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Thursday, July 23, 2009

Doing Good in 140 Characters or Less

Mother Teresa said, "There is more hunger for love and appreciation in the world than for bread." Kentucky historical figure and leader Henry Clay said, "Courtesies of a small and trivial character are the ones which strike deepest in the grateful and appreciating heart." In other words, showing appreciation for people has power and fills a need that transcends the workplace, building friendships and forging loyalties along the way.

I've followed the development of social media with a suspicious eye and written about that on this blog. I unplugged my Facebook and MySpace accounts as huge time wasters, reinstated my Twitter account and maintained my blog. The purpose of so much social media is marketing, or purely personal use such as "friends and family" type communications. My world, on the other hand, is focused both professionally and personally on face-to-face communication and the keeping of confidences. There doesn't appear to be much use for social media in those endeavors...or maybe not.

Today I came across a series of websites that offer, either free or for sale, inspirational and motivational materials. When you talk as much as HR people often do, you sometimes need new material. What struck me in reading through the content on these sites is how many praises, phrases, and encouragements use 140 characters or less, which is the format on Twitter. This gave me an idea that I would like to propose to everyone. Please read on...

In my early days as a supervisor I, like many, was taught MBWA: Management By Walking Around for those of you who didn't have jobs in the 80's. While you were walking around, observing your operations for yourself, you looked for ways to "catch someone doing something right" (which was another 80's management phrase). The power in acknowledging good work while walking around was that other people heard it. Rather than the private note, it was the public praise on the job site in earshot of co-workers. When done well, it is amazingly well received and highlights what good work looks like and the praise that it should bring.

If a significant portion of our workplace is moving into the social media arena, it seems to me that there should be a social media equivalent to MBWA. What if each of us, while scanning our email, IMs, Twitter messages, and Facebook friends found something each day to publicly praise? What if each day or two or three, we used a Tweet or Facebook entry or Blog post to acknowledge someone in front of everyone? While I still prefer face-to-face conversations, I don't believe the social mediasphere has to be all tech-talk, product promotion, and baby pictures.

I'll end this post with a real life example; something that's praiseworthy and going on right now at Thomas Nelson. We have subleased the last floor of our Two Lakeview Place office space, which we abandoned early this year when moving all office staff into our corporate headquarters. Today our Facilities team is doing the hard work of moving out all the excess office furniture, leftover marketing materials, overstocked Bible samples, and trash off of the 6th floor so that the sublease tenants can take possession August 1. They spent the week planning the move, spent the morning loading, came to the All Employee Meeting, and had the delivery trucks staged in the back parking lot when the doors unlocked at 1:00. They're sweating, working hard, and doing a great job. Such a great job in fact, that they aren't a distraction and few people know what they're doing.

By contrast, my wife has been home all week from her job at Easter Seals because of a less coordinated move. That organization changed offices, and has been a whole week in their new space without phones or Internet. Hourly staff members like my wife have nothing to do, and so are being told to stay home. Easter Seals doesn't have a professional, first-class Facilities group and has to handle this amongst themselves. This type of problem has never happened at Thomas Nelson because Scott Holloway and his team won't allow it to happen.

This is a true story, and well-deserved public praise for some great members of our Nelson team even if I did take more than 140 characters. Now, gentle readers, its your turn. Tweet somebody doing something right.