Stand Up!

It seems that Spring, as usual, is sparking creativity, and a number of people are tackling exciting projects. I’ve been fortunate enough to get to hear about them, and while people have traveled to my office to share, they’ve all expressed the same excitement as they entered my office.

“Wow! How do you like your desk?”

It’s a question that I can’t hear, or answer, enough. “I love it. I absolutely love it.”

Stand up desk at work

Love that raises and lowers with the push of a button.

In May of 2011, I wrote a blog post about the scary facts of sitting at work and documented my move to modular elevation (boxes on top of my desk to allow me to stand). I have to admit, I worked with those boxes on my desk for over a year.

In June of 2012, I got my new desk. And it’s fabulous. I stand 97% of the time I’m at my desk, but the ability to lower the desk is more important than I would have imagined for those rare meeting-light days that leave you on your feet for eight hours or the occasional day when you’re not feeling well and don’t have the energy to stand.

But for the most part, my brain and body function better when I’m standing. Plus, I’m an efficiency freak, and standing is far more efficient. I can run to the printer without having to stand first; I can respond to someone coming into my office by simply taking a step over and having them join me looking at the monitor. I’m more mobile, taking seconds off my finish time.

But best of all, it’s fun. It’s just plain fun. I feel like my creative juices, analytical juices, all juices are flowing better when I’m standing. When I’m jumping full-steam into a project and I turn up my music and tune out the rest of the office, I feel like I’m hitting the ground running…errr…standing.


Another shot of the stand up desk

Notice the forlorn chair, feet below the desk surface.

Have there been drawbacks? No! None. But I’m not naive enough to believe that there can’t be. For the first few months it was easy to focus on my posture and pay attention to how I stood. It was new. I didn’t have bad habits. That has changed. Now I catch myself standing on one leg or locking my knees or leaning forward. Just like sitting for eight hours, standing for eight hours is forcing our bodies to do something bodies shouldn’t be doing. I can see how bad standing habits could lead to discomfort and new strain patterns in the body. I have chronic hip trouble and sitting exacerbates some of those symptoms. Standing would not be for everyone. Just as sitting aggravates me, standing could aggravate someone else.

But, for me, my mind and body thank me. And I thank the desk. Yes, I love my desk. If it feels right for you, take a stand! You will thank you.

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Workflow Systems that Work: Part Three

This is the last in a series of posts on workflow systems. The first post talked about my first rule: simplicity. The next post talked about my second rule: transparency. This post will cover my last two rules for workflow systems: accessibility and team orientation.

Good workflow systems provide the framework for people to know the logistics of their work: what they’re working on and when. To accomplish this, the workflow system has to be accessible. In the first post about simplicity, I explained that they have to be understandable, which is definitely one type of accessibility. But with this rule, I’m speaking more about the technology you use to implement your day-to-day task tracking system. People need to be able to access the workflow system whenever they need or want to. It needs to be always available to them.

For my team, we use google docs for this aspect of our workflow system. People can access the task tracking sheet throughout the work day or from off-site. One of my team members uses color-coding within the column that identifies her tasks. Light green means it’s done; light yellow means she’s working on it now; no color means she hasn’t yet gotten to it. The workflow tracking system is so helpful to her, she’s modifying it to help her use it more effectively! You know what else? By doing this, she’s introduced another aspect to the tracking sheet that provides simple, transparent information about her work back to the rest of the team! This makes me really happy, and it’s in this way that the team helps build upon our systems.

Which leads me to my fourth rule: team orientation. This one seems like a no-brainer, but sometimes we need to be reminded of why we do things. Workflow systems are for the team. They need to serve the needs of everyone. If a workflow system helps a manager understand the workload and assign the projects, but doesn’t help the team members orient themselves to their workload and their contribution to the team, it’s not doing it’s job. If a workflow helps team members know what they’re supposed to be doing, but doesn’t help a manager strategically decide about projects or assign tasks to team members, it’s not doing it’s job. That’s why there are multiple components to workflow systems (I outlined the ones I use for my team in the first post).

If you’re not sure if your workflow system is meeting everyone’s needs, ask your team. Workflow systems should help every member of the team understand what the team is doing, what the mission and goals are, who is doing what, and when projects are due. Workflow systems are visionary and logistical. They should open lines of communication and empower everyone.

Simplicity, transparency, accessibility, and team orientation are my guiding principles for my team’s workflow system. What are yours? I’d love to hear more about how your team works.

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Workflow Systems that Work: Part Two

My first post about workflow systems talked entirely about my first rule: simplicity. Simplicity is such an important rule because it’s really easy to make the system complicated. Our job is to make it as simple as possible.

Now for the next rule: Make your systems completely transparent.

It’s true. The systems that guide workflow have to be completely transparent. Everyone should understand each element, understand how they connect to each other, and be able to use the workflow system components to understand what everyone on the team is working on. In the post on simplicity, I outlined some of the workflow components we use and on a number of these components I record team members’ names. If he/she is lead on a project, there’s an “x” in his/her column. Everyone knows who’s doing what.

Some people ask about how this impacts team dynamics. How do team members feel about having other members of the team knowing about all of their work? And how do team members feel about providing updates in a group where they have to let all of their colleagues know the details on what’s happening? Well, quite frankly, I think we all love it.

We can’t be a team if everyone’s working in isolation. We can’t be a team if we don’t know our roles on projects. When we come together and give updates, we also brainstorm and get ideas from each other. We’re completely open about our struggles and our triumphs. These workflow guides allow us to jump in and out of projects efficiently because of the transparency. It also opens up conversations about who’s working on what and why. People have different interests and different skills.

That’s another question that often comes up: But what if someone on your team doesn’t like something they have to work on? What if they’re upset someone else gets a cool project? As much as I’d like to think all our projects are cool, it’s true that sometimes we have to work on projects that are less fun than others. (Although, we’re pretty lucky to get to work on mostly great projects.) But hopefully transparency about all projects and roles allows us to think more effectively about what projects are on the horizon and how we’re best equipped as a staff to meet those needs. Open the dialogue. I’ve been amazed at what I’ve learned and what it’s meant to the team. People love working on different types of projects and that’s a tremendous asset. We can learn what motivates and stimulates our colleagues and match skills and interests as much as possible.

Does this transparency result in some sticky situations when you’re scheduling new projects? When someone approaches me with a request for a project, such as needing development time or needing graphic design assistance, it’s an open conversation. During that conversation, after talking through project goals, I open the exact same documents that the person asking can open to look at the schedule of projects. I can schedule it accordingly and it becomes information that’s immediately available to my team. As I mentioned in the first blog post, my team members can also add to this task tracking sheet, which helps keep me informed of progress and additional needs for projects that have evolved.

Sometimes one of my team members does bop into my office going “Hey, what’s this project I’m working on next week?” and vice versa. More often, my team works on the current projects and waits for my “Friday List” I referenced in the first blog on workflow systems to see the new things coming down the pike. At our group meeting the following week, we’ll talk and they’ll get the framework of the project. We know and trust the process. We also trust each other. (Of course, this trust is not all because of our workflow systems, some of this is also because my team is so amazing.)

Transparency helps eliminates stress, facilitate conversation, and builds a whole lot of team. There’s no confusion. There’s no surprise. We are consistent with our process and everyone can always refer back to the workflow system components to get reoriented with our plan. Transparency builds stronger, more efficient teams. And I’m really grateful to work in one. In the next blog post we’ll look at rule number three for workflow systems: accessibility.

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Workflow Systems that Work: Part One

This week a member of one of the other divisions of our Center asked to meet with me. Her team was having trouble tracking their projects, meeting deadlines, and determining whether or not to accept additional projects. She wanted to see the systems I’ve put in place for the Communications division, which got me thinking about the importance of systems.

Systems for tracking and scheduling work are hard. The systems I have put in place for my team have been an evolution that tracks with the growth of the team, team needs, team suggestions and ideas, and available technology. I thought I’d share my four rules for successful systems. This blog will talk about the first rule.

Rule One: Keep your system as simple as possible.

When I was working for Macy’s Northwest, the marketing division was large, so we needed ways to figure out which designer, writer, coordinator, proofreader, prepress person, etc. was working on each project. The job jackets that floated from desk to desk were a litany of details, but they were a lifesaver because the electronic tracking system was so confusing that I don’t think half of the employees bothered using it. Simple queries for pulling up what you were working on returned volumes of data, no doubt intended to clarify, that obscured who was doing what.

My team today is nowhere near that scale, which has its advantages and disadvantages. There are four of us dedicated solely to communications, plus partial time from other writers, learning specialists, and web developers. We try to keep our workflow systems as simple as possible. Here are the things my team uses, but that don’t overcomplicate it.

You’ve got to have a calendar.

We have seven google calendars used to track different types of tasks. It seems like a litany of calendars, but they’re simple to display and simple to hide. Adding new deadlines or moving deadlines from one day to the next is quick. Looking at the calendars provides a snapshot of projects months out. You can look at a specific calendar, if you’re trying to figure out what’s being sent for HTML emails for example, or you can look at all calendars to see how the projects line-up. And it’s easy, easy, easy. Everyone on the team has the ability to edit and view the calendars.

You’ve got to have long-term plans to reach your goals.

Now for the stuff that fills the calendars! We have a communications plan. I develop it for January of each year and it projects the large-scale projects through at least mid-year. As the year progresses, I update it accordingly so that it’s always a minimum of six-months out. This document also includes important elements that orient the communications team around our vision, mission, and service to the organization. It has our key vetted messages and initiatives, information about the audience, etc.

Each of the Center’s large programs have a marketing plan. It contains many of the same elements of the communications plan mentioned above, but specified to that initiative. For instance, our Summer Institute marketing plan includes information about target audience, key messages, competition, and a timeline of marketing events. (And if you want, you can also pull up the “Training Communications” calendar to see a color-coded visual display of the items being disseminated for the Summer Institute.)

I keep the Center-wide communications plan and each marketing plan as simple as possible. These are documents that should be helpful. I’m developing useful pocket references (some larger-scale than others), not telephone books.

You’ve got to have a short-term tracking strategy.

We also have a simple task tracking sheet. I affectionately call it the “Friday List” because I update our team’s tasks each Friday (it’s a google spreadsheet). The lead on each task has an “x” by his/her name. Each week, if anyone has any questions about their tasks, they can refer to the list first and follow-up with more questions if necessary. Throughout the week, I ask my team members to please add anything they’re going to need to tackle the next week below, essentially building much of my “Friday List” for me before I update it at the end of the week. We use this document to check-in as a team during the week and make sure that we all know who’s leading what initiative and talk about what else has developed that will need to be added to the various elements of our tracking system.

How much time is this going to take?

As I reviewed these with the member of the other division, she asked that inevitable question: How long does all this take? I answered that I spend less than two hours per week updating these documents. My team members spend 30 minutes or less. This small amount of time gives us clear, easy ways to prioritize and track our projects, saving more time than it takes. Plus, it results in clear expectations and deadlines, which I believe is essential for effective teams, and leads to rule number two: transparency. We’ll look at this rule in the next blog post.

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Measuring Marketing Wins

Every organization wants to measure return on investment. Marketing budgets are often on the chopping block. So how do marketing departments determine the return on investment for each of their activities? There’s an old adage that says half of all advertising dollars are wasted, the problem is figuring out which half. Umm, that’s a problem.

Baseline statistics are out there for all kinds of marketing initiatives, which people can compare to their own numbers. Tools and tips for measuring response from direct mail (use of special URLs or phone numbers to measure which piece generates leads, expected response rate of 1-2%), web advertising (number of times an ad is served up, the click through rate, the number of conversions, average click through rate of banner ads is currently 0.2-0.3%), number of impressions combined with detailed audience segmentation information from media outlets, etc. All of this data, of course, then gets paired and parsed with business financial information showing sales numbers across products, product lines, and the company’s product mix.

Needless to say, there’s a lot of math. Marketing includes a ton of statistical analysis. It’s like the analytics movement in the NBA in the early 2000s or the recent movie Moneyball with Brad Pitt, except instead of trying to build a baseball team built on statistics that is most likely to generate wins, marketing teams are trying to build a marketing program built on statistics that is most likely to resonate with the audience. Marketing’s win equals influence. Influence is different from a purchase.

Most people think of marketing as something that tries to get us to buy something. Most of the commercials on TV want us to spend money on something, right? Yes. But a purchase is only one aspect of marketing. An important part, a measurable part, but not the only part.

What if a company or organization isn’t selling a commodity that can be easily quantified? What if it’s an organization that works to clean the ocean? What if it’s an organization that provides free educational webinars? What if it’s an organization that promotes healthy eating? I have one book on my shelf about strategic communications for non-profits. This 266-page book has nine pages dedicated to measurement and evaluation strategies. Nine pages! Running a quick statistical analysis, that means marketing in non-profits should only spend three percent of their time on measuring success.

Wow. Do non-profits not care about measuring the return of their marketing efforts? Absolutely not. In fact, many non-profits are finding their budgets particularly depleted during this economic downturn and are trying hard to make strategic decisions to maintain effectiveness. They know that they need marketing to make a difference, but they don’t have answers about what is particularly effective. Sure, many non-profits can measure against different metrics, like how many people walked through the front door, how many square miles of ocean were cleaned, how many people logged into the webinars, but let’s look more closely at the healthy eating example. Let’s hypothesize that you work for this organization and that your top three communications objectives are to educate the community about:

1. the benefits of eating healthy food
2. what foods are healthy
3. how to prepare food

How do you measure if you have been successful? Surveys, focus groups, key informant interviews…these are all possible, but they’re not all-inclusive. You could partner with local markets and ask for reports about types of food purchased, which may or may not be possible, prohibitively expensive, or an effective measure. And how do you know if the results of the campaign are long-lasting? Suddenly, measuring the impact of an organization’s marketing efforts just became even more challenging than it already was. How do you quantify social change?

I would love to hear your thoughts, suggestions, ideas! I’m always looking to improve our methods of measuring effectiveness. Please comment, shoot me an email, or send me a message on twitter (@missiethurston).

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