The four levels of Serendipity - Social Media

Serendipity - what does it mean?

How do you leverage your (social) networks to improve opportunity?

In his classic book, Austin (1978) distinguished four levels of serendipity or chance. They can apply to individuals, but a team provides more opportunities for them to happen – look for the similarities with what happens on social networks.

Chance 1 – ‘blind chance’ or accident
By sheer luck you just happen to find yourself in the right place at the right time. Nothing to do with your lifestyle, though you had the presence of mind to take the opportunity when it appeared.

Chance 2 – wide-ranging exploration
A wide-ranging, energetic, enquiring lifestyle will tend to generate opportunities for useful chances to happen (though it can also result in lack of focus – you have to achieve a balance). As Charles Kettering, the engineer, put it: ‘Keep on going and the chances are you will stumble on something, perhaps when you least expect it. I’ve never heard of anyone stumbling on something sitting down’ (quoted in Austin, 1978).

Chance 3 – the prepared mind
‘In observation, chance favours the prepared mind’ (Louis Pasteur). Specific, highly developed interests and background make you more likely to notice chance events relevant to that background. 3M’s Arthur Fry had been looking for uses for Spence Silver’s semi-sticky glue, so when the bookmarks in his choir-book kept falling out, his ‘prepared mind’ made the link to the idea of the now ubiquitous Post-it note.

Chance 4 – individualised action
This combines Chance III with an enhanced version of Chance II – you not only have a ‘prepared mind’, ready to respond to relevant opportunities that emerge, but also have a lifestyle that makes ‘relevant opportunities’ more likely to happen. This may be, for example, because you increase your networking and communication, or put yourself in more places where you are likely to be exposed to input you can use.

(Thanks to the Open University Business School).

We need a new Psychological Contract

If you've ever read any of my articles or posts over the years, you'll know that a reoccurring theme has been about how we improve employee engagement - and thus organisational performance.
But I often feel when people talk about employee engagement, that there's an elephant in the room that no-one really wants to face up to. 

There's no trust anymore. 

You and I have watched the decline in trust in our places of work and society in general. We've seen study after study confirm what we already knew; we have a big trust deficit.
One of the largest studies, The Edelman Trust Barometer is published annually and I've talked about it before. Last year, it said; 
“There has been a startling decrease in trust across all institutions driven by the unpredictable and unimaginable events of 2014,” said Richard Edelman, president and CEO, Edelman. “The spread of Ebola in West Africa; the disappearance of Malaysian Airlines Flight 370, plus two subsequent air disasters; the arrests of top Chinese Government officials; the foreign exchange rate rigging by six global banks; and numerous data breaches, most recently at Sony Pictures by a sovereign nation, have shaken confidence.”
And, it's clear many people no longer look to our leaders for the answers, and even when they do, they're inclined not to believe it. 
Undoubtedly, some of this is as a result of technological advances; through the internet and mobile computing we can find out 'the truth' (or someone's version of it) at the click of a mouse or the tap of a screen in an instant.

We all know more.

And, our social media networks reinforce our own views of the world and promote groupthink. We mistake opinion for fact.

And, we only have to open a newspaper to know that pessimism isn't enough; cynicism is the new way.

It's not only the breakdown in trust in our society that is affecting our working lives. In our post-globalisation world, the West is no longer the economic and financial powerhouse it once was. Many of our markets and industries have had their heyday, and our businesses are struggling to compete with leaner, more agile companies around the world. As much as they might want to, our employers can no longer guarantee a job for life.
So what does this mean for employee engagement? I've spent a significant part of my career to helping people feel a stronger sense of connection to their work and their organisation. Because I've always felt that if we create the right environment at work for people to flourish, everyone wins.
By developing and implementing employee engagement, internal communications, recognition and CSR strategies, I've seen some significant shifts in how people feel about their relationship with their employer. 
But - it's getting harder to 'shift the needle'. Because the old rules don't apply anymore. There's a more fundamental change happening that can't only be solved by initiatives or benefits. Because when it comes down to it, it's all about the psychological contract; the 'unwritten rules' that apply to our workplaces. 
It talks about how if we, as employees 'promise to work hard' then we will earn 'pay commensurate with performance' - but is that true? For that to be true, we need to have effective, consistent and measurable performance management frameworks in place, which, in our highly complex and busy organisations, is incredibly difficult to do.
What ends up happening as a result? Employees get an 'approximation' which isn't aligned with their expectations. And even if we're really good at telling people why, cynicism and a lack of trust will undermine the explanation. 

As a leader, it's no longer enough to tell the truth, you have to proveyou are telling the truth.

And what about job security? The psychological contract states that "if we maintain high levels of punctuality and attendance" then we will see "opportunities for promotion".
But, our organisations are leaner and flatter. Technology has replaced a lot of the tasks we used to do ourselves and, we know that too many layers slows down decision-making and innovation. So the celling for promotion in organisations is suddenly two floors lower for us than it was for our parents.
"Be honest" and you get "reasonable job security". Is that really true? Can we, as employers and leaders, really promise job security when the pace of change is so fast - and constant? 
So, what does this mean for us?

Well, I believe we need to begin a new conversation about the psychological contract and redefine it for the 21st Century.

One that starts without blame, mistrust and cynicism and that recognises the world has changed. A conversation where we are honest about the purpose of the organisation, what we want to get out work, and the challenges we are likely to face. A conversation that instills ownership in all of us for our own destiny, and the support we will get to achieve our potential. 
Only once we have really explored and understood the realities of work today, can we begin to create a better way for our organisations and ourselves to build a trusting and mutually beneficial relationship. 

Because without truth there cannot be trust.

Please share your thoughts below. What should we include in a new psychological contract?
Follow me on Twitter @richard_baker and get regular employee engagement and internal communications goodness at  and @joinhiyu

Transform your employee branding and drive employee engagement

One of the many things I've learned over the years in internal communications, employee engagement and business in general, is how powerful a strong internal brand is.

In my time in Virgin Trains for example, we used the Virgin brand to overcome inertia, to engage people in a new vision - and help them understand that the future could indeed be better than the past.

In London Midland we created a brand from scratch to tell a story about our values, beliefs and behaviours.

And in Carlsberg UK, we're using the collective power of some fantastic brands to engage people in our story and strategy.

That's why I'm particularly interested in a half-day conference happening on April 21 at the Brewery in London, called the Transform Conference Europe, from our friends at Transform magazine - who also produce Communicate magazine.

It's a half day breakfast conference, focusing on the science and art of great branding. But not just the theory. Speakers will be sharing practical and sensible insight in how to perfect the language and tone of voice of your brand. 

They'll also be exploring how branding can evoke the senses from expert speakers Martyn Ware and Dr Charles Spence – a world famous experimental psychologist. The coherent programme will then move through maintaining brand sustainability and reputation, to the branded environment and experiential branding, all the way to managing your employer brand to fit with your internal comms, HR and marketing communications. 

As you'd expect, there's a session dedicated to employer branding, with speakers from IHG and EDF Energy.

This session will explore how an employer brand can align with the culture of an organisation, whilst working for both the internal and external audiences. EDF Energy and IHG are doing a fantastic job in employer brand management and will draw on their own experiences.

If you fancy popping along for what will be a very useful and inspiring half-day, readers of this blog can get a 10% discount using the code TRANSEURO10 at checkout. Book your place here now, but you'll need to get a move on; as you would expect, places are going fast.

You can follow the event on twitter @TransformEvents and #TransEuro and find out more in the short video below.

If you fancy winning a ticket to the event, head over to my other website at and click on subscribe. More information over there once you do!

Trust, leadership and employee engagement

My 2015 Internal Communications Predictions – Part 2.

In the first part of my 2015 IC predictions, I talked about the impact technology and globalisation is having on how we communicate inside organisations.
In this final article, I'm going to share some of what I believe to be the biggest challenges affecting organisations today - and begin to consider what we, as communications and engagement professionals, to really make a difference.
As ever, please share your comments, observations and own experiences. It makes for much more interesting reading!

The 'T word' and the impact on Engagement

Almost a year ago to the day, I presented with David MacLeod (Co Chair of Engage for Success) at a special breakfast briefing.
At that briefing, I presented some worrying statistics from the Edelman Trust Barometer, an annual global trust survey. I talked about how trust in organiations, and in particular, was declining rapidly and that someone needed to be done to reverse this trend.
Fast forward to today, and Richard Edelman has this week released the results of the 2015 survey and it's probably no surprise to any of us that this trend has continued.
Trust in organisations has declined to a point where in the UK in particular, 'distrusters' have increased from 33% in 2014 to 48% in 2015. Trust in CEO's has continued to decline to 43%.
Unsurprisingly, trust in the media has also declined, with family and friends still the most trusted 'content creators', according to the survey.
What does this mean for us? Well, it certainly means that in 2015, authentic, values-based leadership is an absolute priority. We'll see more leaders stepping out of the boardroom and onto the shop floor, being open and honest about the challenges that will need to be met by working together.
I think it will be critically important to drive ownership in organisations - not only of the solution, but of the problem. People will be asked to focus more not just on the what but also on the how.
I think we'll also see an even greater need for understanding of employee engagement - and in particular the 4 enablers first shared by the engage for success movement;
  • Visible, empowering leadership providing a strong strategic narrative about the organisation, where it’s come from and where it’s going.
  • Engaging managers who focus their people and give them scope, treat their people as individuals and coach and stretch their people.
  • Employee voice throughout the organisations, for reinforcing and challenging views, between functions and externally, employees are seen as central to the solution.
  • There is organisational integrity – the values on the wall are reflected in day to day behaviours. There is no ‘say –do’ gap.
A greater level of transparency in organisations will inevitably lead to a change in the psychological contract employees have with their employers.
For example, most people would think that if they work hard, then their pay would be commensurate with their performance. But, with the realities of working in a hyper-competitive global economy clear, nothing is guaranteed anymore, other than the need for us to work harder than ever.
What is becoming clear is that in 2015, culture will become the number 1 competitive advantage an organisation will have. The ability to attract, motivate, inspire and innovate, against an incredibly challenging and ever-changing backdrop, will mean the difference between success and failure.
And Internal Communicators will need to work much more strategically across all areas of the organisation, to help ensure leaders are telling engaging stories, involving people and being transparent.
I've never agreed that any one team or function should act as the 'conscience of the organisation' - you can't outsource caring.
But I do believe IC will need to understand what is really going on in an organisation, and help others to make big decisions that will inform, educate and inspire their people.
Do you agree? Please share your comments below.
Follow me on twitter @richard_baker

Share Less, Converse More; internal communications predictions part 1

My 2015 Internal Communications Predictions – Part 1.

There’s something special about the end of one year and the start of a new one.
It may be that for many of us, we get time off work and an opportunity to spend time with loved ones that we don’t get at any other time.
Whatever the reason, I find it a great time to reflect on successes – and failures – over the previous 12 months, and think about what the future may hold.
So, here is the first of two articles about what 2015 might hold for those of us involved in internal communications (IC) and employee engagement.
As ever, I'd welcome your own ideas and thoughts about 2015 - and what you see happening in organisations. You don't need to work in internal comms or employee engagement - in fact, I'd really value your thoughts if you work in a different part of the business and are a customer of IC. What do you need more or less of to help you succeed?

Share less, but with greater impact

I thought I'd kick off with something I call the 'scatter-gun approach' to internal communications. And why it has no place in #internalcomms in 2015.
Thanks to the internet, we are bombarded with information on a daily basis – and thanks to increasing competition, we have even less time to do something with that information.
According to an article from one of my favourite publications, the Harvard Business Review, more internet data is created every second compared to the entire internet’s storage 20 years ago.
That has a very significant impact on how we work - that is discussed is more detail here – but what does it mean for IC?
Fundamentally, it means today, more than ever, we need to be very clear about what we are trying to achieve strategically, and then consider what that means tactically.
Blanket emails and vanity announcements need to stop – and more internal communications practitioners will be prepared to stand up and be counted for what they believe in.
Instead, we will be investing more time in creating content that drive conversations in our organisations – which brings me nicely to my second thought!

Creating Conversations

The way organisations were structured in the 20th century can trace its roots back to the industrial revolution, when people worked in small ventures, more often than not located in the same place. Back then, a bureaucratic structure existed because job roles and tasks were repetitive and clearly defined. Communication was top-down and one-way.
Today though, our organisations need to compete on a global scale, and are an altogether different beast. They are leaner, flatter, more flexible and striving be be agile – and we can support that structure by implementing tools and channels that create connections and a broader sense of community.
Today, employees work at locations all over the country (and globally) and so we will need to re-evaluate our channel mix to understand if they are really fit for purpose in the 21st Century.
But you may be forgiven for thinking this is just about enterprise social networks, although this inevitably is part of the strategy for most organisations.
Perhaps more importantly though, is the need to tell stories about what the organization is ‘up to’, in a way that encourages people to get involved and ultimately care. Unlike Field of Dreams, if you build it, people don't necessarily come!

Enterprise Smartphone Apps – but not BYOD

On average, smartphone owners use 30 apps a month – and that's a trend set to increase. At work however, most of us still rely on bulky desk-based intranet platforms to share content, which is out of kilter with how people access information out of work.
And so, 2015 will be the year of the enterprise smartphone application. I predict that as adoption of corporate apps increases, costs will decrease and it will be the norm for companies to have multiple apps for employees to access anything from news to benefits and everything in between. Ideally, these will connect seamlessly to productivity tools that run in the cloud, like Office 365 and Google Apps.
But although there will be inevitably be more formal Bring Your Own Device IT strategies implemented, I think a less formalised approach will develop, with employees using their preferred (and own) device with a more relaxed approach by IT teams, due in part to improvements in security in smartphone apps.
Most companies today simply cannot afford to kit out all their employees with the latest iPhone or Android device – and so instead employees are asking to use their own phone or tablet, rather than a slower, less intuitive OS running on inferior hardware.
In my next article I’ll talk about why employee engagement is critical, and perhaps the biggest challenge facing organisations today – trust.
What do you think are the trends likely to continue – or emerge in 2015? Do you agree? Please share your comments below.
Follow me on twitter @richard_baker

Leadership - don't promote people who are good at their jobs

In your organisation, do you promote people who are good at their job into a leadership role?
What happens when they are promoted?
I'd wager that in a few cases, they thrive - the extra responsibility is something they grasp and they deliver great results, the right way, through their people.
In most cases however, I'd bet they don't.
Here's a recent example. Dave (not his real name) worked in a local shop. He was fantastic with his customers. They loved him. He constantly went out of his way for them; he remembered their morning paper, their usual groceries, even their lottery numbers. Head office recieved many letters and calls about him.
Because he was so good, his manager put him up for a promotion. He was promoted to a management role at the same shop.
So, how is Dave performing now? Well, he's 'steady'.
He's not bad at his job, but the company no longer receives letters and calls about service in that shop.
Why? Dave's replacement isn't as passionate about service as him and whilst Dave was great at service, he's not so great at leading and inspiring people. He's never had the training and development and to be honest, he's a bit out of his depth.
Dave is happy in his new role, but secretly he misses his old job; the instant satisfaction he got from helping people. Yes, he likes the extra cash, but it's just not the same.
Recognise something similar in your organisation?
Three lessons here;
  1. Don't promote people who are only good at their job - it's no indication of their leadership capability
  2. If you're really serious about customer service, pay and reward your stars what they deserve, not what you can get away with. They'll continue to delight your customers and stay happy
  3. Leaders aren't born, they are made
What do you think? Are we promoting people who will be great leaders or who are great in the current role?

Social Customer Service; 5 years on, has anything really changed?

5 years on - has anything really changed?

Guy Stephens has been at the forefront of social customer service since we both started tweeting for business; him for Carphone Warehouse and me for Virgin Trains.  Along the years, weve kept in touch, and asked to facilitated events together. So when he asked me to jot down some thoughts about the last five years I was happy to.

Here's my brief reflection;

I started tweeting properly in mid 2009, whilst working for Virgin Trains.  I remember thinking at the time I was taking a big risk; it wasnt sanctioned by the wider Group and, it so was new that there werent any organisations doing social well enough to copy.

So whilst others may have had a master plan (although I doubt it) I largely made it up as I went along. Pinchot, the man who invented the term intrapreneur way back in the late 1970s, said its easier to ask for forgiveness than permission. And so it is.

My timing must have been perfect. Within a few short months the twitterati were going crazy for us - no doubt in no small part as a result of the strength of the Virgin brand, and the fact that a large number of the early adopters worked in PR and marketing.

I was asked almost daily to speak at events, guest blog, do live twitter interviews and was the subject of a large number of articles and case studies. I was even featured in a best selling book '5 star customer service'. 

The first tweet from the @VirginTrains Twitter account
I also had the fortune of getting to know a number of brilliant, kind and generous people, who remain friends today.

Launching @virgintrains
Months passed, and the popularity of the account continued to grow, and so I launched the @virgintrains account.

Back then, there werent as many people using twitter as there are today, and so I wasnt inundated with queries from the travelling public.

Id also taken the deliberate decision (and is still something I feel strongly about) to give customers information that meant they wouldnt need to ask me basic questions in future; theyd be able to find out for themselves.

For me, good social customer service is about empowering customers, not making them a slave to your channel. With the amount of information available to customers online, it makes good business sense to adopt a self-service model.

As well as it being easier to manage, its much more cost effective.

Nonetheless, I was doing this as well as my day job; a regional manager with over 180 people and thousands of passengers in my care every day. So I was very conscious of the time it took to manage.

As you would imagine, most of the conversations were about routine matters e.g.; wheres my train, can you turn the heating down etc. Despite this, I got a huge amount of personal satisfaction from it. If youve ever worked in customer service youll understand what I mean. The reward for helping people is immediate and can be a key driver of employee engagement all by itself.

Some of the people using our train service were very well known, and @StephenFry caused a minor twitterstorm one afternoon, complaining about a delayed train. (He later apologised when I explained, via DM, that it was due to a fatality).

Stephen Fry tweeting about Virgin Trains
Perhaps one of my most memorable conversations (and NSFW) was with the writer, actor and director Kevin Smith. He was travelling to Scotland for a gig and wasnt expecting a response to his tweet;

@ThatKevinSmith 'engaging' with the @VirginTrains Twitter account!
You can probably tell, I loved it. Twitter for customer service/pr/marketing was new and exciting. People really responded well and it was great to feel I was at the cutting edge of something that would change our lives.

Making it sustainable
Based on the success of the Trains account, I was asked to help other Virgin companies find their feet with their own twitter accounts - and had a few quiet conversations with Eurostar about their handling of social media too.

It seemed logical to me at the time that eventually, I should transfer ownership of the twitter account to our customer relations team.

At the time, there wasnt a road-map for doing this, but I applied some principles around employer brand and tone of voice to create a plan.

I remember that lots of people involved in marketing and PR were arguing for ownership of social customer service, but I - and others - felt strongly that social customer service should be led by people who truly understand traditional customer service in the offline world.

And so, my colleagues began tweeting using the same Virgin tone of voice and customer-focus people expected, using the now defunct  - but excellent - Cotweet.

Whats changed?
Well, the direction of my career has for a start! Largely as a result of my experiences in Virgin, I now spend all my time working in communications and engagement. I'm passionate about enabling conversations that improve employee engagement - and the customer experience.

However, I'm not sure social customer service has changed very much.  And you could argue, it doesnt need to. The same rules apply now as they did then; treat people as humans. Be nice. Use the right tone of voice. Always try and fix things. And remember - EVERYONE IS WATCHING!

Perhaps what has changed is, that with the growth of twitter, things are more difficult to manage. And as a result the tools we use are more sophisticated.

Today we can analyse tweets for sentiment (sort of), find influencers, track people, categorise them, link their tweets to their email accounts and much more, all in real time.

But, despite the prevalence of it today in our personal lives, I'm still seeing resistance to social media. Companies (and countries) are afraid of it, both as a customer service tool and as a way of engaging with employees and citizens.

I remember we used to talk passionately that this was going to change the world; make it easier for people to be heard who had no voice, to democratise self-expression.

However, we all know that there are few true 'social businesses'; ones that dissolves the barrier between customer and employee; that simplifies the way we do business and use technology to (re)socialise people and commerce.

My personal opinion is that this may be linked to the wider issue of trust in our society. Many organisations still feel they need to control, rather than liberate. And thats out of step with todays workforce and how they want to be led.

The truth is, they never were in control, there was just the illusion of it.

In 2010 I wrote "Twitter (for customer service) belongs to everyone in the organisation who cares a jot about their customers. That requires more fundamental changes inside organisations to make sure departments are talking to each other.

Five years on, it seems were making some steps in the right direction, but we've still got a great deal of work to do.

This article was first published as part of Guy Stephens special report on 5 years on social customer care.

Richard Baker MBA has over 20 years leadership experience and is a communications and engagement specialist.

A proven intrapreneur, he pioneered the use of social media for customer service and online PR in the UK, and launched the UK's first corporate donation-matching website.

He's a long-time advisor and supporter of Engage for Success, the UK's employee engagement task force and is the creator and moderator of the global google+ employee engagement community.

He's currently responsible for Internal Communications at Carlsberg UK. You can find him online at and @theintrapreneur

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We help people connect to purpose.

Purpose isn't just another fad. It's emerged as the most critical driver of engagement in our working lives.

Creating the right environment, culture and communications channels to connect employees to purpose isn't simple. It requires a considered and strategic approach to both human resources and internal communication.

And that's where we come in.

Rich Baker is an internal communications consultant and employee engagement expert at the award-winning andpartnership.

We specialise in the human side of change, and work with clients that include Superdry, Virgin Trains, the NHS, Dudley MBC, Carlsberg, ASOS, Nationwide, Aldermore Bank, Boots, Thomas Cook, Johnson & Johnson and more.

We help organisations take a joined-up approach to leadership development, performance coaching, facilitation, talent development, internal communication and employee engagement.

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Rich Baker MBA MCIPR MCIPD FInstLM is an intrapreneurial and experienced professional manager with over 20 years experience in large, highly regulated companies. 

He has led large, diverse teams through significant organisational and cultural change. Rich has also developed innovative solutions to improve customer, external and internal communications, customer service, retailing, logistics and drive engagement with both employees and stakeholders.

Rich was invited to join Engage for Success in 2010 and has been an active supporter of the movement ever since. He created and moderates the global google+ employee engagement community for Engage for Success at and also speaks and blogs on employee engagement and the future of work.

Follow him on Twitter @richard_baker and visit andpartnership for more information.