The Benefits of Transparency

I work at a non-profit, religious institution. My colleagues and I all believe we are engaged in important work (we are!), and we are endlessly generous to one another in sharing our time, our creativity and our resources in a true spirit of teamwork and partnership. We support one another, and we want each other to succeed in our collective work and shared mission.

But occasionally, people whisper in the hallway. Office doors are sometimes closed. Every now and then, colleagues are blind copied on emails. After all, this is where we work, and we all believe strongly in our work. We do what it is necessary to ensure our work is done well, and done effectively. We each do what we can to succeed.

It could be argued that there is much to gain by keeping access to our work strictly limited only to those who are part of our team, or at least limited to people who we believe will support the direction of our work. Generally, our teams speak with a unified voice. Our closest colleagues will most likely not challenge the overall direction of our work, and they intimately understand the steps that we as a team have taken to get to where we are. Furthermore, by sharing our work with colleagues outside of our team only upon completion, we present a finely crafted finished product. We have honed our messages, and we have done our best to plan for every response and each eventuality. Our finished product will represent the very best of who we are, and what we do.

Unfortunately, such perfection is usually an unattainable goal. Despite our very best intentions to present an effective work product, other teams are doing work that they too are keeping secret. The work other teams are doing will often effect the work we are doing. Additionally, people on other teams often have information and expertise that can be informative and helpful in our work, but we will never get that information if all of our work is kept private until it is completed, and by that time it is probably too late for meaningful changes.

transparency-jpgSo, what if we considered transparency? What if our office doors were open? What if we never blind copied anyone on any email ever again? What if, while in discussion with someone in the hallway at work, we welcomed the person walking by into our conversation? What if we encouraged opportunities for input from colleagues outside of our team?

Transparency can be a scary proposition. When we are transparent, we make our valuable ideas visible to our colleagues, along with our questions, our curiosities and sometimes even our confusion and frustration. Our work process (the good, the bad and the ugly) is now laid bare for all to see.

I preach transparency a lot at work. I tell everyone how much can be gained by including others in their work, and how we are all on the same team. The default behavior, however, always seems to be privacy. And, though I am usually the preacher of transparency, I too find that level of openness and generosity can sometimes be challenging.

The real test for me came when I embarked on a new project with two other colleagues on my team. “Rather than doing this work on email, why don’t I just create a group on our enterprise collaboration network? This way, we can talk about the files we create, maintain a legacy of information, and welcome others into the process.” My colleagues agreed, hesitant though they were.

I went to create the group, and immediately felt the twinge of fear, pride and ownership. No one outside my team knew anything about this project. They did not understand our long term goals, and they did not have a sense of the history of what we had done to get to this point.

I created the group, and posted the documents for the colleagues I was working with on the project to see. As we did our work, other people outside our team noticed the group, and even clicked on the files to see what we were working on. I was getting nervous, but then they began to make some very interesting posts.

“Larry, I didn’t know you were working on this. Great work!” “Larry, I have some information that may help you. Can we find some time to talk?” “Larry, this actually may help us with something we are doing on my team. Thanks!”

Not only was I know sharing more effectively with my partners in this work, but now people throughout my organization were aware of this new project. Good questions were being asked, information was being shared, and different teams were able to use our work to inform their own work.

Some of the replies could have been negative, such as “Wait, I am working on this too.” “Why are you doing this? I don’t understand?” Or, “This is not your job!” Actually, even negative replies can be helpful. Had I not shared, I would not have known I was engaged in duplicate efforts, I would not have been able to help someone better understand my work, and if this was really not my work to do, I would have the opportunity to stop before investing too much time.

So share. Be transparent. Include others. Your work will improve, and your entire organization will be stronger for it.

 

Don’t Push. Engage.

A website can’t shake your hand. An email won’t laugh at your joke. A Facebook post won’t give you a hug. What they all can do very well, though, is get information to you. The information is pushed. Whether or not you decide to take the time to read the pushed information is up to you. Whether or not you decide to absorb that information, to act on that information, and maybe even to share that information with others is up to you. But, make no mistake about it, whoever sent you the information desperately wants you to read what they have sent, and to react in a positive way.

But, how many times throughout they day can people really expect us to engage with this barrage of information? We know you want us to attend your event, or buy your product, but honestly, why should I care? Do you know who I am ? Do you appreciate my specific concerns and challenges? Can I just have a hug?

I used to be a synagogue executive director. When board members would have a program to promote, they would work with me exhaustively to design and produce a large sign to display in our lobby, and as the date of the event got closer would express their concern to me that very few people have signed up. My general advice was, “If you want to be 100% sure that your event will be ignored, put up a big sign for it in the lobby.” People rushing in to pick up their kids from school, to attend a program or drop off a donation are not going to take the time to stop. To read a sign. To absorb the information. To react to the information.

In a way, posting a sign, or pushing information, is permission for many people to stop working. By getting the information out there, maybe they don’t have to make calls or talk to people in the car pool line. People will see the beautiful information that has been shared, and RSVP in droves.

Yes, pushing information out is an important step in sharing information, but to achieve meaningful success in the age of social networks, broadcast emails and strategic texts, we must engage people in deeper, more meaningful ways if we want them to respond, give or attend.

Imagine I am hosting a brunch at my house, and I want you to attend. Imagine I walk up to you on the street, hold a clip art brunchillustration of eggs directly in front of your face, and say “Come to brunch at my house next Sunday at 10:00 a.m!!!!” chances are pretty good you won’t attend…you may even run away and hope I never talk to you again. I didn’t say hello. I didn’t tell you who else would be there, I didn’t tell you how important it was to me to have you there to enjoy the delicious food and good company.

What if, instead of a boring sign with boring clip art, I came up to you and said Hello. I told you about the brunch that I was having at my house. I told you the other people who would be there, and I stressed that the brunch would not be complete unless you were there too. I told you what I would be serving, and I asked if you could bring the delicious coffee cake I know you like to make.

There’s a reason it’s called the information superhighway. We are moving quickly, and so is the information. People expect to see information pushed at them. They want to avoid this information, so they move by quickly. But, what if instead of simply sharing information as an announcement, as a “push,” we put a curve in the road? What if we encourage people to slow down, and we talk with them, instead of at them. What if we try to engage them in a conversation about things that matter to them rather than simply pushing information at them.

Your post could say “Join us on March 3rd at 7:00 for the next guest in our lecture series. Jane Smith will be talking about trends in technology and education. RSVP to info@info.com.”

Or, you could make a post that says “How do you feel when your kid comes home, plops down on the couch and immediately turns on their laptop? How do you respond? What are your concerns? We’d love to hear your thoughts, and we have some information that you might find valuable. Please join us and our friend  Jane Smith who will be talking about trends in technology and education on March 3rd at 7:00 p.m. Respond to this post, and we will be happy to follow up with you so you can attend the program.”

The chances of responses to either of these posts is largely dependent on timing, mood and a host of other variables. Ultimately though, people are much more likely to respond if we have shown that we care how they feel, that we want to hear from them, and that we want them to attend our program so much we will even take the burden off of them to RSVP.

So please, don’t yell at me, talk to me. Don’t tell me what to do, ask me what I would like to do. Understand that I am a special, unique person, and I am going to need you to make your message matter to me if you want me to care about what you have to say.

Brunch, you say? I love brunch. I’ll be there.

 

A Tragic Love Story, in Only 11 Words

Sometimes, a few words is all it takes, but we like to talk. We talk in meetings. We talk over meals. We talk on the phone. We send emails back and forth. We text. We tweet. So many words. So many conversations. At home and at work, we often find ourselves talking about the same issues over and over again until, hopefully an issue is resolved. We think that perhaps the more words we use, the more information we share, the more success we will have.

But what if we used fewer words? What if we talked less? What if those fewer words were said with more thought, and had more impact? Is a long movie a better movie? Is a song more powerful because it is packed with more words?

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The Righteous Brothers

“You never close your eyes, anymore when I kiss your lips.”

Sometimes, the fewer words we use the more power and impact those carefully chosen words have. Consider, if you will, the 1965 song “You’ve Lost that Lovin’ Feeling” by the Righteous Brothers. Written by husband and wife songwriting team Barry Mann and Cynthia Weill, the song is only 3:46 long (a relatively long song for 1965), but everything  we need to know is in that first line.

In only 11 words, we know the entire relationship. They were in love. There was passion. They kissed with their eyes closed as they dreamed of a long life together. But her eyes are not closed anymore. Does she look at him when they kiss, or does she just stare off into the distance? Is there any hope she will close her eyes once again, or is there only a sad resolve that the passion that was once there is forever gone. “You never close your eyes, anymore…” The rest of the song exists only to serve those 11 words.

Amazing things have been written using the fewest number of words. Sometimes, in just a few words, countries have been built, religions have been created, and deep, meaningful stories have been told.

“We hold these truths to be self evident, that all men are created equal.” Declaration of Independence

“In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.” Book of Genesis

“To the red country and part of the gray country of Oklahoma, the last rains came gently, and they did not cut the scarred earth.” Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck

“Wild thing, you make my heart sing.” The Troggs

So before engaging in that next conversation, take a pause. It’s not just about using fewer words, it’s about using more powerful words. It’s about creating space between the words. Space for quiet, space for introspection and space for others to see and imagine themselves.

Hopefully, after all these years, she is closing her eyes again.

Not So Scary

Opening the heavy glass door and walking into work on the first day of your new job can be a frightening experience. Most everyone you see is a stranger. You don’t know how to navigate your way to your desk, you are unsure of the dress code, and you have a company culture and history to learn if you hope to fit and and do your job well.

It doesn’t need to be that way. Not only can we explore innovative ways to help make a new employee feel welcome at our company, but we can also use the occasion of a new person joining the team to re-emphasize team goals, bring new and seasoned employees alike up to date on current projects, and bring the entire team closer together.

Many companies have begun to adopt enterprise collaboration platforms like Yammer, Jive or Slack. Enterprise collaboration software expands on the promise of email to make communication, sharing of resources and teamwork transparent, seamless, simple and robust.

Imagine you have been interviewing for a job. The recruiter calls to give you the good news. You got the job, your salary request has been met, and you start in two weeks. The recruiter says “Congratulations. You will get an email soon with all the information.”

Later that day, you hear the re-assuring “ding” from your computer, and rather than receiving an email just giving you the details of your job and what to expect the first day, you have received an invitation to join the company collaboration network. You fill out the requested information, add a recent, not too awkward picture of yourself, and activate your account.

Looking at the screen, you notice you are already in a few team discussion groups. You are in the “Staff Welcome” group.  There is a nice message from your new boss announcing your hire to the rest of the staff and sharing some background information about your experience. People are already sharing messages of welcome. One person says that she went to the same college you did, and you are thrilled to see that an old friend of yours you haven’t talked to in years works at the company and has recognized your name. Scrolling through the group, there are similar posts about three other people starting the same week you are. You make a note to be sure to connect with them.

FirstDayYou are also added to the team discussion group for your department. You start to get to know the names your new colleagues, you scroll through the newsfeed and notice there is some pretty interesting work being done. One conversation in particular jumps out at you about a project you think you can contribute to on your first day. You review minutes from recent meetings, and start to get an idea about how you will fit into the team. You get the idea that maybe people are being a little “extra” generous in sharing information with you because they know you are new and need to learn. Whatever the reason, it seems new ideas are being discussed and new goals are being set. This is getting exciting!

You scroll through posts from other groups. You are delighted to see a “Local Cheap Eats” group where staff has recommended good places to eat near work. You see posts from other departments that share news of current projects and recent accomplishments. You see photos from throughout the company that let you know what the dress code is like, and how different people have arranged their desks.

Now your first day doesn’t seem so scary. You feel connected to people you didn’t feel connected to before. You know the dress expectations, you are up to speed on current projects and initiatives. You also know who you want to ask to lunch that first day and where you want to go.

Collaboration networks help us to work better, they help us to work smarter. If used thoughtfully and strategically, they can also help us create community in our workplace while we connect staff to current projects, people and culture.

So, welcome to your first day on the new job. Open the door and come on in…it’s not so scary!

 

 

The First Day

My first blog site. My first blog post on my first blog site. My first day.

First days can be difficult. The first day of a new job, a new project or a new endeavor can be a little mysterious, a little scary, and hopefully pretty exciting. Reminds me of being a kid, and jumping into the inflatable bouncy house at my neighbor’s birthday party. Though I have somewhat of an expectation of what will happen after I take off my shoes and thrust myself into this strange environment filled with new people and activity, I really don’t know. I might take one step and find myself soaring above everyone else, or I might get a swift kick in the jaw. Most likely, I’ll get the swift kick.

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My first full time job was as a photo editor at a publishing company. I had gotten to know my new boss through the interview process. I had gotten to know the receptionist because of all the time I was waiting in the lobby for my interviews. But walking into work my very first day, I did not know anyone else. I did not know the culture of this place where I would now be spending 40 hours a week, I did not know who I would be having lunch with the first day, and I did not know where my desk was. Sitting down at my desk, I did not really even know what to do. Where do I start?

My first day as a blog writer is much like that first day of work. I don’t really know how to do this. I don’t know who will be reading my ramblings and musings. I am not even sure what I will be writing about.But I do know that my first day at that first job was over 25 years ago, and along the way I have learned a lot.

I have changed careers, and I have embarked on adventures and challenges I never dared dream. I have gotten married and had children. I have become passionate about the importance of community, the value of networks and connections, and the promise of technology. I had 5th row seats for a solo acoustic Bruce Springsteen concert, and I once met Mavis Staples at baggage claim at O’Hare airport. I can make a delicious challah from scratch.At some point, I am sure all of these people and experiences will be fair game for their own blog post.

Today is my first day at NextStep360. Together, let’s climb into the bouncy house. Let’s see what is going on. This should be fun!