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This International Working Out Loud Week we will be sharing a reflection on a different element of working out loud each day. We will be using John Stepper’s latest iteration of the five elements of Working Out Loud as a guide to those reflections. Our second reflection is on Networks.
We have always had other people involved in our work. We have always had colleagues, managers, partners, suppliers, customers, regulators and the broader community with an interest in what we do and how we do it. Every day as we do our work without even calling it networking we manage a complex series of relationships to get our work done. We don’t need to go looking for networks. We already have them.
With global connection through digital networks, our ability to see and connect to the networks of people around our work is now greater than ever. With greater connection comes greater demands for transparency, accountability and engagement. With greater connection comes greater opportunities for new information and for learning. Even if we wanted to do our work on a remote island, we would struggle to escape connection to these networks and their demands.
Working Out Loud challenges us to think of the role these networks play in our work and the role that we play in our networks. Working out loud doesn’t add any complexity to the work or to the networks. That complexity is already there. Working out loud asks us some key questions: Who would benefit from greater visibility to our work? From whom can we benefit if they knew more about our work and our challenges? Working out loud does not demand that we engage the whole world all day. Working Out Loud asks that we share with those in our networks for whom our work matters in a meaningful way.
People who do not participate in networks are treated by the network like a blockage. They lose influence as the network routes around them seeking to engage in the necessary interactions. The value of Working Out Loud is it asks us to consider what role we should play in our networks and how we can better use our networks in our work. That is a critical element for anyone in the future of work.
International Working Out Loud Week is from 6-12 June 2016
Networks give people access to more people than ever before. However, they can also create new inconveniences by allowing people to free ride. Networks are fostered when people are encouraged others to making contributions to others first and to consider in their approaches the value created for others in their requests. These actions, like purposeful and generous working out loud, rebuild the goodwill that free riders consume.
The Network Externality of Free Riders
In economics, an externality is a cost imposed on other people who did not choose to incur it. Free riding is where a person consumes more than their share of a common resource. Every network depends on common resource of goodwill in continuing connection. A common barrier to the development of collaboration in networks is the network externality of thoughtlessness and free riding.
Great networks build up goodwill among the members which facilitates collaboration through trust, shared connection and a sense of reciprocal benefits. Free riders are members of those networks who don’t contribute to the general goodwill.
The Externality of Thoughtlessnesss
Thoughtless activities in networks consume goodwill because they impose costs on others in the network without any return:
- Noise: It takes time and effort to filter out noise. Creating noise in networks is costly to everyone. Noise can include repetitive posts, broadcast messages, long rambling messages, diversions from purpose, spam and other forms of low value messages.
- Laziness: Failing to check that the question you ask has not been answered already or that the answer is not readily available. Let me Google That For You is a great example of a solution to this common occurrence.
- Confusion: Making a unclear request of the network. In many cases questions are far easier to ask than to answer well. Many people do not think through what others need to be able to answer their query. It takes time and effort to clarify what the issue is and what answers or assistance will be helpful.
- Selfishness: Making request of others for effort without giving anything back. We have all been asked to help others in our networks. The better requests are respectful of the individual and the network. Most of the requests that come through Linkedin have a clear benefit to the other person but much less consideration on how I might be interested in helping. Responding to these requests takes time and effort which lowers the value of the network and the priority of responding at all.
- Lack of Follow-through: Making requests that are ambit claims, have unnecessary urgency or where you are not prepared to invest in follow through on the responses others will make. A common issue is when people ask for urgent help and then disappear again without responding to even acknowledge the answers given to their query.
- Unclear Benefit: Making unclear offers of benefits. If you suggest something offers ‘exposure’, ‘mutual benefit’, ‘rewards’, ‘an opportunity’ or similar it helps to quantify this in your request. Leaving it for others to discover the meaning of your obscurity imposes costs on others and on you.
There are many more examples. While it may be easy to decline all poorly framed requests, some times opportunity lurks under the thoughtlessness. The challenge is that the time and effort to respond, to clarify, to negotiate mutual benefit and to help can unduly burden network participants. Suddenly people withdraw from helping others in the network because the collective experience is burdensome.
Sidenote: Recognise Your Own Value In Networks
Under an avalanche of requests for free time, free help, free speaking engagements, free advice, offers of ‘exposure’ and general lack of consideration, it can be tempting to decide that you have to acquiesce because the whole system works this way. This is even more the case when you are told ‘everyone else’ seems to be doing things on this basis. We are still learning how to manage relationships at scales, timeliness and distances that have never been possible before in human history. Remember always you have choices. The best way to make choices is to respect the value you bring, set your own strategy and set your own rules for the value exchange. That way you take and miss the opportunities you choose, not others. Ask people you trust to help you assess the value you create, if you can’t do it yourself. Grace, humble respect for the value you create and a focus on reciprocity can make magic happen.
Replenishing Goodwill with Purpose, Contributions and Serendipity
One of the reasons that I am a advocate of John Stepper’s work in promoting the value of working out loud is that John has made explicit the value of making contributions to others. Making purposeful contributions to people in your network builds goodwill. It is a great way to start a relationship. People are more likely to assist you if they have seen you making contributions to others. Most importantly of all to make a contribution to another person you need to take the time to think of that other person and their needs.
Goodwill erodes if it is not actively restored by reciprocal benefits in a network. Creating goodwill through consistent contributions to others and serendipitous benefits helps the networks deliver net benefits to participants overcoming the costs imposed by the thoughtless and the deliberate free riders. The more people make purposeful contributions to others the more likely the balance will be a net positive one. For this reason many early online forums excluded lurkers in an effort to foster purposeful participation and reciprocity. The champions, change agents and connectors at the heart of your network will be some of the most purposeful, considerate and generous individuals that you know.
Fostering a culture of working out loud that is purposeful and generous will help any network overcome the challenges of occasional free-riding.
“Keep away from people who try to belittle your ambitions. Small people always do that, but the really great make you feel that you, too, can become great.” – Mark Twain
Organisations are moving away from traditional performance management. Expensive managers are being removed from organisations as they explore ways to be flatter and more responsive. More people are working freelance.
Managing your own performance is more important than ever. However, managing your own performance involves real challenges both in terms of personal and network value.
A Story of Doubt
Late in 2015 I lost my way. 2015 was a good year measured on my set of measures and most objective measures. I was busy on work that mattered to me and my clients. The work was purposeful, rewarding and recognised so by clients and others. However as the year came to an end after a few needed weeks of rest, I found myself doubting my performance and my momentum into 2016. With distance from my work, I wasn’t sure how well I was actually going to do in the new year.
Quite late in December I found out I was being considered for a Microsoft Most Valuable Professional award to be announced on 1 January. Until this occurred, I wasn’t even aware the award existed. In a matter of days, winning an award had become an important external benchmark to how I saw my performance. This need was an emotional, not a rational process. I slept terribly on the night of the 1 of January (due to timezones the award was announced early 2 January in Australia) and awoke to find no email from Microsoft. I was disappointed and resigned to the outcome as confirmation of my doubts. Dejected, I began reading the comments of winners on social media and congratulating those I know who had won. An hour later discovered an email in my junk mail and I realised a great insight into my personal limits of performance management.
Performance is Personal
Performance management is a personal process that happens between our ears, not on paper. We have already made the personal investment of our time and our efforts when the evaluation begins. We pretend it is rational and objective but we know that we are human with doubts, ego & emotions to manage. The SCARF model from David Rock highlights many ways that performance management can go wrong, by violating our sense of status, certainty, autonomy, relatedness or fairness. Anyone who has been through a corporate performance management process knows that an external opaque process of evaluation of feedback can trigger all sorts of reactions. What looks simple on paper rarely works that way in real human conversations.
Moving from performance management once a year by others to continuous self-management makes the process no easier and far more personal. The movement from an external accountability to a personal responsibility improves autonomy and can reduce relationship stress but it still leaves challenges and removes many external benchmarks. It also creates hard new responsibilities to fairly assess ourselves relative to others. We still have the same doubts and challenges but in many cases we can now struggle to accurately and consistently measure the true value of our work.
Valuing Yourself Accurately
In the era of self-management, workers need the capability to accurately value their work and their performance. From pricing your work, to negotiating your responsibilities, to managing the performance and reward process are all founded on the ability to accurately value your work and be able to communicate this value to others. New ways of working give us new processes to manage performance but fundamentally these processes still rely on our ability to accurately assess our own value and to negotiate that with others.
When I lost confidence in my own measures of success, I found myself outsourcing these to a partial external event of benchmarking. That made little sense as a process of evaluation. There was only some overlap between the award criteria and how I deliver value to my clients and what I value. The most valuable part of the process was it was a partial measure of reputation in one community (see below). The process was more akin to grasping for a lifeline than genuinely seeking to understand how much value I had created.
This demand for accuracy in valuation challenges us all to tackle the reality of our performance in new ways. Traditionally we both under and over estimate different elements of our performance. Many traditional self-assessment process take advantage of this using benchmarks to knock off our over assessments but leaving our undervaluations. Just like my experience, they work as partial measures of the value we create, over reliant on benchmarks and competitive assessment on narrow criteria.
Managing our responsibility to be accurate demands we test our self-perceptions continuously, focus on creating greater value and shake those crises of self-confidence that hold us back. We need to genuinely learn from failures and not reposition or hide them. We need to overcome our triggers to hold a true growth mindset. We need to become our own performance leaders, helping ourselves to become as great as we can be.
We also need to start to value ourselves far more as players in a complex system rather than a widget in a mechanistic process.
Your Value in a Network
The most underutilized resource still waiting for discovery may be our ability to cooperate much more deeply than the systems of work have so far envisioned. – Esko Kilpi
All the value that we create is delivered for others and negotiated with others. We cannot escape the networks in our work. We are not an island widget producing output in a process. We are humans tackling increasingly complicated problems in webs of relationships that stretch through our organisations and out to the networks where our purposes have their effects.
Creating this network value is the key challenge and as Esko Kilpi highlights in the article above this depends more on cooperation and collaboration than competitive mindsets. Most performance management is competitive, dividing a scarce pool as an incentive. Network performance management is abundant, encouraging collaboration and cooperation to create new innovative value for individuals and for the stakeholders who benefit from the organisations purpose. Network performance management starts to bring us back to elements very similar to those of the SCARF model directly:
- How we gain status (in the form of authority, reputation & influence) in our networks
- How we react to and embrace uncertainty as a source of value creation through learning and experimentation
- How we manage our autonomy and translate our opportunities for personal agency into value creation and fulfil our purpose
- The breadth and depth of our relationships through our ability to broker connection, coordinate activity and access necessary information and capabilities
- The fairness of our network exchanges in terms of reciprocity and mutual value creation.
Leadership in networks is a critical capability for all of us in the future of work. As Harold Jarche has noted, this kind of leadership is less controllable than traditional management, which presents its own issues for the management of collaboration. Leadership matters because it is the critical element to creating and sustaining value creation in networks as Dion Hinchcliffe has eloquently explained.
Managing performance in networks requires us to focus on both the need for new accuracy in our personal assessments and leadership of collective aspects of the abundant opportunities for greater performance through collaboration & cooperation. Individually and collectively we will need new measures, new confidence and to learn as we go on better ways to work.
Often we define ourselves by our limits. However, our human potential is not limited to our role, our status, our resources or our authority. Our potential in networks is exponential. When we do what we can and move beyond what we alone do, much more can be achieved.
In a recent project, we had one of the inevitable budgetary issues that affect work. We didn’t have the money to proceed with our plans. Steps were underway to solve that problem, but finding budget takes time. Instead of defining ourselves by the limits of our money, we asked ‘what can we do now with what we have?’. After a short creative conversation, we developed a new way to deliver our project, one that involved tests with the resources we had and investing in ideas that had proven success. We switched our model to use the resources we had, to leverage networks and experimentation.
Every time I hear the phrase “above my pay grade” I cringe. It is used to describe information, decisions and actions that are beyond an individual’s limits. Often these are limits people have imposed on themselves. Where they are real constraints, the individual still has the ability to act, to influence or to work around that constraint with the help of others. If you can’t approve it, go influence the person who can. If that doesn’t work, build a coalition to influence the person who can.
The most insidious limits are those that we alone know. These limits are the thoughts that constrain our actions. “I am not famous enough”. ‘I am not good enough”. “ I can’t do that”. “I am not influential/smart/powerful/wealthy enough”. These are the limits that paralyse us even when others expect or demand our action. Limits like these hide in all sorts of forms; respect for others, following process, honouring traditions, fearing consequences and failure, etc. These limiting thoughts are the simplest yet hardest to break. We need to unthink them and act.
We have fewer limits than we know. Together we have few limits at all.
‘Noun: strong supporter of a party, cause, or person…adjective: prejudiced in favour of a particular cause’. Oxford dictionary
Increased connection can bring us together with diverse others. However, they can also make it easy to find and form cliques with those who think like us. Networks can make it easier to be partisan.
The difference between the two outcomes comes down to our willingness to test our ideas and to learn. If we seek confirmation of our views from networks, we will find a niche of other like minded folk to act as echo chamber. The reinforcement we receive runs the danger of causing greater disconnect from reality as we become surer in our beliefs.
If we want the benefits of networks to make us more effective we must be prepared to learn and put our beliefs out for testing in action. Networks that simply confirm our knowledge and beliefs will rarely add value other than a smug sense of satisfaction. We will rightly question the value of participation.
We need to be open to new facts and new experiences in the network. If we respect the views of others and seek to understand, we may not change our opinions but we will be open to changing our prejudices and remaining connected to others and reality.
All over social networks people share links and opinions. Meet ups are held to enable more sharing face to face. Networks share information every day.
Sharing is happening more than ever but it is not enough. Sharing information is a critical part of the value maturity model. Sharing builds trust, deepens understanding and fosters connection. Sharing should be a sign the network is taking off.
You only take off if you have somewhere new to go. A lot of the networks sharing information never mature beyond a flurry of content marketing. Their links and messages are the same as every other network.
Shared Purpose and Collaborative Work
Any reason will bring you together to share information. Before people can work collaboratively they need some overlap of their personal purposes. They need to have some commonality of the change they want to make. Shared purpose takes the conversation deeper and creates incentives for action.
As obvious as it sounds, people won’t do collaborative work unless there is work to be done. In dispersed networks, don’t assume everyone can see the work opportunities. Mostly people will see the barriers to work.
The role of Change Agents in a network is to connect people around shared purpose and to help everyone to see the work to be done. The generative leadership of change agents will help lead people to new ways of interacting by solving real problems. If you don’t yet have change agents, community managers and other leaders will need to show the way.
Links, pictures, jokes and opinions are a good start but not enough. The purpose is in the work.