Archive - 2014

Mapping Relationships Between Influentials
Postal Service Lacks Matterness
Jumping the NYPD Hashtag
“It has been a long time since we have hosted such an amazing speaker as you – mind-changing, open, enthusiastic, so knowledgeable!” Felicity Aziz Cultural Affairs Specialist The American State Department Jerusalem
“Allison Fine is one of the few people who can communicate profound ideas to audiences of all types–from CEOs to career transitioners to those new to the field. I recently watched Allison mesmerize a group of executives with her knowledge and wit. Allison is a master storyteller–and her stories resonate with us all.”
Reality vs. Realists
The Churn
So Many Words, So Little Meaning

Mapping Relationships Between Influentials

Screen Shot 2014-05-16 at 1.01.21 PMThis month’s Social Good podcast is about a company called Relationship Science (RelSci) that has built an enormous database of the connections between influentials. I don’t usual feature a company on the podcast, and at first glance I thought it was yet another big box filled with names of people who give a lot of money and sit on boards, but then I looked deeper and found something very interesting.

RelSci isn’t just drawing lines between people, it’s filling in those lines in. I often talk about the ties between people or organizations in networks as being empty straws. The stuff running through the straws is social capital. As Laura Meacher, head of business development of RelSci describes on the podcast, Neal Goldman created RelSci to do more than map connections, it is measuring the depth of the relationship between people. It doesn’t help to know that two people went to the same college. We need to know if they have a relationship based on that tie. Did they go at the same time? Were they members of the same fraternity? Do they sit on any alumni committees together now?

These aren’t regular folks that RelSci is mapping, these are the 3,000 most influential people in the world (according to the company) and people, like Bill Gates and Warren Buffet, who are not going to be hanging around LinkedIn waiting for your friend request.

My other guest on the podcast is Spence Medford, VP of Institutional Advancement at The Henry Ford. Spence talked about the ways that The Henry Ford is using the mapping from RelSci to find ways to connect with potential board members and donors. He made it clear, though, that even if the relationships and connections exist, it’s still up to the institution and people like Spence, to close the deal with people. No matter how much mapping you do, it is up to the organization that wants something from someone to build a new and genuine relationship with the person they are targeting.

Here’s a really interesting article about RelScience and it’s founder Neal Goldman.

And here is a really interesting talk Neal gives about RelSci:


Postal Service Lacks Matterness

This is a picture of my mailbox:







As you can see, is resting on the ground next to the post. Two weeks ago I heard a crash in the middle of the afternoon and came outside to find the mailbox like this. For a few days, our mailman delivered the mail in the box. And then the mail stopped.

[Side note: I ordered a new mailbox and post a week ago, it came, but it’s plastic, so it’s going back.]

I didn’t really notice that the mail had stopped because I don’t care much about the mail, it’s just a bunch of bills and junk mail (that’s from a Seinfeld bit.) But my husband cares deeply about getting his mail. He came back from a trip on Monday and realized we weren’t getting our mail. Yesterday he went to our local post office and asked the clerk why our mailing isn’t being delivered. She said he had to speak to the postmaster. Here is their conversation:

Husband: It seems our mail has stopped being delivered.

Postmaster: That’s right.

Husband: Can you tell me why?

Postmaster: Sure. Delivering your mail is a safety hazard.

Husband: How exactly is it a safety hazard?

Postmaster: Bending down and delivering your mail is a safety hazard. It won’t be delivered again until you get a new mailbox.

Husband: Why didn’t you tell us?

Postmaster: I didn’t have a telephone number for you.

[Side note: Apparently looking in the phone book the Postal Service continues to distribute was too much trouble.}

Husband: Well, then, couldn’t you put a note in the mailbox telling us that?

Postmaster: It’s a safety hazard.

According to the official USPS regulations I found online regarding the size and location of residential mail boxes, “Subject to state laws and regulations, a curbside mailbox must be placed to allow safe and convenient delivery by carriers without leaving their vehicles. The box must be on the right-hand side of the road in the direction of travel of the carriers on any new rural route or highway contract route, in all cases where traffic conditions are dangerous for the carriers to drive to the left to reach the box, or where their doing so would violate traffic laws and regulations.”

Hmm, is bending down a bit to delivery the mail really a safety hazard? I admit it might less than ideal for our mailman, and perhaps I should have been more sensitive to his hardship. But, seriously, a safety hazard?

I have been writing about matterness lately. It is the sweet spot between people and organization; it is where the desire and talents of individuals meet the needs and interests of organizations. This is a perfect example of an organization that clearly doesn’t give a hoot about matterness. Of course, we all know they never have, that’s why they are the punchline of so many jokes. However, one would think they might have made a few changes in the last few decades to rectify that in light of the competition. In addition, we live in a very small village, the job of the local postmaster doesn’t seem so overwhelming that making one phone call would be unreasonable to expect. This lack of matterness is not only the absurdity of the situation, but the utter powerlessness to be heard. I suppose we could appeal to the next postmaster up the chain, but that certainly doesn’t seem likely to end in a different outcome.

Trying to make the USPS care about its customers is an impossible task. The culture of this slow moving, antiquated, dying institution is constitutionally (pun intended) opposed to caring about customers. What they don’t understand, what so many organizations don’t understand, is that the outrage of matterness is extraordinarily sticky. This is the super glue of sticky stories because it is so absurd. This is the kind of iconic story that will be told and retold many times over (which is in part why I shared it here with you, please retell this story!)

More important than trying to make the USPS fortress change, this is also a cautionary tale for all organizations. Making your constituents feel like they don’t matter is infuriating, demoralizing and demeaning. Organizations measure their internal processes and external outcomes. Are we efficient? Are we productive? Are we meeting our goals of selling our products, or serving our people, or changing the world? Every organization needs to add a new question to the mix, “Do you feel like you matter to us?” Only in that way will the power of matterness begin to work for organizations and not against them.


Jumping the NYPD Hashtag

This week, the New York Police Department rolled out a new campaign on their official Twitter account. Here was the announcement: Do you have a photo w/ a member of the NYPD? Tweet us & tag it #myNYPD. It may be featured on our Facebook.

But instead of pictures like this:

Screen Shot 2014-04-25 at 9.19.25 AM

They got a LOT of photos like this:

Screen Shot 2014-04-25 at 9.21.01 AM

And the meme spread to the LAPD and Chicago and San Francisco.

Two years ago, I stirred the pot with my friends to hijack the hashtag that the Susan G. Koman Foundation was going to use during the Super Bowl. We were protesting their secretive decision to defund Planned Parenthood. Lucy Bernholz talks about it here in here Tedx Talk:

The NYPD quickly declared “victory” through a press release with a quote from Kim Y. Royster, Deputy Chief of Police stating, “”The NYPD is creating new ways to communicate effectively with the community. Twitter provides an open forum for an uncensored exchange and this is an open dialogue good for our city.”

It’s hard to believe that the NYPD expected or welcomed the jumping of this hashtag. The campaign unwittingly scratched the surface of deep seated anger about police tactics by citizens. By declaring victory and moving on, the NYPD, in fact, all of the police departments now subject to copycat hashtag jumping, are missing an opportunity to use this opportunity for real conversations on land with people who experience their own police departments as heavy handed thugs.

This conversation can’t happen on Twitter, it is too emotional, too laden with history and bad experiences, but it can and should happen in person. The NYPD could have acknowledged the problems and offered opportunities for people to meet in communities to discuss the problems openly and honestly. This would have been a fantastic opportunity for the new deBlasio administration to show how different they are from past administrations.

Alas, we have a hollow victory on the part of the NYPD’s social media campaign, a brief shout of J’accuse by aggrieved citizens and nothing else. That’s a shame. I’m looking forward to the day that a public official has the courage to step into the fray like this and have real conversations with real people.


“It has been a long time since we have hosted such an amazing speaker as you – mind-changing, open, enthusiastic, so knowledgeable!” Felicity Aziz Cultural Affairs Specialist The American State Department Jerusalem

“It has been a long time since we have hosted such an amazing speaker as you – mind-changing, open, enthusiastic, so knowledgeable!”

Felicity Aziz Cultural Affairs Specialist The American State Department Jerusalem


“Allison Fine is one of the few people who can communicate profound ideas to audiences of all types–from CEOs to career transitioners to those new to the field. I recently watched Allison mesmerize a group of executives with her knowledge and wit. Allison is a master storyteller–and her stories resonate with us all.”

“Allison Fine is one of the few people who can communicate profound ideas to audiences of all types–from CEOs to career transitioners to those new to the field. I recently watched Allison mesmerize a group of executives with her knowledge and wit. Allison is a master storyteller–and her stories resonate with us all.”

Kathy P. Kretman, Ph.D. Director, Center for Public and Nonprofit Leadership Georgetown University Public Policy Institute


Reality vs. Realists

When I wrote about “the churn” I was expecting folks to nod and say, “Yup, that’s what it feels like to be trying to tick off the to-do list day after day.” And I certainly got a lot of that, especially on Twitter (which is filled with people like me trying to avoid their to-do lists!) What I wasn’t expecting were the people who said, in essence, “I’m a realist, and trying to control the internal churn is unrealistic.”

Hmm, time for a Reality vs. Realists smackdown!

The Times reported on Saturday that the French Labor Ministry is reviewing guidelines for union workers to have eleven consecutive hours off without any electronic communications from their firms. Yes, I realize that some will say, “How will we know if the French are working or not?” Yet, this is a good sign for workers everywhere that they have a right not to be bombarded with emails 24/7, and, moreover, shouldn’t be expected to respond 24/7. Now, some of you Francophobes might say, “How can we tell when the French are or aren’t working?” But this effort is built on an effort by Volkswagon in 2011 to shut off its servers after work hours to stop emails from flying around. Is the German work ethic good enough for you? Net profit for Volkswagon rose 40.9% in 2012.

The question is what can we be expected to control as individuals and what is beyond our ability to manage or plan?

My impression is that the “realists” feel that most of life is uncontrollable, that people are made mean and greedy, that we’re just doing the best we can to try to adapt to a world spinning out of control. This is the thinking that feeds scarcity mentalities, that encourages people to pull back behind high institutional walls, always on guard for trolls and snipers – even though there is no evidence that there is an attack is imminent.

Unless one is willing to concede to an entirely passive existence, and I’m certainly not, than we have choices to make. We can choose to shut off our gadgets and go and take a walk (and lead our organizations this way, too.) We can choose to take down our walls and engage with the outside world with the presumption that the overwhelming of people out there who are goodhearted and want to help (crowdsourcing, anyone?) We can choose to shape our world to our better natures not just accept the worst parts of life and call it reality.


The Churn

Screen Shot 2014-03-31 at 12.17.48 PMI’ve been thinking a lot about the churn lately. Here’s how I define the churn:

All organizations need to get stuff done. They need to manufacture things and sell it, serve someone, advocate for legislation and change the world. And as they set out to accomplish these things, the puzzle to be solved becomes: what are the fewest steps, the fewest uses of resources to generate the biggest bang for the buck? And in that solution the churn is born; the obsession with internal processes at the expense of relationships, and even common sense.

The churn creates endless staff meetings going over and over processes and ass coverings. Who is supposed to do what, when and how? How do we avoid making a mistake? Once so much of the organizational energy draws inward, there isn’t enough left to look out at the world. This is why organizations don’t spend any time reflecting on their work or looking farther into the future than the next quarterly budget report. This is why organizations routinely ignore customer satisfaction surveys; it’s too hard to turn the ship internally when the churn is at full steam ahead.

So  many bad things happen in the vortex of the churn. The Federal Railroad Administration reviewed the accident on December 1, 2013 wherein four people were killed and over seventy injured when a Metro North train derailed in the Bronx. According to the New York Times, the investigation found that, “Metro-North has emphasized on-time performance to the detriment of safe operations and adequate maintenance of its infrastructure.” Metro-North is enthrall to the churn.

Part of the difficulty of undoing the churn is the misunderstanding of how to use data well. It is easy to collect lots and lots of data, that’s why we are all captive of Big Data right now. But gathering lots of data and answering the right questions are two different things. So, in the case of Metro North, the churn chiefs decided that efficiency trumps everything else, so that’s what they measured most closely, and rewarded in performance.

Figuring out the right measures is a real leadership issue. Putting profitability and efficiency ahead of everything else creates internal pressure to meet those ends. Whereas putting relationships and safety above all else creates a very different kind of internal culture.

Most of all, the churn is a choice, although, sadly, one most organizational leaders don’t realize is their own choice to make.


So Many Words, So Little Meaning

I am constantly surprised, and often bemused, by the way organizations use so many words to say so little.

Here is a sign I saw in a business yesterday:

photoThis is a lot of words to say absolutely nothing! And unless the writer was paid by the word, it doesn’t seem to have accomplished anything. Is there any way to know what kind organization this is or who they serve or what they hope to accomplish in the world? And shouldn’t you just have a qualified and approachable staff without having to tell anyone that’s what you have?

If you couldn’t figure it out from the tennis ball on the sign, this is a sign posted at the tennis center where my kids take lessons. Again, odd that their mission statement doesn’t include the word tennis, isn’t it?

But the point of this post isn’t just to poke fun at this one place (a little fun, maybe…) but to marvel at just how often this happens. Mission statements, vision statements, tag lines, brochures, value statements. So many words and so little of importance said.

Why? My guess is because people feel that they’re supposed to have these things posted on their walls and websites. Beyond that, I’m really not sure why anyone would bother with this.

Why do you think people spend their time writing and posting these inane statements?


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