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In his latest book, Linchpin: Are You Indispensable?, Seth Godin advices people to find ways to be unique… find ways to be become indispensable in a modern world that is filled with generic drones inhabiting nondescript office cubes. There’s some good advice for individuals in there. But there’s of course another side to that coin… How can companies create an environment where linchpins naturally appear and develop?

We are not management consultants, neither we’d dream of competing with Seth Godin… but we can tell you how we we promote and encourage linchpiness at Zoho.

Of course, it all starts with the culture. Zoho Corp is a very open company where anyone and everyone can comment, propose and criticize. But that is never enough. At around 1,200 employees, we are not what you’d call small. We have a truly distributed team with 5 offices around the world… so how do linchpins get noticed across all the noise and all the different things going on?

We use Zoho Discussions internally to run everything that we might want to get communicated, discussed or feedbacked-on. The underlying idea is that anyone can have a good idea for any area. An engineer might have a good marketing idea; a lawyer will have a suggestion about usability; a marketing person might want to improve some internal process… not everyone will have a good idea, but a good idea can come from anyone.

To give you an idea, these are the most important topics today (or in the Twitter lingo,  the Trending topics):

(sorry! Had to blur a three sensitive topics there – after all, this is an internal tool!)

So if you are someone with a strong opinion on one of those topics, you can voice your opinion there. Regardless of your rank. Will that generate a lot of noise? Sure it will, but we can also separate the needle from the haystack with voting – how do others feel about your idea or your comment? That is all reflected there.

And of course, in our Zoho Discussions-powered forum we can also see who has been active in the public discussions: As you’d expect, there’s a lot more to it – separate areas for different topic (by product, division, marketing, sales, etc). Just different spaces where the linchpin-to-be can contribute and be noticed. Go to a user’s profile page and see the latest posts s/he has written or commented on. Just like in Twitter, you are able to see the people that are followers, posts, who he is following, etc.

You can set alerts, follow a particular topic or a user, even follow a particular area/theme (like following a hashtag in Twitter… Twitter guys, you can steal this from us). There a lot more to Zoho Discussions in an internal setting that I will not discuss here.

The overall point is – create a culture where employees can easily discuss any topic, but also provide a good virtual space where linchpins-to-be can be heard, encouraged and recognized. The secret to success in business is not having drones, but in having unique individuals that contribute with their unique skills.

Rodrigo