Values that matter

Posted: September 21, 2010 in Company culture, Motivation
Tags: , ,

My good friend Rasmus is heading up a small digital media company, Contentcube, in Copenhagen. They are by no measure a big company, but that’s actually part of the charm in what I’m about to tell you.

Recently I asked Rasmus what really differentiates them from other similar companies. The answer had nothing to do with superior skills (although I can tell it’s there in abundance) or bleeding edge technologies. Instead he said that they always do what they say they’ll do – and in their business it translates into ”on time and on budget – always”. A pretty simple differentiator and yet it’s where most competitors fail (trust me, I know) and guess what: Failure to stay on time and on budget is the number one frustration factor for customers. It’s what pushes customers away.

So how do they do it? What makes them better than anyone else? To answer that question let me tell you how they recently celebrated a successful year. Rather than just paying out big bonuses or throwing a party, they decided to relocate the whole company to Berlin for the entire month of August (which you have the privilege of being able to do if you’re a digital media company). Why did they do that? Well, for starters Berlin, to Copenhageners, is the quintessentially cool place to go if you want edge, inspiration and spot new trends. And by moving everyone for a whole month they created that good old holiday camp atmosphere, which, in a new and unique way, brought people together and created strong bonds. When I recently mentioned this to Guy Kawasaki he said, “What a great story”.

But how do they do it on a daily basis? Well, this post was inspired by a conversation I had with Rasmus yesterday. He’d been collecting good customer stories for a while and had realized that magic would arise whenever a customer was impressed by something a Contentcube employee had done. Right down to the little things such as suggesting small improvements which the customer hadn’t expected or finishing tasks or jobs early. It’s not unlike the Zappos core value of always aiming to wow their customers – and it’s the exact opposite of the commonplace “just good enough” attitude you find in so many companies. Always aiming to impress customers, walk the extra mile, try harder and wow customers, inspires employees to be proud of and passionate about what they do. And pride and passion are the cornerstones of a great company.

Contentcube now has “aim to impress customers” as one of their key targets – and it’s something they’ve started measuring. Thumbs up for that and good luck to Rasmus and his team moving forward!

For more inspiration about measuring what makes life worthwhile, check out this Chip Conley TED talk:

In this past week I was fortunate enough to play a key role in the launch of DSB Labs – an open data community by the Danish Railways. For a while I have been following and been mesmerized by the open data movement, right across initiatives such as Tim Berners-Lee’s (TBL) Linked Data, Tim O’Reilly’s (TOR) Gov 2.0 and Barack Obama’s data.gov. I like TBL’s analogy of data being the unhidden goldmine no one can see on the surface, but whose potential is profound – and I totally agreed with TOR’s mantra to redefine government’s role to that of “government as a platform” as opposed to a vending machine of ready-made citizen services.

When you look at data in that light, all of a sudden the release of locked and proprietary data becomes one of the biggest untapped potentials in the world today. A cause worth fighting for. With DSB Labs we’re obviously focusing on the daily needs of commuters and travellers, but if we move beyond travel, open data has already proven to be an excellent crowdsourcing aggregator. During last year’s Haiti earthquake open data helped the relief efforts in a very real way, when GeoEye allowed the open source community to use its satellite data to allow people all over the world to edit the Open Street Map and thereby greatly facilitate efforts on the ground. Impressive – and that’s just the beginning.

My vision is to see all non-confidential data – commercial and public alike – released worldwide to allow all creatives, developers, nerds, visionaries, well, frankly, all citizens to offer their angle on data, because – in the words of Jacob Bøtter (see video below) – the data owners don’t have all the answers.

I had the pleasure of interviewing and filming some of Denmark’s open data protagonists last week and ended up producing this video for DSB Labs. A subtitled version will follow.

Thanks to the following visionaries for making DSB Labs possible and/or for making themselves available for the video: Henrik Jessen, Ronni Egeriis Persson, Kim Jonasen, Kristian Stangerup, Nursel Yildirim, Anne Mette Koch, Rasmus Viemose, Simon Bønløkke, Jacob Bøtter, Søren Rindal Nielsen, Tore Vesterby, Klaus Silberbauer

We had been struggling with our dishwasher for a while. Plates, forks and knives came out dull (and not at all clean and shiny the way they were supposed to). It really is a major pain in the neck. I don’t know about you, but with these kind of things I always feel it’s my own damned fault – for not rinsing the plates properly, for not using the right kind of soap, for not adding enough salt (or using the right kind of salt), dishwasher rinse, water hardness settings and what not. You get the picture.

It’s one of those things in life where you really have to rely on an expert, although in the past I have always felt somewhat at loss with dishwasher service technicians – not that we’ve had a steady flow of them – but I’ve always felt they either didn’t give a toss about me as a customer, just wanted to get the job done and out the door as soon as possible or needed to charge me an outrageous fee for something they couldn’t even bother explaining to me.

In the end we had to call Bosch (the manufacturer) and so we set up an appointment. And this is where I was taken by surprise. I’d expected the usual anonymous, know-it-all, couldn’t-care-less kind of chap, but instead this real pro showed up. I won’t bother you with all the technical details, but let me say this: After 20 minutes I felt like an expert. I really rarely come across the kind of person who displays such pride and commitment in his job – in a genuine, not over-the-top kind of way. While he was working, he explained to me about the latest generation of low-energy dishwashers, properties of different types of soaps, the workings of salt, the importance of rinsing and dishwasher life expectancies. In the end I started to feel a bit emotional towards our 6 year old dishwasher…

Anyway, the message is this: The service technician, by simply enjoying and being proud of his work, had a dramatic, positive influence on my perception of Bosch, his employer. In fact, if you asked me right now, I wouldn’t dream of buying another brand, which brings me to my last point: A great company brand is a result of a great company culture, which in turn produces inspired employees, who wow customers. You really can’t fake it.

Oh, and by the way, the dishwasher runs like a Rolls-Royce now!

Those of you who have to listen to me every day or several times a week know that my conviction is that your culture is your brand. It’s one of the cornerstones of the world’s most celebrated online companies, Zappos, it’s the foundation of Chip Conley‘s boutique hotel chain, Joie de Vivre, and it permeates all the great business minds that I know of.

Yet, for so many years it’s largely been a forgotten virtue. Companies, organizations and cities have talked about rebranding themselves as if your brand is a coat you can buy, wear and discard at your convenience. Many companies have tried and failed.

I recently wrote a post about a local ferry company, Mols-Linien, who, in their 2009 annual report, announced the biggest advertising spending ever to “rebrand” the company in order to become more profitable. The advertising campaign had nothing to do with their culture (and actually ended up insulting a large population group – which is another good story). At the peak of the national television campaign a famous TV chef decided to test the restaurant on board one of the ferries and gave it one of the most appalling reviews I have ever come across (and 95% of all online readers agreed). The food was ridiculously expensive and the quality abysmal. When I investigated further into the company, I found that the ferry company just happened to be hiring chefs for their restaurants at sea – and alarmingly I realized that chefs, among very few requirements, had to have experience with just basic cooking and have a high stress threshold. Imagine that: Unskilled chefs cooking, under stress, with sub-standard ingredients at Michelin star prices. No wonder why the restaurants weren’t doing too well – and it also gave me a pretty good impression of the type of company culture (or lack thereof) you’d find on board one of those ferries.

The case of Copenhagen
Now, this is really just leading up to the real purpose of this post: The case of Copenhagen (you know, the venue of last year’s failed climate summit, the home of The Little Mermaid, at least when she’s not abroad visiting China, and Tivoli Gardens – you get the picture).

Last year, The Danish tourist council, VisitDenmark, decided to launch a covert branding campaign (you know where this is going, right?). They hired a young Danish actress and shot a 3-minute amateur video, in which the actress pretended to be Karen, a young single mother. The video was put on YouTube and in it Karen explained that this was her last resort trying to find the father of her baby son (featuring on her lap), who was conceived with a stranger (a foreigner) on a hot summer’s night in Copenhagen. Not surprisingly, within a very short space of time the video had generated several million hits and at first people were debating the authenticity of the video and soon after who was behind the stunt. Well, within days it was revealed that VisitDenmark was the culprit and that’s when the criticism started – both in Denmark and in several other countries.

The idea was to generate traffic and attract visitors by portraying Denmark as a country with liberal, open-minded, blond people, but instead Denmark came across naive and silly (at best). Shortly after VisitDenmark removed the video from YouTube, they closed all related websites and made an official apology. The video shown above is therefore a pirate version with much fewer hits than the original.

Wearing my your-culture-is-your-brand hat I would have to conclude that the campaign had to fail (if not instantly from the criticism, then at least longer term from the fact that it was a fairly lame fake that didn’t represent what you’ll find in Copenhagen).

Cycling Copenhagen, Through North American Eyes
The contrasting video (below) by Streetfilms’ Clarence Eckerson, Jr. was filmed during the Velo-City 2010 conference in Copenhagen in June 2010 and released in July 2010. It wasn’t sponsored by or paid for by anyone. It’s there because of Copenhagen’s unique cycling culture. No more, no less.

The contrast to VisitDenmark’s Karen video is striking and it begs the rhetorical question: Does it make sense to spend your money and efforts on a branding effort or on creating and developing a unique culture? You see, the same rules apply to companies, organizations, politicians – and cities.

Read the growing number of comments on Streetfilms.org.

I came across this fantastically inspiring speech, How Great Leaders Inspire Action, delivered by Simon Sinek at TED last year. It blows my mind that something so obvious (Sinek’s golden circles) is so hard to accomplish. Major credits to Simon for decoding the principles by which all great leaders communicate, whether they’re business people, politicians, activists or companies.

Sinek uses Apple, the Wright brothers and Martin Luther King as examples, but he could just as well have used Jamie Oliver, who is a true inspiration to follow, watch and listen to. He gave his TED speech (below) in February after receiving the TED prize. Jamie’s *why* is that he is “transforming the way we feed ourselves, and our children”. He uses words like “I want to revolutionize”, he is authentic and he is passionate. I suppose (no, I know, because my better half, Kerry, is a passionate food blogger on foodytwoshoes.com) there are thousands of other famous chefs out there, many probably more skilled than Jamie, but no one has defined their mission as clearly, inspiringly and with such integrity as The Naked Chef.

His is a cause worth fighting for. It evokes strong emotions in people. In fact how often do speakers at TED receive standing ovations?

Who else has a *why* worth fighting for?

Last year I wrote about motivation and Daniel Pink’s Ted video in which he revealed the blatant discrepancy between what science knows and what business does. I was puzzled because I, too, had been lulled into believing in sticks and carrots – so-called extrinsic motivation, which just doesn’t work and in many cases might even be counter-productive.

I promised myself to start looking for evidence of Pink’s assertions and, man, did I find it. My guess is I have had at least 100 conversations about motivation since then: With business leaders, parents, colleagues, my wife, my kids and teachers. I also recently finished reading Daniel Pink’s new book “Drive” and I was pleased to discover that it’s truly an abundance of wisdom about motivation – what motivates, what doesn’t, toolkits, suggested readings and a whole lot more. Highly recommended.

Here’s a 40-minute video in which Pink talks about intrinsic motivation based on “Drive”. Please let me know what you think motivates.

What I consider to be one of the key benefits of social media in organizations is this: It takes communications and collaboration into a whole new era.

But what if we’re not ready to take that plunge? Do we first need to declutter in order to reap the benefits of social media? I’m afraid yes. I have previously written about email being one of the biggest productivity barriers of our time. Well, how did email go from being the biggest thing since sliced bread (just 10-15 years ago) to becoming a real addictive nuisance to a lot of people? Well, like so many other addictions it’s difficult to deal with it rationally – simply because it’s all about brain chemistry. It’s not that we don’t understand the addictive nature of it, we just can’t help ourselves because we neeeed that dopamine rush.

So what’s the effect of adding a whole series of new social tools into the picture? Judging by consumer web 2.0 tools like Facebook, Twitter and YouTube things are probably not getting any simpler. My experience is that this generation of social tools is every bit as addictive as email (which can be both good and bad).

Life hacks

This is where life hacks will save you. According to Wikipedia “life hack refers to productivity tricks that programmers devise and employ to cut through information overload and organize their data”, however today “anything that solves an everyday problem in a clever or non-obvious way might be called a life hack”.

One of my favourite life hacks is still the one presented in Merlin Mann’s speech at the Google Tech Talks in 2007. It’s very very simple and yet not that many people actually do it. The clip takes almost an hour, but I tell you, it’s gonna be one of the best hours you’ve spent in a long time.

But I want to go one step further. I want companies to life-hack their inboxes and make room for some of the productivity-enhancing, joy-spreading and innovation-creating Enterprise 2.0 tools. And then I want them to life-hack their Enterprise 2.0 tools. I call it Digital Habits 2.0.

Last week I took part in a great Enterprise 2.0 conference in Copenhagen and it gave me a brilliant opportunity to talk to dozens of Enterprise 2.0 practitioners from industry and organizations – and, of course, the ‘gurus’ :)

A very common challenge among practitioners is the executive sponsorship – (ahem) or lack thereof. Even in companies which I would consider really having a finger on the pulse and being social media leaders, practitioners report lack of C-level sponsorship, lack of interest and, not least, lack of money. These are the same decision-makers who regularly fund ERP projects with seven or eight figure budgets. My conclusion, at this stage, is that top executives are still largely ignorant about Enterprise 2.0 terminologies and, at best, they are only vaguely familiar with terms like Enterprise 2.0, corporate social media, social computing, microblogging and wikis. At worst, they consider them a waste of time and believe we’re talking about Facebook.

But just like any other sound business decision, a decision to deploy corporate social media needs to be based on a sound business case. This is the merciless truth about corporate sponsorships and bags of cash to follow.

Drivers

Let’s look at some of the drivers. According to social media guru Suw Charman-Anderson, 38% of all employees get more than 100 emails a day, 13% more than 250 emails and 20% spend more than 4 hours a day sifting through emails. We check our emails on average every 5 minutes and it takes us 64 seconds to get our train of thought back on track after we deal with email. This means we spend 48 days a year figuring out what we were just doing. Email is quickly becoming the number one productivity obstacle. An organizational dinosaur. 1-0. Go figure out how much productivity potential lies in driving communication and collaboration from email to social media in your organization.

A recent study by the INSEAD and Wharton business schools provided overwhelming evidence that virtual brainstorming, or distributed idea generation as it’s also known as (e.g. wikis), outperforms actual face-to-face brainstorming. Let’s think about that one. “This has significant managerial implications: if the interactive build-up [of team brainstorming] is not leading to better ideas, an organization might be better off relying on asynchronous idea generation by individuals using, for example, web-based idea management systems.” So if your organization is focused on innovation, this is the way to go. 2-0 and it’s not even half time.

Bottom line, companies are beginning to reap major benefits in terms of higher revenues (through shared external networks), faster time to market (through more effective collaboration and innovation), lower employee turnover (through better talent attraction and retention) and higher productivity (through less duplication of efforts). The list goes on.

In the words of one of my Twitter followers:

“It’s certainly interesting to see what social computing can do for our existing organizations, but it’s even more interesting to see what organizations we can build with social computing”.

Let’s build your business case!

I’m a firm believer that Enterprise 2.0 is all about communications. It may be a bland statement, but it also emphasizes the fact that Enterprise 2.0 is first and foremost defined by an organizational culture in which communication in the form of dialogue flows freely and without constraints. That’s the very basic concept. It defines itself through organizations whose management understands that information is not power if kept to the chosen few, but if dispersed and enriched as a premise for collaboration. Another core premise for a true Enterprise 2.0 culture is that it’s actively endorsed, supported, sponsored (call it whatever you want) by top management (preferably the CEO).

Meanwhile, we are now blessed with software and services, which can actually make the Enterprise 2.0 dream come true. Now, I have worked with knowledge management software since 1999 (when one of my customers accidentally fell in love with a very rudimentary learning system from SAP and wanted to use it for sharing of general company knowledge) and things have changed very dramatically since then. Back then we all had rather wet dreams about collaboration, but the whole culture of sharing, voting, rating, commenting, blogging and microblogging was still not around. A lot of the services which are now possible, wouldn’t have been possible, simply because people (employees) weren’t culturally and mentally ready for the leap. Web 2.0 helped change all that. A friend of mine recently said that we used to be inspired by software used at work and would introduce it onto our private computers, but now the trend has reversed and we are increasingly far more innovative privately and push to get the same software and services at work.

Jive’s product video below illustrates this point quite well. It addresses itself to the average guy who wants the social aspect back into his work life…

We really have a lot to thank the likes of Facebook, MySpace, Friends Reunited and LinkedIn for. Without them paving the way we wouldn’t be anywhere near the push and adoption rates we’re looking at right now. I recently took part in a conference about corporate social media and a speaker representing a company having introduced some elements of Enterprise 2.0 said the major push had come from the employees. Amazing – imagine if that had happened back in the old ERP days. That was when the mere mention of an ERP implementation was enough to make people quit and flee the company :-)

Anyway, I’m drifting and my intention in this blog post was to talk about the “app side of Enterprise 2.0”. Now that we have established that Enterprise 2.0 isn’t *just* a software suite you can roll out and, Bob’s your uncle, you have a communicative and collaborative company, we can move on to talk about those types of applications which can help fulfill the dream.

I generally categorize Enterprise 2.0 apps into these categories (but that’s just my slant on it – I’d love to hear your views):

  • Microblogs
  • Blogs (written and video)
  • Wikis
  • Chat/instant messaging
  • Collaborative tagging (folksonomy) of all internal and external content
  • Rating and commenting capabilities (for blogs, links, documents, images, people)
  • Profile pages (personal and skills content)
  • Merit awards/levels
  • Collaborative development of content
  • Groups
  • Network sharing (internal follow and view external contacts)

There are some really good narrow services like Yammer for microblogging, which are very widely adopted. And then there are whole suites incorporating more areas. At this stage I generally find that the narrow services are more cutting edge, but the downside is that you have to start looking at several point solutions.

Now that everything is electronic and all apps and services are internet-based (Gmail, Facebook, Twitter, Dropbox, Flickr, YouTube, Google Docs and what not) I feel more certain than ever that I won’t lose my “stuff”. I guess most of my e-stuff from the 90s is gone by now. I probably had some of it on some 3.5″ back-up disks or old computers, but now – it’s gone. Disappeared. Disparu.

It got me thinking the other day when I was looking for an old Facebook wall chat- it wasn’t old old, just a couple of months – and I realized it was almost impossible to find. Whose wall was it on? Was it mine? Who was in it? Anyway, it took me well over half an hour to locate it scrolling through 40-50 pages (the one shown here is another one I decided to keep). It was really good, it made me laugh all over again and I decided I wanted to keep it. But then I found that the only way to really keep it, was to screen-shoot it and save it in my Dropbox. Now, how old-fashioned is that? And what if, in 5 years time, I want to find something from today… I would take me weeks to find it.

It begs the question: How far back do Facebook, MySpace, Twitter et al keep their records?

It also begs the plea: Can someone please launch the service “My Social Stuff”! What I want is something like this: When I read a wall chat I want a little icon next to it that I can hit and it’ll save that chat to my social stuff. The same thing with pictures, tweets, links – basically everything from social cyberspace that I want to keep.

In My Social Stuff I want a powerful Google type search engine, so I can find everything. Folksonomy so I (and my friends) can tag a chat “wedding speech” or “joke” for later reference.

Above all I want a virtual time capsule where I can keep and safeguard all my social stuff for many many years.