‘Being Social’ Is Not Everything

Some people are social, some people are less social. There is a lot of chatter about all leaders having rock star participation in social media. But there are a lot of smart people who have vision, without social skills. Think of all the hacker introverts. They think, design, and build concepts. Aren’t they leaders too? Yes, in their own way. (In my opinion, you build a team with social and visionary leaders – elevate the collective intelligence of the team. Guess I also think a team is comprised of leaders – a flat hierarchy. A leader’s role is defined by his or her strengths.)

4Ps of Leadership
4Ps of Leadership

Some gripes I have about this rally cry that everything must be social:

There are elements of a popularity contest. Gaining attention in social media requires posturing. Those who have a large number of followers exert significant influence. Some of these influencers do not necessarily have the best idea or insights, but are highly likeable. Popularity is valuable. Good ideas are valuable.

‘Being social’ is a time consuming process. It requires finding content, networking, conversing, etc.. Building an audience takes many years of hard work. Is ‘being social’ always worth the investment in time and resources? Spend time where you make the biggest ROI for the company.

Status still has a major impact on how content is consumed. ‘Rock stars’ in social media have high Klout scores; some companies are willing to pay them to endorse their products. It can be frustrating to get your ideas out because of the competition for an audience. Leave broadcasting ideas to those who are skilled at making an impact with an audience.

I do think there are aspects of social that are good for all of us.

Building connections and relationships is nurturing. Obviously, this is huge. Social media facilitates the process of building and maintaining relationships; of course, some are deeper than others. It can be reaffirming when your connections share a similar sentiment.

Getting a personal boost (nudge) when you need it. You can jump on social media at any time of the day and immediately participate in a conversation or chat.

It is exhilarating when you get engagement from an audience. This is true especially when you are the primary source of the content. A back and forth conversation nailing down a concept collectively is also rewarding.

You can build a network from scratch and reach an audience (if you want to). Social media is a platform to get your ideas out to a target audience.

In a recent HBR article From the Knowledge Economy to the Human Economy, the author talks about how companies must commit to humanity. Yes a valid point, we should embrace being social and connected – what makes us human. Still we must continue investing in deep and critical thinking. Otherwise, we might fall into the trap of following the herd and disregard the necessary thinking to truly evolve in a meaningful way (which also contributes to humanity). Moving forward is not all about being social and gaining consensus, it’s also about improving ideas.

Online Personal Branding Tools

Last year I introduced a functional model for personal branding with three elements: skill set, aura, and identity. It is meant to capture a holistic picture of you. I want to provide you with tools for each of these elements.

Branding Tools
Branding Tools

As you work on your skill set, I suggest using the Skills-Based Approach methodology. It is a complete package. There are strategies and tools for career planning and development, constant learning, and gaining credibility – all based on the premise of developing  a skill set throughout your lifetime.

With an aura, the idea is to flesh out perceptions (especially on an emotional level) about you. The best way to learn what people think about you is through a focus group or interview and what I call a branding club. Ideally a focus group or interview is conducted face-to-face, but you can also setup an online video conference with Skype or a Google+ private chat. Some other suggestions to get a perspective of your ‘aura’ (all happen to be free):

  • Create a SurveyMonkey survey, then send it to a target audience.
  • Create a private LinkedIn group and start discussions where members talk about personal brands.

What I like about a branding club is personalization. It combines a professional networking meeting (like BNI), with a social gathering (like a book club). If you are uncomfortable about asking others to respond to a series of questions about you, with a branding club, you commit to return the favor on another night. I suggest doing it within your community if you can; though logistically speaking, it can be coordinated online.

The identity element is about establishing and owning an identity, then controlling how you are represented across networks. Some actions you should take to master your identity.

  • Get your own domain name. Your domain name becomes another personal characteristic of yours, like a phone number, address, etc. The longer you have a domain name, the better it appears in search engines. It is possible to use subdomains to link to various web services.
  • Build a personal website. This is the cornerstone of your personal brand. You want for it to appear first in a Google search. You own all the content. You control the style, aesthetics, and layout. There are no ads or distractions (unless you choose to have them). It is all about you, everything down to the pixel.
  • Take an inventory of assets (IP). In the Information Age most students and professionals create and accumulate content, including papers, graphics, video, presentations, etc. This content is produced from education, employment, or other experiences. You should identify content that is IP, then separate what content you have control over. Figure out its value, then answer these questions: Do you want to relinquish royalty and/or copyright privileges? Should it be used on a personal website to validate skill competencies? Can it generate some income?
  • Understand how you are represented on networks. Each of the social media platforms has an analytics platform to understand your presence on their network. (I use Twitter Analytics to see who is reading my Tweets, what hashtags are effective, etc.) There are also social media analytic platforms like HooteSuite, Sprout, etc., which are effective if you are super engaged in social media.  BrandYourself is a free service you can use to monitor how you are represented on a Google search engine results page (“SERP”) and provides tools to improve the results.
  • Establish a mobile presence. Make sure you subscribe to popular mobile apps, some are only accessible via the app itself. For example, you can only create an account for the popular app Instagram from an IOS or Andriod device. (Instagram has 300 million active users!) Mobile usage is surpassing desktop usage and it only becomes more lopsided in the future.

Of course there are many other tools applicable to the Online Personal Brand model.  Please share tools you find to be effective and what element it targets (skill set, aura, or identity).

Meaningful Work

A typical worker is driven to do meaningful things, at least in my opinion. What a worker looks for in a job has changed through the generations – from lifelong employment to getting money to doing something with purpose (admittedly, these are big generalities). Actually, an ideal job has aspects from all three generations: career security, comfortable pay, and impactfulness. Purpose, sometimes defined in a mission statement, should be part of a company culture. Moreover, it should be used as an instrument to attract and retain talent. Millennials are thinking about the purpose of a company; according to a Deloitte Survey:

Millennials overwhelmingly believe (75 percent) businesses are focused on their own agendas rather than helping to improve society.1

Meaningful Work
Meaningful Work

There is a Greek parable about Sisyphus often referenced on the subject of work engagement. Sisyphus is a man condemned to roll a boulder up a hill. Right before it reaches the top, the boulder rolls back down to the bottom. He repeats this over and over again; never accomplishing the task. Ultimate futility…

In our modern workplace, the outcome might be losing a bid, having a project mothballed, getting ignored by an audience, etc. Sometimes compensation satisfies the sting, but not always. Leadership has to be cognizant of this demoralizing effect and step in to alleviate the effects of deflated workers. This can be accomplished in a few ways.

First, give internal recognition. For example, if a project is mothballed, invest the time and resources to acknowledge the participants. Setup an event and presentation to talk about what was accomplished (at least conceptually).

Second, salvage anything of value. Knowing it affects the morale of those involved, set aside time to find resources. Then publish, share, and learn whatever you can.

Third, change the game from ‘finite’ to ‘infinite’ whenever possible. This means find ways to make a better move against the competition. For example, if a worker loses a sales bid, repackage the proposal, make it better, and bid again.

Fourth, validate skill competencies. Identify and endorse skills each worker acquired while working on the task; experiences always involve knowledge gains. If possible, let workers take over possession of the resulting product – something they can share as a work sample on a personal website and/or LinkedIn profile.

I wrote this piece a couple of weeks ago and was surprised to read a NY Times article referencing the same Greek parable, where the author made a counter argument:

Life is a succession of tasks rather than a cascade of inspiration, an experience that is more repetitive than revelatory, at least on a day-to-day basis. The thing is to perform the task well and find reward even in the mundane.2

His point has some takeaways. If you do a basic task, then you might as well do it as best you can, take your pay, and find other ways to satisfy your curiosities. (To apply “compensation” in the parable above, Sisyphus can take consolation in being one of the fittest men in ancient Greece!) In the modern world, many recent college graduates are underemployed and asked to do boring work; according to the same Deloitte survey, “Only 28 percent of Millennials feel that their current organization is making full use of their skills.” Best thing they can do is to show grit, build skills, and find purpose in other areas of their life.

Work is meaningful to us on an emotional, personal level. There are many routine, mundane, and uninspiring things we do as part of a job and simply getting paid is a motivator. Yet, deep within us, most of us yearn for some satisfaction and purpose in our career. Popular marketing guru Seth Godin calls it art. I agree. In a lifetime, you want to use your talents to create things and reach people in a positive way.

http://www2.deloitte.com/global/en/pages/about-deloitte/articles/millennialsurvey.htmlhttp://www.nytimes.com/2015/06/13/opinion/cohen-mow-the-lawn.html

Original Image © Depositphoto/ Photocreo #63993111

Moving Forward With Talent

A sequence in starting a business might be to: come up with ‘that idea’, create a MVP (minimum viable product), get funding, and hire talent. These actions still happen, but the notion of hiring talent is much, much deeper. Acquiring talent (like actualizing ideas) should be an integral part of a company strategy.

Moving a Startup Forward
Moving a Startup Forward

Hiring is not simply a formality. It is about building a relationship between management and employees with trust as the foundation. Getting talent is a high stakes competition for most companies, especially in technology industries. The velocity at which new services are introduced combined with a huge advantage in being a ‘first mover’ makes the acquisition of talent of huge strategic importance. Leadership cannot sit on a concept.

Back in the late 90s’, I remember reading about what Sass Institute did for their employees: free meals, help with menial tasks, programs after work, etc. Sass pioneered this commitment of providing a holistic lifestyle for its employees. Now we hear about all the amazing things technology companies do for their employees in Silicon Valley. It is a requirement because of the fierce competition to attract and retain talent. Why would a company incur all this extra expense? Talent is critical for the success of this type of company.

I read the book The Alliance: Managing Talent In The Networked Age written by Reid Hoffman (a cofounder of LinkedIn), Ben Casnocha, and Chris Yeh. They share a model for an employee and employer relationship called an ‘alliance’, more specifically a ‘tour of duty’. It is an implied contract (ethically and morally, but not legally binding) between management and each of its workers. It lasts for a defined period of time (2 – 3 years). At the end of the period, there is renegotiation of the terms of employment – enter into another tour of duty with the company or leave for another company. While employed, there are clear expectations for a manager and an employee. Everything is discussed in conversations.

There are many advantages of this approach. First, there is a mutually beneficial relationship between managers and their employees. Employees know their employer is investing in their future, outside the confines of an employment arrangement. Second, there is clarity in expectations. Third, employees are empowered and thrive. They have latitude in choosing their own projects and become ‘intrapreneurs”; there is a better chance they share new ideas to make the company and its products better. Fourth, it puts employees on the ‘fast track’ to start making a contribution. From the beginning, employees know what they are supposed to be doing throughout their ‘tour of duty’. Finally, it handles the huge ambiguity of an employee’s tenure (and all the behind-the-scenes maneuvering caused by uncertainty).

This last point is significant from the point of view of an employee and an employer. As an employee, you only start looking for jobs as the end of a ‘tour of duty’ nears (if necessary). So you concentrate on your current role and expect a smooth transition if you decide to leave at the end of your tenure. As an employer, you have an engaged employee who does not quit in the middle of a project.

I think this concept of a ‘tour of duty’ is a direct, honest way to manage talent in this fast-paced work environment. (Within a ‘tour of duty’, I still think the context of performance reviews should be based on a Skills-Based Approach; it is a precise way to lay out career development and expectations.)

Build a reputation with your company that attracts talent like a magnet. With a strong online presence, talented individuals learn about your culture and mission and want to work for you – a way of pulling talent to you. If you are starting out, much of creating buzz should be directed at bringing in talent. Professionals find and even suggest positions, then apply to them all based on their own initiative.

I suggest reading The Alliance: Managing Talent In The Networked Age to learn more about ‘an alliance’ and ‘tour of duty’.

Blogging Is A Thrill

Made another milestone with this blog, a three year anniversary. Welcome all new followers! Like every year, I want to dedicate a blog to summarize the main themes covered this year.

I successfully launched the Online Personal Brand: Skill Set, Aura, and Identity  model in a book and website. The model simplifies personal branding into a functional, mainstream approach. Some blogs have excerpts from the book, other blogs apply the model to new topics: taking on a thought role, idea promotion, gossip, and pulling feedback.

There is a series of blogs on individual intelligences  (cognitive, emotional, creative, and contextual), artificial intelligence (AI), and collective intelligence. One conclusion is we must focus on elevating a collective intelligence because we increasingly work on teams, connect on networks, and use various technologies

With a Skills-Based Approach, I discuss some new takeaways: self-guided learning, early education and career planning (translated into a skill set), a changing definition of knowledge, and basing performance reviews  on the methodology.

In a series of blogs, I talk about adopting a ‘company culture’. I further discuss the importance of making ‘actualizing ideas’ as a key element of the culture. To be successful, a company must institute programs that encourage, stimulate, and move new ideas forward – what I define as actualizing an idea.

Finally, as I have been doing from the start, I discuss how the above mentioned and other concepts relate to a personal website. One clear signal from trends this year is a personal website must be optimized for digital access. The delineation between an app and a website is becoming blurry. Nevertheless, establishing and owning an online identity is critical.

Blogging is a thrill; it gives you a voice in a noisy world. Personally, I like committing to the process: acquiring knowledge, creating compelling media (sometimes with a metaphor, stats, etc.), thinking of a stance, and write convincing content. If you have the time and interest, you should consider writing one yourself. I sincerely hope you get something from this blog and thank you for your participation.

Getting New Ideas

I am a firm believer in sharing knowledge as opposed to hoarding it (especially within the confines of a company). Knowledge is power, so many of us are reluctant to give it up. Leadership should concentrate on building a collective intelligence, as opposed the combination of individual intelligences; this is obvious, though the strategies to improve a collective intelligence are not.

To conclude my series of blogs on actualizing ideas (and its relevance as part of a company strategy), I wanted to share some insights from Andrii Sedniev in his book The Business Idea Factory. He is a smart guy who has devoted himself to the art of generating ideas. Early on he makes a point that hits home with what I have been saying:

Companies succeed because of great ideas and go bankrupt because of lack of them.

New Ideas
New Ideas

He refers to Walt Disney’s three stages of thinking: dreamer, realist, and critic. You start with creative energy as you seed ideas; have an open mind (do not squash ideas). During the next stage, you figure out how to move an idea forward – realize it. In the final stage, you reflect on the idea: determine pitfalls and weigh competing ideas. (Now you do the squashing.)

Sedniev says great ideas are an extension of our life experiences. This is true. What you have and are experiencing consumes your thoughts, so new ideas are naturally sprung from these experiences. To seek inspiration, you immerse yourself in experiences related to the problem you are trying to solve – technology, applications, processes, etc. An example in my work is creating a user interface. I have to spend time tinkering with actual processes to generate new, user-friendly interfaces.

No matter what anyone tells you, great ideas are “either modifications or combinations of the old ones”. The takeaway here is twofold: be willing to adapt and evolve preexisting ideas and the novelty of an idea does not always equate its value. Few ideas do not have precedence. Just think how few thinkers foresee the future ten years in advance.

I like the “100, 20, 5, 1” rule for a group brainstorming new ideas. It says you start with 100 ideas then break the list down to 20 ideas, then 5 ideas, and finally the one idea you actualize. Admittedly starting with 100 ideas seems like a lot, so you may scale down the ratios. (I combine this rule with Disney’s three stages of thinking in the graphic above.)

He also talks about idea bombarding (rapidly coming up with a lot of ideas), an idea snowball effect (one idea leads to others), and the importance of engaging others (casual conversations). I love bouncing ideas in random encounters because you get candid, unadulterated feedback.

Finally, I hope this quote from the book is inspiring:

The world’s best thinkers are able to generate successful ideas not because they are geniuses, but because they think about ideas daily and have trained their creative muscles more than other people.