7 Ways to Run an Effective Brainstorming Session


Have an idea and want to make it work? Try getting a diverse set of views in a brainstorming session.

Conducting a brainstorming session is helpful but can also be tricky if you aren’t prepared for the interaction or unsure of how to channelize suggestions that emerge from the discussions.

Consider your goals: Think of what you want out of the session. For example, it is an opportunity to get to know people, understand their point of views, learn more about challenges your idea can run into crowdsource suggestions to make your idea take-off.

Do your homework: Before you get people together it will help to do a pulse check of the key benefits and challenges that they see from the idea. That can form the basis of your discussion rather than start with a clean slate. Starting with a clean slate also helps – just that it takes a lot longer to steer the conversation.

Embrace diversity: Invite people from different teams who have a connection to your topic so as to get the most of the conversations. It is good to have a healthy debate on the pros and cons of the topic. In one such interaction I ensure that teams who had conflicting approaches sent their resources and it helped for both to realize they needed to converge their thinking.

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Prepare a briefing note: The note must spell out the objectives, what people will be expected to contribute to and how it will fuel the next round of interactions or take the idea forward. Be prepared for a mix of people with varied experiences and personalities.  To ensure that introverts, for example, contribute share a printout of this note and give everyone time to reflect on their thoughts before you begin.

All views on board: While staying laser focused on the topic ensure that everyone gets a chance to voice their views and clearly indicate that there are no ‘bad’ or ‘stupid’ ideas. Avoid interrupting during the exchanges. Only intervene if the decorum of the meeting is at stake.

Summarize and follow-up:  Ensure you get the key points shared quickly and assign ownership for next steps so that the conversation moves forward. In essence, people need to see that their ideas and suggestions are taken on board. If you can’t proceed with a suggestion it is important to call that out early.

Recognize their support: It will do wonders if you can drop a note to their managers that their team members contributed over and above with suggestions. If you can create a social media page or group for the conversation to be available online that will help immensely.

Lastly, continue the engagement and keep the group posted on the progress you are making.

Try these and let me know how it goes!

Add Value To The World. Build Your Personal Brand


When I think of personal branding this Chinese proverb comes to mind.

“The best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago. The second best time is now.” 

To me, it conveys that you can’t build a personal brand without concerted effort, commitment and consistency. And it is never too late to start. In an earlier blog post I wrote on on personal branding Manoj wasn’t sure what he needed to do to stand apart in an increasingly competitive world. There is a way. Manoj can still build a reputation that holds him in good stead over the years.

Hearing that your employees are interested in differentiating themselves is a positive sign. It indicates that your employees are:

  • ready to promote themselves, if they aren’t already
  • they see value in extending their value beyond the organizational boundaries
  • they believe the organization can help them succeed in this initiative

As William Arruda points out – personal branding is not about you but about others. I love the tips he shares on situations where you can leave your mark and gradually build your brand.

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So what prevents people from building their personal brands? To begin, most aren’t sure what they want to convey or stand for. Articulating your mission is essentially the first step on your journey. Communicating that mission consistently is helpful to take your brand to the next level.

Why is this relevant for internal communicators?

Like it or not, employees are already presenting and promoting themselves outside the organization in many ways – social networks, offline connections, with alumni, as CSR volunteers, as speakers at forums.

Today, there are no jobs for life and employees realize the importance of crafting a ‘second’ career before or right after the current one ends. With more and more automation coming into the workplaces employees will look for ways to invest in their own future. In a way, organizations of the future will be an amalgamation of brands. Internal communicators will need to realign their practices to make them more inclusive for such brands inside the organization.

Traditionally, people who think of a personal brand see it as a social media outreach program or a networking and relationships building exercise. However here are a few tips to get started in your personal branding journey using social media.

Personal branding isn’t easy.

If you are expecting to build a brand overnight you might also be mindful that it can also vanish likewise.

Look around at the number of cases we hear of accomplished people who fail and fall after building brands over many years – Tiger Woods, Lance Armstrong etc. You can also see how brands suffered by associating with these personalities.

So how can you build your personal brand?

Be mindful – knowing yourself first and how you can add value to the world is your starting point. Stay close to your core and know what makes you tick. Very often, we get enamored by the latest trend or what our colleagues, families or neighbors expect of us. No two lives are alike and therefore no two personal brands can ever be the same.

Be focused – distractions are everywhere and moving your eyes of the goal is the beginning of the end of your journey. Often, we look for short term gains since that is visible and makes us feel great. A personal brand is built over time and requires commitment and laser sharp focus.

Be consistent – look around you and it is evident that we seek stability in people and events. We look for those who are reliable and respected. This confidence allows us to put our faith and hope in their abilities. Therefore consider ways in which you can bring in more consistency in your actions.

Be resilient – it isn’t easy navigating the world and what it has to offer. There will be highs and lows. How we react to situations defines who we are. How we bounce back from the lows in our lives redefines us. Your personal brand is shaped by these experiences. So have faith and stay on course.

Building a personal brand is a lot to do with knowing how your self-identity and the organization’s identity (if you work for one) interact. Also appreciating that in a world which puts pressure on people to compete or creates the ‘fear of missing out’ staying grounded about your goals can take you places.

I thought this quote by author and playright Oscar Wilde summed up personal branding well – “be yourself, everyone else is already taken”.

If you have other perspectives and lessons do share them here.

Starting Out In Your First Job? Know Yourself. Be Yourself


Doris finds is unsettling. She is a high performer in her team – at least that is what her rating indicates. After a few months in her new role she finds that her peers get more opportunities, responsibilities and rewards from the manager than her. Despite working hard and diligently others are pulling ahead of her. She decides she must change her personal style of working. However that adds more stress since she isn’t always comfortable around people but forces herself to be in the middle of the action and become more successful. Over time her work suffers and her leaders notice a drop in performance.

Alex is close to 3 months in his new role at a leading multinational bank. He has been observing that the approach to inducting new hires has been slow and often cumbersome with many days spent in-house rather than with customers. He writes up a plan to make changes to the training process and shares it with his leaders who take a liking to the new approach. They recognize his effort and put him on a fast track project to get more out of his talent. Soon, there is a restructure that takes place in Alex’s workplace and due to his proactive solution to the training process he is retained and continues to perform well in his role.

Over my last 2 posts ( Make Sense of Work and Life and Know What the Future Holds) I shared insights and perspectives on starting out in your career can mean. In this post I cover ways for new hires to think deeply about themselves and what they stand for to make a difference.

Before getting to a clear plan, it is essential to appreciate the world of work from a theoretical context. Understanding these theories and how they play out at the workplace can help make meaning to practical issues new hires will experience.

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According to the leader-member exchange theory managers have an in-group and out-group. The former are closer to the leader and have access to communication, opportunities, responsibilities and rewards. The latter are managed by formal rules and policies and often react against the organization due to their position. The other relevant theory is the social exchange theory that explains how movement of valued resources takes place via two-way interactions leading to improved relationships. Individuals are more likely to behave to a reward stimulus basis how, when and how often they experienced earlier interactions. In a new world order, as employees before personal brands first and then advocates for the organization a ‘give-give’ exchange is expected more often. Exchange of skills, tools, resources lead to reciprocity of new commitments, time, effort and money that comes back to the giver.

New hires must begin by self-introspecting on their worth and what they expect from their experience at a workplace. Apart from knowing that one can make a difference to the workplace, it is important to know if the organization will give you support to pursue your goals and that you are working towards a common goal.

Knowing your preference for working, the culture you will be living in and the organization’s goals can provide you a better grip when you get started. For example, at the workplace you will find colleagues who are experts in specific areas (domain champions), traditional career graphers (who aim to work through the system), experientialists (who love the range and depth of experiences) and entrepreneurs (who gain experience for future businesses they will start).  Decoding the culture expects one to be observant and mindful at the workplace.  Be aware of the values and ways of working. However, look for the tacit assumptions about the workplace and if employees are living it.

The first 100 days is crucial for new hires to get familiar with the workplace and transition into the organization smoothly. Organizations expect the employee to be contributing from day one. After 90 days the employee isn’t considered new to the role or the organization! The expectation is to begin adding value and delivering results.

Moving from a campus to the corporate world isn’t easy and one needs to make a mental note of what the new role will be at the workplace.  This 100 day plan excludes the orientation program which every employee will experience during the first few days at work.

Consider this plan to build credibility, invest in learning, gauge opportunities and challenges, engage leaders and peers, make the most appropriate decisions and craft a future at the workplace.

Internally, the plan helps you learn about the organization, team, culture and your peers.

Set up meetings with your team. It includes investing in training, seeking insights about the ways of working, what practices worked and hasn’t, read the corporate literature and get to know the key influencers.

How does one identity key players in an organization? Look for those who manage teams, are accountable for resources, direct change, have access to information, are provided status and command loyalty.  Don’t limit your span of influence and learning only to your internal stakeholders.  Get hold of a list of external forums and industry bodies that the organization engages with and network with alumni and experts to know more about the state of the business.  Enroll for certifications that bolster your merit in the organization.

Sign up as a volunteer and involve yourself with projects that are currently underway. Research reports indicate that those employees who are engaged as volunteers have more enriching experiences in their lives and stay loyal to their organization.

In terms of transitioning to the new role the employee is expected to ask questions and be clear on the tasks on hand. If there are plans which already exist, learn more about the context and which elements worked for the organization. Take feedback from stakeholders as you improve on the plans. Demonstrate quick wins as you begin performing on the role. While making progress also look for mentors who can guide and coach as you plan next role and expand your horizons.

Being your best at the workplace is also about staying connected with workplace changes around you. Observe information that is shared and not shared. To build strong relationships, you need to be seen as credible, consistent, competent, trustworthy and honest.  Organizations expect employees to go beyond the role and add value. Frequently contributing to initiatives outside the scope of work is known to drive the team’s performance. Knowing that you are making progress each day is essential for your engagement at work. Believe in your organization to gain more from the experiences and interactions at the workplace.  The future belongs to those who can grasp newer skills for the workplace – having a design mindset, making sense of the complex world, being empathetic and creating value for the organization. While doing this be aware of credibility degraders such as indulging in office politics or sharing information that isn’t appropriate or confidential with anyone at the workplace.

Overall, to make an impact it is important to understand who you are, get immersed in the culture, believe in the workplace and mission, do your best, add value to others, give as much as you can and be yourself.

Agree or disagree? I am keen to hear your thoughts.

Starting Out In Your First Job? Make Sense of Work and Life


Dinesh joins his first job and is eagerly looking forward to make an impact. He is a go-getter with lots of enthusiasm and energy. His idea of success is to grow rapidly through the ranks and become the CEO. He feels that he needs to compete with his colleagues for work and takes on more and more while alienating his team. However, he discovers that at the workplace he is finding it tough to move initiatives forward and his team mates aren’t cooperative. Over time Dinesh receives feedback that he is overstepping on other peoples’ work and needs to revisit his attitude and approach. Dinesh is confused since he thought he was progressing well and success meant doing and achieving a lot.

Fiona is learning the ropes in design and often finds that her ideas are ignored by other senior members of the team. The team is quite diverse with people from different countries and ethnicities contributing to a global design project.  While ideas are exchanged very little is done with the suggestions that Fiona puts forward even though in private many team members admit they are excellent and worth driving the company forward. Fiona talks to her manager but she asks her to sort it out directly.

 Most organizations continue to hire for skill and countries such as India boast of the world’s largest bank of employable graduates. There is good news for management graduates as hiring for MBAs is rising although the number of ‘employable’ graduates is as low as 10% in countries like India further fueling the need to address issues facing the industry. While interviewing for candidates the critical factors for selection include proven abilities to lead, writing skills, academic success and oral communication. Among the concerns that the industry has are the lack of ‘team player’ attributes, leadership qualities and empathetic attitude from those expected from new hires. Often the education system in some countries teaches students to be competitive while in the corporate world expects them to collaborate and partner for success. Switching mindsets isn’t easy.

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Moreover, there is a misconception about success and what it means for new comers or for that matter, anyone. Most equate it to better salaries and positions and growth is often linked to vertical ascent in an organization.  According to Peter Drucker, a leading management thinker there is no such thing as success. It was merely an absence of failure and those who didn’t think deeply about their own life’s purpose and manage themselves effectively were going to feel inadequate in the long term.

Conflicts at the workplace can be debilitating. Most conflicts take place between line managers and teams, at different levels of management and at the entry level often due to personality clashes, stress, workload, poor leadership and insufficient resources. New hires aren’t aware or ready to navigate these challenges and work through such issues resulting in mismatched expectations and uncertain futures. Career spans are reducing rapidly with the millennials expected to change jobs every year or two. While this new generation is adept with using newer forms of technology and social media they still need guidance in navigating the workplace and making sense of the organization’s goals. Just like how the millennials expect opportunities to grow and learn the organization also expects them to stay connected and give back in more ways than one. 

How can Dinesh and Fiona think about their work and purpose?

What must new hires know and do to be relevant? Do share your views.

Essentials to be a trusted communication partner | Communication Director Asia


Sharing a  recent article that I penned for Communicator Director magazine:

http://asia.communication-director.com/issues/you-gotta-have-faith/essentials-be-trusted-communication-partner-0#.Vuwv1eJ97IU

Keen to hear your views.

You can also read the entire edition here:http://asia.communication-director.com/sites/default/files/codi_asia_pacific_01_16.pdf

 

Starting In Your First Job? Know What The Future Holds


Sunita is a smart MBA student and lands her first assignment with a multinational company. She is excited by the world of opportunities in front of her. After the first two months in the job she is disillusioned by what she sees. People don’t seem to be as authentic as they looked when she interviewed, her role changed multiple times, the organization had several restructures and she faced challenges getting work done with stakeholders and her peers. Moreover, her manager made work difficult by asking her to come in on weekends and also attend office outings that she wasn’t comfortable with. Sunita is at a loss. What was she doing wrong? How did things go downhill so soon? She is contemplating looking out for openings in other firms. Will that work? She isn’t sure. If she stays, does she have a future? She doesn’t know either.

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Tanu joins a workplace which is regimented and expects each employee to give up their personal traits and be aligned with the organization’s rules of engagement. He has interests outside of work including an entrepreneurial streak that helped him create a few apps and gather patents. His organization sees that as a risk and a conflict of interest that can mean potential damages through information leaks They make him sign an agreement which prevents Tanu from engaging in any form of activity outside of work unless he has explicit permission from his manager and leader. He feels frustrated by this lack of trust and autonomy from his organization and wonders if he made the right choice in joining this new workplace.

Landing a job is easy. Understanding yourself, learning to navigate the culture and having a plan that keeps you on track is tougher. These skills are much needed in a highly complex and evolving world of work and life. Every year, millions of graduates (management and other domains) enter the workplace to make an impact to organizations and add value to their careers and lives. Over the next few posts I plan to share some thoughts on what new joiners need to consider while starting out at a workplace.

I recently met a bunch of MBA students to listen and share perspectives on what they can expect and how they can be better equipped to handle work and life. In a pre-session exercise I asked the group to reflect on their strengths, how they anticipated the workplace would treat them, their personal and preferred style of working, their personality traits, how they thought they handled stress, their values and their ability to perform. From the responses I gathered, there were gaps in their understanding of work and life in the real-world. Most importantly, they had limited understanding of how to transition to the corporate world, learn the ropes and stay on track.

As the future of the workplace is shifting to working from ‘everywhere’, driven by technology and expectations of a flexible mindset (hot-desking, bring your own devices, operating virtually etc) the need for the workforce to adapt to these changes has never been more critical. They need to learn newer skills such as sense making, design thinking, new media literacy, cross-cultural understanding and social intelligence. Organizations are getting re-organized to work in clusters and smaller, self-managed teams that deliver results. In such scenarios, often there are no leaders and everyone is expected to play their part and be flexible.  Likewise, changes at the workplace can be unsettling for many new comers; re-organizations, new performance systems, leadership movements, new focus areas, acquisitions, downsizing and mergers among others.

What do you think Sunita and Tanu can do in their new workplaces?

 

Four Ways To Communicate Parity At The Workplace


Consider these cases.

  • A woman spokesperson in a company while discussing the topic of diversity with media nonchalantly mentions that there must be greater parity in the salaries among both genders at the workplace. This statement is picked up by other media who question the practices of the company putting the HR Head and the CEO in a spot.
  • An organization creates a campaign to educate employees on the issues surrounding sexual harassment at work. In the communication, a poster depicts a man making advances at a woman. This visual creates a bias at the workplace that only women are harassed by men even though the reported cases are equal among both sexes.

It is that time of the year (March 8th is International Women’s Day) when organizations debate and discuss plans to make the workplace more inclusive. I can already witness a flurry of action with e-mails seeking women leaders as speakers, Whatsapp groups inviting ideas to engage women employees, suggestions sought for activities that will make people ‘feel’ good during the event and notes getting passed on which events worked and which failed.

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Recently I attended a forum for women leaders and as one of the few men in the room it helped to gain insights on the issues that workplaces need to address. One among them is communicating parity inside the organization. Often buzz words like transparency and openness are shared widely to convey how organizations want to make the workplace inclusive. However, there is a gap between what is said and messages that get unsaid. Events and interventions end up seeming ‘gimmicky’ and employees get the feeling that employers aren’t walking the talk when they see bias creeping into decisions taken. The world isn’t fair and the evidence is compelling.

What is visible gets attention: Most organizations tend to devote a lot of energy in increasing the percentage of women at the workplace because it is on the radar of senior leadership. Media also looks at the ratios in the board rooms and labels organizations according to their ‘inclusiveness’. Internally, managers are asked to hire more women to ensure there is a balance in the team and more diverse thinking. All this because it is visible to the leaders and sought after by stakeholders as ‘proof’ that an organization is living its code. As communicators we have a role to play in making the real issues ‘visible’ to people who matter.

Spot it, communicate it: What if in the above mentioned cases, the organization’s leaders made it a point to call out why the media message wasn’t appropriate employees would have been more convinced about trusting the firm and their leaders. Often, organizations take the safer route of letting ‘issues go by’ so as to avoid raising more dust than needed. This can probably do more harm than good in the long run. As communicators we can be the conscience keeper for the organization and call out when interventions are needed.

Focus on the year, not on a ‘day’: Look at what your organization communicates and practices year-long and not get side-tracked by the ‘days’ that come and go. Your employees are looking at a consistent experience and not a one-off showcase or event that wows them. They can see through any false promises and attempted calls for parity. In an organization of repute, the women’s washroom was located further down the floor as compared to the men’s. Sensitizing men on one day isn’t going to get results. Demonstrate that your organization walks the talk.

Respect, not roses: While not everyone will agree, your workforce isn’t going to be swayed by a splendid lunch or a bunch of roses handed by managers on a particular day. They are looking for proof that the workplace respects and treats them fairly. And that swift action is taken when someone acts inappropriately. Furthermore, they are keen to see the results of such actions reported widely, not kept for a committee to check the boxes. Look up your company policies, internal forums and other platforms for opportunities to bring in parity in the tone of voice, access to resources and to make your workplace welcoming.

What we focus on conveys who we are as an organization and communicators are front and centre of the change that can take place within.

Do you agree? What else can be done to communicate parity at the workplace? Do share your views.