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The innovative power of communities


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.

Want to increase autonomy in your organization? Consider a freedom / accountability swap


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:

  • the employee thinks they don’t have enough freedom and the manager feels they are less accountable?
  • the manager thinks the employee has a lot of freedom, but the employee doesn’t agree?
  • the employee thinks they are highly accountable but the manager doesn’t agree?
  • the manager thinks they are highly accountable, but the employee doesn’t agree?
  • both sides perceptions of freedom and accountability match well?

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.

Brand tip: call a duck a duck, and a giraffe…uh… Giraffey?


If you’ve spent any time in the technology industry, you’ve probably come across some seriously bad brand names. And what has always particularly bothered me is that many tech companies can’t just stop with one bad brand name—they attempt to create new brands for every single product, service, or sub-brand in addition to their corporate brand.

benjamin with animals

My naming genius nephew Benjamin with Giraffey (the giraffe) and Tigey (the tiger).

Take this to it’s extreme and you end up with something like:

TotalLogic™ Cloudweave™

or

Biotron™ Selectronix™ with SignalBoost™ technology

or whatever. I’m sure you’ve seen worse.

I say stop the madness.

The reason this doesn’t work is because getting people to understand the meaning behind one brand takes time, effort, and money. Every brand name that you add dilutes the time, effort, and money you can spend educating people about any one brand.

This is why technology companies end up with lots of sucky, worthless brand names that no one knows, understands, or values. Fortunately, I have a simple tip that can help you focus your branding energy and get you better results:

Call a duck a duck.

Here is what I mean: when it comes to creating brand names, focus your energy on one or two key brands, then choose simple descriptive names rather than creating a new brand every time you create a product or service. In other words:

STOP NAMING EVERYTHING.

(You can check out what I’ve previously written on the subject here and here.)

When I was at Red Hat, this meant keeping naming mind-numbingly simple. In most cases “Red Hat” was the brand. Almost every other brand name was a simple descriptive name (an example: our flagship product, “Red Hat Enterprise Linux” was… you guessed it, a version of Linux made for enterprise customers).

Whenever someone would tell me how boring this naming strategy was, that they wanted a name that was more “fun” or “exciting,” I would tell them we already had one—Red Hat—and, by ensuring we didn’t name every single product we created, we would make that one brand even more fun and exciting (and more valuable in the process).

The thing that inspired me to write this post today was a conversation I had with my sister a few weeks ago. She was telling me how my nephew Benjamin (who is 3 1/2) names his stuffed animals.

He has a tiger. Its name is “Tigey.”

He has a giraffe. Its name is—you guessed it—”Giraffey.”

She tells me he also has “Pandy,” “Lioney,” and several other similarly-named animals.

I knew that boy was a genius.

By naming things exactly what they are, he makes it incredibly simple for us to know which animal he is talking about. We will never confuse “Giraffey” with “Tigey” when he is telling us stories about their adventures.

If a 3 1/2 year old understands the value of keeping a naming strategy simple, why is it so hard for thousands of trained marketing experts in the technology world?

If his mom lets him, I might start bringing Benjamin in on consulting projects around naming.

I’ll just have to make sure they are scheduled to start after his afternoon nap.

What ‘default to open’ looks like at New Kind


Over the last few years, I’ve written quite a bit about the concept of defaulting to open, which was one of the major things that drove the culture at Red Hat and was an honest extension of the philosophy behind the open source movement. The term ‘default to open’ was also recently expanded upon by Google SVP of People Operations Laszlo Bock in this article from Google’s fantastic Think Quarterly online magazine.

The other day I was sitting in the New Kind office, and was inspired to take the picture you see here. I thought it did a nice job capturing what ‘default to open’ looks like at New Kind.

The first thing to notice when you look at this picture is that everyone is sitting in the same room together.

No one at New Kind has an office. We all share a big open space. Now having said that, what you see here—everyone sitting at their desks—is pretty rare. While we are together by default, if someone gets a phone call or has a meeting, they typically get up from their desk and head into one of our dark conference rooms for privacy and to ensure they don’t annoy everyone else.

With the exception of our big collaboration space, all of the conference rooms at New Kind are gloomy rooms with no outside windows, so unless folks are on deadline and trying to escape distractions, they are not places to linger longer than necessary. That’s a good thing because it tends to keep us together. And if we are sitting at our desks and trying to avoid distractions, headphones are our friends (In fact, I’m writing this at my desk while listening to the new Sleigh Bells album).

Not only does everyone—including our Chairman and CEO—sit in the same room together by choice, but as you can see from the picture, everyone also has the same inexpensive IKEA desks and file cabinets. Yes, we have titles at New Kind so that we can interface successfully with the outside world, but they sure don’t get you much inside the office.

The last thing I’d like to point out that really shows what we mean by ‘default to open’ is that there are two people sitting in this picture, Adrienne and Billy, who are not technically New Kind employees, but do work with us regularly. Adrienne is a fantastic designer and the genius behind the amazing food blog AdrienneEats. Billy is a writer and social media expert with a Klout score second only to Nation of the people in this picture (impressive!). Neither of them is in the office every day. In fact, some days you’ll see other people sitting in those seats or elsewhere in the office with us.

When we first formed New Kind, we had a vision of the company as a community. The core concept behind New Kind was very simple:

We wanted to

1) do meaningful work
2) with people we like.

That’s it. So we regularly invite people we like to sit in the office with us, whether they are New Kind employees or not. New Kind is a community, open to those people who share our worldview. Often the folks who work with us in the office are collaborating with us on projects. Sometimes they are working on projects for other clients. We don’t really care, we just like having them around.

Do you have a similar setup and philosophy in your office? Tell me about it!

How to connect to key communities with the help of brand ambassadors


Once you’ve identified the key communities you think it is important to engage with, the next step is to identify the people you’d like to represent your brand within these communities. For simplicity, I like to refer to these folks as brand ambassadors.

How to find brand ambassadors

Start by identifying the people inside your organization who have the best relationships with each community. These people are the best candidates to become your brand ambassadors. The ideal brand ambassador is already an actual community member, actively participating in conversations and projects with other community members.

While an employee of your organization, this person shares common values, interests, and experiences with other community members. It is less important what position they hold within your organization and more important how they are viewed by the community itself.

After you’ve identified possible brand ambassadors, reach out to them to see if they are willing and interested in expanding their personal roles in the community to include being representatives of your brand as well. Some might already be playing this role, others might be playing this role and not realizing it.

Don’t force or pressure people. The ideal candidate will be excited to be considered and will be passionate about the opportunity, so if your best candidate doesn’t seem interested, try to find someone else who is.

Creating brand ambassadors from scratch

If you don’t have anyone in your organization who is already a member of the community, you’ll need to have someone join. Choose someone who understands your organization’s story and positioning well but also already shares interests, values, and experiences with the community in question.

Have this person attend meetings, join mailing lists, participate on forums, and otherwise begin to contribute to the community first as an individual. It will take a little longer to get started, but it will be worth it if your brand ambassador has a deep contextual understanding of the community before they dive right in officially representing your organization.

Brand ambassadors as faces of the brand

You should ensure that your brand ambassadors deeply understand your brand positioning so they can live it (not just speak to it) in their activities within these external communities. If you are developing many brand ambassadors at once, consider hosting a brand ambassador bootcamp where new ambassadors can practice telling the brand story and get aligned on the overall positioning of the organization. Also use this as an opportunity to emphasize the key role of these ambassadors in developing the brand experience and keeping relationships with the community healthy and productive.

You may have some communities where there is a whole team of ambassadors, not just one. For example, at Red Hat, a large team of developers represented Red Hat (and themselves) in the Fedora community. Invest as many ambassadors as you need in order to provide the best possible support for and adequately communicate with the community.

As you recruit brand ambassadors, you extend the internal core of the brand. Although it is wonderful to see your core group getting bigger, extending your reach is also an important time to ensure consistency. Be very careful to take the time to educate all brand ambassadors well so the entire brand orchestra stays in key.

Brand ambassador philosophy

Wikipedia defines an ambassador as “the highest ranking diplomat who represents a nation and is usually accredited to a foreign sovereign or government, or to an international organization.” Usually an ambassador lives and operates within the country or organization where he is assigned.

Your brand ambassadors should channel the same philosophy. While they are members of your organization, they should “live” within the communities they are assigned to as much as possible while representing your organization within that community.

Great brand ambassadors are loyal to the organization and to the community at the same time. They develop relationships of respect, honesty, and trust within the community, which allows them to clearly and openly communicate the priorities, desires, and needs of both sides.

Brand ambassadors are not just mouthpieces for the organization, but should also maintain their own personality, interests, and opinions in the community—often distinct from those of the organization. In places where they are representing their own opinions and ideas, they should provide the proper disclaimers. With a little practice, this is not nearly as difficult as it might sound. The key is maintaining an authentic personal voice while being open, transparent, and human in their communications.

Don’t think someone in your organization has the right makeup to be a good ambassador based on what you see here, even if he or she has good relationships within the community? Don’t make him or her an ambassador. The brand ambassador is a representative of your brand to the outside world, and the job carries a lot of responsibility and requires a high emotional intelligence and diplomatic sensibility to do well.

So take the time to find, train, and support brand ambassadors within your organization. With some attention and focus, you may soon find that your network of ambassadors becomes one of your organization’s most valuable assets.

Was this post helpful?

If so, you can find more tips about how to extend your brand effectively in my book, The Ad-Free Brand (not an advertisement, mind you, just a friendly suggestion:).

Only $9.99 for the Kindle, but available in each of these formats:
Book
| Kindle | Nook | EPUB/PDF

What is a brand story and why does it matter?


There is no more important tool for rolling out brand positioning than a great brand story. The best brand stories can create gravity around a brand and also help build a strong brand community. They show the concepts behind the brand positioning in action, making it more than words on a page.

Does your organization have legends or stories that have been told and retold over the years? How the brand got its name? How the founders of your organization first met? The original problem they were trying to solve by developing your product? Perhaps your particular worldview or internal values became very clear at one moment in the organization’s history. Most organizations have internal legends, stories, and fables that are already being told. Your existing stories and legends are powerful because they are illustrations of who you are and why you do what you do. Often, these stories serve as building blocks for a larger brand story.

A brand story is an attempt to articulate the brand positioning by answering the deepest truths about the brand, things such as:

- Who are we?
– Why are we here?
– What do we care about?
– What do we do?
– Why does it matter?

In all likelihood, your brand story is already partway being told in the form of these stories and legends that follow the brand around everywhere it goes. Consider collecting as many of these stories as you can as background research and inspiration. An authentic brand story won’t just be made up on the spot. Great brand stories have a lineage and a heritage that are built over time and with the hard work and perseverance of many people.

In attempting to articulate the brand story, your job will be part historian, part archeologist, and part sculptor, taking the existing building blocks that have been provided to you by those who built the brand and merging them with the new brand positioning you’ve developed. You’ll need to mold these two views together into an overarching brand story that is both authentic to the brand’s past and relevant to the brand’s future at the same time.

It is hard work creating a great story that will get passed on from person to person. You’ll need to recruit the best storytellers you can find to the cause, including your organization’s top writers, designers, and poets (or if you work with an outside firm, bring their best folks in, too).

But based on my experience helping develop brand stories for organizations over the past decade, I can tell you that the effort is worth it. A great brand story will not only help you attract new people to your brand community, it will become a powerful guiding force within your organization as well.

If you’d like to learn more about the brand stories we created during my time at Red Hat, take a look at the following posts:

- Sharing your brand story (and here’s ours)

- Truth Happens

And here is an example of one of the original Red Hat “legends” that we collected during our time building the brand.

If you found this post helpful…

Consider taking a look at my new book The Ad-Free Brand (not an advertisement, mind you, just a friendly suggestion:). It has some nice tips for how to build a great brand without the help of… you guessed it… advertising!

Only $9.99 for the Kindle, but available in each of these formats:
Book
| Kindle | Nook | EPUB/PDF

A review of the new Jim Collins book “Great By Choice”


I admit it. I’m a total Jim Collins fanboy.

Ever since my friend Paul Salazar first introduced me to the book Built to Last back in 2002, I’ve been a willing member of the cult of Jim Collins. During my time at Red Hat, we took some of the ideas from Built to Last as inspiration for the process we used to uncover the Red Hat values. Then we later employed many of the principles from Collins’ next book Good to Great as we further developed the Red Hat positioning, brand, and culture.

Check out this picture of my copies of Built to Last and Good to Great, with little Red Hat Shadowman stickies marking the key sections I refer to the most. (I’m such a nerd.)

While many of the Big Concepts (TM) expressed in these books may initially seem a bit cheesy and Overly Branded (TM), I’ve come to love and occasionally use some of the terms like BHAGs (Big Hairy Audacious Goals), the Tyranny of the OR, Level 5 Leadership, and my longtime favorite The Hedgehog Concept. Why?

Because they are just so damn useful. They make the incredibly complex mechanics behind successful and not-so-successful organizations and leaders simple and easy for anyone to understand. They are accessible ideas and you don’t have to be a former management consultant with an MBA from Harvard in order to understand how to apply these principles to your own organization.

I’d go so far as to say that over the past fifteen years, no one has done more than Jim Collins to democratize the process of creating a great organization.

So when I found out that Jim Collins had a new book coming out, his first since the rather dark and depressing (but no less useful) How the Mighty Fall in 2009, and that he’d been working on this new book with his co-author Morten Hansen for the last nine years, I was ready for my next fix.

I finished the new book, entitled Great by Choice: Uncertainty, Chaos, and Luck–Why Some Thrive Despite Them All a few nights ago, and here are my thoughts.

This book comes from the same general neighborhood Collins explores in his previous books (I’d describe this neighborhood as “what makes some companies awesome and others… not so much”), but instead of simply rehashing the same principles, this book explores a particularly timely subject. From Chapter 1, here’s how Collins and Hansen set up the premise:

“Why do some companies thrive in uncertainty, even chaos, and others do not? When buffeted by tumultuous events, when hit by big, fast-moving forces that we can neither predict nor control, what distinguishes those who perform exceptionally well from those who underperform or worse?”

In other words, what common characteristics are found in companies that thrive when the going gets wacky? (Times like, for instance… right now.)

In this book Collins and Hansen clearly did an immense amount of research to answer this question. In fact, as with Built to Last and Good to Great, the appendixes at the end “showing the math” for how they reached their conclusions take a third or more of the book.

Their research led to a set of companies that they refer to as the “10x” cases because, during the study period, these companies outperformed the rest of their industry by 10 times or more. After looking at over 20,000 companies, the final organizations that made the cut were Amgen, Biomet, Intel, Microsoft, Progressive Insurance, Southwest Airlines, and Stryker.

Now you may look at this list, as I did, and say to yourself, “Okay, I get Southwest Airlines and Progressive Insurance… but Microsoft????”

Well, as it turns out, the period they were studying wasn’t up until the present day. Because this research began nine years ago, they were studying the companies from 1965 (or their founding date if it was later) until 2002. So in that context, the choice of Microsoft makes a lot more sense. In 2002, Microsoft was still firing on all cylinders (believe me, I remember).

I won’t spoil the whole book for you, but Great by Choice has an entirely new set of Big Concepts (TM) that will help you understand the characteristics that set these companies apart from their peers. This time around, we are introduced to:

-The 20 Mile March: Consistent execution without overreaching in good times or underachieving in bad times.
Firing Bullets, Then Cannonballs: Testing concepts in small ways and then making adjustments rather than placing big, unproven bets (basically akin to the open source principles of release early, release often and failing fast). But then placing big bets when you have figured out exactly where to aim.
Leading above the Death Line: Learning how to effectively manage risk so that the risks your organization take never put it in mortal danger.
Return on Luck: My favorite quote from the book perfectly articulates the concept: “The critical question is not whether you’ll have luck, but what you do with the luck that you get.”

Many of these concepts come with an awesome allegorical story to illustrate them. That’s the great thing about a Jim Collins book: you can’t always tell whether you are reading a business book or an adventure book. In this case Collins (who is also an avid rock climber himself) shares tales from an ill-fated Everest expedition, the race for the South Pole, and a near death climbing experience in Alaska interspersed with specific stories from the businesses he is profiling.

Overall assessment: The book is a fitting companion to Built to Last, Good to Great, and How the Mighty Fall. Simple, accessible, easy to digest, and with some very actionable key concepts that you can immediately put to use. And, unless you read all of the research data at the end, you’ll find it to be a quick read that you can likely finish on a plane trip or in an afternoon.

So go on, pick up a copy and let me know if you agree.

If you found this post helpful…

Consider taking a look at my new book The Ad-Free Brand (not an advertisement, mind you, just a friendly suggestion:). It has some nice tips for how to build a great organization without the help of… you guessed it… advertising!

Only $9.99 for the Kindle, but available in each of these formats:
Book
| Kindle | Nook | EPUB/PDF

How to *really* help the communities your brand interacts with


Organizations have a lot more to offer the communities they interact with than the products they sell. When these organizations unselfishly offer assistance to the communities around them, they can build powerful relationships based on trust and shared value rather than just on transactions.

Sure, building this foundation will often mean that people in these communities would be more likely to consider buying products or services from you down the road (in case the marketing types ask). But if that is central to your thinking, community members will smell a rat. It is not enough to simply seem selfless while remaining selfishly motivated by your own bottom line.

You must actually care what happens to these communities. You must want to help them be more successful at achieving their own goals. Although this approach seems so obvious, my experience of working in the business world for the last 20 years indicates that it’s not.

Usually when I begin to talk about helping the communities that surround a brand, people immediately assume I’m just referring to typical organizational philanthropy or corporate citizenship work. While in some cases, a community-based brand strategy will dovetail nicely with these efforts, they have very different end purposes.

By carefully considering how you can help the communities of customers, partners, prospects, friends, neighbors, and others that interact with your brand every day, you can not only create value for these communities, you can develop deeper non-transactional relationships that will also benefit your organization in the long run.

If you need help shifting your thinking to a community-based approach, consider the following types of things your organization might do to help the communities around your brand:

Funding

Consider investing money in projects that help the community achieve its goals. Bonus points if the investment will also help your organization achieve its goals or further your brand positioning. Red Hat and other open source software companies have done this extremely well, investing in projects that later become the heart of products they sell while also creating value for community members at the same time.

Gifts

Many communities are in need of assets that individuals can’t buy on their own. Are there assets you already own or could buy and then give to the community as a gift? Red Hat bought many companies over the years with useful proprietary source code and then gave away the code for free. The community was able to innovate more quickly, and everyone—including Red Hat—reaped the benefits.

Your organization might have other assets that would be of value, such as a conference facility that could be used or land you haven’t developed. You could donate your products, services, web server space, or other supplies and materials that might otherwise go to waste.

Time

Your organization probably has knowledgeable people who might have a lot to offer. Consider allowing employees to spend on-the clock time helping on projects that further community goals and support the brand positioning.

Connections

Who do you and others in your organization know, and how might these relationships be of value to others in the brand community? Perhaps you can make connections that not only help the brand community, but also help your organization at the same time.

Brand power

Could you use the power of your brand to shine the light on important community efforts, drawing more attention and help to the cause?

The bottom line…

When organizations begin thinking like members of communities—when they are of the community, not above the community—and bring value in the same ways individuals do, they can fundamentally alter the relationships they have with members of the community.

This means that organizations have to stop thinking selfishly about what they want to get the communities to buy from or do for them (what I call Tom Sawyer thinking) and start thinking about what assets they bring to the table that could create real value for community members.

Faking it will get you nowhere, but when you really bring some tangible value to a community and the community becomes better for it, your brand will reap the benefits down the road.

This is the ninth in a series of posts drawn from The Ad-Free Brand.

How open and transparent can a public company really be?


On opensource.com, we often talk about the benefits of an open, collaborative approach, and I see new stories every day that help showcase the benefits of an open organizational model.

But for public companies, the benefits of an open approach are often overshadowed by the risks. During my time at Red Hat (a publicly-traded company for much of my tenure), our approach was traditionally to “default to open,” sharing as much information as we could, both inside the company and with the outside world.

Yet, as a public company, there were many financial and legal obstacles that stood in the way of openness. It was challenging to find the right balance between being open with our thinking and information, yet respectful of the legal and financial responsibilities that come with being a public company.

So it was with great interest that I read Scott Weiss’s recent post about corporate transparency on Ben Horowitz’s blog (also posted at AllThingsD). Scott is now a general partner of Andreessen Horowitz, but was previously the CEO of IronPort, an Internet security company that was acquired by Cisco in 2007.

In his post, Scott talks about making the decision to build an open culture at IronPort, despite the risks:

“…the more that I thought about it, the more I believed that sharing absolutely everything would create massive advantages and that we should live with whatever consequences resulted.”

So he went ahead and did it. Yet, as soon as IronPort began to prepare for its IPO, the company was forced dial back the transparency. I’d encourage you to go check out the post for the full details of how they handled this transition. But the key takeaway at the end of Scott’s piece is one that I could not echo more strongly.

“I believe it was much healthier to set the default to full disclosure while we were private. When you prepare for an IPO, it’s definitely a high-class problem to have to work backwards with concrete reasons to withhold information from the employees. And when that time comes, they totally understand.”

Scott’s right. People totally understand. When you level with them and share as much information as you can by default, then apologize and explain why when you can’t share a piece of information, in my experience, almost everyone will be cool with it.

So if you are working for a company that is thinking about going public one day, and the more conservative folks in your organization are using this as an excuse for not having a more open, collaborative culture, show them Scott’s post.

While complete openness might never be possible in your organization, a respectful, thoughtful default-to-open approach may give you the benefits of an open culture while minimizing the risks.

[This article originally appeared on opensource.com]

Some words of thanks from a new author


The first copies of The Ad-Free Brand showed up at the house on Friday afternoon. So I guess that means, after nine months of work, it is finally out. Awesome.

This book is the work of many people. It is filled with the helpful edits and brilliant suggestions of Jonathan Opp, Rebecca Fernandez, and Rick Kughen, plus the insightful contributions of Kevin Keller, Greg DeKoenigsberg, Paul Frields, and many others. It is a product of the patience and support of my wonderful girlfriend Maggie and my New Kind friends David Burney, Matt Muñoz, Tom Rabon, and Elizabeth Hipps.

There are so many people who’ve helped me out over the past year, and I owe all of them a debt of gratitude.

I thought I’d share the acknowledgments from the back of the book here in the hopes of introducing you to the work of a few of the people who helped me make this book a reality. Please take a few minutes to click through the links and get to know some of these great folks and the very cool projects they are working on. I can only hope you learn as much from them as I have.

Acknowledgments

One day last September, I received an interesting email out of the blue from someone named Lisa who had stumbled across a blog post of mine. She asked me whether I had ever lived in Indiana as a child. I was born in West Lafayette, Indiana.

As it turns out, Lisa was my neighbor and childhood best friend. I moved to Kansas City, Missouri at age 5 and had lost touch with her until I received this email, almost 35 years later.

As Lisa and I caught up, we learned we each had book publishing in the blood. Lisa is a Senior Publicist at Pearson in Indianapolis. I spent the first five years of my career as a literary agent and editor. In one email to her, I mentioned that I had been thinking of going back to my publishing roots and actually writing a book of my own. Lisa introduced me to Rick Kuhgen, an Executive Editor at Pearson. One thing led to another, and before I knew it, I was writing.

So I’d like to thank my childhood friend and current publicist, Lisa Jacobsen-Brown, without whom this book would probably still be something I was thinking about doing… eventually. I’d also to thank Rick Kuhgen, a true writer’s editor—responsive, thoughtful, and with a hint of poetry to his own words.

I’ve benefitted from the wisdom and friendship of many wonderful people along the journey.

Thanks first to Maggie, my source of energy. This book would have never been possible without you.

Thanks to my mother and father, who I hope see parts of themselves in me and in this book.

Thanks to my sister, Erika, who has been a great friend and confidant ever since she quit telling on me.

To Matthew Szulik, my mentor and friend, for letting the best ideas win. To Jonathan Opp for helping me find a voice. To David Burney, for opening my eyes and making me a designer. To Matt Muñoz, for always bringing optimism and passion.

To Jeff Mackanic, for your friendship and for quietly, consistently making everything happen. To Rebecca Fernandez, for bringing value before words. To DeLisa Alexander, for your faith and friendship.

To Tom Rabon and Elizabeth Hipps, for making each day at New Kind better than the last.

To all of my friends from the Red Hat nation, past and present, around the world. Special thanks to the Red Hat Brand Communications + Design team, a group of the most talented folks I’ve had the opportunity to work alongside.

To Kevin Keller, for your wise advice, guidance, and contributions.

To Michele Zanini, Polly LaBarre, Gary Hamel, and the team at the Management Innovation Exchange for introducing me to a new set of friends.

To Bob Young, Lisa Sullivan, Michael Tiemann, and Donnie Barnes, who were open when open wasn’t cool.

To Greg DeKoenigsberg, Jeremy Hogan, Chris Blizzard, Paul Frields, and Max Spevack, who know more about inspiring communities than I ever will.

To Kevin Trapani and Dan Moore, for inspiring us to consider a better way.

To Alina Wheeler and Jelly Helm, for perspective, at the right time.

To the rest of the Pearson team, especially Seth Kerney, Megan Wade, and Bill Camarda, for all of your hard work bringing this book to life.

And finally, thanks to my other friends who don’t give a crap about brands, ad-free or not. You know who you are, and I appreciate everything you do.

Hey, I Wrote a Book!

The Ad-Free Brand: Secrets to Building Successful Brands in a Digital World

Available now in print and electronic versions.

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