When I was in junior high, there were these things called "slam books." These were notebooks that were passed around anonymously with a different person's name on each page. On each page, you could write -- good or bad -- what you thought of that person and remain anonymous. To this day, I can remember one especially hurtful comment written on my page.
Eventually the teachers got wind of these books and confiscated them.
Fast forward to today, and we have Facebook and Twitter and blogs. All there to write what you want, about whomever you want. The problem is, there's no teacher to seize them when things get out of control. Your reputation can be trashed online. Your employer's reputation can be trashed online.
How much influence can these comments possibly have? It's many (many) decades later and I still remember the slam book contents from junior high. Read this latest story I did for Gannett/USAToday on our growing interconnectivity and our individual influence and think about it .....
Many of us like to complain about what we think are unethical companies that steal money from investors or the greedy chief executives who think only of themselves and don't care if they lay off thousands of workers.
But Dov Seidman says we need to start considering how our individual behavior as employees also affects the workplace culture today.
Whether you're sitting in a cubicle or working on a factory floor, what you do every day matters not only to the success of your company but to the well being of others around the world, says Seidman, founder and chief executive of LRN, a company that helps businesses develop ethical corporate cultures.
Seidman is author of How: Why How We Do Anything Means Everything first published in 2007. In the book, he argued that we need a fresh approach to how we live our lives, attain goals and conduct business. Now the book has been expanded, calling for individuals and businesses to adapt to what he calls the "era of behavior" for individuals and organizations.
"Behavior matters more than ever today," Seidman says. "An individual has the choice to be the power of good or bad."
While you may think you're neither Luke Skywalker nor Darth Vader, the fact is that individual behavior is more consequential than ever before, Seidman says.
In other words, your connections to other people, your reputation, and your ability to sway others with your thoughts and opinions are a force to be reckoned with.
Many companies have recognized individuals' power to have great influence. They have employees tweet or post Facebook comments to sway others about a product or business, but Seidman says the influence of employee behavior goes beyond connecting via social networks.
Employers also want to harness the power of individual innovation to help a business succeed and use their creative energies to help them compete globally, he said. An employee isn't expected to just show up and put in eight hours. He or she is expected to use a distinctive behavior for the good of the company.
That's why the time has come for workers to "realize it's a very competitive world and just working hard" won't be enough to survive, Seidman says.
"Outsourcing is not being done just for cost advantages," Seidman says. "In a connected world, it's easy to go find the talent and creativity and ideas anywhere around the world. If you want to be competitive, it's more than just showing up and doing a day's work. It's about delivering a unique human, or you're going to be left behind."
That means doctors must learn to deliver compassionate bedside care, teachers need to create a sense of possibility in the classroom, and salespeople can't just meet their quotas but must also create trusting relationships, he says.
"These are the additional things that workers need to show up with," he says.
It's clear that employers now expect more from workers from the get-go.
Before an interview, job candidates are often Googled to check out their online reputations. Facebook is searched for more information, and tweets often are scrutinized to get a handle on a candidate's potential abilities.
"It used to be that we controlled the information about ourselves because we controlled what we put on our resume. That was our ability to tell our own story in an interview," he says. "Now, your reputation arrives before you do."
Job seekers need to understand that if they can't control their story, then they need to control how they live their lives and conduct business.
"Are your connections healthy or unhealthy? Are they deep or shallow?" Seidman says. "Look at how you can turn those connections into lasting ones. That's where your values come in."
In a new forward to How, President Bill Clinton writes: "In this new century people will either rise or fall together. Our mission must be to create a global community of shared responsibilities, shared benefits, and shared values."
Seidman says you can't avoid the interconnectivity in the world unless you want to be left behind.
Those plotting their career must "lean in," figure out how the world is connected and determine how they can be part of that. He says they should understand that workers have the power through their connections to change a company culture, much as individuals prompted revolutions in the Middle East this year.
"It's like when people do the wave at a stadium. All it takes is one individual to start," he says. "Workers coming together can make a huge wave. Instead of power being created over people, it's going to be created through people."