Taking time to reflect, and connect

Re-reading articles from my Culture, Connectivity and Engagement class a year ago is really interesting. I realize that I’m in a much different place. I don’t know if that is as a result of additional classes I’ve taken, where work has taken me, or the fact that I’m not reading the articles for the first time. Most likely it is a product of all of these factors taken together.

I’m also more in the mindset of application and reinforcement rather than measurement. While measurement is of course important, I now realize there are plenty of models for that as well as organizations happy to do it for you. And that side of things is not really where my passion lies anyway. What is much more interesting is helping people to find guidance to address the areas they find need attention; and tools to support them on their journey.

Happily, I’m reminded of the myriad ways that the social intranet that I help manage has to support improving employee engagement and cohesion. For example,

Need to be more public about employee recognition?

  • Make a comment on an employee’s post telling the world why you think it is great!
  • Write your own post pointing to the exceptional work of a few select individuals.
  • Support an employee-led program to select exemplary individuals on a quarterly basis, and use your community to showcase the nominations and awards.

Is management trust lacking?

  • Commit to frequent, regular community posts that are authentically you.
  • Allow people to post questions, even the uncomfortable ones, and give frank answers.
  • Publicly ask “dumb” questions yourself when you have them to show that you are a real person, and that asking questions is OK.

Want to encourage more weak ties?

  • Bring non-obvious people into conversations when you know (or suspect) they have something to contribute
  • Encourage creation of areas for social collaboration
  • Promote open rather than closed collaboration, and allow “outsiders” to comment on conversations

Trying to encourage a learning mindset?

  • Make the class rosters public in the community
  • Spotlight when employees and managers earn certificates or degrees
  • Encourage discussions about learning rather than finished, shiny outcomes

And I very much appreciate the reminder from Lorsch and McTague (Culture is not the Culprit, HBR April 2016) that culture is the product of these kinds of changes rather than the place to focus your efforts.

Advertisements

Pondering the question of focus

I had a really interesting conversation today with an executive in the company we acquired last year. She was talking about how different their (old) corporate culture was, and how that has probably been the hardest part of the integration over the last year. One of the biggest differences she sees is that their culture has always been fully focused externally – working with and for their customers, usually to the exclusion of everything else. She and her colleagues hear us talk about customer focus and kind of giggle. In their eyes they don’t talk about it, they just live it.

inside outside

This discussion has been bumping around in my brain since then. I’ll acknowledge that my company does a fair bit of navel gazing, and sharing internally, and focusing on developing employees. So I’m struggling with… defending isn’t really the right word. I’m thinking about pros and cons of internal focus in an effort to help explain how having a balance of the two can in fact strengthen the moments of external focus. And what I’m writing is really me thinking out loud.

It seems to me that if you are constantly in external focus mode, you don’t have time to strategize. Without time to reflect, how do you learn? And if it is all about forging ahead, how do you spread knowledge to reduce the learning curve for those around you? Serendipitous events wouldn’t have the ability to become movements. Continuous improvement has no chance when there is no time to even glance inward. Personal growth is stunted by a lack of time and energy. And actually, looking at that shell image I inserted into this post make me think about analogies. How every person is then in their own little cell where the only window is looking outward. You can’t see what’s going on to either side of you. You are blinkered.

Obviously too much internal focus means you are spending too much time within your own four walls never looking out. While this allow things to stay neat and clean, and gives you plenty of time to spruce the place up, if you have no one to show it off to, there’s not much point. And in business, that would also mean that you’d eventually run out of customers because you’ve spent too much time talking about how to make them the focus on not enough time just doing it.

So how to explain to convince someone that taking time away from that external focus can make the time they spend externally more valuable? That internal focus can help renewing, refresh and refocus employees? That having that minute to breathe can spark the creativity needed to solve thorny problems?

I see a glimmer, and so maybe it just takes patience and some examples. A little evidence and some more time to quell the fear. And maybe, just maybe, this ties back to my earlier thoughts on trust.

Was there some “secret social sauce” in the way we learned in my grad class?

secret sauce

As I mentioned previously, I’ve been taking a graduate class at Northwestern that is essentially about using enterprise social networks to accomplish knowledge management. We’ve learned the theories behind both what knowledge and knowledge management are, the pros and cons for businesses and individuals, some of the psychology behind why people do or don’t readily participate, etc. Some of the readings were very dense and scholarly, and others were more lively and engaging. All in all, it has been a great experience.

Because I’m a practicing community manager, I have found that I can’t stop myself doing a lot of stepping back to assess what’s going on from that lens. In other words, I’ve been both a participant in and observer of the course. There’s been so much to reflect on behaviorally, even in myself.

Our last class meeting was this week, and one of the questions the instructor asked was how our attitudes had changed over the time period of the course. The vast majority of the students said that they were now much more likely to participate and even lead the way (model behaviors) in their company ESNs. Many of them described that before the class, they had been hesitant to participate for a variety of reasons, but had decided to step in now.

I have a few theories why that happened, but I don’t want to put them forth just yet. I’m hoping that by writing this post and pointing people to it, I’ll get some feedback. I sense there is at least a little bit of secret sauce in here – a way to better lead people to their own personal “Aha!” moment with enterprise social. It feels almost like it is on the tip of my tongue. But then I talk myself out of it because trying to talk to people at work about knowledge management seems like such an unlikely way to win.

Anyone game to help fill in some blanks here? I won’t name names, but I’m hoping a few of my classmates will help me think about this one out loud.

Where are the edges of a Personal Learning Network?

In class last week, we read about Personal Learning Networks (PLNs). One of the exercises was to define a PLN in a single sentence, and also to read and respond to definitions written by classmates. After I finished the exercise, I found myself reflecting on my week. I realized I’d been thinking about PLNs specifically in terms of professional development, and in doing so had missed a very critical piece – personal development. Some of the best “teachers” in my PLN are not those I cultivated specifically for professional learning. Don’t get me wrong, I have many friends who were first in my network as business relationships; people I knew I could learn a lot from. But here I’m referring to people I first thought of as friends and only later realized how much I had actually learned from them.

And going down this unconventional path a little further, there are also people in my network that I wouldn’t categorize as friends at all. People I don’t even necessarily like, but whom I stay in touch with as a reminder of things I don’t want to learn. Is that a kind of learning on its own?

If PLNs are intentional, how much of the building that we do is conscious? And how much of it is actually serendipitous – tangential meetings or discussions with people you don’t think of as part of your PLN, but from whom you gain significant insights or learning?

No, I don’t have answers. This post is an exercise in thinking out loud – sharing half-baked ideas – born out of practicing what I preach. Thanks for the encouragement, @JeffMerrell.