If you’re an innovative type, wanting to get some sort of new thing off the ground, you’re bound to run into people who do their best to stop you.
There are a number of reasons why they might choose to do this, and often they are acting in what they think are the best interests of the organisation.
This seems to be especially apparent when people want to do something interesting with the internet.
So, I thought I’d share some of the things I’ve come across in terms of the likely blockers and what you might do to get around them.
Before I start – not everyone in the positions I describe below are blockers. Often only one or two of these groups act in that way within one organisation.
If you have all of them where you work, then I suggest you resign forthwith.
The senior managers
This is an odd one for me. A lot of folk cite senior managers – even up to director and chief executive level – as being a blocker. Whenever I’ve spoken to them personally, I find they get the need to use the appropriate medium to communicate and engage with residents and communities pretty quickly.
However, it may well be that I have struck lucky, or that when I have spoken to senior managers, it has been a case of the outside ‘expert’ being listened to while folk inside the organisation are ignored.
Either way, getting the top brass onside is vital for any innovative project like this to work. My advice would be to get yourself in front of them as soon as you can, and try and make it so it’s just you, without any of the other potential blockers outlined below present. You need to be able to pitch your ideas and project without them being diluted by others.
Focus your argument on the high level strategic opportunities and try not to get bogged down in process or what Twitter is and exactly how it works. Focus on the things that leaders are interested in at the moment, such as opportunities to save money while reaching more people, improving partnership working and that sort of thing.
A surprising one, this, for many. I’d always thought of communicators as being forward thinking people – and of course many of them are. However, some are rather (small c) conservative – and there’s also an issue of control.
It strikes me that attempts by comms departments to claim social media as their own thing is probably mistaken and it comes from a confusion between Communications – the profession and practice, and communication – the thing people at every level of an organisation do hundreds of times a day.
Overall, I’d say it’s important that some bit of the organisation takes an overview of digital engagement activity. If that’s comms, fine. What this doesn’t mean is that this team is responsible for all the work, or all the content. After all, we don’t ask the communications team to make all our phone calls, or write our emails, for us, do we?
If your comms team are controlling social media activity with an iron fist, it can be a real problem and a number of folk have complained about this to me. To persuade them to let go a little is tricky, but not impossible. You need to both play on their fears and convince them of your competence.
Their fears are those of overwork and not being able to cope with the additional workload of managing a large organisation’s social media presence. Offer to relieve the burden by handling the work you want to happen yourself, and show them some drafts of content you have written to demonstrate you can do this without landing the organisation in trouble.
It might be a good idea to start with to play along with the comms team if they come up with a process for moderating your content or activity. Soon enough though, they’ll learn to trust you, and if you’re being active enough, there will be too much work doing so anyway, and they’ll want to give up!
The HR department
I have come across one or two instances where the HR department has got in the way of online innovation. This is usually in the area of staff usage policy and that kind of thing and can often result when such discussions happen too early in the process. I’d say it’s a good idea to know exactly what you want to do and to achieve before policy starts getting written, otherwise you’ll find it misses the mark.
HR has a role to play here, as indeed does policy, because a good policy should empower staff to get involved digitally and not create a climate of fear where people don’t want to risk participating in online activity.
So my advice is to figure out all the other stuff before involving HR and getting the policy side worked out. Have a clear plan and goals in place so that you can ensure whatever policy is produced doesn’t get in the way.
Dan Slee has a neat phrase when he says that there’s a job to be done in convincing councillors that it isn’t 1985 anymore in media terms. When twenty times as many people in an area use Facebook than read the local news, it can be frustrating when all the politicians want to do is have their photo taken for the paper.
What I have found is that politicians tend not to be convinced by the business case. Show them all the usage stats you want, they may respond, but it’s unlikely. Instead, the best approach seems to be demonstrating the magic of this stuff to them, so they can’t ignore it.
The simple act of typing a question into Twitter, and then having the answers fill the screen is something I have done with councillors in the past and they love it – they ‘get it’ right away.
The IT department
I thought I’d leave this one until last. I have a certain amount of sympathy for IT managers – they have a tricky job that few people appreciate.
There are a bunch of corporate systems that they must keep running at all costs – think payroll, revenues and benefits, social care, even email – and so you can perhaps understand the disdain they have for people asking them to turn Facebook on as a matter of urgency.
However, the role of the IT guys is to support the operation of the council, not to stop people from doing things. I would always try a conciliatory, collaborative approach with the IT department, getting them involved early so they have time to figure stuff out.
It might also be a good idea to ask them how they would go about achieving something, rather than presenting them with the solution you want. IT people as much as anyone are starved of opportunities to be creative, so get them onside by asking for their advice and help.
If you have got senior managers on side, this should make the process of getting IT onboard a lot easier, too.