Improving Communications with IBM’s Platform for Cognitive Collaboration

We probably all feel that improving business communications is a good thing.  Employees feel more involved in their organisation, management get better feedback about what’s going on and customers can be better informed about what you do.

Improving communications is a broad statement however and covers many areas of an organisation.  For example there is:

  1. ”Corporate” communication – often the HR department publishes a company newsletter with a collection of news about what’s happening.
  2. “Department” communication – where the management of the department needs to share some update on a sale, product change, production schedule, new product range, etc.
  3. “Team” communication – where a team of people, perhaps involved in a project or some other “thing” need to communicate about what they are doing, how progress is going, publish meeting notes, etc.
  4. “Individual” communication – where you communicate what is happening in your work and what help you need.

All of these except for the last one might seem quite straightforward and are probably happening already in some form in your organisation.  The last one, however, the individual communication is actually the building block for a fundamental change of the culture of your organisation.

By communicating openly about the work you are doing, the people you have interacted with, the experiences you have gained and the  input you have received from others you can introduce a powerful new tool in your organisation: serendipity.

Serendipity is the chance discovery of something useful to you usually somewhere you did not expect to find it.  Publishing work you are doing, asking for feedback, reporting on what’s happening might seem like an awful lot of work for you and a lot of noise for others to deal with.  When you do it in the context if an activity stream – like which Connections and others like LinkedIn and Facebook use – then it can be extremely powerful.

In our Framework, you choose which people you want to hear from – when they make a communication this appears in your news feed, just like people you are friends with on Facebook do. 

The Framework encourages open sharing of updates rather than you sending emails to a group of people, only some of which might be remotely interested.

By letting others choose what to pull, rather than have you push information to them two things happen:

  • First they get some time back by not having to go through a huge list of emails which are irrelevant to them – time and money saved.

  • Second you don’t need to be concerned about whether the right people are receiving the information they need.  Let’s say you are working on an update to this document.  There could be someone out there in your organisation who is rightly very interested in this document – but you don’t know about them.  When you’re finished making the changes you circulate by email the finished version to the group of people you think would be interested.  Without something like IBM Connections managing the flow of news to people who actually are interested, then your collaborator (that you don’t know about) would never hear about your new document, and could, feasibly, assume that the version they have is the current one:

    2017-09-30_16-50-39
    By choosing to follow this community, updates which happen appear in my newsfeed. I decide what I want to see, not what the community owner decides to email me about.

If I subscribe to the actions of my immediate colleagues – those which I actually work with, I will get to see any changes they publish.  I can choose to be notified when a change occurs.  However, by virtue of the fact that I receive a “river” of information there could well be something one of my colleagues is working on which is very useful to me – and I didn’t know they were working on it.

The result – chance finding – serendipity – is an immediate “ah a” moment, and thus the experience and knowledge of the organisation is enhanced:

2017-09-30_16-50-04
My “river of news” – things I am interested in appear here.

Consider, therefore, the concept of Individual Communication.  What effect might that have in your organisation?  Are you in a Sales department where it would be useful to hear the “noise” about customer meetings which have happened?  By encouraging others to share openly through individual communication you can achieve this goal.

Turning now to team communications, you can use many of the core technologies of the Framework to improve team communications. Implementing an Engagement Center dashboard which your entire team uses to monitor the status of customer service requests is one approach.  Adding the “river of news” from your colleagues into that gives an opportunity to have a pseudo-live feed of what’s going on. 

Improving team communication could be as simple as having and IBM Watson Workspace that your team use to discuss, “chat” if you like, about what’s going on.  The critical advantages of Watson Workspace’s ability to apply augmented and cognitive intelligence to what you chat about is an enormous area for you to improve how your organisation works. 

At a simplistic level, just simply having a history of discussion which Workspace can summarise in to “Moments” is a hugely valuable tool for people who need to work together closely, but are perhaps not physically located near each other.

When it comes to Department Communication, this often starts to lead into what we might recognise as intranet country.  Department communications are usually more formal, are more about things that are happening and present opportunities for engagement through commenting and discussion.

Good practice with Department communications is to have the department leader regularly post a status update or a blog post or something like that to solicit feedback from the others.  The key to improving departmental communication is to encourage engagement, to encourage others to communicate at a department level, and essentially to encourage the “democratisation” of communicating amongst the department.

The final category where the Framework allows you to improve Communications is Corporate Communication.

This may seem like an overly grand term – we mean the ability of the organisation to communicate – and more importantly engage – with its employees.  Many organisations have employee magazines, news papers or similar.  These are great but inevitably they are one-way processed.  They are prepared by an editorial team and collect news from all around the organisation to be shared in some sort of publication.  These publications represent the kind of view of the organisation which the management wants to present.  Normally they are optimistic and forward-looking.  They are celebratory and pass on good news to encourage the organisation to feel good about itself.  This of course is an important goal, but perhaps in today’s “fake news” world we owe it to our employees to have a more engaged and open discussion about what’s going on.

Corporate Communications is a huge opportunity for any organisation to TRULY change the culture of the organisation into one which listens, learns and adapts.  This is a scary prospect for lots of organisations and of course this kind of “glasnost” is something which has to come from the top.

Corporate Communications can start with things like a CEO blog.  However these should wherever possible be as authentic and realistic as possible.  In IBM our CEO famously video blogged on her first day about her experiences and her expectations.  This had a dramatic effect and resulted in enormous engagement from the whole organisation.  Your organisation can take these kind of steps too – where you can be more open, more flexible and more engaged. This has a massive effect on morale, engagement, staff retention and ultimately sales success, customer loyalty and profitability.

Like a healthy family, one which talks openly and is not afraid to talk about difficult issues is one in which everyone feels valued and has their part to play.

Corporate Communications, whether it is the CEO putting together a blog, or even better, appearing to be present and active in the business by posting things like status updates and commenting on the work of others brings a massive improvement to how employees feel and their behaviour changes to be more like the ‘boss’ – happy, open, present and engaged.

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