The Hard Work of Clarity
Last Friday I had the extreme pleasure to present a session
with Lindy Dreyer and Maddie Grant of SocialFish at ASAE’s first ever Social
Media Workshop. The title of our session is "What Social Media Means for the Way We Work." Maddie has already completely summarized our session
(perfectly!), along with the slides, so check that out first if you haven’t
seen it yet.
What I want to write about is the part of the session that
no one saw—where Maddie and I went back and forth at the bar about one piece of
our session (come on! I thought you knew the best sessions always happened at
the bar!). She told me that she wanted to push back on one of my points. The
main conclusion that we presented was to put clarity over control, and in that
context I made the point that achieving clarity is hard work.
She pushed back, saying that all associations have a mission
or vision or something where they can get started. She didn't want me to scare
people into doing nothing simply because they didn't have perfect clarity.
Okay, agreed. As Elizabeth pointed out in a recap to her
session, the easy answer is always to do nothing, and I feel we rarely have
that luxury any more, so I'm a fan of action. You don't have to wait for your
clarity to be absolutely perfect before you start doing some social media (and, by the way, starting to do it can help develop your clarity).
But as I told Maddie at the Bar, I would have pushed back
against her push back, because I think most
associations operate with very little strategic/mission clarity. They are
very clear about the highest level of mission: being the preeminent voice of
the industry providing networking, education, and community, blah blah blah. This
is too high level. Too often you could swap the name of the association, but
the mission statements would still make sense.
That's not clear enough to guide social media, where the
power is dispersed. We had the luxury of creating high level mission statements
in the past BECAUSE we concentrated the power at the top. I don't need to know
the intricacies of how our association really fits into the lives of our
members, because mostly I need to do what my boss tells me to do.
Social media pushes power and responsibility down, so we need more clarity than we used to. I personally think we need it regardless of social media. that's why I have been arguing for "middle level thinking" in strategy for a while now. You need to be able to articulate a level of clarity that is below the platitudes and above the nitty gritty details. It's hard work and often involves some conversations that take time and might even go in circles for a bit, but the companies that have the discipline to do it will generate the kind of clarity that will help them generate social media policies that employees and other stakeholders actually understand and use. Middle level clarity is hard work, but who ever said leadership was easy?