The Imposter

During the the past week I have had more than one person congratulate me on how good I am at networking and self promotion, citing the success of the book as an example of this. I thank them for that, I really appreciate the time and thoughtfulness behind it.

I’d like to level with you all. I’m rubbish at networking and self promotion. I simply can’t do it. I feel uncomfortable and slightly like an imposter. At a recent event someone asked me if I was a consultant. My reply was ‘um, I guess so, I mean…technically…people pay me to do stuff, so I guess I’d have to say I was, but I’m not sure I’m a proper one or if it will last’.

Yesterday someone asked me what my areas of expertise were for a speaking engagement. My initial response was ‘I’m interested in lots of things, I’d hate to claim to be an expert’

These aren’t the responses of a natural salesperson.

From the very first black tie networking event I attended in my career I’ve felt inadequate, out of place and about to be found out. So I found ways to make the experience more comfortable.

i) I find one person who I know (or who also looks lost) and I talk to them about whatever they like

ii) I try and help them with a problem if I can – I listen and try to be useful to them

iii) I assume everyone has an interesting story to tell

iv) I open up early and ditch the formality. I’ll talk really honestly with people

So I mentally exchange my forced black tie event for an evening doing what I love – learning about people and helping them solve their problems. Last week that led to me getting a visit to Facebook, a wonderful experience. I’m happy to admit it came about through me just wanting to find someone to talk to at the CIPD Centenary Dinner, primarily so I didn’t feel like a spare part.

The volume of PR around the book has been based around not letting 50 other authors down. If this was my book that I’d written on my own? There is simply no way that I’m spending days tweeting people asking them to endorse it. That is a horrible concept to me. I’m not brave enough and it’s not in my nature.The fact there is a social ambition to it and an ability for me to create success for others is what drives my behaviour.

All the good stuff that people think is me being brave is just me running scared from failure and awkwardness. I’m not leading, I’m just finding the most creative way I can to run away.

This will probably be a problem for me if I continue to be a ‘sort of consultant’. I’m not comfortable at self promotion. I’m comfortable with sharing. I thought I’d share that in case anyone feels the same way.

So I’m sharing that if you feel awkward with self promotion – well, there is at least one other person out there who feels the same way too.

HR Social – Unicorns, rainbows and pixies

Emotivism – I feel a bit bored of social media without the fighting

Prescriptivism – everyone should fight, because I’m a bit bored of social media

Yes, it’s a trite summary of someone else’s position – but it’s provocative, likely to start an argument and possibly upsetting so it’s actually ok.

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Yesterday I read this blog http://goo.gl/IGMvG by Neil Morrison. Neil had been tweeting similar for the past few days, so I thought I would reply. Then some people agreed with Neil, so I attempted to pop their bubbles and things got a bit out of hand. Later on things got even less professional with people attacking each other directly and losing sight of the point altogether. The final comments posted were simply not something you would ever like to see. It was just abuse. I wasn’t involved in them, but as you can see they are personal, distasteful and not fun.

I’m guessing, but I imagine Neil is delighted that he has acted as some kind of provocateur (not delighted about the abuse, but the debate), bringing more fire to the topic of social HR. Stirring up some action, creating a platform for more openness. In contrast, what I was seeing was how quickly things disintegrate when a lack of respect is shown. I saw nothing creditable, no quality of debate, none of the upside that Neil originally posted about. It was like telling everyone in a meeting that from this point on you just need to shout loudest to win. Neil’s view (lifted from his blog) is that –

Social HR should be:

Edgy

Argumentative

Difficult

Provoking

Upsetting

Social HR has become:

Cosy

Warm

Consensual

Boring

Predictable

Guess what – I think the first list paints a picture that is horribly exclusive and the second one a horrible caricature . If the point is ‘wouldn’t a bit more constructive challenge be useful?’ then the answer is normally ‘yes’. However, to think that anything (a business or a group) should aspire to a culture that upsets people and is ‘difficult’ is something that, historically, only people already in power desire.

Since I’ve started tweeting/blogging I have been reliant on the kindness of strangers, the warmth of a community and encouragement from people that I’ve never met to make a contribution. That is how this works, we get excited about first time bloggers because we recognise the bravery in those first steps. People contribute in the hope they have something to offer – quite often it may not be ‘new’, but it will always be a slightly different angle. People do this because there aren’t monsters lurking in the background waiting to leap on their mistakes.  People do this because most people realise that, deliberately upsetting other people is counterproductive, if you want to to get the best from others, rather than just ‘win” the debate. The job of leaders is to move people through the cycle of forming, storming, norming, performing as quickly as they can – not to keep it in storming just because you used to like it that way.

Ignore the words ‘HRSocial’  and you’ll find any group benefits from being welcoming, supportive and curious. If you give support and create openness you end up with ideas. If you shoot down ideas, simply because you want to upset people under the banner of debate, then you are killing thoughts. Steinbeck said ‘ideas are like rabbits, get two, look after them and soon you have hundreds’. We now have hundreds being socialised on Twitter and blogs, it’s harder to track down the ones you might want to keep as pets… but the choice….wow.

Do you know what else kills debate? Crude polarisation. The thought that if we create something ‘warm’ then it can’t have edge and must be boring. Or that consensus means there has been no debate. Or that upsetting people shows that you have edge. That if you aren’t upsetting people they only other option is that you are obsessed with unicorns, rainbows and pixies and would never challenge something you believe to be wrong.  Some of the finest people I’ve worked known have been able to challenge, provoke and shape  my thinking without ever having to upset me. In fact, if they had upset me it is unlikely I would have allowed my thinking to be challenged.

Neil wrote a ten point agenda for change in HR that I really liked. It contains the following parts that I think apply to ‘social’ as well as in business. After all, we are people in and out of the office…

We need to stop saying “no”. Our language, our communication to the business needs to be positive, not negative. We need to be owners of good news. Deal with problems individually, not by memo. Stop sending out dumb emails, if it isn’t positive, don’t send it.

We need to accept that you don’t get influence through control, you get influence through other people’s positive experience of you. Get influence through people wanting you involved not by telling them you have to be.

We need to listen to our employees and our managers. We need to stop seeing them as being “the problem” and start seeing them as being the people that we are here to help. They are the reason we have jobs, so stop moaning about them and start listening.

We need to be more human. We need to get out and talk, interact, spend time with people, we need to be empathetic and understanding, we need to feel. Sitting in the HR department bitching is not going to change anything.

I could sign up for that for being what we need to do on Twitter, with a few tweaks; I can’t sign up for being difficult just for the sake of it. There are other people involved when we are difficult. Those people matter. If you upset someone on social because that is what you think you should do then it is cowardly. You aren’t doing it face to face, you don’t have to deal with the consequences and unlike work they were giving their energy to the conversation for free. Bad form, bad form.

So what’s new?

Neil makes the point that he is bored of reading the same old things, that everyone is still talking about engagement surveys etc.  Well, that’s true, but everyone has a different angle, in fact, when I started blogging I read an article about blogging for HR that inspired me to publish my first blog, it was written by Neil and contained the following

I won’t have anything new to say
Take it from me, there isn’t a single blog post that hasn’t been written before, fact. But there are a million different perspectives to be had on a subject and with the news constantly changing, you get a whole load of potential new topics presenting themselves each week. Blogs that add insight, perspective, thought and challenge are as popular as those that try to be at the cutting edge.

I haven’t read a blog that I haven’t taken something from, even if it is just one person’s view of the world – and I’m always glad they took the time to share their view. I was glad I read Neil’s, it gave me the chance to write this. He’s written some great stuff and I’m glad we have people injecting debate, but I can never be glad when someone is the architect of conflict, because normally it isn’t them getting hurt.

(slight caveat – this isn’t the start of the ‘Dave vs. Neil’ wars to keep people entertained. This is just a counterpoint, similar to the excellent one offered here wp.me/p2YgNX-fq by Simon Heath. Which attracted less debate, but also less bile. Neil actually has been nice to me personally, supportive and welcoming. I just want everyone to have the benefit of that)

If you want to know what ‘social’ constructively might be for I’ve added a feel good video…