Archive for category Collaboration and Communication

Another crappy day in paradise

Another massive round of TGIF messages hit the ‘Net today on Facebook and Twitter and, once again, they raised the hair on the back of my neck.  I know it’s natural to celebrate the end of the traditional work week and that we’ve been singing the same hymn for generations, but if the new transparency of social media magnifies the impact of the simplest offhand remarks, think about what it does to the more complex ones.

Here are a couple of example status updates and tweets from the past several days:

Ugh. Have to head back to the office. When will I ever get a vacation?”

In conference calls since 6am with no end in sight.  Argh!  How much more of this torture can I take?”

Look familiar?  I’m sure they do.  People are quick to share their current frustrations, and the accessibility of social media is apparently too great a temptation for some cube farmers.  But can you imagine the same basic updates with a slight change of context?

Ugh. Woke up next to my wife again. Will this torture never end?”

Kids’ soccer tournament started at 6am.  Argh!  How much of these brats am I supposed to endure?”

You’d likely never spout this type of family frustration in public even if you had a written guarantee that your wife and kids aren’t on line.  At least one hopes not.

It’s human nature to get frustrated; it happens to all of us.  But when a situation gets the best of you, instead of jumping online to vent take a break and get a soft drink, count to ten or, better yet,  spend a few minutes counting your blessings of which I’m sure there are many.

As we saw from the recent Cisco Fatty argy bargy, companies — at least the clueful ones — are listening to the social media chatter.  So, even if you don’t have the most idyllic of jobs, it might pay to exercise a bit of discretion when hitting the old keyboard.  Just food for thought.

In this vein, what was the most clueless status update you remember seeing?

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Choose your words carefully

Everything you say or write sends more than one message.  It’s important to choose your words carefully, especially when using a communications medium that allows for perceptual ambiguity such as email or instant messaging.  We’ve already talked about the possible pitfalls of that here.

It’s also important to do your best to communicate clearly and professionally if you are looking to be taken seriously by others.  I’m not talking of the occasional misspelling, misplaced comma or dangling participle.  Those mistakes are eminently forgivable, especially if the content is valuable and they occur in an otherwise lucid stream of consciousness; however, the millions of lines of garbled text, sometimes appearing to be written in pidgin l33t, that clutter up blogs and web pages are atrocious.  No matter how insightful the content, its impact is generally proportionate to the clarity of the delivery.

Choosing your words carefully is also critical in face to face encounters.  For example, I cringe every time I hear a waiter or sales clerk use the expression, “Not a problem!”  Of course it’s not a problem; I’m the customer.  And even if it is a problem, it’s your job to solve it.

What do you think?  Am I being to critical?

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I could have sworn

I had a call scheduled for this afternoon at 1:30.  I’m in Texas, and the person who scheduled the call isn’t.  I’m certain she knows where I am, because the sole purpose of the call is to discuss my current location.

99 times out of 100 I verify time zone when scheduling meetings and calls.  In the world of global business it’s a necessity.  This time I didn’t because I assumed the issue was understood.  1:30 came and went and the phone didn’t ring. Our collaborative quotient plunged dangerously close to zero.

George Bernard Shaw once said that “The greatest problem in communication is the illusion that it has been accomplished.” Isn’t that the truth?

It’s been noted repeatedly that collaborative success is greatly enhanced when all of the underlying assumptions are addressed early on in the engagement. Let this serve as a lesson to us. If an assumption is important to the outcome, address it – even if the data in question seems obvious.

Has something like this ever happened to you?

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Put me in, coach

We spoke about the ways that technology can streamline business in an earlier post, Picking up the slack.  In that article, I talked about the periods of free time that technology process optimisation creates.  It might not seem like you have a lot of extra time at work during these days of economic turmoil, but a careful analysis of your schedule might reveal otherwise.  If, upon reflection, you find that you have a few extra minutes here and there, you may have uncovered an opportunity for a win-win situation with your employer.

If there is a project or solution at work about which you are passionate, consider volunteering for additional responsibility.  I know is sounds crazy, but the great thing about challenges that interest us is that there always seems to be enough time in the day to work on them.  Align your passion with the opportunity for increased personal growth, and the appreciation that your employer will have, and you’ve created a great way to be more productive while feeling better about work.

There are just a few important things to keep in mind.  First, don’t let your current responsibilities suffer; your employer expects a certain level of performance, and it’s important to meet these expectations above all.  Second, be specific about what you are volunteering for; set proper, realistic goals and do your best to achieve them.  And finally, be prepared for the possibility that others in the office might not appreciate your extra effort; don’t get caught up in negative workplace energy or react to jealousy.

Staying positive, creating opportunity and increasing your collaborative quotient by finding places to harness your professional capabilities while expressing your personal passion is a great way to stay ahead of the game.

Have you tried this?  What was your experience?

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What in the world are you talking about?

We’ve been given an incredible gift.  Possibly the greatest gift any group of people have ever been given.  Millions have died and millions more have suffered to preserve and defend this gift.  And the struggle continues.

It’s the ability to speak out and be heard.  Not just in your home, or your town, but around the world.

Your message, your thoughts, are important.  Someone, somewhere is waiting to hear them.  Someone, somewhere yearns to hear your words.

But they won’t until you speak out.

Start now and take one small step.  Make a simple comment in the box below.  Someone, somewhere will hear you and draw strength in the knowledge that she is not alone.

Please tell us, what makes you smile?

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Old brands in tight pants

Watching some of the older, established brands throwing themselves at such social networking tools as Twitter and Facebook is kind of embarrassing.  It’s like seeing your middle-aged neighbor, who tries to be cool by wearing his son’s clothes, at the mall.  It’s hard not to snicker because it not only looks ridiculous, but you know the tight pants are making him as uncomfortable as hell.  Still, it’s impolite to laugh, so instead we nod and walk on by.

Let’s assume that, other than shopping at Hollister, your neighbor’s a decent guy.  If you were to drop in on him later and chat over a few brewskis, you might offer some constructive advice.  Well, thanks for the cold one, Mr. Establishment; can I give you three things to think about?

Every social group, technology, and user is different.  Social groups tend to quickly form their own culture.  Take the time to listen and learn the written and unwritten rules of a community before you dive in.  A bit of preparation and understanding goes a long way.

It’s called social media for a reason; the population relies on interaction and relationships to thrive.  While there are appropriate channels for broadcast messaging, the more you actually participate the better.  Using a profile or presence to just repackage the same old PR isn’t enough.  Encourage response and, more importantly, occasionally engage with other members of the community on their terms.

People, as a general rule, resent being manipulated.  Your story and your delivery have got to be genuine.  What might seem cute and edgy to you could be trite and offensive to the community.  The transparency of the social web makes it just as easy for your efforts to backfire as to succeed.

Oh, heck, one last thing as long as the beer is free.  It’s very important to be objective and creative in your measurements in the world of social media.  Traditional metrics rarely tell the whole story.  Find a trustworthy partner with experience in the space to help you get not only the raw data, but a contextual interpretation of the results.

What’s the silliest or most out of place social media faux pas you’ve seen from an established player?

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The new etiquette of business meetings

As if our business lives weren’t stressful enough, now we have a new anxiety to cope with. It’s become more difficult, at least for the time being, to tell if you’re being slighted when people refuse your meeting invitation.  Corporate mandated reductions in travel have changed the landscape of business meetings and leave a lot of workers scratching their heads as they ponder ways to be both respectful and productive.

Around the world, instructions to curtail business travel are trickling down from on high.  The new policies are being driven by economic and environmental concerns and force people to at least consider alternatives to traditional face-to-face meetings which require travel.  However, it’s going to take some time for everyone to learn the etiquette of this system.  It’s not only new, but conflicting signals are making it hard for the average worker to understand the subtleties.

One the one hand, workers are being told not to travel by their manager, and on the other hand they see company executives jetting around the world to attend events, conferences and meetings as if nothing has changed.  Vital operations meetings where important and delicate negotiations or decisions are expected are canceled, while Internet working groups continue to gather in exotic locations to essentially read documents aloud.  This gets quite confusing to the average joe.

And, in the end, everyone suffers in confused silence.  Executives are left to wonder if their counterpart is slighting them when their meeting is declined, managers are frustrated when coworkers suggest email as an alternative to an actual meeting on their pet project, and the average worker who is being squeezed the hardest just wants to scream when she sees her VP on TV sitting in the corporate seats at the Final Four.

The comedy and confusion we’re experiencing is reminiscent of the episode of Seinfeld when Elaine asks Putty if he’s “sponge worthy.”  Do you have a process in place to logically evaluate travel priority?  Are travel restrictions impacting your business?  How are you coping with the changes?

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Measuring employee performance in collaborative environments

Employee performance measurement was relatively simple in the world of command and control management.  No to be overly simplistic, but basically your manager told you what to do, and when review time came around you were measured on how well you did what you were told.  Think of it this way, in the old days tasks and “action items” were delegated and it was easy to set milestones and measure individual achievement.

The metrics used in this environment were generally well-defined quantifiers that were direct descendants of the production economy.  Employee performance was most often tied to revenue or profit, project status, process or other quantifiable metrics.  Unfortunately, these metrics tended to focus on the accomplishments of the past, not the future potential of the individual or the organisation.

In truly collaborative environments it’s a bit more tricky to measure performance for a variety of reasons.  First, entire processes are changing as the organisation adopts new ways of working.  And when things are in flux, as they often are when healthy collaboration is occurring, it can be difficult to recognise not only who has responsibility for tasks but for entire initiatives.  So how do you keep all that straight?

Here’s the nub: collaboration does not necessarily mean unstructured.  There is a need for process, not only around collaborative decision making but also in the tracking of objectives within the collaborative work flow and the overall effectiveness of the organisation.  Without clearly defined assumptions, responsibilities and goals, leading a collaborative effort can be a lot like coaching kids soccer.  You’ll have 10 people within 5 feet of the ball kicking wildly, but there won’t be a lot of progress made.  So set some ground rules and find a good coach.  But don’t let measurement of these processes form the basis for employee evaluation, as that would put you right back in the trap of measuring something other than desired results.

In summary, don’t resort to the same set of measurements that were appropriate for the manufacturing of widgets.  Take some risks.  Use your performance measurement system to foster and encourage creativity and risk taking, and don’t be afraid to adopt qualitative not quantitative measurements.  Consider that the collaborative quotient of your organisation is linked to the interactions of your people, processes and information systems and give thought to what optimal performance of these interrelated systems might look like; then set your measurements to encourage that state.

For example, the employee performance measurements of the future might contain qualitative measurements of things such as size and relevance of social network, participation in initiatives, innovation index and overall impact on organisational health.

How do you see employee performance measurement evolving?

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Successful leadership during uncertain times

Current economic conditions are exascerbating the difficulty of already daunting leadership challenges.  We are already struggling with change as the structure of organisations shifts to a more open and collaborative management model; keeping a team engaged and productive during periods of uncertainty takes additional flexibility and skill.

It seems counter-intuitive; you would think that when the economy is bad and the supply of jobs is contracting people would be working harder in order to ensure their continued employment.   Well, perhaps some are, but uncertainty creates instability, and the manager who ignores that added ingredient does so at her own peril.  Why?  Because the uncertainty creates a disconnect in the normal process of employee motivation that can make it harder to keep teams focused on organisational goals.

Maslow’s theories illustrate that people focus on their personal needs in a distinct order.  Physiological needs such as food, water and shelter are the most critical, followed closely by security and safety.  Farther down the list are social, ego and self-actualisation.  So far so good; people will work harder to preserve their jobs because the job provides for their sustenance and security, right?

Well, yes, but that’s where the fun starts.  Most employee motivation is about more than just retaining the workers, it’s about keeping them engaged in the pursuit of organisational goals.  Great leaders attract and inspire talented contributors who successfully aspire as a group to achieve the purpose of the organisation through strategic process.

Uncertainty and unrest in the economy creates a dangerous feedback loop at the most basic levels of human needs.  While it is true that the health of the organisation as a whole is critical to the viability of individual jobs, employees who are being constantly bombarded by external messages that question the security of their job find it hard to look beyond their personal needs to those of the organisation.  In some organisations this can quickly morph into a toxic environment where selfishness interferes with reason.

Here are a few examples.  Corporate product teams can disregard external input when prioritising programs, sales leaders can implement flawed incentive plans that sacrifice strategic goals in favor of the tactical in order to drive quarterly numbers, partner programs can be modified to shift the focus to internal not collaborative success metrics.

It takes a strong and insightful leader to recognise and overcome the potential impacts of economic uncertainty.

Don’t lie to your employees; rather than attemting to avoid or downplay the challenges, remind them that periods of uncertainty provide the greatest opportunities for innovation and impact.

Validate the vision of the organisation and trumpet its potential.  Increase the transparency of the strategic planning processes so that the importance of the vision is clear and selfish activities are quickly identified and corrected.

Redouble the recognition afforded to employees and teams who are at the vanguard of innovation and show how their contributions are helping to move the vision forward.

Instead of avoiding the challenges such as layoffs and cutbacks, face them head on and remind the team that even though the overall economic challenges might be out of their control they are temporary, and that their continued efforts will pay larger dividends down the road.

Are concerns about the economy impacting your organisation?  How are you dealing with it?

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The Collaborative Quotient is growing global

The Collaborative Quotient is being read on six continents and has had well over 10,000 visits in its first month.  We welcomed new readers in Odessa, Kiev, Lagos and Hanoi just today.  Thank you for the views, the referrals and especially the comments.

We need more participation to make this fun, please click below and leave a comment to let us know where you are from!

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