Working out Loud with Accenture: embracing social technology at work

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Social software is helping to drive a revolution in the way we work and there’s a vast range of cloud-based tools to enable your people to communicate and collaborate with each other whenever and wherever they may be. Ensuring that you have the strongest talent and the most productive workforce is no longer dependent on geography, but rather on the strength of your technology, your working practices and processes, and most importantly, your culture. We wanted to find out more about building the right culture in the modern workplace so it’s no surprise to find ourselves back at Accenture discussing how digital technologies are changing the way we work.

In a recent article we explored a wide range of social tools that Accenture are working with and while the article looked primarily at how our digital landscapes are becoming increasingly ‘complex confederacies of different vendors’ technologies’, it also touched on the cultural and behavioural piece that is so frequently missing in an organisation’s successful adoption of social technologies. This time, we spoke with Colin Sloman to explore the behavioural, cultural and leadership impact of working in an open and collaborative environment – Working out Loud.

Accenture are widely acknowledged as leaders in collaboration – it’s ingrained in their culture and they readily embrace new technologies – but Colin Sloman is keen to point out that: “It’s not about the technology – it’s about the behaviours of our people. We don’t get wedded to a particular technology but we do focus on getting comfortable with working in the open, or ‘working out loud’, as it is often referred to.”

“Twenty years ago, organisations had intranets that were on standard platforms full of information that people looked at and rarely contributed to. Now, I’m approached with new messaging apps and new social intranet products every week. It would be impossible to adopt all of them, so it is really important to decide first and foremost what behaviours you want your people to adopt, and then use a few appropriate technologies to drive that behaviour.”

Gamification encourages collaborative behaviour


At Accenture Colin and his colleagues use neuroscience, behavioural science and gaming concepts to help create new habits in their own people and with their clients. One example of this approach is their 30 Day Challenge , and it has driven unprecedented behaviour change at clients. So successful is this behavioural initiative, that there is a patent pending on the 30 Day Challenge App . “By getting people to start new habits in 30 days you can create new neural pathways. It’s about encouraging the completion of frequent micro tasks that result in macro behaviour change.”

Working collaboratively and openly need not be complicated and there are simple everyday opportunities to do so. Start small, do something that is routine in a different way and build from there. Here’s an example Colin shared:

“At a basic level, instead of sharing an attachment by email, get it out in the open and discuss it in a community – on something like Yammer. Recently we wanted to come up with a checklist of things that we would want to cover with a client in a change audit. In essence, we crowdsourced input on Yammer, asking our people what behaviours and actions they would talk to their clients about in this situation. We had no fewer than 150 contributions!

“As a result we came up with an insight-driven checklist for change which was far more powerful than the output of just one of us. It was a quick way to get many heads together and move something forward that benefits our clients and our business.”

For Accenture, when it comes to working collaboratively, they see the value of getting it right rather than the risk of getting it wrong.
“Inside the organisation, collaborative behaviours are incentivised with recognition for contribution feeding into the performance management process. It’s called the A3 Program and in fostering a genuinely collaborative culture. Staff gain credit for observable contributions, and using a gaming model they can become Rockstars or Gurus as recognition for their contribution.” But it’s important to distinguish between observable contributions rather than just social media ‘noise’ which adds no value to the business. “We recently ran a campaign against ‘noise’. Liking a post is good, but adding comments such as thanks, good, etc add no value and clutter up the social channels.”

Rewiring the workforce

To build a strong collaborative culture, role modelling is critical and at Accenture they work hard to encourage leaders to get involved, running coaching sessions to ensure they understand their role in collaborating and contributing.

Collaborative behaviour has many business benefits but it also fundamentally changes the way that our work is organised and the working practices that many of us are used to. It also challenges traditional hierarchies and pushes decision-making and accountability right to the edges of the organisation.

In order to rewire the workforce it’s essential to understand how embracing digital and working in the open provides arguably more, rather than less, opportunity to bring a human touch to our work.

“It is important to recognise that digital and social tools do undermine the traditional hierarchies but organisations need to find the value in the new collaboration methods, the fluid sharing of ideas and knowledge and the open ‘test and learn’ landscape allowing for innovation and experimentation.” In short, organisations must get comfortable with things that aren’t finished and get confident about co-creation. In the past technology did not enable us to enjoy mass collaboration, it was clunky and unwieldy to administer, but now technology makes it much easier to behave in this way and we would be foolish not to embrace it.

Governance

For Colin Sloman, it is best to, “Be clear about what you’d like to have happen and be clear about what you can do about it if it doesn’t go entirely to plan. In my view it is better to give a good set of tools to start with and focus on the right behaviours. If you try and squeeze it in, it WILL pop out. Look what happened with What’sApp in the Middle East? Be prepared for social media storms in and outside the organisation; it’s how millennials operate so we have no option but to value interacting in this different way. In the last 20 years behavioural science has changed the way we understand influence. Our body of knowledge around fight or flight, herd mentality and switch behaviours has moved on so much so that we are exploding myths around what people thought about changing behaviours and applying this to organisational change processes.”

Learning how to collaborate – to Work out Loud – seems to be non-negotiable. After all, it’s the efficient way to drive change in an organisation, and the opportunity to revolutionise the speed at which business operates.