Inkwell: Authors and Artists
Nancy Rhine (nancy) Sun 10 Nov 02 08:51
Hi Brian, Thank you for your comments. While I understand your remarks and questions and find them representative of those of many managers, this all boils down to good business sense, IMHO. Firstly, one's customers are *already* engaging more and more in online conversations about your goods and services *and* those of your competition. Secondly, if you have a public crisis (a la Odwalla for instance), you can bet they are *really* talking about you - amongst themselves f2f, online, and in the press. So one of the tenets of sound public relations in my book (literally and figuratively) is to be already engaged in dialogue (emphasis on listening) with your market. It would behoove you to be working on establishing good will and trust with your staff and your customer base. Your staff because they will be answering, unofficially, their particular customers' questions. So they should understand the ins and outs of whatever is going on. This isn't naive. It's a hallmark :) of smart and sustainable business practice. What do you think?
Cliff Figallo (fig) Sun 10 Nov 02 09:12
I don't think we're naive. It's because we recognize the entrenched and conservative history of big business behavior that we think it's time to encourage the change, especially, as Nancy said, given what's happening now on the Net. We are devout ClueTrainers. Besides, not all businesses are hiding from their bad feedback. We described Shell Tell and Hallmark. Proctor & Gamble (www.pg.com) invites customers to join its "feedback sessions." Cisco invites the networking professionals who both praise and criticize its products to talk among themselves in public online forums. There's, we think, a more powerful upside to communication than there is a downside. Some organizations will open up to try it; many won't. We'll see what happens, eh?
Nancy White (choco) Sun 10 Nov 02 09:48
Or maybe we can create a "tipping point" of truthfulness? ;-)
Brian Slesinsky (bslesins) Sun 10 Nov 02 13:15
I wonder what sort of companies are most likely to be receptive to open communication? I'd guess that the stakes are fairly low for Hallmark, Shell, and Proctor & Gamble because they sell to the masses, most of whom will never visit their customer forums. In fact, their real customers are the retail stores (or gas stations). A forum for retailers to talk among themselves would be more politically sensitive.
Nancy Rhine (nancy) Mon 11 Nov 02 09:08
Brian, you bring up more interesting points... In my view, the goals of the companies you mention are not to reach every customer per se, but to reach those who have the time and inclination to spend some energy communicating with a company. These customers provide valuable experiences, ideas, feedback, competitive intelligence, etc. So the goal is to attract a goodly number of your market to engage with you. Especially when/since they are increasingly communicating with their friends and neighbors about you anyway. There is this old marketing adage that maintains that customers will share positive customer experiences with a few people, and negative experiences with a lot of people. So, my advice to organizations is to get in there with their customers, hang out where they do, and listen, and eventually ask questions and for their help. If there's no good place for them to hang out online, create one and invite them there. Keep a light hand on their interactions because if you over-manage it, people will shy away. Plus I always add that although I can't possibly act on all their feedback <set the expectations>, I will be giving it all close attention and respect. This has never failed to engage people effectively, in my experience. In fact, at the last dotcom where I worked, our customers analyzed what wasn't working, the good points, the differences amongst us and our competitors, the pros and cons of our marketing campaigns, pricing, everything - it was just priceless information. Unfortunately the head of marketing would not stop and listen. Too bad. Turned out he should have. The company went under, later. ;)
Cliff Figallo (fig) Mon 11 Nov 02 09:10
Hallmark uses a customer sample of only a few hundred people in its forums. That's enough to give them a better idea of what consumers are thinking in terms of products. So depending on the use to which the company puts the forums, scale of involvement may not be so important. Of course, Shell might use its customer input forums to defuse critics, but Shell is also a very forward-looking petroleum company. We recommend that such conversations become part of a company's strategy. The game is different if you plan to engage with customers or if you plan to actively develop input and dialogue with retailers or partners. The cost to Cisco of writing off surplus inventory in 2001 was gargantuan. The majority of that cost is said to have come from their customers'double-ordering at a time when it was crucial to them to have product delivered on time. If Cisco had been in better communication with them and had understood their thinking ("We'd better submit an order direct to Cisco and one to it's distribution partner, too, just to make sure we get delivery.") it could have avoided overproduction. If strategies are based only on past history and statistical trends, a lot of insight is lost that could be gained through conversation with a base of typical consumers and partners.
Nancy White (choco) Mon 11 Nov 02 09:19
The customer community can be a sampling, as Nancy mentioned with Hallmark above, or perhaps wider with the Cisco example. How widespread does adoption of conversation have to be internally in a company to start gaining critical mass and showing value?
Cliff Figallo (fig) Mon 11 Nov 02 20:54
I wish there were simple answers to such questions, but any answer I give will have many counter-examples. You mentioned the tipping point in an earlier post. The tipping point may be reached by volume of conversion or by a significant event. If enough people in an organization begin using email to collaborate and plan, others will feel compelled to join in rather than be left behind. But if a small team pulls off a creative coup through the use of independently organized online collaboration, the company may be converted suddenly to adopt new ways of doing things to replicate success. Critical mass in an organization is whatever the executive level people buy in to. So we recommend that executives keep their eyes out for emergent groups who are more productive than the average. See how they're pulling that off, then see if it can be adapted to other groups.
Nancy White (choco) Tue 12 Nov 02 04:40
I'm not at home so don't have the reference with me, but someone, somewhere said 5% adoption you have a trend and 20% adoption you are unstoppable. I suspect there ARE so many factors. Shall we poke at one a bit? Trust? (waving from The Hague)
Nancy White (choco) Tue 12 Nov 02 12:20
Quick reminder -- curious about Nancy and Cliff's book? You can find chapters of "Building the Knowledge Management Network" online at http://www.socialchemy.com/chapters.htm And for those of you who are not members of The Well following this conversation - don't forget you can email your comments and questions to email@example.com -- Join in!
Cliff Figallo (fig) Tue 12 Nov 02 19:48
These days, when a lot of people are having a hard time finding work, I hear many employed people admitting that they'll put up with a lot more organizational dysfunction than they would have tolerated several years ago. A hierarchy can be an adversarial environment where those in power positions fear being displaced by the up-and-comers. A great idea promoted publicly by a customer service agent might get a reward or it might be squashed by a paranoid middle manager. A trusting and trustworthy social environment makes it a joy to contribute new ideas. You shouldn't have to be courageous to point out areas that can be improved in your company. If the leaders trust the people they hire to put forth their best effort, and if people get rewarded for that, having a company-wide conversation is easy. I'm sure there are many of you reading this who are saying something like, "Yeah...and so?" And that's what's wrong with most organizations -- like corporations, they are soulless entities, focused on profit, not particularly concerned about the humanity in their communications policies. Trust takes time to build. It's easy to destroy. It may take even more time to rebuild once damaged. If the power in the organization doesn't engender trust, the rest of the organization has to work in spite of its leadership, or the whole thing breaks down.
Nancy White (choco) Wed 13 Nov 02 14:16
Can we have conversations without trust?
Brian Slesinsky (bslesins) Wed 13 Nov 02 14:38
I'm sure it depends on the subject. That's the trouble with talking about communication in the abstract.
Cliff Figallo (fig) Wed 13 Nov 02 21:44
I agree, Brian, about the abstraction here. Unless any of you readers can describe related situations in the companies where you work, our explanations here are one step more abstract than in our book. We expect that people who buy and read the book will have problems in their workplaces that our ideas and examples will help to solve. But back to the question about trust, it's pretty clear to me that in a work environment (as opposed to a family, a club, an association) people respond to incentives and the assurance of job security when asked to contribute to the company beyond what's in their job description. In many work cultures, sharing your expert knowledge could be the first step in making you expendable. So, sure, trust is an important element in persuading people to share what they know and to collaborate on improving the company.
Cliff Figallo (fig) Fri 15 Nov 02 11:33
Hey, if this is like talk radio, we're bombing. All you hecklers out there, please dial in. Don't tell me the place where you work has it all figured out and things are just hunky dory. I'm not believing it. (Posted after listening to Gary Radnich doing sports-talk radio on KNBR -- THE sports leader.)
Gail Williams (gail) Fri 15 Nov 02 11:47
Here's a question, Cliff. In environments where some people have more facility and comfort with the written word, how can you help those who hate to write make use of collaborative systems? I see a lot of barriers to sharing info. There's the aforementioned fear of making oneself obsolete. There are personality issues like fear of complaining or criticising and then being considered too negative and simple shyness/introversion. But I think the fear of writing due to grammar/spelling gaffs, along with the old computer discomfort factor, are more widespread than we text blabber-mouths would like to think. Any suggestions?
Jon Lebkowsky (jonl) Fri 15 Nov 02 17:33
(The place where I work is clearly hunky-dory... but then, it's my home office!)
Brian Slesinsky (bslesins) Fri 15 Nov 02 20:05
Well, one of the things about online collaboration systems is that there are so many to choose from. At my company, everyone uses Outlook, management and product requirements people write formal Word documents stored in some network folder somewhere that I can never find, there are a couple of engineering groups that use a Wiki (my favorite, but nobody in my group uses it), and bugs get recorded in a bug database written in Lotus Notes. And, being a portal company we also have an internal portal that I use mostly to get the phone list. Despite all that, the interesting stuff doesn't get written down, and a lot of the stuff that's written down is out of date. I haven't written much in the Wiki lately because it seems like not many people go there to look up information. Instead we have meeting where we tell each other things and forget the details. And nothing controversial happens in writing.
Nancy White (choco) Fri 15 Nov 02 22:13
Or what about TOO much stuff, interesting or not?
Betsy Schwartz (betsys) Sun 17 Nov 02 05:49
I've spent the last couple of years working in high-tech corporations and I've seen enormous barriers between the people at the top of the organization and the people below. There's a "management point" where at some point in the organization, managers all start using the same language, a different language than the one used by people below that level, by techies and team leads. The management language includes a lot of cheery optimism aimed at Wall Street, and uses phrases ranging from "EBITDA profitability" (ie, the company would be profitable if we didn't have to pay for the money we borrowed) or silly management phrases like "executing on our action plan". The ability to speak this language sets managers apart; it seems to come with an inability to speak *straight* talk. I don't know how managers learn to speak like this; I assume it's by rubbing against other managers in manager school. I have tried reading some of the pop management books, and I understand some of the concepts, just enough to be able to recognize the gap. At heart, the talk is an attempt to align everyone in the corporation, from the top down, with a set of abstract objectives. However, below the tier of middle management, the objectives are often too abstract to help anyone do their job. I had some great arguments with the folks at Genuity who were trying to get everyone behind the slogan "Do you want to change the world today?" or some such. I was pointing out that techies want to keep the network lights green. Management *really* doesn't want their rank-and-file techies trying to change the world - techies might change it in ways that wouldn't have much to do with the "path to profitability".
Nancy Rhine (nancy) Sun 17 Nov 02 09:34
Betsy, your remarks make me both grimace and smile with recognition - there is a human characteristic in my opinion that causes people and/or groups where self-esteem is shaky to revert to in-group language to make themselves seem exclusive and oh-so-very-important. It reminds me of the early days of the WELL when a particular sysop wanted to keep the software particularly difficult to use and poorly explained to keep the "riff-raff" out. From that point forward, I knew his and my goals were different. His was exclusivity, mine was mass access. No judgement either way, just very different goals. I like to pay attention to organizations that are trying to open the doors of communication, whether it be amongst layers of in-house hierarchy or amongst company reps and customers. I notice this week that Unicted Airlines has just announced its Customer Advisory Panel and is asking for participants to give them feedback. You can sign up at united.com/feedback - will be interesting to see what develops, if anything, with that. Another company featured in the press this week is Applied Medical Resources, a $50 million medical-device company. The CEO reports that they use use regular conversations with its customer base. "We ask our customers what they want to see in our future products - what problems they have that we can help resolve. We consistently remind ourselves to listen to what the customer needs, not what we need." An important point in working for change in organizations and trust levels, is to research and remember that there are many groups where innovative good people are honestly working to change their organizations and where they realize that sustainable, longterm success rests on collaboration and mutual exchange.
Christian Crumlish (xian) Sun 17 Nov 02 13:16
Riding the current hobbyhorse, can either of you comment on the concept of klog or k-logs (knowledge-capture weblogs)?
Cliff Figallo (fig) Mon 18 Nov 02 08:22
Re: Gail's #41 and reticence to participate because of writing talent or lack thereof. If the culture of the organization is such that misspellings and poor grammar are going to brand an otherwise smart and creative person as below standard, the organization has some deep-seated problems. Of course a spell checker would help. But when offering these opportunities to converse online, the organization needs to frame them with encouragement. Part of the social contract must be to not penalize people as if it was English Composition 101. The emphasis should be on exchange of knowledge and ideas. Everyone should strive for brevity and relevance. It should be explained that with time and experience, the online conversational skills will develop. The WELL was pretty awkward in its first years, but over time a "style" has developed that, to me, has become invisible. To newcomers, I assume it's challenging. But communication among veterans of this culture is now much easier than it was in the beginning. The same will happen in organizations.
Cliff Figallo (fig) Mon 18 Nov 02 08:34
To Jon in #42: in an office of one, the conversations can get pretty crazy. To Brian's #43 Lots of large corporations who "silo" their divisions adopt different software platforms to serve different needs. Nowadays, these platforms are delivered with their own proprietary portal interfaces. The people working in the different divisions learn their own portal languages and tools, which are incompatible with those being adopted in other divisions. This further partitions the specialists who should be communicating to integrate knowledge across the company. So, Brian, your situation is increasingly common and represents just the sort of problem our book is attempting to confront. The CIO or CKO (Knowledge Officer) is the one who should be solving this situation by creating cross-divisional or interpractice communications platforms that are used to share knowledge. Of course such platforms need influential champions and incentives for use, otherwise they are abandoned. If the company doesn't have a coherent knowledge sharing mandate, it's up to the mavericks within the organization to hack their own solutions. It's one of the ironies of business that your company -- a portal company -- would find its employees using its own portal only as a phone list. Perhaps a one-time conversational "event" bringing together disparate knowledge holders would reveal to all the value of providing and using a cross-company knowledge forum with a message board, email list and active wiki. Even a weekly visit and comment would likely energize some new ideas.
Cliff Figallo (fig) Mon 18 Nov 02 08:43
To Christian's #47 The technology of k-logs is simple enough and yes, they fit perfectly with our online knowledge sharing model. What they require are rules for use (or a strict editor/moderator) so that everyone who contributes to them is on the same page and everyone who reads them is protected from overload and irrelevancy. Collaborative publishing -- as valuable its potential -- can also result in a big mess. Every participant must act not only as a source but as a filter. The collective aim must be to provide the least amount of words necessary to inform while providing links to deeper information at the option of the reader. I regard blogs as a rediscovery of the killer app of the Web, made easier. And just as Web pages have proliferated into billions of pages with a high "junk" quotient, a collaborative blog can easily grow into a bloated repository for personal opinions and tangential trivia.
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