Sunday, November 29, 2009

Passion: The Defining Success Factor in the 21st Century?

The business world is changing.  Where once people horded information in the belief (conscious or otherwise) doing so bestowed power, we are now seeing a Social Media revolution within the corporate world.  The same tools that consumers use to tweet, share, network, rate, and friend each other are becoming commonplace inside organizations.  This is more than just a change of tools and software;  it is a revolution in the way people work, collaborate, and manage their careers.

Increasingly, it no longer pays to protect and manage information--knowledge withheld is no better than a lack of knowledge in the first place.  Instead, employees are now promoting themselves and increasing their networks by sharing what they know, contributing where they can, and increasing their knowledge via interactions and experiences throughout the enterprise.

While the transparency of knowledge and information is increasing within organizations, we are also seeing transparency increase outside the organization.  Employees are not employees only between 8 and 5--their  actions on social networks are visible to peers, bosses, business leaders, competitors, and customers.  The things people say and do "personally" are no longer just personal, and we've seen instances of employees helping and hindering both their own careers and their employers' objectives as a result of tweets, status updates, and other activities on social networks.

In an age of transparency--where information is more available and your personal and work selves are more intertwined than ever--what will define success for individuals in their careers?

Education?  As the downturn and executive layoffs have demonstrated, a degree is no guarantee of success; employers want to know not just what degree you earned but how you've applied that education to deliver results.

Communication skills?  Certainly folks who can express themselves, communicate effectively, and know their way around LinkedIn and other social networks are in demand, but these are not difficult skills to find nowadays.  Within most organizations, communication skills are table stakes and not the differentiating factor for success.

I'd propose that the defining factor for success will become passion.  Passionate people are committed not because they get a paycheck but because they believe in what they do;  passionate people don't keep their skills up to date because they are told to but because standing still simply is not an option; and passionate people are driven by what they possess inside rather than what happens around them.  Passionate people see things others do not, stretch to get the job done, are more willing to embrace risks, and are their own harshest critics.

Frank Eliason is a passionate guy.  Eighteen months ago he had some free time during a weekend, and rather than watching football he instead checked his email and monitored Twitter for what was being said about his employer, Comcast.  Eliason famously intercepted tweets from tech blogger Michael Arrington, and rather than wait until Monday or pass along the problem to someone working, Eliason instead picked up the phone, called Arrington, and resolved both an individual's technical problem and a potentially damaging PR problem for Comcast.  His passion has earned him and his program, ComcastCares, wide media attention and his CEO notes that Eliason's work on Twitter has "changed the culture of our company".  The brightest and most educated dispassionate clock puncher couldn't hope to achieve a fraction of what Frank has.

Another favorite example of mine is Mary Moss, a McDonald's drive-thru employee in Chandler, AZ.  She considers working at McDonald's more than just a job, and when she takes vacation, she misses her customers-- "My children are grown and gone, and my customers have really become my family."  She says when people come through her window, "it's my mission to make them smile."  Passionate people have missions--not just jobs--and Mary's mission has made her famous (including a Facebook fan group and news reports about this lovely woman) and McDonald's "management loves the business she brings in."

The passion of people like Frank and Mary don't just result in a job well done; their contributions transcend their jobs.  These two individuals have had a disproportionately positively impact upon their customers, business, and even the brand image of their employers.  Imagine the effect an army of Frank's or Mary's could have upon your organization.

Are you a Frank or Mary?  Are you passionate about your work, industry, employer, or career?  Does it show?  When potential employers visit your Twitter stream or Facebook page, will they see more passion for drinks on Saturday night, Mafia Wars, or a favorite sports team than they will for your profession?   Or does your Social Media profile demonstrate you to be someone who can't leave his or her job at work, is always sharing links and news about their industry, and builds positive relationships with peers and friends?

Education grows stale.  Skills come and go.  Hard work is commonplace and expected.  Passion is the only consistent and differentiating factor.  And in a transparent world, one's passion (or lack thereof) cannot be hidden, faked (for very long), or manufactured.

What are you passionate about?

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Friday, November 6, 2009

Chip Conley and Authenticity vs. Transparency : Which is More Important?

Transparency and Authenticity are both important in Social Media and in our newly Social World, but what's the difference and which is more important?  The two are often used interchangeably, but authenticity is not  the same as transparency. Complete transparency may be thought of as revealing every private, confidential, or personal thought or experience; complete authenticity is more about being true to your ideals and never being fake or untruthful. Chip Conley, CEO of Joie de Vivre hotels, has provided us a lens through which we may evaluate the difference between--and the differing significance of--transparency and authenticity.

You can read about Conley's dilemma on BNET, but it boils down to this--he's a rock-and-roll CEO who lives large and believes in authenticity.  Some of his employees objected when he posted shirtless photos of himself to the Facebook profile the company PR firm created for him. He believes his employees are wrong to be concerned and asks "What, exactly, does it take to damage the image of the company?"

It's a great question, and the fact he asked it publicly in a blog post teaming with slights to his employees and justifications for his actions may furnish the answer he seeks.  I think a case may be made that Conley has damaged his company, but not because of his Facebook photos; it's his actions after his employees voiced their concerns--actions that prioritize transparency over authenticity--that may possibly prove troublesome for Joie de Vivre.

Conley's shirtless photos were clearly authentic. But so were the concerns of employees. The collision of two contrary but authentic beliefs provided Joie de Vivre with a golden opportunity for internal dialog about the brand, the organization's Social Media policies, and authenticity.  But this is not what happened, because instead of engaging employees, Conley took his concerns public in a blog post in which he admits his first reaction was, “Screw that; people who don’t like it can go work at Marriott.”

In making the concerns of his employees and his own reaction public, Conley has opted for transparency over authenticity.  Airing his grievances with employees was transparent, but it would have been more authentic to discuss the matter with his employees.   Remember that authenticity means keeping true to ideals, and it is clear Conley has an ideal that employee opinions matter. He is proud to have implemented a "cultural ambassador" program in which employees vote for their own representatives on matters of organizational culture.  In fact, it was some of these ambassadors who expressed concerns about Conley's Facebook shots!

Conley's desire for transparency ran headlong into his commitment to authenticity, and he opted to voice his opinions and seek support from outsiders rather than demonstrate care and respect for his ambassadors' feedback.  I believe he was transparent, but violated his own ideals, which was inauthentic.

This isn't the first time we've seen transparency collide with authenticity, nor is it the first reminder that authenticity always wins.  Cisco rescinded a job offer because the candidate tweeted she was weighing "a fatty paycheck against... hating the work"--transparent, but not authentic to her personal and professional goals, I suspect.  A PR firm Social Media consultant found himself in a very public embarrassment after tweeting that he "would die" if he had to live in his client's hometown--completely transparent, and also completely inauthentic in terms of his professional ideals.

I sometimes think we stress transparency too much in Social Media; after all, in the real world we are all  different people in different situations--we behave differently when interacting with our parents, our boss, and our friends.  Does that make us liars?  No, we sacrifice complete transparency in order to be authentic to our ideals in different ways within different relationships.  (I've had friends point out that I have a fairly blue sense of humor that never comes through on Twitter, but I feel my tweets are authentic to my professional passions, even though my guarded approach on Twitter may be less than fully transparent.)

So, my answer to Conley's question--What, exactly, does it take to damage the image of the company?--is that his photos didn't cause harm, but his overly transparent way of dealing with an internal issue may have hurt his relationships inside the organization.  He failed to honor his ideals that employees--particularly the ambassadors--have opinions that matter, and in doing so he made transparency more important than authenticity.

What do you think?  Was Conley authentic by venting his feelings publicly?  Do you think he'd be as accepting if one of his employees chose to post internal disagreements on a blog rather than address them directly within the organization?  And in a Social World, is it possible to be transparent but inauthentic?

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