Monthly Archives: May 2018

Male and mature

At the end of the 1990s I took a job working in the Cambridgeshire Fens. I’d been told all sorts of horror stories about the people in that part of the world, all too shocking to repeat here and, as it happens, none of them true. But one observation from a local resident (not an ‘incomer’ as anyone who wasn’t born and bred there is known) was accurate.

I was three days into my new job and he said “Chris, you have the advantage of being male and mature.” At 45 years old, it was the first time I’d been described as mature (I took the identification as male as a given). I wasn’t quite sure what he meant with his comment until a while later when my work colleagues in similar roles would be reduced to tears by the behaviour of retired male councillors (at that time, many councillors in that part of rural Cambridgeshire were older and male…) My colleagues were female, often straight out of university, and those older men thought they had nothing to learn from a younger, female, generation of advisers.

I could only apologies for the behaviour of what I think are called ‘unreconstructed males’ – or male chauvinists as we used to call them – the type who still refer to women under 40 as ‘girls’ thinking (or probably not thinking!) it doesn’t sound derogatory or disrespectful – even though they wouldn’t describe men of the same age as ‘boys’?

So, if age and gender is an explanation for inexcusably bad behaviour at that upper end of the age range, can if explain (but not excuse) bad behaviour of men who may more accurately be described as boys – certainly in terms of their behaviour – being closer to 20 than 30?

I was thinking about this recently when talking to a female colleague about my experience of working with young women in comparison with young men. I advise young would-be entrepreneurs wanting to set up their own businesses and, almost without exception, age-for-age the women progress further and faster than the men.

My colleague, admitting to being something of an amateur psychologist, said that it’s recognised that in general women’s brain’s do mature earlier than men’s, with the male brain maturing on average at around 25 years. She used the example of F1 racing drivers to make her point; and I’m sure it wouldn’t take much to show that most shunts in motor racing involve younger, less mature, drivers.

I know I’m making gross generalisations here and, as the reconstructed father of a 27-year-old daughter I’m probably biased, but I’m not about to take up F1 grand prix racing just to prove my point.

 

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Swimming against the tide

Our local leisure centre is running a special offer – 5 days free use of their facilities. I won’t be making use of the gym – I’m more a running-outdoors-from-my-front-door sort of a person – but I’m using the swimming pool.

I’ve been in the pool before (and I once won 10 free swims in a local recycling competition – don’t ask) but otherwise I don’t swim there very often because it’s peak rate charges when I want to go and, to be honest, I find swimming up and down the pool a bit boring. Another reason I don’t swim there much is that I don’t fit into either of the groups of pool users that predominate first thing on weekday mornings.

There are the lane swimmers who plough up and down in their budgie smugglers (if you don’t know what I’m talking about, look it up) and the female equivalent, with their power drinks lined up on the end of the pool. I’ve never worked out why they need to rehydrate – swimming can exhaust me, but I’d never describe it as ‘thirsty work’. The other main group are the social swimmers – people who have reached a certain age and stage in their lives when standing in the shallow end of a swimming pool to chat with other early risers seems like a good idea.

I’m not knocking it – swimming pools are great places for socialising as well as exercise – but it does make me feel as though my swimming up and down is intruding on some not-very-private conversations. If looks could kill – they feel like daggers (or maybe in this context it should be ‘torpedoes’?) – I’d have sunk without trace without making it beyond 10 lengths.

Then there’s weekends and another group where I don’t fit in – young swimmers – with most of the pool taken up by young learners on one side and family fun on the other. Adult swimmers are squeezed into one lane in the middle so I accidentally ended up breast-stroking another swimmer while she stroked my back, also presumably by accident. I’ve just identified a fourth reason not to swim in a pool on a regular basis – there simply isn’t enough space.

And ploughing a lonely furrow is, er… lonely. It’s obviously more comfortable to go with the flow, but my upbringing tends to point me in the other direction – standing up for what I believe – even when this risks resistance and courts criticism.

My grandfather was a liberal MP so I know all about being in a minority. And while my Quaker upbringing has never resulted in discrimination of any kind, in my youth I was perhaps regarded as a bit unusual (as might anyone from a religious minority).

For the past 20 years I’ve also been inspired to plough my own furrow by a great friend whom I met at a very low and uncertain time in my life. He took me under his wing and, as the brilliant networker and connector he is, he found me a job and helped take my career in a new and exciting direction for which I’ll always be grateful.

In the context of this blog post, for the past two decades I’ve seen this friend swimming against the tide – agitating and campaigning – to further his sincerely held beliefs about ways to change the world and make it a better place. It’s been frustrating to see the brick walls and brush offs, but I’ve always admired him as the grain of the sand in the oyster; the grit that creates a pearl. He’s like a terrier that won’t let go – it that’s not using too many metaphors in a couple of sentences.

I hope I’ll still be as tenacious as my friend in 20 years’ time – he’s 80. For now, I’ll keep swimming up and down the pool – at least metaphorically – risking upsetting people in the pursuit of greater causes.

http://sethgodin.typepad.com/seths_blog/2018/05/you-cant-please-everyone.html

 

A word in your ear about keeping connected

Last week, in the run up to the new GDPR Data Regulations coming into force on 25 May, I was sent 18 invitations to confirm my interest in receiving future mailings from a range of sources – mainly not-for-profit organisations.

It’s an opportunity for me to stem the flow of items dropping into my inbox (you should try it – it’s liberating). I’m sure there will be lots more invitations (not to mention some reminders from those same organisations to whom I haven’t responded).

As someone with a 40-year career in marketing, I thought I’d also take the opportunity to look at the different techniques, primarily the words, that those 18 organisations have chosen to try to keep me on their circulation lists. My assessment is, of course, neither objective nor scientific, but then nor is the basis for my decision about which mailings I opt-in to, and which I let go.

The headline in the subject box…

Right now, I would imagine that most hearts sink when they see those four letters – GDPR. So, should you include them in your subject box? Only four of the 18 organisations thought so, and who knows how many people stopped reading at that point (at best filing it away for ‘reading later’).

Personally, I appreciate the use of humour in communications although, of course, what’s funny is very subjective. A couple of organisations chose to mention ‘privacy policy’ in their headlines – which is almost certainly a turn-off – but one softened the blow with humour – ‘Update to Our Privacy Policy (yawn)’ – it made me want to read more. The communication signed off in a similarly lighthearted way, saying “That is all. You can go back to your own life now.”

Most communications were variations on the ‘don’t miss out on future communications’ theme. ‘Let’s keep in touch… we’d love to keep talking to you’Keep updated’ ‘Don’t let GDPR end our relationship’ ‘Stay part of … action required’ ‘Don’t miss out – we know it’s boring but…’  ‘we’d like to keep in touch.’

The organisation sending the communication…

It helps if I personally know the people behind the invitation – I’ll give people I know and like the benefit of the doubt, keeping reading for longer. Part of my response is even more subjective – what’s my gut reaction when I see their communications drop into my inbox? Eventually I become more rational – have they provided useful, interesting and important information over the last 12 months – would I miss it?

The wording…

Once into the body of the communication, I assess whether I’m drawn in by the message including the style of writing. Whether it’s personalised in any way – Dear first name/ Mr surname / member/ subscriber/ service user – which applied to a third of the 18 organisations – is not so important to me, although on balance I think some sort of salutation – even just ‘hello’ – is better than none at all.

I tend to dislike anything ‘shouty’ – using CAPITAL LETTERS, text highlighted in red or underlined, and too many exclamation marks!!! Ironically the worst offender in this respect was an organisation promoting peace (it certainly didn’t come across as a gentle invitation).

I’ve already mentioned humour, and who says Privacy Policies have to be discussed too seriously? The most humorous communication on this subject said…

We’ll show you ours if you show us yours

To make sure you know what [we’re] doing with your private bits (data, of course) we need to show you our new Privacy Statement.

And to make sure we know exactly what you’d like from us, we’d love you to reveal your innermost…preferences.

This came from a campaign against male suicide – so they clearly think a lighthearted approach to a serious subject is the way to connect. And what they also did cleverly (as did three other organisations) was to use the GDPR opportunity to do a bit of market research for future mailings – encouraging me to update my preferences.

Building trust…

Our personal data and mis-use of it is, of course, high on the international agenda so the introduction of the new regulations is timely. Most effective marketing is about developing long term relationships and, particularly in the current climate, building trust is an important part of doing that successfully.

So I ask myself, do I believe what they say in those e-mails – are they serious about keeping my details secure, or are they just saying that because of the new regulations?

Four communications used reassuring phrases and, strangely perhaps, the more casual the assurance the more I believed them! Try this ‘The new privacy law has given me the opportunity to clean up my mailing list and ensure the E-Newsletter only goes to those who find it useful… The mailing list is managed only by me and the emails stored are never shared with anyone.’ Honest, simply said, sounds sincere – great.

One way that correspondents can show they mean business is to say how my support (and the information I share with them) will be used for my benefit – the trade-off. Surprisingly perhaps, only five of the 18 organisations took time to tell me what I’d get if I said ‘yes’ to their invitation. One organisation probably went into greater detail than necessary about their future plans – but it was great to know what I was going to be signing up to receive.

Surprising few (five organisations) thanked me for my time. One went overboard offering me the possibility of winning a box of doughnuts if I responded by a certain date (many gave 25 May as their cut-off date). Which brings me to my last consideration…

The call to action…

If you expect a response to a communication you not only need to make it clear what you want the respondent to do, but you need to make it as easy as possible for them to do it. A simple, clearly marked button to click for opt-in and a polite ‘thank you’ when I did was the most painless experience. I make an allowance for additional tick boxes to refine my preferences but that’s about it. Anything more than half a dozen clicks and I lose heart.

The twist in the tail of this exercise is that the majority of organisations inviting me to opt-in to their mailings under the new data protection regulations probably didn’t need to renew my permission in the first place!

Some myth-busting about GDPR consent from the Information Commissioner’s Office https://iconewsblog.org.uk/2018/05/09/raising-the-bar-consent-under-the-gdpr

If you need a few resources to get to grips with GDPR, go to  https://enterpriseessentials.wordpress.com/free-lunch-business-support

Trade secrets – most sales people give up too soon

What they don’t tell you about starting a business

People in businesses make far too many assumptions about how publicity materials are received by would-be customers. They think that communicating once is enough and then believe no response means no interest.

In reality, the message probably hasn’t even reached the intended recipient – real life and 101 other obstacles can get in the way of clear communication. Also, timing is everything – we don’t read estate agents’ publicity until we need to buy or sell a house.

A friend used to give his most potentially important customers seven opportunities to ignore publicity about his latest product before giving up (admittedly each one was worth about £50,000). My rule of thumb is to assume it takes three communications for people to register a product, service, event etc exists, and five for them to do anything about it.

So don’t give up too soon. This doesn’t mean pestering potential customers, it means some gentle reminders through different communication channels over a decent period.

For other Trade Secrets in this series, go to https://enterpriseessentials.wordpress.com/category/trade-secrets

Juggling with buses

I have a great fondness for the number 73 London bus (or the ‘dear old 73’ as my mum might have described it). In my 20 years studying and working in the capital I lived on the 73 route at three different locations – Oxford Street, Islington and Stoke Newington – so I had lots of opportunity to ride on it at all times of the day and night. Those journeys bring back a variety of memories – associated with the state of the roads, the state of me (the amount I’d drunk), other passengers, and things going on in my life at those three locations (being a student – swatting, being employed – sweating, being married – swooning).

I was thinking about no 73 buses recently when discussing business advice with a recently retired consultant. She said she was enjoying her ‘new life’ because she no longer had to deal with small businesses that would “like London buses, come along in threes”.

Since I’m also involved with advising would-be business owners it got me thinking about whether I have had the same experience – demand coming in peaks and not a lot in between (actors know the problem…) I think this may be partly our mind playing tricks – we remember the busiest and slackest periods and the more manageable flow of enquiries goes by unremarkably. But I do have peaks and it’s of my own making.

I send out a fortnightly business support bulletin – Free Lunch – to my contacts* and I often get a mini flood of communications in the days after it goes out. And that’s the point – in nearly 20 years of advice-giving I’ve learnt that a short regular bulletin is a good way to remind people I’m around (as well as, hopefully, sending them some useful and interesting hand-picked information). It’s easier than a phone call, although I admit it’s also easier to ignore, so it’s not the only way I nudge people to do what we agreed they would do.

I’d like to say I deal with the rush of enquiries through an organised system of triage. I decide which communications are urgent and important, or one or the other, and aim to send at least a holding response within 12 hours and clear the whole thing off my desk, ‘touching the paper’ (metaphorically speaking in these digital days) only once, within 48 hours. I’d like to say that’s what happens… but it doesn’t. My response is much less consistent and systematic – but it largely works.

First, if it’s an e-mail I look at the sender and the subject line – but often that’s simply the same subject line as my bulletin mailing so that doesn’t always help – although it proves my particular nudge technique works! Next, I look at the nature of the enquiry – is it clear what the person is asking for (not a given), is the request polite and reasonable. Finally, how long will it take me to respond? And after that it depends on what else I’m working on – the importance and interest relative to the incoming enquiry.

But how do I build my responses into a wider consideration of what needs to be done and when? There’s some really useful advice from Stephen Covey in the form of his now-famous Time Management Matrix – it’s worth sharing here.

Covey argues that we get too distracted by things which are urgent but unimportant (quarter lll in the matrix) – they get more of our attention than they deserve simply because they are urgent. He also says that we tend to spend too little time in quadrant ll – areas of work which can enrich our working lives and keep us healthier by not having to rush from deadline to deadline. In reality of course, we spend too much time in the lower righthand corner – because it’s the line of least resistance and it can be more fun!

The new twist in the tail for my work-flow system is that new data controls (the GDPR – General Data Processing Regulations) mean I need to ask the current recipients of my fortnightly Free Lunch bulletin to opt-in to receive it after the end of May. This will probably decrease the circulation list to single figures and I’ll then be delighted if one bus comes along each fortnight, let alone worry about three at once!

*If you want to see the sorts of free business support items I share, go to https://enterpriseessentials.wordpress.com/free-lunch-business-support