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.

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

the future workplace seen from the streets of London and the importance of conversations

Running a portfolio of activities is great. It has downsides though: The feeling of anxiety about what’s next; or guilt at taking a time out to do pro bono work when I could be responding to a request from a prospective client. And like every business marketing and relationship management has its cost.

But yesterday I decided to take a time out to reflect and think about the closing session at KMUK which I’ve been asked to lead. And this is how I ended up walking the streets.

John Blackwell is someone I met many years back while he was an IBM’er.  His ‘new’ organisation Quora devotes much of their time to help organisations think about the future of work and workspace.  Those who follow what I write will know working environments (space: virtual and physical) is a topic I feel neglected in Knowledge Management strategies and implementation plans.

mobile knowledge cafe in the street?

When John invited me to attend an afternoon session run by Street Wisdom at the Royal Society of Arts as part of his Smartworking Summit I was intrigued as the concept has caught on around the globe and seemed to be a sort of Knowledge Cafe in the street. Here’s what happened:

  1. Scene setting: David, Chris and Mel, explained what was about to happen over the next 3 hours.  In a pre-session discussion I’d described my ‘doctrine’ of Orchestrated Serendipity and that was used to illustrate what might happen. This is what we did.
  2. AIMG_3579 1wareness: Having assembled in 3 groups of 6 outside of the RSA we were invited to go off on our own for 8 minutes and observe – our choice, what we see and record. I noticed this pile (and someone’s bed) not 100 yards from this lovely peaceful spot.IMG_3580 1
  3. Slow: Back at ‘base’ we were asked to go off again at a very slow pace to see whether what we noticed is different because we have slowed down. My immediate emotion was of being in a bubble as everyone around me hurried about their business. Certainly I was more attuned to ‘things’ and it felt like I do at airports where I often switch off and withdraw in as a way of coping with the vagaries of travel. My 8 minutes over I return to ‘base’.
  4. Patterns: With my new ‘friend’ Mark from Sheffield I set off in search of patterns. This was interesting. As we walked we reflected on how we had already seen things we’d not normally see. We parted, me to Caffe Nero, he to the pub, both to watch.  I noticed: in a cafe people give themselves permission to talk; no one seems to use a paper map anymore, they use their smartphones; buses do come along in threes.
  5. IMG_3582 1Beauty: If the 8 minutes searching for patterns seemed a bit frivolous, 8 minutes looking for beauty (definition: ‘in the eye of the beholder’) was revealing. Literally 400 years from the rubbish and garden, up a twitten off The Stand I came across this magnificent abode which was being shown to a young Asian Student and his father. Amid the hustle and bustle of The Strand here was an oasis (at a price-1 bedroom starting at £895k!) which was aesthetically pleasing.
  6. Burning question: Fired up and ready to go I returned for my last task assignment.  I was to go off for 30 minutes to answer a burning question.  In my case this was to think about how I was going to run the forthcoming closing session at KMUK.
  7. Plenary: All valuable interventions end with a debrief / reflection session. Here we sat in a circle and shared what we’d seen and done. This was a precursor to a more expansive group conversation among two dozen people drawn from HR/Change/Facilities Management functions.

observations from plenary

The plenary session was stimulating: some worked virtually, others from Academia did a combination of home and away.  Here’s what emerged:

  • While virtual working is hugely advantageous to many, not everyone’s personal circumstances or culture fits.  Last week in Hong Kong I realised that with personal space at such a premium work has to take place away from the home. One virtual worker also noted that as a mother the flexibility is essential for her. She did note though that personal contact is essential to make sure a virtual team functions to its optimal level.
  • The grouping of people around a central office or campus is declining.  One view was that the Google and Facebook campus facilities are the last hurrah for this type of environment.
  • The future is about creating community hubs (closer to where people live) that permit drop out/drop in attendance based on a concierge hotel style service.
  • Current contractual arrangements are too restrictive and Zero hour contracts exploitative and not conducive to creating the element of trust needed for a different approach to task management. We discussed the idea of giving staff ‘space cards’ which they can redeem against usage at such approved venues.
  • No one is training us to work in the new way or in virtual teams and the training should begin in schools.
  • Digital was an adjective, now its a noun and with Bring Your Own Devices (BYOD) we are entering an era of extreme customisation of the workplace by the consumer.
  • No one ‘owns’ the topic at a senior level. Like Knowledge Management ways of working and workspace environment is seen as being a horizontal function straddling many disciplines.

my takeaways

  • The next 5 years will see an accelaration in the growth of the generic workspace.
  • ‘No one can speak twice until everyone has spoken once’ was a lovely approach from David Pearl (Founder of Street Wisdom) to ensure everyone in the plenary session got their say.
  • People and conversations matter, in fact they are vital for innovation and knowledge sharing: people share not technology.  I realised halfway through the session how important it is to have the imaginery ‘water cooler’ or coffee station area where you can go to share and be stimulated. By listening to others I was able to craft an agenda which otherwise I might have struggled with.
  • Street Wisdom worked for me when I recognised I had given myself permission to take time to slow down and reflect. It is an effective way of changing mindset and a case of: ‘when you look at things differently, the things you look at change.’
  • And finally, I managed to create a wrap up session for next week’s KMUK event. Watch this space to see what I did and how it went.

one to watch

Re-Imagining Work remains one of my all time favourite videos.  Dave Copin imagines what might be possible if more organisations embraced the empowering potential of technology and encouraged a truly open working culture.  It is a great accompaniment to this discussion and one I use frequently to stimulate a debate.

‘…there’s zero collaboration or institutional knowledge’: learning lessons from winning teams

So says Paul Azinger, the last US Captain to win the Ryder Cup, in the aftermath of the 2014 event and the accompanying soul searching. He implicitly acknowledges the importance of building on what ‘you’ know as an institution if you are to be successful.  This is what he said:

A big difference between us and them is that Europe always has a succession plan. McGinley was surrounded by past captains and future captains, and they all reap the benefits. We’re lone rangers as far as captains go. Nobody knows what we’ve done in the past. There’s zero collaboration or institutional knowledge.

 

why Team Europe’s victory is relevant to business

Why is the outcome of a biennial golf match of interest to lawyers and others who work in highly rewarded and individualistic roles? Because the players are all ‘Rock Stars’ in their own right who come together sporadically to play (and win) against their peer group.

What stands out about the European approach? Meticulous planning, attention to detail, clarity over roles before, during and after each Ryder Cup match and a willingness to acknowledge that no one player is bigger than the team.  Business is no different relying on a collaborative team approach and a set of shared values.

In October 2012 Apple CEO Tim Cook reshuffled his team, this is how it was reported in a Bloomberg Business Week interview:

“The key in the change that you’re referencing is my deep belief that collaboration in essential for innovation – and I didn’t just start believing that. I’ve always believed that,” said Cook. “It’s always been a core belief at Apple. Steve very deeply believed in this.”

Cook said that he wanted to ensure that Apple takes its already “enormous” level of collaboration even higher. “There are many things. But the one thing we do, which I think no one else does, is integrate hardware, software, and services in such a way that most consumers begin to not differentiate anymore.”

“You have to be an A-plus at collaboration,” Cook continued. “And so the changes that we made get us to a whole new level of collaboration.”

Here’s how commentator Kristine Kern (@kristinekern) of the Table Group saw this move:

Let’s be clear: Ousting a rock star from your team — or asking them to change their ways — is not always something you can do. But it’s something you should consider. “Like most things, it’s not black and white,” Kern concludes. “Organizational health requires rock stars do both stellar and healthy work. Which shouldn’t be a problem: Most true rock stars rise to a challenge. Just don’t be afraid to demand it.”

why shared values matter

Some time ago I was the Business & Strategy Advisor to an Anglo-Dutch company in the professional services / software business. It was around the dotcom boom period when investors were falling over themselves to back the next hot opportunity. Company valuations were bizarre: at one point on revenues of $20m we had a market cap that was 40 times bigger. Our AIM share price went from £1.25 to £16+. It was easy to be profligate, we weren’t and I take personal pride in having taken the lead on travel budgets and integrating the acquisitions we made.

As we grew (acquiring first a US firm, then a German one) and shifted our centre of operations (and development) from Europe to the USA the Executive Management team all recognized the importance of having a set of values and a structure that could transcend global operations while recognizing cultural nuances peculiar to the location of each office.

What might go down well as a motivational incentive in Denver would need tweaking to be embraced in Maastricht let alone in Guildford. We needed a framing device that everyone in the business could buy into and in the management’s case the cojones to ‘get with the programme’. So we organised a cross company group of all levels to work through what they wanted out of the business – how they wanted to be treated as employees and in most cases, shareholders.

To this day I can remember the constituent parts:

  • a clear vision understood by all
  • a meritocracy that rewarded success and took action on poor performance
  • inspiring and visible leadership
  • a place that was fun to work where you could pick up the phone to anyone.

We had 6 locations and office sizes ranged from 12-50.  We had a central sales/CRM system everyone used and we had quarterly conference calls with the management team where people could ask what they wanted. Board meetings rotated around the various offices, one was virtual the next in situ. When tough decisions were required we were clear about why they were being taken and communicated that.

Of course technology and process played a role, the corporate intranet was a good information source. We conducted Peer Assists, After Action Reviews; we fed our learnings back into the development process and we used what we learned to reengineer the business around the Stage-Gate New Product Development Process.

The going got tough, people got let go, yet Sopheon survived and today has an award winning software, Accolade, with embedded Knowledge deployed in the innovation and new product departments across hundreds of organisations globally.

so what

Whether business or sport, people respond to good leaders who provide guidance and clarity, hold people to account for poor performance and recognize/reward exceptional performance. They are also good at making the right decision and leading teams through implementation by inspiration, perspiration and collaboration. I’m sure those will feature prominently when Captain McGinley releases the inevitable ‘Building a winning Ryder Cup Team’, book.

Good decisions are informed by good knowledge: of clients, of markets and of resources. Knowledge Management when performed well becomes ingrained behaviour and Knowledge Sharing is a core element.

and finally

I am indebted to Euan Semple (who talks and writes common sense) for my summary. Taken from his excellent tome ‘Organisations Don’t Tweet, People Do‘ Euan argues that in today’s interconnected world it is increasingly important to be seen to add value and to be seen to be knowledgeable and willing to share that knowledge. He goes further:

In the old days ‘knowledge is power’ used to mean holding on to it and only giving it out judiciously to certain people. In an Internet world there is no point in having knowledge if people don’t know you have it, and if you are not prepared to share it. Web tools enable more knowledge to flow more readily around your organisation. Taking part in this process is going to be more obviously a part of being more productive than ever before. Being able and willing to share your knowledge will become a key business skill.

Collaboration is the mechanism by which Knowledge is often shared. It is something Apple and the US Ryder Cup designate (a forecast from me – Azinger to be the US Captain in 2016) recognise as being a core ingredient for a successful venture. So should you!

The future for Legal KIM: An Outside/In perspective

I’ve long admired the work of Martin White on Information Governance, Intranets and Search and as Chairman of the Online Conference that used to be a must attend event at Olympia in December.  I fondly recall a Hilton Hotel, Heathrow T4 meeting at the end of the 90’s between the two of us and Gerry McGovern in which we hammered out the components of an Intranet checklist. And the horror at finding the parking bill was nearly as expensive as a tank of petrol.

We go back a long way, have worked on a number of assignments together and I once gave the Keynote Speech for Intranet Focus at the inaugural Russian Intranet Forum in Moscow where David Gurteen ran his first Russian Knowledge Cafe.

Martin and I meet regularly.  It’s one of the nicer aspects of working in alliance that you get to share ideas (within the bounds of confidentiality) with people you choose rather than those an organisation chooses for you.  In the Summer we met a couple of times to review experiences in Legal Knowledge & Information Management. I’d just given the Keynote speech at KM Legal and written a blog post while Martin was in the midst of a new assignment writing a digital workplace strategy for a prominent law firm.

Legal is changing, is KIM ready?

Martin too had noticed changes in the way law firms were working. As we compared notes we became aware that some of the knowledge management, information management and project management approaches that we had been using for many years might be unfamiliar to law firms. We decided to validate our conclusions by talking to some of our contacts in law firms and among the comments we noted were:

  • “We are great at capturing, not so great at sharing, especially when it comes to knowledge about clients”
  • “Too many people think that writing a project plan is all that is needed to make a success of Legal Project Management”

A couple of hours on 4 key topics

We have decided to set up a meeting at which we could share some of our experience with senior knowledge and information managers working in law firms. Our Breakfast Breakout will take place in the Benjamin Franklin room at the Royal Society of Arts on 9 December. Starting at 9.00am (but with breakfast at 8.30am) we will be covering (amongst other topics)

  • Knowledge Loss & Knowledge Gain,
  • Legal Project Management,
  • Getting the best from firm/client virtual teams
  • Stakeholder Engagement and Management

We will be talking about Knowledge Chameleons, the “Balloon on a Phone” and WTGTGQ – When They Go They Go Quickly. There will also be a chance to benchmark your own situation, though the Chatham House Rule will apply throughout the meeting. With just ten working days to Christmas we’ll provide a relaxed setting, no PowerPoint presentations, a good breakfast and an opportunity to support the PlanZheros charity instead of paying for a ticket. You will be able to be back at your desks by 11.00. The room will be set out cabaret-style and we’ll be moving everyone around after the mid-way break to foster networking.

How to register

Registration details will be posted here, on Twitter @pauljcorney and @intranetfocus in the next few weeks.

Donations to a charity

It being Christmas we decided instead of asking attendees to contribute to the cost of the event we’d invite them to make a donation to the Plan Zheroes charity I am a founding Trustee of. So much is happening on that front and the next three months are critical, we need all the help we can get to launch our new web/mobile presence.