Bottom-Up Leadership And Digital Skills Training

A well-run business is like a car cruising down the highway. The road may not always be even, but the machine is designed to withstand minor shocks and keep moving smoothly. Sometimes, however, an unexpected change of environment catches the car’s “leadership” in the driver’s seat by surprise: the car hydroplanes, or hits black ice, or blows a tire. The situation is suddenly dire. In an instant, the superior vantage and planning of the executive behind the wheel is useless. The whole enterprise is at the whim of a changing, unpredictable circumstance down where the rubber meets the road.

In today’s business environment, a concerning percentage of the economy is heading toward a patch of black ice called the digital skills gap. This is the name by which we learning experts refer to the epidemic shortage of digital skills in both companies and the labor pool of job candidates. The digital skills gap already costs businesses money and productivity — $1.3 trillion annually in the U.S. — and is only growing in urgency. If skills training doesn’t become a priority among the nation’s executives, quite a few company drivers will soon be surprised at the lack of control they have over their vehicles.

The companies that avoid this fate will be the ones that embrace bottom-up leadership. This doctrine acknowledges that good insight is a type of leadership, no matter where it’s found on the organization chart. It is a manager being open to the wisdom of employees beneath her, and ground-level employees speaking up when something needs to change. Bottom-up leadership encourages communication between all nodes in the company hierarchy, which affords executives a clear and complete picture of the organization’s successes and needs. There’s a reason why modern cars devote entire computer systems to gathering data from the tires.

Front-line employees are the ones most likely to recognize a digital skills gap. They are the workers dealing with the digital tools that propel the business on a daily basis: customer relations management systems, point-of-sale software, project management, and so on. These aren’t the tools managers use to plan, recruit, and strategize, so top-down leadership may not notice when employees struggle along without proper training.

A lack of bottom-up leadership could be the reason that executives are failing to address the skills gap. According to a 2012 MIT study, executives pay lip service to the importance of digital optimization — 87% consider “digital transformation” a competitive opportunity — but in practice, only 46% invest in critically needed digital skills training. A stunning 4% offer training aligned with a digital strategy. This is an economy-wide dereliction of management.

It is up to the employees in the trenches, then, to make it known that productivity is being lost to incomplete skill sets. And it is the responsibility of executives to listen, and do something about it.

In good times, when a business is doing well and the competition is at bay, it doesn’t seem necessary to listen to the signals coming from the bottom of the totem pole. Companies can afford to label it “bottom-up leadership” and grant it an air of magnanimity. But when the tires start rattling, and the car starts careening, the trajectory of the whole operation depends on its most humble parts.


Jeff Fernandez is co-founder and CEO of Grovo, helping to educate the digital workforce with an end-to-end video training platform that delivers quality results in the shortest amount of time. 

photo credit: hassanrafeek via photopin cc

Communities of Practice and Purpose: #TChat Recap

“Every person is defined by the communities she belongs to.”
―from “Speaker for the Dead” by Orson Scott Card

I imagine that anyone who participates in the TalentCulture community agrees with this quote. Whenever any of us invests time or talent in #TChat events, social channels or this blog, a bit of our identity becomes connected to something larger than ourselves.

Of course that’s not unusual. The rise of the Internet has made community membership a common occurrence. In fact, “community” has become a buzzword for any group of people that uses digital technology to interact. But many business-related communities are much more than just loosely connected people. They are, like TalentCulture, communities of practice or purpose.

Here’s how social learning expert, Etienne Wenger, defines Communities of Practice: “Groups of people who share a concern or a passion for something they do — and who learn how to do it better as they interact regularly.” It’s important to keep in mind that this proccess of continuous learning isn’t necessarily intentional. It’s also important to remember that, although communities may start as a flash of inspiration, they must be cultivated. They require consistent presence, clear communication and sufficient resources to function and flourish.

Not every virtual community is a community of practice.  What differentiates them from others? According to Wenger, there are 3 critical components:

  • DOMAIN = shared topics of interest (e.g. today’s “world of work”)
  • COMMUNITY = members + their relationships (e.g. #TChat/TalentCulture social media connections)
  • PRACTICE = channels and collective body of knowledge (e.g. chat archives, video and audio interviews, blog commentary)

Want deeper insight into how you can get value from a community of practice? Watch this energetic, idea-packed video by Nancy White, who is passionate about the care and feeding of communities!

How do these community of practice concepts extend to enterprise communities? For insights and inspiration, check out our stash of resources from this week’s #TChat Forums. Throughout the week, experts challenged us to think in new ways about familiar community concepts.

#TChat Week in Review

SAT 5/25

Maria and Jeff

Watch video interviews in the #TChat Preview

#TChat Preview + Sneak Peek Videos: Our Community Manager,  Tim McDonald, framed the week’s topic in interviews with our special guests, Maria Ogneva, Director of Product Marketing at Salesforce Chatter Communities, and Jeff Willinger, Director of Collaboration, Social Computing and Intranets at Rightpoint consulting. See the preview: “Finding Value in Enterprise Communities.”

SUN 5/26 Post: TalentCulture CEO, Meghan M. Biro considered how business organizations can effectively apply community management principles and practices in her Forbes column, “5 Ways Leaders Empower The Social Enterprise.”

TUE 5/28


Listen to the #TChat Radio show recording

#TChat Radio: Maria and Jeff joined our hosts, Meghan M. Biro and Kevin W. Grossman to examine key issues and opportunities associated with the care and feeding of digital business communities, in “Why Enterprise Community Management Works.”

WED 5/29

#TChat Twitter: As we do each Wednesday, #TChat-ters took to the Twitter stream to share ideas, concerns and opinions — this week about enterprise community best practices, with Maria and Jeff leading the way. Were you in on the action? If not, or to review highlights, watch the slideshow below:

#TChat Twitter Highlights: “Finding Value in Enterprise Communities”

[javascript src=”//”]

Closing Notes & What’s Ahead

SPECIAL THANKS: Again, thanks to our guests, Maria Ogneva and Jeff Willinger. We’re inspired by your insights and passion for cultivating purposeful business communities!

NOTE TO BLOGGERS: Did this week’s events prompt you to write about digital communities? We’re happy to share your thoughts. Just post a link on Twitter (include #TChat or @TalentCulture), or insert a comment below, and we’ll pass it along.

WHAT’S AHEAD: Next week — we’re shifting gears to look at the hiring process from the candidate’s perspective. How have employers improved about the hiring process — and what could be improved? You won’t want to miss it!

But until then, the World of Work conversation continues each day. So join us on the #TChat Twitter stream, or on our new LinkedIn discussion group. And feel free to explore other areas of our redesigned website. The lights are always on at TalentCulture, and your ideas and opinions are always welcome.

See you on the stream!

Exploring the Heart of Social Media Careers: #TChat Preview & Recap

There are thousands of them: Strategists, Specialists, Editors, Coordinators, Contributors, Community Managers. And that’s just in California. When you search for “social media jobs” on Indeed, for example, there are nearly 6,000 related jobs that come up. I have no idea what it would’ve been like just five years ago, but I’m sure it was only a fraction of that.

All things social have permeated the enterprise, as well as small to mid-size business. Both B2C and B2B companies, non-profits and government agencies alike are creating social media careers.

What’s really driving it all? Social recruiting and social marketing – sourcing applicants and sourcing buyers. Since the meteoric growth of social network populations, it behooves companies to source “leads” from these populations. Early adoption is over and we’ve headed right into the heart of mainstream social.

But there’s also a newer third wheel to this social media hubbub. It’s customer service community management. The democratization of the consumer’s voice has created more transparency than companies had planned on. And because they no longer control the message (how many times have you heard that in the past few years?), the buyer controls them.

In fact, some companies have gotten better at social customer service than their traditional channels. For example, last year I needed to cancel an online subscription to Adobe. I tried doing it online, emailing them and calling them, but to no avail. At the point of being livid with frustration, I went on twitter and tweeted from the rooftops for them to cancel my subscription. Within hours it was taken care of by one of their “community managers.” Amazing and fascinating at the same time. I’m sure you’ve read dozens of similar sentiments.

And now we’re seeing employment brand community managers around social networks like Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter and others as well as HR/recruiting technology vendor community managers. These are talent/lead acquisition relationship builders first, sourcers and salespeople second.

Yep, headed right into the heart of mainstream social and not a moment too soon. Get your social skills on everyone!

Join us tomorrow night on #TChat, November 30, from 7-8 pm ET (4-5 pm PT), when we’ll take a closer look at social media careers today.  @MeghanMBiro will moderate and here are the questions we’ll cover.

(EDITORIAL NOTE: To see highlights from the chat event, see the Storify Slideshow at the end of this post. Thanks!)

Q1: When you hear “social media careers” what do you think of?

Q2: What are the primary skills that make for savvy social media careers?

Q3: Companies are hiring social media everything, but what’s the best way to source and screen these applicants?

Q4: Do HR/recruiting departments need social media managers to help with employment brand? Why or why not?

Q5: Social media careers have to be community-centric and constantly engaging. Why?

Q6: What businesses/industries have the best social media managers? The worst?

[javascript src=”//”]

Communities Go Mobile With Real World Exploration Apps

Thanks to a new set of location-based mobile applications that have cropped up over the past year, our social interactions online are beginning to impact our real world lives in very real ways. Here’s how they work now:

  1. Users open a location-based mobile application like Whrrl, Foursquare or SCVNGR and find recommendations from other users for how to experience different places near them.
  2. Within the applications, users bookmark recommendations that they want to do.
  3. Users then use their virtual to-do lists to explore the world around them.

Here’s a use case: I’m waiting in line at the ticket booth of the San Diego Zoo. To kill time, I open my Whrrl application. I view a few recommendations from other users who have been to the zoo. One recommendation from a friend of mine says, “Get to the back of the zoo right when it opens. You’ll get to see the lions eating their breakfast.”

I think to myself, “I don’t want to miss that!” and I dog-ear that recommendation. Forty minutes later, I’m watching the lions chow down with a few other spectators who were wise enough to download Whrrl. The rest of the park is waiting for the sloth exhibit in the front of the zoo to open. I click the “I did this” button on Whrrl and my friend who made the recommendation about the lions receives a reward within Whrrl.

That reality is evolving quickly, and with it, affiliate marketing is about to change forever.

Recently, Foursquare released its “Add to Foursquare” button, which allows anyone to tag places (and eventually recommendations) into the Foursquare network from anywhere on the web. Here’s where the fun begins. Remember that old  pay-per-click model affiliate marketers used to base their income on? It’s about to be taken to the real world. Here’s how these location-based exploration apps are going to work after a couple of more years of innovation:

  1. An affiliate marketer or influencer will be given designated links to specific recommendations and will plant those links using technology like the Foursquare button.
  2. Users will add those recommendations to their virtual to-do lists, and the marketer or influencer who planted the recommendation will be compensated for the real world “click.”
  3. If a user acts on the recommendation on his/her to-do list, the marketer will be paid even more.

When this world becomes a reality, my friend who made that recommendation at the San Diego Zoo will be compensated with a real world reward (monetary or otherwise). That new incentive may be enough motivation for mass adoption of mobile applications that guide real world experiences.

This is how technology will drive real world action. This is how social influence online can translate to the real world. So what does it mean for your social community? It means that with every new innovation in location-based technology, we are closer than ever to breaking down the boundaries between online and offline experiences.

Twitter chats and LinkedIn groups are on the verge of becoming experience-based, not just interest-based. Niche social networks on Ning will provide digital incentives for real world experiences. Facebook groups will be married to verticals of exploration and activity. As community managers, we no longer need to limit our thinking to what our communities can talk about on discussion boards, chats and blogs. We can now start to strategize about enriching our community members’ lives while they aren’t sitting at their desks pounding away on their laptops.

If you haven’t tried out a location-based app like Whrrl or Foursquare, I highly recommend it. Understanding the dynamics those applications use will be key to running a successful community in the very near future.