I’m a member of the last generation to know life before the Internet. I’ve been able to witness how people have managed to craft personas based on their time spent online. This didn’t happen on purpose, of course. We saw this raw nerve connected to a network of other nerve endings capable of anything. Had no idea how together or alone we were in this exposure, so there was a lot of feeling around in the dark.
We met others around us which in turn expanded our view of what was out there. More and more news traveled online. Social media networks arose. Video and audio became available. Email became drowned out by all the locations we had messages waiting for us to check.
Relationships formed. Alliances developed. Arguments ensued.
Today, there is a myopic view of people as a whole online today. We’re so divided and we will never find the middle ground. Conversation on serious topics devolves into playground shoving matches. The Internet is still full of so much possibility, and yet often it’s easier to see the flaws.
Listening to a podcast, I was thinking of how this relates to our view of transformations. Like others, it consumes so much of my work today.
The first time I heard the words “digital transformation,” there was so much I didn’t understand. What was digital about it? Why are there so many pieces of it? Did we need to package all this together for clients?
Transformation learning confused me. How could it be everything to everyone and nothing at the same time? The evolution of technology, process, and people for a common good is common. They gave it a new name, and it’s sticking around for the time being.
There are different ways we show up online to the rest of the world. Granted, that applies to any other profession. This exercise desires to use this lens and explore who shows up for the work of big-T transformation.
The Wide-Open Learner
These are the people who spent 5-10 years saying the phrase, “hey I didn’t know you could do that online” out loud. Their browsers have countless tabs open. Bit torrents running in the background. Has 17 instant message threads active. Their social media posts were a constant reflecting of their discovery.
My 20s were this phase because that’s where I was in life. Trying to find myself and what I wanted to do with life. I learned to craft relationships of all sorts online. Learn and entertain myself in a way I didn’t know possible. I didn’t pay for a lot of CDs or DVDs either.
This type of openness is refreshing in our work if harnessed. Your org can use this energy to inject learning for free. Some have learned some new platform or process that might move the needle. This can also lead to way too much learning smushed together into an unwieldy framework.
Yes, I know the joke you’re already typing into the comments.
This persona is like a bull in a shop. If you harness the energy and knowledge, it can start something big leaders can use to fuel the effort. Or a bunch of shit gets smashed.
These are the early adopters I always look for at the beginning of an engagement. The energy coming off them is palpable and can be helpful. Take care to set boundaries with them to make sure the plates and teacups don’t get smashed along the way.
The Careful Curator
Some Internet users aren’t as daring with their online presence. These are the people who know what they want from their time online.
The content they consume is from sites matching worldviews. Social media pruned to include only what you’re comfortable seeing. The small amount of discovery was achieved only from “vetted” sources. The Internet is for confirmation of your view and you’re not interested in moving from that spot.
Transformation is easy for these folks because it includes people you know and trust. Outsiders coming in need to know where you stand. You’re not going to let them disrupt what you’ve got going on. If you want to teach me something, do so knowing not much will change on the other side of our time.
Middle management is often seen this way because they don’t want to change anything. They’ve spent their career getting to where they are. I’m not going to mess it up because their boss signed a contract for my services.
My tone might communicate these aren’t my favorite people, but there are tons of growth areas. Not because of a desire to change them. These are folks who know culture is super difficult to change. If you alter the structure around this group you can find ways for them to make different decisions. I’m not there to challenge the Careful Curator and their kingdom. I’m interested in working within it to get the most out of our time together.
Many of us have been this persona before. These are the consumers and participants of the Internet from the shadows. It’s a safer experience. They don’t get involved in all the vitriol. There to see and experience it all without opinion. The Internet is their anonymous playground to come and go as they please.
These are the friends who are always bringing up a TED talk they watched. A study read. A webinar they experienced. The Lurker knows large amounts of knowledge and data that benefit many situations. I have many colleagues in this category and make every team I’m on better.
Struggle for this persona comes when it’s time to put the knowledge into action.
This persona could come from the Wide-Open Learner who kept going down the path. They could be at a lower level in their career and haven’t progressed yet. Their personality may not be what leadership likes engaging with. Some of these folks end up on transformation teams.
If correct answers were all that were necessary, these folks would shine big time. There is more needed for successful transformations than correct answers. Learning needs context and experience.
Not all have the energy of a Wide-Open Learner and thus get left out. Regardless, do not ignore them. Their perspective adds color and data points bring clarity. They become amazing transformation coaches after trying some of the learning out.
We must always be on the lookout for Lurkers and the situations for them to jump into with both feet.
The Hall Monitor
Social media is for this person above all others. With so much to learn, and so much to experience, it would be easier if we had a tour guide to tell us which way to go all the time. These are people who’ve been waiting for someone to ask for their opinion on a wide array of topics.
Even if nobody actually asked them.
The sarcastic tone I’m writing seems harsh, but we see this type of behavior every day on every platform. The Internet is an open invitation for them to judge right and wrong at any point. Ever seen someone hop into a discussion on Slack so they can weigh in on a topic nobody’s talking about anymore? Has someone shared a belief only to hear, “I’m not sure if you’re aware, but what you stated is incorrect”?
My favorite is when Hall Monitor takes on a discussion to wedge in something unrelated. “The Dallas Cowboys are a terrible team that isn’t going to make the Super Bowl anytime soon. It’s only fair because the owner Jerry Jones is a piece of shit too.” I live in Dallas, and we talk this way about our team. The owner isn’t my favorite person, but his morality has no bearing on the team making the final game.
These folks can be new to the org and want to show their expertise before joining. They might have recently attended a training that opened their eyes. They might have been at a company so long they’ve become jaded. Or disenchanted with the direction the industry is heading. See every agilist hating on scaling frameworks, one in particular.
The arguments they present always read worse in print, online, than if they spoke them in person. That’s why those popping off on LinkedIn aren’t offensive to me if I’ve met them before. I wish they would be a little softer in their language. As long as I keep perspective on their commentary I can still keep them close to the convo. Shutting them completely down is worse.
Hall Monitors can be beneficial provided they have a desire to receive how they come across at times. I’ve seen many in this persona be completely coachable (not always by me). I’ve also seen them get run out on a rail for being a know-it-all. These folks can be more disruptive than the Wide-Open Learner. They have real knowledge and experience. Grounded Hall Monitors end up becoming great transformational leaders. Keep them close to you.
These are folks who have gotten a bit of a bad rap lately due to the pull of social media fame. The models on Instagram and Tik Tok. The YouTube sensations that end up with boxing careers for some reason. They end up on reality television, or the news if something went wrong. The Influencer answers the question many of us had a decade or so ago:
What if I got paid to be online all day?
The Influencers of our work aren’t that obnoxious. They don’t hop on social media to judge the comments of others. Why would you do that if you’re interested in making money from or with them someday? These are the conference speakers that see everyone as a future client. They create a ton of content, and the small amount of Internet fame received fuels the bill rate or roles they seek.
This commentary hits close to home. I wouldn’t have the career I’ve enjoyed without the Internet. After reading my blog years ago, someone hit me up on Twitter to see if I wanted to help author a book. Speaking engagements at conferences came shortly after. Which led to people interested in working with me. Sue Johnson even joked with me one year, “of course you’re famous Chris. I see you on Twitter all the time!”
These folks are often outside consultants brought in to speed up your transformation. If you’re the one inside an org that receives this persona, it can often be a bit choppy. I know because I was there once. These outsiders don’t know your company and all its nuances. What makes them so capable of helping?
Any good outsider being brought in should know how to handle this uneasiness. They aren’t here to tell leaders anything new. To elevate ideas that are already in progress. A good transformation consultant should bring their experience and co-create something with you.
Unfortunately, that’s not every consultant. You know the used car salespeople as well as I do. The ideas seem canned and able to fit anyone who’s paying the tab. I’ve seen orgs that wait for the contract to expire and let them leave with little impact. Others battle tooth and nail the entire way. If the consultant doesn’t take experience and meet orgs at a people level, they will waste time and money.
You may not fit into a single persona. There are pieces of each that seem to fit where you are. There are also others who may read my view of the personas as negatives. That is not my intent. Trying to show how many of us show up for a transformation in different ways.
The nature of the Hall Monitor does read a little worse than the others. It would be better if we had less of this persona in public discourse, but I’ve also been that person many times. It’s not a source of pride. It is a result of where I’m at, clashing with a public professional worldview.
These are all people necessary along the road to success in transformation. The more we understand how everyone shows up for the process, the better we can all move forward together.