Posts Tagged ‘Collaboration’

ESNchatWhat a whirlwind of a week! The last several days have been among the most hectic, exhausting and exciting days I have had in a long time. Besides the normal activities that contributed to this nearly 70-hour work week, there were two lengthy evening software upgrades to the test and production environments of our enterprise social network (ESN) at work. I was asked on Thursday to be the featured guest Friday in a video and Twitter chat on the subject of ESNs. That started a scramble to make sure I had the right hardware and an acceptable location from which to participate in the video, as well as spending time thinking through the questions we’d discuss. But the kicker for the week was the first ever #ESNchat held on Thursday, September 12.

#ESNchat is a weekly Twitter chat I started for people like me who work with their company’s internal or enterprise social network. While there are other excellent chats, organizations and resources for those of us doing online community management (and I take part in several), most of them tend to focus more on external communities which companies establish for customers (such as those on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, other public and private communities) rather than internal ones made up solely of the employees of one company. I did my homework to make sure I wasn’t duplicating something already in existence, and when it became apparent a couple of months ago that there was a gap to fill, I started putting things in place to start #ESNchat. I could not possibly be happier with the kickoff week for it.

I am thankful to all who participated in the inaugural chat on Thursday. I loved the number of participants, their eagerness to take part in the discussion, the broad cross-section of businesses represented, the wisdom shared in response to the questions, and the further discussion spawned by those comments. One of the participants, Carrie Young, expanded on one of her popular ideas she expressed in the chat with a brilliant blog post the next day called “You Might Die Today from a Lethal Spider Bite, and Other Pressing Enterprise Concerns.” I look forward to Carrie being our featured guest on #ESNchat Sept. 26.

If you’d like to see the archive of that discussion, you’ll find a link to it on the archives page. Also check out the schedule of future chats. There is a link at the top of this blog to more info about it.

My thanks also to Tim McDonald, Director of Community at Huffington Post. Tim is also the founder of the weekly #cmgrhangout video and Twitter chat. He saw the info about #ESNchat on Thursday and invited me to be the guest on Friday’s #cmgrhangout to discuss ESNs. You’ll find that video and tweet archive here.

As I think back on the craziness of the past few days, a few thoughts come to mind that make the hectic pace, lack of sleep and food, running around and losing a couple of pounds (temporarily) worthwhile:

  • There is great satisfaction in identifying a need in a profession and taking the initiative to try to do something about it. Hosting a Twitter chat isn’t a matter of showing up a few minutes beforehand one day and tweeting a few questions spaced over the hour, hoping people will show up and participate. There was research to be done to hone in on a worthwhile topic and need that is not currently being met. There was effort in deciding on a name, reserving domain names and Twitter handles, researching which supporting tools felt like the best fit for managing the chat experience, setting up info online about the chat, talking with fellow ESN community managers and others about the idea, determining a topic schedule, detailing the questions and planned tweets down to the minute for the first chat, promoting the chat through various channels, establishing new relationships with like-minded people from other organizations to help gather a small but solid crew of initial participants who promised to be there to help get it started, spending hours afterward following up with people, archiving in a friendly manner the contents of the chat, plus more that I’m probably forgetting to mention. It is no small commitment to stay with this indefinitely into the future, but I know it will be worth it for me and for others because of the knowledge shared and relationships established.
  • None of us is smarter than all of us. It is worth the effort to cross organizational and additional barriers to connect with other professionals to share ideas, questions, insights, issues and solutions. That’s why professional organizations and communities of practice exist. That why it’s awesome when employees of competing companies can come together in a Twitter chat like #ESNchat and share ideas (without divulging any corporate secrets) to learn from one another and advance the field.
  • We always need to be thinking about next practices, not just best practices. This blog is named “Next Practices” because I want to always be pondering questions like, “Where do we need to be several years down the road?”; “What can I do today to help shape the future into what I believe it can be (whether anyone else believes it or not)?”; “What is the best solution to problems we face, regardless of perceived constraints, and how can I then eliminate those constraints one by one in order to pursue that best solution, not settling for second best?” Best practices are good to know and may help you and your company mature in many ways, but best practices from yesterday aren’t necessarily what is needed for tomorrow, next year and further down the road. What we need are next practices. It is my hope that #ESNchat helps spark creativity and excitement related to enterprise social networks in such a way that it spawns some next practices.

To all who had a hand in the beginning of #ESNchat, thank you! I hope to see many of you each Thursday on Twitter from 2-3pm Eastern.

collaborationI’ve been thinking the past few days about something that’s bothering me.  As someone whose work the last several years has focused primarily on promoting and managing the use of collaborative tools inside the enterprise – specifically SharePoint (2008-2011) and our enterprise social network (2010-present) – I think I’ve finally come to a realization I don’t like.  There is nothing earth-shattering about the conclusion and, in fact, I’ve had the thought before.  This time, however, there are more years of background and experience behind it to give it weight.

First, some background…

We hear regularly about the need to collaborate more in companies.  It’s true that improvement in this area is an ongoing need in many organizations, so I’m not picking on my company here.  Over time, though, it seems that companies attempt to answer the question “How can we collaborate more effectively?” with a series of attempts to throw more tools and portals at the problem rather than address the more likely, weightier hindrances to collaboration which are personal and interpersonal.

In response to recognition that better collaboration is needed, typical responses include: create a task force to study the issue, install a new platform such as SharePoint, install an enterprise social network, upgrade the virtual meeting tools available, create a custom portal that gathers data and resources from various platforms, research other companies’ platforms and tools, etc.  Depending on who is involved with such solutions, the proposed recommendations can be rather predictable.  As someone who spent most of his adult career in IT, I can assure you that if you have mostly IT people studying the problem, their proposed solution will be another software install or development project.  That won’t solve the problem.

While there is great value in having the right tools for collaboration in a company (and I recommend having any of the above that help accomplish the business goals), at what point does leadership inside a company stop and ask “Why are we still not collaborating like we think we should?  We’ve introduced all these tools into the enterprise year after year, yet we find our collaboration lacking.  Why is that?”

May I suggest the following to any company that finds itself in this situation:

You already have all the tools you need to collaborate.  What you lack is the will, leadership and culture to do so.

If people want to collaborate, they can do so with or without the latest tools.  Give me a group of people eager to collaborate but with no technology in hand, and we can do a fantastic job of collaborating with nothing more than time spent communicating with one another while taking notes on pencil and paper.  However, if you give me a group of people unwilling to collaborate or who do not see such collaboration modeled by their leaders or who are not rewarded for such collaboration intrinsically or extrinsically, then no software installation or upgrade in technology is going to change that attitude and make it happen.

For collaboration in an enterprise to become the norm, several things need to be true that have nothing to do with technology:

  • You must have the right people on board.  Let’s face it – not everyone is inclined to be a team player.  If that’s the case, find a role for them where they can be a Lone Ranger, or let them go if they are unwilling to change their attitude and behavior.
  • Collaboration must be modeled from the top down throughout the organization. It can’t just be talked about.  For example, do leaders involve others in the decision-making process, or do they hand down edicts that foster resentment?  Are employees being told (mandated) to collaborate better, or are they being shown how to do so by example, experiencing the benefits first-hand?
  • Time must be allotted in projects for such collaboration to happen.  Anyone who has ever succumbed to the thought “If I want it done right, I’ll just do it myself” isn’t going to be inclined next time around to work with others on a similar task.  That may sometimes appear to be a quicker solution, but it’s rarely the best long-term solution or what’s best for the enterprise.
  • Successes at collaboration must be shared for others to want to share in that same kind of success.  That takes intentionality and time.
  • People need to experience the “What’s in it for me?” results, either via internal satisfaction or external recognition and reward systems built in to ongoing evaluation methods.

Until companies address the people and time matters above, the same problem will continue to be identified year after year – “We need to collaborate better” – and the same worn out and ineffective response of throwing another tool or portal at the people will waste time and money to little avail.

Don’t misunderstand my point.  Having great tools available can facilitate such collaboration.  When tools are used well, they can help reduce the time it takes to complete projects.  The social interactions possible via some tools can result in more innovation and success, but the mere presence of the tools cannot guarantee that success.  Social tools such as enterprise social networks, raise the bar of what is possible in an enterprise that recognizes the value of “working out loud” and collectively solving business problems.  But they must have many champions within the company at all levels to be adopted and used to such potential.

We can do better, but we will only do so when we choose to do so.  Cultures can change, but it takes a while, especially for large organizations.  It will take unrelenting determination from those who understand the value of the desired end result.  People at any level can make a positive difference and be a leader, modeling collaboration.  You don’t have to be in a management role to be that kind of leader.

I’m committed to modeling and promoting a culture of collaboration where I work.  What about you?

Related reading: “Is Social Business All Talk and No Trousers?

thriveThis is the last in a five-part series covering the five corporate values of my company, Humana:

Today’s subject: Thrive Together.  What does that mean and how can we live that value?

If we consider the word “thrive,” it brings to mind definitions such as growing, prospering, making progress, and flourishing.  It’s more than just maintaining one’s current state.  It is reaching one’s potential – the fullness of one’s capacity.  It suggests that such growth and prosperity happens in an environment that nourishes and allows room for growth, one that does not unnecessarily and unnaturally constrict such progress.

Most of us hope to thrive in many areas of our lives.  By combining the word thrive with the word together, however, the picture shifts from individuals focused on their own prosperity to one in which the whole group moves in a united direction for the good of all.  It is not a select few doing what is in their own self-interest; it is working in tandem with others in mutually beneficial ways to accomplish more together than we can separately.

To quote a small booklet from my company, to thrive together means that “we focus on shared success by breaking down silos, inviting collaboration and mentoring others.  We believe in, and act with, positive intention to create an environment of trust and integrity.”

So where do I fit in this picture?

It is vital that my personal way of working with others daily needs to include being trustworthy and demonstrating integrity.  I can’t just talk about a value; I have to model it.  I need to reach out to others to include them in decision-making, as well as be responsive to them when they reach out to me.  I must collaborate and cooperate with others willingly because I understand that each person involved has something important he/she brings to the table to help accomplish our business objectives.  I can’t horde areas of responsibility and lord over them like a king in a castle.  Even “my” role at the company isn’t truly “mine.”  It is the company’s and I am a temporary steward of that role and its responsibilities, beholden to the company to do what is in the best interests of the organization and not my own self-interests.

Fortunately, I am in a perfect role at work to help foster the breaking down of silos and building in their place a culture of communication, collaboration and cooperation through my role as the community manager of our enterprise social network.  Thriving together requires open, continuous, honest, and transparent communication.  There is no better way of facilitating that among our company’s associates than through our enterprise social platform.  That is the place where everyone is equal, where everyone’s voice can be heard, where anyone can strike up a conversation with anyone else at any level of the organization at any time about any subject.  That is the place where issues can be addressed, problems and roadblocks called out, model behavior praised, questions asked and answered, and business solutions crafted from thoughtful conversation held by engaged associates throughout the company.  As of our latest upgrade last week of the Socialcast software we use, it is even the place where projects can now be planned, managed, tracked, discussed and documented by the teams involved.  I stated at a conference in 2010 that my goal for our enterprise social network was to change the way communication happens at our company, and three years after the launch of that platform (to the very day today, May 10), we have made much progress in that direction.

I have worked with enough people personally at my company over nearly ten years to be absolutely convinced that the vast majority are dedicated, thoughtful, caring, hard-working people who want to do the right thing in the right way.  Sure, I’ve run into some that don’t fit that description and some who seem to be more concerned with thriving individually than thriving together, but they are the exceptions rather than the rule.  So I believe it is possible that we can live out this value of Thrive Together successfully in the years ahead, especially given the current example and focus of leadership.

Most people eagerly mimic the positive examples of their leaders and others they admire.  When top leaders model such values on a daily basis, the values become more than buzzwords.  Being value-focused can and should become a way of life that shapes our company’s future.  It requires moving from the awkward beginning of talking about values and learning about them to actually living them naturally because they become a part of who you are personally and corporately.  That takes time, but it can and will happen.  It requires that the values be broadly understood and accepted, not just handed down from above.  It requires regularly interjecting into discussions simple reminder questions like “How does this fit with our value of …?” so that we stay on track to make good values-based decisions.

I’m proud of the direction of my company.  I’m thankful for our excellent top leadership and for the countless great colleagues I have the pleasure to work with every day.  I’m genuinely excited about the significance of our focus on these five values and what they will mean to our culture over time – not just internally as employees but in the impact on the consumers we serve and the shareholders to whom we are accountable.

We can and we will Thrive Together.  It will take intentional, constant effort, but it will be worth it.

TribesI finished re-reading Seth Godin’s Tribes: We Need You to Lead Us today.  It’s a book that is on my very short list of books worth re-reading now and again.  The point of this small 2008 book is that there are groups of people (a.k.a. tribes, followers) just waiting for someone to step up and take a leadership role to help make change happen.

The book is a bit hard to review on one hand because it has no table of contents, no chapter divisions, no index to easily go back and find a thought – only seemingly random section headings that have content under each heading for a few sentences or a few pages. Good luck on outlining the book.  Godin acknowledges that potential critique near the end of the book, and if he’s not worried about it, neither will I.  The focus should be on the content of the book, not the structure.

I have always had a soft spot in my heart for rebels – those willing to challenge the status quo and attempt to make change happen.  Godin refers to this person throughout the book as a heretic and encourages such behavior for all who see a different vision and aren’t afraid to try to make it come to pass.  “Heretics are engaged, passionate, and more powerful and happier than everyone else” (p. 49).  Long live the heretic!

Tribes is filled with short stories of people – many of whom you have never heard – who made the decision to make a difference and then who started to lead others who shared the same passion down a path of affecting change.  Rebels and heretics will find nuggets of hope and strength in these stories, encouragement to go forward in their worlds and lead their tribes.

There are a few sections which lay out precisely Godin’s underlying thoughts and principles.  One is where he describes his thesis:

  • For the first time ever, everyone in an organization – not just the boss – is expected to lead.
  • The very structure of today’s workplace means that it’s easier than ever to change things and that individuals have more leverage than ever before.
  • The marketplace is rewarding organizations and individuals who change things and create remarkable products and services.
  • It’s engaging, thrilling, profitable, and fun.
  • Most of all, there is a tribe of fellow employees or customers or investors or believers or hobbyists or readers just waiting for you to connect them to one another and lead them where they want to go. (pp. 12-13)

Another meaty couple of pages list five things to do and six principles behind creating a micromovement:

Things to do:

  1. Publish a manifesto.
  2. Make it easy for your followers to connect with you.
  3. Make it easy for your followers to connect with one another.
  4. Realize that money is not the point of a movement.
  5. Track your progress. (pp. 103-104)


  1. Transparency really is your only option.
  2. Your movement needs to be bigger than you.
  3. Movements that grow, thrive.
  4. Movements are made most clear when compared to the status quo or to movements that work to push the other direction.
  5. Exclude outsiders.
  6. Tearing others down is never as helpful to a movement as building your followers up. (pp. 104-105)

This review would be far too lengthy if I tried to write about all the notes I took and parts I underlined.  Besides the main points above, I’ll just mention a few more ideas that stand out to me…

“Skill and attitude are essential.  Authority is not.  In fact, authority can get in the way” (p. 20).  Too many people think they can’t lead because they do not have positional power and the accompanying authority that goes with it.  Malarkey!  You can lead from the bottom of an org chart any day.

“Organizations that destroy the status quo win” (p. 35).  I hear many companies talking about being “disruptive,” yet too many of them are still mired in old ways of thinking, stifling policies, outdated practices that lead to anything but disruption, and a culture of protection and control that inhibit and sometimes downright punish innovation.  These dinosaurs will die as others who actually walk the talk pass them by.  “The organizations that need innovation the most are the ones that do the most to stop it from happening” (p. 113).

“The only thing holding you back is your own fear” (p. 44).  

“Change isn’t made by asking permission” (p. 70).  This thought goes hand in hand with another: “The easiest thing is to react.  The second easiest thing is to respond.  But the hardest thing is to initiate” (p. 86).  Heretics initiate change.

“When you hire amazing people and give them freedom, they do amazing stuff” (p. 98).  I work on a team like this and can vouch for its truth and source of energy and inspiration.

I do find it odd that Godin chooses not to engage a tribe, himself, on Twitter.  He has two accounts there – @SethGodin and @ThisIsSethsBlog.  The former account is a mere placeholder with no activity, reserved so that nobody else can claim it, while the latter tweets whenever there is new content on Godin’s blog.  It’s his choice, of course, to be involved or not in whatever technology platform he chooses, but it seems like a missed opportunity to not use Twitter to engage with a willing tribe of followers.  That choice does not, however, impact the truth and value of the book.  You’ll find his website at

If your goal is to manage, this book isn’t for you.  If you want to keep the current organizational machine functioning as smoothly as possible with little disruption, don’t bother reading it.  But if you have a goal to produce change – at work, in your community, in your neighborhood, in government, in your church or elsewhere – then read this physically small, 151-page book and take away some insights and inspiration to lead a tribe.  “Do what you believe in.  Paint a picture of the future.  Go there.  People will follow” (p. 108).

One final thought… While reflecting on the book, the brief YouTube video of First Follower: Leadership Lessons from Dancing Guy came to mind.  I encourage you to watch it.

Top 10 ListBelow are the most viewed posts on this blog during 2012.  If you missed one of them or have long since forgotten what it was about, check it out.  Most are quick lessons learned of 366 words or less (the exceptions being #2 and #9 – both posts from 2011 that still were among the most viewed in 2012).

1. Be There: Giving full attention to the people you are with and not being distracted by technology or anything else.

2. Trust: The importance of trust between people, and implications if trust is broken, especially in relationships at work.

3. Sometimes All It Takes Is 20 Seconds: Inspired by the movie We Bought a Zoo, thoughts about how 20 seconds of insane courage can change your life.

4. Companies Need Customer Service Like Granny Provides: Based on my regular experiences with a sweet, old lady when I donate blood at the Red Cross, this is what customer service should be like.

5. You Need Someone At Work To Relate To: Being the only person at your business doing your type of work can be very lonely.  Having one other person to relate to can help tremendously.

6. Kisses Are Priceless: From Valentine’s Day, 2012, read about two unexpected kisses, how they made my day and why kisses are priceless.

7. Exhaustion Can Hurt So Good: After an extreme Muddy Fanatic race with good friends, the mind and spirit can be so satisfied even if the body is spent.

8. Don’t Pre-Judge: Whether dealing with people or animals, you can easily make wrong assumptions and treat others differently if you pre-judge them.

9. More Questions Than Answers: Still-unanswered questions from 2011 regarding social learning and the use of social media in learning.

10. Evil Is Real, and So Is the Cure: Reflections following the tragic elementary school shootings in Newtown, Connecticut from my Christian worldview.

Thanks to all the readers who made these the most read.  I look forward to seeing what interests you this year.