In A Post-COVID World The Manager Is The Weak Link

In an increasingly remote and distributed world of work the employees who will have the biggest impact on the most people will rarely be the official leaders at the top.

When only 3% of a workforce is remote, managers can get away with business as usual. When that number climbs to 30%, fundamental changes to the nature of work become necessary.

Cal Newport

We are being forced into a massive reset.

For all that’s been written and said about remote work – this is Year Zero. Nobody knows what happens next.

Which way will our companies go?

Already we’ve seen Jack Dorsey of Twitter announcing in an email that those whose jobs didn’t require a physical presence would be allowed to work from home indefinitely. His Head of HR went further – saying that the company would “never probably be the same,” adding, “I do think we won’t go back.”

On the other hand, the engineering firm Dyson told staff who were able to work from home to return to the office this week, then cancelled the plan after a mutiny from dismayed employees.

It’s possible that some of this is genuinely out of organisational hands – less than 10% of people want to return to ‘normal’ after lockdown. People are enjoying improved air quality, less congestion and are reconnecting with nature. Four in ten people are feeling a stronger sense of local community.

It would be a brave company that chooses to ignore signals like that.

Although in the current economic environment it’s highly unlikely people are looking to jump ship from a secure job – but with recovery will come a completely different emphasis on employee work/life integration. This will be less a war for talent and more a war for wellbeing.

However , as the opening quote from Cal Newport reveals, it’s not just a different workplace or employee deal we need – it’s a completely different attitude to leadership.

The first post I wrote this year was entitled ‘Ending Our Obsession With Leadership’. It argued that we should all become less fixated on the leader as superhero and more focused on leveraging the community at every level of our organisations.

I suggested the most radical thing you could do is rip up your plans for leadership development – and concentrate instead on how you can democratise innovation and collaboration for the 80% rather than the 20%.

Crises have a way of revealing and recalibrating what leadership really means. As we’ve already seen in our communities the most impressive acts of true leadership have not come from CEOs, or our elected officials, or the media and the rest of the loud and the powerful.

True leadership has been revealed at street level.

It’s that lesson we must learn from – and take back to our organisations.

That won’t be easy because as Cal writes – when the number of remote workers climbs to 30% fundamental changes to the nature of work become necessary. This increases exponentially as the remote work force tips to 50 or 70, 80 percent.

He explains that we are currently in the ‘electric dynamo’ stage (referring to the first, unsuccessful, phase of electrification in factories), having adopted remote working but applied it to our existing pattern of work coordination because that is what our organisations are geared up for.

So we are working remotely , but doing the same work, and serving the same hierarchy. This can’t, and won’t, work over the long term.

One of the reasons for this is the weak link in the remote work equation – the manager and the leader.

As Bertrand Duperrin writes in a hugely persuasive piece “management in “command & control” mode does not survive the test of distance. The manager who only practises management by presence “exists” for his teams only if he is useful to them. From a distance they no longer see him“.

Bertrand goes on to question whether any existing HR or people team evaluate a manager’s ability to play their role in a widespread remote work context. I’ve made the same point in the past about collaboration and digital leadership.

He ends by suggesting that the ability to remote work should never be presumed. “It must be measured and, if necessary, assisted. However, it must be borne in mind that the company’s weak point in remote work, its main risk, lies less in the employee than in the manager.”

You can’t blame managers for the way they have been brought up. Management grew out of an era of mass production – of vertical command and control overseen by chiefs and officers.

But those days are over, density and depersonalised service are no longer desirable by consumers, with industries rapidly revamping their value proposition to recognise this. Huge infrastructure and scale – the things which were a massive competitive advantage – are increasingly a liability.

If we are witnessing the collapse of a leadership model based on command and control and vertical hierarchy this is going to place incredible strain on our current generation of leaders who will necessarily have to give away some power.

The thing we used to call leadership is now about breaking down barriers, collaborating at scale and giving people the freedom to create previously unseen opportunities for customers.

The long-standing problems that have thwarted remote office work are not about technology or infrastructure. They are about leadership – and our apparent failure to move much beyond a model developed in the industrial revoloution.

In an increasingly remote and distributed world of work the employees who will have the biggest impact on the most people will rarely be the official leaders at the top.

That’s the uncomfortable truth that many of us must now wrestle with unless we want to return to the old normal rather than create the new.


Featured Image by thedarknut from Pixabay

Ending Our Obsession With Leadership

Organisations need to completely rethink what it means to lead. It’s not about one person or even those residing at the top anymore. In today’s world, everyone has to adopt a leadership mindset. We have to think of ourselves as members of a leadership community  — Patty McCord, former chief talent officer, Netflix

Leadership worship – the act of mythologizing those near the top of organisations – is holding us back now more than ever.

When we look to others to make decisions, set the rules or uphold the culture we actively disempower ourselves, levying a huge inefficiency tax upon our organisations.

How much inefficiency? It could be 75% or higher.

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According to a recent report –  the vast majority of employees wish their boss or manager would give them more responsibility, with 83%  wishing ‘leaders’ would ask for their opinion or input more often.

Far from shirking, employees are actually crying out to make more of a contribution at work.

Those kind of numbers suggest enormous amounts of talent, ideas and innovation are being squandered – all in the name of supporting a hierarchical approach to leadership by the few, rather than the many.

It’s not as if those leaders appear to have all the answers anyway. According to the World Economic Forum  86% of people agree that ‘we have a leadership crisis in the world today’ with an alarmingly weak correspondence between power and competency.

Additionally, a series of reports from MIT argues that current leaders lack the mindset needed to bring about the strategic and cultural changes required to lead in the new digital economy.

So you have two things going on:

You don’t have to be an expert in innovation to see that’s a busted model.

But is it our own obsession with leadership that is actually supporting this dysfunction?

As Neil Tamplin has written , in today’s world of work people want to be accountable for their own actions and our leaders can’t possibly know the fullness of every decision they make. In our increasingly uncertain operating environments, this model is setting ourselves up to fail because we choose to avoid vulnerability and uncertainty in favour of comfort.

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Fear of Failure

So what’s stopping us? One reason organisations might not want to include their employees in their decision-making involves our focus on outcomes and a fear of failure.

The more people involved in decisions means the greater the risk of screwing things up – or so the conventional thinking goes. Mark Robinson has argued though that it’s often better to have poor outcomes with a great decision-making process than it is to have good outcomes with a poor decision-making process. His reasoning is that “you need a culture where people aren’t to blame for decisions. What your culture should be about is learning from bad decisions.”

Perhaps we need to lose the language of leadership altogether.

A Google search for leadership traits reveals a tiresome focus on visioning, strategizing and feedback loops – the kind of management bullshit we should have left back in the 1990s.

The real traits that matter such as empathy or self awareness, are key attributes for all human beings , not just for those of us who have a couple of line reports.

You will be hard-pressed nowadays to find a business that does not have some sort of a mentorship or development programme geared towards the leaders of tomorrow or emerging or aspiring leaders.

Hardly any of those self-same businesses will have programmes aimed at developing the ideas of tomorrow or creating the organisation of tomorrow.

It’s all about leaders. 

Arguably we are prioritising the perpetuation of existing systems and structures over meaningful change. Unless we address the root of the system, unless we really address how organisations make decisions and engage people, then we are not changing anything materially.

The new world of work requires us to become less fixated on the leader and more focused on leveraging the community at every level of our organisations.

Breeding the idea of the leader as superhero is getting us nowhere fast.

As we begin a new year the most radical thing you could do is rip up your plans for leadership development – and concentrate instead on how you can democratise innovation for the 80% rather than the 20%.

 

How To Find And Kill Zombie Projects

According to Clayton Christensen , of the 30,000 new consumer products that are launched each year – 95% fail.

Compare this with the public, voluntary and non-profit sectors – where hardly anything fails.

The social sector must either be fantastic at launching new initiatives, or there’s a lot of things going on that shouldn’t still be living.

Scott D. Anthony has defined the organisational zombie as those initiatives that fail to fulfill their promise and yet keep shuffling along, sucking up resources without any real hope of having a meaningful impact.

They may be started through the best of intentions, but for all sorts of reasons they are failing. Just no-one wants to admit it.

Why is that?

Let’s look at zombies.

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Night Of The Living Dead – 1968
George A. Romero , who sadly passed away this week,  created a defining trilogy of horror films between 1968 and 1985.

They were audacious for the time – he cast a black lead for his first film, released the same year Martin Luther King was assassinated.

Far from being splatter movies – they were stories about racism, consumerism and militaristic aggression.

Ultimately the message from Romero was this:

  • We should avoid group think
  • We should never stop asking questions or just mindlessly follow orders
  • We should never lose our sense of individuality

Zombie projects occur when all these factors converge and confirmation bias sets in. Even though everyone knows this isn’t really working, we carry on regardless.

As Paul Hackett said this week  , the social sector can get pretty much get away with poor decisions without it impacting turnover. In other sectors the share price takes a hit and executives get sacked.

The lack of a conventional market, and no customer walk away point, means projects can be propped up artificially using someone else’s money.

We need to refine our skills at spotting and killing wasteful activities.

In the movies and TV the conventional way to stop a zombie is to drive a sharp implement into the brain of anyone who shuffles along aimlessly.

As tempting as that is for those of us who’ve endured endless meetings – we don’t need to take such drastic action.

Zombies hate just five questions:

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In an era of scant resource and unmet need, spotting zombies is a vital part of leadership. Innovation is happening faster than we can adapt to it – and freeing up resources is vital. Investment must equal impact or we are simply sabotaging our future.

As part of the work we’ve been doing on Bromford 2.0 we recognise that slaying zombies is just part of good governance. Innovation is all about discipline in the creation and implementation of new ideas that create value.

However it’s all about stopping doing things too. As a general rule each new service or activity should lead to the decommissioning of an existing one.  We’ve designed this principle to ensure we stick to it:

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People are losing faith in institutions as they are not seeing the kind of social outcomes they expect.

Today it’s the execution and impact of innovation and change that really matters rather than the cheerleading.

There needs to be as much enthusiasm for stopping the old as there is for starting the new. 

RIP George Romero. Stay dead.

How your culture can promote innovation

“Organisational culture is the sum of values and rituals, which serve as ‘glue’ to integrate the members of the organisation.” – Richard Perrin

I spent a wonderful day in Belfast this week with a group of Housing Organisations. It was refreshing as I got to talk not about tech and social media – but of leadership and culture.

We often bemoan the lack of adoption of innovative practices across the public sector and local government. But less often do we examine the reason why. 

One of them is they just aren’t ready for the latest innovation.

The culture of some organisations is superbly designed to repel anything new. Even if you let it in the organisational antibodies would surround it – killing it in no time. Like the common cold – you may get away with being a bloody great irritant for a while – but against a strong body you’ve no chance long term. 

I’ve been lucky enough to visit lots of organisations doing presentations on the Bromford culture – usually with my co-presenter Helena Moore (who recruited me long ago and did many of the slides above).  

We date our cultural journey from about 2000 – although truth be told a lot of the way we do things were laid out well before then. 

Here are four things I’ve picked up about culture and innovation along the way: 

Leadership is critical

You simply cannot create a culture of innovation if your leadership is not on side. As I’ve said before , if you’ve tried to change executive attitudes and the CEO still doesn’t get it – you have only one option.

Leave the company. 

It’s a noble task to continue the fight – but futile. Find somewhere where your energy and passions will be put to better use. 

The private sector is not more innovative than the public sector. 

There’s good and bad in both. However the private sector has got greater self belief and tends to source ideas better from customers and colleagues. The public sector , which can be prone to increased bureaucracy and risk aversion, is more likely to smother people’s natural creativity. When you’ve had an idea crushed for the 100th time it’s only human to stop telling people about them. Value all colleague and customer ideas – and have a disciplined approach to testing them out.

Being publicly funded is no excuse to be as boring as hell.

Mission and values set a tone for creativity. 

If you’re doing it right they become more than words on paper. They become a call to action and set a behaviour for the organisation. We ditched our mission and values when we realised they were exactly the same as hundreds of others. We asked colleagues to come up with something that they could believe in and remember. 

They came up with the DNA – Be Different, Be Brave , Be Commercial , Be Good. They’ve been made hashtag friendly so people use them in social conversations.  Others have attached their own personal meaning to the words.

Language matters.

It defines us. At Bromford we don’t use the word department (it’s team) we don’t call people staff (they are colleagues) , we don’t say tenants (they’re customers). I’m frequently challenged on the latter when I use it on Twitter. But I have been for over 10 years! Let your organisational language evolve for you and ignore those who sneer or pick fault. Be different.

Never believe your hype.

No matter what awards you win. No matter how many customers say you are brilliant – never ever believe it. The right cultures blend respect for their tradition with a healthy paranoia about the future. Your history counts for nothing tomorrow. 

On 24th October is was our Bromford Bash – a gathering that we feel is culturally important enough to bring 1200 colleagues together. 

It was the last event where Mick Kent will be our CEO. He’s moving on to new adventures in January.

CEOs come and go these days but Mick has headed up Bromford for 30 years. That’s longer than many of our customers and colleagues have been alive. He’s been an immense keeper of the culture. 

He’s one of the few CEOs I could confidently pitch an Innovation Lab to with the words “Look , 75% of what we do will fail”. But I knew I wouldn’t be shown the door. 

Innovation is most likely to take hold where strong leadership coexists with healthy financial viability and a well managed approach to risk. 

As Mick said on Twitter recently  “I never wanted us to be like everyone else …always proud to be different”.

What a journey. 

I guess the next one has just begun. 

Get Social, Embrace Disruption: Serving the Connected Customer

I’m thinking it’s about 6 minutes to midnight on the Digital Doomsday Clock.

Time is running out on the organisations who are yet to board the bus. Yet to start the journey to being different businesses serving changed customers on a multiplicity of screens.

1 in 4 Executives from around the world believe the time has already come to implement digital transformation across their organisations, and that doing so is already a matter of survival. For 63% – the pace of change isn’t happening quickly enough.

I’m in agreement – there are 3 things we need to do , and quickly

1 – Get Social

Having a Twitter account and using a hashtag at a conference doesn’t equate to digital leadership.

The concept is still developing , but the effective digital leader doesn’t say “change takes time” or “there are barriers in the way”. To quote from an excellent article by Mike Clarke:

Digital leaders review and dismantle traditional infrastructures that act as barriers to innovation or which do not add value – they support and champion people that are close to service users and customers – they help people unlearn bad habits & some non-digital skills that impede progress”.

They embrace disruption.

2 – Agree It’s Not So #FutureTech

The future doesn’t arrive next year. It’s here. Now.

John Popham has remarked in a post that there is a  “real divide in our society between those of us who live every day with the possibilities offered by new technologies and those to whom these things are a peripheral interest.”

Having a Customer Services Leader (at any level) with a peripheral interest in social and digital service is no longer fit for purpose – we need to support and re-train people to face up to the connected customer. But we need to balance this with the ticking clock – new skills and thinking may be required.

And don’t make assumptions about your customers. That 75 year old lady you think won’t like the internet is a level 85 Tauren Druid on World of Warcraft.

3 – Reimagine Connected Customer Service 

Let’s not digitise our existing customer service offering . Let’s look at the possibilities and build a new vision. Look at how Amazon have innovated within the digital space. Look at how Wonga have made the user experience really simple and intuitive. Whether you like these brands and what they do is irrelevant. Look and learn.

The steps I would take are these:

  • Align digital with business goals and strategy (If need be , review them)
  • Have a flexible vision. Keep it under review , daily if need be. Don’t try and guess what it’s like in 2020. Nobody knows.
  • Secure buy-in from your Executive team. And continually reinforce it.
  • Develop a project roadmap but make sure this is kept under review too. New tools can emerge very quickly. Agility is key.
  • Develop guidelines for how social and digital tools should be used. Avoid policy as much as you can. Build trust.
  • Agree resources (social and digital are not free). GIve people the tools for the job.
  • Nothing is certain. Accept failure is OK. Just kill things quickly and humanely when they are not working out.

It’s six minutes to midnight on the digital doomsday clock

Better start serving the Connected Customer

20 Things They Never Told Us About Going Social

 ‘Pecha Kucha’ (literally – “Chit Chat” in Japanese) is a short presentation of 20 slides shown for 20 seconds each. The 20×20 format allows the presenter to talk for six minutes and 40 seconds – no more, no less – on a personal passion, project or interest of their choice. 

I was recently asked to present the Top 20 things I’d learned about Social Media in the past year.  I could talk about this for hours. So I imposed a self-limiting Pecha Kucha. It was great fun as I struggled to keep up with the auto-timed slides.

Try it – it can turn that boring 40 minute presentation into double espresso.

The orginal slideshare is available below. But please read on and see my extended remix of the Top 20 Things They Never Told Us About Going Social.

20 – They Never Told Us It Would Be This Fast: It’s perfectly acceptable not to be able to keep up with Social Media. In fact , you can’t keep up. So stop trying to.

19 – Don’t DO social , BE Social: If it feels like an effort – you aren’t doing it right. It should be fun to keep your community engaged. If it’s not , it won’t be much fun for your community either.

18 – Don’t just follow friends , follow people you’d cross the road to avoid: Embrace diversity. Get your opinions challenged. It’s fun to exchange views with people you’d never go for a pint with. Just don’t fall out.

17 – It’s 9 parts about others , 1 part about you: Share the content of others generously rather than talk about yourself. People will love you for it. Think: Every 10th post can be about me.

16 – Social Media is just an extension of your personality: Do it badly and it reflects on only one person. You.

15 – Online is as good as offline – sometimes better: Don’t listen to the snobs who say you can’t form “real” relationships online. You can. And online meetings are just as good as offline. Just a lot cheaper.

14- Prune your followers – it’s essential to growing a tribe: Sometimes you need a trim to allow the new roots to show through. Relationships don’t have to be forever.

13 – Digital Exclusion – There are as many staff who lack digital literacy as social tenants: Line all the housing association residents in the UK up against the HA staff. See who is more internet savvy. I reckon the residents will win.

12 – Wifi is like electricity – people need it to do their jobs properly: A social business is not a desktop business. People need Wifi. No employer can expect staff to eat into their data plans for the good of the company.

11 – It can take over your life – balance it: Look , my other half is glaring at me even as I type this. We all need a break sometime.

10 – The organisations that do it well have one thing in common – TRUST: forget size, forget money, forget resources. The leaders in social media trust their people not to **** up. That is all.

9 – The longer your policy on Social Media the fewer people will ever take part: The Bromford policy is essentially “If you wouldn’t say it out loud in the Cafe area – don’t post it online”. We have hundreds of users. I know an organisation that has an 87 page policy. Only one person uses it.

8 – We all have a Social CV. The worst ones are blank: Google yourself. It’s better you do it before your next employer does. Your online footprint matters. And a digital shadow is worse than any footprint.

7 – It’s not about followers. It’s about relationships: That difficult first month on social media? 10 friends or followers? It’s not about numbers. It’s about interaction and engagement. Always.

6 – Conferences without a hashtag are no longer worth booking: It’s not just about who you meet there – It’s about who you connect with – online – while you are there. Conferences that fail to utilise social to engage the crowd will not exist within a year. It’s like the Premiership – the real money is the audience who are watching around the world – not just the people in your stadium.

5 – People make mistakes online, don’t beat them up: We are all human. We are all learning to deal with this social web. Forgive people for their mistakes. You will need forgiveness yourself someday soon.

4 – If your CEO gets it – great. If they don’t and won’t – leave: Leadership matters. If you have given your all and tried to change attitudes to being a social collaborative business and they just won’t buy it – it’s time to look elsewhere. Other people will snap you up.

3 – You can make social part of the fabric of work: The argument about not having time for it disappears when it becomes ingrained in what you do. Encourage a social workplace. Integrate it. As long as you are still “in the room” – it’s OK to  tweet in meetings

2 – Social Media is the first new leadership responsibility of the 21st Century: The question I get asked most is “how do you manage it?” It’s the first leadership skill that there isn’t a “How To” guide written for. You can’t manage social , you can only be a social leader.

1 – It never stops.

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(Image via @fondalo. Pecha Kucha originally presented at #HGD13)

How Social Is Your CEO?

Last week I ran a workshop for a number of Chief Executives. Whilst preparing my slidedeck (which is featured above) I spoke to a friend who is the Managing Director of a medium sized business.

They have a very basic website. No media links.

When I asked why he doesn’t use social media , he answered simply:

Paul , I don’t have the time you have. My customers don’t use it. There is no reason for me to waste any time on it. I’ve asked my staff on many occasions what the business case is and all they say is – everyone else is doing it, we should too….

You know what? If I was him I would be exactly the same. If people can’t articulate a compelling reason for social why would a very busy person waste their time on it?

If your CEO isn’t using social, or doesn’t see that embedding it in your organisation is important, maybe you need to have a different conversation? Perhaps you need to make it more relevant to them as senior leaders.

These are my tips for why it makes business sense to be a Social CEO:

1: Forget social media – it’s about being a social business

If your conversation with your CEO starts with why you need a Facebook account you have probably lost them already. The real leadership benefit of using social tools is that used well they can reinforce the purpose and values of your organisation. If you are just pushing product and you don’t need to engage customers then maybe social isn’t for you.  But if you are about more than business then it can amplify your social and ethical goals.

2:  It will make you more visible, people will like you more

A CEO loves to be visible. (If they don’t I suggest you have another , more serious, problem). Internal enterprise networks , such as  Yammer , boost executive visibility. They can also democratise the organisation and destroy hierarchy. That’s a good thing by the way.

3: You are missing out on recruiting the best people

A Gen Y colleague told me the other day that they “couldn’t work for a leader who wasn’t visible on social”. It’s an increasing trend for talented people seeking work to check out the social profile of the company – but also that of the recruiting managers.  I do not believe any CEO would knowingly miss out on adding the very best talent to their organisation. If a competitor is recruiting and they are social and you are not – it’s pretty much a certainty that the better talent is going their way.

4: Customers will trust your organisation more

Leadership visibility promotes an open and transparent culture to customers and stakeholders. In the same way that an internal social presence removes hierarchy – showing your visibility to customers gives you a human face. You are no longer the person on a big salary behind the closed door in an office a long way away. You are in reach.

5:  You are missing out on vital market intelligence

A CEO who doesn’t promote a digital presence runs the risk of marginalising their organisation. New relationships and business propositions form minute by minute today. They cross sectors and they can even cross continents. Those annual conferences you go to are becoming an irrelevance. The social digital organisation is more connected, aware and adaptive.

This is the advice I would give a CEO about going social – but I’m sure there are other benefits. Please add any thoughts in the comments box they are hugely appreciated.

Adapt or Die: 3 Challenges To Going Digital

Yesterday was a significant day. The sector in which I work put on a huge show of newly found digital awareness. My Twitter timeline nearly melted.

As Shirley Ayres correctly observed:

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This , just one year after the 2012 Northern Housing Consortium Social Media event – which was the first mainstream housing conference to promote digital.

So , with such success behind us, why am I still talking about business needing to change?

Because we can never stand still. Brian Solis describes our present as a “time when technology and society are evolving faster than the ability of many organisations to adapt.”

Despite the huge strides we have made over the past year – our pace of change is still not fast enough.

Let us use Google as an example.

Earlier in the year I was travelling abroad – which involved needing to arrange transport via ferry between a couple of islands. As I was sitting on the beach I got my new camera out. And it’s a Smart camera.

It has Google Now on it, an intelligent personal assistant for the Android operating system.

And the home screen , which I’ve never used before, is all about me. It tells me the time back in the UK. The best places to visit locally. The exchange rate. It tells me the next fixture of the football team I support. And , most significantly, it tells me the timetable of the ferry I need to catch. Even though I never searched for it.

Never used before. But it’s predicting my behaviour and offering me a solution to my problem.

Housing Associations, the Police, Social Care providers and the NHS – to name just a few – hold incredible amounts of data about people. Imagine if they used it like Google Now to solve peoples problems?

These are 3 immediate challenges I think we have to face up to in order that our organisations become “digitally social” :

1: Leadership and Skills

We still have some managers in positions of influence who don’t acknowledge digital as important. I still hear daily examples of organisations who block access to social media or don’t believe in making sure their employees have the necessary tools to do the job.

With the current pace of technological change this is about the single most destructive position you can take as a leader. Not promoting a digital work-style for your employees is to severely curtail their personal development and to put your organisation at risk of extinction.

I love the quote that Vala Afshar used to explain why his companies latest position is to be offered exclusively by social media “(We are) a social company looking to hire candidates that are customer focused and passionately engaged. (We are) looking for builders – relationship builders.”

If your company isn’t looking for those. Why not?

2: Innovation and Collaboration

The role for many public service organisations is to actively mainstream the innovation that is already out there. There are loads of innovators and entrepreneurs who just need a route to market. Some of them may already be employed by you.

This requires mind shift on behalf of organisations who think inside out. The best stuff could be going on outside your organisation not inside it – we need to get out and grab it. This has significant implications for the way Information Technology is supported and developed. IT has done a very good job for years of keeping people from accessing data – it now needs to let people in.

For housing this means delivering services around the person. Tyze is a great example of an innovative person centred community network that links neighbours, friends and professionals.

We haven’t cracked digital just because we have a Facebook page.

3: A new Customer Relationship

The biggest challenge I think we face is to reimagine the relationship with the public in the context of digital and social technology. It isn’t about just moving our services from offline to online. It’s about using the digital platform to think how the relationship could be enhanced. Thinking customers are going to flock online to pay their rent and view repairs is starting from the completely wrong position.

That’s why at Bromford – we are focussing on a completely new deal for customers, supported by digital innovations from a specialist team, partner developers and innovators.

We need to add value. Solve problems for customers – not ourselves.

Look at Google. They are trying to solve everything.

We could too.

[The content of this post was originally presented at the Chartered Institute Of Housing South East Conference 7th March 2013]

How Your Social Media Policy Could Kill Your Culture

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I love Social Media. But really, it’s not that important.

Not compared to some things.

I’ve begun to see a few posts suggesting that companies need to take more control over their employees social media output. That word – ‘control’ – has actually been used on more than one occasion.

An unwelcome trend.

It’s obvious to see why this is happening. Last year saw some big organisations fall victim to social media “blunders”. Although personally I prefer thinking of them as “lessons”.

And we’ve just had one of the most high profile UK cases to date – the redundancy tweets at HMV. That event has been blogged to death and I don’t want to add to it. I’d rather concentrate on what I think are some of the incorrect conclusions that have been drawn from it , and cases like it.

If you somehow missed the incident you can have a read about it here , or you can read my 140 character summary below:

"Company goes bust. Calls 60 staff into sacking. Staff tweet live from corporate account about what a bunch of idiots the managers are."
“Company goes bust. Calls 60 staff into sacking. Staff tweet live from corporate account about what a bunch of idiots the managers are.”

In the weeks that followed there have been a number of suggestions , often from Social Media and PR experts, about how we could avoid these kind of incidents in the future.

Some of the suggestions have included:

  • Only permitting “Junior” employees permission to draft social media messages, and making them go through an approval queuefor senior management to sign off before they are published
  • Banning all your employees from using social media at work and asking them to hand over their phones as they enter the premises

I couldn’t agree more.

Most employees are borderline psychotic. Little time-bombs preparing to explode at the slightest incident. In fact, rarely a day goes by in my team without one of them tweeting “@paulbromford – what a tosser” – just because I don’t make many cups of tea.

Seriously – is this what we have come to?

I think we are learning the wrong things. Here’s what I think we can take away from such incidents:

1 – Treat your employees well at all times.

2 – Don’t employ managers who are rubbish.

3 – Educate employees about the magnificent positives of social media but also the negatives. Support them and learn together.

This has nothing to do with social media and everything to do with leadership and culture.

Culture is what allows my own organisation to have such an open approach to social media. Everyone has access. Anyone can tweet or blog. My Opportunity4Employment Assistant – Chai Podins was set up with social media accounts on his first day at work. He would qualify as a “junior” if we used such archaic terms. Which we don’t.

A risky approach to social media? Maybe. But all use of social media has risks.

It does make sense that corporate accounts are protected. There should be plans in place for when errors are made or there is a hacking. Both of which are far more likely to happen than a colleague going into meltdown.

But if you write a Social Media Policy and it effectively says:

  • There is a hierarchy for message approval.
  • That you start with a belief that colleagues are going to “go rogue”
  • That you don’t trust the people you employ with 140 characters of text.

It will kill your culture. And that will take you years and years to rebuild.

So if you or your company are risk averse , and you don’t trust your people with social media, my advice is simple:

Don’t use it. It’s not worth it.

Let’s make job descriptions inspirational….

About 3 months ago I posted a blog/rant about why most Job Descriptions are complete rubbish.

You know what I’m talking about. You read the one for the job you are doing now.

Uninspiring: Although you said it was really really exciting at interview.

Impenetrable: You had to search the web to understand some of the jargon.

Long. Very Long: You didn’t read all of it did you? Be honest.

If the typical manager/HR team had written a job description for Mo Farah it would very likely read:

“Needs to run 10,000m every couple of years , remain upright throughout and complete the task to an acceptable level. Your performance is subject to an annual review but don’t worry mate keep your head down and do your best – you won’t get fired.”

And then we would follow it with a load of waffle that states the bleeding obvious:

  • Must demonstrate ability to tie own laces
  • Punctuality when turning up for the race – essential
  • Performs other duties as required by the line manager

As I mentioned in the previous blog – my 5 rules are now these:

  1. Stick to a 140 Character Job Purpose
  2. 1 Page Total Job Description.
  3. Use a picture or graphic.
  4. Use passionate language.
  5. Describe how you want the person to make a difference.

A few people have asked what happened next. Did HR get it? Did a JD that included the word “Sexy” in its job purpose get past go?

Well , the answer is yes.

Here’s a quick sample from five of them. See what you think. Would it make you want to get out of bed in the morning?

“You are a teacher , a coach , a mentor and a shoulder to cry on….your mission is that no meeting you host will ever be boring.”

“You are responsible for making Volunteering sexy. You give people something to look forward to.”

‘You will live and breathe Connect – ensuring it delivers “Apple standard” performance to its users. You are responsible for whether it succeeds or fails.”

 “You believe that young people can create the jobs of the future. And you make it happen.”

“You are the first step in helping someone be the best they can be. You change lives”

Whether you love or loathe this – there is a genuine problem we all need to help solve. 1 in 4 of us don’t feel we reach our creative potential in the workplace.

And right now we need creativity , innovation and aspiration in our companies and communities more than ever before.

So let’s say goodbye to average. And aim for inspirational from the start.

Social Media: A Trust Thing

I’m lucky. I’m part of an organisation where everyone has access to social media.

Anyone can set up a Facebook or Twitter account. Anyone can blog. Without restriction.

No Policy.

One Rule – “If you wouldn’t say it out loud in the cafe area – don’t put it on social media.”

So it’s shocking to read that 50% of the IT Directors in Europe think banning the use of Social Media in the workplace is a good idea.  At least according to this survey.

And , according to another survey , by 2015 , 60% of companies will be attempting to monitor employees use of Social Media.

What are we to make of this? And what does it say about the modern employer?

Let’s face it – Social Media can no longer be regarded as something new and dangerous. Pretty much every news bulletin will refer to a comment on Twitter.

So why do some employers still , in 2012 , think it’s something to be frightened of. Let’s ask the audience:

Ignorance, Short-Sightedness. Social Media as a benchmark of a companies transparency.

This actually isn’t about Social Media. It’s not about IT.

It’s about Leadership and Culture.  

And it’s about Trust and Empowerment.

  • Why would an employer think that the people they employ would prefer to sit all day on Facebook rather than do their jobs? Unless of course the jobs are so rubbish , and the leadership so poor , that this is the preferable option
  • Why would an employer think people would use 140 characters to destroy the reputation of their organisation? And if you have people like that – you could , rather than banning things , choose to do something about them
  • Why would an employer think anyone , anywhere , would want someone to monitor what they are saying?  Like a suspicious spouse checking through your text messages

If you are working to introduce more social media openness in your business – good for you.

But if you are in a relationship where either party does not trust the other – you would surely reconsider your position?

60% of employers will monitor social media usage.  50% will ban it altogether.

Want to have a relationship based on trust?

Leave them.

Find someone else.

It’s our Birthday – Top Learnings of Bromford Social Media Year One

Last night – at our Board – the Chair opened the meeting with a question that I was utterly unprepared for.

“Does anyone have an objection to people tweeting during this meeting? As long as they keep the comments relevant to the items being discussed?”.

A couple of eyebrows were raised. But nobody objected.

This is our journey so far.

12 months ago – nobody had access to social media at Bromford. Today everybody does. Unrestricted.

My hybrid work/personal twitter account @paulbromford was created exactly 1 year ago. Our Facebook pages opened 1 year ago. Our 1st blog appeared 1 year ago.

We still have no policy as such. There is no big list of rules. It’s a system run on trust and common sense rather than rules and procedure.

This has been Bromford Social Media Year 1 and these are my personal takeaways.
1 – Get your key leaders on board.  If you do that – things will catch fire. There is no need to get everyone on side with you. Just a few. The enthusiasts. If you get your CEO on board , you get a gold star.  Your CEO will legitimise it for everyone else and will be the fastest route to mass acceptance.

2 – Trust people. We have had unrestricted access to social media and one of our most productive years ever. People don’t come to work to sit on facebook all day. They come to do a good job. Believe in that. If you have disengaged employees just do your job and deal with it. Don’t be lazy and blame social media.

3 – Don’t listen to people who want policies, procedures and return on investment. Look – I struggle to be constructive here .  I’m not being unkind but they just don’t get it. You concentrate on being the innovator and they will catch up eventually. When they see the party going on they will want to join. Just get on and organize the party.

4 – Give people a playground. For us it was Yammer. Our internal social network. For many of our customers and colleagues their first experience of social networking has been on Yammer. It’s a very short step for colleagues to take from sharing what they are up to at work with other colleagues – and then moving that activity to Twitter , Facebook and our current growth area – blogging.

5 – Trust customers. They don’t get out of bed in the morning with the intent to bring us down. Really!  You will be surprised. Most people like you and appreciate your transparency. Start from that point and don’t listen to anyone who tells you otherwise. And customers don’t really expect a response when they do criticize you on Facebook. Surprise them. Talk to them. They like it.

6 – Learn from others. Twitter is such a friendly and sharing community. Nobody wants to see anyone fail. If you are stuck just ask someone. We still do on a daily basis and I’m sure we will still be doing in 3 years time. Trust the community – not consultants.

So its our Birthday.

Year Two starts today.

Job Descriptions are rubbish…..My Top 5 new rules

The Worlds Worst Job Description. Ever
The Worlds Worst Job Description. Ever

Did some work on some JD’s this week. I’ve been messing around them for some time – really struggling to articulate what I wanted.

On Wednesday morning at 9:40am it struck me. Somebody , somewhere , about 50 or 60 years ago – decided what a JD should look and feel like. A lot of words (management words, not real words) describing a lot of tasks and job accountability. I’ve never questioned it.

Need to recruit someone? Yeah! Lets make their eyes bleed with 3 pages of total bollocks.

Most of the work we are now doing , and the work the economy desperately needs, requires people to have creativity , a sense of autonomy and certainly a high degree of purpose.

So why on earth would we put things like this in a JD?

“The post holder will also perform any additional duties at the request of the Manager” (Which means – you need to do as I tell you – I don’t  trust you)

“You will be responsible for completing a daily report at 9:30am that should outline the tasks you and your team achieved in the previous day” (Which means – I don’t trust you or anyone else who works for me)

“Postholder will be required to attend in a punctual manner and be well-presented at all times” (Which means – I don’t trust you to get out of bed. Or even to have a wash)

I didn’t make these up by the way – just did a quick search.

I think at Bromford we have shown a fair degree of innovation. But there is much to be done. Here’s my (personal) new rules for JD’s:

1: 140 Character Job Purpose – If you can’t sum it up in that you are waffling. Plus – you can advertise it on Twitter

2: 1 Page Total – Anything more than that means we are in 20th Century Management mode and being over prescriptive – squeezing creativity out of someone before they have even applied.

3: Use a picture or graphic. A picture that describes the purpose. If you can’t think of a really bold , emotive image to accompany the job then you probably don’t need to even recruit someone. You can probably get a spreadsheet to do it.

4: Passionate language. If you really want someone to get out bed in the morning knowing EXACTLY what they are here to do there is nothing wrong with including words like “inspiring” “brave” or even “sexy”. I’ve gone a step further this week and included lyrics from George Benson’s “The Greatest Love Of All” (or Whitney if you prefer ) and Public Enemy’s “Fight The Power”. Ridiculous? Maybe. No problem , don’t apply!

5: Stick to how you want the person to make a difference. Describe how you want the successful applicant to make people FEEL rather than a list of things you want them to do. I’ve amended one JD to say to I want them “to inspire people each and every day”. That’s their purpose. How they do that it is entirely up to them.

I’m not saying this is right. But let’s all try something different. There has to be a better way.

I’m with our HR team on Monday finishing them off. Wonder if Public Enemy will make the final cut?

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