Thursday, August 14, 2014

What Great Corporate Cultures Have - 5 Short Personal Observations

1) A very strong sense of purpose. The idea being that we are a unified force in a "war" to achieve something under incredible odds, pressure, etc. 

2) A 50-50 focus on people and operations vs. 90-10 operations vs. people. (I get that it's hard to trust because you don't want to get hurt; trust issues are why most organizations prefer to focus on technical things and hard numbers.)

3) A commitment to process - order, fairness, clear expectations, etc. I've worked in the private sector where literally, you would walk in one day and someone was gone, and you wouldn't know why. It was horrible. People need to have a sense of fair play in order to feel safe enough to work.

4) Emotional intelligence, inclusion and diversity - freaking hard even for the experts, but deliberate attention is required, because often an employee's strengths are not immediately apparent on the surface. When you harness everyone's skills you have genuine, not token inclusion, and it creates the team spirit you truly want.

5) Communication - this is routinely devalued, as if it were something you just "do" rather than an art form that requires tremendous skill, experience and training. So we deal with it by not dealing with it. But reaching out is critical to making people feel welcomed, connected, valued, etc.

* All opinions my own.

Here, Let Me Check That Tweet For You

Today I was thinking about work, and how some people just find it easy to roll through it, just take the money and run. I wasn't ever one of those people. 

It's insane to watch from the outside, actually, because I work in the government and very often the people who do best are quiet, they have some kind of passion outside of the job, and they do what they need to do without getting worked up about it. 

They know that the red tape can kill you if you take the time to get tangled.

But I have never been too bright. 

And so here is a story, a true one about an experience I had some years ago with Twitter.

There was a crisis that day, I recall. I'm a dramatic sort and the crises always marshal my attention.

"We've got to Tweet about it," I told my boss at the time. "Say something!"

So she crafted an artful status. Much thought went into those few words.

It had to go to her boss for approval.

9:00...

10:00...

11:00...

By noontime still no word.

I don't know what we ever did with those precious little characters. 

Maybe we framed them or put them on a little piece of paper and stuck them in a fortune cookie.

The world never got to hear those strategically communicative thoughts.

Did anyone die? No.

But it would have been nice to send the Tweet out without so much thinking about it. 

We could have saved a bad story from getting worse.

* All opinions my own.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

What I Would Have Said To Robin Williams

Hey, there is sunshine ahead of that bleak tunnel.

We think of you as our family. We being everyone, just...all of us. 

You are still with us.

I am sorry that it was lonely in there. That your head and your heart were too big for this world to contain.

You aren't the only one to look at things with such sad eyes.

You made me laugh and the thought of you makes me cry.

We would have done anything to save you, had you just told us what was going on.

Please rest your eternal soul in peace. You have earned it.

* opinions as always are my own 

Cross-Cultural Illiteracy, The Invisible Engagement Barrier

Tyrant is a character-driven show about a fictitious country in the Middle East that is painfully lumbering toward freedom. Every episode shows the characters confronting some external conflict that brings up painful memories, unresolved conflicts, and inner motivations they'd rather not confront.

As an adult raised cross-culturally, the most interesting thing about this show is watching the difference between how Americans think and how people from the traditional Middle East do. 

For example, Tucker, a "State Department" official, is stationed in the country to represent U.S. interests. Leader A, Leader B, what's the difference, he seems to think, as long as it looks good on TV.

From an American perspective, the diplomat's mode of operation is perfectly legitimate: Westerners separate  the professional and the personal. But from a traditional Middle Eastern perspective, he is sleazy, amoral, and self-serving because professional and personal are indistinguishable. 

The commingling of identity in the traditional Middle East explains the attitude of Jamal, the older brother, who's running the country. He pushes his wife away in favor of his younger brother Barry, saying over and over, "Don't get in between me and my brother." 

Jamal and Barry (Basam) are "blood," they are tied by a kind of intense, deep loyalty that nobody on the outside can understand. Whereas Americans think about "boundaries," in the Middle East these don't exist.

The attitude towards women. In the traditional Middle East, women are a completely separate world, somewhat a lesser class to men, but almost like a different species. The show portrays two sexes/genders, versus in the U.S. we recognize, support and honor a spectrum that has a very real androgyny in the middle. 

In the show, traditional women have their own language, their own culture, and their own class and caste distinctions, and they are divided very clearly into those class-based roles just as the men are. They are brutalized differently, but equally.

The concept of "feminism" exists, in a sense, but is subordinate to the cause of the family, and the women serve the men simply because that is their job. 

The women haven't forgotten power though: The character of Leila, Jamal's wife, represents the traditional wife who exercises it through her husband, versus Molly, the American wife who acts as herself but lacks insight into her mate. 

Tyrant is a great show, because its creators don't pass judgment on what is going on. They simply show you the characters in all their human dimensions. It drives the point home that if you want to engage successfully with other people, you really have to understand what's going on, not only in their minds but also in their cultures.

* All opinions my own.

Sunday, August 10, 2014

5 Laws of Social Media You Aren't Following Right Now

This past year has been a stunning opportunity to learn from the highly skilled people on my staff at the National Archives about what social media excellence is. I'm participating in an educational panel (in my own professional capacity**) in D.C. next week and will be drawing on some lessons they've taught me about how to do social media well. Here are a few key highlights:

1. Start with the subject matter, not the method of delivery.

My agency is essentially in the business of preserving our nation's cultural heritage artifacts and then making them as widely available as possible. Interestingly, the most successful social media efforts at my agency such as the wildly popular Today's Doc on Tumblr, begin with a passion for history, not an obsession with social media. Kudos to Darren Cole who heads that up.

2. Master the tools at a microscopic level.

Just because you studiously avoid obsessing about a particular kind of social media outlet doesn't mean that you ignore its unique capabilities. At my root I'm a communicator, and tend to focus mostly on words and pictures. But to do that is to ignore the vast range of technical possibilities that the different social media tools offer. I learned from my staff the importance of exploring, enjoying and using those to the maximum. I remember once that my boss, Chief Innovation Officer Pam Wright, described the "sweet spot" of social media as living at the intersection of subject matter mastery and mastery of the tool, and she was right.

3. Talk in the local language.

When I arrived at the agency I had a strong understanding of the importance of social media for digital engagement and an appreciation for the most popular tools out there. However, I did not fully appreciate the subtleties of each ecosystem. I learned from my staff to embed oneself deeply in the world of the "native" rather than impose oneself from the outside with a "message to share." Our local expert, in the Wikipedia world, is Dominic McDevitt-Parks and sometimes it is actually hard to tell which world he identifies with more, Wikipedia or that of our agency. (That is a good thing.)

4. Be data-driven.

Our social intranet expert is Kelly Osborn and she's spoken several times about the multitude of best practices she's learned in developing one. I've seen her deliver this talk and it is an astonishing experience, one that could easily be the basis of a book. What stands out for me is how methodically she has researched others' efforts and combined that information with a knowledge of online community-building and the culture of our agency specifically. Many people, myself included, make the mistake of taking the "hammer to a nail" approach to social media - e.g. because you're good at one particular thing, you bring that thing to each environment. By being data-driven, Kelly has managed to create a community that actually generates the spontaneous engagement most organizations dream of.

5. Put yourself out there.

This is a more general lesson. Very often social media staff are instructed to disseminate the message in the most appealing way possible. It's not about them - it's about the content that the organization wants to share. In contrast, a number of employees, including Dominic, actually live in the virtual interchange that takes place on social media. It's so important to be human, but more than that to simply be learning in front of other people, not to be shilling for a cause. (That is propagandizing.) It's humanizing, interesting, and shows that you are a credible person with integrity.

I hate to end the blog here because there really is so much more one could share. Suffice it to say that it's an honor to work with such a great team. As time goes on I see more and more how true it is that we do not "lead" other people to success. We only step back and shut up so that they can lead us.

* All opinions my own - not written on behalf of my agency.
**I won't be speaking on behalf of the agency, but have been granted time and permissino to speak and will share some lessons learned.