Tuesday, September 14, 2010

“Character is like a tree and reputation like a shadow. The shadow is what we think of it; the tree is the real thing.”

The quote is from Abraham Lincoln, and was included in a speech made by Jon Iwata (IBM SVP Marketing and Communications) to the Institute for Public Relations in November of 2009.

Jon's comments reflect a new paradigm shift for companies.  "What will determine success or failure in the coming era will be not whether your people show up on the global commons, but what they do once they’re there. The key, in other words, is to build the eminence of our workforce. What do I mean by “eminence”? No matter what their industry, their profession, their discipline or their job, people with eminence are acknowledged by others as expert. It’s not simply to know a lot about Tuscan villas, digital cameras or banking. You need to be recognized as an expert. And when you show up – in person, or online; in writing, or in conversation – you are both knowledgeable and persuasive. Because being an expert and being good at communications aren’t the same thing, as we all know.... We have to take the next step and build the eminence of our workforce."

Every company has Subject Matter Experts (SME's).  The challenge is to enable and encourage them to participate in relevant communities, where they can demonstrate their expertise.  With on-going participation, they will begin to build credibility and influence with their peers, which has benefit for them personally as well as benefit for the company that they work for.

How do you go about building eminence?  I conducted a series of 30 minute interviews with 20 IBM SME's who are recognized as having eminence, and asked them for their insights.  I'll summarize them here, and then go into deeper details on each one in future blog posts.
  1. Focus on the perceived value for clients.  I talked about this in my previous blog post (Need to focus on perceived value for YOUR client .. not just activity).   It is important to listen to your customer and collaborate with them in their preferred medium (which may include both social non-social).
  2. Need to understand your goals - both personally and professionally.  How can my participation in social media help to promote the mission of my company?  What are my personal goals?  Building eminence is a long journey that requires commitment.  You need to stay flexible in identifying and measuring your goals over time.
  3. 'One size' will not fit all.  There will be a spectrum of participation, which should be encouraged.  Participation can't be forced,  but rather should be encouraged.  Individuals need to measure their own success.
  4. Without on-going support and encouragement, involvement declines.  Companies need to assure that all levels of management understand that social participation is a priority and is business appropriate.  Feedback mechanisms and executive visibility are key factors in supporting the paradigm shift.  Visionary leadership by example can be very powerful.
  5. Promoting workforce eminence is transformational. Often, activities are treated as stand alone pilots. Successful transformational efforts are supported by top level executives, are long term, require an integrated end-to-end approach and need culture change.  There needs to be consistency and commitment from across the company.
  6. Enablement needs to be viral.  Passionate individuals need to actively communicate 'real' examples for 'people like me' ... in a fun way.  With the appropriate cultural support, employees can think "I can do that too'. 

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