MARIA OGNEVA'S BLOG
I got to have a chat with my idol and friend Paul Greenberg over the holidays and we had a fascinating discussion about self-interest in life and in business. I’m rather ashamed that it took me a month to publish this post, but I guess that’s how life goes when you work for a startup and are starting a newly married life. Not making excuses; rather, I’m going to focus on publishing more original content for this blog.
So.. Back to self-interest. Since I was quite young, I remember coming to terms with my own, and overall human, selfishness. Since childhood, I remembered how good it felt to do something nice for others, and I wanted to do more of it. The reverse is, of course, also true — when you mistreat others, willingly or not, you feel bad. This is why participating in charitable activities is such a win-win, in my opinion — you get to feel good while doing something good for others. The benefactor of the charitable activity benefits from the product of the activity, while you benefit from the good feeling. Even though you do charitable activities with the goal of helping others, the real reason why people do them, is because they feel good. Even though altruistic readers of this post may get up in arms over this last statement, I do think that self-interest rules all other human emotions.
Self-interest tends to have this negative connotation, which is not deserved, in my opinion. People tend to interpret it as “selfishness”, which it’s not. Selfishness, in my mind, is when you do things for yourself with no regard to others, while self-interest helps you make better decisions that will ultimately benefit you. Self-interest is a long-term strategy and a reason why you do things, while selfishness has a shorter-term horizon. Have you ever heard people say “I wish life came with instructions”? Well, self-interest is your set of instructions, your navigation, your map. You don’t really want to do a bunch of haphazard things that aren’t getting you closer to your goal, do you? So if you can devise a strategy that can benefit you, while benefitting others, why not?
Self-interest, if understood and harnessed properly, can mean the difference between doing something and not doing it, between others helping you do it and you doing it alone. Self-interest isn’t bad; rather, it’s the holy grail of motivation. I read (or heard) somewhere once a witty statement that really stuck with me: “Everyone is tuned into his / her favorite radio station WIIFM – What’s In It For Me”. The more you can help others answer that question, the more you can get them to see your side and do something with you / for you.
The applications in business are tremendous. Organizations and business units are mostly bad at really understanding and harnessing self-interest — at least from what I’ve seen. HR creates standard performance objectives on which all employees are measured, while work conditions and hours don’t allow for much fluctuation. There seems to be a vast disconnect between the theory (such as Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs) and their practical implementations. The younger, faster-moving and more entrepreneurial organizations, of course, have an easier time going “outside the box.”
Why am I writing this? Because understanding employees’ motivations and self-interest is especially important in a “social” organization. A social organization is essentially any organization that leverages the dynamics and reach of social “channels” to achieve a business purpose. Being on Twitter does not make you a social organization, however. Being inherently conversational, collaborative, inclusive, approachable, customer experience-centric, does. The purpose of this post is not to define a social business, but rather to underline that to be social, your employees have to be that special breed of empowered employees that can offer awesome solutions to empowered customers — they have to be empowered to tell your story in their own way, and their own experience with your company has to be positive enough for that enthusiasm to come through. A disenfranchised employee, just as much as a disenfranchised customer, is a ticking time-bomb. Do you think the nasty Domino’s Pizza employee video on YouTube would’ve been created by empowered employees? Yeah, I didn’t think so either.
Money is not enough to make an employee empowered or happy — check out the aforementioned Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, it’s good stuff. What’s just as important are: interesting projects, flexibility to get them done on their own terms, performance measurement that makes sense, individualized goals, an organizational structure that allows for growth and cross-functional collaboration and development, among other things. For example, for me to perform well as a community and social media strategist, I have to have access to really interesting information, great people and events. I need to learn all the time, synthesize and use that information. If I couldn’t go to events and expand both my mind and network, I wouldn’t be nearly as productive, creative, successful or happy.
Learning new things and meeting new people stirs up my creativity and helps me create content. This content makes our community happy, educates them and gets more people into our community. Because social media is on all the time, I work during the day and during the night, and as such the 9-5 paradigm doesn’t apply (of course, this doesn’t include times when I’m in the office to collaborate and meet with the team — time has to be made for that). Because I travel to conferences to learn these new things and meet people, I need to do my work on the go, so the office paradigm doesn’t always work.
I’m a brutally honest person, so for me to be really enthusiastic and and an effective steward of the brand, I have to believe in the product, its roadmap and the team. Because by virtue of my job, I talk to stakeholders and users, I need to feel like this feedback is being listened to and acted upon. I also need to be well-versed in the product I’m representing and empowered to take action on behalf of a community member, customer, or whoever needs help. My self-interest is intertwined with the interest of the company, my brand is intertwined with the company’s brand. The better I do, the better the business does, and the better my personal brand becomes in the end. This works both ways, of course. I understand fully the implications that a “brand hiccup” of @themaria can do to the business I’m representing — and sometimes overthink it. Empowerment and workplace customization to harness self-intrest needs to occur with every employee — not only the ones actively representing your business online. Businesses who don’t get empowerment and the power of their employees’ personal “brands” will never be truly social.
Photo credit: Frabuleuse