Saturday, 1 February 2014

The importance of basic coding for all!

There has been a niggling need within the industry for the last few years for marketing folk to get involved with more of the technical side of digital, rather than sitting back and letting the real techies whizz off Javascript, CSS and HTML5 without us! There are so many tools that allow even the most computer-illiterate of marketeers to get away without any technical experience but I do feel that the emphasis is changing and that coding is now seen as an essential skill for every Tom, Dick and Harry.

When Decoded, a technology school that teaches coding, was founded in 2011 there was a little trepidation around who in the marketing sphere should be upskilling. The business has grown considerably and now has offices across the globe and claims to have transformed over 5000 people’s understanding of coding in its one day courses (£500 for a day course if you are paying direct, £900 if your company is paying).
Increasingly I have become aware of the request for at least basic coding knowledge in any digital marketing roles and a few things have happened in the last year that convinced me to start learning myself.

  1. A friend of mine in marketing recently told me that if she could return to our school careers day the one thing she would share with the girls would be “learn how to code”. She had embarked on a short coding course that certainly didn’t come cheaply but she came away knowing the basics in multiple languages and felt that it was hugely beneficial!
  2. My mother also recently found herself teaching primary school children how to use a Raspberry Pi. (The Raspberry Pi is a credit-card-sized single-board computer developed in the UK by the Raspberry Pi Foundation with the intention of promoting the teaching of basic computer science in schools). I would never have referred to mum as technologically savvy (sorry mum!), actually perhaps even the opposite until recently. However, now she is making leaps and bounds with this mini-computer and helping the children to learn too.
  3. My friend’s 3 year old son directed me how to use an iPad and then proceeded to swap my phone language into Japanese... and it wasn't by accident
  4. The realisation that there will be an even greater gap between people of my generation and current primary school kids than there ever was between my generation and our parents! When I see people struggle to use mobile phones or touch type, I really thank my parents for realising that a good understanding of technology for us would be invaluable in later life. However, technology moves so fast that we have to act if we don’t want to be left behind!
These 4 events/realisations have led me to one conclusion –I need to learn to code .... well I need to learn the basics at least! So I have signed up to CodeAcademy, a free “online learning experience of the future”. Users can access thousands of free coding tasks, from the very basic to more complicated, receiving points for completing courses.

So far it is going well and it is exciting to be learning a new skill and hopefully one that I will be able to embed into my everyday activities at work.

I wrote this blog as documentation of the beginning of my journey and also to see what everyone else out there thinks about this? Can you code? Do you feel you need to be able to? Or perhaps you think it is something that is better left to the professionals.

NB: For any primary state school teachers out there, Decoded is offering 2 free places per school for teachers to come and learn how to bring code alive in the classroom -

Wednesday, 11 September 2013

The death knell of the traditional job description is coming ...

I hear a death knell in the distance, it isn’t fully audible but I know it is coming nonetheless. The traditional job description is gasping its last imperfect breaths, slipping down into obscurity with “ineffective” stamped clearly on the headstone ... well, in my mind anyway!

I have always hated job descriptions. This is perhaps partly because I had to re-write each and every one multiple times at a previous job. Having said that the fact that we actually dug them out of the filing cabinet was a miracle in itself.

How many times have you changed roles or been somewhere for a while and realised that you either don’t have a job description or it doesn’t even remotely resemble what you do?

I can’t remember a time when the daily tasks of my role have fitted the description I was given when applying for a job ... and this isn’t necessarily a bad thing. In fact, I am convinced that it is often the things that you do in work that aren’t listed out on a piece of paper that are the most interesting, engaging and enthralling. But that isn’t the issue.

The problem with job descriptions is that they set a rigid list of tasks for something that is undoubtedly going to be fluid. Jobs are multi-dimensional and setting someone in a box either leads to your brightest and most talented employees becoming bored and deserting you or it leads to the job description becoming obsolete and meaningless.

Job descriptions tend to be written with potential applicants in mind. The classic look of horror on an HR personnel’s face when they realise that they are due to advertise a new job opening but the job description is out of date or non-existent. No matter how urgent the job search, nothing will move forward until the job description has been produced and signed off (probably by someone important)!

Writing with a job applicant in mind leads to pages and pages of gumpf that is meant to make the job appear more attractive by including absolutely every task someone might possibly do in a role ... obviously aiming to cast the nets wide in the hope of a good catch rather than being more targeted.

One of my job descriptions, as I came to find after I had started the job, had actually listed the tasks and skills that you would need if you were going to work in every position in the department. I almost didn’t apply because I was nervous that I didn’t have enough experience to work in the role effectively. As it was I was absolutely fine but I ended up doing a number of things that weren’t even on the list anyway (and not doing many of the tasks that were!) ... but it just goes to show that job descriptions can often become deterrents to potential new blood.

OK, so job descriptions are outdated and inflexible. Let’s get rid of them! Ah, but there appears to be a few issues with casting them out forever:
  •           How would we let potential applicants know what a role entails?
  •           Where would we anchor performance metrics to?
  •           How would we iron out the uncertainty of who does what?

These are but a few of the issues with cutting off the age old job description forever. So perhaps rather than axing it all together we need to think of ways that we can be more flexible and move the dusty and rusting job description forward with the times. Making changes to job descriptions always throws up questions around compliance with employment law but in my mind out of date or obsolete descriptions do the same thing so we shouldn’t hold back!

I have listed below a few potential changes that have sprung to mind but I definitely want to re-visit this topic later on down the line (after hearing your ideas too!).
  • Have a core description for a role but leave room for specialisms, specific and developmental projects – everyone will be doing something slightly different
  • Rather than talking about tasks, talk about skill sets – this way the job description will be more adaptable and won’t scare off potential employees
  • Tie performance management expectations with the job description but make sure it is up-to-date and current
  • Don’t just rely on HR to do it all – take ownership, after all it is you that knows what the job entails
  • Don’t be afraid to make changes!

The reality is that organisations need to be flexible and have room to manoeuvre. This is going to be virtually impossible if jobs are inadaptable. If they are flexible and easy to change to suit business needs you are one step in the right direction but this doesn’t mean that companies can sit back whilst job descriptions languish or remain stretches away from the reality. Keeping job descriptions fresh and alive is not just a role for our HR departments but the responsibility of the organisation AND its employees. We must find a way of being more flexible and adaptable whilst having a clear idea of our responsibilities and how, as an employee, we will be measured.

To me, the traditional job description is defunct. I know that something more flexible and interactive is needed but I am not 100% sure what that is yet – what do you think?

Sunday, 16 June 2013

The Call Centre - "Some will, some won't, so what, next!"

I have to hold my hands up and admit to the fact that I am absolutely loving the new tv series - The Call Centre - a documentary centred around Nev, an extroverted Welsh call centre boss who has let BBC3 come into his workplace to see how he runs his business.

His methods are certainly different to what you would imagine. In fact, every time I watch this programme I can't help feeling incredibly sorry for Nev's HR team .... if he actually even has one. His exploits include parading recently dumped employees through the office to "find them a man cos they are desperate", and although said in jest, it can only make me imagine a tonne of lawsuits that must pass his office door on a weekly basis. 

Having said that, Nev has taken his business from 7 people renting a room in a building that the company has just bought to house his 100+ staff. 

Nev must be doing something right!

In an atmosphere that has been often described as "hell on earth", call centres must be one of the hardest places to retain employees and to keep morale high. These employees have to deal with daily rejection and  little sign of any autonomy or variety in their work .... I know, I worked in one during my university years!

With the lack of many of the hygiene factors required to even begin to motivate and engage people, Nev has taken quite a unique and strong stance in engaging with his staff.

He seems to overstep boundaries every 5 minutes, has been known to throw objects at people that yawn in his training and he is happy to humiliate workers at every turn. Yet his staff seem to be enthused by his presence, there is a lower turnover than your average call centre and there is definitely a sense of camaraderie. 

One recent employee, George, who has not been on a date for 6 years was set up with two colleagues by Nev, both of whom got cold feet and knocked the poor guy back. I couldn't help feeling this wasn't really the place of an MD to be setting up his employees but it is all to do with Nev's mantra that "happy people sell" and recently George commented “Nev’s really supportive of everyone, he’s a great boss.”

It has really got me wondering about whether in certain environments many of the "rules" that we imagine are generic across all workplaces just don't apply.

I am going to continue to watch the Call Centre with abject interest to try and work out what exactly is the "Nev Factor" holding this business together so well?

Next episode: Tuesday 9pm, BBC

Monday, 13 May 2013

Why meta descriptions are a largely undervalued facet of search engine marketing

I have recently been working with our digital marketing team on our content marketing. I have had a fantastic opportunity to work on a variety of projects, both big and small. 

When the team came to ask me if I could do them a big favour and help to write over 400 meta descriptions for our website and blog pages, the strained looks on their faces indicated that they knew that this was hardly a glamourous job. Meta descriptions are simply the short descriptions that appear in search results, they don't actually appear on your website.

Meta description tags can be shown in response to searchers' queries, as pictured.

Meta descriptions don't help with your search engine ranking and therefore are often overlooked. However, if your meta description and title compel people to click on your link you will improve your click through rate (CTR) which will in turn improve your search engine rankings.

Despite this, many people don't bother to write custom meta descriptions as they see it as a waste of time. I must admit, it wasn't the most thrilling of jobs and with other 400 to do it did get a little monotonous at times but I can see huge value in having customised meta descriptions rather than letting the search engine pluck its own from your content.

Here's why I think they are important:

- Good descriptions will improve your click through rate which will subsequently improve your search engine ranking
- Having a good description will mean less people go on to your website and leave straight away when they realise it isn't what they were looking for - again improving your ranking
- It is another opportunity to provide a short sales pitch to your potential customers - don't miss the opportunity

How can you make your meta descriptions better?

  • Use targeted key words - but don't stuff them in there for the hell of it!
  • Communicate the benefits
  • Give viewers a reason to click on your link
  • Don't duplicate descriptions, it will improve user experience (you can find out how many duplicates you have in your webmaster tools)
  • If you have 1000s of pages then at least make sure your home page and most popular pages have unique descriptions
  • There is no character limit but only about 150 to 170 characters will appear in the summary - so keep it short!
  • Stick to plain text - avoid hyphens, plus signs and quotation marks
Meta descriptions may not be the most exciting topic in the world but they are certainly important and I will now be spending the next few weeks ensuring that this blog has customised meta descriptions for each post.

Saturday, 13 April 2013

Why buying a house would be so much easier with direct communication!

I am currently in the process of buying my first flat in London with my boyfriend. I have come to realise that this process is absolutely terrifying! Forget about the questions of "am I ready to make such a big financial and relationship commitment", "can we afford to buy our own place?", "am I going to bankrupt my parents when I ask for the largest loan known to man?" - those are the easiest to deal with. The worst bit of buying a property is the lack of direct communication with the seller.

In the past in this blog I have spoken about the importance of body language and communicating with others. It is these things that give us feedback in situations that allows us to make judgements as to how we should proceed. These things are taken away in a process where there are a number of intermediaries between you and the seller. Don't get me wrong, so far our solicitor and mortgage broker have been good but the fact that I don't know what the seller is thinking or feeling means that I can't adjust my approach to ensure that they are onboard and we aren't going to get "gazumped" before completion.

I am used to adopting feedback techniques in my everyday life, both professionally and at home. These allow me to adjust my behaviour, tone or message angle when communicating. I think this is something that many people do without realising but having moved into the world of marketing and communications, it has become more obvious to me now.

The three things you should be 'reading' are:

1) Body language (up to 55% of what we communicate)

The below examples will give you something to look out for but be careful that you don't judge someone's body language too crudely. The key is context.

Positive body language:
  • Moving or leaning closer to you
  • Relaxed, uncrossed limbs
  • Long periods of eye contact
  • Looking down and away out of shyness
  • Genuine smiles
Negative body language:
  • Moving or leaning away from you
  • Crossed arms or legs
  • Looking away to the side
  • Feet pointed away from you, or towards and exit
  • Rubbing/scratching their nose, eyes, or the back of their neck

2) Tone of voice

Have you ever heard the saying "it's not what you say but how you say it that counts"? Just think about training a puppy. They can't actually understand the words we are using but they can comprehend the tone and sound coming from us. Often when we require an animal to follow an instruction we use strong staccato phrases, such as 'sit', 'stay' and 'fetch' coupled with body language.

In a face-to-face conversation with another person the tone of voice can really change the meaning of a conversation in its entirety. Read the following paragraph. Imagine this is a friendly colleague at work trying to help you out in your first week. She has a calm and sincere tone.

"I would suggest that you look at the other information available so that you can make an accurate estimate. A piece of advice, don't enter any information into the database until you are sure it is correct"

Now read this paragraph again and imagine that this is a patronising Manager who seems to be insinuating you don't pay enough attention. The tone of voice is harsh, patronising and sharp.

Can you see what a difference tone of voice can make? Why not try an experiment by changing your tone of voice to see what sort of a reaction you get.

3) Facial expression

Most people won't give you an obvious signal, such as frowning (although I do know someone who does!), but they may furrow their eyebrows slightly if they don't understand or disagree. Don't be fazed by someone's facial expressions, just use them as a cue to ask more questions, clarify your point or take a step back.

Don't forget that your own facial expression can sometimes give you away too!!

I am hoping that we will be able to complete our flat purchase shortly but in the mean time I guess I will just have to do without the normal communication signals that I have come to rely upon in negotiations.

Saturday, 9 March 2013

The importance of grammar and punctuation

Last week I met someone from The Queen's English Society, a group of people brought together by their real desire to ensure that the proper use of the English language is upheld. I appreciated their cause but not because I believe that everyone should know their prepositions from their dangling participles, but because we all make basic grammar and punctuation mistakes on a daily basis that actually change the meaning of what we are reading, writing or saying.

In this blog post I just wanted to share with you some of my favourite images that show these atrocities in action! (all just a little bit of fun!)

Tuesday, 5 February 2013

20:60:20 - The engagement rule

Last year I had the pleasure of working with a pair of engagement consultants who gave me and the rest of the senior management team some great advice and tips on how to engage our employees effectively.

The concept of the 20:60:20 rule was one that I had seen prior to this meeting but they approached it very differently to how I had seen it used before.

Explanation of the traditional 20:60:20
  • The Top 20% comprised of strong performers
  • The Middle 60% comprised of average performers
  • The Bottom 20% comprised of weak performers
Simply you leave the top 20% to their own devices, giving them opportunity for autonomy, the middle 60% you concentrate most of your time on, developing the potential and the bottom 20% you need to manage most vigorously.

Explanation of the engagement 20:60:20

·       The Top 20% comprised of strongly engaged employees
·       The Middle 60% comprised of averagely engaged employees
·       The Bottom 20% comprised of disengaged employees

When I first saw this model I was convinced that you should spend trying to increase engagement, specifically in the bottom 20% as I have always believed that disengaged employees may often have a reason for this caused by the company (eg. been passed over for promotion, doesn’t feel they are trusted, is never offered more autonomy etc) but I was told that this was the wrong way to look at it. Over the past year or so I have come to agree with the engagement model and I wanted to share their advice with you.

Please note: The top 20% are not necessarily the “best” at their jobs, but they are the people that most demonstrate your company values. This is important because skills can be learnt, whereas high performers with attitude problems are hard to change and can cause friction across the business.

The top 20% should be given the most opportunities and attention. These people will act in the best interests of the company, so give them the autonomy to get the job done. Challenge them and grow them. This group should be offered development opportunities first.

The middle 60% should be given training opportunities to develop the basics but development opportunities will always be offered to the top 20% first. This group should be encouraged but main focus should always remain on the top 20%. This 60% will see the benefit of showing themselves as more engaged with the business (eg. loyalty, extra effort, company-wide thinking) and will often mimic the behaviour of the top 20%.

The bottom 20% should basically be ignored. Obviously from a functional capacity they will receive job training but they do not get access to the extra development offered to those in the top 20%. This group will make one of two choices, decide that they want the opportunities and therefore change their behaviour or they will leave the company.  

As this process continues to work, your bottom 20% will move up to the level of the bottom of your 60%. You will always recruit people who are the same or better than your top 20%, this means that you will constantly be moving employees up.

I am not suggesting that you have a list of which employees lie in which group, this would be pointless because it can change frequently. It is more a litmus test that says that we pay most attention to those who most demonstrate the company’s culture and reward them for their behaviour.

The one thing that they said that really stuck with me was:

“If you focus all of your attention on the bottom 20%, the whiners and moaners, everyone else in the company will see which way you are looking (backwards) and start to follow, if you are always looking forwards that’s where they will all aim”.

Anyone who has worked with horses will know, you can lead a horse without a head collar or rope, if you walk with your eyes forward they will come. The moment you turn round and try to coax him, the horse will be confused because you are facing backwards and trying to control. This works the same way with people – face forward, take them with you and they will follow.