Next practice not best practice

‘Best Practice’ is one of those buzzwords that gets chucked around corporations with impunity. I get where it’s come from and I get why many like to rely on it – I mean, once you have found a way to do something successfully, why would you not want to replicate that experience over and over again?

Here’s why. The speed of change in human behaviour brought about by the speed of change in technology means that by the time something becomes enshrined as best practice, it is already likely to have been superseded. That’s because for the first time since the written word arrived, we are no longer masters of the message or the medium.

dinosleep2Best practice should no longer be seen as a blueprint for describing the standard way of doing things in an organisation. It’s too safe. It’s too comfortable. And it’s too predictable. I see evidence all over the place, especially in advertising, marketing and PR. If you’re going to cite best practice as your primary justification for doing things in a certain way, you may as well stick a sign above your desk while you’re at it saying “Quiet please, dinosaur sleeping”.

We need to think differently; with agility, fluidity, creativity and a bit more bravery. Best practise has served us well for decades, nay centuries – because we have been able to control the messages and the medium. We are losing this power with every day that passes. Carrier pigeons, telegrams, snail mail, faxes, email – same difference really – all had similar limitations when it came to reach, speed and spread. Social Media has democratised communication like never before and it’s turned us all into authors and broadcasters.

It’s time to forget about best practise. The pace of change is such that predicting ‘next practice’ is what will bring the bacon home.

A nice cup of e and a biscuit

Office workers who walk away from their desk to make a cuppa or have a chat with a colleague – even those who sneak out for the occasional ciggy are not robbing their employer of wages.

The idea that presenteeism should be used a baseline for productivity is not just crazy, it is pernicious. Peddlers of such nonsense need to be put straight immediately to stop them causing any more damage to their companies.

Most employers accept this and don’t seek to curtail it. They realise that short regular breaks are good for maintaining focus and mental agility. Unlike the occasional piece of ludicrous ‘research’ there is simply nothing to be gained by adding up the time taken by employees to clear their heads and regain focus.

However, remove the tea from the equation and all of a sudden, things look somewhat different.

Tea breaks pale into insignificance when compared to eBreaks. One survey last year suggests that nearly 2 million British workers spend over an hour every day on social media websites. More than half of the UK’s working population now accesses social media whilst at work, with a third of those (roughly six million) are spending more than 30 minutes on the likes of Facebook and Twitter.

Is this any worse than the good old fashioned tea break? Clearly many employers think so. According the Mark Ragan, 57% of US companies block employee access to social media sites like Facebook, Twitter and YouTube. But I bet they don’t have such issues with the humble tea break.

Well I think they are making the wrong call – and so does the Great Place to Work Institute. The essence of a great place to work is trust. Thirty years of experience working with the most successful organisations in the world leads the Institute to conclude that the foundation of every great workplace is trust between employees and management.

The organisational and financial benefits to any organisation of being a high trust environment are well documented. Companies that appear in the annual 100 Great Places to Work consistently outperform their peers. And according to Erin Lieberman Moran, senior VP at the Great Places to Work Institute, these companies are not blocking staff access to social media.

In a recent interview with Ragan Lieberman Moran says:

“If you are hiring great talent then you need to trust them to make the right decisions. If you’re holding them accountable to their performance, when and how they get their work done should be less important than the actual results they are delivering to the organisation”.

Brings us back to presenteeism. If you trust people and manage them well – and by that I mean keep them busy with challenging and meaningful work – their value should be measured by their results not by their presence.

I take quite a few eBreaks during my working day. OK, so my working day may be extended by a few hours beyond those stipulated in my contract in order to ensure my work never suffers, but that is my choice and quite frankly, I would not have it any other way.

I love my job, I love my profession and I love my company. Without my regular eBreaks, I suspect I’d find it difficult to maintain this level of intensity and I’m sure our relationship would suffer.

The consumerisation of IT

A long long time ago, I was a young detective constable working for the Metropolitan Police. We used mechanical typewriters in those days and we had a typing pool where you would send up handwritten victim statements, which a week later would return for checking and approval. Any mistakes or corrections would be marked up and returned to the typing pool and a few days later the final version would re-appear ready for inclusion in the case papers.

I wasn’t in a position to change such an inefficient process. But I knew there was a better way, so I just did it. I bought myself a portable electronic typewriter with built-in word processor and I taught myself to touch type. I used to take it with me when I was taking statements from witnesses or victims and I’d write down their accounts and print them off there and then and get them to sign them. It was faster and more legible than writing them by hand. And I’d return to the station with a case ready statement.

A few years later I purchased a Rabbit phone. Mobile phone technology had a long way to go in those days. Mobiles were too expensive and too big and the Met Police were not ready to provide them to staff. So I bought a Rabbit, stuck the base unit on my desk and hey presto had the first hands free phone in the Met (probably). It worked a treat. I could move around the office and speak to people on the phone at the same time. And occasionally I’d take it out with me because I knew where all of the local Rabbit transmitters were so I could make calls while out and about if I needed to.

Hardly revolutionary stuff by today’s standards but actually back then it was far from normal behaviour. I took a fair bit of stick for both investments from colleagues who couldn’t quite get why I’d spend my own hard earned money on buying equipment to use at work. In those days the norm was to accept the equipment and technology supplied by your employer and you just got on with it.

Things have changed.

A recent survey indicates that 95% of employees these days have at least one self-purchased device they use for work. I suspect the iPhone is largely responsible for this change in sentiment. These days it is completely normal to see colleagues carrying their own iPhones, iPads, and HTCs around the office and they think nothing of using them for work purposes if they can.

Despite this willingness to buy and train themselves on their own consumer technologies, according to the same survey around 70% of IT departments persist with traditional models of purchasing standardised technologies, which are often seen as a bit of a compromise by the end users.

At the same time, the explosion of social media channels is changing the way we all communicate. Let’s face it – do you know anyone who does not use at least one or more of the following on a daily basis – Facebook, IM, Linkedin, Twitter, Blackberry Messenger, or YouTube?

I read a lovely quote in CIO Magazine the other day that sums it up for me:

“Imagine how a 2011 college grad reacts when she arrives at her new desk and turns on her PC to discover that it’s running a locked-down version of an operating system that was first released when she was 12.”

Be under no illusion. The consumerisation of IT together with the democratisation of communication is changing the face of the modern workplace.

As Internal Communicators we need to keep right on top of this if we are to add value to our organisations.

Tackling social media

A lot of companies misuse and abuse social media. They know they have to do something. They’ve been to one of those crazy overpriced social media conferences and talked to a few agencies and vendors. They keep reading scary stories about it in the papers. They are exposed to the risk of last mover disadvantage and they know it.

So they jump in to tackle social media with both feet off the ground and their studs showing.  Little wonder their customers show them the red card.

So where did they go wrong?

They invited a bunch of senior bods from the Communications, PR, Advertising and Marketing teams to form a squad.  All good people – top performers and experts in their chosen fields – after all, this is important stuff.

The only problem is none of them were active users of social media.

And so they kicked off by applying tried and tested old world communications values to a medium they didn’t really get. They applied military style planning to detailed and time bound communications campaigns. Not realising that command and control does not work in the world of social media, the downward spiral of selling and spamming began.

All they had to do was leverage the existing expertise and enthusiasm of the growing band of natural born social mediarites already on the payroll. The people who understand that social media is not a broadcast channel but a place where people converse and create meaningful relationships.

They should have listened to self-styled Community Evangelist at LinkedIn, Mario Sundar, who made the following observation two years ago:

“Your employees, starting with your executives, influence your company’s employment brand more than any advertising campaign that you will ever craft. They do so through their blog, word-of-mouth sites like Twitter, and of course on LinkedIn, where they build their “professional brand” in ways that are intrinsically tied to your company’s brand.”

They do this through natural authentic daily interactions with their personal and professional networks. They don’t sell. They don’t spam. They don’t follow orders. You cannot script them. All you need to do is allow them the freedom to express themselves and allow their natural advocacy to shine through.

These are the people who should be involved in formulating and delivering your company’s social media strategy.

The Social Media Revolution

Ask anyone which invention had the greatest impact on mankind and you’d probably get a mixed response. The wheel, gunpowder, the compass, the steam engine, electricity, sliced bread; take your pick.

Me? I’d go with the printing press.

Think about it. Over the history of civilisation, who has held the keys to social and economic power? Answer – the aristocracy, aided and abetted by the Church. In other words, those with access to education, culture and knowledge.

The printing press democratised education, culture and knowledge. Its contribution to spreading knowledge and learning destroyed the age of belief and blew apart the Church’s claim to a monopoly on knowledge. It paved the way for the Reformation, the Renaissance, Nationalism, the Scientific and Industrial Revolutions, and pretty much everything else we see around us today.

So here’s the thing. If the printing press had such a profound effect on the advancement of mankind, what on earth is Social Media going to do to us? OK, so a single printing press in the 15th century could churn out 500 books in the time it took a scribe to write one. Those 500 books still needed to be distributed and consumed.

Just 20 years ago the giant publishing houses controlled much of the printed word. Today it is truly democratised. Anyone with access to a computer and the internet can publish whatever they want in a matter of seconds.

It is estimated today that there are around 1.4 million blogs in blogosphere, and around 900,000 million blog posts are published every day. Facebook has 500 million active users, who share over 30 billion pieces of content every month. Twitter has 100 million registered users and is growing at the rate of 300,000 per day, with 55 million tweets a day. 24 hours of video is uploaded to YouTube every minute, while the site enjoys 2 billion views per day. I could go on but I think you get my drift.

But before we get carried away on the tidal wave of social media euphoria, hold onto this thought. If you spit in someone’s face you’ll get their undivided attention. If you spit into the middle of the Pacific Ocean no one will ever know.

The power now resides with those who can help us navigate through all of this stuff.

Ghost blogging

I guess I probably still qualify as social media virgin. Lots of frantic petting as I try to make up for lost time, but the truth is I’ve only been blogging for 5 months, active on Twitter for just over a year and still cannot really be arsed with Facebook.

Like all virgins, I am therefore somewhat by definition a touch naive. I like to believe that when I follow someone on Twitter or subscribe to a blog, I get to connect with the actual individual I’m interested in.

For example, I enjoy following Duncan Bannatyne on Twitter. I have enjoyed reading his books; he has a very interesting life story, which in many respects he lives out on Twitter, and I enjoy the opportunity to feel part of it. Now if I ever had an inkling that he was not responsible for his own tweets and that he employed a ghost writer or even shared the job out with his PA, I’d be off like a shot.

I’d feel cheated. It’s as bad as a doting fan paying big bucks to watch a mega recording artist perform live, only to discover half way through the show she was lip-synching. It’s probably as bad as removing ones wedding ring before entering a singles bar….

I only found out recently that there is a massive ongoing debate on this very issue. It’s been raging for years.

In the red corner you have the PRs, the seasoned command & control communications veterans and the ghost bloggers themselves. These guys think ghost blogging is an honourable and essential profession, given that their clients are far too busy and important to actually write for themselves.

And if they didn’t do it for them the world would be an emptier place because we’d all be missing out from their nuggets of wisdom, and sparkling wit & repartee.

Of course their clients don’t like them to disclose who they write for – that would be embarrassing right? That could lead to reputational damage right? So it’s OK to do it provided no one finds out. Oh dear. So where is the integrity and honesty in that?

So the red corner argues that professional communicators have always supported CEOs, celebrities and politicians by writing their speeches, their books and their letters since time immemorial. It’s true, and I have no issue with that. But these media are not social. They are not blogs; which have fundamentally changed the rule book.

Needless to say, I am in the blue corner. If I want to read facts about a company, I will read its annual report and check out its website. If I want to understand what makes a company tick I’ll subscribe to its employee blogs and follow its staff on Twitter, where I can connect with them directly. And part of what makes the experience so interesting and the connection so compelling is the blend of work and play; the immediacy; the shared pleasure in sharing; and the free-flow of consciousness.

Actually this blog post was triggered off by a comment I read a few days ago in a piece on called It’s just ridiculous to argue about ghost-blogging

Try the link, it may work for you. I cannot access it now unless I pay a rather chunky subscription fee.

An anonymous contributor added this in a comment in his or her anonymous defence of ghost blogging (spot the irony): “a highly polished, marcom speak-laden entry, is highly preferable to undisciplined, poorly constructed, rambling from a great CEO who is not a writer”.

I’m sorry I don’t buy this. I don’t read blogs to be entertained by brilliant writing. I read blogs because I am interested in listening to that person. I want to feel connected to the author. I can’t do either if I know the blog is ghost written. If you don’t have time to blog, don’t do it. That’s fine. I won’t think any less of you! But if you are going to blog, be genuine and be real.

I like the advice that Kodak give on the subjectin their Kodak Social Media Tips: “Always be transparent. When you are communicating in social media say who you are and who you work for. Don’t try to be sneaky and plant comments, don’t hire people to go out and say nice things about you and stay away from ghost writing. Be genuine and be real.”

I’m going to leave the last word to an old pro who knows what he is talking about. If I’m a social media virgin, I guess Robert Scoble, is the Casanova. In his 2003 blogging manifesto he wrote: “Use a human voice. Don’t get corporate lawyers and PR professionals to cleanse your speech. We can tell, believe me.”  Scobleizer – The corporate weblog manifesto

Wise words indeed from the undisputed heavyweight champion of the blogging world!

Asda’s Green Room

I’d heard great things about Asda’s Green Room, an online portal where Asda staff can get together to find out what’s happening around the company as well as share their own stories, pictures and videos. What excited me most about it was that anyone can join in. The whole shebang is exposed to Asda customers, shareholders, media – anyone with a passing interest in Asda can and is encouraged to take a look around.

Given that I’m hugely interested in what I see as the inevitable convergence of internal and external communications, driven primarily by growth of social media, I had huge expectations when I paid my first visit. First impressions were mint. It looks great and sounds great. So I scratched beneath the surface a little. I have to say, by the time I left I was feeling pretty disappointed.

OK, so it has only been going for about 5 months. Actually 5 months in social media is probably the equivalent in several years in real-time. There are some signs of genuine interaction with ‘colleagues’ (that’s what Asda call their staff) and customers who have commented on the stories posted by the Green Room team. However, many stories have attracted no comments at all.

When you consider that Asda employs over 150,000 people in the UK, 90,000 of whom who are part time (and therefore presumably have a bit more time for social networking) this does not feel like success.

Lifting the bonnet slightly, I then saw that the Green Room’s own Facebook site has only 200 fans and despite almost daily updates, 2 ‘like its’ were the only sign of interaction going back to November 2009. I didn’t see a single comment on any of the wall posts during this time. The Green Room’s Twitter channel only has 51 followers (52 now – hi Steve!).

Please don’t get me wrong. I absolutely love what Asda have done here, it is ground breaking stuff – truly. I’m just a tad disappointed that Asda colleagues do not appear to have embraced the portal with as much enthusiasm as the very capable Green Room Team clearly have.

Watch this space – I intend to find out why.