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.