I Know I Should Exercise More, But…

I was having a meeting with a member of our executive team, once again providing valuable reminders about the advantages of connecting with employees and projects using our enterprise social network.

Our conversation was good, and I was telling him how much could be gained by moving away from email for group conversation, sharing and collaboration. I assured him that I understood that change like this is not easy, but that the benefits would far outweigh the efforts.

“You sound likexercisee my doctor,” the executive told me. “He tells me I should exercise more. I know I should exercise more, but that’s harder to do than not exercising!”

He was right. Changing habits is difficult, and changing the way we work is difficult. It is difficult for one person to change the way they work, more difficult for a whole team to change they way they work, and almost impossible for a whole organization to change the way it works. But it can be done, and it should be done.

Though many of us use email every day for group communication and collaboration, it is a terribly inefficient way to work with your team. Never have the shortcomings of email been better illustrated than in this short 2:37 video from VinJones videos where we see how much time and effort is wasted through blind copying recipients, forwarding emails, making sure necessary people are connected to conversations and trying to arrive at consensus.

It is one thing to realize that the way we communicate and collaborate is ineffective, it is an entirely different thing to move to a better platform. Ineffective though they may be, our teams become comfortable with the tools they use. Once we have recognized there is a better way to work, each and every one of us (whether we are an executive, manager or team member) can take responsibility for our own actions, and start to pave the way for the change we recognize needs to happen.

  1. Pause. Before you send that email to your team, before you attach that file for your team to work on; pause. Think to yourself…is there another, more effective way I could do this? How can I lead the way towards more productivity?
  2. Stop attaching files to email. Only share files from your collaborative platform, such as OneDrive, DropBox or GoogleDocs. When we share files, we are confident that all members of our team are looking at the same exact piece of information, we no longer have to change the name of the file to reflect its current iteration (i.e. projectassessementV12.doc), and we can easily track changes and revisions.
  3. Move away from email. Email is here, and it is here to stay. Often, email is the best tool to use for communicating with a single person. However, when it is time to work with your team, send them a group message using your collaborative platform. Link to the information you are working on, and show your team, in real time, how your work can be done more effectively.
  4. Insist on a better way. If a colleague asks you to email a file that has already been shared through your collaborative platform, politely decline. If a colleagues asks you to tell them about a comment that was made in an online conversation, politely decline. If a colleague asks you to communicate with your team using email, politely decline. Either that colleague is not familiar with the platform, has tried the platform and it did not work for them, or that colleague is just “change averse.” Whatever the reason, sometimes the only way for your colleagues to make this change to a new platform is to be brought there. Train them, share links that bring them directly to the information they want to see, share information and content only in one place. If your colleagues want that information, they will have to figure out how to get to that place.

Exercise is hard, but the rewards are meaningful, and the change feels good. Making the move away from email is hard, too, but these changes will result in a team that works smarter, more effectively and with more transparency and effective collaboration. The rewards will be meaningful. The change will feel good.



The Day We Met Mavis

mavis_staples_1200In 2007, Mavis Staples released the album We’ll Never Turn Back, an amazing collection of civil rights anthems, updated to reflect the current struggles and concerns of African Americans in a post 9/11 America.

I first discovered Mavis Staples as a member of The Staple Singers, a soul group that found fame in the 1960’s with songs like “Respect Yourself,” “I’ll Take You There” and “Will the Circle Be Unbroken.” Mavis was the lead singer of this group that featured her father Pops on vocals and guitar, and her sister and brother singing backup. I will never forget the first time I saw them sing. They were featured in the Martin Scorsese documentary “The Last Waltz” about the last concert of The Band in 1976. A key segment of the movie features The Staple Singers singing with The Band on “The Weight,” a beautiful elegy about a drifter’s ongoing search for redemption and independence. Those careful watchers of the film notice that at the very end, after singing this classic rock song as if she was in church, Mavis can be heard quietly whispering “Beautiful!” as the scene fades to black.

Mavis Staples marched with Dr. Martin Luther King. She had a love affair with Bob Dylan, and turned down his marriage proposal. She has performed around the world, and is in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

We’ll Never Turn Back is a remarkable album, one that I found myself playing over and over again around our house in 2007. My wife Lynn and I both immediately fell in love with the album. My daughters, then only 12 and 9, suffered through repeated listening’s, and having to hear me tell them stories of The Last Waltz, and how Mavis was an important voice of peace and love during the 1960’s.

It was during this time that we returning from a family trip. Waiting for our bags at the airport baggage claim, Lynn overheard someone say “Please wait here Ms. Staples. We’ll get your bags.” Lynn told me what she heard, and before she had a chance to plead with me not to bother a celebrity who is just trying to get home, I walked over to this gentle, graceful looking 68 year old African American woman standing all by herself.

“Excuse me,” I said. “I am so sorry to bother you, but are you Mavis Staples?” She looked at me with a smile on her face and said “Yes.”

I smiled back and shook her hand. I told her how much I loved her music. I told her how much I enjoyed her new album, and how I first discovered her in the movie “The Last Waltz,” something I am sure she has heard thousands of times. She could not have been sweeter. She was warm, generous, and caring.

My daughters  looked across the baggage claim area and saw me taking to an elderly woman who they did not know. Naturally, they were curious, and they walked over to stand by me.

I noticed them standing next to me. I looked at my girls, and I looked at my wife. I looked at Mavis.

“Girls,” I said. “I would like to introduce you to Mavis Staples.”

They each smiled a big bright smile, looked at each other, looked at me, and looked at Mavis. Mavis gave them each a hug, asked them their names, and said how beautiful and sweet they both were.

I suggested to the girls we say goodbye, and let Ms. Staples get home.

This is not a remarkable story, but I like to think about that moment I got to introduce my girls to this civil rights leader and musical legend, and I hope it is something they remember, and something they treasure in fond recollection with their children and grand children. I hope they continue to listen to her music.

“Take a load off Annie
Take a load for free
Take a load off Annie
And you put the load right on me
(You put the load right on me)”

Working Out Loud, Even in Concession

Today is Thursday. Late Tuesday night/early Wednesday morning, Donald Trump was elected the 45th President of the United States. Wednesday morning, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton formally conceded the election.

636142938361347248-afp-afp-hy1goDuring her concession speech, Hillary Clinton said “And to the millions of volunteers, community leaders, activists and union organizers who knocked on doors, talked to their neighbors, posted on Facebook — even in secret private Facebook sites. I want everybody coming out from behind that and make sure your voices are heard going forward.”

Hillary was referring to the Pantsuit Nation private Facebook group that was created as a space for voters to express their support for Hillary Clinton to become the next President of the United States. What started with just a few people ballooned to over 3 million members, and it expanded to multiple regional groups reaching people throughout the country.

A private group, rapidly growing, wildly popular now being encouraged to open itself up to so its message could be heard and shared by others. Now that the group is public, will the nature of the group change? What are the benefits of a private group versus a public group?

I manage an organizational social collaboration space, and when someone creates a new group, they usually create it as a private group. The group is being created for a team to do work, and the person creating the group naturally reasons that since this space is for their team, it should be private to their team.

I ask the person who created the group, “Why is your group private?” I talk to them about the benefits of organizational transparency, and about how our organization can be more effective if we are all connected to the work of our colleagues in a more direct, open way.

“What is really private about your work?” I challenge. “What would happen if someone from another team knew what you were working on?” The teams that change their groups to be public (to everyone in the organization) realize an immediate benefit. Other teams and colleagues now see their work, they are now getting input, data and insight from different areas of the organization that they would not otherwise have. I believe that public groups are, more often than not, the way our teams should be working.

But then, Hillary conceded, and I wondered…would the Pantsuit Nation Facebook group have become so big had it not been private?  Though private groups lose opportunities for transparency and collaboration, they do gain opportunities to create a cohort, a close-knit team, a collection of people strongly and closely connected around a common goal.

Privacy suggests exclusivity. If you are let into a group, it would then stand to reason that someone else was left out. Members of a private group are important, their input is valuable, and they are in a space where others are not welcome.

If a group is being created to create a team, then privacy is often the way to go. Provide a space for people to safely get to know each other. Bond. Share information. Become passionate about the work, or the cause. And then, in time (as Hillary suggest), open that group up and let others in.

Although she didn’t know it, Hillary was actually advocating Working Out Loud (#WOL), as described in a wonderful book by John Stepper. WOL encourages two things:

  1. Embrace transparency at work. Share your work in progress, and be generous with your colleagues. You will become better connected to people and information throughout your organization. You will be more successful, your organization will be stronger.
  2. Create your network. What are your personal or career goals? Who are people you can find who are connected to your goal, either at work, or thought leaders and professionals Facebook or on Twitter? How can you contribute to these people to deepen relationships?

Hillary said “I want everybody coming out from behind that (private group) and make sure your voices are heard going forward.” In other words, you have been in your private world long enough. It’s time to share who you are, and what you care about. It’s time to get connected to more people. It’s time to Work Out Loud.

NOTE: Check out John Steppers blog at workingoutloud.com. Lots of great, free information, and a new blog post every Wednesday. Also be sure to read these awesome blogs by Simon Terry, Melanie Hohertz and Naomi Moneypenny. I know I have missed a few excellent blogs…please add them in the comments below!

If You Build It…

For business or personal use, more and more people are turning to social networking platforms to do work, or to engage friends, relatives and associates in a charity, interest or activity.

Too often, efforts are abandoned soon after initiation due to an early lack of response or engagement. But, meaningful success can be found. With a little planning and work, your group can quickly become a place where people want to visit, and return to.

Fill the space: If someone walks into an empty room, they may very well wonder why they are there at all. If creating a group in Facebook, Yammer, Slack or another enterprise networking tool, make sure you have filled the space. Add a group picture, information about the group, and resources that your visitors will find valuable. Just as if you were decorating a room at your house with a couch, an easy chair and maybe a few throw pillows, make the place look nice, vibrant and lived in. You would not publish a website before it’s completely built. Don’t invite people into a group before all the information they are looking for is there.

Use Manipulative Techniques: When starting the group, you may need to encourage people to start to post. The first post, or posts, can be from you, but make sure they get replies. That may mean you will have to ask someone to respond. Or ask someone to ask someone else to respond. Often, once comments and posts start to appear, activity will start to increase on its own.

Don’t use email: Once you give people reason to not use your group space, it will not be used. You have information they want, so make sure they understand where it is, and how they can access it. If you respond to emails that say “I don’t have time to visit the group, can you just email the file I need to me?” by emailing the file they need, why would they ever visit your group? Emphasize where information can be found, and help people feel comfortable with the technology platform.

Use email: OK, so I am going to contradict myself a bit here. Don’t use email, except when it makes sense for you to use email. Use email as a means by which you can get people to the information they are looking for. Everything online has a URL.Every group has a URL, every comment, every resource.

“I can’t find the group, can you just post this question for  me?” “No I can’t, but here is the link for the group. You can click on the link and make the post yourself!”

“I don’t have time to look  for that file. Just email it to me.” “Great news, the file is right here! Just click on the link, and you can download it from the group.”

Never send content, always send links to bring people back to the only place they will find the information they need.

Every post gets a reply: There is nothing that will drive someone away from your online space faster than a post that gets no replies. Every post gets a reply. If someone is at your dinner party, and no one talks to them, they are walking out the door. Every reply should not come from the administrator of the group, but the administrator can work behind the scenes to ensure replies are made. Don’t forget, manipulation of your online space is completely acceptable.

25872680-25872680In the movie Field of Dreams, Ray Kinsella heard a voice tell him “If you build it, he will come.” Sadly, many of us look at our online efforts in the same way. If we create a group, we think people will come. If we write a blog piece, people will read it. If we post a resource, people will download it. But don’t forget, Ray worked really hard on that field. He tore up his corn crops, planted the sod, put up lights for night games, and installed bleachers so people could watch. Ray made his field a place people wanted to visit.

People will come to your online space, people will definitely come. But, be prepared. Build your space, populate your space, help people use your space. With a little preparation and a little time, your online space will be a place that people will want to visit.