Hierarchy vs. Meritocracy

“We are driven by meaningful work, by others’ acknowledgement and by the amount of effort we’ve put in: the harder the task is, the prouder we are.”

My company recently distributed its annual promotion list. Ten pages of people promoted out of tens of thousands of employees. There have been years where I’ve been on “the list” and years I have not. What I’ve learned is promotion in a hierarchical organization has little to do with merit or work delivered and more about politics behind closed doors. This taught me valuable lessons on how people are motivated and engaged on projects, teams and communities.

Focus on the work, not the title

ImageRecent conversations at work have a consistent theme. I find myself reassuring people who did not make “the list” to continue focusing on the work, not the title. Even a hierarchical organization can adopt meritocracy attributes. When projects, teams and communities enable people to learn, develop marketable skills, solve complex problems and broaden networks, motivation will remain consistent.

Drive motivation

I’m a big fan of behavioral economist, Dan Ariely. Dan’s TED Talk unveils findings that contradict popular belief about pay andImage promotion as motivators. To drive motivation people need meaning, creation, challenge, ownership, identity, pride and acknowledgement connected to their work. Developing myBill, a new application and approach for managing personal consumption at work, my pay or title was not a motivational force. I was passionate about the challenge of creating new software, to change the workplace and help others. The work I delivered drove my motivation, not the hierarchy. Understanding and applying the science of motivation alters the way we engage people, lead teams and manage communities.

Adopt meritocracy

ImageAdopting a meritocracy structure for your team or community promotes transparent contributions, collaboration and enables leaders to emerge organically. When the work feels bureaucratic, political or monotonous something is wrong. Allow the playing field to be level by recognizing hard work, celebrate successes, champion contributors and foster an environment where the work matters, not a title or hierarchy.

Community, the (not-so) secret ingredients

com·mu·ni·ty: a feeling of fellowship with others, as a result of sharing common attitudes, interests, and goals

“Community” sounds soft when associating it with developing strategy, influencing behavior or creating a movement but it’s the most powerful method to build awareness and drive change.  For over 10 years I’ve engaged diverse sets of communities and played many roles. I’ve been a community member, organizer, manager, leader and builder. Whether connecting subsistence farmers to increase food and economic security, building collaboration frameworks in a large company or raising awareness and revenue for non-profits, one thing remains the same; when like-minded people connect over a shared goal in a structured environment, potential is limitless. A few years ago my company invested in our Communities of Practice program and brought in community thought leader Jono Bacon. Jono helped us develop our frameworks and stressed 3 critical attributes before building any community. The same 3 ingredients apply to anything from software engineer communities to volunteer groups.

Social Economy

If there is no belonging there is no community.

Key to Social EconomyPeople must feel their work is valued. When people feel their contribution matters they’ll give opinions, volunteer time, deliver tasks, share creative insight and go the extra mile. This ignites open communication, collaboration and a strong sense of belonging. We developed simple hashtags at work, #ThankYouThursday and my #FollowFriday to publicly recognize people and their contributions on our collaboration platform.  Public recognition fuels social economy, enables a sense of belonging and costs nothing. It works and will keep contributions coming.

Communication Channels

Open communication platforms allow for transparent conversations and stories to be easily shared.  Transparency and shared  Communication Channelsstories embed a sense of loyalty, trust and competition to contribute within the community. I recently met with a fast growing tech company interested in creating a “tribe building” program for people using their software products. In order to build active external “tribes” the smaller teams and champions from within need to first adopt an internal culture of working out loud, sharing stories and connecting dots. Since 2006 I’ve worked with Salesforce, year-after-year they achieve success. Salesforce is a prime example of adopting open communication and collaborative models internally that has grown into powerful external communities and product offerings.  When teams can and want to work out loud through an adopted communication and community framework, ideas and opportunities transform into tangible results.

Community Manager  

Community ManagerEvery community needs a leader to curate content, highlight successes, recognize contributors and keep the group moving forward in unity. The ideal community manager has personal characteristics, passion and tacit knowledge to drive contributions, connect people and promote forward progress toward the goal or next milestone. Finding the right person to manage your community is both a leap of faith and instinct that tells you “this is the right person”.  Jono notes in The Art of Community that a person who is able to build trust, listen, respect others and avoid ego will keep the audience engaged and community thriving. I make every effort to listen, value each contribution and thank members regardless of what role I or anyone else plays in the community. Engaging and valuing people at all levels allow for a surplus of learning and experiences. This will ingrain an agile structure, collaborative culture and roadmap for you and your community to achieve success.