Saturday, June 28, 2014

Living the No Assholes Rule at work and play

Coming out of a recent, great management class I took a few weeks ago at IBM, one of the many interesting tidbits was a recommendation to read The No Assholes Rule. Beyond the eye-catching title, the content is actually a short, witty yet data-filled analysis of why persistent jerks are so detrimental to workplace dynamics.

I have to say I'm pretty lucky. I haven't had to deal with a LOT of these folks in my career, though of course you can't help but run into them. I'm lucky as well that, even though most workplaces these days aren't ideal in a lot of ways, IBM is pretty asshole-free (at least in my space). And those that do exist are generally sidelined to a degree by their own douche-y behavior.

As I've been reading through it, I've also seen how the principles and data apply to pretty much any group dynamic. It (perhaps not) surprisingly validates the rules my dear friend John and I put together as some of the founding principles of Pacific Sound San Diego, our local a capella singing group. Who wants to spend any significant amount of time with a jerk, especially when you're not being paid to?

Life's too short to put up with assholes, especially putting up with it in yourself. How do you deal with those soul suckers in your work and play?

Monday, June 9, 2014

Leading an open worklife in the sharing economy

As I've written about earlier this week, the continued impact of mobile, social and cloud technologies on all areas of work are leading us to lead increasingly more open and positive work styles. A few recent experiences have reinforced how important this combined style is, and why it's an ongoing process of personal reinvention.

Last Christmas I had quite the argument with my family at the holiday dinner table. A willfully (reprehensibly?) obstructionist Republican party in the US Congress, a dictatorial Prime Minister in Canada and a retrograde, chauvenistic Premier (at the time) in Quebec, combined with clownish opposition in all three cases, led to cynical resignation.

Something clicked and I spoke out in anger. I argued that it's easy to use "politicians are corrupt and weak" as an excuse for inaction (complaining is not an action). We have to be active participants in our democracies and be the change we want to see, no matter how small our direct or indirect influence may be.

Part of the reason I was argumentative was exhaustion from my new ascension to the role of Marketing Programs Manager for IBM collaboration software and SaaS 9 earlier that fall.

Since then, it's been an even more challenging time for me, my team, my business unit, and even IBM as a whole. Those challenges, combined with my less-than-stellar ability to properly manage and prioritize those challenges, left me feeling tired, burned out, perhaps a little cynical. And, it turns out, perhaps a little hypocritical as well. For while I was excoriating my family at Christmas. I was slowly, but most assuredly, letting myself become cynical at work, complaining about the limits imposed on me rather than focusing on what I could do, either directly or through my considerable influence.

That lack of self-awareness clicked when I was in a new managers' class last week. I am responsible for my own choices, and that my words matter, and my attitude even more, and that I do have a span of not just control, but an even larger span of influence. All this is especially important now that I'm responsible for 11 fantastic, talented, hard-working people. I can become the manager I've always wanted to work for, but it would mean a lot less time spent doing and complaining, and a lot more time coaching and leading.

Also last week, I reconnected with a dear colleague of mine, Luis Suarez. We worked together when he was one of the top internet IBM advocates for a social approach to business. After 17 years at IBM (coincidentally how much time I've almost been here), he just left IBM to pursue his own path. (And so has Susan Emerick, I just found out, another colleague I've admired.) We just had a fantastic discussion over the phone yesterday, and hearing his recent change of life has given me hope that the open and positive workstyle is not just an ideal, but an increasingly viable way to succeed in this changing maketplace of ideas.

Being open and positive isn't easy. It's going to require a significant shift in our mindset. It's going to require us getting a lot more comfortable with uncertainty. But the benefits are going to be legendary, whether in creating true engagement in the mass market of the workforce (and not just in the rare employee or entrepreneur). The potential to me seems limitless.

What about you? How are social and mobile and cloud technologies changing how you are working today?

Saturday, June 7, 2014

We're all social craftsmen now: how eminence is more than just technical

Social, mobile and cloud technologies are having a dramatic impact in business. The combination is called many things, depending where you start the conversation: the social business, the sharing economy, or the API economy.

The effect has been discussed at length on how these technologies transform business, whether customer engagement, business models, even employee engagement. I myself wrote a little about these technology's effects on Marketing last year.

It's also having an effect on us as individual producers and leaders. I liken it to the "hollywoodization" of the fundamental work model. Not Hollywood as an entertainment marketing machine. But rather how companies will increasingly organize around virtual projects and teams. I think companies will focus on maybe 3 things: R&D, Sales, and Marketing / Strategy. Everything else will eventually move to a contractor model, where individuals are brought together for a specific project or opportunity (like a film), and once that opportunity is done, disband the group. In the world of entertainment, you ARE your portfolio. And more and more, no matter what work you do, you will be your portfolio.

But one outgrowth of that theory is the effect it will have on social work styles. Expertise isn't enough. It's also about being someone people want to spend time with (the "No A**holes Rule"). I think that means expertise must be married with a certain level of sociability: the increasingly deliberate choice to be both open and positive.

I use "open"  in the sense of sharing openly, including not just my point of view and successes (my portfolio of expertise), but failures and uncertainties as well (my authenticity as a story of my ongoing journey). I use "positive" in the sense of pragmatic change agent (sees reality but is still willing and eager to change things for the better), rather than cynic (a capitulation to a belief that the world is corrupt and unchangeable).

I use both open and positive together, because I believe there are a "1 PLUS 1 > 2" and a "1 or 1 < 2" effect:
  • people want to engage with other people who are happy. Sure, in the short term, sarcasm, irony and a negative take can be funny or cool. But in the long term, I posit that those conversations suck the life out of you because they ultimately lack the kind of creativity the opens the world up, rather than closes it in.
  • people also want to engage with other people who are open. They want to feel like they're being listened to, not just spoken to. "It's not about the nail" is a funny take on this. But I also suggest you try an experiment. The next time you meet someone, do only 2 things: Listen, and Ask Questions. You'll be amazed (or perhaps not) that that someone will walk away feeling good about themselves AND saying "jeez, he [she] was such as good conversationalist!". As Maya Angelou said, "...people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel."
  • put positive and open together, and people will go out of their way to be in your presence. Use one but not the other, and you're missing a golden opportunity. Use none and you might as well be at a restaurant, glumly telling the maitre-d': "saucer for one, please".
Your technical eminence has always been important. But I think in this world where companies are more and more virtual, two things happen: your social eminence increases in importance. AND your eminence overall is now outside the corporate firewall. Are you seen not just as "good at what he / she does", but "easy to work with" or "hard to work with"? "A joy to be around" or "a soul sucker"? And is that reputation known outside your company walls?

When we're all virtual employees, we get a lot more choice in what projects we'll take based on who we'll work with.

Don't believe me? Look at the continuing trend for more telecommuting, and tell me we have to find a better way to make ourselves visible. And think about those Hollywood stars that have a reputation as being "hard to work with". Eventually it catches up with them.

Do you believe social eminence will matter as much as technical eminence? Am I being too optimistic to think that "open" and "positive" will be the preferred way to work?