The “Non-Differents” and Community Management

Hey – Chris here. Recently, I was lucky enough to contribute to the development of a white paper written collaboratively by members of the Social Business Council.* The paper, 4 Essential Steps to Social Network Critical Mass, outlines key concepts required in order to ensure successful adoption of an enterprise social network.

The paper offers some great, practical advice for encouraging adoption, and I encourage you to read it and to share any thoughts you may have about it with me. I wanted to talk specifically in this post, however, about the experience of collaboratively co-authoring this document – or any document, and about two key themes that surfaced from this experience.

First, our team’s “non-difference-ness.” The contributors of this paper were savvy social business and collaboration practitioners, yet this did not exempt us from very common collaboration challenges. Second, we experienced the importance of effective community management, which ultimately allowed us to overcome these challenges and arrive at a solid final product.  

We thought we were different

We came together from different industries, disciplines, backgrounds, and continents, connected by our experience in enterprise social business and collaboration initiatives in our respective organizations. And like the sage social business practitioners that we were, we knew how to avoid common challenges by asking the key questions up front. What are the objectives? Where can everyone add value? Who will own what? Who’s leading this? What does the deliverable look like? This isn’t part of the day job – how will everyone stay actively engaged?

Collaboration was the world in which we lived every day. We assumed that we would easily answer these questions, and move on. Everyone seemed engaged, and being industry practitioners, we “got it.” The collaboration challenges that so many organizations struggle with wouldn’t apply to us. We were different.

Only, we weren’t


Non-differents: “Twins” starring Danny Devito and Arnold Schwarzenegger (1988).

We weren’t different. We faced the same difficulties answering those basic questions as anyone who has ever tried to bring a group of people together to build something collaboratively. It didn’t matter that we were the so-called “experts.” We were all still human beings. We still faced challenges in ownership of responsibilities, understanding each others’ strengths, continuing to make progress through the vacation-heavy summer months, divergent opinions on the best approach and even maintaining active engagement of all members.

Inside of large organizations, it’s easy to think that our challenges are unique to us. We are diligent in our project management methodologies. We have standard operating practices. The common issues in collaborative work should be long eliminated by now. We tell ourselves, “Our roadblocks are different and our pain is real.” And our pain is real, but the challenges we face are remarkably similar across organizations.

This has never been highlighted so clearly as it was recently at JiveWorld, where people from every possible industry came together to share experiences. We heard the same questions and challenges repeated over, and over, and over again. It clicked – none of us are any different. No, our challenges are everyone’s challenges.

This is an incredible opportunity. In our connected digital age, we can easily discover and connect with like-minded people from anywhere in the world. We can share and learn from one another. We can ask each other anything. As we accept that we are not all that different, we realize that others have been through it before (and have come out of the other side successfully). We don’t have to repeat the mistakes of those that have gone before us. We simply have to call on them for advice and guidance. Our “non-different-ness” offers us a great advantage. We are in this together!

A solution for the ‘non-differents’

With all of the potential challenges our group faced, there was one constant: our active and engaged Community Manager, Patrick O’Brien. Patrick took a leadership position and ensured our momentum throughout. Patrick was present. Patrick genuinely cared. And it made all of the difference.  Effective community management was a key factor that allowed us to collaborate effectively and create a superb final product.

Since we’re likely not that different from one another, effective community management could work for you, too. If you are a community manager or someone charged with bringing a group together to get a piece of work done, try these simple things. Your chances of success during your collaborative initiative will increase dramatically.

  • Wake up every morning genuinely interested and passionate about helping the group accomplish their work.
  • Help people understand where they fit and what the group is driving towards.
  • Empower those that are most passionate and engaged with ownership of responsibilities.
  • Elicit ideas – or put more simply, get the people talking. No idea is too small.
  • Engage people how and where they work. Online or offline.
  • As engagement fades, reach out to people to bring them back into the conversation.
  • Remind people of what the group is working towards. Provide encouragement that with help them get there.
  • Publicly and privately recognize great contributions and expertise.
  • Add the polish to the final product.

It’s up to you

Reflecting back on the group I described at the outset of this post, we (incorrectly) thought our experience and skills would allow us to overcome common, everyday collaboration challenges. Yes, we were “non-different,” too. Organizations aren’t all that different either. Organizations face the same challenges in fostering effective collaboration. Take comfort in this. Reach out to others who have been there before, and learn from them. Or, if you’ve been there, offer your experiences to those who are struggling.

Effective community management is one of the keys to effective collaboration. It is not rocket science. It’s not even that different from effective project management, or, more broadly, effective leadership. It seems simple, but it can tip the scales when it comes to supporting and eliciting effective collaboration within a group. You don’t need a designated job title to do this either – anyone can do it. It is up to all of us to bring out the best in our teams.

Does your team or organization share a narrative of being ‘different?’ Have you met others who are struggling with challenges similar to yours? Have you seen the impact an effective community manager can have? Let us know in the comments!


SBC*The Social Business Council was an informal community of internal and external social business practitioners.  This community, hosted by the Dachis Group, provided a space for practitioners to connect, share best practices and resources, collectively find solutions to problems. Recently, it was decided to permanently close the community doors. We would like to say a big thanks to all of the members, and specifically recognize Patrick O’Brien, the Council’s incredibly gifted Community Manager. Patrick will continue with Dachis as a Social Business Strategist. Thank you to all of the members and to Patrick for being such great social business ambassadors!

Bringing Home “Ask Me Anything”

We’ve returned from balmy Las Vegas where we attended the JiveWorld13 conference. What a remarkable event. The conference offered a perfect combination of real-life social business experiences, thought leadership, tech talk, forward thinking discussion and lots and lots of fun! There was ample content about the product itself but also a ton about the fundamentals of successful social business, regardless of what tech your enterprise may (or may not) have. It’s fair to say, then, that JiveWorld was like Vegas itself. There was something for everyone.

We could fill several posts with the takeaways that we gathered.  What we wanted to draw out in this post, however, were the conversations we had the fortune of having with several of the thought leaders and practitioners of social business.  Individuals such as John Stepper and Eve Eaton of Deutsche Bank, Dennis Pearce and Laura Becraft of Lexmark, Alban Rampon of ARM, Aaron Kim and Martin Teasdale of RBC, Simon Levene, formerly of PwC and now Jive, Tracy Maurer of UBM (and many others) selflessly gave us a substantial amount of their time to discuss ideas and share stories.

"Ask Me Anything"

“Ask Us Anything.” At the Calgary International Airport, the “White Hatters” roam around answering traveller’s questions. They wear white cowboy hats. Oh yes, they do.

Experiencing “ask me anything”

There are many awkward moments in networking, especially during the outset of a conversation.  You arrange a meetup, say, and find a quiet space with your new connection. You sit there. They sit there.  You look at them. They look at you. I guess I better ask them a question, you think. Perhaps you have a list of questions that you prepared in advance. It doesn’t matter much – starting the conversation is somewhat unnatural. The discussion gains momentum. Soon time’s up. That was ok, you think. On to the next meetup and away we go again…

The conversations we had at JiveWorld, however, didn’t quite go like this. We seemed to skip right over the awkward initial phase of networking and move directly into honest and open conversation. Spanning across industries, disciplines, even continents – we already had a shared sense of common purpose. We were all trying to create a positive transformation in our businesses – in all businesses. This was striking and reflective of a culture that underpinned the conference – a culture of openness and connectedness.

As we sat/stood facing our new connection, they seemed to genuinely communicate – although they may not have ever uttered the words - Go ahead. Ask me anything.  I’ll share with you. It was this “ask me anything” attitude that we found most significant about the JiveWorld conference. 

Bringing “ask me anything” home

If you are one of the lucky ones, you already enjoy an “ask me anything” attitude at your place of work.  If you don’t, here are some thoughts about how you can live this attitude and help others live it, too.

It starts with you. Change occurs by one person doing something slightly differently, another following, and so on, and so on. Want to implement an “ask me anything” attitude? Then do it. Lead with what you can give to others. Share selflessly. Be honest, authentic and present. When others put themselves out there, contribute. People will return the favour. If you know a colleague with expertise in a certain topic that you are also working on, invite them to share their thoughts on your work – publicly. If you are a leader or support one, an incredibly effective way to engage your team and demonstrate transparency is to simply say, out loud, “Ask me anything.”

Tech is helpful, but it’s not everything. If you already have an Enterprise Social Network (ESN), then it’s simple to engage in these sorts of conversations online. Recently Deutsche Bank, taking a note from Reddit, launched a series of “Ask Me” events in which a leader or key individual of the organization was virtually available for a set period of time to answer questions from employees. Not only did the employees engage and submit questions, but in some cases they continued to ask questions beyond the stipulated time frame. Recognizing the value of this employee energy, the leaders continued to answer. In so doing, the culture of “ask me anything” was produced and reproduced.

If you don’t have an ESN - that’s okay. Use a whiteboard in the lunch room. Do it in person (yes, a real conversation!). Ask for expertise from individuals in meetings. This inadvertently provides recognition to those people and demonstrates that you are transparent and open. It creates and invites others to participate in a positive and open workplace culture.

How do you, or could you, promote an “ask me anything” attitude at your place of work? Does your organization encourage such an attitude? How? Please share your experiences.

Going to JiveWorld – What We’re Excited About!

jiveworldNext week we will be going to JiveWorld - an annual conference about social software in the workplace. lf you’re not familiar with Jive, it’s an industry leading enterprise social platform. This conference is a bit different than typical technology vendor conferences in that the focus is not really on the tech. Instead, the focus is on customers telling their stories about how to get real value out of social platforms like Jive. We’ve been advised by a JiveWorld veteren to “pace ourselves,” so it sounds like this will be quite an exciting conference!

We sat down to discuss our goals for the conference and would like to share them here with you. Make sure to let us know what you think and what you would add in the comments below! We’re excited…

To connect with:

  • Real-life social business superstars. It will be great to finally meet some fellow members of the Social Business Council in person. In addition, we’re looking forward to meeting people who have helped in our journey by sharing their experiences through their blogs and other social media presences.
  • Practitioners from other disciplines. We practice within a dedicated Knowledge Management & Collaboration team. KM and Collaboration folks are awesome and we look forward to connecting with more of them. We’re also interested, however, in learning about social business from the perspective of other disciplines, such as Communications, HR, IT, and operational professionals.
  • Practitioners from other industries. Although we work in the oil & gas industry and will definitely look to meet those that share in our world, we’d love to hear from those outside of energy to talk about common and divergent challenges.
  • Fellow Canadians! The Jive folks host a “bootlegger” event for Canadians to network. We hear we get toques. Should be awesome. (“Toque” = “beanie” for our American friends :P )

To learn about:

  • Making a compelling case. We’d like to understand new techniques and strategies to determine the value proposition of enterprise social solutions, and then be able to better articulate that compelling argument to business leaders.
  • The community manager’s journey. In many cases, we have to equip people in the business to manage their own community accordingly. They know their teams, they know the subject matter, and they are responsible for achieving their business objectives. What key things can we do to make sure they are prepared, and how can we best support them along the way?
  • The champion’s journey.  What are the characteristics of a champion and how is one best identified? What unique challenges do champions face? What support and guidance do they need along their journey of advocacy? What should they pack for the trip?
  • What the industry leader is up to. Okay, there’s some tech talk (okay probably a lot). So if Jive is the industry leader, where are they going? Where is the roadmap taking us, and how are they tracking in relation to their competitors? We’re sure they’ll have some goodies in store.
  • Networking practices. One enters a room full of strangers, orders a beverage and goes about trying to make ‘new friends.’  Let’s face it – networking can be an uncomfortable and stressful experience. We’re not all extroverts by nature (which is okay!). We’re challenging ourselves to push past our networking comfort zones at JiveWorld13. We’re also going to be observing and learning from what works for others at the conference. Supernetworkers, we’re watching you!

To give back:

  • To lend an ear. Enough about us. What about you? We’ll be approaching people with an intentional focus on empathetically listening to their story. After all, you get what you give.  And we’re in their shoes, too.
  • Offer help. Where we can, offer our opinion, advice, perspective, and support. Maybe we’ve learned something along the way that can help people get through some challenges.
  • Share our journey. Carry on the objectives of this blog, including what we’ve learned, our successes and challenges, in a face to face environment.
  • Participate and engage in the discussion. Twitter will be buzzing. The Jive App gamifies the entire experience. Be it face to face or online we want to get in on the undoubtedly lively and fun conversation, which leads us to the last point…

To have fun! (That’s the whole point of it all, isn’t it?)

So how do you prepare for a conference to make sure you get the most out of it? What do you think of our goals? What would you add or change?

This We Believe

John Stepper, a thought leader in collaboration and social business, began his blog with a post entitled “This I Believe.” The post eloquently outlined John’s reason for the blog and ten things that he believed about work.

Following John’s lead, we’ve put down a few of our fundamental beliefs about work and social business.

  1. social_business_we_believePeople want to do good work. We believe that people show up to work wanting to make a difference, wanting to contribute to something that they believe in, and wanting to be valued. They don’t show up to work wanting to be complacent or malicious. They show up wanting to do good.
  2. Social is natural. We are social beings. Reaching out to one another to ask for advice, to pose questions or to connect to solve problems is everyday, normal behaviour. Technology advances have expanded the reach of our normal practices. We’re able to connect with others far away (or others we may have never even met in person) to find an answer, to learn or to get a job done. Leveraging our social networks in our personal lives is easy. In the work context, however, tapping into social networks to get a job done suddenly becomes much more difficult. Employees are increasingly sensing that there must be a better way, but often with uncertainly as to what is possible.
  3. Creating meaningful change is difficult. We believe that huge organizational value will be unleashed by helping employees organically build connections. However, in many organizations, employees are not sufficiently enabled or encouraged to connect with each other to converse, share experiences or solve problems. Some organizations fear losing control if employees are allowed to self-organize and build communities outside of the corporate hierarchy. Tightly controlling employees’ abilities to connect, however, keeps conversations – and power, for that matter –  with the few, leaving the many feeling frustrated, ineffectual or worse – complacent. We recognize that this change in philosophy can be difficult for organizations. We also recognize, however, that an engaged and empowered workforce has incredible potential.

As the title of the blog suggests, we are on a social business journey. Consequently, we don’t know as much today as we will tomorrow. We will revisit these beliefs as we grow and learn ourselves.

Do you share some of these beliefs about work and social business?  What other beliefs would you add to the list?

Towards a Social Business

Welcome to “The Journey Matters.” We’ve created this space to engage with you in conversation about social business.

Simply put, social business is coming.  It is soon to be the way of work. For a handful of us, social has already arrived. For many of us, however, social has not come to fruition. In reality, social is perceived as a big change for most organizations. But it is coming.

This isn’t meant to be righteous or threatening. Social is not a fad. It’s not childish. Social isn’t extra, or fluffy or even scary. Really, social is just ‘us’ being ‘us’. What we mean is social business is just a reflection of our utter humanness in the work context – our need (and extraordinary ability) to reach out to colleagues, to connect, converse and share our knowledge. As a result, we solve business problems more effectively than had we tried to on our own.

We are two social business practitioners traveling along the path towards social business.  Through this blog, we will share our real, ground level experiences, challenges, and successes, and ask you to share yours.

paragraph-seporatorIMAG1433_25My name is Chris Dittrick. Being an “old” gen Y, I was among the first of my generation to enter the workforce. Growing up where technology was the expectation, I know no different. However, I have entered a world where the workplace has not caught up to the advances made in the consumer space. I feel I can help people and organizations bridge this gap, and unlock incredible value in the process. I am looking to connect with others and share ideas with those who share my passion for creating a social business. I’m also a real person. I have a beautiful wife, the cutest little boy, a dog, a cat, and great family and friends. I like to ride my bike, a lot. I also love tuning old Toyotas.

paragraph-seporatorHeatherPortrait3971EDIT_SmallerI’m Heather. I like hiking, running and dancing. I like the colour blue and I like imagining. I just started rollerskating and I like that too, although I don’t like falling down so much. I like my daughter and my son and my husband. I like helping people learn and learning along with them. I like getting people together and helping them feel comfortable having conversations that include things like, “Yes, yes, I did that also,” and “Yeah, that happened to me, too,” and most importantly, “You know, what worked for me was…” These conversations are good because they allow us to connect to one another. And it is connections that make our lives rich.  So, through this blog I’m looking to connect with others interested in social business to have some of these kinds of conversations.

paragraph-seporatorWhere are you in your journey towards a social business? Let’s discuss in the comments below!