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Helping doubters to see the value of working out loud involves not just enabling them to experience others differently but helping them to see the value of the greater good. A challenge we face is that the value that flows from giving of ourselves travels along a convoluted path.
Reciprocal Benefits: Stories of the Paths of Referrals
Almost all my consulting work comes through referrals. Working out loud is a key foundation for that flow of referrals. However, there’s no linear process, no response rate to track and no measure that can capture the paths through which these come. I don’t work out loud for referrals.
I don’t work out loud for referrals. I work out loud to better understand lessons from the work I have each day and to benefit from the insights of others on that work. I also enjoy that others can share these lessons. However, generating business value is a lovely side benefit.
That benefit is not predictable because it is a function of reputation, relationships and work that’s ongoing, not a transactional exchange. Here are some examples:
- I post on Linkedin about working out loud week and the post is shared widely. The post reminds a former colleague of mine about me and some work we did together. My friend refers me to a friend of their as a potential solution for an unrelated topic.
- I agree to have coffee with a friend of a friend who is running a small business to discuss a business challenge. After a number of conversations where I offer some advice, things go quiet as we both return to our work. Months later, the small business owner refers me to another friend of theirs. Eventually, a colleague of that person retains me for some work.
- I collaborate with a small group of partners and competitors over four years. We share insights, ideas, and approaches even when we occasionally come up head to head competing against each other for work. After a number of years, there’s a flow of great referral opportunities between members of the network. We like working with each other. We understand each other’s relative expertise. We know we can’t do everything.
I see each of those examples of referrals to my consulting practice as an indirect outcome of reputation, relationships and work done out loud over many years. I have faith that if I continue to work in this way the benefits will keep flowing. Try explaining it to a doubter and they will explain it away as a result of hidden strategy, luck, reputation, or expertise.
The Greater Benefit of Altruism
Even harder for the doubter to grasp is that I would still work out loud, if none of these or other examples had happened. I enjoy helping others. Seeing others succeed in their work because you were able to assist is amazing. Having the ability to help others is a privilege.
I knew the power of help and generosity. However, I had not seen the specific power of working out loud until I started blogging consistently at work. Each day I shared a post on some lesson from my work and career. The posts were short and the audience was small as they were shared only inside the organisation. I realised the value to others one day when walking into the building a stranger enthusiastically rushed up to me and thanked me for a recent post. Speaking like a close friend, they explained that the post had enabled them to solve a problem and they now used that technique consistently. One person’s work had been made easier by my blogpost and they were extraordinarily grateful. Even more remarkable, a person I had never met felt they knew me well enough to forget to even introduce themselves.
Work today is hard, competitive, and it can be alienating for people. Creating just one moment of human connection founded in generosity can make a wonderful difference to others. It can also be a great reminder that those who give receive the greatest rewards, even if nothing ever comes back but thanks.
I recently did a podcast with Tathra Street on making leadership safe for humans. Tathra has an series of interviews on the idea of Human Centred Leadership. In our 30 minute conversation, we discussed my leadership lessons, how work is changing, the demands of digital culture, working out loud and more.
The discussion was great but sadly the audio quality did not hold up to the content of the discussion.
Almost twelve months ago, I discovered the Microsoft Most Valuable Professional (MVP) Program when I found out that I had been nominated for the award. That nomination was a first step for Microsoft to widen the program to encompass people who worked to foster adoption of its products. The MVP Program has been longstanding as a way to connect Microsoft with the traditional IT pros who make up its base of customers, developers and partners. After a year of experience of the MVP program, I wish I had known about it a lot earlier. The benefits to me and to the organisations with which I work from the program have been fantastic. Most importantly of all, the MVP program has strengthened my connections to a community of incredibly smart, committed and professional practitioners who have shown me new and better ways to do what I do.
So let’s look at what a year of being a Microsoft MVP means. The MVP program is a recognition of contribution to the Microsoft community. Microsoft itself says:
“The Microsoft MVP Award gives us the unique opportunity to celebrate, honor and say thank you to top-notch technology experts who make outstanding contributions to their communities. These technology experts have an unstoppable urge to get their hands on new, exciting technologies and love to share their knowledge.”
The award which is for one-year term is a recognition of the quality and amount of work done and the value created by each individual for Microsoft, for its customers and for the individual’s own organisation. It lasts for a year because it is a reward for the work and that level of effort must be sustained and grow.
If we want to examine what it means to be a MVP we are going to have to dive into understanding and exploring the impact of that work. To save you the challenge of listening to me talk about myself, I asked a fellow MVP, Amy Dolzine of EY if I could feature her work and efforts this year. Amy works in knowledge management for EY where she is a Global Awareness Advisor and Enterprise Social Engagement, Research and Awareness Lead where she is responsible for designing, managing and continuously improving global initiatives that increase the firm’s adoption of collaboration and communication tools such as Yammer and SharePoint. By enabling real time collaboration and sharing of expertise her work at EY enables client service teams to deliver better client outcomes and create increased revenue opportunities for the firm. Amy’s work at EY and her past experience with other organisations leading Yammer implementations also makes her a global expert in social collaboration and someone that people around the world look to for expertise and insights on how best to develop the maturity of collaboration in their organisations.
I first met Amy through her active participation as a leader in the Yammer Customer Network, which is now the Microsoft Tech Community. Amy demonstrates her leadership and passion in this environment, by actively sharing insights, asking questions, identifying bugs to be resolved and providing feedback to other community members and the product teams. I’ve been lucky to be a member of a number of communities this year where I have been able to leverage Amy’s practical insights. Having such a professional expert available to help you unravel challenges or support your ongoing work is invaluable. If she is able to provide this support to others, I can only imagine the value that she is delivering to EY client service teams as they go about the important knowledge work of collaboration that is critical to the client service of EY teams.
The ongoing sharing of her expertise extends beyond the tens of thousands of members of these communities as well. Amy is also active in blogging and sharing her insights in social media. Her blogposts on Linkedin throughout the year have always been insightful reflections of the opportunities of collaboration and experience she has learned working in the EY environment and beyond.
An MVP is expected to be out and about sharing their expertise at events in their communities and events that that Microsoft runs. These speaking engagements are always learning opportunities. They refine insights, help make new connections and provide opportunities to listen to and engage other practitioners in the field. Personal and organisation brands grow due to the quality of these presentations and I have watched Amy continue to promote the leadership of EY in the social collaboration space at many events during the year:
- YouToo Social Media Conference Kent State University, April 2016: External social media conference in its 9th year. Amy was the first speaker ever on the topic of internal social. As a result of sharing her work, Amy was able to create recognition for EY as a leader in the space. Importantly Amy helped a number of people at existing or future EY clients realize the value of working collaboratively and how it could help them make their companies more productive and engaged.
- JBoye: Philadelphia, PA May 2016: EY is a member of the JBoye organisation’s networks. They have 2 conferences a year, one in Philadelphia, one in Arhus Denmark. Because of her status as MVP and reputation, JBoye asked Amy to speak at an event about enterprise social. Events aren’t just about speaking. At this conference Amy developed industry connections by meeting John Stepper, author of Working out Loud and Susan Hanley, the author of many books on Knowledge Management and SharePoint. Amy has gone on to introduce these thought leaders to others in her network. Developing connections in the industry and bringing together people is a key part of the MVP opportunity.
- Microsoft Ignite Atlanta, GA September 2016: I facilitated this panel of 5 leading MVPs. The panel was a “from the front lines” kind of presentation about how to roll out enterprise social and received an enthusiastic reception with many questions and excellent feedback. What the audience valued was Amy’s ability, along with the other panellists, to bring practical examples and real world experience to the often daunting and abstract challenges of collaboration. Showcasing the value that a leading organisation like EY can do in this way and highlighting the ability of a professional like Amy to share this expertise reflects well on the firm.
- DogFoodCon Columbus, OH October 2016: At DogFood Con Amy presented two presentations on the business value of enterprise social and the value of building knowledge communities. Again these presentations showcased EY as a leader in social collaboration and shared practical techniques to advance other organisations work in these areas. Feedback on these presentations showed the continued development of Amy’s influence and her reputation as a leader in the space.
- Microsoft MVP Summit Seattle, WA November 2016: MVP Summit is the highlight of the MVP year with a week long summit with in-depth presentations about Office 365, Yammer and SharePoint. For MVPs this is a chance to get deep into the product roadmaps for key products, to learn about initiatives to come and to connect with each other. Amy also got the opportunity during this week to interact as a subject matter expert with the Yammer Product team as they ran a product hackathon. Taking her frontline expertise and sharing it directly with the product teams to shape their future roadmap is a key opportunity for an MVP and puts them in a great position to assist their organisation to optimise Microsoft’s product implementations.
Being an MVP gives you unique exposure to the work of other MVPs and also the Microsoft product teams. Throughout the year on a weekly and monthly basis there have been updates from the product teams and others in Microsoft on the roadmaps and other opportunities being considered and tackled. MVPs get privileged access to these conversations under NDA in exchange for their contribution to Microsoft’s thinking. It is a rich and valuable mutual learning experience with early warning and an ability to influence future product development highly valuable to Amy in her work.
The global community of MVPs learn from each other. Everyone in that network is looking to push the implementation of the technology to greater levels of effectiveness for their organisations. Amy gets rich connections and early insight into that work is an incredible learning opportunity and a platform for future collaboration opportunities as well.
I asked a few fellow MVPs what they had learned from working with Amy during the year. Their answers reflected my own perceptions and the respect with which MVPs are held in the Microsoft customer base:
“Amy is by far the most practical, value-focused strategist that I’ve seen in social collaboration. She has a gift for inspiring people with the vision and then moving them to roll up their sleeves and get to work realizing the benefits.” – Melanie Hohertz, Cargill
“Through Amy’s insightful and honest public contributions, I learned that EY is a leader in the emerging science of social collaboration. Not only have I gained a better understanding of Enterprise Social Networking and how it can help organizations through Amy’s efforts, I’ve also gained a great deal of respect towards EY as a company on the leading edge of modern business progress.” – Tom Kretzmer, Lubrizol
“Just a few moments of conversation with Amy showed me the heights my own organization could achieve through Enterprise Social Networking; continuing the conversation through this past year showed me that she is a leader to keep an eye on.” Becky Benishek, Crisis Prevention Institute
When you spend a year working alongside someone through communities and events, you develop a strong sense of their values, their approach to others and the way that they approach their work. We all know that these values and approaches are the bedrock of excellence in performance and ability to contribute to others. What comes across to me from my year working closely alongside Amy is her passion for making work and technology solutions better for the people in EY, her deep commitment and energy to making a difference and her generosity in creating, building relationships and helping others. This work is not without its frustrations. What I love about Amy is that she keeps these values front and centre as she tackles the challenges and the successes. Most organisations barely recognise that their people are making contributions to others in this way well beyond the narrow descriptions of their jobs and KPIs. I am pleased to know that EY is different and Amy is recognised for her passion, her contributions and her generosity.
I am incredibly lucky to have got the chance to know Amy better through the MVP program. Because of the work of Microsoft to celebrate her work and her ongoing efforts to share and help others, you get the chance to know her better too. If you’d like to become an MVP, the challenge is to think how you can make this kind of a contribution to others through your work.
Mindsets shape our perception. – A large sign that needs to be placed in all workplaces
The changing nature of work is growing greater attention in the business press and in the strategy teams of large and small organisations. New ways of working and new platforms of work are gaining traction and much handwringing is going on about the potential “post-job” future of work.
Many organisations see the changing nature of work as an opportunity to use transactional platforms to lower employment costs and deliver a greater flexibility of resources. They see platforms that offer a highly competitive pool of temporary and flexible labour as solely an efficiency play. Much of the investment and energy behind these platforms have been driven by the idea that they can take advantage of a struggling and transforming post-crisis global economy, digital technology and new work patterns of work to deliver real cost savings to organisations. That focus on the transactional efficiency benefits of Gig Economy reflects the prevailing mindset on the purpose of work and organisations. These organisations often can’t see that there is another way.
I was recently asked why I wanted to work in the Gig Economy. My answer was that I don’t. I work in the Purpose Economy. A traditional organisation might see an opportunity for efficiency and flexibility through a pool of transactional gig workers. I am looking for flexibility, purpose, relationships, collaboration and learning through a diverse portfolio of rewarding work.
I don’t join large scale platforms that atomise participants, commoditise work, create competitive dynamics and are designed for value capture to the platform (for more read Harold Jarche’s excellent description) . The transactional efficiency mindset of business is strong and deeply embedded. For many people, this has become the only way of business. It is all that they can see. However, there are other more purposeful, more valuable and more human ways of working. Breaking this mindset and setting out in a different pattern can be richly rewarding.
What impressed me as an adviser to Sidekicker was the team’s focus on relationships with both their workforce and their clients. They are looking for skills, talents and a better way of working with benefits to both workers and clients in areas of the market like event management staff where that is a rare mindset. The mindset of doing repeatable high quality business in a relationship for mutual gain is a valuable proposition in a world of atomised marketplaces.
I recently blogged about becoming an adviser to Peer Academy. This platform focuses on helping participants to collaborate, work and learn as peers. The learning and collaboration focus of this platform makes it a far more valuable and purposeful solution for organisations and participants.
I am a participant in Change Agents Worldwide because first and foremost it is a network about relationships, collaboration and learning. Change Agents Worldwide seeks to create value through scaling the efforts of individual Change Agents, but it recognises that it must first deliver value to the individual, cannot compete with them and must allow them to shape their participation and their work. A true network needs remarkably few rules to help individuals pursue their purpose, learn from others and to deepen relationships.
Ultimately, my work is driven by my purpose of making work more human. I write, speak, consult and coach towards this end. The portfolio nature of my work enables me a diversity of projects that contribute to this goal. My future success depends on what work I do, what relationships I build and what I learn. I have an entrepreneurial drive to improve my proposition to better fulfil my purpose. I get to build relationships that shape what I work on, what I learn and with whom I work.
A purposeful portfolio also helps diversify my risk and ensures a more consistent flow of rewards. I’ve been subject to far greater income risk and far more atomisation as an employee than I have ever experienced as an independent worker. Critically the nature and amount of those rewards remain in my control and are agreed through relationship conversations, not market place bidding, bell-curve performance processes or restructures. Not all the rewards are cash, I shape the value that I share in my work.
Before your organisation considers a new model of work for its efficiency gains, consider whether there is a wider benefit in exploring the potential of deeper relationships, richer purpose and more responsive work. Leveraging these opportunities will require you to consider many new areas of organisational work in 2017, but particularly:
- What do you offer the purposeful worker? Is your organisational purpose clear enough to shape your work?
- Is your employee & worker experience good enough to attract, to retain and to leverage the contributions of those working in the purpose economy? Are you treating temporary labour as an equal member of your teams or as second class citizens?
- How does your organisation onboard, collaborate and learn at scale, especially with those who may not care for your processes or be seeking a career in your organisation?
- Are your team structures and work processes agile enough to incorporate and benefit from the inputs of your new workforce?
- Can your management capabilities, models, policies and systems handle the networked organisation and a purposeful workforce?
PS: An example of the limiting power of mindsets is that we now need to clarify the meaning of ‘gig economy’. Language that came out of the creative professions to reflect their flexibility in pursuit of purpose becomes redefined in a corporate mindset to transactional efficiency.
We don’t need to be told that work is busy. Pressures are everywhere. Finish one task or one meeting and there is a good chance that the next few challenges are piled up ready to go. We rarely get the time to reflect as we power through our work, unless we allocate time or are forced into reflection by the questions of others.
Without reflection, we all struggle to focus and question our priorities, our relationships and our performance. The value of coaching is that it can create this space in our work week and help make our work far more effective. The power of questions from others is that they force us to reflect, to consider a wider perspective on our work and can break the patterns that form in our busy thinking.
Great leaders coach. They know how to ask simple questions of their teams that foster reflection on goals, priorities, alignment of work and the effectiveness of work. Creating a supportive coaching environment in a team enables people to reflect on how to improve more often and more effectively. Great leaders encourage peer coaching too.
Peer coaching is a powerful technique and one that can happen in the flow of work. Taking the time to ask each other “How did we do? What can we do better or different next time?” is all that it takes to create more reflection in our work. We don’t work alone the insights and observations of others can help us become more effective. Working out loud, purposefully sharing our work with our peers, invites our peers into our work and facilitates this reflection.
In the coaching work that I do, I find asking the simple questions clarifying goals, the situation and opportunities to do things differently creates a space for a new and powerful conversation. The time invested can have dramatic returns by clearing blockages, building new collaborative networks and focusing the effort of work. Often the improvement opportunities are obvious when someone has time to reflect on how they can do things differently.
An added benefit of the time to reflect through coaching conversations is an increase in accountability in organisations. Regular coaching conversations with a leader, a coach or peers, create personal accountability to translate improvement opportunities into action. Knowing that someone will ask “what have you done differently?” helps us reflect continuously on how well we are delivering on our plans.
Reflecting with the support of others is the heart of learning and performance improvement. How are you fostering a coaching culture to benefit your performance and the performance of the teams around you?
Simon Terry is a coach and consultant who helps individuals and organisations to make work more effective. Reach out to discuss how more coaching can foster reflection for you and your organisation.
Many people define their career by what they do. Ask them to describe their experience and they will give you an account of years in a role in an industry. The answer will be a dry recitation of their curriculum vitae. Focusing on this list of what narrows their potential future opportunities. If we start looking to fit them to another similar role in the same industry we have narrowed the world of opportunity down significantly. Poor recruiters consider candidates against a role and industry checklist, but we all know that roles and time is a very narrow understanding of how people contribute to their organisation.
Change the question. Ask people why they enjoy their work and you will get a much richer answer. They will tell a story and their eyes light up. Perhaps the answer will be about the challenge, the learning and the problem solving. Perhaps it will be about the ability to help others or to achieve a particular personal or strategic goal. Perhaps they enjoy their work because of others with whom they get to work.
That answer is much more powerful in helping an individual frame what opportunities are ahead. Focusing on the why increases the opportunities to contribute to that purpose beyond one role or one industry. Focusing on the why also makes it more likely that future opportunities deliver a sense of personal reward.
Roles and industries come and go. With accelerating change and disruption, we need to all be open to the adaptation that arises when you focus on why.
Experts are terrible at knowing what’s going to happen. One of the key role of external experts is introducing divergent opinions into a hierarchy.
I’ve been reading Tim Hartford’s Adapt on the role of failure in success. The book begins with a review of the literature on how poor experts are at prediction. We live in a complex connected fast changing world. Experts, whether consultants, thought leaders, academics or futurists struggle to make predictions of what comes next. So if experts aren’t great at knowing what’s going to happen, why are they so popular?
External Experts are a Source of Variation
Even with the limits of their predictive power, external experts do two things well. They can supply confidence for organisations to tackle divergent ideas and they can help find divergent ideas internally in organisations and carry them around or through the hierarchy. The former occurs when senior executives hire external experts to bolster their risky decision. The latter is the source of the classic consultant joke that ‘a consultant borrows your watch to tell you the time’.
In both cases, an external expert helps an organisation to break the patterns of its dominant thinking and explore variation with greater confidence. In an environment of rapid change the ability to experiment with variation is a key to adaptation. The expert may not be right but the learning and adaptation that results can be incredibly valuable.
External Experts Build Capability
That learning is what differentiates great experts from the average ones. Great experts worry less about predicting what’s around the next corner. What they help organisations do is build the capabilities that have value in many scenarios in the future.
Teaching organisations how to learn for themselves through experimentation, how to become more effective in change at scale, enabling teams to work more effectively and enabling individuals to thrive is a winning strategy in almost every scenario. Add the transfer of the way to build particular practices and expertise and you have a valuable proposition.
Once you stop looking for experts to know everything, you can explore their potential to help your organisation to change and adapt through variation, experimentation and new capability. These roles are important new challenges for your internal experts too.
If you’d like to chat more about how to build these capabilities and better leverage your internal experts, get in touch with Simon Terry.