Are you drowning in email like me?

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Let me begin by caveating this post with two things. Firstly, What I say about my job, may not be what you say about yours. We all do different things. Second, I’m going to be ranting a lot about email in general and MS Outlook in particular. I know it’s the ‘reliable old plough horse’ of the corporate world, but there you go. Its not its fault per se. Its ours.

One of the characteristics of my jobs is dealing with a lot of ‘input’, and finding the right ‘output’.  Unlike previous roles, I don’t spend a lot of time preparing documents, dossiers or actually any tangible output like that.  I also don’t spend a lot of time in ‘workshops’. Not in the sense of a productive, challenging, useful workshop. We do have lots of ‘meetings’ though – but that’s another story.

A lot of the input I have comes ‘in’ in the form of email.  Other channels open to my colleagues are face to face, phone, instant chat, yammer, conference call;  You get the idea. nothing crazy, but several channels nonetheless. Most though, come in via email. perhaps 95%. Most ‘processing’ by me and others is done via email. Most outputs are done via email. Official notes, company notes, system updates come via email. I’m basically drowning in email.

So I started to wonder at how to fix this, and here’s where I’ve got to.

  1. Outlook rules:  Long overdue for me to get set up, my rules separate out the ‘on copy’ versus the ‘on copy but Richard is mentioned’.   Things direct to me, from another human get into the inbox.  Any calendar noise goes to a special folder, and other system announcements (like Yammer) of low value, but useful nonetheless go somewhere else. I wish Outlook could do more.
  2.  Maker Time:  I’ve tried to get this working.  I tried a Tuesday. Annoyingly the rest of the business world refuse to acknowledge some away time, so I’m trying Fridays. In general, having some time to ‘create’ and think up solutions to difficult problems helps me progress my role
  3. Mobile phone apps: Apart from phone calls, my smart phone apps don’t buzz me. If I go looking for them, there they are. They don’t go knocking on my brain.
  4. No email Friday mornings:  This one might get me fired, I don’t know. I’m going to switch off Outlook for Friday mornings, whilst setting an Out of Office (etc) to tell people to call me or IM me. I’m not not contactable, I’m just doing it different.
  5. Running and early starts. I run most mornings. On the work day morning I don’t run, I try to get in for 7am. This gives me the extra nudge to clear out emails and things that I’ve neglected to do.

There you go. No amazing new techniques, just a trial of things I think will work for me. If you too are drowning, the only advice I’d give is that there are many many suggestions about how to manage being more efficient and productive- but you’ll have to find things that fit with your job and your life.

I have a few questions about this:

  1. Why do systems/platforms and other non-humans ’email’ me? Surely there’s a better way by now?
  2. Why does my Outlook Calendar / MS Exchange insist on telling me useless information by email?  With a layer of basic Artificial Intelligence, it could relay the information about meeting invites, acceptances and so on via a different means, highlighting the useful stuff (x can’t make it, y has added a comment)
  3. Talking of AI, why can’t it handle getting in my diary in the first place, without having to even bother me?
  4. Is there a ‘collaboration platform’ out there centered around communication with a wide audience (who are NOT on the platform?)

My money is on Apple or Google fixing this part of my life soon. Hurry up. Email me.

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Why Brand Police?

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I get Branding. I understand why we stay ‘on brand’ if we’re facing the market place. That’s a ‘no brainer’.

I do wonder why Branding Teams are so forceful on each and every internal (and purely internal) pieces of work. I’m talking about times when you’re working on (perhaps) a team focused document, or something related to how your organisation runs, not its customers . These things will never be market facing (its not that kind of a thing).

The ‘rules’ would say you can’t do logos, can’t do strap lines and can’t stray from the clear brand rules. Why? What am I missing here?

I’ve experienced this in many if not most of the places I’ve worked and the clients I’ve been posted to.

Brand Guidelines

I suppose that enforcement:

  • Promotes a sense of togetherness
  • Creates internal documents/presentations which are slick and look like clean public facing collateral
  • Prevents dilution of the brand internally (does this matter?)

BUT:

  • It could stifle innovation
  • It doesn’t matter if its internal – why worry? And not all internal things ‘seep’ to the outside world – we’re not idiots in the workplace
  • It stops the individual initiatives within an organisation finding their own voice and being distinctive – it all blurs into the background noise we all get, which in a funny kind of a way DOES dilute the brand.

Topsy-Turvy hour

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Sometimes (OK Often-times) a blog is about stating the obvious.  I’m going to do that now.

I would like to introduce you to the concept of the ‘Topsy-Turvy Hour’.  Ever felt swamped by your rapidly expanding to-do list and inbox? When you’re at work, things come in to your inbox, then get superseded by other newer stuff and your feelings of frustration increase? You had intentions to deal with those things, but the here and now took over?

You’re working at 100 mph and like a frenetic bee, you just keep moving to the latest flower?

Well, worry no longer, as I present ‘Topsy-Turvy Hour’. Go ahead and stick it in your diary now. Re-occurring for ever.

The concept is simple and obvious. Every week (or interval of your choosing), for an hour, re-sort you inbox by (wait for it….) ‘oldest first’. Then tackle those emails and tasks for an hour. Cue satisfied feeling deep within.

BOOM. I know right? As the kids say ‘amazeballs’.

You heard it here first, or second.

Rant: Playing Games with me

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Right, and now for a rant.

I’ve always said that you should treat social media like real life. It is real life after all. You wouldn’t easily be scammed in the street by someone trying to get your bank details off you. You wouldn’t shout secrets out, or give random strangers pictures of your naked children. You just wouldn’t.

I tell you something else you wouldn’t do – you wouldn’t bump into an acquaintance you’ve maybe only met a few times, or worked with years ago and say “hey, wanna play this cool game with me?” “it’s called Candy Crush, and we can compete to get the highest score”.

ERR… NO!

A simple rule then: I will probably say no to most requests. I may say yes If I feel like we would naturally spend an afternoon playing a board game in a pub*, without it being odd. Otherwise its a no from me, you weirdo.

* I hardly go to pubs on afternoons, on any day of the week.

It’s not all me, me, me!

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Last week, I witnessed a cognitive bias at work. Several possibly.

I was facilitating an event with 17 others. It was just them and I, but not in an organisational sense. For the first time in my career I didn’t have the cushion of knowing that I was a step removed from what needed to be changed or transformed. This time it was my company, my department, my team.

We were discussing and formulating plans around our culture, how we communicate and interact and what skills we need to face the future. and a mass of other things.

It’s easy to assume that the folks attending probably didn’t want to be there. They probably didn’t care. I knew from talking to colleagues that a good few were keen to go, had something to say and would work on what we want to achieve (a better tomorrow, a better place to work, more fun, less work, more money, more freebies, less bureaucracy – the usual stuff). I assumed we’d have a mix, and we did.

I didn’t assume that some of the attendees would be nervous and scared. They didn’t know what to expect nor what we’d expect of them. I didn’t expect that. I was nervous – my agenda, my content, my structure all about me. I was too preoccupied about that to consider it from another perspective. No harm was done, but I realised this at the end of the day, and wish I’d picked up on it earlier. I write this now so I do remember.

Corporate Christmas Espionage?

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Would you say your company secrets are safe? Would you say you had good security?  I bet if I was an expert, and I tried to break in either through the computer networks, or physically, I’d probably fail.  What if  I was already inside? What if I was inside 24/7 for a month?  What if I had as much electricity as I needed and water as I could drink?

I’d probably discover the secret ingredients, the trade dossiers and the hidden treasures in all our companies and ensure our mutual societal and economic doom.

This is already in place. Its a real threat and it’s here NOW. You heard it here first.

There comes a time in early December each year when the lobbies of offices countrywide are infiltrated by and adorned with the Festive Fir. Here’s a picture of one, in case you’ve missed them

christmas-tree-shops-corporate-office

There’s been an invasion of these things in the last few weeks. They are everywhere.  I’ve two scenarios for you:

  1. They’re fitted with wifi breaking, data crunching technology and they operate tree-to-tree to outsmart our detection. Once in the network, they plant viruses and Trojans designed to give control to outside parties.  To make it happen, I (being the naughty people) would simply buy up corporate Christmas tree providers or buy up the tree stock.  All the tech could hide inside a nice bauble.
  2. Possibly more likely: the trees become sentient and are hellbent on taking us all out (whilst at work). They control main thoroughfares and entry and exit points. They have defences too: barbed pines to puncture us like pin cushions, a sticky glue like substance if you try to move them which can render us useless and a noxious (ok, quite pleasant) gas when you get near.

Save yourself and destroy the trees now. Don’t wait or delay.  They are coming.

 

 

Destination: The Journey

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Its not the destination, it’s the journey that counts.

Not my words, but the words of countless wise persons through the ages (sort of).  This never seems more true than when I visit airports. I can’t help feel I’ve misunderstood this sage advice though, but there we are.

[Warning: this post is almost entirely senseless musings. An ‘electronical mindfart’ if you will.]

I like airports. There’s something exciting and full of possibility about them.  Everyone is going somewhere. So many different types of persons. Old, young, business, single, family, couples, UK people, European, People from further afield. We all co-exist and stop off for a universally accepted cafe latte or cappuccino*. Isn’t that amazing.  If all the world was a corporate retail wonderland, there’d never be wars.

I know WHY I like them too. Growing up, my family were well traveled- with regular holidays in the UK and in France. We’d travel most of that by car, heading to a holiday home in France or the UK. Always self catering. Mum would always wake up at some unknown hour (before the family at any rate) to make a mountain of sandwiches, gather some apples, tomatoes a few hunks of her delicious and wholesome cakes.

Dad would always (and still does) do all the driving. Even if it was 8 hours straight. Hardcore. Us kids felt hardcore too. Especially as often times we’d be listening to the maddening noise of the cricket on short wave radio (kids: Google it). FOR HOURS and HOURS. Dad has a great trick of keeping us well behaved too, apart from shouting and those eyes that is which was to recite steam train numbers and names. His specialty was ‘Castles’. He’d say (For Example): “4073 Caerphilly Castle” and keep going with as many as he could recall.

(http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_GWR_4073_Class_locomotives)

Taking trains involved a rural station in Wales, ending up in a station somewhere else (obvious if you understand the concept of travel). Apart from maybe Euston (a bit) the destination stations were not something to look forwards to.

Airports therefore represent something different. Something new, A mode of travel to exciting places. It represents me doing things as a young person and young adult, like a year in Germany, or holidays whilst at Uni or visiting friends in Europe. Exciting things. I can’t shake that feeling. Even now, I’m sat awaiting a UK flight for business purposes and I’m enjoying being here. It’s Gatwick, but its still exciting. Could be worse: could be Luton.

I’ve flown a fair bit though in the last 15 years, and It’s taken the edge off.  What will the next generation get excited about?  Probably not trains or cars, and probably not airports and flying either.  Something that represents their upward mobility and changing aspirations. Maybe spaceports to the moon.

* on the subject of old folks drinking ‘modern’ drinks like Cappuccinos and Cafe Late’s – those of us interested in how people break habits and take up new things should look and learn. I admit its been 20 years now since they became commonplace, but it is astounding to see a man who in all other respects looks like the antithesis of the cosmopolitan Italianate ordering then supping a frothy coffee.  Sitting there in ill-fitting sports wear, unkempt and looking vaguely angry with the world as he asks for “2 espressos and a pain au chocolate”: gets me every time.

The best way to process map?

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A fair while ago, I used to be a business analyst. Not in name of course, but I would spend time in process mapping workshops, supporting and eventually leading them to gather how stuff was done, and how it could be done better.  I even spent time working on other peoples process maps, to think of better ways of making them fit to technology.

Probably, like the rest of you, I’ve seen a fair few ways of running those sessions. In the usual way of the blog (because all your attention spans are shot to pieces by social media), I’ve catalogued some observations. I would genuinely appreciate comment back on the way YOU run your sessions.

  1. Speak plainly. Adding layers of ‘business speak’ seems to be something some Business Analysts lapse into. Some sentences are wholly redundant (like 90% of all of my blog), and some even contradict in the second clause the bit said in the first clause. No one minds if you talk plainly or provide easy to understand metaphors or similes to paint your point. The role of the facilitator is to simplify and provide clarity.
  2. Understand As Is. Some consultants think it is very effective to skip the ‘as is’ analysis. When I first started out doing these things, we’d spend equal if not more time understanding the current state in detail. Now (especially with technology process mapping), there is an emphasis on just going straight to To Be (purportedly to save some money)  “The software works in a certain way, let’s just tell you what that is”. The point is, you have to understand the way the business works. there’s no way around it. Anything else makes you a shit consultant.
  3. Make your boxes make sense. What you write in the process box:  what it says, how it says it, and where it points to are crucial to making the process map readable.  It SHOULD be readable and understandable. If not, why bother?

So then, on to the best way to run a process mapping workshop?  Devise your idea/notion of an as-is map and walk through this? Start blank and work from there?  I often liked to start with a managers high level view of the process, then bottom it out as I talk to people. I’d often spend time individually to understand it before hand, such that the group session is more about the attendees understanding that they all have subtly different roles in the process and buying into the holistic process before them.

For the future state processes, I start with what I’ve heard and learnt that should be the future vision. Related to, but not hanging off the technology. I ask people to consider impacts more than consider boxes.

I’m no process analyst. I hold no qualifications, nor adhere to any methodologies. Not by choice, but because I’m an idiot. The main goal for me is that the process maps provide clarity of how it was, and how it could be – but most importantly provide a view of the business impacts of that process change.

 

A Familiar Problem?

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So, I’ve got a new job now. Rightly or wrongly, my employer has seen fit to make me (amongst others) a custodian of the good relationship between the business and our IT department.

I have a responsibility for fostering a positive relationship across the various many thousands of employees that we have in the UK. I help to set expectations, to understand need, aims and goals and ensure that IT can meet them.

In an organisation that’s hardly familiar with the idea that someone will come and ‘talk IT’ with them, how do we show value?

How do we show them that we’re ‘more than just laptops’? I guess many support functions within business suffer the same fate – for example where HR Business Partners struggling to be involved in more strategic conversations, and instead being paper processing monkeys.

I don’t really have the answer; but for a department that provides ‘services’ as fundamental as computers (that work well) or email (that’s fast and available), collaboration and storage (that isn’t a Pain in the Arse to use); how do you step up and away and up from that?

Perhaps one solution is to ‘back off’. In any business where the day to day aim is to make money, a starting point could be to acknowledge that and realise that the primary aim is not ‘be excellently endowed with IT’. Similarly: Security, Risk Management, HR and Finance should all back off and demonstrate an understanding of priority. Along with ‘making money’ comes ‘increase productivity’ to essentially ‘increase margin’. That’s were we can fit in.

Focus on those, and we’ll only ever make friends. Perhaps by taking that first step back, conversations can be had in the proper context of the organisation, conversations that drive the bottom line and align to the real priorities?

Excuses Excuses

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It’s been a while since I’ve been inspired (read bothered) enough to write anything down. That in and of itself is interesting. I wondered why, and came up with a few reasons. Conclusion: I need an itch to scratch and mental capacity to scratch it.

  1. New job. Moving to a new job has presented plenty for my brain to chew over. Hopes, dreams, aspirations, frustrations and all of it takes time to get into, and around ones brain.
  2. Building work. Having builders in to knock walls down, rip things out, rebuild, make new, improve. It creates dust. And dis-order. But there is hope they will finish. And order will return and energy will be diverted from thinking about measurements, materials and workmanship to thinking about other more pleasurable things.
  3. Elite Dangerous. Yes its in BETA, and yes I’ve been playing a bit. It’s addictive and its’ not even finished. In essence, I wish I was a space-man.
  4. Changing Careers. Technically, I’m no longer an ‘agent of change’ working within the Organisational Change Management arena. I’ve likened it to a religion in the past, and I still believe that. I may not be a consultant any more, but I spot the need for managing change more acutely now. Especially working in an IT department like I do.

    So there you go. 4 good reasons why I’ve not written anything in my hardly-read blog. Thanks if you do.