I recently was a keynote speaker on Preparing for the Future and the organizers asked me to be challenging and provocative with my messages. When I walked into the room, it was me who was feeling challenged by the traditional set-up. The room reflected the past and it hit me that there will be people who will hate what I share and those that will feel inspired by a world of new possibilities that is coming. A world where partnerships, relationships and trust are at its core.

What century are we in?

I wanted people to walk away with an understanding that the challenge we face is that we are still using antiquated systems in a new world of possibilities and opportunities. And one of them is our own filters and inability to truly listen and have meaningful conversations. It seems that too many people are living in their own bubble and numbing themselves with being overwhelmed that they only hear what they want to hear and disregard the rest. I was asked to challenge and make people think about what they can create in the world but the truth was that most people are comfortable with the status quo. Why would anyone want to rock the boat? Why would anyone consciously decide to step out of their comfort zone and change how they’ve always been doing things? Isn’t upsetting the apple cart dangerous?

And that is the true definition of change. Change happens every single time a person’s expectations are disrupted both in our professional and personal lives. Humans have habits and most people like predictability. Imagine you had your daily commute to the office and one day, you were told that you had to take a different route that would add 11 minutes to your commute. For some people, this would be a huge disruption of  their expectations of when they left their house and when they arrived at their office for their first meeting. For others, it would be a welcome change since the new route may add 11 minutes to their commute but it goes through a beautiful scenic view of the ocean and would make their drive more enjoyable. They would arrive at the office refreshed and inspired even though this change increased their commute. This is not a scenario I made up but a true story from a friend who lived in Dubai, where his commute to work kept changing when Dubai was constantly under development and construction.

Knowing this, my goal was to help this community prepare for the future by showing them that small shifts in how they approach business issues will help them pave the wave to becoming a true 21st century connected organization

The world is shifting

While in the 1800s we received most of our information in the town hall by governmental and religious institutions, the mass media age was about getting information from trusted media sources. Today, we trust strangers for where we eat, where we stay, what book to read and what healthcare professional we see. We can simply go online and read reviews and make decisions. And yet, we don’t know these strangers and what they like. Whenever I speak and ask whether anyone in the room has ever done this, most hands shoot up. There are always a few people who sit there shaking their heads saying no, I could never do that. But most people trust strangers on important decisions in their lives. When I read reviews, I always look at what the reviewer liked and disliked to see if we have anything in common. How do I know that what she thought was a fantastic hotel experience would be something I would enjoy? I question what those five stars mean and only trust it when I see we have some common tastes and views.

This age we live in is one where no matter how much advertising is done, people trust other people’s opinions. Technology today helps connect people to people. With technology, we can create a thriving connected network. We may blame technology for a lot and many people do. But it is only when we integrate it into our lives as an enabler do we reap the benefits. The world is now open to each and every single person on the planet who has a device and connectivity.

The 21st century opportunity

The true purpose of social networks (both internally and externally) is to bring likeminded people together in conversation. My social media 101 tip is that when people use social tools like Enterprise Social Network (ESN) or Twitter in a 20th century world fashion, they are simply using it like advertising to yell at people. The purpose of your social network is not to bring in bad habits like top down, one way communication to a collaborative way of working. The 21st century leader understands that the true purpose is to work out loud, have conversations and work in a community. And if this is not happening in your organization, please don’t blame the technology, ask yourself:

  • Are you posting one-way announcements? Have you made your social network a place where people only read about what’s going on?
  • Is everyone writing their own content or is an executive communication person ghostwriting for executives? Is there transparency and authenticity?
  • Are you seeding conversations and responding or are you complaining that too many people responded to your blog post?
  • Do you see it as “another place to go” or are you working out loud?
  • Are you having more conversations in your meetings and less PowerPoint because you started the conversation online?
  • Do people have enough trust to participate in your network?
  • Are you building safe communities for people to work in regardless of title, time zone and location?

The most important skill for the 21st century world of work

The most important skill we need to develop for the 21st century is our ability to build strong partnerships. And at the core of that are relationships. Industry lines are blurring. We no longer know what industry Google, for example, is in. And does Netflix have a great distribution model or is it an award winning content creator? The organizations that are re-inventing themselves are the ones that are moving to the edges with purpose. They also know how to create streamlined two-way communication internally and externally. They value dialogue and understand that people are at the centre of everything. The currency is trust, which leads to strong partnerships.

Here is what most marketers today won’t tell you

There are no gimmicks. No quick tricks. No magic carpets that will make your business grow. There is no viral campaign or social media magic that will produce the bottom line results you are looking for. It’s about doing the hard work. It’s not easy. It involves rejection and disappointment because it forces us to get out of our comfort zone. So forget about your social media strategy, the question you need to answer is what is your relationship, partnership strategy?

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