What to do in the face of “We tried that and it didn’t work.”

Maybe your original idea wasn’t so great. Or maybe it was.

Often, the failure isn’t a fault with the idea, but with the incentives and feedback mechanisms you implemented.

Maybe you should try again.

The story of “Charity Flights”

A former colleague told me about a great idea he had:

“What if people at work could choose to fly coach instead of business class and a portion of the savings went to a good cause?”

We did some quick arithmetic:

  • Say, on average, that coach is 75% cheaper than business class.
  • Assume 5% of business class travelers opt for the cheaper fare.
  • Split the savings 50/50 between charity and the firm.

In a large firm, the cost of business travel can easily exceed $100 million. So, even if only a small percentage of travelers choose to fly a cheaper class, that could mean $2 million for the firm and $2 million for charity.

That’s enough to give clean drinking water for life (for example) to 80,000 people in just the first year. Or 400,000 people in 5 years.

I was excited. But when I talked to corporate travel experts, they sighed.

“It’s a nice idea. But we tried it before – several times – and it didn’t work.”

3 problems 

I was shocked. Asking people to give up the comfort of business class is no small thing, but I thought doing so 1 of every 20 times was a conservative goal.

Yet the travel administrators had hard evidence I was wrong.

“We did a lot of work to make it happen but nobody chose to fly coach. After a while, we discontinued it for lack of interest.”

The problem wasn’t the travel processes or administration. Or that people were generally donating less. Rather, after carefully reviewing the earlier attempts to implement Charity Flights, we identified 3 main problems:

  1. There wasn’t enough reason to care. There wasn’t a strong enough emotional component to the campaign. Instead of focusing on a specific cause, we let employees choose their charity. That diluted the impact and wasn’t enough to compel people to change behavior.
  2. There was too little benefit for the employee. All they had was a brief moment of feeling good about their choice compared to hours of discomfort. There was no recognition of what they did or any way to share their action with others.
  3. There was no feedback. A check was sent to a charity a few weeks later but employees never knew what happened to the money or whether it really made any difference.

A better way

Links to a post on driving enterprise change in a scalable way

All around us, we see so many examples of people giving and driving change. “The Dragonfly Effect” describes numerous case studies and provides an overall framework for programs like Charity Flights. Efforts from Alex’s Lemonade Stand to Kiva to charity:water are all successfully connecting people to drive change.

With Charity Flights, we had a good idea and we failed. But we’ll learn from our failures – and from the successful programs – and we’ll try again.

  • We’ll focus our efforts on just 1 or 2 specific causes so we concentrate our message and have a bigger impact.
  • We’ll tell more stories and use more video so people can feel the need to change.
  • We’ll recognize people’s actions on their corporate profiles and use social platforms to share what they’re doing.
  • We’ll make the impact visible. Employees will visit people and places being helped and record their stories so everyone can see the effects of their actions.

We’ll try again. And we’ll make a difference.

10 gifts for that special someone (you)

Are you happy?

You’re probably busy. And stressed. And have a full life. But happy?

“2300 years ago, Aristotle concluded that, more than anything else, men and women seek happiness. Much has changed since Aristotle’s time. And yet…we do not understand what happiness is any better than Aristotle did, and as for learning how to attain that blessed condition, one could argue we have made no progress at all.”

Happiness starts with you. (If you’re not happy, how can you make others happy?) So here are 10 investments you can make in yourself. 10 inexpensive ways to help you create, grow, learn, have fun, and connect.

1. Write.

Working on your writing is one of the best gifts you can give yourself. Writing helps you clarify your thinking, is an outlet for expressing your ideas and opinions, and is one of the best ways to shape your reputation and give you access to opportunities.

Whether it’s with a moleskin or a MacAir, find a comfortable cafe and start writing more.

2. Curl up with a good book.

Reading Like a Writer” will give you a new appreciation for reading as well as writing. Reading is a way to learn, to escape, or to simply admire how language can be used by a master craftsperson.

Try some beautifully-crafted short stories like those in “Olive Kitteridge” or “Interpreter of Maladies” or in Hemingway’s complete collection.

3. Subscribe to TED talks. 

Perhaps one of the simplest yet most wondrous ways to learn is to watch TED talks. Every weekday, for free, you can get a world-class presentation delivered to your phone.

Where else could you hear from Seth Godin on driving change and Malcolm Gladwell on spaghetti sauce? Or, in a few engaging minutes, learn about stunning advances in computer viruses and bio-engineering? Or be inspired by an opera singer who wouldn’t let a double lung transplant stop her from singing?

Watch every talk or let serendipity be your guide. Being in the middle of such a confluence of fields and perspectives is where great ideas come from.

4. Speak up. 

Public speaking, like writing, is a valuable and eminently learnable skill. Improving your speaking is one of the best investments you can make in yourself and your career.

Two excellent books – “Presentation Zen” on visual design and “Resonate” on storytelling – will be enough to differentiate your talks from almost everyone else’s.

5. Eat well.

Good food, well-made, has always been one of life’s joys. But Michael Pollan can teach you to think about – and appreciate – where food comes from. “Omnivore’s Dilemma”  and “In Defense of Food” give you a balanced and informed way to think about food.

Far from constraining your choices, Pollan opens up your eyes to what good food can and should be like.

6. Move! (And get a fitibit to help you.) 

Sometimes we’re so fixated on gym memberships and particular routines that we forget the basics. Simple things like going for your annual physical or just walking more may be the best things you can do.

Get a fitbit (a small pedometer) and see how that little bit of feedback throughout the day can help you dramatically increase how much you walk.

7. Schedule time to play.

Why do weekly meetings fit so easily in your calendar but not a weekly date with your partner? Or play time with your kids?

Pull out your calendar and block off time for something different – a movie or a night of stories or a jigsaw puzzle. Having playtime in your life makes all the other hours richer, too.

8. Give thanks.

Sometimes the best way for you to feel good is to recognize someone for something they’ve done.

A hand-written letter, now more than ever, shows you care. And the response you’ll get will make you feel wonderful.

9. Give back.

Don’t just hope the world gets better. Put hope in action. It’s easier than ever to give and also to get feedback on the difference you’re making.

Become part of a movement like KivaWaterAid, and Donors Choose. Donations to these organizations are truly gifts that keep on giving.

10. Finally, the best present…is being present.

One of the best gifts I ever received was a small booklet titled “be free where you are.”

The book made me aware that I was always looking ahead or looking behind. And how I was missing the only moment I was truly alive – the present moment.

From now on, I don’t want expensive stuff. I want to invest in my happiness instead.

Life is a verb. Go live it.

Compliance just said yes to social media. Now what?

The ABCs of social media in financial services are about getting access. But the “D” of social media (as the estimable Josh Levine commented last week) is:

“Does it make or save money for the company?”

In financial services, it’s so hard to get compliance to say “yes” that many businesses aren’t thinking through what they’ll do next.

Here’s how you can be different.

Put the Why before the How

The first thing you can do is to ask yourself how social media might relate to your specific business objectives.

“What problems are you trying to solve?”

“How would you measure success?

“Have would you tie activity on social media to commercial benefits?”

I find businesses are often so focused on access that their answer to these basic questions is “I don’t know.” Or something vague like “We’ll use it for marketing” or “Our competitors are doing it and we need to keep up.”

Your best guide

Every time I have one of these conversations, I recommend “Social Media ROI” by Olivier Blanchard.

I confess to reading the book twice. The first time, I thought it was dull. I had just a general interest in social media at the time and was looking for more inspiring stories. The second time, though, I was advising specific businesses on specific use cases. Then the book was riveting.

Other books might inspire you. This one forces you to think through the details. It’s a comprehensive handbook meant for practitioners, covering topics ranging from monitoring to organizational models to specific measurements and reporting.

Blanchard sets the tone on very first page:

“Building a social media program for an organization is hard…it takes patience, long hours of intricate planning, and a razor-sharp focus on getting things right..behind every corporate success story in this space is a basic operational framework that places all the right elements in the right way and at the right time. Social media success doesn’t happen by accident. It is engineered.”

Careful, the How is messy.

But that engineering is difficult. Look at all those small companies in the Gartner Magic Quadrant. And that’s just a fraction of them. The sheer newness of social media means that the tools are immature and still evolving, with many niche players and acquisitions.

And because the objectives and culture of each company (and often each business line) are different, your social media program has to be custom-tailored. While Blanchard’s book is an excellent guide, you simply can’t apply what works at other companies. You have to figure it out for yourself.

Fail cheap and early

To be effective, you’ll have to embrace the newness and uncertainty. You’ll have to learn – by doing – what works and what doesn’t.

It’s important to take small steps while connecting your firm’s social media practitioners so they can all share the learning. Within a large enterprise, this means individual businesses might attempt specific projects as small, thoughtful experiments. But, for the sake of the enterprise, all the businesses would be aware of these projects and their results so everyone could learn and build on them.

As Blanchard concludes in the afterword:

“It takes time, diligence, focus, and a lot of patience…You don’t have to build it all in one go….Experiment. Test. Build on what you learn…measure success and adapt as needed. That is ultimately how this works.”

The ABCs of social media in financial services

Increasingly, banks and other finance firms want to use LinkedIn, Facebook, and Twitter to engage customers. They see more of their peers doing it but, in their own firm, they’re not sure how to get past compliance.

“We want access to social media but we’re blocked. How do we get approval?”

To get to “yes,” you’ll need to answer 3 basic questions.

“Are we allowed to do it?” 

Firms typically have a policy (or are drafting one) that spells out who can do what using social media. (Here’s a fantastic compendium of such policies.)

Before your firm lets you post for business, they have to have a way to enforce their policy. Should posts be pre-approved? Can individuals use “Like” buttons? Are direct messages or comments allowed?

A few years ago, it was too difficult to pick and choose which functions people could use. So, the only choice was to block access except for a select few. Now, though, a range of software options from companies like Socialware and Actiance provide the kind of fine-grained control you need. By sitting between the user and LinkedIn, for example, they can present the user with only the LinkedIn features they’re allowed to use, and so enforce the policy in a very practical way.

“Before someone posts, can we review it first?”

The regulations largely center on preventing individuals from disclosing information they shouldn’t. (This brief paper from FINRA is a good starting point. It was confusing in a number of ways, though, so updates are being considered.)

All traditional recommendations and advertisements are carefully scrutinized by compliance before being disclosed to the public. And the same rules apply for much of the content published on social media channels. It’s hard to separate, for example, a research analyst hitting “Like” on a company’s Facebook page from outright recommending a “BUY.” And a broker’s profile on LinkedIn is seen as just another form of advertising.

We’ve had supervisory software from companies like Autonomy for years and now these products, as well as newer ones, are including content on social media. So, for example, when a broker updates her profile on LinkedIn, that update is routed to a compliance supervisor who can review it before it’s published.

While finding moderation tools may be easier, though, finding the people to operate the tools is the hard part. For most firms, having to review more content means having more people. Presenting a business case to justify such expense – and then fighting for headcount – is where you’ll struggle.

“Can we capture whatever people posted?”

This is the easiest question to answer. Every financial firm already has one or more digital safes. Used at first for email, then instant messages, these safes are now expanding to become the repository of all electronic communications, including those on social media channels.

All the tools already mentioned provide ways to capture content on the public channels and route that content to your firm’s repository. Then you can do routine reporting to check for policy violations or other issues. It’s a matter of integration instead of innovation.

Now what?

The issue, then, isn’t about someone in compliance simply saying “yes” or “no.” It’s whether your firm has the capacity to enforce policy, moderate certain content, and retain records for reporting.

Though the tools and practices are still evolving rapidly, it’s increasingly clear that “we’re regulated” is no longer an excuse for doing nothing.

Now, once you get to “yes,” you can move on to the truly difficult part (covered in next week’s post): actually using your newly-approved social media access in support of a specific business objective.

Why you should write more (and the single best tip for doing so)

Writing at work can expand your influence, shape your reputation, and literally make your career. Yet few people do it often enough or well enough.

Here’s how you can distinguish yourself.

Why write?
This quote succinctly describes why writing is important for work:

“As soon as you move one step up from the bottom, your effectiveness depends on your ability to reach others through the written or spoken word. And the further away your job is from manual work, the larger the organization of which you are an employee, the more important it will be that you know how to convey your thoughts in writing or speaking. In the very large organization, whether it is the government, the large business corporation, or the Army, this ability to express oneself is perhaps the most important of all the skills a man or woman can possess.”

This isn’t from a modern communications expert or blogger. It’s from Peter Drucker. And it’s from 1952.

Drucker saw that organizational effectiveness increasingly depends on finding, sharing, and building on the best ideas. And for that to happen, those ideas have to be discoverable – that is, written down. Now, more than in Drucker’s day, it’s easier to publish your work and make an audience aware of it.

And while writing helps your firm, it also helps you. By publishing your ideas and opinions, you shape your reputation – who you are, what you do, and how well you do it. And that greater visibility helps unlock opportunities that would never be open to you otherwise.

2 resources to help you

Of all the books on writing non-fiction, two in particular stand out for their usefulness and accessibility.

The best book on writing non-fiction

On Writing Well”, by William Zinsser, is an extremely valuable guide. It helps you write with “clarity and strength” but also with “humanity and warmth.”

Filled with anecdotes and examples, Zinsser will convince you to abandon the dry, technical, professional style you may have been taught. Instead, he’ll help you develop a more personal style that people will enjoy more. And he’ll show you ways to make even the most mundane topics come alive for your audience.

The best book on writing for the webLetting Go of the Words”, by Ginny Redish addresses the challenges of “writing web content that works.”

Increasingly, most writing at work is read on-line. In numerous experiments that scanned people’s eyes while they read, it’s clear that people read quite differently on-line than in print. On-line, they typically scan the screen in quick, predictable ways, looking for interesting content. That makes titles and headings even more important. And long, dense prose, for example, simply isn’t effective.

These are two books that everyone at work should read.

The best writing tip 

Beyond the guidance you’ll find in books, the key to writing is actually doing more of it. And the best method I’ve found to start writing more is to get a friend to help you. Someone to read and critique your first few posts. To ensure you carve out writing time on your calendar. To drag you and your laptop to the cafe, if necessary, and sit next to you while you write.

Writing regularly and often is perhaps the most consistent advice you’ll get. People as different as Seth GodinTom Peters, and Fred Wilson all stress the importance of writing regularly. (Wilson, NYC’s most notable venture capitalist, started blogging at age 42 and has been writing daily ever since – over 5000 posts. He’s gradually built an audience of over 100,000 people and says “the investment I’ve made in my communication skills over the past eight years is paying huge dividends for me now.”)

A friend can help you work through the initial difficulties

But so many people simply can’t get started. Or they stop when they’re unhappy with the results

So find a friend to help you get through the early difficulties that everyone faces when they start to write. And start learning to write often as you also aspire to write well. 

“It is a timeless and powerful skill,” says Tom Peters.  

For both you and for your firm, it’s a skill worth developing.