Monday, 31 August 2009

Social media: hype or hope?

Call me slow but I’m kind of puzzled by the hype, especially in marketing circles, around “social media”. A provocative discussion “Does social media work, or is it just a time drain?” (in group on LinkedIn) got me thinking.

To me FaceBook was like just another step along from email, group discussion forums, and Chat rooms: another way to “stay in touch”; a new place for conversation; a place to exchange ideas, think, express, be, grow, get to know, belong, hang-out; a place with Face; a place for community in a world of failing community, disconnection and alienation.

So it didn’t surprise me that people found it and began using it; that the more who found it, the more wanted to find it, intrigued, not wanting to miss out; that it became the place to be, to be seen - a global fashion phenomenon. Most seem to use it to talk to people they personally know; to make friends through people they know; to engage; to belong, be useful, known, valued; to be.

“Social media” is kind of like the new grapevine and village meeting place rolled into one – the new virtual market square of community “on speed”: community apparently offering new scope to be; for new beyond-the-village identity. No wonder people are flocking there.

But fundamentally we’re village people and the commerce of the market square is natural, integral to our community. So why the hype and hoopla? Seems to maybe come from folks who want to make a quid as experts on the new market square; to somehow claim it for their own.

For all that, it’s about people, relationships, and trust. The communication rules haven’t changed, though literacy is an advantage in what’s currently still mainly textual media. Old skills really, maybe needing a little reinterpretation and a lot of re-learning.

In my work I’ve found that people who for whatever reason aren’t confident at talking with others, prefer a textual medium. It gives them time to digest what’s been said, to compose a response. And the internet has an added power-levelling effect: as an English-as-second-language student once said of me, “When Steve enters the chat room he gives up his power.”

It levels the playing field and they get to try being themselves, to communicate with new others. Pretty soon they are demanding to speak, to know who they’re talking to, and be known; demanding order in the chaos of random conversation.

It’s my hope that beyond the hype and hoopla, with winnowing of wheat from the chaff, the new social media will help release and connect diverse talent; help release entrepreneurial spirit from the psychic prison (Gareth Morgan. 1986. Images of Organization) of conventional organisation.

PS I’m a mature extrovert: a Rational Inventor (Myers Briggs); an Influencer (EDISC)

Saturday, 29 August 2009

Can you get knowledge off the web?

It’s really cool living the communication media revolution: no packaged answers. Experimenting is everything. Good for entrepreneurs. Not so good for causal thinkers (the rest).

Information’s free - heaps of it. Some enlightened universities even publish their courses free on the web. So, indeed, why physically attend a university to get knowledge when information’s free online?

Because information isn’t knowledge, that’s why. It’s just “stuff” until a person or people make sense of it for and between themselves. The most effective way to communicate knowledge; to transfer it between people, is interactively. (The universities spent a fortune on failed “distance learning” over the last decade or so to begin to realise that.)

An organisation’s knowledge exists in the web of relationships between its people not in the nodes ( the hard drives and experts). It is evident in interpersonal behaviour. It exists as organisational knowledge only in as much as it is communicated.

Learning is a complex interactive process. Rich interaction produces deep (behaviour changing) learning. Rich organisational knowledge exists and develops in rich interrelationships.

So what can we learn over the internet? What organisational knowledge can exist in the internet? Answer: it depends on the richness and depth of interrelationship.

I don’t know about you but for me nothing beats real person 2 person communication on that score. And whatever virtual communication medium best approximates P2P is the next best thing.

So until the internet can fully reproduce a meeting virtually, I’ll go to university, fly to conferences, visit my clients, go home to my wife and kids, go to church, go out to the pub, the theatre and to parties.

In between those real meetings I’ll maintain conversation by phone, Skype, email, blog, LinkedIn, FaceBook, YouTube, Twitter, whatever. But I’ll go easy on it and try to make my communication relevant and meaningful to my connections or they’ll get sick of my intrusions and I’ll get sick of theirs.

How am I doing? How are you doing? How rich is your personal and organisational communication? Are you leading learning?

Saturday, 22 August 2009

A Tasteful Fable of Leading Change

Thanks to the leadership of Penfolds employee Max Schubert, Penfolds Grange survived for me and my wine-aficionado friends to taste the 20 year old 1989 vintage last week, along with seven other reputable 6-11 yr old South Australian reds.

Even though 1989 wasn’t an exceptional year for Grange, and this bottle had been cellared roughly, the wine had all the colour and fruit of its youth plus the richness and subtlety of advancing age. The younger (1998-99) worthy competitors in the line-up had, comparatively prematurely, lost their youthful qualities.

What do they do at Grange, I wonder, that gives their wine such outstanding, durable qualities?

Clearly there is more to it than a recipe; more than process control; more than operations management. There is a long established culture of leadership that survived the machinations of Management.

Grange was born of the vision, passion, skill, and persistence of an employee of Penfolds wines: winemaker Max Schubert. A bottle of his original vintage sold at auction in 2004 for just over A$50,000. However back in the 50’s, when Aussies thought wine was port or sherry, this powerful still wine was panned by the wine critics and in 1957 Penfolds management forbid Schubert from producing it.

But Schubert persisted in secret through 1959 and as the initial vintages aged, their true value came to be appreciated. In 1960 the management instructed Schubert to re-start production, oblivious to the fact that he had not missed a vintage.

Unlike most expensive Old World wines, which are from single vineyards or even blocks within vineyards, Grange is made from grapes harvested over a wide area. Yet despite the vagaries of grape sourcing and vintage variation due to growing conditions, there is arguably a consistent and recognisable "Penfolds Grange" style and quality.

The renowned Penfolds Grange brand is the result of Max Shubert’s passionate, visionary and persistent leadership as an employee.

This story brings to my mind Peter Senge’s comments in The Dance of Change (p. 15):

“In business today, the word “leader” has become synonymous for top manager. . . . Those who are not in top management positions . . . . . . don’t become leaders until they reach a senior management position of authority.”

Senge’s links this view of leadership to change-failure. He prefers to view leadership as:

“the capacity of a human community to shape its future, and specifically to sustain the significant processes of change required to do so.”

Max Shubert was clearly a leader in the Penfolds community.

Reference for history of Penfolds Grange: 22-08-2009

Sunday, 16 August 2009

Sugar Party Hangover

I’ve had it with the barrage of packaged advice from business gurus, icons and stars – axioms and aphorisms on how to be successful: summary lists that pretend to make simple the complexities of human collaboration. It clearly sells business books, newspapers, seminars and fills the e-waves. But to little tangible effect that I’ve seen.

It’s not that the advice is bad. It’s more the way it’s communicated and consumed like candy for sugar hungry kid’s at a party: a lolly scramble, a sugar rush, a burst of high excitement, energy and frantic bonhomie, then back to normal.

The main learning’s how to scramble to win the most lollies; that the most lollies equals the most fun.

This was highlighted for me over the last couple of weeks beginning with a whole day of Jack Daly, the sales phenomenon extraordinaire (see my last week’s blog ). Then there was my colleague Stephen Lynch’s Business Growth Tip summarising New York Times 4th April “Corner Office” interview with John Donahoe, president and chief executive of eBay .

For me the key learning to be had from Jack Daly and John Donahoe isn’t in how they made themselves successful but in how others enabled them to be successful and how they in turn enabled others.

For instance, half of jack Daly’s seminar was about how to create a climate in which others can excel.

The main theme of John Donahoe’s reflection and the key to his leadership is what he communicates and the way he communicates it so that others can learn, and how he learned to do that.

He says that feedback from six monthly performance reviews was powerfully effective in his formation and development. He espouses and practices candid communication. He enables people to discover and play to their strengths and passions.

Jack and John didn’t make themselves, overnight. They didn’t just swallow the magic lollies that their audiences crave. Sure, they had a big hand in their own development but they were hugely fortunate to have wise others who guided, enabled and facilitated that slow learning process.

John Donahoe recalls that every six months or so he’d get a rigorous performance review (in latter years 20 pages thick) that included everything he could possibly do better. He came to regard the feedback as liberating; a gift, and wasn’t afraid of it.

He found that a third of the feedback would be no surprise: for his long-term attention and change - still an issue the next year and the year after.

A third of it would be insight into his blind spots for himself and others – new awareness of areas for change .

A third of it he would ignore ignore and keep doing what he wanted to do.

From that experience he learned to “try to do the same for the people around me, and give them open, objective feedback offered in a constructive way.”

The focus here is on manager/leader communication behaviour. There is no magic pill. These guys learned to communicate the hard way. Yet how many firms who heard Tom Peters’ fervent exhortation six months ago in Auckland to implement communication training, if nothing else, have done that? I’ll wager <3%. The audience craved sugar pills.

Sunday, 9 August 2009

Got culture?

How does your culture smell? Honestly. Is your culture able to change? Do you have the radical transparency needed to change: to produce high performing sales teams, production teams, design teams, management teams . . . . . . .  or are you still stuck in the age of bullsh*t; still demanding engagement.

Last week I spent a day at a seminar by the super sales guy Jack Daly: story teller, successful ironman, richman, golfer, husband, grandfather, not-gardener.   Jack super energetically dealt with “how to sell more” then  he (just as energetically but more seriously) got down to “how to get others to sell more”. His focus was “culture”.

Jack quoted John Kotter’s (Corporate Culture and Performance. 1992) 10 yr study of 12 firms  showing the massive difference in revenue, stock price, net income and job growth that attention to culture produces.

As Jack observes culture normally gets overlooked in the usual business rush because it’s not urgent. I’d add that it’s also because managers and the managed are typically blind to culture and anyway, culture change is too slow to achieve inside an annual plan.

Every organisation has a culture. Even a new organisation has one. It came with the people who joined the organisation.  Culture is unconscious reflex assumptions, beliefs and attitudes.  Culture is self-sealing. What we see and experience tends to confirm what we already “know”: our assumptions, beliefs and attitudes.

How hard is it to change culture? Consider changing the culture of Samoa for instance. Well the early Christian missionaries did it. It took a magnetic, compelling vision; the right people in the right place; and their collective purpose and conviction (strong organisational culture): their passion to make a particular difference.

The aftermath of a crisis is a great opportunity to initiate a culture change. The window doesn’t last long (see The emperor has no clothes). It’s not long before people shut up because they “know what’s good for them”(see Learning for change feels risky).  If you don’t have a crisis, then create one to engender a sense of urgency (John Kotter. A Sense of Urgency. 2008).