Creative mix
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Is Digital Engagement living up to it’s hype?


Digital engagement is a huge trend right now and for companies that get it right there are massive rewards & gains to be made. A lot of companies have successfully implemented new systems and tools to create a more engaged and productive workforce as well as driving innovation.  The case studies are impressive and centred around positive outcomes that make it sound easy to achieve, and they are…sort of.

A far greater amount of companies have tried to put in a tool and failed to get the results.

Measuring success first

A figure I read put the failure rate at 80% for solutions that didn’t deliver the promised results. A bit of red flag when most companies in that survey did not even have a clear understanding of what their measurement criteria should have been. They were reading what others had a achieved and thinking a straight implementation would yield the same.

The result was disillusionment and a waste of budget as well as resources. Users abandonment of the new system and going back to the old ways of working with little or no progress created a reluctance to try again.  Reasons for the failure were multiple and interdependent; problems poorly understood (not investigated), too quick to roll out a solution, not enough insight, lack of preparation, lack of research, not understanding the roles and issues of the people who will be using the tools and no clear KPIs. The criteria must be set out at the very beginning before a proposed solution is even introduced.

Engagement rules

The clue is in the name. Engagement. These have to be engaging. What is engaging is some what subjective. You cannot lift and shift what worked in one organization into another. Because the problem may be similar wrong assumptions about company culture and readiness may render it useless. How you engage and motivate staff is more important than the tools. But there are ideas and learnings that can be explored.

If you don’t know what is causing the problem you cannot create a solution

The first step is to understand the underlying problems within the organization. Sometimes an outside perspective is good. Employees may be more ‘open to tell the truth’ about what is wrong if they know what they say cannot be held against them. The structure of the company and the way people work and interact as well as culture, attitudes and mindsets all need to be considered first and foremost.

Company culture matters

Every organisation has it’s own culture and issues to resolve.  Only once the problem is understood can you start to envision the solution. The solution needs to have a set of criteria in place that it will deliver on. Having a kick off workshop with the stakeholders to drive out and prioritize the criteria will get everyone working together and understanding the trade offs.  A mix of insight and  analytics for setting the creative against a number of themes such as: adoption, time management, response speed, innovation, cost reduction and out put for a breakdown of predictable and achievable metrics.

You cannot fool people for very long.

Humans cannot be fooled for very long with a few sparkly gimmicks. People may think it looks cool at first and even in initial testing proclaim, “this is great I will use this all the time”.  But then something happens. The novelty wears off and the decline of usage starts. I’ve head it said (as an argument against the research), “oh but the client likes it”. Sure the client likes it now but will they still like it in a year when the results start coming in. Better to have those difficult conversations now and get the model right.

Competition is not team work

Studies show that pitting people against each other with leader boards and levels will not work over time. After the initial thrill of competition it becomes negative and off putting. Those people without as much time to devote to it drop off and find them penalized. Some personality types who don’t like competition and/or losing will think it is better to stay out of it. Newer users see that they will never catch up and quickly disengage. Teams become more secretive instead of more collaborative if they see others profiting from their ideas but nothing coming back. Incentives cannot be competitive over longer periods of time. Occasional contests can be good but they need to be quick and fair. An element of digital engagement could be to remove red tape and level the playing field.

The right solution for the right situation

The right solution is end result. Selecting the right model of digital engagement for the organization and situation is key. It is not a solution looking for a problem.Take the time to the work first to understand the problem and explore different options. Start small and choose a problem to focus on and create a tailored solution that fits. Understand the users and their needs. A number of solutions can be added and delivered over time and integrated together to create smoother working practices and bring different parts of the organization together. The success measures at the beginning would identify which ones to focus on first and create a type of road map but this doesn’t mean that this won’t change and other ones make take priority.

Digital engagement projects need to be handled by a User Experience professional who understands how to create, test and measure effective web / mobile solutions. A good place for further information on the types of digital engagement projects available and case studies is Digital Engagement Org.



Disruptive Innovation, Let the Revolution Begin

Tyrants are having a bad year. Things are only going to get worse. The old style management that is all about control is out. The new style is about “empowerment”.

    • New managers mentor. Tyrants order.
    • New managers ask. Tyrants dictate.
    • New managers are results focused. Tyrants are process focused.


I am lucky to have some great examples to learn from. I have also witnessed dreadful managers in action that think that ruling with a fist is the answer.

As a manager I know what type I fall in. I love mentoring and empowering. So it was with great pleasure that I was asked to read and feedback on a report on social learning for teams. It also got me thinking of what I do and my personal beliefs and the views of some of Thought Leaders such as Umair Haque, Director of the Havas Media Lab and author of The New Capitalist Manifesto: Building a Disruptively Better Business.

A revolution is happening. There is more talk about “disruption” and innovation and changing things for the better. In part this is down to digital and social media breaking down boundaries.

User Experience practitioners are certainly at the heart of the digital media revolution. The social media phenomenon is here to stay, and knowing what’s happening in this space is important for everyone. Social media is the glue.

In politics it is fueling uprisings. In business, people are breaking out of their team rooms and corporate structures and taking their conversations online. The web can be the one place where democracy really can exist and everyone can have a say. It is no surprise that user experience is now such a hot topic. Looking at some of the top brands and their recent marketing offerings is seems that have been quick to jump on the band wagon with messages all about the power of “you”. They know how much power you (and me) have.

This is not a bad thing. There is nothing wrong with giving people more individual power. Provided people get guidance and use it responsibly it adds a lot of value. Digital innovation is constantly driving new approaches that have huge potential value for our customers, employers and society, as well as ourselves. Greater transparency can foster better relationships with clients.

It has me thinking of what is best for digital teams when it comes to providing information about their industry.

Give a man a fish and he will eat for a day. Teach a man how to fish and he will eat for the rest of his life.

Fortunately most people in user experience are very vocal and socially media aware. The “UX cats” are long out of the bags. Putting the cats back into the bags and going back to old style team rooms with spoon fed content is not going work. Team rooms still have their place as a repository for documents and resource files but they are not where we should be having our conversations.

Twitter is fantastic for conversations and event tracking. Add a hash tag #myevent and tweet. It is pointless to duplicate content and functionality when the tools and information are one click away on the web. It is a no brainer. No really. Laynrd does a great job of listing conferences and events. Laynrd has over 3,500 presentations on file. Meet-up is fantastic and has the added bonus of sending notifications of new events.

The key is to influence rather than argue. The value of writing a book report or conference biopsy seems a little odd when it will be Tweeted, blogged and reported by almost everyone. Everything is online and the last time I checked Google was still working.

Today already 40% of business technology users at North American companies report using one of more website (s) to do parts of their jobs that are not sanctioned by their IT department. We expect this number to grow close to 60% in 2011 as frustrated workers work around IT to self-provision technology. How democratization of technology empowers employees, Forrester, 2011

This is a smarter and more collaborative way of working. The only way people are going to learn about digital, their industry and the social media phenomenon is by getting involved. By the time I write that report it will be out of date.

The accelerating rate of change forces everyone in every organisation to make a choice: learn while you work or become obsolete – Quote from Jane Hart, Impact of Social Learning in the Workplace

The four cornerstones of Social Learning are:

  • Building relationships and joining communities: Learning more from competitors, industry experts, thought leaders and innovatorsthrough blogs, Linkedin, Google +, Twitter
  • Improving productivity: Using tools like Google, Twitter, Dropbox, Twitter, Doodle, Good Reader
  • Finding and using content: Flipboard, Google, RSS, Laynrd
  • Creating and sharing content: flickr, Slideshare, Vimeo, Meet up


Tyrants beware, the revolution will be Tweeted #revolution. Jane Heart, The Impact of social Media in the Workplace is good place to start. Jane Hart”s report is now online with more at

Please discuss as I am always interested to know what people think.


ethics word cloud
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Philosophies, Strategies and Value Creation

There is a lot of debate whether consumerism has gone too far. The distribution of wealth is to the super, super,  rich. The high street has been decimated and taken over by chain shops and restaurants. These continually buy each other out until it is in the hands of super companies. In the book The New Capitalist Manifesto, Wallmart was referred to as “the Deathstar of companies”. It was reviled and held up as being responsible for killing town centres and turning the locals from merchants to into employees. Stealing their independence and producing more low paid shelf stacker and cashier McJobs. An enslavement to produce higher profits that benefit a few already wealthy shareholders.

Activists fought a desperate battle to keep this greed monster away from their towns.

Wallmart is responding and tying to paint itself as helpful for delivering cheaper goods and promoting their newly acquired green credentials.

People are turning off and tuning out of advertising. To build a brand and develop a communication plan now there needs to be a philosophy. The message can no longer be solely strategic – sell, sell sell and mindless consumerism. The web makes everything more of a leveler. A user can click on negative feedback about a company two clicks away. Here niche brands can thrive as well.

Users now expect a better user experience on the web. A lot of people (myself included) now post complaints directly into Twitter and are getting a rapid response. This is becoming the first choice as users are learning they can avoid having to spend a painfully long time on the telephone trying to get hold of a real person.

Because user experience is so pervasive, developing a good user experience depends on blurring the boundaries of the web page. The user experience now has impacts on how the business sees itself. This in turn could have a positive impact for how companies need to behave if they are going to survive long term. Facebook with all of their privacy issues may pay a huge price when the next social rival site comes along and says to users “we respect you and you can own your content”.

Google has a philosophy that is driven by their principals

  1. Focus on the user and all else will follow.
  2. It’s best to do one thing really, really well.
  3. Fast is better than slow.
  4. Democracy on the web works.
  5. You don’t need to be at your desk to need an answer.
  6. You can make money without doing evil.
  7. There’s always more information out there.
  8. The need for information crosses all borders.
  9. You can be serious without a suit.
  10. Great just isn’t good enough.


Umair Haque is a provocative writer and thinker, who does not believe that government is the answer. He still believes in capitalism and believes we are the answer. I quote from his book The New Capitalist Manifesto.

Constructive capitalists have an advantage in the kind of value they are able to create, not just its amount. Because higher quality value is less risky, less costly, more defensible, and more enduring, it is usually worth more to stakeholders of every kind: people, communities, society, future generations, employees, regulators, and investors alike.

I am putting this into practice and working with our clients to help them develop both a philosophy (what are the principals) and a strategy (how to implement, drive value & positive behaviour). What I offer them is a constructive advantage for the future. That is a valuable proposition.

It is also blurring the boundaries of the traditional User Experience from being “Tactical” to being “Grand Strategic”.



Do not escalate first & apologise later

Good communication results in less time wasted and zero apologizing. But what is good differs. We all want to be friendly, warm and helpful. Stiff, formal and clear can be detrimental to building relationships. How many times have you read emails that give you too much “over information”, in that they become patronizing?

The key is to try to strike a balance and get everyone on the team to ask first and shoot later. In a dysfunctional team it is shoot first. A quick phone call works best.

One of the first things we  learned was email etiquette. Among the things we we learned was that it was it was very difficult to read the intended conjecture in pure text. Punctuation also communicates a lot. I am sure most people know the pitfalls of exclamation marks and “Eats Shoots and Leaves”. So much information is lost by not having facial expressions, tone of voice,  body language and the ability to respond in real time.

To work around this people adopted a more formal and safe style of communication. But this is impersonal. Talking in plain language and using smiley face etc. to convey winks, frowns of what is sarcastic and what is serious has taken hold again in the workplace.

The problem is even with all these learnings  so much time still gets wasted on email. Here is a translation of email pitfalls:

  • Using “Guys” in a mixed team is sexist. On a team of mixed ages insulting. In these enlightened days probably intentional as well. Keep it generic – Hello, Hi, best regards.
  • CCing: How many people some one can CC for no particular reason. It says; “I just want to big myself up and do not care about the time of other people. I want to F* you over”. If they are in the conversation then CC away. If they are new then simply say “I need to forward this to…X as I do not have the answer to xxxx and then CC” Think first “is this helpful?”
  • Escalate first, “I have no idea what this means and because it might be bad I will escalate. I do not care about you or our working relationship. My intention is to F* you over.”  Phone, email or chat and then once you have the facts raise them in an objective and helpful manner.
  • Not sending an acknowledgement says “F* You”. Say thanks and give an appropriate action of what you will do with it.


It is the little things that can make your team dysfunctional or working together for a common interest. Email may not seem like a big deal but if it is wasting time then it is time to go back to Email Etiquette 101.