Trust The Badge: Information Environmentalism

Transactional Management

Is transactional management of people an effective tool for your leadership toolbox? Or is there a better way when dealing with people? And does it depend on the type of work you do?

Picking up on the theme of trust in organizations in a recent blogazine entry from my fellow L2L contributor, David DeHaven, here’s a cautionary tale.

During a corporate communications engagement with a Fortune 50 company, I emphasized to my client that it was essential for me to develop a relationship with the C-suite to make team messaging effective.

She replied that ‘we don’t have relationships here, we have transactions.’

This organization lived (and died) by database.  Messages were indeed transactions —  posted, time-stamped and archived.   No significant decision or action could be taken unless it was posted and replied to, ideally by 20+ leaders within a maximum 24 hours.   If the message wasn’t posted to the database, the activity and the people behind it didn’t exist.

A great process for managing projects;  a lousy process for managing people.

Contrast this ‘transactional‘ approach with that taken by another Fortune 50 client of mine.  One of the business unit leaders was a 30+ year veteran of the company, coming up through the ranks and getting the requisite exposure across the supply chain.

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A former merchant marine, he rarely used multi-syllabic words.  But his leadership eloquence was unequaled. He stood before his employees at every town hall and skip-level meeting, holding up his company ID badge.  His pitch boiled down to this:

“We are too big and need to move too fast to wait until we know each other before working together. Instead, when you need help from other employees, reach out and ask first.  Trust the badge.  If your co-worker has the same company badge, you must trust that they, like you, want what is best for the customer.”

This “relational” approach is needed more than ever in today’s environment.  In his new book, And Then There’s This:  How Stories Live and Die in Viral Culture , Bill Wasik speaks persuasively about the need for “information environmentalism.”

Our mental ecosystem is overloaded with transactions that we pretend are relational messages.

To use another Wasik analogy, our use of social media is like ringing the doorbell and running away. We’re good at interrupting the audience, but don’t want to stick around to exchange relational messages.

Put another way, on the Internet buffet, dessert is served first.  Or as an authority at University of Penn says, ‘Social media create cognition without comprehension.’

In a time when Chinese officials hire bloggers and tweaters to ‘spin’ the riots in Urumqi, and ‘citizen journalists’ document Iranian bloodshed, let’s remember that the best safeguard for effective messaging remains the integrity of the person using the technology.

As leaders it falls to us to reverse this trend. After all, its our messages that people are listening and watching for.

My advice?  Lean into change.

Be an early adopter of new media. Participate in communities of practice such as this month’s Vocus Virtual Conference on social media. And while you’re there, plant a few trees in the online landscape.  Re-use and recycle best-practices.  And trust that the other blogger wants to make this a better place just as much as you do.

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David Cheatham is Owner and Founder of
Transform Communications, LLC
He can be reached at davidwcheatham@comcast.net

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4 Responses

  1. Good example illustrated by the transactionally oriented company. What I’m interested in: what was your response to the executive given that you believe in the power of relationships?

  2. Deborah, I told the executive that the messaging platform would never achieve its potential with the transactional mind-set. The leadership’s thinking was that an online community of practice could do the job. As we would predict, this model drove content management to new levels of quality and quantity, but was insufficient when the rounds of sourcing started. In fact, the hyper-attention to ‘leadership by dB’ led to Dilbertesque situations such as managers posting action plans against draft proposals that were neither approved nor written for review. What’s your experience?

  3. I’m not sure I completely understand what happened as I don’t have the full context. My experience is that transactional relationships are fine for simple and relatively straightforward situations. There is no negotiation required, no complexity and no nuance. The minute things are not black and white, when politics becomes involved or turf or power or……..You get it. Name the situation. Then relationship is everything. So transactions work well in the short term, simple project mode. But that is never the reality today. Wish it were but it ain’t. That is why there are so many issues around conflict, customer service and building trust.

  4. Is social media blame for the cognition without comprehension? Or does it simply make it easier to operate in a way that people were already functioning? Were our relationships deeper and more effective before social media?

    I believe we should blame how we use the tool more than we blame the tool itself. You can use a screwdriver to put in a screw. Or you can use a screwdriver as a hammer.

    We can choose to use social media for shallow “interruptions” or we can use it to facilitate greater networks with like-minded people. It all lies within us as to how we use the tool

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