Matching the inside and the outside.

As I explored in my last my last post, I believe Vancity can use social media to create linkages between and among our staff and our members. Staff is a critical part of that equation, and not a community people talk about a lot when they talk about social media.

Vancity has nothing to say, its employees do. When you walk into a branch or call our call centre you don’t talk to Vancity, you talk to a real human being, so why not replicate that experience using social media? Make it an online extension of the kinds of conversations staff and members are already having.

My goal is to illuminate the network of staff, personal members, business members and not for profit, social enterprise and co-operative members that makes up Vancity – a network which is hardly utilized or even exposed. I consider it a central part of my new role and my department’s work to illuminate these networks, connecting the people who are part of Vancity to each other to create value and enhance well-being. Twitter is an amazing way to do that, and yet I don’t see many organizations using social media in this obvious way. There is risk involved, sure, but the risk is very small compared to the huge risks any financial institution encounters on a daily basis as part of its standard operating practices (bank robberies, anyone?).

Staff is your core community.

On Vancity’s journey using digital tools to mirror, extend and accelerate the way we engage communities offline, one factor that can’t be overstated, and one that I don’t hear others speak to much at all, is the utilization of internal social media within the organization.

In the Digital & Community Engagement department I lead, we’re fortunate that social media lives in the same department as our Intranet. As a result, when we introduced internal social media tools for staff with the relaunch of our Intranet in late 2010, we could focus on community building among staff within that project.

Our employees are a key community – they are instrumental in engaging our members and the public in what Vancity is doing. If they’re connected to what we’re doing, they can include this key differentiator in every member interaction. The new internal social media tools unleashed a culture and sense of community that had been there, but staff didn’t have the tools to engage on a large scale.

If your organization is struggling with social media, starting with internal social technology for staff is like installing training wheels. One advantage is that there is no anonymity (and I believe that internally, unlike out in the wild, every comment and post should be transparently traceable back to the employee who made it). It also acclimatizes the employees and the culture to this new mode of communicating. People can see it’s not all that scary and people are, for the most part, trustworthy and decent.

Build a culture of trust.

We made a smart choice in not governing the hell out of these tools, and instead chose to treat our staff like adults, and trust them not to violate simple rules of community engagement. We treat violations as one-offs and deal with them individually, rather than govern the life out of the entire community. In an earlier post, my friend Jeremy Osborn left a comment about whether it’s easier at a social-purpose business, and this may be true. If a great percentage of your employees are at the company for very similar reasons and personally align to the mission of the organization, I think it helps create trust that staff will do the right thing. It creates a uniformity of purpose that, I believe, requires less policing.

This goes back to a central principle I learned from the brilliant Rob Cottingham back in 2006 when we were designing ChangeEverything: Be a concierge, not a security guard. Focus on encouraging the kind of dialogue and engagement you DO want instead of focusing on shutting down the kind of activity you don’t want (and, in fact, may rarely get). It’s amazing how many times we’ve referred back to this precept over the last five years. Very, very useful because it’s easy to catch yourself building a wall when you meant to be building a bridge.

Organizationally, where the social media and Intranet functions are placed is far more valuable than many organizations realize. Alignment between these two areas is, I believe, critical to mutual success. The launch of internal social media is an incredibly important part of any company’s journey to unleashing engagement, because the more you trust people to behave responsibly, the better off you’ll be. And that is a central tenant of meaningful engagement.

“All social media is inherently authentic” is a quote I like a lot. To be authentic in today’s world, you have to match the inside with the outside.

The value of an Intranet.

On November 30th, we launched a new Intranet for Vancity staff. It was an initiative we started a year and a half earlier, and some people on my team had been talking about this upgrade for three years.

Vancity Intranet Screenshot

In the summer of 2009, with our partners in IT, we selected a local web and Intranet design and development company, Habañero as our partner to build a business case for a new Intranet. In my mind there was one main reason for tossing out our old Intranet and launching a new one: Improved ability to find information and people.

My boss refers to our old Intranet as “arthritic”, and it definitely kept our employees from finding the information they needed to do their job, as well as subject matter experts across the organization, quickly and easily.

Habeñero has been a great partner for us, and I was very happy to be able to work with them. They have written a case study of the project where you can see more details about the project as well as some screenshots.

In our research for the business case, we identified front-line staff as the main priority for our work. Their need to get information quickly so they can serve our members more accurately and efficiently trumped all other reasons for funding this work. We kept that priority in mind through every decision and challenge.

This was not a member-facing project, and yet our members were the main driver of this work. And search was the main way to achieve this – on Intranets many times employees know the document or policy or procedure they need to get their job done, and search for it directly. Search is King.

We also completely trashed our old navigation structure, which was convenient for content publishers, but not for content consumers. If every time someone publishes content it takes them a couple of extra minutes to decide where to put it to make it most logically findable, they will make the thousands of times people need to find that content easier and quicker. The business rationale is self-explanatory.

So we focused the navigation on serving members and everything else was secondary. Information that was scattered through different sections of the old Intranet was brought together in a single section designed specifically for front-line staff. We called that section simply Serving Members and it contains product information, tools, policies and procedures, rates, in-market information, and more.

We also needed to make it easier to find subject matter experts throughout the organization. Lets say a member in a branch has a question that is slightly esoteric or unusual, the employee helping them needs to be able to easily find a product manager in head office who might know the answer without wasting a lot of the employee’s or the member’s time.

For me, an exciting opportunity to further this goal was introducing social media within the organization so that the network of employees could be strengthened and enabled to connect in new ways.

When we wrote the business case, there wasn’t a tremendous interest in the social media aspects of an Intranet, so we took a bit of a Trojan Horse approach. We’d create the business case and build the new Intranet to achieve the business goals without compromise (finding information and subject matter experts quickly), and also quietly build in social media for employees knowing that this was something we needed to provide to the organization, even though most weren’t (yet) asking for it.

For an organization like Vancity that has a mission and attracts employees who care about that mission, creating a space where employees have voice, can share stories and comment on each other’s work is critical. It recognizes that our staff need to connect to do their work better and feel greater affinity for their employer. It is also a strong signal that we are modernizing our approach, and staying current.

Our partners in IT selected Microsoft SharePoint as our platform, which at first caused me some angst. The open source, Mac-tastic guy I am just didn’t buy it. But it wasn’t my call so I accepted it and moved on. But in the intervening months SharePoint 2010 was released and it is a major step forward. Microsoft has embraced social media in this new release and it is surprisingly good. We were lucky to be able to launch on this brand new platform so we don’t have to worry about an upgrade for a while, and we get all the new toys and bells and whistles.

And in the months of working to launch the Portal, a nice shift took place. People in the organization have become more open to, and even excited about, the social media features of the Intranet. It has gone mainstream. The My Site feature, like a LinkedIn or Facebook profile page for every staff member, has been widely embraced.

So our open approach to social media has paid off. Almost every page allows commenting, rating and tagging. We wrote good, simple community guidelines for our employees, and focused on launch adoption (including a kick-ass promotional video for employees by Vancouver-based Giant Ant) to prepare people for what was to come. It has been a major change, and one that will be good for the culture. Introducing social media within the organization will have profound implications on our ability to harness social media and engagement marketing as an organization, I am sure.

And a great thing happened starting on day one. People across the company started commenting on stories. Employees whom I’m sure have never commented on a blog before are commenting on articles about things happening at Vancity, and content authors are responding. As Jane in our Communications team says, “We’ve gone two-way, baby!”

There’s lots left to do. Some things we just got wrong and need to fix, some enhancements we couldn’t do for launch, a strong focus on governance. But it feels great to have it out there. It looks great, and provides a whole new way we as employees can get vital information we need to do our jobs, connect, collaborate and learn about each other and the organization we work for.

So little to say.

I have never let so much time go by without writing a blog post. Since Twitter came along, my output has definitely slowed down, even though I don’t tweet a whole heck of a lot. But lately I just haven’t had a lot to say.

My last post, about two open positions at Vancity’s AoR, Wasserman + Partners is so old, both positions have long since been filled. I write when I have something to say that requires the length of a blog post to get across, and it’s usually the result of some deep exploration I’m going through and want to discuss with all of you via my blog.

So the most troublesome thing about not blogging is that it seems clear that I haven’t been in exploring mode. Which is true. I have been in operations mode, which is far less conducive to philosophical questioning.

The main thing that took my focus in 2010 was the launching of a new intranet at Vancity, which brings social media inside the organization and creates an online network of our ~2,300 employees. That was major, and I’m very proud of the results, but it didn’t provoke much blogging.

So my personal wish for 2011 is that I am in a more philosophical, discovering mood and can use my blog as a vehicle for exploration.

Stay tuned.