Tag Archives: business cliche

To Move the Needle

Personal PhotographyI was reading an article on Wal-Mart’s e-commerce business recently and I came across the term “to move the needle”. Since I spend more time sewing on buttons than I do driving cars at the moment the first mental picture I had was troubling. Turns out not that needle.

The expression refers to moving the needle on some instrument of measurement such as a car speedometer, possibly more specifically the analogue Vu meter used in audio recording. In a more abstract form asking whether something “moved the needle” is just asking whether there was a noticeable improvement in the results.

In the Wal-Mart article they were referring to the e-commerce side of sales, which at 0.3% of US sales (by value) is barely impacting the billions in total sales. So although sales are at over $200 million it’s not yet moving the needle. I may not be the only one unfamiliar with the term, the headline reads “Wal-Mart’s e-commerce business: Can it move the needle, be material?” I’m pretty sure those last two words have been added since I first saw the article.

In another take on moving the needle, Lisa Earle McLeod applies the term to personal changes, and shows how making small, consistent changes is significant. She says “You don’t accomplish big things overnight; you move the needle every day.” Exactly.

What are you doing to move the needle today?

Image; A Needle Pulling Thread / Amarand Agasi / CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

 

 

 

 

 

 

Breaking down silos

I got a grumpy tweet last week, during the Thursday #ESNChat session, for using the term “breaking down the silos”. I felt bad, until then I’d been agreeing with much of what Greg had been saying.

Screen Shot 2014-05-10 at 16.07.19
Yes, I really said that.

The tweeter suggested I read his blog post which explains why he hates the term so much.

So I did.

I agree with the first part of definition of a silo he gives;

According to dictionary.com, a silo is “a structure, typically cylindrical, in which fodder or forage is kept”.

But I’m not convinced by the second part

In the business context, a silo generally represents a wall or boundary put up by an organization to keep them focused on accomplishing their goals and keeping outsiders from interfering with progress.

In my experience silos form in large companies to support the hierarchical structure of the company. It rests on an old model of thinking about work; that managers know what needs to be done and are responsible for directing all those under their responsibility to complete that work.

For me silos are are an outcome of an overly hierarchical company culture, one where people are unwilling to share knowledge, solve problems together or co-operate in any way.  The business directory defines silo mentality as;

a mindset present when certain departments or sectors do not wish to share information with others in the same company. This type of mentality will reduce efficiency in the overall operation, reduce morale, and may contribute to the demise of a productive company culture.

Visible signs that your organisation is in silos;

  • people talk about “us” and “them” meaning different departments within your company
  • you need agreement from management of two departments to get co-operation from another department
  • you need permission from a manager to approach someone in another department
  • departments in your company store their information online in team sites or shared drives that are only accessible for department members
  • you do have lunch with colleagues, but only ever from your own department
  • your personnel directory is searchable by name, or department, but not by expertise
  • when you look for specialist expertise, for example a Spanish-speaking tax expert with experience in Latin America, you start by emailing someone who speaks Spanish

silos

Greg, in his blog post, pointed to some good reasons for building silos within a company; allowing people to focus on the work at hand, and legal or regulatory reasons.

Yes there is a need to focus on the work, and that may mean that a project team shuts itself off from the organisation in some way. Yes in regulated industries there may be a need to put boundaries between certain parts of the organisation; the term used for this in banking in Chinese walls. In agencies temporary boundaries are often put in place around a project to prevent sharing of client information.

In general I wouldn’t consider anything temporary as a silo; just as you don’t move a grain silo easily, silos within companies take time to be established. I agree that there are regulatory boundaries to be considered, and while I’m probably guilty of understating those in my enthusiasm for improving knowledge sharing across a company, I’m certainly not thinking of them when I call for us to “break down the silos”.

I watched a TED video that talked about what might be one of the greatest silo breakdowns ever, and it comes from the US military. General Stanley McChrystal states;

The fact that I know something has zero value if I’m not the person who can actually make something better because of it.

He explains that it’s almost impossible to know who is the best person to use each piece of information, and that the army therefore moved from a “tell only who needs to know” to “we need to tell, and tell them as quickly as we can“.

It’s this philosophical shift I am referring to when I talk about breaking down the silos. In some companies the need is urgent, but I’m going to stop using the term, not in deference to Greg, but because it’s too urgent; from now on the term is “tearing down the silos”.

Gamification

Screen Shot 2013-09-15 at 5.48.47 PMGamification takes the concept of rewards in games and applies it elsewhere, often to non-game websites. It relies on our natural desire for achievement and our competitiveness.

Yu-kai Chou, an expert in gamification developed an Octalysis framework which identifies 8 possible motivations for people to stay in a game.

  1. Epic Meaning & Calling
  2. Development & Accomplishment
  3. Empowerment of Creativity & Feedback
  4. Ownership & Possession
  5. Social Influence & Relatedness
  6. Scarcity & Impatience
  7. Curiosity & Unpredictability
  8. Loss & Avoidance

Game makers will ideally include all motivations in the course of the game to maximise engagement, but marketers will choose to focus on the motivations that align with their brand. For example Nike’s brand is based on the famous “just do it” mentality and their Nike+ uses aspects of gamification associated with accomplishment, by allowing successful users to unlock motivation talks from elite athletes.

Social Networks also use gamification to encourage activity, the most famous example is probably 4square with over one hundred and fifty active badges, some related to activity on 4square but others, such as the Met Lover’s Badge, connect to the marketing campaigns of companies and organisations. Enterprise social networks, including ours, also use badges to reward activity and connections.

Educators and health professionals try to use gamification principles to increase people’s motivation for positive change. However it can be challenging to integrate this external purpose setting with the user-centred design principles of a game. Or, as discussed on the Psyche’s Circuitry blog; The game doesn’t care.

Not everyone responds well to gamification techniques, when we introduced them to our enterprise social network a small group of people thought them horribly childish. The result being that we’ll allow you to switch off display of badges on your own profile – although you’ll still be awarded the badges.

Badge Galore /What What/ CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

Big Data

Big data visualisationBig Data is often touted as a solution to all our problems, a panacea for all ills often by people who struggle to define it. So what is big data and what kind of problems has it solved?

Big data refers to sets of data so big and complex that they cannot be analysed by traditional methods and tools, but which release new value when analysis is achieved.

Google translate is an example of a problem solved by the use of big data. Although the translations are imperfect they are often good enough to have an understanding of what the writer intended whatever language it was written in. Google does this by statistically analysing millions of documents online that exist in multiple languages and figuring out what is most likely to be a correct translation. The more documents available that have been accurately translated by humans the more accurate the Google translation will be.

Big data analysis has been used in predicting maintenance needs for UPS, New York city council and various car manufacturers. It’s been used in healthcare to predict the onset of infections in newborns, and outbreaks of flu.

So it sounds like it could solve some tough business problems, and it can. But it has limits.

  • messiness of data means tricky to anaylse and interpret – google translate occasionally gets the translation between Dutch and English completely wrong, and this is a language pair that must have millions of documents, you need good analytical expertise and data governance to get the valuable insights out of the data.
  • hidden biases in data collection, for example if you’re relying on smart phone data  you are probably selecting against the lowest income earners.
  • identifies correlation, but that explain causality and doesn’t necessarily tell you what to do.
  • privacy concerns; relating to the collection, use and reuse of data. People may not realise that if enough anonymised data is combined it is possible to identify an individual.

And sometimes all that extra data may induce a sort of paralysis by analysis, a belief that you could make the perfect decision with just a little more data.

Right now we’re only beginning to unlock the value of big sets of data, and it’s still very much in the hands of the experts. It’s going to take some re-learning for managers/business leaders to ask questions that big data can answer, and to understand that correlation does not imply causation.

image: Big Data: water wordscape / CC BY 2.0

Turnkey Solutions

Screen Shot 2013-02-17 at 9.29.53 PMA colleague came to me a while back really excited about a potential new supplier. The social solution they offered was perfect, fantastic, value for money and a turnkey solution. “Just think, we could have this in place in four weeks!” he said.

I think he was a bit underwhelmed by my reaction.

So what is a turnkey solution? Wikipedia gives this definition

The term turnkey is also often used in the technology industry, most commonly to describe pre-built computer “packages” in which everything needed to perform a certain type of task (e.g. audio editing) is put together by the supplier and sold as a bundle.

The solution offered was theoretically turn-key that should be easily implemented. According to my colleague they’d implemented such things before.

So why did I find it hard to believe the four week timeline? Because in ten years of implementing technology solutions I’ve learnt that as soon as a solution needs to touch employee or customer data systems we need to follow tough procedures to make sure each step is taken correctly and with due concern for the protection of that data. That takes time, certainly more than four weeks.

So is anything a turnkey solution or is the term a myth?

The search engine we have in place on our external site behaves in this way. I think from the time we’d signed the contract until it was implemented was days rather than weeks. It’s an external tool, relying only on public – and published data. Although the supplier didn’t label it as such while they were selling the service, it is a turnkey solution.

When you hear the term used by a supplier think hard about your own company’s requirements and processes, what is turnkey for the supplier may not be turnkey for you.

Image Keys /Richard Garside/ CC BY 2.0

Critical Mass

Wikipedia defines critical mass as the point when;

a sufficient number of adopters of an innovation in a social system so that the rate of adoption becomes self-sustaining and creates further growth.

When people will adopt depends on where they sit in the adoption lifecycle, and if you’re managing the implementation of a innovation into a company it’s crucial to help each group in their own adoption process. Critical mass is usually said to fall between the early adopters and the early majority, although some research puts it further into the early majority phase.

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The five categories can be defined as:

  • innovators – eager to try something new, need little training
  • early adopters – quick to try something new, seek out new experiences, see benefits of the innovation
  • early majority – open to new ideas, will try something if the purpose is clear, influence to colleagues
  • late majority – want proof it works, safety and systems around anything they use,
  • laggards – reluctant to change, sometimes only change because their existing tool is obsolete, or no longer available.

Not everyone is the same type for all innovations I’m an example of someone who can be an early adopter with one innovation and a laggard with another – I joined Linkedin in about 2005, but didn’t get a smart phone until last year.

Critical mass, where the growth in adoption becomes self sustaining, is reached when the early majority start to take up your innovation.

I’m trying to apply this to our implementation of an Enterprise Social Network, we have a total target audience of about 65,000 and so far 45,000 have signed up to use the tool. So that sounds like we’re already into the late majority – job done.

Except signing up is a low impact activity and doesn’t reflect a real use. It just means the person has agreed to the terms and conditions.

So I’ve been looking for some other measurable behaviours which we could consider as a threshold for use.

We see a monthly report on active users. To be considered an active user you need to have done something – anything – in the time frame measured. The activity could be five useful answers to five other users or it could be a comment or a like. So it’s a very broad measure, but by this measure we are into the early majority as of January – just.

We have implemented badges on our enterprise social network and this might give the best measure of where we are on the adoption lifecycle. The lowest level badge, the “starter” badge rewards a low level of activity; a post and a few comments and you’re there. By this measure we’re about to enter the “early adopters” stage. However badges were only introduced 6 months after launch so they under measure the adoption activity.

Looking at all these measures, the data per country, and reviewing how the Enterprise Social Network is used I believe we’re still with the early adopters across the company, but we’re into the early majority in the two countries with the largest numbers of employees. This is huge progress. Now the challenge is to embed this Enterprise Social Network in the company, my real measure of success is when it’s just how we work.

Image Work found at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:DiffusionOfInnovation.png / CC BY-SA 3.0

The Streisand Effect

Nothing to do with singing, everything to do with pointless and futile attempts at hiding or censoring information results in a surge of unexpected (and unwanted) attention. The name came about when Barbara Streisand tried to use the courts to suppress photos taken of her house in 2003.

There’s been a bit of it going around lately, with a new twist, the publicity has been used to raise money for charity.

Never Seconds & Mary’s Meals

A nine-year-old blogger set out to document her school lunch, setting up a scale of quality for the meal and taking a photo every day. She was also raising money for a charity called “Mary’s Meals” which raises money to feed children in Malawi. Her target was 7,000 GBP – enough to build a school kitchen. So far a very normal story… until the council authorities got involved and told her she could no longer photograph her school meals.

This led to an outpouring of outrage on behalf of the blog’s owner, Martha Payne, with many of the outraged donating to her cause. She’s now raised over 100,000 GBP, enough to build a school kitchen and feed 10,000 Malawi students for a year. (You can still donate if you want to!). Martha is now a finalist for the 2012 Great Scot Award, as she said of her nomination “I think it’s really for everyone that has supported Mary’s Meals“.

Martha had already had attention of local press, and a tweet of support from Jamie Oliver, so there’s no doubt she was going to do well with her blog. But when the Argyll and Bute council (who run the school) tried to stop her photographs her charity total was at around 2,000 pounds. She reached her 7,000 pound target within hours, and the following day it reached 45,000 pounds.

The negative PR swamped the council within hours – emails were pouring in from all over the world pointing out the silliness of the decision to ban her photographs, and pretty soon the council backed down. It’s a lesson for other councils, OK, it’s a lesson for all of us. Next time you’re tempted to tell people what they can and cannot say about your brand online, stop, think of Martha – and make a donation.