Posts Tagged ‘Online Communities’

I just published an article on LinkedIn reflecting on some lessons learned over the past 16 days of being in a new (to us) house, and how the experience compares to joining a new online community. I invite you to read it here.


Blank_bookAs I adjust to the reality that I’ll hit the big 6-0 birthday in a mere 20 months, I can’t help but battle inwardly on what the final chapter of my professional career should look like. I bounce between three possible scenarios:

Continue where I am, doing what I’m doing. Make no mistake about it, I love what I do and the people with whom I get to do it at Humana. To know that I’ve owned and driven our enterprise social network (ESN), Buzz, from its launch in 2010 to the continuing success it is today is a source of great professional satisfaction. Now that I have the incredible Brenda Rick Smith on my team to also work with me, we’re making greater strides than ever in the maturity of the ESN and our management of it. I have said many times that I could be “The Buzz Man” the rest of my career and be quite happy about it. A quick glance through the many articles and public recognition of our Buzz work on the About page of this blog will give you an idea of my passion for it.

Since August of 2014, my role has also included consulting with lines of business about the establishment and community management of other online communities – mostly for target audiences outside the company. I still have a lot to learn and do in this area. I’m nowhere close to where I need to be in my own Jive platform skills used in those communities, and there is much to be done in working with business areas to establish and grow these communities. That’s a good, new challenge for me that I willingly assume and look forward to seeing positive results from down the road.

So my love for what I do, the great people I work with, my belief in our company, the great leadership at the top, and how I’m compensated for what I do all make a decision to remain a perfectly reasonable one. It’s the easy choice and may well be what you should bet on if you’re a betting person.

But there are a couple of points of uneasiness that drive me to wonder about other options:

  1. Continuing rumors about my company being sold to a larger healthcare company. Of course, I’m not an insider and I know nothing about the truth of those rumors. I won’t know until the public and everyone else knows. I hope it doesn’t come to pass, but it’s out of my hands. Worry doesn’t change anything, but I’d be a fool to ignore the possibility and be unprepared for a worst-case scenario of a new parent company doing away with my role. Of course, I could potentially have a role in the combined company, but what kind of role, and would relocation and/or a significant cut in compensation be a condition of continued employment?
  2. Ever since I left full-time Christian ministry in 1985 to move to Louisville to attend The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, there has been the question of whether I should return at some point to vocational ministry.

Because of the two uncertainties above, I have to consider two other possible ways to write the final chapter of my professional career which may last for another 10 years or so. (After that may be official “retirement” but not of the sit-around-and-do-nothing variety. There are too many important things to be done as a volunteer at church and elsewhere to retire from service until I stop breathing.)

I could seek out a role at another company focused on online communities. With such work potentially being remote these days, a move might even allow me to work from home the majority of the time as opposed to the one day per week I currently work from home. My dog would love that (not sure about my wife). If this option comes to pass, I wouldn’t mind traveling one or two weeks a month to wherever the home office or clients might be. This would be a very attractive option for me.

To be honest, I’d be open to the radical idea of relocating, although that would be extremely hard to do given our family and church ties. I have to admit that after spending a great week in New York City last week, I came away thinking that I could live there. It might be exciting to do something wild and crazy like that for the final chapter of my career, renting out our house in Louisville and coming back to it after the final chapter ends. Don’t put your money on this option if you’re a betting person, but sometimes longshots win. Working for a local company or one that allows me to work primarily from home seems more likely.

Lastly, I can see myself returning to full-time Christian ministry. Spiritual gifts of teaching, preaching, administration and leadership, along with some practical skills gained through the years would equip me to do the work should the right door open. There is a trade off in working at a secular company where you have the opportunity to impact many who are not believers and working in a church environment where the audience and opportunities are very different. There is something very appealing to having the final chapter of my professional life be the matching bookend to the first chapter which saw me serving in a couple of Missouri churches before moving to Louisville. I assumed that my degree from Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary and further study at Southern Seminary would be preparation for a life of church or denominational service, but life veered from that while in Louisville in ways that made good sense and for which I have no regrets.

Ultimately, my purpose on earth is to glorify God, and to enjoy Him forever (see the Westminster Shorter Catechism’s question #1). That can be done in a host of ways and professions and locations – something I have to remind myself of as I ponder the future. There probably is not only one right answer to this multiple-choice future to be decided. In all my fretting of what to do, God is probably thinking, “Just make a choice and go for it! I’m going to be with you wherever you are.” There is great comfort in that and I am thankful to my dear friend Jay Close for saying those words to me many years ago when I faced a similar decision. Serving God isn’t so much about the “where” as it is about the “how” wherever we may be.

And so we wait. Hopefully, my company won’t keep us waiting too long before we know if there is a “Sold” sign on the front door. Keeping over 50,000 employees in limbo about their future isn’t something leadership should want to do for long because of its impact on morale and productivity. A quick answer regardless of what the answer is will be better than limbo.

Meanwhile, I’ll keep doing my best at my work as always. I’ll put out a few feelers with close contacts to test the waters. It’s probably time to polish up the ol’ resume and LinkedIn profile. I’ll hope that nothing drastic changes, that uncertainty subsides, and that I’m able to carry on doing what I love at a great company with great people. I’ll pray that should a change be necessary I’m not victimized by age discrimination from those who would look at one’s age and make horribly incorrect judgments about my interests and abilities. (“He’s old. He probably doesn’t get or understand or like using social media.” Wrong. Duh.)

It isn’t easy deciding how to write the final chapter of one’s career. It’s a time of reflecting on what you’ve written to date, of deciding how satisfied you are with the accomplishments, about what goals are still valid and which ones need to be set aside. I don’t know how the story will end, but I have confidence it will end well because of the One in whose hands it ultimately rests. If He does His part (which He will) and I do my part (which I’m trying), it’s going to turn out just fine.

Stay tuned.

ESNchat-smallOne of the most satisfying things I’ve done professionally in recent years is to start the weekly Twitter chat #ESNchat in September 2013, to see it grow through the 13 months I hosted it, and now to see it have new life and new leadership going forward through The Community Roundtable (@TheCR). After sensing a void in the world of enterprise social networking in the summer of 2013, I started the chat to provide a regular, free, vendor-neutral place where practitioners and enthusiasts involved with businesses’ internal social networks could share insights and help develop the field of enterprise social.

My friends at TheCR were receptive to the idea of them becoming the leaders for the chat when I approached them in August 2014. They kindly agreed to take on the challenge and as of October 2 they have been the very capable facilitators of the chat. Now that a little time has passed since the transition, I’ve had time to ponder the journey of that 13 months. I’ll share a few simple reflections on the experience here.

I recall the first chat on September 12, 2013. I had secured the domain name and the Twitter persona, discussed it with a number of people in the field, and started promoting it as best I knew how (which wasn’t very well in hindsight). I recall how nervous I was before that first chat wondering if anyone would show up. Had I done all this planning in vain? Was it going to be a giant failure that embarrassed me publicly? I was jittery as the hour approached from the uncertainty of it all.

Thankfully, people showed up (phew – that was a relief)! We had a great discussion and the chat was immediately an important part of my week and an opportunity to try to move the needle of enterprise social networking forward in some small way.

While the subject of enterprise social networking is near and dear to my heart as the community manager for Humana’s ESN, this effort was never under the auspices of my work. It was just Jeff’s little effort for good or bad, for success or failure. I never counted a single hour of the time devoted to #ESNchat as time working for Humana. That makes it all the more satisfying now that over a year later we typically have about 40 participants, hundreds of tweets, and excellent conversation every week.

I am thankful for the 225 participants we had over that first 13 months and I enjoy seeing new faces every week in the chat. I am thankful for the great archive of topics we have accumulated over time and continue to build under TheCR’s leadership.

There were a couple of surprises and disappointments along the way. For example, I woefully underestimated the amount of time per week it took to host a one-hour Twitter chat. I didn’t track the time in detail, but my best guess is that it took on average about an hour a day seven days a week due to the planning, archiving, promoting, and notifying participants of updates. That was a bit more than I bargained for, but it was time well spent.

The only real disappointment I experienced in the 13 months hosting is totally my own doing in that I did not bring to fruition the ESN Handbook I envisioned as a collaborative effort among participants. Given the existing commitment of time just to pull off the chat (along with other work and volunteer activities), I couldn’t get the handbook done. There’s a collaborative ESN Handbook eBook/website out there just waiting to be created and annually updated for some entrepreneurial group (hint, hint).

Now that I’m a regular participant in the chat with no leadership responsibilities, I get to experience weekly what those 225+ others have experienced rather than frantically trying to host the chats and simultaneously take part in the conversation. Frankly, it’s a bit more fun now for me and a lot less stressful.

One of my key lessons learned for 2013 was to take risks. When I wrote about that end-of-year lesson, I had #ESNchat in mind. It would have been easy to bemoan the absence of such a free, public forum for ESN practitioners. It would have been easy to think someone else should do it. It isn’t easy for introverts like me (yes, I’m an introvert) to put myself out there so publicly and try to start something that could go down in flames quickly. But I gave it my best shot and with the regular participation of many talented, knowledgeable professionals whom I have come to know and respect, we succeeded.

Now when I sit back for a moment in chats led by TheCR, when I see new faces introduce themselves, when I read the kudos from participants who benefit from the chats, and when I develop new professional relationships with fellow ESN enthusiasts, I smile a quiet but very satisfying smile like a proud papa watching his child grow up and go out into the world on his own.

Chats only succeed when there are multiple people chatting. I may have started it, but only through others’ involvement has it continued, and I am grateful for each participant. I look forward to seeing where it goes from here. Where will it be in one year? Two Years? What innovations will TheCR introduce (such as the #ESNchat Mini-Decks they’ve already introduced)? What actions will come from the chats? What takeaways will be implemented in businesses of all shapes and sizes that make a positive difference in those organizations’ internal communications and social collaboration?

There is no way of knowing the answer to those questions, but I am quietly confident that such applications will be made and the impact will be significant over time.

Thanks to all who joined me in the venture. Continue to join me and so many others weekly on Thursday afternoons at 2pm Eastern time as TheCR leads us into the next phase of ESNchat. The future is bright!

ShiftInDirectionIt is with pleasure and a healthy amount of reservation that I announce a change in my career focus at work. For the past several years I have been primarily focused on growing and managing our company’s enterprise social network (ESN). This has been a tremendous joy for me and one that I will continue to lead for a while to come. To have the opportunity to play a part in changing the way a Fortune 100 company communicates internally has been a wonderful challenge. We’ve made a lot of progress, but still have a long way to go. Big ships don’t turn around quickly.

Along the way, we’ve seen a growing interest in the potential of online communities outside the company. Several lines of business within the organization recognize the potential of online communities for their constituencies. This value is not just from the standpoint of how the business might benefit, but because of the value of community and relationships in helping achieve the community members’ own goals related to health, well-being and other aspects of life.

It is because of this growing trend toward online communities and the need for effective community management of such communities that I am happy to see my role recently expand to include consulting with lines of business and managing our current and growing team of community managers. In a nutshell, my focus now shifts from internal social networking to building online communities of all types, providing the most effective community management and business results possible.

Community management has long been a tremendous passion, of course, in my role as community manager of our ESN. This shift will allow me to dive deeper into the profession not just for myself but for those people I supervise and others with whom I consult. It is a welcome enhancement to my role.

One of the things I appreciate about my company is the opportunity to reinvent oneself from time to time. Being an employee isn’t just about doing what makes the employee happy, though. It is about matching the right person to a role in such a way that the person is effective and fulfilled while also providing the greatest possible benefit to the company. I might have been quite content continuing in my ESN focus for a long while to come, but I think I can do more for my company in coming years in this new capacity. It’s not about me in a company of 50,000+ employees; it’s about what is best for the business and the customers we serve.

Coming weeks and months will reveal more about what this change means, including ownership and leadership of the weekly Twitter #ESNchat I founded a year ago. I will soon hand that off to an excellent professional organization equipped to take to it to new level of effectiveness. You’ll hear more in coming weeks about that.

One final note… I don’t believe much in coincidences. Some of you are aware that I occasionally spend a week of quiet solitude and reflection at a monastery in Kentucky. My last such week was in early July. I came away from that week feeling like I was ready for a change, although I didn’t really know what that change might look like. So I do not consider it a coincidence that the very first day back to work after that retreat was the day my manager approached me about this possible role change. After a few days of pondering it, I was ready to make it happen. That is, in fact, the second time in five years that a desire for a role change has taken flight the very day I returned to work following my “Monk Week” retreat of Bible study, prayer, listening and reflection. That is not a coincidence.

I am grateful for new opportunities, for an employer who allows and encourages them, for a superb manager whom I greatly respect, and for good people to work with who make each day a pleasure.

Onward and upward…

Tip12ForSuccessfulESNIn this final post in my series on building a successful enterprise social network (ESN), I draw on my learning background and goal orientation. That said, tip #12 is:

Never be satisfied – keep growing.

This is true in a variety of areas for someone who has responsibility for a company’s ESN.

First, let’s consider the area of technology.

No platform is perfect. We’re in better shape in 2014 than several years ago in the capabilities of software and in our understanding of what is possible and wise technologically. Still, community managers and others responsible for an ESN must always be on the lookout for big and little changes in the platform that help the company accomplish its objectives better and that can also improve the user experience. Work with the platform vendor as needed to suggest changes. Give your users an easy way to suggest changes that you then vet and perhaps pass on to the vendor.

If you did your homework well when selecting an ESN platform, you should be able to stay with it for a long while to come, but keep pushing for improvements. A vendor who rarely provides updates will not meet an innovative company’s needs for long. If you decide that there is no alternative but to change platforms, do so, but understand that there is great pain that accompanies such a drastic change. Only change platforms if there are overwhelming business reasons for doing so. Likewise, don’t stay locked in to a platform and vendor that refuses to evolve.

The user experience is another significant area you should always strive to improve. This is, of course, related to the technology improvements mentioned above, but it isn’t limited to that category. Identify those who have a knack for seeing and using the software from the viewpoint of a new user or another particular audience and take seriously their feedback. Listen to what is said repeatedly over time about negative aspects of the user experience and address those issues. Most workers don’t have the luxury of a lot of extra time on their hands, so be diligent – even aggressive – about championing changes that improve the user experience so that they will enjoy it and want to return. One of the great things about an ESN is that you usually don’t have to go out of your way to solicit opinions or to get volunteers for some user experience initiative. You’ll probably find a large, willing group of volunteers eager to help in response to a simple post on the platform.

A third area worthy of continuous effort at improvement is that of deeper integration of ESN use – both in its physical presence across various platforms as well as in the day-to-day processes and work flow that guides so much work that happens routinely. As was suggested in an earlier post in the series, the most successful ESN will not be the one that is its own separate destination apart from the tools and processes where people normally do their work; it will be the one easily accessed in the tools people use and in the normal workflow of how that work gets done.

Lastly, be sure to grow as an individual along the way. Make use of internal and external resources to continuously expand your knowledge and grow professionally. I cannot imagine a life without continuous learning. I have several go-to resources for learning about ESNs in particular or social media in general. For example, I’m a big fan of Rich Millington and his advice given at I also have memberships in the professional organizations The Community Roundtable and I will be blatantly biased, though, and say that my favorite ESN resource is the weekly Twitter chat I host – #ESNchat! With a different topic each week, many knowledgeable professionals contributing to the discussion weekly, and archives of that great content going back to September 2013, you will find a wealth of existing info and a tremendous opportunity for continuous learning weekly by taking part in the chat. Use the ESNchat menu at the top of this page to explore more and then join us each Thursday afternoon from 2-3pm Eastern time on Twitter by following and using the tag #ESNchat.

We don’t stop learning once we’re out of school or just because we’re no longer pursuing formal degrees or certifications. We continue to learn because we’re built that way as human beings. To quote a few lines from the children’s musical Education Rocks:

Never stop learning. Never stop growing.
Never stop seeking the brightest star.
Never stop moving from where you are.
Never stop trying. Never stop reaching.
Never stop doing what you can do.
Never stop growing your whole life through.

If we possess that attitude about learning and growing and constantly improving ourselves, I suspect that will translate into the same intention to continuously improve the areas of our work for which we have responsibility – ESNs or otherwise.

Tip #12 is Never be satisfied – keep growing.


See the following posts for previous tips in this series: