Blogging was where we began, and how we built our company so we have preserved this archive to show how our thinking developed over a decade of developing the use of social technology inside organisations

E2.0 and social business making good progress in Germany

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I spent last weekend in the classical surroundings of the Petersberg Hotel, sitting on a pretty hill above Bonn, at the annual Petersberger Gespräche (Petersberg Conversations) organised by Comma Soft. I was enormously impressed by Comma Soft’s hospitality and attention to detail, which made for a lovely weekend of talks, meals and concerts as part of the Beethoven Festival; and every single Comma Soft person I spoke to were very open and friendly, which suggests they are a good company. Thanks also to the wonderful Ulrike Reinhard, who helped organise the event and was responsible for my invitation
I was honoured to present one of the keynote talks, alongside the eminent Dr. Peter Kruse. Dr. Kruse spoke energetically and forcefully about the wider societal and workplace changes precipitated by social technology, and focused in particular on the concept of network resonance, which I very much enjoyed. My own talk was making the case that E2.0 and Social Business are in fact both practical and traditional in the way they enable a more human, networked approach to doing business. You can see our talks and slides here. We also undertook an extended Q&A led by conference chairman Prof. Dr. Heinz-Otto Peitgen, who is an eminent researcher in the field of chaos mathematics and fractals. It was great to be part of a conversation about the future of networks and organisations with two very smart people who have come to this topic via common observations and patterns found in mathematics, biology, psychology and neuroscience.
In addition to the keynotes, there were some great mini-talks about current practice in German-speaking companies, including

  • Volkswagen: Christina Schlichting talked about how they have 800 trainees every year and Volkswagen Connect has proven to be a good way to help them socialise them within the company. It has profiles for most of the 45k employees, expertise information and the ability to ask questions. They are about to upgrade this to a new platform.
  • Deutsche Lufthansa: their CIO, Dr. Thomas Endres, performed an entertaining role-play highlighting the different interests and reactions to social tools at different levels of the firm, and the challenges this presents for E2.0 initiatives.
  • T-Systems Austria: Max Schaffer, ICT Ops Lead, talked about how a more open approach to managing performance, enhanced by social tools, has achieved astonishing results.
  • SportScheck: Hermann Demmel talked about how they are using social tools to make all employees ambassadors for the brand.
  • Deutsche Telekom: Stephan Grabmeier, Head of Culture Initiatives, talked about their experimentation with wikis, blogs and feedback channels. They have 23k users and more than 1k wiki projects. LIke many companies they started by allowing people to ask the CEO questions, and they had good participation. They now have 100 active staff blogs with 47k staff who use the platform. So far, after 18 months, the wiki has shown the greatest benefits and confidence. Whereas in the past they were interested in cost savings and process improvement, they are now interested in social optimisation and human to human interfaces. If they want to become part of Telecom 2.0 then they need to get to grips with E2.0 internally, but adapted to suit local conditions in departments. They don’t see it as a panacea, but it can be a change accelerator.
  • Rheinmetall: Markus Bentele, Corporate CIO /CKO, talked about the need to combine agility and flexibility with market power. They started using Web 2.0 tools in 2007 and they recognise that a degree of culture and workplace change are needed to succeed in moving away from Taylorism towards collaborative working. They have Sharepoint, communities and a yellow pages, and are planning to do more work mapping implicit knowledge structures with wikis as part of their Unified Communication and Collaboration (UC2) strategy. However, their experience showed that real-world legal issues can present real barriers to this way of working – for example, their South African colleagues are legally prevented from co-operating with German traders – and this means they need to tread carefully. In particular, he felt that transparency would be a naive goal in their company, given the way their sector operates and how competitive it is.
  • Synaxon: Frank Roebers, CEO, talked about their radical experiment with openness and the wiki way of working. In 2005 they abolished their intranet and went “all wiki” with astonishing results. Previously, they had operated as a classical hierarchy, but they faced stormy growth and something of a crisis for the company, which prompted them to try something very different. They opted for a matrix structure, with a great deal of devolution and open collaboration. In addition to the wikis, they use Xing, Twitter and other external services. Their wikis now have over 50k pages, with a very small executive-only wiki of 400 pages, and this is where work happens. All KPIs are open for all to see and people are free to change their own job descriptions, and there has been no abuse of this trust so far. As Frank puts it: “We are secure, and we get audited, but the wikis have not yet sent me to jail.” People are able to work any time they need to, all onboarding of new staff is done in the wiki, and they find face to face meetings are far more productive due to the preparation of material in the wiki beforehand. Perhaps the most interesting change is in the behaviour of executives, who are no longer a bottleneck on progress, as they were in the past when they needed to process reports and information before making decisions. They can veto decisions below them, and they are free to monitor important pages and documents as closely as they wish, but they are now free to be leaders rather than just information processors. All in all, Synaxon has had a great experience with this way of working, and as a smaller company than the others at the event, they were more able to use social tools across their entire operations. They are now seeing 50% year on year sales growth, and they have 200% more partner companies and 300% more service customers thanks, in no small part, to the agility this way of working has given them.

I found the case studies presented very encouraging in demonstrating how much progress is being made in German-speaking markets, and talking around the issues with some of the presenters, I found many similarities in the kinds of organisational challenges people face in trying to move from early experimentation to mainstream business systems. This is an area where we are doing some really interesting work in the UK and the USA, but we would like to get much more involved in German-speaking countries
How we move from E2.0 to social business on a practical level will be the topic of my closing keynote at the E2.0 Summit in Frankfurt later this month. If you have other ideas around the transition to social business and would like to get involved with the event, why not propose an open space session. This looks set to be a really good event again this year.

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