Friday, October 21, 2016

Conduct a One-Minute Professional LinkedIn Engagement Checkup

LinkedIn is the go-to place to find and learn about people professionally. That is true for you and me, and it is even more true for recruiters and hiring managers. Not only is the professional network your always-on online resume, but it is also a place to demonstrate the depth of your engagement in your career and industry, your commitment to staying abreast of professional news and your thought leadership.

Conduct a 60-second audit of your recent activity to ensure your LinkedIn interactions tell others what you wish them to know about you. Are you hungry for news and information to drive results in your job and your career? Do you engage in thoughtful dialog about the trends in your industry? Do you demonstrate your mastery of today's social communications tools and strategies?

Much can be told from your LinkedIn activities. Are you professional or not? Assertive or passive? Positive or negative? Self-interested or oriented to others? A leader or a follower? Focused on a set of key topics or scattered across many? Present and active or absent and disinterested?

As brands craft their social media presence, they fret over every post, comment and like, making sure each interaction reflects their brand and commitment to customers. But as you engage on LinkedIn, you may give little thought to the story you are creating with each click of the "like" button.

Your profile is important--it contains the keyword and meta information that recruiters and others use to search for and find professionals--but your activity history is important, too. Your profile may look impeccable, conveying a capable, smart and successful professional history, but do your likes, comments, and shares tell the same story?

Here's how to know in just one minute: Do what recruiters and hiring managers do and review your LinkedIn activities. Go to your Profile menu on LinkedIn and select "Your Updates." You will also find link to "Your recent activity" near your profile picture on the top of the home page. Your recent activity page will display all of your likes, shares, and comments.

Viewed in this manner, what do your LinkedIn activities say about you? Do they tell the story you would want to convey to bosses, peers, clients, employees and others? Do your activities match your profile and accurately communicate your professional interests? Do people engage with your content and comments or are you ignored?

Also, put yourself in the shoes of a recruiter or hiring manager. Think of the next best job in your career and ask if you would hire the person you see reflected in your recent activity. Look at the ratio of topics in the last ten or fifteen posts (which is as much as a recruiter is likely to review in the few seconds they will have to evaluate you); are a majority of your posts related to professional news, trends, white papers, studies and events, or are most of your recent likes for selfies, puzzles, jokes, and inspirational quotes?

Another exercise is to think of a couple of people you admire on LinkedIn--professionals who seem to post the most interesting and pertinent thought leadership in your industry or discipline--and look at their recent activity. To do so, visit their profile, click the down arrow next to "Send a Message," and select "View Recent Activity."  What does their activity say about them? How is it different than yours? What is it they do that helps them to encourage the admiration you feel for them?

Your sterling professional history may get you noticed, but is your LinkedIn activity sealing the deal or scaring people away?  If your recent activity doesn't promote the personal brand you want, how will your LinkedIn habits change?

Actions speak louder than words; what do your LinkedIn actions say about you? (Hint: Sharing this article will definitely tell people you care about your brand and want others to better succeed at managing theirs.)


Monday, October 17, 2016

How To Be a Better Change Agent

Last week, I gave a presentation on the topic of being a better change agent as part of the Walk the Talk Milwaukee conference. I did this personally rather than professionally, although I often see the many challenges to change in my job helping marketing leaders adopt and execute customer experience initiatives.

With the world moving faster and technology threatening more jobs, the need for strong change agents—people who can recognize and lead necessary change—is growing. It is imperative we better understand and manage the factors that work for or against our change objectives.

Everyone recognizes the need to change, so why is it so difficult for organizations and people to embrace it? One data point that has been floating around for over 20 years is that 70% of organizational change initiatives fail. Ironically, despite the ubiquity of this "fact," it was first suggested in 1993 as nothing more than an "unscientific estimate." I suspect the reason this statistic has been repeated so often for so long is that it roughly matches our experiences. 

Research validates this unscientific estimate isn't far off. One 2013 study found that only 54% of executives say change initiatives at their companies are adopted and sustained. Clearly, this is a tremendous problem, since every failed change initiative is not just a missed opportunity but also an expensive mistake; in fact, one study found that one of every six large IT projects go so badly that they can threaten the very existence of the company.

The stakes are high for our careers and our organizations, so how can we be more effective at leading change in our personal and professional lives? To answer that question, we must appreciate that: 
  • There is no such thing as a change agent. That may sound odd considering I’m writing about being a better change agent, but this is a set of skills, not an ability. It is not something you are born with but something you can develop. All of us are change agents—none of us gets the luxury of waiting for others to change us—so it is vital we identify and sharpen the right skills.
  • Being a change agent is risky: No matter how much business leaders say they want to hire more change agents, being a change agent is hazardous. Change agents fail, stumble in their careers and can damage their reputation. We must appreciate that advocating for change entails uncertainty, which is why it is essential we become aware of the risks and work to mitigate them.
  • People hate change. Humans like to feel safe and comfortable, and change is risky and discomforting. Successful change agents must know how to encourage people, helping them to see and welcome the benefits of change. 

If we do these three things—sharpen our skills, mitigate risks and inspire people—we can better succeed at leading change.

Sharpen Your Change Agent Skills

To be a better agent for change, you must develop your people skills (such as networking and communicating challenging and complex messages) and emotional skills (including patience with process and people and self-awareness of biases and weaknesses). You also need to develop critical thinking skills, and it is these skills on which I'd like to focus since they are so essential to change agency.

Improving any skill requires you adopt different habits. If you do not change what you do, you cannot cultivate new skills. To improve your change agent skills, you must modify habits to encourage:
  • Love of Learning: You can’t lead change unless you are one of the first to know it is necessary. That means you need to be hungry for information. One habit that can develop this skill is to schedule the time to consume news; plan reading periods on your calendar and honor that commitment rather than using the time to catch up on email. Another suggested habit is to curate your learnings into social channels--once you begin to engage with others and collect an audience, this becomes yet another reason to continually stay on the prowl for professional studies, news, and case studies.
  • Contrarian Thinking: You can’t advocate for change if you think like everyone else. Most people gravitate to comfort, but good change agents do the opposite. For example, when everyone does the same thing the same way and agrees that the process works, begin to probe for a better way. Be different than most people, who are obsessed with what competitors are doing, and explore lessons from outside your industry. And when everybody agrees on a new trend, ask yourself why. Don’t merely zig when everyone zags—that’s just being disagreeable—but question everything and develop your own POV.
  • Analysis: Passion is necessary to fuel the fires of change, but passion never wins the day—you must be able to communicate why it matters, how to act and what measurable benefits it will deliver. The same enthusiasm that allows you to see trends before others may cloud your judgment and make it difficult to communicate objectively. One habit you can adopt is to be a contrarian to your ideas; attempt to refute your opinions and identify gaps in your logic and information. When you can no longer disprove your idea, you are prepared to present a logical case for change.

Mitigate the Risks of Being a Change Agent

Being a change agent is risky. Just look at the experience of Ron Johnson. In his 15 years as Target’s VP of Merchandising, he introduced design partnerships that changed customer perception of Target from a place to go for cheap products to the place to go for stylish and affordable products. Then Johnson spent 12 years as Apple’s Senior Vice President of Retail, introducing the Apple Store concept at a time when brands like Gateway were shuttering their stores. Johnson had a long, favorable history of being a change agentuntil he became JCPenney's CEO and lasted for just 18 months.

Johnson was brought into JCPenney to be a change agent. He had the backing of the Board of Directors to implement substantial change. He also had the support of shareholders, who bid up JCPenney's stock 17% on the news of Johnson’s hiring and another 24% in the three months after he joined the company,  So, with that sort of sponsorship, what went wrong in just 18 months?

Much has been written about Johnson's brief tenure at the retailer. He overestimated the desire for change or, more accurately, underestimated the organization's capacity for rapid change. In his desire to attract a new customer to JCPenney, he ignored the current customer, replacing familiar brands shoppers knew with new brands out of their budget. Johnson implemented changes without pilots, focus groups or tests, an approach that may have worked for Steve Jobs at high-tech Apple but seemed dangerous at a national mass-market retailer. Johnson attempted to run JCPenney like a startup, but changing the culture of a 159,000-employee, 1,100-store chain required more time. And lastly, Johnson quickly replaced many seasoned JCPenney executives with former colleagues, leaving few leaders who understood the business and knew the company's existing systems and processes.

Johnson's experience helps to reveal the five building blocks of change--Capital, Customer, Process, Culture, and People. If you can mitigate the risk in each of these, you can more safely and efficiently lead change: 
  • Personal Capital: None of us will find ourselves in the situation where a board of directors brings us in as CEO of a Fortune 500 company with a public mandate to change, which means we will never have as much personal capital as Ron Johnson had. The fact Johnson ran out of capital tells us how important it is to manage our "bank"--the activities that add to or draw down our personal capital reserves. You need capital to initiate change, need more for the period during which success is uncertain, and need still more to survive missteps that occur. Experience, success and working hard earn capital. So does networking and securing senior executives to mentor and sponsor you and your initiatives. Soliciting approvals at each step rather than pushing too far too fast helps you to preserve capital and spend it wisely.
  • Customer: Never forget your current customer as you pursue new ones, and make sure you base your ideas on real data about the customer. To do so, seek out information on your company's current and future customer segments and personas. Gather data and information about customer needs, goals, behaviors, and perceptions. Connect with the people in your organization who have this knowledge, such as the customer insight, customer care and voice of customer groups. Almost nothing kills an idea faster than having someone say "That is not our customer," so be sure to demonstrate how your idea fits your organization's current customers or the ones leaders wish to target.
  • Process: Business leaders may be intrigued by ideas, but they don't buy ideas; they invest in solutions and plans. If you cannot turn your ideas into logical and workable plans, you will struggle for approval. Moreover, although Steve Jobs could get away with implementing changes with little testing or piloting, you and I are not Steve Jobs. We need to preserve our personal capital by proceeding more cautiously and sensibly, which means developing a prudent, staged plan with plenty of tests along the way.
  • Culture: Change agents change organizational culture, but this occurs slowly. Work within the existing culture rather than expecting rapid change in order to preserve more personal capital. Also, you have a greater chance of success if you align plans to your enterprise's strategic initiatives, finding ways to help leaders achieve what they already want rather than suggesting something different. Finally, change agents can be perceived as square pegs in round holes within their organizations, so at every turn, demonstrate you understand and ground your ideas in corporate mission and values.

Help People Overcome their Aversion to Change

The fifth building block of change is people. People don't so much hate change as they hate being changed. No one enjoys being told what they're doing is wrong, their skills are becoming obsolete, or their jobs may be at risk. Change agents help to inspire people by: 
  •  Changing Goals and Rewards: Employees do not do what they are told to do; they do what they are paid to do. It's hard to get people to change if you do not alter the ways employees are rewarded. Improve your chances for success by identifying the right behaviors, defining proper goals and metrics, and considering new approaches to compensate people for adopting new practices.
  • Raising the Pain (with Care and Empathy): People do not change until the pain of changing is less than the pain of staying the same. Change agents help people to see the need for change and the dangers of staying the same. Position change not just in terms of what it means to the customer or the bottom line but employees, as well.
  • Creating a Positive Vision: Successful change agents don’t just tell people their futures are in jeopardy; they show people how they can enjoy more success and prosperity. When you tell people about the risks of not changing, pair it with information on the benefits of embracing something new.  Motivate people with hope, not fear.
  • Involving People: Like all successful leaders, change agents must tell people the "what" but allow them a voice in the "how." Involving employees helps to increase the chance of adopting and sustaining change. Tuckman's stages of group development can help you to plan for and execute change in teams. Plan not just for the time required but also the investment necessary to support employees—the training, coaching, information and systems people need to adjust.
We are entering a period of profound and troubling change. Improvements in machine learning, automation, robotics and artificial intelligence will threaten industries and jobs. The need for change agents who can see the future, develop workable plans and help people adopt change will only increase in the years to come.

He or she who helps people embrace change will rule the world. Go rule the world!

My presentation deck is shared below. I welcome your feedback and hope you find the information and suggestions helpful.

Sunday, October 2, 2016

Here's How You Can (and Perhaps Should) Talk About the 2016 Election on LinkedIn

Let's start by acknowledging that we're all sick of the 2016 campaign and the bickering that has accompanied it for more than a year now. Nevertheless, I'm going to suggest you can and perhaps should engage in political dialog here on LinkedIn.

Many people complain that politics has no place on LinkedIn. They're wrong. Your employer sponsors or contributes money to Political Action Committees (PACs) and pays for lobbyists to influence elections and political decisions for good reason: Politics impacts business. The next president of the United States will make decisions on personal and corporate taxation, government debt, government spending, business regulation, international trade, employment law, minimum wage, education, and the laws that govern intellectual property, the internet, employee benefits, commerce and other aspects of business.

If you would feel comfortable posting on LinkedIn about changes in inflation or employment data, then you should feel comfortable discussing how the candidates' platforms will impact inflation and employment. If you'd post on LinkedIn about regulation in your industry, then you should have no problem offering a fair and informed point of view on how the candidates may differ on issues of regulation.

Politics is business, and business is politics. The next person to occupy the Oval Office will affect the business climate, your industry, your company, your income, your career and your retirement. He or she will also change the course of your children's and grandchildren's education, job prospects and ability to earn a living in the increasingly competitive and automated world economy. Not only does this make this year's election an appropriate topic for LinkedIn, it is hard to imagine a more important business topic than who the country elects on Tuesday, November 8th.

I'm not suggesting you have an obligation to discuss politics on LinkedIn--that is a decision we each need to make for ourselves--but we should consider and feel free to do so. There is, of course, a right way and a wrong way to discuss politics in a professional network, so if you choose to discuss the business implications of this year's election, do it right and mitigate the risks.

To Discuss Politics on LinkedIn, Make It Relevant Professionally

LinkedIn is a professional network, so there are several ways to make a discussion of the 2016 campaign appropriate:
  • Your business is politics: If you are a lobbyist or are employed by a campaign, then politics is your business and posts about your business are suitable. Keep in mind, however, that as with all communications, you should focus on the needs of your audience. Offer content as relevant as possible to others' employment, business and careers.
  • You believe a candidate will have an impact on your occupation or industry: If you believe there are substantive differences between the policies of the candidates that will affect your professional field or business category, say so. If you anticipate that one candidate will be better than the other for tech, for the legal profession or for financial services, offer your perspective and back it up with data, analysis, and links.
  • You perceive one candidate will be significantly better for the overall economy: The next president of the United States will hold great sway over whether the country's economy grows, stagnates or shrinks. If you believe there are differences between the candidates that could increase the likelihood of a recession, trade war, growth in deficits, bear stock market or other adverse business outcomes, that is a proper topic for a professional network. 

How to Mitigate Risks With Talking Politics on LinkedIn

Talking politics can increase professional risks, such as causing an argument with a peer, losing connections or altering reputation. Of course, talking politics can also bring benefits--you may influence others' opinion or vote, demonstrate your ability to tackle tough topics in an appropriate way, display your knowledge and interest in a topic and perhaps even gain new followers.

You should carefully consider what is right for you and, should you choose to, engage carefully and appropriately in the following manner:

  • Be professional: On LinkedIn, all political discussions must be in the context of business, careers, and jobs. Policies on taxes, commerce, and business regulation are appropriate, candidates' marital histories are not. Avoid the many social issues (or personality differences) that separate the candidates. Tell people why it matters to their careers or companies. 
  • Be dispassionate: Bring the same manner to politics you would any topic on LinkedIn. Don't be angry. Don't call names. Don't make value judgments. Don't generalize. Don't ascribe evil intent or lack of intelligence to candidates or others. Simply tell people what you believe and why you believe it.
  • Be measured: Post about politics sparingly and keep it brief. Striving to inform people on an important business topic is in bounds; flooding their stream and annoying them is not, no matter how deeply you feel. Keep your status updates diverse to convey your breadth and depth as a balanced professional.
  • Be direct: As with all writing, your first sentences are crucial. Don't bury the lede. Don't start with an apology that people don't like politics on LinkedIn. Remember that in their stream, people will only see the first two or three sentences before your post is truncated. Make them count--use those sentences wisely to let them know why they should care to read more. Respect people's time and get to the point.
  • Be factual: Select political topics that can be introduced and discussed based on facts, not opinions. How a candidate's policies may impact businesses and careers is relevant; whether you like or trust a candidate is not. Write from the brain, not the gut. Demonstrate to people you are a clear, rational and exacting thinker. 
  • Be objective: Avoid bias to the extent possible. To do so, find links from reliable sources. Rely on trusted business media and bypass the many online sources on the right and left that prejudice their spin on the news. Give people a reason to believe your perspective. 
  • Be open-minded: Don't simply broadcast your point of view but welcome all responses. Invite challenges and be willing to engage and ready to change your opinion. Conclude your political posts with questions that ask if people agree or how they may see the topic differently. Leave people with the impression you are confident in your point of view but welcome discussion.
  • Control yourself: Political topics can be emotional. Don't respond to a comment while angry. Do not hesitate to step away from the PC or phone and review a potential answer later with a clearer mind. Don't be lured into a reply you will regret. Use "and," not "but" ("Thanks for the response and..." not "Thanks for the response but...") Strive to make your political dialog the example of how people can discuss sensitive discussions in our politically divided environment. 
  • Be in control: Do not hesitate to delete someone's comment if it crosses the line or to report a comment if it is abusive. It's still your post and your feed. You have an obligation to allow dissent, not to provide yet another online platform for abuse, bullying or vulgarity. Tolerate disagreement but moderate the tenor and professionalism of the dialog.
  • Be fair: Treat everyone the same. If you thank people who agree with you, thank the ones who do not. If you reprimand a dissenter for calling your favored candidate a name that this crosses a line, you must do the same to a supporter who uses a slur against another candidate. Take responsibility rather than assign blame by saying, "I may have failed to convey..." rather than "You don't understand..." Focus on the ideas, not the person by saying, "Can you share a link to that information?" rather than "I don't believe you." Leave everyone feeling heard and valued.
  • Be willing to retreat: You won't convince all the people all the time. Engage with those who have a different perspective, but be willing to end a discussion when it stops being productive. Agree to disagree, allow others to have the last word, acknowledge you have different perspectives and thank dissenters for their contributions. Don't let pride get the best of you--remember, you're posting to educate, not to win. 
One last suggestion involving politics and LinkedIn: You are going to see some political posts on the professional network in the next five weeks. If a person is posting about political matters in a business context, do not criticize or complain. And if someone posts about politics in an inappropriate manner, do not provide disparaging feedback in a comment since that only surfaces the post to all of your LinkedIn connections. Instead, if you see truly inappropriate political posts, either reach out the poster privately or use the small down arrow on the upper right corner of the post to "Report this update."

Talking politics on LinkedIn may not be the right course of action for you, and if that's your choice, I respect your decision. But I also respect those who care to engage on political topics that matter to business and do so in the proper way. After all, if the founder of LinkedIn is willing to talk politics on LinkedIn, why shouldn't the rest of us?

Why I Believe You Should Consider a Vote For Hillary Clinton

Having made my case for dispassionate, relevant and open political dialog, I am going to take this opportunity to suggest why you should vote for Hillary Clinton this year. You may feel more strongly about issues other than the president's impact on business, and that is your prerogative, but if you care about the economy and jobs, I believe the choice is clear:

I welcome your feedback, both to the idea of business-focused political dialog on LinkedIn and my reasoning for believing Hillary Clinton would be better for our economy, our companies and our jobs. Either way, please follow the rules. Keep the dialog professional and respectful. If you disagree, back it up with facts and links.

I will attempt to walk the talk, and if I don't, you should call me on it. We all have something to learn, both about civil political discourse and the outcome of this year's presidential race.