Social Media Requires Discipline

Earlier this week, Social Media B2B posted The benefits of social media in the B2B workplace. The article has been re-tweeted 75 times at the last check suggesting it has proven useful to quite a few people. But the advice is incomplete. Here are a couple of examples of the benefits outlined.

Increased Channels of Communication

Simply having more channels through which to communicate is not a benefit unless you use them effectively. Respond to one customer via Twitter or Facebook and you will set an expectation for all customers. Do you have the resources to meet that expectation? If not, your reputation for failure will spread faster and wider than any positive feedback. Before you start increasing those communication channels, make sure you plan and budget for the resources required to manage them effectively.

More Collaboration = Better Outcome

No it does not. It might lead to a better outcome but increasing collaboration does not guarantee any benefits whatsoever. A simple example: How many people attend meetings that achieve nothing? That’s collaboration without an outcome. There is an excellent book on collaboration called… drum roll… Collaboration, written by Morten T. Hansen. The book argues, in great detail and with plenty of research, that bad collaboration is worse than no collaboration at all. And then goes on to outline the steps you need to take to ensure that more collaboration does lead to better outcomes.

To benefit from Social Media requires more than simply adopting the tools and techniques of Social Media. It requires discipline. And that includes knowing when not to participate. From the book Collaboration, most failures boiled down to two mistakes: Overestimating the potential value from collaboration and underestimating the costs.

So back to the two examples and what to do:

Increased Channels of Communication

Every organisation should look into what channels of communication its audience use and ask the simple question. If your customers are using that channel, are you? And if not, why not? If you decide to participate, think carefully about what resources you are prepared to invest in to make the participation work. If your resources are limited, be transparent about it. The more human the response, the better the reaction.

Increased Collaboration

Read the book! 🙂 But, in short. Take a disciplined approach to collaboration. Identify where better collaboration can improve outcomes. Identify what barriers are currently preventing that collaboration from taking place. Identify what investment is required to enable better collaboration and overcome the barriers. Decide if the investment is worth the potential outcomes and, if it is, do it! Equally, identify where collaboration isn’t leading to better outcomes and stop it. Reduce those unnecessary meetings…


Related blog posts:

Same but different

A while back I posted a video Microsoft had commissioned from Common Craft: SharePoint in Plain English. Here’s that video again:

Not long after, Jack Vinson posted a video on his KM blog, from IBM explaining Lotus Connections. Not as slick as Common Craft but looks kind of familiar:

Which made me wonder, has Google got anything similar? Oh yes, and wisely created by none other than Common Craft too:

Three vendors with three products/services touting a similar story. What are the differentiators that make you choose one over the other?

Side note: whilst many seem to be copying Common Craft’s style of presenting, I don’t see any coming close. The Common Craft web site is well worth checking out.


Designing Teams

Whilst driving back from a customer meeting yesterday, I was listening to a debate on the radio. The discussion was about the number of women in government, specifically: should there be ‘quotas’ to ensure a required percentage of government officials are women? Some countries have taken this approach. As you would expect from a debate, the panel was split 50:50 for and against.

I don’t like quotas. They risk demeaning the person in role: “Oh, she only got the job because they needed more women…” That is such an annoying statement to make because the same base argument can be used against most people in most roles. It makes the huge assumption that the woman is there instead of the ‘best possible person for the job’. How often is the ‘best possible person for the job’ actually in the job? As opposed to the one with the right connections to secure the position. I’m not saying that idiots are allowed to hold positions because of who they know (although… no, I’m not even going there). Rather, there are plenty of people sharing roughly the same level of skill and expertise. Out of them, the one who gets the job is most likely to be the one with the right connections or is the right ‘fit’ for the team.

This applies in pretty much any scenario. Think of the last conference you attended. Was every presenter the absolute leading authority on their subject matter? Probably not. At the conference I attended last week, the final presenter (Jim Benson) made the following comment, to reiterate the value in social networks:

“I’m here because of my blog and social networking, nothing to do with how well I did or do what I do.”

That didn’t mean he wasn’t any good. The organisers weren’t just dragging people off the street to present. Rather, he had connected with the organisers first and foremost through social networking tools like Twitter. They didn’t have firsthand experience of his skills, but his reputation and connections provided enough confidence and trust to ask him to present.

Many human systems have an imbalance of power at the top, usually weighted heavily towards middle-aged white males. Rather than try and force change through quotas, I’d like to see a different approach. First, identify the make-up of your audience (be they citizens, employees or customers). And make-up isn’t just about gender, race and age. It should include aspirations, issues and preferences. (Are Apple products designed for boys, for girls, or for people who love gorgeous gadgets?) Then compare the ratios to your leadership team. Do they match? If not, why not? Have you explored all channels to find people for your team? Or have you relied too heavily on your inner circle (and/or rewarded contributions that got you to where you are).

If the make-up of people at the top of an organisation doesn’t remotely represent the make-up of people at the bottom or the target audience, it is unlikely that the organisation has the ‘best possible people for the jobs’ in the jobs. Either because of corruption or because the current system deters the right people from coming forward. Neither reason is good. You can get away with it, as long as you don’t have any competition… (as depressingly demonstrated in Zimbabwe this week.)

I don’t like quotas, I would rather see leadership teams resolve their imbalances for the better good of the organisation. But in the absence of incentives (particularly true in government), are quotas the only way to break traditions and redesign the ‘fit’ for the team?

Changing Management

The Internet has changed how people interact with organisations yet, for too many organisations, internally they look the same as they did a decade or three ago. The result – a disconnect between what could be achieved and what actually happens. And the finger of blame usually points in the same direction -> middle management.

McKinsey has a stomper of an article – Innovative Management – A conversation with Gary Hamel and Lowell Bryan (free registration required to read) – discussing the challenges facing organisations. Traditional production line management in a world of change creates an inverse relationship with performance and profits.

Gary Hamel identifies the fundamental challenge:

¨When you read the history of management…, you realize that management was designed to solve a very specific problem—how to do things with perfect replicability, at ever-increasing scale and steadily increasing efficiency.¨

This should sound familiar to a lot of people, right back to the Pyramid builders. Do you have a standard job title and description shared with peers throughout the organisation? Are a set of standard objectives used to measure performance? That’s traditional management. Define a role and reproduce it to scale outputs. For those in the role – your job is to ‘do’ not ‘think’. What does the future look like? More of the same…

The challenge facing organisations is that more of the same no longer works. In the current environment, the winners are those who can adapt and change, quickly. But there is a hidden opportunity lurking inside all organisations. It turns out, who would have thought, thinking is not confined to managers. Lots of people do it. It’s actually quite normal, a common human trait. Redundant in a production line that wants replicability. Invaluable when value comes from connecting ideas and expertise.

Back to Mr Hamel:

¨The winners will be those that enable their thinking-intensive employees to create more profits by putting their collective mind power to better use

…You cannot command those human capabilities. Imagination and commitment are things that people choose to bring to work every day—or not.¨

So what’s stopping organisations from doing this? There are two issues that I think are common place.

The first is the outdated assumption about plebs* and managers: Plebs do the work, managers think and plan it. Plebs aren’t concerned with strategy or the future, that’s what managers worry about. Doing is replicable therefore plebs are easy to replace. None of this philosophy sticks when the ‘doing’ involves ‘thinking’. But managers are still running the show and therein lies the problem…

The step from pleb to manager usually results in the heady combination of more money, more power and less work (‘doing’ is often measured in time-based outputs such as utilisation targets, management is about results). You might as well dish out free drugs while you’re at it. Once addicted, few want to go back to doing and, somewhat ironically, the management club also looks like a production line:

Once you are in The Club, it can be all too easy to forget the messy life of doing. Names representing individual strengths become replaced with job titles in plans – this role will be doing that. (See also: Distracting Data) As job roles change, it is increasingly likely that managers make decisions about roles they have never actually done and therefore have little idea of what is or isn’t achievable. Non-management opinions struggle to be heard, particularly when they challenge the plan. Reports (and rewards) focus on what the plan has achieved that it set out to do, not the missed opportunities and costly mistakes that result from refusing to change it. ‘The benefit of hindsight’ is used to justify inaction.

There is an added challenge if you live in a country with legislation protecting employee rights. Replicatable work is the easy option for management to help justify that everyone is being treated equally (that doesn’t equate to fairly or correctly). It’s lazy management. You can ensure equal opportunities and still embrace individual talents to increase performance. But more effort is placed on management to keep track of what’s going on. That kills off the ‘less work’ part of the deal.

So what should management look like in the 21st Century? Yet again, Gary Hamel comes up trumps:

The management challenge is akin to urban planning. The art of it is that you must enable people to make thousands and thousands of individual decisions about how to live and work, but you have to create the infrastructure to make it easy for them to do so.

Management is becoming a more essential and skilled role than ever – coming up with, and executing, new ideas is much harder than repeating an established process. But so are the thinking-doing roles. Becoming a manager should not guarantee a move three rungs up the ladder of respect from non-managers. Organisations who insist on the pleb-management divide risk letting their best assets walk out of the door to become their next competitor (See also: The Digital Natives Are Leaving).

Related blog posts:

Filed Under: Changing Systems – Work

*I use ‘pleb’ in its original context – the plebeians. It seems ironic these days that ‘pleb’ is often used as an insult. Open and global access to information has shown how level the playing field is when it comes to acting with wisdom or stupidity…