Every organization has people who act or work in ways that are detrimental to the brand. Often, if these people get results (meaning they make financial targets or otherwise achieve the goals that have been set for them), they are praised and rewarded.
These off-brand people are a deadly disease. Anyone who is rewarded for working in ways that are harmful to the brand experience will damage your ability to deliver on your brand positioning.
For The Ad-Free Brand, my friend Greg DeKoenigsberg let me do a sidebar about what he calls the Law of Institutional Idiocy. It does a great job showing how the disease of off-brand behavior spreads, but it also applies at a broader organizational level beyond the brand as well. Here it is:
In the beginning, your organization has a tree full of healthy employees.
If you’re not very wise and very careful, that idiot gets promoted because people tire of fighting with idiots, who also tend to be loud, ambitious, and politically savvy. And then he or she builds a whole team of idiots. Other idiots start popping up elsewhere in the organization.
Letting off-brand people continue to operate unchecked is a quick path to a brand with a multiple personality disorder. It is not only confusing to your brand community, but also can cause lots of internal disagreement and conflict and generally just isn’t they way ad-free brands like to operate.
How do you deal with those who don’t live the brand? Some organizations have a no-tolerance rule and seek to quickly eliminate those who do not live the brand. Some instead just focus on the positive, rewarding those who live the brand while passing over those who do not, even if they are getting results.
No matter which way you go, do not leave anti-brand behavior unchecked. It could make all of your other efforts a waste of time.
In October 1969, when experts at the US Department of Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) connected the first two nodes of what has now become the Internet, they probably weren’t considering the ramifications of their actions on future organizational cultures. But while these DARPA folks likely wouldn’t have considered themselves management innovators, the Internet they created has rocked the traditional management science to its core.
Sure, organizations have embraced the technological changes that have come with the Internet (or they have not, and have since disappeared). But fewer organizations have truly embraced or even begun to understand the cultural changes that the Internet has ushered in.
We may live in 2011, but given how many of our organizations are structured, we might just as well be working in 1911.
Fundamentally, traditional management and the Internet are at odds over one simple thing:
Traditional management is designed for control. The Internet is designed for freedom.
That’s why the principles used to manage assembly line workers in 1911 are often rejected in 2011 by a new generation of employees who have grown up enveloped in the freedom of the Internet. To them, the old management model is an anachronism; a legacy system held onto by an aging generation of leaders who are unwilling to give up control because they see freedom as a threat.
In volunteer-based community settings, efforts to exert control are often poisonous. Volunteers will simply quit before being forced to do something they don’t believe in or value. Yet in traditional organizational settings, control—over people, resources, and information—is a fundamental lever.
If you’d like to see your organization become more aligned with the spirit of the Internet than the legacy of traditional management, consider looking for places to replace control-based practices with freedom-based practices.
If you manage people, start thinking of your staff members as volunteers in a community. By giving them more freedom to choose things they’d like to work on while giving them additional say in their own futures, you stand a better chance of keeping them feeling like… well… paid volunteers.
When employees are forced to work on projects they haven’t chosen, and don’t believe in or value, they may not actually quit their jobs, but they will often quit in every other way—doing just enough to get by and keep their job safe, or in some cases even undermining the effort.
Often this is a fate worse than having them quit. They become organizational drones, complacent, indifferent, and dispassionate. They’ll stop contributing ideas because they think no one cares. They’ll stop giving full effort because they think it doesn’t matter.
Replacing control with freedom is a great way to inspire your employees to view themselves as volunteers, deeply engaged in achieving the organization’s goals, rather than drones or mercenaries, who seek only safety and a regular paycheck.
Moving from control to freedom is one of the most difficult transitions an organization (or even just a manager) can make. This transition requires much more than simply a good strategy for change—it requires a will to change. Those in charge—the very people who have the most to lose by giving up control—must make a decision that granting freedom is a strategic imperative. The competitive landscape is littered with the carcasses of formerly successful organizations whose management team did not know how—or didn’t have the will—to make the leap.
The strategic decision to change a control-based culture into a freedom-based culture is not one that leaders should take lightly, and it is not necessarily right for every organization in every situation. But in order to compete with companies born in the age of the Internet, employing the children of the Internet, and built in the spirit of the Internet, in the long term there may be few other options.
[This post originally appeared on opensource.com]
Over the past couple of weeks, I’ve had a few people ask me why my blog is called Dark Matter Matters, and since I haven’t told that story in a while, I thought I’d share an excerpt from The Ad-Free Brand explaining it (and appending some more recent information). Here goes:
In late 2008, I was struggling mightily with the question of how you measure and quantify the value of brand-related activities. As someone whose father is an amateur astronomer, I’d long been intrigued by the concept of dark matter in the universe. If dark matter is new to you, Wikipedia describes it as “matter that neither emits nor scatters light or other electromagnetic radiation, and so cannot be directly detected via optical or radio astronomy.”
In other words, it is matter out there in the universe that is incredibly difficult to see, basically invisible, but that has a large gravitational effect. What’s particularly interesting about dark matter is that, apparently, there is a lot of it. Again according to Wikipedia:
“Dark matter accounts for 23% of the mass-energy density of the observable universe. In comparison, ordinary matter accounts for only 4.6% of the mass-energy density of the observable universe, with the remainder being attributable to dark energy. From these figures, dark matter constitutes 83% of the matter in the universe, whereas ordinary matter makes up only 17%.”
I find this fascinating.
And dark matter is still a theoretical concept. Again from the Wikipedia entry: “As important as dark matter is believed to be in the cosmos, direct evidence of its existence and a concrete understanding of its nature have remained elusive.”
But it was actually reading about all the problems with the Large Hadron Collider in 2008 (at the very same time I was having my own problems figuring out how to measure the value of brand-related work) that helped me make the connection between what I do for a living and this concept of dark matter.
The Large Hadron Collider is the world’s largest particle accelerator. It was built on the border of France and Switzerland and is about 17 miles wide. One of the things that particle physicists hope to prove with this enormous project is the existence of dark matter.
I’m no physicist, but as I understand it, the accelerator shoots protons at super-high speeds around the collider, and, if these scientists are lucky, the collisions eventually might produce a few particles that will exist for only a few milliseconds and then disappear again. And these particles might prove that dark matter isn’t just a theory.
Might being the key word. In fact, noted physicist Stephen Hawking bet $100 that they won’t find anything (a bet which he may soon win). The cost of building a collider to maybe prove the existence of dark matter? About $9 billion dollars. (And as of this post, written in September 2011, three years since its was first fired up, we are still looking for evidence.)
Another attempt to prove the existence of dark matter used the Hubble Space Telescope. This image below (which I also used for the header of the blog) was taken by Hubble and first shown by NASA in May, 2007.
In this picture, you are looking at many galaxies a really, really long way away. But you can also see fuzzy gray areas all over that look like clouds. When the astronomers first looked at this photo, they thought the fuzzy areas were a problem with the image. But after analyzing it for over a year, they realized that the fuzziness might actually be evidence of dark matter.
Their reasoning? The fuzziness is actually a gravitational distortion of the light rays from distant galaxies that are being bent by dark matter on their way to Earth. The effect you see is kind of like looking at the bottom of a pond that is being distorted by ripples on the surface.
So finally, scientists had discovered some real visual evidence of dark matter.
I believe the type of activities I talk about in the book and on this blog—those related to building brand, culture, and community—are the dark matter within organizations. Often brand, culture, and community are extremely difficult to measure well, and sometimes accurate measurement is simply impossible.
That’s not to say we don’t try anyway. I’ve seen and even tried many formulas, processes, and products that attempt to measure the value of brand, community, and culture-related efforts. Some of them can provide valuable information.
Others, not so much.
Yet here’s the kicker: brand, community, and culture are having a huge impact on your organization, whether you can effectively and cost-effectively measure that impact or not.
Just as dark matter is a strong gravitational force within the universe even though it is notoriously hard to see and measure, so are many of the things that will lead to the long-term success of ad-free brands.
So that’s how the blog got the name.
One last thing: I’ve been toying with the idea of changing the name at some point down the road, perhaps re-naming it The Ad-Free Brand and simplifying things. If you have any thoughts on that, or if you like the dark matter analogy and think I should keep it, I’d love your opinion. Feel free to comment below or send me an email at chris(at)newkind.com.
The other day I noticed that the application deadline to be considered for the Fortune 100 Best Companies to Work For list is this week. My company is too small to be considered for this honor (you must have at least 1000 employees), but I always pay close attention when the rankings come out, and I’m sure many of you do as well. On the 2011 list, the #1 company was SAS, followed by Boston Consulting Group and Wegmans (see all 100 here).
The organization that does the ranking, The Great Place to Work Institute, has been running this competition for years and has a rigorous process for selecting the final list.
Yet when I read the articles written about the top companies or browse the list in Fortune, I always feel like something is missing. I finally put my finger on it:
I believe the evaluation process is benefit-heavy and mission-light.
What do I mean? When I read about the top companies, most of the emphasis seems to be on the salary and benefits offered to employees; which companies pay the most and have the best or most unusual employee perks (life coaches, wine bars, or Botox anyone?).
But the section of the report I want to see is nowhere to be found:
Which companies are doing things that matter?
You see, I’m not someone who would find a company a great place to work because it offers a big paycheck and fantastic benefits. I need my work to be personally fulfilling. I need to feel like I have a chance to make a difference, to do something great.
I don’t think I’m alone.
Previously, I’ve written about something I call cultural fool’s gold, my term for an organizational culture built exclusively on entitlements.
If you want to test whether you work in an entitlement-driven culture, just ask a few people what they like most about working at your company. If they immediately jump to things like free snacks and drinks, the work-from-home policy, or the employee game room, you may have a culture made of fool’s gold, an entitlement-driven culture.
If instead they say things like these:
you probably work in the only type of organization I’d personally ever consider—a mission-driven organization.
So the big question I’d pose to the folks at the Great Place to Work Institute:
Should there be a “best places” list for those of us who not only want to work someplace great, but want to do something great?
Maybe the Institute should consider a new list for those of us who demand more from our workplaces than big salaries, comfortable benefits, and free Botox injections?
Perhaps it could be called Best Places To Do Great Work or Workplaces with Purpose for People With Purpose or something like that?
The world has changed. I think many of the people graduating for our universities today will demand more than just great benefits from their employers. They’ll want to do meaningful work and be a part of a community of others looking for the same.
Personally, I hope to see the way we rate “the best places to work” in the future change to accommodate people like me.
What do you think?
[This post originally appeared on opensource.com]
Last week, Google Senior Vice President of Product Management Jonathan Rosenberg resigned after almost 10 years at the firm. While the comings and goings of tech industry executives aren’t typically that interesting to me, I found this news fascinating for a couple of reasons.
First, Rosenberg says that one of the things he plans to do is write a book with ex-Google CEO (and current Executive Chairman) Eric Schmidt. The subject? According to an article in the Mercury News, they’ll be writing about “the values, rules and creation of Google’s management culture.”
Now that is a book I’d like to read. Google is in many ways an ideal case study of the open source way as applied to management practices, and, while many have written books about Google already (notably this one by Bernard Girard and this brand new one by Steven Levy), I’d love to see Schmidt and Rosenberg’s take (and I hope we can corral one of them for a webcast on opensource.com when the book comes out).
I’m especially interested in their view of how the existing Google culture changed (or didn’t change) during their tenure. Especially since it has been reported that Rosenberg’s top-down management style didn’t mesh well at first with the existing engineering-led culture.
But what I find to be the even more interesting question in the short term is, with Rosenberg leaving, who will be the new face of openness at Google?
Earlier this week, Fast Company posted an article by Jens Martin Skibsted and Rasmus Bech Hansen (thanks to Gunnar Hellekson for sending it my way) that may be of interest to folks seeing success with their open source and open innovation efforts.
The article is entitled “User-Led Innovation Can’t Create Breakthroughs; Just Ask Apple and IKEA” and here’s how it starts:
Companies should lead their users, not the other way around.
The user is king. It’s a phrase that’s repeated over and over again as a mantra: Companies must become user-centric. But there’s a problem: It doesn’t work. Here’s the truth: Great brands lead users, not the other way around.
Jens and Rasmus aren’t the first to preach this sermon, Henry Ford (apocryphally, at least) had a go at it about 100 years ago. And Steve Jobs has famously used Henry Ford’s “faster horse” quote to describe Apple’s philosophy about market research for years.
To make their case, Jens and Rasmus use Apple and IKEA as case studies of brands that have done very well by not listening to their users, and in the article they document conversations with insiders at each company.
Based on the positive feedback from this webcast, we decided to host a conversation between Stefan and regular opensource.com contributor Chris Grams regarding the ways open source and open innovation are different and the things they share.
To learn more about open innovation, visit Stefan’s 15inno blog.
Collaboration & Sharing
CHRIS: In the open source world, we always come back to collaboration and sharing as key principles. These days, many organizations would say they have collaborative cultures (or aspire to, at least), but where the open source way really shines is in its ability to inspire people to collaborate beyond the boundaries of their own organization.
It strikes me that the open innovation world also encourages people to reach beyond the walls of their organization as well, but if I were to point out one key difference, it would be that in the open innovation world, collaboration is clearly transactional or even contractual. You give on the promise of receiving in return.
STEFAN: You are right about this. Big companies engage with open innovation because the combination of their internal resources and the external resources provides more innovation opportunities that they can feed their corporate engines with. They want to increase revenues and profits, and they definitely put this focus first rather than “just” trying to do good things.
[Read the rest of this post on opensource.com]
On occasion I get the opportunity to speak publicly about some of the things I’ve learned over the years applying the open source way in organizations.
In almost every case, when the Q&A session arrives, I’m greeted with at least one question from a poor soul who loves the idea of applying the open source way to management and culture, but doesn’t think it would ever work in his/her specific organization. Usually the comment is accompanied by some horror story about an evil co-worker, hierarchical boss, crappy HR policy, or some other impediment that would cause the open source way to fail.
And the sad truth? These folks are probably right. Many of these concepts wouldn’t work in their organizations.
So why do I waste my time talking about things that may not work in many organizations? Two reasons:
2) the wind
Let me be honest. I’ve never run into a perfect model of the open source way in practice (if you have, please point it out to me!).
There are clearly some organizations that have figured out how to build open source principles into their DNA better than others. Wikipedia is a good example. The Fedora Project is another. Still, my guess is the people who are deeply involved in those projects on a daily basis would probably be able to show you some warts, places where old-skool practices are still evident.
So why not be more realistic? Why not give up and accept that some of these principles work better in theory than they do in practice?
Simple: I have hope.
What gives me hope? Two things. First, I have seen first-hand many examples of great things that happen when open source principles are applied within organizations. From the collaboratively-designed mission of Red Hat to the work of Fedora marketing team, I’ve personally witnessed the power of open source principles in action.
Second, I believe in the pursuit of perfection. Why not aspire to create better companies than we have today? What do we have to lose? I don’t know that we will ever see a perfect open source company. But by pursuing perfection, we are likely to get a heck of a lot closer than where we are today.
[Read the rest of this post on opensource.com]
Maybe some day we’ll look back on the role of the manager in our organizations and laugh.
Such a quaint trend. Kind of like having The Clapper in every room of your house, or wearing multiple Swatch watches, or working out to Richard Simmons videos. Each seemed really helpful at the time, but looking back, we kind of wonder what the heck we were thinking.
OK, I’m exaggerating. After all, the manager/employee trend has been going strong for 100 years or more. But are we seeing enormous changes in the role of managers on the horizon? Signs point to yes.
In some of the most forward-thinking businesses and in many projects being run the open source way, the traditional manager/employee relationship, which looks something like the image above, is being replaced with something much less formal and much more flexible.
I think the new model looks more like this:
[read the rest of this post on opensource.com]
When I hear people talk about how awesome their organizational culture is, I often find myself wondering what sort of “great” culture it is.
For me, great cultures fall into two categories: entitlement and mission-driven. Those “best places to work” lists don’t usually make a distinction, but I do. Here is the difference:
The surest sign of an entitlement culture? When someone tells you why they like their work, they give you an example of a benefit not related to the work itself. Some examples:
I get on-site daycare.
I get free snacks and drinks.
We have great health benefits.
We have a flexible work-from-home policy.
From what I’ve observed, entitlement-driven cultures resonate most with people who have a deeply held desire for safety, security, and quality of life.
It’s no secret that I believe organizations with a strong shared purpose, mission, or vision beyond the bottom line have a huge advantage over those that don’t. I was able to witness the power of a mission-driven culture first hand at Red Hat, and I see these cultures all of the time in the both the open source and design worlds.
Ask someone why they like working in a mission-driven organization, and they are likely to say things like these:
I believe in what we are doing.
I love coming to work every day.
I leave work each day with a sense of accomplishment.
I am changing the world.
My personal experience has been that mission-driven cultures resonate most with people who have a deeply held desire to find meaning in their work above all else.
Can companies have both cultures at once, and be both entitlement-driven and mission-driven? Absolutely!
And a culture where people believe in what they do and enjoy safety, security, and quality of life is the best kind, right? Let me be controversial:
I don’t think that is true.
[Read the rest of this post on opensource.com]