“If the news is that important, it will find me.”

Back in 2008, it was already clear that people were consuming information differently.

Rather than going to professional portals, people were increasingly relying on their social networks to deliver relevant and highly personalized information.

So why do you still have a home page at work? And what should you have instead?

The media shift

Barack Obama’s run for the presidency was a watershed campaign in many ways, including the use of media. Eight months before the election, his internet videos would garner millions of views despite receiving little attention from reporters.

Behind all those views were links from 500+ bloggers and individuals sharing the video via Facebook.

A NY Times article in March, 2008, described the behaviors of younger voters:

“According to interviews and recent surveys, younger voters tend to be not just consumers of news and current events but conduits as well — sending out e-mailed links and videos to friends and their social networks. And in turn, they rely on friends and online connections for news to come to them. In essence, they are replacing the professional filter — reading The Washington Post, clicking on CNN.com — with a social one.”

That last line is the key. More and more, people trust their social network over a paid professional to filter out the noise and deliver useful content.

As one blogger wrote: “the very fact that someone you know — or trust — has passed on or blogged or Twittered or posted a link makes it more likely that you will read it.”

A student put it even more simply: “If the news is that important, it will find me.”

The future of internal communications

Fours years later, we still have editors and critics. They just don’t have the same influence they used to have.

At most companies, though, we’re communicating like it’s 1999, relying on internal communications to broadcast messages to staff.

A post titled “The death of Internal Comms?” sums up the feelings of most employees:

“Sending a weekly dirge of “What’s happening in MegaCorp, Blue Widgets Division”, will just get your message canned. Sending a series of links *may* be better, as at least you won’t be quite so hated, but probably won’t get your message across better.”

We know the prevalent internal communications methods don’t work well. Now, we’re just starting to see what the future looks.

In the years since the Obama campaign, companies are beginning to use social platforms and more authentic voices to “get the message across.” We’re learning that people want to hear from other people – not institutions – and that they’ll rely on their network to discover what’s important enough to read or comment on.

An example

Recently, there was a large conference at work with many senior managers in attendance. Traditionally, the internal communications staff would write up an article after the event, post it on their intranet portal, and send an email to employees with a summary and a link.

This time, though, those same communications people selected more junior staff (outside of communications) to attend the conference and serve as roaming reporters. The reporters posted live updates throughout the conference using the firm’s new collaboration platform. Communications staff also posted but they added to the conversation instead of dominating it.

Now, without email and without searching, people at all levels from around the world were following the conference by following real people (“I felt like I was there”). And, more importantly, they were able to participate.

The graduates were particularly active, asking questions and contributing content. But senior people at the event also used the social platform, soliciting ideas and feedback, adding comments to other conversations. People discovered the hot topics via their newsfeeds, added comments and likes, and interacted with people across their division (and some from other divisions).

We’d never had anything like that before.

Better for the individual and for the firm

Far from being dead, the internal communications function at that conference became much more valuable. They went from producing impersonal content with few readers and zero feedback to using social tools and practices to engage a larger audience in more meaningful ways.

Whether you’re a communications professional, a senior manager, or just someone who has something to say, that kind of transformation is available to you.

If you’re still relying on people coming to you for your message (or visiting your portal or reading your email), then you’re missing one of the biggest communications shifts in history.

We know there are better ways. What are you waiting for?

Defining your purpose

Can you coach people to discover their own meaningful, fulfilling ambitions?

In “Building a purposeful social network,”  a new course I just started teaching, the first step I’d planned is for everyone to define their purpose – the goal that would be at the center of a new and deeper set of relationships they would build throughout the course.

I failed to achieve that first step. But something better happened.

Resources

At the start of the session, I drew on authors like Keith Ferrazzi, Seth Godin, and Gina Rudan. I told stories of people (some famous, some within our own firm) who had achieved great things by building purposeful networks.

We even watched Seth Godin’s “Tribes” video to help understand the kinds of change people could achieve. Heads nodded and people seemed inspired.

Then they started to work on defining their own purpose. 15 people listened, wrote, and worked in peer support groups to try and answer questions like “What are things I care about and enjoy?” “What are goals and dreams I have?”

The problems started when people tried to connect those answers into a coherent purpose.

3 problems

As I went around to each group, it seemed everyone was struggling.

“My goals are too big.” Some people had lofty ambitions but no idea how to draw a line from where they were now to those ambitions.

“My goals have nothing to do with work.” Many people wanted to spend more time with family or do other things they enjoyed but needed money and felt anchored to their job.

“My goals aren’t connected.” Some people’s lists were disjoint sets of wishes that they simply couldn’t form into a coherent purpose.

So, for almost everyone, all I did was produce frustration.

The best part

Luckily, we had structured the class so there wasn’t too much lecturing or too many activities. Most of the time was unstructured and reserved for people to work on their goals.

That allowed me to talk to people individually and in small peer groups. And that was the best part.

In each of those short conversations, we were able to take their lists and concerns and come up with something specific they’d like to achieve but never did. It may not have been a “this is my new life” kind of goal. But it was something that would open up new possibilities and tap into other parts of themselves.

“What’s really the point, John?”

At the end of the class (this was the first of six sessions), one of my colleagues asked whether I was trying to help people realize their life goals or trying to teach them a set of skills.

After a pause, I knew it was really the latter. What I wanted was to have people learn – by doing – how to build more meaningful relationships that would help them accomplish something.

There’s a lot written about “doing what you love,” but for the 15 people in the class, their first goal could and should be something small and achievable. I needed to let them learn the skills, put them into practice, and succeed at something. Then, their new network would open up possibilities they’d never have considered at the beginning.

Going forward, we’ll aim a bit lower, put more time and energy into peer support and one-on-one coaching, and prepare for the next class.

I’ll let you know how it goes.

“Flow” as a corporate value

Suppose you discovered something that would make your firm’s employees perform better and would also make them happier.

Would you try it?

Why we work

In response to a recent post about “humanizing” the corporation, a concerned friend sent me a note suggesting I was (and I’m paraphrasing) “nuts.”

She said, in essence, that the only reason people put up with work and all it entails – the hours, the commute, the commitment – is money. People work to get paid. When they want “humanizing”, they go home.

She was right. Kind of.

If the jobs aren’t well-designed, if the work environment isn’t engaging, if the culture is bad, then, surely, the firm needs to pay you to show up. They have to pay you to “do your job.”

But there’s plenty of evidence that money isn’t enough. That, beyond a certain point, extra money doesn’t produce extra performance. And appealing to basic human motivators does.

Flow

One of the things that people inherently seem to want is “flow”. Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi (pronounced mee-hy cheek-sent-mə-hy-ee) describes flow as a state in “which people are so involved in an activity that nothing else seems to matter.”

Most people might associate flow with athletes. The archer or pro golfer or rock climber who can tune out all distractions, focus on the task at hand, and achieve excellence.

But flow is relevant for everyone.

“flow is completely focused motivation. It is a single-minded immersion and represents perhaps the ultimate in harnessing the emotions in the service of performing and learning. In flow, the emotions are not just contained and channeled, but positive, energized, and aligned with the task at hand.”

Csikszentmihalyi posits that people can experience flow at work, too. That corporations should want flow opportunities for employees because it will help them achieve peak performance. And individuals would want those opportunities because it makes them happier.

Our current view of our corporate cultures

Valuing flow at work isn’t just a topic for psychology books or the product of a naive view of the workplace.

As the Economist recently noted, more and more firms have “decided that their rules-based cultures are too inflexible to cope with the challenges of globalisation and technological change.” Increasingly, firms want and need more than people just doing their job. They require employees who care enough to go beyond boundaries to produce results.

And the ultimate employee engagement at work is flow.

But most people at work still view their corporate cultures as “command-and-control” rather than “self-governing” and conducive to flow. And that matters.

“Nearly half of those in blind-obedience companies said they had observed unethical behaviour in the previous year, compared with around a quarter in the other sorts of firm. Yet only a quarter of those in the blind-obedience firms said they were likely to blow the whistle, compared with over 90% in self-governing firms. Lack of trust may inhibit innovation, too. More than 90% of employees in self-governing firms, and two-thirds in the informed-acquiescence category, agreed that “good ideas are readily adopted by my company”. At blind-obedience firms, fewer than one in five did.”

A better way

Csikszentmihalyi notes that it doesn’t have to be this way. In reviewing societies with dysfunctional cultures, he notes:

“There is no evidence that any of these cultures chose to be selfish, violent, or fearful….[the behaviors] evolved…but once they become part of the norms and habits of a culture, people assume that this is how things must be; they come to believe they have no options.”

He points out that a better culture is one that creates more opportunities for people to experience flow.

“…one society is ‘better’ than another if a greater number of its people have access to experiences that are in line with their goals. A second essential criterion would specify that these experiences should lead to the growth of the self on the individual level, by allowing as many people as possible to develop increasingly complex skills.”

So, we can choose. We can decide that we want the jobs in our firms – and our corporate cultures – to be better.

Of course money is important at work. But if you want to produce extraordinary results, you’ll need to do more for employees that just pay them, and that includes making more flow possibilities possible.

Why wouldn’t you?

Broken windows & the future of service inside your firm

When something doesn’t work at home, you might complain on Twitter or use your smartphone to report the problem. Or you’ll search for a solution on-line and fix the problem yourself.

But what do you do at work? Probably nothing.

At most companies, it’s simply too hard to fix small things. Every department has their own portal and their own number to call. It’s not nearly convenient enough, so you just live with the problem or leave it for the next person. And dissatisfaction and disengagement multiplies.

There’s a better way. And it may be more important than you think.

The Broken Windows theory

In 1982, two sociologists wrote an article that said, in essence, small breakdowns in a society, left untended, lead to bigger breakdowns.

“Consider a building with a few broken windows. If the windows are not repaired, the tendency is for vandals to break a few more windows. Eventually, they may even break into the building, and if it’s unoccupied, perhaps become squatters or light fires inside. Or consider a sidewalk. Some litter accumulates. Soon, more litter accumulates. Eventually, people even start leaving bags of trash from take-out restaurants there or breaking into cars.”

One of the authors subsequently worked as a consultant to the NYC Transit Authority in the late 1980s, when they started to target graffiti and minor violations. Later, he influenced the Police Department, leading to NYC’s  “zero tolerance” and “quality of life” strategies that are widely seen to have significantly reduced both petty and serious crime.

Broken windows at work

While the debate continues about causation and correlation, most people agree that the Broken Windows theory matters because social cues matter. That is, “individuals look for signals within the environment as to the social norms in the setting and…one of those signals is the area’s general appearance.”

What are the equivalents of graffiti and broken windows at work?

They’re the broken speakerphone and missing network adapter in the conference room. The leaking sink and mis-set clock. The empty vending machine and the dirty pantry.

It’s an endless list of little things, typically in shared spaces, that are big enough to irritate someone but not so big that they’ll do much to report it or put much effort into fixing it themselves.

Those seemingly little issues add up to a culture where it’s okay for things not to work. And quality and productivity suffer as a result.

3 ways to modernize employee service

Improving customer support is a classic use case for social tools and practices. It’s not often applied inside the firm, but it could be. Here are 3 ways to improve service for employees.

Make it easy to report issues – and for service providers to engage: instead of every department having their own way to report a problem, social platforms let anyone post a simple complaint from their iPhone, iPad, or desktop. Those same platforms make it easy for the right people to listen, engage the person complaining, and fix the problem more quickly – all in a way that everyone else can observe. (Here’s a recent example from BofA’s customer service on Twitter.)

Let people help themselves: the internal helpdesks at your firm – from HR to IT to facilities – are anachronisms and almost pure waste. Each one consults their own knowledge base to handle endless phone calls and emails, largely the same questions over and over. Using a single collaboration platform instead boosts self-service by providing a universal set of on-line forums. That makes it easy for anyone to search for answers, provide feedback on the results, or ask their own questions.

Let people help each other: When the problem can’t be readily solved by a forum or by a service provider, it can be usually be solved if you find the right person. Here’s where on-line, role-based communities are extremely valuable. They make it easy to get your question in front of relevant people and to identify experts on specific topics.

“Doesn’t anybody care?”

We have all of this at home. (We don’t call the Google helpdesk. And, increasingly, even municipal governments are adopting social tools and practices to improve service.) We can and should have better service at work, too, because it’s better for the employees and better for the firm.

Responsive service inside the firm sets cues for the rest of the organization and shapes  the culture. It says:

“We care about our workplace. We care about our employees. We care about the quality of our products and the service we provide for our customers.”