Media Skills 101 (reprise)

First of all, apologies for radio silence. I’ve been on holiday. Very nice it was too. We hired a motorhome and stayed at four sites in Dorset. We hired the highly specced and almost new vehicle from Ferndown-based Abacus which turned out to be a very professional company. Highly recommended if you fancy that sort of holiday.

Before I get stuck in to blogging again, I thought you might be interested in some posts I wrote over five years ago about handling the press. While a lot of the press appears somewhat emasculated these days and the new media folk are largely more kindly, the suggestions I made then are no less valid for shaping your outlook and approach to the media of any kind.

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Evangelist: beware

Evangelists. Plenty of them hang out in the sustainability and collaboration fields where I work. Some irritate while others are acceptable. And this isn't because they necessarily reflect my views. (In case you were wondering.) The trick is to spot, early on, which variety you're faced with and make your excuses and leave if they're the 'wrong' kind.

Last week, the Free Software Foundation, wrote to the Fortune 500 companies (well, it didn't bother with Microsoft) essentially telling them they'd be mad to upgrade to Windows 7. The story was widely covered but few publications would have ended up with such a rich discussion as the Register. This is a hugely popular online IT publication which takes no prisoners. It has attitude and a healthy disregard for some of the tripe that emanates from the industry it serves. Readers are encouraged to comment on items and, this particular article quickly attracted 145 comments.

The interesting thing is that the article was about an evangelical organisation and it attracted evangelistic commentators, both pro- and anti-, as well as your everyday commenters. The end result is that anyone with the willingness to work through the comments, evangelistic or otherwise, would end up with an independent point of view, providing they read through with an open mind. If they didn't, they'd end up just strengthening their own prejudices.

The sustainability and collaboration folk are no different. The evangelists are noisy, in your face, on conference platforms, lobbying whoever and wherever possible, frequently on the web with their blogs, Tweets and comments. They exist everywhere, and always have. The big difference today is that they can be more readily heard.

You can get positive evangelists who show how life could be better. I have a lot of time for them, even if they turn out to be wrong. At least they're trying to help. Then you have the negative ones who are more intent on tearing down than building up. "This is wrong" or "you shouldn't do that" rather than "try this alternative" or "why not do this?". In pop psychology, the former are the I'm OK, you're not OK brigade – the same mentality, incidentally, as criminals.

A lot of evangelists are so immersed in their blinkered view of the world, that they forget (or ignore) the fact that, if adopted, their wheezes might cause more problems than they solve. We're shutting down coal and nuclear power stations to cheers from the acid rain and nuclear waste storage evangelists. But how deeply have they considered where the energy is going to come from? Or, alternatively, what impact on our lives a profound cut in consumption will cause? I venture to suggest, 'not a lot'. Out here in the real world, we have to find solutions, not just state problems.

In a way, the easiest ones to deal with are those that have 'Evangelist' printed on their business cards. They're being paid by someone to persuade others of the folly of their ways. You'll find these folk in many major IT companies. Others are not so obvious. Perhaps a company has plied them with gifts or other, more subtle, bribes. Recently I was talking with a Toyota (non-employee) iQ evangelist. Turns out she'd 'won' the car for a six month trial, in exchange for blogs and other social media outreach. Others are just total believers in 'the cause' simply because it makes sense to them within their own frame of reference.

The answer has to be to filter them as quickly as possible. Find out who pays for their evangelism in money or in other ways. Ask them what alternatives they know about in detail. And get them to tell you what the long term implications of their advocacy are likely to be. Some will slink away from the interrogation. Some will bluster, so you can take your leave of them. Those that will remain probably have a good and well thought out story to tell.

Values-based messaging tackles the green gulf

Abraham Maslow's 'Hierarchy of Needs' was one of the first models that helped me make sense of life and our individual journeys through it. That was in 1975. Little did I know that an even better understanding, from Dr Clare W Graves, had been published just the year before. In its new 'Cracking the Green Code' report, Ecoalign applied Dr Graves' research to what it calls 'the green gap' – the gulf that exists between stated beliefs and environmental actions. Fortunately, the theory is more useful than that, because it can be applied in any situation where mental resistance is high and desired behaviour is low.
All manner of people and institutions are banging the green drum in the hope that they'll induce mass behavioural change. But it's not working very well. "Al Gore", the Ecoalign report says, "did a terrific job of demonstrating the horrible hell that humans will create…" but goes on to say, "Unfortunately, he spent far less time creating an inspired, credible, vision for our collective future."
Somehow the green issue has to be turned around so that, according to the report, "it occurs to target audiences as an exciting opportunity to further their own pre-existing life goals and aspirations'. And this is where Dr Graves comes in. He spent 40 years researching, then mapping, the human psyche in a way that still makes sense even as our behaviours evolve. He identified eight levels of thinking that operate in the world today. At the moment, in North America, four of these levels predominate. They are: Absolutistic, Individualistic, Humanistic and Systemic. A fifth, Holistic, is currently emerging. By understanding each of these, you understand the majority of the developed world. The others are included in the Ecoalign report.
Here's an overview of the four mentioned:

Absolutistic (20% of US)
Life theme: Sacrifice self now to receive future reward
Core values: Discipline, authority and purpose
Goal: Find peace and meaning in this world by denying impulses and upholding moral laws
Perception-shaping metaphor: Life is a test
Key messaging tactic: Call to duty

Individualistic (30% of US)
Life theme: Express self for what self desires, but in a calculated fashion so as to avoid bringing down the wrath of important others
Core values: Accomplishment, power, profit
Goal: Achieve success and influence in this life by strategically manipulating desired outcomes
Perception-shaping metaphor: Life is a game. The world is a machine.
Key messaging tactic: Call to action

Humanistic (30% of US)
Life theme: Sacrifice self now in order to gain acceptance now
Core values: Equality, honesty, relatedness
Goal: To find happiness in this life, in this moment, by relating deeply to other humans
Perception-shaping metaphor: Humans are a family
Key messaging tactic: Call to imagine. Call to compassion.

Systemic (10-15% of US)
Life theme: Express self for what self desires and others need, but never at the expense of others, and in a manner that all life can continue to exist
Core values: Integrity, competence, sustainability
Goal: To restore vitality and balance to a world torn asunder
Perception-shaping metaphor: Life is a system
Key messaging tactic: Call to innovate. Call to service.

From the above, you can no doubt start to slot people you know, or know of, into the different categories. It's little wonder, then, that blanket exhortations don't get us very far. Whatever we're trying to push, whether it's green IT, social computing or electric cars, we need to be able to segment our audience effectively and appeal to the appropriate inner drivers.
The report goes on to explain how it tested the theories by mapping expected values of a group of individuals against actual values by showing them some utility industry video vignettes. While this is unlikely to be central to readers of this blog, it does serve to set the research into a real world context.
But a lot of the report is about the 'what' you need to do, rather than the 'how'. But then this is probably what Ecoalign and the report's author, John Marshall Roberts, are on this earth for: to help with that bit. This in no way diminishes the insights it gives to the ways in which the people around us might be thinking and to how we might adjust our approaches to better match their internal realities.

If you're interested, this blog post by Christopher C. Cowan and Natasha Todorovic throws more light on the works of Graves and Maslow

Salesforce/Twitter: genuine help or fake sincerity?

Interesting that Marc Benioff (boss of Salesforce.com) should choose to announce the addition of Twitter to its Service Cloud on Monday. Why? Because it won't be available until the summer. Part of me suspects that the reason was simply because Twitter is a very hot topic today and it might be tepid by June. The official reason, I think, is that the deal with Twitter had just been inked.

The news might have passed me by had we (Freeform Dynamics) not received an official announcement from the company. The covering letter said, "…enabling companies to search, monitor and join conversations taking place on Twitter…" Without being a Salesforce.com expert, I was worried that a whole bunch of sales types or, worse, machines would start trying to insert themselves into Twitter conversations.

In fact, the pitch is somewhat more genuine than that. It suggests that organisations can monitor Twitter (a free addition to the $995/month 'Service Cloud' which already provides access to a number of online services such as Google Search and FaceBook) for mentions and, when they relate to problems, do something about them. That something will end up as either a comment to the Tweeter with a link to a solution to their problem or, if lots of people have the same problem, a general announcement-type Tweet. (Or maybe a bunch of direct messages – I don't know if the Service Cloud can do that. Nothing, apart from the tedium, to stop the help desk people doing it though.)

All sounds pretty reasonable, right? Back there in Salesforce.com land, the client organisation will have a whacking great database of customers, prospects, queries and answers. Each can be clothed instantly with relevant Tweet threads. I quite often appeal for help online. If someone were to help me, and I said "hooray, it worked!" or similar, then this thread would be collected for future reference by support staff. A bit cheeky perhaps, but quite understandable. It expands the company's own knowledge base at little extra cost.

Getting a bit more sinister, it would be possible for a sales person with access to the Service Cloud to hoover up personal information about a prospect before making a call. ("Sorry to hear about your recent illness. How are you feeling now?") These things aren't impossible today, but because it's built right into the Salesforce system, it is actually quite powerful. A tremendous aid to fake sincerity.

And this is the point, isn't it? If the service is used for the genuine benefit of the customer, then people will welcome it. If, however, it's used to exploit the Tweeting public, then the backlash will be swift and unstoppable.

But who will the backlash be aimed at? Twitter for allowing access? The Salesforce customer for abusing the system? Or Salesforce itself for providing the Service Cloud?"

Any thoughts on that, Twitter?

Sidestep formal structures for effective change

Many companies like to think they understand all about business processes and change management. They spend fortunes on consultancy, design, structures, processes, training, roll out and management, then wonder why they don't get the results they expected. So they have another go…

Well, maybe things aren't quite that bad, but I bet you can think of plenty of examples of 'change initiatives' that just don't get the buy-in of the grass-roots people who are supposed to implement them. Part of the problem is that they quite often try to appeal to reason. They use PowerPoints with lots of bullet points to try to hook the intellect and forget the emotional dimension. Maybe they think there's no room for emotion in their business.

But why do people go to work generally? Especially so-called 'white collar' workers. It's for the satisfaction of doing a job well and for recognition and this doesn't just mean in the pay packet. Not a good motivator at the best of times.

Part of the problem is that we've become accustomed to treating business as a mechanistic process. And a predictable one at that. Do this, force it through these process pipes, and consistent results will pop out the other end. In truth, many of the most important business processes are chaotic. Think of sales and marketing, for example. Untidy real life gets in the way. Reality has little to do with the org chart and formal processes and much more to do with endless workarounds and informal communications.

Yes, of course some processes or workflows do what they're supposed to. Regulations have to be followed and suchlike. But these are a bit like the unconscious processes of the human body. We can walk down the street while we pump blood, breathe and digest our food. But our attention is on the interesting conversation with the person walking with us.

So it is in business, the interesting stuff and the stuff that is likely to do the business most good in the future is probably the stuff that lies outside the fundamental formal systems of the organisation.

Leandro Herrero has written a most interesting book on how organisations can bring about change by acknowledging that all is not what it seems in the body corporate. He alights on the fact that, alongside the 'organigramme', lives a communication network in which all employees and business partners participate to a greater or lesser degree. Some people are highly connected, others only slightly. These are the strong ties and weak ties beloved of social network analysts. His book is called Viral Change.

It investigates how these social networks can be put to work to bring about transformational change in double quick time – months rather than years – and without any of the complexity of traditional change programmes. Apart from the acknowledgement and exploitation of social networks, the book is heavy on behavioural psychology. In fact, for anyone interested, it contains a 16-page PhD psychology course, which is then summarised in a couple of pages at the end of the chapter.

As someone who's spent several years deep in the social network world and a further thirty plus years as a behavioural psychology advocate, the book resonated rather well with me. But the point that Herrero makes is that behaviour can be observed. It is unequivocal. Bring about behavioural change and the culture will change as a consequence. And you don't need more than five defined behaviour changes to bring about massive transformation. The trick is, of course, in finding and defining those which are most appropriate.

Diving off slightly to one side for a second, why did the iPod catch on the way it did? Apart from it being a neat piece of kit, don't you think the white headphones and leads had something to do with it? People were curious, they enquired, they copied, it became a fashion. But Steve Jobs didn't directed this take up to the nth degree. Apple seeded opinion formers and influencers and let the network do the rest. So why should influence spread any differently in organisations?

Why not seed the movers and shakers – the people who are well connected and, therefore almost certainly respected too – with what needs to be achieved and let them start infecting their closest connections. Then as they and their behaviour change, others will notice and, if they respect or admire the folks who are adopting new ways, they will copy too. Especially if adoption is periodically recognised or reinforced, to use the vernacular. Before you know it, you have an epidemic on your hands and change has permeated. It becomes the norm.

Of course, this is a gross simplification of a 400-page book. But the book does strip away a lot of nonsense associated with traditional expensive and long-winded change management programmes. And, yes, the author is undoubtedly pushing the services of his company, The Chalfont Project. You won't agree with many of the things he suggests, but then you're probably not expected to. If he infects you with the fundamental principles, it's up to you to figure out how to make it work in your world.

The book is a useful catalyst to exploiting the power of social networking and behavioural psychology to accelerate needed change in organisations.

If you're happy to provide your details you can download a free eight page overview of the approach from Herrero's website.

Even if this piece has irritated you, I think it's worth a look. You never know what you might be missing.

Project management nightmare

Still emptying the house in preparation for the move. It’s odd what you stumble across.

Screwturn

I’m no artist, as you can see, but I drew this at a particularly frustrating time in my career. It cut through the complexity of the work and hit right at the cause of my dissatisfaction. Within weeks of articulating my feelings in this way, I’d started to plan my escape. (It was 1979 and I ended up at Personal Computer World.)

The participants in the picture are: in the middle, with his hands in the air, the team leader from a third party software house. His company had been chosen by my company, the hardware (and project management) supplier, to write some software for our mutual client.

The guy on the left is the client’s project manager who thought his job was to make ever more unreasonable demands. He’s the one turning the screw on the team leader. I’m the silly sod with his arms and legs outstretched trying to prevent the vice closing on the team leader. I’d been warning the client to stop pressuring because a) it was unproductive and b) I genuinely feared for the team leader’s sanity.

Sadly, the pressure didn’t stop and the team leader did, indeed, crack up. He was found gibbering to his radio.

I’ve never drawn a picture like it since. I guess because I’ve never been in such an impasse again. Thank goodness.