2013-07-31T12:31:32.836+01:00I am rapidly assuming the status of a dinosaur - with a bit of King Canute wrapped in. I go to communication meetings and challenge the wisdom that all that is new must be good (and the implied, but rarely expressed, view that everything conceived before 2008 is bad). When the agencies I meet talk social, I talk business impact. When they press the benefits of Infographics, I question the outcome they're trying to achieve. When they press for digital solutions, I fight for the quality of content.Unlike the dinosaur, I've seen at least two revolutions in my IC career and have survived. Almost 20 years ago we were told email would take over the communication world - it did - and we've fought against it ever since. A decade later came the rise of the intranet and the supposed thrust for collaborative working. Until very recently, most intranets became hungry beasts demanding huge time commitment to keep them fresh, but offering questionable organisational benefit. The move towards social communication is bringing new life into these beasts - but young, equally fresh, innovative communicators appear set to dump the PC-planned platform and drag their organisations (sometimes kicking and screaming) into a mobile age where all we need to grow our businesses and collaborate with the world is the latest social communication app and a smart device to run it on.It's great in that Millennial world and I'm absolutely all for innovation in the platforms, the speed and the connectivity that bring people together in business. But I'm also more than aware that just 35% of the workforce is Gen Y (that's born after 1980) and only around half of those are true Millennials (that's digital natives who have joined the workforce since 2008). Today's workforce is still dominated in numerical terms by Baby Boomers and Generation X, while around 80% of the UK's workforce work in small and mediums sized enterprises where great communication matters greatly - but where enterprise social networks are not at the top of the business agenda. Should they be? Perhaps social needs to be more important to many more organisations, but the reality is that unless you happen to work in a start-up technology or marketing business, Boardrooms will continue to be dominated by the Boomers and Gen X until at least 2025. Consequently, in order to inspire these business leaders to adopt social communication to drive effective stakeholder engagement, communicators need to work with them and appreciate their needs and behaviours rather than merely impose solutions that appeal to only that part of any workforce that has grown up with a smart device grafted to their arm.I am frankly getting fed up with being told that social answers every comms issue I have. It doesn't. I get more than a little bile in my throat when some bright spark tells me 'a picture's worth a thousand words and here's out latest infographic tool - it's cutting edge.' Infographics new? So what was Leonardo da Vinci doing more than 500 years ago? I get thoroughly pee'd off when I'm told we're all too time poor to read anything, or listen to anything or watch anything or, God forbid, actually meet anyone. All we have time to do is tweet or yammer away or contribute to the latest chatter. Surely the purpose of all these digital channels is to save us time - so why aren't we using it effectively?We are not time-poor, but attention-poor. It would seem our Millennials have all the time in the world to indulge in the latest learn-your-business-though-an-online-game (which, having not been brought up with fat thumb syndrome, I find tedious and a waste of my time), but have no appetite for a face-to-face event.Yet in running head-long into applying social/digital to every communication issue, are we not in danger of imposing solutions that actually run counter to many stakeholders' desires and appeal only to the comms innovators in the same way that the first wave of intranets met only the needs of IT developers a decade ago?Fast v Slow FoodFor me, today's digital comms are the fast food of the comms menu[...]
2013-07-19T13:44:17.604+01:00It looks like I'm well set up from September. Nice stuff in the pipeline to look forward to. But, as sometimes happens around these hot summer months, the pipeline’s more a dribble than a deluge at the moment.
2013-07-15T14:50:28.806+01:00insideleapfrog.com - and then I do it again...
2013-07-01T17:14:09.448+01:00Another cross-post from insideleapfrog.comLast week I read a request for help on LinkedIn that so vexed me that I’m still thinking about it a week on.A member of an IC interest group wrote: “I’m struggling to engage a specific group of employees who are reluctant to embrace social media any suggestions on some new innovative ways?”My response was: “Do they have to embrace social media? It would seem that whatever the question is for IC pros at the moment, the answer is ‘social media’. Sometimes, in its many and various forms, it is the answer – but not always. "We seem to be losing the art of face to face communication and the appetite for traditional comms. In the rush to embrace the electronically-driven social world, that could be a very costly error. Have you talked to this group? What’s their take on comms? Are there channels and media that they appreciate and respect? What’s worked for them in the past – do you know the reasons why they’re not embracing social media?”“Without knowing that side of the story, it’s tricky to suggest a way forward. But, the newest, sexiest, shiniest forms of comms aren’t always the best for any particular group, and the worst mistake we can make is to impose what we like onto a group with a different (and perhaps just as valuable) perspective.”The debate has gathered almost two dozen comments, with a group suggesting various options to draw this non-specified audience into social media, while others have either supported me, or in the case of Jim Shaffer, moved the debate on a little. Jim’s point is that we shouldn’t be arguing about traditional v social, but, as he said: “The question and a lot of the responses here are about process versus results or outcomes. What results are you trying to change? What outcomes do you want from “embracing social media?” It would seem that if people 1) had access to a solution that would improve a business outcome, 2) if it was in their best interests to make the improvement and 3) it was their idea to adopt that solution, they would. Or that’s what usually happens. Asking people to embrace social media is like asking them to embrace posters.”For me, Jim’s hit on an issue that’s worrying me more and more as I engage with comms pros here in the UK. There’s a distinct band-waggoning on social with the result that any discussion of strategy or tactics that doesn’t involve the latest application of digital wizardry is kicked out the door in double-quick fashion. There’s an assumption that social is some kind of magic bullet – and that the likes of Jim or me advocating an approach that looks at audience needs, business outcomes and the best way for comms to enable such an outcome must be something akin to walking with dinosaurs.It’s worrying to me in that we seem to be knocking back a good decade of internal comms evolution – the decade that took us from output to outcome and brought leaders across organisations out from behind their emails. To me, there’s a real danger that too much emphasis on social will push our leaders back behind their electronic walls – while too much emphasis on social media will over-dignify the technology, while underplaying the need for solid comms that brings people together in the right way to achieve the right outcomes. Too many people are getting a little too excited about the outputs again – without considering if they’re achieving the right results.There’s so much talk of social media democratising business – but do you know what? Businesses aren’t democracies. And unless the principles of capitalism are about to fail, they’re not about to become democracies. I am immensely in favour of social’s ability to enable collaboration; to break down the barriers of geography and time zones. But it’s not a panacea. Surely it will enhance our communication offering, not replace all that has gone before?Not[...]
2013-06-21T15:21:21.778+01:00Every day as I work, Twitter provides a back-beat to my activity. I’ll delve into YouTube for information I can use, and probably will check out Facebook and LinkedIn at least a couple of times a day. I’m a regular on the BBC News site, and a number of other sports, business and news sites that augment the daily paper I read and the radio that wakes me up - and also accompanies my transition from work to rest late in the day. A large chunk of my week is spent working on my own, but I never feel disconnected – my social set-up accompanies me through the day, wherever I happen to be working from.I love the fact that we’re now so much more connected than in the past – whether it be purely socially or through the socialising of business communication. Every day my twitter feed is filled with the latest chat about instagram and its new video, the rise of infographics, the latest webinar, who has storified what and the best pinterest boards to check out. In fact, almost every day there appears to be a new application on the rise that could be fantastic for the businesses I work with. There’s a whole generation of social entrepreneurs out there evangelising. Some organisations are making fantastic strides in democratising the communication process and many, many stakeholders are joining in a rapid evolution of organisational communication – sweeping the old, top-down, elite-led communication paradigm away, and replacing it with a whole new era of connectivity, blurring the boundaries of work/non-work and enabling anyone who wants to be a collaborator, contributor and communicator across their organisation to assume that power.Across a swathe of Gen-Y dominated organisations, often marketing-led and highly technology-attuned, we’re approaching communication anarchy. Not in a bad way of bombs and extremists, but in the sense of collectivism without rulers.But then I come back to my working world: a world that in the last couple of months has seen me spending time with care workers employed by a charity (as far from the BBC reports of 15 minute care appointments as you’d possibly get); in a supply chain company’s ‘pick and pack’ operation; with sub-contracted engineers working for a power provider and in a small call centre that’s a very long way from the third largest operation in Swansea. None of the people I worked with was in a conventional office environment. In three out of four operations, people felt somewhat cut-off from their organisation’s leaders. All were proud of what they did, but few understood their contribution to the organisation or how they made a difference in achieving its aims. None in the three felt particularly part of any engagement revolution – not through an absence of tools and channels to get involved through, but much more so through a lack of high quality content that really connected with them. There was a consensus that their organisations were missing a trick: going all out to make the best use of technology, but not putting equal focus on the lifeblood of effective organisational communication: great content that’s timely, relevant, involving and delivers the right action.At the call centre, staff leave their own devices in their locker. Throughout their shift, their machines display customer contact information, scripts and some very basic product information. There’s some social and admin material posted on noticeboards, and there are end-of-shift handovers where a little business information is shared – but people are, by then, very keen to get off the floor and away. It’s a hard-grind sales environment. staff turnover is high and loyalty is low. Managers and staff are rewarded on short-term sales goals – and the big picture plan is out of sight for all but the most senior. We’re now working on some simple information shared well. It’s not all about new tools – staff told us the last thing they wanted w[...]
2013-06-12T15:52:41.409+01:00Does grammar matter? Does the way we adorn our language with spelling, punctuation, the right constructions and even, sometimes, standard vocabulary add to the clarity of our expression? Or does it just hinder the reader’s understanding of what we’re trying to say? The world has moved on a long way from the days when a government mandarin might write:“This is offensive impertinence, up with which I will not put.”Wrongly attributed to Churchill, it’s the kind of grammar pedantry that would not allow the writer to conclude a sentence with a preposition. Thankfully, the world has moved on. But, in much more recent times, I’ve noticed distinct slippage in the way we use grammar, punctuation and vocabulary. To some, that simply doesn’t matter. Oxford University’s Simon Horobin, speaking at the Hay Festival, asked grammar pedants to relax over such things as the use of the apostrophe; the spelling of words such as through (thru) and, more generally, the consistency of written English. He has a point. English is dynamic and ever changing. In fact, I’m rather surprised that he didn’t ask his audience to “chillax.” However, when it comes to business writing, the objective is to create a shared understanding, and you’ll only achieve that through consistency.In the past couple of months, I’ve been bouncing between the usual round of client copy editing; assessing award entries, and marking undergraduate essays and dissertations. It has been illuminating in understanding just where we stand in grammar wars. From my perspective, written English is in a state of flux. There’s an age divide that seems to split those aged 35 and upwards from their younger peers, while we also have a divide between native speakers and those for whom English is a second (at least) written language.Older writers are more structured, more formal in their use of grammar – but (huge generalisation) also more passive in their sentence construction and prone to 70 word + sentences. Late Gen Xers and the Ys and Zs following are consistent only in their inconsistency. They have a fleeting relationship with the rules of grammar, and such tools as apostrophes are sprinkled without rhyme or an awful lot of reason through their direct, active and often sparkling copy. They’ve slipped back, though, into the world of ‘amongst’, and ‘whilst’ for among and while. My students tells me it gives more gravitas to their copy. I simply repeat what my English Language tutor at Manchester University, Dr. David Denison, told me back in 1982: “It’s archaic, and a waste of ink.” That was 30+ years ago, but what was archaic then is creeping back now (and adds no gravitas!)We’re far from txt spk taking over (another myth), but the business and essay writing of the young reflects a complete neglect of lessons around the process of written English in UK schools through the 90s and 00s.And then there’s the rise of ‘International English’ – this new concept of English written for a global audience by non-native speakers that adopts the grammar rules of their native language. I’ll give you an example. I received some copy from a Dutch client that started: “Since today, we are rolling out a new way of working across the business.” I pointed out that this use of ‘Since’ was not something we’d say. In British English, ‘since’ always implies the past. My Dutch colleague simply didn’t get it – not entirely surprising as the construction is common in Dutch and German and used as we might use ‘from’. There are more and more examples of these internationalisms creeping in. Perhaps they’re a natural evolution, but the more crass intrusions should still be picked up with a view to helping the writer understand the nuances of British English.Of course, the other battle is against that bastard son of American English, corporate babble. If I see another “l[...]
2013-06-12T15:51:35.017+01:00It's weird that my new blog has been up and running for quite a while now, but this one still seems to get the majority of the hits - I suppose, just because it has been around for quite a while.
2013-01-15T10:23:53.990+00:00Responses to the 2013 EC in EE Survey are coming in steadily - though we're probably a shade down on the same stage in 2011. It would be great to get numbers up!
2013-01-10T15:16:13.508+00:00I'm still cross-posting but will stop doing so at the end of this month. So if you like what I write, please check out the new Leapfrog blog at insideleapfrog.com.Meanwhile, here's a cautionary tale for those who perhaps don't pay enough attention to their 'net rep'. However strong your brand; however motivated your people, your organisation’s reputation ultimately rests on the weakest link in the ambassadorial chain. A single employee bad-mouthing your business or your customers can stoke up a furore that can spiral well beyond any offence caused by the employee’s original action.Such reputational time bombs are magnified hugely in an age where social media is fast becoming the prime feeding ground for traditional journalists who find themselves having to compete ever more vigorously for consumers’ interest in a news marketplace where you lose if you blink – never mind snooze.Take the case of Holleh Nowrouz. Up until the end of December she was Sale Sharks Rugby Club’s social media executive. As such, her name appeared all over the club’s website; in its printed match programmes and, on behalf of the club, through a wealth of social media feeds.Sale have recently moved from their Cheshire homeland to the new Salford City Stadium and their media team have gone into overdrive promoting the club to a potential new fanbase while trying to ensure the traditional supporters continue to follow the club at its new location. Their job clearly hasn’t been helped by the fact the Sharks are rock bottom of Rugby’s Premiership, with a revolving door on the coaches’ office and marquee signings not performing to anywhere near expectations.That said, it was hardly bright of Nowrouz to post the following status update on her personal Facebook page at the end of October:It’s a bit blurry (and sweary) but I hope you get the gist – Nowrouz vented her frustration on an element of supporters who seemingly weren’t differentiating the efforts of the media team from those of the coaching staff. By addressing Sale Sharks fans directly and expressing her opinion of some of them through a particularly poor choice of words, Nowrouz crossed an invisible boundary. Sure, this was posted on her personal Facebook page, but her name’s well-known, and any views she expressed through social media were bound to be linked to her role as a media spokesperson for her employer.Had this been a ‘dear diary’ entry scribbled down before the age of Facebook, no-one would have been any the wiser, and Nowrouz would still be tweeting away on behalf of the Sale empire. But on December 21, the image above became rather more widely read in the public eye when it was posted on the Sharks’ unofficial fans forum . It was soon picked up across the network of rugby message boards and before the day’s end, had been picked up by the media. From the Mail Online through the Telegraph to Fox in Australia to the BBC, most stories shorthanded the issue focusing in on Nowrouz calling fans f*******.Actually, before the end of the day on which her frustrated post was shared on the Sharks’ forum, very many fans were in agreement with what she said – but registered their recognition of her stupidity in how she chose to express her opinion. However, through their association with Nowrouz, Sale were taking a pummeling in the media. A club already seen to be close to crisis was now seemingly having its reputation trodden through the mud by the thoughtless actions of one of its own employees.At first, the club sought to quell the furore (much of it based on Middle-England ‘righteous indignation’ rather than fact) by posting an apology:Holleh Nowrouz deeply regrets the posting she made on her personal facebook page at the end of October. Disciplinary action has been taken and the matter has been dealt with inter[...]
2013-01-07T14:24:24.794+00:00This is another cross-posting from insideleapfrog.com, my relatively new business blog. However, I still get traffic to this site, so it's worthwhile posting the information here too. However, the results/follow-up will be posted on insideleapfrog.com.
2013-01-04T14:22:23.900+00:00I've just published this on insideleapfrog.com But as there's still traffic coming through this site, I thought it was worth cross-posting here. All good things must come to an end. As I write this, I’m printing out a final project report on something I’ve been involved in for the best part of two years now. Later today I’ll also make the call to end my paid relationship with a start-up that began in January. It’s time to move on from both pieces of work – but the parting in each case is actually quite emotional.In the case of the start-up, it’s a simple decision to make. I’ve been on a very small retainer from the time a friendship group decided they may have a business idea through all the travails of setting up the business to the early months of its operation. Over the months I’ve been one of a number of sounding boards for them – occasionally taking a more active role as they’ve articulated their business plan and marketing plan within it. But now the business is up and running well. At this stage I have nothing of real value to bring to the operation. When it grows, I’d be delighted to get back on board, but at the moment, I’m a cost the founders can do without. It’s time for me to step back and watch this baby fly.The other project is very different: a big corporate change programme in a division of a multi-national. I can well remember going to the first pre-planning meeting. ostensibly as a facilitator primed to ensure those attending filled all those blank pieces of paper stuck to the walls. Within weeks my role had changed from neutral facilitation to being part of the start-up team. Those 60-hour+ weeks flew by but we soon had a brilliant PM on board and a structure that ensured communication was an enabler working across all the activity streams – not an additional stream merely publicising decisions after the event. Engagement became the bedrock of the programme. The initial person leading this didn’t work out and I briefly stepped in to hold the fort. Our second engagement lead has been brilliant and much of my role has been as her back-up, coach and critical friend. But now the roll-out is complete. While there are a few months of sweep-up still to complete, the core project team is moving on. My time is done, and while this one will hit in the wallet, I want to go out with those involved thinking well of me.I learned that lesson while working with Orange several years ago. After seven months of an intense project setting up a new b2b division, I sat down with the PM. The management team was in place. The nine countries involved were all on board; ways of working were nailed; we had our comms framework and activity plan and I’d helped them recruit a very able comms manager. For several weeks she’d been calling the shots, but I was still giving three days a week to the project. The PM asked me to carry out one simple task: to chart my perception of my cost v value. He did the same. For the first five months for both of us, value far outweighed cost – after two to three months my value to the project was at a real high. It had plateaued in months three to five, and then as the change settled down, I had it gradually tailing off. For the PM that tail off was much sharper and had reached a point for him where cost had overtaken value. I couldn’t argue with him: it was time to move on.I had built an emotional attachment to the business and would have been happy to continue with them, but my client took a totally pragmatic view. While I offered something they couldn’t do internally, I was welcome and settling the monthly invoice was no problem. But when they’d built that capability in-house, there was no need for an outsider.Now, on every project where I’m involved, I keep[...]
2012-12-03T11:41:46.142+00:00My professional alter-ego has just blogged on insideleapfrog.com about the importance of alignment to engagement. Check it out here .
2012-11-30T16:02:07.658+00:00Since I first started blogging in 2005, this site has been home for everything from my professional insights; gripes about the world of work and the ups and downs of running a microbusiness to bits about my family, my sporting interests, my academic sidelines and even my 15 minutes of fame as a TV quiz contestant.
2012-11-20T10:34:16.822+00:00My hunt for new projects has started reasonably well. One new client meeting this week and discussions with two existing clients on new work: all good, all positive - but nothing yet that will make up for this month's shortfall in income. What's great though is that people want to talk to me about applying some of my wider skills - not just what they've engaged me to tackle in the past. If I can provide a wider offering, it even opens up the opportunity to bring in other people from my network - and one bit of back scratching has, from past experience, led to others.
2012-11-14T13:24:36.832+00:00It's that time of year when marketing, corporate communication and HR teams start reining in their budgets. That's not good for me as I'm reaching the end of a couple of projects that have kept me very well occupied through much of the year. As my billable time has dropped off I've filled up large chunks of the last fortnight pushing the PhD forward - interesting research and fun to do...but it doesn't pay the mortgage.I'm in the market for new projects now - and while in the past I've been lucky enough to have a steady flow of clients heading in my direction, the fact that many of my long-term clients have moved out of in-house roles coupled with an influx of new talent into the market in which I operate mean I have to get out there and get my face and talents known again. With budgets tight and a clamp-down on putting out work externally at two of my regular clients, I realise it's high time I started marketing myself again - and alsohave become painfully aware from a couple of recent conversations that it's an area I've been pretty lax on over the past few years.The result is that few clients or contacts know me for the range of skills I offer - some know me as a trainer; others as a writer and editor; others still as primarily a facilitator and one is convinced I'm just a high-cost strategist without the skills to carry my plans through to implementation (how VERY far from the truth!!).So, I've started writing my personal pitch again - just one step in a process that will also see me relaunch my online presence over the coming weeks, separating out my 'Leapfrog' presence from all those other areas of my life - children, sport and university in particular that have probably diluted my net rep and obscured my talents. I'd almost prefer that someone else wrote my profile - I suppose that's what recommendations on LinkedIn are for - but even there, the recommendations I have tend to be for shades of my work, not the full rainbow. I actually find it uncomfortable shouting about myself, but realise that if I don't, the best work will simply pass me by.So, step one as suggested by a long-term former colleague and client who said: "Sum yourself up in a page - but write in the third person as if you were describing someone else".It reads: Mark ShanahanBackground Mark has built a wealth of engagement experience through senior agency and in-house roles in the financial, hotels, telecoms, FMCG and manufacturing sectors. He has two decades of experience in driving engagement in major change programmes in both private and public environment. His career includes a number of appointments and projects with an international remit and has been focused on building communication as an enabler of engagement from an add-on to a core skill in major organisations.Strategic and tactical experience Mark has been involved in a wide range of assignments. In recent years he has: - Designed and implemented a world-wide engagement strategy to support major change in one of the world’s leading hotel groups- Introduced and implemented an engagement framework into a new division of a leading telecommunications company – aligning Europe-wide communication to the direct needs of the business; building relationships with other business divisions and recruiting a manager to take up the reins in-house- Devised and implemented an engagement strategy to enable the seamless integration of a new acquisition into a major banking group- &nbs[...]
2012-10-23T08:08:19.589+01:00Back in the late 90s I worked for a major hotel company. It had its good aspects, but one of the deciding factors in making me realise I was in the wrong place was the CEO's decision to cancel Christmas.'What? Cancel Christmas in a hotel company? Surely that way madness lies!' I hear you say. Of course, our CEO didn't cancel the customers' Christmas - just the one for staff which happens, traditionally, in the darkest days of January, when hotels are at their quietest. Working in a hotel in the run-up to Christmas is punishing. Head Office staff were expected to pitch in, so while my efforts out in the hotel estate were brief and less than impressive, I did get to see the routine that saw staff regularly starting their days at 5.30am and finishing by pouring the last of the night's party goers into taxis at 3am the following morning. Throughout December, staff worked regular 14-16 hour days with departmental and duty managers in particular often working near round the clock for three or four days at a stretch with probably no more than three days off across the whole month. It's a grinding schedule, but hotel folk are used to it.There's quite a bit of pleasure to be derived from seeing other people enjoy themselves. But more so, there was always the knowledge of a decent bonus to be had at the end of the year, and the opportunity to plan and deliver one heck of a staff party once the tinsel and trimmings had been taken down at the end of the festive period. Staff Christmases were the talk of the business. These often two-day blow-outs were legendary. In many locations the hotel would close to the public while the staff let off steam at parties that had been planned for months and dreamt of all year - and would be delivered thanks to the generosity of the corporate pocket. But in my second year running internal comms for this 250-hotel strong group, there was no chance to 'party like it's 1999' (even though it was!) because, in mid December, the CEO decided we all needed to tighten our belts. The Millennium had seemed the perfect opportunity for the business to make money. Lavish events were planned across the business to tempt in punters - and the sales team, optimistic to a fault, pitched these parties at pretty precipitous prices. The revenue forecast looked impressive - but the actual conversion of glossy brochures into hard cash was rather less so. 1998-99 had been quite a tough year economically. Corporates seemed less prepared to shell out on Millennium parties than our Sales Director anticipated, and many people seemed undecided on whether to celebrate Christmas or New Year in their local hotel (or indeed one of the flagship venues). Too many were opting for neither. Almost unheard of, but many of our hotels decided to close for New Year - the demand simply wasn't there. Instead of the expected boost to revenue, most hotels were failing to hit their targets. True, they were just as busy in the run-up to Christmas with party nights, office 'do's and the regular Christmas lunch trade. Most were also steady over Christmas Day and Boxing Day, but their expected revenue delivery was about 20% above 1998 - and the lack of New Year bookings over the Millennium meant that such forecasting was way too optimistic. The decision to premium-price Millennium events was seen as coming from senior management, yet the CEO's decision was that everyone in the business would take a hit. Bonuses were cancelled for everyone at management level, while the planned staff events due for mid-January were cut completely. It was an irony that the decisions were conveyed to me by my boss from a [...]
2012-10-05T10:35:01.042+01:00I'm not sure whether this entry counts as a warm-up to the writing I need to complete today or just a displacement activity. I'll tell myself it's the former but it's probably the latter. In fact, my last 90 minutes since I turned on the PC has largely been displacement. I've chased a couple of late payments (when am I not chasing money?); I've set up a meeting in London on Monday to make my day there more valuable and I've done some pretty basic but necessary admin. And all the time, what I should really be doing remains looming on the side of the desk - a 16 page brief for training materials that need to be completed today.Think about that: a 16-page brief (with five supporting documents) for an e-learning script that will probably come out around 2000 words.Much of my time, I'm really engaged by the projects I get involved in. Working to discover the barriers to youth employment has been fascinating; a series of recent case studies around sustainable cultivation in Asia and Africa has opened my eyes to the issues facing small farmers in the developing world; and even helping two very different organisations relaunch their intranets on the SharePoint 2010 platform has been something I've been really able to get my teeth into. CapabilityBut one of the first things any half-decent freelancer must become acutely aware of is that not every piece of work will be quite so fascinating. Some will present no challenge; others may be on the edges of your skill-set and you might wonder why some other projects have come your way at all. But, as long as the piece of work is within your capability to deliver, you will succeed as a freelancer only if you pay the same care and attention to the piece as something you're passionate about.You will only get the repeat business that's the lifeblood of freelancing, and only see your name spread positively beyond your direct clients if you bring the same professionalism to the most mundane and boring project as you do to those that really make your heart sing. I spent much of Wednesday on my particular elephant in the room. My client knows I was reluctant to take it on (I consider creating e-learning materials a very particular skill and it's an area I don't usually get involved in.). But she convinced me that this particular scripting piece within a far bigger project was actually both within my skillset and that she considered me the best person for the job. Flattery really can work. So, on Wednesday I got my head around the brief and read through all the source material. While I'm fairly neutral on the subject matter, it was frankly hard to get enthused by a series of dry, academic, analytical reports that provide my base material. Still, I got my material in order, started prioritising what my client sees as the key points and began constructing my argument - essentially my script narrative. I'm about two fifths in now and the job so far is competent, workmanlike and solid. It hasn't yet come to life.InspirationAt some point today, drafting the remaining script sections I hope it will come to life. I hope that something clicks and I suddenly get the inspiration that will draw this together as a cohesive whole rather than a series of separate sub-arguments. I can feel the links bubbling just under the surface, but that sustaining narrative hasn't yet percolated to the front of my mind. Often when I'm writing, be it a plan or a script or a piece of editorial, that idea will be there from the start - that makes the end product so much quicker and easier to produce. But sometimes, as with this piece, it's[...]
2012-09-18T10:27:54.598+01:00Last night, about 8pm, I'd just finished dinner, filled the dishwasher and walked into the living room. My daughters were washing the evening's pots and they just sounded abnormally loud. I flicked on the lamp and turned on the TV. As the screen filled with the Sky menu, my eyes started flickering. Within seconds, bright colours started dancing in front of right eye and my ears started to ache. For what I reckon is about the eighth time in my life, I was heading into a migraine.The lights that signify my 'aura' the stage before my head really begins to throb are beautiful and strange. I can only describe it as the equivalent to having a blob of Vaseline over my right eyeball. Directly in front of me is opaque, but the right edge is a slightly jagged curve of thin lines of beautiful bright colours - red, blue and yellow. It lasts anything up to an hour and I can still see a shadow of it this morning. With experience of past episodes I knew what works for me to make dealing with a migraine bearable. While the pain never really hits until the 'colours' die down, I knew that within minutes I'd be hardly able to string a sentence together, and shortly afterwards would not be able to unscramble my brain to read, write or even cope with bright lights or sounds. We had just one migraine relief tablet in the house. I took it, knowing it wouldn't make the pain go away, but would take the edge off it. I headed for bed, and turned the radio on quietly understanding I wouldn't sleep while I worked through the worst of the pain phase. That kicked in after half an hour or so. It's difficult to describe to anyone who doesn't suffer from migraines but it builds up almost like a wave - in my case, generally over my right eye. I remember hearing Everton score a goal and, while the radio remained on and untouched, the next thing I heard was the summing-up at the end of the game. For something over an hour, my brain had not been able to cope with anything more than the pain. In the past, I've tried to work through a migraine and once, in one of the most stupid decisions of my life, decided to drive home from Swindon to Oxford when I experienced the first flickers that presage an episode. Needless to say, half way up the A420 I wasn't really seeing anything much. God knows how I got home without killing myself or anyone else. By about 11pm last night, the worst of the pain was passing. I was able to tolerate both light and to make sense (or what passes for sense for me normally) when talking to Jacquie. I got a drink and fell exhausted into bed. I didn't sleep well, and the dull ache in my head coupled with a stiff and achy neck saw me through the night. This morning, the migraine's still playing around the edges of my senses. Light still hurts a bit; everything smells a bit funny (I can only describe it as: smells a bit 'more'); reading's tough and my head and neck still ache. My balance is a bit off, as if I've recently been on a ship, and I wouldn't say my cognitive skills are completely back in line as yet. It has taken rather longer than usual to write this, and I'm sure spell-check will have a field day when I run through what I've written. Migraines are horribly debilitating. I'm very glad mine are very few and generally quite short. They're very different to the headache you get from driving all day or staring at a computer screen for too long. I can now deal with mine reasonably well, but know I'll be sluggish for the rest of today. I have every sympathy for others who have to deal with this condition - when the mi[...]
2013-06-19T19:58:28.300+01:00One of my early jobs when Leapfrog kicked off was to support the roll-out of a SAP upgrade for an FMCG company. All that stakeholders wanted to know was:Why do we need it?Will it work?When will it affect what I do? What will I need to do differently?However, the project comms before I joined the team consisted of vast PowerPoint presentations detailing every aspect of the size of the drill - rather than the benefits of the hole in the wall.When pitching for the work, I made it very clear how little value I saw in PowerPoint as a communication tool. From a communicators' viewpoint, it's a pig to edit and update, while from the receiver's viewpoint, it is too often densely packed with facts, charts and drawings that appeal to the project office but are as useful as a chocolate teapot to anyone else.My heart rather dropped when on day 1 I was sent a 70-slide deck on the aims of the programme; 56 slides on the activity plan; a further 44 slides summarising the last week's activities and just four slides on stakeholder impacts. The balance was very wrong. My predecessor's practise was to send the weekly project update, unedited, to a vast stakeholder list. I could see there was next to no feedback, but a team meeting also made it clear that the workstream leaders were having a tough time getting any kind of traction with the directors and team leaders they needed to buy into the change. My first task was to prepare the next weekly update: I spent the next two days receiving sub-decks from the workstream leaders, while moving from brief meeting to even briefer meeting with the stakeholder base to get their wish list for our comms. It was clear that the project was on track in terms of the technical stuff, but the business felt it was being done to them, not with them. I sent the project director my first weekly comms deck. It was one slide: a picture of a happy monkey - ok; it was an orangutan, which isn't a monkey, but you get my drift. I sort of expected a small explosion, but he appeared beside my desk with a smirk on his face. "Okay," he said. "I can't send this, but explain your reasoning." My response was simple. Too many people were getting too much data that was useless for them. At this stage, all most people needed to know was that the project was on track and everyone was happy. A smaller group needed much more engagement (and this was long before engagement was part of our common vocabulary). They didn't need a big fat deck, but did need personal contact; someone to listen to their needs, to understand their business challenges and to explain how this new implementation would make things better - and what they needed to do. The five minute chat became a two-hour conversation with more and more project members joining in. By the end, I more or less had our comms strategy - I just needed to write it up: and not as a PowerPoint.That week, we put out a two page comms update. Page one was a Happy Monkey. Page two, my compromise: six green traffic lights with a bullet under each on achievements and next steps. It was still too busy - but getting towards a workable dashboard. In addition, the workstream leads had a lot more meetings in their diaries.Over the coming weeks, we moved from exclusively push-comms to an intranet site supported by far more targeted people-led proactive engagement. Our home page over the course of the project featured a selection of happy monkeys, a couple of sad ones and a couple best described as 'quizzical'. The first question in [...]
2012-07-03T13:05:23.573+01:00Bob Diamond joined Barclays in 1996: so did I. That's pretty much the only point where our careers coincided. He headed into Barclays de Zoete Wedd to add oomph to a rather moribund investment banking offering, while I spent two years in a change team reshaping Group Planning, Operations and Technology. By the end of 1998 he was heading up Barclays Capital, the streamlined successor to BZW, while I was packing my bags and heading to my next change project - Forte's 'Commitment to Excellence'. Being in a completely different division to Bob Diamond, I had little exposure to him. I attended a couple of staff conferences that he spoke at; he came to one group communicators meeting that I was part of and he was a 'client' during a couple of our Y2K (remember that?) presentations. He was smooth, incredibly assured - and the people I knew who'd inherited him as a boss were scared of him. He brought in a raft of new people, new methods and new ways of working. The slightly clubbable BZW disappeared; replaced by a harder edge. He made money for the bank: lots of it. And the investors loved him. I next crossed Barclays' path in about 2005, when asked to work on a project in Barclaycard. I'd known the cards business quite well during my spell in the operations side of the bank. Barclaycard was the industry leader in the UK - first into many markets and with an enviable customer base. But it faced the problem that many pioneers have to live with: younger, nimbler competitors were coming into the market and chipping away at Barclaycard's dominance. Good customers were defecting and that presented a huge issue for Barclaycard. They were the cash cow for the Group and suddenly that cash wasn't quite so forthcoming. Barclaycard had prided itself on never having to take on risky business, but now they were having to trawl the murkier card waters, offering cards to customers who never before would have fitted the profile, and having to work harder to claw back bad debt and make money from interest on outstanding borrowings. It was a time when the business had reissued its Values - the usual stuff: we put our customers at the heart of everything we do; we value our staff highly......it felt 'motherhood and apple pie'. I was brought in on the back of the staff survey as morale had dipped. The view of the HR team was that they needed some communication to get staff back on board and feeling more positive.For me, the next few weeks were a culture shock. Barclaycard had changed a lot between 1998 and 2005. The management team was very different with a strong BarCap presence and even stronger BarCap mentality. What was most noticeable was the divide between the long-serving, generally more junior staff and those managers parachuted in from elsewhere in the business or recruited to fit the new mould. Generalising, for those who'd grown up in the Northampton HQ, the values mattered; customers mattered; relationships across the business mattered. For the new breed, profit mattered. End of. Having spent several weeks interviewing around three dozen people (on both sides of an increasingly obvious divide), for my diagnostic, I fed back my findings to HR as preparation for presenting a plan to the Barclaycard Board. My simple conclusion was that no amount of tactical communication would change anything at this stage. Quite simply, the management culture bore no relation to the espoused Values. All the nice words about customers and colleagues were just posters on the wall. The real work [...]
2012-07-02T14:42:39.684+01:00Looking back on the actuality of my last few weeks against the 'plan' highlights the reality of freelance life - and shows why you need to be the consummate juggler to succeed in this game.
2012-05-15T16:49:30.114+01:00For the past 27 years, after leaving university first time round, I've worked in journalism and latterly, organisational communication. For the past five years I've been back in academia; collecting an MA and working towards a PhD. For the past two I've been teaching in a university history department - part-time and on a short contract basis. This year in particular, my module has proved popular. The feedback has been good and students have become very engaged in the subject.I've been able to bring all my experience of corporate communications to bear on designing and delivering my lectures and seminars. There's a huge parallel with the kind of training I've done for years in industry and the facilitation work I've done with corporate and industry leaders over the last decade.It helps too that I'm the father to teenagers not far short in age of the young adults I've been teaching. I'm beginning to understand their on-line linked up world where the old style of lecturing from my first university experience simply wouldn't cut it any more. So, my lectures are bracketed with music chosen to have some relevance to the topic. I use You Tube and other video sources extensively to bring to life the people and events we're covering. Much of the seminar work is based around primary sources - and generally I prefer the students to find and introduce at least some of those sources. It's a first year group, and as well as getting a good grounding in the subject, I want them to get enjoyment from our Thursday afternoons together and come out feeling they want to learn more - to scrape beneath the surface view. I don't claim that my sessions cover all the bases; I don't claim that they give more than a partial view - and at times I'll deliberately go out on an extreme to drive home a point. But I want the students to leave the lecture room sufficiently engaged with the subject to go and find out more: to read deeply and get the full story - if only to disprove the line I've taken. In the UK system of little contact time and much space left for private study, it's all I can do. I'm not yet a great teacher and still have a huge amount to learn. But finally, I think I've found my metier. This student engagement in subjects I'm passionate about is what I do best. I hope I can always work it alongside my engagement work.My approach in attempting to connect the students to the subject matter through some side-on angles isn't revolutionary - indeed I'm aping the best of my experience through my Masters. Where I am perhaps hard wired slightly differently is in bringing my experience of the world beyond academia to bear from lecture one term one in making students think beyond their three or four years of academic study to the harsh working world that will be waiting for them in a couple of years' time. I want them to immerse themselves in their subject: to begin to think as historians and to move beyond the narrative I can share with them to question why things turned out as they did. But equally, I want to help them develop good habits: to turn up on time; to participate in class; to be generous in sharing views; to accept and deal with constructive criticism; to organise their thoughts cogently and present them coherently, on time and within the expected standards. That may sound like a no-brainer, but it's not the case for a number of reasons.On the student side, they've come through a school system design[...]
2012-04-10T22:53:09.998+01:00I've written a lot of content for Adecco recently. Much of it has been for their revamped client magazine which is now being issued in a number of versions tailored to their brands. First off the deck is i/O - produced for the technology recruitment brand: Modis.
2012-02-29T11:38:30.003+00:00The report I compiled for Modis on if and how the UK can become an instigator of future technological revolutions is now available to download here. I'm facilitating round-table events in London on March 8th; Manchester on March 20th and Edinburgh on March 27th for senior IT professionals to take the conversation forward. If you're interested in taking part, please let me know and I'll put you in touch with the organisers.