Perhaps I’m just feeling down tonight or just feeling poor but I just want to share that there is a downside to community.
I’m a huge advocate of creating communities inside your company to support technical skill sets or new technology rolling in, or yes even creating communities of people who look for ways to save your company money.
I truly believe that these kinds of networks in your company and beyond are how you create a place people want to work, feel engaged, rewarded and equally important how a company can listen to what customers & employees are saying in order to be more agile.
Perhaps I’m also naive that I believe in passion – finding it, inspiring it in others and harnessing it.
So why do I feel that there is pain in community? I spend a lot of time giving back, so much time in fact, that I don’t remember the last time I asked for anything. It was a long time ago. I first started being a part of the SharePoint community in 2009, I learned so much from so many people. As I learned, I was encouraged to start sharing and speaking about my experiences and since then I’ve been privileged to travel across the world, speaking to communities about collaboration and enterprise social, about machine learning and creating business value from technology. And I’ve enjoyed every minute of it.
I also participate a lot on several technical networks online, I answer questions, share tips, give advice nearly every single day, weekends included. I cannot remember actually ever asking a question on a Yammer network, for example.
People though seem to naturally assume that you get money for doing these kind of things. You don’t. Not for community events, where I’ve spent well over $10,000 of my own money and more airmiles than I want to remember in the last 18 months, slept on many people’s couches (for which I’m immensely grateful) and many of my fellow speakers are in the same position of paying for everything themselves. And I do love doing it, I love making new friends and experiencing new cultures. But it’s not vacation, there’s a ton of work that goes into doing sessions. Attendees come to events, assume that you generate business from these community events (I mention our company ManyWorlds’ incredible recommendations apps for Yammer and SharePoint every session I present, I can count the customers that came from over a hundred presentations, on one hand). Then you get conferences where attendees pay to come, the conference doesn’t pay any of your expenses as a speaker, and then clearly states in the presentation guidelines that ‘no sales material or mentions’ must be in it. Hmmm.
Then it comes to answering people’s questions online. I’m very active in 5 networks that deal primarily with Microsoft related technologies. I get pulled into conversation threads, I get ‘urgent’ private messages to give immediate help from irate folks who are frustrated with technology or support. I’ve even Lync’d with people I don’t know to help them with their Yammer set up and troubleshoot their SSO issues in the middle of the night. Not once have I said ‘not my job’. Because I share – to a fault. You might get a thank you, but frankly it’s rare. It’s even rare to get a like. And by no means am I the only one who does this. There are many unsung heroes who contribute so much in their fields of expertise. I had just a sampling of folks who felt the same way when I tweeted about this issue.
And these are exactly the behaviors that we try to encourage inside our companies to incentivize others to share. How are we ever going to break the ‘knowledge is power’ mentality, if we don’t have a way to recognize those that share and model the behaviors we are looking for? Recognizing contributors and connectors is a critical element to enterprise social success, those who contribute knowledge to increase organizational acuity and those who see & make the connections between people and work that are non-obvious. The rub comes when you are an ‘expert’ (and I use the term loosely) and sharing your hard earned knowledge makes everyone else’s life easier. There’s not a lot of learning that you can expect back. In which case, you are working for number 4 on Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. Which requires folks to say thank you every once in a while. Please.
(Updating to post that as an experiment I’m going to attempt to keep track of my contributions over the next month or so, so that I can actually have some data to back up what my gut tells me).