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

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Back Yesterday: Reclaiming Social Media

As leaders, it is our responsibility to know what is valuable from the past and make sure it continues on into the future. As Americans celebrated their Nation’s freedom this past weekend on Independence Day, many salient traditions, memories, and valuable things from the past were recently celebrated and maintained.

Keeping traditions and valuable elements from the past alive and well is a big job and it extends to many aspects of our lives. Not only is it important to sustain national, societal, and religious traditions, this need also extends to communication traditions, as well.

This means that we need to understand what is taking place in our national and global mindset and make sure that new developments in communication applications and styles do not overstep their intended usefulness.

Here is a new one…

As a communicator in the business of watching and anticipating trends,  I’ve noticed a disturbing new use of the word “back.”  Until the PDA Age, “back” was reserved for events that happened long ago, or at least in distant memory:  “Back at the turn of the 20th Century.”  Now “back” is increasingly closer to the front:  “Back in June, 2009.”   Soon I expect to hear a news report that Obama gave a speech on the economic stimulus “back yesterday.”

A colleague opened a consultancy this year that specializes in reaching leaders with a “blackberry-attention-span.”  Never mind that new study shows that 10% of Twitter users produce 90% of tweets, and 50% of Twitter account users don’t tweet at all.  Maybe we need to pass legislation to create incentives for writers to use “word credits,” much like manufacturers use “carbon credits.”  The so-called greenhouse affect isn’t limited to carbon producers.

In addition, cute text-speak language like “I am so happry 4u” to mean that “I am so happy for you” does not always translate to people who are in your network around the globe. “4u” for “for you,” or”cyal8r” for “I will see you later” is very practical, but can stretch an already hyper-change in communications.

So, a simple proposal:  Let’s re-claim social media.

Instead of answering the self-serving Twitter question, “What are you DOING?”, let’s take the longer view and discuss what we are LEARNING today.   Let’s give each day its 24 hours, and give our minds a chance to absorb, discern, and collaborate.  Let’s do this even when we reply to a blog post, text, or tweet from “back yesterday.”

So, as a leader, what are some of your challenges in keeping pace with new communication changes? How is the generation entering the workforce changing long-standing communication methodologies. Do you text message on your cell phone? Do you instant message? What traditions have you kept in place to moderate or “crock-pot” this social networking “microwave” mindset? I would love to hear your thoughts!

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David Cheatham is Owner and founder of
Transform Communications, LLC
He can be reached at

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