Value the Individual

Value in collaboration is created by individual actions.

In building value for organisations through social collaboration we often resort to discussing the group, the team, the community and the network. There is lots of literature that references these terms and makes recommendations at these levels. Applying traditional business thinking we can lose sight of the individual and focus only on aggregates.

Networks don’t connect. Individuals take advantage of a network to connect with other individuals. Networks don’t share. Individuals share information in networks. The further we move into working, solving and innovating in networks the clearer it is that the value is created by individual actions multiplied by the power of a network.

Focusing on these individual actions is important because it reminds us to study individual motivations, mindsets and behaviours in the creation of effective collaboration. A culture of collaboration exists only in the expectations and behaviours of individuals. More importantly it enables us to talk to individuals about the value & practices of collaboration in language they understand. Nobody says to themselves ‘I need to engage transparently and collaboratively with an enterprise community’. People are looking to advance their work and their personal goals in tangible ways. People articulate often abstract concepts like generosity, authority, reciprocity, enagagement and trust in terms of very tangible actions in everyday work.

Aggregates give us opportunities to talk in lofty terms. Abstract capitalised bound abound. Many of these nouns seduce us with appeals to ideals not everyday actions. Real value is created with change driven using the language of individual users. If you value the individual, they will return the favour.

The Four Capabilities of a Social leader

Senior executives need new mindsets and new capabilities to be effective in the networked work of the future. Four capabilities will help e executives make the most of their networks:

Personal Knowledge Management: Personal Knowledge Management gives executives the personal learning skills to manage the flow of information and to deepen their personal networks. As executives personally learn to Seek>Sense>Share they develop critical digital skills for network leadership.

Working Out Loud: Working out loud is a practice that helps surface the value of work and learning in networks. Leaders are already the focus of attention. Making their work in progress visible to others is a highly valuable step because it accelerates trust and learning.

Leading in Networks: Network leadership requires leaders to surface shared purpose, build trust and influence and enable collaboration. Expertise, rank and orders are replaced with adaptive leadership techniques that manage learning, tension & alignment.

Creating Value in Networks: Leaders need to be able to set a strategy for their and their team’s engagement with networks. They need to be able to accelerate the maturity of value creation in those networks as they develop through Connect>Share>Solve>Innovate.

Developing leader’s practice of these key capabilities will enhance their effectiveness in enterprise social networks and the future of work.

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.

Happy New Year: Do Better

Page 1 of The Responsible Company by Yvon Choinard and Vincent Stanley.

Happy New Year: Now Let’s Do Better

The responsibility of a business to stakeholders, like its customers, people and communities, and to broader society is not managed in a department or a report. Responsible business is not the work of others. It is not a glossy wash you put over the top of the way you work to make things look better for stakeholders.


The key word is responsibility. Responsibility begins and ends with how you make decisions in your work. That responsibility applies to everyone. Responsibility is not a good intention, a wise donation or a clever offset. Responsibility means owning the need for better decisions and actions that maximise the value that you create and minimise the waste.

If you are not taking into account the wider implications for society and sustainability of your decisions and actions, then you can do better. You can make sure your decisions and actions add more shared value tomorrow than they did today. The decisions will be different for every organisation, but they will make both the business and the society better. That is good business.

Social Responsibility is Here

You will not escape responsibility. Our social world is making business more networked and more social. With that networking comes a great increase in transparency and accountability to your stakeholders. Every day businesses are being questioned on unthinking actions and decisions.  If you are not stepping up to better manage your responsibilities, expect someone to be helping you to change. You do not need to become an ideologue or to become a not-for-profit, you just need to believe in people and want to improve.  By looking at a broader frame, you can make smarter business decisions that create shared value in society.

Do Better

Do Better. Start with one step. It is that simple. Find ways to make decisions with better impacts and less waste. Enable your people to help you in this journey of continuous improvement.

Start making yourself aware of the options to do better. Read the Patagonia story and other resources on shared value. Measure the impacts that matter to you and your people. Ask your people to contribute on what matters to them and how you can do better. Make small improvements every day.

Your business will reward you for the new attention. Do something to get yourself started on the path to better business.

Your value is your network

Most of us will never get to manage a large hierarchy. Many of those who do complain about their lack of power.

We assume our power and value comes from position in hierarchies. We are trained by our social structures to see these pyramids as sources of power and value. Our hierarchical status influences our health and happiness.  Hierarchical instincts may well run back to our ape brain. There is a very good chance that hierarchy is solving for problems that don’t reflect our current challenges.

I was reflecting on the new maps feature of Linkedin and what struck me was that the hierarchies of my past life were hard to see in the network diagram. In fact, what I saw prompted this:

Hierarchy is the smallest and least valuable part of my network. The relationships formed in hierarchy have disappeared into a much more valuable & diverse mesh of relationships.

If my relationships were created by hierarchies, what created value was direct connection and a net of common relationships that lasted long after the hierarchies changed. Little value came from connections mediated through the hierarchies.

In addition, when I look beyond the hierarchies, I saw a much richer and more valuable network of relationships.  

There were the networks of support. So many people gave me the skills and experiences that helped make me who I am. So many people sustained me and were my sources of advice and counsel. Then there were the hundreds of collaborators

There were networks of value too. Customers and community determine the value that I create in the world. Creating change and making things happen has always been more about ability to influence and collaborate in this wider network than the power to order anything.

In a networked world, it might be time to think differently about influence and value. Stop looking at the hierarchy and look to the network that surrounds it. We may all be more effective, healthier and happier as a result.

What are you working to achieve?

‘What are you working to achieve?’

Working out loud is not a common enough experience yet.  Many people are still reticent to share their goals, their challenges and their work.  

That makes a question about what people are working to achieve a very powerful one, because it:

  • helps people clarify their purpose and goals
  • separates wishes from tangible action
  • moves beyond appearances, titles and surface issues to form the basis for a deeper context, connection and conversation
  • enables you to identify how you or others can contribute to help

I ask this kind of question a lot.  I find it is incredibly valuable for simply building rapport.  You have a lot more to discuss when you know where someone is devoting their efforts.  

However, it also enables further action to help.  Just this morning I asked the question of somebody that I did not know well.  Turns out I have networks that will assist them to achieve their goals more quickly. That makes the question a powerful engine of collaboration. You can’t help if you don’t know.

If others are not sharing their work, ask them what it is that they are working to achieve.

No Island. Connected.

No man is an island,
Entire of itself,
Every man is a piece of the continent,
A part of the main.
If a clod be washed away by the sea,
Europe is the less.
As well as if a promontory were.
As well as if a manor of thy friend’s
Or of thine own were:
Any man’s death diminishes me,
Because I am involved in mankind,
And therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; 
It tolls for thee. 

John Donne
Recently, discussing corporate culture and disruption, I was asked how is it that organisations cling to old views in the face of disruptive change.  How do people whose businesses are threatened still deny the need for fundamental change.  Many of these organisations cling to the past even when their performance has already begun to change for the worse.
As we talked familiar patterns of conversations in these organisations came to mind:
  • fad spotters who declare the inconvenient trend will is temporary or suits only marginal customers or competitors
  • past successes who can’t move beyond what worked before
  • boiled frogs that never don’t jump out until too late
  • safety first who fear loss and demand certainty, less risk, better proof or ROI
  • ostriches who see only what is convenient and celebrate variation as reversals of the trend
  • the wiser who know better than their colleagues, customers and competitors
  • premium providers who forget premium means more valuable and more relevant
  • technicians who see the great unravelling of the trend ahead because of a better technical solution or a flaw in the new technology
  • underlying performers who adjust away the difficulties to show sunshine underneath
  • tried & failed who know that their organisation’s failures define the limits of all future success…

I could go on this way.

One thing is common in all of these patterns: the individuals in the organisation have ceased to take inputs from their external environment. The organisation has become an echo chamber for business as usual views and any inconsistent information is discounted. 

The problem is easily rectified: engage people in the accountabilities of the real world –

  • start listening to customers and the community
  • start engaging with people beyond your own industry
  • start reading things you have not read before and 
  • start talking with people you don’t usually meet

No organisation can survive as an island.  An organisation that opens up to even the smallest amount of genuine engagement with its community discovers new insights.  This immersion and engagement will also drive to embrace new accountabilities for change.

Nobody can be an island.  We all need to be engaged in our communities.  Listening and engaging in the world outside the organisation is the surest first step to avoid the toll of disruption’s bell. 

Communications or Engagement

The single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place. – George Bernard Shaw

The traditional mindsets in corporate communications come from the historical use of traditional media. Without return channels, the focus of communication is around reach and frequency of the messages to influence an audience. There is little if any discussion in traditional media unless you make it happen. The speaker has control. The mindset focuses on perfecting a message and deploying it at the right time and channel with minimal distraction.

Increasingly, you see discussion of tips and tricks on how social media can be used in this broadcast way. The mindset of traditional media is being carried across to social. In a related point, we still see debate on whether individuals or organisations should use this channel for their outbound messages.  Many senior executives see social as another optional channel for their outbound messages.


However, social media is not a one-way medium. It is more than a two-way medium too. Conversations move in all directions in the network at the choice of the recipient. That’s more than an extra or useful feature. It changes the game.

Suddenly real engagement of your audience matters. Social media is not just another way to get a message out. Your audience’s actions to reply comment and share are critical to how your message spreads in a network. Messages without engagement die quickly.  Engagement can dramatically change the meaning of the message.  

We need an engagement mindset in a social media communication strategy, internally or externally. Social media is most valuable as a way to connect, engage, collaborate and build on ideas with the feedback and input of others. Social media enables community building, advocacy and creating real movements. Asking for input shows respect, deepens relationships and builds connection.

Importantly, that engagement goes on whether you choose to participate or not. The network of customers, employees and community does not require your presence or your message to discuss you or what they want to discuss. They are in control and you need to respect that.

To get the most out of social media remember to focus on the engagement to create real communication between the members in your community. 

Who owns collaboration? You do

Lead users to realise the value of better collaboration

Twice last week in conversation I stumbled across the challenge of who owns collaboration. Once was an organisation grappling with who “owned collaboration”. Once was a tech company who noted that their valuable tools lacked a natural “owner” in their clients. This is such a common challenge at least one vendor proposes the effort of annual reviews of ownership.

In many cases what drives the debate about ownership is the need to cut a cheque to invest in a better solution. Imagine if the English language had a license fee. I can imagine the organizational debate about who owned English and who had to maintain it. People see the immediate inconvenience, the benefits are diffuse and there is often a tricky path to realizing value for the company strategy.

In other situations ownership debates arise from the number of parties involved. Ownership is a problematic concept with something that inherently involves multiple silos and many engaged people.

Having spent much of my working life being asked the question of “who owns the customer?” I have the same answer:

The end user does.

Each customer owns their relationship with an organisation. Decisions should be made to meet the customers needs. We need to reflect the customers right to choose or they will go elsewhere. That means everyone in the organisation needs to put the customer first. Everyone needs to put their ego in check and deliver on the best experience the whole organisation can deliver.

Collaboration is owned by the users

Collaboration is no different. Those who collaborate, the employees and other users, own collaboration in your organisation. After all, they make decisions each day to invest their critical time in collaboration to create value for themselves and the organisation. Increasingly, they can engage elsewhere. Engaging users is the best way to create, sustain and build value from collaboration.

Every organisation needs leaders to make sure that that activity is supported & guided to benefit the organisation’s purpose and strategy. In enlightened organisations, just as with customers, support will come from the highest levels. If not, it is up to you to take responsibility to support the users in your organisation.

How do leaders help users own collaboration?

When nobody else will step forward to advocate for a critical skill for future organisations, it is essential that you do. Leading users to own their own collaboration and create increasing value will deliver huge rewards for you and your organisation.