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Addressing Pain Points

painpointAn intense analysis process is the first step of Business Process Management (BPM). You must understand the current state before you can make recommendations for improvement. Following the analysis phase, recommendations are categorized any number of ways: short-term vs. long-term, inexpensive vs. costly, and so on. Depending on the corporate culture, business analysts often try to identify “low-hanging fruit” or minor, relatively inexpensive changes that can be quickly implemented. I agree that if an organization identifies something quick and easy that boosts productivity that the improvement should be strongly considered. However, the quick and dirty low-hanging fruit should NOT be the focus of a BPM program. Instead, analysts need to identify and provide recommendations around the major pain points within a given system.

Experts: Your Ally in Analysis

When analyzing a system, pay close attention to people, processes, and technology. It is important to identify your Subject Matter Experts (SMEs). Your SMEs are the key to understanding key areas to improve. Your SME can vary. Although it’s helpful to interview someone who has a long-standing history and expertise with specific subject matter, it is also beneficial to speak with someone who is relatively new to the area. The two perspectives provide a comprehensive snapshot about the way the system currently works. Your seasoned SME can provide historical information about specific decisions and the business overall. Your novice SME can provide fresh perspective about the training and messaging associated with the current system. Both SMEs need to advise you of their pain points – those complex situations that are urgent and difficult to address. Pain points go by many names – dilemma, conundrum, hassle, etc. Yet that place in the process where your target audience – SMEs, users, or customers express frustration, confusion, or crisis, is a golden opportunity to drastically improve the quality of their work lives.

Slaying Dragons

Ultimately, we are in business to make money and there is a direct correlation between addressing pain points and impacting revenue. It often takes a lot of investigation, collaboration, and justification to slay these huge dragons that drain resources, disrupt process, and increase costs. However, energy invested in addressing pain points is never wasted. Whether it is automating a manual process, improving communication channels, or introducing a new workflow for faster turnaround – financial impacts in terms of reduced employee turnover, increased customer retention, improved cycle times, and so on make the quest well worth it. The most successful corporate cultures are increasingly open to ideas and innovation from employees and customers. If you identify a pain point and recommendation to decrease or eliminate the existing pain, chances are, someone is your organization is very willing to listen. A couple of years ago, one Harvard Business Review blog encouraged workers to collaborate to grow the pie, not just split it.

Happy Thanksgiving!

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Where to Begin

mountain man

The journey of a thousand miles…

Whether it’s a family reunion or a work-related project, the very task of planning can seem overwhelming. Yet, our success is often directly tied to our ability to manage projects and accomplish goals despite changing tools, processes, and people. So what do you do when there are so many factors to consider? When faced with daunting circumstances where some factors are within your control, but many are not – how do you cope? More importantly, where do you begin? Chinese philosopher Lao Tzu said it best: “The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.” Whether you are planning a new process or attempting to improve an existing one, the place to begin is with your people. Once you consider the needs and experience of your primary audience, you develop a point of reference that makes it easier to make subsequent decisions. Conversely, if you start at a different point, with tools or processes, you run a risk having to retroactively retool certain aspects of your project to meet the needs of your audience. Let’s use a family reunion planning scenario as an example.

Your Family Reunion – Scenario #1 – Starting with Tools

You and most of your cousins are on Facebook so as next year’s reunion host, you decide to create a group page for your family. You set up the family reunion as an event. You set up a GoogleDocs area for the planning committee. You post pictures and link to online reservations. You are on a roll, until…you receive a phone call from your elderly Aunt Jo, who plans to boycott the reunion because she felt excluded from the planning conversations that usually occur. She only learned about it because her granddaughter mentioned it to her. Yikes, you failed to consider multiple avenues of communication since not everyone is “on the Spacebook” as Aunt Jo so eloquently stated. You start calling around and find that many of your older relatives are equally offended.

Your Family Reunion – Scenario #2 – Starting with Processes

Based on previous reunions, you believe logistics are the biggest thing to tackle with the reunion. You research various venues and options and decide that a beach weekend is the way to go.  You get a great deal on several adjacent beach properties and arrange charter bus transportation to the beach homes.  Everything seems set. Then, after a couple of weeks, the questions start rolling in – Are there accommodations for Uncle Pete who is in a wheelchair? Will all of the families with young children be housed together? What about Margo’s special diet? Who wants to cook for the entire vacation weekend? All of a sudden everyone seems to have some sort of special concern that must be accommodated. You implode and are on the verge of cancelling the reunion altogether. Once you factor in costs for catered meals and additional support, the reunion price almost doubles.

Your Family Reunion – Scenario #3 – Starting with People

First, you recruit a diverse reunion committee. This accomplishes two goals. First, it allows you to have representation from a variety of age groups and interests. Second, it provides a support team for logistics, finance, communication, and execution. You set up standing conference calls and discuss volunteer needs. You disseminate a list of questions and ask the planning committee to poll different relatives regarding preferences, special needs, willingness to help with specific tasks, and acceptable budgets. Armed with their feedback, you and the committee research reunion venue options and decide to take a family cruise. Everyone is informed and feels involved in the reunion. You are a hero!

Closing Thoughts

When considering any project, start with the needs of your people. Ultimately, every occupation in the world is based on improving the lives of people. When you start by considering the needs of the people and envisioning the experience you want them to have, you are already well on your way. Your tools and processes can then be driven by the needs of your customer audience. In some cases, you will have the leverage to switch or change tools or processes. In any case, you can examine your constant and variable factors. Which aspects are feasible to change? Which positive aspects are so entrenched in the culture that you want to be certain to preserve them? How can you incorporate feedback from previous efforts into your strategy? Ask yourself questions that make your customer audience your highest priority. Then, enjoy the journey as you incorporate change!

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Take It To the MAX!

Why minimalize when you can maximize?

Why minimalize when you can maximize?

During a recent job interview, I was asked to describe my work approach. Reflecting on my desire to always do everything within my power to ensure success, I described myself as being “maximalistic”. In my mind, it was the opposite of a minimalistic approach to tasks. While minimalism is a fine principle of technical writing, it is not an effective work philosophy. Some people (I’m sure no one you know) are satisfied to complete only the bare minimum to call a task complete. In addition, such people often see challenges in every opportunity instead of opportunity in every challenge. These same people have a low locus of control meaning that they believe outcomes are based on primarily on external factors.

By contrast, someone with a high locus of control believes that outcomes are based primarily on their own actions. For me, it boils down to a matter of examination and action – when we know better, we do better. I’m talking about work, but this approach relates to every endeavor in life. If you’re only going to put forth the minimum effort, why do it at all? To me, minimizing your effort or settling for less than your personal best is downright disrespectful. Although we aren’t strong in every area, but we can always put forth a Herculean effort. For me, it takes far more effort to avoid issues rather than acknowledging them and identifying a strategy for success.

During the interview, I thought I was being clever, inventing my own term. As it turns out, the root word of my intuitive Maximalist term has been around since the early 1900s. Often used in association with radical theological or political philosophies, the Merriam-Webster dictionary defines a Maximalist as “one who advocates immediate and direct action to secure the whole of a program or set of goals”. I smiled to myself in reading the definition because it summarizes my Knowledge Management adventures in a single sentence. Knowledge Management requires short-range and long-term strategic planning. The “program” is to ensure information is available to the right people at the right time in the right place. There are a myriad of case studies that show productivity gains, greater customer retention, improved employee morale, and a host of other benefits simply based on one’s ability to quickly find the information that they need and can trust.

Knowledge Managers are investigators, identifying information gaps, process flaws, incorrect assumptions, and duplicated efforts. Then, Knowledge Managers become salespersons, pitching solutions by proposing processes, methods, and tools to help others find the information that they need. Next, Knowledge Managers are collaborators, reviewing metadata, taxonomy, search, and content review techniques to ensure that stakeholders are appropriately involved. After that, Knowledge Managers are negotiators, establishing agreement about new processes and methods. Finally, Knowledge Managers are evangelists, excited to share the benefits of a new system and seeking feedback about ways to improve. Enthusiasm is contagious. It takes a Maximalistic sort of person – one who is willing to persist in cultivating organizational change – to be successful in any situation.

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The Courage to Click

Be courageous and click

Be courageous and click

I recently had the privilege of speaking to a college class about knowledge management. As these students begin exploring career avenues, one inquired about LinkedIn and whether it is truly an effective method to connect with people. Without hesitation, I endorsed LinkedIn. After all, I had connected with colleagues, mentees, and mentors via the professional networking site. However, these students were actually asking about connecting with those whom you do not know as well. If you connect to a recruiter on LinkedIn, will they actually interact with you? Or are they using LinkedIn as more of a “push” to promote their company and related opportunities? Having recently been in a job search, I was impressed – no enthused – by the level of connection I accomplished via LinkedIn. That six degrees of separation theory that states everyone and everything is six or fewer steps away, by way of introduction, from any other person in the world, seems to be true. However, it takes courage to extend yourself and initiate that connection. Yes, ladies and gentlemen, it takes courage to click. It’s true that the person may ignore you, but as the worst case scenario, it also means that you have nothing to lose. What if, instead of being dismissed, that corporate recruiter, fellow alumnus, former professor, or admired colleague accepts your invitation and helps you along your career path? With that in mind, here are a few tips to help you be more courageous in your clicking:
1. Everyone has to start somewhere – This means that the powerful C-level executive; innovative entrepreneur; or sought-after speaker can relate to your current position. It is also intriguing to review LinkedIn profiles and see the progression of someone’s career as well as interesting commonalities. Don’t bombard the person, just see what you can learn by having visibility to their profile. Keep any messages brief and courteous.
2. Have information to trade – In considering a LinkedIn request, the person needs to have an understanding of your background. Strut your stuff! Be sure to develop a fairly robust LinkedIn page before trying to connect with others. The more information you post, the more commonalities your “guest” will find, and the more likely you are to sustain a relationship. A photo is an absolute must. Providing a visual image translates to your invitee viewing you as a real person and not just a digital apparition.
3. Don’t hide your job search – If you are open to new opportunities, be sure to indicate that in your profile. The only exception is if you are connected with a lot of current coworkers and don’t wish to “out” yourself on the job front prematurely. In that case, you can make more discreet connections, but explain in any initial messages that you are exploring new opportunities.
4.State your business – If you connect with a recruiter because you are interested in a specific job…say so! If you are trying to connect with those who currently work in your next position of interest…say so! If you have a common area of expertise or attended the same conference or course – state that explicitly. Otherwise, you force your intended network target to hunt for relevance regarding the connection. The onus is on you, not them, to explain your mutual interest.
I hope these tips were helpful…now get out there and click!

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The Personal Touch

Managing relationships effectively is the key to professional and personal success.

Managing relationships effectively is the key to professional and personal success.

In this era of Instagrams, tweets, and linking in, an entire industry has evolved to help companies develop social media components to their communication strategies. It seems that all of the Social Media strategists, Communication Consultants, Web Developers, User Experience Designers, and User Interface specialists pour their talent and energies into one simple concept: The Personal Touch.
User interaction is based on the collective need for an individual experience. Those who know how to tap into the power of The Personal Touch are destined to be successful, regardless of their field of endeavor. As quiet as it’s kept, humans have an innate desire to connect with others. Social media presents a myriad of techniques to accomplish this connection, but the fundamental need is the same today as it was generations ago when messages were relayed via Pony Express.
Do you remember receiving mail as a child? I donated one dollar to charity and was astonished a couple of weeks later (yes, it was a couple of weeks in those days) to receive a piece of correspondence bearing my eight year old name. I was flattered, intrigued, and more importantly, responsive. In her book, The Personal Touch, public relations expert Terrie Williams describes the need for everyone to connect with their audience. Having worked as a publicist for many celebrities including Bill Cosby and Janet Jackson, Terrie asserts the need to provide the most positive memory we can with each person we encounter. The method of the encounter varies, but the need is the same. One of my favorite artists is an independent singer/songwriter named Chinua Hawk. Not only is he talented, but he relays the personal touch. After his performances, he is always willing to sign an autograph, take a picture, or speak with a fan. Many people enjoy NASCAR for similar reasons. When you are able to engage with someone you admire, such an exciting and meaningful personal encounter increases their merit and amplifies their value. They are no longer just someone on stage, in a boardroom, or on TV – they now become YOUR whatever-they-are…fitness guru, comedian, etc.
As consumers, we are highly responsive to organizations who deliver products based on extensive research and analysis of the user experience. Whatever our professional role, we have to carefully consider our customers – whether they are internal or external, children or adults – and design systems that maximize their experience. As our economy grows increasingly global, we must realize that we are involved in a worldwide competition to meet the needs of our users. The one who connects with the consumer will win. In fact, the organization who designs with the user in mind creates a win-win scenario for their customer AND their company.
Technology does not replace The Personal Touch – it is another means of achieving an individual, custom experience. All business is about managing relationships. Everyone wants to be appreciated. Everyone wants to be understood. Everyone wants to be heard. Here are some things to consider in terms of infusing The Personal Touch throughout your relationships:
1. Parallel communication – as a courtesy, communicate with people in the same format that they originally contacted you. Unless specifically requested to do so, don’t respond to a call with an email or a call someone who stopped by your desk.
2. Identify additional commonalities – If you are geographically dispersed, try to have an informal means – team discussion page or instant messenger or skype to connect with people about other mutual interests such as corporate initiatives or charities. Such practices humanize you and lead to increased responsiveness because you become more than a name on an email line or a voice on a conference call. Last year, I was proud to support a colleague in a moustache-growing “Movember” event to raise awareness about men’s health issues.
3. Acknowledge others’ presence – In southern Africa, this philosophy is known as Ubuntu which means humanity to others. When you walk past someone, you don’t have to become best friends, but acknowledging the other person’s presence signals your self-confidence as well as your willingness to engage with the world around you. Years ago when Western countries began opening offices in southern Africa, Westerners would walk the halls and pass people without a nod or hello. This deeply offended the native citizens and set the stage for very poor initial labor relations. Once this principle was described and coworkers were acknowledged, everyone in these offices were more at ease.
4. LISTEN – From J.W. Marriott to winning coaches to Pulitzer Prize winners – many who are renowned in their field of endeavor attribute a lot of their success to the practice of effective listening. You cannot hear or consider the voice of the customer if you are talking over it. In personal and professional relationships, your willingness to be a sounding board for your coworker, your client, your spouse, or your child is the key to fostering an attitude of trust and confidence.
I’d be interested in your advice about the importance of the personal touch and how you employ these or other philosophies into your daily life.

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Adjusting the Expert Filter

DIKW ProgressionI recently read an article on KM World that questioned our overall progress with knowledge. There seems to be a lot of information out there. We are inundated with it. Yet, amid all the noise and distraction, how can we trust the information that we encounter? In this article (http://www.kmworld.com/Articles/Column/David-Weinberger/Progress-and-knowledge-87238.aspx), author David Weinberger made an excellent observation: “To become knowledge, something had to be filtered by experts.” The way that we involve experts becomes increasingly important as we refine our methodologies to promote information to knowledge.  As the diagram illustrates, there is a progression from data to information to knowledge to wisdom.

In reading the article, it occurred to me that the proliferation of content from a variety of sources means that the audience accepts a certain level of risk, depending on the source of information. David asserts that our collaboration and editing processes must change to accommodate the new waves of information that constantly crash around us. Frequency of tweets, for example, indicates interest in a topic, but not necessarily expertise. In order for a knowledge source to be trusted, an inherent practice of content validation must exist. In my technical communication training, the approach was to build several iterations of expert review into the document development cycle. The desired end result was a deliverable that was already vetted and validated – content that the user could completely and immediately trust because it had already been fully validated prior to publishing.  To me, the traditional methodology was to publish knowledge that had been fully filtered by experts. Any wisdom gained would hopefully feed into the data phase for the next deliverable. Hopefully. Because all too often, once a deliverable was published, knowledge workers were on to the next initiative. Wisdom was not always harvested and incorporated into the next data phase.

However, the new methodology moves some of those iterative revisions to the post-publishing phase. These days we are more inclined to post information and revise it multiple times, based on audience or user feedback. The expert filter still exists, but instead of making assumptions about what the user wants to know to deliver a masterpiece in the first edition, knowledge workers are learning to apply a more iterative approach on the back end. As a result, initial content may be sparse. There may be a few basic procedures and concepts introduced. Then, as the user community provides feedback, the experts are consulted and the deliverable is revised. It becomes a living document. The ongoing updates and conversations around content keep audiences engaged and reassure them that the most up-to-the-minute knowledge is being presented in the document they are referencing. This process is also beneficial for the expert because they can learn more from this direct user feedback and immediately apply it to the updated document as well as future projects. Everything becomes more comprehensive and collaborative. I believe this model also suggests a strategic partnership between those providing the knowledge and those applying the knowledge. It becomes a reciprocal relationship that benefits everyone involved and accelerates the pace of learning.

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The Most Critical Skill

key elements of listening

Key Components of Listening

In the midst of my job search, I’m fascinated by the variety of qualifications and expectations listed for various roles. Beyond knowledge of specific methodologies, experience, and software, I’m noticing an increased emphasis on soft skills.  Organizations are learning that the ability to be a self-directed, collaborative, flexible, and analytical problem solver who can manage multiple assignments is as important as your technical expertise. However, I believe the most critical skill is so intrinsic to others that it is rarely listed.

The art and skill of listening is the most critical for any job. I recently read a great article on LinkedIn, “Can You Hear Me?” by Beth Comstock, the Chief Marketing Officer at GE (https://www.linkedin.com/today/post/article/20130205150842-19748378-can-you-hear-me?ref=email) . In the article, she explained how an unexpected bout of laryngitis allowed her to “luxuriate in listening”. I believe that listening is a luxury we can all afford. Imagine the time and effort we could save by simply listening and ensuring that we fully understand a situation instead of reacting based on assumption. Imagine how much more effective our decision-making process would be if we focused on listening. Beth’s article spurred some thought as I did some additional research about listening skills. Many people have heard about active listening where we repeat or summarize what we heard. However, there are a few steps that must proceed or accompany listening. The Chinese symbol for listening perfectly reflects these steps:

  1. Eyes – when interacting face-to-face, we need to make eye contact to acknowledge the other person and give visual cues that we are listening.
  2. Undivided Attention – we need to focus on the speaker. This means turning away from a computer screen, paper, mobile device, or other distraction to assure the speaker that they are our primary focus.
  3. Heart – we need to observe how the person appears to feel about what they are saying. This means picking up cues in vocal tone and body language.
  4. King/Mind – we need to carefully consider what the speaker is saying instead of formulating our next comment based on a preconceived notion rather than what the speaker is currently conveying.
  5. Ear – we need to actually listen, advising the speaker if we are having trouble hearing or need to clarify a previous comment.

As much as possible, try not to interrupt. Allow the speaker to complete his or her thought. Instead of formulating your next comment while they are speaking, paraphrase their statement and use it as a bridge to connect to your own thoughts and inputs. Hopefully, when the speaker sees you as being engaged and focused on their comments, they will reciprocate and listen just as actively when you are speaking. Whether it’s a colleague or client, applying this critical skill set contributes to everyone’s success. The good news is that we have daily opportunities to practice and hone this skill.