Relationships and reputation in the enterprise: a course outline

One of the best things about working for a large company should be the vast array of roles and opportunities throughout the firm. Yet, for most people, it’s easier to find a job across town than across the hall.

So people tend to stagnate in less-than-fulfilling roles. Or leave. And tremendous personal and corporate potential are squandered as a result.

I think we can change this. And the key is teaching people how to build relationships and shape their reputation at work.

The weakness of strong connections

If you want access to opportunities, then you need to know about them. And the people with the opportunities need to know about you – who you are, what you do, and how well you do it.

There are two big problems with this. First, it’s very difficult to find out what opportunities really exist. Great opportunities are often created with a specific person in mind. And most never make it to any official clearinghouse before they’re already filled. Internally, all you can do is discreetly ask your closest connections (your “strong ties”) to keep an eye out. In large firms, though, there are simply many more opportunities than your small circle could possibly know about.

Second, when people want to know about you, the main source of information is typically your manager. The manager is the one who has the official view of your performance and who needs to sponsor you for promotion (and often other opportunities).

So, as we hope to match the right people with the right jobs, we have an incomplete and incorrect view of both.

The strength of weak ones

But we’ve known for a long time there are better ways. Almost 40 years ago, Mark Granovetter authored the most famous paper in sociology based on his findings that “most jobs were found through ‘weak’ acquaintances.” Simply put, he found that people outside your strongest connections were key to matching people and opportunities.

Hence the age-old importance of networking. Of going beyond your circle and creating a network of weak ties. The more people who know you and know what you do, the more opportunities you’ll be aware of.

More recently, social platforms have made it easier to create social networks and make them larger than ever. And since these these tools make it easy to publish and get feedback from a wide audience in a public way, they allow you to shape your own reputation instead of having your manager do it.

If we know that social networks are “indispensable to individuals’ opportunities” and that it’s easier than ever for anyone to build them, then now’s the time to teach the required skills at work.

What would a course look like?

I’m preparing a “Relationships & Reputation in the Enterprise” course to be taught within a large company. There’s no special system or 12 step program (all of the course elements are widely available). If there’s anything new, it’s the idea of teaching employees these skills in a corporate environment in order to improve mobility, diversity, and engagement.

The basic structure

Most corporate training is delivered in small chunks, either online or lecture style. This is great if you want employees to know the latest anti-money laundering rules. But it’s bad if you want to teach them life skills.

So the course I’m planning will take place over 3 months. And it will be 10% learning- by-lecture and 90% learning-by-doing. Here are the main elements:

  • 6 half-day classes (lectures and in-class exercises)
  • Peer support groups: each person is matched with 2 others to form a peer group. They’ll meet regularly outside of class to share progress and challenges; to listen and help.
  • Coaching: access to coaches to escalate issues the peer group can’t handle
  • Social events to reinforce class bonds (particularly among the peer groups) and to practice certain conversational skills taught in class
  • External guest speakers: people who’ve achieved their goals through relationships and reputation
  • Internal guest speakers: people within the firm who are successfully applying concepts in the course

The 5 main topics

I was lucky enough to participate in a program by Keith Ferrazzi called the Relationship Master’s Academy. It consisted of 3 weekends over the course of a year with peer support groups that met between sessions. The content consisted largely of material from his two books: “Never Eat Alone” and “Who’s Got Your Back?” (The in-person academy has since evolved and become an on-line offering called myGreenlight.)

Inspired in large part by Ferrazzi’s ideas, here are the 5 main topics we’ll cover in “Relationships & Reputation in the Enterprise”:

1. Defining your personal goal

This is the most obvious and the most difficult part of the course, working with each person to think through and articulate what they want to achieve. And how that objective fits into a broader picture of their future life. Exercises include each person sharing their goal with their peer group and discussing it, often asking “Why?” in an effort to ensure the goal will lead to greater engagement and fulfillment.

2. “Leading with generosity” and the basics of building relationships

Perhaps Ferrazzi’s greatest contribution has been to reframe how people think of networking. He helped make it less about point-to-point transactions and more about leading with generosity with a broad, diverse set of people who can help you reach your goal. This section includes content on generosity, authenticity, and intimacy while also providing techniques and exercises on how to employ those concepts in an enterprise context.

3. Listing your assets

To lead with generosity, you need to have something to give. And most people think too narrowly about what they have to give, thereby limiting their interactions. This section helps people think much more broadly about what they have to offer. Through numerous examples and exercises, everyone develops a comprehensive inventory and how to make use of it.

4. Your social networking plan

Armed with a clear sense of purpose, an understanding of how to approach people, and an inventory of what you have to offer, the next step is to identify who can help you – both the kinds of people and specific individuals. You’re not trying to get anything specific from each person other than a closer relationship through authentic, generous behavior.

The idea is that the sum of these actions over a broad, diverse network will lead to a set of closer relationships that are fulfilling in and of themselves while also yielding more opportunities. The exercises are all about helping people put the ideas into action, helping them build their network as they learn.

5. Using social platforms

So far, all of this has very little to do with technology. Dale Carnegie could have taught this course in 1936. The last section of the course is to teach people how to use modern social tools and practices to shape their reputation through curating and publishing content while they establish and enrich more connections.

What’s next?

My hypothesis and my hope is that everyone can learn the skills needed to build relationships and shape their reputation at work.

But is a 3-month course the best way to teach people? Is this the right set of topics?

With this post and with the first class, I’m hoping to take a step. To attract more opinions and ideas and to keep evolving the course.

As I wrote in my first post:

“…Gallup was right in asserting that increased engagement at work boosts productivity. They said disengagement costs $300 billion in the US. I think they’re off by a factor of at least 3.”

The opportunity to improve our access to opportunities is of huge value to both the individual and to the enterprise. It’s time to do something about it.

Hope in action: The story of the Makenaizou

After the Kobe earthquake in 1995, many people lost their homes and their livelihoods. Thousands would sit in shelters with nothing to do but wait and hope. Relief agencies, in addition to raising funds, also needed to help people get through each day.

So a local group decided to do something different. They started the “makenaizou” (pronounced MAH-KEN-EYE-ZOH) project, a creative way for people to help themselves while spreading a message of hope around the world.

The “Never Give Up Elephant”

The makenaizou are small handicrafts – little elephants made from ordinary hand towels. (“Makenai zou” means “we’ll never give up!” in Japanese. And since “zou” also means elephant, the towel is known as the “never give up elephant.”)

The idea is simple. People affected by the quake turn something readily available into small mementos and sell them. Each one sells for 400 yen (about $5.20). 100 yen goes to the person who makes the towel and the other 300 yen goes to general relief efforts.

Making the towels gives displaced people something to do.

“This is the first time for me to be tired nicely since the earthquake happened, because we have had no work to do after evacuation.”

“Although we have been suffering from the bad memory of tsunami since Mar. 11, we could forget about it while making Makenai-zou together.”

And the people who buy them get much more than a towel. They get a story. And a physical reminder that the person who made what they were holding was affected by a tragedy – and won’t give up.

Each time an earthquake has struck Japan, the small relief agency got towels and taught people how to make makenaizou. Each time, they gave people something to do while giving them hope that others would know and care about their plight.

Will it make a difference?

It’s easy to dismiss efforts like the makenaizou project. Will 100 yen really make a difference to someone in Fukushima?

It’s easier to do nothing, and hope that someone else comes up with a bigger, grander solution.

Yet, whenever I think that way, I’m reminded of a story I heard as a child:

A man is walking along a beach filled with thousands of stranded starfish when he comes across a young boy who’s picking them up one-by-one and tossing them back into the sea.

“Young boy,” says the man, “there are too many starfish here. Surely you can’t help them all.”

“Maybe,” said the boy, as he smiled and returned another starfish to the water.

“But I just helped this one.”

Hope. And action.

It’s true that you may not be able to help everyone. But you can do more than hope. You can act. You can make a small difference and spread the story. And by doing so you can inspire others to contribute and make a difference.

Whatever your cause, whether it’s changing yourself, changing your firm, or changing the world, remember the “never give up elephant” and don’t give up.

Hope and action are a very powerful combination.

The best social business friends you could have

If you’re a large enterprise, one of the best ways to bootstrap your social business efforts is to understand what other firms are doing.

But where would you start? How would you even find other practitioners and get them to share?

It turns out the Social Business Council has already solved those problems. And, if you’re trying to change how your firm works, it’s one of the best resources you could have.

The people & their firms

I joined the Council a little over a year ago (it was free) and I was immediately surprised by 3 things:

  1. the number and variety of companies represented
  2. the generosity of the people
  3. the effectiveness of the community leader and lynchpin, Susan Scrupski

Members stay connected using a few different tools. Combined, those tools allow you to get short, casual updates as well as in-depth write-ups of best practices. And Susan is always there, connecting the dots and the people, and generally keeping things moving.

That range of interactions let me get to know people. I learned more from their online contributions over a few months than I ever could in a single phone call or meeting. And those relationships became richer when I recently met several of them in Boston. There, I took part in my first Council workshop (it attracted well over 100 people) and several Council members spoke at the Enterprise 2.0 conference.

The knowledge

While the Council members are indeed social (they’re an extremely friendly and open group), they’re also businesspeople.

I’ve come to rely on them for their expertise on a wide range of social business topics:

  • implementation strategies
  • handling barriers to adoption
  • technology
  • best practices in community building

Sometimes I’d just pose a question from my mobile phone. Other times, I’d research content others have contributed or curated. Each time, I would find something useful.

Now, when a problem comes up, the first place I go is the Council.

A detailed example of the value

So, recently, when I came up against a legal issue, I looked to the Council for help.

In seeking formal approval for an enterprise collaboration platform, I wanted both employees and contractors to have access. But several people in legal and HR were concerned about co-employment risks. Some went so far as to say contractors in certain countries could not have access at all.

My first question was “How could we contract people to do work and yet not share information with them?”

My second question was “What do other firms do?”

So I posed the question to the Council. Within minutes, I got several responses. Over 2 days, responses kept rolling in and I heard from 18 different firms. They explained their policies (yes, they all allow access) and their processes (most differentiate contractors in their profile and restrict access to a few sites like employee benefits).

And that information is making the conversations with legal and HR much, much easier.

In the past, I’d have paid tens of thousands per year for the privilege of being in a certain network. Maybe they’d meet a few times a year. Maybe they’d conduct some surveys and compile the results.

Now, for free, I can tap into the best practitioners globally and get responses within minutes. And while I’m sharing knowledge and interacting with other council members to help my firm, I’m extending my own network and shaping my own reputation.

A (very) positive side effect

There’s one more thing I got from the Council that I never expected: an even greater sense of urgency.

Interacting with all the other practitioners has made me aware of just how much others are doing. How they’re changing their firms in so many ways.

And that’s pushing me. Pushing me to be more ambitious about the changes I’m trying to effect. To do more in the field and less in Powerpoint. To contribute more, both to the Council and to the general body of social business knowledge.

Thanks to the generosity, peer support, and experience of the Council members, I’m ready.

When it comes to work, it’s time to “Honor the Game”

When it comes to work, we need an attitude adjustment.

More than just injecting social tools and practices into what we do, we also need to inject pride and quality. A pursuit of mastery and operational excellence. Ways to make the jobs more fulfilling

Simply put, we need to radically alter the way millions of people approach work.

But how?

The secrets are in a new approach to youth sports. And in an old approach to making the trains run on time.

Jim Thompson & “Honor the Game”

Somewhere along the way, people forgot the point of youth sports. It became less about camaraderie, fun, and personal development. And it became more about winning at all costs – with increasingly violent results.

Jim Thompson wanted to change that. And, in 1998, he founded the Positive Coaching Alliance with the ambitious mission “to transform youth sports so sports can transform youth.”

Jim takes a holistic approach to coaching sports. He starts with a focus on personal mastery of a sport. The preparation, discipline and hard work required. How to develop the necessary skills and techniques in pursuit of excellence.

Then he couples the pursuit of mastery with the need to “Honor the Game” - respect for rules, opponents, officials, teammates, and one’s self. This is what frames each person’s approach to the sport. How they behave in addition to how they perform.

When I first heard about it, it seemed like just a nice idea. Then, I saw “Honor the Game” promoted on the official  little league site, with guidelines for all new players, parents, and coaches. Same for lacrosse.

And recently, walking by my local baseball field, I noticed everyone enjoying the baseball games underway. I thought of Jim Thompson.

And I saw those 3 words embroidered on every kid’s cap.

The miracle of the Japanese train system

That holistic approach – the pursuit of mastery coupled with respect for the game and the people playing it – can also apply to work. And the best example might be the Japanese train system.

Japanese railways are among the most punctual in the world. The average delay on the Tokaido Shinkansen in fiscal 2006 was only 0.3 minutes. When trains are delayed for as little as five minutes, the conductor makes an announcement apologizing for the delay and the railway company may provide a “delay certificate” (遅延証明書), as no one would expect a train to be this late.”

I’m in Japan as I write this and I see it first hand. The train system is sprawling, covering remote small towns, and yet every single train I take is on time. Every person working there is efficient and helpful.

Compared to the New York City subway I’m used to (“one of the most extensive public transportation systems in the world”), Japan’s system has 20 times more track and carries 14 times more passengers. Yet the experience for the NYC customer is, to be kind, completely different.

Why is the Japanese system so much better?

An answer can be found in the holistic approach espoused by Jim Thompson. The Japanese rail companies’ pursuit of mastery covers a comprehensive array of improvements. It includes new technologies while it also capitalizes on the quality and process innovations introduced more than 60 years ago by W. Edwards Deming. As a result, they have an entire workforce focused on continuous improvement and squeezing errors out of the system.

The entire workforce also honors the game. Due to their national culture as well as their corporate training, they respect the procedures while also respecting the customers, their fellow employees, and themselves.

It’s time to “Honor the Work”

As I try and avoid being a cheerleader for social business, I’ll be thinking of all that goes into the miracle of the Japanese train system. And of the value that social business methods will contribute.

Would applying social tools and practices further improve the Japanese train system? Probably.

Would they make the trains run on time? No.

If we truly want to change the way we work, it won’t be by bolting on new techniques to what we do. It will be to apply Jim Thompson’s holistic, comprehensive approach.

“Honoring the Work” will be about pursuing mastery, bringing to bear all the improvements from past decades. Looking back at the Demings and the Druckers. Even the David Allens and the Atul Gawandes. And looking forward, complementing past  innovations with the emergent promise of social tools and practices.

And it will also be about providing a framework for behavior based on respect. Respect for the work itself as well as the people involved.

After all, the real goal isn’t just making business social. It’s improving productivity while making the jobs more fulfilling.

That’s honoring the work.