Posts filed under ‘Communications’

I get Twitter now – finally

About two weeks ago we saw one of the longest running threads on an ASAE listserve topic – about 4-5 dozen posts regarding Twitter. It was fascinating to watch and be a part of. It’s why I’m an ASAE member. As that discussion was starting I was sitting down to write an article to explain why I didn’t ‘get it’ and why I’d stayed away from the ‘stupid, silly, time wasting fad’ for more than three years.  A few weeks later, with some 250 ‘followers’ hanging on my every word (yeah… right), I can honestly say that I now ‘get it’ – and thought it might be useful to share what this ASAE member now ‘gets’.

First thing worth mentioning? I have no way to prove this, but I suspect that more than a few readers of this infrequently updated blog have just bypassed this post because they saw the word ‘Twitter’ in the subject line.  I did the same thing for three years. Twitter? Not interested. Nothing there for me. Nothing to see here. Move along…

Pity.

First? It is perfectly, totally, 100% true – there’s a lot, an awful lot, of banality on Twitter. There’s a fellow I know – a rather good cartoonist and podcaster  – who’s on Twitter. Follow him (ie. Subscribe to his Tweets (ie. Postings)) if you want to know what flavour ice cream his kids have dropped on the floor, what colour T-shirt he’s wearing or whether or not he arrived at the Mall yet. I Followed him for a day or so, had a small brain freeze as a result, and then removed him from the list of people I was following (you can do that – it’s allowed)…

Why mention him if I’m trying to build a case for an association getting involved with Twitter? (and yes, that’s what I’m doing here) Well, for starters, as many Assns would like to have,  he has a ‘personal’ and a ‘national’ brand… each month he has about 50,000 people download his podcasts. Raise your hand if 50,000+ of your members (you have 50,000+ members… correct?) download your Assn podcast each month. (You have a podcast… correct?)

Of those 50,000+ people, 6,899 (just checked) people follow him hourly on Twitter.  Why do they follow him? I have no idea. All I know is that they do. They get some value from this – he benefits from that. Seems like a reasonable deal all round.

One of the perennial questions posted on the ASAE listserves is, “How often should we be e-mailing/contacting our members.” Because we’re concerned that sending them mail ‘too’ often (more than once or twice a month) might be problematic in some way. Yet? There is a segment of our membership, and our potential membership (more on this in a second), who are ready, willing and able to receive information from us continually, every hour of the day… And our ‘stretch goal’ is to bump our frequency of communication to once a week?

Sometimes, not always, solutions to existing problems stare us in the face as we blindly step over them.

Another perennial concern shared by most, not all, associations is declining membership. We’re getting older and the retirees at the top aren’t being replaced with youngsters at the bottom. Add to this, the effect of a shaky economy (is it okay to say we’re in a full blown recession yet?) and we have a recipe for ‘interesting times’ ahead of us. Two questions are always on the table, “How do we attract new members?”, and “How do we communicate with the alphabet soup of Generations?”

Who’s on Twitter? Mostly 18-24 year olds… mostly college and college grads.
Google {Demographics of Twitter} for a slew of recent sources for detailed stats.

Who were we looking for again to join our organizations?

One of the most fascinating (to me any way) uses of Twitter, that’s directly applicable to Associations of all shapes and sizes – is how it’s being used in conferences. People are blithely Tweeting away the nuggets of ‘wisdom’ that sometimes fall from the mouths of speakers. They’re also creating a strong sense of community and a ‘Wish you were here” mentality — what’s THAT worth in future attendance numbers?

I can immediately hear some objections to this. A) How could we charge for this? B) How do we restrict this flow of Assn generated content to Assn members? C) How do we control this?

Short answer? We can’t. – But we can be more active in our participation of this phenomenon. Want REAL feedback about your conference? Want to build community? Want an organic way to encourage people to be more of a part of what’s going on? Encourage Tweeting.

The thing is… Tweeters are already doing this at the conferences of Associations who want nothing to do with this new fangled way of communicating – gosh darn it! And while you’re at it? Get off my lawn you young Whippersnappers… The things kids get up to these days… why in my time we used to…

Hmm…

If you’d asked me a month ago what I thought of Twitter – I’d have told you. You know me well enough to know I would not have pulled any punches in my assessment that Twitter was an absolute waste of a professional’s time. I would have been perfectly, totally, 100% wrong. That happens from time to time. I find those occurances educational and informative. Even useful.

Truth is, Twitter, like all tools, is what we make of it.

Cheers
@pdejager

April 2, 2009 at 4:30 am Leave a comment

Why to Write

Writing serves many purposes – here are some of the reasons why I write (even why I participate in list serves)

1) It helps you think.
If you can put an idea down on paper then you are inevitably deciding, from one word to the next, what is important and what is not.

Since writing is sequential, since you can’t say everything at once, you have to impose an order on your thoughts. As a speaker – this is useful, but it’s useful to anyone in any endeavor.

2) It’s practice.
As a speaker, I’m essentially a word smith. My primary tool is the English language, and writing allows me, and forces me, to play with words, phrases, cadence and meter. Since I’m always writing to an audience, I am in a sense, always presenting.

3) It’s advertising.
I DARE you to contact the advertising department of any publication and ask them what it would cost for you to run a full page ad describing your services. Be sitting down when you do this. Yet… a full page article is far more powerful a means to demonstrate your ‘power’ to a potential client. And sometimes, if you’re lucky, they’ll pay you for the privilege.

**Note… keep all your copyrights. It’s your work – unless it’s a ‘work for hire’ – keep your copyright – you want to be able to use your own work in perpetuity. Give them the right to use your work… but keep your copyright.

4) It’s marketing.
Marketing isn’t advertising. It’s just general exposure. Write enough and people will ‘SEE’ your articles in publications that don’t even know who you are. They’ll insist they know you… when they’ve never met you.

5) It’s your PR ambassador. And it works forever… for free.
Write ‘timeless’ articles – articles that will as useful 10 years from now as they are today. That isn’t always possible or desirable… but it’s a goal to follow when you can. You want your work to speak for you when you aren’t there. Once you’ve written what I classify as a ‘keeper’ (this posting is a self referential example of that I hope) then it gets saved… and then passed around. And literally becomes a personal employee and PR agent.

6) It’s multipurpose.
I’m the world’s laziest man. Anything I produce, must carry several loads. A good article is all of the above, and it’s a potential presentation at the drop of a hat.

7) It’s plastic.
As in… any well written article can be tweaked and twisted to generate at least one more significantly different article, if not half a dozen. Hmm… this ‘article’ was first posted to an online discussion… it’s morphed already, and will again!

8 ) It’s something you’ll learn from.
If you don’t write much – then you’ll likely not even believe this one… if you do write a lot, you might know what I mean. When you write… and then read what you’ve written later… then you’ll learn stuff you didn’t know you knew. I can’t really explain this, but I’m a smarter, more insightful person when I write. I often come up with ideas as I’m writing that I literally did not know I knew.

9) and finally? Writing is calming. Well… sort of.
If you’ve got writer’s block? Well, you’ll just have to shoot yourself – it’s the only real cure. BUT when the muse takes over, and the words begin to flow like water across the page? Then it’s the best thing going to boost your spirit and your ego.

Now… go break a pen
Peter de Jager

July 23, 2008 at 1:02 pm 1 comment

Making a Date with a Crisis

Regardless of our circumstances we often share the same thoughts. The notion “It can’t happen here”, is such a common way of looking at disaster, that even Kissinger got into the act with his famous “There cannot be a crisis next week. My schedule is already full.”

Humor aside, disasters happen regardless of what you had planned for the week. How badly they affect us, is determined by our ability to respond without warning to crisis situations.

The traditional approach to disaster planning is to create a methodology, install contingency plans, ensure that proper backups of crucial data are made, and place all this documentation in yellow binders on a shelf. If we’re diligent, we take it out once a year for some exercise.

This way of planning for disaster, while it provides many benefits, also contains a serious flaw. It’s not so much the cost – insurance of any type always costs money. The flaw is more subtle, but it is potentially serious enough to scuttle the best laid plan.

It is this, Disasters by their very nature, happen unexpectedly. Our success on the day is based upon how we react when we’re confused and don’t know what’s going on. Planning allows us to think through the process of what to do if (when?) something happens, before it actually occurs. That thought process alone is the central core of any contingency plan, but just thinking about it, isn’t enough. We have to go into the water before we know how to swim. We have to live it, to learn from it. Planning for the experience is not the same as experiencing the plan.

How to improve a disaster recovery plan? Given the stated nature of disasters, ‘unexpectedly and without warning’ seems like the right approach.

At 9:00am on a Monday morning, inform 50% (or a mere dozen if that would be too disruptive) of your management team, individually and personally, that they’re leaving immediately for an off site location for an emergency meeting. No prior warning. No details provided. No excuses accepted. All meetings regardless of importance are ignored. No notification to secretaries/assistants or clients allowed. All cell phones and blackberries collected. In other words, just like a real life crisis.

When they arrive via the waiting bus, they’re told of the ‘disaster’ that has taken place. They are to respond to this ‘disaster’ over the next day or two. What is the ‘disaster’? That depends on how severe you want it to be and what you think would provide the best information.

There’s a certain beauty to this exercise – NO PREPARATION IS REQUIRED. (except possibly for the bus) The Exercise starts at 9:00am when your employees are informed. NO hotel is booked – no coffee pre-ordered, no Flip Charts on site.

I already hear the objections… we need to book the hotel in advance otherwise…

Question… on the day our building is on fire, bombed, flooded, the senior exec team all killed in an air crash, captured by ninjas etc. etc. will we already have a room booked? If we cannot manage this minuscule exercise in crisis – then we are fundamentally incapable of handling a real emergency.

Back at the office the remainder of the management team can take the exercise one step further and pretend the entire off site team are victims of a disaster. This secondary exercise might be more than your organization can handle without severely impacting day-to-day operations. The alternative is to merely explain what is going on and cope with their unexpected absence for two days (week?). There is learning even this minimalist approach.

The exercise provides two benefits. First? An immediate and relatively inexpensive evaluation of how well your management team responds to an unexpected crisis.

Secondly? In a very short period of time, with minimal impact to your organization, you highlight those areas most vulnerable to the ‘disaster’ you selected. With that in hand you can now move forward to a ‘real’ contingency plan with specific objectives in mind.

The objections to this exercise are many and obvious. You can’t afford the time. The board would object. You can’t afford the negative impact to the business. Your schedule is full next week.

June 19, 2008 at 7:42 am 2 comments

Change Management Interview

Something different.

A few weeks ago I had the distinct pleasure of being interviewed by George Torok for his radio show Business in Motion.

It’s a one hour conversation on the topic of Change Management, you can listen to it here:

George Torok
Host of Business in Motion
www.BusinessInMotion.ca
www.Torok.biz

June 13, 2008 at 4:12 pm 1 comment

Work Flows Downhill

“The Internet ignores both political and geographic boundaries!” To anyone with even a minimal level of technical expertise, this statement is nothing more than a grade level observation. Yet if we use it as a lens to examine the future, it offers a few interesting implications. Especially if we have a minimal level of technical experience, and are living outside of what we refer to as the “third world”.

As a writer with regular columns in computer magazines for the past few decades, I receive many e-mails requesting my view of trends in IT employment opportunities. I repeatedly get asked by people who should have the answer within their reach, if the current down turn in North American IT opportunities will end… and when?

The reasons for the down turn are many: a recession, an oversupply of capability, a recent house cleaning in most IT shops worldwide, the trend to outsourcing and the real threat, the rise of off shore services in the white collar arena.

Will the downturn end? Look back to the opening line of this article… “The Internet is ignorant of both political and geographic boundaries!” now add an additional ingredient. The cost of living in third world countries is significantly less than it is here in North America and Europe.

This results in the following prediction: IT employment opportunities for particular skill sets will continue to plummet. There will be no turn-around. Technology is the great equalizer. Just as heat travels from hotter to colder, and a high pressure zone will equalize with a low pressure zone if given the chance, by eliminating the geographic boundaries, telecommunications allows “work” to seek out the most hospitable climate.

The “work” affected is not restricted to application development, it includes the following categories; Data Entry, Call Centers, Back-Office Operations, Document Imaging etc.

One response to this is… “We’ll do it better! We’ll be more efficient! We’ll use technology!” and the counter strategy is… “Anything you can do, we can do cheaper… because we have an advantage — our standard of living is lower.” Another response is to attempt to legislate a solution, which only serves to create a black market of opportunity.

There is no new force at work here. We’ve seen this happen before. People from China were shipped into NA to build the great railroads because they were cheaper than local labour. This time we’re shipping out the work, instead of shipping in the people. Exactly the same concept, just implemented differently.

The world is filled with economic inequalities; there are the Haves and the Havenots; the “1st World” and the “3rd World”. With the stated goal of working towards some sort of economic balance, we go to great lengths to provide loans to developing companies, and according to many, these loans do little to redress the balance. Meanwhile the global telecommunications network, part of which we know as the “Internet”, is becoming the unexpected solution.

Of course, there isn’t any solution which isn’t seen by some as a new and threatening problem. If you’re someone in North America who is losing, or has already “lost”, their job to a programmer in India, Pakistan, China, Poland etc. (the list is long… but then so was the imbalance) then you’ll have an understandably different view of this rising trend. From your perspective you’re losing your livelihood to an outsider, to someone who doesn’t even live in your country.

There are many who argue that off shore outsourcing is unpatriotic. That work generated in “insert country of your choice” should remain in that country. That argument, while compelling at various levels, ignores the economic reality. While there are many who only “buy” products made in their own country, there are very few who would support a boycott of sales to ALL other countries. Question? MS Windows is developed in the USA… should we stop selling it to other countries, because it has put their O/S programmers out of work?

1st law of economic entropy: Work flows from higher to lower standards of living. The Internet facilitates this process.

May 30, 2008 at 11:26 am 4 comments

As Others See Us.

If you don’t recognize the tail end of this quote from Robert Burn’s ‘To a Louse’ then here it is in its entirety, “Oh wad some power the giftie gie us, To see oursel’s as others see us!”. Why am I waxing poetic this month? Mainly because a sad incident a few months ago that has stuck in my mind.

I’d just given a presentation on Change Management and was afterwards approached by a contingent of a half dozen dejected looking employees from a company which shall remain nameless in this article. They wanted to have a private and confidential discussion about some changes going on in their organization. They wanted advice on two things; how to cope with the changes and how to communicate to management that they were on a path to destruction because of how the changes were being implemented.

None of this is unusual, I get asked these types of questions all the time. What was different this time was some of the language used in their responses to my standard information gathering questions. I could easily comment on their queries on coping with Change, as the techniques are the same regardless of the Change, company, person etc. etc. Change is Change is Change.

To offer advice on how to communicate with management isn’t as easy. To offer advice without knowing the culture first hand, is presumptuous. To dispense communication strategies without knowing the details of the existing Status Quo and the Change being implemented isn’t only naïve, it’s dangerous.

So when I asked if could come into the organization to gather this information their responses were as follows;

No – management isn’t listening to anyone who takes issue with their policies
No – the powers that be, won’t listen to anything that might change their actions.
No – that’s pointless – they only hire those who agree with them.
No – they shoot the messenger on a regular basis – I can’t risk my job.
No – upper management is convinced there isn’t a problem.
No – the dark overlords know best. (Their words… not mine)
No – management has no interest in people issues.

Now, we all know that ‘gaps of disagreement’ between staff and management are not unusual, but their choice of words, combined with the deer in the headlights look of desperation on their faces in front of me – suggested that this was more than the normal amount of disagreement. Other comments described management as a ‘not very nice people’, ‘bullies’ and ‘interested only in themselves and not the organization’.

Here’s the question, and the purpose of this particular article, are we certain we know how we’re perceived by others in our organization? Do employees really know how they’re perceived by management? And even more importantly (in my opinion) does management really know how they’re perceived by the rank and file?

Regardless of the accuracy of the above statements by this post-presentation contingent of employees, is management aware that they are not seen as leaders? Do they care? Should they?

That that question is even asked is a symptom of something wrong. We all know people who literally do not care what employees think of them. Why is that wrong? If we can’t answer that question, then we’ve lost touch with what it even means to be a leader. I can’t imagine how an organization can excel if employees don’t respect, and even admire, their managers.

I’m not a great fan of most Human Resource management instruments, many of them seem more like Astrology and tea leaf readings than anything I’d use to manage either myself or others. That personal quirk aside, there is one I’m willing to treat with great respect, primarily because it’s nothing more than a process by which the feedback loops between ourselves and everyone around us – which should take place on a regular basis – do take place, at least from time to time. I’m referring to the class of HR tools known collectively as “360-degree feedback”.

The 360 concept is simple. Your peers, subordinates, managers and even your clients provide feedback on a variety of your attributes – anonymously of course. Robbie Burns would love it.

All of us, regardless of where we sit on the organization hierarchy, need to know how others see us. Regardless of whether the impressions of management, such as the ones listed above, are accurate or not – it’s information we can use to our advantage.

There’s a risk of course. Ask for feedback and, guess what? You’re going to get feedback… can you handle the truth? What about the lies?

Not all the truth will be ‘pleasant’. Under the guarantee of anonymity (need I stress how important that is?) people are willing to provide both the good, the bad and the ugly.

And, under that same guarantee, there are those who will seize the opportunity to inflict some petty revenge. Luckily, these are usually exceptions and stand out as anomalies amongst the rest of the feedback. Good 360 instruments are designed to identify these aberrations.

Regardless of the feedback, it’s all information we can put to good use, unless we don’t care.
Frankly, even after a lifetime of experience with organizations of every stripe, I don’t know of more than a handful of managers who would pride themselves on a reputation as bleak as the one painted by the contingent that prompted this discussion. And even in those rare situations, would a competent board of directors support a management style worthy of the ‘Dark Lord’ comparison? Assuming they wanted the organization to prosper?

Putting the extreme end of the perception spectrum aside, are we seen as; fair; reasonable; competent; hard working; pleasant to work work with? If that’s what we believe, how do we know it to be true? Most people have trouble telling us we have something stuck in our teeth, never-mind anything really important such as our pet project is doomed to failure. Especially if we’re sending out unconscious signals that negative feedback is unwelcome.

The advantage of the 360-degree feedback process is the enforced anonymity of the feedback. We all enjoy both giving and receiving positive feedback – it’s the negative stuff that presents us with the largest difficult and the largest benefit. The amount about benefit depends entirely on our willingness to give more than a little credence to the negative comments we’re sure to receive.

So? Was Robbie Burns on the mark? Do we really want the power to see how others see us? Or is ignorance truly bliss? (ps. You do have something stuck in your teeth.)

May 23, 2008 at 11:31 am 2 comments

The Conference we’ll never Attend

Here’s the annual conference I’d love to attend:-

“The World Conference on Failure”
20 Business and World Leaders honestly and openly discuss
the decisions and actions which contributed to their significant
business and political disasters/failures/catastrophes.

…but which for obvious(?) reasons it will never be held.

Why would I want to attend this type of conference?

We don’t learn one tenth as much from success as we do from failure. I don’t have anything but life experience to back up that statement, yet I know for certain that at some level it could not be a truer observation about how the world works. Success drives us in a single direction, and while the positive feedback is nice, it doesn’t motivate us to grow and change.

Failure on the other hand is an itch that demands scratching and forces us to explore alternatives.

You could argue that if we study the success of others, then we can emulate them and create our own success. That’s true up to a point, but the real secret of success is not found in learning how to follow a ‘recipe’, but in learning how to respond to a changing environment. When we look at success, it’s easy (relatively) to pick out what they did ‘right’, but much more difficult to understand how they avoided doing the ‘wrong’ things.

By studying failure, it’s possible to explore the specific actions that contributed to that failure, and delve into why those responsible were unable, (unwilling?) to avoid those actions. Learning how to avoid problems, how to avoid the common and uncommon traps, is the skill which enables us to chart our course when the success ‘recipe’ falls short.

What types of failures?

One of the failures which jumps immediately to mind is Motorola’s $6B investment in the Iridium phone which they eventually sold for a mere $25M… the mind boggles at the size of this mis-adventure. The question “How could this possibly happen?” if honestly answered, might actually justify the multi-billion dollar fiasco IF we could use the answer to avoid similar disasters in the future.

Obviously, people have looked at this fiasco and made their observations public, but what would be more informative is honest commentary from the people actually involved in the event. What exactly were they thinking? What motivated them? What honest mistakes did they make?

And… what mistakes did they make, that with 20/20 hindsight they now recognize as totally avoidable – mistakes that were generated not by the facts in front of them, but by the human flaws within them.

This personal perspective on failure is the real value the “Conference on Failure” would offer, it’s also of course, why such a conference will never become a reality.

Admitting avoidable failure isn’t something we do very well, and if/when we do muster the courage to tell the real story, we are immediately the target punishment of some sort, usually in the form of lawsuits.

And courage is necessary if we’re to honestly discuss our failures. I’ve deliberately chosen ‘loaded’ words to describe ‘failure’ when I use terms such as, “disaster”, “flaws”, “fiasco” etc. etc.

Why would I frame the topic this way? Because this is the framework of perspective that we wrap around the stink of failure. Speaking of any personal “failure” is incredibly difficult. Look at “The Room that Eats Speakers” posted a few days ago in this blog. Admitting, as a professional speaker, that I have ‘messed’ up was not done lightly… chances are it will cost me future business. Being honest, usually does involve a personal cost, but the benefits are worth it if others can learn from those mistakes and learn from them.

We can come close to the “Conference on Failure”

We can, when pushed, talk honestly about failure. During the discussion around Y2K, the IT disaster we sort of avoided, (if we can consider a $300B+ expenditure ‘avoiding’ a problem) there was much discussion about how/why we self inflicted ourselves with this problem. There was general agreement that the key component wasn’t technical. It was human short sightedness – there were other good reasons to do what we did – but the real problem was that we, the entire IT industry, didn’t take the long view.

One of the more popular category of TV shows on the Discovery and History channels are those that examine, from an external viewpoint, the reasons behind various types of accidents. From crashing Planes and trains, to crumbling tunnels and towers… each catastrophe has something to teach us.

Perhaps we can’t have the individuals involved in the big events explain what they were thinking, but we can shift some of our attention away from self congratulatory stories about ‘what made us a success’ to the more difficult and telling recollections about ‘what made us fail’ and with some careful attention, some compassion for those courageous enough to talk unveil themselves in public, and a little bit of effort, apply those insights to future endeavours.

April 30, 2008 at 11:28 am 2 comments

Older Posts


July 2017
M T W T F S S
« Apr    
 12
3456789
10111213141516
17181920212223
24252627282930
31  

Categories

Feeds