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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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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What My Toddler Is Teaching Me About Working Out Loud

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I was inspired by this Working Out Loud post by John Stepper. It’s a post asking what you can do to accelerate working out loud (WOL). I’m accepting John’s challenge and I’m going to do “my something” and share with you how my son, a toddler, is inspiring me to think differently about and better understand what it means to work out loud.

What is Working Out Loud?

If you’re new to working out loud, basically, as John states, it’s defined as “…making your work visible in such a way that it might help others. When you do that – when you work in a more open, connected way – you can build a purposeful network that makes you more effective and provides access to more opportunities.”

I’ve continue to be inspired by WOL these last few months and I’ve been embarking on my own journey to better understand how I can work out loud more in my life and career. The concepts and framework of working out loud have inspiring possibilities to impact the workplace and as part of my journey I’m going to be sharing more examples about what I’m learning in my personal life and experiment with working out loud as I lead the development of our collaborative employee communities at Walgreens.

It’s Simple…Just Watch A Toddler Play

Alright, now that you’re up to speed on what WOL is, here’s what my toddler has taught me about working out loud.

I was playing with my two-year-old son and it occurred to me that the way he plays is a living example of working out loud. One of the most important parts of working out loud is the goal to make your work observable and that’s exactly what my son is teaching me. This is why I now have a wooden train track and plastic building block on my desk at work to remind me of this important lesson.

It’s simple. Watch a toddler play and you’ll see many examples of what it means to make your work observable. It’s refreshing to think of working out loud in this context. Toddlers do such a great job of making their work observable as they’re creating it, and they also show you what it means to invite others to participate with them. They almost do it to excess and extreme which can make it frustrating, but there’s even a valuable lesson to learn in that moment of frustration.

Sure, toddlers might not be completely cognitively aware of what they’re doing, but nonetheless, it’s pretty amazing to experience firsthand the super powers toddlers have to demonstrate (and remind) us adults how to work out loud.

My “A-ha” Moment

When did this truth really hit home for me? The moment when my son looked up at me with a piece of train set in his hand and said “Daddy help me,” a light bulb went off in my head. He smiled at me and I back at him. In those moments when we engage each other as we build puzzles, construct train sets and color inside (and outside) lines of his favorite coloring books I get the opportunity to really make working out loud a more personal and emotional experience.

When my son and I are playing together I get the opportunity to not only connect with him but I have the opportunity to think deeper about what it means to collaborate as adults and further the discussion about the skills needed for the present and future of the digital workplace. I get to test and experiment for myself. And because of these moments the concepts of working out loud become more meaningful and applicable in my life, career and work to build employee communities at Walgreens.

Recently my son and I were putting together a Thomas the Train set and everything went into slow motion as I watched the scene unfold. He built his half of the train set while I built mine. He paused to watch me and I then paused to watch him work at connecting the pieces and give the trains a test run on the tracks. Then the moment came when we connected our parts together. Bam! Whalla! A massive smile lit up his face and the “a-ha” lightbulb in my head grew brighter and brighter with thoughts. The bigger picture of what was happening in this single moment became clearer.

He’s learning how to collaborate and he’s helping me to rewire my brain so I can unlearn all the bad stuff that keeps me from working out loud as an adult. He teaches me to keep it simple, to not let my own fears and inhibitions get in the way of sharing what I’m working on with others. He’s teaching me how to ask for help so I can improve my own talents and hopefully make more meaningful contributions to those around me. How cool is that!?

The Truth About WOL Meltdowns

Yes, this is all inspiring stuff. But I have to be honest with you. It’s not always that simple. He (and I ) certainly have our struggles. He has the occasional toddler meltdown and at times he rips pieces out of my hand when I least expect it, which is frustrating and really tests my patience. Yes, there’s another lesson to be learned here. As I’ve come to learn, working out loud can be messy too. Working out loud is not about perfection. It’s about making progress towards a bigger goal over time. What that might look like. And messiness, imperfection, and failures are all part of the journey. If you’re not failing, getting occasionally frustrated or messy when working out loud then you’re probably not working out loud at all.

All this said, as I reflect on what my son is teaching me I’ve been thinking about a few other truths.

How I’m Overcoming The Hard Parts of WOL

First, working out loud is hard to do. It’s not natural for adults. If it were easy I wouldn’t be writing this post. So because of that we need toddlers to re-teach us. Unfortunately, as adults, we’re often taught and rewarded for being competitive, being perfect and working alone until the project is finished. These “work in silence” and “work in secret” behaviors get reinforced in many areas of our lives as we get older so that’s why working out loud is hard to do at first. So what I’ve found is that it’s important to recognize this reality because it helps to set the right expectations so we don’t try to do too much too soon and get discouraged, all of which can stop us before we even can make progress towards lasting change, meaningful transformation and big breakthroughs.

Like running, I’ve realized that once you get going working out loud does get easier and it begins to feel more natural. You begin to become more comfortable. Once momentum builds you begin to build up and strengthen your working out loud muscles. And, like running, you have to put the miles in to get the rewards and benefits. I’ve never had runner’s high as a result of standing still.

You have to struggle and wrestle at first. Heck, just writing this post took several tries before I won the wrestling match and “publish.” Like I’ve done on many blog posts before I fought to keep the momentum going. That’s what matters most. A series of small wins leads to bigger wins. And as I watched my son do his thing building and tearing down his block towers and building them back up again, it all inspired me onward.

While writing this post I took a look back at my own career and I reflected on all the work it took to start Live Fix back in 2005. Didn’t necessariily know what I was doing. I just started and built on each live concert experiment one by one.  So it became clear that I’ve been working out loud all these years by writing about life and the live concert experience and doing podcasts. And doing so has led to several pivotal creative breakthroughs and more career opportunities, which is one of the many benefits of working out loud.

Now at this stage of my career I feel as though I’m leveraging working out loud in a new and exciting way that I haven’t before. I have an idea of what that exactly means but then again I don’t. And I’m totally okay with that because I’m learning as I go just like I did back in 2005. What I do know is that I’m excited about the opportunity to join with others who like me are introducing and championing working out loud within their organizations. It’ll be interesting to see where things are at five or ten years from now.

In writing this post I struggled to put together my initial thoughts and labored through my share or doubt and confusion looking for the right words to express my thoughts and emotions about working out loud in this phase of life. When fear, doubt and procrastination were looming, I utilized one of John’s wise tactics. I leveraged Twitter to help keep me accountable and motivated. I tweeted that I was working on a post in a effort to make my ongoing blog post visible and get initial feedback on the post.

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And it worked! One of my twitter followers tweeted back right away that he was interested in this post as I was writing it, which I thought was awesome. So I continued on and moved ahead writing the post even though the lizard part of my brain was thrashing around with fear, doubt and uncertainty. Like I mentioned above, I’ve also been practicing, modeling and experimenting with WOL in our internal employee communities and corporate communications at Walgreens and I’m learning a lot about what works and what doesn’t work when introducing working out loud to a large and complex organization. I’ll share more on future posts about what I’m learning through those experiences too.

Generosity = Motivation

The other part of working out loud that’s helped me work through the negative emotions and mental barriers (and inspired me to hit publish on this post) was the generosity elements associated with WOL. At its core, working out loud encourages us to see and re-frame our work as contributions for the greater good and benefits of those around us. When we openly share our work we’re thinking of others first and not focusing on our own doubts and fears. By sharing what we’re learning we’re being generous because there’s a genuine and authentic knowledge share happening. By working out loud others are benefiting from the things we’ve learned and hopefully what’s shared helps make the lives of others better and more meaningful.

That’s a beautiful and very liberating way to frame things and I can tell you that seeing things from this “be generous” perspective makes the fear of not being perfect or failing really small and almost a non-issue. Seeing things though a generous lens helps me to not be so selfish in my fear and instead focus on helping others around me with what I learned in life. The opportunity to be generous is a great motivator and inspires me for sure.

More WOL questions coming up next

Here’s a few more questions I’m looking forward to exploring on future posts:

  • What is the impact of working out loud in a large organization? What should we be testing and measuring?
  • How and why are the concepts of observable work and working out loud critical to the future of work?
  • Why is it important for companies to learn how to work out loud? And how will working out loud impact a company’s ability to adapt and remain competitive in the marketplace?

Until next time, and to continue John’s original inspiring question, let me know…what are you doing to accelerate working out loud? What has a toddler taught you about working out loud?

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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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