Focus on Others (You’ll Get More for You)

Thanks to generations guy Andrew Krzmarzick for pointing to a nice article in Tech News World about using social networks (like Facebook) in a business context. It's a nice article to have on hand to those of you out there who get the push back when you talk to executives about social media initiatives. Granted, the author is a CEO of a technology company, but I think he makes some compelling arguments about why it's a good idea for just about any organization. One of my favorite quotes was this:

Often companies...spend a fortune on programs to try and force their people into a contrived "corporate culture" that looks nothing like what the organization's employees want.

My experience has shown that social networks deliver in several ways. First, they keep the most clever and creative staff members happy in their work, because they can multi-task, manage their lives, consult their peers, and feel somewhat free while spending long hours at their desks. Secondly, social networks facilitate the "informal learning" that is so crucial in any business environment, particularly in the world of high tech. The added bonus is that the subject matter experts are not limited to the people immediately at hand; they can be anywhere in the world, and they often are.

Happier people. More learning. Access to more resources. These are good things.

The theme that I want to pull out, though, is creating an organization that your employees want. I know there are bosses out there who would bristle at that paragraph. "You mean I need to create an organization that allows for my 20-something employees to 'manage their lives!?' Um...Don't they work for ME? Manage your life on your own time!"

Look, it's your organization and you can run it however you want. You can demand that all your employees work the way you would want to
work, and a bunch of them will be fine with that. You'll survive. I would argue that your turnover rates are going to increase steadily, but honestly there are plenty of organizations that can handle those increased costs.

But why wouldn't you create an organization that gives employees what they want? In conflict resolution, I have to make this point all the time. When you are negotiating with someone, it is in YOUR interests to make sure THEY get their interests met. People don't like this advice. They don't want to spend their energy helping their adversary get what they want. They want to focus on their own needs.

That is the lesson: you are more likely to get what you want when your opponent is getting what they want. This doesn't mean you give in to all their demands (no, you don't necessarily have to order a foosball table for your employees), but you do have to be aware of what they want and why they want it.

Do you know what your employees want and why? If you did, you'd probably be able to give them much of what they ask for while still protecting your interests in running a successful organization. Facebook and social networks is just one example.

I think we spend too much time designing things and doing things overly focused on what we want. We make web sites that work for us (not the user), we create organizations that work for the organizers (not the employees), we create evaluation forms that work for the meeting planners (not the attendees). Of course we need to be clear on what we want and need, but that shouldn't be our focus. I think if you focus on others, you'll end up getting more for you.

Let's Talk About Workplace Culture


  1. 10.07.2008 at 7:21 am

    Great post, Jamie and I agree 100% that organizations should be taking employee needs into account as part of what they’re building.
    I think that you point out part of the problem in many organizations, though, when you start referring to the conflict management model and helping “adversaries” get what they want. Too many organizations have adversarial relationships with their employees, believing that in the end, employees aren’t there for the good of the organization, but instead are an “enemy” against which they must protect themselves. Ironic, given that without these “enemies” the organization can’t function.
    At any rate, as long as organizations make this fundamental (and usually unquestioned) assumption about their workers, it will be difficult for them to design “win-win” situations, if only because most people are really bad at doing this when they perceive themselves to be working with an “enemy.”
    Of course, then the issue becomes changing the mindset, but I think that the first order of business is for organizations to recognize all the ways in which they have it.

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