Infographic Nirvana

I love a good infographic. I love the way they help to make sense of often quite complex data and information through very simple visual cues. They turn numbers into stories; and when you are innumerate like me that is a big deal. They are also brilliant at showing progression, growth, and history in an informative, engaging and sometimes witty way. Like any good story, they can touch your emotions in a way that numbers and data can’t. Well, for me anyway.

I particularly like the way that infographics tend to be non-linear. There are no pages to turn; you just keep scrolling down the screen revealing fresh content as you go. This is a very comfortable and familiar experience for digital natives, who can take in a lot of information very quickly this way.

One of my favourite examples of a good infographic design is this one created by www.kleptocracy.us to provide a visualisation of American debt. Setting politics aside for one moment, one can’t help but admire the way the artist has illustrated the scale of an almost unimaginable quantity of dollars.

I’m actually looking closely at the art of infographic design at the moment as I’d like to use this technique to illustrate the incredible 10 year history of the company I work for, combining internal corporate milestones with external customer facing highlights.

Rather than attempting to grab people’s attention with pages and pages of traditional text, I think a good infographic could tell our amazing story in a few moments. When you are competing for peoples’ attention against the pressures their day jobs, this is an attractive option.

Another increasing trend I have noticed is that of animated infographics. This is quite a cute example that charts the history of the iPhone. I think the music helps as well.


I haven’t yet come across any public examples of infographics being used by Internal Communicators. Given the benefits I have described, surely there must be companies out there using them to help staff digest complex organisational data?

What do you think?

Trust me, I’m a CEO

The essence of a great place to work is trust. Thirty years of experience working with the most successful organisations in the world leads the Great Place to Work Institute to conclude that the foundation of every great workplace is trust between employees and management.

In another interview with Erin Lieberman Moran of the Great Place To Work Institute, Mark Ragan recently asked about the role of social media today in Internal Communications. Erin’s response was that the best companies are using it to enhance and strengthen workplace relationships. She went on to say:

“In lousy workplaces, organisations are monitoring the blogs to make sure that there aren’t human resource violations. In high trust environments where leaders trust the people that work within the organisation, they are just letting those conversations continue because there is an understanding and an appreciation that by opening up those vehicles they have insight into what people are thinking and experiencing.”

My regular readers will not be surprised that I concur.

These conversations will still be happening. Employees with an axe to grind will still hold court in the coffee room or the corridor. It’s just that the leadership team won’t have the benefit of knowing about them nor the opportunity to engage with the issues.

Earlier this year, Giam Swiegers, CEO of Deloitte Australia gave a fascinating interview on the use of Yammer within his organisation. Among other things, it gives him the opportunity to personally engage with people out in the open, not only to challenge misconceptions but also to accept responsibility for organisational shortcomings and take speedy remedial action. It’s worth a watch if you are interested in this stuff.


It seems to me that this kind of leadership approach must make a positive contribution to the creation of a high trust environment in the workplace. I’d love to hear from any Deliotte people who could provide any insight into how much emotional credit Giam has managed to accumulate through his approach to Social Media.

Social Media is not everyone’s cup of tea and in my opinion it can only ever be part of a multi-channel approach to employee communications. In some respects the real value of encouraging staff to blog and contribute to cross functional discussions using tools like Yammer is as much symbolic as it is practical.

As long as they are trusted to do so without heavy policing and censorship.

Work must have value

I have studied employee engagement ever since I got into Internal Communications. That’s why we do it right? Never before have I been struck by the simplicity and poignancy of a single statement in all my reading on the subject:

“The engaged stay for what they can give. The disengaged stay for what they can get.”

I picked it up on Twitter via @adamparnes who had just blogged about his experience at a National Geographic forum he had attended which had been facilitated by Leadership Development consultants Blessing White. The trail led me to Blessing White’s 2011 Employee Engagement Report. Do yourself a favour – read it!

The concept of recognition is not new. Every study on employee engagement ever made will mention recognition as a key driver of positive behaviour. However, I haven’t seen many that focus on the value of work. Gallup touch on it in their 12 Elements of Great Management, where I recall the phrase “money without meaning is not enough compensation” however the context was more around working for a company that has a noble cause and a vision that inspires.

What I love about “The engaged stay for what they can give” is the focus on individual contribution. If you feel that your own endeavours add real value to the company and are contributing to its success your motivation levels will be sky high and you are likely to hang up pretty quickly next time that pesky recruiter calls.

On the contrary, no matter how much love and loyalty you feel towards your company, if the work you are being asked or allowed to do does not feel valuable, no amount of money, free lunches, great benefits, table football or sleeping pods will keep you there for too long. And if it does, that’s where the rot sets in.

Work must have meaning. It must have value. If the meaning and value disappears you begin to tread water. OK, you are still motivated by the rewards for doing that job and you still do your job. You even look busy a lot of the time. But the days drag on and your main focus becomes the clock on the wall. You tune out. Discretionary effort goes out of the window, and in no time your increasing disillusionment turns to bitterness and you begin to sap the energy of those around you.

It’s simple. The secret of driving employee engagement lies in matching the operational and strategic needs of the business with the individual skills, interests and aspirations of each employee so that everyone feels that the work they do has value.

This was beautifully illustrated in last week’s episode of Downton Abbey in the following exchange between Mrs Isobel Crawley and Lady Grantham:

“If I am not appreciated here I will seek some other place where I will make a difference. I mean it. I cannot operate where I am not valued. You must see that.”

Blimey – I never thought I’d end up quoting a popular period drama to make an intellectual point about employee engagement…

How do you make people laugh?

I’m a really funny guy. I’m not joking – I’m truly hilarious.

I have developed very successful strategies for making people laugh. I fully understand the dynamics of the chortle. When I tell a joke I deliver the key elements perfectly every time. Without fail.

I lay the foundations and set the scene so perfectly that when I deliver the punch line it has everyone laughing their heads off.  And if I don’t deploy the element of surprise, I’m a master at dropping in a spot of exaggeration or a beautifully observed piece of irony. Believe me, I really am very funny.

Convinced? No, of course you’re not.  You think I’m a bit of a twat who thinks he is funny and is clearly anything but.

The moral of my story? If you want to make people laugh, don’t keep telling them how funny you are, start telling jokes.

OK, let’s change the question a little. How do you make people feel engaged?

Can you see where I’m going with this?

If you want to make people feel engaged, don’t keep telling them what a great employer you are, start engaging them.

Precisely how you do that will differ from person to person, office to office, city to city, and country to country. You probably don’t want to start telling Jewish jokes in downtown Tel Aviv or Irish jokes in deepest Dublin.

However, there are some universal truths in employee engagement, like respect, trust, openness and recognition. So don’t keep telling people you are going to trust them, or treat them with respect. Just do it.

Q:  When is the worst time to have a heart attack?

A:  When it’s your go in a game of charades.

A nice cup of e and a biscuit

Office workers who walk away from their desk to make a cuppa or have a chat with a colleague – even those who sneak out for the occasional ciggy are not robbing their employer of wages.

The idea that presenteeism should be used a baseline for productivity is not just crazy, it is pernicious. Peddlers of such nonsense need to be put straight immediately to stop them causing any more damage to their companies.

Most employers accept this and don’t seek to curtail it. They realise that short regular breaks are good for maintaining focus and mental agility. Unlike the occasional piece of ludicrous ‘research’ there is simply nothing to be gained by adding up the time taken by employees to clear their heads and regain focus.

However, remove the tea from the equation and all of a sudden, things look somewhat different.

Tea breaks pale into insignificance when compared to eBreaks. One survey last year suggests that nearly 2 million British workers spend over an hour every day on social media websites. More than half of the UK’s working population now accesses social media whilst at work, with a third of those (roughly six million) are spending more than 30 minutes on the likes of Facebook and Twitter.

Is this any worse than the good old fashioned tea break? Clearly many employers think so. According the Mark Ragan, 57% of US companies block employee access to social media sites like Facebook, Twitter and YouTube. But I bet they don’t have such issues with the humble tea break.

Well I think they are making the wrong call – and so does the Great Place to Work Institute. The essence of a great place to work is trust. Thirty years of experience working with the most successful organisations in the world leads the Institute to conclude that the foundation of every great workplace is trust between employees and management.

The organisational and financial benefits to any organisation of being a high trust environment are well documented. Companies that appear in the annual 100 Great Places to Work consistently outperform their peers. And according to Erin Lieberman Moran, senior VP at the Great Places to Work Institute, these companies are not blocking staff access to social media.

In a recent interview with Ragan Lieberman Moran says:

“If you are hiring great talent then you need to trust them to make the right decisions. If you’re holding them accountable to their performance, when and how they get their work done should be less important than the actual results they are delivering to the organisation”.

Brings us back to presenteeism. If you trust people and manage them well – and by that I mean keep them busy with challenging and meaningful work – their value should be measured by their results not by their presence.

I take quite a few eBreaks during my working day. OK, so my working day may be extended by a few hours beyond those stipulated in my contract in order to ensure my work never suffers, but that is my choice and quite frankly, I would not have it any other way.

I love my job, I love my profession and I love my company. Without my regular eBreaks, I suspect I’d find it difficult to maintain this level of intensity and I’m sure our relationship would suffer.

Customer Service Shocker

Last Friday I ordered a printed T shirt online from www.garmentprinting.co.uk

I have encountered poor customer service before – I’m sure we all have. But have you ever seen a company willing to record such a shocking attitude towards their customer in writing?

My experience when ordering a printed T Shirt online last week surely takes the biscuit.

First an email chronology to set the scene:

11:04 – my online request for a quote is acknowledged
11:09 – confirmation that same day service can be achieved
11:38 – quote received
11:57 – order acknowledged and invoice for “Printing x 1 GD31 – Mens Polo Shirt” received
12:33 – link to approve design & artwork received
12:40 – acknowledgement of my approval received
12:54 – email received providing details of where and when to collect my order

All very good up until this point. Then things took a turn for the worse.

Enter Garment Printing’s Gavin Drake (@garmentprinting on Twitter).


From: Jon Weedon
Date: Fri, Jul 1, 2011 at 1:12 PM
Subject: Re: Garment Printing – Visual Proof – Jon Weedon – Order Ref: GP 5262
To: Garment Printing <sales.team@garmentprinting.co.uk>

Hi there

I just noticed from the visual this is a crew neck. I’m sure I ordered a polo! Is it too late to change?

Jon

Sent from my iPhone


From: Garment Printing – Sales Team <sales.team@garmentprinting.co.uk>
Date: Fri, Jul 1, 2011 at 1:21 PM
Subject: Re: Garment Printing – Visual Proof – Jon Weedon – Order Ref: GP 5262
To: Jon Weedon

I stated that we only has the ability to do tshirts in the quote and in the emails

Thats all we can do, so sorry you missed this bit of info and yes its already gone to process and print

Sorry

Gavin Drake
Garment Printing
http://www.garmentprinting.co.uk
A “Print This Print That” Company


From: Jon Weedon
Date: Fri, Jul 1, 2011 at 2:20 PM
Subject: Re: Garment Printing – Visual Proof – Jon Weedon – Order Ref: GP 5262
To: Garment Printing – Sales Team <sales.team@garmentprinting.co.uk>

No worries I missed that as I’m on my iPhone. All good,

Jon

Sent from my iPhone


From: Jon Weedon
Date: Fri, Jul 1, 2011 at 2:51 PM
Subject: Re: Garment Printing – Visual Proof – Jon Weedon – Order Ref: GP 5262
To: Garment Printing – Sales Team <sales.team@garmentprinting.co.uk>

Hi Gavin

Now that I’m back at my PC I have checked all of the emails including the quote and cannot see any mention of T shirt versus Polo. Am I missing something?

Jon


From: Garment Printing – Sales Team <sales.team@garmentprinting.co.uk>
Date: Fri, Jul 1, 2011 at 2:54 PM
Subject: Re: Garment Printing – Visual Proof – Jon Weedon – Order Ref: GP 5262
To: Jon Weedon

look at original quote

Gavin Drake
Garment Printing
http://www.garmentprinting.co.uk
A “Print This Print That” Company


From: Garment Printing <sales.team@garmentprinting.co.uk>
Date: Fri, Jul 1, 2011 at 2:56 PM
Subject: Garment Printing – Jon Weedon – Ref: GP 5262�
To: Jon Weedon

I sent you this at the very beginning before any quote

Hello Jon Weedon,

We can supply a tshirt today, printed in our Kingston Print House

Can you collect from there.

Otherwise its £20 for the top + same day delivery

Many thanks,

Garment Printing
www.garmentprinting.co.uk


From: Jon Weedon
Date: Fri, Jul 1, 2011 at 3:38 PM
Subject: Re: Garment Printing – Jon Weedon – Ref: GP 5262�
To: Garment Printing <sales.team@garmentprinting.co.uk>

Ah I see. Very subtle! Not exactly “I stated that we only has the ability to do tshirts in the quote and in the emails” is it?

May I suggest next time you spell it out with a bit more clarity rather than seeking to blame your customers for missing the info.

Anyway, thanks for getting this done so quickly.

Jon


From: Garment Printing – Sales Team <sales.team@garmentprinting.co.uk>
Date: Fri, Jul 1, 2011 at 3:42
Subject: Re: Garment Printing – Jon Weedon – Ref: GP 5262�
To: Jon Weedon

OK

look at your quote.

its says £25 (black tshirt)

I think it was clear and thanks for your feedback

Gavin Drake

Garment Printing
http://www.garmentprinting.co.uk
A “Print This Print That” Company


From: Jon Weedon
Date: Fri, Jul 1, 2011 at 4:08 PM
Subject: Re: Garment Printing – Jon Weedon – Ref: GP 5262�
To: Garment Printing – Sales Team <sales.team@garmentprinting.co.uk>

You are missing the point here.

A t shirt to most people is a generic term that could include a crew neck, V neck, polo whatever. I’m not really interested in whether you think your communication was clear – the fact that as a customer I am saying it was not clear should be all you need to concern yourself with so you can avoid future misunderstandings.

Anyway, your attitude alone is such that I will not be using your services again.

Shame because I am genuinely happy with everything else you guys have done for me today.

Regards,

Jon


From: Garment Printing – Sales Team <sales.team@garmentprinting.co.uk>
Date: Fri, Jul 1, 2011 at 4:15 PM
Subject: Re: Garment Printing – Jon Weedon – Ref: GP 5262�
To: Jon Weedon

are you having a bad day?

Gavin Drake
Garment Printing
http://www.garmentprinting.co.uk
A “Print This Print That” Company


From: Jon Weedon
Date: Fri, Jul 1, 2011 at 5:09 PM
Subject: Re: Garment Printing – Jon Weedon – Ref: GP 5262�
To: Garment Printing – Sales Team <sales.team@garmentprinting.co.uk>

Yes actually. Got to Mark’s and the T shirt was not ready. Have to go back in half an hour. Still, no doubt that does not warrant an apology either.

All the best,

Jon


By the time I got back from my second visit to Garment Printing’s local agent I guess Gavin had gone home for the weekend as the communication ceased.

“are you having a bad day?” – can you believe that?

Censorship feeds the dirty mind more than the ‘f’ word ever will

Believe it or not there are still companies out there that lack the confidence to allow staff to participate in open conversation through internal forums, blogs or just simple comment functionality on the intranet.

The majority – those that have embraced the joys of Web 2.0 internally (or Intranet 2.0 if you want to be really picky) are reporting plenty of beneficial returns; cross functional collaboration, increased knowledge flow, faster communication, better decision making, more innovation, less duplication of effort, improved allocation of resources – I could go on…

Obviously this has also been my own experience, otherwise I wouldn’t be banging on about it. I have also noticed how user generated comments attached to internal news stories drives more traffic than a catchy headline, a funky picture or a high profile author. And as an intranet manager, footfall and engagement with your content is what it’s all about.

At the same time even some of the most enlightened senior executives harbour fears about the risk of a rogue (or stupid) employee posting commercially sensitive, abusive, disloyal, defamatory or otherwise inappropriate content if left to their own devices. Accompanying this is the perception that moderation and even censorship is the best way to mitigate such risk.

Well I don’t think so.

Nothing puts the brakes on a vibrant online community more than heavy moderation and censorship. Believe me, the comments will just dry up. Not just that, but censorship feeds the dirty mind more than the ‘f’ word ever will. Similarly, if you try and suppress a story which is freely available externally you just fan the flames of gossip, conjecture, fear and discontent.

For me it’s all about trusting staff to act responsibly and professionally. I have managed internal communities with hundreds of contributors discussing thousands of topics, which are not always business related either. Most of them are, but if the occasional bit of frippery and banter creeps in, great. It shows we are all human.

And occasionally when someone pops their head above the parapet and dangerously exposes themselves – good! There’s no hiding from the public display of their idiocy and they deserve what they get when the rest of the community deals with their transgression. As well of course the HR team if it’s that bad.

I have seen time and time again that when you trust staff and empower them to take full responsibility for their words and actions they respond by moderating their own behaviour. Those that don’t and choose to abuse the privilege are arses. They are loose cannons and you don’t really want them around anyway.

It is naive in the extreme to expect you can suppress negative sentiment by banning it. Just because you prevent someone from infecting the rest of the workforce with their cynicism or vitriol by not giving them the tools and channels to use does not mean they are not doing exactly that behind your back. Of course they are – only you never get see or hear about it. There are plenty of other outlets and opportunities for detractors to detract that are wholly outside of the organisation’s control.

Heavy moderation and censorship just shows that you prefer to bury your head in the sand rather than listen to your staff and act on their feedback, and this situation just gives your detractors more to complain about.

Of course there needs to be rules around individual conduct on internal (and external!) message boards and forums. You need a strong policy that actively encourages participation, but within reasonable boundaries. Everyone needs to know that their use of such channels is valued and encouraged, but that where they cross the line and expose the company to legal, reputational or commercial risk, they must know that they face the full force of a robust disciplinary process.

So here is my shopping list for your basic needs:

  • A decent application which is easy to use, looks good and is secure
  • A well written social media policy
  • Integration with Active Directory to enable single sign-on and prevent anonymity
  • Some digitally active early adopters
  • A few senior executives prepared to lead by example
  • Thick skin, coz it won’t all be plain sailing

Have I missed anything?

A Lesson in Customer Service

I have a bit of a thing about customer service. For me it is the be all and end all of business success. Poor customer service can kill a killer product and great customer service can flatter a flat product.

Mr Whiteley

I experienced some sublime customer experience the other day from an unexpected source. You don’t often associate customer service with a school. My eldest daughter’s Business Studies teacher changed all that for me. Last Saturday he demonstrated his unquestionable right to teach Business Studies. Not because he is an excellent teacher or because he has the relevant academic qualifications, but because he gets customer service.

Jessica had a hard week last week. She struggled with a couple of mock Business Studies AS Level exams, despite her teacher’s best endeavours in recent weeks to support her with extra tuition sessions during his lunch breaks. She managed 50% in paper 1 and felt that her performance in paper 2 (which had not yet been marked) was worse. There were tears of disappointment and frustration. Bless her, she tries so hard, but sadly endeavour does not always translate into achievement. With the real exams just two weeks away, we were all resigned to a tough weekend ahead.

And then I bumped into her teacher during an open day at the school on Saturday morning and we got talking. He was very receptive, positive and above all, caring. He said some lovely things about my daughter, in particular about her desire to learn and participate in class.

He had not yet marked the 2nd paper so was unable to comment on Jessica’s specific fears about her poor performance at the time. He showed me a list of older pupils that had faced similar difficulties with the subject at the same stage, who had subsequently gone on to attain the required grades to attend their preferred universities. By the time we had finished I was touched and reassured in equal measure.

When I returned home less than an hour later I found an email from him in my inbox stating that he had just marked the second paper and he wanted us to know that Jessica had done better than expected. He wanted us to know so that the anticipated dark cloud hanging over our weekend could be somewhat lifted.

His actions, before, during and after our chance meeting show me he is a dedicated and very engaged employee. His personal and professional pride makes him a seriously valuable asset to the school. It is precisely behaviour that like this that will attract unsolicited recommendation and advocacy from pupils and parents alike. Not to mention ensuring that his pupils achieve the best they could possibly hope for in their exams.

Mr Whiteley I salute you. I am very grateful for the care, support and encouragement you give our daughter.

Baby steps not big leaps

Baby stepsI spend a fair bit of time studying behaviour change. After all, as an Internal Communications specialist that’s what it’s all about. When you are in broadcast mode the whole point of communicating is to create or contribute to some effect on behaviour.

We don’t just talk because we like the sound of our own voice. We talk to make people feel better. We talk to make people understand things. We talk to influence people and we talk to prompt people into action. We talk because we want people to tell us what they think. 

There should always be an objective when we talk. So to be a good Internal Communicator we need to fully understand the effect our broadcast communications have on those they are aimed at.

I often come across tips, lists and guidance on good practice in behaviour (and/or culture) change and always find myself agreeing with some of it and disagreeing with some of it. Everyone has their own views based on their own learnings and experience.

Rarely have I bumped into such sound advice as this. It’s only 10 slides but each one is a gem. My thanks go to Stanford University’s beautifully monikered Persuasive Tech Lab for sharing!

I chose to name this piece Baby steps not big leaps as this rule in particular represents for me the most important of all of the 10 commandments of successful change.  Thou shalt seek small incremental successes.

It’s why I named this blog Riding the Ripple and not Surfing the Tsunami

Asda’s Green Room re-visited

This time last year I scribbled down a few thoughts on Asda’s Green Room, a website where Asda staff can get together to find out what’s happening around the company as well as share their own stories, pictures and videos.

What makes the Green Room so special is that whilst most companies do this kind of thing, very few do so in public. There’s no hiding behind the corporate firewall here.  Customers, shareholders, media, rivals – in fact anyone with a passing interest in Asda can visit the site and have their say.

So when I heard that the Green Room had a makeover last week I rushed back to pay a visit – and I must say it looks amazing.

The new homepage is very easy on the eye and packed with attractive hooks to draw you deeper into some great content.  Additional functionality has been added to make it easier to submit comments, upload and preview pictures, and receive progress information on both.

New design elements have enhanced navigation around the site as well as point you to other linked resources like the Green Room’s Facebook page and Twitter feed. I really really like what they have done.

I said some pretty negative things last time round about my disappointment at the lack of obvious staff interaction with the site. I’m pleased to say things have improved on that front.

There was a lovely news piece from early December where Asda President and CEO Andy Clarke thanked staff for their Herculean efforts in keeping the business going during the extreme weather conditions, in short informal video. This in turn attracted a bunch of comments from staff and customers, telling their own stories of braving the Arctic conditions.

If I were to be really picky (which obviously I am!) I’d have loved to have seen a follow-up comment from Andy Clarke in the thread acknowledging the stories, in particular the comment from an Asda customer who explains why the residents of Slack Head in Beetham are “very lucky to have one of your employees in our community”. This kind of content is priceless. But only if people are reading it.

There is still a lot of work to be done to make the Green Room the runaway success it deserves to be. Despite improvements, levels of engagement with staff are still patchy. Most of the news stories don’t seem to attract comments, including one where the company announced it had raised £4m last year for partner charity Tickled Pink. Another story about a member of staff who had just won £5.6m on the National Lottery attracted a single solitary comment.

The same lack of engagement is reflected on Facebook, where since the beginning of December, the 30-odd posts on the Green Room wall have attracted just 4 comments.

The next step for the Green Room team has to be off-line.

The on-line offering is more than fit for purpose. It is actually bloody good. What is needed now is awareness, education, and encouragement.  Staff need to be encouraged and empowered to get involved. The easy bit has been done – the hard bit starts now.

The key to success in my opinion will be getting the entire management community to lead by example. They need to demonstrate through their own actions that engaging with the Green Room is not just permitted, but genuinely encouraged.