Collaborating Using Whole Sentences

The Good, the Bad and the Ugly - Lego style

The Good, the Bad and the Ugly - Lego style

“There are two kinds of people in this world…”

That’s a line from an old Clint Eastwood movie and it sounds like the start of a corny joke, but bear with me and you’ll learn a bit about helping people think strategically about business and technology.

There are two kinds of people in your enterprise … Noun People and Verb People.

Noun People speak the language of Things.  Things like software and hardware. Applications, laptops, tablets, firewalls, protocols, routers, switches, phones, networks, portlets, databases, etc, etc.  Noun People are solution oriented.  They are typically passionate about supporting the organization and are eager to provide all the tools and infrastructure appropriate to the enterprise.  They know what it takes to support a business.  They can describe which gizmo does what, its total cost of ownership, how fast it runs and whether or not it can interface with the gadget.  Noun people are frequently in IT.

Noun People are Important and you can’t run your business without them.

Verb People speak the language of Actions.  Actions like manufacturing and selling.  Innovating, developing, motivating, purchasing, merging, planning, collaborating, analyzing, managing, etc, etc.  Verb people are results oriented.  They typically focus on moving the enterprise ever forward; to make it bigger, better, more successful.  They understand what it takes to run a business.  They know how to  turn ideas into actions, create treasure from trash and even sell balloons to porcupines.  Verb People are typically in “the business”.

Verb People are Important and you can’t run your business without them.

So, if you have some of each kind of person, then what’s the problem?  The problem is the communication gap.  Noun People don’t speak the language of  Actions and vice versa.  We’ve all seen it.  Look at your last set of business requirements for the big new software application you’re planning.  Do they really make sense?  Look at the new “field of dreams” collaboration suite that’s just been rolled out.  Whatever will you use it for? 

This concept does not shock or surprise many people.   Typically, I get the sage nodding of heads all around the table when I describe this – no matter which kind of person they are.  This is especially evident in the area of collaboration (enterprise social software, unified communications, business video, social media, etc).  Collaboration tools (nouns) have been deployed for many years now without clear connection to business imperatives (verbs).  Likewise, businesses have been desperately looking for ways to improve, accelerate, grow (verbs) without an appreciation for the capabilities, architectures, infrastructure (nouns) required to achieve their vision.  

So what’s the solution?  The trick? You must find someone who can craft whole sentences using the Verbs and the Nouns.   Perhaps this is you, perhaps it is someone outside your organization who has the tools and experience to do so.  But collaboration solutions must never be deployed without a clear business imperative (it’s lacking the verb).  Major business initiatives should never be started without a clear understanding of the opportunities for enhancing collaboration (it’s missing a noun). 

This is not as easy as it seems and I’ll tell you more about the process for making the connections in a later post.  For now, pay attention to the language in your planning and strategy meetings.  Are there any Verb People in the room?  Any Noun People?  If you have some of both, do they understand one another?  Are they even listening to one another? 

A good translator can transform the conversation.  How’s your grammar?

tin cans with broken string

"What we have here is a failure to communicate"

Quotes from:

7 ALIGNED Principles for Effective Leadership

Virginia Tech - Dept of Management building“Bachelor of Science in Business, Major – Management”

 … That’s what my diploma said.  But in 1983 we were in another “Great Recession” and entry-level management jobs were almost impossible to find.   With a little help, I found a role as a programmer for a textile company in my home town and began my years as an individual contributor.  Over the next 14 years I went through 3 industries, 4 companies and 8 managers.   Though they didn’t know it, during this entire time I was studying those managers.  I analyzed their strengths and weaknesses, successes and failures.  I was determined that when my turn came to lead, I would have mastered the techniques and be more than ready. 

When I finally got that first opportunity as a manager, I had sixteen direct reports.  16!  A bit daunting, but I knew I could handle it.  I knew how the perfect manager should behave.  How they should treat their staff.  How they should communicate.  I began to apply all that I had learned. 

It was a disaster. 

My staff hated me.  The team was in an uproar.  Goals and deadlines were vague memories.  And I was completely at a loss as to what I was doing wrong.  Thanks to two great mentors and some serious introspection, I began to see the issue.   The problem was not the implementation.  You see, I was treating my staff exactly the way I wanted to be treated.  I was the perfect manager – for me.  The problem was the in the assumption.  The way I wanted to be treated was not the way they wanted, or needed, to be treated.  Thus began the first of my seven principles of leadership – Attune.  Attune yourself to the needs of the team and its members. 

Over the years, I continued to learn and refine my style.  I became a good leader – or so I’m told – and others began to ask advice.   My best advice is to understand that a manager’s job has many aspects, but the most important one is leadership.  To be a good leader, I believe you must be ALIGNED – aligned with your team, your mission, your peers, your management and your own values.  Below are seven principles that I believe can help you focus on your effectiveness as a leader:  Continue reading

Collaboration Calculus

Why is it so difficult to incorporate new collaborative processes and tools into an organization?  I’ve recently been observing a small team in a Fortune 500 company as they wrestle with this Calculus is the study of change...question.  They have the necessary tools at hand, plenty of technical knowhow, and they uniformly express a desire to build community within their geographically dispersed team.  But they are still struggling to get things moving.  What more could they possibly need?

Collaboration initiatives fail for a variety of reasons.  The problem is typically multifaceted and unique to the situation.  However, I believe there is a central theme that can help break down this complex equation.  In short, collaboration requires participation.  My friend and colleague, Joe Moran, recently postulated in a discussion forum on Cisco Community Central at cisco.com a key principle that he calls the Participation Theory.  He set this up as a simple equation that I think gets to the heart of the matter.  I’ll let him describe it here:

Ultimately, I think participation in any activity is tied to what I like to refer to as the: Participation Theory (PT).  Broken down simply as:  

Likelihood of Participation (LoP) = Reward / Effort

Now, of course that oversimplifies things immensely because the perception of Reward (R) and Effort (E) will vary significantly from individual to individual.  Ultimately, I think if we spent enough time we could come up with a core set of variables that would serve as common inputs to determining the weight of each factor.  Perhaps basing it off of Utility Theory or other like decision theories.  Of course we would need to factor in global variables which widely impact a given population, such as everyone within an enterprise.

However, in its simplest form when LoP > 1, we participate.  When LoP is < 1, we don’t participate.  If LoP = 1, then participation may be intended, but follow through is not certain.

So, the Reward must be greater than the Effort required to participate.  When true, collaboration happens.

Sounds simple, but if you read the follow-on comments in the discussion, you will see that there are a variety of other variables that make up R and E.  Things like Inertia and Availability and Awareness and Time to name just a few.  Continue reading