Highlights from the first 14 days

Screen Shot 2014-09-21 at 20.01.19Starting at a new job is always a learning curve, as I hadn’t done it in a while I’ve kept a journal of things I notice. Here are some of the moments from the first fourteen days.

Day 1 Can I remember everyone’s names? A colleague draws a mini-organogram which helps. Another colleague shows me where the bathrooms are.
Day 2 I take a selfie of myself looking at the company’s new logo for the internal social network – this attracts attention – am I the fastest person to adopt the brand?
Day 3 My first conference call has 72 participants. I understand little of what is said, it’s the detail I have yet to read about.
Day 4 It seems overwhelming, the change process I’m working on is huge – I have a moment of feeling daunted… and then give myself a virtual slap; it’s day four. Anyway there are team drinks at the end of the day.
Day 5 In a status meeting, as we go around the table I start to put together the pieces of what we’re doing and how my work will fit in. In terms of scale it’s like building a colosseum, but it’s digital so completely invisible. I have a long way to go but at least I can see the next steps now.

I go home early, via the doctor – who diagnoses an ear infection. Too much listening?

Day 6 All part of the learning curve; my new work phone is windows… #newjob
Day 7 Find myself interviewing a candidate for a new position. I cheerfully introduce myself, adding “day 7″ as an explanation for my new status. Candidate frowns, oh dear.
Day 8 I spend some time digging through the internal social media platform, I’m impressed by the obvious pride people have in the company and the products.
Day 9 Today’s tough work assignment; Playing with Google Glass #geekheaven
Day 10 I have a virtual “one-on-one” with a member of my team who is based in the US. I’ll only see her for about a week every two months, we’re figuring out how to work with that.
Day 11 A proposal comes back with “yes” against most items, but “no, no, NO” against one. As a new person I’m asking a lot of questions. #StillLearning
Day 12 A conversation with some of the legal experts, the issues are familiar. They express relief.
Day 13 Solved a bunch of stuff for a company internal community – more ways for employees to show their pride in working here.
Day 14 The learning curve stretches onwards and upwards, my motivation level is super high. And it gets higher after a conversation with my boss.

At the end of the day I’m on a roof terrace with my colleagues, looking across Amsterdam and sharing a glass of wine. #GreatStart

 Image; 14 Blue / Craig Sunter / CC BY-ND 2.0




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Just Stop It

Some things are really annoying me in my digital life, here’s a short list of the most annoying.

Please add yours in the comments.

1; Facebook, stop giving me a pointless warning page when I click a link

It’s a link to the New York Times and there isn’t a problem. If this is supposed to be preventing us from opening dodgy websites it fails since it happens on every link so the user (ie; me) learns to click past it very quickly.

Stop it.


2 Content Publishers, don’t make me download an app to read your content.

Given that they could use responsive design I don’t care about one piece of your content enough to use my data limit to download your app.

Stop it…. (cute turtles though).


3; Website designers, stop assuming I want Dutch content

I type in domainname.com and am flipped into the Dutch site, based on my IP address. Lots of guilty sites; google, expedia, msn to name three. I do understand the reason behind this, but make it easy for me to switch languages. Do not do what Kobo does – lets me change the platform language but still delivers content in Dutch (even with a login, it go so annoying that I deleted my account).

Just stop it.

Screen Shot 2014-09-10 at 20.12.56Thanks I feel better for letting that out. So much better that this might become a series.

What are your digital “stop it” messages?

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My Sabbatical is Over

Screen Shot 2014-08-14 at 19.27.28 After 9 months of relaxing, travelling, research and writing my sabbatical has come to an end.

Today I start a new job; it’s a new role with a new company in a new industry. I’m excited, I guess I’ll be learning all those first day things; how do I get into the building, what is everyone’s name, where is the photocopier, where is the bathroom. Luckily I have already figured out where the coffee machine is.

I’d planned on a six month sabbatical, so in May I started analysing what I’d want in a new role, I was looking for a company that had innovation at its heart, one that was ambitious about its digital presence. I want a role that provides a learning curve, delivers visible change for the company and gives me the chance to lead a team. As luck would have it a job meeting all those criteria came up in June, I took a deep breath and applied.

Today is my first day as Corporate Social Strategist at Philips based here in Amsterdam. It’s a company that is recognised for innovation, and they – I mean we – are working on an ambitious programme to improve Philip’s digital presence. I’m sure I’ll have more to share on it in the months to come.

Image: In the Office / Chris / CC BY-NC-SA 2.0



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Finance and Innovation

Screen Shot 2014-08-05 at 01.16.20Fast Company listed their most innovative companies for the year, including a top ten for innovation in financial services, companies who are building great things for their customers; new services and new platforms.

There were very few on the list I’d ever heard of so I started reading through the list and the company profiles; I started to wonder (a) how new are these companies? and (b) why is it so hard for incumbents, despite their resources, to innovate their way onto this list?

Answering that first question, here’s list of the companies in the top ten with the year they were established. Only two of the ten are more than ten years old.

Company Name  Established  Service Provided
 Nice systems  1986 Consumer service for mobile, including within apps.
 Square  2009 Send money via email.
 Bitcoin  2009 Cryptocurrency, removing all the middlemen in financial services.
 GiveDirectly  2008 Donate via cellphone, direct to the recipient.
 Dwolla  2008 Building a better banking network and launching a credit card.
 Transferwise  2011 Peer-to-peer international currency transfers.
 OneID  2011 Creating a single login – no more remembering multiple passwords.
 Mastercard  1966 Re-imagining the mobile-payment network with MasterPass.
 Estimize  2011 Crowd-sourcing estimates on company performance, and doing better than most of the pros.
 Etoro  2007 A social network for traders, lets you copy the investment of other traders.

All of these innovations take advantage of something in the digital space, some on the growing world of mobile. To be fair the banks have also been active and innovative in this space – just not at the same rate. Some of the innovations above support and use

There’s already some discussion on why it’s so hard for large companies in established industries to innovate. Even the best techniques from Silicon Valley aren’t a magic path to increasing innovation according to this HBR article. It comes down to culture; the things that make a company successful at execution at scale aren’t the things that make a company naturally great at innovation. There are companies that are able to innovate and to scale their operations, but it’s a rare combination.

Is there something about the financial sector that makes it even harder? Perhaps, some sectors (music, travel) show a similar batch of relatively young companies, but the energy sector has more than twice the number of companies over 10 years.

I think there are two things that make it harder for financial services companies to innovate. The first is the risk mindset, in theory financial services companies should be expert at assessing risk and take decisions that maximise return for an accepted risk. In my experience the growing pressure of public opinion and increasing regulation have reduced whatever appetite there was for risk since the global financial crisis. And that’s the second thing – the global financial crisis began in 2007 and during the crisis and in the years since affected financial institutions have had to focus on legal cases,  restructuring, cost control and divestment. All of that left little room and few resources for innovation. It’s probably not a co-incidence that half of the companies in the top ten were started between 2007 and 2009.

It’s great that there’s innovation in finance, and many of the solutions are customer-focused either as improved service or as de-mystifying the world of finance. I hope it inspires the “old” banks; there are more opportunities for more innovation.

Image; Fixing the Money Pipeline / ShellyS / CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

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Do you build satisfaction or happiness?

Screen Shot 2014-07-28 at 13.08.50Not all brands, not all industries, are able to use social media as a brand builder in the same way.

I see sweeping general statements in many books, blogs and articles about social media that make me cringe as a customer. The latest was “Customers seek identification with their brands”, do we? Maybe I’m weird but I don’t. Or rather I only identify with a tiny subset of the brands I use.

I can remember listening to a presentation by the Lego’s Global Social Media Director, Lars Silberbauer, talking about all the fun things they’ve done, and the way that customers are using lego in innovative ways. I looked longingly at the examples, and seriously doubted that the financial company I worked for could ever do this. I wrote then about two factors of social media motivation.

I likened it to Herzberg’s two factors of motivation, and came up with a simple diagram linking the factors to levels of engagement. I’ve been rethinking that a little, I think some brand are satisfaction builders and some are happiness builders. So which one are you?

Satisfaction builders

You are a satisfaction builder if when your products and services work correctly customers don’t talk about you, if something goes wrong they do – and everyone piles on.

For example, a bank customer might appreciate that their application for a loan of several thousand euros was approved quickly but not want to discuss it on facebook. But if they’re stuck at the supermarket unable to use their card for a transaction of 120 euro, a much smaller transaction, they have access to complain immediately via their mobile phone.

I put infrastructure (including mobile phone networks), financial services, public or government services and grocery staples into this category.

The brand is not part of the customers identity and customer stays due to high switching costs or apathy, rather than brand loyalty.

Happiness builders

You are a happiness builder if when your products and services work correctly customers talk about you, if something goes wrong they forgive you quickly and sometimes publicly. Other customers will support you during a crisis.

For example, everybody loves Lego. The most common complaint about Lego is the pain of standing on an abandoned piece, which is  usually told as a cute story. Even when Lego came in for stronger criticism around sexism in its minifigs or its advertising the criticism was focused on improving the company rather than outright anger. Even those campaigning for change seem to trust that Lego would find a good solution.

Fashion, personal grooming and leisure industries are in this category. For many people cars, computing, home accessories – some people really love their coffee machines – are also included.

Context Matters

Many companies will have some customers who see them as satisfiers and others who see them as happiness makers. They may also have customers who see them differently depending on the context.

My phone is well-loved and well-used, you can tell by the state of the cover. My mother doesn’t care about the phone she has; both phones are the same brand and almost the same model.

Computers are satisfiers for lots of people, but part of happiness and even personal brand for many (try saying you hate apple on certain forums).

Even an indvidual customer may say the brand differently depending on context. Mostly airlines are happiness for me, I associate them with holidays and seeing friends and family. If I travel for work they become more of a satisfier.

Of course a brand can move from happiness to satisfier during, for example, a crisis. Or from satisfier to happiness under positive circumstances, but a sustained shift in this direction will be challenging. It will require more than action in social media.

Look around your house for the brands you own – where are they on the spectrum? which ones do you seek out on social media?

Image; Smiley Egg Head / The Monnie / CC BY-SA 2.0

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Starting a Community

Companies have different approaches in who gets to start a community on their enterprise social network; some want to control who opens a community others want to put as few barriers as possible in the way of starting new communities. What’s your approach?

Let me know in the comments of any other options I haven’t thought of – or the background to the decision.


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Employee Engagement

parkerWhat is employee engagement?

Employee engagement is often cited as a contributing factor to improved company results, and Kevin Kruse defines it as;

Employee engagement is the emotional commitment the employee has to the organization and its goals.

Engaged employees will go to extra lengths to do their job and serve the business and the customers. Kruse cites examples of people choosing to work overtime without being asked because the work needed to be finished. Essentially they’ll care for the company and its customers.

What’s in it for employees?

If you’re engaged at work you feel pride in your work, in the company you work for, a loyalty to the company. You’re likely to have more intrinsic motivation; a sense of purpose, a willingness to take responsibility, and a desire to learn.

What’s in it for companies?

Engaged employees are seen to be more productive, more service oriented, and better for the profits of the company. It’s so important to companies that they put considerable, and growing effort, into measuring engagement year on year. There is criticism on how it’s measured, but large companies still find value in measuring it.

What do the cynics say?

It’s a term that is an easy target of cynics, some label it as a new name for employee satisfaction, or teamwork. Others consider it a measure of window dressing to make the company look good. It’s often connected to “manager speak” as in this brilliant Dilbert cartoon.

Can you have too much employee engagement?

Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic points to a dark side of employee engagement, reminding readers that engagement is a means to an end – companies pursue it for the productivity results. He also points out that it’s dangerous to expect higher performance to automatically come from higher engagement, managers should instead focus on developing performance at a higher level.

So much for the company perspective, what about for individuals? I believe that in some cases burnout is the direct result of excessive employee engagement. I’ve seen more than one highly professional, highly motivated, engaged employee take on levels of responsibility beyond their capacity, when the company failed to notice – and failed to support them – burnout was the awful outcome.

Can companies build employee engagement?

A friend whose work in internal communications I admire has suggested that engagement is something intrinsic to the person and not dependent on the company. I think there’s some truth in that but I’m not quite so pessimistic. I think you can destroy engagement or you can build it up.

I would like to see a change in how we talk about engagement, the conversation now centres on expectations on the employee and benefits to a company.

Instead I propose that we recognise that the contract between an employee and a company is about the exchange of money for skills and time. That agreement must be a fair exchange. Beyond that it’s up to a company to earn the engagement of all employees by how they treat their staff.

So next time people talk about “building employee engagement”, suggest a switch to “earning employee engagement” and go on from there. It’s a one word change but the approach is completely different.

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