Thursday, January 25, 2018

Not For Profit: A lesson Learned

He looked at me and said: “No, while those objectives
 are all admirable – your one most important objective
 is to – find your replacement.”
I have served as senior decision maker (president) for two “Not for Profit” organizations for a total of more than 10 years. For me, it was a way of giving back and contributing in my community.  While the rewards of contributing, working with like-minded altruistic professionals and helping change people lives was great – I learned a very important lesson that I would like to pass along should you be considering participating in a not for profit organization in any decision making capacity.

The situation unfolded some 8 years ago when I chose to take on the position of president for a not for profit organization.  I really had no experience but I wanted to find out more about what I was capable of and what I might be able to contribute.  After being elected to the position one of Board of Directors approached me privately and asked “What do you think your primary objective should be?” After a bit of thought I regurgitated the usual objectives, including some “boiler plate” mission statement objectives that the organization was committed to.

My initial thoughts on the question, suggested that perhaps this senior Board Member, who had a great deal of experience on many prestigious Boards of Directors was not confident in my abilities and was perhaps testing me in some way. After my response (and I am paraphrasing here) he said quietly “No, while those objectives are all admirable – your one most important objective is to – find your replacement.”  Now I was certain ….this person did not have a lot of confidence in my leadership abilities.  At that point he turned and walked away and he did not say another word…nor did I have any chance to ask about what the comment meant. I felt terrible…my first day as president of this Not For Profit…and I was being asked to seek my replacement as quickly as possible.

At this point I decided to make the best of it and keep a stiff upper lip and continue.  Months passed and I attended a number of in-person and teleconference meetings in my new position and did not have any occasion to find out more about the comment. A year passed and I was asked to take on a second Not for Profit senior decision making position – and in spite of my misgivings I accepted this position; and now I was President of two organizations.

 In the handling my responsibilities of this second more demanding positon I gradually began to understand what the comment had meant. As I continued in my responsibilities I oversaw many changes to both organizations and years passed I began thinking about how I could relieve myself of at least one if not both of these demanding positions.  I was working full time as an entrepreneur, our family was growing and changing, responsibilities for each organization was becoming more intense and I needed an exit strategy. 

Now that comment began to make sense - and I decided to put the question directly to the person who had originally posed it to me, “What did you mean when you told me I had to focus on planning for my replacement?” He smiled and he started by fist telling me what a great job I was doing and then went on to tell me, on the many boards he had served on he had learned one thing, that senior board positions are difficult to fill and if I wanted someone to carry on with the strategic process I had started I needed to find and put in place several people who I felt might one day be able to step into my shoes.

Suddenly it all made sense, for several years I had been second guessing myself and I finally realized that  this has just been a piece of advice from someone who understand the burden of leadership and what it takes to carry on the important work of not for profits.  I understood in that moment it takes time and effort to create a succession plan that would allow for seamless transition in leadership. 

I have since left both organizations and passed on the mantle of leadership to capable leaders who have worked to improve the reality for each of these organizations.  I have not forgotten this important lesson and I often see it play out in those I connect with in my everyday business experience – leaders doing great work who have not thought ahead to the day when they want to reduce their role and have a capable replacement  to carry on the important work of their organization.

Monday, November 13, 2017

E Learning Buy-in: Getting your staff Engaged

Check out the 11 steps you can take to improve the
potential  success of your eLearning implementation
E-Learning like most training and knowledge transfer initiatives demands planning and careful implementation. Often, the audience is the last consideration in the process and few if any audience marketing, achievement reward programs, audience feedback or engagement tracking is implemented as part of the plan.

I have been witness to several implementation programs within small and large organizations that have failed miserably. In one case we developed a program that was launched to reach 10,000 employees. There are few statistics (since organizations rarely share such information) and developers are not asked to participate or offer any meaningful input into the distribution process of eLearning within an organization.

Herein lies the problem; organizations form management and administrative bodies across disciplines, departments and regional divisions etc. The penchant for administrative protocol creates a lack of communication so that these bodies focus more attention on process rather than on results.

Since eLearning has been designed to by accessed anywhere, anytime, understanding and catering to personal and professional lives plays an important role in determining how we engage learners. Management and administrative bodies do not consider this and assume (wrongly) that if we create program learners will be forced to participate since they are employees of the company or organization. .  What they fail to understand is that learning is not a forced exercise that automatically engages learners and creates retention and the willingness to apply that learning in their work experience. It is often seen as many company initiatives are a well-intentioned exercise that is not really designed for “me”, the very person we are trying to reach.

Creating and incentive and an understanding of what the eLearning program hopes to achieve and how each employee (or better yet “person”), if they play their part can contribute to the success and rewarding that success both personal and organizationally are what can make the difference between success and failure.

Alright…so we have created a case for incentivizing eLearning for employee buy in; so how do we go about doing it? This is a complex topic that demands an understanding of the work environment, the learner’s demographic profile, personal worker preferences and the organization’s ability to commit to a longer term and a consistent implementation process that seeks to respond to learner needs. 

Having said this, I can provide a basic bullet point list of issues to consider and steps to take, in no particular order:

  1. Think about implementation in terms of advertising. Get the word out in a creative and engaging way
  2. Involve the learners in the process of advertising; coming up with creative ideas for its implementation gives them ownership and they become invested in the process
  3. Get third party input. This could take the form of the eLearning developer, internal communication resources, advertising agency, etc.
  4. Repeat the “getting the word out” process throughout the implementation and distribution process. Before, during and after
  5. Promote the reward process and how and how individuals and the organization have benefited
  6. Tell personal stories and provide statistical evidence on the program’s success or “lack thereof”
  7. Track and share engagement statistics.
  8. Define and beginning and an end to the implementation process. Leaving it open ended suggests that it is not important
  9. When as organization meets organized resistance, i.e., unions,  go back to more communications with employees  because you probably have not created enough incentive for them to fully participate or understand its value
  10.  Use learner surveys, feedback meetings, webinars, etc., and follow up opportunities to  get feedback on  what worked and what didn’t
  11. Last but not least, act on the feedback provided. You don’t have to act on every suggestion but you do want to  let your learners know you are listening and genuinely want this to work

Thursday, October 26, 2017

Wait! make Your Next Decision

"Waiting often brings new ideas and
 solutions to the table when considering a
 problem in the decision making process."
Decision making - “One guiding Principal that Rules them All “ ( Lord of the Rings nod there is you didn’t get it).  I don’t have 8 steps to being a more effective leader, or 10 tips to becoming more successful – I use just one simple idea in my decision making. Perhaps a little short sighted you might say, even a little simplistic – but frankly this strategy has proven to be a life saver and I am going to share it with you and you don’t even have to attend a workshop, arrange for a free consultation or visit my website to get this info!

After all that…the idea is pretty simple – wait, just wait longer to make your decision. People are driven to make decisions sooner than necessary most of the time. In this fast paced and hectic business world there is a need to get things done now – we are driven by constant communication, short work cycles, management demands and competing special interest groups to make immediate decisions.  

In many ways we have gradually contributed greatly to the need to make decisions quickly for gen x and now gen y decision makers because of technology  and the rise of more immediate communication - but we haven’t provided the mentoring and insight necessary to understand the anatomy of decision making.

Scale is an important decisions when applying the wait and see approach to decision making. Clearly you can’t wait for weeks when a decision has to be made by tomorrow morning. I use a simple understanding of the scale of decision making to inform the decision making process. If the decision is considered an immediate demand, i.e., in the next few minutes, hours or days, decisions if properly considered may take hours, days or weeks given the same scale of decision making.

Of course the all-important question, why wait?  Waiting often brings new ideas and solutions to the table when considering a problem in the decision making process. Additionally, the loudest and most pressing solution is not always the best path – often we need time and space to reflect on a decision and its implications. And, of course many problems that demand immediate decision making often resolve themselves given time; sometimes through innovation and other times through the thoughtful solutions from team members and subordinates.  

I am sorry I can’t think of a more common analogy for the thought process around waiting to make a decision but the idea of baseball,  and the batter waiting patiently in his batter’s box as a pitch arrives makes sense to me. In that moment the batter must make an immediate decision. As decisions become more meaningful late in games or important playoff situations batters are often said to wait on the pitch longer, allowing it to travel further. They may not hit it as hard but they are less likely to make an out. The batter stands back and tries to create more space to give him or herself more time to decide to make contact or not.  This additional time in the batter’s box makes the difference between average and great decision making.

Don’t get me wrong, you can still make quick decisions and be successful, but this demands a greater degree of skill, in my opinion, often demanding considerable experience. Waiting and taking more time to make a thoughtful decision allows you to weigh more factors and consider alternatives that are difficult to fathom in the short term.

Thursday, August 10, 2017

Communicating Authentically

A million years of evolution has finely
honed our sensitivity to authenticity
Authenticity helps us determine the validity of information in every moment of our lives, whether it’s listening and watching people, reading body language, talking to people or simply absorbing signage, radio, TV or internet impressions. We use our “authenticity filter” to determine the value of information we are absorbing. It is a subliminal, autonomic response that we do not consciously control.

This automatic response provides us with clues about the authenticity of the source of these messages. A million years of evolution has finely honed our sensitivity to authenticity. While this authenticity filter applies to everything we experience, it is perhaps why and how some of us are more successful than others in life and business.

As small business owners and decision makers, we tend to trust a more calculating approach to marketing and sales. We spend a great deal of time addressing a divergent series of issues relating to company growth which often including sales and marketing, shewing how our company is represented in the marketplace. Unfortunately, a calculated approach rarely contributes to the authenticity of your sales and marketing message. 

Often times, we settle on predictable sales messages and we pack them in so that customers can’t really identify our products or services as unique. Authenticity contributes greatly to our unique brand and they help differentiate us and allow customers to create an emotional attachment to our products. Time and effort factor greatly into the process of authenticity because we only have so much time and our attention is often pulled in many directions.

Large businesses fare much better when creating authentic brands and messages, but only because they apply money, time and effort in the process. Small businesses tend to use the same decisions making process that has been successful in other areas of the business and authenticity is difficult to qualify and demands a significant investment in time and effort.

Small to intermediate size businesses would fare much better if they give credence and a higher priority to authenticity in their marketing and communication message. We have all seen small or startup companies do very well when they have an authentic message to deliver, by creating an emotional link to their product through authenticity. We marvel at their innovation and ingenuity and then promptly ignore considering authentic messages when we create our own marketing messages?
Another great characteristic of authenticity recognition is that it is common to all. It is not an attribute specific to any one demographic. If your message is authentic any audience can pick it up.

Perhaps, understanding and learning how to use this innate ability offers small business owners a real benefit when trying to craft authentic messages and brands. As a starting point I recommend reading Malcolm Gladwell’s book, Blink. It will help define this characteristic for you and provide evidence of its use and misuse. Among a number of theories he postulates, Malcolm talks about having too much information and how this can interfere with the clarity and authenticity of a message.

As business owners we sift through a great deal of information as we wear our many hats. Cultivating a process that commits time and effort to filtering out irrelevant and confusing information is an important part of creating an authentic brand or message. Sometimes, collecting more information only reinforces our more practical judgment. Gladwell explains that messages can be more authentic when they are the result of simple and frugal information.

The first step in making your message authentic, regardless of the medium, is to make it clear enough to make a decision on - without having to use a magnifying glass.

Monday, February 20, 2017

A Learning Strategy: Changing Workforce Demographics

Organizations tend to plan short term based on cyclical budget demands, year to year strategic plans, and the response to changes in governing regulations and the economic landscape. Typically, its learning strategies are not synchronized with the demographic profile of its learner groups.  This near-sighted approach in developing learning plans does not benefit an organization effectively or its need to have its employees, special interest groups and contractors understand its goals and objectives. Yes…you read correctly, each of these groups is the target of a well-planned learning strategy. Each group of learners within a learning strategy's audience may have unique learning styles, age differences, gender biases and ethnic makeup. The demographic makeup of our workforce is changing and we need to change our learning models to accommodate the changing face of workers.

As a result of the broad impact a learning strategy can have on an organization, learning strategies are and will be increasingly important for organizations as the pace of change and updates in knowledge and technology quicken. Ensuring that an organization can filter down knowledge to each of these groups will have an ever increasing bearing on its fortunes. Organizations, need to consider long term learning planning demands by developing a multi-faceted strategy that responds to different cultural, ethnic, gender and task specific requirements of each unique learning group.  Check out the labour force demographic makeup trend charts below to follow the changing workforce in the United States between 1976 and 2006.  One can only assume that the pace of change has picked up in recent years and is more pronounced in Canada.

Add caption

 In Canada, as in most regions around the world today we are experiencing shifts in labour population age, ethnicity and gender. This inevitable shift in cultural norms among our workforce means that knowledge transfer, to be effective, has to consider this in the delivery of knowledge. The United States Department of Labor for example, in its report “Trends and Challenges for Work in the 21st Century” show steady change in workforce makeup. Seniors, women and ethnic workers make up an increasingly larger portion of the workforce. This study has based on trend data captured between 1976 and 2006.

 How does this change long term planning strategies? I think that eLearning strategies must see the bigger picture. eLearning must be integrated into a process that considers different kinds of learning styles unique to each group based on their demographic makeup. I think it’s reasonably obvious that when you are planning learning, you must consider reflecting the nature of the group in the images and voices that are portrayed, but more than that the very nature of learning can sometimes be impacted by the medium.

Some examples of this might include indigenous subject matter. Traditionally, Inuit and First Nations have a history of oral storytelling with a strong influence of imagery. Planning unique learning programs that respects and consider these issues in developing subject matter can be the difference between a successful program and failure. Another example might include delivering knowledge to a work population that is more ethnically oriented. Using images, offering language versions, reflecting the ethnic makeup in your imagery and offering scheduled live support and feedback may make the learning program much more effective.

 It is understandable that this kind of development cycle and the support it demands will affect budgets, but this is why a long term strategy works in an organizations benefit, as costs and planning can be amortized over a longer period as the programs are rolled out. Tracking the effectiveness of these programs and how they can impact the fortunes and bottom line of an organization can help build a case for the additional costs and resources required to develop and implement a long term learning strategy.

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Reality TV Killed Video

This was Reality TV ( back in the day) before slick marketing
created a whole new industry and killed  "good" video  production
Before we get into this …. I have something to share...something that may not be obvious to everyone; reality TV is marketing term developed by the television industry to capitalize on the idea of authenticity.  In “reality” (sorry for the pun), reality TV is the same old TV we have been watching since the invention of television, with slicker production packaging. 

“Reality TV” has been in the pipeline since the 40’s. A couple of supposedly unscripted television show come to mind, how about  Allen Funt's hidden camera show or  Candid Camera shows that were produced in the 40s and 50s., or Mutual of Omaha's Wild Kingdom which aired from 1963 through 1988 with Marlin Perkins.

There are no television shows today that are shot without planning or a production crew in attendance guiding all the action. No one would spend the time and money to allow videotaping by setting up a scenario and allowing us to “just see what happens”. A friend recently told me he watches “Alone’ purportedly a reality TV show that pits man or woman against nature in a totally unscripted format. The show even claims “no television crew is present” in the making of this show. The reality is a cameraman is present not a crew; clever wording to be sure that gulls the viewer into the “willing suspension of disbelief”.

Now, having set up this premise, what does Realty TV have to do with modern video production for web sites, social media, corporate videos and events?  Well, I am glad you asked! Planning is everything, when producing videos. Scripting, storyboards, locations scouts, design, prepared on-camera talent, lighting and most recently a firm grasp of how to use new technology are essential to producing great video whether they are 10 seconds long or 10 minutes. Even someone shooting raw video has to plan, practice and prepare.

Reality TV has added a few tools to the video production tool chest in recent years but it still takes a lot of planning and creativity to allow a planned video to look authentic and un-rehearsed.  Just because you have a camera doesn’t mean you can produce great video.  Customers, especially corporate clients have been increasingly expecting the costs of production to be reduced as the proliferation of cameras and camera technology (such as drones) has increased.

While advances in video technology has reduced the cost of producing video there continues to be a significant cost for experienced , creative talent.  The cost of producing a “corporate” 10 minute video in the 80’s might have reached $ 100,000 using professional crews and talent. Today that same video might only cost $10,000 (but nobody is making 10 minute corporate videos today).  The problem is that organizations are trying to produce shorter videos today for next to nothing. In doing so they are eliminating the very thing that makes videos motivate people to buy their product or create a positive feeling about their brand. Powerful, well thought out video production that leverages creative talent and new technologies still has a cost; unfortunately, finding the right production partner to produce your video with the right blend of creative talent and technology is difficult to figure out when anybody can own a camera or a drone.  

Monday, February 6, 2017

Building an eLearning Strategy

Develop strategies that deal
with contractors, unionized
workers and salaried staff.
Over the past several years, eLearning has gradually been integrated into the knowledge transfer process of industry and government.  Unfortunately, the creation of most eLearning is usually based on a mix of existing internal programs originally developed as print, web and video; or they simply buy an available eLearning program from the open marketplace. Organizations simply take an existing program and, more often than not with some minor alterations, upload the content to an Learning Management System (LMS) with short term planning goals and budgetary restraints. In many cases they spend more time and money on selecting an LMS than they do on the actual content. Understanding how to build responsive and effective content is important when you consider asking employees to do some if not most of their training on personal time.

Additional resources, pre-testing, test quizzes; access to mentoring, cohort knowledge sharing, program feedback and a commitment to link outcomes to performance are all issues that typically are not addressed. These eLearning considerations and learning program strategies affect the learner’s ability to change behaviors or to incorporate knowledge into their practices and planning processes.

To be fair, budgets, union bargaining, lack of long term strategies, lack of experience and unsupported eLearning implementation provide some context for explaining why organizations simply choose the path of least resistance. For example an organization might upload PDFs with text and images; or existing PowerPoint presentations; or even use an interactive web site. There are many solutions out there that can meet "budgeted" learning demands of an organization but getting results requires more serious planning before eLearning content gets produced and implemented, even when content already exists. Don’t get me wrong, content that exists is important and a valuable asset that can be leveraged to reduce overall development costs and support comprehension.

The best way to address these and other considerations in eLearning planning and implementation is to develop a two pronged strategy before you ever consider content. First develop a long term plan (3 years) that seeks to integrate unionized employees (where applicable), contractors, regular hourly employees and salaried staff into the eLearning program incrementally.  Three years to integrate unionized staff is ambitious, when you consider the need to address concerns by their bargaining unit. And second, create incentives in the program to reward performance. This can be measured through peer review and annual performance reviews that track and document the comprehension and application of knowledge in day to day tasks.   These two considerations are challenging to implement, because they require all levels of management and employees or even contractors to be invested in the process.  

Once you have that plan documented and supported, next comes the production of content that is linked to comprehension and changes in behavior. Laying the planning foundation ensures you have the tools to more effectively implement eLearning within your organization.  Without it, we are simply spending a lot of money to provide yet another way for learners to forget or ignore what they have learned.