Not everyone sees the visionary road for internal blogging as Charlene Li of Forrester Research does. It looks like I’m one of the seemingly few who very firmly does share that vision on how blogging might evolve in companies as part of an integrated communication and information-sharing system or process, and as a means unto a very clear business end.
To remind us, this is that vision from Forrester’s report on the corporate use of blogs:
Forrester envisions a day when new employees on their first day will be handed a sheet of paper with their phone number, email address - and a URL for their blog. The company would give all of its employees a personal internal blog where they could provide project updates, trip reports, and market intelligence - anything that they think others should know about the work that they are doing. This information could then be tied into the company's VoIP phone system - for internal calls, the caller's photo, title, bio, and a link to his blog would appear on the computer screen. The blog content would give context and background for the call, making it unnecessary to send extra emails or to have extensive discussions about a project.
I’ve seen posts on some blogs that disagree with this vision. Fredrik Wackå trashed the idea pretty strongly in a post last week, concluding “[…] to people passing by the business blogosphere, wondering what's going on here, those kind of visions [are] exactly what makes us look like psychedelic blog evangelists with a serious lack of reality check.”
In his arguments, Fredrik does make some good points. For instance, he highlights a lack of natural writing ability among many business people today. He speaks about those who do want to write but don’t have time.
Is he right, though, to dismiss Forrester’s vision so completely?
Well, I’d broadly agree with Fredrik on one point: what he highlights are real issues in many companies. But such things will not prevent this vision from becoming a reality in many companies.
And that’s an important qualifier: “in many companies.” This won’t happen everywhere - including for reasons such as Fredrik outlined – certainly not yet. But it will happen sooner in enlightened companies and in companies who want and are able to push the envelope and see how technology tools and channels can help improve and enhance information-sharing and inter-relationship developments between employees, for clear business benefit.
This reminds me of similar negative views when PCs began appearing on corporate desks everywhere in the late 80s and early 90s. Managers, product developers, sales people doing their own word processing? No way! That’s what we have secretaries for. Anyway, managers can’t type, they use dictating machines, they don’t have time, that’s not what they’re there for, and myriad other reasons. And what about when email first arrived on the corporate scene? Or when websites first appeared (“this will never catch on in business”)?
Forrester’s vision seems to takes a longer-term and sustainable view, I believe. While the technology clearly does exist today to enable people to do what the vision illustrates, the cultural and business environments within many companies aren’t necessarily ready for it just yet. So this is also about the workplace, working practices and, indeed, visionary leadership and management (as well as practicalities like IT budgets).
I’ve spent years trying to help employees at all levels in companies become effective communicators. Like Fredrik, my efforts have included coaching people in writing skills. I’ve also worked with employees on how to present, how to turn meetings into events that are worth spending time in, you name it. In all such cases, there are some who are naturally good at it, some who really do need coaching (and really want that coaching), and others who will always resist and not want to participate. This just represents the spectrum of different human attributes, so it will undoubtedly apply in the workplace environment as envisioned by Forrester.
Among other things, tomorrow’s business game is about being highly nimble and exceedingly quick, faster than your competitors. That means giving your people the means to be highly nimble and exceedingly quick. You can be sure that those companies who do successfully implement a workplace such as in Forrester’s vision will be streets ahead of the competition (all other things being equal, naturally).
So coaching in how to use these new tools and how to help employees ‘work’ the new environment will be significant requirements. And here’s where it gets interesting. Forget traditional coaching such as the type I’ve done in previous years. Oh, it will have a place, but think about mavens and connectors.
Mavens are the information geeks: those who live on information, love to surface new information, and love to share that information with others. We all know such people among our business colleagues and personal friends – the someone who always knows how to configure that networked colour laser printer, or where in the depths of the intranet you can find such-and-such information about that new product, or where the best deals are on cheap flights. Connectors are the ones with large networks of other people. They love working those networks, always knowing someone who can do that something, and love match-making.
These two groups will be the new coaches, the catalysts for helping others in informal ways which will complement the formal training channels. The technology itself will also make it simpler and so much easier for such informal channels to develop.
But this isn’t new: we’ve always had mavens and connectors. That’s exceedingly good news – mavens in particular will jump on these new technologies, systems and processes.
So I would say to any company passing by the business blogosphere: Stop! Take a look at this vision. Feel it, taste it. See how it works. See what it can do for you and your people, and for your competitive position. Let’s talk about it. Have faith and an open mind - this is your eventual future.