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Disagreements and Debates Are Good Things

February 3, 2010

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Image Courtesy of Flickr User pboyd04

Have you had a disagreement with your boss about the direction of a project? Did you actually voice your difference of opinion with him, or did you grumble about it silently but do what he told you anyway? If you answered the latter, then you’re not doing your job as effectively as you could be. Sure, you might be getting good performance reviews and winning awards, or maybe you’re flying totally under the radar, putting in your eight hours and doing exactly what’s expected of you. Or, you’ve dutifully accomplished every task your boss has asked of you. That’s great – I’m happy for you. I just wouldn’t want you on my team.

You see, here’s the thing – if you can’t think back to the last time someone at work, be it a boss, manager, junior employee, intern, etc. has yelled at you, debated something with you, or flat out argued with you about something that you did, how do you know how much more you could have done? How do you know if that briefing really should have included your slides if you didn’t make your case to include them? Can you remember the last time you asked someone on your staff to do something and they pushed back and said, “how about we try it this way instead?” How about the last time you felt strongly enough about a project you were working on that you didn’t take “no” for an answer? Can you remember a time you argued for or against something you truly believed in?

You see, the people I want to work with are the ones who are naturally inquisitive, who will put their neck on the line for something they believe in, who aren’t afraid to send me an email and tell me that I’m flat out wrong and here’s why. I want to work with people like that because that’s how I am. Every problem is an opportunity to fix it. Ask for forgiveness, not for permission. If there isn’t a policy stating you can’t do something, then that probably means it’s allowed, right?

For us social media and Government 2.0 champions, we pretty much make our living taking our colleagues, clients, and bosses out of their comfort zones, showing them new ways of working and new ways of thinking. We’re the innovators, change agents, and in some cases, instigators. We have our battle scars, our stories of almost getting fired, and our half-completed resignation letters, you know, just in case ūüėȬ† On the other hand, many of the most innovative and groundbreaking social media initiatives began with an argument or a debate.

And I’m here to tell you that that’s OK. You know why? It shows me you’ve got some passion. I’ll take a passionate, enthusiastic worker who sometimes takes things too far over a conservative worker who does exactly what I tell him every time every single time.

Booz Allen has ten core values – professionalism, fairness, integrity, respect, trust, client service, diversity, excellence, entrepreneurship, and teamwork. Interestingly, no where on that list do I find the words “agreeable,” or “passive,” or “obedience.” While I try to live by these core values every day, I also know that I can have professional and respectful differences of opinion, arguments, and lively discussions. It’s this ability to give honest feedback and to engage in honest dialogue that is common of most social media and Gov 2.0 evangelists. We probably don’t have any special degrees or titles, but we aren’t afraid to take a risk and try a new way of doing things. Reprimands, arguments, and nasty emails are sometimes just part of the job.

Innovation isn’t easy. It involves risk-taking, debates, differences of opinion, and often, some good old-fashioned arguments. That’s ok. That’s part of what makes it innovative. Truly transformative initiatives aren’t the result of achieving consensus at senior committee meetings or from a memo from the Director. They’re achieved every day, step by step, argument by argument, by the people who see an opportunity and who don’t just take no for an answer.

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Looking Back at My 2009 Social Media Resolutions

January 2, 2010

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On New Year’s Eve 2008, I made seven social media resolutions that I wanted to try to keep during 2009.¬† I had to be in total control of whether each would happen or do not happen, they had to be realistic, and they were somehow related to the work I do with social media and communications. Today, one year and 2 days later, I wanted to revisit those resolutions and explore what I accomplished, what I didn’t, and why.

My first resolution was the always ever-popular “blog more often.” Looking back at the frequency of my posts, I averaged about one post per week. While this is less than I’d ideally like to blog, I found that while there are a ton of topics I’d like to blog about, I tend to blog only when I feel like I have something to say that offers some some value to you. While I didn’t necessarily blog more often, I think I did something more important, and made my posts of higher quality. Grade: B

My second social media resolution was to “focus on things other than social media.” I wanted to do a better job of taking some time to go spend time with my family, go to the gym, and do things outside of work. Unfortunately, as social media and the concept of Gov 2.0 gained more momentum internally and with our clients, it seemed that there was always more and more work to be done. Day-to-day, I found myself busier than ever, but this year was the first where I actually took some vacation time and went on a trip. I took some time off and went to Hawaii in May and then to Paris in December. I need to do a better job of balancing work and life every day, not just on vacations.¬† Grade: C

My third resolution was to “re-read the Cluetrain Manifesto.” This one was easy – this was one of the first resolutions that I tackled, and it resulted in one of my favorite and most popular posts of 2009, “Twenty Theses for Government 2.0, Cluetrain Style.” The best part of this resolution was that it helped me simplify things. There’s sometimes a tendency to overthink this social media stuff and we forget our fundamentals. Re-reading the Cluetrain Manifesto and my resulting post provided a good foundation from which to start.¬† Grade: A

My fourth resolution – to “spend an hour each day reading about social media” wasn’t as successful. I was rarely able to carve out an hour a day to read and comment on other blogs, discussion forums, online communities and books. I know the importance of participating in these discussions and growing my knowledge base, but it was difficult to keep this elevated on the priority list when I’m also balancing client work, performance assessments, proposals and white papers, internal governance roles, etc. We all face these competing priorities, but we also have to make community participation and professional growth a priority as well. In 2010, I hope that I’m able to turn this into reality. Grade: C-

Accomplishing my fifth resolution – “turn more of my virtual connections into real ones” – was my most fulfilling. Whether through the Gov 2.0 Camp, the Gov 2.0 Summit, or any other number of Gov 2.0 and social media events I attended over the last year, I had the opportunity to meet a huge number of people in real-life. I can’t possibly list them all here, but I can’t tell you how much more important friends and people are than followers or subscribers. Grade: A

My sixth resolution was an utter failure – “use email less internally.” Not only did I not use email less, I think I actually used it more often. Despite the availability of tools like hello.bah.com, Yammer, and instant messenger, email remains the least common denominator. From intern to Vice President, it’s the one tool that everyone has the access, the knowledge, and the experience to use. Until we can show demonstrable value of social media to everyone in the organization and make it as easy to use and accessible as email, it will continue to be difficult to wean people off of it. In 2010, I resolve to do more to incorporate social media into the things that I can directly control – the day-to-day workflow of me and my team. Grade: F

My final resolution of 2009 was to “proactively reach out to more senior leaders to teach them about social media.” Happily, this resolution was accomplished in spades this year. Whether through our reverse mentoring program spearheaded by Shala Byers or the numerous internal briefings that my team and I conducted, social media and Gov 2.0 has gone beyond “hmmm…that’s interesting” to full-scale “this is critically important to our business and we need to learn more.”¬† While we haven’t achieved broad adoption yet, we’ve certainly achieved broad interest to learn more.¬† Grade: B

Overall, I’d give myself a B- in realizing my 2009 resolutions. Not too bad, and to be honest, probably better than I thought I’d do! My biggest regret it that Iwasn’t able to cut down on my use of email more – I’m going to try to do more this year to incorporate social media into my routine processes and walk the walk a little better.

What about you? How’d you do in achieving your new year’s resolutions from last year?

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Taking Gov 2.0 to the Ballpark

September 25, 2009

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Sports franchises face many of the same challenges in implementing social media as government agencies do

Sports franchises face many of the same challenges in implementing social media as government agencies do

I recently had the honor to join Frank Gruber, Shashi Bellamkonda, Mike Tunison, Gayle Weiswasser, and several other social media and microtargeting professionals (sorry I didn’t get everyone’s Twitter names!) to meet with Stan Kasten, President of the Washington Nationals, and several other team executives to discuss how sports teams can better use social media to increase awareness of the team’s activities both on and off the field, better engage with their existing fans and potential fans, create more fans, generate more positive media coverage, and ultimately, help sell more tickets and build a better baseball team. We were all brought together to brainstorm what the Nationals were doing well, what they could be doing better, and what they hadn’t thought of yet. If you aren’t familiar with my background, this was a dream come true for me – bringing together my love for social media and communications and my love of sports. I’ve always been a huge sports fan and used to work in public relations for a minor league hockey team, so I was extremely excited for this opportunity.

However, despite sitting in a conference room at one of the nicest ballparks in the Majors talking with some of the league’s most powerful baseball people, I couldn’t help but feel like I was again sitting in a nondescript cubicle in some office park talking with the Branch Director for a government agency.¬† From the opening introduction – “you have to understand, we’re dealing with a very unique situation that’s different from your typical organization,” to the challenges they face, “we have to work under Major League Baseball’s strict communications policies so we’re really limited in what we can just go and do,” – the similarities between sports teams’ use of social media and the government’s use of social media really struck a chord with me.

  • Both are trying to reach a very broad and very diverse group of people that crosses all demographics
  • Both operate under a broader entity that creates and enforces the policies and guidelines for communications, including the use of social media
  • Both are primarily operated by conservative and traditional leaders who rely on the command and control communications model
  • Both deal with VERY passionate and very partisan (both positively and negatively) stakeholders
  • Both typically have relatively small communications budgets
  • Both are usually so concerned with the overall mission that communications doesn’t receive the attention or commitment it requires
  • Both deal with media who crave all the information they can possibly get
  • Both operate in a system where they should communicate with other organizations with a similar mission, but instead find themselves in competition with each other
  • Both are determining the best way to educate employees (or players) outside of the traditional communications function who are actively using social media to communicate directly with the public

While there are most definitely some differences, when it comes to social media, the fact remains that we had the exact same conversation the other night with the Nationals that I’ve had dozens of other times with government agencies. Neither the challenges nor the solutions are all that different. During the meeting, I mentioned some of these similarities¬† – if the government can use social media to do share classified information across Agency firewalls using Intellipedia and the Air Force can allow their airmen to engage directly with the public via social media, there’s no reason similar strategies and tactics can’t be applied to a sports franchise. Sports teams have too much gain from social media and too much to lose by not engaging – it’s a no-brainer to me.

The sports community is a very insulated community – teams and leagues generally look inside the sports industry to hire their communications and marketing professionals, but maybe they should take a look at the Government 2.0 industry to find that next pool of communications talent and innovation.¬† After all, we’re dealing with many of the same issues they are.

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Social Media Done Right Means No More Social Media “Experts”

July 21, 2009

47 Comments

Where will all the social media experts be in five years?

Where will all the social media "experts" be in five years?

“If I do my job right, I shouldn’t be doing it in five years.”

That’s what I said almost three years ago when Walton Smith and I started our social media practice here at Booz Allen.¬† Like Geoff Livingston, I’ve felt for a long time that social media shouldn’t be considered some “special” strategy or some public relations parlor trick, but rather as part of an overall communications strategy.

Seeing as I’m part of a 500+ person team of strategic communications professionals here, my goal was not to create one smaller team of geeks who blog and Tweet all day, but to get all 500+ people on the team to know, understand, and use social media just as they know, understand, and use press releases, email pitches, and town hall meetings.

Sure, there will always be a need to call in the “experts” – the people who live and breathe this stuff – but for the most part, every communications professional needs to understand social media and its place in the overall mix of communications strategies and tools.¬†¬† If I hear one more person tell me that they’re “too old for this stuff,” or that “I’m just not ready for that,” all you’re really telling me is that you’re not interested in being a really good communications professional.¬† These types of people won’t last for much longer anyway.

Over the last three years, we’ve made a lot of progress here in integrating social media into our overall communications capabilities – we’re no longer doing public relations, change management, crisis communications, event planning (among others) AND social media.¬† Social media is not a separate discipline – it’s just another set of tools in the toolbox that a communications professional has at their disposal.

Well, a little more than halfway into my prediction above, I can proudly say that I think my statement still holds true.¬† If anything, it might happen sooner.¬† Seemingly every RFP I come across now includes social media, and almost every one of our client projects has at least asked the question, “is social media right for our client?”¬† For the last three months, my days have been filled almost completely with meetings with various projects and clients to talk about social media, writing the tech approaches to several proposals, and giving internal presentations to our senior leadership about the importance of Government 2.0 and the role social media is playing in the future of our government.

Though I’ve been working my butt off lately to handle the incredible demand for social media and Government 2.0, everyone here has also realized that this demand isn’t going away anytime soon – in fact, it’s only going to increase.¬† I’m hearing more senior leaders here say things like, “This can’t just be done by Steve’s team – we need more people who know and understand this stuff.”¬† I’m seeing more performance reviews being conducted where people are being asked what they did to learn more about social media over the last year.¬† I’m getting more requests from people outside of my immediate social media team asking how they can get more up to speed with social media so that they don’t always have to come to us for help. I’ve found out about really cool Government 2.0 work that we’re doing after someone has already started it, instead of me being the bottleneck for all that work.

At the current pace, I imagine that I’ll soon just be Steve Radick, one member of a 500+ person team of communications professionals, all of whom know how to write a press release, create a corporate newsletter, write a speech, craft engaging blog posts, use Twitter to engage with their audiences, and develop a strategic communications plan.

Then, I’ll move on to my next challenge…

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