All posts by Louise McGregor

I write about digital strategy, the changing online world, communication challenges and real life leadership. I work at the intersection of communications, technology and business and part of my job is to stimulate the adoption of new technologies in a way that makes business sense.

Burning Platform

4350193475_f1c96d4a51_z“We need to define what’s the burning platform”.

We’ve probably all heard this term, and the mental image conveys a sense of crisis and urgency. The origin is even more explicit, it comes from a (possibly apocryphal) story of a man faced with an urgent choice of certain death on an oil rig that was burning or potential death from hypothermia (or sharks) by jumping into the water below. According to the story he jumped and survived.

However the decision facing us in the meeting when I heard the term used was not a crisis, nor was there any urgency (except that imposed by our own project), nor was their a fire, and whatever the decision no lives would be lost.

So what does the term mean now?

In this case, judging by the context, the sentence meant “we need to define the business reason for this change”. But that’s far less exciting than leaping flames and swirling smoke.

Image: Fire man!  |  Paul Chaloner  | CC BY-ND 2.0

 

Setting Annual Goals

goalsettingAt the beginning of each year most large companies ask all employees to set goals for the year. The tools and process vary widely between companies but there are some elements that are really consistent.

I’ve outlined the principles to follow, with background examples where I can find them.

Set S.M.A.R.T goals

The S.M.A.R.T acronym is often used as a guide or even a requirement by companies. Even if it’s not required it’s a good way to think about goal setting. Here’s how the acronym breaks down.

Specific

Set out what the goal is including purpose or benefits, geographic scope, business scope,  and dependencies or constraints.

  • roll out programme B in EMEA markets, provided business case proves value in individual markets
  • increase sales across T category of products
  • evaluate process X, and plan improvements.
  • build network of experts in field P, across European markets
  • increase customer satisfaction

Measurable

Explain how progress will be measured. Measurement may be quantitative or qualitative. You could use sales data, website traffic, lead generation, marketing reach, survey data (including internal surveys). I encourage my team to focus on impact on the company, rather than counting tasks completed, but I try to make sure it’s still something easily measured and unambiguous.

  • roll out programme B in 60% of EMEA markets, provided business case proves value in individual markets
  • increase sales by 30%   across T category of products
  • evaluate process X, and plan improvements, goal is met when plan is delivered and 3 improvements have been made
  • build network of experts in field P, across European markets, with participation rates in online community reach 70%
  • increase customer satisfaction as measured by quarterly online survey by 5%

You can also include some “stretch” in the goals, particularly if your pay system has a variable component;

  • roll out programme B in 60% of EMEA markets, provided business case proves value in individual markets, stretch goal = 80%

Attainable

The goal should be something the you or your team can reach in the time frame given. It should not be extreme, as this would be demotivating. It should not be to easy, as this could reduce the drive and initiative applied to achieving the goal.

If you’re writing a set of goals make sure that the total list doesn’t exceed a year’s work. Make sure that each goal is proportional to the time it will require, if you have five goals each one should be roughly 20% of the time needed through the year.

Defining an achievable goal may include stating constraints or dependencies.

  • roll out programme B in 60% of EMEA markets, provided business case proves value in individual markets
  • evaluate process X, and plan improvements, goal is met when plan is delivered and 3 improvements have been made, note that this depends on budget being available.
  • increase customer satisfaction as measured by quarterly online survey, excluding any product recalls.

Relevant

Relevant goals are ones that deliver value to the company, department and team.  They should be aligned with the goals of leaders, peers and any sub-ordinates. The goals should also be appropriate for your seniority level, both in terms of complexity and impact on the company.

If goals set are relevant they will be meaningful and motivating for you.

Time-bound

Each goal should set out a timeline for achievement, this may mean breaking goal into constituent parts to specify timeline.

  • increase sales by 30%   across T category of products, by end October to meet sales planning.
  • evaluate process X, and plan improvements by end Q1, goal is then to deliver 3 improvements by end of year, note that this depends on budget being available.

It can be a challenge to get this right as an individual, and even more difficult when setting goals across a larger team, but it’s important to do it right. It’s good for the manager to have specific goals and alignment across the team, with each person knowing how they contribute to the big picture. And knowing your individual goals focuses your attention on what’s really important.

On a more practical note; setting up the goals well makes the performance review conversation much easier for everyone.

 Image; Goal and Sky |  Steve 9567 | CC BY-ND 2.0

 

Just Stop It #4

I wrote about three things that annoyed my digital life, one of those (the first one) has stopped, but now I have a new one; website overlays, like this.
Screen Shot 2015-03-08 at 11.07.00
I hadn’t even  seen the article and the site wants me to sign up and to contact them. If this were a date I’d be sneaking out the back door, escaping the overbearing demands of my date. On this site it wasn’t clear how to get rid of the overlay, it took some random clicking to find that it’s removed by a click on the far left of the screen.

I’ve also seen overlays that whoosh into the middle of the screen if you move the mouse towards the upper tool bar, where the book-mark function is, the overlay attempts to entice you back to read more. But it often comes of as begging for your attention, in dating terms it’s the clingy boyfriend/girlfriend of the internet.

Have these been tested for usability? Am I the only person in the world that resents the interference with my reading time?

Please internet; just stop it.

What I learnt from watching tennis

tennis ballI’ve been watching the tennis, at the Australian Open, and there’s a lot to learn that can be applied to my work.

The players demonstrate great skill, fitness, mental strength and athleticism, but that’s not what got my attention.

I found myself watching the ball kids.

At the Australian Open the ball kids are aged between 12-15, and they demonstrate fantastic team work.

  • The have a common purpose, they’re there to serve the players.
  • They know their roles, whether it’s on the baseline, where they pass the balls to the players and provide towels during play, or at the net where they retrieve the balls at net and support players during change of ends. It’s hard work being a ball kid.
  • They communicate, they’re watching each other, making sure they’re ready to pass and receive balls.
  • They demonstrate their knowledge, they know the rules and the system they need to follow. That system makes things run incredibly smoothly.
  • They show good judgement, it’s unpredictable on the court, they have to figure out stuff on the go – but they also know when to ask the chair umpire a question.
  • There are individual moments of genius, in one game I saw one of the net ball kids extend backwards, cat-like, to snap up a stray ball mid-air, she quickly returned to her starting pose. It’s a team thing, and the game isn’t about them.

Throughout the matches the ball kids did their job with pace, focus and attention to detail. Sometimes their attention to detail was so extreme it amused the crowd, and the players, as in the Nadal’s water bottle incident.

These attributes of teamwork apply in a company. When a team has a shared purpose, clear roles, expertise / knowledge, good judgement, and communicates well the performance will be greater than the individual contributions could deliver. If you’re a team leader watch your team and look for those characteristics, reward them, build on them. And take some time to figure out the shared purpose and define the roles and systems of working.

As for me, my holiday is almost over – I can’t wait to get back and start working with my team again.

Image; Glowing Tennis Ball | Lynda Gibbons | CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

 

Did you thank your Community Manager today?

#CMAD 3Today is Community Manager Appreciation Day, known by the hashtag #CMAD.

Why are community managers so important? Do they really deserve their own day?

Community managers are the people your customers first meet online, they are the ones;

  • solving the offbeat questions your customers ask with humour and good sense
  • building relationships with customers and other stakeholders through supporting discussions online
  • providing reputation management, particularly during a crisis
  • embodying your brand

“It’s more than posting cat videos” as one of our community managers put it. I believe the role is important as social media becomes the way our customers want to reach us. So important that I announced last week that we would do more this year to help our community managers build their knowledge in 2015. We’ve also created some little “thank you” messages for them to share online (as shown above). See if you can spot them on twitter.

Done well community management builds your company’s reputation, it doesn’t seem too much to ask to thank them once a year. Please take a moment to thank your community manager today.

 

Cyberslacking

Cat Nap on a ComputerPerfect subject for a Friday!

Cyberslacking refers to the use of a company’s computer and internet connection for personal activities when one should be doing work.

It’s not the occasional email, or lunchtime facebook status check that’s deserves the name, it’s the excessive use of work time to play on the internet. Those times when you look up one little thing and 30 minutes later you’re in an internet black hole arguing, or buying another light sabre or watching cat videos.

It’s not a new thing, as early as 2000 reports flagged the cost of lost productivity as more than 50 billion USD in the US. The same report notes that companies were already taking action, putting in place specific internet use policies and firing the greatest violators – such as employees spending as much as 8 hours a day on gambling sites. More recent estimates put the costs to a business at 35 million per year for a company of just 1000 people, if each employee cyberslacked for an hour a day.

Some companies see this as a loss of productivity, effectively money down the drain and seek to monitor or to limit access to all non-work internet sites for all employees.

Employees find their own strategies; blocking access on work machines means they’ll use their own devices, trying to watch over their shoulder leads to cheeky solutions like the “look busy” button on Last Minute’s Australian site (it used to be on more of their sites, but apparently only the Australians kept their sense of humour).

There is some research showing that people who take internet breaks at work are more productive. I’m inclined to agree,  if people are busy with meaningful work and producing great results, brief internet breaks are not going to cause a dramatic drop in productivity. In fact if managers focus on results the fear of productivity loss goes away.

This holds true even in extreme cases; the guy playing on online gambling sites all day is unlikely to produce the expected quality of work – addressing that issue early could have a better outcome for both the company and the employee.

This focus on results is one of the key principles of the Results Only Work Environment (ROWE), in fact in a ROWE the time spent on the job becomes irrelevant, employees are trusted to use their judgement to plan their workdays. In my view it’s a much healthier than putting increasing layers of monitoring on employee’s use of internet.

I guess I’m in favour of mild cyberslacking.

Image: Mom, stop playing, it’s my turn! /Marise Caetano/ CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

 

 

Welcome to 2015

It’s the time of the year to contemplate what happened last year,  predict what will happen this year, make your resolutions and plans. Here’s my take on the retrospectives, predictions and resolutions I’ve found around the web.

Restrospectives

If we are what we search, then Google has the answer.

The lead stories include some interesting conclusions; apparently we’re optimistic, searching for “MH370 found” 14 times more often than “MH370 lost”.

Other sites focused on images of the year, Time produced their top 10 images, while CNN could only limit itself to 147 – it’s a sobering look back at the year with shocking photos of thousand of Syrian refugees, Gaza, riots, ebola victims, Boko Haram and ISIS. It’s been a tough year. There were some positives; Malala Yousafzai, a child rescue, Rosetta the comet.

Predictions

There’s always a danger in making predictions, particularly as this is the year we were supposed to be getting hoverboards according to the movie “Back to the Future”.

For some digitally relevant predictions

  • Econsultancy sees advances in online sales, increase in apps and mobile, and the rise of analytics.
  • V8 predicts the rise of analytics and the downfall of smart watches.
  • Social Media Examiner thinks that video will be the content format of choice (I’ve heard this before, many times, maybe this time it will be right), growth in slideshare for business and there’s a rise in niche social networks.

Resolutions

The other tradition at New Year is the “New Year’s Resolution”, that promise you make to yourself to improve your life. Apparently the most common relate to weight loss, saving money, quit smoking, and falling in love. Apparently only 8% of people keep their resolutions.

You can increase the chances of keeping any resolutions you do make by picking realistic goals, and by taking small steps that keep you motivated. The Greatist has some great ideas for inspiring wording of a resolution you can stick to.

Personally I don’t wait until New Year to make resolutions, if I want to change something I start working on it right away, and I aim for incremental, sustainable change. But this year I’ve taken the chance to affirm two professional resolutions I’m working on, and one personal one. I’m not going to list them here – it turns out disclosing your goals tricks your mind into thinking you’re going to succeed and you don’t try so hard as Derek Sivers explains in this TED talk.

So here’s to a fun year, welcome to 2015!

Unplug, Take a Digital Break

Screen Shot 2014-12-22 at 18.06.55I first read about “unplugging” a couple of years ago, and then was inspired by Baratunde Thurston‘s account of taking a structured break from digital communications about a year ago. At the end of 25 days of zero online time he says “The greatest gift I gave myself was a restored appreciation for disengagement, silence, and emptiness.” His digital detox of 25 days led to new insights on how to be balanced in a hyper-connected world, and he says he developed some new habits.

Unplugging is an idea that has grown, and even has its own day, although there are naysayers. I agree that one day off doesn’t make much difference, but I suspect most of us could examine and re-balance our digital habits. Fast company produced a guide to unplugging, including ideas for daily or weekly habits.

I am online constantly; my work, social-life and hobbies – including blogging – keep me online for many hours every day. So the idea of a break from digital appeals, during my sabbatical it really didn’t seem necessary, but now that I’m back at work in a tide of email that’s changed.

I have decided that the Christmas/New Year period is a good time to take a digital break. As I’m still working some days it’s not a complete break. But I’ll be unplugging where I can. That means no blogging, no twitter, no Slideshare, no G+, no LinkedIn.

Apart from catching up with friends and family, I will be taking time to read, to write, and to think. See you next year!

Image: Merry Christmas to all my Flickr Friends /Duane Schoon/ CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

 

Basics of Blogging

BlogA friend of mine is getting started with a really cool, and hugely challenging project around mental health. As part of that she wants to start a blog, so I came up with some suggestions and some resources to help her.

1 Choose a subject

Defining the subject gives you a focus, defining what you’ll work on. You should define the topic in a way that gives you plenty to write about and a potential audience, Amylynn Andrews gives some good tips on defining the scope of a blog.

Most importantly pick a subject you care about. You will need to read about it, think about it, write about it pretty much every day. Note, you don’t need to be an expert on day one, your blog can be part of the process of learning, it needs to be something you care about. If it’s not something you care about it will be really hard to sustain the habits necessary to create good blog posts.

2 Define your audience

Who are you writing for? What are their needs? What do you want them to take from your blog?

In my friend’s case she’s trying to help those fortunate enough to have no mental health issues understand what it’s like to live with mental health issues.

3 Name (and domain name)

The naming of things is a difficult matter. Most bloggers struggle with the naming of their blog, and Google gives 49 million suggestions on how to do it.

The perfect blog name should be;

  • memorable; use real words and keep it short
  • reflect what the blog is about; people seeing the name should have their interest triggered.
  • give you room to grow; if you define the name too narrowly sooner or later your blog posts won’t fit. I started writing this blog about new technologies, now I also write about leadership, but it still fits under “Change Meme” whereas it wouldn’t have under a more technology specific name.
  • have an available domain name; unless  your audience is country specific you will be hunting for a .com domain that works.

For more specifics on choosing a name, there’s a great post on Blog Clarity.

I run three blogs now, and the first two were renamed. It’s not that difficult to rename your blog in the early stages, but once  you start building an audience it becomes more difficult.

4 Platform

I use WordPress for all three blogs and I’m a huge fan. I find it easy to use (and it’s getting better), there’s enough variety of templates available in the free option for me, and when I’ve had questions I’ve found the answer on WP for Beginners or they’ve been answered very quickly via the forums.

But there are other tools out there; Blogger (from Google), Tumblr (often used by younger audience), Medium, and Exposure (great for image based blogs). Most give you a free option or a trial option. Play with them, find the one you can use the best.

WordPress, Blogger and Tumblr are more commonly used and may already have a bigger audience for re-sharing content, and of these Tumblr seems to promote sharing the most.

5 Connect

“If you build it they will come” might work in baseball, but it won’t work for your blog. Share your blog across other social media channels. It’s often possible to automate this, this blog gets tweeted automatically for example.

You can re-share your content, either to reach different timezones or in response to a specific event. But don’t be the guy on twitter who shares old content 90% of the time. Mix it up with fresh stuff.

As you develop your content you’ll need also build your audience – you want to reach the right people.  Here are four tips to get started;

  • follow back, if someone follows your blog or your twitter handle (etc) follow them back
  • look for bloggers/tweeters writing on a similar theme – follow them
  • respond to questions and comments on  your blog
  • comment and engage with others

For more sophisticated steps Mashable gives this list of 6 Tips for Building a High Quality Blog Following, and this interview with Syed Balkhi talks about how he built an audience by focusing on helping one user at a time.

6 Content plan

Think about what you will write, what subjects you will address and what format your posts will take. Social Media Examiner lists 12 types of blog posts, some subjects dictate the format, for others you get to choose.

Blogging takes time, so think of a couple of post formats that could be easily created or created ahead of time;

“Listicles”, those posts headed “10 things you didn’t know about…” always attract readers, but a site with only this could become a bit annoying.

Responding to a relevant news subject also works if you can say something interesting on time. This is known as Newsjacking. One of my most shared posts combines listicles and newsjacking; “5 Reasons Facebook Shouldn’t Come to Work“.

Use known events relevant to your field. I like to post something on Community Managers Day for example.

When I started I created a category of “Business Cliches“, which gives definitions for terms I heard used at work. These are also good when I’m a bit low on ideas for what to write, I keep a list of potential cliches for future use.

I create a spreadsheet of my planned content, it’s a permanent draft and I often move things around, or add to it in response to events. But I find it helpful to have a structure to work to, here’s some more advice on creating a structure for your content. Make it as simple or as complex as you need.

7 Images

Adding images to your posts adds to the appeal. I use either my own images or those from flickr that are available under a creative comments licence.

Make sure your file names and your Alt tags reflect the content, this will help your blog be found more easily. I confess I am a bit lazy at doing this.

8 Plan to write

TimePlan time to write.

This is absolutely key to sustaining a good blog.

How much time you need depends on how many posts and what type of posts you need according to your content plan. I usually spend Sunday morning writing, I try to have two posts ready to go, plus work on a few “drafts” that may or may not make it to publication. I currently have 22 posts in draft form, probably a third of those will be published.

Occasionally I’ll write an additional post responding to an event during the week, but that will be shorter and something I can publish quickly.

9 The Legal Stuff

Copyright; I publish under a creative commons licence, meaning I hold the copyright but give people permission to re-use my content as long as they credit me as the source. I try really hard to follow copyright law in terms of anything I do publish, and openly state that I’ll correct anything if I get it wrong.

Your employer’s view; If your blog is close to your professional life you should check with your compliance or media relations teams on publication of your thoughts.

I’ve been blogging for almost a decade now, it’s rewarding, fun, and a reputation builder in my profession. Plus – I like to think I’ve learnt a lot about professional writing.

Image: Blog / Christian Schnettelker/ CC BY 2.0

Inspiration for time image; Time / Sean McEntee / CC BY 2.0

 

 

 

My Sixth Birthday

candlecupcakeHappy Birthday to me, it’s six years since I made my first post here.  In it I set out what I planned to write about; “ideas relating change in business, new technology and communication”.

That’s still true today, although I also write about what I am learning about leading people, which is probably the most rewarding thing I do.

I’ve published more than four hundred posts in that time, covering subjects from a twitter basics to dimensions of leadership, from employee engagement to the Apprentice. But the post that generated the most traffic was the list of resources I posted during the Iranian elections and protests in 2009. I think I was newsjacking before it was even a thing.

Writing Change Meme is fun, I really appreciate that people follow me here and on twitter, and I enjoy the interaction. Thank you all. So although finding time to write is a bit tricky right now due to work demands this is still important to me. Here’s to the next hundred posts!

Image: Cupcake / Mickey M / CC BY-NC-ND 2.0