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!

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.