Productive phone conferences

phone conferenceIn these times of coronainduced travel restrictions, I expect that remote meetings will surge. And that many will feel inexperienced and uncertain on how to make those meetings productive and positive, as participant or as host or presenter.

With fifteen years under my belt in international and global roles in one of the world’s most internationally integrated corporations (IBM), and most of those years as an expert consultant on remote work, I have participated or led thousands of remote meetings.

In a quick series of blog posts, I’d like to share some advise and good practices, split by type of remote meeting:

  • Phone conferences
  • Video conferences
  • Web meetings (i.e. presentation on screen and audio conversation either via device or phone conference)
  • Webinars (as web meetings but only one way audio – usually lectures for large groups)

Your reflections, objections and suggestions are very welcome!

Would you like more hands-on consulting support with remote collaboration you’re very welcome to get in touch, of course.


Productive phone conferences

These pointers are intended for meetings with too many participants to handle with the in-built features of mobile phones to patch calls with three or maybe four participants. When you need a phone conferencing service, in other words.


Participants

  1. Prepare in time. The number to call? And the code? Headset if you’re attending among other people? Some phone conferencing services take a while to connect to. Make sure to find a sufficiently calm environment ahead of time. Don’t wait until the last minute. Latecomers are just as annoying in remote meetings as live, as are interruptions.
  2. There are usually two options to call into the phone conference: Direct (the cost hits your subscription) or call-back from the conference provider. Call-back is often rather expensive for the host, so if the webinar is internal and your employer pays for your phone anyway, they usually prefer that you call in yourself.
  3. Use a local number if you choose to call in.
  4. MUTE YOUR MICROPHONE WHEN NOT SPEAKING! The most common gaffe is to forget your mic on and to have a side conversation, yell at pets or kids or yawn loudly (as I did once – only). This is especially important if you fail to find a silent environment as your background sounds can get very annoying for other participants.
  5. UN-MUTE YOUR MICROPHONE WHEN SPEAKING! The second most common gaffe is to forget to put your mic back on again when supposed or wanting to speak.
  6. Say your name when speaking, at least in the beginning of the meeting. Everyone might not recognise your voice. Especially if you’re unfamiliar to some participants
  7. Focus on the phone conference. Skip those side activities (very tempting to do). Multi tasking is a myth. It’s awfully embarrassing when the host has to shout your name several times to get your attention back from that side thing you got engulfed in.

Host/Presenter

  1. Consider using a video conference instead. It’s not only more personal but it also makes it much harder for participants to do other things at the side of the meeting as they are visible all the time and therefore need to stay attentive (see #7 above)
  2. Alternatively: Consider supplementing the phone conference with a web meeting. Then presentations can be displayed and screens shared, and – not to be despised – meeting minutes can be taken live during the meeting, visible for all to clarify or object to. Both decisions, reasons and to do’s will be more clear for everybody – there and then.
  3. Invitation: Make it ridiculously easy to find the number(s) to call (and the code). Don’t just link to the suppliers page listing call-in numbers all over the world. Instead, copy the relevant numbers from that list into your invitation (but still provide the link (someone might call in from somewhere unexpected). In certain calendar software, you can prepare standard texts for this.
  4. Start with a rollcall to make sure you know who is in attendance.
  5. Don’t bother re-starting for latecomers. 1) It’s annoying for those who did join in time and 2) If they miss the start, they might get the pointer and join in time in the future.
  6. Consider starting 15 minutes past the hour instead to allow people with back-to-back meetings some air, to end the previous meeting a bit late, a coffee or to “wash their hands”
  7. If you, as is often the case, are a bigger group in the office with a speaker phone while others join individually, it’s easy in the big group to forget the remote participants, start small talking, speak too far away from the mic and the remote participants feel forgotten (rightly so):
    • Move the mic close to whoever speaks, as needed and as possible
    • Or have the host/presenter repeat questions or comments from the group to make sure remote participants get them
    • Check in regularly with remote participants to ensure that they hear and are attentive
  8. Open a chat for participants (and maybe separate chats for presenters) using your chat service of choice. Participants can ask and comment without having to interrupt the presenter’s flow. Presenters can be told to get ready; “You’re on in two”.
  9. Delegate moderation of chat(s) to someone in the same location as you, to respond to questions as much as possible by chat and to collect and pass on selected questions to presenters when suitable.
  10. Presenters have to prune and clarify their message much more than they are used to as there will be no visuals to help them get it through to attendees. Only a few points!
  11. If decisions are made and tasks distributed during the meeting, make sure to be explicit and clear about it – as there’s an elevated risk of people not paying full attention.
  12. For the same reason: be quick to distribute the meeting minutes and to do’s after the meeting.
  13. If inviting participants across time zones, I recommend using World Time Buddy, a wonderful little online service that makes it very easy to realise what time the session will be in different time zones. (three zones included in the free version)

If you have questions, comments or thoughts on the subject, please don’t hesitate to comment or to reach out.

Think of that online collaboration is much more than remote meetings only, which require that all participants are available simultaneously, sometimes across distant time zones. If you are serious about online collaboration across geographical and organisational boundaries you need to supplement such synchronous collaboration with asynchronous, like file sharing, blogs, communities, forums and more that offer fantastic possibilities to collaborate transparently, boosting agility, sharing of experience, inspiration, innovation and broader horizons.

If you’re lucky, you have access to HCL Connections offering all these kinds of features in one solution – together with services for video and online meetings. A bit like combining LinkedIn, Dropbox, Zoom, WordPress and more in one comprehensive package – inside the firewall – and with the same filter bubble-logic as on Facebook and LinkedIn; you get more of what you’ve shown interest in, but for work that is positive.

Productive video conferences

videomöteIn these times of coronainduced travel restrictions, I expect that remote meetings will surge. And that many will feel inexperienced and uncertain on how to make those meetings productive and positive, as participant or as host or presenter.

With fifteen years under my belt in international and global roles in one of the world’s most internationally integrated corporations (IBM), and most of those years as an expert consultant on remote work, I have participated or led thousands of remote meetings.

In a quick series of blog posts, I’d like to share some advise and good practices, split by type of remote meeting:

  • Phone conferences
  • Video conferences
  • Web meetings (i.e. presentation on screen and audio conversation either via device or phone conference)
  • Webinars (as web meetings but only one way audio – usually lectures for large groups)

Your reflections, objections and suggestions are very welcome!

Would you like more hands-on consulting support with remote collaboration you’re very welcome to get in touch, of course.


Productive video conferences

These pointers are intended for meetings with more than two participants but still not too many for all to be able to actively participate in the dialogue.


Participants

  1. Prepare in time. Do you have the meeting URL? The number to the phone conference service? Headset if you’re attending among other people? Have you installed and tested the app or plug-in you might need? Have you checked at all if you need any app or plug-in? Make sure to find a sufficiently calm environment  ahead of time – preferably with a background that doesn’t distract. Don’t wait until the last minute. Latecomers are just as annoying in remote meetings as live, as are interruptions.
  2. Are you presentable? No stains on the collar? No spinach between the teeth? Also if you have to rise to answer the door or chase the dog out of the room?
  3. What does your background look like? Is it distracting? MS Teams offers a very practical feature to blur the background. Clever! And nothing I have seen yet from the other suppliers of video conferencing software.
  4. Is your device sufficiently charged to last through the conference? Or do you have charger or power cord easily available. Some video conferencing software drain your battery quickly.
  5. MUTE YOUR MICROPHONE WHEN NOT SPEAKING! The most common gaffe is to forget your mic on and to have a side conversation, yell at pets or kids or yawn loudly (as I did once – only). This is especially important if you fail to find a silent environment as your background sounds can get very annoying for other participants.
  6. UN-MUTE YOUR MICROPHONE WHEN SPEAKING! The second most common gaffe is to forget to put your mic back on again when supposed or wanting to speak.
  7. You are visible! It’s the point of the whole thing. But also the challenge.
  8. Where is your camera? Usually just above your screen (or on the side if you use a tablet or phone in landscape mode). If you really want to see eye to eye with other participants you must focus on the lens, not the face. I find this very hard to do more than momentarily. The eyes automatically turn to the face(s) on the screen. (When I recorded using my iPad I actually attached some paper around the lens to make it easier to focus on. It worked better, but not all the way.)
  9. If you use an external monitor (as I prefer working), video conferences can get complicated, especially if the external monitor has a camera. Pointer #8 might then become even more challenging. Or, the conference window might open on the side monitor making you look that way and turning your ear to the cameras – which may make other participants suspect that you’re actually doing something else. Sometimes it’s just easier to disconnect the external monitor.
  10. If the video meeting platform has a chat option – use it. A great possibility to comment or ask questions discreetly, without interrupting. The speaker or a helper can look occasionally in the chat and answer questions directly.

Host/Presenter

  1. Invitation: Include the link to your video meeting and urge participants to test ahead of time so their device is ready in time.
  2. Can you share your screen or show slides in the video meeting? (I’m not certain that all video meetings services have this capability). It can be very practical to be able to do so; do show slides, to demo, or – a bit unusual but practical – to take meeting minutes live during the meeting, ensuring all get a chance to ask for clarifications or corrections in the meeting and the minutes being final and agreed to as you close.
  3. Don’t bother re-starting for latecomers. 1) It’s annoying for those who did join in time and 2) If they miss the start, they might get the pointer and join in time in the future.
  4. Consider starting 15 minutes past the hour instead to allow people with back-to-back meetings some air, to end the previous meeting a bit late, a coffee or to “wash their hands”
  5. If you, as is often the case, are a bigger group in the office with a big screen, camera and a speaker phone while others join individually, it’s easy in the big group to forget the remote participants, start small talking, speak too far away from the mic and the remote participants feel forgotten (rightly so):
    • Move the mic close to whoever speaks, as needed and as possible
    • Or have the host/presenter repeat questions or comments from the group to make sure remote participants get them
    • Check in regularly with remote participants to ensure that they hear and are attentive
  6. Open a chat for participants (and maybe separate chats for presenters) within the web meeting service (maybe separate for presenters). Participants can ask and comment without having to interrupt the presenter’s flow. Presenters can be told to get ready; “You’re on in two”.
  7. Delegate moderation of chat(s) to someone in the same location as you, to respond to questions as much as possible by chat and to collect and pass on selected questions to presenters when suitable.
  8. If you, as a remote presenter, want to have a chat going to communicate with the host, it’s often a good idea to have that chat on a separate device or – if you dare – on a second, external screen.
  9. NO ANIMATIONS in your slide deck. Not all meeting services can handle them. Play it safe. If you want to build your slide gradually, make the final slide, duplicate it and remove elements (in reverse order) to mimic the animation, but on separate slides.
  10. Some meeting services allow you to upload your deck beforehand. Often a good way to speed up slide progress for the audience.
  11. If you share your screen, shut off as much as possible of other software to avoid slowing down your computer. And – definitely – shut off all notifications! They will show for everyone.
  12. If inviting participants across time zones, I recommend using World Time Buddy, a wonderful little online service that makes it very easy to realise what time the session will be in different time zones. (three zones included in the free version)

If you have questions, comments or thoughts on the subject, please don’t hesitate to comment or to reach out.

Think of that online collaboration is much more than remote meetings only, which require that all participants are available simultaneously, sometimes across distant time zones. If you are serious about online collaboration across geographical and organisational boundaries you need to supplement such synchronous collaboration with asynchronous, like file sharing, blogs, communities, forums and more that offer fantastic possibilities to collaborate transparently, boosting agility, sharing of experience, inspiration, innovation and broader horizons.

If you’re lucky, you have access to HCL Connections offering all these kinds of features in one solution – together with services for video and online meetings. A bit like combining LinkedIn, Dropbox, Zoom, WordPress and more in one comprehensive package – inside the firewall – and with the same filter bubble-logic as on Facebook and LinkedIn; you get more of what you’ve shown interest in, but for work that is positive

Productive web meetings

thesocialswede mobileIn these times of coronainduced travel restrictions, I expect that remote meetings will surge. And that many will feel inexperienced and uncertain on how to make those meetings productive and positive, as participant or as host or presenter.

With fifteen years under my belt in international and global roles in one of the world’s most internationally integrated corporations (IBM), and most of those years as an expert consultant on remote work, I have participated or led thousands of remote meetings.

In a quick series of blog posts, I’d like to share some advise and good practices, split by type of remote meeting:

  • Phone conferences
  • Video conferences
  • Web meetings (i.e. presentation on screen and audio conversation either via device or phone conference)
  • Webinars (as web meetings but only one way audio – usually lectures for large groups)

Your reflections, objections and suggestions are very welcome!

Would you like more hands-on consulting support with remote collaboration you’re very welcome to get in touch, of course.


Productive web meetings

These pointers are intended for online meetings with two-way audio (and chat, usually) where a host/presenter can share their screen or show an uploaded presentation deck. Other features, like polls, are often available. Audio might either be via your device (IP) or via phone conference.


Participants

  1. Prepare in time. Do you have the meeting URL? The number to the phone conference service? Headset if you’re attending among other people? Have you installed and tested the app or plug-in you might need? Have you checked at all if you need any app or plug-in? Make sure to find a sufficiently calm environment ahead of time. Don’t wait until the last minute. Latecomers are just as annoying in remote meetings as live, as are interruptions.
  2. Using the IP sound via your device or calling in to the phone conference is often just a matter of preference, but depending on your wifi connection or the capacity/power of your device it might be safer to choose calling in to the phone conference.
  3. If you can’t or don’t want use audio via IP, there are usually two options to call into the phone conference: Direct (the cost hits your subscription) or call-back from the conference provider. Call-back is often rather expensive for the host, so if the webinar is internal and your employer pays for your phone anyway, they usually prefer that you call in yourself.
  4. Use a local number if you choose to call in.
  5. Is your device sufficiently charged to last through the conference? Or do you have charger or power cord easily available. Some webinar software drain your battery quickly.
  6. MUTE YOUR MICROPHONE WHEN NOT SPEAKING! The most common gaffe is to forget your mic on and to have a side conversation, yell at pets or kids or yawn loudly (as I did once – only). This is especially important if you fail to find a silent environment as your background sounds can get very annoying for other participants.
  7. UN-MUTE YOUR MICROPHONE WHEN SPEAKING! The second most common gaffe is to forget to put your mic back on again when supposed or wanting to speak.
  8. Say your name when speaking, at least in the beginning of the meeting. Everyone might not recognise your voice. Especially if you’re unfamiliar to some participants
  9. Focus on the webinar. Skip those side activities (very tempting to do). Multi tasking is a myth. It’s awfully embarrassing when the host has to shout your name several times to get your attention back from that side thing you got engulfed in.
  10. If the webinar has a chat option – use it. A great possibility to comment or ask questions discreetly, without interrupting. The speaker or a helper can look occasionally in the chat and answer questions directly.

Host/Presenter

  1. Invitation: Include the URL to your web meeting and urge participants to test ahead of time so their device is ready in time.
  2. Why not display a welcome page as participants gradually join? Not only will it confirm that they have joined the right meeting but you could also:
    • Show images of the presenter(s) or even participants (as there is no video)
    • Introduce presenter(s) and the topic
    • Orient participants about meeting features, by arrows and explanations pointing to the chat feature, for example
  3. Don’t bother re-starting for latecomers. 1) It’s annoying for those who did join in time and 2) If they miss the start, they might get the pointer and join in time in the future.
  4. Consider starting 15 minutes past the hour instead to allow people with back-to-back meetings some air, to end the previous meeting a bit late, a coffee or to “wash their hands”
  5. If you, as is often the case, are a bigger group in the office with a big screen and a speaker phone while others join individually, it’s easy in the big group to forget the remote participants, start small talking, speak too far away from the mic and the remote participants feel forgotten (rightly so):
    • Move the mic close to whoever speaks, as needed and as possible
    • Or have the host/presenter repeat questions or comments from the group to make sure remote participants get them
    • Check in regularly with remote participants to ensure that they hear and are attentive
  6. Open a chat for participants (and maybe separate chats for presenters) within the web meeting service (maybe separate for presenters). Participants can ask and comment without having to interrupt the presenter’s flow. Presenters can be told to get ready; “You’re on in two”.
  7. Delegate moderation of chat(s) to someone in the same location as you, to respond to questions as much as possible by chat and to collect and pass on selected questions to presenters when suitable.
  8. Help participants to find the chat feature early by writing some kind of greeting in the chat, something they can respond to. “Hi from Malmö. We have horizontal rain (as usual) but indoors it’s warm and cozy. How about at your place? Where are you?”
  9. If you, as a remote presenter, want to have a chat going to communicate with the host, it’s often a good idea to have that chat on a separate device or – if you dare – on a second, external screen.
  10. NO ANIMATIONS in your slide deck. Not all web meeting services can handle them. Play it safe. If you want to build your slide gradually, make the final slide, duplicate it and remove elements (in reverse order) to mimic the animation, but on separate slides.
  11. Some web meeting services allow you to upload your deck beforehand. Often a good way to speed up slide progress for the audience.
  12. If you share your screen, shut off as much as possible of other software to avoid slowing down your computer. And – definitely – shut off all notifications! They will show for everyone.
  13. Using screen sharing, someone can take meeting minutes live, for all to see, object to, clarify and agree on during the meeting. Less confusion. Less to do post meeting.
  14. If decisions are made and tasks distributed during the meeting, make sure to be explicit and clear about it – as there’s an elevated risk of people not paying full attention.
  15. For the same reason: be quick to distribute the meeting minutes and to do’s after the meeting.
  16. If inviting participants across time zones, I recommend using World Time Buddy, a wonderful little online service that makes it very easy to realise what time the session will be in different time zones. (three zones included in the free version)

If you have questions, comments or thoughts on the subject, please don’t hesitate to comment or to reach out.

Think of that online collaboration is much more than remote meetings only, which require that all participants are available simultaneously, sometimes across distant time zones. If you are serious about online collaboration across geographical and organisational boundaries you need to supplement such synchronous collaboration with asynchronous, like file sharing, blogs, communities, forums and more that offer fantastic possibilities to collaborate transparently, boosting agility, sharing of experience, inspiration, innovation and broader horizons.

If you’re lucky, you have access to HCL Connections offering all these kinds of features in one solution – together with services for video and online meetings. A bit like combining LinkedIn, Dropbox, Zoom, WordPress and more in one comprehensive package – inside the firewall – and with the same filter bubble-logic as on Facebook and LinkedIn; you get more of what you’ve shown interest in, but for work that is positive.

Effective webinars

konferensIn these times of coronainduced travel restrictions, I expect that remote meetings will surge. And that many will feel inexperienced and uncertain on how to make those meetings productive and positive, as participant or as host or presenter.

With fifteen years under my belt in international and global roles in one of the world’s most internationally integrated corporations (IBM), and most of those years as an expert consultant on remote work, I have participated or led thousands of remote meetings.

In a quick series of blog posts, I’d like to share some advise and good practices, split by type of remote meeting:

Your reflections, objections and suggestions are very welcome!

Would you like more hands-on consulting support with remote collaboration you’re very welcome to get in touch, of course.


Effective webinars

These pointers are intended for meetings with audio (and chat, usually) where a host/presenter can share their screen or show an uploaded presentation deck. But, unlike web meetings, the audio communication is only broadcast from the presenter. Typically for larger meetings, all-hands with at least 50 participants. Other features, like polls, are often available. Audio might either be via your device (IP) or via phone conference.


Participants

  1. Prepare in time. Do you have the meeting URL? The number to the phone conference service? Headset if you’re attending among other people? Have you installed and tested the app or plug-in you might need? Have you checked at all if you need any app or plug-in? An upside of webinars is that you don’t need a silent environment as you’re neither on audio or camera.
  2. Using the IP sound via your device or calling in to the phone conference is often just a matter of preference, but depending on your wifi connection or the capacity/power of your device it might be safer to choose calling in to the phone conference.
  3. If you can’t or don’t want use audio via IP, there are usually two options to call into the phone conference: Direct (the cost hits your subscription) or call-back from the conference provider. Call-back is often rather expensive for the host, so if the webinar is internal and your employer pays for your phone anyway, they usually prefer that you call in yourself.
  4. Use a local number if you choose to call in.
  5. Is your device sufficiently charged to last through the conference? Or do you have charger or power cord easily available. Some webinar software drain your battery quickly.
  6. Focus on the webinar. Skip those side activities (very tempting to do). Multi tasking is a myth.
  7. If the webinar has a chat option – use it. A great possibility to comment or ask questions discreetly, without interrupting. The speaker or a helper can look occasionally in the chat and answer questions directly.
  8. Stay aware if your questions and comments are sent only to moderators and panel or to all attendees.

Host/Presenter

  1. Invitation: Include the URL to your web meeting and urge participants to test ahead of time so their device is ready in time.
  2. Why not display a welcome page as participants gradually join? Not only will it confirm that they have joined the right meeting but you could also:
    • Show images of the presenter(s) or even participants (as there is no video)
    • Introduce presenter(s) and the topic
    • Orient participants about meeting features, by arrows and explanations pointing to the chat feature, for example
  3. Don’t wait too long for late comers
  4. Consider starting 15 minutes past the hour instead to allow people with back-to-back meetings some air, to end the previous meeting a bit late, a coffee or to “wash their hands”
  5. If you broadcast a big gathering with a substantial live audience:
    • Consider setting up viewing parties at other offices where those employees can attend together by a big screen
    • Consider presenting to the local audience from the presenter’s computer and for the online audience from another. It should work anyway, but better safe than sorry.
    • Use LAN for the computer for the remote audience. Better safe than sorry, also in this regard.
    • If you have several speakers, it might be easier to equip each one with a small microphone connected to their mobile phone (which should be in flight mode to avoid disturbing incoming calls) and connect them via IP sound. Instead of doing a microphone relay, which often turns amateurish.
    • Why not record the scene using a separate camera for broadcasting in the web meeting?
    • Maybe even sharing video from the viewing parties to display the participation at satellite offices.
  6. Open a chat for participants (and maybe separate chats for presenters) within the web meeting service (maybe separate for presenters). Participants can ask and comment without having to interrupt the presenter’s flow. Presenters can be told to get ready; “You’re on in two”.
  7. Delegate moderation of chat(s) to someone in the same location as you, to respond to questions as much as possible by chat and to collect and pass on selected questions to presenters when suitable.
  8. Help participants to find the chat feature early by writing some kind of greeting in the chat, something they can respond to. “Hi from Malmö. We have horizontal rain (as usual) but indoors it’s warm and cozy. How about at your place? Where are you?”
  9. If you, as a remote presenter, want to have a chat going to communicate with the host, it’s often a good idea to have that chat on a separate device or – if you dare – on a second, external screen.
  10. NO ANIMATIONS in your slide deck. Not all web meeting services can handle them. Play it safe. If you want to build your slide gradually, make the final slide, duplicate it and remove elements (in reverse order) to mimic the animation, but on separate slides.
  11. Some web meeting services allow you to upload your deck beforehand. Often a good way to speed up slide progress for the audience.
  12. If you share your screen, shut off as much as possible of other software to avoid slowing down your computer. And – definitely – shut off all notifications! They will show for everyone.
  13. If the live audience ask questions, make sure to repeat them for the online audience. The person asking was probably waaay to far from the microphone.
  14. If inviting participants across time zones, I recommend using World Time Buddy, a wonderful little online service that makes it very easy to realise what time the session will be in different time zones. (three zones included in the free version)

If you have questions, comments or thoughts on the subject, please don’t hesitate to comment or to reach out.

Think of that online collaboration is much more than remote meetings only, which require that all participants are available simultaneously, sometimes across distant time zones. If you are serious about online collaboration across geographical and organisational boundaries you need to supplement such synchronous collaboration with asynchronous, like file sharing, blogs, communities, forums and more that offer fantastic possibilities to collaborate transparently, boosting agility, sharing of experience, inspiration, innovation and broader horizons.

If you’re lucky, you have access to HCL Connections offering all these kinds of features in one solution – together with services for video and online meetings. A bit like combining LinkedIn, Dropbox, Zoom, WordPress and more in one comprehensive package – inside the firewall – and with the same filter bubble-logic as on Facebook and LinkedIn; you get more of what you’ve shown interest in, but for work that is positive.

Never take the absence of a no for a yes

struts huvudet i sandenSales people are taught to never take no for an answer.

Consultants should be taught never  to take the absence of a now as a yes.

As a consultant, you don’t have any executive powers towards your client. You consult. You analyse. You suggest. You explain. But you don’t decide. That’s the prerogative of your client. And their obligation. Therefore a key aspect of consulting is about closely aligning with your sponsors and to be sure to have them on board – explicitly – before going ahead with anything; an implementation, a financial commitment, a presentation or workshop. And “aligning” includes making sure to have explicit approval of your suggestion, your approach.

Without that explicit approval, it’s far too easy for some sponsors to hide from responsibility, to duck for adverse consequences (which, nevertheless, have been weighed against the benefits and found worth the trouble) and – to hang you, the consultant, out to dry. Believe me. I’ve been there.

The best way to avoid this risk is not to “solve problems for clients” but “to help clients solve their problems” which I will write more about in a coming blog post.

The second best way is to hang in there, to be persistent in making sure you get an explicit approval by your client.

Don’t go ahead without an explicit yes.

Think of your employer as a distribution channel of You

U.S. Air Force image by Capt. Raymond Geoffroy
U.S. Air Force photo by Capt. Raymond Geoffroy

Uneven relationships usually don’t work out well in the long run (at least not for both parties). That old truth holds water for romantic relationships as well as for between countries and….on the job market.

Employers complain about the low employee engagement revealed in their annual employee surveys. Duh! What do they really expect when they ask us once per year – only – what we think, wait for ages to reveal the cherry-picked results and in-between do nothing?

Why do employers expect us to be emotionally engaged in them when they are merely rationally engaged in us employees – at most?

Work with the mindset of your employer as a distribution channel for You instead.

When I started thinking of these things  couple of decades ago, I concluded that it felt much more sane and constructive to think of my employer at the time as a distribution channel for me, my competence and my capacity. The difference wasn’t obvious on the outside, but very clear on the inside – in my mindset. But there, it was striking.

  • The clients were my clients and my focus was on creating long term value for them
  • At the same time I had to ensure that my distribution channel “gave me the right shelf exposure”. Therefore I needed to work on personal branding internally so my “channel” knew what I was capable of, for which engagements and clients I was a good fit and presented me to them.
  • It became a natural, personal urge to always keep up with the edge of knowledge and maintain my value for clients
  • At the same time, my personal integrity was reinforced as I couldn’t allow my brand to get tarnished by delivering sub-standard quality or not adding value.
  • I stopped worrying about employment security. Instead I worked for “engageability”. To shift distribution channel doesn’t feel as dramatic or risky as changing employer
  • Actually, I think this mindset made me an ideal employed consultant. I displayed all the kinds of behaviours desired by my employer. That I did it for myself, not for them, was secondary.

Work buyer and work seller?

I realise that the mindset of an employer as a distribution channel of You might be a better fit for a consultant than for many other professions. Luckily, there’s another frame of mind that I think can be useful also for other professionals; to stop thinking of employers and employees (or work-giver and work-taker as is the direct translation of the words used in my native language, Swedish), but instead think of work buyers and work sellers. Once again, a more level relationship.

What do you think? Do you rather work for a work buyer or a distribution channel than for an employer?

To walk in the shoes of someone else, you first have to take off your own

Know your customer! Understand the user! Know your enemy!

walk a mile in their shoesWe’ve all heard these calls. To best be able to sell to customers what they really need and will appreciate, to design things that people will use, appreciate and rave about to their friends and acquaintances – or to best beat your enemies – you first should know and understand them. Of course. That’s pretty self evident. But, it sure is easier to say than to do, at least than to do well.

Hearing to respond or listening to understand?

It is so easy to end up just scratching the surface, creating an impression of understanding, but without depth and true insight. You “measure and label” all possible dimensions, increasingly focusing on individuals or personas instead of anonymous market segments. All good. But, too frequently, you’re preoccupied with your own next move. A bit like someone hearing, but not truly listening, since they think of what to respond instead. Hearing, but not active listening, and definitely not empathic listening.

Context, history, drivers!

Apart from this eagerness of using what you hear to meet your goal instead of truly listening to understand, there’s often another big mistake: looking at them, but in your context, the basis for understanding Their Why. What is their history, their experience? What is the culture and habits in their company, geography or religion? Or maybe their experience has left them sensitised to expressions that are perfectly innocent to you.

This is actually a case of where it can serve well for someone like me to be aware of my white privilege. Let’s use the image at the top of this blog post for example (not mine originally, but copyright-free). It’s quite a difference for white, middle aged, heterosexual family fathers to put on high heels for a charity race, compared to what it would be like for teenagers in homophobic Russia, or in any country with a strong machismo culture, or homophobic religious beliefs. Or, as I suddenly realised when talking with a colleague about standing up against xenophobia and religious prejudices; for me, he is a valued colleague, a peer, but for the xenophobes, he is just another muslim immigrant from North Africa. Even if we say exactly the same thing, the responses will be very different due to who they think we are.

So, next time you try to “know your customer/user/enemy”, dig a bit deeper. Try to understand where they come from, what is their context and what drives them. I’m sure you will have greater success (although it may take a bit longer to get there).

Do you have similar experience? Or you disagree? Please comment!

Persistent Team Chat, Merely a Gilded Reincarnation of Reply-to-All Email?

 

Persistent team chat has been the darling of the collaboration scene for a while now. The most prominent one being Slack, but also Atlassian HipChat, Cisco Spark, Microsoft Teams and now Watson Workspace from my employer. Cool, fast, flexible are words often used to describe the greatness of most of those products. There’s been an increase in complaints that they add to the communication overload we already suffered from, but I leave to others to voice their concerns over that. I have no intention to compare their features, characteristics and target audiences.

I want to discuss them conceptually.

For about a decade, I’ve been working devoted to the space of internal collaboration and networking tools and practices. From having had to, more times than I can remember, explain the business benefits of this new way to work* I have come to realise that those business advantages boil down to different aspects of either efficiency or effectiveness.

Efficiency

More efficient co-production of content (documents, spreadsheets and presentations typically, or for online publication in blogs or wikis) through sharing, commenting and collaborating instead of shuffling attachments around, leaving some poor sod to consolidate and redistribute, is usually a key element in generating efficiency. Reduction in version confusion and conflict is a great by-product.

Simplified communication is another. Typically from getting rid of Email Trees

Reduced reinvention of the wheel and shorter runway from building on shared work of others is another. It also reduces the frustration of being convinced that what you create is a waste of time, but you know that you won’t find what’s already “out there”.

These different flavours of efficiency are generated primarily from working towards a given goal with people you know already. The last one, a bit less.

Effectiveness

The different flavours of effectiveness generally result from greater transparency, people working out loud and from open dialogue. You don’t only collaborate with your team on producing something, you make it available for all your colleagues to re-use, to feedback on and to improve upon.

Instead of restricting your dialogue to people you know, you post on boards – your own or those of colleagues, in forums, in open communities of interest and so on, making it possible for anyone to answer, to help you or to pull someone into the dialogue who they might know have the answer.

This way, communication flows more freely, knowledge and experience is shared more widely, ideas and people meet by coincidence to inspire, engage and build new relations.

It also makes it more easy to find expertise, either through what has been shared or through ease of finding the people who has it, who can help.

All this results in increased agility, in better resilience (since knowledge is no longer hoarded but released from heads, hard drives and email files). Communication flows more freely, with reduced distortion and misinterpretation and employees become more connected, engaged and inspired – all key factors for innovation.

Persistent team chats are good for efficiency, but do little to improve effectiveness

An inherent characteristic is obvious in the name: “team” i.e. people you already know, usually with a defined goal.

Another characteristic comes from “chat”. In other words, a continuous flow of conversation, admittedly often with capabilities of adding attachments or links or to integrate with other services, but still in that continuous flow. With that continuous flow comes, automatically, a challenge to find stuff from the chat history. You might overcome it by a strong search engine. Microsoft have tried to approach this by creating a Sharepoint space for the team in the background, still is only for the team. IBM approaches it by adding cognitive computing to help identify highlights and action items. But still, the concept in itself generates a challenge to be solved.

Looking back at those two characteristics, persistent team chats aren’t that different from a long chain of reply-to-all emails, are they? At least not conceptually. You might add integration of bots and cool apps, cognitive capabilities or a file repository. You still restrict your collaborative effort to a limited group of people you already know. You still create a challenge to find stuff in the chat history, a challenge you need to solve. Where’s the wide sharing of knowledge and experience? Where are the inspiring “knowledge accidents”? Where’s the clarity of communications in all directions, up and down, across organisational boundaries, forming new relations between people with shared interest but otherwise unrelated?

Does this mean that persistent team chats are bad?

That is not at all the point I want to make. They definitely can add value and facilitate the way teams work. But

  • Persistent team chats are not enough on their own. They should be just one part of an entire collaborative landscape
  • They need to be supplemented by other capabilities offering structure and ease of finding both files and online content
  • and other capabilities enabling and encouraging working transparently, to the benefit of the entire organisation, not teams only
  • One stream of updates! We don’t want one more stream of updates. It only aggravates stress, confusion and distraction. The updates from the team chat must be possible to consolidate with all others.

What’s your experience from working with persistent team chats? From working and networking transparently? Do you agree? or not? and why?

*The new way to work really isn’t that new, is it? In many ways, this is how we used to work when companies were smaller and usually located in few places. The “new” is about being able to work so, via the internet, across borders – both national and organisational, great distances and time zones.

Why you shouldn’t subcontract social media communications

Hardly any organisation can get by nowadays without a presence in social channels, but many still feel uncomfortable about how to do it. Luckily, most have realised that it’s not just like pushing your marketing messages onto some audience, as in traditional marketing (but some still do, unfortunately). So what’s the big difference? And what are the consequences?

Social media marketing works like a rock band

  • Traditional marketing speaks to non-customers, trying to turn them into new customers
  • Marketing in social media speaks to existing customers, caring and enthusing them, leaving to them to recruit new customers – like a rock band tending to their fans

But how’s that relevant for subcontracting your social media communications or not?

Putting it very simply, when the fans reach out, who do they want to reach? The promotor or the members of the band? Your professional tweeters/facebookers or your genuine experts? The hard currency in social media is trust. Go-betweens like band promotors or social media subcontractors don’t have the same credibility, expertise or authenticity as the members of a band or your own staff. When it will show through, not if, it risks eroding trust in your brand rather than the opposite.

You may well use social media subcontractors, but not as spokespersons

Instead, there are two very useful areas where you can leverage social media specialists:

Train your experts to communicate in social networks

Instead of speaking on behalf of your experts, have social media specialists train those experts to speak for themselves. Writing skills, tools and practices, do’s and don’ts. Plus some coaching on demand. Much better bang for your buck. Helps your experts gather market intelligence and do some brand building for your company and themselves too.

Get help scanning the buzz, identifying influencers and interesting content or discussions

The online networks are so vast and fast moving that it might be too much for your experts to both improve their communication skills and keep tabs on the networks. If so, you could hire someone with good tools and methods to scan and apply analytics to identify who to reach out to and build relations with – maybe also how best to succeed in doing it – and to identify relevant hotspots of content or discussions, passing the tips on to your experts to action, explore and respond to.

What’s your experience of social media go-betweens, training of spokespersons and social media analytics and scanning?

Photo: Pendulum 2007 by www.flickr.com/photos/wonker

Why Knowledge Isn’t Sufficient

Almost ten years ago I came to talk with a dear colleague who I hadn’t seen for a while. I think it was in October or November. She asked me what kind of project I was working on and I told her: I’m bailing out of the project I’ve been working on for almost two years, before my CV goes stale. As a consultant in a fast-moving area of expertise, I have to ensure a constant flow of new experience and professional growth. What will you do next? She said. I have no idea what the new year will bring. It’s exciting! I replied. What about you? We’ve just lost the contract I’ve been working on for many years and I have no clue what to do after New Year. I’m devastated!

There we were, in very similar situations with opposite reactions. How could that be? It was too big a difference to be explained only by me being a stubborn optimist. We ended up talking for the better part of an hour.

After a while we started to realise that it was about Knowledge vs. Skills.

Her professional standing was (apparently) founded on Knowledge, at least in her own mind. On her expertise in a specific field – a technology used only in parts of the retail business and where she had always worked with one client, her ex-employer. She was afraid that her knowledge wouldn’t easily be applied to other customers or other types of business.

My professional standing was founded in Skills: Structured problem solving, planning and facilitating workshops, requirements elicitation and management, communication orally and in writing etc. All capacities that can easily be transferred from one context to another. From one client to another. In any business. The hallmarks of a Jack of all trades (let’s forget about the second part of the expression for now, will we?).

Recently, I discussed the episode with a couple of bright and eager students and I decided to put letters on screen (or whatever “pen to paper” should be nowadays).

It is obvious to most of us that skills and knowledge are different, but how often do we think of just how they are different? And of what the consequences are?

  • Skills are less dependent on context than knowledge is, and therefore easier to transfer – as shown in my story.
  • Knowledge can be learned, through reading and courses. Skills are different. You may be borne with them but they need practicing to reach perfection.  They are not found in any book, for sure.
  • The half-life, the “best before”, of knowledge is shorter than for skills. New circumstances, new technologies, new business practices can quickly make your knowledge obsolete, while skills more easily can be applied in new contexts

So what are the consequences of these differences?

  1. Most of us have realised that we need to be learning constantly to stay ahead in our times of frantic change, but if we only learn new knowledge, the need for learning is greater and more pressing
  2. As skills take practicing, they are usually slower to develop. They take time and patience. And allowing for imperfection along the way
  3. Skills training doesn’t transfer as easily to e-learning as knowledge learning does. It takes more interaction to perfect, maybe remotely, but hardly with a system dialogue
  4. If you’re really fed up with your job but have a hard time imagining what to do instead, you are probably focusing too much on where you can apply your knowledge. Stop for a while to identify your strong skills and try to imagine where they can serve you well instead.

What do you think? Do you agree? Any similar experience? What if we add abilities to the mix, how do they differentiate from knowledge and skills (remember that English is only my second language  😉 )