Looking For Connections

Sharing is good

In just about any social situation that we enter, we look for connections to others.  It’s a bit like a game of ‘where do I know you from’, but truly it’s a search for shared context.

Connections make you feel like you belong to the same club and that’s really what we long for, to belong.  To make a deeper connection, by seeing if one already exists.

Situations are important

It might just be that you begin the conversation based on the fact that you are both sharing this moment of time and place.  Shared moments provide you with enough of a connection to get the ball rolling and eventually you discover other points of connection; another time, another place, another person.  This matters.

Ask and Listen

You know what it’s like to be with someone who seems less than generous socially.  The person who continues to talk about what they do for work or tells you stories about something exciting they have going on in their life all without ever really asking about you, your interests, or what you have going on.

It’s not that we’re selfish or need to get our words in, but it’s a conversation and we know when it feels unbalanced.  It’s good to remember that ourselves.

What we look for, the questions we ask in order to make connections, are simple and you know them.

“Where are you from?”

“How do you know ______?”

“What do you do for work?”

This is a simple example of using a shared moment in time or discovering what else you might share.

Intention Is Everything

The intention in finding these connections, has to be about building a relationship and discovering if you can be helpful to them in some way.

If you’re fishing for the one tie in that will let you spew forth your stories, your sales pitch you quickly become, “that guy” and people will see right through that.

And Your Business?

It’s important to think about how your product or service fits in different situations.  Look for tie-ins that make sense.

The key in all of this is finding ways to listen to and learn from your customers, in order to discover if you have a shared context, a person, place or moment in time that connects you and makes building a relationship relevant.

More importantly we have to recognize the situations we find ourselves in as opportunities for discovering what we share.  Shared context is the foundation for all of our relationships.

How do you discover what you share with your customers?

 

Photo Credit Miss Rogue

Listening Differently

I have been reading Trust Agents by Julien Smith and Chris Brogan and as often happens for me when reading a new work, I take something away that feels slightly askew of what the book is about.  One example of this in Trust Agents, is where the authors talk about the tools that the interwebs have for listening to what people are saying about you or your organization.  They point us to all the nifty gadgets that are available for us to pull this information together with.

My mind immediately went to my own organization, but not in the same way.  I need to pull information together internally.  I need a better collection of the moments in time data of many moving parts of our organization.

It used to be easier

A few years ago within our previously small non-profit there were a few programs and listening and sharing were easier.  Getting information about the performance of our programs was often as simple as having a conversation with a teacher, therapist or director and asking for it.  It was softer, it was simpler, it was more personal and a couple of objectives could be achieved simultaneously:  connecting with staff and understanding how we were doing in each program.

What happened?

Having experienced some rather rapid growth (doubling the number of employees in 18 months through growth, not acquisition), I have noticed that the information I am needing and the speed at which I need it about our organization internally has changed.  We have over 20 financial departments that require reporting internally and externally.  We have dozens of revenue streams that must be managed, many of which are grants, all of which need reports.  Our customers/clients have grown and changed each one requires services that are as unique as each of them.

What I will be changing

Listening Internally

With Chris and Julien’s suggestion to create a dashboard of external listening, I came to the realization that my internal methods of listening were too scattered, inefficient and not as clearly rooted in the data to drive decision making as they should be.

Delegating

Again, the advice in Trust Agents is to delegate because your community needs you.  While I have enjoyed the collection of information process through connecting individually with staff, I have redirected the reporting responsibilities of programs (and adding/fine tuning a few), to my Executive Assistant to aggregate the important data.  She already receives and reports much of it externally to state agencies, foundations and the like, it just needed to be pulled together internally in order to listen to what it might be telling us.

Dashboard

All of this aggregation of data is being reported on an internal Dashboard.  The use of a dashboard is not a new concept, but I have used it as a reporting tool for our board and not necessarily as a listening tool for me.  It is my internal RSS feed albeit not as easily or neatly pulled together.  It will be one way in which I listen to some key indicators of our performance within the organization.

What’s Next

All of this would be useless if I didn’t have a plan for it or a reason why I am doing it.  None of this is entirely novel, and I have been doing it in some form and fashion for the last five years.  The difference is the size and scope and amount of information.  The difference is the time it takes to gather the information via my old means.  The difference is that I have to listen differently in order to understand my community and be present for them. Now that I am gathering this information in one place.  Now that I have changed the way I listen to that aspect of our organization, I have time for all of the other things.  I have time to hear the stories and visit with programs and listen for the meaning behind the data.  It gives me time and purpose with which to participate in my internal and external communities.   So thanks Chris and Julien for sparking an actionable idea.  Now, back to the book.

A Bit Behind…

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January is the new December.

I’m not even sure December happened with all of the preparation and travel and busyness of the holidays. When I look at my calendar I can see that I had meetings.  I can see the results.  I know that at home we lit candles for Advent…but I didn’t experience Advent.  I don’t feel like I took the time to prepare…for anything.

January is here now and I am already reading new blogs, about new plans and strategies, about new words (3 or 300) that people are writing or using to guide them.  It feels like some sort of starting gun went off and I’m not even sure what course I’m supposed to be running on.  I want to yell out…”wait for me!”
OK, Maybe I am being a bit dramatic.  I’m really not behind and I have begun to work on some significant changes for 2009 and beyond, many are however still in idea/plan stage and haven’t moved into full on strategy and implementation stage.

Truth be told, 1/1/09 was not a starting gun.  Today and tomorrow are opportunities to begin and where would I end up if I didn’t take time to acquaint myself with the course.

So, perhaps I’m right on schedule.  I have had the chance to reflect and plan some, strategies are forming and implementation must be right around the corner.

All that said, so far I like 2009.  Hey, what’s not to like, it’s only a few days old.

Here are a few things I like so far.

1)  I like that I get to enter this year with so many new relationships.

In the past year I have found opportunities to connect with new people and have connected with old friends in new ways.  Thank you Facebook and Twitter and….
2)  I am entering 2009 with some interesting new perspectives based on 2008 experiences.
A few things happened to slow me down in 2008.  Some of my growth plans for the agency were put on temporary hold.  A key member of my team has been out for an extended period forcing me to take on some of additional responsibilities and dig into her role in new ways.   She is extremely valuable to this agency and her work is broad.  This experience of digging in to her role will allow me to support her in new ways and will support the long term health and vitality of our agency.

3)  My whole family feels like it has renewed energy and focus.

I am excited about the possibilites.  This isn’t some sort of New Years resolution, it is something that has been building.  It is something that we have been cultivating in our relationships.  Meg works hard to keep our home engine running smoothly.  Each one of us has their primary and supporting roles on our journey.  We have always been flexible enough to toggle between the two categories when necessary.  We are on the verge of a renewed understanding of this partnership as a couple, as parents, as friends and as managers of the business of family Hatch.  I appreciate her greatly and know that exciting things are on the horizon.
So, if you didn’t get your plans in order for 1/1, remember that January is the new December.   Now hurry up!  :-)

Circumventing

I wrote a post a long while back called “Go with What Got You Here“.  In it, I talked about the fact that I frequently spend time reflecting on my successes in an effort to remember the path I took to achieve them.  In this way, I build upon the lesson of the success.

Success Repeated

One of the atributes I have routinely utilized in my career, is to circumvent hierarchy in order to get a seat at the table and be able to participate more actively in decision making for the organizations I have worked for.

The Story

My first memory of becoming aware of this tendancy, was early in my professional career.  I was working as a Preschool Teacher in a growing child care company with twenty or so centers in Massachusetts.

Given my position, there were two levels of administration between me and the Center Director and beyond her were 2 or 3 more levels at the Corporate office.  As a result, I frequently brought ideas to my spervisor or even to the director only to hear, ‘Corporate won’t do this’, or ‘Corporate says we can’t do that’.

The result, was a building frustration for me as an employee because I thought I had some ideas of merit and value to the larger orgainzation, I just couldn’t find the right venue for sharing them.

The Letter

With the permission of my Center Director, I drafted a letter to the company’s CEO (I wish I still had a copy of it).  In it I talked about the challenge of communication within a growing organization and offered a few ideas for improved means of communication from employees to the Corporate office and vice versa.

A week or so later, I received a call from the CEO asking me out to lunch.  We met one day around noon, we talked for awhile, he listened to some of my ideas  and in the end we created something called the Employee Council.  It was a representative group of elected employees from each of the company’s child care centers who would meet monthly to exchange new information coming out of the corporate office and share ideas and concerns from employees at the center.

I served on the council for three years, co-chairing it for one year.  It spawned additional committees which served the company well in it’s dramatic growth, reviewing benefits, educational programs and maintaining clear lines of communication.

The Rebel

I’ve always looked at this and some other similar examples as a way to feed some sense of myself as a rebel, that I had somehow bucked the system.  This explanation has fallen flat in recent years, even though similar methods and similar results have been utilized and achieved in a variety of different contexts.  I have continued to find myself at tables in which various decisions, affecting my organization or the people I am serving, are made.  It is a constant.

It’s about relationship

I have come to realize, that what I wanted to see as some sort of rebellious nature, is really a strength in being able, in a professional and respectful manner, approach people with something to offer and being willing to listen.  It is about developing relationship and being willing to think together and contribute to that relationship.

So, a picture of myself has been brought into focus and the fuzzy lines that I thought I once walked can bee seen with a clarity of purpose and a willingness to contribute.

Who would’ve thought?

Channel Surfing

Pardon the redundancy, but Jon got me thinking. I was just at his site reading a post about how dizzying the oscillation between “community 0.0 and community 2.0″ can be.

As I finished reading his post, it occurred to me how I have come to wish that people who may not be engaged in social networking in new media space could experience it. I feel this way because I am excited about it. I have found it thrilling to connect with people all over the globe and beyond that, to learn about them and their passions.

Chris recently noted that Blogging, Podcasting, Vlogging and the like are providing everyone with their own channel. What excited me most about this idea, is that I get to tune in to what is uniquely you. I get this fabulous representation of your thoughts and ideas. I don’t get that as easily everyday in my work interactions, in my day to day social interactions or in my community interactions.

The key to making this the most useful, is to connect with those whose channel I am watching, beyond just observing. Heck, I get to comment and perhaps you pay me a visit. I get to know your likes, I send you stuff I think you’d find interesting, you send it to a friend and on and on…(see Jon’s post)

Individual Channels are providing a medium of expression that allows me to appreciate people in a whole new way. It makes me want to tune in more in my own community, because what I see now…what I ask myself when I meet someone is…

I wonder what’s on her channel?

Stay tuned…