ‘social tags’ used for monitoring individual human interactions to identify those interaction most associated with productive teams. When his new book “Social Physics: How Good Ideas Spread – Lessons from a New Science” coincided with the Easter holiday break, what better way to spend the break than to consume another Pentland tome? The title “Social Physics” in itself is notable as Pentland’s desire to a put a name to what he is doing, that is, identifying social interaction patterns from logged activity data. I once had a similar aspiration based on my early explorations into mapping discussion log and email data, long before even the Internet and social media/networking was around. My term was “Net Mining”, which I cheekily tried to introduce into Wikipedia, but was rightly rejected by the Wikipedia moderators as having ‘no recognised history’. Perhaps Pentland from the loftier heights of the MIT Media lab will have more success. The use of the ‘Physics’ term is an attempt to align his activities with a fundamental science, and perhaps in the future a few Pentland inspired “Social Physics Laws” that underpin our daily lives.

For some, placing the words ‘Social’ and ‘Physics’ side by side is an oxymoron only to be used in the context of sex education (but lets not go there!). An early critic of Social Physics is none other than Nicholas Carr, who famously stated a decade ago that “IT Doesn’t Matter”; has written an article in the MIT Technology Review (to add insult to injury). Carr states about Pentland “what he fails to see is that those norms and influences are themselves shaped by history, politics, and economics, not to mention power and prejudice” in referring to Pentland’s claims that social norms, behaviours and influences can be accurately modelled mathematically.

 While its hard to argue with Carr’s points here, it is fair to say that Pentland’s ‘experimental rig’ is unquestionably the most sophisticated that we have seen to date, generating copious data for measuring social interactions.  While the social tags were viewed as a little extreme when first introduced, since then, the smart phone has become a proxy social tag in Pentland’s research, which brings the practicality of his work eerily close. So even if the ‘physics’ analogy is a bit of a stretch, as Carr suggests,  perhaps the Pentland crusade could still prove the tipping point for the legions of social network analysis (SNA) academics, who have been analysing social relationship networks using mathematical methods for over 80 years now, to a point where mainstream business finally ‘gets it’.

The book essentially builds on his earlier work with social tags and effective teams. Whereas this earlier work identified the correlation between conversational interaction patterns i.e. the to and fro of dialogues had; equality (or not) of interactions used along with body language attributes identified by the social tags; this book goes a little further to claim a degree of predictive capability.  The claim to be able to infer a cause and effect, over a simple correlation observation is facilitated by the longitudinal data that the social tags and now mobile phone apps can collect. Pentland rightly points out that traditional survey based collections are mostly ‘single point in time’ (marked as ‘1’ in the graph) and therefore make it difficult to claim any cause and effect relationships from the results.

SP Graph

This graph from the book is notable in identifying where the social physics efforts exist when compared with the more traditional survey based social science studies (and our own social network analysis surveys, I might add). As much as we could be offended by being placed close to the (0,0) axis point I still feel there is a big difference in the quality of the intelligence you might gain from an astute survey question and any number of social tagging data points. But one can’t argue with the duration of observation measure. Surveys are a point in time. And pragmatically the same survey is unlikely to be repeated more frequently that on an annual basis at best. My long-term view therefore has been that they are complementary instruments, so I am happy to be a Social Physics follower at this point in time. I might add here that Pentland does not rely solely on ‘mined data’ or what he calls ‘reality modeling’. He does describe a mobile phone app they have developed to turn the device into a social tagging device, which includes surveys to capture personal feedback information as an adjunct to the logged data, reinforcing the view of their complementary usage.

The predictive models Pentland and his colleagues developed for use in predicting consumer behaviour, influencing behaviours, or citizen behaviours identified in the book are mathematically as sophisticated as traditional physics and therefore mostly out of reach to 99% of the population. But this is a necessary requirement that is often understated by ‘Big Data’ proponents. To come up with the conclusions that Pentland does, means that terabytes of data have to be filtered and analysed. This is a non-trivial task and is prone to the same erroneous conclusions that poor physics or economics can produce if not undertaken with care. Just one slight criticism here. While Pentland starts to identify some of the mathematics behind his predictive models, in the book there was scant recognition for the decades of social network quantitative analyses undertaken by many researchers around the world, with perhaps the SNA ‘Bible” by Wasserman and Faust and the UCINET software being best representative of its application.

As I worked through the chapters I became more excited by how similar Pentland’s key findings, from his sophisticated big data modelling, reinforced our own more speculative assumptions, gained from our more traditional survey driven social network analyses. The most prominent finding relates to idea flows traveling through an exploration phase, where diversity of input is a key success indicator; followed by an ‘engagement’ phase where more intense interactions are required to turn ideas into actions. These findings reinforce the concepts we introduced in our white paper ‘The Three E’s of Innovation” (Explore, Engage, Exploit) which was designed for application within traditional organisations, where specific organisational departments and individual roles might play one or more of these roles, as part of their organisational mandate. Pentland’s Explore/Engage was more generically framed, though he does acknowledge the organisational context in his work with organisations in identifying what makes great teams. In the book he makes the same plea as many of us working in the social business world, to put the formal organisational hierarchy aside and to focus on the interaction patterns. He suggests that one way of achieving this is by making such interaction patterns visible to the individuals, in the hope that by viewing their own interaction patterns, they will be more motivated to adjust their own interaction behaviours; in contrast to being coached or instructed from above. We are comforted by this suggestion as again it reinforces some of our own experiences regarding the use of network visualisations to influence behaviour change. For example, we collaborated with the University of Technology in Sydney in visualising project interdependencies to influence project manager decision-making. More recently we have been using our interactive web maps as a vehicle for prospective leaders to ‘discover’ their own better networking strategies.

For us Pentland has added the science, which reinforces our own less data intensive findings and field experiences, and therefore adds to our confidence in pursuing our networked approach to innovation.

The third reinforcement comes from the findings from activity around ideas (as assessed by the social tag information). The diversity of participants in these more open conversations was shown to characterise the exploration phase, and then the denser interaction patterns were shown to characterise the engagement phase. We had conducted some preliminary research on data collected from a Spigit implementation. Spigit is an ideas platform, which makes use of an innovative gaming engine to attract participation in a more open and transparent ideas market place. Ideas platforms largely reflect Pentland’s Exploration phase. In our research exercise we had data on ideas that had actually been accepted for implementation by management and therefore could look for patterns of interactions from the Spigit conversation platform that correlated with accepted ideas as opposed to ideas that were rejected. Our tentative findings were that the key predictors were the level of conversation activity around an idea and the diversity of participants in the conversation. Happily Pentland finds exactly the same thing from his more copious data and undoubtedly more sophisticated analyses. Again we can now move forward with this proposition with much more confidence. Thank you Sandy!

Finally the book addresses the use of social physics in planning cities. Geo-tagging is now a common feature in Smartphones,  so it becomes a relatively simple task to visualise social interactions in a geographic layout as an alternative to the common ‘force field’ layout for social networks. Thanks to Google maps, it is now possible to overlay social network connections onto geographic maps. “Location” is a common attribute used to characterise different actors in a social network in identifying the level of collaboration or otherwise between say, geographic regions. We have reported elsewhere how important co-location can be to facilitate effective knowledge sharing. We have recently also been experimenting with providing geo-mapping visualisations of social networks with this example taken a social network survey of a consulting organisation:

SP GeomapSo Oxymoron of Tipping Point? Personally I have seen many terms accused of being an oxymoron survive and proceed to a healthy existence; with ‘knowledge management’ being one notable example. We acknowledge that many a oxymoron are just a statement of aspirations, more so than a legal claim. We can live with ‘health tans’ and ‘business ethics’, so why not Social Physics? In terms of the use of big ‘social’ data for gaining new performance insights; no doubt there are many an HR professional with their carefully crafted HR Information systems shaking in their boots at the thought of a bunch of data scientists, mining data outside their formal HRIS, making them redundant. For us it is whether ‘Social Physics’ can be the tipping point between the ‘other physics analogy and that is the contrast between Newtonian thinking and Quantum thinking:

Newtonian vs quantumIs it enough to break mainstream business’s penchant for reductionist thinking; in breaking businesses down to individual processes and/or people, in favour of looking at networks as a whole?

We certainly hope so!

Eurovision – Visual Voting Map

Eurovision 2014 logoEurovision, the (in)famous European music competition is just around the corner with semifinals starting 6 May in Copenhagen, Denmark. To get in the mood we have created a map showing a summary of the 2013 voting patterns.

Have a close look at the red lines which highlight countries that have voted for each other, and you’ll see some interesting cultural patterns, such as ‘blocks of countries’ that vote for each other:

    • Scandinavian countries Denmark/Norway/Sweden
    • Azerbaijan, Belarus and Georgia
    • Belgium and Holland

Given that voting is in the hands of the both TV viewers and a small jury made up of music industry representatives (50/50 power) one would expect that the voting patterns resemble musical preferences based on cultural similarities rather than being ‘nice’ neighbors or repaying last year’s votes. But what do you think?

Will we see similar patterns this year? Please tell us by using the comments field.

Here we show the same data, but with the countries placed on Google Maps:

Who would you like to sit near at work?


Sounds a simple enough question, but likely to provoke a mix of emotions that strikes at the heart of the social and business dichotomy. On one hand we like to sit with people that we can get on with; people that potentially share our interests, both inside and outside of work. But also they might be people that are different enough from us to challenge and stretch us without descending into acrimony. On the other hand we might put our ‘business’ hat on and consider our current role. As a technical specialist we might want to sit near other like specialists to share our learnings and experiences and deepen our capabilities. As a line manager I may consider whether I would like to sit with my boss and be more visible and aligned with the strategic directions of the organisation, or alternatively be with my team, to be a ‘hands on’ manager. As a client facing person I would similarly be considering whether it is best to sit near my customers or my service providers. As a senior executive I would also have to consider which stakeholders I would benefit most in being near. Even the idea of individuals being allocated a ‘seat’ is becoming outdated. Hot desking was established to enable facilities to be shared by staff not requiring a permanent location. A recent workplace study conducted of its CBD premises by one large organisation found that staff only spent 63% of their time at the office and of that time, were away from their desk 47% of the time, with the rest of the time being mobile between other workspaces and meeting rooms. The average occupancy was just over 30% overall. Facilities managers are now looking to design workspaces that can accommodate more modern and productive activity based work practices, while at the same time, making more economic use of the spaces provided.

 SNAW1In reality, when it comes to where we sit and co-locate with at work, most of us do not get asked. The task of assigning workspaces is left to line management and facilities staff. By default, workspaces will often be aligned with the formal organisation chart, making the assumption that the formal structure also reflects the preferred work patterns. This assumption is becoming highly questionable as workplaces become increasingly interdependent. Workspace allocation can become a highly emotive issue. It’s not just about the corner offices. It can be impossible to meet everyone’s expectations, yet its important that organisations maximise the opportunity that co-location offers. Despite the facility offered by modern communications technology, physical co-location is still by far the best means for sharing knowledge and maximizing productivity.  So how can we converge the duplicity of personal co-working preferences, natural team collaboration patterns with physical workplace design, to achieve maximum possible productivity?
SNAW2

Social Network Analysis and Workplace Design

Modern organisations are rapidly moving away from ‘command and control’ structures to more ‘empower and support’ frameworks, with of course social business initiatives leading the way. It is therefore not surprising that staff would be given more input into their physical working environment and in particular who they would like to sit near. The essence of this change is cleverly articulated in “Re-imagining Work”, part of the popular RSA animate series, where the choice of who we choose to work with and near is increasingly becoming a personal one. Social Business principles would dictate that it’s the people themselves, more so than their management,  that are best placed to choose their most productive collaboration partners. One doesn’t need to look further than the successful open source software industry to see this in action.

Social Network Analysis (SNA) is a method of choice for analyzing and understanding informal collaboration patterns. Typically an SNA study surveys staff about who they benefit from working with.  Social networking maps and analytics can then be developed to assess where the most productive patterns of collaboration exist and also potential productivity bottlenecks or blockages.

The “who would you like to sit near at work” question was designed to support projects looking to consider productive networking patterns into workplace occupation activities. Forward thinking facilities design and development firms are now appreciating that having a deeper understanding of the natural collaboration patterns of their prospective clients will enable them to provide a more convincing design and development proposition. In a recent project Optimice worked with one of Australia largest developers in developing an occupation plan for their key client, a major telecommunications organisation that was looking to refurbish their central city facilities. Their objective was not only to optimize their floor space, but to configure their physical spaces to be aligned to their ‘future way of working’ vision, which of course included much more mobility and technical enabled communications. Some 5,000 staff were asked to nominate and rate the people they would benefit most in terms of their personal productivity, by being co-located. As with any SNA study it only takes a relatively modest sample to characterize an organisation’s overall collaboration patterns. By aggregating at the ‘Team” level we were able to quickly identify those teams that feel they would be most productive when co-located. Additionally, because we were able to measure the ‘strength of ties’ between teams we could incrementally “fill” a building floor with teams preferentially by manipulating the strength filter, as illustrated below:

SNAW4The top panel identifies the two teams with the highest collaboration score (94), along with the total number of staff (230) contained within those teams. Decreasing the strength filter exposes additional teams with collaboration scores above (24) as shown in the middle panel, constituting a total staff of 1589. Decreasing the collaboration strength even further down to (12) exposes even more teams configured in several clusters. The clustering patterns, along with the staff counter, can be used by occupancy designers to effectively ‘stack’ building floors according to stated collocation preferences. Note that only just over 3,000 of the 5,000 staff would have been allocated at this point. We could continue to decrease the strength of tie filter to allocate the remaining teams or we could determine that those teams with only weak connections could be placed anywhere without seriously impacting their productivity. If you like, these teams could be used as ‘fillers’ for floors only partially occupied.

Where to Next?

 The above example identifies how SNA can be used to realize social business principles for collocating teams. The science of social networks can assist in mediating the politics that regularly pervade office space allocations. There is more to do however. Cohesive, co-located teams can deepen capabilities and enhance efficiency. Productivity however, is not just about efficiency.  We know that a certain level of diversity of connections is needed to facilitate creativity and to deliver innovation. Such connections may not require extended co-location but will require an environment where serendipitous connections are more likely. Those staff in roles requiring diverse networks tends to be those that are more often not in the office and/or not at their desk that often. These people may feel that nominating permanent co-location partners is incongruous with their desired mode of operation. Like teams that have no strong ties to other teams, at the individual level, those staff without strong ties are far from being outcasts, especially if they are seen to ‘bridge’ between cohesive teams, providing the important balance between cohesion and diversity that characterizes high performance organisations.

For the individual, the network ensuing from the simple question of “who would you like to sit near as work?” can be much more than your position in a popularity contest. While you may have a view of who you would benefit from being co-located with, even more insightful is who, if any, have nominated you as someone that they would benefit from being co-located. But that’s another story!

 

ASX Gender Scorecard 2014

Here at Optimice our interest in ASX board members has mostly been about mapping the board room connections, and some of this has previously been covered by Women’s Agenda and Crikey.  However, since it is International Women’s Day on 8 March 2014, we wanted to focus on something different – interesting findings that are not entirely about connectivity.

In our most recent analysis of more than 9,000 ASX board directors, we have uncovered some other facts regarding gender diversity, which we hope you will also find interesting:

  1. Board positions and gender 
  2. The age distribution and differences
  3. Gender diversity by industry sector
All of the data we base these findings on was sourced from Thomson Reuters and extracted on 28 February 2014.

#1: Chairmen and Chairwomen

If, next time you meet a female board director, you ask them, “Are you are a non-executive board member?”, then the answer is probably yes. 80% of these women are non-executive directors. If the answer you get is “No actually. I am the Chair”, then you have met someone very special. Just  4% of the female ASX directors are Chair(wo)men. 

ASX Gender Diversity by Position












When we look at the overall gender distribution among Chairmen (or even Deputy Chairmen), the women have less than 3% of the positions, and the men have more than 97%.

#2 – Older men and younger women

We have also compared the age distribution among male and female ASX directors, and there is quite a substantial difference. The women have a number of spikes in the 49-55 age group, while it is pretty clear that the men hang around a lot longer:

ASX Directors Age Profiles 2014











#3: Banks and Insurance are for girls – paper for boys
When we read about the percentage of women on ASX boards it is often represented by a single percentage number, and typically only the ASX200 companies are included. However, when we look at the entire ASX by industry sectors, we start to see some revealing details and interesting patterns.

As far as the overall board gender diversity is concerned, the banks are taking the pole position. The paper sector comes in at an unenviable last place, but since the sector is only made up of 3 companies they could easily get much better representation with just a few female appointments.

ASX Gender Diversity by Sector 2014
In the second last place we find the mining industry, and it is here the real challenge lies if we are to really change ASX board room gender diversity. While you could argue that there are more women on mining boards than in any other industry (the 3.81% represents more than 100 women), the problem is that it doesn’t really make a dent in the overall percentage because there are more than 3,000 men (96.19%). 

The big question is therefore what can be done to get (a lot more) women on mining boards.

And while we’re thinking about that, we might as well start thinking about why there are so few chairwomen and what can be done to improve that as well. Here at Optimice we don’t have the answers, but we will keep monitoring this space and hope we can inject some motivation for change by publishing these statistics. 

Last point – if you are a board member for an ASX listed company and would like to know how your board’s gender diversity percentage stacks up against your industry peers, or you’re interested in finding out how your board is connected to other board through overlapping directorships, just send us an email and we’ll let you know.