Change Agents Worldwide E-Book Released

The Change Agents Worldwide e-book: Changing the World of Work One Human at a Time is now available. Get yours now:

CAWW e-Book

The book is a series of essays that answer the question “what step should organisations take to make the most of the future of work?” The answers reflect the diverse and insightful perspectives of the members of Change Agents Worldwide on leveraging social collaboration, networks and trust.

My essay in the book is entitled “Do You Trust the Talented People You Went to Great Care to Hire?”

What questions build your community?


Why do we focus on Push communication?

Push communication is deeply ingrained in our way of thinking. We live surrounded by push messages. The triumph of push is so great in business that push functions, like marketing or PR, are simply called communications. We are used to models that tell us to “Always be closing”, “Get your message out”, “Build awareness” and ‘Be proactive’.  Networking has a bad name for many people because it is seen as the equivalent of cold-call sales.

Social tools are sold as media, driven by advertising revenues and promoted as a new method of advertising yourself. We obsess about follower size or measures of influence like Klout and Kred that are heavily influenced by the ability to push. The ‘Number One Mistake Everybody Makes on Twitter‘ is not to turn a reply into an message to their whole follower base. Do we need more messages when we are living in a period of ‘information obesity’?

Organizations worry about compliance in their employee base in the use of social communication because non-compliance might adversely impact the desired push media & reputation effects. The assumption that push messages must be preserved leads many organisations to ban their employees from sharing or tightly restrict their engagement. Even where social is encouraged many employees struggle with pushing their views forward. A reluctance to push and a reticence about the quality of their messages holds back adoption & use.

John Hagel, among others, has argued eloquently that it is time to move from Push to Pull.  We need to move from communication to community to get full value of the networks that we have built.

What’s your most valuable communication?

Ask any business which conversations are the most valuable and the answers are usually consistent.  The best conversations are where they get a chance to sit around the table with customers or key stakeholders, to let them talk to each other, to listen, to question and to learn. From these conversations come new product ideas, insights into customer drivers and customers taking on the challenge of explaining and even selling your business to others. The insights can be revelatory and the business value outweighs any speech, status update or advertisement.

For conversations to have this value, they must be authentic, reciprocal, valuable to all involved and intensely personal. The conversations aren’t driven by a message the business wants to share. They are driven by questions that bring out what customers want to share. The questions don’t always come from one source. They come from anyone in the conversation.  For that to occur it needs to be underpinned by the relationships, personal connections and trust.

What question is your push communication trying to answer?

When you unpick the next message you want to share as push communication, you will find at its heart a question. Your communication is trying to close off a question that belongs to the customer, an employee or another stakeholder. You are trying to supply an answer to your guess of a question that your push communication won’t let them ask.

Why won’t you let your stakeholder ask their question?  

Closing off a question may seem safe, but control is a false & costly form of safety. Control does not build trust, connection or value. It doesn’t stop the customer forming their own view by thinking of other questions. It simply denies them a way to share any connection with you.

How do you build your community with questions?

Community is the ultimate pull. Community is when your stakeholder choose to connect deeply with you, to work together to create value and to share of themselves for a common goal. Community is a layer of trust and connection that enriches the value of networks.

Community is built by questions, not statements. Asking someone’s name is the first step. Then we ask how they are going. We ask why they are here and what they are trying to achieve. We ask about their hopes and their concerns. We ask what they know and believe. In time, having learned enough, we ask if we can help.

What would happen if everyone asked a question?

Everyone in your business is connected. They have connections at work and in the rich world outside. Hopefully those networks grow each day. They won’t grow more valuable if they are just names and contact details. They grow richer with deep interaction and growing community.

It is hard work getting everyone in your business to master push communication. Many don’t want to use push communication and aren’t confident in their skills to do it well. This challenge of push affects the senior manager as much as the frontline employee. That’s why there are specialists in communication and convoluted communication policies.

Everyone in your business can ask a question. Practised consistently, that questioning develops into an ability to seek and make sense of their environment. Every stakeholder can answer that question if the connection is strong enough. Great questions get shared as people in the network become interested in the discussing the answers generating new questions and learning together.

Use your networks to share questions and you will find every part of your network is contributing to building a rich and valuable community for your business.

What great questions build your community?

Please share your answers.

The New to Social Executive: Actions to Get Ready

As a senior executive starting to use social collaboration there will be a little nervousness when you engage at first, unless you are supremely confident or incredibly extroverted. You need opportunities to practice your new mindsets and learn new skills of social collaboration before you hit the main game. Even if you are confident and extroverted, you may need practice, because you may need to learn to adjust to the expectations of others.

Here are a few actions to help the new-to-social executive to get ready for the art of social collaboration: 

  1. Start by being social: The technology is just a facilitator of conversations. Do you go out of your way to have social conversations in your organisation now? Are you mentoring and helping others across the organisation now? When did you last have a coffee meeting with no agenda? It is no good running chats on twitter or posting think pieces on Linkedin, if you don’t talk to your own employees or customers in the foyer. Start using your new social mindsets and engaging a wider audience in other ways first.
  2. Choose a purpose: When starting out in social collaboration, focus helps build reasons for connection.  Choose the one topic on which you want to start to engage purposefully with others. If you can’t think of anything else, choose one of your corporate strategy, meeting talented people or better understanding customers. Add these topics to your everyday conversations and your team. Refine your purpose as you go. Eventually this purpose will flower into a personal manifesto.
  3. Reflect & Start to share your learnings: New-to-social executives often say “But what do I have to say?”. The things that you share are going to come from the interactions in your day and responses to the activity of others. Reflect on what you experience and read each day. Start to take some notes about what these experiences mean for you and what you learn (Tools like Evernote are handy for this). Those insights are ideas that you can share. Explain to others how these ideas came about. They might seem minor to you but to others without your experience your thought process can be incredibly valuable. Over time this will become a form of Personal Knowledge Management where you constantly refine what you read, capture insights, and also learn how you share your insights with others.
  4. Test the influence of your insights: Most senior executives are used to their teams listening to their words. Social audiences are busy with many competing voices. You may need to test how influential your ideas are before you debut them to a wider and more discerning audience. You may need to adjust your style of communication. Social favours the short, sharp and punchy. Run some tests sharing your thoughts in a variety of different means through email, internal social posts, voluntary talks or blogging internally. Measure the response and seek feedback. Use that feedback to refine your style and your messaging. 
  5. Start Working Out Loud in your Enterprise Social Network:  There is no better place to practice social collaboration than in your organisation’s Enterprise Social Network.  You will be practising in front of an audience that is well aware of your fame, power and influence. They will be forgiving. Use your enterprise social network to start to practice Working Out Loud. Develop new habits that you can carry over to external social media. Make sure you get the network’s mobile applications so that you can easily access, share and respond to others as you go about your busy life. Most important of all, learn the lessen that the value of social collaboration grows with your consistency and your effort.

From that point on there are plenty of experts that tell you how to use Linkedin, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest and other social tools for business.

Search, experiment and keep the practices that work for you 

This is the second of two short posts on tips for the senior executive looking to move into using social collaboration tools inside and outside the enterprise. This post deals with actions to get you started. The previous post dealt with mindsets.

The New-to-Social Executive: 5 Mindsets

Your mindset matters to how you are perceived and connect in social media. Whether internal or external to your organisations, the way you think and the way you lead play a critical role in your ability to influence others.  As a senior leader atop the hierarchy, you have power and influence in your organisation (Admittedly that’s rarely quite as much as you would like). When you take your leadership position into the realm of social collaboration whether internal to your organisation or externally, there are a few key shifts in mindset from traditional models of leadership.

Keep these in mind these five key phrases:

  1. Be the real human (& sometimes flawed) you”: Nobody is looking to get to know your communication manager’s idea of you. People don’t need you to be the perfect model executive. You can’t have a conversation with a corporate cardboard facade or get help from a PR bot. This is an opportunity to be more human and to use deeper connection and communication. It will demand that you share more of you. If there is more than one of you, one for work and others, then social collaboration will test your ability to maintain the curtain of separation. Using social media works best when you bring your whole self to the activity. You will learn new ways to demonstrate your strengths and authenticity in the process.
  2. Think networks”: Social media flattens out the playing ground. Your current fame, power and fortune won’t deliver worthwhile connections or influence immediately. In this environment, your voice competes with many others and those that are better connected and more trusted will have greater influence than you regardless of their status. Your voice & authority is much more easily challenged and even mocked. Influence works along networks of trust and connections. Valuable business traction comes from deepening connections to stakeholders and influencers in your own world. Start there and build your influence over time as new connections join in to the valuable interactions that you help create.
  3. ListenEngage others”: Listen first. The network doesn’t need to hear you. Mostly it won’t. The network doesn’t need another opinion; it needs your response to and your engagement in the conversations already going on. If you want to deliver on your strategy, the path is through helping others to better align, understand and deliver that strategy with you. How you engage with others is more important in building influence in your network than who you are or what you have to say.
  4. Be helpful”: Make connections & help others find those who can help them. Set context. Guide others. Enable others. Share stuff to help others solve problems for themselves. Ask great, thoughtful & challenging questions. Work aloud and let others prove their value by helping you. Connect with people to deliver them value. People are looking to learn more and help themselves. As a senior leader you can play a critical role
  5. Experiment, learn & change stuff”: The value of human networking is to learn, connect with others and change things. Embrace difference & the chaos that many opinions and desire for change creates. After a while you will recognise the appeal of ‘being permanently beta’, always evolving to better value as you experiment test and learn. If you want to hear your own views, build your personal brand, increase your control or resist change, don’t start in any form of social collaboration. That attitude doesn’t show much respect for the efforts of the others in the network. 

This is the first of two short posts on tips for the senior executive looking to move into using social collaboration tools inside and outside the enterprise. This post deals with mindsets. The next post will deal with how to start engaging.

Corporate power is changing fast

Every system is perfectly designed to get the results it gets – Dr Paul Batalden

Moises Naim has written a book, The End of Power , in which he highlights that three trends are weakening traditional political power relationships in a range of political domains from sovereign states to other organisations:
– more: more people, information, resources, activity, etc
– mobility: unprecedented mobility
– mentality: new mindsets and expectations driven from new values and expectations

These three factors are also likely to drive dramatic power relationship changes inside corporations in coming years. Corporate politics is just human politics writ small. More than ever employees, customers, suppliers and communities are leveraging these three trends to challenge hierarchical models of power that trace back to the founding of modern corporate structures.

Social media internally and externally connects more and more people and supplies an escalating volume of information. The edicts of senior managers no longer stand alone. Consumers, partners and employees may well be better connected and have more information on what’s going on than the executive decision maker.

The Internet has accelerated the ability of customers and employees to be more mobile and to engage in new relationships with a corporation. Alternatives are now much more easily found and individuals have greater power to make their own choices or even solutions to needs. Voice is an increasing option where once the dissatisfied had only exit to choose.

These trends will only accelerate the already shifting values and expectations in employee careers and consumer purchase decisions. The employee and consumer expectations of a two-way & values-based relationship is likely to increase. Organisations and leaders will find themselves more accountable for their own rhetoric.

Leaders need to recognize these changes and begin to adapt to new models of leadership. Many leaders bemoan the limits of their status and hierarchical power today. The traditional ability to order technical change is simply less effective in complex adaptive situations. The trends that Moises Naim identifies are only likely to increase the number challenges corporate leaders face that exhibit these characteristics. We all need to start learning new ways now of adjusting to new leadership styles that are more two-way, more adaptive and based more in the strength of authority, not role. The rewards of these new models will come in purpose, engagement and the ability of enabled employees, consumers and partners to innovate.

The leaders who adapt first to these changes will hold distinct advantages over those who cling to traditional models of leadership. Which would you rather have a begrudging captive or a loyal follower?

Have a Point of View

There is nothing insignificant in the world. It all depends on the point of view – Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

The organisation for which I work expects its leaders to have a point of view.  Our people, our customers and our community expect that leaders in large organisations take the time to understand what is going on, to see trends happening in the business, economic or social environment, to develop their own perspective and to discuss and act on their point of view.  This is something all leaders should take the time to do and discuss.

The ability of leaders to have a point of view and engage in discussion on topics a long way from their daily work domain might seem unusual to some.  However in an environment where there is a lot of change and disruption, it is a necessary skill and delivers real benefits. You might be surprised how much conversation your point of view engenders.  

A point of view enables others to understand you, your values, your perspectives and your purposes.  A point of view is also another way to ‘work out loud’, attracting others who share or oppose that view.    Each of the resulting conversations deepens the insights, builds trust and fosters speed in collaboration.

Your thoughts and opinion matter so invest a little in developing and sharing them:

  • understand your perspectives, values and purposes – put them down on paper and discuss them with others 
  • find new ways to share your point of view, particularly with new audiences – use social media like a blog or a form of microblogging, but also share those thoughts through customer and team meetings, lunches, seminars, talks, conferences and other opportunities to engage.
  • view any reaction as a sign that you are saying something worth discussing and seek to understand feedback and different perspectives.

Have a point of view.  Nothing, especially you, is too insignificant to be a part of your point of view.