26 October 2010

Stop communicating, please!

Gerry McGovern, the famous guru on the subject of writing for the web has this famous line: giving an intranet to a communicator is like giving a pub to an alcoholic. Makes me smile every time I hear it, but it is so true!

In fact, this rule probably applies to most of the tools we use internally. Very often, when a manager or a project leader asks my advice, I tell him or her to skip 90% of what they were planning to communicate. Why write a newsletter that nobody reads, why add yet another full, non-relevant intranet page, why make a brochure about your project?

We need to reverse our tendency to communicate. My personal view is that our job as internal communicators should be to reduce the noise, not to add to it. Stop sending, unless you are really sure that you could add value for your readers.

Yes, I am guilty too, don’t get me wrong, but I have promised myself to change my habits, as the era of social media and information overload has changed the way that people want to receive information. Of course, we should not stop communicating, but, at least consider to stop SENDING.

So, why did I write this blog post, isn't that a contradiction? Remember, I am still that alcoholic in the pub, and old habits die slowly. In fact, I will probably write some more blog posts about this subject in the future, as I think the underlying trends will impact the world of internal communications immensely. And, of course, I must be arrogant enough to assume that I am adding value to you readers. I need a drink…

19 October 2010

Did you ever learn to be a knowledge worker – part 2

In my last blog post I raised this question: Did you ever learn to be a knowledge worker? In part two I would like to give you a little background on how this question came to my mind.

In the last few years I initiated the introduction of various free digital tools for internal communications in our company, but I did not do that on my own, on the contrary. In 2006 I joined forces with Samuel Driessen, our Information Architect. It was very interesting to collaborate, as Samuel and I both worked from a different background. We found each other in the middle, in our interest for social media. His cutting edge knowledge about enterprise 2.0 tools, and my knowledge about communication and human behavior was the perfect mix for a very creative approach that led to the introduction of various new tools in our communications mix on a budget of 0 Euros. This approach was well documented in various articles and presentations, so I will no elaborate in this blog post. When it came to executing our plans we could rely on my great colleagues at the Corporate Communications Department who made it happen and an IT team that was willing to take some risks.

We found out along the way that the adoption of enterprise 2.0 in a company is very difficult, as this area is located in what I would call an organizational vacuum between Information Management, IT, HR and Communications. Who owns publications, collaboration, knowledge sharing, document management and archiving in a company? The answer in many organizations is: nobody, really. Different departments own different parts. The Enterprise 2.0 developments force us to seek each others help. To illustrate that: I wrote an internal blog post once, titled ‘help, I’m in IT land now’, kindly commented on by our IT counterpart who said not to worry, as he was here to help (and he delivered). And, yes, my work as internal communicator has changed dramatically over the last few years.

Now, back to the question raised: did you ever learn to be a knowledge worker? After the introduction of the tools, we felt we needed to educate people, Samuel and I created a workshop about social media, and we found out along the way that our audience had actually never learned to be knowledge workers. They loved our explanation about what tool can be used for what purpose. We learned that people struggle to keep up with the information overload and that they are not aware of the great tools out there that can help them. We came to the conclusion that two things are needed. I already mentioned the tools, but a really underestimated second prerequisite is human skills.

That is why we raised this question: do we teach people to be knowledge workers? No, we don’t, and I would call upon all HR-managers, Internal Communications Manager, IT-managers and Information- and Knowledge management experts to join forces. Our employees need help! I hope you are lucky enough to find the same great colleagues from other departments that I encountered. And Samuel, thanks for everything, it was magic!

12 October 2010

Did you ever learn to be a knowledge worker?

One day you became an employee in your organization. Let’s assume you have an international office job. In order for you to be effective, it might come in handy if you start communicating and collaborating with other people both within your organization and with external contacts. Your organization will most probably also expect you to gain knowledge and to share that knowledge.

They gave you a computer with, of course, the possibility to send and receive emails. You were given internet access, you may have received access to some more tools, like SharePoint, FTPservers, you name it. If this sounds like your job, it is fair to say that you are a knowledge worker.

Now, how many of you were ever taught to be knowledge workers? Is there any department in your organization that teaches you how to find, share, document, archive information?

Did anyone tell you how to use a RSS reader to stay up to date? Did anyone give you guidelines for effective Email use? Did someone take the time to explain the main features of your intranet, and were you taught to use a Wiki? Did anybody point out to you that you need to store your documents safely, and accessible to the right people?

In our organization we would never let a factory worker work without safety instructions, yet I have to admit that in some department we allow our knowledge workers to do their job without proper knowledge of their basic tools. I have seen the same approach in other companies that I worked for.

I think organization should put an effort in educating their knowledge workers to use their tools. It would probably take on or two hours of training, and the benefits are huge.

Let me know what you think. Do you have programs in your organization? And do you recognize this need?

05 October 2010

The power of asking questions

Corporate communications is a trade with many branches. We are experts on media use, on advertising, on brand and reputation management. We invent concepts, write stories, deal with the press, provide project communication and change communication and the list goes on and on. But, today, I want to focus on a subject that is often forgotten. A subject that we own or don’t own as a department, depending on the organization: personal communications skills.

In past jobs, I often helped employees develop their own communication skills. During the years, it became very clear to me that many communication problems are caused by the simple fact that we talk in statements. Very often we assume that someone else said something. So, in a conversation,
I make a statement to my fellow communicator. She assumes to know what I said and makes a statement back. This goes on and on, very often with frustrating results. The situation becomes worse if this conversation is an email conversation instead of a personal meeting, as we then also loose the power of non-verbal communication.

To my own amazement I found out that the answer to these communication problems is very simple: learn to ask questions. A question connects straight away. A question opens up the possibility for dialogue. A questions shows that you are interested, but most of all, a question gives you the opportunity to check if your own statement is indeed in line with what the other said. The best question of them all is: what do you need? This question is open. It opens up the opportunity to say what he or she really wanted to say: the real need behind the statement. This is very often the real problem and often has to do with emotions like concern, fear, rejection, insecurity, anger.

By asking this question, the other has to formulate what their real need is. That, in return, gives you the opportunity to do something about it. Sounds simple? Yes it is, but we very, very often forget to do this. Listening is probably the most underestimated communication skill of them all. So, next time you come across a communication problem: ask a question! Or, to stay in character, and ask a question: do you believe in the power of questions too?