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Are You a Corporate Rebel?

One of my new favorite sites is www.rebelsatwork.com/. Started by Lois Kelly and retired deputy director of intelligence for the CIA, Carmen Medina, the site is meant to give corporate rebels a platform to share their stories and ideas and help more corporations and big organizations succeed because of (not in spite of) their rebels. 

What's a corporate rebel you ask? According to the Rebels at Work site – 

You hear about innovators in start-ups all the time. Rebelliousness and restlessness are accepted qualities of entrepreneurs. But what about people on the inside of big organizations? How do they blaze new trails and find ways to change business as usual. What are their characteristics? What makes them tick? How do you find them? Could they be an untapped resource for creating more innovative, engaged corporate cultures?

Good rebels also tend to be outstanding employeesThis idea of a "corporate rebel" has always resonated with me because I've always been known as the squeaky wheel, the guy who was never satisfied with doing something because that's the way we've always done it or because the boss said so and the guy who was never satisfied with doing what everyone else was. I've annoyed many a manager by acting almost like a three year-old at work, constantly asking why? Why not? And why can't we do that?  So when I saw Carmen and Lois' site, I recognized that I wasn't alone, that I wasn't crazy for trying to challenging and trying to change long-held assumptions and policies in corporate America. So when they reached out to me on Twitter to share my story being a corporate rebel, I jumped at the chance. One of the questions I answered for my rebel story was, "what advice do you wish someone had given you earlier in your career?" I said: 

"The biggest piece of advice I wish someone had shared with me is to be yourself and be yourself all the time. Don’t listen to the people who tell you that you have to talk a certain way or dress a certain way to advance your career. Don’t try to be someone you’re not just because you don’t see anyone like you in the levels above you. Understand the unique skills, experience, and characteristics that YOU bring to the table that other people don’t have. Don’t assume that just because you’re a junior level employee that you’re at the bottom of the ladder and you have to go up. Look at it like you’re filling a different role, an important role in the organization. You bring strengths to the table that senior leaders don’t – you’re not jaded or cynical, you’re still full of ambition, you’re more likely to take risks, you’re better connected to the rest of the staff, etc. Understand and properly value your strengths."

You can read my full rebel story here, but I would encourage anyone who works in a big government agency or a big company and finds themselves frustrated by the bureaucracy and the inertia of the status quo to bookmark the site and visit it often for inspiration and encouragement. Making change happen in a big organization when you don't have a "Vice President" or "Director" after your name is incredibly difficult. It requires rebels who know how to be disruptive without being insulting, who can offer solutions in addition to identifying problems, who can energize others others to follow, not hold other people back, and who are almost optimistic to a fault. 

If you're the type of person who asks why? why not? how come? what if? or can we?; if you're the type of person who just can't accept "because that's the policy" as a reason for doing something; if you've ever found yourself emailing suggested changes to a corporate policy to your boss solely because you wanted to, you may be a corporate rebel. And guess what? Not only is that ok, you're probably one of your organization's best employees. In fact, most corporate rebels also share many of these nine traits of outstanding employees, so if you feel like your rebelliousness is being punished instead of rewarded, I wouldn't worry – I suspect the job market for an outstanding employee is pretty good :).  

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What Kind of Online Community Do You Have Behind Your Firewall?

As CIOs and Chief Knowledge Officers bring tools that have been used on the Internet – blogs, wikis, microblogs, profiles – behind the firewall, they tend to expect the same results. "We'll have our own Wikipedia!" Or Facebook…or Twitter – you name it. Unfortunately, as many have already discovered and many more will continue to discover, successful communities are dependent on many variables, from the accessibility, speed, and reliability of the technology to your community managers. Despite the newsletter articles, blog posts, press releases, and conference presentations, many "communities" are nothing more than a new version of the same old Intranet, only with shinier tools.

So, if you're deploying social tools internally, what kind of community is your organization creating?

  • What group/community receives the most visits and/or posts on a particular day?
    1. The Intranet development team
    2. The Social Media/Web 2.0/New Media Community of Practice
    3. The Android/iPhone User Group
    4. An group focused on the core mission/operations
  • On any given day, what % of your organization participates (reading or contributing) in your community?
    • Less than 10%
    • 10% to 49%
    • 50%-74%
    • More than 75%
  • Senior leadership participation can best be classified as:
    1. Shhh! Don't tell them or they'll shut this site down!
    2. Big Brother-ish
    3. Lurking, but not active
    4. Active and insightful
  • If someone posts, "I can't get my email to work on my phone – help!" What kind of response will they get?
    1. Total Silence
    2. "Call the help desk at 1-800-555-5555"
    3. "What problem are you having – maybe I can help?"
    4. "Many people have had issues with this so we created a wiki page to walk you through how to set it up the right way"
  • Your CEO announces large-scale layoffs. You visit your online community later that day – what do you find?
    1. "I'm not going near that one!"
    2. Complaints and criticism
    3. Praise for leadership and the difficult job they have to do
    4. Balanced, professional discussion containing constructive criticism, ideas, and empathy
  • Most of your employee profile pictures look like:
  • Someone publishes a blog post highly critical of a senior leadership decision – what's the reaction?
    1. Trick question – all posts have to be approved by management and that never would have made it through
    2. The administrators delete the post and send a note to the employee's manager
    3. Other employees leave comments recommending that the post may be unprofessional and warrant some editing
    4. The senior leader in question posts a comment himself thanking the employee for his feedback and explaining the rationale behind the decision
  • You create a wiki page for your team containing the text of a report you're working on. What kind of edits can they expect to receive?
    1. Yours and yours alone, since no one else your team understands how to make the edits themselves
    2. Your project team's edits because no one else can access the page
    3. No edits, but you do receive several comments and questions on the page
    4. A wide variety of edits ranging from minor to major and coming from your team as well as from people you don't know
  • Your boss asks to review the latest version of a document you've been working on. You sent her the link to the wiki page where it's stored. What's her response?

    1. Can you attach the file and send it to me?
    2. I couldn't figure out how to make any changes so I've just included them in the attached MS Word file
    3. She makes her edits as comments to the page
    4. She edits the page directly
  • The conversations that occur within your community most resemble:
    1. An empty room
    2. A board meeting
    3. Happy hour
    4. The hallways at the office
  • It's Friday night and you just discovered that you have a TPS report due first thing Monday morning. To do it, you need some examples of similar reports that have been produced by other teams. Where do you head first?

    1. You email your immediate team
    2. You send a blast email out to multiple distro lists asking for help. After all, at least one or two people have to respond, right?
    3. You search your Intranet with every keyword you can imagine
    4. You search the TPS forum and post your request there

Do you have a better idea of what kind of community you're building? Healthy communities aren't just about collecting users – they're about interactivity, a positive atmosphere, usefulness and more. Why do you log into Facebook every day? Not to play with all of the cool features, but to interact with your friends and family. Internal communities should have some of these same qualities – they need to have a purpose and be based around human interactions, not the latest technology.

If your score was 16 or less, you don't have a community, you've got the man cave of a new dad. The place is filled with the latest technical toys but no one is around to use them. From the Xbox to the pool table to the fully-stocked bar, you had envisioned many nights partying with the boys watching football, but now that you have a new baby, the only thing all those toys are doing is collecting dust…just like your blogs, wiki pages, and profiles.

 

If your score was between 17 – 24, your community most resembles China. You've got a lot of users (primarily because people are forced to create profiles), but very little sense of community. People talk with one another because they have to, and only when they need something. Conversations are guarded and transactional, and information is protected even more closely as trust between individuals is lacking. Non-work conversations are prohibited – none of that "social networking" stuff here!

 

If your score was between 25 – 33, your community is most like a high school full of people still trying to figure out who they are, who their friends are, and how to communicate with each other. The adults are confused by the kids, the kids are kind of wary of the adults, but they all co-exist fairly peacefully. Diverse cliques form early and often – iPhone enthusiasts, social media geeks, developers – all with different goals and reasons for being. A few individuals stand out and connect these cliques across the entire school. Social conversation occurs, but is often forced, as people are trying to fit in and test the boundaries of what is allowed and what isn't.

 

If your score was between 34 – 44, congratulations! You've got the makings of honest-to-goodness social business community. People willingly share information freely across geographic, administrative and cultural lines not because they have to, but because they realize that by pitching in and helping, everyone benefits. Conversations run the gamut – some days, they're about LOLCats, but on other days, they're focused on how to best create a culture of innovation. They are overwhelmingly professional in nature, but the content is also overwhelmingly informal. People are only vaguely aware of the number of abbreviations following someone's name and the titles that precede it, but hold the value an individual brings to the rest of the community in high regard. Employees willingly (and often) spend their own time and money to improve the community, whether via handing out awards or creating new features. And most importantly, this sense of community exists both online and off. From the conference room in the morning to my couch late at night, I know I'm not just an employee number, I'm a valued member of a community that depends on me.

I took this test for my own company's social Intranet tools, and I discovered that we're most like a high school. We still only have a fraction of the firm using the tools on a regular basis and the relationships between staff, management, and senior leadership are in that awkward stage where we're all still trying to figure out how to talk with one another.

(note: this isn't meant to be used as some formal "diagnostic" or "roadmap" or anything of the like so please take it for what it is – a fun way to gauge how well your community is actually acting like, you know, a community)

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