Category Archives: Communications

Your personal brand and social media

In recent times, much has been written about the notion of one’s personal brand, and how one’s image in the eyes of others can have a profound impact in areas such as recruitment, career progress, personal influence and self-esteem.

Seeking out someone in demand is driven heavily by that person’s personal brand and how we feel about that. This is especially important in the workplace as people reach out for technical or job related advice or for general mentoring. On the social front, personal brand has a big influence on how friendship groups are formed and how different social activities unfold. A person who is not a team player for instance may gain a negative reputation as a result which will have major bearing of how people reach out to them. Their personal brand in this regard could be a real impediment to their work or social inclusion and activity.

Well guess what, participation in social media has now made this issue both more visible and potentially more challenging. On social media, one’s personal brand is on display, and is front and centre for all to see.  It does depend of course on the level of participation. Those who are passive participants will not face much impact on their personal brand compared to those with full participation whose personal brand will be highly visible.

The figure below shows a visual representation of the link between the level of social media involvement and one’s personal brand.

Slide1

The point is that the more active you are on social media the greater will be the impact on personal brand whether positive or negative. Any participation can reveal things about you, but full participation on social media can reveal much about you as a person in terms of interests, beliefs and attitudes. What you contribute by way of articles or opinions can also show your inclinations or tolerance to certain issues. Indeed, you may not intend for some of this to be interpreted in the way it occurs. From the perspective of personal brand, it is all about how others see and interpret what you say as you participate in social media.

The transparency of social media means that activity on social media feeds directly into your personal brand. What is said on social media becomes an integral part of your personal brand, which is fine except it means both the good and the bad. Various filters and restrictions can be placed on who sees what on social media, but it is fair to say that anything said on social media will impact your personal brand in some way. There will be some community that sees what you are saying or the articles you are sharing.. Take recruitment for example. A recent Jobvite survey concluded that 92% of U.S. companies were using social networks and media to find talent in 2012, up from 78% five years. Anything on social media is in play when it comes to the job market, and this has a direct link to your personal brand.

Having witnessed some personal brand challenges on social media in recent times, there are three reminders to carefully consider in this context:

  1. The first and obvious point is that anything and everything you place in social media will have some bearing on personal brand
  2. The second issue is that what is said on social media is very hard to undo or retract
  3. But on the positive front, what your place on social media can be used very much as a positive such as contributing to various conversations connected to your area of expertise.
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Teleworking is alive and well

There has been much excitement over the past week as a result of Yahoo’s announcement to bring its teams back into the face-to-face work environment, and to severely curtail the amount of teleworking. Some commentators have suggested that elements of the Yahoo culture had seen teleworking go too far in parts of the business causing issues in productivity and performance.

But the publicity has also placed the telework discussion in the headlights on a broader front. In doing so, it has provided a real focus on people issues and workforce effectiveness.

Teleworking is a fluid topic in how it is defined and measured. Some teleworking is no more than catching up on unfinished work, but in the home environment. With the right tools, almost anybody can work from home to finish a presentation or report. Of course, this can also extend to catch-up work in a hotel room, a coffee shop or an airport.

Other forms of telework are more formalized. For example, a person may work from home or a remote location for say a set number of days each week. This could be due to a whole range of lifestyle reasons, such as extensive commuting times.

To expand and promote the concept, teleworking events and forums have become more common in recent years. The US and Europe have conducted  “telework weeks” over the past several years. Australia held its first telework week in November last year with significant input and presence from national business and political leaders. These events serve to highlight some of the challenges of teleworking, but also they celebrate the many successes. At the telework week in Australia for example, US Ambassador to Australia Jeff Bleich painted a compelling picture of success from teleworking in parts of the US Government, both in terms of productivity and lifestyle benefits.

Successful teleworking does need to be managed carefully so that benefits are realized, but also that the organization culture is not unduly compromised. Organizations that use teleworking successfully exhibit three guiding principles:

1. Focus more on the outcomes, not on the process

If outcomes can be delivered more effectively and efficiently by teleworking then it should be encouraged. It helps the organization, and also is a win for employees as they have more flexibility and lifestyle benefits. At a conference not so long ago, I met a man who commuted two hours each morning and evening. He was supposedly “required” to be in the office. Yet his role in fielding enquiries on customer issues could have easily been done from home, at least for a couple of days each week. His organization was too focussed on the process of work rather that delivering the outcome more efficiently. To say nothing of the horrendous commute each day for the employee.

2. Maintain a balance between teleworking and face-to-face activity

Not so long ago, I met a person from a large global organization, and he told me he has not been into his local office for about 6 months. Indeed, he almost saw this as a badge of honour. Upon further enquiry, it turned out that he was not alone. This situation is clearly an extreme, but imagine the negative impact on organization culture, productivity and teamwork just to name a few. There is no shortage of technology to help us work remotely, but it needs to be balanced with real interaction with colleagues and the workplace. Disappearing off the radar for six months is an amazing copout from both the employee and the organization. There are no hard and fast rules, but in my view some face-to-face contact with colleagues needs to occur at least twice a week.

3. Know when to get a meeting happening

One of the traps of teleworking is that the so-called flexible arrangements can become fixed. That is, someone who normally works say 2 days a week at home will of course build this into the routine. There is nothing wrong with that, and indeed there may be some family or other reasons for that arrangement. However, it is important that all participants in teleworking have some flexibility to gather together reasonably quickly for that urgent proposal or report completion. There is nothing worse that having four people from a six person team meeting in a room in the office, but with the other two trying to participate via phone just because it is their day to work remotely.

Whilst Yahoo may have specific issues to consider in their environment and have chosen a course of action, for most organizations teleworking presents a strong win-win opportunity for productivity and lifestyle improvements.

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How technology has re-shaped the village

Remember life as it was in smaller communities in earlier times? Think of the English village or the Australian country town. These smaller communities shared some unique characteristics. Everybody knew each other, and they looked after each other. The notion of privacy was minimal. But their citizens were well connected, and the sense of community was really strong and personal.

But as technology changed, so too did the village. Consider the impact of transport. Suddenly the village became accessible to others, and it also gave the villagers the opportunity to move to new places either for work or to explore. Other technology changes like the telephone broke down the boundaries even more.

Today in the western world, the traditional village has become a mere shadow of its former self as the world has become more urbanised. We still use the term village, but more in the context of the so-called global village. Bill Gates once said “The internet is becoming the town square for the global village of tomorrow”.

This concept of the global village has rapidly evolved. Take the idea of travellers being connected. Not so many years ago, travellers had to send postal letters home to friends and relatives, and chatting by phone was expensive and therefore a rare occurrence. But today, travellers can be connected instantly via phone or the internet, and can even have face-to-face contact using online video tools.

But this global village has come alive even more in the past five years or so via the various forms of social media that have exploded on the scene. Limited geographic dimensions no longer define how people connect or interact. Technology has changed the playing field, and indeed the language. People now “Google” something or “Skype” someone or “Tweet”. Such terms did not exist until the past ten years.

Of course, the global village is vastly different from the traditional village in many ways, especially in structure, appearance and behaviour. For instance, in the global village, we deal with strangers very differently. How many friends have we accepted on Facebook that we hardly know? How many followers do we have on Twitter whom we have never met, and indeed will not meet in a lifetime? How many times do we buy items from complete strangers across the other side of the planet? The traditional village was a far more intimate affair, and much more self-contained. A stranger was therefore viewed as an outsider, and may have been greeted with some caution.

But it is instructive to see the factors that are common, and to appreciate some of the lessons for our global village today, especially as they relate to social media. There are three of these.

Connection

The traditional village provided a strong and very personal connection for its members. The global village also provides connection, but across boundaries of nation states and any time day or night. Social media in particular has given huge impetus to this phenomenon. If we add up the users of Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn combined, it totals a staggering number in excess of 1.5 billion. Yes there will be some overlaps in the numbers, but the point is that these three social media sites alone provide connection for an extraordinary percentage of the global population.

Community

The traditional village was about a real sense of community. People were involved and visible in the activities of the village. The modern global village is also about community. It is about bringing people together around common interests. LinkedIn for instance has over 1.5 million discussion groups covering a vast array of topics and items of interest. This is a very different form and scale from the traditional concept of community, but the fundamental thread of linking people via common interests is the same.

Collaboration

The notion of pulling together to get the job done was a strong feature of the traditional village. This collaboration provided the real glue that enabled the village to thrive. Today the world of social media provides an extensive platform for collaborating around solutions to problems or gathering teams together for business activities such as product development.

Social media is a key element of the global village as we know it, and will continue to grow in influence in this space. Technology has changed the village in shape and scale forever, but some of the underlying fundamentals are as important today as they were when the local village was our way of life.

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The painting and the slide deck – some common learnings

Each day, thousands of people visit art galleries to view paintings of many different forms and sizes. The painting has long represented an embodiment of expression and emotion that people enjoy. It provides a unique form of communication and how life situations can be depicted. The right blend of colour and perspective generates a special visual experience.

In a similar vein in business each day, thousands of executives are either delivering or listening to presentations that are shaped around a slide deck of some form. But in many cases, the slide deck and the presentation provide an under-whelming experience for the viewer.

But are there learnings we can take from the humble painting? What are some of its features we can consider in a business situation?

Indeed, there are many learnings we can take from the painting and how these can apply in the business presentation context. The painting represents a powerful medium of expression and communication, both of which are vital elements in a business. Three aspects of the painting stand out:

1. The painting provides a real point of focus

One of the enduring features of a good painting is the focus it provides on a person or situation. This is captured forever by the artist and is there for all to enjoy.

But the presentation deck often lacks focus. Yes there may be a general theme or topic that is highlighted, but that is often lost in the details or in the way the presentation is structured. Just as a visual focus is important for an artist, the focus in a presentation deck is fundamental for its success.

2. The painting provides impact

A good painting generates real impact and provides that “wow” moment for the viewer. It provides an impact that can be remembered.

The presentation deck is often a medium that is lacking in impact. It can provide an almost bland response to a question or an issue, and which can lead to a lack of impact on the listeners. An audience can exit a presentation puzzled as to what they really learned. Impact is not only the domain of the artist, and the same applies strongly to the presentation deck.

3. The painting provides an experience that goes beyond mere colours and content

People remember a good painting because it provides them with an experience and strong level of engagement. People feel they are part of a broader sphere, perhaps getting inside the mind of both the artist and the subject.

But the experience of the presentation deck can be seriously lacking. It may generate little or no experience as such. Indeed, the presentation deck can have the opposite effect and be almost alienate an audience.

These three points from the world of art can be applied strongly for presentation decks – focus, impact and experience. A combination of these factors can make the presentation experience more effective, and can also have a broader and positive impact on the business over time.

This provides a challenge to the authors of all those presentation deck that are shaped every day. They need to be different and move beyond the standard and the repetitious. As French artist Henri Matisse stated, “creativity takes courage”.

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Beware the paradox of forming project teams

The CEO assembled the team together in a large room and warmly welcomed them to the project. Preparation for this event had been building over several months, but now all was in readiness for the project to finally commence and for the organization to rapidly crank-up this long-awaited initiative. The room was filled with excitement and great anticipation. In launching this initiative, the CEO placed great emphasis on the importance of teamwork, and highlighted that the project would only succeed with a strong team.

One aspect of the modern corporation has been the explosion of teams in various forms – project teams, virtual teams, rapid deployment teams, functional teams and many more.  Many of these teams are formed for a fixed duration to deliver an outcome, and then disbanded or moved to another part of the business.

But how successful are teams in the business context, especially those focused on projects or major initiatives? Indeed for the CEO above, will future meetings with the team be positive and uplifting or will they be full of anguish and lament?

A project team is a complex being and has the capacity to deliver powerful outcomes. But fully successful projects are sadly a rarity. Various studies over the years have dissected the issues of project management and related aspects of project success. Numbers vary of course, but it is commonly understood that as little as 30% of change programmes fully deliver their expected benefits. For IT specific projects, it is often stated that perhaps only 40% of these fully deliver the expected benefits. The real point here is that the delivery of projects or initiatives in organizations falls well short of where it should be. This causes major cost blowouts, loss of momentum in the market place plus huge distraction of management time and attention.

In any discussion on project teams, there is frequent reference to governance and project management processes, tools and expectations. All this is appropriate, but not sufficient. Indeed, too much focus on the “mechanics” can blinker the team and management from seeing some of the bigger issues regarding the team’s performance.

People represent the core of the team and its success. In one sense, this is stating the obvious, but unfortunately this aspect is often not afforded the prominence it deserves.

The most critical part of the project team is its formation, and ensuring the right team members are selected and committed to the team’s success. It is a bit like building a house. If the right foundations are not in place very early, the house will be far from robust and may be at risk of collapse. In many projects, there is an apparent strong focus on the formation of the team, but lets not confuse the flurry of activity to get the project started with real emphasis on getting the right team established.

There are four driving principles in forming a team to run a major project. But each of these is a paradox in that each principle contains an apparent contradiction. It is the management of these paradoxes that is the key to success.

1. Like-minded people are needed, but diversity is important

Generally, teams will be formed around like-minded people who have similar knowledge sets or functional skills to bring to the project. They may also have experience in projects of similar size or complexity. For example, a major technology project will typically include business analysts, programmers and other technical experts that gravitate around a common area such core financials or CRM systems.

But the team needs to ensure it does not generate a “Yes Minister” type culture. It needs a diverse set of members of different backgrounds and skills. Teams need people to ask the challenging or unorthodox questions. Including team members of different functional skills or from totally different parts of the business can help in this regard.

2. Balance of skills is essential, but one capability stands out

Every team needs to have the right skills to do the task required or to at least be able to access those skills when needed. This is often challenging if many of the required skills are in strong demand. For instance, a project for new core financials in a business will need to have the full suite of skills to not only ensure that requirements are met, but also to bring into the project the appropriate best practices across the broader business spectrum.

But the capability to integrate across the team is a key requirement. Projects comprise many moving parts and can be highly complex, and the ability to integrate across the team is a key capability. Teams comprise very specific areas of activity, but success at the end of the day is to pull these together to make the project deliver. Capability in integration is an important selection criteria for team members.

3. Team leaders are important, but leadership is needed from everyone

There is always a strong emphasis on the selection of the team leader, and rightly so. Indeed, team leaders are often put through a rigorous selection process before they are confirmed in their roles.

But leadership on a project is actually for everyone. Leadership is not just about the visible aspects of the team leader chairing team meetings for example. It is about everyone looking out for colleagues and helping where needed. It is about providing mentoring to newer or younger members of the team. Leadership is also about team members calling out particular problems that might be emerging, and even better if they offer suggestions on how to solve those problems. Selecting people for projects must include consideration of their capability and track record in this regard.

4. Clear focus of effort is needed, but agility is crucial

Every project needs a very clear focus of where it is heading. This is important for the team members and the organization as a whole.

But all projects need to have some inbuilt agility to respond to changing needs or requirements. People need to have the ability to change and respond to the new circumstances. For example, a competitor may make an announcement in the market that influences the timing or expected deliverables of a project. People in teams must be selected with agility in mind, and their ability to personally accommodate such changes.

The effectiveness of teams was articulated well by Henry Ford when he said, “Coming together is a beginning, keeping together is progress, but working together is success”.

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The art (or the science?) of the business presentation

The audience almost groaned as the presenter clicked over to another slide in what was turning out to be a professional yet very dreary presentation. A large number of people in the audience had already reverted to the heads-down pose, namely fiddling with smartphones or tablets pretending to be attending those urgent emails.

Yet it did not really have to come to this. Perhaps the presenter misjudged the audience or the timing or the number of slides needed on the day. But a more fundamental level, perhaps the presenter just did not understand the difference between the art and the science of business presentations.

The business presentation is somewhat binary in its nature, and is a bit like a shot in golf. That is, if you hit the spot well, it will exceed expectations about impact and delivery, but conversely if you do not hit the mark, the outcome can be frustrating and possibly quite costly.

In my view, the business presentation is far more about art than science. Indeed, both facets are needed, but the balance almost always comes down to the art. How much art vs science will of course depend on the individual circumstances, but I have never seen a situation where the art portion is in the minority.

The art of the presentation is about the three Es, namely –

Engagement – connecting with the audience

Energy – showing enthusiasm and passion about the subject

Empathy – showing some feeling towards the audience.

On the other hand, the science of the presentation is more about the process, namely –

Purpose – being clear about why the audience should be listening to the presentation

Structure – having a clear roadmap for the presentation and how it will be delivered

Content – shaping compelling material that will be credible and convincing.

As already stated, it is essential to have some blend of both. A business presentation built with only one side of the ledger is likely to be doomed. The presenter cited at the start of this piece has most likely focused too heavily on the science side of the ledger, and ignored the key elements of the art.

Think about your next business presentation either large or small. What will be your split between art and science? How will you shape and drive the right balance? Or will your audience be focused more on their tablets or phones?

The famous architect and designer Charles Eames summed it up well when he stated that “Art resides in the quality of doing – process is not magic”.

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