Reflecting on CMX Summit 2017: Power of Story + Peak Moments = Community Strategy?

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How can we, as community builders, use the power of story and peak moments to build better community strategy?

That is the question that challenged me during and after this year’s CMX Summit. And in the spirit of working out loud, I wanted to share what I learned at CMX and how I’ve been exploring that question since.

CMX Summit was an inspiring three days at the REEF in Los Angeles packed with sessions, strategy workshops and memorable breakout chats with other community leaders.

Among other insights, I walked away thinking about two ideas:

  1. How can we use the power of story to demonstrate the value and power of communities within organizations spread communities within organizations
  2. How can we use the power of moments to make the online community experience more valuable and enhance the member journey to transform visitors into members and members into community champions.

What got me thinking about those two big ideas was the Wednesday morning’s session, a wonderful one-two punch that I’m still processing weeks afterwards.

First Michael Margolis spoke about story and then author Chip Heath shared parts from his new book the Power of Moments.

Michael Margolis session: Why The Power of Story Is Key for Community Success

First, Michael took us through an exercise asking questions encouraging us to explore our personal origin story. He emphasized that, as community builders, we can’t share the story of others if we haven’t thought about, are aware of and are comfortable telling our own personal story.

We did this short yet fantastic worksheet activity as we took a minute to write down our answers to a few prompts about our life story and then we turned to a partner and shared the answer with each other.

This exercise resonated with me and it got me thinking about harnessing the power of the individual story of community members.

That five minute exercise reminded me how important it is to stop and truly focus on community strategy at a personal, granular and individual member level.

So often we think of community as a big group of people and yes, that’s important and true.

But far too often, and to the detriment of the greater purpose and long-term success of our community, once the community grows we often forget that community is made up of individual people who each have their own stories and vital personal narratives. And with those personal narratives community members bring their own stories to the community each time they log in.

“Wow!” I thought to myself as Michael spoke to us that morning. “Understanding our own personal origin story and being comfortable with telling our own story is so important to the success of our community strategy.”

So the next logical thought I had was “We must take time to stop and think about the individual stories of our community members. We must use the power of origin stories to enhance community strategy.”

But, why? And is it worth the time? I wondered.

Yes, it is. It’s worth every single second because when you think about all the individual stories of your community members you can better understand the broader impact and the shared purpose and share value of your community.

By thinking on both a broad strategic level and on an individual member level you can better uncover and connect the common threads and similarities of each member more clearly. And you will ultimately make your community strategic more complete and effective.

Essentially, by thinking with a story mindset, you appreciate the greater whole of the community. You appreciate how and why the community is connected. You can start to think about better ways to engage your members in ways that matter to them on a personal level. And you can begin to think of ways to bridge gaps through the intentional and strategic practice of storytelling.

Listing to what Margolis shared and learning more about the work he has been doing with Getstoried is important for community professionals to understand and put to use. For me, I saw two key ways this storytelling perspective can be a strategic community-building advantage.

  1. Harness and unleashed the power of your community’s origin story to inspire others.

Using the power of origin stories is an exciting way to tell the broader mission and value proposition of your community.

Like all superheros, your community has an origin story and you should spend time finding it and get good at telling your community origin story with passion and conviction. If you don’t have one, then you should begin to question, whether or not you should even be creating a community.

Once you discover your story, you need to begin to shape and mold it. How well you tell your community origin story and communicate it to your company, your customers, new members and doubters, and how well you connect your origin story to the value proposition of your audience and organization will directly influence the long-term success of your community.

And remember that your community story should connect in some way to the mission of your company. Your community origin story should amplify the value and promise your company makes to its customer or employees. Your community origin story should influence and enhance your customer experience at a profound level.

Like your community’s mission and purpose, your community origin story is the most important story to develop first because your community origin story will determine which individual stories you tell and how you tell them.

  1. Cultivate and discover your community’s individual member stories.

Margolis’ talk got me thinking deeper about how every broader community story is made up of an inspiring mosaic of individual member stories. And just like spending time crafting your border community origin story, you should dedicate time searching for and then using the power of individual members stories to inspire and engage your organization.

Where do you find individual stories?

You might consider looking first at your community use cases or success stories. You should also dive into your community itself and observe and listen to how your community members are finding value.

Make it a regular activity to connect with your members and ask them how and why (or why not) they’re finding value.

Ask your members about themselves and learn about their careers, hobbies and interests.

Reflect on what you learn and see how your member’s career and life stories connect to your community origin story. Getting to know what makes your members tick and building relationships with them is one of the reasons I love community building and I hope you love this process too.

Once you find your success stories it’s time to focus on a few and develop them. And, yes, there’s a powerful way to craft, refine and share them.

When sharing individuals member stories with stakeholders, skeptics and others who aren’t yet supporters of the community, I use a concept often used in movies called the “story arc.” I use the story arc in a couple ways.

  1. To help leaders and stakeholders understand the long journey and the gradual transformation a community and its members go through.
  2. I then take it a step further and use the power of a community’s story arc to illustrate how that community, and communities in general, can help drive value for their organization. Basically, I use story arc to make the community more  real, human and compelling to each audience I talk with.

With these approaches in mind you should use the story arc to re-frame how you explain community development. Reframing the value of community development in terms of how a movie character develops is important because it compellingly highlights and quickly demonstrates the fact that community takes time and, just like people evolve in their own life or during a movie, a community’s story and the story of it’s member’s evolves over time too.

Think of your favorite movie and how it took the lead character or other characters time (months and or even years) to grow and evolve into the hero that they are at the end of the movie.

It’s the journey and what the hero experiences along the way that matters.  And there’s no rushing this process. How a story’s hero responds to the challenges along the way is what makes the hero who she or he is.

Same goes for community. Community members are human and you can’t rush a community member’s experience. Sure, you can accelerate and cultivate the process in many ways, but you can’t rush the collaborative relationship that develops between a community member and the community.

It’s both important and exciting to think of how you can use the power of story and the story arc to help stakeholders understand how communities and community members evolve along the value-add journey.

For example, I’ve used the story arc many times to illustrate how a disengaged customer or employee transformed from a community critic to a fully engaged champion.

And I’ve used the story arc to show how an active community member transforms into a powerful advocate for the company brand and mission.

Simply put, the story arc is your framework for building your individual member stories and transforming them into a powerful tool for community adoption.  

Put together and told in the right way, a compelling member transformation story can turn a doubting stakeholder into a fully dedicated supporter of your community vision.

Build your tool belt: Be ready to share your stories at a moment’s notice.

That said, once you begin to develop your member stories, you should think of using your collection of individual community stories like a tool belt you can quickly pull from and be ready to share at moments notice.  

In the past, for each community I’ve helped launch and grow, I’ve made sure to put together a collection of unique individual community member stories that I could use when talking with different stakeholders whether I’m in a formal meeting or one of those “90 second elevator moments.”  

You need to be ready to share your best stories, but most importantly you should have a collection of stories to pull from because just one story won’t connect with everyone.

You must have a portfolio of short, yet compelling, community stories you can use in different moments, because the right story shared with the right person at the right time can be what gets adoption going and rolling at your company.

I can’t stress this enough. Don’t rely on just one member story or just your broader community origin story. You should think in terms of key personas.

Think in terms of your audience.  Think how you can create and find success stories in your community to inspire each of your key personas that you want to reach.

Think of what those doubting audiences need to hear and keep your story laser-focused on addressing all the needs and solving the problems that particular audience is trying to solve. Think “what does that audience needs to experience during the story you’re telling to move into action?”

Okay, so that’s what I was thinking about after Michael Margolis’ session. Now, here’s a few takeaways from Chip Heath’s session.

Chip Heath Session: How Can We Build Peak Community Moments?

Focused on highlights from his and his brother Dan’s new book The Power of Moments, Heath’s talk got me thinking more about all the key touch points of the community experience and how creating peak moments is so important to making the community valuable to customers and companies.

In his book, Heath focused on four key moments; moments of elevation, insight, pride and connection. In the context of community experience, what resonated most with me was the idea of building moments of elevation or what Heath calls peak moments.

To illustrate building peak moments, one concept that Heath shared was the idea of focusing our max effort on elevating the positives into peak moments. He used a scale of 1-7 and showed how most companies focus on improving the bottom rung (1-3) of customer feedback surveys instead of focused on improving the (4-6) more positive feedback issues and moving those to 7’s.

He then explained that this focusing on moving the 1-3’s approach is a waste of time and not very strategic either. Focusing on the negative moments is more costly and time consuming and often doesn’t support the law of 80/20 either, which states we should focus our efforts on the 20% areas of business that generate 80% of returns and revenue.  

Essentially, what Heath is saying is that we should work to take the good moments and use them to make great moments or “build peaks.”  We should find ways to make what is working and make those moments as best as they can be.

This concept and different perspective challenged me to think more about what it means to build peak moments for communities. And I began to ask myself a bunch of questions.

How can having a “build peak moments” approach help us build better communities?

Do we as community builders spend too much time trying to resolve negative issues? Do we get too focused adding new flashy features to the community instead of focused on the basics and what’s working and just make little tweaks to transforming the “good” UX/UI moments into great moments?  

Do we get too focused on growth and acquiring new members and don’t focus enough attention on building and nurturing the relationships with current “lurking” members moving them to active members and transform active members into empowered advocates?

Then I started to think about all the important touch points of community through the lens of peak moments…

How can peak moments help us make our community homepage and what first-time visitors experience more impactful? How can peak moments make the onboarding experience more engaging and valuable for new members during the first 30, 60, and 90 days of joining the community?

And what about peak moments and how community managers approach their work…?

How can a peak moment approach help community manager change and evolve how they moderate discussions? How can peak moments approach help community builders be more strategic in their daily, monthly and yearly planning and execution?

How can we use peak moments to change relationships that are critical for long-term success of community adoption…?

How can building peak moments encourage collaboration, co-creation and knowledge sharing among customers and staff?

How can community managers use peak moments to facilitate new and deeper connections between members?

In addition to those questions, I walked away from Chip’s session with this thought:

If we think more about community strategy through the lens of peak moments, we can better focus on the most important member behaviors, scale those critical momentum-building actions and eliminate the unnecessary actions that don’t deliver value or don’t drive adoption or engagement.

Like the 80/20 rule helps business focus resources on what produces results, we can use peak moments to better focus how we spend community resources and stop wasting time on tasks or members that don’t deliver ROI or long-term results.

Simply put, having a “build peak moments” approach when creating and evolving a community strategy can lead to peak value and adoption for your community.

Without a doubt, the CMX Summit was a “peak moment” for me this year and I’ll be experimenting with these ideas and questions more as I continue to build strategy for the communities I’m working on. And look forward to sharing more of what I learned with you in the future.

 

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9 Things the Cubs World Series Championship Can Teach Us About Building A Community Strategy

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One thing I learned from my No Sports for a Year experiment is that I love learning from the strategic side of baseball and I love applying what I learn to other areas of my life.

So, lately, as the new 2017 season gets going, I was thinking more about how and why the Chicago Cubs won the 2016 World Series and I’ve been inspired by the smart, strategic and careful planning they did to make it happen.

And when I think about the connection between the Cubs winning the 2016 World Series and building communities, I realized how those smart plans from the Cubs winning strategy share many of the same elements to building a successful community strategy.

So as I reflect, here’s a list of connections I’ve begun to make between the Cubs historic championship season and what it takes to build a successful and strategic online community for organizations.  Whether you’re building a community to collaborate and engage with employees or build deeper relationships with customers, I hope you can use these insights to help you create a better community experiences and strategy. 

1. You Must Have a Community Vision and Stick To It

What happened to the Cubs in 2016 wasn’t just happenstance. It was carefully planned out and orchestrated ever since the Cubs began to rebuild circa 2012. It was a vision manifested. Yes, baseball is just a game but it’s also a business that involves complex negotiations and strategic thinking both on the field and in the front office. Yes, much of the game of baseball is unpredictable, but organizations make hundreds of calculated decisions that set a team up to have the opportunity to be in a position to win.

Same goes for building a successful and valuable community. You must know why you are building community and have a vision of the value you want to create for the members.The beauty of a having a solid and well thought out community strategy is that you can create a specific environment and experience for that value and magic to happen in. Your community vision is part of what creates the opportunity for to do what you want members to do.

Having a vision is critical in both situations. When building communities, visions can be simple and grow organically but you should have at least some type of purpose and idea of why you’re starting the community and what value you want it to give back to the organization and its core audience.

2. Welcome New Members Like The Cubs Welcomed Rookies

When I read this MLB.com article about how the Cubs veterans welcomed the rookies, brought new team members into the team culture and how those actions built a strong team culture and chemistry, I loved it because it highlighted an important part of building a successful community: welcoming new members and guiding them to helpful and meaningful experiences and conversations.

In the article, they talked about how the veterans intentionally took time to teach the rookies, befriend them and introduce them to team rituals and veteran experiences. I also enjoyed how all the off-the-field relationship building helps makes the rookies feel comfortable, so ultimately, they are relaxed and can play at their best on the field knowing their teammates have their back and support them on and off the field.

Same goes for community strategy. Whether you’re just launching a new community or several years in, you should always have a member onboarding and welcome strategy. Welcoming new members and developing your member journey is vital to the initial and long-term growth of your community.

You should ask: What do you exactly want members to do and experience within the first 30 to 90 days in your community? Strategically designing this journey from start to finish is what drives, guides and inspires new members to get value right from day one and it’s also what plants the seeds of advocacy so members can become empowered advocates and champions for your community.

A well thought out welcoming strategy and a clearly defined and developed member path should be a top priority in a community strategy, but often what happens is that this critical part of success often goes overlooked or falls to the bottom of the list as a community begins to grow. Don’t let this happen to you.

Most organisations just think that people will figure out how to find things in the community and rely to much on serendipity. It;s a mistake that adoption will happen organically.  It just isn’t true. The most successful communities are the results of strategically planning out the member experience so it leads the members down an intentional path of value and meaningful moments that keep them coming back and invite them into the purpose of the community. Take the time to be strategic and map out our member’s journey. 

3. Focus on What’s Important For Your Community and Block Out the BS

There was a lot of high-expectations and constant distractions throughout the Cubs historic 2016 season.  Late night talk shows appearances, commercials spots, media pressures. But it never seemed to take away from the ultimate goal and mission. The Cubs seemed to be able to remain present and take things one game, one pitch and one play at a time and stay focused on the ultimate goal: Win the World Series.

Same goes for your community strategic priorities. Know what you want to do and don’t get distracted. I admit that it’s easy to get sidetracked with all the noise, moderation, resource setbacks and other myriad distractions that get thrown at you as you try to build and grow your community, but take time to lay out your community goals and hold fast to them. Write down what projects are most important to growth.

Be clear about what projects and daily actions are going to add the most value to achieving eventual success. Be consistent and relentless about sticking to that list and it will show to the rest of the organization that you mean business with your community.

The value of community is still not obvious or assumed in most organisation and staying focused on your strategy is important in making sure your demonstrate and communicate the value to all stakeholders. Demonstrating to the organization that you are focused on achieving your community’s business goals is key and it should be a top priority for you. 

 

4. Learn From Failure…It Was The Cubs Winning Secret

This was probably one of the most overlooked, albeit most important reasons why the Cubs won the World Series. They lost 64 times during the 2016 season and I always felt like they made the most of each loss. Understanding that losing is a part of the baseball season and accepting it is big part of winning.

And the Cubs always seemed to use defeat to their advantage by learning their opponents styles and weakness so when the next opportunity to win came around they were ready. Essentially, they won even when they lost because they learned from what didn’t work and saw each moment as a chance to learn and experiment and then make adjustments.

Sames goes for building community. You’re going to fail. If you don’t fail, you’re likely playing it way too safe and not growing or getting the value you should be getting. So expect to fail and when you fail, learn from it. Take detailed notes and use what you learn to build a stronger community strategy.

Work out loud about your failures so you and others can learn together. Heck, you could even take it step further and see losing as a way to build stronger emotional relationships with your community. As a Cubs fan growing up, the Cubs were known as the “lovable losers” and it was following the team through thick and thin that built stronger relationships and when they finally won it all, it made the win that much sweeter.

If you approach it in the right way, losing has a way of giving you a chance to be vulnerable and connect on a deeper level with others in your community. When you fail together as a community find ways to make it meaningful and make it something that brings your community together instead of something that rips it apart and creates chasms. Use failure as a catalyst to improve and discover more ways to win and as a way to build bridges.

 

5. Building a Championship Team, and a Community, Takes Time

Winning teams don’t happen overnight. If you want to build a lasting legacy, there are no shortcuts. It takes time. The Cubs didn’t win for many, many years. 108 to be exact. And the 2016 World Series team began building in 2012.  Also, the baseball season is long, long journey. You don’t sprint over 162 games. You pace yourself and as Maddon says, “you should look to start another one game winning streak each day.”  

Same goes for community. Building a valuable community takes time to evolve and grow.  The most successful communities start small and build gradually over time. For example, in my last community building project the journey to build community and collaboration at Walgreens took 5 years and not until about year 2-3 did it finally take root. So, don’t rush it. Be patient. If you want to win and build something meaningful, know that it’s a long journey but it’s totally worth it. 

6. Build Winning Behaviors Through Shared Values, Meanings and Rituals

In order to have lasting meaning and create successful winning behaviors, there has to be special rituals that the team or fans do together and you have to do them regularly. Creating rituals that leverage the power of psychology and how our brains and bodies work is a must. Look at what the Cubs do after every win at home, Wrigley Field erupts into a frenzy singing “Go Cubs Go.” This is an important part of being a Cubs fan and it’s one of the things that unites and builds community among Cubs fans. It may seem strange to other fans but it’s a key ritual that breeds success.

That said, during the 2016 season, after listening to Joe Maddon talk about how he encourages celebrations and dance parties after each win made me ask the question “Was there too much celebration, too much partying with out having won the whole thing?” But then I realized how important those celebratory daily rituals are to success. I began to appreciate the powerful impact of building behaviors that build a strong and winning culture.

Same goes for community. Celebrating your wins daily, weekly, monthly and yearly because it’s socially and psychologically important to building a winning culture.  Celebrate with your community and celebrate wins with your community team. 

Your community strategy should include some type of ritual that the community experiences together. It can be a live event, weekly member recognition or celebrating wins together each year. Whatever it is, you must make ritual building a central part of your strategy to create a powerful shared emotional experience within your community. You can’t have a valuable and long-lasting community without it.

7. Cultivating Relationships Is Critical to Success

Like I mentioned above with welcoming members and making rookies feel supported was a key ingredient for success. There’s no denying that the Cubs secret was the relationship building. The Cubs winning culture came from the strong relationships that the players built together. And for decades the Cubs organization has built such a strong emotional, relational bond with it’s fans that we’ve stuck with the team 108 years until we finally won it all.

The same goes for building a community. Yes, a goal for your community should be to use it to ultimately build better relationships with customers and employees. But for the ultimate goal to be realized your must focus on a small core of key relationships that will impact the broader relationship with the community. Rewarding top contributors and influencers is critical to the success of your community strategy.

You can build those relationships by giving your MVPs special access to future content before you share it with the broader community. Give your customer champions access to product development and top people within your organization. You can collaborate with top contributors and include them in the creation of future community strategy.  

You should also focus on building relationships within your organization with stakeholders especially in the key departments such as HR, Communications, Legal, IT and Marketing Relationship building should be where you spend much of your time. Treat relationship building like gold. Be intentional about building relationships and don’t spend to much time in the actual online community. Get off line and spend value face time with the people who are going to help you grow your strategy. 

8. Avoid Perfection and Have a Growth Mindset

One of my favorite highlights of the 2016 season was watching and listening to the Cubs bounce up and down in post-game huddle saying “We never quit!”  This rang true right up until the final moments of Game 7.  Doubt hung over the team, but Jason Heyward and David Ross stood up at key moments in the final games and reminded the others that they were capable of winning and should not give up now.

And I believe this “never quit” attitude came from the Maddon’s approach to not seek perfection but focus on the moment and pursue a growth mindset. And after every game I always heard Joe Maddon talk about how the team was young and that the goal was to stay present, “have a process not an outcomes” mindset. He talked often in post-game interviews about experimenting constantly and grow daily.

Same goes for community. It takes time to build a successful community and you should always have a desire to continually test and experiment. Whether you’re just launching a community or a couple years in, there’s always room to grow. Trying to get your community perfect is a loss cause and in some case will limit its potential. Failure is a great asset and learning from what didn’t work will help you make a better community over time. 

That said, don’t plan to far ahead and don’t make your strategy so rigid that it can’t bend and flex with all the changes that are going to come your way.  I’ve found it valuable to road map in 2-3 years and 3-6 months time frames so I have both the short and long-term in mind.

Community management is still very new and when it comes to business integration we’re just getting started and learning about how it all works and should work. So be open to change and experimentation. And always be looking for new opportunities to more fully integrate your community into your business.

 

9. Believe in Your Vision, Take Risks and Expect to Make Unpopular Decisions

Joe Maddon always defied convention. He took risks but he always believed in his vision. This is probably what I both most respect and struggle with about Joe Maddon. On one hand I loved his approach to management it was exciting to watch unfold during the season. But at the same time it caused me so much anxiety as a Cubs fan watching as he made unorthodox moves with the bull pen, aka Aroldis Chapman in Game 7. But it was this very core behavior of Maddon that makes him such an indispensable and legendary manager. 

Same goes for your community strategy. Once you have your vision you should be relentless about following it even in the face of adversity and doubt. You can pretty much assume that most of what you do initially with community will make stakeholders and other throughout the organization uncomfortable at first. This is because integrating community into the flow of business is a new thing for most organizations. So don’t always expect everyone to support or agree with you. Expect push back along the way.

But, like I mentioned above, be sure to build strong relationships with your early supporters and champions because these people will help you carry out your vision and champion it for you to their audience. And this is the only way the community will grow and become valuable to the organization. But don’t expect to always be in agreement. There will be time when you must do what other don’t understand in order to grow.

When it comes to challenging myself with my own community vision, I always think about what I’m building and ask myself “Does the strategy follow the rules or does it challenge conventional thinking and explore new territory both within the company and within the overall practice of community management? Am I using the community to change company culture and the customer experience, or am I just playing it safe and simply using community to mirror silos and traditional corporate culture? Am I doing things that other community strategists haven’t done or am I sticking only to what I’ve read and not taking risks to explore new experiences?

And I’m sure that Joe Maddon and the 2016 Cubs did the same things and asked many of the same questions as they challenged convention, took risks and learned a ton on their way to making history. And I hope the same for your community strategies. I hope they revolutionize your company culture and transform your customer experiences in ways your organizations have seen before.

 

I hope you enjoyed this exploration! Thanks for following along and I’d love to know what you think. Share your thoughts in the comments below!

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What An Amazing Ride It’s Been

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What an amazing ride it’s been these last five years! I’m grateful for such a tremendously inspiring, challenging and rewarding experience of leading employee communities and collaboration at Walgreens. What an honor it’s been to have had so many opportunities to learn, grow and build new relationships and strengthen partnerships, and help the organization work better and stay connected. I’m looking forward to the next adventure in the business of community management as I head to California and begin the next chapter at Esri.

Cheers and thanks to all who have been part of this amazing journey and stay tuned for more as I continue to work out loud and share what I learn along the way.

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What I’ve Learned In 5 Years At Walgreens

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I recently celebrated five years at Walgreens, and as part of this career milestone employees are given a ceremonial 5-year pin and the team gathers around as managers and colleagues say a few words about the milestone and the employee’s accomplishments and contributions to the company. At Walgreens, this pin holds an important cultural significance as employees in the stores and at corporate proudly display their pins for 3, 5, 10, 15, 20 or more years of service.

As part of the ceremony, there’s an opportunity for the employee to say a few words. And leading up to my anniversary I started to reflect on what I’ve learned.

It’s been an amazing ride these last five years as I’ve had the opportunity to build an employee community and collaboration program from the ground up, and do it with the help of, and in partnership with, a lot of talented and remarkable people who have influenced and changed me in profound ways. (If you’re wondering why my pin is on a mini-red couch in the photo above, read more here.)

So for my “5-year pin” acceptance speech here’s what I shared as I reflected on what I’ve learned these last 5 years.

I’ve learned…

  • How to take risks
  • How to persevere
  • How to believe in myself
  • How to make and grow partnerships
  • How to lead
  • How to succeed
  • How to fail
  • How to learn from my mistakes
  • How to deal and adapt to change
  • How to manage through ambiguity
  • How to inspire
  • How to be patient
  • How to be assertive
  • The value and importance of seeing a situation from both the 30,000 foot level while still executing on the ground level
  • How to learn from the past
  • How to cast a vision for the future and then execute on that vision in small manageable steps
  • How to be present in the moment
  • How to build a team
  • How to be part of a team
  • How to teach others
  • How to lead leaders
  • How to make something out of nothing
  • How to strategically experiment
  • How to believe and trust in other people
  • How to challenge others
  • How to challenge myself
  • How to grow and mature as a strategic communicator and a thinker

It’s amazing what you can learn in five years, isn’t it?

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5 Books That Should Be In Your Workplace Trends and Working Out Loud Tool Box

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As I continue to explore how to work out loud and grow our employee communities at Walgreens I’m always on the look out to find good books that give me inspiring ideas and stories about how to work better and develop our community strategy. So I thought I’d share a list of books about working better that I’ve enjoyed recently and along with highlights and key takeaways.

The Future of Work

The Future of Work by Jacob Morgan continues to be a valuable resource for me ever since I read it back in 2014. The structure of the book is based around the five trends of the future of work. Morgan frames the trends as an opportunity and a blueprint to retain top talent, build better leaders and build a strong people-focused organization. He weaves in stories, data, research and case studies from the companies who are leading the future of work evolution.

The main theme in Morgan’s book is that if companies don’t acknowledge, embrace and take action on the trends of the future of work they will do so at their own peril. There’s an opportunity cost at stake for those companies who don’t take action on the future of work trends because these trends have a tremendous impact on maintaing a competitive advantage in the marketplace.

I’ve used concepts in this book to help our teams, change agents and community champions at Walgreens understand the bottom line impact and business value of what is happening in our employee communities and the value of having a community-focused business model and organizational structure.

The stories and data in this book have been helpful in explaining why changing how we work is important to improving the customer experience, because, a company needs a strong internal collaboration and community strategy in order to successfully execute their external customer strategy.  As you read The Future of Work I hope you have the same inspiring discoveries and can put the shared knowledge to good use in your organization too.

Show Your Work!

Show Your Work! is the follow up to Austin Kleon’s bestseller Steal Like An Artist. Show Your Work is not a workplace type book, but still, it’s a must for your tool box if you’re a writer, designer or any sort of creative person who wants to learn how to get noticed and grow your craft by proactively and consistently sharing your work. That said, even if you’re in the corporate world you can still take advantage what Kleon says and learn how to share your work to further your career regardless of what you do for a living.

I love how the book is designed as it gets to the point and is easy to read in a few settings then you can dip in and out when you want to get some quick inspiration and motivation. I love the truth-packed quotes and the openness of Kleon’s writing style. He gives you a welcomed insight in to his creative process and doesn’t sugarcoat or romanticize the creative process. He gets down to business but does it in a fun and inspiring way.

The call to actions that Kleon mixes in are also simple when helps you build momentum and take things one step at a time, which is always a sound way to go when beginning any creative process.

As I wrote my three words for 2016 and set the stage for a successfully and productive year, I took to heart what Kleon says about the value of cleaning out our “creative house” and why being a creative hoarder can hold us back from discovering new ideas. So I took a look at my own “creative house” and deleted a bunch of old blog drafts and got rid of other creative baggage that was holding me back.

This is definitely a book that I’ve turned to when the creative writing battle wages on and the always present adversaries of doubt, procrastination and overthinking as they nasty villains try to keep me from showing my work. (I actually re-read it to work through finishing this post!)

Work Rules!

Work Rules! by Laszlo Bock is a great read that takes you inside the mind of Google’s head of people organization. I learned a lot about how Google runs its HR organization and what I love the most about this book is its openness, experimental and adventurous read. It’s inspiring, yet practical and realistic.

One of Bock’s goals with the book was to share what he has learned both in his career and during his time at Google. Bock shares details on various experiments he ran at Google to refine communication between managers, leadership and thousands of Googlers. I love the level of details he uses to share the thought process behind emails that were sent, why they made certain decisions to change the hiring process and what he’s learned from succeed and failing as leader and a manager over the years.

My two big takeaways:

  1. First, Bock stresses the importance of always making decisions based on data. Many times throughout the book he shows how most decisions made at Google involved some sort of data-based decision. I love this because too often we make communications, culture or business decisions without solid data. With the increasing use of communities and Enterprise Social Networks within companies and our growing understanding of Big Data, I believe leading companies will make it a priority to use the data from their internal networks to make all types of better business decisions and discover future leaders in the ranks.
  2. Secondly, I love learning about how Google experimented with “nudging” to improve communication and collaboration among the middle management. Nudging is such an important concept to realize and champion change in a large organization. I’ve used nudging to build communities at Walgreens and it was fascinating to learn how Google did it for their workforce too.

No doubt, Work Rules!, is a challenging, provocative and dangerous read.  It will force you to think about what’s working and not working at your company. It will make you feel uncomfortable (in a good way.) It will challenge you to think about all the ways you can improve your teams and empower your people. It’s definitely a must read for leaders or those aspiring to lead, especially managers who want to learn how to lead their teams better and get insights into how leaders like Bock think.

Working Out Loud

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Working Out Loud by John Stepper is a guidebook for how to work out loud to better your career and life. With the workforce constantly changing and job uncertainty a constant reality, it’s an extremely timely book because it gives you an actionable and simple plan to create, build on or discover a new career path.

I’ve found that you can read it a couple different ways. One way is to see it as a book to create a career you want by following the steps and starting the working out loud circles that Stepper maps out.  The other way is to see it as a stand alone resource for changing how an organization can work better.

That said, at Walgreens, I’ve begun to experiment with introducing concepts Stepper presents in his book, such as reframing how we share work knowledge, which is to see working out loud as making contributions and teaching employees a new way of working that’s focused on helping others and the broader organization to solve problems together versus working in silos or only sharing for selfish and self-promotional reasons.

Working out loud is a new concept that’s been around for several years but it’s just now starting to take root with the increased use of Enterprise Social Networks within companies.

So, when co-workers and leaders at Walgreens ask me what working out loud is and how they should do it and why they should do it and how and why we should use our employee communities to further the concept, I guide them using the understandable framework and examples that Stepper presents.

Stepper ends the book with the call to create working out loud circles. To be honest, I’m still figuring out how working out loud circles fit within our employee communities and broader employee work experience. But even though we’re still figuring out how to integrated circles into the our communities strategy, I will tell you that I’ve dog-eared several chapters and pages and shared them with leaders as I explain how working out loud can help us work better at Walgreens.

For example, I’ve used working out loud as a way to explain who employees can take an active role in our community and collaboration strategy at Walgreens. I’ve integrated elements into our playbook and how we measure success and progress in our communities.

Stepper’s book is filled with honesty and actionable inspiration. Some of my favorite parts are the contributions chapters and the letter that Stepper wrote to himself in which he tells the story behind how his own “ah-a” moment led him on the path to write the book and create the career he encourages us to create. It’s all very inspiring stuff that I’ve taken to heart as I continue to work out loud in my own life and take daily steps and an active role to chart my own career path.

Show Your Work

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Though it has the same title as Kloen’s, Show Your Work by Jane Bozath takes a different scope on the phrase and explores how organizations can leverage working out loud and sharing your work to improve engagement, share knowledge and break down information barriers across the company.

Bozarth is a learning and development pro and it shows throughout the book. The flow of stories and how they’re presented hit on the key pain points that would keep an organization from getting value from teaching their employee to share their work. But Bozarth doesn’t just point out the issues. She provides real and helpful and practical tips and solutions using stories from others who are sharing there work and having success at doing it.

I read the book through a few times and I keep it within arms reach on my desk at work. Being a change agent for working out loud and showing work is hard and can be a lonely endeavor, and many times I’ve used Bozarth book to refresh, inspire and reenergize me. I often use the book to quickly show others on my team and our communities advocates why and how to share their work.

I love the simple, yet impactful stories Bozarth shares.  Its coffee table design makes it easy to dip in and out and grab a thought and then put that thought or insight immediately into action. Like the others book above, this book is a must have for any working out loud champion.

I hope you’ve enjoyed this review and I’d like to hear what books are helping you to work out loud and share your work.

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Why It’s Important To Brand and Market Your ESN and Employee Communities

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off the wall walgreensOne of the most important things you can do to increase engagement and adoption of an enterprise social network (ESN) and employee community is to invest time and resources in branding and marketing it.  At Walgreens we’ve invested a lot of time into branding and marketing our ESN and social intranet experience and it’s been a key element to our success. On this post, I’d like to share with you a little bit of our branding and marketing journey and explore what we’ve learned along the way.

Invest Time In Branding, It’s Worth It

If you take one thing from this post it’s that you should invest time in creating a unique brand for your company’s ESN. Do not simply call your ESN the name of your vendor platform (SharePoint, Jive, Yammer, etc.)  At Walgreens, we spent a significant amount of time and research to create the name for our new social intranet and employee community which we call “The Wall.”

No, the name wasn’t inspired by Pink Floyd. Instead we arrived at it by combining the Walgreens “W” and “all,” meaning that this new community space and experience is designed to be a place where both corporate and store employees can “all” come together to make their mark on “a Wall” with the hope to have their voice heard, collaborate and most importantly learn how to work more efficiently and effectively and create the future of work together so we can serve our customers better.

Since launching two years ago, the original vision and essence of The Wall brand remains but it has taken on a life of it’s own. In many ways team members have personalized The Wall brand on a deeper level and, as I’ve said many times, The Wall isn’t just an online destination but for many employees who have embraced this new way of working, being “on The Wall” has become a state of mind.

For us, The Wall brand has also come to symbolize a new way of working and put a broader context and meaning to working out loud and introducing the future of work. We couldn’t have created an emotional connection if we just relied on the vendor platform name. We had to make it our own. We had to create a brand that meant something.

We had to first create a meaningful name and brand that team members could take and make their own. And in many ways that’s exactly what’s happened. The thousands of posts, contributions and actions that now make up The Wall online experience have further defined and evolved what The Wall brand means.

How We’re Marketing The Wall

To help further extend and market The Wall brand, and the tell the story of business value that The Wall Community delivers, we also created a video series called “Off The Wall.”   Basically, “Off The Wall” was created as a channel to have a different type of conversation with employees that we haven’t had before at Walgreens. The video series features me on the Red Couch going to different locations across the company having conversations with leaders, stakeholders and other employees about how The Wall is supporting the business and helping them work better. Again, like The Wall brand, the Red Couch and the “Off The Wall” series has taken on a life of it’s own and really resonated with employees.

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To take the marketing even further, and because we can’t always take the big Red Couch everywhere I go, we also have a mini Red Couch that I take with me to meetings, company events and industry conferences. The mini Red Couch is a fun and engaging reminder and a great conversation starter to talk about what is happening on The Wall. When I take the mini Red Couch with me to company meetings I put it on the table and it always gets some interesting conversations going with people who have not yet had an positive interaction on The Wall or haven’t heard about the valuable collaboration happening with our employee communities.

To market The Wall we also have a Wall sign (featured in the photo below) and flyers to promote events and feature specific success stories to bring new people in and convert skeptics into believers. We also have Wall lanyards that I give to our Wall Champions so they can go forth and spread the good word and be identified around the company as ambassadors helping to onboard and answer questions and share their own personal success stories.

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Captured in the photo above is one of my most memorable Wall moments thus far. It’s me with our Wall Champions from our Field HR team. This team recently played a critical role in a live event in October during which we integrated The Wall Community into a week long conference. It was inspiring to see these Wall Champions in action helping their team members get onboarded and discover their own Wall “aha” moment. And I loved what they did with the Red Couch brand.

In the left hand side of the picture you can see someone holding a white canvas with the Red Couch on it. To measure success of the event, we had a success metric and goal to grow one of Field HR online groups to a certain number members and to my surprise one of The Wall Champions showed up at the event with the canvas drawing. So as we grew closer to our goal they colored in a cushion of the Red Couch! At the end of the event I had them all sign the drawing and it made me very, very proud.  Again, this special and engagement moment wouldn’t have been possible if we didn’t have a unique and personal brand attached to our ESN.

What You’re Missing If You Don’t Brand and Market Your ESN

As you can see, if you don’t brand your ESN, you’re missing out on several valuable emotional connections, engagement opportunities and many word of mouth benefits too. A strong and meaningful ESN brand gives your champions something to share, something to talk about. To make this new way of working more tangible and contagious you must have a unique brand for your ESN. And you must find a way to extend that brand beyond the online and virtual experience.

When you create a unique ESN brand and drive it with a market strategy that powerful combination makes the ESN experience more real for employees. It helps to connect the vision and purpose of the ESN with the vision and purpose of the company.

An ESN branding and marketing strategy makes the community contributions and collaboration more palpable, meaningful and memorable. So, whatever you do, don’t rely on just calling it whatever platform you’re using like Jive, Yammer, etc. Get creative and fight hard to make sure your community has it’s own brand and make sure to invest time and resources to market it. You’ll be glad you did.

These are just a few things we’ve done and learned along the way and I look forward to sharing more about our ESN branding and marketing journey in the future.

Join Us Today for #ESNchat To Explore ESN Branding and Marketing

What can you do next? Well, one thing I encourage you to do is to join us today for this week’s #ESNchat on Twitter which is about branding and marketing your ESN. We’ll be exploring many of the topics I shared above and more, and I hope to see you there in the conversation. To learn more about #ESNchat and how to join this week’s chat go here.

 

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Come Get Your Weekly Inspiring Buzz of Enterprise Social Networks during #ESNChat

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ESNchat

Each week I look forward to the inspiring buzz I get from #ESNChat and I’m excited to join the team leading #ESNchat. If you’re new to #ESNchat, it’s a weekly Twitter chat founded by Jeff Ross in September 2013 for those interested in Enterprise Social Networks (internal social networks for employees of businesses). The topics covered are primarily of interest to ESN community managers, but anyone with an interest in ESNs is welcome to participate.

For the last two years I’ve always gotten a lot of value from the chat and it was a pleasure to have guest hosted last year’s Risk topic. Honestly, the hour flies by and when the chat is over I always get a rush of ideas and a new, valuable perspective on how to approach the future of work, business of community management and enterprise social. #ESNchat is also a great opportunity to connect, share your experiences and learn from others who are managing ESNs at their company. You can check out the archive of topics here and here, and I hope you can join us today for this week’s topic: Holiday #ESN Do’s & Don’ts.

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#ESNchat just celebrated it’s two year anniversary and I’m honored to now partner with Jeff and the rest of the new co-hosting crew Brenda Smith, and Jennifer Honig.  (Special thanks to the team at the Community Roundtable for putting together this entertaining, adventurous and fantastic photo of the new ESNchat team.)

More details and how to participate

The chat is held each Thursday from 2-3pm Eastern Time (except major American holidays).  While the scheduled chats are weekly for one hour, the conversation never ends as we invite you to share thoughts and article using the #ESNchat hashtag in your posts. Here’s how you can participate.

  1. Join the #ESNchat on tchat.io and take advantage of the user-friendly interface there.
  2. Use the Twitter tool of your choice (such as Tweetdeck.com, Hootsuite.com, Nestivity.com or Twitter itself) to view a stream of tweets in real time that contain the hashtag #ESNchat.
  3. Follow @ESNchat on Twitter for updates regarding the chats and for discussion questions during the chats.  Questions will be posted at regular intervals by the moderator during the scheduled chat.  Answer questions, engage in conversation, retweet, learn, and have fun!

 

Thanks for spreading the news and I’ll see you in the chat!

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What I Told Grad Students About The Future of Work and Internal Communications

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I recently had the pleasure of speaking to graduate students at Depaul University in Chicago about the future of work and internal communications.

Looking back on this talk I was surprised and delighted because it was not only a chance to talk with students about the future of work that’s unfolding within organizations, the talk was an opportunity to reflect for a moment on my own career journey. It was a chance to give back and share what I’ve learned as I’ve seen and experienced first hand how internal social media, community management and other elements of the future of work are transforming and involving the conversation between companies and their employees, making it more transparent, meaningful and relevant behind the firewall.

Here are a few of the presentation slides, highlights of what I shared, plus a few extra thoughts and post-presentation reflections mixed in.

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As I mentioned in my working out loud like a toddler post, my son has challenged me to think about what the future workplace will be like. Seeing the world through his eyes inspires me to think about the changes we need to make today in the workplace to create the best possible future work experience, a work experience that won’t hold back or limit employees but instead will inspire and empower future generations to thrive at work and in their careers. This new way of thinking isn’t just about technology. It’s also about changing that way we approach management, leadership and give employees the tools they need to be inspired about the work they do.

To explain some of the key behaviors that employees will be exhibiting in the future, I shared a picture of my son watching a Ted talk on an iPad and related it to the Seven Principles of the Future Employee that Jacob Morgan has spoken about in his book The Future of Work.

Watching my son grow up and watching how he uses technology to learn about the world around him, it’s obvious to see how today’s workplace must evolve. Organizations must be ready for my son’s generation. But what I stressed was that many of the elements of the future employee and the future of work are already here. I told the grad students that the organizations, at least the ones that want to be relevant and in business 10 years from now, need to adapt to the reality that’s coming and one that’s already here.

Expectations and Opportunities

Looking at my son, I can’t help but see the importance of championing these new ways of working today. He’s going to expect to have these tools to do his job, and if employers don’t change and adapt these new tools and management approaches they’re going to have very frustrated and disengaged employees. And even worse, those employers who don’t evolve will be seen as “behind the times” and won’t attract the top talent and thus will be at a competitive disadvantage in the marketplace.

I explained that those entering the communications profession have a tremendous opportunity to be champions and change agents themselves. I encouraged the students to not be a spectator in the future of work. Be an active catalyst for change where ever you work. Put yourself out there. Take risks. Experiment. Challenge yourself and others no matter where you sit in the org chat (if the org chart still exists.)  Make mistakes and learn from them. Always be improving. Figure out what works and what doesn’t. The career path always favors the risk takers, linchpins, and early adopters. And when companies allow ALL their employees to think, act and work in this new way, the company is at a significant competitive advantage in the marketplace.

I told the students that they can influence the future of work regardless of age or work experience. I encourage them to be bold and be courageous when they face adversity in the workplace.  I was also real with them. I explained that though it’s an inspiring opportunity, it’s not without it’s challenges.

Road blocks are certain to come. I’ve faced many in my career and I expect many more to come my way. I shared with them a glimpse into how rolling out the future of work at any organization, large or small, is like running a marathon.  And if they weren’t long distance runners yet, they should consider starting because it’s a great metaphor for the exciting challenge that lies ahead.

Sharing a few personal experiences of when I had to push back and challenge my managers and leaders during my career, I explained how many of the old ways of working are still deeply engrained in organizations and you will get push back and resistance. Bet on it. Embrace it, I told them. See it as opportunity to grow and develop yourself. If you don’t embrace it, you’ll get frustrated and stop making progress. You must push on and not get discouraged by setbacks.

Why push hard against adversity? Because that’s where the real learning comes in. I’ve learned a lot from my mistakes and successes. Yes, without a doubt it’s an immense challenge to transform a company from the old ways of working and lead them into the future of work. What I’ve learned over the last five years at Walgreens has been priceless and each day that goes by I’m reminded of what I learned, and I challenge myself to apply what I’ve learned to in the past to help me in the present and plan for the future. Because that’s what the future of work is all about. Fail quickly so you can learn quicker. And improve faster.

I only had a short time to talk and I wish I had more time, but what I did share was that I love the rewarding feeling of being part of something bigger than myself. I love the opportunity to help fellow co-workers and leaders do their jobs better.

Connecting people and building relationships is what inspires me, and it’s one of the things I love about what I do for a living. Yes, it’s hard work. But it’s worth it because I know that my work doesn’t just impact the company but it goes beyond the firewall and helps customers too.

Making Cluetrain A Personal Manifesto

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It was fun sharing this above slide because it was a chance to reflect back on and unpack a bit of the-way-ahead-of-it’s-time wisdom from the Cluetrain Manifesto. It was amazing to see what’s evolved, and what’s not, since Cluetrain first came out in 1999.

Looking at the Cluetrain Manifesto in context of internal communications and community management was a blast as I focused on a few key areas; corporate intranets, importance of communities within organizations and the need for a human voice. I explained to the grad students how we are working hard at Walgreens to integrate these concepts into our daily flow of strategic internal communications.

I shared personal stories of how over the last five years I challenged both myself and others at Walgreens to put the concepts of the Cluetrain Manifesto into action. I explained how it takes bold thinking and courage to step from behind the proverbial and unfortunately pervasive corporate curtain and speak to employees in a real human voice that’s honest, vulnerable and transparent.

Risks, Rewards and Why Humans (Not Robots) Are The Future of Work

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I shared stories of how I’ve taken risks (and reaped the rewards) during my journey into the future of internal communications. I explained how we utilize technology like Enterprise Social Networks and concepts like Working Out Loud to have real, meaningful and transparent conversations with employees. I shared examples of how members of our corporate communications team have modeled the behaviors of the Future Employee and The Future Manager.

And most of all, I stressed the importance of not thinking that it’s all about technology. Yes, much of the future of work does involve using technology and though I am a big fan of Daft Punk and their robot rock, we don’t need to be robots or be robotic in how we work in the future. We’ve already done enough of that in the past. It’s time to be human.

The future of work needs leaders who are human and are courageous enough to reprogram the system with their humanity. Leaders that are brave enough and smart enough to be vulnerable, admit and learn from failure, embrace their humanity and use all those human elements to transform the workplace and how we work.

Why is being human so important for the future of work? Because, honestly, at the heart of the future of work are humans, humans with which we need to communicate and engage with in an authentic and personal way.

Humans that need to be cared for and guided mindfully and thoughtfully along the way. Humans that need to be encouraged and told (often) that it’s okay to work is this new way.

Humans that need leaders to show that the future of work is blessed by the organization and is top priority for the company.

Humans that need to be led through this new and often scary behavior change.

The Future of Work Needs Leaders and Partnerships

Okay, so I made the point that you can’t have the future of work without real people and we shouldn’t be fooled into thinking that just because IT rolls out new technology that employees will know exactly how to use it and know exactly how it should be integrated in to their daily flow of work.

The other important things we need are leaders and partnerships.

Looking at the five trends of the future of work we clearly need leaders at all levels of the organization to guide the workforce. We need to look at leadership differently. From the C-suite to the front lines, I believe we need everyone to be empowered and to have a sense of leadership and ownership of the future of work. The challenge, and opportunity, ahead of us is to complex to only have a few people leading the way and charged with guiding employees through all the psychological, emotional and sociological parts of the human experience that’s unfolding before us. Traditional hierarchies, old ways of management, and department silos won’t get us to where need to be. I’ve seen progress in other companies who are making inspiring changes but we need to continue to push to make it the future of work a reality not the exception.

I ended with the truth I’ve shared with other audiences stressing to the students that it’s critical that strategic partnerships are formed between communications, IT, HR and legal. Those areas of the company must find a way to work together. They must have a shared vision, a clear roadmap and a unified purpose to make the future of work a reality for their organizations. It’s been a key element to success of our community and collaboration initiatives at Walgreens. And if those partnerships are not formed and a priority, the future of work will only be a fragmented effort with limited impact and worse, a failure.

It was a blast and huge pleasure to speak to students about the future of work and internal communication. And I loved the conversations I had with the students afterwards. Special thanks to Ron Culp for making this talk happen and I hope I inspired a few brave and courageous souls to join the journey. And judging by those chats I had with students, the future of work and internal communications looks bright, indeed.

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Putting a Plan Into Action: Internal Social and Community Management Strategies at Work

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Earlier this year I had the opportunity to speak at the J Boye intranet conference. During the conference I shared the story about how at Walgreens we’re using community management strategies to roll out a new social intranet, develop an internal social media program and build communities of practice. During my talk I shared this quote below which is from the internal communications lead, an influential person on the corporate communications team.

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The quote resonated with conference attendees and I thought I’d share more of the strategic backstory of that quote and explore some of the goals and tactics I’ve used and why you do need a community management and internal social strategy.

When it comes to community management these are the three goals I’ve had ever since I started at Walgreens:

1. Demonstrate to the organization what community management is and why it’s critical to the business.

2. Demonstrate how community management supports the broader goals for rolling out a new social intranet.

3. Have the key stakeholders and leaders understand and buy in to goals 1-2.

These three goals, which are part of a broader strategy, have been a welcomed beacon as I’ve had to steer the development, launch and growth of our employee communities through the choppy waters of change and many storms of uncertainty along the way.

I created those three goals knowing I was introducing new business concepts to the organization. I also created them with the future and the unknown in mind, because in today’s business environment the one constant within all organizations is change, and you have to be able to create a community management strategy that is solid and focused on answering the question “how do the employee communities support the business?” And your strategy must also be fluid, flexible, and adaptable to the ever-changing needs of the business.

But can and should you create an internal social media strategy? Is all the hard work of building employee communities worth it? Yes. And yes. And hopefully by the end of this post you’ll takeaway a few things you can use to do the same at your company’s journey as you aim to do the same.

If you want to change the world…

Introducing community management concepts, launching an enterprise social network (ESN) within a large organization, and having it all deliver real business value, is no easy task. For sure, I’ve had a lot of help and inspiration from others along the way.

There’s a favorite story I love to re-read that can be summed up by saying “if you want to change the world, don’t try to change the entire world at once. You must start first with yourself and then focus on those directly around you.”

I love that story because it makes things simple. It drives home the message that you must start small and begin from within and work outwards if you want to see lasting, meaningful and transformative change happen in the world.

I’ve always aimed to practice that helpful bit of “begin from within” wisdom in my personal life and it’s turned out to have a lot value in business too. So I decided to use this same wisdom to achieve my three community management goals. I first focused my attention on the influential people directly around me and then expanded my evangelization efforts from there.

How did I begin? What did I do?

Yes, there was already a general sense of buy-in about the value of internal social media and community management. That’s why I was hired in the first place.

But to take things to the next level, and scale the vision enterprise-wide and make the concepts of internal social and employee communities indispensable to the organization I knew I needed to go further.

I needed to deepen the buy-in and make it even more personal, valuable and meaningful for leaders, stakeholders and middle management.

So I began by sharing the concepts and value of community management in easy to understand ways with those around me in meetings, on internal road tours and in informal one-on-one chats. I focused on influential people in the organization like the internal communications lead mentioned above. Put simple, this was part of the strategy behind the execution work as I aimed for my three goals and and this work is what some call the iceberg effect of community management.

The Iceberg Effect is basically all the critical and often unseen work community managers do to grow communities and develop the program. You can’t see this iceberg effect work happening in the online network, but nonetheless these behind-the-scene actions are highly strategic and crucial to beginning, sustaining and growing employee communities and any communities management program at a company.

Now, what I’m going to share with you on the rest of this post is 1) some of “iceberg effect” behaviors I’ve done and 2) what I felt strategically needed to happen in order to achieve my three goals.

Why Do Internal Social Media Programs Fail?

I’ll start off by saying that there are many reasons why most social intranet and community management initiatives fail at companies. One big reason, I believe, is that those who have failed to get real value of their social intranets and employee communities fail because they’ve relied only on the “deploy and pray” method hoping that “if you build it, they will come.”

If you lack a clear strategy and defined business goals and only rely on the “deploy and pray” method, you’re falsely hoping to your demise. Employees and the organization will not somehow magically know how to use these new tools to collaborate, connect and share ideas at work. Community management and internal social media are still too new and there’s way too much behavioral change that needs to happen for companies to assume these concepts and practices will just be instantly and easily adopted by employees.

Just like any other function within the business, you have to have a plan for your internal social media and community management program. You have to have a roadmap and a vision. You have to guide, teach and explain how a social intranet, collaborative employee communities and the concepts of community management support the business. You have to clearly communicate and demonstrate how all these tools combined together help employee solve problems and get work done more efficiently and effectively.

Don’t call it “Facebook for the enterprise”

One other barrier to adoption and initial buy-in is that the technology platforms of employee communities often look like and feel like Facebook or other external social media platforms. And because of this you have to convincingly explain and demonstrate how the goals of your employee communities are different from what people experience on Facebook or other internet communities.

I mentioned this briefly in my J Boye talk that if you want to get buy-in or adoption, you never (ever) want to call what you’re doing “Facebook for the enterprise” or overuse the word “social.”  I’ve used the word “social” very carefully and strategically these last three years and I would suggest you also do the same and stick to using words and phrases like “collaboration, knowledge-sharing, enhancing communication, trust-building, connecting, engagement, innovation,” (to name few) when talking about the value of your employee communities.

“Deploy and pray” doesn’t work

Now, all that said, after a few years of watching the enterprise social network and social intranet industry play out, we know that the “deploy and pray” approach doesn’t work. You must put strategy before technology for it work. You can’t just stand up a social intranet or community platform and walk away hoping the business value will magically appear. Having dedicated resources and budget to assure the community strategy is created, communicated, executed and nurtured is vital to success.

Another big reason for lack of success is the hard work part. Doing anything meaningful and lasting takes time and energy. It takes the things like having clear business goals and doing the iceberg effect behaviors to work. And I would say this is especially important to understand when building and growing employee communities of practice.

It’s like raising a baby

To share another metaphor, being a father has helped me to realize and illustrate to others the need for putting in the hard work of nurturing employee communities. My son just turned two and I see many similarities between raising him and launching and growing an internal social media program. If I didn’t “invest” in him — feed him, hold him and be patient teaching him knowing and trusting that he will eventually walk, talk and develop beyond infancy — then why should I expect that he’d make it past being a baby?

Laying a solid foundation of knowledge and awareness of what community management is just like nurturing an infant’s growth. And without a doubt, doing this work these last three and half years was critical to realizing that quote and reaching the first stage of success with my three goals.

And because I’m passionate and I believe in the power our employee communities at Walgreens have to transform the business, I’ve often considered our employee communities to be “my baby.”

And with my three goals in mind I’ve moved forward knowing that if nurtured, fed and invested in, our employee communities will provide value. And they have. In many ways.

My 3 strategic behaviors

Okay, so what specifically did I do to achieve my three goals?  I started small and focused on those influential stakeholders around me. In those influencing relationships I focused on doing three key strategic behaviors that are critical to developing a community management program in the early stages.

1. Do short and simple business value storytelling

Demonstrating business value and articulating your community management strategy in simple and impactful ways is vital. I can’t stress enough how important it is to be able to explain new and complex things with storytelling.

How do I use storytelling to explain the key elements of community management and share success stories? I always look for moments within our communities where a particular action or series of events supports our business goals. I then connect those examples to tangible business results and begin crafting the short success story.

Humans love stories, so I relied on my love for movies, screenwriting story arcs and telling concert fans stories to come up with a concept I call “business value storytelling,” which is basically using the story arc to explain how employees are getting value from the community and using it to work better, stay connected and find information faster.

One story I’ve shared many times is about an employee who didn’t even use social media outside of work or initially understand the business need for our communities. He came to our employee community with a real business issue and was able to solve his problem in 30 minutes, where in the past the issue would have taken him much longer and cost the company much more money, time and outside resources. As a result of his experience that person is a champion of our employee communities. I’ve told this story many times since to turn more skeptics into believers.

I’ve also refined this story and others like it into short “elevator pitches. Doing this has helped to achieve my three goals, because in my discussion with leaders and stakeholders time is often short and you have to be able to tell a compelling story that gets the point across and resonates quickly.

2. Always answer “what’s in it for me?” (WIIFM)

The second strategic behavior I did when working with stakeholders and leaders was to always answer “what’s in it for me” which involved:

1) knowing their area of the business

2) Understanding what is most important to them

3) Understanding what business problems they are trying to solve

Part of this WIIFM process also involved partnering with who those leaders and the stakeholders they trust. I then made sure to clearly explain that our social intranet and employee communities are not another thing they have do, but instead our social intranet and employee communities are tool and resource to help them do what they do better and more effectively and efficiently. Explaining that and mixing in consistent business value storytelling, I built momentum and gained that all important initial buy-in to move things along.

We still have a lot of work to do but I know this approach is working because as time has gone on I’ve seen many leaders and managers either strengthen their support or have their all-important “aha” moment. And when they have their “aha” moments it has inspired them to go on to share the business value success stories of our employee communities up the ladder and across the enterprise with their peers and other stakeholders and business partners.

This transformation within leadership and management is inspiring to see. It’s an important part of any internal social media and community management journey. Leadership and management have to see it for themselves in order to share the good news with their peers.

Like word-of-mouth marketing you need to inspire advocates and champions to talk and spread the word about the value of your employee communities. Internal social media and community management doesn’t just happen in a vacuum. Especially in the early stages of adoption, you have to constantly be selling it, marketing it and demonstrating how it supports the business.

Yes, this all takes hard work and time. We’ve certainly had bumps and numerous obstacles along the way, like any company does. And we’ve only just begun the first mile of the marathon. But it’s been an amazing journey and I’m excited about the road ahead.

3. Build relationships; you can’t scale the vision alone

The last key thing I did (and still do) is build relationships.

If there’s one thing I’ve learned, it’s that you can’t do it alone. You need to get the support and buy-in from others in the organization. Grass roots will only take you so far. You can’t scale in a silo. If you want to have long-term success, you need to building partnerships between corporation communications, IT, legal and HR, just to name a few of the key stakeholders. You need these partnerships to work through budget challenges, organizational changes and the many other obstacles that are sure to arise during your journey.

And as you build those foundational relationships, one way to have long term success is to start small with your communities. Or what like to call “Starting small, but thinking big.” This is how successful communities start and we have taken that approach too. I started by focusing on getting a series of small wins so that we could begin building the initial momentum to work towards achieving my three goals. Part of this early wins stage involved furthering the initial buy-in and strategically experimenting with our grass roots initiative to refine our business case.

But, again, in order to move past the creation andy early wins stage you need to proactively and strategically cultivate the grass roots success with a top-down support from the C-Suite. You have to show leadership how what is happening in your grass roots stage is aligning and supporting your original business goals. Then you can begin focusing on the middle layer of management to further scale the success.

Only using the top-down push or only using grass roots doesn’t work for long-term success. You have to strategically use both together at the right time for your organization. Experimenting with, proving out and refining your business case during the grass roots stage gets you going and then the top-down support fans the flame, and then you continue to build momentum by focusing on the layers of middle management gradually over time.

Benchmark and discover next practices

In addition to business value storytelling, answering WIIFM and building internal relationships it always helps to do solid industry benchmarking and learn from others too. If you’re looking for data and more best practices you can dive into the recent Community Management 2014 report. Learning from the best practices of gurus like Richard Millington, and following along on one of my favorite Twitter chats, like the weekly ESNChat has been a valuable resource too.

Internal social media, the ESN industry and the practice of community management within organizations is still in its early stages and we have a lot of work to do until value of community management is fully understood and realized as a must-have for community and business success.

That said, I am encouraged when I look at the SOCM 2014 data and collaborate with my fellow colleagues on the ESN chat. I can see that the industry and practice of community management is clearly maturing. And I believe those companies who are already implementing these concepts and those that get started now will be at a significant competitive advantage in the marketplace.

What’s Your Story?

If there’s one thing you take away from this blog post, I hope you see that starting with a solid strategy, connecting your goals to your companies business goals, starting small and working hard to clearly demonstrate the value of community management and getting others to understand are all critical elements to the long-term success of your internal social media program.  Yes, it’s all worth it, especially if you want to demonstrate how your communities support the business.

What’s your story? What’s worked for you? What have you learned?

 

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Recap Video: Talking with The Community Roundtable about Community Management and Our ESN at Walgreens

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I recently had the pleasure of kicking off the Community Roundtable’s new Community Manager spotlight series. It was tons of fun chatting with Jim Storer and sharing the inside scoop of the development of our enterprise social network and employee communities journey at Walgreens.

Highlights of the chat include: an overview how how we launched The Wall, our new social intranet, and how we’re using community management strategies to support the business, build trust and drive the adoption of the digital workplace. I hope you enjoy it and I’d love to hear what you think. 

Check it out here.

 

 

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CMAD: Join Us For A Chat About The Evolution of Enterprise Social Networks

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It’s inspiring and encouraging to see how much Community Manager Appreciation Day has evolved since it was started in 2010.

Four years later CMAD has become the dedicated day to not only give thanks to community managers and recognize them for the work they do, it’s now become a 24-hour celebration where we also roll up our sleeves to talk about the business of community management and how it’s playing an increasingly key role in transforming companies internally and the customer experience externally.

On Monday January 27, you can look forward to a day packed full of valuable and forward-thinking community management conversations happening both online and offline. And this year I’m proud to be on the panel that will be diving into the topic of “The Evolution of Enterprise Social Networks” at 12pm EST on Google+.

During the chat we’ll be discussing “the evolution of enterprise social networks with topics such as: the beginnings of enterprise social; major advances in recent years; how ESN tools have changed and still need to change; the role of ESN community managers past, present and future.”

Key questions we’ll be exploring include:

  1. When was the first time you used ESNs and what characterized the technology and the experience at the time?
  2. What are some recent major advances in enterprise social in terms of use cases and expectations – not technology.
  3. How has ESN technology evolved and in what ways does it still need to improve?
  4. How important is a dedicated, full-time ESN community manager?
  5. How has the role of ESN community managers evolved? Where do you see it going?

I’m looking forward to sharing stories and learnings from my experience leading the internal social media programs at Walgreens and I’m excited to hear what the other panelists have to share too. Should be a great time!

As prep for the CMAD chat about ESNs, I recommend checking out this excellent primer post by the panel organizer Jeff Ross who leads the internal community at Humana. Also, if you haven’t yet, I invite you to participate in the #ESNChat that Jeff leads every Thursday at 2pm EST.

Here’s more info on the panelists and how you can tune in Google+. See you there and enjoy!

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Live Webinar: Talking with The CR About The Business Of Community Management at Walgreens

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When you’re building an enterprise social network at a large company and aiming to make your organization more social and collaborative, one of the most important things you should do is surround yourself with smart people who have done or are doing the same thing as you’re aiming to do.

That’s why I’ve enjoyed being a member of the Community Roundtable. The CR network is run by and is full of smart leaders who know their stuff when it comes to the business of community management. Over the last two years, being a member has helped to build and strengthen our internal social media and community management strategy at Walgreens.

It was a pleasure being on the advisory board for the 2013 State of Community Management Report and in 2014 the Community Roundtable is kicking off a new live webinar series called “Community Manager Spotlight” and I have the honor of being the first guest.

I invite you to join us next Wednesday January 29th @ 2pm EST for the 30 minute live webinar to learn how we’ve been using community management strategies to build our internal social media program at Walgreens and where we’re heading as our program grows. It’ll be lots of fun and I’m looking forward to sharing our story with you.

Get more info and register for the webinar here.

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Video + Notes From Blogwell: How We’re Using Community Management Strategies at Walgreens

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Continuing our exploration of community management and social media, here’s a video and the deck from a presentation I gave when I spoke at the Socialmedia.org Blogwell event in New York City.

My talk was about how, at Walgreens, we’re using community management strategies to build relationships, support culture change and engage employees within our internal online communities.

This was the first time I had publicly spoken about our internal social media story at Walgreens, and it was an honor to share some of the things we’ve been doing and how being strategic is a key element to building on our foundation and executing on our playbook.

It was great to also present among other companies like Verizon and TD Bank who also shared success stories and case studies about their internal social programs. It’s encouraging and inspring to see these and other collaborative employee communities and the role of social media continue to mature and develop behind the firewall.

As I mentioned before, when I talked about why I was on the advisory board for the Community Roundtable’s State of Community Management 2013 Report, the role of strategic community management will play an important role as employee online communities become more integrated into organizations.

Without a doubt, I believe employee communities will only grow in importance and prominence as they continue to provide real business value and play an increasingly crucial role in driving engagement, attracting and retaining top talent, empowering innovation and cultivating significant culture change in more and more companies.

That said, on a future post, I’ll be sharing my thoughts on the intriguing results of this year’s SOCM report that focused on the value of community management and demonstrated a significant change in the standard “90-9-1” concept that I mentioned during my talk. I’ll also share how I’m seeing a new type of persona emerge within our communities.

Until then, thanks for checking out the video and I’d love to hear your thoughts on what you’re seeing at your company and in the industry at large when it comes to community management.

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