Archive for category The Noble Pursuit
I’ve made no secret of my depression, or my ADD, or my imposter syndrome, or my fight with my inner critic and the self doubt that I face regularly. I share and am open about it for one simple reason – it’s a part of the human condition that need not be stigmatized. That we can no longer afford to stigmatize. That we all must learn to overcome, whether for our own good, or for our family, friends, or coworkers.
While we should all learn to understand and accept it, depression shouldn’t be normalized as persistent as it is soul crushing. It causes unnecessary harm to everyone who suffers through it, and those who surround them. I know firsthand what it has done to myself, my wife, my startups, and indeed the world over the years. So much personal and social value has been lost and so many opportunities have been missed, while I have been mired in that fog of darkness. In that cold, dark, lonely, fear filled nighttime of the soul.
When we have the knowledge, the science, and now the awareness to improve the lives of so many as well as the richness of society as a whole, why don’t we do better? Why don’t we solve the mental health crisis once and for all, for everyone, individually and collectively?
The first ‘why’ is the stigma, which is why I’ve been open about it for so long. I had conversation with ADHD Coach Pete Quily at Northern Voice in 2007, and his insights and encouragement showed me the need and helped me connect it as one small but mighty aspect of my life purpose — to heal, unify and orchestrate a #betterworld. In whatever way, small or large that I can.
While fighting my own depression and other personal demons I have… ugh, what a terrible word. Our “demons.” How we exaggerate them and eviscerate our own godliness. Language is so important but even I misuse it frequently, even when sharing deep life long learnings that are part of every one of my days.
These aren’t demons. They’re not even challenges. They are things that happened, or often things that didn’t happen. Things for which I associated negative emotion and through the experience of which I made incorrect assumptions based on that negative feeling and mindset. You see, we each get to choose what events, words, deeds and misdeeds MEAN to us. This is at the core of Buddhism – mindfulness, presence, prayer (setting intention as well as manifesting through the “power” of your God) and most especially, psychology and psychiatry in treating depression.
This is where the Serenity Prayer really hits a home run as a global, cross religious truism:
God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, Courage to change the things I can, And wisdom to know the difference.
What a powerful sentiment. Amazing truly. In many ways, it is reminiscent of a core set of operating system instructions for our interactions with each other and ourselves. Just as with the golden rule:
Do unto other’s as you would have them do unto you.
Regardless of your beliefs or religion or culture, participants in a civil, harmonious society know these sorts of statements to be true. Maybe we should transcend the boundaries of the concept of civil society and strive for a “harmonious society?” Might that be possible, that we could strive for something even greater than civilization? Given what we have attained so far, it might not be such a bad idea to strive for an even higher model of interaction for society.
The point here is depression is normal. We need to be able to talk about it, and empathize with those going through it. We need to improve how we facilitate people discovering their own solutions. We need improve the distribution and acceptance of all evidence based solutions that produce real results. IMHO, we need to urgently work together to get beyond this tremendously costly societal challenge whether we want to sustain civilization or transcend it in the creation of a Harmonious Society.
If the internet has been declared a fundamental human right by the UN, access to knowledge and all forms of healthcare, especially mental health care in all its approached, should also be foundational rights for all humanity. Literally, this is for the good of society. This is for your best interests as well as mine. It’s not a hand out, it’s a hand up. In today’s interconnected, interdependent society, if everyone is better off, I am better off, not lesser for it.
But perhaps I am getting ahead of myself, so let’s start simple. We all must accept and appreciate that depression is a normal part of the human condition.
If you care about someone or something, or if you want to create something – art, a startup, a movement, a family, anything really, you will face struggles. You will be challenged. You will need to overcome adversity. You will have to learn from others and figure things out on your own.
You will lose. You will make mistakes. You will have people say mean things to you. You will face acts of God. You will be in the wrong place at the wrong time. Bad people may do bad things to you. You will feel mad about it. You will feel sad about it. You will undoubtedly face a moment where it will be easier to escape or wallow in the darkness then to face it, then bouncing back – learning more and taking the next action you need to take in setting your mind, and the world right in the face of it.
The thing is, as I’ve found, you not only get to choose what it means to you, you get to choose what to do about it.
With love, knowledge, care, and the support of friends, family and society, I see a day where no one need dwell in depression excessively. Where depression is normal, but suffering alone in it is not. Indeed there are lessons that come from depression too as you may have found in some of my thoughts in this post today. So it will still arise and persist, it just needn’t persist for long. For all these reasons and so many others, this is why I have found so much personal freedom and liberation and power in “The Four Agreements“.
Be impeccable with your word
Don’t make assumptions
Don’t take things personally
Always do your best
— Paraphrasing Don Miguel Ruiz
We’ve got a long way to go towards a fully harmonious society. Maybe 50, maybe 100 years, or maybe never. Or maybe something really bad happens and our leaders, and our society as a whole, wake up and start taking right actions and following the principles of the eightfold path and the teachings of their own gods. Maybe then, we can all be better off in a #betterworld.
But let’s start simple, let’s accept that depression is a normal part of the human condition, but stigmatizing it isn’t and should not be any longer. More so, let us all commit to do whatever we can to help more people find a path through it so they can get the most of life for themselves and for the betterment of each and every one of us.
What an awesome week in DC. As an IBM Futurist (influencer, amplifier, thinker, whatever), they often invite me to attend various conferences and events to learn, to ‘report’ via social media and to help stimulate conversations with the participants who are usually IBMers, customers and potential customers. This trip was part of the #NewWayToWork tour they are producing, so they pay for the travel expenses and I get to just be myself and speak my mind. They ask for some pics and tweets, which I would do anyway, and they promote my work in support of the broader social media amplification of the brand and their forward thinking positions. More on the event this week in a little bit, as I want to recap what made it so awesome for me and my projects personally.
The New Way to Work event was just one of several highlights as I made the most of the travel opportunity to talk to more people about my community collaboration software, Will Someone. I was also working to line up some strategic consulting gigs, to fuel more development of the software, to host a kickoff BrainJam for We Are the Solution and spent time catching up with old friends and making new ones.
I started the week off by diving into the great community that Nicole Patrice has formed over the years, including her colleague Ross Buntrock, who was gracious enough to let me stay on his couch for the one night not covered by IBM. They are working on something that is simply stellar, but nothing to share about it just yet. I got to catch up with Cyrus Radfar who was in town from SF, out on the road like me meeting people to help grow his company, Kapuno. Then we had this sumptuous fall meal that Nicole prepared and great conversation for hours over some great wine with a bunch of folks in town for a Nature Conservancy event, many of whom are an integral part of the Summit community.
I’ve started privately sharing information on the first major project we are working to undertake surrounding We Are The Solution, the non-profit community organization we have recently launched. I was particularly inspired and found great hope in talking to Wayne Price, the original Summit documentarian, who is just an awesome human being, who just happens to live in the East Bay, not too far from my home. Then I got into a great conversation with Margot Machol about her upcoming book where she interviewed something like 60 entrepreneurs and their mothers. Apparently, they all share what I was fortunate to have, a mother who instilled a deep belief that we could do anything. I think she’s going to be doing some cool things hopefully with Blab now that I introduced her to the concept, but still lots to discuss ahead of the book launch.
Before heading off the next morning to a meeting with my old friend, advisor and hopefully soon to be team mate, Thomas Vander Wal, Nicole, Ross and Rick were gracious enough to listen to my vision for Will Someone and the broader ecosystem we are building. Thomas and I reviewed our nextgen plans for Will Someone, caught up on life, other work and our usual reminiscing about what we tried to create in 1999 around conversational intelligence with Conversal. After our conversation, I had a chance to go have lunch with one of my fraternity brothers and finally eat at the new Exchange, our old college bar.
Rushing from there back to the hotel and being stymied by a few administrative snafus, I finally got into my room in time to interview Doug Foulds as part of my new #CXDNow series on Customer Experience Design. This is something they are paying me for, sponsoring the show, so I was a bit anxious before the show and a bit more when we kept hitting some technical challenges during the show, but as usual, it worked out great.
With only a few moments rest, I took care of some other work and took an Uber into Georgetown for a super high quality entrepreneur networking event. Tons of smart people, quick chat with Nicole to introduce her to someone working on cool related tech, a connection for one of my Wearable World mentorees and a great conversation with several other startup founders. I was hoping to go down to Fatoush to relive the late night mumchie quashing Fatoush Gyro, but apparently, its closed now, so I just ate some Kebobs and headed home to get some work done and get some rest.
I woke up refreshed to head to the US Institute of Peace for the IBM New Way to Work Event. At the last minute the day before, they asked myself and Mark Babbit to participate in a fireside chat format event on the marketing track. Really grateful for having a chance to spend more time with him, he’s wise, smart, cool and just a great guy to hang around. Apparently we did a pretty good job, you can see a pic of us and the graphic recording that was made of our discussion below. When people were leaving, they were apparently quite impressed and amazed at how rich the workshop was. That it wasn’t just a typical sales pitch, but instead a real conversation with inspiration, solid strategy and even tactical advice. Several remarked that they were kind of bummed about how tough things had gotten but were feeling energized and inspired to go back to work and create change. #GoalAccomplished
After the event, we had a great lunch with Mark and Adriana Zegarelli where I learned how organizations thrive by going “Beyond Budgeting” from our other lunch mate Steve Player, Steve is a super smart guy who is also a fan of the work of Doug Kirkpatrick and the Self Management Institute. I then headed to a couple of meetings with my friends at the US State Department down the street to catch up and talk digital diplomacy. It turns out that the Gov2Gov event that Lovisa Williams and I hosted in 2009 with Dominick Campbell and our ‘special friends’ in the Canadian Embassy over in London inspired a thing of its own, the Digital Diplomacy Coalition. So cool. I so often think I’ve accomplished nothing in my life so far, but this week I was reminded of all the ways I really have made a contribution to the world which really has me psyched for all the great stuff to come. After catching up with Lovisa, I was able to reconnect again with Archana Poddar who also works at the State Department and get her insights on a few projects I am developing. Awesome people working to make government better.
From here I ran into the evening, first with a stop for happy hour Oysters at the Old Ebbits Grill with Mark Babbitt, then for a quick catchup at The Hamilton with my old boss from the US Mint (wrote a bit about her and my time there recently), and finally to catch up with another one of my fraternity brothers, Andrew Keenan to talk life, politics, beers and social activism. Afterwards, I stopped by my favorite DC restaurant, Zaytinya, shhh don’t tell anyone how great it is. Then off to the hotel to get all the video editing for #CXDNow now and publish the blog post.
With only a few hours sleep, I headed off to Busboys and Poets to host the first BrainJam for We Are The Solution. Almost 10 years ago, we held one of the first BrainJams in DC. We had several people cancel, but with the 5 of us who were there, including Todd Tweedy who was at the first one, it actually worked out quite well, with everyone getting something meaningful. There is amazing power in our focus question – “What are you trying to accomplish? How can I help?” It proved itself in DC, and I can’t wait to see more of them happening in DC, across the country and even around the world.
Special thanks to Todd and Audience Machine for sponsoring breakfast. Kathy Chamberlain for letting us know about all the other great things already happening in DC that is similar, including the Social Enterprise DC group. Ricardo Abella for participating and sharing his story. Special thanks to Alexandra Long, who was at the IBM event the day before and gave me inspiration to keep going, to let me know that my stories and insights were making a difference. Even greater still, for her volunteering to help create the Journey Map for We Are The Solution that we are building as one of the practical how to segments of the #CXDNow series.
Towards the end, Nicole Patrice was able to join us and serve as a living breathing human example of the sort of impact we had previously with Social Media Club by inspiring people all over the country to convene their tribes, to embrace our mantra, “If you get it, share it”. Hearing her tell everyone about her experience traveling around the country and connecting with local SMC chapters, was a big part of my realization that while what I hoped to create didn’t fully manifest, what SMC produce was not only meaningful, but a beautiful expression of my original intent.
By the time I had finished sharing a full demo of what we built with Alynd, she had already introduced to me to three of her Summit friends. From Busboys and Poets, I headed over to Teaism for lunch with my dear friend and former coworker Sacha Cohen. After getting back to the hotel, I ended up connecting with one of Nicole’s suggested contact’s, Tyler Kellogg, who traveled across country helping people in a similar spirit of what I have been striving towards, but in human to human contact at a very personal level. You can hear more of his inspiring story here from his TEDx talk in Greenville.
So then it was off to the airport and onto the plane where I wrote up the highlights of this crazy week in DC, the epicenter once again for a massive change in my life. A week where I have truly lived my true purpose for this life, a life that is much more important then my experience of it, but which is also just pretty amazing, filled with amazing friends, crazy big dreams of a better world and the sort of hope that we can be the change we want to see, and ultimately see that change manifest in the world.
The time is now. You too can make a difference. So what’s stopping you?
Over the coming weeks, perhaps you can join us as we host more BrainJams in support of We Are The Solution. Check out these dates and if you can, come help us help you to make the world the best it can be, because while WE face many challenges, we are the solution to it all. If you are interested in helping, simply comment here or head over to the web site and subscribe to our Newsletter and we will invite you into our Slack group.
- San Francisco – October 22, 2015
- London, UK – October 30, 2015
- Dublin, Ireland – November 5, 2015 (during Web Summit)
- Bilbao, Spain – November 18, 2015 (during EEC)
Note: This post outlines our plan for a video project / documentary we are producing while in Austin next week.
Many of you, like myself, have spent the past several years, or decades perhaps, focused on inventing and building our future. Through our own personal experiences, challenges and insights we’ve made decisions about where we wanted to invest our time and energy and what outcomes we wanted to produce. For some, it has been a movement. For others, a family. For others, building a business to solve both small and large problems. For others, its been about manifesting a vision of something never before imagined possible. And for others still, it’s simply been about getting by in an increasingly fast paced, overly complicated and increasingly connected world.
While we are on one hand still fighting poverty, injustice and inequality, we are truly standing at the dawn of an even more incredible future then we might have even imagined just a few years ago. In fact, my Alynd Co-Founder Rawn Shah made the point during our Work Hackers Salon the other night that the Renaissance could be considered a failure due to the limited participation it produced in the upside of the prosperity and knowledge it generated. His point was, can you imagine what we are capable of within our connected society today, where we have access to each other and so many enabling technologies? Indeed, a new age of enlightenment is already underway, but the era ahead of us can be even more spectacular then we can even imagine.
This is why I want to bring people together in painting a picture of what we want our tomorrow to look like and sharing our blueprints for how to build it. The real challenge is, how do we look past how things are and begin to make them how they should be? Can we transform large slow moving conservative organizations or are they beyond hope? With a sense of unease coming from a perception that both corporations and governments are failing humanity, and a market that is seemingly unfair and out of balance, how can we break free from what we have always known to create a better tomorrow? What are the most important things for us to understand? Where should we invest our most precious and limited resource, our time?
So next week in Austin, we will connect and have conversations with the many great people who are leading us towards this future. We will seek to discover more about their own noble pursuits and see if we can determine how we can each find the courage that it takes to lead others into this future with us. While George Bernard Shaw famously said “all progress depends on the unreasonable man”, Building Our Future is not a solitary act, but the collective actions of millions spread around the globe. In the connected society of today, perhaps he would have said “all progress depends on the connected man’s ability to gather others for collective action.”
This is post is an introduction into the idea behind “Building Our Future”, to bring together leading futurists, entrepreneurs, executives, influencers and those who are on the front lines, leading us into a better tomorrow within our deeply connected society. There are of course, many worthy areas for discussion, but we’ve identified a few key topics that we believe to be the macro-trends around which our collective future is being built.
- The Future of Media and Brands (request VIP Access to this Round Table here)
- The Future of Work and Careers (request VIP Access to this Round Table here)
- The Future Economy
- The Open Web That Connects Us
So next week in Austin, from Friday March 7 through Monday March 10, 2014, we are gathering the leaders and the tribes who are already in town for that big interactive conference. We will be hosting round tables on each of these topics (links to come shortly) and interviewing leaders with visions of the future and stories of transformations to share. You can request an interview time slot using this form – be sure to explain what topic you want to address and a little more on your story. For the round tables, we will be using the same format we did for the Social Media Clubhouse in Austin in 2010 – in short, a handful of featured speakers/guests and other subject matter experts in the audience to lob in questions and participate on a more limited basis.
We are still seeking sponsors/investors in this project. Our goal is to collect as much footage as possible while in Austin from conversations with the people who are building our future, so that we might be able to create a long form video/documentary that we can release in a few months. We have different sponsorship levels available from $2,500 to $25,000. Only $10,000 gets you a co-producer credit, a small one hour meet up on Saturday or Sunday and a room at the Echo Studio, which is being held at a beautiful bed and breakfast just off of South Congress about a mile from the convention center.
More info to come on the bigger story behind this idea shortly, but if you have any questions, please feel free to email firstname.lastname@example.org
Many thanks to Sponsors Echo, Ancestry, Alynd and many other in-kind sponsors for their support of this effort. [disclosures: long time friends with Echo, for who I am producing this event; my wife works at Ancestry.com and Alynd is my new startup we are previewing next Sunday, so it is still just a family affair, though that will change shortly with your help]
Today (Friday September 20, 2013) I am in New York City participating in the Work Revolution Summit. While I have many professional and personal reasons for participating, not the least of which is our new Social Business SaaS company Alynd and our desire to fix what is most broken with work, I am here focusing on one big, yet simple idea. That the shift in the balance of power we are experiencing as consumers in our relationships with brands will soon be coming to our work lives and the relationship we have with our employers.
More specifically, I believe it is time for us to go beyond the constructs of the employment agreement and begin to embrace a new vision for an employee centric corporation. A simple, yet profound movement in this direction is the creation of an employee agreement that makes plain the more important aspects of the employee-employer relationship from an employee centric point of view, instead of a liability limiting corporate perspective.
The employee agreement is designed to make visible each employee’s purpose at work, defining who they are, what they can uniquely contribute and what they expect to be doing in the time they devote to the corporate mission. This should not be written in legalese, but in easy to understand, plain English. It should be openly and transparently shared internally with other employees, and in some cases, perhaps even publicly. It should be written in such a manner so that every other employee may not only understand their purpose and motivations, but also understand their strengths and what activities they personally expect to be doing at work each and every day. If you have every participated in a team sport, this may sound familiar to you, it’s what we do to win – work together, aligned towards our common goals in mind, body and soul.
If you are an individual change agent who wants to ignite this part of the Work Revolution but don’t know where to start. Here is something you can start today, right now in fact. The concept of the employee agreement starts out as a simple post to your intranet, employee forum, social network or blog that answers the questions: Who am I? What unique value can I contribute? What is expected of me? and Why am I here?
This isn’t a new concept, it is a new call to action for doing something meaningful about it without requiring permission or systemic change. Bill Jensen, change agent and thought leader on the future of work has long called for a New Work Contract. From his perspective, he sees the new work contract as an asset revolution. Employees (aka humans) aren’t just resources to be managed, but their time, attention, and ideas are assets. With the new work contract, like all assets, employers must respect the intrinsic value of those assets and provide a proper return to their investor.
In Bill Jensen’s “Work 2.0: Ten Year Report”, he found that business is “at war with its workforce”. Executives may not feel that this is the case, but ask any cog in the machine that is a big corporation and they can not only validate this sentiment, but provide story after story from their experience that supports this finding.
It may be hard to remember, but it wasn’t always this way.
In the not too distant past, the corporation served a central and lasting role in people’s lives. At the birth of the industrial era, there were ‘company towns’ built literally to house the employee population near factories and provide for their needs. As recently as the 60’s and 70’s, there was the notion of the ‘company man’, where an employee invested their entire lives working for one company that helped them develop both personally and professionally. They looked after each other with the utmost loyalty. The employees looked forward to getting their watch and their pension plan on retirement, when they could finally relax and move to Florida. More recently, this has become less and less true, while many employees continue to hope for the best.
Over the past few decades, there has become an increasing understanding that we are each CEO’s of our own careers. In the modern world, we each need to take responsibility for our prosperity both professionally and personally. Of course, there is still professional development opportunities in many companies, where they pay for training with important skills, send key employees to conferences to learn the latest techniques of their profession, and may even put them into an executive MBA program – if they have been recognized as being ‘management material’, and are willing to exchange a few more years of their life as part of the reimbursement. Unfortunately, for the average employee, they don’t see these sorts of opportunities for growth. Instead they go through the motions of setting professional development goals when that time of year comes around, telling their managers what they think they want to hear instead of telling them what is really in their hearts and minds.
Indeed, many professionals have taken this advice to heart and left their corporate jobs in pursuit of greener pastures. During the dotcom boom, as with the “forty-niners” of America’s westward expansion, many courageous souls left comfort and security behind to pursue a chance to strike it rich. Over the past few decades, an increasing number of knowledge workers have taken their careers and their futures into their own hands to become independent consultants, to spend more time with their families, to start their own businesses, to begin early retirement, to serve their communities, or to pursue their other dreams.
In short, there has been a great migration of the best and brightest talent away from the corporation. The idea that employees might have jobs for life is now a distant memory. They have lost faith in the corporation as companies and their leaders have proven they don’t really believe ‘that people are their greatest assets.’ Worse, most leaders have created strategies and policies that prove they don’t trust their employees as far as they could throw them. This challenge is perhaps more localized to the US, but the pace of this migration is increasing as more and more talented professionals realize that many of their so-called leaders are incompetent at best and sociopaths at worst.
As corporations have demonstrated their preference for at-will employment, many of their leaders have also clearly said they care more about shareholders and their personal bonuses then they do about the well being of their employees and the markets they serve. This is natural of course, because just like Pavlov’s dog, they will act in the manner in which they are rewarded and avoid the behaviors which cause them pain. Even though competitive strategy guru Michael Porter has pointed out the need to think about prosperity over profitability and shift our focus to creating shared value, it’s not a topic that has reached many boardrooms.
Further to this point, we have read recently that many corporate leaders see people merely as a ‘cost’. To some, they are merely resources, and not recognized as human beings. For too many leaders in the elite towers of power, ‘human resources’ are fungible, easily replaced by less expensive, and less experienced, humans, thus enabling greater profitability (and ensuring their personal bonuses). While people may be equal under the law and god, they are not fungible, each is unique and each brings a unique value to the work they perform, and to the dynamics of their teams. Just ask any manager that has tried to hire a skilled replacement for one of our aforementioned workers that promoted themselves to CEO of their own career.
At the same time we have seen incredible gains in productivity over the last several years. While they are surely driven in part by technological advances and other gains in global market efficiencies, I believe that there is another driver. There is a fear among those who remain in the corporation, who have not yet realized they are their own CEO, that the proverbial axe may fall at any moment, leaving them without an income and without security for themselves and their families. They have less resources, but put in 120% effort in order to keep their jobs, and hopefully get a promotion and/or a raise, which often times simply doesn’t come. Worse, some of these individuals do not have ‘new world skills’ as they have been too busy working as cogs in the machine, sustaining the status quo, and trying to look after their loved ones, their communities and their own personal interests.
These symptoms unfortunately speak to a more fundamental unraveling of the status quo of the socioeconomic foundations of our society that is creating a future that few senior executives are able to comprehend, and to which even fewer will be able to adapt. Meanwhile, individual employees are being forced to adapt to a world of constrained resources and increased expectations. Over the past several years, their personal technology became vastly superior to that provided by their employers. So they started bringing their own devices to work, raising expectations and demands on their IT departments. Douglas Neal and John Taylor of Leading Edge Forum identified this “Consumerization of IT “as an emerging trend over a decade ago, and yet many corporations are still in reactive mode, with many treating it as if it is a foreign and unworkable concept.
Now there is not only more access to thousands of channels of entertainment, but access to more information, from media outlets, from trusted friends and from familiar strangers. All available on demand, in real time. The advancement of our connected society has been reaching into all organizations, of every size, from every sector. Still, few corporations have been quick to embrace the idea of becoming a connected company or deploying social business technologies. Even as their customers, and the dollars they provide as their wellspring of life, demand it of them.
As Dell Hell and many other examples since has shown, this demand is not one to be taken lightly. Corporations have been forced to respond, with few prepared or willing to embrace it as an opportunity, and the majority being reluctant to even consider its impact on operations beyond the use of social media as another marketing and support channel. Even still, brand managers are perplexed with their new roles in a world where they fear that the consumers control their brand, and their jobs by proxy. The truth is that this idea is a misnomer. Consumers don’t control the brand, but they do help shape it, and they have a greater degree of influence on how others perceive the brand then ever before. Ultimately, the corporation controls whether or not they are delivering on their promise and whether or not their marketing and communications efforts are an accurate reflection of the reality of the brand experience. This is what has actually changed. The market will not be deceived through false statement and exaggerated claims in a connected society. In this way, both the consumer and the corporation share control of the brand.
Fundamentally, in the market itself, we have recognized a shift in the balance of power from companies to their customers. If a company, or a disgruntled customer service representative unhappy with their employer, treats a customer poorly, or has a policy that is clearly unfair, that customer is likely to turn to Twitter or Facebook or their blog to complain. Whether they have 5 or 500 or 500,000 followers may indeed change the speed and nature of the response, but increasingly, they may actually get a response that is different than if they had called the company’s customer service line, waited on hold for 30 minutes and gotten nowhere.
While we haven’t seen this shift occur widely in the employer – employee relationship just yet, I contend we stand on that precipice. This is certainly the case in Silicon Valley, where rising salaries, benefits, flexible work schedules and seemingly outrageous perks are the norm. In fact it has gotten so ridiculous that it is nearly impossible for new companies to recruit top programmers in the valley and many are actually considering setting up development in far away cities. Of course, the developing world sees this as an opportunity, with outsourced software development being performed in Russia, China, Poland, Chile, India, Phillipines, and other far flung corners of the globe.
The war for talent is a complicated issue. The need for corporations to win this war is obvious. If you are to compete in a world where invention and intelligence are your best weapons for winning market share and earning the trust and loyalty of customers, it is a war that must be won. Hence the win at all costs approach of the largest companies in the largest markets, and the very visible way in which top talent is disproportionately rewarded.
But it’s not all about perks and cash. For an increasingly growing number of employees, it’s as much if not more about connecting with a deeper purpose in their lives. As with consumers who are making purchase decisions based on how green or socially responsible a company is, employees too are now choosing employers who are more closely aligned to their purpose and their interests. Those who realize they are the CEO’s of their own careers, but who dislike the multitudes of hats they must wear as an independent contractor, are seeking enlightened employers where they can earn a good living while living true to their purpose. Organizations who are realizing this and building organization structures and policies to attract and retain top talent are winning. Dave Gray in his book The Connected Company calls out many examples; among them well known names like Amazon, Semco, Nordstrom, SAS and Whole Foods.
While not all corporations are able to adapt fast enough to this changing world, there are some simple steps that can be taken in the right direction. An invaluable first step is recognizing the importance of purpose at work, and nurturing employees to find and connect with what matters most to them. There is no place where this reality is seen more clearly then at Zappos, where they cultivate individuality by helping employees realize as much happiness and success in their life away from work as they do at work. While many more, like my former employer Deloitte do this through sabbaticals and integrating community service opportunities via paid volunteer programs and pro-bono services, there are other simple ways this can be accomplished.
As mentioned at the onset, there is a very simple step that anyone can take right now towards bringing their purpose to the forefront of their work. It requires no permission, and should not require forgiveness. First, you must do the somewhat harder effort to get clear about what your purpose is, so you feel it as your truth as much as you can intellectualize and rationalize it. Then you merely need to share your purpose with others inside, and potentially even outside of your company. Share it on your internal employee profile, across the enterprise social network, in speeches at all hands meetings, and most especially in more intimate settings with the teams on which you work.
This is something I did personally while working at Deloitte Consulting, and it really felt incredibly liberating. While I can say that it shocked some, it also generated a great deal of trust and respect for my willingness to be transparent, and to be so clear in declaring my purpose for why I was working at the firm. I made it clear and stated plainly that I had taken the job at Deloitte for two reasons. First was a matter of urgency, I took the job to advance their social media and social business efforts because I needed the money. After several years running a non-profit community organization, it was time to find financial security, pay off my debt, and get into a position where I could once again become an entrepreneur.
But money alone was not my purpose, just a reason and an impetus. What moved me to choose Deloitte over several other options was a desire to have a front row seat to the great restructuring that would allow me to understand how large, traditional organizations were adapting to the great restructuring being forced on them by the advent of our connected society and widespread market adoption of social technologies. More importantly perhaps, was getting a chance to help them with that transition, to convince them of the necessity and opportunity. While a few scoffed at these statements and fixated on my stated financial need, those who came to know me, who heard the passion and truth in my voice, realized that it was a deep desire to be part of the change I have long sought to see in the world.
In this way I earned the respect of many, particularly the large millennial work force at Deloitte. Not only for the higher purpose I had communicated, but for my willingness to state it so clearly and openly. Regardless of what your thoughts may be on the recent millennials at work discussion, I can tell you with absolute certainty that what they and all other members of our work force want is to be told the truth. They crave someone who will shoot straight with them and not pretend that a challenge or unpleasant fact is untrue when it clearly is. They also crave leaders who can inspire and support, not managers who will nitpick and obfuscate.
I did more then declare my purpose at work though, I also declared what I did well, and what I did poorly. I made clear who I was, as a human being, as a member of the industry I helped cultivate and as an employee of the firm. It gave me back a great deal of energy I would have normally wasted, because I was able to be myself and not pretend to be what I thought others expected of me – I didn’t waste emotional energy being someone I was not. While in some cases it didn’t necessarily serve my better interests, it freed me to live my truth, to give my best and to find greater meaning everyday. It also kept me connected with that purpose on a regular basis, staying focused on why I was there everyday, enabling me to get through the rough days and really celebrate the great ones.
This experience got me thinking about the nature of the employment agreement, and how it defined the legally necessary aspects of the contract designed to protect my employer, and how little of the employment agreement was designed to serve my interests. In fact, while I negotiated a salary that was to my liking, none of the other terms of that agreement was negotiable. The rest of it, from intellectual property assignments, to sick leave and benefits, was a take or leave it proposition as it is in virtually all large corporations. Now, to be clear, Deloitte has awesome benefits (really) and there was little I would seek to be changed in that regards, so I willingly entered into the agreement with a full understanding of its terms, even the few with which I disagreed. This point is being raised relative to the general nature of the employment agreement itself rather than a complaint with the one I signed.
Ultimately, what I realized was that the shift in the balance of power, the war for talent and the coming changes to the structure of the corporation will necessitate that the employment agreement, and how we enter into it, will change too. While corporations will fight back saying they can’t efficiently manage different contracts with different terms for each of its employees, the current state of compliance by fiat will not survive as it is in the future of work. Soon, I hope, we will reach a tipping point where there is a true balance of power between the employee and employer that is more the norm then the fringe.
The employee agreement expects the employee to fully and deeply answer the questions “Who am I, why am I here and what value can I offer others with my time, experience and ideas?” By making the answer visible to others, and enabling them and their employer to enter into a truly two-way relationship, the employee will not only be better aligned with the company, but also with other employees. In this way, while they are getting their work done and contributing their unique value, they are also able to connect more directly and consciously with their purpose for entering into the agreement, increasing their level of engagement, increasing their value contributed and decreasing their emotional energy wasted.
While the idea of the employee agreement template I suggest here is a simple one, where we collectively go from here, remains to be seen. In fact, I look forward to your thoughts and comments here so that we might together begin to redefine the employee-employer relationship. If we begin to take these small personal steps, we can all begin to better see our colleagues at work and improve our collaboration with each other. In this way, through these straight forward but powerful questions, we might not only be able to make our work more meaningful, but we might just find a better path to living our lives in alignment with our unique purpose.