Preparing for ‘constant’ change, a farewell to snooping managers, and much more

Learn how the ancient Greeks might handle social media, get 24 conversation icebreakers, and enjoy your weekly dose of uplifting stories.

The week in comms 9-23-21

Hello, communicators!

We hope you enjoy this week’s batch of stories, which hopefully offer useful takeaways that make your job a bit easier. Here’s are the top stories for the week of Sept. 20-24, 2021.

1. A futurist shares how to thrive amid uncertainty.

If you always wait until something jarring happens to create a plan, you’ll be on the defensive and never reach your full potential. That goes for companies and people.

To truly thrive—especially amid such ongoing chaos—it pays to plan ahead. But how can you steel yourself against so many unknowns?

Noted “futurist” April Rinne shares how companies (and comms pros) can be more proactive and build resilience—even when the world seems upside-down. The guidance includes:

  • Conduct a ‘change’ audit, which can help quantify where your company is vulnerable and how you can bolster defenses against specific threats.
  • Put mindset before strategy.
  • Clarify and reassess who is responsible for your organization’s change-readiness.
  • Embed and integrate ‘fluxiness’ into organizational culture.

Obviously, no one knows exactly what’s coming. But fortune favors the prepared mind. That certainly applies to communicators, who can get ahead by simply envisioning what obstacles may arise. That may or may not include emerging issues such as combating vaccine mandate resistance or mitigating hybrid work pushback. Or, considering how the last couple years have gone, dealing with some sort of alien takeover or placating our new insect overlords.

As the piece concludes:

“We have before us a new set of opportunities — and new urgency — for navigating change well. Leaders and businesses need to radically reshape their relationship to uncertainty in order to sustain a healthy and productive outlook. As we look toward a future in which the only “steady state” is one of more change, it’s time to open your flux mindset, upgrade your organization’s “flux capacity,” and prepare to thrive in constant change.”

2. Is the era of managers about to end?

Ed Zitron sure thinks so! In his view, corporate America’s addiction to management is thwarting productivity and preventing companies from tapping internal reserves of potential. And the pandemic may finally be hastening the end of this questionable framework.

Zitron presents a withering case against companies’ mindless, flippant concept of management, writing:

“We have a glut of people in management who were never evaluated on their ability to manage before being promoted to their role. We have built corporate America around the idea that if you work hard enough, one day you might become a manager, someone who makes rather than takes orders.”

He continues: “Across disparate industries, an overwhelming portion of management personnel is focused more on taking credit and placing blame rather than actually managing people, with dire consequences.”

How dire? A consistent drumbeat of Gallup research shows that employee engagement, retention, morale, productivity and attrition are all inextricably linked to management—for better or worse. Unfortunately, a lot of it’s “for worse,” as exceptional managers are quite rare. But what’re the alternatives?

Zitron warns that the days of “hall monitor” management might be numbered, as remote work makes this sort of snooping more difficult and unnecessary. Instead, moving forward, managers will be rated “on their ability to provide their workers with the tools they need to measurably succeed at their job,” he says. Managers should be streamliners, efficiency experts and talent maximizers, rather than attendance takers and busy-work makers.

Is your company responding to this dramatic shift in any meaningful ways? Zitron suggests investing in mentorship, training and development to fill these gaps once filled by meddling managers. Focus on building employee strengths and place them in positions where they’re more likely to succeed.

This may not signal the end of supervisory roles, but smart companies keen on trimming bureaucratic bloat would be wise to consider rethinking how they view management in a post-pandemic world. As Zitron closes:

“Hopefully we can move beyond management as a means of control, and toward a culture that appreciates a manager who fosters and grows the greatness in others.”

3. A slew of nice conversation starters.

As we inch back toward office life normalcy, many are finding it difficult to navigate IRL, non-Zoom interactions.

A CNBC author, who describes himself as a “psychotherapist and podcaster,” shares “24 conversation starters to build deeper, more interesting relationships with anyone.”

The icebreakers, which are not at all awkward and will surely set your colleagues at ease rather than cause them to flee while tightly gripping pepper spray, include:

For when you’re at a gathering and/or meeting people for the first time:

  • Are you enjoying this event?
  • I like your [shirt/shoes/sweater]. Where did you get it?
  • Do you typically enjoy these gatherings?
  • Have you met anyone interesting so far?
  • If you could start over and go into an entirely new career direction, what would you do?
  • Have you been working on any cool projects lately?

For when you’re talking to someone that you don’t know that well:

  • Did anything interesting happen at work today?
  • Are you currently reading any books you’d recommend?
  • What has been the biggest change in your routine since the pandemic?
  • Have you watched [that TV show/movie/documentary] that everyone is talking about?
  • What’s the last good podcast you listened to?
  • If you could be anywhere else right now, where would it be?

For any situation:

  • How would you describe yourself in three words?
  • What’s the most useful thing you purchased on Amazon this year?
  • What would you do with an extra 10 hours per week?
  • What’s the craziest thing you’ve experienced this year?
  • What’s your biggest guilty pleasure?
  • If you could be best friends with any famous person, who would it be?

Wait, where are you going? You didn’t get to see my collection of baby teeth!

4. How would the ancient Greeks handle social media?

If Socrates was around today, would he do TikTok?

I sure hope not, but the BBC has a fascinating piece about how the ancient Greeks might have navigated the perilous world of social media. The piece says we may have more in common with the ancients than we might recognize:

“In the age of social media, we may be returning to a state in which a thinker’s claim to wisdom relies on their ability to effectively perform it – with the additional requirement that they’re able to transmute that performance into content,” adding that, “When philosophy began, the written word in the Greek-speaking world was still very young – and so ideas were often disseminated as oral-performative acts in public spaces, not unlike the epic poems of the previous age.”

The author notes that Plato sought to snuff out fake news back in his day and that he’d likely take a dim view of our modern “influencers” with malformed views:

“And so Plato set himself the task of distinguishing the true philosophers, the sincere and genuine “lovers of wisdom”, from the sophists, whose apparent wisdom may be a mere performance of intellectualism for their own gain. Faced with what appeared to be a new form of discourse run amok, he sought to sift out the good influencers from the bad.”

And don’t bother with that vapid virtue signaling:

“As Plato represented him, Socrates was unimpressed by moral posturing. And so according to the journalist Olivia Goldhill, he would well feel the same about this characteristic of social media, wherein people often hypocritically implore others to be more kind and virtuous. The more you display certainty in your self-righteous posting, Socrates might have argued, the more likely you are in fact ignorant of your own moral shortcomings.”

But how might we find truth in this dizzying agora of ideas?

“To combat the problem of distinguishing desirable from undesirable information – good from bad influencers – Plato introduced an infamous degree of censorship into his theoretical city. Jenny Jenkins at Swansea University has speculated as to whether he would have allowed citizens to use Facebook, surmising that this would have been a resounding “no”. “Facebook does not have the intention of promoting morality, and does not particularly seek to educate its users,” she writes, “so I think Plato would have disapproved of it for this reason alone.”

Instead, “Plato proposed that education and entertainment, and discourse in general, ought to be strictly regulated, with virtually all independent arts suppressed. If it doesn’t promote the welfare of the community in accordance with rational principles, ban it.”

A Stoic, meanwhile, might ask, “are you using this platform as a rational contributor to human well-being and the community of the Universe? Or to aggrandise, entertain or escape from yourself? If the former, go for it; if the latter, delete your accounts.”

The piece concludes:

“Our current connectivity is simultaneously the source of our best progress and worst dysfunction, our potential for self-destruction, and success. But this has always been true of our meeting places – the town square, the agora, the place of gathering – the spaces where we meet one another for better and for worse, and in one another, meet ourselves.”

5. Your weekly dose of comms inspiration.

Let’s close with some nice news! This week, let’s draw encouragement from:

Take good care of yourselves, comms champions. And keep up the good work.

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