Confronted By Challenges, Supported by Experts

As a consultant it’s very easy to assume that your advice and expertise will be welcomed with open arms. From time to time you’re reminded that this isn’t always the case. Companies may hire you for your expertise, but they may only want you to tell them what they already know — not what they don’t. When the tough gets going, I consult my toolbox. There are two books, in particular that I revisit often to remind me why I need to stay on track. 

Getting Real

Before 37signals were kings of collaboration software, they were just another small start-up. However, the one thing that set them a part was their vision. Their first book, Getting Real set the stage for things to come. Regardless of your industry, it is full of juicy wisdom that’s always relevant. Here are just a few morsels that have helped me stay focused.

Less Mass

The leaner you are, the easier it is to change. The more massive an object, the more energy is required to change its direction. It’s as true in the business world as it is in the physical world.

When it comes to web technology, change must be easy and cheap. If you can’t change on the fly, you’ll lose ground to someone who can. That’s why you need to shoot for less mass.

Start With No

Every new feature request that comes to us — or from us — meets a no. We listen but don’t act. The initial response is “not now.” If a request for a feature keeps coming back, that’s when we know it’s time to take a deeper look. Then, and only then, do we start considering the feature for real.

Meetings Are Toxic

Do you really need a meeting? Meetings usually arise when a concept isn’t clear enough. Instead of resorting to a meeting, try to simplify the concept so you can discuss it quickly via email or im or Campfire. The goal is to avoid meetings. Every minute you avoid spending in a meeting is a minute you can get real work done instead.

Empowered: Unleash Your Employees, Energize Your Customers, Transform Your Business

Even companies who know that they need to embrace social media, may not fully appreciate the value of social media. Thanks to the folks at Forrester and the author of Groundswell, there’s a book aimed at highlighting the human value of new technologies and emerging media. Empowered not only supports employee initiatives to experiment, it encourages it. The authors call these instigators HEROes, Highly Empowered and Resourceful Operatives.

Empowering your workforces means saying yes to HEROes more often. It also means saying no to projects where the effort, budget, or risk is too great, or where the value is questionable. Some of the projects connect with customers and others help employees in customer-facing departments like sales, but all they need is a careful evaluation of effort versus value.

Any organization that wants to enable HEROes to pursue these goals has to change. It’s not enough to support these new forms of marketing and customer service. The management needs to change, to give the HEROes more autonomy. The IT department has to change, from running technology to supporting technology projects created by others. And if the company is truly serious about HERO-powered innovation, it needs to put systems in place to help HEROes collaborate with one another.

These books aren’t just insightful, they’re inspiring. They serve to remind me that what I help companies do — develop a proactive and responsive social media strategy — isn’t rocket science. It needn’t be difficult, but can be enlightening. How companies approach social media can speak volumes about how they value employees, organizational culture and change management. As a consultant, it’s very easy to assume that you’re being hired to facilitate change. Sometimes you are the change.

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