Across the Board

“This policy applies across the board”.

Across the board is a common phrase, it means “generally applicable” or “the general rule” which is not a surprise, you can deduce it from the original words.

Picture 5When I read it in a memo recently I was triggered  to question the origins. I had assumed that it came from Chess or some similar board game.  In fact it comes from racing, where in US parlance an “across the board” bet is one where equal amounts are placed on the same contestant to win, place, or show.

Surprisingly it’s not that old – apparently first recorded about a hundred years ago, in a report of a race in Atlanta.

image The smart money is on me /Roger Price/ CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

Be Happy at Work

Some days it seems like a tall order; with competing priorities, looming deadlines and demanding emails.

How can we be happy at work? And how can we help those we work with be happier?
Apparently it’s easy – in six easy steps according to a new book “Happy Hour is 9 to 5” by Alexander Kjerulf.

  1. Be positive
  2. Learn
  3. Be open
  4. Participate
  5. Find meaning
  6. Love

He goes into some detail explaining the behaviours that match each.

He points out that these six things come from us, not from the company or the boss, and that we can all use them to change our own workplaces. There is a caveat with that, the company needs to allow this – if not we might have to change where we work.

It sounds deceptively simple, but it matches research by Harvard who came up with 7 ways to be happy at work, first on their list is “smile”. Their second is “stop worrying which maps to “be positive”, and their list ends with “have fun”.

Kjerulf’s book finishes with advice to make an action plan, but as you might expect this isn’t a standard action plan. He’s noted the same difficulties with ambitious goals that I have and his action plan is a list of 5 actions you can accomplish in the coming week. Each action must be fast, easy and fun.

So next in the coming week I will

  • Go somewhere cool with one of the project managers in my team for our “future” brainstorming.
  • Take in home-made biscuits or muffins to the office
  • Praise someone outside my team
  • Sit with a different team for half a day (we have flexible work spots so this is possible)
  • Say “yes” to a crazy idea that takes me out of my comfort zone

I’m already more interested in that than my regular “to do” list!

NOTE: You can buy a physical copy, purchase a pdf version or read “Happy Hour is 9 to 5” for free online.

image Happy / CC BY-NC-ND 2.0


Webstress - a cause of employee frustration.

There are a couple of applications I have to use at work that are less than user-friendly. One is the system used for performance reviews for my team – this is particularly problematic because I only use it a few times a year and so each time I have to “relearn” how to use it. It’s frustrating, but it has to be done.

I’m not alone. A recent study from CA (formerly Computer Associates) states that the use of web applications is rising, 97% of those surveyed need applications to their job.

24% of survey participants say that they cope with badly performing applications on a daily basis.

Consumers find errors on websites or web applications frustrating, and their expectation of the problem being solved are pretty high – 32% expect it to be solved within 10 minutes.

I’m sure it’s something we all recognise – either as employees or as consumers – we’ve experienced the frustration. But what is the impact?

According to those surveyed the biggest impact is on their productivity (78%), the next two biggest impacts were increased frustration (49%) and decreased job satisfaction (40%).

I recognise that performance refers to the availability and bug-free nature of the web application, and not the usability that I mentioned earlier. However in some ways they’re all part of the same issue. Web applications are now vital tools in the work place, any difficulties in using them impact both the productivity and the job satisfaction of the user.

Suddenly IT is looking like an HR issue.

If your management is calling for people to “work smarter” and increase productivity in this environment, and your HR departments are working to develop (or maintain) an engaged workforce, perhaps looking at key web applications would be a good start.

image from getplaid? via flickr

Perfect Pitch

dragonsdenOne of my TV addictions is Dragon’s Den, a show where entrepreneurs pitch to 5 of Britain’s most successful business people, who may invest their own money if the pitch is good enough.

Last week’s episode (I’ve just watched the rerun) had a perfect pitch, from Sharon Wright, it’s one that future candidates could learn from.

1 Know your figures

In the first sentence Sharon Wright stated what she was asking for; £50,000 for 15% equity in the business.

She did not state – or at least it was not televised – sales numbers or profit margins, but I have no doubt that she knows exactly the revenue, costs, accounts owed.

2 Know your concept

The product was simple, so simple you can’t believe it hasn’t already been invented. It solves a recognisable problem, and has an obvious sizable customer market.

Sharon was able to explain the problem – she’d seen it herself when the BT engineer came to her house and used a coathanger to manouver the cable through the wall of her new built house. She thought there must be a better way, and went on to invent magnamole.

She demonstrated the product on the programme – and her simple demo worked.

3 Know your clients

The Dragons want to know that your product or service will sell, the easiest way to demonstrate this is to have some existing clients. Depending on where you are in the development cycle of your product it might be a ‘trial sample’ that is sold. In the case of Sharon Wright she has a 2 year contract with BT, and distribution agreements in the UK and the US.

4 Know the future of your company

Have a vision about where you want to take it, know how it can grow.

Companies can grow by gaining market share, growing into new geographic markets, or by developing new products. For a product to be interesting to investors it needs to have growth potential, and it needs to be scalable.

Sharon Wright’s vision includes geographic growth, one of her uses of the investment money is to translate the instruction packs. But she also had an answer when Peter Jones pointed out that this is a market that will become saturated. “Yes, my next product…” The fact that she’s thought that far ahead and will go on and develop more products in the future was a seller for investment hungry Dragons.

5 Protect your product

If a product or service is easy to copy it’s less attractive for investors, an imitator could change the market before they have a chance to recoup their investment.

Sharon Wright already holds patents, both in the US and UK.

6 Know your stuff

The Dragons are investing in a business, but they’re also investing in you. You need to show your expertise, you need to show you’re professional, and you need tell the story of how you got to the product coherently.

In this case, Sharon has done a lot of the right things in developing her business so was very credible, the development of the product was inspired by a real event and drew on her background in Health and Safety.

7 Know what you need

Know what you need to make the business grow, know what you plan to spend the money.

In this case the stated need for the money was to internationalise the product and conduct some market research, but her real need was the expertise of a Dragon, and when the moment came she got to say which Dragons she’d prefer to work with.

8 Be human

The Dragons need to like you, at least a little, to invest in you. So showing something of yourself is good.

Sharon indicated that one of the reasons she wanted a Dragon on board was to go faster in making decisions, and she expressed some regret and frustration that she hadn’t been able to go faster. That drew some laughter from the Dragons, they made it very clear that she’s done amazingly well in just two years.

The result? All the Dragons were interested, and the eventual offer (80K for 22.5%) from James Caan and Duncan Bannatyne, valued the company higher than she had coming in. It might sound odd, but it was a win on both sides.

I’m sure she’ll be successful, I hope she’s featured on next year’s follow up show.

YouTube video sends share price falling

It’s a much reported story, Dave Carroll flew United, put his guitar into the luggage, the guitar was damaged, and United were unwilling to compensate him for his loss. He tells the story much better in song on YouTube – here, in case you’re not one of the four million people who have already seen it.

Various reports point to a dive in United’s share price, which in these times no-one wants to see, and it’s often quoted as being a 10% drop. Well last year we saw the stock price financial services firms drop more than that in an afternoon, but still – it is not something any company wants to happen.

Much is being made of the transformative nature of consumer power due to social media, and while that has had an effect I’m not sure that it’s as great as some are saying.

unitedsharesIn this diagram (and data is from wikiinvest) the arrow points to the date Dave Carroll launched his song “United Breaks Guitars” on YouTube. What you can see on the graph is that

  • the share price recovers quite quickly, surpassing it’s 6 July level by 15 July
  • the share price drops from 3.34 on 6 June to 3.18 on 9 June

Various commentators have talked about a 10% drop, but looking at day closing figures the drop is less than 5%.

Almost every article I’ve seen takes the angle that big companies better watch out because now everyone can put up their protest on YouTube and this will affect your share price.

I don’t think so.

Dave Carroll has talent, he’s an award-winning musician, he has the ability and resources to create an amusing video – and humour is a key component in a video going viral. An earlier video complaining about United has collected 112,000 views since being loaded to YouTube in April 2008 – and I suspect many of those views are recent since it’s now a related video to the Dave Carrol video (16 of the 40 pages of comments are from the last two weeks).

I don’t think all of us have the power to do what Dave Carroll did. That does not mean that companies should ignore social media, it’s pretty hard to imagine how Dave Carroll could have got an audience of 4M to a music video so quickly before YouTube. Even the old post it on a website and forward the email link would have been a lot slower – and before email? You would have needed to get it onto TV.

So social media makes a difference in the delivery channel, and the Dave Carroll story shows that United Airlines – the big company – had plenty of opportunity to get things right.

  • train your baggage handlers, reward them as a group for safe transfer of fragile baggage
  • give your first line staff the power to resolve a complaint for a customer
  • make solving customer complaints a first priority for your managers
  • when something does go wrong, rise above it, get your executives involved in a really great response.

Imagine if Glen Tilton, CEO of United Airlines, had given Dave Carroll a replacement guitar – with a tiny “sponsored by United Airlines” logo in it. They would have had a PR win on their hands, not a share prices dip.


Hard on the heels of the twitter mass response to the Iranian election protests, comes Twibbon.

During the Iranian election protests #IranElection was one of the top trending topics for more than a week and hundreds of thousands of tweeters added a green layer or a green ribbon to their avatar.

Someone has picked up on the popularity of the simple option of doing this and now created Twibbon, a site where you can create your own avatar overlay – and promote your own cause.

There are already avatar changes to show

Search for your own categories, or make your own – all it takes is uploading of an image.

If your cause gets more than 10,000 supporters adopting your twibbon they you qualify for a Twibute; an image based on your twibbon. The first and (so far) only twibute is for the Indonesia Unite twibbon, which gained the 10,000 supporters in about 2 days.

It’s  cute idea, I think as more twibbons develop the site will need to add some categories or tags it’s getting difficult to sort through avaialable twibbons already. However the concept is cute, and I’ve added a big mug of coffee to mine.


milestoneIn projects, particularly change management projects the term “milestone” comes up a lot. It’s a metaphorical marker for some measure of progress, usually a marker with some significance. For example in the Obama campaign they needed to get to 1,000,000 calls up from 700,000 so asked their supporters to make five calls. They reached the 1,000,000 milestone within 24 hours.

To be successful the milestone needs to be ambitious, and a round number – aiming for 746,000 is a bit more difficult to promote. It needs to be widely communicated, along with the rationale for getting it. Importantly, once achieved it needs to be recognised and celebrated.

The term comes from physical milestones, used to mark the route from one city or town to another and often including the distance – measured in miles. So on a  journey you could note the distance covered so far, and check that you were still on track to reach your final destination. Not very different from its current metaphorical use.Milestones are old, they were used in Roman times when a “Golden Milestone” was erected in the centre of Rome from which all distances in the empire were measured. They were used throughout Europe and many are still visible, and in some cases still used as the point from which distances are measured.

Milestones are still in use, but in most countries are more likely to be metal plaques along a highway rather than the stone markers. Sometimes the markers don’t exist, but their theoretical position is used to create a grid framework for naming roads or highway exits.I hear the term used fairly frequently at work, but usually with a meaning that is metaphorically close the original.

image Milestone (Colne 11) /Tim Green/ CC BY 2.0

Yes We Did

Screen Shot 2014-09-27 at 13.46.27Yes We Did; An Inside Look at How Social Media Built the Obama Brand,
By Rahaf Harfoush

It’s an inside look from an insider – Rahaf Harfoush worked on the campaign for the sixty days leading up to the election.

It’s a good read, written in a fresh engaging style, with a mixture of detail on what was done, anecdotes, profiles and takeaways or lessons learnt. The online fundraising created by the community was incredible and the motivation of the teams inspiring. There’s a fair amount that can be applied to business.

  • Centre your whole campaign on a hub site – in this case “MyBO“, for companies it will be your corporate or business site.
  • Integrate online and offline – the online platforms had a strong call to action, call electors, organise events and so on, in companies there is often a big split between what is developed online and the on the ground reality.
  • Make small asks of your community – the campaign asked for donations of $5 or for people to make 5 calls. Making the threshold for useful involvement so low meant millions could – and did – become involved. All the online tools were developed with the same philosophy.
  • Straight talking will win fans – the example given was where the online community did not agree with the approach taken by (then) Senator Obama. He acknowledged their concerns but stuck to his decision. It earned respect.
  • Consistency is important – consistent design, approach, tone of voice pull the diverse social media platforms into a coherent whole.
  • Content – highly relevant, timely and short
  • Measure and improve – and keep measuring and improving!

The lesson from the last section on frustrations of working from the inside now that Barack Obama is elected and subject to higher security rules and bureaucracy involvement. The lesson is don’t let the bureaucracy of technology get in the way  – something I struggle with and I’m sure it holds for most companies.

I’m sure that there will be more case studies written, with more depth, but having a first hand take on the campaign makes it all the more inspiring. I want to send a copy to all my colleagues.

Distribute your Content

Reuters want you to re-use and repost their content, but not for free. They’ve set up a system where you can apply for a temporary right to republish their content including ads – no extra cost to you, or ad-free – for which you will pay a fee. It seems to be the latest attempt by content publishers to stay relevant in the blog world without leeching revenue.

As it stands the system takes 11 clicks to set up, carefully documented by The Business Insider, which seems a bit cumbersome. Permissions are temporary which seems to limit their use for republication, although most blog posts relating to news probably have most traffic in the first 30 days so it might not be such a big issue for their content.

You can use the same service to set up copyright permissions on your own blog – I’ve just set up an account to try it out. You get a little strip of HTML code to add to your blog.

Sample copyright notice

[Get Copyright Permissions]
Click here for copyright permissions!
Copyright 2009 Louise McGregor

I’ve set this up as the simplist possible account so it’s really a two click process to get permission. You also have an option of getting an email confirmation of the licence and sending a copy of that licence to the copyright holder.

Permission to use content granted.

Permission to use content granted.

We’re developing new content at work, and we want other people to use it. We’re hoping that sharing our content will help build an engaged audience. We’ve been considering using creative commons licensing but struggling for a way to monitor and check the use. This might provide a simple, professional solution.

I wonder what my colleagues in legal will make of it.

Design for Development

Picture 12IDEO, the award-winning design consultancy with success across multiple industries has created a design process kit free for download.

They’ve called it a Human Centered Design Toolkit and it’s aimed at NGO’s and social enterprise, and it’s developed with the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

They’re arguably the world’s experts in this having worked on design projects in energy, health, education and more recently developed the wonderfully simple kickstart pump which has helped farmers irrigate their land and earn around $37M per year.

The toolkit consists of five guides; introduction, hear, field, create, deliver. Because there can be language barriers making the field research phase the kit includes some visual aspirational cards to ease the discussion. The cards feature images of everything from farming to cities, from money to cowpats; some are shown at left.

The design kit is brilliantly simple, each guide is well set out, with tips on running brainstorm sessions, collecting the ideas and developing them into practical solutions. It helps field workers find solutions that will fit the local situation and economy in developing countries.

But the lessons and process can be applied more widely, and the guides themselves offer inspiration.