The Inner Critic

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Many of us are our own worst critics. We must learn to work through this resistance. We must focus on the work, not our internal voices.

A Harsh Critic Whose Always Around

Perfectionism. Self-doubt. Negativity. Depression. Hostile environments. Work we don’t enjoy.

There are lots of ways we can end up critiquing too harshly our work and our contributions. The harsh inner critic can be devastating to our confidence and our output because that critic never goes away. It can be exhausting to battle and inner critic on a daily basis in every task.

Steven Pressfield in his books on art and creativity describes the Resistance. Pressfield’s concept is all those activities we engage in that get in the way of our work. Battling these barriers is a key part of any work.

Some people are blessed with the confidence to never have a second thought around the quality of their work. For others, this doubt can be terrifying and a major barrier to progress. Importantly, it can be devastating to productivity as the excess research, the unwillingness to share work out loud and to ask for help can make achieving anything much harder.

Share and Reflect

A recent article in Inc magazine highlighted the advice of Harvard Professor Susan David in situations like these. Prof David encourages people to get perspective on their work and to reflect on the underlying causes that might be able to be changed.

If you struggle with even that distance and reflection, I would recommend sharing your work with a trusted group of friends or colleagues. Often you discover that the flaws you see aren’t as bad as you think or are fixable. When we are overly harsh, you need the feedback of others to bring some perspective and to make constructive suggestions of how to move forward.

Do The Work Anyway

Never let the people who say it can’t be done interrupt those actually doing it

Popular aphorism

The key point in all this advice is that you don’t have anything to build on unless you do the work. We all have to press through the sense that nothing is better than a bad effort. The opposite is true as Jodi Picoult, author, reminds us:

You can always edit a bad page. You can’t edit a blank page.

Jodi Picoult

Often our fears of the difficulty of the work and its quality are overblown. When we actually start, it is easier and better than we think. If not, at least it is a start and we can build from a start. That building can be our further work or inviting others in to help. Whichever path we choose we can’t get there until we start.

Sometimes the challenge or the addition work to be done is not obvious until we have a starting point. Starting can make clear that research is required or different work needs to be undertaking in preparation.

Take the time to quiet the inner critic. Bury their voice in the effort of the work. No work is perfect. After all we are only human. The power of being human is the ability to seek some perspective on what you have now achieved, whether alone or with others. That insight will shape what you do next.

Authenticity and Trust in Enterprise Communities: Chat with Rebecca Jackson and Ben Elias

Building on my recent post on the new Post on Behalf of feature in Yammer, I chatted with Rebecca Jackson and Ben Elias, two Microsoft MVPs, on authenticity and trust in enterprise communities. Both Rebecca and Ben have great insights into the background to the feature and when and how to leverage it.

My key takeaway remains that the power of Yammer is employees engaging each other to create value in the organisational strategy. Make sure your use of Yammer is working to that high value end.

From Anger to Action

We live in frustrating times. Anger can motivate change, but only at a personal level. Anger can bring people together but as we have seen collective anger is more likely to be dangerously destructive than constructive. Anger at others is rarely constructive. It might be time for us to focus on the work of change over the angry tone.

A tiger is not angry. It is hungry and purposeful. Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

A Lot of Reasons to Be Angry

We all have a lot of reasons to be angry at the moment. Civil society is much less civil. We aren’t tackling some of the greatest challenges of our age from climate, to race, to economic exclusion, to a pandemic and more. Much of what constitutes political leadership around the world at the moment is either calculated spin or stoking of these fires. We can’t be surprised that activists are angry and that anger means extreme actions.

In more usual times, I pride myself on my equanimity. That attitude has been a strength to enable me to get results in difficult situations when others have set out to rile me or others. Being the calmest person in the room can be a source of authority and also offer options to see what those who are lost in anger cannot.

‘What about this circumstance makes you angry at yourself?’

a question to ask yourself in moments of anger derived from the work of Charlotte Joko Beck

Of late, I have been angry a lot more than I want. Frustration has been boiling over at others. If I am honest with myself, I am angry at myself more than the world. The last 18 months have been frustrating and exhausting. We have swung between fatigue and the many daily efforts to survive. A lot of people have needed a lot of help and support. Few things have gone to plan. There are parts of our daily work lives which now feel like swimming through treacle. I have wanted to do more and better in many domains of work and in personal and family relationships. I’m frustrated and angry because I don’t feel like I have done enough. Another part of me, knows I have done what I can in the circumstances.

From Anger to Action

An angry mob is rarely a constructive agent of change. Revolutions might begin with a lot of smashing things up. After that we need to get down to the work of building sustainably different future.

Anger can be the starting point for your change. However, you are far more constructive if you build the changes and your daily actions from hunger and purpose (like our tiger above). Refocusing your attention on these key matters helps you from getting distracted by the negatives of anger or frustrated to the point of abandoning the fight.

Moving beyond anger to constructive purposeful action is critical if you want the help and collaboration of others. Nobody has effectively collaborated in anger. There’s too much risk and energy for it to be sustainable. Uncompromising emotion doesn’t make a great platform for constructive change. Leaders of groups of people need to help that group find its hunger for action and a purpose to guide that work. Hunger and purpose are far better and more productive guides than any fiery emotion.

In the midst of a global pandemic, we need to take some self-care. We need time to reflect on what matters to us and the changes we want to see in the world. We can get a lot more done going step by step after those goals, than shouting and smashing things.

Two Yammer Networks and Two Yammer Uses: POBO arrives

Yammer has now released its new post on behalf of other feature (‘POBO’). This feature has been controversial. My advice to anyone is that POBO doesn’t mean the world will end. I might personally prefer it wasn’t used it but in many network use cases, the feature will have value. This post will explain why.

What is POBO?

Posting on behalf of another is a feature of many social collaboration tools, particularly those like Workplace by Facebook that are focused on supporting the needs of employee communication professionals. As the phrase explains it enables someone, usually an communications profession or an assistant, to post on behalf of another person on the network, usually a senior executive.

The logic of the feature is that many senior executives are busy and reluctant to post. However, they can be influential in sharing messages and fostering engagement. Delegating their network activity to a team member is a way for those messages to be shared and engagement to happen.

The critics of POBO rightly point out that employees value genuine leadership engagement. The uplift in adoption from leaders’ participation in networks is a reflection of their genuine commitment to the network, its conversations and actions. People want to see leaders connecting, sharing, solving and innovating with them. POBO risks undermining that for not just the leaders who use it, but potentially creates suspicion on all interactions.

Using POBO is a decision on a spectrum for any community. There are risks and rewards. Undoubtedly, genuine leadership engagement is better. If leaders only delegate through POBO, the community will be weaker.

The Two Yammer Networks

Much of the energy around POBO is that it separates the difference between two ways Yammer Networks are used. Some Yammer networks are employee communication tools. Other networks are platforms for employee collaboration and leveraging the talents of the organisation to support strategy.

I have previously described the difference between a Yammer network run for communication and Yammer networks run for collaboration. The value of the latter is much greater and it is the basis of the work I do using the Value Maturity Model of Collaboration. With the exponential value potential of collaboration, I struggle to see why organisations do not work to make that happen, but I understand that may traditional organisational cultures do not support employees and leaders to have the freedom and safety to connect, share, solve and innovate. If the culture of the organisation is hostile to collaboration, you have a much greater challenge than launching a Yammer network to achieve collaboration.

Each organisations understands just how deeply they can commit to Yammer as a platform for collaboration. The more you have done so, the less value POBO offers. If your Yammer network is purely for communication, then the risks of POBO are much less and its use cases more evident.

Two Yammer Users

The average low engagement user of Yammer will never turn their mind to who posts a post. The feature is largely irrelevant to their experience of Yammer. To them, Yammer is another organisational communication tool, a place to go to get information on the organisation or the work of their colleagues who choose to work out loud.

Much of the energy around POBO comes from the most passionate users who are committed to personal engagement in Yammer networks. This group of passionate champions power community in your Yammer network to the ends of connecting, sharing, solving and innovating. This small group in your network are the employees who will help you realise the value of collaboration across your organisation.

Yammer is platform for organisations to leverage their talents to deliver their strategy. One thing it does incredibly well is help you filter the whole organisation to find those who have the capabilities and talents to drive collaboration in the organisation. Yammer acts a filter for yammer champions. These individuals tend to be passionate, committed members of the wider organisational community. These individuals bring critical network skills that can benefit your organisation well beyond Yammer and often outside of the organisation into stakeholders and the wider community.

Having worked with Yammer networks and in the global Yammer community for a dozen years, I can testify that these champions are diverse and talented bunch. There are few patterns to determine who gets the bug of helping their colleagues to connect, share, solve and innovate. The power of Yammer networks is to help you find these people and more importantly to help them find each other. I get extraordinary support, learning and capability from the global Yammer family that I have met through advocating for and working on adoption of this product.

You want to find these people in your organisation.

Expose Your Intent

Make your intent obvious. The world aligns around those who show intent. You never know who can help you realise your goals.

For many years, I have passionately advocated for working out loud and open ways of working. My logic is simple, they work better and I have had personal experience of the differences sharing your work can make. Today, I wanted to focus in on the power of sharing your intent.

Expose Your Intent

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Somewhere through late childhood and early years of work, as our lives become more competitive and demanding, we develop a sense that our intent should be hidden for our best effectives. Some time people will outright advise us to keep our goals secret. Other times we learn from the behaviour of others. We start to fear that others want to frustrate our efforts. We start to believe that we can better achieve our goals through secrecy and manipulation.

The easiest way to achieve your goals is to align other people around that goal. Rarely, is that changing other people’s intent. Mostly, it is finding people who share the same intent. Finding the aligned is like looking for a needle in a haystack, unless you share your intent publicly.

When you are public about the intent of your work, you discover most people are indifferent. Very few people will go out of their way to stop you. Most people who discourage you would discourage any attempt at anything. They can see the challenge and not the opportunity. Both groups will be outweighed by the potential of finding those who can help or can help connect you to others.

The commonest reaction I get to sharing the intent of my work is for someone to say ‘I didn’t realise that’s what you wanted to achieve’. Often that is followed by ‘I can help.’ If someone declares or shows their intent to frustrate me, at least I know who to avoid in future.

Make Intent Real

A second benefit of putting your intent out into the world is that it makes it real. When we declare the goals of our work it helps make that goal tangible to us. Ideas in our head have a habit of shifting and becoming vague over time without the benefit of being shared and acted upon.

Nothing keeps me more honest to my intent than someone saying ‘Hey, Simon, you said you were writing a book. How is it going?’ Putting your intent out into the world enables others to help by holding you to account in little and big ways.

Find something you want to achieve, big or small. Share it with one or more others. Be surprised by the differences you see.

Relationship Proxies

Humans are social animals. We seek relationships and we invest them with enduring meaning. We need to be alert to those who exploit this social urge and watch out for relationship proxies that drain us.

Wistfully, I play my lute
Long and deep into the night,
For my heart is shy
Of the empty chamber.

Wang Wei, Lonely (tr. Moon Kwan)
Photo by Tara Winstead on Pexels.com

Lonely in a Crowd

We are surrounded by more ways to connect to others than ever. These means of connection have been our saviour in a pandemic, enabling us to work, to stay in touch with family and to connect with friends. At the same time, we can be left feeling isolated and alone.

In 2018, well before the current epidemic, the Australian Psychological Society issued a report on Loneliness for Psychology Week that called out that one in four Australian adults are lonely. Our rich array of options for connection might enable us to be in touch, but they don’t always meet our needs for human connection

Many of us will have experienced the sensation of feeling alone in a large crowd. The presence of or ability to engage other people isn’t the issue. The challenge is that we want to be specifically recognised, engaged for who we are and have our needs met in relationships. This can go wrong in the most intimate relationships, as divorce trends indicate, but is particularly true in our work relationships. At work, relationships can be transactional and formulaic, driven by roles, status, and not the individual. As we grapple more and more with distributed teams, we need to recognise the effort to recognise the individual and help build relationships that matter for each employee.

Relationship Proxies

Our desire for relationships and this growing sense of loneliness can be a source of manipulation. Beware the stranger offering a relationship. Many scams and hacks rely on people’s desire to engage in relationships, to invest them with meaning, and to trust others who offer the satisfaction of relationships. Extremist movements engage people at a relationship level offering comradeship, meaning and a sense of belonging to lure people to work for their cause. Social media and the profusion of communities on offer magnify the reach and the intensity of these manipulations.

When the reward of sweet foods was rare our bodies desired it. Now refined sugar is a commodity and added to every food and drink to tap into that human desire and push sales. We see the same issues with social media, offering human relationship proxies to drive engagement and push advertising. Follower counts, connections, likes and comments can feel like a relationship. So too can the rush of personalisation available in our ever data hungry world of marketing, emails, apps and websites. However, like a sugar rush, it is but a proxy for the sustenance for human connection. Worse still, the crash after these substitutes deepens the sense of isolation and loneliness, often deliberately so, with the end of driving yet more engagement.

A relationship proxy delivers a taste of human connection, but isn’t specific to you, your needs or your challenges. Real relationships take work. Relationship proxies aren’t that demanding, because they aren’t that concerned about you. Relationship proxies are playing a numbers game of conversion and hoping that their offers of relationship will convert just enough people to sustain sales. We should recognise that AI and automation are already accelerating the ability to create, improve the effectiveness of, and scale relationship proxies.

To end the loneliness epidemic, we need to head in a different direction. A proxy will not deliver the warmth and comfort of a human hug, however cleverly designed. We need to invest in the work of real relationships – relationships that aren’t driven by self-interest and are deeply specific to the other person. Whether at work, in communities or in the wider world these are the relationships that we need to build, to foster and to share. That’s the path to a more rewarding future with less loneliness.

For it is his to fill your need but not your emptiness.
And in the sweetness of friendship let there be laughter, and sharing of pleasures.
For in the dew of little things the heart finds its morning and is refreshed.

Kahlil Gibran, On Friendship

Holding On

Some times the difference between success and failure is the simple act of holding on: holding on to a dream, a goal or the effort. Success is not for the easy going or fainthearted. Be determined.

3 points of contact & climbing with the legs: Photo by u0410u043du043du0430 u0420u044bu0436u043au043eu0432u0430 on Pexels.com

As Melbourne rolls through its fifth lockdown, everywhere I turn I am reminded of the imperative to hold on. Defeating a dangerous global pandemic takes commitment, capability, effort, but most of all time. In an age of instant delivery, instant opinions and ready satisfaction, waiting out a global threat can seem too much, too hard and too slow. We have already seen many suggest that the fight is pointless and that defeat is inevitable. We are already struggling with fatigue.

Hold On

I am not one for career regrets. Life moves too fast for what might have been. The closest I come to regret in my career decisions are one or two occasions where I moved on from a problematic situation quickly and I now question whether greater persistence was required for others as much as for me. So much of success is not effort, capability or resources, it is the work of being still in the effort at the right time.

Whether you call it grit, persistence or endurance, whether you see the rewards of being a completer-finisher, whether you have resilience, stubbornness or an ornery sense of determination, there are times when it matters to be in the effort longer. You have to be in it to win it. Holding on to the next right time is an important component of success.

How on Earth?

In all this chaos, stress and pressure, how on earth do we hold on to what matters most?

Let’s digress for a moment into a story. As a kid, I did a bit of rock climbing on camps and other adventures. With poor strength, no technique and too much weight, I was terrible at rockclimbing Terrible looks like climbing a few meters gasping, arms aching, nerves causing shaking through my body then losing my grip, falling and slamming into the rock on my safety rope, an experience painful and embarrassing to me and annoying to the person holding the safety rope. I couldn’t hold on enough to get very far up the steeper grades. Hardly a task to stick at. It wasn’t until I came back to rock climbing indoors as an adult that I met an instructor who supplied two key insights that would have saved a lot of falling off rocks as a kid:

  • Maintain 3 points of contact with the rock always: safety and security means never put too much stress on one point of grip
  • Climb with your legs: use the big muscles in your lower body to push you up the rock when you can. Save your arm strength to hold on or when absolutely necessary.

Three Points of Contact

If you want to hang on in any challenge, you need to keep your three points of contact with the rock of your challenge:

  • What you will gain from the effort?
  • What success delivers for others?
  • What you will gain from success?

These are the reasons you do anything. These are the reasons to hold on. When the opportunity cost of any one of these three is too great, you will let go. You will also be right to do so.

These questions are easy to ask but the answers are deep and complex. The answers aren’t measured in sales, dollars or any one metric alone. They embrace all the benefits of the work – social, personal, emotional, relational and financial. Nobody else can answer these questions for you. You alone need to be able to justify to yourself why you are holding on. Until you succeed, nobody else cares why you tried.

If you want to improve your commitment and determination, don’t chant buzzwords about grit and determination. Ask yourself these questions.

Climb with Big Muscles

Two human hands are weak. There are limits to what they can hold and do. The big muscles in any human endeavour are the social networks around you. If you want to stick something out, you need to be working these muscles into the task.

Success comes from your work to engage and leverage these big muscles and to have them help you to hold on to your work. Share your work, your goals and invite others to work on them with you. Do this especially when you are struggling and times are tough. Some times the context, the answers or the assistance that others can make is the entire difference between success and failure. If you retreat into your own circumstances, you will lose more than human connection.

Distributed Team Leadership

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The capability to manage a distributed team is not in everyone’s experience. We need to support all our people with the skills to manage and be managed.

Stop worrying about whether your employees know how to work at home. The safe answer in 2021 is that they know how to work anywhere they need to work. (However, you could make sure that you better support those in need).

The biggest worry for organisations is whether management is up to the challenge of working in 2021. Distributed team leadership has traditionally been something that people experience later in their careers, usually when people are asked to be managers of other managers. Many early career managers are used to having their teams around them in one location. Enabling them to have the skills of those who manage managers will be critical to their ongoing sense. We need to start viewing our distributed workforce as a team of managers.

Supporting the transition to a more complicated distributed form of management requires a number of new skills from managers. We have to bring these junior managers to a much higher level of capability quickly. The challenge of distributed management to support distributed work is not information technology, it is human technology:

  • Dramatically Increase Deliberate Communication: A distributed team can’t watch a manager at work. They don’t get casual conversation. Managers of distributed teams need to overindex their communication and choose their messaging carefully to improve clarity and understanding. If you aren’t saying your message so often that it bores you then the messages may not have been understood.
  • Moving from Delegation of Tasks to Delegation of Outcomes: A distributed workforce can’t check-in on every task throughout the day, even with chat and collaboration apps. Managers need to delegate the whole outcome along with clear measures of success and give employees the autonomy to deliver that goal. That will help those distributed employees to manage their work flexibly with a view to outcomes.
  • Create a Coaching Culture: Coaching is critical to support distributed teams. Coaching is far more powerful than direction when you don’t understand the exact circumstances on the ground for a team member. The burden of coaching does not have to fall on the leader alone. Encourage peer coaching and an openness to get help and assistance with the challenges of work.
  • Practice Empathy: Without your team around you, they will not derive their motivation from your energy and work ethic. With limits on your capacity to push, you will need to work with the distributed team to understand their drivers of motivation. Coaching will help but this will be multiplied by a focus on your employee, their purpose, their goals, their concerns and desires. In a distributed work environment, managers need to move from a transactional relationship with employees to a deeper relationship powered by purpose, shared goals and empathy.
  • Build Capability: When it is harder to see the work, you need to spend time assessing capability and developing the skills of your team. You cannot assume that people understand how to translate outcomes into activity. Managers need to assess capability, develop skills and continue to coach the development of the necessary skills to achieve outcomes and fulfil strategy.

Work has changed irrevocably. Managers now need to practice the new skills to manage distributed teams. Far more than choice of technology, these skills will shape your team’s success in the future of work.

It’s not where you work

Welcome to 2021. This is the international year of getting excited about working outside of offices.

Seeing the light

Some people may have noticed that working outside of offices has a long heritage, one that has been accelerating in recent years with the invention of the laptop, the mobile phone, the internet, the smart phone and cloud services. Over five decades, we have radically untethered work from the office.

Sadly, it took the public health restrictions of a global pandemic for some executives to notice the change.

For the last 50 years, where you work has been irrelevant. What has become increasingly important in that period are the work and life needs of employees and the demands of the work to be done.

Your fancy office building, whether owned or leased, is a sunk cost. Stop letting it dictate your decisions.

The shortcomings of your management team and problems in your culture have to be fixed. Demanding employees are at their desk every Monday at 9am is not an answer to your cultural issues. Again this is about your organisational shortcomings and not something you need to force on your workers to fix.

All the diverse, talented and magical employees you have been struggling to retain will thank you. All the parents, the carers, the young and the older will thank you. Actually everyone will thank you.

Offices aren’t over. They are just part of the mix. Co-working isn’t the future. It is part of the mix. Much of our work and many of our employees need an office. We can’t expect every home is suitable for the work. However, it is likely the coming round of real estate decisions and the inevitable pressure for efficiency will shape the supply of offices.

Work is not remote. It is where it needs to be. Work is not hybrid. It gets done how it needs to be done.

None of this depends on your technology partner for productivity solutions, collaboration, or video conferencing. All the basics of that technology has been in place for years. We have only just started to use all this technology and realise its potential. The future evolution of work depends on how well we leverage these tools in the mix, but they are only part of how work is changing.

Work is irrevocably flexible. It wasn’t been done exclusively in the office before the pandemic. Go ask the coffee shop owners around your office about the laptops, the phone calls and the meetings that graced their tables. Better yet go ask your clients about how good it was that your team could work flexibly with them when and where it mattered for your clients.

Work existed before offices. Work is more flexible than ever. Let the flexibility suit the work and not the office. It’s time to live in 2021.

Doing Business With Ourselves

Out where your customers are doing their business

Every business battles the danger of ‘doing business with ourselves’. Meetings, problems, strategy, administration and process can take up all our time. Focus outside the organisation to learn and adapt. Challenge the value of your internal deliberations if not supported by customer data or customer conversations.

As a collaboration expert, I say that collaboration isn’t the answer to every problem. If collaboration is not bringing something new or different to the table, it is burning through precious time and resources.

Doing Business With Yourself

Very few organisations have a rule against inviting multiple people to an internal or even external meeting. Often the expectation is that every significant discussion will have a large internal participation. You can destroy a lot of value in an organisation doing business with yourself.

Large and long meetings with multiple internal participants are a warning sign of lack of clarity of accountability. Someone in that room should own the problem. Do they really need to consult with everyone all at once? Are they actually shifting accountability for their issue to others? On what basis are decisions going to be made? Does anyone in this meeting have insights from outside the organisation in the form of customer data, conversations or research? Do you have a lack of trust such that everyone needs to watch each other work?

Steve Blank has strongly advocated that startups and organisations ‘need to get outside the building’ but for many organisations they continue to invest time and resources in doing business with themselves. This is particularly dangerous when the meetings are to discuss, decide and shape customer propositions. If you don’t have the customer actually in the room, how do you know what they want? Are you just going to take the word of the highest paid person?

Ending business with ourselves

There are some key steps to ending business with ourselves:

  • Accountabilities: Make sure accountabilities are clear. Know who is accountable for the issue in question and who gets the final say. If this person isn’t running the meeting, then change the chair or shut the meeting down.
  • Customers First: Use customer insights to make decisions about customer propositions. If you don’t have them, don’t holding a meeting internally, go out and make some calls, test something or do some customer research.
  • Who is in the room? Challenge the need for the second and every subsequent internal person in an internal or external meeting. If you don’t know why you are invited, don’t go. If there are too many people going who don’t add value, ask the host to change approach. Be prepared to ask others what they bring to a discussion. Anyone who needs to attend a meeting for awareness or status updates can read minutes instead.
  • Insights: If a meeting is going on with opinions and no insight, shut it down. Make people do the work with customers instead to enable the decision maker to reach a clear conclusion. The work won’t happen by magic if there hasn’t been preparation, even if it is a fancy workshop run by external consultants.
  • Value time. If an issue takes ten minutes to discuss. Start on time and shut down the meeting after 10 minutes. The time blocked for a meeting is the maximum it should take, not a target. Overruning a meeting time is a lack of respect for others and poor management by the host.