An engaging Tuesday…

Two engagement events on Tuesday: one highlighting the need for evolutionary change, the other examined the problems managers face every day.

Not many people get to travel to the top of the BT tower, which might partly explain why Tuesday afternoon’s Gurteen Knowledge Café was so heavily oversubscribed. Add Dave Snowden speaking about complexity and you have easily the hottest KM ticket in town. I hadn’t made the original cut, but my colleague Kevin was fading fast by Monday afternoon and arranged for me to go in his stead.

“How can we best keep employees engaged in their work, in the current economic climate?” – Gurteen Knowledge Cafe with Dave Snowden, Alex Wilson, Sharon Darwent – BT Tower

The afternoon began with a buffet in the revolving restaurant, which clicked into gear as we queued for dim sum, inducing a sensation faintly resembling seasickness. The restaurant completed a revolution as we sat and talked, picking out London landmarks through the gloomy haze.

David Gurteen welcomed everybody to the event and explained how the afternoon was going to work. As usual there was a great mix of first timers and regulars, which always helps get conversations started. The whole group of 80 or so were then ferried to the ground floor auditorium where we were welcomed by host Sharon Darwent and introduced to BT’s HR director Alex Wilson. Alex spoke about the need for engagement during the current economic climate, stressing that BT faced its own challenges and didn’t pretend to know all the answers.

Dave Snowden followed with his presentation introducing complexity, updated with some of the output from a recent Cognitive Edge engagement. His examples from the Liverpool museum project demonstrated the importance of collecting granular anecdotal fragments from children who had visited the museum and how SenseMaker helps signify, interpret and display them visually. Graphs showed how weak signal detection through the real time monitoring of anecdotes can lead to quick corrective action without the need for major interventions.

Moving back up the tower to discuss the implications highlighted some of the difficulties involved in helping people understand complexity and what it means for managers. Most people were happy to discuss their situations and propose solutions for each other’s problems but were less sure about a revolutionary approach.

Many organizations carry out an employee survey every two years. It’s a huge undertaking and an important input into strategy making. BT seems to be finding it needs to test the water more frequently and is taking quarterly surveys of samples of the organisation. It will be interesting to see how these more frequent inputs help the company become more agile.

As usual we decamped to a pub to make and renew acquaintances. I could’ve stayed longer, but I had another engagement.

“Newsletters are dead; Long live Engagement” – Jason Bates, David Paul

A smart walk back across Bloomsbury took me to Lincoln’s Inn Fields where Suzanne Clift of the Land Registry was hosting the Melcrum Communicators’ Network’s London Communicators’ Group February meetup.

Jason opened the proceedings by focusing everyone in the room on the challenges facing organisations in the current climate before dividing the group into teams for a workshop. David then took over in the guise of Rupert Fotherington-Smythe (or someone similar), CEO of Gravelodge, a nationally-respected chain of motels which has grown in size, but lost something of its identity along the way. We had thirty minutes to put together a proposal aimed at reconnecting Gravelodge with its employees and reinvigorating its reputation.

Everyone in our team was keen. Jess and Beata were firing off ideas, which I managed to record and Cari structured into a proposal convincing enough for David to award us the contract! Key to his decision, he said, was our focus on getting the organisation to understand its original values.

We celebrated with a beer in the Pitcher and Piano on Kingsway and went our separate ways, all looking forward to next month’s meetup.

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