Posts Tagged ‘people management’

Nov
30
2011

The people business

I mailed Google last week. A technical question about geo-targeting in AdWords. They mailed back. No complacency. No avoiding the question. No generic waffle.  Sure they are a sales orientated organisation but you feel like they are listening and they care about what you are saying, thinking and feeling. Like it or not they do that and a whole lot of other things brilliantly.

Afterthought one.

I remember someone telling me a while back that the single most important factor affecting whether a business is still in business 10 years after it starts is the strength of its brand. Yep, that makes sense.

Afterthought two.

But what determines the strength of a brand? Branding people talk about the core idea – the thing that drives an organisation, is what the organisation is about, what it stands for and what it believes in.  Successful brands project that core idea across everything they do – their products, their environment, their communications and the way they behave. It drives consistency of purpose.

Afterthought three.

It’s all about people.  It doesn’t matter how technical or digital your business is – people really matter. Your customers. Your staff. Your suppliers. I think if you can put that somewhere close to the core it’s going to make a big difference. Now more than ever. I think it’s going to be the single most important thing in determining the success of your brand in an open and networked economy. If not it should be.

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This post is kind of a Part II to my previous post – Digital Socialism – a very practical cultural change. It’s to do with looking a bit harder at the way that digital socialism behaves.

The book Here Comes Everyone by Clay Shirky (a very smart fella) considers the way digital social arrangements develop. Here’s a précis of his four steps.

Sharing

When we were kids learning to be a ‘good sharer’ was important. Initially we didn’t much like it but over time sharing made life much better in lots of ways. We interacted, we made friends, we played with those friends, we learnt from them and we felt bonded to them. Online we are creating and sharing lots of stuff – images, video, status updates and bookmarks to name but a few. Sharing is the starting point for cooperation.

Cooperation

We do stuff that makes it easier for the community to use the things we’ve made. We tag content with categories, labels and keywords. We do it because it makes life easier for everyone. It also strengthens the power and output of the community. Take Digg and Reditt as examples – their top stories can influence what we consume as much as any newspaper.

Collaboration

“Serious collaborators put in far more energy than they could ever get in return. This is why the sum out performs the parts”

Simply put I suppose collaboration is a more organised form of cooperation. It had baffled me for a long time why thousands of people would write code for open source software projects. Why do they invest their time and energy? The answer is a whole bunch of things; altruism, recognition from their peers, status, reputation, enjoyment, learning and satisfaction.

Collectivism

This is the thicker end of the stick. How are these communities held together in the long term? Who decides what the priorities are? How do they balance direction between the leaders and the rest of the community? While millions of people contribute to Wikipedia, where would it be without the circa 2,000 editors keeping it in check?

I tend to agree with Mr Shirky;

“In the past, constructing an organisation that exploited hierarchy yet maximised collectivism was nearly impossible. Now digital networking provides the necessary infrastructure. The internet empowers product focused organisations to function collectively while keeping hierarchy from taking over”.

Interesting.  I think this is a useful framework for working with groups and organisations in the offline world;

  • Are we making life easier for each other?
  • What are we getting out of the work we do?
  • Are the people in charge mindful of the community?

That’s all for now, just some thoughts really …

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Not sure why but I have for a long time talked about things in threes. Three most important things.  Three things we need to do this week.  Three reasons why.   Yes, the things we work on can get complicated – but only if you let them. My talking in threes seems to help. It helps me focus. I also hope it helps me get my message across to others.

On Friday we took one of the digital marketing teams we work with to meet the digital marketing team in a similar but different organisation. Each person had the opportunity to discuss what they do with their equivalent. It was one of those things that is easy not to get around to but worth every bit of effort when you do. I was thinking about what we got out of it and what we learnt – as individuals and a team. A lot more than three things (I hope) but perhaps the most important included;

  1. An antidote to “we’ve always done it like that”.
  2. Renewed enthusiasm for what we do.
  3. That different organisations often face very similar challenges.

That’s probably how I will describe the outcome of our day when I discuss it tomorrow.  As for whether three is in fact a magic number I am not sure but you can certainly read what Wikipedia has to say about the number three. Some cultures actually think three is a pretty unlucky number …

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Although not a natural ‘joiner inner’ I’ve long since loved working on projects as part of a team – preferably a small one. Something between 3 -7 is my optimum or comfort zone. I’d never stopped to think about this. All I knew is that given a meeting of 10 people or more I found myself ill at ease and frustrated by either the lack of focus on finding a solution collectively or the dominance of one person’s conviction to a single solution. When Idris Motote talks about collaborative groups he pitches the optimum size at between 5-6 people and recognises from experience that problem solving in large groups can sometimes be fractious and tense.

“you need both convergent vs divergent thinking to optimize any groups creative output.”

We work with teams as big as thirty people through to small businesses of five. Often in our role as project managers we see the best work come out of a combination of convergent and divergent thinking and as long as there is trust it is this friction that drives the best work.

Guiding large meetings will always be challenging, so as a rule once the overall direction of the project is clarified, we divide into smaller working groups and get the heck out of there. We brainstorm delivery options and tease out the key issues, moving things on quickly (the sprint phase). We then then regroup (the huddle phase). And start all over again.

The team is more nimble, adaptive and energised. There are no long lulls between big meetings. Every member of the delivery team is responsible to each other and are able and empowered to contribute to shorter more regular meeting.

In short it drives a good pace, keeps us all thinking and most importantly it gets things done.

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