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  • Chris Preston 9:00 am on June 12, 2013 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: personalization, , , ,   

    Our Pride and Delight in ‘I Made This’ 

    Estimated reading time: 8 minutes

    A news item caught my eye this week. Some clever individual has noticed that someone at the picture-sharing site Flickr has hidden a small message in its website’s code. It’s a ‘We’re Hiring’ notice designed to weed out the people that are REALLY interested in how the site works.

    I think it’s a great example of what I call ‘micro-personalization’ – the small ways in which people can put their mark on what they make or do, without affecting the overall integrity of the output.

    It’s not a new idea, and has long been used as a mark of quality – buy a V12 Mercedes and you’ll see a signature of the engine’s maker proudly displayed on a prominent plaque. On a more safety-related note, when you pull the ripcord on a parachute, you do so with the certainty that a qualified individual has packed it to an exacting standard, as their signature and seal are featured in its log book. For the record, I’ve not done, nor will do, either of these things.

    Technology is offering a new way for micro-personalization to add value, create interest, and…well… have fun. For years technology enthusiasts have hunted down ‘Easter Eggs’ in software. These hidden extras can be as simple as a cheat in a game, or, as the case with Photoshop, feature a comprehensive flight simulation over a landscape that displayed the developers’ names.

    Website developers have long hidden messages and images in their code, such as the recent HMV site change, that celebrated the chain’s revival with a hidden picture of Nipper the dog in the HTML.

    A few years ago you may remember the phenomenon of Felix the Cat. It was a free piece of software that placed a small black and white cat on your desktop, which chased your cursor, put paw prints on your screen and a range of other cat antics. It was designed to mimic the unpopular Paperclip helper (and also make you buy a certain brand of cat food).  It was charming, pointless, and also the holder of a strange secret…

    One day, bored, I put the Felix programme through a Hex Decoder (I’d recently read about the phenomenon of Slag Text where computers ‘tidy up’ programs and fill left-over memory space with random content – sometimes with embarrassing consequences). The Decoder showed me all of the program’s coding… and a rather beautiful, unfathomable piece of philosophy that clearly articulated the developer’s state of mind on the day he made it.

    This discovery delighted me, but also I’m sure, delighted the developer. It’s that second part that I think is so important.

    I talked in my last blog about the need for people to see the meaning in what they were doing, and I believe micro-personalization is a crucial part of this. The ability for an individual to make something ‘theirs’ is hugely powerful, costs very little, and adds so much for the recipient.

    I recently worked with a very successful medical devices company that makes complex wound care products. The cutting floor workers will hand-cut the most difficult ones, and then sign the side of the box. Their manager told me of one new worker who questioned why they did this – he shared with them the reams of thank you letters he had from people that had written in to specifically thank the individuals for making their products. He never got the question again.

    We are so quick to label things as ‘mass produced’ and rarely think about the small ways that we can utilize to make it more personal to the maker, and more meaningful for the purchaser. Clearly signing every tin of beans that rushes past you on the production line won’t work, but that doesn’t mean everything that is made in bulk cannot be personalized. I, doubtless like many, always smile when I see a packing note saying ‘inspected by Sanjay’, rather than the impersonal ‘Inspected by 1467’. It’s good to know that a person has put their name to something, and it makes me happier to have bought it.

    For those doing the making, having a sense of care, pride, and ownership is a win-win situation.  They will be happier, more aligned with their work and the company will be guaranteed a higher quality product. Letting people personalize what they make is a powerful way of achieving this.

    So here’s my challenge – look at what you do, what you make, what you service – and ask yourself the question ‘how can I make this mine?’  Or, if you’re a manager, ask the question ‘how can I help my team make it theirs?’

    Think small, what are the additions that a person could add to something that makes it theirs? How could they bring in their own style or approach? What is the value of giving your customers something that’s more bespoke?

    We are at our happiest when we see our work as our craft, when we want to sign what we’ve done, and tell people, ‘I made this’.  (This article, in case you didn’t know, was written by a Mr Christopher Preston).

    Chris Preston (@Trimprop) is a Psychology graduate and specializes in internal communication and team development. He currently is Director at The Culture Builders.

  • Chris Preston 9:00 am on April 15, 2013 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , , , , ,   

    Losing Meaning Amongst Complexity 

    Estimated reading time: 8 minutes

    I’ve recently been reading Dan Ariely’s latest book – The Upside of Irrationality. For those of you who don’t know him, he’s a frequent writer and speaker on the subject of human behavior, with a particular emphasis on why we do things that make no practical sense. In this book, he shares research into how we find meaning in what we do, and the consequences of not having it in our working lives. It’s fascinating stuff, and I could read his work all day.

    He makes a key point about the need for us to see the outcomes of our work successfully launched into the world, and that it’s the role of leaders to make sure people can join the dots between what they are doing, with the ultimate outcome of the organisation. In the book, he uses SAP as an example of where complexity is clouding this process – I don’t believe he’s saying SAP is a bad system; it’s just one of many, many tools that we now use for our daily lives… probably one too many.

    How bad is the problem he’s describing? Well, for example, in 2008 I was working with a police force that had just audited its systems – they had upwards of 350 different ones. That was four years ago – I dread to think how many they have now. Officers at the time were frustrated and disheartened with the situation, feeling that it took them away from the core of the job: to police.

    This situation is echoed in the pharmaceutical industry, one of the most heavily regulated groups you will ever find. With multi-billion dollar fines levied for illegal activity, the companies involved have layer upon layer of systems to prevent any, tiny, slippage of the ‘code’. This compliance is aimed to benefit the patient, but it has the hugely negative effect of creating a group of dispirited people who genuinely want to make people’s lives better, but feel the myriad of steps in the process simply don’t allow it. I’ve been part of trying to make the many systems more understandable, which is a Sisyphean task I would not wish on anyone.

    Thinking this over, one phrase came to mind, written by the equally fascinating author John Maeda, who, when talking about simplicity, uses this powerful equation “How simple can you make it / How complex does it have to be?” I love this statement, and I turned to it recently when working on an online profiling tool, which I was happily heaping with features that I thought would be wonderful. The final product would have needed days of patient explanation before anyone understood it, and a manual the size of a phone book. Applying John’s rule, I chopped out most of the things I’d added, and it worked just fine.

    But with my system, I had total control. With the police and pharmaceutical industry control is far from perfect, and the ‘clear lake’ slowly silts up as many contributors independently bring in their own needs. Organizations over a certain size lose clarity around complexity – no one has the reach or remit to ask the question ‘are we too complex?’ when it comes to systems and process. Many companies simplify their products, operations and footprint, but few ever truly simplify how they do business. As one police officer put it to me, “we are good at adding, but not taking away process.” Systems seem to disappear only when technology takes a step forward.

    There’s no doubt that the proliferation of systems is damaging our ability to find meaning in what we do, research, common sense and performance figures all bear witness to this fact. I’m not suggesting that we stack them up and burn them – we’re past that point. What I do feel is needed is local ownership of this challenge. It’s the job of the manager to ensure that people working in complex environments can see how their contribution adds to the organization’s ability to deliver services, goods or outcomes. No one wants a meaningless task, but the danger today is that the processes we’ve built up around the daily job make it difficult to see past the task of administration.

    Leaders and managers need to become practiced at holding conversations about the organization’s aims, what’s coming off the assembly line, and who they are helping. They need to recognize that people are blinkered by the systems they have to use, and need encouragement, support and time to step out of this and look at the wider picture.

    None of this is difficult, it’s about time and effort on the part of the people that really need their teams to perform well.

    And, if you have the capability, maybe also extinguish the odd system here and there – start a quiet revolution around simplifying working life. One of John’s governing laws is “Simplicity is about subtracting the obvious, and adding the meaningful.” So, if it’s a law, you’ve got to do it.

    Chris Preston (@Trimprop) is a Psychology graduate and specializes in internal communication and team development. He currently is Director at The Culture Builders.


    • David Zinger 10:58 pm on April 15, 2013 Permalink | Reply

      Well said Chris. I like the way you put Johm Maeda and Dan Ariely together. I have been thinking about this a lot in relationship to employee engagement and this was a very nice personal booster.

    • Chris Preston 10:13 am on April 16, 2013 Permalink | Reply

      Thanks David – they are two lovely authors, and I really wish that business could do more with John Maeda’s work – I think the challenge is it’s not as easy to link his thinking with business process as it is with product design. Glad it helped boost you!

  • Chris Preston 9:00 am on March 5, 2013 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , , , , trust   

    Trust. Don’t ask for it, work for it. 

    Estimated reading time: 8 minutes
    Trust is an unequal commodity in life.  With some people, we give it unequivocally – to the surgeon that is about to operate on our heart, or to the bank that holds our money (actually, perhaps this one isn’t so strong). With others, it’s hard won, and we hold back giving trust until certain fundamentals are demonstrated.

    “Trust me…” goes the saying, and in business, it’s something we regularly ask of our colleagues, our partners, our customers and our loved ones. We all say it and doubtless mean it, but how many people actually know how to practically go about building a foundation for trust? Until recently, I had no idea and, like most of us, assumed it was something intangible that grew as time passed. However, more and more I’ve been working with leaders that demonstrate it, and have highly developed approaches that boil down into four solid components that are applicable in any situation where trust between two individuals, teams or a person and an organisation is required.

    The Complete Trust Model: relationship, honesty, humility and consistency

    Where I use these four components of what I’ve termed the Complete Trust model the conversations always start with ‘which one’s the most important?’ This is a difficult one, as you’ll see; they are interdependent and taking one out breaks the cycle. However, I do think there’s one that we all regularly neglect – I’ll save that for last.

    1. Investment in Relationships

    The first element is Investment in Relationships  – taking the time and making the effort to both be known by the other person and knowing about them in return. If you are asking someone for their trust then it’s only fair that they have a reasonable level of insight into the person doing the asking. Without this, it’s similar to a stranger wanting to borrow money from you.

    Knowing about someone isn’t enough – you have to demonstrate this knowledge to them – even if it’s as simple as using their name. One CEO we work with gave himself the challenge of learning six people’s names a week to increase his levels of trust. When he used them, the results were amazing – people lit up and engaged with him more openly.

    2. Honesty

    Secondly, there’s the need for a high level of Honesty – not pulling away from the tough conversations that people won’t want to hear. For some managers, the desire to be popular makes them avoid sharing negatives, which simply builds up mistrust, as people find out the information for themselves and question why it wasn’t shared. Honesty is also about saying when you got it wrong, not deflecting blame or spinning a story. This is really about making the truth a virtue for yourself.

    3. Humility

    Humility follows this, being able to put aside authority, position and status to both accept tough feedback and to be able to talk about personal failure without being defensive or evasive. The word actually means ‘from the earth’ – being humble is about re-grounding yourself on a firm standing, and stepping down from a position of power to ensure people see the human side of yourself. In one technology company we work with, the CEO has a communication route that’s labelled ‘Tell the CEO’ – it was changed from ‘Ask the CEO’, and has a huge influx of considered responses.

    4. Consistency

    Finally, and what I think is the most neglected aspect, is Consistency. This mandates that what you do in the other three, you do repeatedly and in the same manner. So many people talk, particularly with regards to the Investment in Relationships element, of doing it ‘when they have the time’. As soon as you are inconsistent, people lose faith in you and trust is broken.

    Consistency is about having the desire, focus and tools to implement long-term strategies with regards to people, information and yourself. It also dictates that you actively monitor your own behavior – identifying where you act inconsistently, let pride cloud the issue or fail to share the tough message, and challenge yourself to work on lessening or removing these instances.

    These four apply to every interaction we have – customers that receive inconsistent service that treats them as a number quickly disappear. People working for a leader who never tells the truth about bad things will find other, more trusted leaders to work with. Trust even extends to the organization – companies that espouse new values every 12 – 18 months will struggle to build trust from their workforce.

    My final, cautionary, note on trust is that it won’t necessarily make you liked – it’s what you put into those four elements that will do that, being consistently unpleasant does, in a perverse way, build trust – people will know that you’re always going to be like that.  Getting the balance right involves working methodically within the four areas I’ve detailed and focusing on your personal style to ensure they are inclusive, equitable and mature.

    Chris Preston (@Trimprop) is a Psychology graduate and specializes in internal communication and team development. He currently is Director at The Culture Builders.


  • Chris Preston 9:00 am on February 1, 2013 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , ,   

    The Five People Your Business Really Needs to Make Engagement Stick 

    Estimated reading time: 6 minutes

    Editor’s note: Today we have the pleasure of presenting a new Zyncro Blog author: Chris Preston, a navigator of the corporate culture, spends most of his time working with interesting companies that create a wealth of stories, anecdotes and cautionary tales. Chris describes himself as a natural Storyteller, but a terrible Strategist – so the blogs should be good, but probably late. Welcome Chris! :)

    Over the last two years Jane Sparrow and I researched content for a recently released book, The Culture Builders. In doing so, we uncovered the five people you really want in your organisation if you are to make engagement, work, stick and pay dividends.

    The examples we heard, from companies large and small, showed us how great engagers (be they leaders or first-line managers) are adept at inhabiting five roles as they look to move the workforce from caring about the business, to being passionate about it – a difference we term ‘savers and investors’. An organisation full of investors (and they do exist) can achieve amazing things and delight and move their customers way beyond the ‘OK’ mark.

    We use the phrase Investor to describe the levels of commitment, involvement and ownership that people feel and demonstrate when they genuinely feel part of an organisation. The five roles get them there – steering, challenging, talking, doing and inspiring.

    So, I guess the question you’re asking is, ‘who are they… and how do I get them?’… Meet the Culture Builders:

    • The Prophet: the one with the vision for the future, forward looking, inspirationally overflowing. This role is all about what’s over the horizon, and we should all be aiming to get there (the past’s a forgotten place).
    • The Storyteller: bringing the journey to life, uses rich language to localise the vision and help people bridge the gap between where we are and where we’re going.
    • The Strategist: keeping it all on track, aligning actions and people with the goal, ensuring ‘it’s for the long term’. Driving consistency of behaviour and longevity of an initiative to ensure a successful outcome.
    • The Coach: Knowing what makes the heart ‘beat’ of the people in their team, and using that knowledge to engage them fully in the activity, to use the engagement process to grow and challenge them, constantly thinking how.

    These first four are what we term the ‘type’ roles, and describe the ways in which we go about engaging the wider organisation. We know from research that there is a preference for the first one, closely followed by the Storyteller. It’s the Strategist that is the least prevalent in managers and leaders – opening up a whole host of issues around longevity of actions and cost for projects (I’ll talk more about this in future blogs).

    The final role is what we term the ‘style’ role, and focuses more on the personal approaches that a leader of people will rely upon:

    • The Pilot: The person with their hand on the tiller, the calm, firm voice in times of change – a style that colours how the person delivers the four ‘type’ roles and steers teams to act and develop in very different ways (we break this role down into three areas: Authoritative, Inclusive and Enabling).

    I firmly believe that these five roles are made, not born in people, and can be attained by focus, effort and determination. Like many areas of leadership theory, the first step is always going to be recognition of what the situation requires and understanding how you personally get there.

    Interestingly, the really high performing individuals that we met did not possess all five in high levels. Rather they had a balance in the four type roles (so either Prophet or Storyteller high, and either Strategist or Coach high). In terms of the Pilot, those that are highly inclusive are seen to do the best in engagement terms.

    So that’s a quick jaunt through the book’s main thinking. In future blogs I hope to move beyond it, and look more widely at how areas such as trust, dialogue and the corporate environment all build or detract Investors in our organisations. Let me know your thoughts, and what you’d like me to expand on – culture’s a whole world in itself!

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