I’ve spent quite a bit of time over the past few years discussing how organizations can more effectively engage with the communities to which they belong. And one of the things I often mention is the role of a community ambassador—a person who represents the organization or brand in communities outside its own walls.
This month, I’m playing a bit of a community ambassador role myself. I wrote an article entitled The Innovative Power of Communities that appears in the July Edition of T+D Magazine. The magazine is a publication of the American Society for Training and Development (ASTD), an association with more than 38,000 members in 100 countries.
I haven’t historically been a part of the training and development world, but I’m hoping this article becomes the starting point for a conversation with folks in this field about how we might enable our organizations to better collaborate with the communities that they interact with.
Check out the article, and let me know what you think.
As you walk the halls of your organization and talk to fellow employees, do you ever hear complaints like these?
“I feel stuck because I can’t make decisions on my own.”
“I know what we need to do, but no one will listen.”
“I have little say in how I spend my time each day.”
“I’m waiting for someone to give me approval before I can proceed.”
Most of us know these feelings very well, and most of us have personal experience in what I would call a low autonomy organization like this one.
If autonomy in this sense refers to having the freedom to determine your own actions and behavior, a low autonomy organization is one where decisions are handed down from above and employees are expected to follow instructions, rules, or guidelines that limit their ability to think or make decisions for themselves. The end result is often a stifling bureaucracy where people are afraid or unwilling to take risks and managers wonder why nothing ever gets done.
Not only does this sort of environment sap morale and reduce efficiency and innovation, but it also makes it incredibly difficult for the organization to attract young, talented employees who have grown up in the freedom-based culture of the Internet and demand more autonomy than most organizations today are structured to provide.
But even if changing your overall top-down, bureaucratic corporate culture is beyond your control, you may be able to increase autonomy in your own corner of the organization through an informal process I refer to as The Freedom / Accountability Swap.
The Freedom / Accountability Swap
The Freedom / Accountability Swap is a simple, yet very powerful way for individual managers and employees in traditional control-based organizations to “think locally” and create islands of autonomy within their own teams by setting up freedom and accountability as a transaction to be negotiated.
The swap is not designed to reinvent the organization or management structure overnight, but instead is more of a stealth effort that allows you to build elements of a high autonomy culture without the core management philosophy of the organization being visibly threatened. In this sense, it is a relatively “safe” experiment for traditional organizations to try.
The hope is that if enough islands of autonomy are created within an organization, and the groups where autonomy is high are more passionate, motivated, and successful than those where autonomy is low, then the entire culture of the organization could become more autonomous over time.
The Freedom / Accountability Swap is based on a simple equation, born out of my experience working at open source technology leader Red Hat (you can read the full story here), that looks like this:
freedom + accountability = a culture of autonomy
In other words, in order to create a high autonomy culture, any increase in employee freedom must be matched by an increase in employee accountability for the actions and decisions they make with their new found freedom.
Give more freedom. Ask for more accountability in return. Simple!
So how would the Freedom/Accountability Swap work? Here’s one practical way to get started:
1. INITIATE THE SWAP Once a year, perhaps as part of an existing yearly performance or compensation review process, each employee and manager would schedule a meeting in which they would discuss that year’s Freedom/Accountability Swap (some organizations may want to do this conversation more often than 1x per year).
2. SHARE IMPRESSIONS Ahead of the meeting, both the employee and manager fill out a simple survey. An employee would report where they feel they have a lot of freedom and where they have little freedom. They would also report where they feel they are highly accountable for the results of their work and where they are less accountable. The manager would complete the same exercise, and employee and manager would share their answers with each other prior to the meeting.
3. MAP THE GAPS At the meeting, the manager and employee each share their impressions of where they see things differently when it comes to freedom and accountability. For example, are there projects, tasks, or deliverables where:
As they have the conversation, they “map the gaps” on a sheet like the one below so they can see where to focus their discussion:
The conversation should not just focus on where there are perception gaps, but should also cover the places where freedom and accountability are already the highest. In places where both are high, what is the reason why the “swap” works better? In places where the employee perceives freedom as low and the manager perceives accountability as low, what could be done to grant more freedom to the employee and what could the manager ask for in return?
Be sure that accountability is looked at from both the manager’s perspective and the employee’s perspective. It is just as important to discuss whether the manager is being held accountable as it is the employee—accountability works both ways—this is at the heart of the “swap.”
4. THE SWAP At the end of the conversation, the manager and employee should analyze each key project, task, or deliverable they’ve discussed and come to an agreement about what each side can offer that will increase freedom AND accountability for both sides.
5. REVIEW Over the course of the year, the employee and manager can use the language they developed in the swap as part of an ongoing conversation. This language may make it easier to discuss freedom / accountability issues as they arise in daily work.
Some organizations may want to take the Freedom / Accountability Swap even further beyond individual manager and employee relationships. It could easily be modified to work as a tool to create better relationships between groups in an organization as well as within groups. Leaders representing each group could have a similar dialogue, resulting in a Freedom/Accountability swap that improved the working relationships between these teams and increased autonomy on both sides.
Sound interesting? If you get a chance to try out a Freedom / Accountability Swap in your organization, I’d love to hear how it goes.
The Freedom / Accountability Swap was originally designed by Chris Grams, Susanne Ramharter, Laurence Lock Lee, Josh Allan Dykstra, Aaron Anderson as a “management hack” for the Management Innovation eXchange (MIX). You can read the full hack here. This post was originally written for the Human Capital Institute and is published here.
By now I’m sure you’ve seen that, in a tersely-worded blog post, Reed Hastings of Netflix today rolled back the controversial decision to split the company into two separate services: a DVD-by-mail service that would have been named Qwikster and the on-demand streaming service that would have retained the Netflix name.
You may have also seen the announcement that Apple pre-sold 1 million units of its new iPhone 4S on the first day it was available, blowing away previous records. This positive news comes after many people (especially those in the media), expecting a completely new iPhone 5, greeted last week’s iPhone 4S announcement with disappointment.
Meanwhile, over at Facebook, privacy concerns continue to mount as the latest site enhancements caused some to question the addition of cookies that would supposedly allow Facebook to track users’ movements even once they log off the service.
I put these three events together because they showcase how three of the most successful and powerful brands of our time interact with their brand communities as they innovate quickly and aggressively.
What do all three companies share? First, confidence. They can see their destiny, they have a plan in place to control it, and no one—not even their customers—is allowed to slow their innovation engines down. What else do all three share? They all also have passionate communities of people who care deeply about them and watch every move they make closely.
In each case, these two forces—the company’s own self confidence and the pressure and expectations that a deeply engaged and passionate brand community brings—can lead to highly-charged, high-risk announcements, communications, and interactions.
So why is Apple so successful at keeping the relationship with its brand community healthy? Why is Netflix stumbling so badly? And why is Facebook in a dangerous spot?
In my view it comes down to a difference in the way each company approaches the give and take transactions with their brand community, the way they manage their community karma.
Creating a healthy brand community is a lot like managing a bank account. In order to remain in good standing, you must make more deposits in the karma bank than withdrawals. And this is where Apple, Facebook, and Netflix begin to differ.
On one end of the spectrum is Apple. The company showers us with delightful new products and innovations. Apple surprises us. Apple entertains us. But most of all, we’ve come to expect that almost every product Apple makes is going to fundamentally change the way we work and play. By creating great, impactful stuff that really does improve our lives in meaningful ways (I haven’t used a computer that runs Microsoft Windows in more than a decade… but I still remember EXACTLY how it felt), Apple is constantly making deposits in the community karma bank.
And while many folks were upset that Apple didn’t launch an iPhone 5 last week, I’ll point out that it was a stronger karma decision to launch an upgraded version of the iPhone 4 and call it a 4S than to launch an upgraded iPhone 4 and call it an iPhone 5 (as many other companies would have done). When an iPhone 5 is ready, we will know it, I’m sure.
That’s not to say that Apple doesn’t make karma withdrawals too. It does. Apple, you annoy me with your crappy restrictions on what I can do with music I download from you. I dislike your anti-competitive app store practices, and you scare me every time I have to click through a new version of your license agreement.
But when it comes right down to it, you give me more than you take, Apple, so I must admit I still love you.
On the other end of the spectrum we have our friends at Netflix. For years, Netflix was a dutiful investor in the karma bank. The company made their site elegant and easy to use, the social functionality and ratings were helpful, and, when streaming came along, it was like Christmas.
Personally, I loved Netflix. I loved it so much that I even bought a new TV last year on the strength of one feature—I could seamlessly stream Netflix movies directly to it.
But something changed. Over the last six months, I’ve noticed that Netflix has started making more karma withdrawals than deposits.
First, the Netflix site quit getting better. I don’t know about you, but I found it harder and harder to search for new movies. Netflix has always tried to push you toward the backlist titles and older movies, and I get why that made sense with the DVD-by-mail system. But why not make it easy for me to find your newest on-demand titles? I got frustrated and quit using it as much because it seemed like the site was actually losing searching/browsing functionality rather than getting better (was that my imagination?).
Then Netflix hit me with the price increase. Now I don’t mind paying more when I’m getting more, but at the time the price increase was announced it had become clear that Netflix’s agreements with distributors were souring and that they might even lose access to many on-demand films. This on top of my frustrations with the site, created my first negative Netflix experiences.
Still, Netflix had enough positive karma with me, built up over years, that we remained buddies.
Then, on September 19th, Reed Hastings sent me an email (under cover of night, at 3:31 AM, mind you) that started as an apology and quickly turned from mea culpa into double down. If you got the email, you were likely either A) angry or B) wondering if Reed might soon have an opening to hire you to help with his communications strategy.
Not only was Netflix going to keep the price increase, they were going to significantly degrade the customer experience by splitting the business in two and forcing their customers to log in to two completely different sites if they wanted to stay a customer of both the streaming and DVD-by-mail businesses. I understood the business strategy and why it made sense… but the communications strategy and the way the whole thing was positioned was just plain terrible. As someone in the communications business myself, I felt the need to look away.
And that was the moment Netflix made one more karma withdrawal than I could take. In the weeks since I received that email I have 1) bought a Roku box so I can stream on my TV from someone other than Netflix if I want to 2) started using the free streaming I get as a member of Amazon Prime and 3) made the decision to go on a break from Netflix until it gets its karma account back in order.
Apparently, I’m not alone. Since the announcement, the Netflix stock has fallen off a cliff, down from just over $200 to around $110 a share (and it was at $300 a share this summer). The announcement today may not have come soon enough, only time will tell.
Netflix, I still think we might have a future together, but man do you have some work to do.
Which brings us to Facebook. Now Facebook is a very interesting case to look at because of one thing that makes it very different than the other two companies: it doesn’t charge me any real money.
Facebook is a free service, and typically our expectations of a free service are very low. Investments in the karma bank add up quickly when the service is free. For years, Facebook has earned our love by helping us reconnect with long lost friends and relatives, while allowing us to actively keep in touch with more people at once than we ever could with a pen, phone, or email.
The real price of using Facebook—our privacy and personal data—was one that was originally only too high for a fringe group of digital conspiracy theorists. But over the past year, Facebook has become more and more intrusive, less respectful of what little privacy it still allows us, and has at the same time claimed more ownership of our personal data, using it in ways that are less clearly in our own interests.
The double whammy is that at the same time, the service is becoming incrementally less valuable to many people. Now that you are connected to all of these folks that you haven’t seen in 20 years and know what their kids are having for breakfast… then what?
I’ve noticed more and more of my friends on Facebook are going largely silent. It is good to have the network there when you need it and want to reach out to someone. But my perception is that the regular updates are decreasing, the number of times I’m tempted to click the “like” buttons has gone way down as I wonder how Facebook intends to exploit my click, and I’m unlikely to upload any personal photos or videos until I am 100% positive they aren’t going to show up in some banner ad for deodorant.
I wonder if Facebook is nearing a critical juncture. Because the service is free, I think Facebook will likely be able to avoid the rapid depletion of the karma reserve that Netflix has seen over the past few months. But as more people become aware of the true costs of using Facebook—in terms of loss of control of our privacy and personal data—and the incremental value of Facebook begins to level off, could the karma bank for Facebook go negative, even as a free service?
I don’t know. But if I were at Facebook, I’d certainly be starting to worry about it. Especially if I had a competitor like Google (with its own karma stumbles, but an overall better track record of respecting personal data) lurking, waiting for Facebook to make one too many withdrawals.
I’m sure many of you have strong views about these three brands. If you do, and either agree or disagree with my analysis, I’d love to hear your thoughts.
Almost every time I’ve turned on the television in the past week, I’ve seen an ad for Google Chrome. What started earlier this year as a sprinkling of ads here in the United States has become a torrential downpour.
For me, Google has long been one of the poster children for a new breed of company born in the age of the Internet that doesn’t need to rely on traditional advertising to build its brand.
So, as I’m sure many of you have, I started asking myself, why exactly is Google doing so much television advertising?
It’s no secret that Google has historically not been a fan of traditional advertising. In fact, it wasn’t so long ago (2006) that Google Chairman Eric Schmidt called advertising “the last bastion of unaccountable spending in corporate America.”
And Google is certainly an interesting paradox: a company that historically does little paid advertising itself, yet makes billions of dollars selling advertising to others.
I did a little research and pieced together some history about Google and television ads.
In May, 2009, the first ad for Google Chrome appeared on television in the United States. In the blog post announcing the new spot, Google sounded almost apologetic, saying the ad was originally just developed in Japan as a web video, but it sparked a conversation and received good feedback. So Google decided to run it as a TV ad, in part as a test of the new Google TV Ads program.
The next year you may recall that Google actually bought an ad on the Super Bowl, which they called Parisian Love.
Eric Schmidt announced the spot on the Google blog, justifying it by saying “we liked this video so much, and it’s had such a positive reaction on YouTube, that we decided to share it with a wider audience.” But his Twitter announcement of the ad acknowledged that this was quite a unlikely strategy for Google:
Earlier this year, Google began developing the current set of ads for Google Chrome in partnership with advertising agency BBH.
The work is compelling, as advertising goes (here’s a link to all of the spots on YouTube, if you want to check them out). Perhaps the most thoughtful one highlights the It Gets Better Project, which has resulted in thousands of videos being created for YouTube that are intended to give hope to LGBT youths.
The Dear Sophie spot has been viewed on YouTube over 3 million times, and there are ads featuring Lady Gaga (4 million page views) and Justin Bieber (almost 2 million pages views) as well. The newest pieces highlight The Johnny Cash Project (where artists are collaboratively developing a tribute music video for Cash’s song “Ain’t No Grave”), Frank Restaurant in Austin, TX (mmm…. so delicious… don’t pass up the waffle fries), and Angry Birds.
From a branding perspective, the ads make sense–as stories. By telling these stories, Google and BBH are invoking the transitive property of branding to associate Google Chrome with some incredibly innovative collaborative efforts. The math looks something like this:
Lady Gaga = open, collaborative, innovative.
Google Chrome = open, collaborative, innovative.
Therefore, if you like Lady Gaga, you’ll like Google Chrome.
Certainly getting ten million combined pageviews on YouTube for the campaign is pretty awesome—and free—so why spend the big money to put these ads on television too? Isn’t the beauty of the Google / YouTube model that it can be effective at eliminating the need for traditional advertising?
Perhaps Google is trying to expand its brand awareness with people it can’t reach via YouTube? But why spend the money on Google Chrome, a web browser (and a term Google itself has shown that almost no one understands), rather than the Google brand itself?
My first thought was that perhaps Chrome was losing the browser wars and the television ads were a desperate attempt to keep the Chrome ship afloat.
It turns out that is about as far from true as you can get. Chrome is killing it. According to StatCounter, Chrome is rapidly gaining new users at the expense of Internet Explorer and Firefox both.
In fact, some predict Chrome usage will actually exceed Firefox usage by the end of this year.
A victory for traditional advertising?
Not so fast. Here’s a good post from late this summer highlighting Chrome’s rapid ascent and documenting the reasons for it. From the post:
“Online, Google of course has a huge marketing advantage over basically everyone else since it can recommend its Chrome browser on its web properties such as Google Search, YouTube, etc. Not even Facebook can compare with Google when it comes to sheer web presence, reaching over a billion users.
That said, Google has clearly built a very good and highly popular product. If people didn’t like Chrome, the browser wouldn’t be able to retain users to the extent it seems to be doing.”
So the two reasons for Chrome’s success come down to:
1) the browser is good
2) it can leverage the power of Google’s online advertising engine (yes, the same engine that millions of companies have raided their traditional media advertising budgets to spend more on, causing the rise of Google in the first place).
But I didn’t see Google’s television advertising strategy mentioned here, or in any other article I read, as an explanation for Chrome’s rapid ascent.
Let me sum things up:
I get why Google is making the effort to create stories like these and share them with the world. Storytelling is an extremely powerful tool for building brands the open source way.
And overall, I like the approach Google is taking—many of the stories are really well told, and the focus on open, collaborative projects and artists (not to mention tasty hot dogs) sits well with me.
But I can’t for the life of me figure out why Google spending so much of its shareholders’ money putting these ads on TV.
If you have the answer, I’d love to hear it.
[This post originally appeared on opensource.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]
One of my favorite regular blog subjects is how to use community-based strategies to build brands. In fact, I’m putting the finishing touches on a new book entitled The Ad-Free Brand: Secrets to Successful Brand Positioning in a Digital World which will be out this August and covers exactly that topic.
How does a community-based brand strategy work? Simple.
Rather than staying behind the curtain and developing a brand strategy inside your organization for your brand community, you step out from behind the curtain and develop the strategy with your brand community.
Many traditional executives will have a hard time with this approach. First, it means the organization will need to publicly admit it does not have all the answers already. Some folks (especially executives, in my experience) just have a hard time admitting they don’t know everything.
Second, it means ceding some control over the direction of your brand to people in the communities that care about it. The truth is that you probably already have lost absolute control of your brand because of the impact of Twitter, Facebook, blogs, and other user-controlled media. Some folks just aren’t ready to accept that fact yet.
If you are considering opening up your brand strategy to help from people outside the organization, how do you sell the approach to hesitant executives? Why is this new model not just good philosophy, but also good business?
Here are the five key benefits of a community-based brand strategy:
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?
When I hear people in the technology industry talk about the benefits of open source software, one of things they mention often is their belief that open source software “gets better faster” than traditional software (David Wheeler has done a nice job collecting many of the proof points around the benefits of open source software here). While the speed of innovation in open source is in part due to the power of Linus’s Law (“Given enough eyes, all bugs are shallow”), I believe it also has a lot to do with the way open source projects are managed.
Many of the characteristics of this open source management style apply well beyond making software, and I’m always looking for examples showcasing this in action. A few weeks ago, I wrote briefly about the story in Malcolm Gladwell’s book Blink about (now retired) US General Paul Van Riper.
Gladwell tells the story of how, in an enormous military war game called the Millennium Challenge in 2002, Van Riper took command of the Red Team, playing the role of a rogue commander who broke away from the government of his Persian Gulf country and threatened US forces (the Blue Team). Rather than following standard military management protocol, Van Riper managed his team according to a philosophy he called “in command and out of control.” From the book:
By that, I mean that the overall guidance and the intent were provided by me and the senior leadership, but the forces in the field wouldn’t depend on intricate orders coming from the top. They were to use their own initiative and be innovative as they went forward.
At Netflix, the vacation policy is audaciously simple and simply audacious. Salaried employees can take as much time off as they’d like, whenever they want to take it. Nobody – not employees themselves, not managers – tracks vacation days. In other words, Netflix’s holiday policy is to have no policy at all.
This may sound like a recipe for disaster to you, but it hasn’t turned out that way for Netflix. In fact, as the rest of article highlights, not having a lot of corporate policies may be a fantastic strategy for engaging 21st century workers.
[Read the rest of this post on opensource.com]
This week, those smart folks over at IDEO launched a new project they are calling OpenIDEO. If you aren’t familiar with IDEO yet, you should be—they are the poster children for design thinking specifically and 21st century innovation more generally.
IDEO has been responsible for groundbreaking designs of everything from computer mice to toothbrushes to brand experiences, and it is the home of superstar thinkers like Tim Brown (author of the recent book called Change By Design) and Tom Kelley (author of The Art of Innovation and The Ten Faces of Innovation).
What is OpenIDEO? Here’s what the website says:
OpenIDEO is a place where people design better, together for social good. It’s an online platform for creative thinkers: the veteran designer and the new guy who just signed on, the critic and the MBA, the active participant and the curious lurker.
So it is basically an experiment in open innovation, a place where IDEO can be the catalyst of a conversation among really smart folks from different disciplines that might lead to solutions for big, complex social problems.
If you are a skeptic, you might immediately wonder what’s in it for IDEO. One person asked whether IDEO planned to make money with the “crowd’s” ideas, and Tim Brown answered like this:
[Read the rest of this post on opensource.com]