Managing staff as an online community

Dunno if that’s the right title but it will do for now.

Found this little snippet by Bryan Zilar at WebMonkey, via umm Wired I think.

Heather Gold is the inventor of something she calls Open Source Management. Through her company, Subvert, she stresses the importance of bringing socially open technologies such as wikis and blogs — as well as good, old fashioned face to face meetings — into the arena of personnel management. By using these open source tools, employees get a chance to contribute to the culture of their workplace. They can share ideas, build new relationships, and increase the level of communication across all levels of their company.

I was thinking about how to run forums in a company, and have the employees rate and rank ideas. Sort of “We are beta testing this product and how do you think it would go?” But people are paranoid. Even if you let them create user names like Slacker12 and NotReallyJoe, they won’t participate. Unless its outside of the company.

Then you are looking at a generic company who hosts forums and online communities. Then the bosses will be the paranoid ones – security, what if it got into the press, etc. And Hell have no fury like a flame war between staff. Actually there are ways of handling these managment concerns but it is tricky, no getting away from it.

Helen Gold makes an interesting point in the interview:

The core idea behind my Open Source Management forums is that if a business started to apply some things it likes about its code — inclusiveness, openness, transparency — to its human interactions, people would be happier. The business would be more honest, and therefore more sustainable and productive over the long haul. The goal is for people to be vulnerable with one another.

Vulnerability. Not something we usually associate as a positive in the workplace is it?

A nice question to ask your staff on internal forums is: what part of our business can we ask our customer to do? and how? After the initial response – eh? we get paid to do stuff for them, why would they do stuff for us? for free? – some interesting responses would come in. One guy might know of a customer who created a funny video, another one has an idea for a mash-up, some hyper consumers might like to create wiki-FAQs on your products and services. Something might just come out of it, if you approach it with a sense of humour and respect.

There’s a role in here for the careers.com.au and jobs.net.au. If I had the energy and time, I’d pull in feeds of the job ads and run them with the ability to make comments. Such as “don’t work here, it sucks” and “hey that’s MY job, why are they advertising it???”. I doubt I’d make any money from advertising but gosh, it’d be a popular site! Ah well, maybe careers.com.au could come up with a middle ground – wiki info on the company by staff (the stuff you search for when interviewing, org charts and whatnot) and testimonials by staff? Not sure about testimonials anymore. If someone did create a BitchAboutYrJob site, those ‘testimonials’ would have a higher standing than company endorsed ones. Someone is going to have to be brave here and bite the bullet and open HR/recruitment/job ads into an open forum. Remember, a lot of jobs are made known by word of mouth. That is simply NOT being utilised on the best medium for it – the internet. I think LinkedIn has something like a jobs database, created and managed by the users, with a comments function. Project managers know other project managers, techies know techies… yeah I know, you guys know all this stuff. Funny though, LinkedIn just doesn’t do it for me. I would want a real jobs/careers community to create it, not a faux-network. Others will think otherwise.

BTW I love Bryan Zilar’s little blurb:

Bryan Zilar is a world traveller and technology writer living in Austin, TX. He is currently working on a killer Hollywood screenplay. His primary interest is how digital will kill the video star.

NetStars are about to arise properly (yes I know I’ve been saying it for 10 years but it will happen) – Google Leeeeeroyyyy Jenkiiiins from WoW as an example; they are arising out of MMORPGS (interactive movies, otherwise known as online games) and podcasts. Once they cross over into mainstream media, we’ll have a new set of digerati fashionistas. Digeristas? Fashionatis? *rolls eyes* 10 bucks for a virtual autograph, y’all!

EDIT: Hill & Knowlton BreakfastBytes have a bloglet on moving from ‘old’ knowledge management platforms to ‘new’ collaborative wiki style one. I noticed that The McKinsey Quarterly is looking at software as service, to save CIOs money on the chore of certain common business apps (such as running knowledge management?). Could be an interesting business model there. 🙂

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Laurel Papworth

Named by Forbes™ Magazine in the Top 50 Social Media Influencers globally, named Head of Industry, Social Media (Marketing Magazine™) and in the Power150 Media bloggers (AdAge™). CERT IV Training and Assessment certified trainer (Diplomas and Certificates etc) Adult Education. Laurel has manager Facebook Pages for Junior Masterchef, Idol, Big Brother etc. and have consulted on private online communities for banks Westpac, not for profits UNHCR & governments in SE Asia. Lecturer, social media, University of Sydney for 10 years and Laurel has 11,000 online students. Laurel Papworth personally connects to 6 million followers online and has taught around 100,000 people in the last 10 years how to be social media managers.

7 thoughts on “Managing staff as an online community

  1. “She is the inventor of…”?

    Not saying it’s not true — just saying it’s a mighty big call, considering the number of people who advocate open intra-organisational communication using the latest enabling technologies.

  2. I’m guessing she has a patent on a product, or a business process, called Open Source Management? And yeah, the concept has been around since ’empowering your staff’ was the answer to everything personnel. 🙂

    BTW thanks for commenting; if you hadn’t of, I wouldn’t have noticed transposing Bryan Zilar for Bryan Zilch. Oopsie. Me fix now!

  3. Hi steven and laurel,

    I’m no Madame Currie, nor do I pretend to even play one on the Internet. webmonkey used the word “inventor.” I basically apply what I’ve learned about through solo performance to business. I do stuff “offline” ie. between alive people in a room together and I’m focussed on remembering how to be a human being first.

    I help people feel safer being vulnerable in front of each other so that can experience the immediate effect this has on communication and creativity. And I wish that there was a way of explaining that without using the word “safe” or sounding as touchy feely as it probably does.

    The business world is an awesome source of material.

    I have no patents pending, I just think it would be cool if we could be ourselves all day long and people wouldn’t have to learn some foreign Power-pointy language to talk at their jobs.

    Of course, when that day comes business won’t be such a great source of material, but that would be cool.

    I’m sure Jon Stewart would trade his material source for an open and honest government. Well, maybe.

    Here’s a wiki socialtext just helped me start because a a really nice reader got in touch with me after the webmonkey piece and wanted to help further the idea. Please feel free to contribute and given credit where it’s due to anyone.

    Here’s some of the original text I sent to the interviewer when defining OSM and why I use that term.

    The core idea behind Open Source Management (OSM) forums is that if business started to apply some things it likes about its code (inclusive, open, transparent) to its human interactions, people would be happier and business would be more honest and therefore more sustainable and productive over the long haul. The goal is for people to be vulnerable with one another. But given how scary and that word seems to some business folks, I’m using OSM too. An acronym! That must be practical!



  4. Hey Heather, thanks for clarifying that. i went to the socialtext.net page but it’s asking me for a login id and password. Although I have a background in knowledge management systems and even team building corporate training style, I focus these days more heavily on the business models inherent in what is still seen as a primarily soft skills environment – online communities. But I have an interest in mixing up offline and online ones – support and reinforce real world behaviour by offering virtual alternatives.

    I read an interesting article from webcred (harvard uni) about critical differences between traditional media and bloggers. FOLLOW-UP
    In demanding that the “Grey Lady” blog Dave Winer wrote: “In the weblog world we don’t string together soundbites to create a ’story’ — we continually cover an area, and comment on developments over time.” This myth was punctured by Winer himself, who found out that when it came to following-up a story correcting some misinformation about him, the AP stuck with it, but the bloggers moved on.
    I’m not sure that’s entirely true, I think bloggers rely on the information being corrected, wiki-style, preferably by the main protagonists. Just like you did here 🙂

    Back to Open Source Management – nothing has ever levelled th playing field like wiki has. It’s brought that open source concept, so beloved by software developers and given it over to everyone. Developers love to throw out code into the community and say “hack that if you can, crack that if you can, improve on it if you can.” I love that that approach has now made its way into every level of society. So-called experts are now mixing it up with people who are just as knowledgeable albeit as a hobby. We have the ability to examine and cross examine ‘expert testimony’ of our peers and managers and gurus and make the world a better place. We just need that strange mixture of absolute confidence that our work and life bears that scrutiny and the vulnerability to accept advice/change/flames if we come up short. Sorta like a geeky dev. 🙂

    I’ve worked on collaborative systems for major companies that allow staff to see the nuts and bolts of the projects across Asia. Warts and all. The good, the bad and the downright awful. Thats quite a cultural shift – both regional culture AND corporate.

    I guess, what I’m saying is, if a company can’t be vulnerable to their staff and their staff don’t feel comfortable to be vulnerable with each other, how will they cope when the customer takes branding into their own hands by writing comments and feedback on their products or creating funny ironic ads? Anything we do these days has the potential to reach a massive massive audience. Bit like standing in front of 65 million people and then realising you forgot your undies. 😛

    And it’s not going away.

  5. Bit like standing in front of 65 million people and then realising you forgot your undies. 😛
    Dunno where my head was at – we reached our 1 billionth user recently. They got free tickets to the cinema and a goodies pack. Heh. 15% of the world’s population are online. *waves*

    2 billion expected online by 2011. Internet is growing at an annualised rate of 18%. But how are they going to all fit :p?

  6. hi laurel,

    The wiki should be open know and not ask for any kind of log in.


    I think you’ve said it perfectly: “how is a company going to be open to its customers” (eg. user-generated marketing / branding interactions) if it cannot be that way internally?
    The move to oppen-ness is a challenge to existing feelings and ideas about what makes a business secure. But our fears always are what make us get in the way of the thing we want the most. If you’re a CEO and you want your employees passionately involved in your business and caring about it, then you have to care yourself and listen to them. How can you continue to care about any business, institution, organization, friend, etc that will not listen to you and value your input. You can get meaningful help without being clear about what you need, and that means being vulnerable.

  7. I think the idea of an open forum on Company information as generated by employees is great an should be encourage. We live in a world where information is everything and why not know that your next boss is a control freak? It would certainly make our decisions a lot easier. It could go to the extend of having a deep profile of your boss before you start with that I mean a reverse psych test.

    We just bought www.jobs.net.au and you have given we great food for thought.

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