By Gloria Lombardi

LC“The way forward has to be internal social networking embedded in mobile apps, and the systems and processes of organisations.” Lesley Crook (pictured right) has passionate opinions on collaboration. Some of her most revelatory insights come from her experience at GSK. Until last year, she was part of the Internal Communications Digital Team, helping the global healthcare company to embed better ways of working.

It was at that time she came across Bryce Williams’ and John Stepper’s philosophy on ‘working out loud‘ (WOL). That discovery inspired her to develop ‘Working Out Loud in A Network’ (WOLAN). It is a framework for communicating in an open and connected way through enterprise digital tools. Today at Enterprise Strategies, Crook is using it to encourage employees to embrace digital change, and support management in their strategic digital transformation.

Working Out Loud

networkMoving from email dependency to using GSK’s internal social network was the reason why Crook championed WOL. On the platform she made hundreds of new connections. “I was able to reach all corners of the company, including departments I didn’t know anything about. I found out some of the most amazing facts about what other colleagues were working on. I felt inspired to share and co-create their efforts on the network.” Internal communications was far away from the end point of selling the pharmaceutical products. By reaching out to Sales, Crook found incredible stories around making patients’ lives better that “deeply enriched my job.”

Empowering teams

But, the potential of WOL is much broader. For Crook, it goes from helping to fix business problems to supporting strategy alignment and helping staff to demonstrate the right behaviours and values. It also certainly drives real-time knowledge by capturing field workers’ conversations. And, its usefulness becomes enormous once WOL is embedded into systems such as reward and recognition work flows, or supply chain data warehouses or mobile applications, “just to mention a few possibilities.”

At GSK, Crook helped to curate some of the internal network’s success stories. “We published 10 stories on the intranet homepage under GSK Strategy, People Development. They remained there for 3 months for everyone to appreciate the business value of using the platform. They were published under People Development to spotlight the amazing hard work of the group owners who made their communities great successes.”

There was a diverse and perfect spread of enterprise-wide stories from R&D, Manufacturing, Marketing and Corporate programmes. A very good example comes also from Sales. For the launch phase of a new pharmaceutical product in 2014, the company needed to empower the field-based teams to raise questions, give feedback, celebrate successes and share their learning. “We needed to help them be visible to the brand teams, their co-workers and UK management.”

In the past, those communications would be saved up until team meetings. Or they would be managed through “random emailing.” That would probably mean wasting a great deal of valuable tacit knowledge and time.

mobile2But, this time the answer was collaboration. “Teams from across the country were able to share tips, advice and support in a timely manner on the internal network.” They used their mobiles to stay in touch with the business wherever they were. “The head office was fully in the loop and this enabled them to keep a finger on the pulse throughout the launch and post-launch.” Additionally, the leadership team installed a screen near their table to have continuous visibility of the interactions. It’s worth adding a word about data protection. They did not share confidential or Personally Identifiable Information (PII) about healthcare professionals.

Ultimately, the success of the initiative acted as a catalyst for the product launches in Europe and Australia.

Mobile apps for internal communications

Mobility is bringing a new dimension into WOL. Crook explores it in her WOLAN model. “It is about integrating enterprise mobile apps with the conversations happening on the network.” For example, this is happening with internal news. “GSK developed a corporate news app and linked it to the social platform. Employees were always kept informed. At the same time they could post against the news as it pops up.”

The benefit? “Employee engagement,” she says. “It’s not just about one-way communication coming from the ‘lofty towers’ in the head office. It is about enabling staff to talk about the news and how it affects their jobs.” Equally important, it gives colleagues the chance to share further content that the organisation might not even know about. “That is actually where you get real-time and authentic news. It’s about turning the model of broadcasting the other way up: enabling grass roots initiatives to come up.”

Intelligent hash tagging

The WOLAN approach also fosters the use of hash tags to capture what Crook calls the “internal digital DNA”.

#“Hash tags that are viral and generated during conversations amplify what the organisation does and how it does it.” This exercise, she believes, brings the culture of the company to life. Plus, it gives more structure to employees’ comments, making them relevant and easy to search. The latter is particularly relevant for the mobile workforce. “The hash tags that appear on their screens will point them to what is trending within the business.”

It could be the community manager who starts championing hash tagging within their groups. But ultimately, she says, “everyone should be encouraged to work this way, just as they do when posting in their personal spaces on Instagram and Twitter – with no training.”

Crook virally introduced intelligent hash tags at GSK. She encouraged staff to use meaningful tags that linked to company and personal goals. For example, #liveourvalues, #workacrossboundaries, #releaseenergy, #driveperformance, #patient, #stakeholder and #KPI. Ultimately, tagging the discussions with that language enabled Crook to capture employees’ sentiments on important business topics such as strategy, projects, development and learning.

Wearing different hats

Working in an open and connected way requires a communicator to use “different styles at all times.” Crook talks about wearing six specific “hats.” For example, at GSK, she was a “detective” when capturing employee voice in private groups, and a “surveyor” when asking questions or running polls. She shared knowledge and co-created content with the “star ship enterprise” hat, but looked for stories as a “reporter.” Through wearing a “tiara” she was giving colleagues praise. And, with the “baseball cap” she was having fun, but with a purpose!

Crook’s classification might sound unusual in some respects. But the point she makes is something to consider. “People always operate in disparate ways when WOL. As a consequence, storytelling itself becomes diverse and takes richer forms depending on the context.”

The future of WOL

“It is going to be a slow burn of evolution, rather than a revolution.” Crook believes that some organisations will be ready to take enterprise social to the next level not before a good few years.

SocialmediaThere are some challenges to face. They may be different for each company. The “command and control” management structure still exists inside some companies. Some businesses might be strong on external channels such as Twitter or Facebook, but their internal digital transformation is still in its infancy. “Many senior leaders value external social media and are appreciating the value of employee advocacy. However, they don’t use the same technique internally. They don’t take the time to be visible and hear the employee voice.”

And, if you think that it is just a generational thing, think again. It’s about mindset. As Crook puts it: “People of all ages are comfortable with it. Passionate about it and totally get it. Other people are not. Tools are getting simpler. But WOL is about having management and employees work differently just as they have done with internal email, file shares and instant messaging.”

This article originally appeared on StaffConnect