social media

simplify, simplify, simplify

I’m an information junkie, but can’t keep up.  I have a hard time deciding which are the best sources –I’m interested in such a wide range of topics and I want it all. This means I’m overwhelmed just by email. And then factor in magazines for business, HR/training, world news, cars, mountain bikes, etc that keep showing up. And then add in all the social media, blogs, forums, etc. (personal and work) that I’m forever behind in. And then add in the to-be-read book stack that is forever growing. And then getting caught up on favorite TV shows and movies. And then, and then, and then. Woof. Exhausting to even think about.

Email is brutal.Weirdly, I have four personal email addresses (wha???) in addition to several emails to keep up with at work. I realized that for most of the email I receive: 1) are notifications I signed up for (blogs, forums, industry news, etc.); and 2) never, ever, ever get read. Ever.  I used to think it was quicker to just delete those I didn’t want to read and move on, but I became aware of how much time I was losing from even the distraction of incoming email, let alone time and energy figuring out if it was worth bothering to read. So I’ve started unsubscribing from the blogs and newsletter I don’t read and shutting off the notifications from the ones I do. That took longer than you’d think. At work, I’m still unsubscribing from several email lists a day. 

I started keeping track of websites where I have a login with a password. I never remember the passwords of several important sites that I visit only once a month or so and wanted to actually write them down somewhere. But I also wanted to see how many sites I have passwords for and start getting rid of the ones I don’t use. For work, the list is about a page long. For personal that list extends three plus pages and I’m still coming across more sites. I’m especially striving to scrutinize which sites have my credit cards and remove info from the ones I use and shut down the ones I don’t.

Yet, there’s still more. And more and more. I thought this would be a quick Saturday morning project and it’s now sprawled its way across several weeks.

Simplifying, it seems, ain’t so simple.

networking for introverts?

The other day, Tim Mushey of Sell, Lead, Succeed fame raised a question about networking. It was a great question because it made me stop and think and I realized that even though my connections with others are really important to me, I spend almost zero time thinking about “networking” or “my network.”

I should be the world’s worst networker: I’m terrible at small talk, I can’t “work a room” to save my life, and if I’m at a party I’ll spend most of my time in the kitchen talking to one other person about books or bicycles. Life of the party I’m not.

Yet, somewhere along the way, something happened and and I find myself in the middle of a great network of really terrific people. Enough so that my wife insists I should write a book about networking for introverts. I don’t think I have that much to say about it, but I do have a few tips I could share – just observations from my own life. Your mileage may vary.

1. Forget all about “networking”. I’m not a big fan of the word because it makes it sound like a separate activity. Just live your life. You already have a network of people and relationships, now just start thinking how you can broaden and deepen it.

2. Focus on meeting interesting people. This is my biggest piece of advice. Don’t worry about meeting everyone, just seek and find people in your field who are up to interesting things and build the relationship from there. The really, really cool thing is that interesting people by their very nature know lots of other interesting people.

How do you meet them? Ask around. Seriously, just ask, “Who else is doing cool things that you’d suggest I meet?” You’ll get some great answers. The second is social media – it’s an amazing shortcut to fascinating people around the planet. Follow someone you admire in your field on Twitter (or whatever social media you prefer) and start looking at what blogs they read, who they’re connected to, etc. and begin following and connecting with those folks.

3. Think long term. It’s not a race. Let connections and relationships build naturally over time.

4. Social media is a great starting point, but it’s just a starting point. Build relationships in real life. This past year I made a point of reaching out and asking people I only knew through the internet to chat via Skype of phone. I got sidetracked and really need to focus on this again because I’ve been able to meet and learn from some truly phenomenal people.

5. Networking numbers are stupid. I’m baffled by the ads that claim to provide 10,000 Twitter followers for $29.95 (or whatever) because, who cares? Just because someone is following you or you are following them doesn’t mean there is any connection. Oh, you handed out 100 business cards at the last conference. So what? Numbers are irrelevant. It’s better to have a true connection with 20 people than to be largely ignored by thousands.

6. People and relationships matter. You don’t have to care about everyone on the planet (though it’s nice if you do), but it shows pretty quick if you’re not investing time and energy in the people in your life.

7. Realize people are willing to connect with and help you. Several years ago my job was eliminated. With a family to feed and an immediate need for work, I started calling up key members of my professional association and asking if I could meet with them to get their advice on job hunting in the city I was living in – who’s hiring, which companies have a great/terrible reputation, who else should I speak with, etc. No one turned me down. No one hesitated. People I’d never met before went out of their way to meet, talk, and help. On a smaller scale, people I’ve met only through social me have been surprisingly quick to respond to questions.

8. Focus on what you can do to help others. If it’s all about you or your approach is very transactional, you will have a weak, sucky network. If there is actual dialog and it’s clear that you authentically want to help others, you’ll have a strong, robust network.

To sum up, here’s everything I know about networking in two short sentences: Forget “networking”. Find interesting people and build great relationships.


DIY, mosh pits, and HR conferences (repost)

Motorhead probably won't be playing any HR conferences this year. Shame.

Everything louder than everyone else.  Not coming to an HR conference near you. Shame.

Why conferences?

Are you going to a conference this year? Why?

No really, why? As an HR professional, why are you taking time out of your life to go? Is it because you’re a professional and professionals go to conferences because other professionals go to conferences? Is it because you need to keep up on your certifications? Is it because you have no other opportunity to talk to vendors? Is it because you feel it is the best or most cost effective way to keep up with the field? Is it because you really need a three day drinking binge? Is it because your company pays for you to go? Why go?

How will you decide which conference to attend? Location? Price? The keynote speaker(s)? The size of the conference? Reputation? Theme? Topics?

I have a confession to make: I haven’t been a huge fan of conferences. My sense is that conferences have often been more about the status quo, rubbing elbows, and comparing merit badges. The organizers seem to follow a set formula: play it safe and stay (far!) away from controversy, have a known keynote, offer professional/educational credit to justify the employer paying for it, and make sure that everyone has a pleasant time. It seemed less about advancing the field than celebrating where it is right now.

So what about those who see the status quo as a very low bar? Where do those who want to create, innovate, and push the boundaries go? What’s available for those who simultaneously love Human Resources and ask, ask, and ask again those tough and awkward questions about how to make it truly better – those who want to tear it down, shake it up, and create something meaningful and powerful?

This fall I went to a conference for the first time in probably six years and discovered the world changed while I wasn’t looking. More and more options seem to be springing up. Unconferences, small non-traditional conferences, conferences that are re-thinking the model. Conferences I’d be excited to attend.


Back in the day, before blogs, there were ‘zines. ‘Zines (short for “fan magazines”) existed on the edges of the music world. Self-published, they ranged from a few pages slapped together at Kinko’s to actual magazines with (sort of) national presence like Maximum Rock ‘n Roll and Flipside. This was a place where the status quo was kicked, the unknown could voice their opinion, and those who hadn’t quite made it yet were first introduced to the world. If you knew who Nirvana, Soundgarden, or Rage Against the Machine were prior to ’91 you were likely reading ‘zines.

Did HR have the equivalent? It amuses me to think of the contrarians, innovators, and boundary pushers sitting around the office after everyone has gone home and creating crudely photocopied flyers and ‘zines with tips, editorials, best practices, rants, and ads for HR seminars being held in someone’s basement or an old warehouse. It makes me smile to think of the DIY punk spirit infusing the old model uptight bureaucratic world of “personnel”. And in its own weird way, I think it has.

Today, we meet the misfits, the voices in the wilderness, and those screaming out for better through social media. In its own way, social media has turned the punk rock misfits of HR into rock star thought leaders. Thanks to social media it’s easier than ever before to know of and about the people who are pushing the boundaries and asking “why?” and “what is possible?” It’s bringing legitimacy and momentum to innovation and change.

I suspect that’s really changing the conference model to look more like a music festival than a conference. An event where the lineup matters at least as much as the topics. A place where the new, exciting, loud, and challenging are brought together. A place where there is the main stage big names and the side stage up and comers. A place where people are there because they really dig HR and want to feel it, enjoy it, and do it better.

Social media has made rock stars of thought leaders, but it’s also humanized them. Made them accessible. Through their blogs, tweets, comments, and postings, it feels like we really know the person. We probably have a good sense of their family situation, their jobs, their hobbies, favorite books, etc. It feels like we really know them. As though they are old friends we just haven’t met. I want to go to conferences where, not only can I see my heros, but I can talk and interact and share ideas and just hang out with them.

The golden question of conferences

Until this year, every conference I attended was paid from of my own pocket. I suffered both the cost of the conference and the loss in billable hours. When I’m losing money two ways, whatever I’m spending it on better have a very high return on investment.

Consequently, that has become my standard for conferences: would I pay my own way without hesitation? Does it provide so much value for me that I would burn up vacation days to go? Would I be as excited to pay for it as I would be to buy tickets to see my favorite bands? Would I get on an airplane to go? Would I make apologies to my family while I was packing my bags? Would I enthusiastically inconvenience myself in several ways and on several levels to attend?

HR mosh pit

What makes me excited to open my wallet? I want speakers whose ideas challenge me to rethink and think again. I want participants who are enthusiastic, passionate, and are creating so much Awesome-with-a-capital-A for the world that I’m inspired to raise my own game. I want to be so fired up and enthused that I’m hassling my boss and team with all the ideas pouring out of my head before lunch on the first day. I want speakers and presenters who want to rub elbows and learn from me as much as I learn from them.

I don’t want to have safe, neatly packaged thoughts handed to me while I look on and clap politely as though I were at a niece’s piano recital. I want to mix it up in a chaotic stage diving, slam dancing, mosh pit of HR ideas, philosophies, innovations, maybe-could-be’s, and practicality. [Have I pushed the analogy too far yet?] I don’t want to be a passive attendee, I want to be an active participant.

Tomorrow is today

I’m clearly not alone and that has me looking forward to 2013 in a big way. Lots of great conferences, big and small, out there with more springing up all the time. Let’s talk, question, push boundaries, and #playbigger.

Which conferences are you most excited about?

[I originally posted this on November 4, 2012. THE national level HR conference for the US is happening in Chicago this week. I’m not able to attend this year, but it seemed like a good excuse for reposting.]

[A note about the photo. For whatever reason, the photo of Lemme from Motorhead came up right near the top when I did an image search on “conferences”.  I couldn’t ignore the beautiful, humorous, serendipity of it. Photo Credit: Kris Krug via Compfight cc]

it’s not about social media, but it is about HR

Social media and HR. Two great things I saw working together fabulously. Seriously. Everyone I consider a peer uses social media in some form. I’d met and shared ideas with great people around the world and could see an interconnected network of smart, passionate folks come together. With a couple of clicks I was interacting with rock stars of the field – people I’d otherwise have no access to – and over time it built into something more. Information and thoughts flowed from one end of the internet to the other.

And then I went outside my little happy world and saw that they don’t always to go together. I knew some didn’t get it, but I has shocked at how many don’t. I don’t mean at the corporate level of using social media to recruit. (Robin Schooling (@robinschooling) over at HR Schoolhouse did a great post on this recently. You should go read it.) I mean at the personal level of individuals in the field of HR using social media as a networking, communication, and information gathering tool. Whythehellnot?

At the Louisiana State SHRM conference in early April there was a ton of buzz about social media. Any session with “Social Media” in the title was well attended, there was a Social Media Street to answer anyone’s questions and a team of social media volunteers to tweet in real time about the sessions, and both the conference and the speakers had been heavily promoted on social media. I was thrilled for the chance to meet many people in person whom I only had met and only knew via the internet. In fact, I found out about the conference and ended up presenting largely thanks to social media. In my mind, there was this enormous social media connection running throughout.

And then… and then I realized that the only people discussing the conference on Twitter were the presenters and the social media team. I don’t recall one mention by participants. Maybe I missed it. In his session on “Building Social HR Leadership”, Doug Shaw (@dougshaw1) did a quick poll of the participants. If I remember correctly, roughly two-thirds claimed to be on LinkedIn, a smaller number admitted to Facebook or Pinterest, and Twitter trailed in popularity.

Huh? I assumed conference goers were there to network, to learn about new happenings in the field, and to get ideas to take back to their jobs. All things I’ve found social media to be brilliant for. I’m not a power user or social media evangelist and I don’t think everyone needs to be on every form of social media. I’m just surprised that the adoption rate was so low, particularly given that those I consider to be thought leaders in the field are so active in social media.

There has probably always been a gap between those actively building relationships, sharing ideas, learning from each other, trying to advance the field etc. and those just showing up for another day’s work, but I get the sense that social media is rapidly (radically?) widening this gap.

It’s not really about social media because social media is just a tool, just a means to an end. It’s really about HR and the bigger question is: What are you doing to learn, share ideas, build relationships, and move the field forward?



flashback friday: a book review of “Social Gravity”

I haven’t been posting much lately because I’m hard at work on a special project and trying to get ready for speaking at two conferences in April. All good stuff, but it hasn’t left much time for this blog. I’ll be back soon. 

 Today’s flashback was originally posted on October 22, 2012. Joe and Jason are good souls and do great work. Check ’em out.

Networking for the sake of networking comes off as crassly self-serving. It tends to feel vapid and hollow and more than a little creepy. Building relationships because it’s fun, useful, and mutually beneficial is a whole ‘nother story.

Business equals people equals business. Can’t get around it. Business gets done through, for, and by people. Period. We can deny it and struggle and wonder OR we can recognize and embrace it. Want to be better at business; want to get more done? Get better with people. Build stronger relationships.

That’s where Social Gravity by Joe Gerstandt (@joegerstandt) and Jason Lauritsen (@jasonlauritsen) comes in. Ultimately, Social Gravity is less about networks and more about “authentic, mutually beneficial relationships.” As the authors say in the introduction: “What you know helps you play the game, and who you know helps you change the game.”

We all know that who you know matters, but most of us spend our time resenting it rather than doing something about it. Section 1” …It’s Not What You Know…” focuses on reminding us of the importance of relationships, the difference they make in getting things done, the need for high quality relationships, and the distinction between using social media as a tool to enhance relationships vs confusing likes and follows with actual relationships. Relationships have power and how we harness and use that power makes a tremendous difference.

Us humans generally get in our own way by either overcomplicating things or trying to get long-term success through shortcuts. Section 2 “Discover the Laws of Social Gravity” delves in to the areas that most networking advice seems to miss completely. The authors expand on taking the long-term approach to building relationships, being open to connecting with others, being our real and authentic selves, and contributing our time and effort in meaningful ways. These are all important, obvious, common sense ways to meet great people and build mutually beneficial relationships. They are also generally ignored and dismissed by those in the throes of networking frenzy who prefer the whitebread, fast food, business-card-trading shortcuts. It’s shifting from style to substance, from activity to results, from superficial to meaningful, from networking to relationship building. And that’s a powerful shift.

Throughout the book, Joe and Jason share real life examples of how relationships have affected their lives. Most striking are the small things that lead to huge differences. From Joe finding a key person within his company by connecting with someone from outside the company to Jason’s connections not helping him move to (my favorite) Jason’s hairstylist meeting and eventually marrying Joe after two unrelated groups of friends met up one Saturday night. Relationships, big and small, change lives.

As I look back on my life, many of my most important relationships seem to have started almost by chance. Many of the most important events were due to my relationships with others. Great opportunities came from key people vouching for me or putting me in touch those who could help. Sometimes it was intentional, but often it wasn’t. For me, Social Gravity is a reminder and blueprint for helping me be more deliberate and effective in connecting with others. To do what I already know how to do, but do it more consistently and intentionally and do it better.

Relationships matter.



sorry LinkedIn, I’m just not that special

There is a quirk to human nature where we want to fit in with everyone else and simultaneously stand out. We want to be just like everyone only more special so we find all sorts of ways of being better and validating our uniqueness.

As much of a rare and special purple unicorn snowflake I like to think I am, I know there are many others like me. Mathematically, if I’m in the top 1% in any category, there are roughly 70 million others on this planet who are at least as good. Heck, there are 3 million in the US alone.

Social media has done a great job of leveraging this psychological need: You have a new follower! (Can you believe it – someone likes me?!) Someone retweeted one of your tweets! (Holy cow, I must be special – they really like me and they think I’m a supergenius). Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy that someone else thinks that my thoughts might be useful – please keep following, retweeting, etc. – I’m just not convinced that it’s always an exclamation point kind of moment.

I, like many others, recently received notice from LinkedIn that my profile was in the top 10% of those visited. My thoughts rapidly went from Huh, that’s kind of cool to Are they sure? Really? to Man, they’re screwed if I’m top 10%.

Why are they screwed?

I don’t have that many connections. Not really, not at all. I’m pretty sure any mediocre sales person, recruiter, or social butterfly has more connections than me.

I’m not looking for a job so it’s not as if I’m doing anything to attract people to my profile.

No recruiters are calling me so it’s not like people are seeking me out.

Uhhhh, so if I have such little activity, why am I in the top 10%? AND if I’m top 10% where do all those poor folks who are trying to use LinkedIn to find work rate?

AND if I’m hitting the top 10% what meaning could this measure possibly have? What outcomes are happening as a result of my extraordinary accomplishment?

AND if I’m so unspecially special, where is LinkedIn making its money and who isn’t getting a return on their investment?

Oh wait!

Hang on, top 10% of 200 million users is 20 million. Yep, not that special.

What thinks you?



what should I call you?

Thanks to the marvels of social media,  I’ve “met” some really fantastic people in my field via the internet.  Yet, I often find myself searching for words to describe these relationships. These are people I’m connected to through mutual blog subscriptions, twitter follows, maybe even a LinkedIn connection. We’ve exchanged comments and ideas, seem to dig each other’s perspective and world views, yet have never actually met or even had a real conversation.

When I try to tell friends, family, or co-workers about these folks, I don’t have a good word to describe who they are. “Friend” in the traditional sense doesn’t seem to cover it – we don’t know each other that well. I tend to reserve that word for people I’ve known quite a while and I can count on to help me move furniture. “Acquaintance” is someone I know but don’t have a strong connection – I’m needing a word for people I seem to have a strong connection with yet haven’t really met. “Associate”? No. “Colleague”? Sort of, maybe, but not really, so, no. “Mutual Follower”? Sounds pretty cultish – no.

Anyone else facing this problem? What word makes the most sense?

the problem with social media is that social media is not the problem

Social media is not a problem: it’s a symptom, a foreshadowing. The world of work has changed substantially; we just don’t know it yet. The future-now of work is looking less hierarchical, more democratic, more collaborative. Social media is both an enabler and a product of this change. Earlier this week, Doug Shaw made the brilliant observation: A social media policy in part seeks to support the very hierarchy that social media is dissolving.

The pyramid of control is dying off, replaced by the swirling, shifting ecosystem of influence. The cosmic joke is the more we try to control, the narrower our scope of influence.

We are struggling to find ways to make the future-now make sense in the past-now world of work. Social media is a great example of this. The rules, norms, and etiquette from the days of memos and carbon paper do not mesh well with the easy-all access of the internet. It’s like trying to make the past rules of horses and buggies apply to a new world of automobiles.

Your thoughts?

flashback friday: fear of a human business (the freak flag advantage)

[This was originally posted on May 27, 2012. Enjoy!]

Business is run by humans for humans so why is the business world so, so scared of showing their humanness?

With rare exception, corporate social media policies shout: “We’re terrified our customers will find out that actual people work at this company!” The policies are very clear that you should never, ever associate yourself with the company. Don’t reveal that you have opinions, actual thoughts, passions, dreams, hobbies, families. Don’t give customers the opportunity to appreciate each individual’s uniqueness, good and bad. Assume customers are so easily offended that they will boycott the company because of what an employee posted on a social media site. Give no one the benefit of the doubt.

It’s so sad, it’s funny. There’s so much good that comes from recognizing humanity and individuality. It makes companies and their products real and relevant. Companies (marketers anyway) want us to have a relationship with the brand, yet don’t realize that no one develops attachment to faceless, soulless, neutered, beige vanilla sameness.

One of the easiest ways to differentiate your company is to let your humanness shine. But few get that. They miss that the root of differentiation is being different. And that celebrating your authentic differences and actually standing out is daring and wonderful.

Yesterday, though, I came across a magazine advertisement for the Jaguar XF that blew me away. The company not only got it but made it the absolute core of the entire ad campaign!

At risk of plugging products I know nothing about, let me describe the ad. Maybe you’ve seen it: two page spread with three electric guitars and amps taking up almost the entire space, in the lower left is a small picture of a sports sedan, in the lower right is a small and understated  Jaguar company logo. The headline is: “Some of the other machines our designers play with.” It goes on to brag that the lead design of the new car is the “spike –haired, head-banging lead guitarist of his own band, Scattering Ashes…” and describes how he brought that amped up rock passion to designing this car.

Wow! An ad that gets attention, an admission (no, a celebration!) that they have passionate-not-quite-mainstream employees, and a darn good looking car. A great, eye-catching ad that takes a risk and shows commitment to shattering old images and shaking up the status quo. Then it gets even better. There is a QR tag to hear the music. Whip out your smart phone and you’re taken to a youtube video with a tongue-in-cheek opening warning and a Scattering Ashes song playing while three Jags make lurid slides around the tarmac.

Wanna see?

Some of the commenters on youtube mention that the song isn’t all that good and it seems out of sync with the Jag image. Yeah, it’s not the greatest song ever. And, yeah, it runs counter to an image of  traditional, stodgy, understated, quiet class. Cleary, Jag is looking to aggressively redefine their image. It’s an electric scream against the what you think they are and an overdriven invitation to join them where they want to be.

But wait! This isn’t a neon colored hatchback with extreme graphics being sold to the fast & furious crowd. This is a luxury sports sedan being marketed to people that can drop $50 – 70k+ on a car – you know, uptight, conservative folks in suits and ties. Shouldn’t you be telling them how much status the car will bring them, or focusing on safety, or winking at how sporty you’d like them to think it is?

Sure, you could. But then you’d be just like everyone else. Or you could celebrate the glorious passion and humanness of your employees, crank your company culture up to 11, and actually differentiate yourself by actually being, well, different.

Don’t know if the car’s any good or if the campaign will be successful, but I love the bold stance. Anyone could have done it, but only one did. Unfurl the freak flag and rock on!