Sunday, September 28, 2003
The Innovative Company - Employee Blogging
So, I've been doing some thinking about how a company maintains it's cutting edge after the initial wave that drives a company forward has passed. This is the first entry in what I expect will be an ongoing series.
The Opening Tsunami
When a company is first born, it is typically riding the crest of some "great idea". This idea is what captures the imagination of the financers that need to be wooed, the partners that need to be wrangled, and employees that need to be hired. The company is formed, infrastructure is created, and the idea is made real. Then what?
Then comes the task of keeping the company on track; managing its course. Often, such great ideas keep a company moving forward on its own for quite some time, but often the void after the initial rush is filled with competitors, internal apathy, and executive uncertainty. At some point, another wave needs to be generated or the company risks stagnating and being passed by either competitors or otherwise left behind as the situation that initially allowed for the company to come into existence changes.
In some cases, the person or persons who brought the company into existence - the ones with the original idea - are driven innovators and can surf change well enough on their own. But it is important to keep in mind that the skills to build a company, the skills to run it, and the skills to innovate are very different, and rarely housed in a single individual.
Whether formally or informally, a company that reaches the point where their initial wave of inspiration has long since passed has to find a way to generate innovation. There are many, MANY ways to go about this, from changing management, to hiring innovators specifically into new positions into the company, to bringing in consultants. The careful distinction you have to make at this point, however, is between those individuals or companies who have ideas in mind already, and those that can foster innovation. My guess is that many a person has been hired to "save" a company on the strength of an idea and that, while I've no doubt that the right idea CAN save a company, once the person was hired it was determined that the idea was untenable and the person floundered as they were unable to adapt to the new situation.
Wow, ok, I need to work on my writing style as I hadn't intended to give a soliloquy on the evolution of corporations. Let's just jump to the main points, shall we?
Waves are Water
What I mean by this is that for an idea to survive, it must live in a culture that fosters its existence, and has the right mechanisms in place to amplify them, when appropriate, and truly affect the company. In my opinion, this means:
- acknowledging the need for a formal R&D function
- Providing that function access to top-notch resources
- Giving that function real powers to make change
Of course, it also means:
- Keeping the R&D function focused on solutions for your business
- Holding that function accountable for maintaining a positive ROI for itself
- Something else to round this out to a nice, even 3 bullet points
Ok, more blathering...here's the core idea I was going for:
This sounds cliche', but your employees are a hugely valuable resource. They are often the ones in direct contact with how the business runs and what customers are saying. They are also the people who are likely to be thinking about answers to problems they are running in to. So, for any innovative company, maintaining this line of communication is key.
One tool in the set of tools you should be using to foster internal communication is employee blogging. This is more true of large companies than small ones, and more true of companies whose basic field is knowledge and not an actual product. Judicious use of this SHOULD be employed. But for the right kind of organization, giving the employees each a voice that is theirs can be the perfect way to extract current problems, solutions to problems, and, better yet, thinking about where the company should go next. Blogging is the equivalent of an open office space where people are encouraged to listen in on other people's (work related) discussions. If your employees have blogs, and other employees can read them, then they can get ideas off of what other employees are thinking and build their own.
At the same time, executives can keep their finger on the pulse of the company, in much the same way that executive blogging helps employees keep their fingers on it (see Intranet Blogs, below).
There are many danger points here. You don't want this venue to turn into a place where employees prattle on about things not related to the company, and you don't want it to turn into a place where people vent their personal issues with other companies.
For the right employees, however, a company blog can be the right place for them to spew out the thoughts and ideas that they have in their head that they might not otherwise tell you. For example, I have an employee who is THE guy for standards-based computing. He knows pretty much everything there is to know about what standards are emerging and what ones are interesting. But he's never going to tell me because he doesn't want to waste my time (of course, I don't think of it that way, but he's a considerate guy, and that's one of his rules for being considerate). If he had a blog and were encouraged to drop his thoughts into it from time to time, he just might. He could put stuff out there to be viewed, and if no one wanted to view it, then no one would and he wouldn't have wasted anyone's time. If someone DID read it, and his ideas took off, then he gets to feel more important and part of an organization that recognizes his value and that HE can influence (loss of perceived influence in the company is what leads many employees to be disenchanted with their companies).
Ok, so you get the idea. I'll develop this out more at a later point so you can see the beauty a bit better than it was presented here. In the mean time, please feel free to send me your thoughts (and links to your own blog) at: roblogATthenetatworkDOTcom.