Wasting Time

I am really getting tired of hearing yet another research report being released about how much time employees waste each day at their jobs. (Here, here, here, etc.) Inevitably the culprit is "the Internet". I guess learning, building relationships and having conversations have no value!

Now that I think about it, it is the people that spend no time on-line that scare me.

Celebrating Failure

You often hear this phrase when people talk about how to build better organizations, but something always bothered me about the phrase. Even though the intent is to turn the negative connotation of "failure" into a positive, it still pays homage to the dark side by keeping the term in the lexicon. How about honoring unexpected outcomes?

"Success" and "failure" have such strong connotations in our culture that trying to bend the meaning will not work. In organizations we talk about outcomes, and there are two flavors: expected and unexpected. We tend to celebrate the expected ones because it "means we were right" and we disregard the unexpected as "due to some unforeseen circumstance".

The idea behind celebrating failure is looking harder at the unexpected outcomes, because that is where we can learn the most, let’s just change the way we talk about it…

Honor your unexpected outcomes.

Democracy in Business

I have always been troubled by the notion that if democracy is such a great institution, why is it not practiced within commercial organizations? The answer I always seem to run into is that the process is too slow to be pragmatic in a fast-paced commercial setting.

Democracy, as it is practiced in a govermental setting, is inherently a slow process because it’s outcome is typically long-standing policy. The typical outcome of commercial enterprise is not long-term policy, but short term-profits (other things too, but for the sake of this discussion…).

When people say that democracy is too unweldy to be used in a commercial space, I would argue that they are looking at the process related to one instance of democracy and not the underlying concept of democracy, which I believe is the integration of opinions of all stakeholders.

I believe that democracy can be leveraged to effect in comercial organizations, we just need to rethink the process. The tools available to us today can be the great facilitators to make this happen. We just have to change our own self-limiting assumptions about how we can use these tools to make better (and fast) decisions.

The RSS Organization

Lisa Haneberg refers to it as a BKE (Breakthrough Experience) in her essay in More Space. All the pieces seem to fall into place. The picture is unclear, and it is hard to articulate, much less coherently explain it to someone else, but you know it is a significant transition point.

This particular BKE started a week or so when I read People Subscriptions on 43 People, by  Lee Lefever. Something clicked, the idea of creating an on-line identity by aggregating all the feeds from all of your activities. I realize that this is not a fundamentally new idea, mainly just newly synthesized in my head. But the part that has me really excited is applying this concept to  communications  within organizations.

Look at how most organizations communicate internally now:

  • Hierarchical cascade through the chain of command
  • email to anyone and everyone you thinks needs to know  in order to CYA, not that they really care
  • newsletters, virtual and hardcopy
  • townhall meetings and other big venue presentations

…you get the picture. This is all "push". The content producers try to control the message by pushing it to everyone whom they hope to influence. Unfortunately only a small percentage of the information ever makes it through the filters. And oddly enough there are usually people that want the information that never see it. All in all not very efficient, but a world we all know and unfortunately accept.

What if we change the paradigm. What if organizations operated primarily on an information pull approach? Control shifts to the seekers of information. Let every project, every department, every process (basically any and every entity) that exists within an organization manifest as a virtual on-line entity with tags and RSS. (Let’s ignore for a minute the fear and chaos this is likely to cause and assume the necessary skill sets broadly exist.) As a project leader or a department head, I stop focusing on who I need to influence and start focusing on delivering an excellent outcome. Every bit of content the project/department produces gets tagged and syndicated. If my project has value it will be found. Those that want to contribute will be able to do so, Open Source Operations.

I realize that this is worlds away from operations in most (shall we say all) organizations today, but just think of the gains in productivity that could be made with this type of approach. Transparency and integrity are inherently incorporated into the system. Central control, and with it bureaucracy, goes out the window. The best ideas move to the forefront effortlessly. Bad ideas, no matter what power structure conceived of them, quietly drift away.

OK, maybe I am a bit of a dreamer and an idealist, but hey, isn’t that what blogs are all about, the freedom to put your two cents on the table…more to come!

Blog Evangelist

I want your help. I want to develop a position within my organization that is focused on the functional usage of blogs and other web 2.0 applications. I see this position as part Marketing (along the lines of Seth and Hugh), part technical (as an interface to IT, not as a developer), and part Internal Communications.

Oh yeah, I want the job for myself (no hidden agenda’s here).

I am using the following approach.

  • Listen throughout the organization for areas where I perceive the soil is fertile for consideration of engaging in conversations in the public domain, or "interactive social media".
  • In the course of my current day-job, put  new concepts on the table, ask  leading questions where the logical thought progression may lead to consideration of solutions not in the traditional communications tool set (i.e., press releases, mass media advertising, internal town hall meetings, etc.)
  • When interest is peaked, engage in a discussion around the opportunities inherent in interactive social media. And, of course, pointing out that the organization currently has little capacity to operate in this area.
  • Be ready with a proposal for building this organizational capacity if and when the opportunity arises.

To that last point I am working on a job description. I would also like to develop a start up plan along the lines of Slack Manager: The first 100 days. The first draft of my ideal job description is below. I have not yet started developing a "100 day plan".

My request is for your comments on the tactical approach listed above, the job description listed below or any suggestions on putting together a 100 day plan. A link would be great, and if anyone is really inspired to collaborate, I am setting up a JotSpot wiki to keep everything organized. Send me an email and I will send you the link.

Thanks.

Job Description
"Blog Evangelist"

  • Maintain current knowledge Interactive Social Media with respect to:
    • the state of the technology
    • trends
    • issues
  • Liasion with IT to develop appropriate infrastructure
  • Consult with areas where Blogging might be used:
    • marketing brand teams
    • reputation
    • public relations
    • internal communications
  • Lead activity to define relevant policies and guidelines
  • Advise Sr. Management regarding strategy and tactics related to Interactive Social Media

Creating the Corporate Blog

A few days ago I wrote Starting the Corporate Blog. Today I read a post at e-mediators about a corporate blogging survey just released by Guidewire and iUpload. (The survey is free but you have to register.) I quickly downloaded it and sent it off to the team lead of our blogging effort. I won’t repeat all the stats here, but my takeaway was that the results seemed to reinforce many of my own thoughts about the current blogging environment:

  • Smaller organizations are adopting faster than bigger companies
  • Bigger companies are mainly concerned about "losing control of the message"
  • Many are hearing the buzz about blogs, but still do not understand the benefits of blogging

I work for a BIG company, so you can guess where we are on the adoption curve. There absolutely is a fear of losing control! Figuring out the benefits is fundamentally what this blog is all about.

In my mind blogs, done well, are a tool to facilitate transparency within and into an organization. Transparency begets trust, trust begets loyal stakeholders, etc. It is all about the conversation!

Shared Language

The longer I work the more I am convinced that poor communication is the root of all problems. And conversely, all jobs are fundamentally about communication. Most of the time spent in meetings, on the phone, composing email, etc. is about the creation of a common set of symbols to be used to share knowledge. What I have found is that most concepts are commonly understood between different disciplines, the difference is the language. "…oh, I know what you are talking about, we call that…". This leads to huge ineffiencies, because quite often, two parties spend a lot of time trying to convince each other of the "correctness" of their concept, when in fact they are arguing the same point, just using different language.

Always define the shared lexicon first then begin the debate. You might be amazed at how much time you will save and how much better your outcomes will be.

Collaboration: Tools and Culture

Like many people, I have spent much of my adult life wondering what I was going to be when I grew up. I think the answer to that question may finally be coming into focus.

I just read Regina Miller’s post "Creating a Culture for Collaboration". I was really excited when I read it, not only because I fundamentally agree with her points, but because the day before she put up her post I updated my resume to target the type of role she is talking about. The introduction to my resume now reads:

Goal: To integrate new techology with social dynamics in order to improve organizational effectiveness by creating organizational transparency through conversations

Areas of Interest: Web 2.0, primarily regarding the use of social network applications to support conversations within organizations, and between organizations and stakeholders.

…I am open to editing suggestions…

I followed her links to Nancy White’s "Challenging the myths of distributed collaboration"; and Steven Coats "The Conundrum of Collabration" . All of this reinforces my own belief that technology is a great and powerful tool, yet it is only a tool. People must use tools effectively to produce results.

I really believe that the new web apps coming out now have the capacity to change the face of organizations, but it will only happen when people understand and embrace the tools. Sounds like the job for me.

Now I know what I want to be when I grow up! …Anyone hiring?   ;-}

Compelling Connections

Most of my posts tend to be more philosophical than pragmatic in nature. I have been thinking a lot about more tangible ways to imbed these philosophies into an organization. One idea that may have some promise is the process of actively building compelling connections into our everyday (work) lives.

As individuals, as managers, as HR reps, as mentors, etc. begin with asking the question, “what is really important to me?” I think this is the type of question that people do not answer for themselves very often. If you could answer that question with regularity, even every day, it would be so much easier to face the deluge of decisions we each face every day.

You may ask,” isn’t that what professional development plans [or whatever it is that your organization makes you do every year] are all about?” I would say no, because those plans start from the premise of what the company wants of you, and then you need to mold what you do to fit that need.

What I am thinking about is an examination of who you are as in integrated individual that includes your work / home / spiritual / recreational self. What is your passion, what makes you tick? If you really understand this, you will make integrated decisions, and avoid the types of conflicts that arise from the competing parts of your life. If you make your decisions in silos (work, home, etc.) you will create problems and stress.

When you can see what is important to you, you can then make more compelling connections to each aspect of your life.

For me personally, I think my kids hold the key to what is most important to me, though I cannot yet articulate it. But if I go with that, it makes many of my work decisions easier. I want to be the kind of person that my boys can learn from. Many times I am faced with decisions with political implications, or decisions with an easy out versus a difficult ethical outcome. If I put it in context of wanting to set a role model for my kids, the answer is often clear.

Find your purpose, find your passion, and then make the compelling connections to all parts of your life.

The Existential Vacuum

I am reading Viktor Frankl’s book "Man’s Search for Meaning". He postulates that the process of an individual’s search for meaning is the centerpiece of their existance. Those that  are not actively seeking or do not have a clear understanding of meaning in thier own life are destined "…to do what other people do (conformism) or [do] what other people wish [for them] to do(totalitarianism)." He defines the meaning in one’s own life as [my interpretation] that which one is passionate about and is driven to achieve.

In an organizational context, I see Frankl’s conformism and totalitarianism at work, all too frequently. Just think how powerful an organization would be if most (or all) of its members found true meaning in their work as opposed to just blindly following along with the masses, or even worse following blindly behind the epic hero-leader.

I found a strong alignment in this thought-line and Kathy Sierra’s post today. When she said:

When people aren’t brave enough for one reason or another, …

I realized these are the same people that have not found their own meaning in life. They have no basis for standing up and being heard, they have no passion to call their own.  … You know what, the reflection in the mirror doesn’t look so great.  This is about each of us, so few have truely found that deep connect to the meaning of their life, and many that do, find that connection outside of work.

How do we bring meaning and passion to our work? How do we avoid the "Existential Vacuum"?