Collaboration – beyond the firewall

On Thursday I had an opportunity to present at a networking event organised by West London Business in partnership with Brunel University, along with my colleague Karl Roche (check-out Karl’s write-up of the event on his blog).  The theme of the event was “Innovation” and Karl and I gave an internal and external perspective on how IBM is using social tools for collaboration.

Prior to the event Karl and I spent hours discussing what we were going to present and how we were going to link to each other’s presentation.  And realised that splitting internal and external comms in the world of web 2.0 wasn’t easy.  Leveraging IBM’s internal audience is imperative in all of our external communication efforts.  In the end, we decided that we’d focus on IBM’s culture and values, and how these enable IBM and its employees to utilise social tools.

Karl was up first and set the scene nicely with an overview of the business benefits of social tools and the move within IBM from “Internal Communications” to “Workforce & Field Enablement” – i.e. that this department should enable ALL employees to be brand ambassadors, leveraging each of the communication vehicles available to distribute this information.

The stage set-up was rather awkward – with the slides projected on the wall behind you so that you couldn’t see which slides were shown.  Considering it was Karl’s first external speaking engagement (which I find very hard to believe!) – he managed to talk through his slides with NO notes.  He finished with the output of the internal Values-Jam held in 2003 – i.e. the identification of three core values, which underpin how IBMers interact with each other, and how we do business:

  • Dedication to every client’s success
  • Innovation that matters, for our company and for the world
  • Trust and personal responsibility in all relationships

In my presentation I explored how these values, in conjunction with IBM’s Social Computing Guidelines and adherence to IBM’s Business Conduct Guidelines, allow IBMers throughout the world to participate on the web, and how this internal jam led to the “Innovation Jam” in 2006.  This crowd-sourcing initiative included business partners, customers, universities and all other interested parties internally and externally.  150,000 people, from 104 countries participated, including clients from 67 companies.  More than 46,000 ideas were posted, with IBM funding $100m in the 10 best incubator businesses.

IBM has a history of embracing the web – in 1997 IBM recommended employees get on the internet, seeing it as an opportunity to learn how to best leverage the web for business.  In the spring of 2005 a strategic decision was made to embrace the blogosphere.  IBMers used a wiki to create blogging guidelines to protect bloggers and IBM, and these guidelines have now been extended to social computing, including blogs, wikis, social networks, virtual worlds and social media.
This culture of  innovation and knowledge-sharing underpins our usage of the social web.
Following our presentations we took questions from the audience, and it became clear that many organisations are still afraid to open themselves up to the potential benefits of social computing.  There is a fear that employees will do or say the wrong things.  Karl made a great point that criticism of the organisation should be welcomed – WITHIN your organisation.  If you allow employees to talk about problems internally and find ways to address these issues, there’s less likelihood they’ll vent their frustration externally.
All in all it was a fantastic opportunity to speak to people from a range of businesses and understand what they were doing in this area, and plant the seed of a new way of working.  Thanks to John Boult and the organisers at West London Business, and to Karl for being my wingman.
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