How do YOU make pizza? (a.k.a. getting social in the workplace)

pizzaDoes your company have a social media platform?  If they don’t, chances are they will soon.  There are some pretty cool platforms out there for use in organizations of all sizes.  And even if your company isn’t using one yet, chances are the tools you already have (e.g. SharePoint) are seeing more and more elements of social media added to them.

My company implemented Jive (http://jivesoftware.com) in 2012 as our intranet platform and I have made good use of it in my role since then.  Given that I lead an area that requires massive dissemination of information, large-scale change-management, and ongoing education of 60,000 people in over 100 countries, a social media platform is a godsend.  Plus, fun!

Not everyone feels as I do, though.  So many grumble about it.  “Oh, THAT? What a time-waster. I have work to do!”  Even worse, “I don’t let anyone on my team waste time using social media at work!”

PROFESSIONAL ADVICE: Don’t be a Luddite, bonehead! It’s coming, and it’s coming big.  Start using it now before the gap becomes too big for you to get over.  Remember that boss you had who thought e-mail would never catch on?  Don’t be that boss.  We WILL point and laugh at you if you do.

I was recently asked to present to a group of communications professionals in my company about effectively embedding social media into one’s role. My first response was “Someone wants to listen to me talk? GREAT – game on! I’m SO there!”  Because, in case you haven’t noticed, I like to talk.

As the day drew nearer, it occurred to me I’d be talking to people in Communications about how to communicate. That’s when I panicked and rocked in the corner, because I am quite certain that they are all much more savvy about this stuff than I am.  It’s like having baked a cake a time or two and being asked to speak to a professional bakers about making a cake.  At least in that case, I could console my anxiety with cake.

Still, they were going to let me talk and I wasn’t going to pass up the opportunity!  I just needed to know how to package my message in a way that let them know I didn’t consider myself an expert in their field.  I went with pizza.  If I can’t have cake, I’ll at least have imaginary pizza.

Talking to people about how I leverage social media at work, to me, is like giving a lesson on how to make pizza.  There are a million ways to make pizza – pan pizza, flat-bread, wood-fired, Chicago-style, New York style, St. Louis style, calzones, pizza rolls, et al.  And there are an endless array of toppings that can be combined in new and interesting ways to change it up.  Sauces, types of cheeses, seasonings… I could go on and on.

Hang on, be right back – going to run and get me some pizza.

I told my Communications audience that I was merely showing them how I make pizza.  It’s not the only way, it’s just one of many ways.  I’ve learned a few things about making pizza along the way and I planned to share those lessons with them.

The presentation went well, and because one of my golden rules is to write something once and leverage it over and over, I thought I’d share with you, my esteemed blog readers, what I talked with Internal Communications about.

  • Social Media at work *IS* a business tool!
  • Promoting your message has value to you, your boss, your department, and the company.
  • In a geographic- and time-zone-diverse business world, social media bridges gaps.
  • Better collaboration is built upon relationships of trust, which are build upon many small interactions that add up over time. Social media accomplishes that.
  • Not only will your company and department benefit from your engagement, but you will too.  Connecting with new people could lead to opportunities for you and increase your satisfaction in your job.
  • Don’t think you have to ‘keep up’ or read it all on your workplace social network. You can’t.
  • A good approach: carefully choose a few people, blogs, or groups to follow closely and contribute to them regularly with comments, likes, questions, answers, etc. 
  • Create custom-streams (a feature in Jive) to make it easy to dive deeper into certain areas. 
  • If you blog, be sure to share and promote your blog posts in other places. A stand-alone blog is hard to get going. Once you write it, you have to pimp it out.
  • Don’t be afraid to extend yourself – participate in different areas of the business with people you don’t know. It’s OK. Really. Jump right in – the water is fine!
  • Link to others – people, groups, blogs, within your material.  That’s how you feed into the system – you’ll get back what you give.
  • Manage your online reputation.  It’s a public, written record. Don’t post what you don’t want your boss or boss’s boss or boss’s boss’s boss to read. 
  • It’s good to share our humanity with each other – we need not be all business, all the time. Be human, flaws and all.  Don’t be scared to be vulnerable, ask a question, share an opinion.
  • Some communications are written in a formal business style and always will be. Find the places where you can let your personality shine in your writing.  That’s what people connect with!
  • Write it once, get it out there, then leverage the heck out of it.  Writing and publishing it are just the beginning. You get value from it by continuing to shine a light on it.
  • It’s not an all-or-nothing proposition. Do a little bit here, a little bit there – it adds up over time!

These bullets were the pepperoni of my pizza-making presentation – some people ate them up and some people discarded them altogether. Perhaps some thought I was a little too spicy.  It’s merely my view of things, based on my pizza-making experience, and as with everything, subject to debate, disagreement, or adulation.  (I’m quite partial to adulation, by the way.)

In the session I delivered to the Internal Communications group, there was a lot of discussion about how to get the engagement of your readers.  My view is that social media is personal.  While we write formally for business quite often, we should find times and places to share less formally – to let our personalities come through.  When we tell our story, we should think about how we want people to feel, give them a way to connect emotionally to the story.

When you think back on advertisements you’ve seen over the years, which stand out?  Are they the ones that made you laugh? Cry? Sigh?  What about the ones that just gave you the dry statistics – do those stand out, even if grammatically correct and flawless according to Strunk and White?

One of my favorite quotes comes from Maya Angelou:

MayaQuote

In my free time, I am available for social-media coaching for the mere price of a slice of pizza.  Or cake.

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Share some tips about how you make pizza. What has worked for you?  What have you learned along the way?  Even if you don’t make pizza, if you are merely a consumer of pizza, what are your favorite approaches?  And keep in mind, pizza is a metaphor – although if we want to talk about actual pizza, I’m down for that, too.

Gone With the Wind

gone with the windIn one of my favorite movies, Gone with the Wind, Melanie Wilkes says “The happiest days are when babies come.”  Few can argue with that. Having welcomed my first grandchild into the world just a few short months ago, I can attest to it personally.  

The inverse would be “The most difficult days are when people go.” I find that to be equally true. In the workplace today, and especially at this time of year, we are facing the difficult days of people going.

I’m not here to question the decisions about reductions. I know our leaders must make difficult decisions – ones they aren’t always happy to have to make. As such, I know these days are difficult for them too. The difficulty is universal – it is difficult being one who learns he or she is going, it’s difficult being the ones who have to make the decision or deliver that news, and it’s difficult for those of us who are on the periphery of it.  We struggle with survivor’s guilt and sometimes even with a sense of indignation over the who or the how or the when.  None of that is easy and I’m not here to minimize it.

Earlier this year, I met someone with whom I have interacted online and she asked me how I stay so positive.  At first, I choked on my own laughter because I so often don’t feel positive, but since then, I have given this a lot of thought. Here is my response:  I have to find the positive or else I will suffocate under the weight of the negative – there simply isn’t a choice.

Back in 2002, I was let go from a company.  The company is no longer around, so the name isn’t important.  What is important is this: that door closing is what ultimately created my pathway to where I am now.  I have had many wonderful experiences where I am now, many opportunities to learn and grow, and without the loss of that other job, I wouldn’t have found  my way here.

I realize I am looking at it with the benefit of hindsight.  In the moment, when I lost my job, I pulled a scene befitting of the dramatic Scarlett O’Hara. “Where shall I go? What shall I do?” I threw myself on my bed and cried a river of tears. But like Scarlett, I pulled myself together, shouted out “Oh fiddle-dee-dee!”, and made an interview suit out of the drapes in my bedroom. A few months after that, I came to work for the company I am still with today.

(That’s all true except for the part about the saying fiddle-dee-dee – I would never say such a dorky thing!)

I have watched quite a few fine people exit the company I’m currently at over the years, and even had to deliver the news in some cases.  I am sure some of them threw themselves on their beds and had Scarlett O’Hara moments.  I keep in touch with many of these former coworkers via social networks such as LinkedIn.  They, too, pulled themselves together and made interview suits out of draperies and forged new paths. In 100% of the most recent cases, those I have spoken with are happy – many of them happier now than they were before they left.

I am not promoting a world where we minimize or dismiss the hardship of these changes – I’m merely trying to add a perspective for those who are cut, for those left behind, even for those wondering if their names are on a list somewhere.  We should not let ourselves get mired in despondence or fall victim to survivor’s guilt. For those of us who remain, we should be empathetic of our colleagues – supportive of them.  If we can help them in their quests for their next challenges, we should do that.

But we should also not minimize the fact that in so many cases, these types of forced-change actions end up, in hindsight, to be positive for the individuals impacted. I bet Melly Wilkes would refer to these situations as “Blessings in disguise”. In fact, I’m sure of it.

Probably most of us have more Miss Scarlett in us than we do Miss Melly.  I know I do. Maybe such self-awareness is enough to get us to pause, take a deep breath, put our Miss Scarlett (scrappy girl that she is – we admire her ferociousness and tenacity) in a time-out and channel our Miss Melly for a spell.  We can be kind and gentle and understanding of the hardship felt by so many in these difficult circumstances.  We can try to find the silver-linings (without being unsympathetic or dismissive of real hardship) and we can help others see it too.  We could all use a little more Miss Melly in us, couldn’t we? The world could use a little more Miss Melly, too, I think.

Our friends and coworkers aren’t gone with the wind. They are set-back temporarily, like Scarlett was so many times in Margaret Mitchell’s book.  And through adversity, they will find their steel cores, find the Scarlett within them, and rise above it in triumph. I know they will.

After all, tomorrow is another day.

What Shape is Your Dream?

cloudsOne thing children around the globe have in common is their stubborn refusal to be bound by reality.

Children believe all sorts of nonsense.  They believe their parents know everything.  They believe a fat, bearded man flies around on a sleigh pulled by reindeer delivering gifts down chimneys of children around the world, all in a single night.  They believe they can be prima ballerinas or presidents of countries.  And even if, in an attempt to apply a compassionate balm of reality, an adult tells a child it is unlikely she will ever be a prima ballerina or a president of a country, the child will summarily dismiss this and go on practicing her autograph technique and her curtsies, because she is certain we are mistaken.

Children believe in possibilities that adults cannot even begin to fathom, and we grown-ups, in all our wisdom, spend the ensuing years assuming them into our sensible reality instead of letting them seduce us back into their world of magical possibility and endless promise.

Why do we do that?

When I was a little girl, like many children, I played the game where, lying on the warm summer grass, I would gaze up at the clouds and see all sorts of things: elephants and choo-choo trains and ice cream cones.  If I looked long enough, I could divine what a cloud was meant to be and bestow upon it the rightful name for the shape it had taken, at least until the wind blew.  Even then, I wasn’t discouraged; it was merely an opportunity to start again and consider how to succeed in adapting the new shape into my game.  This shifting skyscape was never cause to get frustrated or to give up altogether.

As I’ve gotten older, finding endless shapes in the clouds has, ostensibly, become more difficult.

Frequently, the clouds I contemplate now are thin, wispy cirrus clouds refusing to mind any formation whatsoever; so fickle.  They whisper their potential, hinting at whimsical promise, but are, alas, unorganized and thoroughly undisciplined.  They aren’t capable of such an important job as representing my dreams.

On rare occasions, they are stratus, just ghosts of clouds holding vague memories of what they might have been if not for other natural elements taking their courses and diluting these clouds into a haunting, ubiquitous fog.  They are an overcrowded cloud graveyard, despondent with no hope whatsoever that they might someday achieve density.

Sometimes they are cumulus, appearing so close to me and nearly tangible, with clearly defined edges.  These hold the shapes of my dreams vividly and I can almost reach up and touch them, but they climb higher and higher, and the reaching exhausts my arms until they collapse at my sides, weak from the effort and too afraid of failing to try again.

Occasionally they are cumulonimbus clouds, volatile, brutal, and ferocious; almost reckless in their compulsion, driving me to exhaust myself in an effort to satisfy their urgent and relentless demands.  And yet, these are perhaps the most beautiful for they have tenacity of purpose and a singular focus on their defined goal.

They exhaust me and they consume me, but they do not scare me.

The only thing that scares me is the thought that, due to distraction, disillusionment, or surrender, one day I’ll stop looking up and, in a moment when I’m not paying attention, a wind so subtle as to be barely perceptible will blow my dreams away completely and I won’t be able to conjure them up into any shape whatsoever again.

For now, they are safely ensconced in the playground of my imagination and the laboratory of my ambition where I can still gaze upon them.

And when I tilt my head just so, with clear definition and vivid color, they take the shape of a writer.

Brave

ImageIt’s been said that it’s a fine line between love and hate. I’m not here to debate whether that is true or not, but instead to explore the line between bravery and stupidity, specifically in the workplace and in consideration of the social-media element that is infiltrating the traditional corporate culture.

If a tiger charges you, you make a split-second decision on what to do.  You could run or you could stand your ground and let out the biggest roar you have ever mustered. If the tiger eats you, perhaps your tombstone would say “Here lies Linda. She was stupid.” If the tiger turns tail and runs, you will be considered brave.

When you are making that particular decision, you cannot know the outcome at the point of deciding – it can only be judged in retrospect.

Fortunately, most decisions we make don’t have as much risk or as much urgency.  There are, however, times we cannot accurately predict how something will play out.  Sometimes we spend too much time with these decisions; we weigh options, assess risks, estimate the likelihood of this or that outcome.  We get caught in analysis-paralysis when we might do better to trust our guts. There is no analysis-paralysis when tigers are charging.

The quandary about whether or not to be brave starts when we’re children. We see someone picking on someone else and we have to decide whether to speak up, whether there is personal risk to do so, whether there is offsetting reward either to ourselves or others, whether we are sure enough of the context to speak up with authority. We’re children then, perhaps more timid, still learning about life, building the muscles in our legs and spine to stand straight and strong, the muscles in our vocal cords to speak courageously.

As adults, it should be easier. Right?

Years ago when I was much younger, I was driving friends home very late one evening.  I heard screams and saw what appeared to be a man accosting a woman on the street corner. I slammed on my brakes, rolled down my window, and asked the woman if she was alright. My friends freaked out. “Step on the gas!” they said. “He may have a gun, he may be high on something.” they said. “This is a dangerous neighborhood. Drive to a payphone and call the police.” they said.

The man said he was a cop and displayed something that might have been discernible as a badge at closer range. The woman ceased her struggle and said she was fine. It may have been a domestic altercation, I don’t know. I drove away at my friends’ insistence and found a pay phone to call it in.

Perhaps that is as close to a tiger as I’ve ever come. My gut made me stop and face it; my friends’ reaction caused me to second-guess myself and consider the personal risk and danger and then drive away. I have always wondered what happened after we left.

I like to think I was brave then.

I’m older now and the situations I face now that cause me to question my bravery are very different from the ones above. I like to think I have strong legs, a strong spine, and a strong voice, but that doesn’t mean I don’t stop and do the assessment of a situation before deciding to stay quiet or speak out. To run or roar. To put myself at personal risk for a greater good. To risk harming a relationship or a careful balance to stay true to a principle.

Let’s take a hypothetical for the purpose of this thinking-exercise.

Mary is a mid-level manager at Acme Products Corporation.  She is a single mother, the sole breadwinner for her family.  Mary’s son has diabetes and she relies on the crucial healthcare benefits she receives through her employer.

Mary has become aware of a situation at work that poses an ethical dilemma to her.

Staying silent is ‘safe’ to her personally but leaves her feeling as if she is not using her strong legs and strong voice.  Speaking up, even respectfully, in a public forum poses risk. There may not be overt retribution, and perhaps many would laud her courage. But there could be insidious repercussions to speaking up. It could harm her in any number of ways, opportunities for growth, reputation, security.

She knows speaking up is the right thing to do, but isn’t sure whether her courage would pay off or she would take on too much personal risk. Speaking up to individuals is a good place to start, but what if that gets Mary nowhere? Should she take her quandary to the public forum of the workplace social platform and open it up to broader scrutiny? It’s certainly much more difficult for it to go nowhere, and it could gain momentum and lead to the problem being addressed. It is, after all, a widespread problem.

There are many who feel as Mary does. If they all stay quiet, the situation goes unaddressed and the ethical concerns continue. What if everyone considers their own personal risk and no one speaks up? What if nobody were ever brave, how would things get better?

So… should Mary be brave? Would you?