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    Saturday
    Apr032010

    What am I working on?

    Who cares what I am working on?  Flickr - P.Mike

    Who cares what I have to say?

    These questions were the gist of a comment left on my Microsoft and Microblogging post by Stuart Shaw.

    I think Stuart hits on an important point, and it sheds some insight on why organizations attempting to embrace so-called 'Enterprise 2.0' or social collaboration that lead with simple status updates or microblogging certainly could face this issue.

    If you think about corporate e-mail, the primary enterprise technology that microblogging and many other collaboration platforms are meant to supplant (or at least compement), this confusion and hesitation by some organizations and employees is understandable.

    Consider the main categories of corporate e-mail message that a typical information worker receives and how they get dispatched. Fitting many of them in to the 'status update' paradigm is kind of silly.  Now I know that there is much more to Enterprise 2.0 than the status update, but the culture of the status update is so prevalent in the 'social' world online, that it can often dominate the thinking in the enterprise, particularly among the rank and file workers that you are trying to reach.

    E-mailed generic company announcements get deleted, lots of other emails are dismissed as unimportant, usually when you were copied on a long thread that you either are not interested in, or don't have any specific additional input towards. Most of the other emails, the ones that actually are important either consist of specific questions directed at very targeted people, or advance some kind of ongoing dialogue again with a discrete set of people.

    And on and on.  None of the typical corporate e-mail use cases really touch the 'What I am working on?' or 'What's Happening?' launching points that frame typical microblogging status updates.

    Once an organization grows large enough such that people don't actually know everyone else personally,  the idea of sending out a company wide e-mail essentially consisting of a 'status update' is pretty unusual.

    And for many, if the message doesn't 'fit' into any of the familiar e-mail buckets, it can be easy to conclude that the message has no value, no one really cares about what I have to say, and to simply shrug and remain comfortable in the familiar tools and processes that have dominated workplace collaboration for that last 20 years.

    So do the tools influence the messages themselves? Do they determine the kinds of messaging and information exchange that is 'acceptable'?

    It does seem that we look at and assess new tools through that kind of a prism.  If as a knowledge worker I only send/receive/evaluate a given set of messages, ones that support a defined process and reflect organizational norms, then it can be a significant switch to simultaneously adopt both brand new technologies and a new mindset and approach to communication and process.

    The question I think many people (rightly) ask is, you have given me a new toy to play with, but I don't necessarily have anything new to say.

    Wednesday
    Mar312010

    The Pittsburgh Pirates and Expectations

    The Major League Baseball season is set to begin in a few days, and in what has been an almost annual exercise, the large market, high-payroll teams like the New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox are predicted to be among the league leaders once again.

    Teams from smaller cities having lower budgets for player salaries like the Kansas City Royals and Pittsburgh Pirates are once again expected to remain near the bottom portion of the standings, the organizations and supporters alike seemingly resigned to second-tier status.

    And in a way it is kind of unfair, at least on the surface, since the Yankees, Red Sox, and Dodgers can simply afford to pay substantially more to attract the most talented players, putting the less well financed and smaller clubs at a competitive disadvantage.  Many other sports leagues have installed team salary caps, to attempt to level the competitive balance by ensuring all teams have mostly the same budgets available to pay players. 

    But even in a league that has a salary cap, like the NBA, certain teams do achieve a level of consistent success via better leadership, strategy, and execution. The lessons that can be learned from these clubs is that with efficient management of their restricted assets, sustained excellence is still possible.

    In baseball, where the economic system is much closer to the 'real world' that organizations compete in every day, it does seem like some clubs have come to accept their status, looking at the Yankees, (or for a UK soccer equivalent, Manchester United) as already having won the championship before the season has even begun.

    If you are on the Pirates, (who have endured 17 consecutive losing seasons), working in management, operations, or even as a player, it has to be easy to 'choose' to compete for fourth place.  To ratiionalize that achieving mediocrity (in the form of a .500 record) is success. Basically to have given up on the thought of winning the title before the games even start. Because for those kind of teams, once young players demonstrate some potential, they typically leave (or are traded) for one of the larger teams that can afford to pay them more.

    So the question I think is this - how realistic should their expectations be?

    If your organization is the equivalent of the Pirates, plugging away, no real threat to the established leaders in your industry, the kind of place employees come to either get some experience at the beginning of their careers, or to ride out the last few years before they retire, should the organization simply accept that, try to stay afloat, and keep the lights on? When is fourth place ok?

    And on an individual level, if you are working in a 'Pirate' organization, when do you decide, 'I'd rather be a Yankee' and jump ship?

    Monday
    Mar292010

    Clear Hallucinations

    My ill, (but now recovering) Dad said this to us from his hospital bed after we had described to him some of the odd, strange, and really bizarre things he had said in the last two weeks, his mental state clearly affected by a combination of infection, medication, etc.

    I need some new glasses.  If I am going to have hallucinations, I want to be able to see them clearly.

    It was a funny comment, but one that in a way does have a bit of truth to it.

    I think it can be pretty easy to fail to recognize a real problem or shortcoming in ourselves or our products and services,  or that an assumption we had made is completely wrong and that the real issue is we (or variously our customers, partners, employees, the media, etc.) just can't 'see' it correctly.

    It is not at all difficult to rationalize and to conclude that if we just were able to explain it all a little better, to have just one more conference call, demonstration, or meeting that everyone would finally come around and embrace our wonderfulness.

    But sometimes we need to step back and realize that no matter how many ways, and through how many different prisms that we view something, it may just be that the idea itself is flawed, and not just a problem of how we are trying to get the message across. Zombies! - Flickr - bikini sleepshirt

    Knowing the difference between a bad idea and bad messaging is not always easy.

    As I told my Dad, no matter what glasses he put on, I was pretty confident that zombies were not actually roaming the halls of the hospital late at night and stealing clothes from the closet.

    At least I don't think so.

    Friday
    Mar262010

    The Wisdom of Jeff Van Gundy - Part II

    Several weeks ago I posted 'The Wisdom of Jeff Van Gundy' - a little piece highlighting the sage advice of the former NBA coach and current announcer with respect to developing leadership capability throughout the organization.

    Well JVG the Wise is at it again.

    During a broadcast of a Los Angeles Lakers game this week, in a timeout while the Laker team was in a huddle, the Laker coach Phil Jackson was overheard on audio encouraging/admonishing/coaching star player Kobe Bryant to get more aggressive and attack the basket more strongly on offense.

    For the non-basketball fans reading this post (assuming you haven't bailed by now), Kobe Bryant is by far the best player on the team, the team leader, and one of the very best players in NBA history.  He has four league championships, an Olympic gold medal, a league Most Valuable Player trophy, numerous All-Star game appearances and league scoring titles.

    In HR or workforce terms he is a 'Top Performer', 'A-player', 'rockstar', take your pick.

    So in the huddle, as the viewers listened to Coach Jackson talk to Bryant, JVG the Wise offered up this comment:

    See this is why Phil Jackson is a great leader. He is not afraid to coach his best player. He needs his best player to get more aggressive and is not shy about letting him know.  That sends a message to everyone on the team, that if the star player can be coached, then everyone else can as well.

    JVG is on to something here, I think.  When the coach singles out the team's best player and gives some instruction, feedback, or direction it makes such an important statement to the both the star (Bryant) and the rest of the team (other guys that are all talented in their own right, and may at times feel they might be 'above' coaching as well).

    The star gets the message that being the 'star' means delivering great performance, and that they simply can't be satisfied with what they have achieved in the past. The rest of the team sees that the top performer still has room to improve and can be coached and guided.

    Inside sports teams and often in work teams it becomes clear who the top performers are.  It really isn't much of a secret. When these stars set the right example, if they can be coached, if they continue to try and make themselves better, while realizing that the team objectives are primary, the team has a much better chance for enduring success.

    To win a team needs a star.  But it also needs a coach that is not afraid to coach that star.

    And that is this edition of the Wisdom of Jeff Van Gundy.

    Thursday
    Mar252010

    Microsoft and Microblogging

    This week Microsoft announced what they call a 'concept test' of an enterprise microblogging service that they call OfficeTalk.  In this concept test, Microsoft invites a limited number of organizations to participate in testing, and to work with Microsoft to provide recommendations and feedback.

    OfficeTalk is a product that has been in internal pilot at Microsoft and is developed by OfficeLabs, the Microsoft lab for testing internally developed ideas. OfficeLabs asks participants to view these experiments as 'Concept Cars', not necessarily intended or promised to become 'real' products, but ones that certainly offer a glimpse at what the massive organization is experimenting with, and potentially might one day market, or as in the case of OfficeTalk incorporate into existing products and platforms.

    Microsoft did share a few screen captures of OfficeTalk, the basic features will certainly be familiar to anyone that has used Twitter, or Yammer, the most popular microblogging service designed for internal corporate use.

    OfficeTalk users create personal profiles, 'follow' other users, and the Twitter conventions of mentions and tags seem to be present as well.  Microsoft has also built in the ability to see threaded conversations and to shorten URLs in updates.

    On the surface the features of OfficeTalk are entirely familiar, and even a bit pedestrian.  Yammer and other similar services like Socialcast and Obayoo have been out for quite some time now offering all of these features and more.

    But none of the existing players in enterprise microblogging can compare to the reach, familiarity, and development muscle of Microsoft. One can easily see the potential for Microsoft to integrate OfficeTalk into Sharepoint, Outlook, or Office, and almost immediately become the dominant player in the still very new market for enterprise microblogging.

    Whether or not Microsoft actively pursues this market, and eventually releases OfficeTalk remains to be seen, but I think the ability for the service to one day integrate with the existing installed base of MS Office, and to also be installed on-premise (still important to many IT shops), could position this kind of service as a significant and viable competitor in the enterprise microblogging space.

    Just like SAP, which is also experimenting with new forms of collaboration capabilities, (see it's recently renamed StreamWork application), Microsoft may be late to the enterprise microblogging and collaboration party, but it probably should not yet be entirely dismissed as having missed its chance to join the fun.