We don’t work alone. We shouldn’t work in silence. Most importantly we should recognise those who enable, encourage and inspire us.
This Working Out Loud Week we are looking to recognise those who contribute to our work. Share the work of others who help you to do your best work. The world is short of recognition. It can always do with an abundant supply. Recognising others is one of the greatest contributions you can make to other people.
Many people don’t even realise that their work enables, encourages and inspires others. The simple act of recognition can change someone’s perception of their work and their impact. Recognition is a reinforcement and clarification of purpose too. Help others to understand how they do their best work by sharing and praising that work.
The best recognition has some key characteristics:
- Shared openly in a relevant community: You don’t have to use…
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Time and the pace of business cycles play an important role in collaboration. However, we are so accustomed to our own time cycles we don’t often reflect on them. Designing the rhythm of collaboration in your organisation for effectiveness is one of the key untapped opportunities for organisations.
Time Flowing Fast as Water
There are these two young fish swimming along, and they happen to meet an older fish swimming the other way, who nods at them and says, “Morning, boys, how’s the water?” And the two young fish swim on for a bit, and then eventually one of them looks over at the other and goes, “What the hell is water?” – David Foster Wallace Kenyon College commencement speech
Time is ever a concern in business. We worry about wasting it. We worry about how it can be better used. However, despite all our concerns time tends like water in the story above to flow past us unnoticed if not for the regular milestones that bring it back to our attention. Techniques like sprints, project planning and other productivity disciplines can also help focus our attention on time.
When I wrote about the role of transition in discussion Microsoft’s explanation of how their products support an inner and outer loop’s of collaboration, I threw into a table a row that discussed time. At the time I had a query about it and I intended to write more on the topic. That thought flowed away too quickly to turn into action. A recent conversation with Steve Nguyen of the Yammer Product Team reminded me to return to the topic.
Why did I include time? The time cycles of a business are one of the biggest barriers to effective collaboration. We can often assume that everyone in the business perceives time the same way we do. Our perception of time is directly influenced by the normal operational business cycles within which we work. This cycle is usually determined by the length of the core process we manage each day.
This difference of perception can be a barrier to sustaining effective collaboration. If my definition of ‘fast’ is in the next hour and another business defines fast as by the end of the month, there is likely to be conflict. Let’s look at an example: an organisation with retail stores is experiencing an issue with a recently implemented IT project.
- Retail stores live and die by the day. Everyone in the retail part of the business will be focused on having an issue addressed by no later than the end of the day. Tomorrow’s trading needs to be secured.
- Depending on whether the IT project is waterfall or agile the natural time scale of that project could be weeks or months. They might be working ‘fast’ to fix an issue (i.e. fixing it within their shortest operational timescale), but still disappoint the retail store for days until the issue is resolved.
- Head Office might work to its logical planning time scale, the quarter. When the dispute is escalated to head office there will be yet another definition of ‘fast’ to manage.
Managing the Rhythm of Collaboration
One reason the inner and outer loops approach works well in organisations is that it accommodates the differences between work that happens in immediate teams that is often on the shortest cycles of time and collaborative work that happens more slowly. A fast flowing operational feed will bury messages that invite reflection, discovery, serendipity, co-creation and the longer cycles of innovation.
In Cultivating Communities of Practice by Wenger, McDermott and Snyder, their research into effective communities of practice highlighted that the rhythm of a community was an important part of effective communities. These communities had predictable and routine cycles that helped foster connection, sharing and working together to solve problems and innovate. Community members could adapt to the collaboration activities of the communities because they were predictable and because they aligned to the time cycles of the wider work going on across the organisations. If collaboration needs to be pushed against the grain of the organisation or the cycles of teams, then it will have an unsustainable overhead of community management and the collaborative community will not be sustainable.
When facilitating adoption of collaboration in an organisation, community managers need to consider the time cycles of the use cases that they want to see to deliver the organisations strategy. In doing this community managers need to consider:
- Change takes time. Have we allowed enough time & support for behaviours to change and for activity to mature into something self-generating?
- Is this use case relating to the time cycles of inner loop or outer loop collaboration? Which approach will best support the use cases we are looking to see sustained?
- What is the natural cycle of activity in the business? How can we align this collaboration activity to a natural and self-sustaining cycle in the business?
- Are there any time cycle differences between fast moving and slow moving teams that we need to allow for or manage in this collaboration? How do we manage these transitions to enable effective collaboration?
- What is the aggregate impact of all the various cycles of activity in the collaboration community? Can we engender more effective communication by adjusting the cycles or managing the calendar of activities to reduce conflicts and periods of high demand on users?
Someone has to start. Other people might not be cooperative, but that is not connected to you. My advice is this: you should start. With no regard to whether others are cooperative or not. – Alfred Adler quoted in ‘The Courage to Be Disliked’ by Kishimi and Koga.
It is the only moment you have.
You have no control over the past.
The future is not here yet.
The only decision is what to do now.
Why does it have to be you?
You can see the potential.
You bring your potential to grow.
Now you can start.
Now you can be better.
Now you can make things better.
Will it be easy? No.
Will others help? They have their work. The generous will contribute. The passionate will align.
Will it succeed? You will learn.
Why start? You are best placed to see the potential now.
How should you start? Small, fast, agile, openly, generously, and now.
I often get queries from people around how I structure my working out loud, particularly in social media, enterprise social networks and other public channels. As always with working out loud, people’s initial reaction is a reluctance to be seen to engage in bragging or self-promotion. A recent and rising concern is the danger of being considered an empty thought leader.
A recent conversation on how I practice working out loud, prompted me to sketch out a taxonomy of the various approaches that I have experienced. I set out below a short guide to this model, how it relate to my personal practice to working out loud and some other every day practices of sales and marketing.
Start with Purpose
My personal purpose in sharing my work is to build meaningful relationships by working out loud. I believe that effective working out loud is a goal to increasing influence and connection with others through shared learning and shared work. That is particularly important when I am sharing as I often do on this blog with a goal of increasing my influence with current or potential future clients of my consulting and speaking work.
Focus on Your Audience and Your Strengths
The approach I take in sharing my work here and in other channels is to not just focus on what I want to share. If I all I did was share what mattered to me then I can’t expect more than to contribute to the content marketing chatter that washes over the planet in all channels. I bring three additional lens to what I share:
- What my audience wants to hear: much of the literature on content marketing talks about the need to hit the current themes and trends of conversation in your target audience. However, if you only share what people want to hear then you are pandering. We see this with the endless articles with identical recommendations of platitudes and other motherhood advice.
- What my audience needs to hear: to ask for attention I have to offer a point of view on what matters to my audience. This may well be one that they don’t share or even wish to share. Remember there is a danger in thinking you know what’s best for others. Leaving this advice open to learning through working out loud is a good way to test your perception of what is needed and mitigates against resistance from the audience. If I focus only on sharing what they need to do, I will fall into the trap of preaching.
- What I do well: Sharing doesn’t demand that you do anything. Much thought leadership is just talk even if it is a catching package of what is needed and wanted. A key differential is the ability to base your working out loud in actual work and practice. The practical lessons of real work help ground what you share and add to its richness.
Build Influence to Deepen Relationships
The most powerful and most effective influence occurs at the intersection of what I share, what I do well, and what my audience wants and needs to hear. The more my working out loud is focused on this domain and to the right into the harder realm of what my audience need, but may not yet appreciate, the greater the value to both my work and that of my audience. Telling people what you do well that they already value is just bragging. The ultimate value is giving people new insights or new actions that enable them to make progress in new ways.
Because this approach to influence is based in competence and consideration of what clients want and needs, it is highly conducive to an enduring relationship with the audience. The goal is to use openness, practicality and value to build trust and deepen the connection through shared learning, collaboration and shared work. Working out loud in this way (and building a system to enable consistent sharing in this way) has fostered great relationships and accelerated my pursuit of mastery too.
What You Don’t Share
It is also worth spending a minute on the areas that are not shared openly:
- Sales is a personal conversation and is usually based in connecting what clients want to hear to your best work. To the extent clients don’t value your best work you will need marketing to influence their perspective.
- Marketing is again most effective when it is personal, connects to needs and emotions and reinforces what you do well in the minds of clients. It sets up a sales conversation. When Sales and Marketing work in concert in this way, growth accelerates.
- Smug Silence: If you do something well, you aren’t sharing it and nobody wants and needs it, then you can be silent in your smugness. You are the best in the world at it, but it is of value only to you.
Putting it into Practice
Before you share your next post ask yourself the following questions;
- What is my purpose in working out loud?
- Who is my audience?
- What do they want to hear?
- What do they need to hear?
- How do I share what I do best to enable learning and collaboration?
These simple questions are my steps to avoid the dangers of bragging, chatter and thought leadership. What works for you in your practice of working out loud?
Ancient Pharaohs built elaborate pyramids and sacrificed hundreds of lives in rituals designed to ensure the changes of death had little impact on their lifestyles and to guarantee their future relevance. Our corporate change rituals are no less elaborate, no less dangerous and no more effective.
The Rituals of Change
Fiona Tribe started a conversation on twitter yesterday about change with this question:
Answering the question led me to reflect on how many organisations are closed to change. In fact, the more closed an organisation is to change, the more expensive its change rituals.
We know the standard rituals of Change (I will use the Capitalised Noun to indicate its abstract nature):
- Make an elaborate announcement of the Change vision, supported with expensive multimedia resources
- Hire a large well-qualified team to lead the Change project over an extended time period
- Buy the Change technology with much hoopla
- Begin running the Change processes and creating the Change documentation
- Build a Change Lab as the centre of Change worship
- Create elaborate workshops, training exercises and other activities to enable participation and engagement in the Change
- Appoint champions as high priests of the Change
- Issue regular Change communications to encourage belief in the Change.
Belief in the Change is critical. The important point of Ritual Change is that it cannot be criticised as doing change to people. It is Change in purely a metaphysical realm. There is no connection between all these Change Rituals and the actual organisation or business activity.
No wonder the other members of the organisation look on bemused. They see all this Change as a waste of time and money that could be spent solving actual problems. Activities like these contribute to disengagement. Worse still they waste human lives and at times the money and effort wasted on Change can even threaten the entire purpose of the organisation and the lives of its employees.
Because this is purely an exercise in metaphysics and belief, success is also easy. All it takes to declare success is ardent belief. There are no real world consequences of Change and so no way to test effectiveness.
The cost of all this activity and its scale is important. The level of investment and wasted effort absolves people of the guilt that nothing is actually changing. The CEO gets to look on all the pharaonic investments with the satisfaction that Change has forestalled their own irrelevance.
Real Change is A Conversation
We know what real change looks like. Real change is when behaviours and mindsets in the organisation are different. That takes conversations, learning, practice and lots of encouragement to persist through the difficulties. It takes an openness and an outward orientation to learn and to grow.
This kind of change can happen quickly or slowly, but it occurs at a human level where the work is occurring. It occurs through every day activities like conversations, role modelling, practice and coaching.
If you want to survive, prosper and be remembered, don’t build empty monuments to Change. Embed your legacy in the conversations within your organisation. The positive impacts of better conversations and better learning will long out last you.
Utopias are tempting to change enthusiasts. Gathering a group of advocates and creating a community in isolation is tempting. We must remember that change occurs at the point of contact with the old system. We must remain engaged.
The Danger of Utopias
Khurshed Dehnugara, who wrote the book Challenger Spirit and runs the consulting business Relume, made the insightful comment on LinkedIn that
Challengers can’t afford to lose contact with those they are alienating.
When you are advocating for change, it can be easy to fall in love with the vision of change that you want to create. If you connect with a community who share that vision, your thoughts can quickly move to developing that vision and bringing it to life. Living in a Utopia and realising that vision can be enticing.
However, most Utopias fail. A common reason for this failure is that like any closed system these perfect utopias suffer from entropy. Without new energy and recruits from contact with the world, they begin to decline, wrapping themselves in ever less productive activity within their community.
Isolation can be valuable for connecting people in change and envisioning and nurturing the future. This is well highlighted in the Berkana Two Loops model of change. However, any change advocated needs to remember that while isolation might enable initiation, isolation is not where change is perfected.
Hard Contact for Hard Change
Change is perfected in contact with the real issues of its opponents. When we are enraptured by uotopian visions, the work of engaging opponents can feel frustrating and like compromise.
However, real world solutions meet the needs of diverse stakeholders. As frustrating as these positions may be they are issues that need to be engaged in change. We cannot ignore them. We are far better to use them as opportunities to refine and develop our thinking. That refinement only happens in dialogue with the world. We will not find it in the gardens of Utopia.
One reason that the organisers of social change spend so much time designing contact with the forces opposing them is that they understand the leverage of these moments. The attention and energy of the conflict of change is a source of momentum to our change. It energises our community and markets our vision of change to the wider world. Hiding out in a Utopia will not achieve this advocacy. We need to draw others to our vision to succeed and that will only happen if we continuously engage for good and bad in the world. We won’t convince everyone, but perhaps we can convince enough.
I’ll admit I have had my doubts on the trendiness of thought leadership. There’s such a vast amount of content marketing and content marketers claiming the term that I doubted it actually even existed. Not every thought can be a leading thought and not everyone who thinks can inspire actions of others. Too many thought leaders are simply entertainers with large audiences, but no influence at all.
However, I recently came across this useful discussion of what a thought leader might actually do:
Thought leaders advance the marketplace of ideas by positing actionable, commercially relevant, research-backed, new points of view. They engage in “blue ocean strategy” thinking on behalf of themselves and their clients, as opposed to simply churning out product-focused, brand-centric white papers or curated content that shares or mimics others’ ideas.
– Craig Badings and Liz Alexander
I like this definition as a test of thought leadership. It is specific, resonates with value and because most of what I see purporting to be thought leadership fails this high bar. The five elements of the test are elements of value in the quality of the ideas that many self-proclaimed thought leaders fail to deliver:
- Actionable: Ideas are great and can be entertaining but actions get results. Actions are where the real work is. For an idea to be actionable you actually have to have taken some effort to have put it into action. Preaching is fine but walking the talk is more persuasive.
- Commercially Relevant: Dreams are plentiful. Utopias are delightful thought experiments. Most people are looking for something that helps them in a way that delivers actual value to their business or life. If you are trying to make a living from ‘thought leadership’ start with this.
- Research-backed: Evidence is in short supply in the thought leadership industry. Reverse engineering case studies of popular companies to fit a hypothesis is not research. On brand messages and marketing is not thought leadership.
- New: Oddly, your ability to say what everyone else has already said is not that valuable. A thought leader is not a mimic. They must have something novel to say or why say it. This is particularly the case when in repeating an idea you simplify or remove an idea from its context, evidence or effectiveness.
- Point of View: Surprisingly, many self-proclaimed thought leaders don’t actually take a position on anything. They are so busy expressing the common platitudes and not offending anyone that they express every view of an issue. Taking a point of view matters because it is how you are proved right or wrong.
Importantly, there’s not a single element of that definition that depends on the size of your audience, your social media following or the blurbs on the jacket of your book. Thought leadership is about what you do, not who is watching.
Also, when I consider that definition, I come to the view that the few ‘thought leaders’ who might satisfy that definition are the rare, effective and innovative consultants, research analysts and academics who are able to capture new insights from their practical work with a variety of clients and distill that experience and insight into new plans of action. Each of those roles can meet the criteria but each work in different ways to do so. Thought leadership in that context isn’t one thing and is better described by each of those other terms. So I guess we didn’t need the term thought leader after all.
If thought leadership is just about a status, then we don’t need the term. Thought leadership has thought led itself out of business. This aligns itself to a broader trend the world needs a lot less focus on status and talk and a lot more focus on value in action.