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Influencing behaviour: Stop the meeting madness

Recently, an article over at Business Insider caught my attention. It was titled: This Startup Forbids Meetings On Wednesdays. It talks about the task management startup Asana and how it introduced the ‘No Meeting Wednesday’ policy to allow employees to focus on getting work done in one big block.

There are two incredible productivity drains in organisations – email and meetings. Countless times I have heard people complaining about the amount of emails and meetings they are subjected to. During the day they get hardly any work done. They feel most productive very early morning before the email/meeting madness starts or in the evening or worse on the weekend. That is when people get work done!

Asana’s ‘No Meeting Wednesday’ policy did not only catch my attention because of its radical shift, but because I had a very similar idea for one of my project engagements last year. In this case however we are talking about a 40,000 employee strong, well-established company. As part of the engagement I initiated a Change Acceleration Program. Included in the program was a catalogue of over 70 change tactics to help introduce a new (social) Intranet (SharePoint 2013) by influencing employees’ and managers’ behaviour. One of these tactics was called ‘Meeting-Free-Fridays’ and another one ‘Email-Free-Fridays’!

Now, before I explain any further, I believe meetings are not bad per se. Some are absolutely necessary including for team building. But over the years we have been conditioned to set up and invite for meetings no matter what. There are meetings for status updates, reviews, planning, decision-making. Sometimes there are even meetings to plan other meetings! This needs to stop! We need to unlearn the meeting madness and learn again when meetings are useful and when they are not. This is where the ‘Meeting-Free-Friday’ comes in.

John Stepper introduced me to the Dragonfly Effect in one of his blog posts. John is one of my favourite bloggers, because he shows you how to apply dry theory and frameworks to real business problems. In one of the posts he applied the Dragonfly Effect to reduce his company’s printing cost. The elements of the Dragonfly Effect framework are:

  1. “Focus: Identify a single concrete and measurable goal.
  2. Grab attention: Make someone look. Cut through the noise…with something unexpected, visceral, and visual.
  3. Engage: Create a personal connection, accessing higher emotions through deep empathy, authenticity, and telling a story. Engaging is about empowering an audience enough to want to do something themselves.
  4. Take action: Enable and empower others to take action…move audience members from being customers to becoming team members.”

How could you apply the Dragonfly Effect to change behaviour regarding meetings by introducing a “Meeting-Free-Friday”?

Pick a clear goal: “Reduce meeting hours by 20%.”

Ideally, the percentage could be translated into hours, as this is more tangible to people. In some cases it might be even possible to get aggregated, anonymous data from employees’ calendars on the number of meetings / hours of meetings per week. Of course, the data would need to be sanitised to filter out time blockers (‘meetings’ that employees put into their calendars to block time to get work done!) or meetings unrelated to work (e.g. lunch appointments).

Make people care about it: “Work smart not hard! Avoid working late or weekends by decreasing your hours spent in meetings by 20%!”

You should try to play with the intrinsic motivation of people, rather than saying that employees can become more productive if they reduce the hours spent in meetings. Increasing employees’ productivity might be the company’s objective, but not necessarily employees’.

Make it easy for them to change: “Here are 3 great alternatives.”

Just because people are motivated to change, does not mean they are able to change! Introducing a ‘Meeting-Free-Friday’ is already a first step, as it gives employees an excuse not to schedule or accept a meeting that day! In a small company this will be much easier to introduce than in a large organisation. Way too much politics and concerns would stop this initiative forever. Thus, better to consider this initiative as an awareness and education campaign. Participation is voluntary!

Highlight advantages and disadvantages of meetings (visually). If you relate this campaign to your new social intranet or collaboration platform, highlight ways of using these platforms to avoid excessive use of meetings. Create use cases and write user stories to make it more tangible for employees and managers.

At the same time you can also introduce material about meeting etiquette. What makes an effective meeting? How to make sure only the right people attend? What is the right duration of a meeting? Remember that this campaign serves primarily awareness and education purposes. Technology is not always the answer.

Give them feedback and stories to keep changing: “This month we reduced meeting hours by 12%. That translates into whopping X hours!”

Feedback is highly important for influencing behaviour and initiating change. If you can, try to get hold of factual data about the number of meetings (see Step 1) and what impact the ‘Meeting-Free-Friday’ had.  Highlight new achievements, no matter how little they are in the beginning. Ask ‘Meeting-Free-Friday’ participants to write a small story about how they use the new intranet, collaboration platform etc. to avoid meetings. Ask them to be as specific as possible. For example, what type of meetings did they use to set up / attend? How are they using other communication and collaboration tools to keep the number of meetings to a minimum? How has this impacted their work life?

This campaign should not be a one-off. You need to be able to sustain it until the new learned behaviours have become the norm and have been institutionalised by individuals and the organisation as a whole. Furthermore, the outcome does not necessarily need to be meeting-free fridays! It’s about (re)educating people about using meetings effectively and potentially using other forms of communication and collaboration to avoid the meeting madness!

Change is hard! But you need to start somewhere and somehow. If it is a voluntary participation be realistic about its initial success. You might only get a few people to join your movement. Embrace them! Celebrate them! If you can spare another 3 minutes, I encourage you to watch this Ted talk by Derek Sivers. He talks about how to start a movement and lessons learned. It’s fun and informative!

‘Meeting-Free-Fridays’ – It may sound stupid in the beginning, but once everyone does it, it will be the new cool! Luis Suarez (the man whose mission it is to kill email) called for it in his long but excellent blog post and I am happy to join in. Let’s stop the meeting madness!


© Picture Credit: Christoph Schmaltz

Active Content

Corporate website trend: From text to active content

Summary: Moving ‘from text to active content’ is the second corporate website trend we identified. This post is part of a series of blog posts in which we look at trends for corporate websites.

Most corporate websites do not lack content but often it is just text. In times when attention seems to be in short supply, this is not a great strategy to build transparency and trust among stakeholders. Moreover, users of corporate websites cannot always be put into one bucket. It used to be the case that journalists would go to the Media section, analysts and investors to the Investor Relations section and people related to sustainability to the Sustainability section. But these days investors or careers seekers might well be interested in sustainability issues. It is difficult for them though to digest a 200 page strong sustainability report. This might be useful for a small audience, but not to the majority of visitors.

Therefore, companies should review their content and identify opportunities to provide complex information and data in a more digestible way. Currently, the most common approach involves flat infographics. Below you see an example  from General Electric:

Women’s_Health___GE_Data_Visualization

But make sure to check out all the other visualizations including videos and interactive graphs on GE Blogs. They will give you a feel of how data can be presented in a very different way.

HP is another example of providing potentially difficult to understand information in a more digestible way using very simple graphs and figures.

HP

 

Last but not least I would like to show you an example from BP.

BP

After the disaster in the Gulf of Mexico BP have come under heavy criticism. The disaster did not only destroy parts of the Gulf but also BP’s reputation. It’s interesting to note that the company still has a link in the primary navigation, where readers can get information and updates regarding the recovery work of the company.  But our topic is on active content today, so I would like to draw your attention to BP’s data and mapping tools. Both tools, the HSE charting tool and the Sustainability mapping tool are interesting examples of providing data in a rich format. The HSE charting tool is certainly not meant for the average reader. Explanations are missing to make it meaningful to a wider audience. But the Sustainability mapping tool is easy to use and understand. Now it is up to the reader to deep dive into the content to his heart’s content.

Corporate websites usually don’t lack content. Quite the opposite actually. But too often information is meaningful only to a particular small audience like investors or CSR professionals. Extracting key messages and presenting content in more digestible ways using visualisation or manipulating graphs and data should be on companies’ agenda when considering a relaunch of their corporate websites. The more accessible content is for readers, the more it engages them and might even encourage them to share it with their networks.


This blog post is part of a series of posts in which we delve into the trends for corporate website that we have identified. The series:

  1. From static to real-time information
  2. From text to active content
  3. From channel to canvas
  4. From desktop to mobile
  5. From single source of truth to the provider of different opinions
  6. From destination to platform
  7. From providing information to providing a service
  8. From company centric design to user centric design
  9. From single launch to continuous improvement

© Picture Credit: Lauren Manning

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Corporate website trend: From static to real-time information

Summary: Moving ‘from static to real-time information’ is the first corporate website trend we identified. This post is part of a series of blog posts in which we look at trends for corporate websites.

Whilst static content will probably always be the biggest share of content on a corporate website, companies should think about what kind of information and data they could make available in real-time. One example is broadcasting the Annual General Meetings of a company.  There are already a number of companies that do this, for example ThyssenKrupp, Metro and Lloyds Banking Group (see screenshot below).

Lloyds - Real-time information: AGM

Lloyds Banking Group – Link to livecast of AGM

 

But there are more exciting examples of offering real-time data. General Electric (GE) has one of the most progressive corporate websites. One of the little features is seen in the screenshot below:

GE - Providing real-time information: HR data

General Electric – Highlighting career opportunities on the homepage

At the bottom of GE’s homepage they display the current vacancies in the country from which you are currently visiting the website. It is a nice integration into their HR systems, probably some recruitment / job database. It is personalised and helps to raise awareness of other areas that certain stakeholders like journalists, investors, analysts etc. might not usually go to. However, we should not forget that these stakeholders have potentially a large network and can thus also become a qualified multiplier for job referrals.

Although not real-time another interesting idea from GE is the use of figures. See screenshot below:

General Electric: Using figures to ease complexity

General Electric – Using figures to draw attention and highlight important information

Figures are used to capture attention. They are easier to digest than lengthy text. Of course, it would be even more useful to have figures in real-time. Imagine your company has set out on an important CSR initiative. Rather than simply creating beautiful reports on an (in)frequent basis or, worse, long after the campaign has ended, key figures (KPIs) should be immediately available in real-time. Of course, this requires technical prowess, suitable systems to capture and exchange data and also the confidence to publish such information in real-time.  But if companies don’t even trust themselves, why should consumers?

The appetite and need for real-time data is real. Companies should review their content, but also business objectives and audience to identify suitable opportunities to move from static to real-time information.


This blog post is part of a series of posts in which we delve into the trends for corporate website that we have identified. The series:

  1. From static to real-time information
  2. From text to active content
  3. From channel to canvas
  4. From desktop to mobile
  5. From single source of truth to the provider of different opinions
  6. From destination to platform
  7. From providing information to providing a service
  8. From company centric design to user centric design
  9. From single launch to continuous improvement

© Picture Credit: Khairil Zhafri

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What to consider for a relaunch of your corporate website

There comes a time when every company needs to think about its corporate website. ‘STOP’, I hear you say. ‘Isn’t this 2014 we live in? Corporate websites are so 90s!’ I agree. Looking at corporate websites of many large companies you could easily get the feeling that we are still living in the 90s. They are brochure-like, static pages providing content with an authoritative but not authentic voice. Of course, many pages have changed in design and added new functionalities over time. But in many cases that is not enough to address the sea of change that we have seen through the advent of social media.

And thus, there were always rumours about the death of the corporate website in the past, but Coca-Cola made it official last year:

Like any winning campaign, we let the data guide us and inform our content decisions. Replacing a transactional corporate website with a digital magazine upended how we work. With KPIs focused on engagement, the new newsroom meant publishing content based on what readers want to read. [...]

[...] Today’s anniversary and home page re-launch marks a final break with the corporate website. You read it here first: for consumers, the corporate website is dead and “press release PR” is on its way out.

Ashley Brown is Group Director of Digital Communications and Social Media at The Coca-Cola Company

Thing is though, Coca-Cola is not your average company. It is a marketing machine. It can and needs to employ an armada of internal and external copy writers to make its content marketing strategy successful.  But for many other large organisations this digital magazine style approach is not an option, because it either doesn’t fit the budget, the purpose, the audience or all of the above. Arik Hanson has also some good points on why the Coca-Cola strategy should be critically questioned.

In the last year thinknext helped a successful, DAX listed company with over 40.000 employees completely rethink its corporate website strategy. At the beginning of the project we conducted an extensive analysis including internal/external user research, desk research and technical research. As part of our desk research we looked at a large number of existing corporate websites and also delved into a variety of reports to understand trends in corporate websites. None of them were satisfying, as identified trends were more closely related to web design, usability and information architecture. Many also suggested to combine social media channels with the corporate website. This is all good and well, but we couldn’t find a comprehensive answer to our most daring question: WHY?

From traditional to social

WHY do companies need a corporate website? The most important reason is certainly that publicly listed companies need to publish results and other relevant information. But why should a company spend tens of thousands of EUR on a website just to publish results? Of course, the corporate website is usually also used to provide information about the company. But what good is it if readers don’t trust it? Today people get their information from other sources including social media. And so it happens that once loosely connected people can all of a sudden turn against a company – the so-called social media shitstorm. At that point it doesn’t even matter whether the company is right or wrong or what it publishes on its corporate website. People simply trust each other more than the company!

This begs the following question: If once loosely connected people can turn against a company, could these people also become advocates of the company?  Thus, in our project we expanded the traditional purpose of the corporate website to also help building a network of advocates.

HOW do you build such network without paying people? It all starts with trust. Trust is the ultimate currency in the networked world we live in today. Relationships are built on trust. The below diagram details the elements of trust.

Enablers of Trust

These elements helped us articulate the trends that we think are crucial and should be considered by every company when thinking about relaunching its corporate website. As we are moving from a traditional to a social (networked) business world, corporate websites are moving:

  1. From static to real-time information
  2. From text to active content
  3. From channel to canvas
  4. From desktop to mobile
  5. From single source of truth to the provider of different opinions
  6. From destination to platform
  7. From providing information to providing a service
  8. From company centric design to user centric design
  9. From single launch to continuous improvement

After we had addressed the WHY and HOW, we were able to think about the WHAT. Functionality should always come at the very end. It is important to note that each trend depicts a continuum. Few companies will move from one extreme to the other within a short timeframe. As we brainstormed functionality together with the client and implementing agency we were able to come up with a concept and functionality to address some of the trends, but also plot a path towards the more progressive end of the continuum.

I firmly believe that the corporate website is not obsolete in a networked world. But its purpose and therefore content and functionality needs to change according to the trends outlined above.

In future blog posts I will expand on each trend and highlight some of the best practice from other companies that I have found during the research. 


© Picture Credit: Christoph Schmaltz