04 December 2016

How Bruno Kahne's "12 Deaf-Tips" relate to online communication

I recently attended the PMI UK chapter's annual Synergy event in London.  
One of the guest speakers was Bruno Kahne, responsible for Leadership Development and Culture Change at Airbus Group Leadership Academy.
Bruno presented his recent book titled "Deaf-Tips - Powerful Communication": Twelve lessons from the Deaf world to improve your communication in your personal, social, and professional life.

Bruno is a great speaker and got the whole audience engaged rapidly.  His 12 tips concern face-to-face communication as this is the context he did extensive research comparing teams of deaf people and teams of hearing people.  The deaf teams always beating the hearing ones at the same tasks requiring good collaboration.

While I was listening to Bruno, I started thinking if his 12 tips would apply to online communication as well.  I decided to buy his book and challenge myself at adapting his tips to the online context. You will find below how I succeeded in this challenge.  I should point out that I have contacted Bruno to ask for his feedback before publishing this post.  He sent it to some of his deaf collaborators and they confirmed that these adaptations do relate to the way they communicate online.

The online communication I am referring to are the social media platform – like Facebook and LinkedIn on the web or Yammer  and Jive in the organisation.  This type of communication is typically:
·         Asynchronous (not real time with a time lag between a question and a response)
·         Many to many (the same comment can be shared by many – ie. use of the ‘Like’ function)
·         Involving a combination of relations and strangers (people not knowing one another personally)

I have re-sorted Bruno's tips from the most relevant to online communication to the one that required more adaptation, but kept the numbering used in the book:

Deaf Tip No 05: Be simple and precise.     
<<When Deaf people communicate, they are both simple and precise at the same time.  [..] When Hearing people try to be simple, they are automatically vague.  And when they try to be precise, they suddenly become complex.>>  

In today’s increasingly connected world, it is essential to remain simple while not losing valuable information.  We can do this by keeping our online messages (sms, emails, social media posts) simple, to the point, avoiding unnecessary words.

Being precise in your descriptions or explanations is nearly as important to avoid unnecessary lengthy exchanges for you to give successively more information.  Worse still if by not being precise, you lead the readers on the “wrong path” without being asked to clarify.  This will affect your online reputation and make others being more wary of your contributions.

Deaf Tip No 03: Put yourself in the other’s shoes.

This tip applies fully in an online context.  In fact, with regards to the choice of words it applies even more as you don’t have the luxury of the others’ body language to warn you that they do not understand your point.  Furthermore, online social communication is typically to be read by numerous people, many of whom you don’t know personally, so you cannot adapt your language to all of them.  Therefore, it is useful to think about how others will read and understand what you write online, before you press

Avoiding technical language and acronyms, placing words in the right order, and avoiding unnecessary lengthy posts are all very good advice for online communication.
Finally, Postponing judgment of course fully applies when reading other’s initial comments/replies.

Deaf Tip No 07: Dare to ask questions.

Many will argue (including myself) that asking questions is one of the raison d’être of any online collaboration tool. Most online discussions either start with a question or start with an assertion which calls for others to ask questions.
About the three conditions – Precision, Honesty and Space - for asking the right question, this is how they more specifically apply to online communication:
Precision: It is even more important in an asynchronous communication where hours or even days can laps between a question and its first answer!
Honesty: Again, posting questions and responses on a medium that will retain them for a very long time after you wrote them (probably longer than the time it will take you to forget writing them) it is a very good advice to be honest with yourself and with the others you are collaborating with.  Don’t take the risk of an old lie to come back and bite you!
Space: Online this means to not systematically provide an answer to your own question.  Don’t show off.  Instead give others a chance to respond first and build on their answers.

Deaf Tip No 09: Do you see what I say?

The use of visual supports such as infographics and “visual words” fully applies online.  An online collaboration environment is also very well suited for using the story telling technique.

Deaf Tip No 06: Don’t say don’t.

Our brain is wired to remembering positive images/messages.  Using negative phrases will tend to let others remember the opposite to the point we are trying to make.  So in any discussions, including online ones, we should use positive sentences.  For instance, in online discussions, avoid the use of the negative word ‘but’ and use ‘and’ instead which will encourage more responses from the other participants.

Deaf Tip No 01: Prepare to be prepared

Preparing to be prepared for online communication consist of doing the following before engaging: 

  • “Looking around”/assessing everything you can gather from the context of the discussion you are about to engage with
  •   Reading what others have written, assess who the participants are (or tend to be if there are many of them).  
  • Being clear on the purpose of the group/Community of Practice/Space in which you are intending to engage with (you could read some of the previous discussions involving the same people to get a better feel for the topics that are expected here, how people are “behaving” and the dominant style of writing).

We must keep an open mind and not being too quick at judging/interpreting others’ point of views.
We need to read on a regular basis what others are writing online which will give us the ability to anticipate what others would respond to our own contributions

Deaf Tip No 04: Be sequential.

In the asynchronous context of an online social media discussion, you do not run the risk of participants talking at the same time or someone starting to respond while someone is still talking.   However, it is frequent for multiple threads – sub-threads - to occur within one discussion.  This often causes confusion among participants, especially with the new entrants who have not taken part from the start:
  •  It gets increasingly difficult to follow the various threads simultaneously and always understand who responds to whom
  •  When you reply to a “sub-thread”, you have this annoying feeling that you are no longer addressing all the participants but only the ones who will care to follow this thread
  •  Sub-threads often diverge so much from the discussion’s original topic that you end up with very different topics being addressed within the same discussion.

Some tools do allow to visually differentiate the “sub-threads” (such as indentations) in order to see who is responding to whom.  But this workaround only partially address the first issue above and potentially exacerbates the other two.

Being sequential online means avoiding sub-threads.  You can do this by adopting these two simple behaviours:
  • If a discussion inspires you to ask a related but clearly different question than the one that started this discussion, start a new discussion with your question.  If you want to relate to the first discussion, you can explicitly refer to it by using a hotlink.  You can also tag the specific participants whom you would like to see contributing to your new discussion.
  • If you notice a sub-thread within a discussion, you should post a reply suggesting to the contributors that this topic would seem to warrant a new dedicated discussion.   You might be surprise to see how often this triggers the right behaviour from the person who really want to put across his/her point of view on this divergent topic.

Being sequential online also means making sure to fully understand others point of views before contributing ourselves.  We can do this by asking “clarifying/confirming” questions.  Each question should be preceded by a relevant quote from the other person you are questioning – so literally copy/pasting the sentence(s) that you are asking to clarify/confirm. 

Deaf Tip No 08: Focus on the right thing.

In an online context, focusing on the meaning fully applies. 
Focusing on the others means being conscious of our filters and put them aside while trying to understand other’s contributions. 
Focusing on here and now applies also: it means avoiding other distractions when writing a question or a response, and rereading what we wrote before sending.

Deaf Tip No 12: Say what you think.

Saying what you think online in a shared “public” environment is fine when it is not about someone in particular.  When you are not face-to-face with the person and in addition communicating asynchronously, the risk of being misunderstood is greater.  Furthermore, the arguments given for being honest in Tip No 7 are relevant here too.

However, how saying what you think applies online is by being as factual as possible, as descriptive as possible (but again not personal).  If you express an opinion, belief, then make that clear, and then make your point completely, don’t stop half-way as it will likely backfire: It would confuse/mislead others, leading the discussion on a wrong path, requiring from you a lot of effort to recover and clarify.  
An important relevant point about online communication: Some readers and contributors of an online discussion might not come back to read your late clarification, and will keep this wrong interpretation of your points.

Deaf Tip No 11: Get in Touch.

This was at first the hardest tip to translate to an online communication context. 
“Being touched” by someone has two meanings: The physical one and the social one when someone does/says something really nice about you.

So “touching” online can be about not missing an occasion to please someone, to help out and ask nothing in return, to congratulate, to praise, recognizing someone’s efforts/successes/performance.

Deaf Tip No 02: Read Body Language.

“Body language” reading has literal relevance in a video conference.    
In the context of mostly text-based online asynchronous communication, body language translates as being always conscious that what people write is not necessarily what they truly mean or even believe.  In doubt, reach out to the other person directly (via email, or better Instant Messaging, or even better via telephone or better still face-to-face) to get clarification.

Reading words like we can read muscle contractions: color, high capitals, fonts, short/long sentences, quickly or carefully written sentences, order of words, repeated words etc…

Deaf Tip No 10: Listen in Technicolor.

Active listening translates online into active reading.  
Active reading in a social media context is about not limiting yourself in reading a given discussion thread (especially if you intend to contribute) but to refer to other relevant “parallel” discussions, on the same forum or others.  Relevant means “on the same topic” and/or “similar topic” and/or “involving most or all of the same participants.

I addition, active reading requires the following behaviours:
  • Focus on the others’ posts by avoiding distracting “noise” around you and on your device’s screen, and by focusing on getting the true meaning
  •  Postponing judgment (ask questions first)
  •  Avoiding parallel mental activities
  • Truly connect with others (use humour, praises, references to previous relevant discussions) and collaborate (it is not about scoring points but about “adding a piece to a puzzle”).

08 July 2014

Traditional KM has lost the plot

For the past two decades or so, KM has grown into an established practice, especially in large organisations where the need for capturing, re-using and sharing valuable knowledge is a challenge proportional to the size. Some organisations even appointed a Chief Knowledge Officer. The KM community has had numerous successes and agreed on best practices and standard tools and techniques. The goal of KM could be defined as leveraging value-adding knowledge produced and/or utilised throughout the organisation, in order to achieve and sustain competitive advantage.

But where does this valuable knowledge resides/originates from? It resides/originates with/from the minds of an organisation’s extended workforce (employees, contractors, strategic partners) (*). What organisations therefore need is for this extended workforce to share this knowledge as easily as possible, in order for any valuable knowledge to be used at the right time by anyone anywhere anytime. In other words, what is needed is an organisational culture conducive to such pervasive knowledge sharing: A collaborative culture. This is particularly important for organisations thriving on continuous innovation.

So, considering the above, one would think that the KM community should have been not only welcoming but indeed driving social collaboration. Social collaboration is about facilitating (to the point of commoditising it) and encouraging (rewarding/recognising) the sharing of valuable expertise, knowledge, insight, ideas, across the organisational natural and artificial borders (geographical, functional, hierarchical, operational, etc…) or in other words, breaking down the “knowledge silos”.

Strangely though, a large number (I think the majority although I do not have any verified data to support this) of KM professionals did not directly contribute to the introduction of social collaboration within their organisation (even less took the lead for it) and once implemented, refused to accept it as a part of KM. It is as if they are collectively stuck in a worldview where KM requires well defined and rigorous structures and processes in order to deliver any value.

The value of a given piece of knowledge is context-dependent. In other words, its value is realised when an individual - or a group of individuals – applies it the right way in the right place at the right time. The larger the Organisation, the more difficult it is to expand and replicate throughout the Organisation the value generated by traditional KM within specific business units or activities. The only way to unlock and leverage the dormant valuable knowledge throughout the organisation is to provide integrated collaboration tools for everyone and establish a collaborative culture. The former consumerizes knowledge sharing internally, and the latter normalises it through adapted behaviours and recognition and reward mechanisms.

An Organisation’s KM community must be fully aligned with social collaboration initiatives because they are the best equipped professionals – in terms of experience and expertise - to make these initiatives realise their full potential soon enough to gain significant competitive advantage.

(*) A relatively popular school of thought considers that knowledge can in fact only reside in our minds. Once we attempt to extract it and code it for sharing and re-use, it becomes information. If philosophically this view is worth debating, in a business context, it does not help anyone understand better the challenges faced by KM. On the contrary it tends to confuse the issue so I personally prefer assuming that valuable knowledge can indeed be passed on in a coded (written) form.

03 April 2011

The multichannel challenge

I have not written on this blog since July 2010.  It is not that I was struggling to find topics, but more a lack of time: my current interim contract with Matches Fashion and the adoption of an adorable child finally becoming a reality just took their toll on my spare time.   
In the April 1st edition of Retail Week, I read an interesting supplement with same title as this post (in the print version) that motivated me to start blogging again.  This supplement contains a lot of good comments but I will highlight a few here.
Ok, it’s a word now, so we can write “multichannel”, no longer having to write “multi-channel”.  Every one in retail is now more than just talking about it, as it must have a prominent position in every retailers strategy.
 But critically, retailers are finally understanding what multichannel really means.  It’s not just about adding one more channel to market, it is about providing integrated and seamless services to your customers.   A transaction can then involve 2 or more channels ideally at no extra costs and in a very flexible way.  
Darryl Owen, the SAP head of retail for EMEA, provides a short list of must-haves for a multichannel software solution:
·         Centralised data, including master data and transactional data.This is about full and true integration between all systems supporting the various channels.  One system must be the holder of the single truth.
·         Real-time IT infrastructure.As technology enables customers to be always connected, they will expect real-time information with all channels.   So if your tills poll once/day, here is one priority for you to change.
·         Accurate data analytics.Reporting must be consistent throughout the channels.  This means for instance that each customer or each product have the same unique identification across channels.
·         The ability to think ahead.This is absolutely key for success and competitive advantage.  Your systems and business processes must be fully flexible to associate existing channels differently or incorporate new channels no one has even thought of yet.  
I would like to comment on the “multichannel shopper” article as well:
 <<In December, Deloitte surveyed 2,000 multichannel consumers to find out about their shopping habits. Shoppers’ expectations are shifting as quickly as their behaviour. Deloitte head of multichannel Colin Jeffrey says: “What one retailer offers as a new service quickly becomes the expected. Customers will struggle to understand why others don’t have the same.”
The research showed that on average multichannel customers spent nearly twice that of their store-only peers, with multichannel customers spending an average of £130 per transaction compared with £67 for store-only transactions and £113 for internet-only customers.>>

Being a multichannel retailer is first about providing new convenience to existing customers rather than increasing sales.  However, as Deloitte’s research showed, multichannel customers tend to spend more.  So for instance, when using a click & collect in store service, a customer might purchase additional products while in store collecting the order placed online.

A key point to realise is the speed of change with multichannel customer behaviours.  Success will not be about playing the crystal ball game about what is to come, but to transform the organisation’s systems, processes and culture, so as to be as flexible as possible to adapt to any new technologies and customer behaviours while remaining competitive.

09 July 2010

Knowledge management is the process of leveraging organizational knowledge

In their paper "Strategic planning for knowledge management implementation in engineering firms",

Ravi Shankar, (Ravi Shankar is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Management Studies, IIT Delhi, New Delhi, India.), M.D. Singh, (M.D. Singh is a Senior Lecturer in the Department of Mechanical Engineering, Motilal Nehru National Institute of Technology, Allahabad, India.), Amol Gupta, (Amol Gupta is a Student in the Department of Computer Science, TIT&S Bhiwani, Haryana, India.) and Rakesh Narain, (Rakesh Narain is a Senior Lecturer in the Department of Mechanical Engineering, Motilal Nehru National Institute of Technology, Allahabad, India.) seem (have not yet read it) to define Knowledge Management the way I have done since 2005 (hence the title of this blog!):

<<Knowledge management (KM) is the process of leveraging organizational knowledge to deliver long-term advantage to a business and is based on a business strategy that involves engineering various knowledge-centric business processes and developing organization structures to support these. These, in turn, require technology to capture, codify, store, disseminate and reuse the knowledge. Successful deployment of KM is not a simple process. This paper suggests that a major reason for the failure of many KM projects is the absence of a well-defined strategic plan to guide implementation. This paper discusses the strategic planning needs of the KM deployment process, and develops a framework that could be used specifically by engineering firms to guide the KM implementation process.>>

I have also argued in several posts that KM cannot truly succeed if it is not adressed strategically.

13 June 2010

Scaling up with social media: luxury brands have a natural advantage.

Jeremiah Owyang recently did a presentation on how companies can scale up with social media technologies.  Do read it.  His starting observation is that customers (let alone prospects) will always outnumber a company's total workforce (let alone the ones formally responsible for customer relationships).  Since social media puts companies in "direct" contact with a growing number of people, they are in danger of counter-productive social media initiatives leaving most customers or prospects frustrated for lack of response from the company to their queries/issues/concerns.

Jeremiah suggest 3 good strategic solutions to this problem:

  • Using all the voices in your ecosystem (the Rings of Influence) not just being the only ones to talk.
  • Develop more customer to customer technologies that leverage your customers to do your marketing, sales, and support.
  • Invest in Social CRM systems, while immature now, they will eventually help companies respond in real time –and maybe even anticipate customer need.

 Reading this, I realised it was confirming my position that luxury goods and services companies are the best suited for an effective social media strategy: their ratio "number of customers/number of employees" is by nature the lowest!  So, they can realistically connect with a large number of customers by involving all their employees for instance.  Luxury brands can be more in control of what is being said about them in the socialsphere than FMCG brands.