The 3 Little Pigs: A Business Story

Once upon a time, there were three little pigs.
Characters
Building Materials
Action
Reaction
Confidence Level
Ability to Create Happy Ending
1st Pig
Straw/ hay
Built a house
Freaked out when house was blown down
Low
Extremely low
2nd Pig
Sticks
Built a house
Freaked out when house was blown down
Medium
Low
3rd Pig
Bricks
Built a house
Took in brothers who were not capable of building sturdy house
High
High
Wolf
N/A
Blew pig houses down
Freaked out when he could not blow down a house of bricks
Very High
Low

The end.

Wait, that wasn’t a good story?  Isn’t that how you remember it?  Well, it has all the key components that you need to know.  It has the who, the what and the how.  It also has information on the results.  So, what’s missing?

The truth is, you would never present that table to someone who wanted to know the story of The Three Little Pigs.  Even though it has all the components of the story, the information is not connected and does not provide any context about how the actions played out using the materials and the skills of the little pigs.  As I presented it to you today, it’s just a group of facts and it does not help paint a picture your brain is willing to buy in to.

The business world is made up of people who grew up hearing stories.  From birth, we train our brains to make connections between data and the world around us.  We get a satisfied feeling when we understand the data and are able to react to the story it tells.  The problem is, data doesn’t tell a story on it’s own.  It takes someone to weave it together in a way that creates interest for the listener.  The listener needs to understand what is in it for them, what the impact is, and how their reaction can impact the story.

I continue to see this as an area of needed development for many leaders.  For years, we’ve been focused on getting our hands on our organizational data, and that is finally happening in a big way.  What leaders are not as adept with is interpreting the data and then, telling a meaningful story with that data.  In my career, I have spent each day reading email with spreadsheets attached.  A majority of those email over the years have not included any story being told by the data.  This practice of attaching a spreadsheet and feeling like we’ve done our jobs should end.

So, as you start your day, please stop and think about the way you’re conveying your messages.  Are you just sharing facts, or are you adding real value and including your interpretation in the form of a compelling story?

HR Can’t Be Strategic If They’re Busy Being Your Mother

noseI’ve been honored to work in the HR industry for twenty years.  Honestly, with all the perceived negatives, there are so many more great moments that make working with people worthwhile.  But, as I sit here as an analyst, conducting research surveys and interviewing HR leaders, I find it sad that we are not really moving the needle as much as we should.  Why?  Because organizations ask HR to be more strategic while making them take care of the unusual, mundane and sometimes gross aspects of people management.

Unusual?  Gross? Mundane?

Yes, HR leaders and their teams are still doing the “dirty work” that managers don’t want to handle.  Do you have an employee with body odor and don’t want to handle it?  Just go to HR and they will address it for you.  What about the employee that dresses inappropriately, showing just a little too much of their stuff?  Yes, just take that one to HR too.  Here’s one for you….employees rubbing boogers on the men’s room mirror?  Yes, even that can come to HR to address.  I know these may sound like things a parent would address with a child, but I assure you these are all very real in our workplaces.

I don’t know how the HR department became the keeper of all these great incidents, but I am ready to hear that the managers in the organization are stepping up to handle them.  Then, and only then, will your HR teams have time to actually work on strategic things to help drive revenue or support the business goals of the company.

What about you?  If you work in HR, are you still spending time on these issues, “mothering” employees and leaders, or am I just happening to get a lot of stories from the trenches that are not true?  I’d love to hear your comments….

HR Happy Hour #230: Email Me! Battling The Pull of Constant Connectivity

It’s an exciting start to 2016 because Steve Boese and I recorded the first HR Happy Hour Show of the year! We chat about email and the impact of connectivity on multiple platforms.  How often do we have people who not only email us, but then follow up with Twitter DMs, FaceBook messages, LInkedin Connections, etc.? Too often!  We somehow get derailed a little bit and end up discussing what Steve plans to do before conference season starts.  Hint….it has to do with facial hair!

We wrap the show by talking about why we won’t make predictions about the HCM industry.  Everyone else already does. Instead, we cover what should HR leaders be talking about in 2016.  From intelligent technology, the world of benefits, to the importance of the employee experience, we cover it all.  Please listen in and then weigh in on what you think is important for the upcoming year.

And of course you can listen to and subscribe to the HR Happy Hour Show on iTunes, or via your favorite podcast app. Just search for ‘HR Happy Hour’ to download and subscribe to the show and you will never miss a new episode.

Not Haunted

It’s been a whirlwind of a week as I am in New Orleans for the first time.  I must admit, that it is surprisingly “homey” for me as it is very similar to St. Louis in terms of history, French background, good food, and Mardi Gras.  I made time to stroll the streets of the French Quarter when I arrived and was struck by the architecture, sounds, and mostly good smells of the experience.  Keep in mind that I’m here at a time post-Mardi Gras so the party atmosphere is greatly reduced.
As I walked up and down cobblestone streets, ducking in and out of small shops hawking everything from antiques to voodoo dolls, I noticed a sign hanging for an apartment for lease.
20150413_134248~2
As you can see, one of the main pieces of information given to potential leasees and passersby is the fact (or maybe just hopeful claim) that the place is “Not Haunted”.  Not haunted?  Really?  I never knew that was a selling point.  That aside, what do you think about using a tactic like this in the work you do?  Personally, I am not a fan of focusing on the negative, especially in employee communications. Can you imagine how this could play out in the workplace?
  • Dear employees, your 2016 benefits will NOT COVER X, Y, nor Z.
  • Dear employees, as your employer we will NOT offer paternity leave until you have been employed here 2 years.
  • Dear employees, DO NOT use your computer for social media interactions during business actions because you might say something we don’t like.
  • Dear employees, the company will NOT OFFER any benefit plan cost reductions.
How could you change this by rewording?
  • Dear employees, we are excited to share your 2016 benefit plan options and are now covering several new benefits such as X, Y and Z.
  • Dear employees, we know that spending time with a new baby is an important part of a baby’s development and bonding.  As such, we will now offer paternity leave for any employee who has completed 2 years of service.
  • Dear employees, we know that as social media outlets have grown in recent years, many of you use them as part of your daily interactions.  We expect you to use good judgement and realize you represent XYZ company at all times.
  • Dear employees, we are excited to tell you that for plan year 2016, any employee who enrolls in a fitness program at a certified gym will now be offered a $300 discount on healthcare premiums for the plan year.
Now, those may not be the best policies, however, purely from a communication standpoint, it is a much more positive spin on issues that could arise.  In my HR career I have seen far too many companies use the tactics in the first examples as they tell employees how NOT to behave, what NOT to wear, etc.  I would strongly recommend a handbook policy revamp if yours resemble the first examples. I guess the alternative is to just tell your employees that the company is “Not Haunted” and go from there.  Good luck!

How to Calculate The Number of People It Takes to Change Your Organization

squarerootBack in 2010 I wrote a post about how to Tap Into Informal Leaders to Influence.  The basic premise of the post was that I learned that in order to turn or change an organization, you only need to find the square root of the total employees and focus on spreading the word through that number of people.  For example:

Organization size-  5,000 employees

Square root of 5,000-  70.71 employees

So, in order to make change stick in this example, you would need to find the 70 employees who are the informal leaders/ influencers and get them on board. Messaging should still come from more formal channels, but by getting the influencers to spread the word with you, you can make a more significant impact on the organizational change.

I have been thinking about this as I have conversation after conversation about organizational culture, influence and employee engagement.  I’ve talked to leaders over the years who sincerely believe that company culture comes from the top down, and maybe that is a possibility.  I tend to embrace the idea that with each new employee you add to the organization, the company culture shifts a bit.  They each help form the ever-evolving culture.  I’m not sure that either opinion is 100% correct and that’s alright.

What I am sure of is that if this theory is true, a company can be changed by a relatively small number of people.  If you’re in a position to want to make your workplace better, more inclusive, more productive and more welcoming to all employees, it really doesn’t take much to turn the whole ship around.  The same holds true for the reverse and this is why a small group can also make a workplace unbearable.

When I first heard this theory, I began reaching out to the informal leaders in my organization whenever a more formal message was coming out.  I would find those influencers who may not have a fancy title or years of service, those who had the ear of the other employees though.  I would make sure they knew what was coming and that they felt like part of the process.  It really seemed to make a difference in getting ideas from management accepted.

What do you think?  Have you experienced this before?  Let me know in the comments.

What Makes Technology “Sticky”?

technologyI was looking for something and came across a post I wrote back in 2010 called Mobile Technologies You’ll Want.  In the post, I mention several technologies that were still fairly new back then.  It was exciting to hear about them and I tried all three, however, four years later and I am no longer using any of them.  Fast forward to today and I’ve tried some new apps such as Whisper, Secret and Yo!  I may have lasted a day or two at most on these before I became bored and could not see the value of daily use.

So what makes some apps and technologies “sticky” to users while others are not?

The commonalties I see are:

  • Visually appealing-  The first step is creating a site or app that is visually compelling to the audience.  There are plenty of apps or technologies that can do a task or process but are so plain or inconsistently designed that potential users won’t waste their time.  Colors that compliment or enhance the content are best.  Dashboards or other structural design elements are also important.
  • Intuitive- No one likes to have to read through lengthy instructions.  The app or technology needs to give users the ability to pick it up and use it.  People are on the go with their smart phones and don’t want to have to participate in hours of training.  The other thing is that you need some basic instructions easily visible with one click.  That gives a quick glimpse or how-to should people need it.
  • Makes you want to tell others to use- I remember when I really figured out how to use Twitter for business.  It was back in 2009 and I wanted to shout it from the rooftops.  I wanted to teach colleagues, share it with all my friends and stop strangers on the street to tell them how it could change their networking.  A great app will be one you’ll want to spread the word about.
  • Understood Value-  This is where many of the apps and technologies fall apart.  Take Yo! for example.  It was colorful and easy to start using.  I just never figured out why people would use it.  If you’re not familiar, the app allows you to send the word “yo” to your contacts.  That’s it.  Then, they can send it back to you.  I guess it’s like the old FaceBook poke or like waving at someone across the room.  So a friend says “yo” at me…now what?  I still prefer a text, tweet or other method where I can use more than one word.

The last thing that I see as a value is a little more personal and certainly all opinion.  I think apps or technologies that do well long term also are not intended to be used for harming someone.  Some of the new apps being created encourage users to be passive aggressive, or even aggressive, in tearing down others.  As a parent, I am even more sensitive to those apps.  All social media can be used in this way, but some are specifically designed for this purpose.

What makes an app or new site “sticky” from your perspective?  What apps are you using regularly that we should all know about?  Be sure to share in the comments.

 

 

9 Tips For Providing a Better Vendor Demo

*From the dusty archives…

If you’ve worked in the business world for any length of time, no doubt you’ve experienced sitting through vendor demos at some point.  Sometimes, the very idea of using new software is so attractive it masks the boring aspects of the demo.  Other times, if you’re talking with a number of vendors, it becomes a time consuming chore to sit through all the demos and you find your mind wandering as the salesperson drones on and on.

I was in that position this week.

With that in mind, I pulled together 9 tips that will lead to greater success and engagement with potential clients:

  • Don’t talk over the client-  This should go without saying, but salespeople do this all the time.  Just because you are using a go-to meeting, skype or other online tool, make sure you are allowing the client time to speak and ask questions.
  • Plan in advance who will cover each slide-  It appears disorganized if there are multiple presenters and you speak over each other or if you put the next slide up and no one speaks.
  • Don’t use acronyms unless you describe them-  Assuming the potential client knows your industry lingo is arrogant.  Best not to use the acronyms.
  • Ask questions-  Build them into your presentation in order to engage the client.  This could be through polls or other types of voting.
  • Don’t use small font–  Make sure that if you have words on a slide that the client can read it.  If your font is too small, you’ll frustrate and lose the potential client.
  • Put the name of your company on every slide-  Better yet, add your name or the company Twitter handle to every slide in the header or footer.  Once you’re sitting in your 3rd or 4th demo, it’s easy to forget which company you’re reviewing.
  • Use alternative presentation options-  Stand out from your competition by getting creative with Prezi or Sliderocket.
  • Tailor your presentation to the country of the client’s organization-  If your company is headquartered in another country, convert your information to the client’s country.  This includes units of measure or currency.  Don’t make the potential client try to convert the number as you’re presenting.

The final tip is the most important….Ask for the business!

Swamped? Take The Time Management Quiz

Writing time seems hard to come by lately.  Combine the extra time at work, traveling to speaking engagements and busy schedule at home and there is barely time for eating and sleeping.  Do you ever have times like this?  Well, when I do, my mind begins racing to think about changes I can make to bring it all back into a reasonable pace.  I’m not alone.  clock

When I think about what contributes to the feeling of being overwhelmed, it is definitely the volume of work that comes through email.  As recently as fifteen to twenty years ago, a majority of work was coming through personal phone calls or actual conversations in person.  It has been over recent years that email requests add to the workload of knowledge workers.  That, combined with the other methods of requests, make cramming more responses into each day.

The solution goes back to setting time management goals for yourself.  I found a great tool to help me, and you, get to the analysis of what causes the most time management issues.  It also provides resources to help get you on track dealing with those problem areas.

Mind Tools- Time Management Quiz

I’ve also thought about what the work pace would look like if I only responded to email requests by making a return phone call.  That would certainly slow down the pace and give a more personal response.  Only problem with that is that there would be hundreds of email left unanswered for days.  Not a good solution.  I’ve also thought about limiting my schedule to no more than 3 meetings each day so that there remains time to actually work on projects.  I am still considering how realistic that would be.

So, what do you do?

What techniques do you use when your schedule is out of control?  Be sure to share in the comments.