We broke a cardinal rule recently: We turned the branding model on its head and looked to gain internal insight before we looked elsewhere. A colleague and I had a discussion on this before we threw a combined decades-worth of habit and experience out the window. So much knowledge in companies flows through informal employee networks. Companies can better harness that knowledge by building formal structures to facilitate knowledge-sharing, and offering incentives to promote it. We used this model to give a shot-in-the-arm and needed speed to corporate positioning and brand development. We created informal, “pop-up” networks within client companies that focused on this specific work area, facilitating the process with workshops. The result: We turned multi-month, research-laden corporate brand development into an eight to ten week turnaround.
We didn’t abandon the external view – pressure testing the thinking of our internal experts and determining if our approach was relevant with the people our organizations served. Nor did we abandon empiric evidence. But we didn’t rely on these vehicles as the lead. Instead, we took stock in the internal experts and pressure-tested their thinking after the fact. We avoided the trap of telling clients what they already knew, and hosting a meeting with management ready to challenge our outside views. We cut down the development time. We created a new starting line and a faster finish.
Human networks make sense. In them, we’ve found the true power of internal knowledge.
A recent survey and email analysis found that information and knowledge flow through social and informal employee networks. Such personal networks reduce the costs of connecting parties who have related knowledge and insights. McKinsey notes, that while useful, informal networks rely on “serendipity” (since people with knowledge may not join the most appropriate network), so their effectiveness varies considerably. In addition, unintended barriers, corporate politics and simple neglect can keep natural networks from flourishing. Emboldened by our own drive for a new, faster approach, we thought we could remove the obstacles that slowed the path to developing corporate positioning strategies by prioritizing internal knowledge. We brought informality to a formal process by inaugurating cross-functional collaborative workshops to draw out the insight and gain alignment critical to the corporate positioning plan. As Lewis Platt, former CEO of HP opined: “If only HP knew what HP knows, we would be three times more productive.”
Finally, it’s impossible to offer an opinion on the value of human knowledge and insight without commenting on the inexorable influence of Big Data. More and more decisions are based on data and analysis, rather than experience and intuition. But while Big Data is infiltrating every function within companies, case studies show that companies are more profitable when they “bet their business success on the ability of good people to use good data to make good decisions, according to a Harvard Business Review article in December 2013. Big Data must be complemented by strong human capabilities to analyze, synthesize, manage and communicate the information gathered. As decisions become more critical, we must turn back to human networks to mine for insights that lead to strategic growth. We need that human knowledge to interpret how decisions are being made and to ensure that we are, in fact, making the right move. Human networks make sense. In them, we’ve found the true power of internal knowledge.