Playing a Smarter Workforce on the Pitch

Looking at me today, you might not believe it, but I played soccer (or football) in college and during my Air Force years. I’ve also coached and officiated. One reason I fell in love with the game was that the rules just made sense.

The other reason was the way players participated. You had a “position” which was based primarily on your specific skills and talents. And you were responsible for that “position”. However, when the opportunity arose, you could “switch” with adjacent players to take their role and they would assume yours. For instance, a defender with a clear open field in front, could progress the ball down the pitch and the midfielder would take care of the vacated defender’s space. The only player relegated to a well defined space was the keeper who was the last defense of the goal. And any fan will recall games where the keeper left the goal area near the end of the game to add offensive pressure. I once played on a team that had an agile 6’9” keeper who would be called forward on our corner kicks because of his height.

Because there was one ball and 11 players (per side), I learned that much of the time I spent on the pitch was going to be “without the ball”. But that didn’t mean standing around waiting my turn. It meant running into open space to create opportunity. It meant talking to the other players, keeping them informed of what was happening around them. It meant thinking of the team’s objective ahead of my own desire to control the ball.

Knowing I’m not a sports blogger, you’ve probably already discerned the parallels of soccer and business.

In a Smarter Workforce, the company (team) and its coaches (executives and managers) will strive to put the best players (employees) possible on the pitch (company). The employees should be aligned to their specific strengths and talents. Within the course of the game (doing business), employees may be given the liberty to extend beyond their current role into other spaces, knowing their adjacent player (peers) will cover and protect them. And they should always be talking (sharing) with others to keep the entire team informed and alert.

Be a Smarter Worker. When you don’t have the ball, look for the open space to create new opportunities. Don’t crowd other players; give them the space they deserve to perform to their best. Encourage others and share openly for the benefit of the entire team. And when you have the ball, keep your head up. Look for open teammates. Listen to those around you. And when you score, celebrate with everyone else on the pitch, because they made it possible.

Now go out there and play the best game that’s in you.

Let me know if I can assist you. And for more information on how you and your company can field a Smarter Workforce, check us out at Kexena – an IBM Company.

The ROI of +1

When considering social business, most companies will at some time try to address the issue of “Return on Investment”. I’ve worked with many companies who have achieved “hard dollar” results. Some have realized great results in cutting costs and others by bringing in new revenue or opening new markets. While these are awesome reasons for a company to adopt social, we have to remember that the core of adoption is the individual. So ROI often starts with the answer to the personal question of, “Why is social good for me?”

One of the least considered but often most personally appreciated is what I call “the ROI of +1″.

Many of us are involved in decision making and reviews that involve a team of people. Years ago when I was selling document management solutions, we used workflow solutions to achieve this type of collaboration. Interesting enough we started with sequential routes (one approver after another), but that only mimicked the paper based “interoffice email” we were trying to address. Being digital, it cut down on the time spent in route, but it didn’t really change anything significant. So we went to parallel routes, where you could send the information to the entire team at one time and they would individually do their review or make comments. That solution reduced the time to decision which resulted in more efficient processes. Oddly enough, this is the exact method many of us use today when we send information or a document to an email list for review or comment.

But let’s think about that for a moment. If you’re like most, you’ve been on a review distribution list and received a document or some information for your review and comments. You take the time to read the information and invest your time and efforts in crafting a response. For this example, let’s say you spend 20 minutes in reply. Then you send or submit your thoughts. In the next check of your email in-box you find the results of other’s comments and views. Interestingly, one of the other team members have mentioned the very items you flagged and their ideas are right in line with what you have suggested.

What if you had seen their comments first? You’re reply could have been a simple, “I agree with what Mary said.”, thereby saving yourself 20 minutes. Additionally, Mary’s comments might have offered you a new perspective on your original thought. Using an email method, that would call for a reply all. Multiply that by the number of people on the team equals a lot of individual emails bouncing around. Not to mention the time it takes for you to go “on and off” task to consider the subject each time a new email is received.

One approach to this would be the “wait and see” method. This is where you hope others comment first and you just wait until you receive their emails at which time you add your perspective…possibly saving yourself the effort. The problem with this approach is if everyone took this approach, nothing would get done.

Social business solves this by allowing you to participate in “open conversations”. The same process could have been done with a single blog/wiki post or maybe an activity event. The reviewers could be notified from the post itself and their comments or suggestions would be instantly displayed with the post. So if you see someone else’s comments that reflect your opinion, your response is a simple “+1″. You’ve saved your time and also acknowledged your support for your like-minded team member’s idea…win/win.

This social approach to team collaboration allows individuals to “follow” specific topics, documents or discussions. So you don’t have to keep returning to the source to see if anything has changed. The social system will automatically alert you to changes or new postings. That way, you can stay on whatever task is at hand knowing that you’re not missing any happenings related to your team review efforts.

I know a company can take a guess at how much time this might save the organization (number of reviews X number of participants X repetitive work X avg. hourly cost of resource X etc.). It’s been my experience that social business usually far exceeds numerically derived expectations. Something as little as “+1″ can revolutionize the culture of your team’s collaboration. It saves your time. It affirms other’s ideas and efforts. It’s just one of social’s “low effort/high impact” benefits.

IBM Connections is the market leader in revolutionizing the collaboration culture of organizations, but more importantly, it can provide YOU with the tools you need to be creative, stay connected and exercise your choice in your daily work life. Check it out…and if you like what you see, +1.

Social is not to be used as an air freshener to cover up the stench of corporate hoarding and waste

We know we are in a time of consumption and excess when in the US we have a TV series dedicated to people who hoard material things to the point they are facing eviction or loss of parental rights based on health issues. And recently I saw a commercial for an air freshener that shows the blindfolded test subject sitting in a room of foul and disgusting objects…but because the air has been sprayed, they only smell “meadows” and “flowers”. Yet when the blindfold is removed, they are repulsed to find the squalor around them.

Our corporations have been blessed with technologies to create and spread information. Years ago desktop publishing gave everyone the privilege of the press. And now with broadband and mobile apps, we can broadcast our every move and thought.

Yet as I travel around the world and speak to business audiences, there is a constant theme. We have too much stuff…too much noise…too many demands on our attention. We’ve become hoarders of information…to the point we can’t function.

Many companies are looking to “social” solutions to assist them in addressing these overwhelming concerns. And I should begin by telling you that “social” is a great way to do just that.

But I am greatly concerned that for many organizations, they are attempting to spray some “social” and aren’t addressing the hoarding and waste. They add social as a technology mask and don’t really fix anything. So it’s no wonder they never realize any substantial business benefits and their employees are quickly disillusioned of social when it doesn’t make their individuals lives easier or more productive.

I speak often to employees who know and appreciate the benefit of social business. They have learned to live outside their inbox and use blogs, wikis, etc. to have open conversations that not only alleviate email hoarding, but offer a broader reach to the knowledge shared. They know how to alleviate time consuming meetings by leveraging social communities where goals, status, questions and advice can be shared openly and at times convenient to the participant’s other activities and demands.

But these same employees tell me that in some organizations, it’s not working. Their managers, while “open” to the concept of social, have not abandoned their culture and practice of hoarding. They still require these socially empowered employees to email reports, attend status calls, and duplicate much of their work. Some of the more passionate social evangelists stay true to their calling while others are worn down.

On one episode of TV’s “Hoarders”, there was a home that consisted of a hoarding mom who amassed so much stuff and garbage that it filled every space in their home. So much so, the local authorities were going to condemn the structure. The father, wasn’t a hoarder, but had long ago resigned himself that there was nothing he could do. What was interesting was their teenage son. He saw the hoard and what it was doing to his family and their health. His room was immaculate. He did not allow the hoard to impact his immediate space. Yet his home was a health hazard. Even as much as he kept his room in order, the air circulating through the home carried dangerous spores that aggravated his asthma

I’ve seen companies like this. Individuals leveraging social in hoarding organizations will have some impact. But unless the leaders and those responsible for the hoarding recognize the damage and change the behavior, any social they may talk about is just air freshener to mask the symptoms

So when you see someone who talks about the value of social business, ask them to tell you how they have changed their hoarding behaviors. Ask them to give daily examples of how their personal business lives have been dramatically impacted by leveraging social tools. If they can’t, look for the can of air freshener…it’s not far away.

And one last note…don’t give them credit for telling you how others are doing it. It’s like a hoarder standing in their filth pointing to the neighbor’s immaculate home and praising the value of cleanliness and order.

IBM’s Watson may not have broken Gilder’s “Span of Life” constraint, but I think it put a dent in it

In his book “Telecosm”, George Gilder proposes that we are limited by 2 factors — The Speed of Light and the Span of Life. In his book he states:

The speed of light is the most basic constraint in information technology. As a key limit, the speed of light shapes the future architectures and topologies of computers and communications. For example, the light-speed limit dictates that the fastest computers will tend to be the smallest computers. Electrons move nine inches a nanosecond (a billionth of a second). As computers move toward gigahertz clock rates–a billion cycles a second–the longest data path must be decisively smaller than nine inches. Pulses of electromagnetic energy–photons–take some 20 milliseconds to cross the country and one- quarter second to reach a satellite in geostationary orbit (as you notice in a satellite phone call). At a gigabit per second, this means that as many as 250 megabits of data–many thousands of IP packets, for example–can be latent (or lost) in transit at any time, thus playing havoc with most prevalent network protocols, such as TCP.

Thus light speed is a centrifuge. It abhors concentration in one place, ordains that these small supercomputers will be distributed across the globe and will always be near to a network node. Although the networks will be global in reach, they will depend on the principle of locality: the tendency of memory or network accesses to focus on clusters of contiguous addresses at any one time. Light speed imposes limits on the pace of any one processor or conduit, and pushes both computer and communications technologies into increasingly parallel and redundant architectures.

What I think is relevant today is his second constraint

As a governing scarcity in the new economy, no less important than the speed of light is the span of life. Just as light speed represents the essential limits of information technology, lifespan defines the essential shortage of human time. Although medical and other health- related advances have increased the span of life in the United States some 5 years in the last 25–while the media focused on aids and cancer, and zero-sum pundits declared that our descendants, the scions of our science, will live less well than we do–the ultimate lifespan remains limited. Indeed, the modal economic activity of the information economy is exploitation of the technologies of the speed of light to increase the effective span of life by increasing efficiency in the use of time.

Gilder’s point is that we know all we know based on our life expectancy. There is no way to magically transfer all of our knowledge into the heads of our successors. We can leave behind our knowledge and records of experience, but each generation must learn for itself.

Enter Watson….

I’m at an age now where I recognize the wisdom of elders…I’m rapidly becoming an elder. My life experience has provided for me a great deal of time and exposure to new ideas…time that has enhanced my ability to evaluate options and see possible solutions.

Imagine a grandfather adviser who doesn’t age. Imagine a senior physician who knows and can apply the medical marvels of generations. Imagine an engineer who has been solving problems for hundreds of years. This can be Watson.

Through the work accomplished by IBM and the Watson project, mankind now has the ability to contain knowledge and continue the applied learning process without the fear of death overtaking us and causing us to start over from birth.

I believe with such creative spirit, we’ve made significant progress in breaking through Gilder’s second limitation “the span of life”.  Now….let’s see if we can do something about that “speed of light” issue!

For more information on Watson

Your next internal meeting – cancel it

On a recent flight, I was revisting a TED talk from Jason Fried titled “Why work doesn’t happen at work”. In it he suggests that the audience consider cancelling their next meeting.

I might suggest that instead of cancelling it in advance, you let them show up (especially if it’s a conference call) or if it’s an in-person meeting, contact them just prior to the start time. If not, they will just fill the time with another meeting.

Instead tell them this:

“Thank you for agreeing to meet with me for this hour. It’s an hour of your time you are willing to invest…60 minutes you won’t get back. Except I want to give it back to you. You came prepared to devote 60 minutes to a topic. I want you to instead use this time to do something unique. Take a fresh look at a presentation you’ve been giving and think about how to make it crisper or simpler. Read an article or a portion of a book (like “Enchantment” by Guy Kawasaki) with the goal of finding one way to do something fresh or differently. Search for and listen to 2 different TED talks on a topic that interests you with the goal of taking away some new inspiration or approach to selling or presenting or building relationships…just spend the time on you and your mind…getting better.”

“Don’t use this gift of time to answer emails or instant messages. Close your email client, put your instant message on “Do not disturb”, turn off your cell, unplug your phone, close your door, don’t talk. Sounds outrageous? It shouldn’t be. You’ve already committed to be in this meeting. So the time is already blocked.”

“Now go do it.”

Then close the call. Don’t get caught using the remaining part of the hour explaining to people what this is about. Don’t try to manage their time. Turn them loose.

I’ve been to a number of internal company meetings where we waited for some key person to join. When it was discovered they weren’t going to make it, the host would say, “Well, I’m going to give you back this time and we’ll look to reschedule.” Not surprising, the world didn’t stop turning. The company didn’t grind to a halt. While relieved to get back some time, most of us just divert it to some other “catching up” effort.

If you are in a position to call a meeting, please remember that you are responsible for all of the time that people are investing for your meeting. Is it worth it? Could you use a social business approach, like a community or discussion forum to get the same results…just on their time?

So cancel your next internal company meeting and maybe check back with your audience and ask them to share what they did with the time.

People are amazing and creative. Give them time to be themselves.

Casting light or casting shadows

I’d like to encourage you to take a minute to consider how you deal with “light”.

In our business world, life giving light can come from a variety of sources. Fellow employees may voice their thanks or approval. Customers we serve might acknowledge the benefit they’ve received. Partners we work alongside might show their appreciation for assistance. And with the advent of social networks, these light giving moments can arrive as “likes”, “downloads” and reuse of thoughts or ideas.

How do you deal with this light? And how do you impact the light others receive?

When you see someone’s work is being acknowledged, do you amplify it by adding your own approval and making sure your network is aware? When someone’s efforts have assisted you, do you make sure they know that you are aware of their efforts and thank them publicly? If so, you are casting light.

People who cast light are those that make sure their own accomplishments and recognition doesn’t get in the way of those around them. It’s not wrong for you to strive to work in such a way as to attract light. That is what is expected of you as a valued contributor and leader. So when you are put in the light…great! You deserve to be there. But just as hard as you work to be in the light, you should strive to make sure others are getting the light they deserve.

I’ve been and continue to be blessed by being around very smart and creative people. A day doesn’t go by that I’m not reminded that there are plenty of people around me that have knowledge I can benefit from learning or skills that can enhance our combined efforts. They comprehend numbers better. They have better contacts. They are more organized than me (not hard). They are better communicators. These people have gifts and aptitudes that surpass what I can do alone.

Recent studies have shown how much individuals value “being appreciated”. At IBM we have an annual award that is given to those who make significant contributions. In the past, I suppose the recipients were notified via email and maybe their manager would let their peers know about the recognition. Our new CEO, Ginni Rometty practiced a light casting approach. Using our internal social network, she posted a personal message on each recipient’s profile board…where everyone could see. I’m sure if you asked the individuals involved, they would tell you how much that meant. Light has a warming effect.

IBM also practices casting light through a program called “Blue Thanks”. With a single click, we can call out someone for their contribution. The “thanks” is automatically sent to the recipient and their manager. More importantly, programs like this help remind us to cast light. Light can spread.

I’m not a fan of undeserved praise, so I’m not suggesting that you just go around “spreading sunshine”. But I’ll wager that if you took a minute, you could think of a handful of people who probably could use a little light shed on their work and contributions. Find a way to do that. Be creative. Surprise someone.

And if you are someone who is always in the light…check out your shadow. There are no doubt a number of people who have helped you get into the light you are enjoying. Share the light with them. Show sincere appreciation for their work. Put them in front of you when you can. And you’ll both benefit from the experience.

And if you’re someone who doesn’t care about those in your shadow, you probably aren’t reading this anyway.

When you work with your hands, you don’t turn your mind off

I had the pleasure of taking some time away from work last week. Our Atlanta home has a front porch that needed some repairs, so I spent the week rebuilding it. I love working with wood and seeing the results.

But while I was working, my mind was busy. Often it was contemplating something about the job at hand…a new way to do something. I had to install a number of pickets on the handrail that surrounds the porch. Centering each one individually would have been very time consuming, so I designed and built a “jig” to help me align each one in a matter of seconds. This 5 minute investment paid off in saving an hour or more of work.

So you’re asking yourself, “What does this have to do with social business?”

In June, I was asked to do a one-hour live TV interview for Hyde Park, a news show in Prague. The questions during the show would come, not from the host, but from the viewing audience via social tools. The topic was around “creative thinking” but anything was fair game. (A link is provided to the recording, but be warned, it is in Czech)

Here is one of the interesting questions that came in through Facebook:

John King: What advice would you give the post-communist Czech society? As the use of human intellectual potential in a country where people for generations were taught that only strenuous physical work eventually is fair, and where success is considered a crime?

My response was validated in my work last week: “When you work with your hands, you don’t turn your mind off.”

I know many companies who are looking at how social business can impact their people who use computers and technology in their workplace. Often they even go so far as to categorize these people as their “knowledge workers”. Having worked in a manufacturing organization and having worked in physically demanding jobs, I can assure you that many of the most “knowledgeable” workers have little exposure to a keyboard and personal computer. Yet their ideas and creative thinking may be overlooked in social business projects.

This is one reason I’m so proud of IBM Connections and the way it allows social business to reach into everyday business applications. I know of one of our customers who have encouraged their production line workers to capture “best practices”…not with a keyboard, but with their cell phone cameras. If they think of a better way to do something, they can simply record the procedure and upload it to their social system…making it instantly available for others to see and possibly set forward an improvement in the entire manufacturing process. The “jig” I made last week saved me time over the course of installing 50 pickets. But what if every week I installed pickets and we had crews installing pickets? The savings of one small “idea” could be incredible.

So I ask you, when you are considering the impact of social business, don’t overlook anyone. Look for ways to leverage the ideas of your entire organization. We are all creative!

It’s often not what you know, but who you know that counts

I’ve mentioned this in the past, but today it happened again.

I travel quite a bit and enjoy being socially connected to a lot of very smart people. One such gentleman in Sweden posted a question to me on my Profile Board (part of IBM Connections). Today, I’m in the US and there is a 6 hour time difference…so his post came in at 3:27am my local time. I was traveling this morning and saw his question at 9:30am. I also saw that it was already answered by one of the other “smart” people in my network…an coworker from Denmark. Interesting as well, he asked in English…she answered in Swedish and provided a link to the materials he was seeking.

He got his question answered before I even was aware that he had asked. She provided a great service by providing the answer (which I would have had to look for…albeit quite easy in our social system).

The beauty of this is the power of an “open conversation”. It’s like we were at a coffee house and he asked me while I’m sitting at a table with all my “smart” friends. I may not know the question, but it’s likely someone at that table would know. If IBM wasn’t a social business, he would have sent me an email (or voice mail)…I would not have known of the question until 6 hours later…then I would have done the research and if it meant finding someone who did know…I’d start sending emails and leaving voice mails until I found the answer…to finally get back to him. You know the drill…you do it all the time.

Instead, he asked the question…maybe even knowing that I didn’t know, but knowing that I knew someone who would know. And if he just asked in our open conversation setting, someone “smart” would answer…and she did!

Being around smart people is great. Having open access to their creativity and brilliance is even better. One of my co-workers once told me, “I love working for IBM, because we are a social business and I can be as smart as anyone else…just 5 minutes later.”

Be creative…get social…share your ideas and knowledge! There are questions out there to which you are the answer. It would be a shame to waste “you”.

Where are the creatives? Look in the mirror.

I’ve been giving a session called “Where Ideas Come From: Developing and Maintaining a Creative Culture”. During one of my sessions last week I realized that I was missing something very important.

I’ve been asking people about “the creatives” in their organization…what are they like…where to find them…how to get their ideas. I was projecting an image that creatives are a special kind of person. I know better. I was WRONG in my approach.

We are ALL creative. People are born creative. As Picasso stated, “We are all born artists. The challenge is to remain an artist as we grow up.” When you are looking for “creatives” in your organization, you should start by looking in the mirror.

When I ask crowds to give me words that describe “creative people”, I get “innovative”, “risk taking”, “colorful”, and at my last session I got “messy”. Creative people can be all those things. They are observant, they are connected, they are not afraid to fail so they experiment freely. They try new things and don’t settle for the “norm”. Now…does that describe you?

If not, why not. Let me ask you to think back to when you were a child. Were you more “innovative, risk taking, colorful and yes…messy”? So you have the ability to be creative. Revert back to the kid in you. Get yourself a box of Crayola crayons (You’re an adult now and can probably afford the big box of 64 with the built in sharpener). Color yourself back to your childhood…and your creative self.

“If our people have an idea”

I was recently visiting a company where I was discussing social business with one of their executives. As is often the case, I like to have conversations that help me gauge the company’s culture. Whenever I go to visit a company, I start looking for clues from the moment we drive up to their building. Their signage for their business, their posters or messages being displayed on the monitors in their lobby, and a great source is their literature available for their visitors. I usually find their latest yearly report and look at the themes and executive messages.

Quite often these reports will state how they are “a people oriented company” that “values the individual employee and customer”. When I speak to the executives, I sometimes start the conversation by telling them I am glad they are people focused and I would like to know what they are doing to engage and leverage their employees and customers.

In my recent visit, I asked some of these questions and received the following response. “If our people have a new idea, we have a process for them to submit it.” This one statement told me quite a lot about this person’s perspective if not the perspective of the company.

First, “IF our people have a new idea”…If? really? It should have been “when”. People are creative beings. If I respect that, I will expect them to have ideas – not be surprised when they do.

Second, “we have a PROCESS”. If you want to take the wind out of the sails of a creative person, just introduce a “process”. Processes aren’t bad, but they infer a “one size fits all” approach to any action. They make the idea become part of a transaction.

Which brings me to “for them to SUBMIT it”. Just drop your idea into the process and then wait to see what happens. You submit payments, you submit actions to workflows, you don’t submit ideas. You share ideas.

I appreciate hearing statements like this because it give me a good starting place. It’s better than “We don’t have any way for people to give us feedback.”

I want company executives be able to say “We encourage our employees and customers to share their ideas by providing a social business network that’s available to them anywhere at anytime.” When you commit to a social business culture, your attitude and expectations change. Then you win!