Bringing elegant organization to the workplace

Many people ask me how companies can take advantage of “social media”. In this blog post, I present some examples of how how you can bring “elegant organization” into the workplace.

In 2009, at the World Economic Forum in Davos, the head of a powerful news company asked Mark Zuckerberg, the founder of Facebook: “How can we start a community like yours?”

Mark Zuckerberg answered: “You can’t.”

Zuckerberg went on to explain: “You don’t start communities. Communities already exist. They’re already doing what they want to do. The question you should ask is how you can help them do that better. Bring people “elegant organization“.

Strategy

Before I dive into Zuckerbergs concept of elegant organization, I want to share the single most important factor for delivering success in the business world. It is a quote from Jack Welch, the CEO of General Electrics for 20 years.

He says:

“In real life, strategy is actually very straight forward. You pick a general direction and implement like hell.”

This means that you don’t need a perfect plan before you begin, you just need to point out a general direction, get people on board, and start implementing like hell.

As you get started, things will change and you will see the results and new opportunities. If you never start, you won’t succeed.

This is the single most important factor to win in business. When you implement something, you motivate others to take action as well.

An organization’s ability to learn, and translate that learning into action rapidly, is the ultimate competitive advantage.

Back to social media and the concept of “elegant organization”

Bringing people elegant organization

During the last few years, we have seen developments in several social services:

Facebook for Personal networks

Facebook enabled people to do organize their social networks; who they are, what they do, who they know and what they look like. This is what Mark Zuckerberg calls elegant organization of people´s social network. It´s not complex – people are just not used to it.

Linkedin for Professional networks

Linkedin has made it easy to organize our professional networks; who you know, how you want to be contacted, what you´ve done and what you want to do in the future.

Facebook and Linkedin have changed the way we manage our personal and professional networks. Now it´s time to apply the concept of “elegant organization” inside companies. It´s not rocket science and it may overlap with existing methodologies, but I am not aware of any article that takes a practical approach to Mark Zuckerberg´s thoughts about elegant organization.

Elegant organization at work

Most of us work in an office, we have colleagues, customers, partners and suppliers. The social network at work already exists and we must apply the concept of elegant organization to our community at work.

We have a work description and we do stuff at work. We sit by our desks, we answer e-mails, we attend meetings, we talk on the phone, we report to our superiors, we work with partners/customers/vendors. We plan and execute activities. We send instructions to co-workers/partners/vendors. We take breaks and throughout the day we communicate and we produce. How can we bring elegant organization into our daily worklife?

Elegant organization: Practical use

Hurtigruten is a Norwegian cruise company. It has existed since 1890 and has been through some tough times of reorganization and cost-cutting. In 2009 we began an online journey. Since the cruise industry is a bit behind, we chose a general direction and started implementing like hell based on experience from other industries. We wanted to make things better for customers and for people internally. Here are some of the things we did to bring “elegant organization” to Hurtigruten:

1. Making it better for agents and customers to book online

Our first focus was to make online booking for our customers and travel agency partners better. The current Hurtigruten booking engine is far from perfect, but we were able to launch it and then improve it. The numbers show that we made online booking better.

We created an ad-hoc global web team. Our goal was to maximize online revenues, take advantage of global synergies and make life more fun for customers, fellow workers and ourselves.

The team consisted of people from France, Germany, Sweden, Norway, Estonia and the US. We worked across time zones and we worked with multiple vendors. We were forced to be effective and creative.

2. Skype chat rooms to communicate better internally

Most people know Skype for free calls on the internet. Few people know that Skype is excellent for  group chat at work.

At Hurtigruten we used Skype for a variety of tasks. We reduced number of meetings, e-mails and phone calls by gathering all team members(developers, web team and support) in different chat rooms.

When issues arose, we posted a question in the chat room. Within minutes, you would have an answer. This was much better than e-mail or phone calls because it doesn’t interupt people and you take advantage of crowdsourcing.

Each person chose when they wanted to contribute and when they wanted to interupt their “flow”. Nobody was on Skype all the time, but someone was usually responsive. This solved issues quicker and reduced number of unnecessary meetings.

We also created ad hoc chat rooms when needed. During the ashe crisis, a team member created an adhoc chat room so that everybody could easily communicate. We avoided lots of e-mails, reduced waiting time and all relevant people got the information quickly.

We thought about creating one chat room for all people involved to take full advantage of crowdsourcing, but we didn´t figure out how to motivate people to contribute. In many ways, a crowdsourcing chat room internally in a company is similar to how Twitter(or Yammer) works.

3. Blogging makes it easier to share, discuss and inspire

People sometimes laugh at blogging, but the web team blog has been a platform where we could share stories, practice our writing skills, publish news and discuss ideas. Major stockholders and people from senior management contributed to the discussion. Suddenly one of the blog posts was published on 37Signals product blog and we had 140 readers in one day. It´s interesting to note that research shows that people that blog at work are actually more productive than people that don´t blog!

Other advantages of blogging:

  • It motivates people, because they can share expertise
  • It explains to people internally what we do
  • It improves internal communication
  • It documents and summarizes our work for future team members
  • It shows people externally that we are working on improvments
  • It helps us develop our writing skills
  • It´s a great way to keep the staff curious about new developments and improvements

4. Basecamp – better than e-mail

Basecamp is a project management tool that helps us eliminate CC e-mails. Whenever you CC a person on an e-mail, you steal some of their time. With Basecamp, Messages are connected to projects and you drastically reduce the number of e-mails being sent. It’s much easier to follow discussions and it seems that people are more likely to contribute. We used Basecamp in connection with our bi-weekly global web meeting. Before each meeting, each team member would list 3 completed activities and 3 upcoming activities. We saved meeting time by doing personal updates in the order the updates were listed in Basecamp. We shared documents, designs and more. It’s was easy to upload and comment on performed work.

5. Snapengage – better for agents

Snapengage is an online chat tool that makes it easier for travel agents to get immediate assistance in our travel agency booking solution. We know that the main reason why people prefer offline booking is because they prefer dealing with people. In fact 59% of offline bookers state that they prefer offline booking because they want to deal with a person. By offering chat in addition to our online booking, we made it easier for our travel agent partners. Agents are more comfortable with our Agency solution because the chat makes what they do easier and better.

6. Superoffice Ejournal

Superoffice Ejournal is an e-mail support system that makes it easier to handle  high number of e-mails from customers. The system gives every incoming message a reference number and routes the e-mail to the right person. By using the system it´s easier for management to staff up with the right number of people and get accurate statistics on the e-mail volume.

In summary:

Many people ask me how companies can take advantage of “social media”. Facebook´s founder suggests we start focusing on making it easier for people to do what they are already doing. This applies to all aspects of business and in this blog post, I´ve presented some examples of how how you can bring “elegant organization” into the workplace. The strategy is simple.

  • Choose a direction
  • Get people on board
  • Implement like hell
  • Help people do things better

2 thoughts on “Bringing elegant organization to the workplace

  1. Pingback: 5 specific tips for business leaders to succeed on Facebook | Tribes.no

  2. Pingback: 5 konkrete tips til bedriftsledere som ikke vet hva de skal gjøre med Facebook – Stammen.no

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