a short post about death

Even during the most pivotal moments of our lives we are only a few minutes away from being digitally distracted.

Twelve to be precise.

We check our phones for new messages every 12 minutes

Four weeks ago today we were just arriving in Ubud, Bali on day six of a planned 3 week trip.

Within a minute of framing a perfect shot for Instagram I got a text from Karen’s sister asking me to call her immediately.

You know it will be bad news.

Her mum had passed away suddenly, only a few hours after we last spoke.

When you get news like that your immediate response is one of confusion.

You can’t become numb as you need to take control.

Your mind cycles through thoughts ranging from the profound to the prosaic – and even to the selfish.

“How do you tell someone their mum is dead and that they are never going to see them again?”

“We’re 8000 miles from home. What do I actually need to do?”

“This trip is really over, right?”

“On the positive side, thank god we haven’t unpacked yet.

In these intensely human moments of crisis you realise how much technology is ever present.

  • Insurance companies offer to organise a flight for you ‘if you can wait 24 hours’,  when you can organise one yourself in just minutes.
  • Websites continually push barely literate chatbots at you when you just need a bloody phone number.

And as always it’s the people who really make the difference. You can go digital by default all you like but you can’t digitise human kindness.

  • The Indonesian Airbnb host who stops eating his dinner to drive you immediately to the airport.
  • The flight attendant who bravely attempts to ‘override the system’ to try to get you a couple of seats next to one another.

8000 miles feels a very long time when you’re just trying to hold things together.


Death is in our faces almost everyday – we hear about it on the news, we watch TV shows and movies featuring loads of it. But when it comes to the ‘everydayness’ of death, the sheer normality of it, we’d rather not talk about it.

We are obsessed with prolonging life and looking good. Society is urging us to eat healthier, exercise harder, buy more things – anything to put off the inevitability of death or even thinking about it.

Western culture keeps death at a distance. It’s just not for everyday conversation.

12 months earlier I’d been in a very different community in Sulawesi, Indonesia. In Tana Toraja, death is life and part of a longer spiritual journey. Families keep the mummified remains of their deceased relatives in their homes for years – and traditionally invite them to lunch on a daily basis – before they are eventually buried in ceremonies that go on for days.

The funeral we were invited to in Sulawesi was a great celebration of life, much like a going-away party.

It was an occasion in which the entire family of the deceased, and all the members of the village take part. During their lives, they all work extremely hard to accumulate wealth. But unlike in the West, they don’t save their money to buy consumer goods.

They save for a good send-off in death.


The funeral of Karen’s mum, Anita, on Wednesday was very different from the one in Tana Toraja. They don’t tend to make animal sacrifices in Stoke-On-Trent. And the funerals last for mere hours.

It was a beautiful send off though. A wonderful celebration of life and family.

Unlike a Torajan funeral where you’re literally invited to take selfies with strangers, everybody politely kept their phones away. Protocol meant we had to resist that 12 minute temptation to check.

Technology does have an important part to play though in how we grieve in a digital age.

We share our memories on Facebook and swap stories and recollections of our loved ones. We even share recollections with the profiles of our loved ones. Researchers say before the end of the century there could be as many as 4.9 billion deceased users floating around the internet. Our virtual selves and their associated memories will become as numerous as our real bodies.

That said, I made a commitment this morning to spend a little less time on my phone. Karen nearly fell out of bed in shock. I’ll repeat that commitment here as a public statement of intent.

We have an endless gift for caring if we allow time for it.

Sometimes we really need to disconnect in order to reconnect with what matters.

The No.1 Problem With The Digital Workplace

“Collaboration is an essential skill of the digital economy. And yet how to collaborate productively is hardly ever taught either in universities or in the workplace.” – Gerry McGovern

It’s only a couple of months since I posted Why We Don’t Collaborate, but a few things I’ve been reading and observing make it a subject worthy of returning to.

The people selling us the digital dream (agile working, always on connectivity, work from anywhere) too often skip important questions. Are we really more productive? And do we really collaborate better that we used to? 

As Gerry points out in his post , collaboration isn’t taught. You’re just expected to know. “Productive collaboration is really hard. It requires a whole range of communication, organizational and social skills.”

I’m old enough to remember when my pre-digital inbox (a filing tray) was actually audited by my team leader. In my first real job my performance related pay actually depended on my ability to effectively organise my day, my work and how I communicated and collaborated with others.

Today, I could have thousands of emails in my inbox and nobody would know. I could be presenting an image of an organised and well functioning colleague when I’m actually drowning.

The abundance of technology and the myriad new ways to interrupt someone’s day isn’t necessarily evidence of progress.

A new report on the potential impacts of digital technologies on co-production and co-creation finds that there is a lack of hard evidence of actual impact. Indeed, “conceptual fuzziness and tech-optimism stand in the way of collecting such evidence”.

This tech optimism is worth dwelling on. The report notes we tend to stress the enormous benefits digital technologies could have, but tend to ignore the profound uncertainties and risks that come with technological innovation. Digital transformation in a nutshell!

The report ends with an important question – who controls the shape of digital technologies in public service delivery and, by implication, the opportunities for co-production and co-creation?

In a more optimistic piece for Harvard Business Review, Raj Choudhury , Barbara Z. Larson and Cirrus Foroughi write that an increasingly mobile workforce can present problems for traditional team leaders.  Their research indicates that the real productivity boost doesn’t come from digital tools per se, but rather from the increased flexible working options that digital can facilitate.

Their study compared how productive, loyal, and cost-effective employees at the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office were when they were allowed to work flexibly. They chose that employer because it had recently implemented a wide-scale pilot program allowing people to work from where and when they wanted, while still requiring others to remain in the office.

The results were 4.4% higher productivity among those in the pilot program, from people doing the exact same work as those who were required to come into the office.

However, they note that work-from-anywhere policies could increase costs in work environments that require brainstorming and project-based interaction, adding that more research is needed to fully understand the implications of remote work in more collaborative settings.

So again, the jury is out on whether the digital workplace helps or hinders collaboration.

I’m an eternal optimist so my gut feeling is that mobile working done well, leads to a better connected, more productive workplace.

On Tuesday this week my team hosted a hackathon in the Cotswolds. We came together physically with a range of partners and then retreated to synthesise the outputs remotely. The draft report and basic prototypes were distributed less that 36 hours later. There’s no way we could do that without digital tools AND having work from anywhere flexibility.

However, we are an innovation and design team who have the luxury to experiment with digital collaboration tools and we can invest a lot of time in our personal learning. We frequently go ‘off grid’ and use non work sanctioned tools if we can find a better way of doing it.

That probably doesn’t apply to 99% of workers – and it’s these people we need to focus on if we really are to get the benefits of our investment in technology.

Leveraging technology to connect and collaborate with people at scale is the No.1 requirement of the 21st-century leader.

It won’t happen on its own. So if you have a digital workplace strategy, you need a collaboration strategy too. Because if we don’t teach, measure, encourage and reward collaboration it doesn’t tend to happen.

Without that support the magical collaborative workplace of the future may be further off than you think.

 


Photo by Georgie Cobbs on Unsplash

The Case Against Digital Transformation

Something that’s being sold to you as more convenient may well be a lost social interaction that you’ll never get back – Ben Holliday, Convenience Isn’t Digital

Last week a friend of ours told me a story about trying to get some support for his partner who was ill. He was stuck in an impasse between the NHS, the Department of Work and Pensions, and Social Services.

He kept being told that either he, or the GP, or his employer, or her employer, had not supplied some piece of information. Two of the agencies blamed the NHS. The NHS blamed him.

The repeated interactions he was having with people and departments who wouldn’t, or simply couldn’t, speak to each other reminded me of the closing lines from I, Daniel Blake:

‘I am not a client, a customer, nor a service user. 

I am not a national insurance number, nor a blip on a screen.’

He described the slow progress he was making against systems seemingly designed to make it as difficult as possible for him to succeed.


What really made me think though was the resignation in his voice as he said – “They just don’t seem to listen to what I’m saying – they only believe what’s on their screens.


Myth #1: Every part of an organisation should digitally transform.

Not every company, process, or business model requires or is benefited by digital transformation.

Perhaps it’s time to pause the relentless cheerleading for transformation and consider the cost of digitising everything.

What does society look like when each and every interaction with citizens has to be digitally verified?

Today in business it’s heretical to suggest that it’s sometimes easier just to pick up the phone and have a conversation with someone. Big consulting has been very quick to point out the inefficiencies of talking to people – the implication being that everything is cheaper and easier online.

Are we allowed to mention that cheaper is not always better?

The digital revolution has meant lots of things but there’s precious little evidence it has improved customer service. On the contrary, as Gerry McGovern writes in his latest post, customer experience is flatlining. Organisations have often used technology to boost short-term profits with none essential expenses (like people) being reduced, outsourced or replaced altogether by machines.

The rush towards technology implies everything can be made better when the meddling influence of people is minimised.  Even if that were true the data systems we replace them with are designed by people – and inherit many of our human flaws. We rarely ask to get a second opinion on what our data is telling us.

A better starting point might be considering the case against digital. Which part of your customer experience are you unwilling to automate and make more efficient?

First Direct – one of the UK’s first and arguably best online financial service – have deliberately made their telephone service easier to use than any other bank. That’s conscious design, deliberately adding cost to the business with the trade-off being improved customer experience.

A couple of years ago we did an experiment where we sent two colleagues out to meet with customers – devoid of any technology. What we perceived would be a huge barrier to the test turned into a net gain – the colleagues told us it enabled them to have a better conversation by not having to repeatedly look at screens. We liked the results so much we built an entire service around it.

Ultimately we have to change the leadership model, not the technology. Customer experience isn’t all about efficiency, systems and protocol. It’s letting people do what they do best — knowing customers, personalising service, surprising people with the unexpected.

Being a leader in the digital era means resisting the insistence for efficiency at all costs – and deploying digital methods where it actually improves the outcome and experience.

Rather than the continual celebration of change and transformation, we should spend more time considering its social cost.

What we are really transforming into – and why?

Redefining Trust In A Digital Age

Trust is not coming back. Scepticism reigns, as it should. – Gerry McGovern

Since the industrial revolution,  a trusting relationship between individuals and organisations has been the norm.

This has shaped the way we communicate – both internally and externally. It has resulted in the issuing of corporate annual reports, press releases , customer satisfaction scores and benchmarking results. All designed to tell a positive, on-message story.

Those days have gone.

As Gerry McGovern writes – the game has profoundly changed. “Many organisations are still deluding themselves into thinking that if they can just get their marketing and PR right, they can control the message, control the future.”

I’m not a smoker, but I’m told that if you really want to get a view of what’s happening in an organisation you don’t look at the intranet. You go to the smoking shelter.  There hierarchy has no place. You get the real story behind the corporate version, and you get the stories that the corporate machine hasn’t yet realised are happening.

In 2017 we all have our version of the smoking shelter. Our news and gossip travels through the likes of Twitter and the backchannels of its direct messaging system. It thrives through end-to-end encrypted chats on WhatsApp and in peer-to-peer customer exchanges on our Facebook pages.

Institutional trust isn’t designed for the digital age. No government , never mind a single organisation, can control it. The official source is now secondary.

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Over the past 17 years the Edelman Trust Barometer has surveyed tens of thousands of people about their level of trust in the sectors of business, media, government, and non-profits. This year was the first time the study found a decline in trust across all four.

It comes at a time of staggering lack of confidence in leadership: 71% of respondents said government officials are not at all or somewhat credible. 63% said the same about CEOs.

In a world where 76% of people trust leaked information over a press release, we have to rethink what trust means in a digital age.

As part of design work we are doing at Bromford – we’re beginning to redefine what we mean by organisational trust in both a colleague and customer context.

It’s easiest to think about trust in a personal relationship like marriage or a partnership. It’s built through four things:

  • A shared agreement on values, goals or ambitions
  • The behaviour that supports that agreement
  • An understanding of the implications and consequences of breaking it
  • Continued openness and honesty

Applying this to our relationship with organisations is subtly different.

We need to feel that organisations are competent and have the ability to fulfill their commitments. We need to believe they have the right motives, are benevolent, act fairly and honestly. We need to see they are transparent, that they are learning from mistakes and failure.

However, the digital age is disrupting the accepted rules of trust. No longer is a relationship solely between citizen and institution. What was once a fairly simple one to one relationship – with information limited to them directly – is now placed within a much wider context.

The network effect of technology has created a way for people to share experiences more quickly, and to more people with more detailed information than ever before.

The challenge for organisations is not for them to try to rebuild trust but to leverage the power of these new networks to do it for them. 

It means reducing the gap between organisational rhetoric and the reality.

That means it’s time to do less talking and more listening:

It means stopping saying how great your organisation is.

It means engaging rather than broadcasting.

It means defaulting to transparency.

It means people as your ambassadors rather than just the CEO.

Trust now lies in the hands of individuals, not in our organisations.

 

The Rules of Digital Transformation

In five years time we’ll look back and realise we had it wrong about digital.

Digital transformation was never about digital, and rarely about transformation.

It’s actually about the processes by which you change your business model or approach. Some of which will have digital elements.

The problem I have with digital cheerleading is two fold:

  • The implication that all our problems are easily ‘solvable’ 
  • The subsequent rush towards technology – as if digital is the only solution.

This week I was at the BT Innovation Centre talking about our experience of change. It was a wonderful couple of days but I left with a worry that our obsession with digital transformation is becoming the problem rather than the solution.

I’m at the latter stages of service design across a large organisation and so far one thing is clear:

Pretty much everyone said they wanted a digital or system solution.

What everyone really needed was a hugely simplified business model or process that reflected current strategy.

My issue with digital transformation and the snake oil salesmen that surround us with system solutions is the implication that everything being digitised is somehow better.

The evidence that technology makes us more productive is weak at best. There’s an ever increasing gap between technological sophistication and work actually being performed. Think on that before you purchase that new software.

Also most change isn’t truly transformational – its focus is firmly on improving efficiency and customer experience rather than rewriting the business model.

Research from McKinsey supports the fact that most transformation programmes fail, finding that only 26% of transformations have been “very or completely successful at both improving performance and equipping the organisation to sustain improvements over time”.

Their research goes on to suggest that the odds of making a transformation successful can be dramatically improved by how we talk about change. The way we frame it is an essential element in how people embrace and implement it.

The irony is that continually talking up transformation actually makes it harder to implement. Telling people they are in for big changes invokes their status quo bias – people naturally prefer things to stay as they are and perceive any change as a threat or a loss.

By breaking change down into the simplest possible elements we would boost the chance of success. (This lovely sketchnote from Tanmay Vora sums up my thoughts here.)

72_changeideas

Digital will never be a silver bullet for problems that have beset organisations for decades.

Equally – claiming digital as being the driver for everything dumbs change down. Implying everything can be solved with a system does a huge disservice to our people and the human capacity for creativity and innovation.

Changing your business has many elements: leadership, people, process and, of course, digital.

Ultimately though there’s only one rule to live by here:

Strategy , not technology, drives transformation. 

Get Social, Embrace Disruption: Serving the Connected Customer

I’m thinking it’s about 6 minutes to midnight on the Digital Doomsday Clock.

Time is running out on the organisations who are yet to board the bus. Yet to start the journey to being different businesses serving changed customers on a multiplicity of screens.

1 in 4 Executives from around the world believe the time has already come to implement digital transformation across their organisations, and that doing so is already a matter of survival. For 63% – the pace of change isn’t happening quickly enough.

I’m in agreement – there are 3 things we need to do , and quickly

1 – Get Social

Having a Twitter account and using a hashtag at a conference doesn’t equate to digital leadership.

The concept is still developing , but the effective digital leader doesn’t say “change takes time” or “there are barriers in the way”. To quote from an excellent article by Mike Clarke:

Digital leaders review and dismantle traditional infrastructures that act as barriers to innovation or which do not add value – they support and champion people that are close to service users and customers – they help people unlearn bad habits & some non-digital skills that impede progress”.

They embrace disruption.

2 – Agree It’s Not So #FutureTech

The future doesn’t arrive next year. It’s here. Now.

John Popham has remarked in a post that there is a  “real divide in our society between those of us who live every day with the possibilities offered by new technologies and those to whom these things are a peripheral interest.”

Having a Customer Services Leader (at any level) with a peripheral interest in social and digital service is no longer fit for purpose – we need to support and re-train people to face up to the connected customer. But we need to balance this with the ticking clock – new skills and thinking may be required.

And don’t make assumptions about your customers. That 75 year old lady you think won’t like the internet is a level 85 Tauren Druid on World of Warcraft.

3 – Reimagine Connected Customer Service 

Let’s not digitise our existing customer service offering . Let’s look at the possibilities and build a new vision. Look at how Amazon have innovated within the digital space. Look at how Wonga have made the user experience really simple and intuitive. Whether you like these brands and what they do is irrelevant. Look and learn.

The steps I would take are these:

  • Align digital with business goals and strategy (If need be , review them)
  • Have a flexible vision. Keep it under review , daily if need be. Don’t try and guess what it’s like in 2020. Nobody knows.
  • Secure buy-in from your Executive team. And continually reinforce it.
  • Develop a project roadmap but make sure this is kept under review too. New tools can emerge very quickly. Agility is key.
  • Develop guidelines for how social and digital tools should be used. Avoid policy as much as you can. Build trust.
  • Agree resources (social and digital are not free). GIve people the tools for the job.
  • Nothing is certain. Accept failure is OK. Just kill things quickly and humanely when they are not working out.

It’s six minutes to midnight on the digital doomsday clock

Better start serving the Connected Customer

5 Social Media Policies That You Can Love

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I posted last week about How Your Social Media Policy Could Kill Your Culture. It was about the “control creep” that’s affecting some organisations as they try to protect themselves from a social media firestorm.

In this post I want to look at a few organisations whose policies and guidance acknowledge the risks but see far greater benefit in their colleagues being digitally active. Here are five of the approaches I like – together with a link to their policy or guidance. Hope you like them too.

1 – The Police Service

For my money no public service has embraced social media as well as the Police. If you doubt this I would recommend you subscribe to the excellent blog from Russell Webster – who frequently highlights best practice in police digital engagement Each authority has its own policy but I want to draw your attention to the superlative guide put together by Gordon Scobbie and his colleagues. Called Engage: Digital and Social Media Engagement For The Police Service it’s the very best demystification of the professional use of social media I have seen.

Best Bit:

I love the mythbusting that is incorporated into the guidance. Here’s an example:

Screen Shot 2013-02-21 at 19.19.072 – Gap

Unfortunately the Gap guidance is not available for the public – but the main points are here. The policy itself is issued to all employees in a handy iPhone-size brochure. Entitled “OMG you will never guess what happened at work today!!” it’s written in an entirely conversational style.

Even the warnings are written as you would say them:

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Best Bit:

I love this bit of advice for when you realise you have posted something you shouldn’t have:

“If you !%@# up? Correct it immediately and be clear about what you’ve done to fix it.”

3 – Bromford Group

Look , I know I work for them. But even if I didn’t I would say that Bromford have one of the most enlightened approaches to social media around. Like Gap – the Bromford social media guidance is written in a very conversational style – and it sets out very clearly the difference between what it calls a business , sponsored and personal account.

Best Bit:

I love the fact the guidance is very visual. This is an inspired way to sum up your advice:

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4 – Kirklees Council

Kirklees treat social media really seriously. So seriously their policy and guidance has it’s own website. It’s jam packed full of advice , case studies , forums and useful tips. This is an organisation who who have applied a huge amount of thought to how they are going to support colleagues and stakeholders.

Best Bit:

I love the 3 Steps to Using Social Media. I think many organisations could learn from this Listen , Participate , Transform approach to going social:

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5 – Southwest Airlines

Southwest are masters in using digital to engage with customers and tell the story of their brand. I’ve never flown with them so I have no idea if the reality matches the sheer brilliance of their customer engagement. If you haven’t seen their community and , especially , their blog – you should have a look.

Their guidelines are more prescriptive than the others – but I like the way it’s just 8 points on one page in clear language.

Best Bit:

It’s straight-talking. I like this……

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These are five of my favourites – but which others have you seen? I’d love to hear…..

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