How much does Lotus value community?

by Volker Weber

Ed recently has written an interesting piece on leveraging the community. I had to think about it again today, when news broke that Alan is leaving Lotus to work for Socialtext. I have had similar thoughts when Bob left, or Rocky. They have all been participating in this community a lot.

Ed says:

... Nothing wrong with people pursuing their careers and dreams ...

Indeed, that is always the case for the individual. They (hopefully) have found a better place to work, an interesting challenge etc. Things they apparently did not find where they worked before.

Let's take a look at the most vocal Lotus people in this community. How many of them have recently been promoted to Director, Vice President or any such role? If the community they are building is valuable, shouldn't it show in those tangible assets?

Maybe "community" is not such a great career enabler (inside the company). Maybe Lotus does not get it. I don't know. We will all find out when Ed announces a new job. Or I should better say "if".

I do think "community" is very valuable. It has landed quite a few good people a better job.


People change positions, companies, and careers quite frequently. There has always been movement, and will continue to be movement within the community. The titles are somewhat location-specific and the references you made are U.S. titles. For example, the title of Director in Australia is often reserved exclusively for members of the Board of Directors, whereas in the U.S., it is often an upper-level middle management position. In the U.S., nearly all financial institutions have many, many vice presidents, as the title is used pretty loosely.

On an individual basis, it indicates a change for some reason or other, not necessarily a limitation by IBM itself. As Alan mentioned in his announcement, he wanted to work for a smaller firm. Trying to extrapolate those reasons into larger messages at this point seems extremely premature.

I am not an IBMer, but additions to the Lotus team and internal promotions seem to be carelessly ignored by the inferences in this posting. Ken Bisconti rose through the ranks of Lotus and IBM and is now a Vice President helping from the Information Management brand. Many others have made wonderful transitions and expanded their skills (other examples who are in the community: Jelan Heidelberg who is an Offering Manager, Kevin Cavanaugh is a Vice President).

The community is indeed a wonderful enabler on many levels. I am confident Ed Brill will eventually announce another job change; I doubt it is imminent as his current role expanded in February.

Thus, to answer the question of the headline - How much does Lotus [IBM] value community -- the answer is quite obvious to me: a tremendous amount!

Daniel Lieber, 2008-07-09

Do any of these people have a blog?

Volker Weber, 2008-07-09

I am not aware of generally available public blogs for the people I mentioned besides Ed Brill. All have been very active in the Lotus community. Jelan has commented on your site and has been a very active writer over the yeas. Kevin Cavanaugh speaks at many events and Ken Bisconti helped grow the business partner community in particular and has been significant in Lotus' success for many years.

As you know, a public blog, active or not, is not a requirement to be a part of a community.

Daniel Lieber, 2008-07-09

I'm confused. How is someone's participating in a community that has been good for the community and has also been good for the individual not a great thing?

Alan has done some terrific things in showing day to day features of the products our community uses. His participation in that community may have help get him attention from elsewhere. GREAT!

I wish him 100% nothing but good success. I would wish him that even if he went to Microsoft. This is a software community, but its also a community of friends. I hope all my friends do well.

Andrew Pollack, 2008-07-09

It is a great thing. Does Lotus reward it as such?

Volker Weber, 2008-07-09

Volker, the word I have heard multiple times in the last three hours is "classless" -- characterizing this post. You seem determined to prove that out in your further comments as well. I do not appreciate having my own career decisions questioned in public.

"Reward" comes in many ways. Being able to steer the Notes business through four successful years is something that has been rewarding to me on a lot of levels. As for how that plays into my career, I'll comment on that on my own blog when the time is right. Today should really be about Alan.

Ed Brill, 2008-07-09

Hi Community,
My activity in the community has been very directly rewarded by IBM.
Last year I was promoted to "senior technical staff member" (STSM), partially as a result of my really listening to the responses on my blog, and being clear with the community on what was in and out of Notes 8....and, of course, partially for actually delivering on the design :)

Now, don't go saying "but you didn't get promoted to director, did you?" At IBM, the STSM level is a high level for an individual contributor (there are only 2 levels above it-- Distinguished engineer and IBM Fellow). And an individual contributor is what I choose to be right now.

mary Beth Raven, 2008-07-10


I have certainly agreed with you in the past on certain topics but for this one I am both a bit confused by and disappointed with your assertions.

Being one who likes to stir the pot is fine, thinking "aloud" online is fine as well, but I think you've crossed a line here.

Whether or not any of the persons you've identified within IBM (or any outside of IBM for that matter) are elevated to the titles you indicate isn't a valid value assessment on community involvement.

I am not an IBMer, however, for me personally my involvement and the contacts I have developed within the Lotus community and the IBM i community (via speaking at COMMON etc.) have certainly provided me with benefits, both in terms of career placement and simply that of peer respect and visibility.

As Mary Beth has indicated, for her it did indeed provide a career advancement. Everyone's situation is different and their personal goals may or may not involve that level of career placement.

The last line of the post also seems to disagree with what preceded it.

Kevin Mort, 2008-07-10

Hi there,

Beside all that career and promotion thing, there is a community. Here in Quebec (Canada), there is no more (ok maybe one or two) Lotus Instructors. There is no more local Lotus community. It's been a long time since we heard of a company switching to Lotus Notes.

Community is certainly an important thing, but a healthy one is more valuable.

Pierre Lalonde, 2008-07-10

To back up Mary Beth, I can attest to the fact that to achieve promotion to the most senior individual contributor levels within IBM, outside letters of reference are a requirement to prove that the contributor's impact is felt outside of IBM. Over the past few years, I am aware of several IBMers who have approached myself and/or others in the community to write such reference letters. In all of the cases where I was asked myself, it was not because I was aware of any specific work that the IBMer had done for a customer. It was because I was aware of the IBMer's engagement with the community.

Richard Schwartz, 2008-07-10

If by community you infer the social networking arena and all its trimmings, then yes it has helped a number of people.
But when you want out, it's not hard to get out. The right opportunity though can be elsuive at times.
Does IBM help people in a way that they want to? Sometimes yes and sometimes no, just like any other company.
What you and I see from the outside really has little to do with the inside view because you can be a nice enough person, do all the cheering, traveling, client meetings, speaking enegagements and such and still, from the inside, be nowhere better off because you have to wait in line or are seen as a tech or a sales guy or a widget.
Maybe you want more money, or a better title, stock options, or an international role or just want to be head product manager of an area of Domino.
Maybe you just get tired of being 1 of 1,000 or 10,000 people in your band within a large company.
Now that I am out, I miss the large company behind me, the ability to get anything or anyone anytime in need is immeasurable.
When the whole PM team leaves you can question everything, until then a few people that leave, good people or high up people does not change a company of 300,000+.

Keith Brooks, 2008-07-10

Ed, I am not questioning your career chances at all. That I mentioned you at all has a very simple reason. I was wondering what had happened if not Alan, but you had announced a new position today.

I am also not questioning the value of a community. In contrast, I believe in the power of collaboration.

As Daniel has pointed out, Vice President or Director have different meanings depending on the country and business. I was thinking of US and IBM here.

Mary Beth, I am aware what an STSM is and you of all people deserve it very much. And I agree that you have used your blog well in your excellent job of redesigning the Notes user experience.

Classless, hmm. From my inbox:

Seems you’re getting excoriated for thinking out loud…It is, unfortunately, the experience I and many others have had… “the community” is incredibly intolerant of opinions that don’t fit into groupthink…really unfortunate…

You don't have to agree with me at all. I respect your opinions. But I am still puzzled why some of the most successful Lotus community builders have to find greener pastures elsewhere.

Volker Weber, 2008-07-10

Metrics cannot be applied to successful activities outside an official realm. One needs to obey the process to be formally perceived as valuable asset in a very large enterprise.

On the other hand, lots of credit is given from the outside community for good work.
Either way the individual will benefit.

Roland Leißl, 2008-07-10

As others will have seen from my tweets when I heard about Alan's great news (fantastic job, Alan!), I felt the same way as Volker - there is a pattern to the news of the past 6 months - Rocky, Bob, Gia Lyons, now Alan. All moving to significant jobs elsewhere, at least partially due to their work and presence in this community. I am really pleased for all of them, and think they deserve the chance to forward their careers elsewhere.

However, the key for me is "pattern"... In less than 6 months, we have had four big moves outwards, where have been the key individuals joining the Lotus brand? Where are the big promotions of key contributors upwards within the business?

To be honest, I think they have happened, people like Suzanne Minassian and Luis Suarez have had promotions as a result of their work, but we haven't tended to hear about them on the outside. But the question that Volker asks does remain, is Lotus a business that does reward those that contribute outside the corporate firewall? When will we see a GM of the Lotus brand that has endorsed the community, been a vocal contributor and supported the efforts of outsiders on projects like OpenNTF, IdeaJam, BleedYellow etc.

In many ways this is a rhetorical question - I'm not sure that Ed or anyone else can answer it satisfactorily one way or the other. I do hope that the answer over a longer period is an emphatic 'yes', but the events of the past 6 months do not suggest this is the case right now, at least from my PoV...

Stuart Mcintyre, 2008-07-10

We can play point/counter-point all day long on this.

Thank you, Mary Beth, for mentioning your STSM promotion. I was pleased to write you an endorsement on that, because your weblog was a fundamental game-changer for IBM and showed tremendous leadership.

Adam Gartenberg moved from a offerings manager role to a full-time social networking role in DB2 after blogging.

Rob Ingram started and contributed to the online forums, and moved into a product management role for Sametime.

Chris Reckling blogs and speaks at conferences, and is now running the Massachusetts Design Studio for Lotus.

Luis Suarez, a blogger in IBM's internal KM area, has been in Forbes and the New York Times for his efforts.

Ted Stanton just took a new role as the Americas tech sales evangelist for Connections, a move up after his time on the product team for Connections. He has moved up several times in the last few years, coming from support and making online contributions in various ways.

Rocky and Bob had both left IBM once before. I'm glad they were here for a while again, both made significant contributions. But they had their reasons for leaving, each time.

Chris Blatnick was hired into IBM in part because of the visibility he obtained through his blog and speaking engagements.

In April, I hired two people to work for me to expand my role back into people management (rather than just IBM matrix management) as I took on responsibility for Lotus Symphony, Lotus Protector, and Project "Atlantic". My title didn't change but many other things did.

At a meeting back in February, Mike Rhodin told his entire staff that Alan and I were "carrying the [Lotus] brand" from an external visibility perspective. I do not know if he was aware that I was on the phone at the time he said it, and Alan definitely was not. I guess your point is, if there is that level of awareness, why aren't the people who have done so been "promoted" (as said earlier my "promotion" earlier this year back to people management and adding three new product areas was a blip, since my title and reporting didn't change). At any rate, I think it comes right back to what Mike said. If things are working, nobody wants to disturb it proactively. That doesn't mean Alan or I are/were trapped in place. Alan chose to take all of his success and pursue a small company path, and both he and I commented on that yesterday. Everyone has that choice, and a long list above have chosen other routes. And every company that has prominent social media types has seen that those people will get job offers or decide to move some point.

Ed Brill, 2008-07-10

oops, dropped one clause...

"decide to move on...internally or some point."

Ed Brill, 2008-07-10

In our management meetings, turnover ratio is often discussed. Our CEO believes no turnover is just as bad as too much turnover.

We have often lost "indispensable" people and find they are replaced by people with fresh viewpoints, energy and competencies which have added to our company.The people who have left on good terms are still our "friends" and continue to work with us.

Tony S Lee, 2008-07-10

Hm, can't we also see the situation in a different angle? The people mentioned here have been active in the community while they were working for Lotus and, at least for some the next is true, Lotus has hired them because they were key people in the community (think Rocky for example, he was very well known in the community already when he joined IBM). So apparently, IBM/Lotus appreciated the community participation by hiring the people and/or by allowing them to stay/become active and respected in the community as part of their job.

Now, some of these people leave IBM/Lotus. Apparently, at least some have indicated reasons such as wanting to work for a smaller company, a desire which Lotus will have a hard time to fulfill. Fluctuation is part of life and in some cases, a company can't prevent it no matter what. However, if these people find good opportunities outside of Lotus and still continue to be active in the community, doesn't Lotus also benefit from that, because it keeps the community alive and will they not be able to benefit from the personal links these now ex-Lotis have to their former Lotus colleagues? Will this benefit to Lotus not even outweigh the benefit Lotus could have had by persuading these fine folks (by whichever means, be it title, salary...) to stay with Lotus in a position in which they may not really feel comfortable?

I can see a point in Volker's observation and generally, good people leaving the company is not the best for the company. But in this case I also do see another side of the coin. I'm not an IMBer (was with Lotus for a while a long time ago), but I know some people in IBM still and from those, I at least have the impression that their involvement in their communities is awarded by IBM. Even if it may not be as visible to the outside as a promotion to Senior Vice President, Director or whatelse would.

Ragnar Schierholz, 2008-07-10


To the person who wrote you: I certainly agree to some extent with the idea that the community can be less than open to other opinions. I've certainly experienced this myself.

Being called to task for thinking out loud is one of the risks of taking your opinions online. Saying that someone is thinking out loud doesn't give them a pass on what they say.

And Volker, I know you are aware of that.

Sometimes people leave a job because they believe they've made it better than they found it, and have accomplished what they set out to do and now want a new challenge.

This is technology after all, and this industry has a long history of talent mobility.

It is what it is.

Kevin Mort, 2008-07-10

Kevin, yes I am aware of that.

I think the last time people got so fired up was the 10 popular beliefs posting. Much like this one it was an exaggeration. It's a long process until I sum up something that has been bothering me for a while. Ed writes

At a meeting back in February, Mike Rhodin told his entire staff that Alan and I were "carrying the [Lotus] brand" from an external visibility perspective.

Indeed, that is what they do. Scratch one of them now. (Yes, Alan will stay in the community, yada yada yada, but he should worry about Socialtext now.) I just think that this work is incredibly important, and I continue to think that Lotus does not award this as much as they should do.

And frankly, it's not the last thing that is bothering me. Some of those camels just need a few more straws.

Volker Weber, 2008-07-10

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