posted 25 Aug 2010 in Volume 13 Issue 10
Small talk, big communication
Marc Gooch discusses RSA’s backtobasics approach to collaborative forums
Talking to each other using e-mail, instant messaging or social networking has become quite the routine for us. It’s a safe environment for communicating and it’s powerful too. The Facebook-based campaign to prevent the 2009 ‘X Factor’ winner Joe McElderry from topping the
Mind you, in many cases the social networking that goes on outside of work is not proving to be transferable within the office. At RSA, encouraging people to collaborate across our organisation without the use of social media has become a bit of a mission for us.
If we build it will they come?
We’ve got an active RSA community on Facebook. We all seem to connect very well with people we wouldn’t necessarily see as our drinking partners, but many people seem to know one another better, either through or because of Facebook. They’re comfortable networking online at home, but not necessarily at work.
An attempt at introducing a collaboration tool for our technical community was well researched and managed but, ultimately, it just wouldn’t operate under its own steam. We had to constantly prompt for contributions. Despite the desire, the reality was a lack of time and lack of real business need.
The novelty of commenting on intranet news stories soon wore off, too. Comments now only tend to come about when the subject matter is close to people’s hearts – for example, pay review announcements or competitions.
Contributing to online claims case studies trailed off in much the same way: an initial interest, but ultimately the sharing of thoughts and ideas was more efficient when face-to-face in the training room, or during ‘team buzz’ sessions, than it was on the intranet.
So, we looked at how we could engage people in meaningful collaboration while equipping them with a social network to enable them to collaborate. This would not only bring the appropriate technical communities together and improve stakeholder management, it would also also help people in their own careers.
Establishing technical forums has been great for knowledge sharing. Their purpose is to bring together not only key expertise within our different classes of business, but also to establish a bond between the head office technical function and the guys on the shop floor. They’ve been successful in indentifying emerging issues, reinforcing key messages, sourcing ideas and innovation, and acquiring the right kind of operational feedback to steer the strategic thinking.
The recipe for success is having the right people in the room, tailoring the agenda and purpose according to the business class and audience, and following through on decision making. In our household claims handling team, for example, the customer managers are on the phone and dealing with potentially emergency situations. Burning issues are more likely to be associated with types of drains and validating storm damage to flat roofs, whereas our commercial property handlers dealing with larger cases are picking up on more strategic issues, such as thermal stressing in the glazing of modern office buildings.
Those who are on our development programme need to establish stakeholders, cut across the organisation and progress their projects and careers effectively. An essential element is the way they connect with others, so to help support this we devised a networking element to their programme.
We devised an exercise based on how we use small talk to build a relationship. In preparation, we collected interesting facts (favourite holidays, books, films, sports, music, and so on) and, using a clever bit of technology, created a map of all the people and how they were connected. We then set everyone a 15-minute mission to find out who was connected to them.
While it’s become something of an ice-breaking exercise, in its full-length version, the session has proved to both connect people quickly and expose the resulting small talk as a powerful way to connect with people.
These connections bring fuel to our ‘grapevine’: what better way to distribute useful information? It cuts through networks, and through the organisational structure. It’s informal (sometimes subversive) and always engaging. In our organisation, it is one of the fastest and perhaps most trusted networks we have. But in an organisation like ours we do need to be careful about this kind of informal communication. But that’s another story…
Marc Gooch is KM consultant at RSA. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org