Tag Archives: your team

Keeping community focused

I just came across a post from Seth Godin titled The worst voice of the brand is the brand. He says:

When a doctor rips off Medicare, all doctors are seen as less trustworthy.

When a fundamentalist advocates destruction of outsiders, all members of that organization are seen as intolerant.

When a soldier commits freelance violence, all citizens of his nation are seen as violent.

When a car rental franchise rips off a customer, all outlets of the franchise suffer.

Seems obvious, no? I wonder, then, why loyal and earnest members of the tribe hesitate to discipline, ostracize or expel the negative outliers.

“You’re hurting us, this is wrong, we are expelling you.”

I’ve seen this phenomenon many times: a group of talented, enthusiastic, passionate people (Linchpins) get together, form a group dedicated to a purpose…. and then rip it apart with politics, infighting, and backstabbing. I wrote about the phenomenon in Working with multiple linchpins: in most cases, the problem is not that you can’t get people to work, but that you can’t get people to stop working… or to agree on which direction the work should go.

This centrifugal tendency of linchpin-y groups is often used as evidence that a flat, democratic organization full of strong-minded individuals cannot compete with a hierarchical autocratic organization full of obedient sheep. But in fact, I believe the problem is a single misconception held by many communities:

“Equal and democratic” does NOT mean you have the right to act in ways that damage the community

It means that no one person has the right to tell others what to do. It means that every person must submit to the agreed-upon decision-making process. But if someone in the group is acting in a way that is detrimental to the purpose and process of the group as a whole, then the others in the community have not only the right, but the obligation to oppose those actions.

How to stop your worst voices

Set clear expectations

I discussed this in Working with multiple linchpins also: it’s almost impossible to get a bunch of linchpins working together unless you’ve all agreed ahead of time on what you’re trying to do, and how you’re going to get there. So make it clear what the group goals are, and make sure everyone knows that they’re expected to contribute to those goals.

Step in early

Maybe it’s just me, but I always have a hard time figuring out where to draw lines. If someone makes a comment that’s only a little offensive, do you say anything? If so, how do you justify slamming down hard on someone who’s only a little out of line? But if not, then how do you justify slamming down on the next comment, that’s only a little more offensive? Or the one after that, or the one after that?

The best solution I’ve found is to try to react in direct proportion to the offence. Instead of attacking all-out (“HOW DARE YOU SAY SUCH A THING! HAVE YOU NO RESPECT!”), I might respond to a mild insult with “Wow, that was harsh.” In most cases, mild reprimands will communicate your concern, and the other person will change their behavior. But in cases where it’s not enough, you’ve established a precedent for a more severe reprimand when the behavior continues.

Plan for negative outliers

When you set out the goals of the group, and work out a decision-making process, also decide how to handle someone who doesn’t comply with those decisions. Who will decide whether the accused is indeed in violation of the agreements, and how? How should group members handle someone they believe to be in violation of the agreements? What consequences will result from violating the agreements, and who will decide on them? As with all other decisions, these questions can be answered with a trial and jury, by a single executive, by group vote, or whatever other method fits your group and your circumstances. But having these agreements made ahead of time can prevent a lot of standing around, shuffling feet, glancing sideways at each other and wishing someone else would take care of it.

What else have you found helpful in keeping a community healthy and productive?

Never Eat Alone Metrics

In my last post, I reviewed Never Eat Alone, a book about making connections with other people and its relationship to success.

As you may know, my new year’s resolution is to improve my networking skill, since I will never get ahead in life if I remain the shy introvert that I currently am. But how do I do that?

Never Eat Alone is a great start: it’s got a lot of good information, and is very helpful when I’m wondering how-to or should-I. But a good portion of the book — half of the chapters — are about things you should always do when you meet people. How do I keep all of them in mind while I meet with my three-new-people-per-week?

Networking Metrics Sheet

This sheet is for people who’ve read Never Eat Alone, and want to see how well they live up to its instructions. If you haven’t read the book, some of the terminology may be a bit odd, but you should be able to figure out most of it.

At the top is some basic information: who are you meeting, when and where, and who is your point of contact (mutual friend, networking group, class you’re taking together, etc. How did you find out about this person in order to want to meet them?). And finally, why did you want to meet with this person in the first place?

Then a space for questions you want to ask them (letting them talk about themselves is a great way to impress them), and notes you take when you ask.

And finally, a scorecard (whose first point, ironically, is “Don’t Keep Score”. But that pertains to the relationship between you and the other person; this scorecard is to measure yourself.) For the skills or attitudes that Mr. Ferrazzi thinks are critical, how did you do? Rate yourself on a scale from 1-5, and fill in the appropriate number of bubbles. (Or answer the question posed, obviously. You’re smart — you can figure this out.)

Awesome Links

Get your Never Eat Alone free download.

Buy Never Eat Alone while simultaneously helping African children get an education. (Learn more).

Book Review: Never Eat Alone

As always, the product links in this post are affiliate links. Learn More.

I came across Never Eat Alone many years ago, but I ignored it. It had been recommended to me as a good book for salespeople, and I could clearly see how never eating alone would be helpful for salespeople… but I wasn’t a salesperson, and never would be, so why bother? (I’m pretty sure the recommendation came from Sales Dogs, which had just convinced me that everyone’s in sales, but what can I say? Sometimes I just don’t catch on very quickly.)

It’s not just for salespeople

Never Eat Alone will certainly be useful for salespeople (whether your business card says “sales” or not), but it is, as the cover says, “secrets to success, one relationship at a time”.

The fact is, success anywhere requires relationships. Any investor will tell you of the importance of building your team. Social intelligence is one of the three key tenants of being an iconoclast. More people get jobs through personal connections than through all other job-searching methods combined. Suppliers and assistants are more helpful, linchpin-y, and willing to bend the rules if they like you. Henry Ford famously demonstrated the benefits of having team members who are smarter than you. Jeffrey Gitomer sums it up: “All else being equal, people prefer to do business with their friends. All else being not quite so equal, people still prefer to do business with their friends.”

Having a strong, solid network can get you jobs you would never have heard of, get your business contracts, sales, or investors that you would never have a chance to meet, and warn you of investment opportunities before it’s too late to take advantage of them. No matter what your monetization plan, you need a network.

But I don’t want to be a sleaze-ball!

We have many pre-conceived notions of what it means to network, from the pit-bull salesperson who forces his business card into your hand to the boot-licking brown-noser who flatters her way into the corner office. I suspect that’s part of the reason Keith Ferrazzi avoids the verb “network”, preferring instead “connecting” “building relationships”, or similar, because of the negative connotations we associate with “networking”.

Rest assured, this book is not about being aggressive, dishonest, or sycophantic. In fact, there are entire chapters about how not to be the networking jerk.

This book is about honestly making genuine connections with people, and using those connections in a way that is kind, respectful, and helpful to both parties.

What could be improved

The margins are too narrow.

I traditionally start book reviews with the bad parts of the book, but there’s really nothing (apart from the lack of note-taking space) that I feel is sub-par. Oh, he recommends a lot of things that make me want to cry — I’m a shy introvert, and hosting a dinner party or cold-calling someone with a secretary is my idea of torture. But that’s my problem, not his.

What’s Awesome

The book starts with his explanation of why he thinks building a network of personal relationships is important — how it got him out of factory work and into CEO-level work, how it got him job promotions, sales, and opportunities, as well as making him lots of friends.

From there, each chapter focuses on a particular skill, concept, or attitude that he thinks is crucial for building, maintaining, and using a strong network. He tells a (frequently embarrassing) story about how he learned this skill or how he applies it, highlights the important steps or underlying ideas, and — in many cases — ends with a “Connector’s Hall of Fame Profile”, discussing someone who is particularly good at networking.

Recommendation: Buy It

I borrowed Never Eat Alone from my cousin, and it was well worth the time I put in to reading it. But the book is also a how-to manual of some depth, and you’re going to want to refer back to it fairly regularly. In the end, my cousin bought me a copy for my birthday so that I would give her copy back.

Buy Never Eat Alone while simultaneously helping African children get an education. (Learn more).

Working with multiple linchpins

Recently I spent a day with a team I work with, while they prepared for a performance, and observed the following incident:

One woman made a joke about having a problem. Some people nearby didn’t realize it was a joke, and rumors started to spread that she had such-and-such problem. Solutions started to filter back through the crowd. She got angry because she didn’t need solutions – she didn’t even have a problem. Others got angry because they were only trying to help and got anger in return. The end result was a pretty major blow-up over an incredibly minor thing.

Yikes! What happened!

The problem is, this group is chock full of what Seth Godin calls Linchpins. The opposite of the mindless, replaceable cog-in-the-machine called for by factory-style corporations, a linchpin is a person who takes responsibility, who pays attention and thinks, who sees a problem and tries to solve it. A cog takes out the garbage every evening; a linchpin notices that the garbage is overflowing by noon and arranges for a larger trashcan.

In this case, we had a bunch of linchpins, who saw a problem and tried to solve it. Only we ended up with too many solutions, and not enough problems to go around.

Now Seth Godin would have you believe that linchpins are the wave of the future: mindless-cog style jobs will soon be done by robots and computers, and only linchpins will be employable. In the world he imagines, then, every organization will be chock full of linchpins. It sounds like a wonderful thing: all your employees thinking for themselves, solving their own problems? How marvelous! It’s only in practice that you realize why corporations like to hire mindless cogs: it’s a lot quieter.

How do you work with a bunch of linchpins?

I think Godin’s analysis is more or less correct, and that one way or another, we’re going to have to be linchpins to survive. That necessarily implies that we’re going to have to learn how to make large groups of linchpins work together. It’s not impossible: Google hires an extraordinary number of linchpins, and retains them pretty well, with pretty decent financial results at the end of it. DaVita Inc (a provider of dialysis treatments) calls each branch a “village” and expects its employees to take pride in their work, their village, and each other. So what does it take to make it work?

I don’t have all the answers, since this question just occurred to me this weekend, but these are the things I can think of to start:

Mutual Respect

As soon as someone says something that means more-or-less “That’s a stupid idea, and on top of that you’re ugly!” the conversation proceeds immediately down the tubes. There are lots of ways to say it (“Well I won’t do it that way” “Um… sure….” “Oh thank you Margaret dear, we always welcome your contributions!”) but they all mean that nothing productive is going to happen from here on out.

A problem-resolution method

In a group of linchpins you’re less likely to get an argument of “not my job” and more likely to get an argument of “I’ll do it, OK?”, but you still need some way to determine whose job it is. Depending on the size, dynamic, and goals of the group, this could be determined by public vote, by private vote, by a no-holds barred live debate, by quiet mediated discussion, by playing rock-paper-scissors, by having a leader who makes the final decision, by having designated areas of responsibility and whoever’s the expert in that area makes the final decision (plus a knock-down drag-out fight to determine in whose area of responsibility this problem lies). Google simply agrees to let their employees do their stuff 20% of the time if they’ll do Google’s stuff 80% of the time.

A clear mission

Even with a designated problem-resolution system, it’s still easy to get into irresolvable, foolish arguments if different people have different ideas of what constitutes a “good” solution. The only way to solve that one is to make sure we’re all agreed on what “good” is. Is it products that delight our customers? Is it a high profit margin? Is it being error-free? Is it making sure all of our members are as good as they can possibly be? What are we trying to accomplish, here? Then, during your live debate or quiet discussion, you have some standard to which you compare each proposed solution.

Commitment to the good of the group

In the end, I think this matters most to the long-term prospects of any sort of group. Which is more important: helping this group prosper, or winning the argument? Will you accept the results of the problem-resolution system, even if you think they’re stupid? Will you contribute to the solution even if it’s not the one you proposed? When everyone in the group agrees that the group’s needs supersede the members’ preferences, you can’t help but eventually find a solution.

What have you found helpful in dealing with multiple linchpins? What problems and solutions have I missed?