Tuesday, 29 July 2008

Engaging the English?

Four years after publication I've finally found the time to read Kate Fox's "Watching the English." It's a bit embarrassing that it's taken me that long, since it is all about "English culture" but I'm glad I finally did so. If you haven't read it, it is rich with insights into the "English character" and how these manifest in daily life. Kate Fox is a serious anthropologist and doesn't over-generalise too much, but at the same time has managed to write a witty and insightful book that is easy to read.

It's been widely reviewed, so I won't dwell much on the content, except to say that if you ever find yourself watching an English ritual (ordering at the pub, for instance) and wondering "what on earth is going on?" then this is a good book to read. The rules of "pub life" have also been put on the web at the SIRC site. (SIRC is the research centre where Fox works.)

However, the essential characteristics she laid out really got me thinking about the culture clash within a lot of "employee engagement" programs, especially within multinational firms.

A stereotypical example (to avoid identifying anyone!): a large US firm has an engagement program, with pieces implemented by HR and Internal Comms. Within the UK office, this is put in place by local workers.

Picking out three characteristics from Kate Fox's list, moderation/balance, humour, and finally a taboo against earnestness we can begin to see some problems. The program may well be sold locally with a good dose of humour by the local workers, despite the earnestness present in the original descriptions written in Michigan. However, the underlying aims of "employee engagement" as defined at the US HQ might well conflict with local cultural norms about "not being too earnest" or "moderation/balance in work and play."

Now in the case of a small division, this isn't fatal, because culture is a broad assessment and every country contains a range of personalities. You can fill out a single department with people who fit well with the originating culture (in this case the USA) but as your employment requirements grow it will become ever harder to find candidates who aren't typical of the culture.

In time then, we will need to develop different sets of philosophical ideas of employee engagement that can fit with the cultures of different employees. That requires not only an assessment of the culture but also a real sense of "engagement" beyond the stereotypical notion of a hypermotivated, hyperactive, workaholic team.


Wednesday, 9 July 2008

More Social Networking examples...

Shiv Singh at TheAppGap tell us a bit about his panel talk with representatives from Best Buy, Serena Software and Oracle on their use of Web 2.0 social software.

The BestBuy experience is very interesting as an example of how certain kinds of business knowledge aggregation come out of social networking, but the one I am going to have to research more is Serena Software:

Serena Software is another interesting company and I blogged about them a few years ago (on another blog) when they first rolled out their Facebook Fridays initiative. Rather than trying to build a behind the firewall social networking enabled intranet, Serena chose to build their intranet on the Facebook platform. But not just that, they also built tools to allow the Facebook pages to connect with company data sources in a safe and secure manner. So rather than bringing the employees to the intranet, they went to where their employees were spending most of their time - on Facebook.

This is exactly what most companies are scared of doing on security/productivity grounds, so I think it's a fascinating development.

[N.B. After lunch with Steve Ward today, I realise I've been blogging far too much about various technologies and not enough about culture and communication as it features in my general work. Expect a shift of emphasis over the coming months.]


Thursday, 3 July 2008

Momentum of Social Networking in the Enterprise.


It's growing. I posted recently about IBM, I was at a recent event where Michael Ambjorn described the tools they are putting in place at Motorola and Lee Smith notes that social networking has landed at BT.

I'm not surprised by this, I've argued for a while that the large corporation is exactly the kind of large, geographically disparate body that could benefit from social networking.

Questions that remain:

a) If it's obvious for large corporations, how do we persuade the remaining "big boys" to take it up? Senior management resistance is still a big issue.

b) How big does the organisation have to be for social networking to be a no-brainer? What's the needed "critical mass" of a network to make this kind of software useful?