Feel the fear and do it anyway …

For the first time, I’ve started writing a blog post without really having a clear idea about what I want to say or what point I want to get across. Given the growing tide of bad news battering our lives at the moment, it felt like a good idea to write something about … well … feelings. I’ve no idea where this is going, but here goes …

Sustainability has become such a buzzword these days that it’s become almost meaningless … but, there is a dimension to sustainability that seems to get little attention – personal sustainability … in other words not the external, macro-level sustainability talked about all the time, but an inner dimension that is personal to each of us and that fuels and energises us each day … a sustainability that offers periodic renewal so that we can embrace life and work with new enthusiasm and through fresh eyes.

Over the last few weeks in BT we’ve had a series of much publicised announcements that have made people feel uneasy … nervous … frightened even. We’ve had announcements about poor business performance in our global services division; the need to cut costs and jobs; possible changes to our pension scheme which will make it less attractive to members going forward; … to name but a few!

Don’t get me wrong … all these announcements have been handled VERY professionally … employees have been, or are being, consulted and we get very thorough and timely communications. And, frankly, these changes have been a long time coming and are absolutely essential for BT to be a sustainable (… that word again!) and profitable business going forward. However, while deep down I know that these changes are necessary and far from a surprise, it doesn’t make me feel great to hear them.

So, I hear you say, what the hell have my feelings got to do with my employer?? Quite a lot actually … if I’m not happy and fulfilled I’m certainly not going to be loyal, motivated and probably won’t give a damn about my work. If I don’t give a damn about my work, I certainly won’t be engaged and probably won’t give a damn about the customers annoying me all day. If I feel isolated and disconnected from my colleagues, I’m going to suffer more deeply and internalise or depress these feelings, making them even worse. If I don’t have an outlet to express my feelings and if I don’t feel heard, I’m going to get frustrated and angry.

Wow … lots of touchy feely stuff there … I can feel the suits getting anxious 🙂

While I’m not supporting the notion of nanny-plc, I do think companies have a responsibility to provide ways for employees to become connected, to express how they feel, and to engage in conversation. Companies also have a responsibility to support an environment of trust and openness in which employees feel safe to participate in these activities without fear of retribution.

And, when a company does provides these tools and creates the right atmosphere, employees have a responsibility to use them … to express how they feel … both good and bad … to engage openly and honestly however hard that might be to do. Employees also need to learn to help themselves … to get connected, build relationships … make their presence felt so that when bad times do come, they are as well equipped as possible to get through them.

A healthy relationship is an open relationship and all those in that relationship have responsibilities to make it work.

So, I guess what I’m saying in a very roundabout kind of way, is that creating the kind of company that will be successful and that people will want to work for requires tough choices and great leadership … from both management AND employees. Getting social technology working successfully inside the enterprise is more than just another technology implementation project … it’s about understanding people and how they think, behave and FEEL … a lot of the old rules won’t apply … the question is, when our backs are against the wall and when every penny counts, who will be brave enough to acknowledge this?

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Adapt or die …

It’s weird, you spend your whole life never having heard a particular quote, and then it pops up everywhere … the one in question in this case is this one:

It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent that survives. It is the one that is the most adaptable to change – Charles Darwin

In these surreal times where shouting “boo!” too loudly can bring down a bank, I guess it’s not that surprising that this quote should surface in all kinds of different contexts and be bent in many different directions to support various arguments and points of view.

Other quotes peppering senior management communications and interviews include: “… more leadership, less management”; and “… think like a small company” … both nice, neat little sound bites which, while conveying a nicely packaged sentiment, are in danger of becoming meaningless and lacking in any kind of authenticity when fired into the crowds at random.

While supporters of social media are shouting as loudly as they (we) can that: “IF YOU WANT ADAPTABLE, AGILE, LEADERSHIP, <<INSERT BUZZ WORD OF YOUR CHOICE>>, THEN SOCIAL MEDIA CAN DELIVER IT!” … we all know it will deliver none of these things on its own. Social media is not a bolt-on component but the mechanism for supporting a different way of working, collaborating, interacting, relating … a different kind of organisational culture.

If ever there was a time for a complete organisational drains-up, then it must surely be now. Out of adversity springs unique and unparallelled opportunities … I can’t help feeling that social media’s time has now come to break into enterprise settings big time … it’ll be interesting to see how companies in crisis react – reach out, or lock out!

What is leadership in conversational ‘chaos’?

I was thinking about this question yesterday … my preliminary, unrefined thoughts on the subject are … that, if you accept that the hierarchical, command and control organisation structure has a limited lifespan, to be overtaken by the network (see more here), the question arises: what does leadership look like in a network-based organisation … or enterprise ecosystem?

My initial view is that, in a enterprise ecosystem, the foundations of leadership will be based on willingness to participate. Leadership will be a combination of willingness to engage and connect, and the value of those engagements and connections to the community of users and to the complete enterprise ecosystem. Leadership won’t be about power but influence. And, value to the ecosystem will be measured in terms of contribution rather than achievement.

Given the above, how will decisions be made? As much as I’d like to imagine that companies will become truly egalitarian and self-organising, I doubt they ever will. Everyone in a enterprise ecosystem will need to understand that while every perception/view is equally valid, they are not of equal importance. Understanding that every view is valid will facilitate more collaborative decision making. Importance will be a combination of that inferred by the enterprise (as currently happens) and that inferred by the community (willingness to connect/engage and value of those connections/engagements as measured by the community).

Given the fact that the best business decisions are those based on the best information (with a splash of intuition and luck thrown in), I think we can all look forward to an era of better decision making in the future. Better for individuals; better for the enterprise; better for society. Unfortunately for the accountants, better may not necessarily equate to greater financial profitability!

There’s no place like ‘you’ …

The world is awash with clever, insightful and witty quotes about and from ‘great’ leaders of the past and present about the nature of leadership itself. Conference organisers fill thousands of seats full of people each year hopeful of picking up the golden nugget that will propel them to greatness in whatever sphere they aspire to conquer.

As a young man, I spent four years as an army officer (… I was young and needed the work 🙂 ) . The day I finished my officer training, I was given a good piece of advice by my company commander: “Good leadership is just plain you”.

In the virtual world where we can be whoever we want, and in the real world where we aspire to copy PR-created-celebrity-mannequins, it is easy to lose sight of: ‘… just plain you’.

I think communications professionals would do well to follow this simple piece of advice when ‘grooming’ senior managers and preparing to put words into their mouths. Inauthentic words are little short of lies. It’s not easy offering the world ‘… just plain you’ but it’s the fast track to earning both ‘audience’ and, more importantly, ‘self’ respect.