Ning.com?

At work we’re looking to make a social network function for quite a large and geographically distant internal network, which in an ideal world would have 5 or 6 related but distinct subgroups.

Our overall goal is to use a system to efficiently get information around these groups. Email is not cutting it.  We would like to free ourselves from its grip.

We were initially very excited about Drupal, but I’m told that we would have had to rely on a programmer to make it happen for us, and he has evidently fallen off the face of the earth.  I hope he’s ok, wherever he is.

In lieu of outside help, I’ve been looking around at other options.  I heard Ning.com mentioned a few times, and as far as I can tell it’s just Moodle.  Regardless of which nonsense-word social network service we use, I’m excited about several features:

  • Initial setup was intuitive
  • I can post events, announcements, links, and other information
  • Groups
  • A blog, forum, etc.

My concerns about Ning.com in particular are:

  • I have an alarming quantity of information to post, including a forms library.  Is there a good way to do this using Ning.com?  Or is this where Moodle really shines?
  • I’m having trouble editing the layout of my page, as opposed to the main network page.
  • Will it be intuitive enough for enough of our network to make it worth trying?

I also have a more general concern about Web 2.0-ing my program.  Within our program, there are a lot of details, complications, and restrictions, not all of which are intuitive.  It’s the nature of our funding streams, and is even a little extreme in a nonprofit context.  We definitely want our network to collaborate with each other, talk, share stories, etc.  We also need the rules, regulations, and expectations, and their relatively strict natures to be abundantly clear.  How do other networks walk that line?  What are some tips for success?

Solution: Posterous

Thanks so much to Amy Sample Ward for blogging about Posterous!  Just email them content and they post it for you.  Woah.

This is exactly the kind of tool I should have used back when I started a blog without home internet.  There’s no process for signing up, you don’t have to do any account managing or appearance adjusting if you don’t want to, and they embed your media for you.  Yes, this helps people who aren’t familiar with much web technology beyond email.  It also reduces time commitment for anybody, no matter how tech-savvy.

It was a piece of excellent timing, because we were just brainstorming at work about some low-cost, low-time-investment ways to improve (specifically Web 2.0-ize) our website as we bide our time till a major overhaul.  Posterous would be a great way to post our informational emails as a blog; this would make them accessible to people who don’t want more email and also put them in a format that welcomes comments and discussion.  The best thing about this is we can just add post@posterous.com to our mailing list and it will post automatically.  Very exciting for a bunch of efficient nonprofiters!

I tested out my own just now.  The chief lessons I learned are that it is instant, the default style is clean white with orange links, you can BCC them, and that you should send photos as attachments rather than as links.   Things to explore: getting a better URL, changing the title, adjusting the look.

What do you think?  Who is this useful for?

Re: Question about Listening

I did actually receive a few answers about 6/25’s listening question.

Paraphrased response via phone:

  • ‘why did you ask?’

I asked because it comes up extremely frequently in both my work and personal life.  I’ve noticed that many of the people around me fail to listen, and more irritatingly, that I often fail to listen to them.

Paraphrased responses via Twitter:

  • ‘because people are afraid they’ll hear something they don’t like’
  • ‘yep, it’s a problem for me too.’
  • ‘because you think what you have to say is more important’

From an experience yesterday, I would add:

  • unwilling to accept a situation they don’t like

It reminds me of something my uncle said years ago that cracked me up.  He remarked that sometimes people “invent their own reality and then proceed to live in it.”  Though it’s valid to choose your attitude and your battles, if you’re immersed in Personal Reality, Population: 1, you’re probably pretty positive that your opinions trump all others, making listening understandably difficult.

So how do we prevent total disconnection of ourselves and our organization from generally accepted reality?  How can we ease the fears that can go along with real listening?  Is it possible to create an environment where people are confident they will be heard and that listening is worth their time?  What other layers of complexity (generation, culture, etc.) are people untangling along the way to an environment condusive to listening?

Question:

What makes listening so difficult?

Allow me to define “listen”:

  • acknowledge that someone wants to communicate with you
  • take in what the person is communicating
  • actively work to fully understand what is being communicated within your own schema
  • identify steps you can take to act upon what you heard
  • take said steps

I guess I partially answered my own question – there are a lot of steps.  But honestly, none of them are all that difficult.  Or are they?  Would you add steps to the definition?  Are there any in particular that cause people to stumble?  Is it more about our society or our organizational structures than about individuals?  Why is such a basic function of living as a human being so difficult to do well?

Seriously, I’d like to know.  I’d also like to not delve into discussion about improving listening just yet – I think that’s different enough to put on hold till another post.

Thanks in advance for sharing your thoughts!

Vacation and Pace

Gooseberry River

I took a short vacation up North with my sister, and slowing down definitely helped me notice how fast  I’m used to going.  As we hiked around lush forest and wide open water, I realized that I’m on the right track with what I’m doing with my life.  I already knew that, but it means more to think that when I’m not in the thick of it.  We decided we definitely have to make hiking more of a priority during future vacations.

I also feel like I have a lot more to give when I go back to work tomorrow.  Being relaxed and happy helps me be a better coworker and program staffer no question.  Ah, the elusive work-life balance, I think for at least today, I found you.

The question is, once you take your break, reset your pace, and find your balance, what do you do to keep it?  Marci Alboher from the NY Times has some suggestions – what are yours?

Attitude and Hypothesis

Hot Air BalloonsToday’s Positivity Blog post points out that your attitude can absolutely change your experience of reality.  The author uses the example of a hot air balloon ride: passengers on the very same balloon ride will have very different experiences if one spends the whole time worrying about crashing and the other doesn’t.  Your reality is all about your attitude.

I didn’t see “bad attitude” vs. “good attitude” so much as “he thinks the balloon is going to crash and kill him” and “he does not think he is about to die.”

My question: are your “attitude” and your “educated guess about what the future will be like” the same thing?  I’ll spare you my chain of philosophical reasoning, but I’m thinking that in day-to-day life they’re very similar and that in extreme situations they diverge.  In any case, I think it’s hard to argue that your perception of what future is likely is entirely unrelated to your attitude.

I see a big opportunity here for management to help their employees have a positive attitude by providing evidence and assurance (two separate things!) that their future will be positive.  I’m sure this is easier said than done.  One idea: use the strategic plan (I know you have one!) to directly and intentionally show employees how they will continue to be supported, recognized, and provided with growth opportunities.

What messages are your employees receiving about the future?  What kind of a message is no message?  Are you inadvertantly working against your employees’ efforts to channel Polyanna?  How can you support your employees’ attitudes with evidence that the balloon won’t be hit by a meteor?

Management Suggestions: Communicating

One of my organization’s biggest strengths and biggest challenges is that we have a main office and several satellite sites.  This week I got a chance to talk to some satellite coworkers I rarely see, and it was fantastic to get to reconnect.  I spoke with one coworker in particular, largely about communicating with supervisors.

What I Realized:

  • When people work really really hard, they need to know that the people above them do also.
  • The wheels that aren’t squeaking still need you.
  • It’s easy to assume the worst in lieu of facts.
  • Face time, with people and at places, makes people feel better.

Management Suggestions:

  • Face time.  Make time for it.
  • Make sure that at least some of your hard work is visible.
    • If you’re at work at 10pm, make sure to send some emails then.  Time stamps are subtle and say a lot.
    • Share your to-do lists, projects, and finished products.
    • Take a moment (not an hour) at check-in meetings to report on what you’ve been up to too.
    • Make at least some piddling tasks a priority.  Fix that water cooler, address the lighting in that parking lot, help with that crazy landlord.
  • The line between trusting an employee and ignoring an employee has a lot to do with the employee’s perception.
    • Send a quick thank-you to the people doing a great job.  Acknowledge that you’re being very hands-off, and that you’re still there when they do need anything.
    • Have regular meetings and switch up the location.
    • Publicly recognize accomplishments, and not just the momentous ones.

What are some other suggestions or lessons that come to mind?  How else can management communicate effectively?

Being Web 2.0 Brokers

It’s extremely busy “season” at work the past few months, and I was recently explaining Google Reader to my office mate.  She looked at me blankly and said that if we did any more talk about new tech stuff that day her head would explode.  

Cut to a scene about 1 hour later at a staff check-in meeting.  Coworker A says, “Emily, what’s so great about wikis?”  Right on cue, Office Mate makes an exploding noise and a little mushroom cloud motion with her hands.  The room goes silent and she and I try not to giggle.  Other coworkers are mystified, lengthy explanations ensue, and universal amusement is eventually achieved.  End scene.

The point of relating this mini-drama is that there are so many awesome tools out there, it’s almost funny.  It’s not surprising that so many people are overwhelmed. 

This is where I’ve found it important to be a Web 2.0 broker (with thanks to Mary Pipher’s “How To Be A Cultural Broker”).  In unfamiliar territory, people often need a little guidance.  You don’t have to be the most qualified or knowledgeable person around to help; you can share what you know and then learn the rest together.  It is about getting people connected with tools (therefore information, therefore power), and also a great excuse to build relationships with people you might not work with very often otherwise.

I’m excited that the handful of Web 2.0 brokers in our organization have put together a wiki (thanks Coworker S!) to let us support the personal verbal conversations with a small “sandbox” to play in.  We have a place for meeting notes and a brief, hand-picked list of resources.  It’s local, limited, and simple, and I can’t think of a better way to start.

How have others helped ease their coworkers into the Web 2.0 waters?  What tips would you share with other would-be brokers?

Transparency and “Good” Applicants

Many thanks to Lifehacker.com for starting a discussion on the apparently heated debate of résumé length.  I was surprised at how many different (and vehement!) opinions were out there.  Great points were brought up about the number of applicants and experience level.

My initial thought: employers should state what they’re looking for.  They post jobs and qualifications, why not post expectations?  It doesn’t seem difficult.  And why limit this to résumé length?  Wouldn’t HR’s job be easier if every company had a page of their website called, “How to be a good applicant” or some such?  Kind of like a twitter landing-page that Beth Kanter blogged about a couple of weeks ago, or email etiquette pages like ThanksNo.com (thanks again, Lifehacker!) you can refer people to.  

What would we call it – an applicant splash page?  Why be so secretive about the basics of our organizational cultures?  Do the benefits of such passive-aggression outweigh the potential benefits of increased transparency?  Would it help or hurt efficiency?  Would applicants like this or be irked by it?  Do some organizations already use one, and if so how is it working?

Taking Back My Environment

This was an amazing weekend.  I had four glorious days to myself!  I got a lot done in my apartment that I’d been putting off, and the result is that I have room in my closets, a desk, and a much smaller population of dust-bunnies.  I’ve effectively expanded my living space now that my desk is a place where I can spend time, and all those pesky tasks of day-to-day living will be easier now that I can find things and put them away.

Even though I’m not quite prepared to start thinking about work again just yet, I definitely noticed myself thinking that it would be nice to spend some time getting a handle on my office environment again.  I think it would make a huge difference in how I feel at work and in how fast I can find things.  I don’t think I’ll be able to work in cleaning/organization/de-cluttering time this week, but I’m thinking that it needs to become a priority for a day sometime before mid-July.  Because wow.

There are a million tips for getting and staying organized all over the Internet.  I didn’t look at any of them.  Three mindsets that worked for me this weekend:

  1. Go for high-impact bulk stuff first.  In other words, don’t start by dusting your DVD collection; start by washing and putting away the 11 loads of laundry floating around the apartment.
  2. Get rid of things.  Ask yourself, “Am I really going to take this item with me if I move in a year?”
  3. Take a moment to decorate your space.  For instance, my desk is now clear of piles of junk, and that’s great.  I also took 5 minutes to decorate the area with miscellaneous pictures that were floating around – a fun reward for present-Emily and future-Emily.
I’d love to hear what works for everyone else out there!