Leaders we deserve: The WordPress example

August 26, 2007

giant-despair.jpgThis weekend the WordPress internet company ran into serious delivery difficulties. It received a flood of encouraging messages from its customers. The company had earned considerable goodwill through its unwavering customer-orientation. This provides insights into exemplary corporate leadership

In a few years the WordPress organization has signed up over a million bloggers. Subscribers this weekend faced life without a fully-functioning service from their fast-growing provider. That’s a lot of disappointed bloggers. No doubt there were many whose anger and frustration boiled over towards Word Press and the world in general.

However, it seems that quite a lot of people reacted with considerable goodwill towards the company. My own reaction echoed a substantial number of customers who sent emails to Word Press. One typical one came from member advertboy:

Thanks for the heads up.. I completely understand it has nothing to do with WordPress but rather your datacenter providers. I hope you are getting compensation from your datacenter provider …, this is really an unacceptable outage for any business.

Other emails described the fears that the user had been responsible for loss of contact with WordPress, and the subsequent relief to discover there was someone out there caring. Despair turns to hope.

During the night, the team at WordPress continued to work. Tellyworth found time to reply to queries:

The problem wasn’t a hacker, virus or anything malicious like that. We’re still not sure but it looks like a failed upgrade at one of our providers. It hasn’t affected our servers, just network traffic to and between them. Intermittent network problems are still affecting some people, and that will probably continue until after the scheduled maintenance

Unconditional trust

The company seems to have achieved something special within its global network of subscribers. Subscribers? Customers? Members of an extended family? Corporate speak falls short of what’s going on here. To be sure, many corporations say that the customer is their prime concern. But their rhetoric is often ultimately self-defeating. It dulls the senses as it echoes around the catacombs of cynicism. Customers mostly accept that in a far from perfect world, in business transactions they are likely to be dealing with the frailties of human beings intent on putting self-preservation first. Being nice to customers happens to be one way of doing business. Sme firms do their best. But that pragmatic stance is tested when ‘putting people first’ means ‘putting corporate interests second’. Caveat emptor rings as true to day as it has for a couple of millennia.

A few firms transcend pragmatism. Word Press illustrates a process within which a corporate culture is established which has behaves so as to engender unconditional trust in its business actions. How to earn trust? Be trustworthy. Easy to say. For some firms it is also easy to do because it is natural. It would be unnatural for the firm not to work through the night finding a thousand things that might, just might help in a period of crisis. The process is made easier because they already have a lot of capital earned and deposited in the psychological Bank of Trust.

I had been struck by the enthusiasm for improvement shown by the company in its communications. These tend to inform users of improvements to the service. But also they reveal a deep commitment to creativity. What Carl Rogers was describing as the human need to create, so often shrivelled up in corporate life. Only this week users were told how good things come in threes, and learned about the new visuals showing daily, weekly and monthly blog traffic.

Tom Peters was an influential guru from the last Millennium. He wrote a lot of things about excellence, much of it rather insanely enthusiastic of the virtues of being, well, insanely enthusiastic about your business life. He would have loved to have a Word Press to illustrate his ideas.

The disturbances persist

Attempts to preview this post suggest that the crisis is not yet passed. But Giant Despair is more or less under lock and key. Let’s give it another try …


Social Networking and The Manchester Method

May 29, 2007


The Manchester Method is offered as a case example of an educational innovation which can be analysed within a complex social network

Which sounds very grand and scholarly. I had been offered a ten-minute slot to discuss The Manchester Method at a workshop for educational experts.

Ten minutes is a rather brief time for a public presentation. I consoled myself with the thought that this was five time longer than was granted to the candidates for the Labour Party deputy leader debacle last night.

I futher consoled myself with the thought that one of my points was an example of a realistic leadership challenge in which MBA students were trained to make a one-minute elevator pitch.

So, assisted with such psychological Dutch courage I stepped up to the plate, and attempted to summarize over thirty years of work known as The Manchester Method which has been carried out by a community of practice extending out from my academic homebase of The Manchester Business School, within The University of Manchester, England.

The gentle art of knitting

It is a well-known fact that academics are prohibited from publishing the same idea in more than one scholarly journal. It is less well-known that academics are skilled at the art of knitting a variety of patterns, thus conveying the appearance of producing new product after new product, with minimum change of procedures.

I was thus able to draw on the basic principles of The Manchester Method, outlined in an earlier post.

These were then knitted to meet the request of the workshop organizers to ‘do something about social networking’

Manchester Method as Social Networking

How to win friends and influence people: A tip from a great business leader

February 27, 2007

Some years ago I learned a great leadership principle from a successful leader. The idea seems even more relevant today, as it can be adapted to web-based communication systems.

The basis principle is an ancient one with a great ethical pedigree. It comes in various guises such as the principle of reciprocity, or ‘treat others as you would like to be treated’. My mentor applied it on a near daily basis.

‘If I come across anything I think would interest someone’ he would say, ‘I’ll tell them about it’. He explained that he subscribed to various papers and journals, and followed a ‘read and use’ policy. After he came across an article that he thought would benefit someone else, he would cut it out. Before the days of Post-it notes he would clip out the relevant pieces to be used for this purpose, before binning the residual document. Then he would send each cutting off, always personalized with a note. For example, I would often receive something with a message suggesting how it might would help in my research, or in my work with some mutual corporate contact.

Didn’t he charge money?

No. He had worked out the principle that the process was mutually beneficial. It happened to be great marketing, and it helped keep him in mind within his network of business and personal contacts. But it wasn’t just marketing. He enjoyed doing it. Thinking about it, he didn’t even waste time. It was more efficient than trying to contact by ‘phone.

The 21st Century business model: use targeted not pepper-shot give-aways

He was anticipating a very 21st century business model. This operates on the premise that you build a business by first giving things away, not worrying about how much to change for them. It works particularly well for e-businesses. If you come across something on the web, you should be able to think of someone who would like to see it. Simple. Your computer has probably got that famous icon of a paper clip. So e-clip the article (or use a permalink). Then personalize the message and send it off in an email.

A chance to practice the networking tip

You may like to practice the suggested tip using the recent posts from this blog. (OK, so I’m practicing what I’m preaching). The following posts fall into three broad categories, business, political, and sporting. Scan the list for one of those categories until you find one you think would interest one of your contacts. Ask yourself why she or he would like to receive it. Forward it using the permalink with that personalized message. Let me know how you get on, and good luck.

List of recent posts to practice your e-networking

1 Tata take-over of Corus. Why Tata is a bit like Tesco and a lot like Unilever.

2 The BA strike (1) .. How bullying management may have played a part in the dispute.

3 The BA strike (2) .. and how its resolution called for more than macho (Mandrill) management

4 What sort of leader do you need? Introductory note on ‘superleadership’ and distributed leadership

5 Is John Reid incompetent? Maybe, but what would anyone else have done differently? Is his problem more of trying to conceal powerlessness than of incompetence.

6 Pfizer: Analysis of the company’s financial strategy and status

7 FT fate in the balance

8 Lateral thinking as a project aid

9 On becoming a leader. Post to support student project work.

10 Leadership expectations: Jonny Wilkinson

11 Dysfunctional/disgraced leaders: The Hyundi case

12 Leadership priorities: What problem is small enough for a Leader to ignore?

13 English Football invasion by American entrepreneurs

14 Allan Leighton and Royal Mail leadership

15 On becoming a leader

16 Politics

17 Burberry leadership problems

18 John Reid political judgment

19 Chrysler troubles

20 Gun Crisis

21 How ‘failed’ leaders bounce back

22 How to read opinion polls

23 More on gun crimes

24 Airbus problems

25 Understanding why comparative analysis is difficult, using the case of football managers

26 Virgin and Network Rail leadership challenges

27 More on airbus struggles

28 Of special interest to the next Project Leadership experiment, the post on co-creating project leadership information.