Be concise, be memorable: why names, images and straplines matter

For the past 20 months, I’ve been wearing a few hats: author; consultant; advisor; and business owner.  Substitute years for months and it would also be an accurate account of how I’ve spent most of the last 20 years.

Describing that to people is often a challenge.

At an event in Dubai, not long after I’d left a full-time role (as a Vice President in a financial services group in the City of London) someone asked me what I did. Expecting the usual answer (Vice President… / Senior Manager….) he was surprised and I hope intrigued when I answered, “I have a portfolio of activities.”  It’s a phrase I’ve used ever since.

I’d thought long and hard about my response to his question. “Who are you with?” is almost a standard opening line at any meeting during a business event. Those that are interested in the reply will ask you to explain what that means.  The majority begin looking over your shoulder for someone else to talk to.

Say what you do, not what you are called

Often when working on a consulting assignment trying to understand how a business works I conduct interviews or run group sessions. I ask people to introduce themselves and describe what they do. The vast majority say, “My name is ….. I am the …” To which I respond, “That’s impressive, now please tell me what you do in a way that an outsider will understand.”

We all hide behind jargon and headlines which today’s 24 x 7 soundbite society promulgates.  How many times have you read a headline and formed an opinion based on that only to discover that the article that follows says something different?

Our challenge is to distil what we do into a phrase, image or name that is concise and memorable, one that makes you smile.

A few months back I ran a Masterclass in Stockholm for Senior Legal Knowledge Management professionals. I invited them to pair up and develop their own concise description of what they did. It proved to be an illuminating session.

Promoting Knowledge Management is much like I used to find selling Corporate Finance services – it’s intangible so harder to explain and hence easier to diss.

Making first impressions count

#FinanceNavigator – Intrigued?

Every couple of weeks I attend a business networking event of one type or another. Participants are encouraged to share their story in a minute or less. The vast majority waste the first 30 seconds describing when they were founded and where their offices are located. Very few put themselves in the shoes of the audience or leave a lasting image or impression. 10% might tell a story.

On Monday I spent a couple of hours with a marketing advisor. Part of the UK Govt’s “Let’s do business’ initiative wherein companies can access business advice we were discussing the messages a young business might use to describe what it does and who it is.

Adopting a persona approach, we mapped words on their online presence (website / Facebook / Google Business) with keywords we thought their target audience might use. We drew on great 5 star Google reviews to see what clients actually said. And we thought long and hard about navigation, images and metaphors.

A strapline, Shining a light on property finance with a lighthouse (we live within walking distance of Beach Head Lighthouse one of the UK’s famous landmarks) generated the idea of building on a navigation theme and the idea of using the Finance Navigator Hashtag.

#PropertyMatchmakers was a hashtag evolved for Bees Homes a companion business.

Supported by a smiling winking bee logo and a strapline,: “Taking the sting out of buying and selling property”, it features the concept of matching buyers and sellers rather than merely advertising a property on line and hoping buyers will come.

The bee logo is memorable and portable across gender, ethnicity and generations. The hashtag appears in every social media post. Both companies finish any presentation with, “Here when you need us, not when it suits us” to emphasise that ours is more than a 9-5 business.

Valuing and selling property is a subjective art. Ultimately the ‘right price’ is what someone is willing to pay not what the owner thinks it is.

The skill of the ‘Property Matchmaker’ (realtor or agent) is to find the right buyer, sell them a lifestyle or image they can relate / aspire to, negotiate a price both are happy with and manage the supply chain to completion. It’s often about making correlations.

In a previous post on Collaboration, Working out Loud and Knowledge matchmaking I described the concept of a Knowledge Matchmaker and suggested:

…as a Senior Manager charged with developing new business, my ability to match a need with a solution was prized and rewarded even though the correlation was opaque to my bosses. More often than not the intuition paid off. But does the same apply today in a Knowledge Management environment where logarithms and Artificial Intelligence are making the correlations I used to make?

The idea of making and managing connections and networks came up time and time again albeit called something different during interviews for the KM Cookbook. Where it landed for me was in discussion with a prominent KM’er embarking on a relaunch / rebrand of her organisation’s KM program. They too were seeking a memorable image / strapline / hashtag that could underpin their internal and external communications.

And finally

Knowledge Management is a thread running through my many consultancy assignments, publications, masterclasses and pro bono activities. Underpinning this is the concept of how to describe or illustrate the value a person or team brings to the business.

To illustrate: As advisor to a large reinsurance group I would spend a day per month in their offices in the City coaching different people and teams. I recall a discussion with the compliance team who had a terse relationship with the business who saw them as blockers not enablers. By adopting a business consultancy mindset, it changed the dynamic: people went to ask compliance how best to meet regulations instead of doing it and being told they were wrong.

Here’s what I advise all businesses I work with when they try to present what they do:

  1. Make it concise
  2. Make it memorable
  3. Make it recognisable to those who are listening (or watching)

When I was Managing Partner at Sparknow LLP we ran an exercise for the front line staff of the UK’s Museums & Libraries group. We asked them to be “in the shoes’ of their customers, to imagine what it would be like to be on the other side of the desk. It was uncomfortable and required them to get out of their comfort zone to do so.

The best presenters are those who tell stories that live in the memory. If you can wrap the three must do’s into a story then you are on the way to creating an effective and enduring presence.

Thanks for reading this.

New Year, new book: getting the KM Cookbook over the line

Stop press: 4 February 19

Today Chris Collison handed over the first iteration of the manuscript to Facet Publishing. The countdown begins to the May publication date.

——

The past 3 months have been hectic as Chris Collison, Patricia Eng and I raced to meet a publisher deadline of 31st January. I’ve enjoyed the discipline of conducting interviews and turning them into chapters that showcase their KM activities.

I’ve also enjoyed working virtually as a team even though bandwidth in Chile and at some airports can be a challenge (Patricia is touring South America and Chris spends more time on planes than I do).

It all begun over dinner as most good things do. Having run a joint Masterclass in Lisbon in May 2017 Chris Collison and I were sitting in a restaurant overlooking the River Tejo supping a wonderful Alentejo Red wine enjoying Arroz do Marisco (Portuguese Paella).

Over the next 6 months we had a number of discussions culminating in a decision to go ahead and write a book using the release of the ISO KM Standards as a backdrop.

A book that makes no promise to help the reader ‘pass’ an assessment, more one that draws on great examples from leading global organisations and highlights aspects from their KM Programmes others might find inspirational.

I’ve learned so much during this time and could not have wished for a more varied group of organisations to interview:

  • PROCERGS of Brasil
  • MAPNA of Iran
  • Saudi Aramco of Saudi Arabia
  • Petroleum Development Oman
  • Dstl (Defence Science & Technology Labs) of the UK
  • Transport for London of the UK
  • Financial Conduct Authority of the UK
  • TechnipFMC of the US, UK and France

There have been so many interesting stories and reassuringly endorsement of the importance of the “8 ‘ates (soft skills essential for KIM’ers) I’ve spoken about and led masterclasses on. It’s also been interesting to learn that one organisation has aligned it’s own KM consultancy effort to the new ISO 30401 KM standard.

Introducing the book

The KM Cookbook serves up a menu of success stories and strategies for organizations wanting to know more about Knowledge Management Standard ISO30401 – whether they intend to pursue certification, or simply seek to use it  as a framework to review their existing programme and strategy.

Knowledge Management (KM) has been around for over 20 years as a set of tools and methods for connecting, collecting and creating knowledge. Lots has been written, and there are tens of thousands of practitioners out there—in-company  specialists and consultants.  Unlike Lean, Agile and other business improvement methodologies, KM has never had a single agreed set of tools, or a commercial accreditation or standard.  Attending a KM conference can feel a bit like visiting an international street food market!

In many ways, the arrival of an internationally agreed standard and vocabulary, imbues fresh professional credibility and to the field of Knowledge Management. It provides knowledge managers with a ‘brand-new kitchen’, and a moment during which they can pause for a moment and consider the service that they provide to their organisations.

Why a Cookbook?
For a potential restauranteur who has gone beyond casual street-food and is looking to sell a service to customers, the challenge – and the opportunity – is to provide a distinctive offering with consistency and professionalism.  To do that successfully requires a number of elements:  credible reputation, premises, staff, tasty and appealing menus and recipes, compliance with relevant food hygiene standards, and, of course, blood, sweat and tears.  And at the heart of it all, with its appliances, utensils and food stocks, is the restaurant kitchen.

In the KM Cookbook, we use the metaphor of the restaurant, its cuisine, owner, chef, staff, ingredients, menu-planners, customers – and a restaurant critic to serve up ISO30401 on a plate for the readers. The second half of the book explores sixteen different examples of KM in practice, through the words of their ‘KM chefs’.

Imagine you had the opportunity, not just to enjoy a new, well-equipped and fully inspected kitchen – but also the chance to sit down with KM ‘chefs’ from around the world, across different industry sectors and listen to their stories. That’s exactly what we have set out to do with the KM Cookbook.

Who we’ve written it for

Our aim has been to produce a highly readable, slightly tongue-in-cheek dinner companion for a wide readership. We hope anyone looking to see how Knowledge Management can make a difference to their business will enjoy this as a good read and that KIM Professionals, Senior Management, Quality Management and Human Resource Professionals will find much of specific interest to them.

Agreeing a framework and table of contents took time; we narrowed down the immediate target audience to:

  • Senior Management: trying to decide whether to adopt the standards
  • Practitioners: tasked with implementing the standards and remaining compliant
  • Assessors: who will assess organisational KM activity against the standards to help them understand KM

Draw up a chair –  we hope you’re hungry!

 

How KM is helping with urban regeneration: engaging with the community

I was never a great fan of cities that had buildings, walls and even trains covered in grafitti.

That was before we acquired a place in Lisbon and saw the dramatic impact Urban or Street Art can have on a community: how it can transform run down and delinquent areas; create a sense of community spirit; and turn it into the #1 city break destination.

What does this have to do with Knowledge Management? Here’s what:

An offer too good to refuse?

A year ago my wife Ana and I were having coffee with our local MP Stephen Lloyd and a prominent local businessman, Keith Ridley. During a wide ranging conversation, triggered by a new business venture (Bees Homes) we’d established 6 months previously, Stephen and Keith asked us to generate a few ideas that might build on the regeneration and investment (circa £400m) taking place in Eastbourne.

As people who’ve been lucky enough to visit many places where Urban Art is a feature we suggested that might be one way of improviing footfall to the town while creating the bohemian cafe type culture typical of mediterranean seaside communities and increasigly seen around the UK. In January we spoke at length to the Municipality of Lisboa to learn from their experience and in October I had breakfast with the head of the art programme in Stockholm. Both gave similar advice: engage with the community first.

In truth this was an approach we’d been adopting (ours was ‘top down, bottom up’) as we’d recognised that sustainability can only occur if the initiative is “In the community, of the community and for the community”.

We continued to gather support from key stakeholders with the aim of holding an open engagement session before the year was out.  That sesson took place on December 6th, here’s what happened.

Engaging with the community:

I wanted an event that brouight together everyone who might be interersted for a couple of hours of semi formal collaboration. Having spoken to David Gurteen, I adapted the Knowledge Cafe format I’d used some 6 years previously in Lewes when I was gauging interest in setting up a charity to make use of surplus food.

We (Bees Homes) were keen to be seen as catalysts / facilitators but not the driver so we asked Keith if he would share the running of the event with me. And we worked closely with the local community hub The Devonshire Collective who are supported by the local and Borough Councils.  They agreed to host the event and arrange for the publicity.

This is the agenda we all agreed.It’s worth noting 50+, including Stephen Lloyd who that very day had resigned the Lib Dem Whip over the Brexit vote, turned up on a horrible evening.

I especially enjoyed the Ice Breaker session: to see a group of total strangers including many of the town’s dignitaries embrace the opportunity to share thoughts with strangers was rewarding and set the tone for the evening.

Everything went to time, people responded well to our presentation,  the (free) food provided by Heidi of The Crown & Anchor & ‘Naz’of Simply Pattiserie helped to lubricate the discussions and there was an audible buzz by the time Madam Mayor got up to do the farewells.

Outcomes

We asked people to work in tables of 6 arranged cocktail style and write post it notes. Keith summarised at the end of each question.

A snapshot of the responses is alongside.

Our next step is to set up a social media presence and draw on the offers of support to get the first 5 works commissioned.

And finally

What did I (re) learn from this event:

  1. People like a structured approach behind apparant informality
  2. Be clear on what you are expecting people to do and on the expected outcomes
  3. Brief early those who are working alongside you – get their input
  4. People like the opportunity to talk to others early at an event
  5. Food (and wine) help lubricate tongues
  6. It’s important to summarise as you go
  7. Inject humour when you feel its needed
  8. Make sure you acknowledge the contribution of everyone
  9. Find a venue that has enough space to move around – we shifted venue due to numbers
  10. Get to a new venue early and check out the equipment.  When I arrived to check it out I discovered the projectors and TV screens were not compatible with Macbook Pros. In the end we had to find a couple of PC’s and download our presentation from DropBox

KM in a cashless society: Observations from Legal Scandinavia

Take a good look at this 500 Krone note. In 2 years time you are unlikely to see one.Sweden is going cashless which makes you wonder what will happen to the cash machines. I found out about this evolving policy by chance having withdrawn Skr !,500, enough I thought to pay for taxis and a few snacks. My first attempt at using cash was to settle the taxi fare on my way to a Masterclass. I discovered I could pay Kr 500 but no my driver didn’t have change (Kr 250).  So on my walk back to the hotel I go to the Tourist Board to ask how to use the money in my pocket.  Though keen to help they were unable to tell me the names of places that would take cash!

Undaunted on check out I got out my ‘spare’ cash to pay part of the hotel bill: “We are a cashless hotel” I was informed. I pointed out a potential issue for tourists or business people paying with a card.  We will be charged a non sterling transaction fee. I was assured we wouldn’t. I was, £14 on a bill of £500. The technology is in place but the implementation process and how it impacts everyone is far from nailed down.

Which is a good segue to my observations from 3 days with the Legal Industry.

VQ Forum #9th edition

My visit began at this event which was a sell out. Very much set up to be “show & tell” it follows a similar format to many with a list of speakers comprising practitioners, vendors, and thought leaders.

I liked

  • Two very insightful slides. Accuracy rates and time taken to produce. The justification for technology from Johan Eriksson of Google
  • Andrew Arruda’s presentation, I tweeted: showcasing Ross AI system. Initial observation: intelligent augmented search that generates coherent overview. “Coming of age of technology that’s been in the making for many years. We have what we need to train the system”
  • Loving the L’Oreal story from . Old established company buys AI start up to help potential customers envisage what make up might look like on them.

Surprises

  • No mention of augmented or virtual reality which some are experimenting with for training.
  • “you can crowdsource Law”. Excellent initiative from Stockholm Treaty Lab
  • That the predominant shoe colour was brown!

    Source: Stefan Grahn – Founder of Deltek and passionate “Gooner”

I would like to have heard

More dialogue and more interaction. The conference style set up mitigates against conversation. Even though there were three breaks for informal networking they were in the exhibitor areas with limited seating or breakout space. As the final exercise proved the demand was there!

The vendors (who were given a few minutes to introduce themselves before the recess they’d sponsored) use a story to illustrate what they do.  It is not really helpful to tell people how many clients you had in 2016,17 and 18.  And I don’t need to know when you were established.

quotes

Obsess about automating everything that can be automated to free our resources for more fun work!

“If you don’t automate your work you will be out of work”. So says Google. They would of course but in this case they are right.

We as are not threatened by the new technologies, our ways of working will get less and digital solutions will enable us to concentrate the actual work.

If law firms don’t innovate & disrupt the industry, their clients are likely to demand the disruption themselves. Modernisation from outside sources e.g. big banks.. that may be more tech-savvy

General Counsel asks “what can Law Firms do for me that I can’t do myself?”

A diversified customer base should mean diversified law firm management…but that’s not always the case

Change is painful, but the only way forward. Improving skills and determining your strategy is equally important as implementing technology

Fascinating: recruitment consultant confirms legal firms are looking for “humans”- people with soft skills who are good at collaborating.

The closing

I began my address with this slide asking the question: “who do you want to be, the established beach hut painted in a different colour, or the new modern version that looks very different but may not be to everyone’s liking?”

 

I spoke about a recent conversation with the CEO of a firm looking to acheive rapid growth. I examined the challenges I thought they faced.

I shared a number of postcards from the future provided by vendors and legal practitioners.

Here’s one example:  I closed the session by inviiting the audience to stand up and find someone they’d not met. I then asked them to look at the postcard in their pack and consider what their firm might look like one year on. I think it worked:

Thank you for your fantastic presentation at ! And the postcard exercise was a true success!

A day with Legal Stockholm (and Goteborg / Helsinki)

Following the postiive response to the postcard session I was looking forward to spending the following day with 15 senior Scandinavian legal professionals focusing on the 8 Critical “ates of a “Knowledgeur”:

It had become apparant from preparatory conversaations with Carolina of Venge (the organisor) and at VQ Forum that many KIM professionals face challenges assoicated with “finding stuff”, getting senior management support and getting their organisations to work more collaboratively.  It was one of the most enjoyable masterclasses I’ve run due to the willingness of the participants to engage from the start.

Here’s what some of their takeaways were:

  • A new day of intense learning. Loads of new ideas. Thanks for a great KM masterclass. Key take aways as of now. Focus – and a bit of back to basics (that might get lost in this tech era). Facilitating IS a critical skill. And the importance of a good elevator pitch.
  • The best take away was definitely the elevator pitch. I will also try to become a “knowledgeur”. I liked that title!
  • Noted down back-to-basics and a new skill set (or more professional words for the skills anyway 😉). And the focus on facilitating and curating.
  • What a great day! My take aways include the elevator pitch and the importance of onboarding new people. Great question: ”What will you miss most from your last work?”
  • That you should put 30% of your time listening to co-workers and implementing by socializing. And to start the elevator pitch in a sentence that explains how the KMwork contribute to the bigger picture (vision, head strategy etc)
  • Thank you! I liked the idea of GIVE >< TAKE – to ask people what skills and knowledge they bring, and not only what they expect to take away. So simple, but I’ve never thought about it before.

And finally

In the past i’ve spoken about the idea of Knowledge Matchmaking so I was delighted to be able to link up a couple of people who had similar interests / experiences.

I too was the beneficiary of an introduction via Ann Bjork one of the organisors to the Head of Stockholm’s Art Department with whom I had a most enjoyable breakfast discussing the city’s Urban Art programme before I left on Friday.

The previous evening I had dinner with a LinkedIn contact who I’d met at a previous event.  We live in a connected world and have the ability to make the most of networks but it requires us to reach out in the first place!

How not to collaborate effectively

I’m in Stockholm. It’s crisp and bright in stark contrast to the current political uncertainty. It’s 15 years since I was last here, my first journey on Norwegian (I was impressed) and I am struck by how much technology and green issues permeate society.

My hotel is cashless and everywhere there are adverts reminding you of the technological advances born in this country.
Exiting the Central Railway station I see signs reminiscent of airports in the Middle East and other train stations in Europe as groups of young Arab men greet friends and family who arrive off the Airport Express or off trains from other parts of Europe. This is a country that has absorbed many nationalities: 1 in 6 people living in Sweden today were born outside of the country.
Why might you legitimately ask is this relevant?  Here’s why: when the predominant business language is English (a 2nd language for almost everyone) the potential for miscommunication and misinterpretation is significant at a time when the country (and company) needs effective collaboration and communication to succeed.
Its a theme I will explore more later.

declining personal values = declining business standards: discuss

Over the last 20 years I’ve run a portfolio of activities. I’ve watched (and winced) as clients run to stand still: they want product to satisfy the C suite; to prove they are making a difference; and are worth the king’s ransom many are now paid. But has it made us more productive? Are we/they better off?
At the same time I talk to friends who run SME’s in hospitality and catering who are unable to expand due to a reluctance of entry level staff to “put a shift in” and work unsociable hours.
A few weeks back I met the CEO of a business with ambitious growth targets. I was there as an invited guest for the opening of an office.  He spoke glowingly to the assembled throng about how proud he was of their gender / diversity policy and how his team encourages openness and transparency.  Ours was a detailed and informed conversation following which I was asked to put some thoughts in writing.
This I was happy to do – I was not looking for business but saw a chance to help a business (which employs people I know) to grow. It took me a couple of hours to pull my thoughts together and the key issues I highlighted (with some reading around them) were:

  • Silo working – offices work in isolation.
  • Failure to share ‘nuggets’ across the business.
  • How to maximise the impact of technology?
  • A need to sustain / enhance domain skills across the business.
  • Importance of creating a curated shared knowledge base that contains critical knowledge and identifies who has it or where it might be found if they +/or their team leave.

I sent an email and heard nothing. I checked /called a week later. “Yes we received it and yes it was helpful.” You could argue that’s the way business is conducted today. You only hear if people want something and once they’ve got it they move on mentally.

“collaboration, it’s not just about me”

Take a look at the first two bullet points above.  Now consider how effectively your organisation shares ideas, knowledge, anecdotes.  Does it “work out loud?” As 80% of people on social media sites often lurk preferring to observe rather than participate it’s no wonder that collaboration initiatives often fail after an early spike of activity.
Recently I worked alongside a friend and former colleague on an assignment that sought to incorporate Knowledge Management practices into a rapid business transformation. At one of the working sessions it occurred to me that you cannot encourage “Working out Loud” or “Paying it Forward” if the culture is “Ready when Right!”
Is this an issue of culture and behaviours or something less sinister and related to the 3rd bullet point? Today I ‘talk’ to contacts, clients, friends (and family) via WhatsApp, LinkedIn Messages, Facebook Messenger, Skype, Zoom, Email, Text and sometimes on the phone or over a coffee. It’s inefficient but its not just about me.The Brasilian company I spoke to on Monday this week preferred Skype to Zoom and to prepare answers to questions in advance so that was the approach we adopted.
Collaboration is about communicating and working in the medium at the pace people are most comfortable in.  I’ve seen IT silver bullets quickly lose their lustre because the community doesn’t get it. Too often its a solution looking for a problem.  My message: find an approach that works and a way to capture the outputs (if they are likely to be of value).

“…a tolerant multicultural society”

Back to the language theme. For many years I used to say how proud I was to live in the UK as it had done a pretty good job of assimilating many cultures and is now a “tolerant multicultural society.” Imagine my horror when many of my friends and family asked me if I’d be happy to be told that they tolerated me!
Over dinner last Friday with a couple of Englishmen we examined this and concluded its about the sentiment which is often missed when you are dealing in a 2nd language. You take it at face value and then dissect what was said after.
I’ve long argued that the British thrive on ambiguity. An example being “Brexit means Brexit” which my European friends are still trying to understand.
I’ve seen a similar trait when family members speak to their staff in Portuguese.  They expect an East European to get the nuances of what they have said.

It’s hard enough in a social environment, in business it can be damaging and costly.

and finally

Tomorrow I will be closing an event targeted at the Scandinavian Legal Profession. It’s full, over 200 attending most of who have come I imagine to hear about the potential impact of AI on client business and hence their bottom line. I am going to be looking out for great examples of collaborative working.