Client work, or, off the beaten(-to-death) track

Earlier this month I spent most of a week with a client I’ll call Selkie Industries, conducting a rework of a workshop for various professionals within their company.

Selkie is a professional-services firm, and the participants came from backgrounds as diverse as civil engineering and marine biology.  They’re technically sophisticated in every sense; BlackBerries were practically standard issue.

They’re not using most social-network tools professionally, though.  No Twitter, no Facebook (not permitted through the firewall).  At the same time, they collaborate readily across internal-organizational lines, and by definition across external ones as they work with their client partners around the country.

I try to keep up with training / learning / support topics on Twitter, though many people I follow don’t seem to work for people like Selkie Industries.  I sometimes feel as though many social media types earn their living giving keynote addresses and taking in one another’s digital wash.

I’ve had a great relationship with the Selkie folks.  The goal was straightforward: help us think how to improve this workshop (they had ample internal evidence pointing to the need for this improvement).  They’ve been open to a variety of approaches, and seem satisfield with the initial results.

Could they do more?  Oh, probably–but I think real “culture change” comes mostly in one of two forms.  First there’s the Jack Welch approach,that  the apparently charismatic leader with a strong vision (though few people recall that Welch was put in his position by a very different personality, the patrician Reg Jones).

Welch identified a few simple themes at various times during his time as GE CEO.  He got the company out of the no-win consumer electronics business (GE hasn’t made TVs or video recorders for more than 20 years; what you buy in stores has a license to use the name); he emphasized services over manufacturing; he reduced organizational layers and made Six Sigma the state religion.

The other cultural change is organic, as people just start doing things in a way that makes sense, and others follow.  That’s how the first essentially inadequate personal computers metastasized through corporations.

I found the week in the classroom a good reminded that not everyone in the world of work is active on social networks all the time. People like those at Selkie are nonetheless extremely active–creative, productive, engaged–both within the organization and with their clients.