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Time for a Change

March 12, 2012

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Eight years ago, I left my job(s) delivering pizza and operating a crane in a steel mill in West Virginia to become government consultant at Booz Allen Hamilton. Consulting. For the government. I can honestly say this was something that never even entered into my mind while I was majoring in Public Relations at Bethany College, and here I was picking up and moving further away than anyone else in my family to do it. My plan was to move down to Northern Virginia for a few years, get some experience and then move back to Pittsburgh where I’d get a job in public relations.  This Wednesday, more than 3,000 days later, will be my last day at Booz Allen. This week I'll be moving to Chicago and then on March 19th, I'll be joining Cramer-Krasselt's PR team as a Vice President, Management Supervisor. 

My first day with Booz Allen was October 6, 2003. To give you some idea of how long ago that really was, consider this:

  • Facebook didn’t exist (it wouldn’t launch on Harvard’s campus for another five months)
  • The #1 song in the country was Beyonce’s Baby Boy
  • The #1 movie at the box office was School of Rock
  • The Red Sox defeated the Athletics in the playoffs and would go on to play the Yankees in the American League Championship Series (the Aaron Boone game was 10 days away). In the National League, the Cubs and Marlins were about to play in the National League Championship (the Steve Bartman incident would happen on Oct. 14th)
  • The most popular TV shows at the time were NCIS, Two and a Half Men, Fear Factor, Chappelle’s Show, and Survivor.

Things never really work out according to plan, do they? What happened? For one, I never expected to still feel challenged after so long with one company; I never expected to have even half the opportunities that I’ve had here; I never expected to enjoy working hand in hand with our clients as much as I did; and most of all, I never expected to love working with the people here so much. Over the last four years especially, I felt as if I was at the tip of the spear when it came to things like social media policy (this blog and my Twitter account were the first transparent, employee-owned, external social media properties), Enterprise 2.0 (I created our now 6,000 member+ Yammer community more than three years ago), and Gov 2.0 (I was on the Programming Committee for the first Gov 2.0 Summit). It was exciting to be among the leaders in the burgeoning social media community in the DC area, and I had a lot of fun in these roles.  That’s one reason why I enjoyed working here so much – my proclivity for challenging and changing the status quo was encouraged and often rewarded.

Eight years at one place is an eternity anymore though, and over the last year or so, I found myself itching for a change and a new challenge. For a long time, I really enjoyed the role I was playing here, disrupting things that are being done “because that’s the way they’ve always been done,” and helping create new roles, processes and policies for my colleagues. However, as I've alluded to here before, being a change agent at the tip of the spear can be exhausting. I was spending just as much time, brainpower, and energy trying to make changes internally and take the organization new places as I was on the client delivery and marketing tasks that I was being paid to do.

You know how you feel when you feel when you’ve been dating someone for a really long time, but don’t want to get engaged because you're not ready to commit for the long-term? How you end up breaking up because you’re not ready to settle down yet?  That’s how I felt. I came to Booz Allen right out of college and have been there ever since. It was time for a change. It was time for me to move on to something new, something different, something that would help broaden my experience beyond the federal government and something that would strengthen my communications skills. It was time for me to experience something entirely different.

It's not without mixed feelings that I say goodbye though. At every step of the way over these eight years, no matter what crazy idea I had, there were always people supporting me and making me better. Sometimes that was my leadership giving me the top cover to take a risk (I wouldn't be where I am today without my mentors, Grant McLaughlin, Terry Mandable, and Jim Hickel). Other times, it was one of our Vice Presidents challenging my ideas and forcing me to back up my ideas with data instead of assumptions. It was people like Jacque Myers pulling me aside after a meeting to tell me very candidly that I was going too far and needed to pull it back a little. It was seeing people like Michael Dumlao, Tracy Johnson, Anna Gabbert, Don Jones, and Mike Robert help me not because they had to, but because they shared my vision and passion for social media and the potential it had to impact our business. Seeing them progress in their careers, get promoted, win awards and develop their own teams is one of the things I’m probably most proud of. I'm excited to see where they take social media after I'm gone. I can't wait to see how they develop their own teams and the next generation of leaders following in their footsteps – people like Margaret Lahey, Matt Allen, Colleen Gray, Amanda Sena, Emily Springer, Liz Helms, and so many others behind them.

I'm looking forward to my new job, employer, colleagues, clients, city, and of course, all of the new friends that I'll be meeting in Chicago. At the same time, I'm really going to miss DC and all of my friends and colleagues out here. Ultimately though, I'm think I'm most excited for the start of something new.  While I'm at C-K, I'll continue to blog here about social media, PR, advertising, and branding as well as my experiences in the PR industry – I hope you'll continue to read and engage with me here. 

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Are You a Corporate Rebel?

March 6, 2012

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One of my new favorite sites is www.rebelsatwork.com/. Started by Lois Kelly and retired deputy director of intelligence for the CIA, Carmen Medina, the site is meant to give corporate rebels a platform to share their stories and ideas and help more corporations and big organizations succeed because of (not in spite of) their rebels. 

What's a corporate rebel you ask? According to the Rebels at Work site – 

You hear about innovators in start-ups all the time. Rebelliousness and restlessness are accepted qualities of entrepreneurs. But what about people on the inside of big organizations? How do they blaze new trails and find ways to change business as usual. What are their characteristics? What makes them tick? How do you find them? Could they be an untapped resource for creating more innovative, engaged corporate cultures?

Good rebels also tend to be outstanding employeesThis idea of a "corporate rebel" has always resonated with me because I've always been known as the squeaky wheel, the guy who was never satisfied with doing something because that's the way we've always done it or because the boss said so and the guy who was never satisfied with doing what everyone else was. I've annoyed many a manager by acting almost like a three year-old at work, constantly asking why? Why not? And why can't we do that?  So when I saw Carmen and Lois' site, I recognized that I wasn't alone, that I wasn't crazy for trying to challenging and trying to change long-held assumptions and policies in corporate America. So when they reached out to me on Twitter to share my story being a corporate rebel, I jumped at the chance. One of the questions I answered for my rebel story was, "what advice do you wish someone had given you earlier in your career?" I said: 

"The biggest piece of advice I wish someone had shared with me is to be yourself and be yourself all the time. Don’t listen to the people who tell you that you have to talk a certain way or dress a certain way to advance your career. Don’t try to be someone you’re not just because you don’t see anyone like you in the levels above you. Understand the unique skills, experience, and characteristics that YOU bring to the table that other people don’t have. Don’t assume that just because you’re a junior level employee that you’re at the bottom of the ladder and you have to go up. Look at it like you’re filling a different role, an important role in the organization. You bring strengths to the table that senior leaders don’t – you’re not jaded or cynical, you’re still full of ambition, you’re more likely to take risks, you’re better connected to the rest of the staff, etc. Understand and properly value your strengths."

You can read my full rebel story here, but I would encourage anyone who works in a big government agency or a big company and finds themselves frustrated by the bureaucracy and the inertia of the status quo to bookmark the site and visit it often for inspiration and encouragement. Making change happen in a big organization when you don't have a "Vice President" or "Director" after your name is incredibly difficult. It requires rebels who know how to be disruptive without being insulting, who can offer solutions in addition to identifying problems, who can energize others others to follow, not hold other people back, and who are almost optimistic to a fault. 

If you're the type of person who asks why? why not? how come? what if? or can we?; if you're the type of person who just can't accept "because that's the policy" as a reason for doing something; if you've ever found yourself emailing suggested changes to a corporate policy to your boss solely because you wanted to, you may be a corporate rebel. And guess what? Not only is that ok, you're probably one of your organization's best employees. In fact, most corporate rebels also share many of these nine traits of outstanding employees, so if you feel like your rebelliousness is being punished instead of rewarded, I wouldn't worry – I suspect the job market for an outstanding employee is pretty good :).  

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The Year in Social Media Strategery

December 24, 2011

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As 2011 comes to a close, it's only natural (and for a blog, virtually mandatory) to reflect on the year that's passed. Since that first post more than three years ago until now, this blog has served as the foundation for everything I've done in creating and building the social media practice at Booz Allen. During the first year, it was the pioneer, carving the way for others throughout the firm to feel empowered to create their own blogs as well. The second year was probably my most enjoyable year authoring this blog because I had moved beyond the "justifying my existence" stage, the Gov 2.0 community was active and engaged, and I found myself really in the trenches with a lot of my clients helping them work through many of the issues that I got to write about. This third year though, was a little different. As my firm's social media capabilities matured beyond the start-up phase and expanded to other areas of the firm, I found myself struggling with how to scale and sustain these efforts and this was reflected in my writing too. 

I wrote about a lot of different topics this year – from community management to higher education to public relations, and even personal introspection – reflecting the many different focus areas I had in my own career over the last year. Was I going to focus on Enterprise 2.0? Or Public Relations? Social Media? Social Media and Higher Education? Sports? Change Management? Management? While I remain interested in all of these topics (and many more), I've realized that I have do a better job of focusing, both professionally and personally. As I look forward to 2012 and my fourth year of blogging here, I'm going to do a better job of focusing my energy on a few areas instead of trying to get involved with every opportunity I'm interested in. Now, I just need to identify what those focus areas are….

While I think through that, here are my top five posts of 2011, as determined by how much you liked them, the reaction they generated, and how much I enjoyed writing them:

  1. Rest in Peace, Social Media Ninjas – Probably my most controversial post of the year as some applauded it and others (predictably, some social media ninjas) heartily disagreed. While I used stronger language than I usually do, that's because I really do think social is better when integrated into other functions rather than operating in a vacuum.
  2. Seven Things About Social Media You're Not Going to Learn in College – This post actually received a lot more interest over on the PRSA blog, comPRhension than it did here, but I was still very proud of this post as I heard time and time again from students and professors alike who referenced it in their classes.
  3. The Many Roles of an Internal Community Manager – One of my favorite posts I've ever written because I lived it and because this was one of the best ways I found to really show other people what it is a community manager actually does and why the role can't be filled by just anybody.
  4. More Than Words: How to Really Redefine the Term, "Public Relations" – This one hasn't gotten as much traffic as I would have hoped, but I'm including it here because I'm tired of the bum rap us PR practitioners get and because we've got an opportunity now, as an industry, to change this perception. We have the tools to put the relationships back into public relations.
  5. Insulate Open Government Efforts from Budget Cuts – This post became one a frequent soapbox of mine over the course of the year, as I frequently found myself asking both my team and my clients, "what's the business objective you're trying to achieve? Your goal isn't to get more Facebook fans – what's your real goal? How does this effort tie back to your mission?" 

This blog, much like myself, was a little all over the place this year. I'm looking forward to this next year, to meeting more of you who read and share my thoughts, to working on projects that really make a difference, and to sharing my thoughts and experiences with all of you. I hope everyone has a great holiday season and finishes out 2011 having a great time with great friends. See you all in 2012!!

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Who Are You Working For?

September 30, 2011

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What are you working on right now? Can you explain exactly why you’re working on it?

Do you know why you’re spending time writing that blog post? Sitting in that meeting? Answering that email? Preparing that presentation? Do you have an idea of what you’re trying to accomplish? Do you have a strategy for what you’re working on?

Who are you working for right now? Your boss? Your company? Your family? Yourself? Do you even know?

Over the last six months or so, I’ve found myself asking this question of myself more and more. Four years ago when I first started our Digital Strategy and Social Media practice here, I had a seemingly unlimited amount of time – I had no problem with putting in a 9-5 day followed by a 5-9 night. I could do everything my boss asked of me as well as everything that I wanted to do. I could start this blog even though my boss at the time didn’t see the value in it. I could go out and spend my evenings attending Gov 2.0 and social media events even though no one was telling me to. I could work on a proposal throughout the weekend. I could create presentations and accept speaking gigs because I felt it was important to do.

One of these will make you shift your priorities!

But things change. Since then, I’ve had my first daughter (Hi Annabelle!), social media has become more and more integrated into our business, and some of my most talented team members have been promoted into positions with more responsibilities. We now have experts at using social media behind the firewall, social media and healthsocial media and design, social media and privacy, social media and the DoD, social media and emergency communications, and so on and so on.  Each of these individuals has become the “go-to” person for questions and needs in each of their respective areas. While that’s great for them and for the organization as a whole, it has also limited the amount of time they can dedicate to the things that I want us to accomplish as a group. They have to respond to their project managers, to their husbands and wives, to their teams and to me. There just isn’t as much time to go around to do all of the things that we want to do.

As these changes have taken place, I’ve found myself doing less of the work that I’ve wanted to do:

  • Blogging
  • Tweeting
  • Attending Gov 2.0 happy hours
  • Speaking at external events

And doing more of the things that my managers and my company want me to do:

  • Meeting with senior leaders throughout the firm to discuss strategy
  • Reviewing our various project team’s social media efforts and ensuring quality control
  • Participating in client meetings
  • Writing performance assessments

And of course, doing more of the things that my family wants me to do:

  • Turning off my computer until the kidlet goes to bed
  • Spending more time on the weekends with my wife and daughter
  • Making more trips to visit family and friends

As your career and your life evolve, your priorities and work have to change with it. It took me a while to really understand and accept this – I just can’t do everything that my boss, my family, and I want to do anymore. There’s just not enough time in the day to do it all. That’s why before I  sit through that fourth conference call of the day or drive downtown for that event, I’ll ask myself, “who I am working for right now?”

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