Twitter goals and corrupting targets

Twitter goals and corrupting targets

I happened upon a question yesterday night in some tweets by Clare Haynes about whether people have ‘Twitter goals’. I said that I did and that I’d be happy to share – so here we go.

When I started working as an independent I realised that I had a wealth of options open to me as to how I operated and what I tried to achieve.

I could target a certain revenue amount or I could target a certain volume of days etc. If I wasn’t going to advertise then I was probably going to be on social media and if I was on social media I should probably have some quantifiable targets on what that time gave me.

Whilst that may seem like it would have been a smart thing to do I am more aware than most of the corrupting nature of targets, as I worked for the first company the regulators really cracked down on post recession. Targets, particularly ‘stretch targets’ create a tension and fog that changes behaviour and clarity of perception – rarely for the better.

I wanted to work in a different way – the ambition I set myself was to do cool work with cool people that makes a difference. I’m not a salesperson and I can’t do biz dev, so I figured I’d be myself and see what happened.

So instead of stretch targets I set myself ‘worthwhileness measures’ for the business. Numbers/soft measures that I should be able to comfortably hit if I was doing things the right way. And if I didn’t hit them then the activity was probably not worthwhile and I’d stop it or at least have a think about it. I then set myself some ‘audacious goals’ – things I’d be delighted to hit but had no expectation to. I’ve listed them below with the thought process behind them. I hope it’s useful .

Twitter followers – when I first started on Twitter (just over a year ago) I spent quite a bit of time looking at the stats of people I respected and the stats of people that used it in a way that I wouldn’t feel comfortable with. I remember reading a great piece from Mervyn Dinnen where he had analysed the engagement levels of folks with high numbers of followers and some of them may as well have been robots. I wouldn’t make a good robot. Most of the folk that I enjoyed engaging with and learning from had more than 700 followers. As it would only be worthwhile to be on Twitter if other people found me worthwhile I set a target of ‘approaching 700 followers by the end of the first year and 900 by year two’.

I also had some guiding rules that went with the worthwhileness target to keep me honest

  • I’d only follow people who I was interested in
  • I’d only follow back if we had something in common
  • No automation

Blogging stats – I had absolutely no idea what good blogging stats would look like. Sukh and Alistair were kind enough to share some of their numbers to give me context. I wanted to share stuff I was thinking about and not have to chase numbers – but if nobody is reading it then I wasn’t sure what the point was. On the other hand I had no desire to pump out work just because I thought it would land well. I settled on 8000 hits in the first year and 10,000 in the second year. I went for 8000 as it gives a target of 667 hits a month which is a silly number for a target and stops me getting hung up on whether I’m tracking to target each month – as working out percentages of 667 mentally is quite tricky. 10,000 would have felt too obvious and too ‘targety’. I then set myself some guiding rules that went with it, some of them deliberately contrary to the advice you get in the ‘how to write a popular blog’ guides.

  • Write when I feel like it – never write to a schdeule
  • Write about what I feel like – never write about a topic because it will be popular. I have had the odd popular one, but please trust me when I say there are several that sank for every one of those

Sexy blog reaction

  • Splurt the words out without reference to SEO etc
  • Stop it if it stops being fun
  • One person saying ‘that really helped’ justifies writing a post.

I did break my rules for one post just to see what happened, because I like experimenting. If you really want to read about ‘FlappyBird and business’ then feel free.

AND THEN MY AUDACIOUS GOALS – no specific time period, would just be cool

  • Visit Facebook, Google and Innocent
  • Become a published author
  • Keynote a conference
  • Get interviewed on TV (or by mainstream press) as an expert so my family can watch and understand what I do for a living…
  • Get published in a variant of HBR
  • Get a chance to talk to Dan Ariely, Steve Levitt, Malcolm Gladwell and Charles Handy
  • Trend on Twitter

I know some of these may seem like vanity metrics, but they are also reasonable measures of professional recognition and progress. And since they aren’t ‘in plan’ I can just take the opportunities if they come up. No pressure means no change in behaviour. I can just have fun.

Am I advocating this approach for everyone?

No – I’m genuinely just sharing because someone asked and I offered. For the moment I’m experimenting and it is working for me. I’d encourage you to experiment too – but the approach may not work for people with a greater ambition or need for control. I have huge respect for the folk that do genuine thoughtful business development, I just don’t have it in me.

My lack of business orientated targeting may, over time, come to be the reason I fail. It may be naive. For the moment? It feels worthwhile.

Would I try it in an actual company? These days, I might…

Because after all, this is what I’m in it for…


Role models and George Bailey

English: Screenshot of Jimmy Stewart and Donna...

I’m 34 years old. I look older. I’ve reached the point in life where the good days are gone in a flash and the less good days seem to drag like they never did before.

The way time itself works in changing – seasons just seem to drift into each other and my daughter is growing and changing two steps faster than I could ever keep up. I feel old before my time – or this may be my time and I can’t quite comprehend that yet.

I went for a walk this morning. During a very English downpour I attempted to remember all of the role models – or people that I’ve wanted to grow up to be – that I’ve had at different times in my life. I think they have changed as I have.

In broad chronological order I can remember the following

  • Elliott from ET
  • Spiderman
  • Han Solo
  • He Man
  • Dogtanian (a Muskahound)
  • Atticus Finch
  • Robert Howley/Robert Jones (Welsh rugby players)
  • Maverick in Top Gun
  • Jack Russell (English wicketkeeper)
  • My Uncle Mike
  • Alexander the Great
  • Demetrius the Besieger
  • Friedrich Nietzsche
  • Chief Brody (from Jaws)
  • John Nash
  • Stephen Levitt (of Freakonomics fame)
  • Jefferson Smith
  • Malcolm Gladwell
  • George Bailey
  • Real people that I’ve met

George Bailey is the main character in It’s a Wonderful Life. If you haven’t watched it then stop reading this blog and watch it. If you don’t enjoy black and white films then watch it anyway.

George Bailey is the odd one out in my list for a few key reasons

i) George Bailey has held a special place in this list for almost 15 years

ii) he has no superpowers

iii) he has no fame, he has little recognition, he has no access to untold cash reserves.

He is just a man who does the right thing when faced with difficult choices – willing to compromise his own ambitions to help others and focused on family and community. George Bailey, above all things, wants to be worthwhile and as the years have passed by and my dreams have been replaced by principles, I’d be quite happy to have people say that about me when I’m gone.

I’m interested in making organisations better, primarily because I’m interested in helping people. This may not sound very businesslike, but that is simply because there is a tension between business commercials and compassion that has always existed.

If you want to hear someone speak passionately about that tension then don’t hire a motivational speaker, just listen to George Bailey. Some lessons endure.

Weighing up Performance 0.2

If you follow my blog you’ll know that I was attempting to pseudogamify my diet. The original post is here I’m sort of attempting to apply techniques from the workplace to my quest to be less podgy.

Shortly after I posted the blog I caught a bug (that I’m squarely blaming Perry Timms for) and my exercise had to stop for a week or so. At that point my progress completely stopped and I patted myself on the back for doing so well… and ate a little more than I should.

More specifically, last Friday I consumed 1.5 bottles of Prosecco and 4 beers – having not had a drink for the previous month. This drinking was accompanied by two starters and a main (I randomly chose catfish, I’m putting that down to the drinking) at a very good Vietnamese restaurant. The bill worked out cheaper than I expected

Channel catfish (Ictalurus punctatus) may be f...

I hadn’t put weight on after this, but I lost momentum. I don’t think this was the original gamified system failing, but it does show what can happen when something is unexpectedly derailed.

Performance Management

Being an HR type the natural thing to do when you lose momentum is to start some form of performance management process. I did this with the help of my wife, we sat down together and agreed weight loss targets for the both of us – and then we chose a reward for hitting our own targets – but let the other person choose the penalty for missing them.

I now have a target and a stretch goal for each two week period and a penalty if I miss target and a reward if I exceed the stretch goal.

It looks like this

  • Weigh in every two weeks (I weigh once a day, but this will be the snapshot)
  • If I lose 2lb in a fortnight, that’s ok
  • If I lose more than 3lb in two consecutive fortnights (or a combined 6lb in a month) I get to go to a sporting event of my choice
  • If I lose less than 2lb in any week I have to drag myself out of bed abnormally early on a Saturday morning and clean the bathrooms in our house – to the exacting standards laid down by my wife

This new approach seems to be working so far. I’ve got as much focus as I had before. I’m now down to 13st 8lb from 14st 13lb and I’ve potentially got an exciting reward lined up.

Parallels to organisations

Performance management isn’t the trendiest of topics, but there are some basic truths that I tried to capture in my approach

  • Rewards are most relevant where the individual has input into them and gets an element of choice. Choice makes us feel in control and control is important to people
  • Keep the timescales for measurement clear, transparent and relevant. Don’t wait for 6 months to have a performance conversation if identifiable pieces of work about being completed each month
  • Any sanctions should be made clear ahead of time and be a reasonable consequence of the lack of change
  • It helps to write it down – within 48 hours my wife had attempted to sneakily lower her target. I had an email where we had logged it to show what we had agreed. Writing things down is important because people remember things differently – particularly under pressure. It isn’t being bureaucratic – it is actually helpful to all involved
  • Reaffirm the positive opportunity as well, rather than just setting penalties
  • Cash rewards have less emotional resonance than an experience (hence the reason I’m not giving myself cash to buy something if I hit target, I’m giving myself an experience I’ll remember)
  • Socialising targets is a good way of building commitment to them

The last point, about socialising of goals and challenges, is often overlooked. If you want to sustain a change (and get others to recognise you are trying and to support you) the best way to do it is to be vulnerable enough to admit to the need to change.

The next time you have a struggling performer, please don’t take them in a quiet room for a chat and think you’ve done your bit because you asked  ‘what help do you need from me?’.

Ask ‘what support can we find you to help you get where you want to be?” or “is there anyone you’d really like to work with – or partner with – to get there faster?”.

The more people supporting them in the change, the more likely they are to succeed.