August 2012


The point of this blog is to promote individual and organizational excellence.  Learning is a fundamental part of achieving excellence but people don’t always have time for formal learning.  Sometimes people don’t need long explanations.  More often than not all people need is the right information at the right time.

Microblogging tools like Twitter and Yammer provide a powerful platform for just-in-time learning but what would it look like?  This article provides practical examples.

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Based on 2+ years writing this blog and a little more than 5 months on Facebook I have seen a change in my attitude toward social networking.  Originally I thought of it as a passive activity at best and narcissistic at worst.  This is true for some people but I have also come to view social networking as a powerful tool for change.  In the rest of this post (and probably many more in the future) I am going to attempt to describe what I mean.

First, you are an expert in something.  You know things or can do things other people would benefit from knowing about.  You may not think of yourself as an expert or earn money in your area of expertise but that doesn’t matter.

Second, you have to share.  Social networking did not become the phenomenon it is unless people were willing to share their experiences or expertise.  Share openly and don’t fret over the number of followers you have or the amount of hits your blog gets.

Third, you have to have a thick skin.  The Bible says iron sharpens iron.  Expect people to disagree with you.  Welcome the dialogue as long as it is done in a civil manner with pure intentions.  Social networking provides an unprecedented forum for ideas.  Embracing it can result in unexpected and valuable ways.

What has been your experience with social networking?  Do you have any advice or recommendations?

This article provides practical ways to leverage social media to improve your business.  A recently as last year I was essentially clueless when it came to social networking.    I had a Linkedin account but never used it.  I was not on Facebook.  I maintained this blog but it consists largely of one-way communication.  I’ve come a long way in a year but still have lots of room to grow.  I’m still not on Twitter and I have not developed a strategy for integrating my different “feeds.”

From a learning perspective, social networks are extremely powerful.  I have felt for many years that “event-based” training should not be the only means for developing your employees.  The marketplace and is too fluid for that model and learning is far more dynamic.  In the article linked above, the author notes “at almost no cost we can connect with like minded tribes globally at scale and speed. We can share ideas and knowledge in words, images and with the virtual face to face technologies of online video that transcends time and place.  Knowledge transfer is almost instantaneous.” [emphasis mine]

Social networks (and networking) adds value to learning but the author also cites characteristics of companies that will benefit the most from social technologies.

  • High percentage of knowledge workers
  • Business success is dependent on brand recognition and consumer perception
  • Need to build credibility and trust to sell their products and services
  • Digital distribution of products and services
  • Experiential or inspirational products and services

If that weren’t enough he cites research that found 10 ways social networking can add value within and across and enterprise.  Check it out!

My 13 year old has recently discovered a love of cooking.  Until recently his only interest in food preparation was to know when a meal was going to be ready or when it will be time to eat again.  That all began to change about a month ago when he asked me to teach him how to cook eggs.  He had been making his own lunch for a while but this was much more ambitious.

Why am I dedicating a blog post to this?  Anyone who has had or been a teenage boy knows how important food is but his interest in cooking appears to go beyond simple food preparation.  He is now making eggs for the whole family every day.  Not only that, nobody has to remind him.  As he stands by the stove cooking the eggs he takes special care to make the eggs according to each person’s preference.  He also asks me about other ways to prepare eggs.  He seems to be genuinely interested in all things eggs.  I know this sounds weird but he is 13.

You’re probably thinking, “but what does this have to do with performance?”  Let me explain.  Several years ago I read an article titled “Is Your Genius on Purpose?”  In it the author observed that “the key to feeling satisfied in your daily work and making your best possible contribution lies not with your purpose but with your genius, the energy and spirit that you alone can bring to your work.”  In this light it appears that my son has a “genius” for cooking eggs. The value of this goes beyond simple food preparation.

His willingness to take the initiative to cook the eggs is another sign of his “genius.”  Its not just a chore to him.  He wants to do it.  The same cannot be said for all his chores.  He even asks about other ways to prepare eggs.  He is that passionate.   It is my job to develop that in him and stoke the fires of his passion.

Since the article is old ASTD charges an outrageous fee to get a copy ($10 for a lousy 3 page article).  Here’s a link if you want to buy it.

Here are some key points from the article:

Your genius is your divine spark, the essence of how you best express yourself.  It is a gift to you and your gift to others.

A few years ago I was helping a colleague prioritize and assign tasks to her team.  After reviewing the list and discussing the constraints I asked her what each of her direct reports likes to do.  After a short pause she began to tell me what each person does in their free time.  I interrupted her and clarified, what work tasks does each person like to do?  She had never considered that there were aspects of their jobs that each person actually liked to do.  That is their “genius.”

Your purpose is the assignment to which your genius is called.  The beginnings of purpose often arise when you perceive a need that compels you to act.

I believe organizations can be much more productive if people were able to pursue their “genius” at work.  My 13 year old tolerates his other chores if he gets to make eggs on his own terms.  I have a “gift” for project management (some people don’t consider this a gift).  What is your “genius”?  What is the purpose that compels you to apply your “genius”?

My boss is on a major social media kick right now so I am partially posting this for his benefit. When you watch the video below keep track of how many different media outlets (social and otherwise) Chipotle uses to reach its customers.

In this article, Dr. Rainer succinctly describes the traits of some current and future employees (see below).  I can’t improve on what he wrote so I won’t steal his thunder.

  • The Free Agent Employee
  • The Less Constrained Employee
  • The Reinvented Employee

I appreciate Dr. Rainer’s attention to this but I think the future is now for some of these traits.  I have felt like a free agent in the not so distant past.  I learned that employment should not be taken for granted.  Even the best employer has to make hard decisions sometimes.   On the flip side, an employer should not be shocked if an employee decides to pursue an opportunity.

The challenge for leaders is to adapt and utilize these traits.  I have written over and over in this space that leaders need to face and embrace change.  Meeting these challenges with fear or not facing them at all will have negative consequences.  I believe the consequences will not only affect current employees but will make it harder to attract new ones.

“If you were on a team of 10 people, you walked in the first day knowing that, no matter how good everyone was, 2 people were going to get a great review, 7 were going to get mediocre reviews, and 1 was going to get a terrible review,” says a former software developer. “It leads to employees focusing on competing with each other rather than competing with other companies.”

Kurt Eichenwald, Vanity Fair

The quote above is from an article in the August issue of Vanity Fair (subscription required to read the entire article).  In it Mr. Eichenwald quotes interviews with current and former Microsoft employees who describe a culture that is focused on maintaining the status quo and incapable of innovation.

Apparently the revelations in the article have had a ripple effect across the tech world but I am not surprised.  You don’t have to be a tech junkie or business genius to notice the relative invisibility of Microsoft in recent years.  The only publicity Microsoft has generated has been negative (Vista) or presented in the context of missed opportunities (Surface tablet).

So what’s my point?  Culture matters.  Instead of going on the offensive by creating new markets through innovation Microsoft assumed a defensive posture to protect the ground they had already taken.  According to the employees interviewed by Mr. Eichenwald this led to a nearly cannibalistic culture.  This kind of behavior is not attractive to talented prospects.  Even if an organization can maintain its market share in the short term this kind of culture will eventually impact sales.

This should serve as a warning to leaders.  Be aware of the culture in your organization.  Don’t ignore the warning signs.  Ann Bares makes good points in her assessment of Microsoft’s troubles.  Her recommendation is to develop and adhere to quantifiable performance standards that are consistent with the organization’s goals (my words, not hers).  She also cites and article in Fast Company on motivational synchronicity.  The quotes in her post are interesting so I’ll probably read and post my own thoughts on that article too.