Avoiding Duplication with Social Media

I read a wonderful article in the June 2009 issue of the Ragan Report detailing some lessons learned from Southwest Airlines. Their Emerging Media group decided that they should have some loose guidelines for when to use which social media.

They decided for their business, they would use blogs for exploring deeper issues; Twitter for what they call “teasing” the news; and Facebook for spotlighting promotional events.

I think this strategy is smart. The purpose of social media tools are to make what used to be formal, informal. However,  social media, folksonomies and crowd-sourcing need some level of governance and guidelines to help this garden of information grow in a healthy way and not get overwhelmed with weeds.

I keep wondering how many more social tools will be released? I’m sure many more are on the way but shouldn’t those tools replace the old tools? Newer tools just seem to add on to our existing list of tools. I found that I had to create a “When to Use Which Tool” quick reference guide to help people choose where to go to store their “stuff”.

Just as a handyman needs to know when to use a money wrench vs. a socket wrench, we are expecting our knowledge workers to know when a blog is better than a discussion forum or when a wiki is better over a SharePoint site.

I think this gives tremendous opportunity to KM professionals. We can become (and, in most cases, have become) the explorer, scientist and all-around virtual collaboration tour guide through this journey into what I hope will be a better integrated and simpler suite of collaboration tools.

Should Knowledge Management be Defined Consistently?

This is a tough question to answer and my response may be met with some criticism. To gain a firm foothold in business…the answer should be yes. We should pick a direction and vision and go with it. That is what we SHOULD do but that may not be the best strategy.

I have held two “defined” Knowledge Management (KM) positions in my career (after spending 10 years in Training & Development) and while they had similarities, there were definite differences. I think KM is whatever the organization needs it to be.

Now, this is frustrating for KM and business leaders because we all can’t give the same elevator speech about what we do. Some may argue, if we can’t define ourselves as an industry, aren’t we vulnerable to cuts in a downturn? Not necessarily…I think by not having a consistent definition, we allow ourselves flexibility. And, in times like these, I believe that’s an important attribute to have.

As a KM Practitioner, under the KM umbrella, I have managed, at various times, the following activities:

CONTENT

Company Intranet / Web site; Document Management Technology, Processes and Policies; Information Security Policies; Records Management; SharePoint Technology Implementation and Support

COLLABORATION

Social Media (Blogs, Microblogs, Wikis, RSS Feeds, Social Bookmarking, etc.); Innovation and Idea Sharing; Communities of Practice; Best-Practice Sharing

COMMUNICATION

Internal Employee Communication; PR and Marketing; IM, Email, Blogs and other Communication Technology Tools

FACILITATION

Process Improvement; Performance Management; Strategic Planning; Learning & Development

So, is KM the “Miscellaneous” in an organization’s org chart? Sometimes yes; sometimes no. And, we, as KM Practitioners, need to embrace the ambiguity. Isn’t our tolerance for the “gray” and love of diversity the reason we choose this amorphous field?

Return to Empowerment

KeysIn today’s tough environment, it is easy for us to go on lock-down and have leaders dictate to everyone not only what to do but how to do it. I urge all people managers, no matter what level, to resist that urge.

People are disengaged and demotivated enough with their friends and colleagues being let go on a quarterly basis, entire fields drying up, and unemployment benefits running out, without a manager suddenly going “micro” on them.

People are looking for ways to find their motivation in these times so the best way to help your people do that is to treat them the way you always have – with respect, listening to all new ideas whether they can be implemented or not, allowing them to problem-solve on their own without the dark shadow of management looming over their left shoulder.

Try not to commit these mistakes in tough times:

Start requiring ROI on everything I realize we need quick payback periods and we should always try to prove a return on an investment but we need to be reasonable. If we want to make capital investments, then, yes, require that. But, if an employee wants to start a new community or lunch n’ learn group that requires time not hard dollars, what’s the harm in letting them run?

Start requiring weekly activity reports There’s nothing more taxing than weekly activity reports. Try quick weekly status update meetings where people can report but also ask questions. Or, use social software, like a wiki, for quick and easy posts. Don’t make someone complete a complicated Excel spreadsheet when simple and quick will do.

Stop learning opportunities In times like these travel dollars are slashed and conference attendances become non-existent. I do think conferences need to explore more virtual opportunities but they are also providing discounts and even travel vouchers to get people in the door.  Don’t eliminate this!  However, maximize the investment by asking attendees to summarize their findings and report to a larger group what they learned. Ask them to network at conferences to increase potential prospects for your business. And, definitely, sign up for free webinars whenever possible.

Capturing Mindshare

Often I read articles about influencing others and selling ideas. It might be difficult to sell new ideas at the moment, but I believe knowledge and learning professionals can focus on laying groundwork and capturing mindshare to position themselves for the future. While people may not be buying the latest, greatest, concepts right now, that time will come again, and we need to be remembered.

What is mindshare? Mindshare is the ability to generate an impression that you are credible, you will deliver what they need, you actually understand and relate to their issues even when you haven’t experienced them yourself first-hand.

When I was a younger professional, I designed and delivered sales and sales management training to an older, more seasoned audience than myself. Admittedly, I had never been a sales manager and had never walked in their shoes but what I had done was a lot of shadowing, interviewing and observing. One day, I described what I knew to be their day-to-day experiences and fed back to the group what I knew to be their problems and opportunities. It was like I had said the most profound thing in the world. Everyone smiled; some even cheered: “That’s exactly what we go through; that’s exactly what we have been saying!”

From that day forward, I had captured, which allowed me to introduce two new items – a homegrown best practices toolkit, which was met with a lot of leadership skepticism that it would be adopted, as well as a new sales process that turned these distributors from being transactional to more consultative in their approach. The company enjoyed great success as a result of both of those programs.

How do you capture mindshare?

ASK questions (even if you know the answer)

LISTEN

LISTEN again

OBSERVE directly

WALK in THEIR SHOES (even when it’s not your job)

Opportunities in Down Times?

My previous entry applies to large, conservative organization that is truly closed to new ideas and just trying to keep their head above water. Let’s not kid ourselves…unfortunately, they are out there. For those braver and more entrepreneurial souls, by all means take now as an opportunity to help sell how we can make things better internally, which may include different technology.

Some companies may have made very short-term decisions in their recent RIFs that may come back to haunt them. In a year, they may find themselves scrambling to locate good talent to help position themselves well in the new marketplace.

If you have leadership that will listen, then by all means pitch social technology as a means of engaging surviving talent – posing yourself for the great recruitment adventure to come as well as positioning your products and services within the marketplace.

If you’re looking to stretch your dollar, then borrow public social tools for now until you can procure something more sophisticated if that’s needed. If the lawyers don’t allow you to do that, then it’s time for all Learning and Knowledge Professionals to become sales professionals. We want to stay afloat but occasionally waves come by and we need to have a sea-worthy craft to ride them out. If your craft is 10 years old and not sea-worthy, then negotiate for small, trial implementations to prove their value.

Now, if we put our neck on the line for wish list items like this, then we MUST bribe, persuade and cajole our test groups to use the heck out of these tools so not only do we get to keep them but we get to expand them when the waves start to diminish.

We all have an inner Salesperson. We sell everyday, don’t we? We may not make any revenue or claim more marketshare but we seek something more important – mindshare. I’ll never forget the first time I heard that term…almost 10 years ago. It struck a deep chord with me. YES! That is what I sell – getting people to agree with my ideas

Doggie Paddling to Stay Afloat

As recent as last year or last month, companies were working hard to implement SharePoint and the latest, greatest social tools. However, today, these capital investments are hard to come by in most companies. For those of us in the boat of status quo – doggie paddling to stay afloat – what can we do to outlast disappearing programs, shelved technology implementations and suspended initiatives?

Dog in WaterMaximize current technology.

“Make due with what you have.” Leverage current investments.” “Maximize our current toolset.” How many of you have heard these very statements? As old or clunky as it might be, it’s time to be creative and figure out how to make incremental changes with what you have. Some of us are lucky to have SharePoint; others are still struggling with out-dated Notes Databases and prehistoric Document Management Systems that stifle collaboration instead of enabling it. (Anyone in this boat with me?)  However, there are ways to work with your IT group to customize these things. I know…”customize” is a terrible word. But, using IT to customize existing technology vs. implementing new technology is sometimes an easier pill to swallow. I have found the word “new” is scary right now even if it is “better”…at least for now.

Dust off your process maps (or create them!).

I have always thought that I could never make true process improvements without better technology. While I still believe this is true to some extent, there are opportunities to create processes that have never existed before (with or without technology) and streamline existing ones by focusing on the people in the equation. I was so caught up in implementing social tools (that ended up being shelved) that I neglected the fact that we have no great way to vet our “best” content. Would new technology make that easier? Yes! But, let’s get back to defining what we hold up as our “best” work and decide who will make that decision. Both processes take human thought not capital dollars.

Partner with the other “under the gun” support functions to create a cohesive strategy.

Unfortunately, in tough times, turf wars can happen. Instead of fighting for corners of an organizational strategy, work together to co-create one strategy that serves everyone’s interests and divide roles and responsibilities accordingly. Learning, Knowledge Management and Internal/Employee Communications need to work together for the survival of all. For years, I have been collaborating with these two groups but so many others I have spoken to have never discussed a single program with them. It’s time to stop defending your turf and embrace the entire landscape as a team.