Author Archives: mlavoie8

About mlavoie8

Enterprise Collaboration Community Manager at EMC Corporation, Hopkintin, MA, US. Six Sigma Green Betl with over twenty years of experience in learning, education, program and project management. Author of six workforce management books, and panel speaker at 2011 Enterprise 2.0 Conference.

Affiliation is the Tie that Binds

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When i think about the online communities that I participate in, outside of work, there is one glaring reason why I’m there…I share an interest in common with the other community members.  Whether a love of sewing, knitting, crafting or more serious connections of illness or care-giving, my participation in communities is directly tied to my affiliation with the other members, an affiliation based on a particular interest or circumstance.

Each type of affiliation – interest or circumstance in my case – is time bound. My hobbies and interests change, and sometimes medical or caregiving conditions conclude and my affiliation is ‘lost.’

Managing a technical community, the common affiliation is – as you would expect – one based on technology.  It can also be drilled down to an affiliation based on a particular product or service, particularly if experiencing an issue.

Summary:

  • affiliation is interest or circumstance bound
  • affiliation is generally timebound

Leaving the question of how to build affiliation that goes beyond these timebound ‘needs’ and expand users participation into building collaborative relationships with each other that are NOT dependent on their primary need (ie. technical assistance).  Bringing ‘em back, you might say, even if there is no pressing problem that must be resolved within minutes.

I don’t propose to have the answers, but I can say that affiliation:

  • Brings people back to a community when needed, and also during those wide spans of time when help is not needed but rather can be offered to others
  • Demands that our communities offer more than slick navigation, easy to find information and answers.  It demands an environment that’s visibly ‘buzzing’ with conversation – even if off topic
  • Harnesses the power of the individual, and the collective, to share, connect, offer feedback, and dare I say it – even play a bit.

How do you drive affiliation in your communities?

Failure is Always an Option

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It’s odd how many companies are seeking to drive innovation by supporting ‘failure.’   “It’s OK if you try something, if it doesn’t work we’ll just move on to another idea.”  “Not all ideas are successful, we must be able to try, and to sometimes fail.”

As an employee, it’s comforting to hear that.  Nice to believe that I can (and do) make mistakes, and that my name won’t come to mind when workforce changes are being discussed.  Awesome to have that validated when I do make a mistake, as I recently did.  Make mistake, own it, apologize and move on. Failure is indeed an option, at least on my level.

As you rise through the management and executive ranks, though, failure is met with much anxiety.  Not on the part of the executive necessarily, but if affect those who may have directly or indirectly contributed to a fail.  Often simple things, like hyperlinks in an email that were tested three times but don’t work after publishing a company email message.  Not earthshaking in my world, and in fact a great opportunity for an executive to acknowledge that he (in this case) too makes mistakes.

Only problem is that no one wants to tell the executive.  Hours are spent on analyzing the issue, researching hyperlink redirects, trying to contact platform experts when in fact the error was made in email.

I get why folks don’t want to give execs bad news, even news as benign as, “We will have to issue a correction message to the workforce.”  No one wants to be responsible for the action, or for reporting it.

But without allowing our executives to ‘live the values’ that we seek to propagate in our organizations, we devalue them and continue to drive the ‘no failure’ mentality.

Me?  I make mistakes; usually small but sometimes more significant.

My reaction is always the same:

  • Fix the problem I caused
  • Research/consider how it happened and make whatever changes are necessary to prevent a reoccurrence
  • Apologize to those who were affected or inconvenienced.

Imagine if our execs did that.

How might that change the fundamental relationship among employees, regardless of job level?

A Most Natural Progression

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During the past three years or so, I’ve been managing an internal community that has flourished, particularly with an upgrade project that launched our new and shiny version in June, 2014.  The months following that were the best of my career, seeing users easily adopt what is, in essence, an entirely new platform as this was our only upgrade in seven years.  But then something happened.

Alot of things happened.  After eighteen months of planning the upgrade…POOF!  There it was, and folks didn’t need the amount or type of support that we had anticipated.  We didn’t need to market the community, or to entice employees to participate; they just did.

I was left with the proverbial “Well, what do I do now” question; a question that is very rarely on my mind.  With a new community manager in place to help me support the post-launch environment, a community manager whose talent and skill are unbelievable I have to say that I floundered a bit.

But not that much in the grand scheme of things.

Now I make what, in retrospect, is a very natural progression to managing engagement on our customer and partner facing community.  This is a new area for me, and one where I hope to bring some humor, laughs, and collaboration in a space that is technically oriented.

My fave song lyric sums it up “Every new beginning comes from some other beginning’s end.”

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And so it happened that god was mentioned……

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Feels like I’ve been waiting for this day to happen for some time; the day when someone posts a message in our enterprise community that is ‘charged’ for any number of reasons.

Before we go there, I blogged a few weeks ago that our HR team was initiating faith-based employee circles.  We have dozens and dozens of employee circles – Latino, ELGBT, Women’s Leadership, Asian and Black Employees Group etc.

When I first noticed the faith based post, it gave me pause as I could imagine some of what might happen.

Back to the story.

Employee A posts (not quoted), “Have a blessed weekend. May god be with you.”

Employee B is offended, and unfollows Employee A.  This should be the end; it’s not.

Employee B notified his boss who, as you might imagine handles it like a hot potato and delegates upward and sideways until it reaches me.  I see nothing wrong with the post, it doesn’t violate any of our social guidelines, and knowing that HR is working to introduce faith based circles it would seem that we can expect some ‘god’ talk and…………GASP…………maybe even the names of god.  Buddha, Jesus, Allah, Yahweh; you get it.

So I contact HR to notify that there’s been one mention of lower-case god, and one person who was offended.  Several meetings ensued, and my primary goal was to ensure that no one contact Employee A since he did not do anything wrong.

Outcome?  Still don’t know; but I do know that HR is re-assesing their position on faith based employee circles.

Has this happened to you?

Affiliation Builds Community

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Thanks to those who patiently read my pathetic rant; life goes on.

Today, want to talk about affiliation.

Don’t actually read too much about affiliation, so if you have resources, please reply!   Managing communities in a technical company can be challenging in that much of the content is, well, technical.  And as it should be.

But there are employees who are not technical, who enjoy a good marketing story, or IT experience sharing, or just plain business talk about their particular area.

Nowhere is this seen more than in our external facing community, where our customers often drop by to get an answer to their technical questions.  Kind of a good news/bad news thing; the good news is that it looks like they can find their information quickly and leave.

The bad news?  Sometimes, they don’t come back.

Hence, affiliation.  My argument is that you build affiliation to a company, brand, or community via social interaction.  I don’t necessarily mean that we have to have ‘motorcycle’ or ‘gardeners’ groups on our technical communities, but rather offer opportunities for customers to engage.

The example of the day:  Movember.

It’s a great challenge, for a great cause, and almost drives users to relentllessly post selfies with new growth moustaches.  I call it engaging; others argue that it doesn’t at all ‘fit’ with the technical nature of our audience.

So, techies, are you only interested in technical information?  or do you want to feel a part of something larger? do some good?  meet some new folks with similar interests?

Endings

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My fave song lyric is “every new beginning comes from some other beginning’s end.”  So true, so positive, so hopeful.

Working on a huge, enterprise project to deliver the first social intranet in our enterprise took about 17 months of my life.  Not just mine, mind you, but dozens of others as well.

Hard work, long hours, so many meetings, negotiations, disagreements, reconciliations, additions, deletions, go, hold, stop, hold, go again…..a virtual whirlwind of continuous activity all driving toward one nearly insurmountable goal.

Goal accomplished.

Social intranet launched.  Not just launched, but launched with great success and embraced by the workforce.

Great, right?

Right after that, of course I had the blush of glory for a week or two, then the frantic activity of bringing a new Community Manager aboard but also I felt sort of empty/weird.  Everything I had done, everythine we had done, had proven successful beyond our imaginations.  Now it was over.

Suppose that is always the result of a grand project, it’s a pinnacle of careers and yet it does end and I know I should be thankful that it ended successfully.

During the five months post-launch:

  • My boss, who had worked tirelessly on this project with all of us, abruptly quit.  At least, it felt abrupt; I wonder if he was feeling the same letdown.
  • Our dog, whom we had raised since he was six years old, got sick and we had to put him down.  The 10 yo mini-Schnauzer was a hellion but he was OUR hellion
  • My father-in-law, over a period of three weeks, had a heart attack and died at 86.  You might think that is a ripe old age, but he was healthy and active, and hard as it seem to believe this all came as quite a shock.
  • Oh, and did I mention my Mom?  She’s deteriorating from the effects of Alzheimer’s although I thank the great being that she’s still with us

So if I seem on edge; sensitive; upset; not myself, please understand that sometimes endings CAN trigger new beginnings…..just not the ones we expected to have to overcome.

What About a Faith Based Community?

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We knew it would happen someday; as any of our 65K employees are now able to create their own groups.  Our enterprise social intranet has a new discussion titled “Are  you interested in a faith based group?”

That in itself is a bit strange, as the employee could simply have created the group without any sort of permssioning or review.  The  responses are also very interesting, ranging  from the all in (I’m so glad someone is doing this!) to the more cautious “Maybe.”

My question?  What IS a faith based community?  Does it apply to a particular faith, or is it open to all who live who have a faith. Will it be offensive to anyone (oh dear), and how is it different from other interest groups or employee circles which focus on race, ethnicity, country of origin.

So, community managers, what would you do – if anything – in response a direct request for a faith based community in your company?