There is a practice on Twitter called #followfriday. The point is to share about who you are following that you think others might be interested in following as well. It is also an opportunity to appreciate people for their contribution to you. And it was a really great thing. At least it was for a while.
Unfortunately good ideas can be executed badly and/or misused to the point where their purpose gets lost and their value gets diminished. Seth Simonds suggests this is exactly what has happened to #followfriday in his post Out with #FollowFriday and In with Connected Communities.
I agree with him, although I am not ready to abandon it quite yet.
I think if those of us who believe in its original purpose provide some leadership it could once again be a valuable practice that can deliver on its promise to the twitter community. In fact I think some people have continued to operate true to the original intent.
Yet what is most compelling to me is that this is not just a twitter story.
We can learn a lot about leadership and organizational behavior from observing what has been happening here. In fact, I’ll suggest that what has happened with #followfriday is a common phenomenon in communities of all kinds.
All too often programs are initiated in the spirit of doing something meaningful and aspirational, yet degrade to the point of becoming meaningless and even fueling resignation and cynicism. And yes I would call #followfriday a program because, while it is not formally administered in any way, it is a structured approach to accomplishing a goal. The goal here, as I understand it, is to connect and appreciate people.
Programs for acknowledgment and appreciation are particularly common in formally organized communities. Employee of the Month, Sports Awards Events, and Character Counts Certificate Programs are examples. Some work well, even leading to desired and lasting changes in behavior, and some do not.
Just like #followfriday, programs usually start out with noble intentions.
Yet we have all seen at least some of them fail to live up to their initial promise: awards are given that end up being meaningless to the recipients, distrust can be fueled when people believe the “panel” chose their favorites over the people who were really deserving, we have to pinch ourselves just to stay awake at a supposed celebratory event, etc.
Here are three signs a program is failing to deliver on its promise, followed by 3 things we can do about it.
—3 SIGNS OF FAILURE—
1. We lose sight of why we started the program to begin with.
Our mood when engaging in anything to do with the program does not match the spirit of the program’s intent. Resignation replaces enthusiasm and a sense of doing something that really matters. As a result we go through the motions with little sense of satisfaction.
2. Expectations take the place of authenticity.
We start feeling obligated rather than motivated to participate. And we start making our choices based on our considerations (e.g. will someone feel left out) rather than our commitments (e.g., wanting to acknowledge someone who you really believe stands out).
3. Individuals figure out how to work the system for their own personal gain AND we let them take over.
People start trying out new ways to manipulate the system so they win. We start to behave in ways and/or see behavior that is inconsistent with the original intent. And more often than not we do not say a word. We wait and hope someone else will intervene, or people will see the error of their ways, or we start complaining about “them”. We may just abandon the program altogether or sit on the sidelines hoping it just goes away.
—3 THINGS WE CAN DO TO GET BACK ON TRACK—
1. We can wake people up. That includes ourselves! Until I read Seth’s post I continued to go along even though something did not seem quite right. I thank him for holding up the mirror so I could wake up to what this was really all about once again.
Waking people up to their commitments is an act of leadership. However, be forewarned that it can initially make them angry because it can feel like you just got hit with a cold bucket of water. But if they are truly committed they will thank you for it later!
2. We can take personal responsibility. That starts with owning our part in the breakdown. I clearly played a part in the degradation of a once fabulous practice called #followfriday. One example is that I got lazy by posting lists of names instead of taking the time to share why I though someone was worth following.
Responsibility is not about beating yourself up though. If you are human you will at least occasionally get caught in the drift. It is what you do once you are awake that really matters because that is when you can choose to do something different (or not).
3 questions to help you get back on track when you have list your way are: 1 – what am I committed to here?, 2 – what could I do?, and 3 – what will I do?
3. We can take action. Do something to put things back on track OR choose to stop. If it is worthwhile take the point of view that success or failure is up to you and take action accordingly. On the other hand, letting something that isn’t working continue on because no one wants to admit it is not working is exhausting for the people involved and potentially damaging to the organization. Choosing to end something or offering an alternative way to accomplish the same goal can be very empowering.
Our willingness to provide leadership to any program can make the difference in whether or not it will succeed. It does not matter whether we are “in charge” or not. Our leadership still matters.
EVERY PERSON IN A SYSTEM CAN CONTRIBUTE TO THE SUCCESS OR FAILURE OF ANY ENDEAVOR IN THAT SYSTEM THROUGH WHAT THEY SAY AND WHAT THEY DO.
Look around you. Are you part of a program that is not living up to its promise? If so, what are you going to do now?
As for me, I have not given up on #followfriday. As a start I am going to stop just listing names and start making meaningful recommendations once again.