Implementing Randomised Coffee Trials: The Communication Plan
Over the past several years, I have worked with hundreds of organizations interested in implementing Randomised Coffee Trials (RCTs), and it has become clear to me that many initiatives fail because they lack a change management approach, and more specifically a thorough communication plan.
Randomised Coffee Trials is a deceptively simple idea, making it even more susceptible to ill thought-out implementations. RCTs pair colleagues up for coffee within an organization, on an iterative basis each time with someone new. RCTs help individuals break out of their daily routine and build relationships with others across the organization so that their collective work is more productive and innovative.
My initial description of the process, Institutionalising Serendipity Via Productive Coffee Breaks, intended to show both the benefits and clearly explain how to execute them. Knowledge Management guru David Gurteen has gone even further to describe in simplified language the steps of running Randomised Coffee Trials. Yet both of these focus on the initiative itself and take for granted the standard set of practices that are required to launch any new collaborative tool. Too often people blame the tool for not working, where in reality the problem lies with the implementation.
“There’s an app for that!”
Many people are relieved to discover that Spark makes it easy to launch RCTs, especially those people that have given it a go on their own and know that the logistical burden falls upon one while the benefits are diffuse in nature. Many organizations that have started running their own RCT see the initiative flounder once the organizer moves on to a new role or new organization. The platform certainly makes the execution of the process easier, but as with any collaborative tool, the success lies heavily in the implementation.
Below are 4 tips to ensure success with your initiative, and I suspect they may be useful whether you are using Spark, doing Randomised Coffee Trials manually or about to launch any other collaborative tool. The main take home point is to treat RCTs as the change initiative it is, and develop a communication plan to build the necessary support from leadership and drive adoption.
People are attracted to RCTs for a variety of reasons, from employee engagement, to knowledge management to innovation. But one of the first points that I drive home is that while these points are great for getting senior level buy in to approve the initiative, this line of reasoning is unlikely to lead to widespread adoption because it ends up sounding like another task or chore. Instead, I encourage the RCT evangelists to use a simpler message like, “Do you want to meet more of your colleagues?” Time and time again, they have been surprised by the positive response rate, but ultimately it makes sense. People want to connect with their colleagues, but they lack a means to do so with those that work on different projects, different floors or even different countries.
Multiple Touch Points:
A second error I often see is that organizers will send out a single communication and assume that all interested parties would have responded. The reality is that they may have missed the email, or had the intention to come back to it later but never did. People are bombarded with information, which means they will sometimes miss something that they are interested in. Furthermore, different people prefer different channels, some may be more on top of their emails, while others may prefer a messaging app, or in person all-staff meetings.
Measure & Share Success:
Don’t forget to Let people know how it is going, not just those that have signed up but, perhaps especially those that have not. I encourage people running their RCT initiative with Spark to send out regular updates to the entire office and to emphasize the growing number of people participating. If someone on the fence hears that 20 people were signed up last week, 50 this week and 75 next, they’ll want to give it a try to see what the fuss is about.
Get Multiple Leaders on Board:
A final note is to make a special effort to explain the benefits to leaders from across the organization. This is particularly important for a collaboration initiative like RCTs which asks individuals to use discretionary time to meet with co-workers that do not necessarily share a work related project. Often times, RCTs start in one part of the company with an open invitation to employees from across the company – but this is insufficient. If senior leaders from across the organization have not been explained the benefits of this or are not vocal supporters, their staff may be reluctant to participate.
Michael Soto is the co-founder of Spark Collaboration. Spark helps organizations connect their stakeholders to share ideas face-to-face. Using Spark, organizations can match stakeholders one-on-one for real-time social interactions. By meeting over coffee, lunch or video, stakeholders can create real social connections that can help them be more connected, innovative and ultimately more productive.