Making a Deal: Unlocking Potential In Communities

 There is no power greater than a community discovering what it cares about.

 Ask “What’s possible?” not “What’s wrong?”

 Be brave enough to start a conversation that matters.

Margaret J Wheatley

One of the many challenges for the public sector is that it must start believing in people and communities again.

If you take the Social Housing sector as an example you’ll see it has spent a long time making life as easy as possible for people.

Free telephone calls , a 24 hours repairs service and if you’re on benefits you don’t even have to worry about the rent getting paid – we’ll sort it for you. Neighbour’s dog barking? Leave it with us. 

I exaggerate of course – but only slightly. Huge parts of the public sector have designed services around what people can’t do for themselves rather than nurturing what they can.

Now we have to reverse it.  Not because there’s a lack of money but because it fundamentally disempowers people. It was a lovely, thoughtful thing to do but it leaves people ill-equipped for life in the 21st Century.

And , worst of all, it massively under values the skills and passions that people have.

Last week I spent time with a great group of people from all sectors looking at adopting preventative approaches rather than being reactive.  It’s an initiative of the Wales Audit Office and their partner organisations.

What most impressed me? Here were people actually making change happen , rather than just talking about it.

This is by no means easy. Radically changing your service usually means you’ll encounter disappointment and failure at some point. It’s easier to stick to what you know.

I was asked along to talk about the Deal - which is the most significant and far reaching innovation I’ve worked on at Bromford. And like any innovation – it has its critics.

The Deal starts from the position of believing that people want to move forward in life. And Bromford have begun to reshape their entire service around that belief.

  • Residents complete an online assessment where they get to talk about their skills and hopes for the future. Many have said that it’s the first time they have ever been asked about aspirations.
  • Goals are being set around what they want to achieve , in their words. They are coached that they can do it , not expected to fail.
  • And the Bromford service is being gradually reshaped as something that propels people forward and builds on what they can do. Rather than keeping them locked in a moment in time.

And it’s not easy. Changing a service that’s been delivered the same way for years is really hard work.

The top messages I wanted to impart were:

Think Big. Start Small. The reason most public sector innovation stalls is people spend so much time thinking , talking and writing reports it becomes too big and scary to tackle. Start doing small stuff as quickly as you can. At the early stages of the Deal we were only offering it to 15 or 20 people a week – genuinely co-creating,  learning and adapting together.

You Will Fail At Some Point. So Fail Fast. Don’t start a really expensive IT project to replace your legacy systems when you haven’t even tested if the service works. Prototype. Test. Break. Rebuild. We developed a micro IT system for about £20,000 to kickstart the Deal. Losing £20,000 is bad. Losing £200,000 is bloody awful.

Take People With You. Involve them in the design. Let them try out new roles and play in a different position. Don’t go through restructures before you know what you’re doing. It kills momentum and by the time you’ve done it you probably need to do it again. But remember that not everyone will go with you. Radical change means some people will want to get off the bus at some point.

Keep The KPI Simple Stupid. Measuring what’s working is really important – but don’t obsess about performance management before you’ve started doing anything. Does if feel like the right thing to do for the customer? Is it hurting your business? If it’s not you’re probably safe to proceed.

The message I took away was the need for us all to be braver. To be unafraid of being laughed at.

Most of us work in sectors that are frighteningly risk averse – that fear the new and the different. That’s why many of us have the same structures, the same policies, the same job titles and even the same IT suppliers. And we go to the same conferences as there’s safety in numbers.

Believing in what people can do means being brave enough to admit that we won’t always be needed.

This is about us all being brave enough to start a conversation that really matters.

Do We Need A Manifesto for Social Change?

A really odd thing happened to me recently.
I agreed with something George Osborne was saying.

OK. I was on holiday and had experienced a bit too much sun. Probably a bit too much alcohol as well.

But something he said resonated with me.

Osborne had stated Europe was falling behind the continents in the south and east - including in innovation. The European share of world patent applications has nearly halved in the last decade.

Back in Vietnam – everything I saw around me confirmed this. The drive. The energy. The agility.

I’m lucky enough to have visited South East Asia three times in the past couple of years. The dynamic mix of optimism, work ethic and community spirit is intoxicating.

It’s connected too. WiFi is genuinely regarded as a utility. Pretty much every residence , every bar , every business is online. Kids with no access at home sit outside stores in pop-up community hubs.  The web coupled with a boom in cheap smartphones and tablets is fuelling a vibrant connected culture.

Certainly there’s a lot of tech innovation in Asia – each country wants its own version of Silicon Valley. But the future is about more than just Flappy Bird 

What’s compelling about Asia is the community driven innovation. There’s a level of grass roots problem solving that I just can’t see in the UK.

And let’s face it. We have a few problems that need solving.

1.8 million on the waiting list for a home in an unloved sector not known for its innovation and creativity

A funding gap of 30 billion for the NHS – the fifth biggest employer in the world

An adult social care system faced with an ageing population that could lead to a shortfall of a quarter of a million carers.

Nearly 1 million unemployed young people – and teenage educational performance lagging behind that of many Asian countries

It’s going to take more than an app to solve this one.

In fact we need social innovation on a scale that we’ve never seen before.

And I mean BIG innovation that can challenge established delivery. After all – it’s no use complaining about the likes of A4e or Atos when we’ve failed to come up with a viable alternative.

One of the problems – of course – is our legacy systems. In Asia they can easily make a 21st Job Centre because they never had the 20th Century model.

In the time we have upgraded they will be onto Job Centre Version 10.2. Probably with robots in it.

By comparison most of our organisations are still running on Internet Explorer 6.

Is there any chance for us?

Yes. But it needs disruptive innovation that transforms sectors , not incremental change that will take 10-15 years. We simply don’t have the time.

What can we do?

  • Walls need to come down between sectors. It would be a failure if we are still debating the same issues at our sector specific conferences in two years time.
  • We need to accelerate the formation of ideas into delivery and fail fast. If our organisations think like they have for the past ten years we will be out of business in five.
  • We need to remove those with vested interests who create barriers and ask for another report before committing to action.
  • We need every organisation to publish a statement of how they are promoting disruptive innovation.

We need a new operating system.

We need a Manifesto for Disruptive Social Change.

Do you agree or disagree?

Note: The Manifesto for Social Change was created at Housing Goes Digital during a crowdsourcing session with delegates. Thanks to Thom Bartley for the great slide deck.

Digital by Design: Making the connected organisation more human


I must get at least four or five emails every day offering me help becoming digital by default.

Every single one gets deleted. Not because I don’t need help , but because they talk of cost savings and efficiency rather than beautifully intuitive service design or of creating a rewarding customer experience.

Don’t believe me? This is how the agenda to get more customers using online services is described (“Channel Shift” – ugh!) on a prominent consulting website:

Achieving channel shift is what the council website is all about – about moving customer contacts and transactions from more expensive options (people) to less expensive options (the web)  and moving from services which require staff to be involved to those which do not.

I’ve not provided a link to spare blushes but you can google it if you think I just made that up.

I agree that those ‘more expensive options’ (formerly known as people) do cost quite a bit. But they can be pretty wonderful at connecting with fellow humans, personalising service and , you know , just being nice to chat to once in a while.

If you listen to people who want to remove the humanity from organisations it will almost certainly lead to the death of your business.

Many who glorify channel shift and tech have forgotten that most of us are in the business of providing human centered services. And our digital presence should embrace this , not seek to repel it. The reason that social networks are so popular – with their gossip ,  selfies and memes – is they celebrate our humanity and the power of our connections.

The businesses that are truly successful in changing the way customers contact them have done it by prioritising a better customer experience overall - not through just moving people to a cheaper channel as though they were an inconvenience. 

I recently attended a talk by O2. In the past two years they have seen over 2 million fewer phone calls as people increasingly choose to use their web and social offerings.

O2 2

I’m a long term customer of O2 and have seen their progression to digital up close. Dealing with them via social media or Live Chat is mostly a joy. After using their digital services you simply wouldn’t think to phone them.

Here’s some things I took away:

Design your organisation for mobile customers

As mobile becomes the default way the internet is accessed so the culture must be designed around serving people on the go. Designed around people who are time poor and impatient. If you haven’t tested how your customer service works from a smartphone , accessed whilst sitting on a bus – you simply haven’t tested it properly. 

Invest in the right team and the right skills

Just because you have a team that has delivered an outstanding call centre does not mean they are equipped to serve the connected customer. It requires new skills , thinking and a culture of digital leadership.

To drive change people will need to be retrained. To drive transformational change you will need new people.

In a social business people are recruited to speak like real people and not to broadcast. Leaders implicitly understand social. What companies like O2 are achieving is the exact opposite of the prevalent public sector culture of “I don’t understand digital – I”ll get some 22 year old to do it for me”.

Be relevant in time

Response times matter – particularly in social where service expectations work in minutes rather than hours. O2 were generous enough to name the leaders in this field as the airline KLM – if you haven’t seen their wonderful Twitter feed that estimates the time it will take to give you a response – it’s worth a look.

Screenshot 2014-02-13 13.34.37

If you’re going to do social – be social

O2 have a lively, social and fun brand. They are known for the humour and unique tone of voice in their social response.  But the message is clear – don’t try and be cheeky and fun if you’re not. It’s embarrassing. Establish your brand values and stick to them.  By the way – they didn’t let me down when I name checked them on Twitter during the conference.

Screenshot 2014-02-14 06.35.55

What can we learn? The digital agenda risks getting derailed by the rush to technology as the solution for everything. It’s inherently flawed. As Tony Smith has said – only 25% of great customer experience is about technology, 75% is made up of people and deployment.

Really we shouldn’t be talking about channel shift and digital by default at at all. We should be talking about digital by design.

I will never phone O2 again because they have designed a Live Chat and social experience that is rewarding to me as a customer.

I went back to my organisation with the aim to make our digital experience so enjoyable that people choose not to phone us anymore. It’s an important shift of emphasis.

Let’s stop talk of “less expensive options”. Let’s use the power of digital connectivity to make our organisations more human , not less.

Lessons In Social Business (via Vietnam)


6am December 29th , Con Son, Con Dao Islands

I’m woken by the crackle of a public address system. It’s the Communist Party giving their twice daily update of the official state news.

Welcome to Vietnam.

I walk outside. The early rising vietnamese are up and about. Getting ready for school. Heading to work on scooters. Checking their smartphones. Nobody seems to be listening to the broadcast.

I’m wide awake – so I check the news on Twitter.

Except Twitter doesn’t work.

Although the Facebook ban was lifted a couple of years ago, Twitter still suffers from many blocks. The Communist Party are undecided about the value of social media. It has become a potent means of challenging the state’s official narrative and authority. Indeed – Internet access and smartphone ownership has spread exponentially in recent years.

It’s a fairly unsophisticated Twitter block though. A quick google of “How to get around Vietnam firewalls” plus a few iPhone settings changes has me tweeting again in minutes. 

This DIY mass communication is a source of frustration to the Party. Through blogs and social media, the people are bypassing official broadcasters and getting their information from sources they trust. People just like themselves. 

Change is happening at a faster pace than the state would like. They are forever dealing with a wave of online protests that are becoming increasingly difficult to contain.

A connected generation. The rise of the individual as social influencer. New and unlikely collaborations threatening hierarchy and removing silo mentality.

The Vietnam story is just 2014 organisational change writ large.

If we’re honest, many western organisations are just as uncomfortable with the change brought about by new social networks. They don’t jail bloggers for sure – but they do have a number of ways to limit personal autonomy:

  • The blocked access to social media sites (which just like in Vietnam takes seconds to circumvent from any smartphone)
  • The approval proforma submitted to a Comms team to get a social media account (I was told only last week of an organisation where employees have to “earn the right to tweet”)
  • The long policies with lists of things you can and can’t say. (So it’s safer not to say anything)
  • The ubiquitous – and completely meaningless – profile use of “These are my views and not my employers”.

It’s time to decide which side of the fence you’re on.

On one side – the organisations who think individuals are the important voices. These are businesses comfortable existing in a state of flux as they adapt to the digital landscape. It’s fast paced and flawed. Structures and policies are discarded in favour of (sometimes reckless) innovation. Hierarchy gets weakened every day. They happily admit they don’t have all the answers and seek out collaborators. 

On the other – the organisations who prefer structure , order and process. Data drives decision making by the few. The collective voice is the official channel. The organisation projects authority. Everyone knows the part they play and they rarely depart from their position, pay grade or job description. Their digital presence is more monologue than dialogue.

These are both valid options for any business, although the latter seems to be less viable with each passing day.

We are still at the very early stages of the adoption of social business models. Indeed many leaders, probably a majority, still think of social as a set of tools rather than it being a much broader cultural philosophy.

Those in the know are clear: Social business is less about social media and more about technology as an enabler of wider cultural transformation. It’s using tech to make organisations more human.

In Vietnam - the growth of collaborative technologies is rapid. They are fuelling new social movements and calls for radical change. The “official”  line is being subverted and increasingly ignored in favour of myriad social networks.

But this isn’t just Vietnam. It’s your organisation – right now.

Our challenge is whether we choose to work with it or against it.

State advertising (or propoganda) - Ho Chi Minh City

State advertising (or propaganda) – Ho Chi Minh City

3 Things We Should Learn From Benefits Street


Apart from the unfortunate title, Benefits Street is pretty good.

Having seen the first two episodes I genuinely can’t understand what the fuss is about.

It’s a great piece of commercial television (think – My Big Fat Gypsy Wedding) that’s designed to shock.

And , boy , have we fallen for it.

Primetime TV + Benefits  =  Bang: The Twitter Liberal Left erupt in a perfectly predictable frenzy.

But by dismissing the show out of hand  (I reckon less than 10% of people tweeting about it have actually watched it) we miss vital opportunities.

  • We don’t learn from people who are superb storytellers and know how to construct a genuinely populist narrative. (Something the social housing sector has failed to do time after time)
  • We don’t learn lessons about the way our organisations have failed to connect with some communities, and have contributed to their social exclusion.
  • We get distracted and start indulging in petty campaigns (petitions to get it taken off air – for heaven’s sake!) rather than thinking big and innovating.

If we did more listening and a little less talking we would pick up three important lessons:

1 – You change hearts and minds with stories not statistics

The past couple of weeks have seen a number of infographics and articles that aim to challenge the actual size of the welfare problem or show that tax avoiders are the bigger issue.

All of which are very interesting and probably correct but serve no purpose whatsoever in moving the debate forward.

Does anybody think that someone with an entrenched belief that welfare is a lifestyle choice gets one of these things in their inbox and says  “Oh. I see. I was wrong all along. Apologies”.

Of course not. The producers of Benefits Street know that storytelling trumps statistics every time. As Thom Bartley points out in his latest post:

“The public doesn’t respond to blah blah million lost off a balance sheet, they respond to the story about a mother losing benefit because her disabled kid uses an extra room”

2 – Real people tell a better story than professionals

This is the master stroke of Benefits Street. They’ve allowed people to speak for themselves. The professionals who help and , sometimes,  hinder their lives are mercifully absent.

Here’s how we are referred to:

Letter from Work Programme provider: “What f*****g work programme? I’ve never worked in my life”

DWP changing payments: “There’s going to be riots soon unless people start getting paid”

Housing:  “These landlords think they are clever (chasing rent). They’ll have to pay to go court and it’ll take you about a year and a half”

So – not a great level of advocacy for the agencies who are paid millions to support them.

The residents come across as likeable , aware of their own shortcomings and display a deep sense of community.

It’s refreshing to hear the impact of reforms – positive and negative-  untainted by professional bias. We need more of this.

3 – The best ideas come from communities

The greatest thing about the programme are the many innovations that residents employ to get through their day to day lives.

These are not people without talent.

They are people who have existed in a system that has concentrated on what they can’t do rather than what they can.

I see more innovation on display on James Turner Street than I see across many organisations. Some examples:

  • Neighbourhood mouthpiece “White Dee” using a community favours scheme to get a guy to save money for clothes and not blow it on drink and drugs.
  • The “50p Man” who sells household essentials like washing powder in smaller affordable portions. He came up with the idea in prison and dreams of turning it into a national franchise.
  • The Romanians turning trash into cash – literally going through bins.

One of the problems across the social sector is there’s too much top down innovation and an over reliance on tech based solutions.

We need to listen to communities , seed fund some grass roots projects and get out of the way. 

The only real problem with Benefits Street , as Charlie Brooker has pointed out , is that title.

It’s designed to get your back up.

So let’s stop falling for it.

Now is the time for big transformational innovation.

Now is the time for our very best social innovators to work with the residents of James Turner Street and others like them.

  • We could fund the likes of White Dee to become a Community Connector.
  • We could try a localised approach to job creation and a resident led Work Programme.
  • We could create a new deal for tenants rather than just moving them in and leaving them to it.
  • We could have a social accelerator programme to scale up business ideas – like the 50p man.
  • We could attempt to pilot a whole new system of benefits and help the Government out rather than sitting around willing Universal Credit to fail (Matt Leach outlines just such an approach in his excellent post here)

Or we could just get angry on Twitter, do battle with Daily Mail readers and become ever more polarised in our views.

I know how I want to spend my time.

How about you?

The Value of Critical Friends – Guest Post from @ShirleyAyres

Only 17% of companies identify their social and digital strategy as “mature” – Brian Solis , The State of Social Business


This is a guest post from a Super Connector.

Shirley Ayres is one of those people who have taken advantage of digital to develop a new way of working – uniting like minded people regardless of which sector they work in. As co-founder of the Connected Care Network , Shirley has formed a movement aimed at developing digital engagement strategies using technology & social media for social good.

The reason I’ve asked Shirley to guest post is that I’m increasingly concerned that not enough of us have a fit for purpose engagement strategy. Too many think it’s about Twitter and Facebook when it’s actually about generating business results through digital leadership and culture.

As the social space gets increasingly crowded we’ll have to develop more sophisticated approaches to getting and keeping attention.

Here Shirley describes the benefits of having a review:

“Over the last few years we have been carrying out an increasing number of ‘critical friend’ reviews. These have been for a wide range of organisations – public, private and not for profit. But what is a critical friend review and what value does it have for organisations?

A critical friend review is an external opinion of an organisation’s positioning, strategy or initiatives. It comes from a perspective that is sympathetic to what the organisation is trying to achieve. But it should reflect the context in which this positioning, strategy or initiative sits and be able to identify opportunities as well as likely challenges and pitfalls.

It addresses three fundamental questions:

  • Where are you now?
  • Where do you want to be?
  • How are you going to get there?

In answering these questions, the emphasis is on ‘telling it how it is’. To be effective a critical friend review must be unafraid to comment on where the chosen approach is unlikely to deliver the desired response. It must also suggest improvements which can make it more fit for purpose.

Why is this valuable now?

The simple reason is that we are in a challenging economic and political climate with rapidly changing expectations of care and support. Consequently organisations have to develop radically new and unprecedented ways of working.

As one Assistant Director of Adult Social Care said to me recently: “Our approach to the Care Bill needs to be different from anything we have done before”. With fewer resources available, and with more riding on outcomes than ever before, organisations cannot afford to make mistakes in the way they respond to these challenges. Yet this is often means going into uncharted territory.

So it is crucial for proposed approaches to be subjected to independent scrutiny. However the feedback will not inevitably be negative: it will identify what is being done well and can highlight strengths and opportunities that may have been missed. A great deal of our work consists in recommending organisations, initiatives and resources which our clients may be unaware of – but which could greatly assist in the achievement of their objectives.

Successive governments have recognised the importance of critical friending for the public sector.  We draw on the ‘Critical Friend Framework’ published in 2004 which identifies three dimensions of critical friending: ‘inputs’ (looking at the skills and experience involved in a project), process and structure (considering the way in which projects are organised) and outcomes (evaluating what the project is aiming to achieve and prospects of success).

In acting as a critical friend, we are able to draw upon many years of working with adult and children’s services, health, housing, social enterprises and charities. Our knowledge and expertise encompasses policy, research, marketing, communications and digital technology. This ‘width and depth’ – together with an ability to look at a situation from a range of different perspectives – is really an essential requirement of a critical friend. There is little value in being told what you already know!

What this means in practice is illustrated by a comment from the Barnwood Trust, one of our recent clients.

“Embarking on a new website and a whole new approach to the way we were working, and on top of that a new brand for it all, was a big and sometimes daunting job. We spent a long time researching, planning and testing each of our ideas and concepts, making sure that we were developing something that people wanted and felt would be useful to them. It was during this process that we came across Shirley and her work as a critical friend.

“Shirley took on the role of critical friend for our new brand and website, You’re Welcome  and provided us with a completely different and invaluable perspective. Not only did Shirley provide a thought provoking report from which we have been able to develop and also strengthen our ideas but she also provided support throughout the review on the phone. It was extremely useful to talk our work through with someone with as much knowledge and experience as Shirley. To have a report at the end of it really helped with the work and how we developed it. Shirley was an absolute pleasure to work with and we will definitely be looking to draw from her skills and experience again in the future.”

Transformational change across the health, care and housing sectors requires digital leadership and  new approaches which encourage radical thinking.

To explore how a critical friend review would help your organisation contact “

(Picture Credit: Bill Ferriter)

How social helps us cross organisational borders


 Social is no longer just about collaboration; it’s about unlocking the engines of collective knowledge, differentiated expertise and rapid learning across the whole organisation.  (In 2014) we’ll see workplaces and marketplaces fusing together like never before; enterprises will be thinking and acting differently in the context of social – Andrew Grill , Social Business in 2014

This indeed might be the year when the walls in organisations really start crumbling.  Those departments, structure charts and policies that have kept us safe and protected for so long are beginning to slip away.

There’s still a way to go.  But it’s happening – new and powerful connections are being born and there’s nothing a social media policy can do about it.

Two things happened in the past week that made me ponder the huge impact this will have on how business is conducted in future.

Borderless Leadership

First of all I was in a meeting with the Bromford Executive team – pitching a business case about how we should begin a new approach to developing innovation.

One of the elements of the pitch was that 75% of what we work on could result in failure. We should expect just a 25% success rate and give explicit permission to fail. Nobody would then waste time and resources trying to make an idea work.  Just move on to the next one.

It’s a difficult pitch anyway you dress it up.

But a weird thing happened. As the report was discussed two people quoted lines from the blog of Chris Bolton that were hugely supportive of this thinking. I’m not sure if they knew they did. But they did. Chris , who regularly posts on risk and failure,  had infiltrated the consciousness of Bromford.

He doesn’t get paid for it , he’s never visited our offices, but due to his social influence he played his part in getting my business plan approved. Thanks Chris!

He , and others like him, are part of a new breed of influencer. Not a stakeholder , partner or colleague. More of a social supporter – someone who identifies with the values of an organisation and influences people within it despite being nowhere on a structure chart.

Note this trend: People connecting with people and organisational brand becoming less important. Personal brand and quality of connection becoming the key ingredient for future relationships.

Borderless Sectors

A few days later I was at Connected Care Camp.  It saw people from all across the country give up their time on a Saturday to get behind a movement to reimagine social care.

The interesting thing is how many different sectors were represented. Health , Housing , Tech, Social Care , Communications.  This collective had not been brought together by their respective industry bodies – but by the power of social to connect people and to begin a movement for change.

I’ve called these people super-connectors – those who are moving effortlessly between sectors and connecting those aligned with their interests.  Increasingly they are circumventing artificial and created barriers to facilitate change.

Indeed  social business is now starting to enable the things that sector leaders have failed to do – the removal of silo thinking , the rapid dissemination of information and the mobilisation of people into action.

Note this trend: Organisational influence becomes less pronounced. Expect people to seek out people with passion and influence regardless who they work for.  Some of the biggest changemakers work for the smallest organisations or don’t work at all. 

Of course this isn’t just about organisations.  At Connected Care Camp there were also service users present.  And this is where truly disruptive things will start to happen.

When you have the super-connectors collaborating directly with connected customers – you’ll see wholesale change to how business is done.

Truly – new and powerful connections are being born.

Don’t Listen To Your Sector: Be More Weird


Had a bit of drama over the past week. I’ll recap it for you as quickly as possible – as most readers of this blog don’t work in the same sector as I do.

Essentially Mick Kent, my CEO, wrote a challenging piece setting out why we have embarked upon a different service vision. Bromford are celebrating 50 years in business - so you wouldn’t think it particularly controversial to reflect on the past and consider the future.

Not so. The piece sparked some astonishing responses – especially on social media. Many in the sector expressed derision and even outright contempt. How could one of their own say such things?

But experience suggests this is just a natural crowd reaction to someone stepping out of line and being different.

You’ll never see a sector – be it Housing, Care, Support or Health, drive innovation. It’s simply not in the interests of the majority to reward disruptive behaviour.

It’s one of the eternal challenges for industry bodies – they have to reflect the views of their average member. And the views of the average member are, by definition, average.

You’ll never find a sector that is wholly admirable either. Be it banking, retail, travel or charitable – you will find the good, the indifferent, and the bad.

And you’ll also find a few disruptors – pacesetters who are pushing forward with a bold new vision. Often that vision will be treated with initial scepticism – sometimes by customers as well as industry peers.

In the last month the 2013 UK Customer Experience Excellence Top 20 was announced. You’ll see that it’s made up of companies who have faced criticism precisely because they challenged the accepted order of things.

Let’s glance at the Top 10 :

10 – Waitrose – Broke out of their southeast heartland despite people saying, “It’ll never work in the north”.

9 – M+S – Launched Plan A (“because there is no Plan B”)  a programme to instil innovation across 81,000 employees and lose their old fashioned image.

8 – Ocado – A High St store “without any stores “ founded by three guys with no experience of retail. “A disaster waiting to happen” said critics.

7 – Lush – Showed cosmetics can be ethical and environmentally responsible, whist also being super indulgent and pleasurable. ” We hire for values , not skills”.

6 – M+S Simply Food - Darling of the middle classes opens branches in railway stations , airports and hospitals. Critics predict failure – “People will resist the idea of carrying high cost food shopping around with them.”

5 – Virgin Atlantic – Challenging the establishment, improving service and astounding its customers: “We’ve never been afraid to upset people”.

4- Amazon – From “destroyer of Book Shops” to “destroyer of the High Street”. Adored by their customers.

3 – First Direct – The only bank people love. Launched with two ad campaigns:  a negative one showing the everyday aspects of normal banking. A positive one showing how good First Direct would be. The banking sector was appalled. Customers applauded.

2 – QVC – Almost universally derided on its UK launch in 1993. Now a global leader in video and eCommerce retail. Just launched QVC Sprouts, a crowdsourced competition to search for the best up-and-coming entrepreneurs and new products

In first place? John Lewis.

A few years ago I was talking to John Lewis employees at a conference where they had been speaking. They told me that far from being lauded by their own sector they were often criticised. People said it was arrogant and pretentious they had their own language (colleagues as “Partners” for example). Their recruitment practices and culture had been described as “a cult”.

“People just think we are a bit weird,” they told me. “But we’re not bothered by what the industry thinks. Just the customers.”

I imagine the retail sector were cynical about the fuss around The Bear and The Hare , the Christmas advert by John Lewis . As was I.

Screenshot 2013-11-22 09.01.30

Nearly 8 million YouTube views. Number 1 in overall UK Customer Experience. Profits of 415 million.

A lesson for innovators – don’t listen to your sector: Be Different. Be More Weird.

The Unexpected Benefits Of Becoming A Social Organisation

It’s little over two years since Bromford lifted any restrictions on social media and offered complete freedom to every single colleague. Our world didn’t end. In fact it got better.

It’s almost impossible to remember what life was like before the wall came down.

Hundreds of Bromford people have online profiles and blogs. Virtually all are members of our internal Yammer.

Truth be told we didn’t really know what we were unleashing. We didn’t know how it would change us or the organisation.

Perhaps that’s how it should be.

The social web is organic, messy and uncontrollable. And that’s why it’s so much fun – it’s relentlessly unpredictable.

One of the problems of making a business case about use of social media is that you genuinely can’t anticipate what the results will be.

Things get democratised , decisions get made in public , people form their own communication channels and networks.

Scary. Exciting. And Unexpected.

Here’s my pick – 5 things we could never have predicted:

Your Brand Can Go Global

If you let your people run loose on social media , guess what happens? They become brand ambassadors. It’s natural – most people are proud of what they do for a living and they like to talk about it.

On the social web this has a unique power as you move beyond broadcasting the latest company press release. Your community is now engaging with you through the emotional bond they have with your people.

And your brand moves way beyond its usual stomping ground. I’ve seen Bromford content posted on sites in South Africa, Indonesia and Mexico.  All the way from Wolverhampton.

Second Screening Becomes The New Water Cooler

When you bring the social walls down – you obliterate the way company news is distributed. It no longer exists within 9-5 boundaries and doesn’t face the geographic limitations of an office.

A great deal of our daily communications are done in the evening, or at weekends , as colleagues chat with each other from tablets or mobiles whilst watching TV. The second screen provides a link to each other in ways the physical workplace cannot. This is incredibly inclusive – particularly for colleagues who spend a good deal of their day out and about talking to customers.

Recently I found out about a colleague getting a promotion from one of my Twitter followers who has nothing to do with Bromford. The division between internal and external communications is blurring. How weird and wonderful is that?

Social is the New Internal Interview

In the social workplace you find out peoples passions and skills outside of formal settings.  What music they like , what films they love. Their ambitions for the future. Leaders have the opportunity to get to know people like never before.

And it’s a way of spotting talent.

I’ve currently got a colleague working on a project for me. I didn’t need to interview them. I knew from reading their blog they were the right person.

Work Has No Boring Bits

In the social organisation if a meeting is boring you can just go online.

OK, I exaggerate for effect. But the digital leader knows they must be engaging to an increasingly distracted audience. Death by PowerPoint just doesn’t cut it anymore.

Meetings have morphed into far more interactive, co-owned forums that make use of presentation styles like PechaKucha , Haiku Deck and Prezi to engage and collaborate with colleagues.

People share what’s happening in their meetings in real time on Yammer.

The agenda just got crowdsourced.

You Start Talking Like Normal People

Social transforms the organisational tone of voice.

Our workplace language has been developed through years of formality – the daily grind of reports and emails. And without us knowing it we passed our jargon on to our customers.

But if you start talking like that in the social space – you look a bit odd. Real people don’t talk about Stakeholders and Efficiencies.

So you start talking just like you do in real life. Because social is real life. And your customers will love you for it.

These are my unexpected benefits – I’m sure there are loads more and I’d love to hear other people’s experience.

[This post originally appeared on the excellent Comms2Point0 site. Make you visit it or follow them here]

Your Own Personal Social Media Policy: 10 Top Tips

“Companies often want this one single voice but when you have thousands of employees there’s no way you can have a single voice and be authentic,”  - Professor Joonas Rokka

One of the best links I saw last week was about how employees active on social media play a crucial role in corporate brand management. According to the article there is now evidence that social media empowers employees. It recommends companies need to spend more time nurturing people to harness this new and unexpected form of marketing.

But despite this research , which hints at the incredible possibilities of a highly engaged and massively social workplace, another survey tells us that 47% of senior managers believe social media is the biggest threat they face.

Yes – the single biggest tech threat to organisations isn’t an impending cyber attack.  It’s what people are saying on Facebook.

It’s increasingly obvious that there’s a huge fault line between organisations who are on the social business journey and those who want to try and hold back a digital tsunami.

How can we bridge it?

I think this article by Joe Ross contains a really good idea. Everyone take the time to create a personal social media policy. 

Let’s relieve employers of the responsibility for social media (It’s clearly keeping 47% awake at night!). Let’s devolve everything to the employee!

OK I exaggerate. But It made me realise that I do have a personal social media policy. Just mine has not been written down and is constantly developing based upon my learning.

Company social media policies are written at a point in time and can be restrictive – whereas writing one for yourself is hugely empowering.

  • A personal policy is you taking ownership and setting out your own rules and objectives.
  • It’s you saying I’m an adult and I’m capable of representing myself online both personally and professionally.
  • It’s about owning your digital identity in a way an employer simply can’t.

So here’s my personal social media policy:

1: Have a clear strategy for what you want to be known for

For me – it’s at the header of this blog: Customer Experience , Innovation , Social Business. I can still post pictures of funny cats , but that’s the top three subjects I share content on. What are yours?

2: Never say anything online you wouldn’t say to your boss’s face

Assume that anything you post could be published to the whole world and can never be removed. Even things you private message. It’s safer that way

3: Don’t be afraid to be provocative 

This might seem to contradict the previous tip but there’s a difference between being provocative and being stupid and offensive. If your employer doesn’t get that I’d really start looking for somewhere else to spend your days.

4: Don’t talk about yourself all the time

Social media is partly about ego. Having a blog is about ego. But don’t let your ego get too big. Always share others content more than you share your own. Ideally at a ratio of 80:20. Look at most corporate feeds. They usually only ever talk about themselves.

5: Don’t argue with idiots

I’ve done it. I’ve tried to engage trolls. You almost always come off worse. It’s great to see a spat break out online. But just like playground fights – it’s far more entertaining for the crowd than the participants. And when you’re online the bruises last longer.

6: Be clear on how you follow back

Personal choice. But if you follow everyone you might be accused of trying to game your follower count. If you follow just a few you might appear arrogant and self-obsessed. My personal rule?  If you look like the sort of person I’d talk to in a pub – I’ll follow back.

7: Don’t be a robot

It’s fine to automate posts. But just don’t over do it. I did once – posting pretty much 24 hours a day. A few of my friends pointed out that it looked robotic. I listened. I learnt.

8: Share the love – share your sources 

This can be difficult ,especially on Twitter with the punishing character limit, but attributing your sources is the pinnacle of social media etiquette. It’s also the fastest legitimate way to build a tribe. People love a sharer. Sharers get followed.

9: Be clear on mixing personal and private

There’s no correct rule here other than your own. But whether you post 100% work related content or share every Foursquare check-in – you can still add personality to your posts. Write tweets that only you could write.

10: Wash your mouth out

Don’t swear – unless you are funny with it. Like Charlie Brooker – who once said that a social media policy should really be written in four words: Don’t be a dick

Over to you…..

I’d love to hear some of your personal social media rules in the comments box!


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