Declining trust defines new role for intranets

Trust

The 2012 Edelman Trust Barometer, published last week, finds a deepening sense of distrust in governments, businesses and institutions. The annual global study, which questioned 30,000 people in 25 countries, reveals a dramatic shift in the value people place in information sources – which, in turn, has some interesting implications for communicators and intranet managers.

Across the globe, blame for the financial and political chaos of 2011 landed at the doorstep of government, as trust in that institution fell nine points to 43 per cent. In seventeen of the 25 countries surveyed, government is now trusted by less than half to do what is right. In twelve, it trails business, media and non-governmental organizations as the least trusted institution.

The private sector fared slightly better: trust in business fell from 56 percent to 53 percent, with countries like France and Germany, in the heart of the Eurozone economic crisis, experiencing double-digit decreases.

“Business is now better placed than government to lead the way out of the trust crisis,” said CEO Richard Edelman. “But the balance must change so that business is seen both as a force for good and an engine for profit.”

One of the biggest changes over the past year is the decline in trust in CEOs, which fell by 12 points. Faith in government officials fell like a stone too this year, down 14 points to just 29 per cent. It’s not unreasonable to assume this is reflected inside organisations too, so many will want to look again at CEO blogs as a means of increasing visability and trust in senior leadership. Over on Intranetizen, Jonathan gives some sterling advice on making executive blogs work.

Employee advocacy could be one way out of the mire. The survey found that credibility in average employees rose dramatically this year, so they are now the most trusted resource within an organisation. To capitalise on this, organisations must work harder to ensure their employees are informed and engaged – and then trust them to talk on the company’s behalf. This approach – what Edelman call radical transparancy – empowers employees to drive the conversation amongst their peers.

But to do this, organisations and leaders need to trust their employees first; companies which block access to social networks are preventing their employees from advocating on their behalf, and so missing a huge opportunity to engage with customers.

The barometer found people need to hear the same information about a company three to five times before they will believe it. This emphasises the importance of a proper communciations strategy which mixes on and offline channels to ensure the message gets out there. 

At the same time, trust in social networks as sources of information grew  by 75 per cent over the past year. Smart companies, then, will take advantage of this and embrace the value of conversations (by employees and the public) as a means of establishing identity and trust.

One corollary of this is that the growth in use of social networks, both internally and externally, means news travels fast. Employees can easily find information about their own company online, and all too often will hear (and believe) news from external sources before they do from their own manager.

This has huge implications for company transparency; corporate communciations structures need to keep pace with the changes. A good, social intranet – and improved access to these from a range of devices – gives organisations the means by which they can get their message to staff before they hear it from elsewhere. But this isn’t just a case of building it – leadership buy-in, and changes to the way corporate comms work with social intranets are essential to make it work.

Edelman’s report sets out long- and short-term approaches to rebuilding trust. In the short term, trust in a business is firmly tied to the bottom line. But future trust is more strongly linked to softer, societally-focused factors such as business ethics, placing customers ahead of profits and treating employees well. In the current environment, informed, engaged employees are best placed to communicate that message to the public – and intranets have a vital role to play in building that engagement.

Photo credit: Thorinside on Flickr

Internal communications teacamp

Contrary to popular belief, webbies aren’t always glued to their screens and hidden away in dank basements. They love to get out and about and network with their peers.

It all began with UKGovCamp, a one-day event for public sector digital types. These events – now in their third year – have no set agenda; people come with their ideas and problems and pitch sessions to the other attendees. The agenda is cobbled together on the day using post-it notes and flipchart paper. The result is an unconference far more interesting, informative and relevant than any event you’ve ever paid big bucks to attend.

This span off into Teacamp, the monthly informal get-together of Whitehall digital communicators and social media specialists. Each month 20 to 30 Whitehall webbies meet at a cafe in Westminster to share ideas, solve problems, learn something new and drink some tea. Usually someone volunteers to do a ten-minute talk on something cool they’re doing, or to gather feedback on a specific topic or project, and then it opens up to the group to ask questions, say what they think or seek solutions to their own work challenges.

It’s a fantastic model for professional networking and knowledge-sharing. One which it would be a shame to resign to the digital sector alone. If there’s one thing Internal Communicators are good at, it’s nicking good ideas from elsewhere and applying them in our own work contexts.

So with that in mind, myself and two other internal communicators are plotting the very first Internal Comms Teacamp.

We’re inviting internal communications specialists to come along to share ideas, natter about comms, and drink some tea.  It’s open to anyone who works in employee communications, not just digital types, from the public and private sectors.

We’re kicking off at Apostrophe in Market Place (near Oxford Circus) from 4-6pm on May 25th. Come along! Or give me a shout via the Contact Me form or on Twitter if you want to know more.

UKGC10 Session two: Socialising Internal Communications

The second session of the day was the one I was looking forward to the most, having discussed it ahead of the event with Kim Willis and Mark Watson.

Kim took the lead on facilitating, but as it turns out the discussion managed to veer though the full swathe of internal comms issues without the need for much facilitating at all. It seemed like we covered an awful lot in under an hour, and could have talked for at least another hour.

Almost everyone agreed  social media could play a much bigger role in internal communications, but within the public sector at least there hasn’t been widespread adoption yet.

Someone described social networking as “what intranets are supposed to be” – enabling you to connect and collaborate with colleagues, share information and improve communication.

A social intranet enables the recording and sharing of organisational knowledge. But while knowledge management looks at how we manage our intellectual capital, we need also to look at how we record, share and pass on social capital too – that is, sharing that knowledge of people and processes that we all build up over time.

Shane Dillion said we rely too much on traditional, top-down methods of communication that no longer suit the way we work. To become more effective, everything we learn outside the organisation should be bought back in and shared.

By enabling colleagues to connect with one another, and by making working lives a little bit easier, good social intranets have a positive impact on employee engagement too.

Many cited middle management as a barrier to adoption of social media. In some ways this is understandable, as social internal comms reduces the middle managers role as a gatekeeper of information.

Our current organisational structures are built for command and control, not collaboration. So the success of internal social media  depends on moving management towards a culture of co-creation.

The question of culture is a very important one. Technology cannot itself create a collaborative culture; if people aren’t talking to each other already, introducing social tools isn’t going to make them.

Other common barriers include silo culture and concerns around security, particularly in relation to things like Government Connect. Platforms like Yammer are incredibly simple to use, and have some great functionality, but sitting outside the firewall are considered too risky by many.

(As an aside, while I like Yammer, I find its default email setting – which emails for every notification – begins to grate remarkably quickly and is itself a barrier to adoption).

But as I blogged about recently, the business case for internal social media is strong and growing. Carl Haggerty gave an update on the Devon County Council social networking pilot he talked about at LocalGovCamp. They branded this ‘business networking’ to counter accusations of frivolity and timewasting. This succeeded in winning hearts and minds, and in evaluation recently he found it produced considerable (but non-cashable) savings.

So what do we do to hasten the adoption of social media inside the firewall?

  • JFDI. The old adage that it’s easier to ask forgiveness than permission is true to some extent, but it isn’t that simple when it’s your job on the line. But start with a small, agile pilot that can be scaled up if successful. If it works, the organisation will buy into it. If it doesn’t, you won’t have lost much.
  • If you want to promote new ways of working, switch the old ones off. Carl Haggerty said his team made a commitment to use their Business Networking tool for discussion rather than sending group emails. People like their tried and tested methods, so you need to provide incentives to change.
  • Dave Briggs said change needs to be dramatic to work – new tools have to do the same thing at least nine times better to win people over.
  • Get buy in from leadership, and encourage them to use social media internally to communicate, listen and lead.
  • Don’t focus on the negatives. Yes, some people will misuse social tools, but most will not. Posts have real names on, so are self-policed.
  • Don’t reinvent the wheel. Adapt your code of context to say how it applies in an online context rather than write a new code from scratch – that way you avoid protracted negotiations.
  • Hug your CIO. Work with ICT to reach solutions to problems like security rather than focus on barriers.
  • Demonstrate value. Budgets will be tight for many years to come, so we need to set out the business case for social tools, though improving flexibility, sharing knowledge, and improving productivity.

Internal social media sits at the intersection of culture change, innovation and knowledge management. It has the potential to deliver innovation and collaboration, but to do that we need to adapt to the cultural and technological barriers in our own organisations.

This was a vibrant and varied discussion, and we could all have talked for ages. Phil McAllister suggested an internal comms barcamp, which a few of us have begun to discuss in more detail. Watch this space.

Intranets are key to recovery in 2010, say surveys

Each January, Jakob Neilsen’s annual intranet design annual is released. This showcases the top ten intranets of the year, and is a good indicator of trends in intranet design and usability.

This year’s Neilsen report found intranets are becoming a higher priority for organisations, intranet teams are growing in size, and increasing numbers feature mobile accessibility and social networking.

On the face of it, the improved functionality comes as no surprise. Mobile internet and social media has grown exponentially over the past few years. Our experience of using the web creates expectations of the kind of content and functionality we want at work too; as we rely on our iPhones to do everything for us when we’re out and about, we expect to be able to use our intranet on it too.

That intranet budgets and teams have continued to grow despite the long recession reflects a growing realisation that intranets can deliver real return on investment for organisations.

Significant and measurable returns can be made by making information easier to find – quite simply, less time spent searching for things is more time people can spend doing something worthwhile. Functionality like self-service HR can see sizable reductions in administration costs.

Less easy to measure, though, is the value of the intranet in improving engagement. Last year’s MacLeod Review on Employee Engagement (from the Department of Business, Innovation and Skills) found that more widespread adoption of employee engagement approaches could impact positively on UK competitiveness and performance, and meet the challenges of increased global competition.

Good intranets not only make life a little easier for colleagues, they improve communication, facilitate collaboration, enable people to connect and have their say, and help workers feel part of their organisation. This, in turn, encourages employees to say, stay, and strive.

Another study out this month, from communication research specialists Melcrum, would suggest organisations have heeded Macleod’s call for greater focus on engagement.

In the survey of 2,212 senior communicators, 40% said the business case for social media within internal communication was clear and that there is visible return on investment, while 53% of those who responded said they were planning to increase investment in their organisation’s intranet in 2010.

The results of this study show that not only are organisations investing in good intranet design, but also in functionality and content. When asked about channels used for internal communication, the intranet ranked as the most effective channel by 73% of senior communicators worldwide, with a clear majority believing webcasts and video would grow in importance in 2010.

Respondents highlighted a wide range of business benefits from investment in internal social media. These included improved levels of employee engagement (21%), better communication with remote workers (16%), knowledge management and collaboration (25%), improving employee feedback (20%) and making business leaders more visible and accessible (14%).

Both the Neilsen and Melcrum studies show intranets are maturing. Increasingly they’re moving away from being a simple repository of information and becoming instead a platform for communication, collaboration and engagement.

Victoria Mellor, CEO of Melcrum said: “There is a fundamental shift happening with how information flows inside an organization. Peer-to-peer online networks are enabling real-time feedback from employees to inform decision-making, not to mention facilitating collaboration between remote workers.”

With budgets tight, the pressure is on for organisations to demonstrate value for money. But with growing evidence of the business benefits of investment in intranets and internal social media, it’s clear they’ll play an even more important role in 2010.

Google Wave for Internal Communication

After my first post about Google Wave, I asked if any other internal communicators would be interested in trying Wave to see what, if any, applications it could have in our field.

And so a couple of weeks back I was joined online by BlueBallRoom’s Jenni Wheller, and Mark Detre, who’s responsible for Google’s own internal communications across the EMEA region (good to see Google eating their own dogfood here).

The three of us began by having a simple play around with the features, adding maps and pictures to the discussion. Once we’d got the hang of it, we began to think about how we might be able to use it to improve internal communciation.

Jenni asked “‘I’m not sure what it adds to the mix – i understand that it integrates various platforms that we all use but do we like keeping them seperate? do we need them all together like this? I feel like i’m skyping!’

However, by combining the live aspect of chat with the option of playback (asynchronicity) of email, it beocmes useful for dispersed teams.   In my last job, working for global charity, we had people working in pretty much every time zone. A platform that allows for people to watch the discussion before adding to it themselves, could be a real benefit to small but global organisations.

We talked about the potential for organisations to use Wave for specific communications. It would work very well for something like a live online chat with the CEO, where people could post questions in advance of the live event, and join in at the time or play back afterwards.

However, even with just three of us talking at once the conversation can be happening at several different points in the Wave, so it’s easy to miss bits of it.

Similarly, it’s quite easy to ‘zone out’ while on Wave. Tab over to an email, or answer a call, and it’s hard to remember where you left off.

Jenni, Mark and I agreed a Wave discussion, like a face-to-face meeting, would work a lot better with a chair or facilitator keeping participants on track.

You need different tools for different jobs, and this one would appear to work well for specific projects, allowing people to chat, email and share documents all in one place.  Mark said:

‘The main draw for me is that it brings everything together; for example, I do most of my drafting in Google docs, and I guess there’s also an easy way to insert those; it looks like Wave is best for businesses that do most of their work online or in the cloud’.

Few organisations are yet at that stage, though; this is a little premature for the rest of us, and would almost certainly be difficult to sell to colleagues. The potential is there, but we need resources as well as attitudes to catch up.

There’s still a long way to go before social media tools become the norm in the workplace. And even when they are, our existing channels remain useful. As I spotted when I visited Google recently, even in a high-tech environment the printed poster still remains effective.

Will it change the world? No. But will it help internal communicators? Possibly. We all have to make a call on what helps our own organisations to talk, listen and collaborate, and this is certainly a useful tool to add to the mix. Nonetheless, becoming more collaborative requires cultural change.

And that means changing our behaviours, not our tools.

If you’d like to read and join in the Internal Comms Wave, drop me a line and I’ll invite you in.