Sunday, 31 August 2008

Building communities for scaling up requires skill & training

Although all of us can hold conversations, network to varying degrees, can manage a meeting and send an email, I am not sure these generic skills are enough to build both the face-to-face and online communities that we'll be needing for the large scale changes that many organisations I am working with have planned.

A few years ago there was a big push on ensuring that the leaders of improvement projects had the basic project management skills to help them on their way. Likewise we train facilitators of groups in how to perform their role. Building communities and understanding the fundamentals of how they work and what techniques you can employ, when, is part of a set of skills that can be developed by building on what you already know. To despatch an untrained and unsupported person to facilitate a program of large scale change, scaling up or spread (whatever you'd like to callit) without some appropriate social and technical input is most likely to doom them and their program to a lesser set of outcomes.

Is it because we think we know how to have a conversation and have a relationship that we are too afraid to learn any more or to reach our for help when we are taking on large and important change programs?

Monday, 25 August 2008

Managing email: 51 hints and tips

Some individuals and organisations use email as a marketing method. The same people then complain about being overwhelmed by their email. As part of some work I'm doing on helping individuals live and work in their virtual world I've compiled a non-prioritised list of hints and tips on dealing with email.

  1. You get back about as much as you send (think about it…)
  2. Make sure your signature is set up and includes your contact details. If you are a company you may need to include other details for legal reasons
  3. Know how to use the advanced features of your email software, they are there to make your more productive and efficient
  4. In Outlook, use the Rules option to send types of messages to folders e.g. messages from distribution groups can go directly to certain folders.
  5. Ensure the subject line is pertinent (alter it if replying and changing the topic)
  6. Use the subject line as a summary for the whole email; think what it will look like in the recipient’s inbox
  7. When scheduling a mtg or a call put all the details into the subject line including the reason for the meeting
  8. Cover only one subject per email and make your point succinctly
  9. Read the email more than once before responding to make sure you comprehend it
  10. Make action requests clear
  11. When you copy someone, make it clear in the email what action you wish each person copied is expected to do (else don’t copy them)
  12. Provide a context in every email; don’t assume forwarded or replied messages can be understood without this
  13. Proofread your reply
  14. If your email is printed make sure it will be one page or less and well formatted
  15. If you know your recipient is using wireless technology to receive emails, like a Blackberry, then keep your emails very short
  16. It is difficult to express your emotions in writing and remember the reader may not understand or “hear” what you mean
  17. Praise in public, criticise in private
  18. Show respect and restraint
  19. Remember email is never confidential and can be forwarded on to anyone
  20. Distinguish between formal and informal situations and adjust your language and use of abbreviations and icons accordingly
  21. Long emails do not necessarily need long replies
  22. Not all email needs to be responded to immediately. Use the “do not deliver before” function or reply when most appropriate
  23. Avoid attachments. Better to put attachments on a webspace and link to them in your email
  24. Better still, ask before you send an attachment or a large number of attachments. In some cases, good old fashioned print at your end and put in the post might really be appreciated as a time saver for the recipient
  25. Be careful opening attachments from people you do not know or where the attachment looks strange, especially if it is an executable file
  26. If you end up with a group of individuals regularly discussing a number of topics under a heading then start an online threaded group to manage the process
  27. Get on the phone if you start a get-and-forth process; email is not an instant messenger product. A string of max 4 messages = a phone call.
  28. If an email angers you, pick up the phone. Chances are you are misinterpreting it.
  29. If you keep answering the same sort of questions from different people, consider starting a blog or using an FAQ sheet on the intra/extranet
  30. To cut down on repeated distribution of the same document, such as agenda generation, use shared document and collaboration sites
  31. For generating complex sets of information in collaborative ways that avoid endless attachments and update emails, use wikis.
  32. Delete what you’re not going to deal with or delegate. (If nervous then file in a “delegated” folder). Get it out of your inbox.
  33. Avoid being a “grey spammer” by copying irrelevant people
  34. Send personal emails rather than sending “to” a 1000 and expecting a response (this is also akin to spam)
  35. Send along the jokes and photos only in very exceptional circumstances and to people you know incredibly well.
  36. If someone sends you jokes and things you don’t want to receive then ask them to stop
  37. Stop sending emails that just say “thank you” or “responses that say “you’re welcome”, and ask others to leave you off the “thank you list”
  38. Never forward on a “this is the latest virus” message” as it is nearly always a hoax and will often suggest the recipient take action that may cause damage to their system
  39. Check your spam folder and junk e-mail daily to ensure you’re not getting proper email diverted there. If so, add the email address to your safe senders list.
  40. Don’t forward mail to someone else unless you feel you have permission to do so
  41. If you get email you don’t want in your in-box, use the blocking functions and other functions to have it automatically removed. Don’t allow it to continually waste your time
  42. Get off as many email lists as you can, or have the newsletters you’ve signed up to be directed to a specific folder (use the email software rules function) and read them once a month.
  43. Use the unsubscribe button to get yourself off the email lists you no longer want to be on (except never do this for spam)
  45. don’t type all in lower case or use txtspk in emails.
  46. There is no rule that everything needs to look like it is filed in a filing cabinet with folders. Use your computer and email software search function and file everything in one folder.
  47. Move messages out of your inbox as fast as you can. Avoid using your inbox as your to-do list (in Outlook, use the Tasks option as your to-do list)
  48. Process your email in batches and certain times of the day
  49. Know how to turn the email function off and on on your Blackberry so you can receive email when you want it (also useful for not incurring large roaming charges when out of country)
  50. When you read it – answer it (or delegate it), then delete it, or file it – remove it from the inbox
  51. Archive your inbox or your main filing cabinet regularly so you have a backup if that is important to you if you lose your data

Tuesday, 19 August 2008

Influencers proven to be less important than we thought

One of the basic tenets of diffusion theory for the last 50 years has been the premise that opinion leaders are key to the dissemination of ideas and the rate of the adoption process. All this has been called into question by the research carried out by Duncan Watts at Coumbia University (and interestingly I instinctively wrote about my issues with opinion leaders not working well in my book "Undressing the elephant; why good practice doesn't spread in healthcare).

Duncan's work suggests that although the influencer hypothesis has some merit under most of the conditions tested the influencers had less influence than expected. In fact what he found was that it appeared adoption was helped by a critical mass of easily influenced individuals - turning the perspective around.

I did a brief and incomplete literature search of publications with "opinion leader" in the context of healthcare for the last 2 years. I found 18. Interesting to note that of these half suggested their experiment of using what they called opinion leaders worked in disseminating information and half said it didn't work.

So I guess the jury is still out. Though after 50 years it is good to see some new thinking.