Why Business Managers Need to Blog

Last Updated Mar 22, 2010 12:47 PM EDT

Over the last decade blogs have become one of the most powerful communications tools ever developed. Millions of people use them to share experiences with friends and colleagues. Partisans use them to shape public debate and influence decision makers. Businesses use them to keep in touch with customers.

So it's remarkable that blogs have seemingly escaped the attention of most business managers, especially those in larger organizations. Only about 20 percent of participants in Harvard Business School's General Management Program, for example, write a regular blog.

Those that don't use this tool are missing a tremendous opportunity.

"Blogs are a powerful asset in managing an organization," professor Marco Iansiti tells me in this interview on HBS Working Knowledge. "If you are responsible for hundreds or thousands of people, ensuring clear, consistent communication of your ideas to the entire group is a difficult challenge."

Blogs can be highly effective in jump-starting conversations that can shape strategy and align the organization around it, he says.

Frankly, I was a little dubious -- until I saw it play out in the hands of a master. Steven Sinofsky, who led Microsoft's development of Windows 7, used a blog that ultimately ran over a thousand pages to share with his large and diverse team thoughts on everything from the 10 things that make for a good one-on-one meeting to the importance of accountability.

His writing is so good that Sinofsky and Iansiti teamed up to write the recent book, One Strategy: Organization, Planning and Decision Making. Iansiti provides the theoreticial and research frameworks that Sinofsky employs in his day-to-management, as revealed through blog posts.

Here Sinofsky writes to his team about the inevitable need to cut features as the product development cycle advances.

"As we progress through milestones it is going to become clear that we cannot get everything done that we need. That's a given. We are going to have to start cutting features. That is always tough. We've talked before about how having a prioritized list of features doesn't help here, and it sure doesn't. The reason is obviously because we don't know where the problems will be and they turn out not to occur in reverse priority order. So at this point it is important for dev, test, [and] pm to work together to understand the problem areas, understand the options for 'backfill,' which can mean changing the architecture, reducing the surface area of impact, altering the scenario, or any number of other options. And yes this can include cutting the whole feature. The last option is where the vision really comes into play..."
What Sinofsky does here in simple language is to acknowledge the real-life concerns his team is having, admit that the fine work of some folks is going to wind up on the cutting room floor, and goes on to explain how these decisions are made and why they are important.

Talk to us about how your company uses blogs at work. Are they used effectively by the CEO and middle managers? What would you do differently?

  • Sean Silverthorne

    Sean Silverthorne is the editor of HBS Working Knowledge, which provides a first look at the research and ideas of Harvard Business School faculty. Working Knowledge, which won a Webby award in 2007, currently records 4 million unique visitors a year. He has been with HBS since 2001.

    Silverthorne has 28 years experience in print and online journalism. Before arriving at HBS, he was a senior editor at CNET and executive editor of ZDNET News. While at At Ziff-Davis, Silverthorne also worked on the daily technology TV show The Site, and was a senior editor at PC Week Inside, which chronicled the business of the technology industry. He has held several reporting and editing roles on a variety of newspapers, and was Investor Business Daily's first journalist based in Silicon Valley.