Tag Archives: professional development

Are You a Corporate Rebel?

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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Do You Have a Social Media Superman Complex?

Are you trying to hard to be a social media Superman?

I've become the designated "social media guy" for a massive organization (25,000+ people). For a while, the responsibilities of this role consisted primarily of explaining what the Twitters were and why people cared about what you ate for lunch. As social media has grown in popularity, so too has the internal and external demand for people who know what they're talking about (the demand is so great that even people who have no clue what they're talking about are in demand). My time has since become monopolized by my colleagues asking me to join meetings, review work products, pitch clients, and "pick my brain." Once the words "social media" were uttered, the call went out – let's get Steve in here right away!! 

I liked it. I was in high demand, and I became well-known throughout my huge company as THE social media guy. It was fun and led to awards, promotions, and raises. I became the social media Superman, flying in to win new work, solve problems, and offer innovative solutions! I built a team and developed a mentality that if there was social media involved, I'd swoop in and save the day, wherever and whenever I was needed. The fact that I didn't have the resources, the budget, or the authority to scale this across an entire organization was a concern, but I figured that would come soon enough – how could it not???

That's when I realized I had a problem. I had a Superman complex. Wikipedia defines a Superman Complex as an unhealthy sense of responsibility, or the belief that everyone else lacks the capacity to successfully perform one or more tasks. Such a person may feel a constant need to "save" others.

I felt this enormous sense of responsibility that if there was a project using social media, I needed to know about it and my team needed to be involved. If I heard about a project where we were doing any sort of public outreach, I felt like I needed to butt in and help them integrate social media. If there were people working on a knowledge management strategy for a client, I had to get on the call and talk with them about social media behind the firewall. I felt like I needed to be there to ensure that we had the absolute best people working on these projects, that they were armed with the best intellectual capital we had and that they were consistent with the overall approach to social media that I had established. When a project's social media efforts fell flat, I felt personally responsible. What did I do wrong? Why didn't they get me involved sooner? Why wasn't one of my people working with them already? Why didn't they just ask for my help?? Now, remember, I work at a firm that generates upwards of $5 billion in annual revenue. That's a LOT of projects to keep an eye on.

My team and I quickly found ourselves drowning in reactionary meetings just trying to keep our heads above water. We were becoming a social media help desk. My Superman complex, helpful at first, had become a detriment. I soon realized that my small team, based in our Strategic Communications capability, was never going to get the budget, resources, and authority needed to manage EVERY social media initiative for the entire 25,000+ employee, $5B company. My Superman complex had led me to believe that I could fix everything, regardless of the challenges that had to be overcome. Our recruiters aren't using social media as effectively as they could be? No problem – I'll hop over there and give them a briefing! Intelligence analysts struggling with how to analyze social media in the Middle East? I'll be right there! Instructional system designers stuck in a rut? Give me a few hours and I'll get them up to speed on social learning! I saw opportunities EVERYWHERE to fix things. I needed to be a part of that proposal team. I had to attend that meeting. I had to review that strategy. I had to give that presentation.

Fact is, I didn't have to do any of that. What I had to do was stop. Stop and realize that by trying to fix everything, I wasn't fixing anything, and in some cases, I was actually making things worse:

  • People were lacking incentives to develop their own social media skills because they could just rely on someone from my team to swoop in and help
  • We were too focused on just equipping people with the social media fundamentals that we weren't able to focus on diving deeper into some of the niche areas of social media
  • We were becoming "social media experts" instead of communications professionals who understand social media, pulling all of us away from our core business area and into all kinds of discussions that may have involved social media, but had nothing to do with communications

If you find yourself developing a social media Superman complex (or need to manage an existing one), try the following:

  • Know your role. Do others in your organization expect you to have a hand in EVERYTHING related to social media or is that a responsibility you've taken on yourself? Understand what's expected of you and meet those expectations first before trying to solve all the world's problems.
  • Let others learn. Sometimes people in your organization are going to fall. It's ok – they'll learn and do better next time. Focus on the people and the projects you're responsible for first, do what you can help people in other departments, but don't let them steal your time and focus away from your core mission.
  • Develop your team and set them free. You can't be everywhere all the time. Spend some time developing people on whom you can trust, equip and empower them to succeed and then step away and trust that you've developed them right.
  • Accept that there is no one way to "do" social media. Social media are just tools, and different organizations will use them for different purposes. What works in the Department of Defense may not work in the private sector and vice versa.
  • Respect other people's expertise. Sure, you may know social media better than anyone else in the room, but also realize that you're going to be working with people who are experts in their chosen fields too. Successful social media initiatives require both old and new school expertise.
  • Assess the situation. Don't assume that because someone isn't using social media that they need your help – they may not have the budget, internal expertise, client support, or a whole host of other reasons for not using social media like you think they should.

Social media Supermans bring a ton of benefits to your organizations but they also run the risk of burning out, alienating their colleagues, and creating a culture of dependency. Understand and embrace the balance between Superman and Clark Kent.

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More Than Words: How to Really Redefine the Term “Public Relations”

There’s big news in the PR industry as the Public Relations Society of America (PRSA) recently announced that they are embarking on an international effort to modernize the definition of public relations. Chartered in 1947, PRSA is the world’s largest and foremost organization of public relations professionals and boasts a community of more than 21,000 members across the U.S. Their current definition of PR – “public relations helps an organization and its publics adapt mutually to each other” was last updated in 1982, before Twitter, before Facebook, hell, even before you had a computer at your desk. Technology has changed a lot over the last 30 years. So to have the ways in which organizations and their publics relate to one another. It’s definitely time for a change.

Adam Lavelle, a member of the board of the Word of Mouth Marketing Association and chief strategic officer at the iCrossing unit of Hearst, agrees. In the New York Times article linked above, he says:

“Before the rise of social media, public relations was about trying to manage the message an entity was sharing with its different audiences.” Now, P.R. has to be more about facilitating the ongoing conversation in an always-on world.”

Unfortunately,  ever since the days of Edward Bernays, PR has had its roots in “managing the message.” PR grew out of propaganda, spin, and manipulation – no wonder we’ve had an image problem for the last 100 years! Too many PR practitioners have become so focused on the message that they have totally forgotten the relations part of public relations. As The Cluetrain Manifesto taught us way back in 1999 (also before social media), “public relations does not relate to the public, companies are deeply afraid of their markets.” From press releases that sound like this and media pitches like this, PR practitioners have gotten lazy, hiding behind words and messages instead of building an actual relationships.

PRSA (disclaimer: I’ve been a member of PRSA or PRSSA since 2000) should take this same advice while redefining the definition of PR. The words might end up being totally accurate and insightful, but if PR practitioners don’t also change their actions, the perception of the industry will never change. I hope that all PRSA members would realize the perception of public relations is about more than words – it’s about actions. And with that, here are ten actions that I’d like to become part of the new definition of public relations:

  1. Instead of spamming my email pitches to massive distribution lists, I will put in more than ten seconds of effort and personalize it to the reporter/blogger/writer/anchor/editor I’m contacting
  2. I will stop being a yes-man for my clients and actually provide the expert communications counsel I’m (hopefully) being paid to provide
  3. I will learn how to speak with an actual human voice instead of the voice of mission statements, brochures, and marketing pitches
  4. I will not forget the relations in public relations and will try to develop real relationships with the members of the media I work with instead of treating them like pawns that can be manipulated
  5. I will stop snowing my clients and inflating my value through the use of ambiguous outputs like hits, impressions, and ad equivalency and instead focus on the outcomes that public relations has helped accomplish
  6. I can no longer be the man behind the curtain, ghostwriting messages and press releases while I hide behind my brand or organization. I will take responsibility for my strategies and tactics.
  7. Regardless of my age, I will recognize that keeping up with and understanding technology is now a job requirement
  8. Likewise, I will stop assuming that social media IS public relations and vice versa. Social media is becoming a much larger aspect of PR and present practitioners with new tools to use, but they are not one in the same.
  9. PR cannot exist in a vacuum – I realize that my PR efforts will be more effective if I collaborate and communicate regularly with marketing, advertising, strategy, operations and other groups throughout the organization.
  10. And finally, I will recognize that good public relations isn’t about manipulating media coverage – it’s about helping an organization create and maintain stronger relationships with all of its stakeholders.

Redefining “public relations” is a crucial first step, but changing the perception of public relations will require more than than words – it will require a shift in the thinking and the actions of thousands of PR professionals. Let’s start modeling the behaviors we hope to instill in all PR practitioners and start taking PR from messages to actions.

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The People I Will (and Won’t) Meet at the Enterprise 2.0 Conference

Enterprise 2.0 Conference in Boston

See you next week in Santa Clara!

Next week, I’m attending and speaking at the Enterprise 2.0 Conference in Santa Clara. I’ve attended many social media conferences over the years and have posted several times about my experiences at these events.While the vast majority of people I meet at these conferences are highly intelligent, ambitious, and well-meaning, I have noticed a pattern emerging among social media conference-goers. From Web 2.0 to Gov 2.0 to Enterprise 2.0, I always seem to run into the same people yet miss the people I really want to talk to at these events. Based on my conference-going experience, here are ten people I assume I’ll be meeting (and not meeting) next week:

Who I Will Meet:

The overzealous Director of Business Development. Don’t you realize that his product has revolutionary features not found anywhere else?? Well, that is, until you go two booths down… If you sit down for a demo, you’ll clearly realize that this is the ONLY product with this feature. Just listen for a few minutes and he’ll show you…wait! Come back and hear all about it!!

The Director of Social Media/Virtual Collaboration Lead/Social Collaboration Team Leader. The company’s designated social media “guru” – there to find out how to turn their company’s Intranet into a “Facebook or Wikipedia behind the firewall.” This individual is usually well-meaning and excited, if a bit in over their head. On the first day, they’re enthusiastic, ready to absorb whatever they can over the next few days. But by the last day, they’re usually simultaneously overwhelmed and frustrated by all the stories of what’s possible, yet still lack any actionable steps they can take when they get back to their office.

The codemonkey. He’s the guy in the back with all the stickers on his Macbook. Mashups, visualizations, dashboards – you name it, he can code it. Keep in mind that he probably doesn’t actually use of the tools he’s developing, the features he’s working on really only interest the early adopters at this conference, and they probably do more to hinder user adoption because while they look cool, they really just overwhelm people and hinder user adoption because all the average employee really wants are tools that are accessible, fast, and reliable.

The self-promoter. Got his (oddly-shaped) business card yet? Don’t worry, you’ll get it soon enough. He’s the CEO for some new startup or he just got some VC to invest a boatload of money in his company or he’s writing a new book – it doesn’t really matter because he’s going to tell you all about it…whether you care or not. Don’t you realize how lucky you are to get an opportunity to talk to him?

The booth babe/dude.” He or she is always very nice and very conversational, but unfortunately lack ANY details about the company they’re representing. Good luck getting any actual information from him/her beyond a fact sheet, a demo, and someone else’s business card.

Who I Won’t Meet:

The IT Security specialist. Time and time again, I find myself talking with a client about Enterprise 2.0 only to hear that their security guys won’t allow them to install any Enterprise 2.0 software or that SAAS isn’t an option, but very rarely do I actually see any of these individuals at these conferences. Just once, I’d like to meet some ambitious IT Security professional who says, “you know what, I want to attend this conference so that I can learn how to allow our employees to use these tools AND be safe and secure?” 

The Lawyer. The relationship between lawyers and Enterprise 2.0 is tenuous at best. Everyone tries to have as little interaction with them as possible, but when they do have to get involved, it almost always results in a whiny, “do we really have to pass this through them????”  But what if your legal team was actually knowledgeable about Enterprise 2.0? If they knew the success stories and the potential? Have you ever spoken to a lawyer who actually “gets it” and asks you “how can I help?” How refreshing is that?

The Failures. I loved that Kevin Jones was a speaker at the last Enterprise 2.0 Conference and will be there again in Santa Clara. He was among the first people I’ve met at these types of conferences willing to talk about how he failed, what failed, and how he would have done things differently. Unfortunately, these people are few and far between as most people only want to tout their successes, their products, and their features. We all know getting this stuff right is hard – where have others stumbled and what can we learn from them?

The C-suite. Director of Social Strategies, Social Collaboration Lead, Virtual Collaboration specialist – where are the traditional organizational leaders? Where are the CIOs and CTOs? Unfortunately, Enterprise 2.0 still isn’t integrated into the other business units so it will continue to be marginalized. Until we get more actual decision-makers to attend these conferences and learn of the benefits for themselves, we’ll unfortunately continue to have to fight to justify social to the senior leadership.

The average employee. Where are all of the project managers, supervisors, associates, and HR specialists? Where are the people who are actually supposed to be using Enterprise tools to do their jobs? I want to meet more average users and find out what they want from the dozens of vendors who will be present. I want to find out why Cindy, the HR specialist in Omaha refuses to use the discussion forums that her company set up.

Will I meet you at Enterprise 2.0 next week? If you want to meet me, I, along with my colleagues Walton Smith and Jay Leask, will be there all week. Walton and I are speaking on Wednesday at 12:30 in the Expo Hall where we’ll be giving an abbreviated presentation of our webinar, “It’s not the Players, It’s the Game,” and then on Wednesday at 8:45am, David Berry and Jay Leask will discuss how organizations have successfully leveraged SharePoint as a social platform within their organizations in their session “Options for Leveraging SharePoint as a Social Platform.

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