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Thursday, May 24, 2012

How To Write A One-Page Proposal to an Executive

One day you may need to communicate with an executive. Pro tip 1:  executives do not have time for you to dim the lights and show them forty slides with charts composed of animated dancing leprechauns and flashing arrows that emerge from the void in a checkerboard pattern. Pro tip 2:   Guys, and gals with deep voices, executives also don't need you to use your "Radio Announcer Voice."

As a rule, what executives want is simple: one printed page. No matter what it is, it should be one page. And it should be printed, not emailed.  You should plan to hand it to the executive, and then you should be quiet when they read it and wait for their questions.  It's harder than it sounds.
http://www.simpsonstrivia.com.ar/wallpapers/mr-burns-wallpaper.htm
 So how do you do it?  Here are the steps:
  1. Write the deck that expresses your proposal in as many slides as it takes.  Use imaginative animation and blinking letters if you must.
  2. Remove your title slide.
  3. Insert a new slide at the front of the deck with "Appendix" written on it in big letters.
  4. Now insert a new blank slide in front of your Appendix slide, using the following template:
From here, you are ready to go.  Read and reread your own slides and figure out how much of your content you can afford to put into the limited space on the executive slide.  Put the right information into the goals, rationale, financial, status, and action sections.  Roughly translated:

Goal:  what do you want to have happen?
Rationale:  why?
Financial:  how much will it cost and when?
Status:  how far along is the thing you are proposing already?
Action:  what do you want the executive to do?

The title may turn out to be optional, which will buy you some additional space on the slide.  Also, if your goal is self-evidently good, you won't need the rationale.  If what you want isn't financial, you can skip that section as well.  Do not use microscopic type.  Executives require 20 point type at minimum.

Now, and this is important:  print out the one slide that has content and bring it to the executive in person.  If the executive asks, be prepared to email them the whole deck, including the appendix, when you get back to your desk.

Agilists, note that the executive proposal is reassuringly akin to a "story card:"

AS:  [this executive]
I NEED TO:  [action]
SO THAT:  [goal]

Effort Estimate:  [financial]   Value Estimate:  [rationale]

Isn't that nice?   

Pro tip 3:  the executive does not need to know about the awesome story card analogy.  With executives, the less said the better.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

4 Step Knowledge Base: Jump Start Your Enterprise Culture Change

If you're reading this, you may be attempting a large scale organizational change of some kind.  And perhaps you are feeling overwhelmed at the huge amount of literature available in "the Google" about how to change a large organization.

Please, just stop it right now!  You are setting yourself up for the classic organizational change mistake:  letting the "perfect" get in the way of "the good."  Or even "the existent."  If you've even got a small idea that is a good one, just do it.  Stop pondering the big picture and try something.  Let's start with the concept of "culture change."
http://www.bizcoachaustin.com/services/jump-start-your-business/

Ask anyone, and they'll tell you, "oh a culture is the hardest thing to change."  Then ask them what they've tried.  Sometimes the culture is ahead of you, and you don't need to send out individual missionaries to personally convert and baptize new recruits one at a time.  Who died and left you and your hand-picked cronies as "the only ones who know what's going on?"

Re-imagine your cultural change effort as a cultural "channeling" effort, where what you're proposing makes sense.  If it does, and your enterprise is a fairly large one, then I guarantee at least one person, and probably many more (all of the smart ones, for sure!), has already had the idea you are trying to propagate.  You don't need to teach people--you just need to put like-minded people in touch with each other, so they can drive the culture change for you.

Practically, try the following:
  • Set up a "knowledge base:"  a website, shared file depository, or wiki of some kind which is read- and write-accessible to the population whose culture you want to change, and provide a curator of some kind to keep things relatively neat.
  • Recruit everyone you already know to be allies to put "seed content" on the site which will reward visitors for stopping by.  As you encounter new allies, send them to the site and request that they post something in particular that you think is great.  Encourage your allies to do the same type of recruiting.  Encourage everyone not only to post, but to comment and add questions.  If you find good designers or good editors, encourage them to help with the curation and organization of the site as it grows.
  • Set up a distributed email list associated with the knowledge base, and post to the list whenever anything new is put into the knowledge base.  Encourage people to ask questions on the email list, and post the questions and their answers on the site.  Set up an email archive of questions with answers, if you have the technology to do so.
  • Drive traffic to the site with every presentation you give, and every good interaction you have.  Host virtual and in-person get-togethers, and publish artifacts which come out of these meetings to the knowledge base.  Post your training materials.
Not to switch metaphors too close to the end of this post, but culture change really is a matter of "if you build it, (and it's a good idea that you're forwarding), they will come."  Latch onto your local evangelists and get them to get their peers involved. They have the contacts, and you don't!

http://utahrepro.wordpress.com/2011/02/22/if-you-build-it-they-will-come/

You do not need to master an encyclopedia's worth of "the literature" to make a difference in your company.  All you need is courage and one idea.  If Solstice could become Christmas this way, by comparison, enterprise cultural change seems like a walk in the park. 

Saturday, May 5, 2012

How to Become a Blogger in 5 Steps

You should blog.  Why?
  • You write well when you use complete sentences.  The world deserves to enjoy your writing, not just abbreviations you can fit into 140 characters.  Also, we're tired of reading things like "ORD->LHR.  Tired after 17 days of nonstop travel through Europe."  Actually, I suppose if that's what you are going to write about in complete sentences, that would technically be "bragging," not "blogging."  So don't.
  • You might like blogging.  Don't let that beautiful writing skill lie dormant.  Let me nudge you!  If you write it, I will comment!  Or someone else will.
  • Most of you should blog to help build your personal brand.  The phrase qualifies for Buzzword Bingo!, but there is some wisdom behind the "marketspeak."  As dotcomma.me commented below--be ambitious.  Don't expect instant fortune or fame, but don't be surprised by it when it comes.  And at minimum, you are putting your best face forward for people who are specifically looking for you online.

One obstacle I have run into as I try to get more of you out in the "blogosphere" is that you feel squeamish about "how to blog."  So let me help you.  It's easy.  I promise.  I don't do things that are a hassle.  Why even now, I'm procrastinating on submitting badly needed reimbursement claims to my company, and I'll get money for doing that.  Here you go.  Five steps:
  1. Sign up for a free blog-publishing service.  There are sites that host blogs.  Think of it as "Facebook," only you get to write in a bigger box, and they let you use italics and bold.  Here's a handy list of the "Top 10 Free Online Blogging Platforms."  Caveat emptor.  I'm not recommending any of these.  I use blogger.com.  But the point is, this should be free.  Do not pay to blog.
  2. Format your page.  There will be default templates on your site.  Pick one and stop agonizing about it.  Usually it's easy to upload a picture of your choice.  Perhaps you should limit your customizations to just the photo for now.
  3. Write your first blog post.  Yes, yes, that raises a host of questions I will get to in a second, but really, it's like the 3-paragraph essay you had to write three of every day in high school.  It is not a big deal.  And you are encouraged to use bullets, which makes it that much easier.
  4. Tell your friends to read your post.  It's fine if you do this in the form of an anxious email to the three people who love you best in the world, where the email says "Did I just totally humiliate myself?"  The answer will be "no, it looks great."  And you may have an interesting conversation.  
  5. Write 20 posts over the next 6 months.  I feel that once you do something 21 times it is a habit.  So do lots of other people who have other suggestions for getting into a favorable new habit.  Once a week is a good rate.  It will get easier with practice.
Now.  Questions which may be roiling in your brain:
  1. How long should a post be?   Especially a business-oriented blog?  Here's a nice answer from Matt McGee, which is sort of a meditation on the concept of "It Depends."  Honestly, if you Google search this question you will get a lot of answers.  My answer is "start with 3 paragraphs."  See what happens.
  2. What should I blog about?  Any time you wonder something and then find out the answer to it, you can blog about that.  If you wondered, then so did someone else.  Save them some time.  Also, if something makes you angry, you can blog about that but disguise all of the details, so someone else can learn from your situation.
  3. Any must-dos?  Use numbers and bullets.  Include links to other people's wisdom.  Have white space.  Put in an image or two.  Attempt to entertain while you inform.
  4. Anything to avoid?  Do not mention your employer or any person you work with by name, unless you have their permission, and most likely also only to compliment the person.  There are contexts where open venting is appropriate (like your shower).  Write everything as though your coworkers, bosses, and neighbors were reading it over your shoulder.  If it is embarrassing to anyone but you, leave it out.
  5. Special bonus tips?  Yes, I almost forgot.  I just read a blog somewhere that recommended "how to write a good blog title."  I just searched for it and found out there are probably 10,000 articles on the topic.  Here's a nice one that might help you brainstorm on what to write about as well.   The piece of advice that I remember was to include a number in the title.  Like "7 Secrets to Making Your Fake British Accent Less Obvious."  That would draw me in, for sure.
That's it.  Now go blog.  And once you do, remember how it feels, and think about reading and commenting on other people's blogs.  You can do it!  And so can they.