Month: June 2009

Forced Change in an Outsourcing – guidelines for communicating to reduce resistance

Forced Change in an Outsourcing

Change Managers in an Outsource often assume that if the rationale for change is made clear to the people affected then change management is unproblematic and resistance negligible. People assume that if we rationally explain to the employees affected they will ‘buy-in’ to the process and thereafter work actively to realise the change or at least moderate their resistance to it. There is a assumption behind all this that changes are negotiated and developed over time and that the change agent’s task is but to make clear the imperatives and the people fall into place – communication mechanisms (usually Slide-Ware) are the main carriers of this type of intervention.

Whilst this approach has been roundly criticised for ignoring political and social aspects it is also more and more disturbed in major system changes. In outsourcing or mergers and acquisitions we are often faced with transitioning organisations within a strict deadline. Here the degrees of freedom are limited and failure to successfully implement can result in stiff penalties for time and cost overruns. In such circumstances our room for ‘negotiation’ is constrained as the change outcome is a given and the people affected are faced with a forced change.

Of interest to us as managers and consultants in such circumstances is how we support the change in particular minimising the business risk, defusing change resistance and avoiding long term damage to the organisation.

Forced change against a strict deadline is the reality and we also see that the complexity in a major change is increasing as many major programmes consist of several big initiatives in their own right. In one major change programme I worked on the client was disentangling from a parent company, implementing major systems changes, whilst outsourcing a part of the operational IT. All of these forcing substantial changes in role and responsibility right across the organisation and this programme also included the outsourcing of substantial parts of the finance function in a phase two.

Don’t forget Managers are affected by an Outsource as well…

At a management level change of status assumes high importance with any perceived loss in autonomy or the need to acquire new skills key aspects to consider. In another change programme the author was involved in the financial controller had a significant change in scope as a result of a system implementation and outsourcing which included loss of staff from her department. This resulted in much prevarication and concentration on detail, non-acceptance of the rational for change and question/problem raising that came over to the central project team as structural resistance.

Also don’t assume managers know how to support their staff through change – because they often do not. Special training and development is necessary. Also be sure that the management has bought in, in one case the stiffest resistance came from the team leader whose scepticism fed the resistance of the whole team being outsourced.

Three Key points in managing change communication

  • Relevant – We all know the value of clear communication but forget to caveat this with the need for relevancy. Exhortations of the value of the change at high level are useless unless made clearly relevant to the people affected. Unless the communication is explicitly tailored to the hearer’s specific needs general broadcasts will be discounted and perceived negatively.
  • Clear – Avoid the ‘Englishman on Holiday’ change communications approach – i.e. if they don’t understand speak slowly and louder! At a feedback meeting on the situation at a French manufacturing plant the consultants gave a withering overview of the impact of the various initiatives, changes and improvement programmes a major high technology company was imposing on the factory. The response to this from the company – “the management have not explained this clearly enough therefore ‘they’ do not understand it” – obviously they did not get the message either!.
  • Segmented – People in change need focused information – how does this new system affect me? Will I still have a job? Will I be able to cope – will they train me? This means communications must be relevant, focused and bespoke aimed at a segmented audience – don’t treat people as the same with the same vanilla information requirements.

Some interventions I have used

  • Local briefings at department or group level to strengthen team feelings of unity and develop focus on the task in hand.
  • Cutover process – form well managed meetings to act as resolution and solution forum to build for the change-over.
  • Tighter linkage to the change-over particularly for the management to expose the organisation to the task in hand and encounter change.
  • Activate processes to resolve/close personnel issues — close these issues managers often have difficulty in handling these.
  • Mentoring management to actively participate and lead change
  • Visible presence of change manager to emphasise the company’s commitment to making the change over
  • Reflect listen but not judge issues — allow self-reflection.
  • Ensure deployment communications is done (Watch for gate-keeping in one project when I checked the communications had got no further that the secretary)
  • Provide recognition of any process improvements ideas and try to push upwards any ideas the team has.
  • Recognise that resistance is a legitimate concern for the well-being of the business.
  • Ensure communication channels are open and deployed (again this is sometimes not done).
  • Hire a consultant to act as change focus (reflecting with support but not judging)
  • Tighter engagement of the organisation into the change process — they will switch to solve mode.

As an endnote — Know the limitations of rationally based change methods and avoid broadcast communication. Target and segment communications at the various groups in an organisation and you will be much more successful and managing communicating even bad news. When we design a marketing communications approach we segment our audience and focus messages at specific target groups – this is a lesson we could use within change management.


A Guide to Analyzing and Interpreting Website Traffic

Analyzing and Interpreting Website Traffic

Analyzing your web traffic statistics can be an invaluable tool for a number of different reasons. But before you can make full use of this tool, you need to understand how to interpret the data.

Most web hosting companies will provide you with basic web traffic information that you then have to interpret and make pertinent use of. However, the data you receive from your host company can be overwhelming if you don’t understand how to apply it to your particular business and website. Let’s start by examining the most basic data – the average visitors to your site on a daily, weekly, and monthly basis.

These figures are the most accurate measure of your website’s activity. It would appear on the surface that the more traffic you see recorded, the better you can assume your website is doing, but this is an inaccurate perception. You must also look at the behavior of your visitors once they come to your website to accurately gauge the effectiveness of your site.

There is often a great misconception about what is commonly known as “hits” and what is really effective, quality traffic to your site. Hits simply means the number of information requests received by the server. If you think about the fact that a hit can simply equate to the number of graphics per page, you will get an idea of how overblown the concept of hits can be. For example, if your homepage has 15 graphics on it, the server records this as 15 hits, when in reality we are talking about a single visitor checking out a single page on your site. As you can see, hits are not useful in analyzing your website traffic.

The more visitors that come to your website, the more accurate your interpretation will become. The greater the traffic is to your website, the more precise your analysis will be of overall trends in visitor behavior. The smaller the number of visitors, the more a few anomalous visitors can distort the analysis.

The aim is to use the web traffic statistics to figure out how well or how poorly your site is working for your visitors. One way to determine this is to find out how long on average your visitors spend on your site. If the time spent is relatively brief, it usually indicates an underlying problem. Then the challenge is to figure out what that problem is.

It could be that your keywords are directing the wrong type of visitors to your website, or that your graphics are confusing or intimidating, causing the visitor to exit rapidly. Use the knowledge of how much time visitors are spending on your site to pinpoint specific problems, and after you fix those problems, continue to use time spent as a gauge of how effective your fix has been.

Additionally, web traffic stats can help you determine effective and ineffective areas of your website. If you have a page that you believe is important, but visitors are exiting it rapidly, that page needs attention. You could, for example, consider improving the link to this page by making the link more noticeable and enticing, or you could improve the look of the page or the ease that your visitors can access the necessary information on that page.

If, on the other hand, you notice that visitors are spending a lot of time on pages that you think are less important, you might consider moving some of your sales copy and marketing focus to that particular page.

As you can see, these statistics will reveal vital information about the effectiveness of individual pages, and visitor habits and motivation. This is essential information to any successful Internet marketing campaign.

Your website undoubtedly has exit pages, such as a final order or contact form. This is a page you can expect your visitor to exit rapidly. However, not every visitor to your site is going to find exactly what he or she is looking for, so statistics may show you a number of different exit pages. This is normal unless you notice a exit trend on a particular page that is not intended as an exit page. In the case that a significant percentage of visitors are exiting your website on a page not designed for that purpose, you must closely examine that particular page to discern what the problem is. Once you pinpoint potential weaknesses on that page, minor modifications in content or graphic may have a significant impact on the keeping visitors moving through your site instead of exiting at the wrong page.

After you have analyzed your visitor statistics, it’s time to turn to your keywords and phrases. Notice if particular keywords are directing a specific type of visitor to your site. The more targeted the visitor – meaning that they find what they are looking for on your site, and even better, fill out your contact form or make a purchase – the more valuable that keyword is.

However, if you find a large number of visitors are being directed – or should I say misdirected – to your site by a particular keyword or phrase, that keyword demands adjustment. Keywords are vital to bringing quality visitors to your site who are ready to do business with you. Close analysis of the keywords your visitors are using to find your site will give you a vital understanding of your visitor’s needs and motivations.

Finally, if you notice that users are finding your website by typing in your company name, break open the champagne! It means you have achieved a significant level of brand recognition, and this is a sure sign of burgeoning success.

Change Management Practice: Just do it – sometimes you have to act

Change Management Practice: Just do it – sometimes you have to act

I was giving a lecture on change management the other day and the class and I were deep in discussion about involvement and ethical behaviour when one of the students asked ‘but what if we don’t have time for all this pink and fluffy stuff?’

I was a good question that needed a clear response and to some extent my answer is a little surprising coming from a confirmed pink and fluffy person like I am – my response was ‘sometimes you have to act’. When an organisation is in dire straits and on the brink of failure or when to enter a new market a new process has to be implemented then there is simply no time for long discussions to get people on board the change manager has to act and get on with it.

What this means is we have to seize the moment and implement a new system or close down a department sometimes in the teeth of stiff opposition. The ongoing discussions needed to bring people with us or the time needed to make those in the process ‘make sense’ of the situation is just not available – we must act.

But does this mean we need to be brutal or cavalier in the way we treat people? – well no – we do not have to behave in this way in order to get the message across. The key is to behave ethically and make the process transparent that needs to be gone through and explain openly how the change process will effect the persons concerned in a clear and relevant way. People respect managers who spell it out as it is without and prevarication or weasel words – ‘Say it as it is’.

What this means is, if say, a department is to be outsourced and there is a good chance that substantial people we be let go, you tell the full story. Concretely: ‘Your department is being closed and moved to the new Company – you and several of your colleagues will have to leave’. You make clear the process that is about to unfold in clear words (the person will be in shock at this time) and tell them to think over what you have said and invite them back when they have had time to think it through to discuss their feelings and concerns. Expect defence and emotion, this is normal, but respond in a clear way – do not prevaricate – stick to the line explain the process and allow the person to internalise the consequences. When giving bad news as in this case leave no room for doubt of what is occurring avoid constructs like ‘you may be selected’, ‘there’s a chance that some of you may stay’ and so on. This only raises an expectation that they will survive. In the same vein if you are asked ‘will there be job losses?’, say ‘Yes I expect many will leave’.

I know this seems hard but research has shown that when bad news is to be given out people are very resilient as long as it is clear they are not being singled out (a fair process is in place), that there is a valid reason, and the process is transparent and applied equally. What we as managers have to understand is it is our job to treat people fairly and ensure their self-esteem is protected and they are given the grounds they need to rationalise what has happened. Aggressive, perfunctory methods of change management do not work (so put away the phone no texts that people are sacked) and are a sign of management incompetence or inexperience – do it right and your people will respect you as a person who treated them fairly in difficult circumstances.


What makes a good decision maker – the three ingredients

What makes a good decision maker – the three ingredients

A 2004-2005 Teradata Report on Enterprise Decision-Making showed that over 70% of the respondents in their survey said that poor decision-making is a serious problem for their business. Other research in the UK conducted by the research agency YouGov for the Investors in People organization highlighted the negative impact that poor decision-making was having on employees. Other research in the area of organizational performance is consistent, with some suggesting that well over half of all decisions fail in some way. Specifically that the outcomes of the decision making process was poor – the ‘wrong’ decision had been taken or simply never implemented. It seems obvious that if decisions can fail for up to half of the time then organizations need to pay very close attention to the quality of their decisions and the people carrying out this role, but to-date, there is not much evidence that they are.

Decision-making is an age old problem that is being compounded today by increasing knowledge, population, complexity, speed and change. The number of decisions being made is increasing as is the pace of change and the number of people in an organization involved in the thousands of day-to-day decisions, from a new product launch to a decision on a new hire that have to be made. Decision-making is an essential requirement of management especially at the senior level and is perhaps the true core competence of leaders … ‘our society has largely neglected the fact that sound judgment and decision making are the crux of many professions’ (Smith et al 2004). The very best leaders appear able to make crucial decisions effortlessly ‘standing on their feet’ drawing on unseen resources of domain knowledge and experience that set them apart from the crowd. How effective managers and staff are in general at making good decisions is a moot point and understanding the process of high performance decision making is becoming critical to organizational success.

Problem-solving and decision-making are closely linked as each requires creativity in identifying, developing then evaluating options from which a course of action needs to be chosen. A problem always denotes that there are options to be chosen from – if there is a known solution then this is a puzzle not a problem. A decision is basically a problem solving process under uncertainty, so the steps or stages of decision making are more or less the same as those for problem solving. There are many n-step problem solving routines to guide decision making but at the heart of the decision making problem are the following three main aspects: how the problem is seen, how alternatives are generated, and how the decision is actioned.

The three key aspects of high level decision making:

  • Proactive cognition is a feature of people who actively seek to change the environment and not passively react to it. People strong in this feature scan for opportunities in the world preferring to make choices rather than follow procedures and create novel options by seeing problems differently rather than considering just the obvious.
  • Deciding is about making the decision, weighing and chewing over the options and above all considering the risk of alternatives. People who are high in this ability often draw on extensive domain knowledge and experience enabling them to make mental short cuts and come to a decision apparently quickly hiding the deep processes really going on.
  • Finally Action Control – making and enacting the choice. The effective planning and scheduling of actions to deliver the decision are examples of behavior of people who are able to ensure that decisions are not postponed, procrastination is avoided and decisions are implemented without delay.

A good decision is the direct result of clear criteria, the scope of the choice to be made together with the risk of each alternative – then taking action. From this perspective a good decision is the outcome of a process of optimally achieving a given objective from a certain starting point. A good decision is a logical one (or at least defensible and traceable) based on the available knowledge to hand that answers a particular organizational problem. Measuring whether or not decision making is good or bad needs to assess both the process and the outcome, the effectiveness and the quality of the decision making, as these are two quite distinct things. Effectiveness is how well the process of decision making is managed and how learning takes place – what caused a poor outcome to occur is fed back into the process. Output quality is to some extent comes well after the decision has been taken and is a reflection whether the right choice was made as well as on how well the choice was placed into action and implemented. There are many examples, particularly in the political world, where there is an assumption that the decision is the same as the implementation. A good decision making process therefore integrates the choice with the implementation and looks at the outcome to ensure learning takes place.

It is this latter point that completes the circle – it is a balanced decision making process that seems to be about right. Consciously attending to all three areas of the decision making process is key. The seeking of ways to control and act on the world, weighing up options carefully thinking about the choice then ensuring implementation takes place are the three key facets of effective decision making and features of high performers. When this balanced process is in place in more organizations perhaps then can the abysmal performance we currently have in this core area be improved.


What is leadership and does it matter?

What is leadership and does it matter?

Leadership describes a dynamic relationship between people in an organisation. It is not a one-way process as the popular press would have us believe and is strongly associated with other organisation factors such as power and culture. Most people prefer to attribute organisational success (or failure as in the banks) in terms of the actions of powerful leaders compared to external forces such as the environment over which we have little control. However the situation is more complex than this as the environment itself is shaped by the actions of leaders operating within all forms and scales of organisations.

How to define leadership

Leadership exists when a person exercises influence over others in an organisation and sets the everyday action and direction an organisation takes. To be effective a leader must understand the context in which she operates as well as the relationships between herself and the people who are led. Leadership is not a characteristic of an individual in isolation – leadership exists in the duality between leaders and followers.

Researchers and consultants have been trying various forms of definition of what constitutes and makes up a good leader and here are just a few.

* A Trait based view of leadership focuses on the make up of the leader in terms of general intelligence, intellectual ability or sociability.
* A Style perspective looks at what a leader does in terms of interaction with others inside and outside the organisation.
* Task oriented leadership approaches review how leaders organise the task – the scheduling and planning of resources and finance for example.
* Situational leadership was once a popular approach and is an extension of a contextual leadership style and meant that leaders have to adapt their style to the prevalent context and actual situation of the specific task.
* People oriented leaders busy themselves with the creation of environment conducive for action.
* Transformational leadership are those who transcend or seek to change the parameters of the situation – in vogue as it suits the aspirational managers and consultants buzzing around large corporations at the moment.

Participative in forms of leadership may be dependent on the context of the organisation with some professional groups such as teachers expecting to have their opinions polled and considered as do care workers. However when we look at the evidence for which of these above styles are more effective – actually there isn’t any – there is simply no clear evidence that any of these popular management styles are stronger. And whether leaders make any difference to organisational success is far from proved. There is also little evidence to decide whether any of the factors that make up so-called leaders are innate (leaders born) or acquired (made) and it may be that leadership is a happenstance and the attributes of a good leader are constructed in hindsight.

What we can say is that to be effective a leader must account for the complex societal context she operates within and be adept at managing the relationships between herself and the people she leads. The ability and capacity to articulate a change and to construct a vision are the more value laden aspects of leadership and are important parts of the job description.

Leadership is very popular at the moment especially in the public sector where all sorts of leadership development programmes are being launched. No-one it seems wants to be just a manager any more – we all need to be leaders. But this is a false dichotomy in part as we need people in organisations that can run them and pick up the mess after the charismatic leaders have been moved on or pensioned off. ‘Managership’ is just as important as ‘Leadership’ perhaps more so but as a closing point you can be a leader without being a manager but to be an effective manager you probably do need to be a good leader.


Planning to achieve business benefits from Outsourcing essential – free ebook on BizFace

Why is Business Benefits Planning Essential

Benefits planning aims to deliver the benefits promised in the business case and ensures they are actually realised. Many projects although they complete successfully in project management terms fail to deliver any of the initial benefits that launched the initiative. I have seen countless examples of project teams and managers congratulating themselves with the success of the project, ‘how well it went’, ‘all the deliverables done’ and so forth – but with not one penny piece of value delivered for the organisation.

I have sat on project boards to go through the business case and been confronted many times with promises of 25% cost reductions or increased production that if taken in the round with all the other things on the go would mean we get a product that costs nothing to make and sell for millions by the millions – forgive me if I am cynical. The failure of many projects to actually deliver any benefit in real terms in part explains the reluctance to give the go-ahead for new projects. Senior management are getting (more cynical) about the benefits and are getting fed up with being confronted with yet another initiative that promises hundreds of thousands of dollars in savings, increased revenue or more customers for example but actually delivers nothing. We have low expectations from any activity and even of the ability of projects to pay for the outlay and our expectations are being met.

Cynicism borne of the experience of hundreds of pleadings from staffers that have come to naught and project’s launched that have promised benefits that in the end have failed to come up with the goods. Evidence show’s that the majority of projects (well over 60%) in such diverse areas as IT, Outsourcing and BPR fail to deliver any discernable improvement. I have found no Outsourcing project that has delivered anything of value – the only exception being when they closed half the department and we got half the service.

In projects I supervise I always fall back on the six faithful servants:

  • What benefits are being suggested and what is the scale and scope being promised and does it look reasonable?
  • Why do we need these benefits – what is the driver at this point in time?
  • Where will the benefits be realised in what department specifically?
  • When will the benefits be achieved? Remember back to the discounted cash flow exercises we did at business school – a benefit ten years away of four pence halfpenny is worth nothing.
  • Who is responsible for achieving the benefits? What department and the manager by name? I also ask if she knows that she will be responsible for achieving these benefits.
  • How will these benefits be released – what has to happen? For example if we have to cut staff this can take a lot of time and be difficult to achieve.

It should not be forgotten that the whole purpose of a project or initiative is to deliver something of value and if this does not occur then the project has failed completely. So now’s the time for a realistic appraisal of where we are. In any assessment of a business activity the expected outcome in terms of cash benefit forms the core of the go no-go decision. Managers must be more critical and evaluate for sure but just as important is to make sure a process is in place that will deliver the outcomes expected. It is simply not good enough to sit back and hope that a new IT system can bring in the money – it has to be planned for and people have to take on their responsibilities starting at the top – they are the ones who are in the end responsible for the money being delivered. I have put together an e-book explaining how to put together a benefits planning process that’s available to download for free on my forum – take a look at least we get some way along the road to delivering value for our organisations.

Free ebook on BizFace: Business Benefits Planning

Selective Outsourcing

Selective Outsourcing

By Ishani Mitra – Expert Author

The outsourcing industry typically encounters two types of investors. Those who are willing to outsource few of their business operations, and know how to do it, and, those who nourish an inclination to outsource, but also harbor doubts because of stories about potential that portray outsourcing disasters. This (second) group of investors, falls into the category of people who would want to see for themselves if outsourcing will work for them, without relying on unreliable third party information strewn all over the internet. This means, they are willing to take the risk, but want to form their own opinion out of experience, and not draw conclusions from the contents of studies, websites and blogs.

“Selective Outsourcing” is aimed at building trust and establishing compatibility between the investor and the outsourcing partner before any long term agreement is reached with mutual consent. This means, while the outsourcing partner works on specific modules, the investor retains control over the overall function. Payroll Management is an excellent example of Selective Outsourcing. Payroll is classified as an HR responsibility. The concerned personnel has to account for each salary component such as leave policy, performance pay, overtime compensation, increment policy in accordance to labor laws, etc. for every employee in the system. The figures need to be meticulously entered and painstakingly double checked to avoid any mistakes, all under the pressure of delivering the completed report before 72 hours of salary due date. Many companies are wary of outsourcing their complete HR operations, but are more than willing to outsource the payroll management.

Payroll Management is time consuming, repetitive and a critical time-bound task. The HR department is under tremendous pressure. This creates a backlog at other HR functions. By selectively outsourcing their payroll management system, companies have saved time, money, and valuable man-hours that can now be channeled towards other HR activities that directly affect the company’s overall performance, such as recruitment and induction training, workforce management, grievance redressing and welfare schemes.

Selective outsourcing is also considered to be the most practical way of identifying the right kind of outsourcing partners. Let us consider a case, where you, as the Investor (or Small Business owner) have a series of graphic demands. With several self proclaimed graphic experts all over the internet, it gets hard to identify, who is actually qualified. In this situation, instead of handing over the complete graphic needs to a certain “expert”, you can check them out; by having them handle just a part of your graphic needs, e.g. a logo, a banner, an icon. Each will be considered as a separate project. This will allow you to evaluate your “graphic expert” on the following grounds:

Reliability: – Does the person deliver what has been promised?
Acceptability: – Does the end product meet your requirement?
Compatibility: – Does the process of deployment and delivery suit both of you?
Communication: – Are response time and other things satisfactory to both?

In other words, Selective Outsourcing allows the investor to see beyond the “all or nothing” approach to outsourcing, and to see the development of customer specific strategies that are tailor made to suit the investor’s needs.

Steve Cameron, senior vice president of managed services at Steve Cameron, senior vice president of managed services at Siemens Business Services on his interview with IT Business Edge says,

“The number-one benefit our clients are seeking is cost savings through the innovative application of the selective service. This also gives the client transparency in the cost structure because of the fixed scope of the selective IT element under management”

It has been noted that about 80 % of Irish businesses use Selective Outsourcing in one way or another. The Outsourcing Evolution remarks that several companies struggle with the costs associated with printing and have opted to use selective outsourcing to fulfill their needs by using the services of Outsourcing partners like Ergo

A Survey conducted by Watson Wyatt predicts that steadfast growth in Selective Outsourcing will be seen among small and medium sized business in the coming years. Companies need to step back and take a broader look at how outsourcing can work towards the overall benefit of business by employing the Selective Outsourcing Model. – Virtual Assistant Outsourcing Services is a leading provider of low-cost, yet reliable virtual assistants to help busy entrepreneurs magnify their efforts.

Read more content about outsourcing, productivity, work-life balance and entrepreneurship at OutSorcerer OutLook Additionally, Ezine readers qualify for a special 13% discount off the first 10 hours. Just enter coupon code EZINE1 and experience the magic today!

Article Source: Ishani Mitra – Expert Author Selective Outsourcing

The Psychological Paradigms – what they are an explanation

On Paradigms

There are many different ways of categorizing paradigms. Have a think about the similarities and differences between different categorizations – for example the Alvesson & Deetz version compared to Guba & Lincoln – does the Guba & Lincoln constructivist paradigm perhaps include what Alvesson & Deetz term interpretive – so is it a much broader category.

There are indeed many ways of organizing paradigms – and the term itself is often misused (later on you will read an author who refers to the qualitative paradigm for example, which I would strongly argue is the incorrect use of the term). Similarly, you will see some research articles refer to constructionism when I would say they are talking about interpretivism, and so on. One of the important things to take away from all this is to be sure you know how people are using a term. Have they defined it? If not you can often tell what they mean, once you have worked a bit more on these modules, by looking at how they use the term.

For now, let’s not worry too much about the rather complicated issues about how we understand knowledge (epistemology). What is important is that you understand there are different ways of approaching organizations and research, that each of these make particular assumptions about the best way to do things and the nature of the thing they are studying, and that each of these has particular strengths and weaknesses. There is no one best way, but you can develop a more critical and analytical way of looking at organizations by using this type of knowledge.

Reading up on the history of psychology can help to put the different positions into perspective, but please do not think that the latest paradigm must be the best. They all have problems. It can help to draw up charts as your learning moves on, which cover things like main assumptions, examples of literature, similarities and differences, and strengths and weaknesses, of the four main paradigms outlined in the PowerPoint lecture on Issues. These four (normative, interpretive, critical and postmodern) are the ones that we tend to refer to the most.

The positivist, or normative paradigm is perhaps the one you are most used to, being the most ‘popular’ – or acceptable – at the moment in journals. However psychology at least, really started with more interpretive approaches, and then later shifted to ‘scientific’ studies. To some extent there has been a shift back, as some researchers became disillusioned by yet more questionnaire studies that seemed to shed little light on what was happening in the ‘real’ world of organizations. However the normative paradigm has its uses, and as long as the researcher is aware of the weaknesses (as with any approach), and does not assume that everything can be answered by numbers and broad general laws, then it can be informative.

The postmodern view does indeed question everything, and argues against any broad generalisations, they argue that society, and organizations, are far more fragmented and prone to change than is allowed for by other positions. The emphasis on language is partly to ensure a shift away from the isolated, coherent individual carrying out internal cognitive processes in the head, which dominates the positivist paradigm. Instead they suggest that looking at how groups of people talk, the similarities and differences both within and between accounts, can say something about how we organise and what influences us. They suggest that talk is active, we do things with words – for example when we make a statement we are often setting up a position that says something else cannot be true.

The critical paradigm is, in my view, less of a paradigm and more of a way of looking at organizations. In other words, it shares some of the assumptions of other positions, and can use a broad range of method, but will always take that very political, power based view of what is going on. I will go over the critical and postmodern perspectives (especially as there are a lot of similarities), and the interpretive, in further detail in a later note. For now, it would be great if some of you could comment on where you have perhaps seen these.

I would also like to add that you can indeed use all of these paradigms, or at least, use an awareness of them, to help with your work. When doing research or consulting, you will often have a preference for one paradigm. Indeed for something like an MSc thesis, it can be far too time consuming and complicated to try to cover more than one. However you can strengthen your use of the one by showing an awareness of the others, and how they might have informed (differently) on your subject matter.

You will also find that there are overlaps, and that some are more of a continuum – there are extreme positivists and others who tend more towards the interpretive.

Overcoming Writers Block

What is writer’s block?

Well, I just can’t think of a single darn thing to say. We’ve all experienced this phenomenon when we absolutely have to write something, particularly on deadline. I’m talking about….uh, I can’t think of what the word is… oh, yes, it’s on the tip of my tongue… it’s:
Whew! I feel better just getting that out of my head and onto the page! Writer’s block is the patron demon of the blank page. You may think you know EXACTLY what you’re going to write, but as soon as that evil white screen appears before you, your mind suddenly goes completely blank. I’m not talking about Zen meditation stare-at-the-wall-until-enlightenment-hits kind of blank. I’m talking about sweat trickling down the back of your neck, anguish and panic and suffering kind of blank. The tighter the deadline, the worse the anguish of writer’s block gets.
Having said that, let me say it again. “The tighter the deadline, the worse the anguish of writer’s block gets.” Now, can you figure out what might possibly be causing this horrible plunge into speechlessness? The answer is obvious: FEAR! You are terrified of that blank page. You are terrified you have absolutely nothing of value to say. You are afraid of the fear of writer’s block itself! It doesn?t necessarily matter if you’ve done a decade of research and all you have to do is string sentences you can repeat in your sleep together into coherent paragraphs. Writer’s block can strike anyone at any time. Based in fear, it raises our doubts about our own self-worth, but it’s sneaky. It’s writer’s block, after all, so it doesn’t just come and let you know that. No, it makes you feel like an idiot who just had your frontal lobes removed through your sinuses. If you dared to put forth words into the greater world, they would surely come out as gibberish!
Let’s try and be rational with this irrational demon. Let’s make a list of what might possibly be beneath this terrible and terrifying condition.

  1. Perfectionism. You must absolutely produce a masterpiece of literature straight off in the first draft. Otherwise, you qualify as a complete failure.
  2. Editing instead of composing. There’s your monkey-mind sitting on your shoulder, yelling as soon as you type “I was born?,” no, not that, that’s wrong! That’s stupid! Correct correct correct correct?
  3. Self-consciousness. How can you think, let alone write, when all you can manage to do is pry the fingers of writer’s block away from your throat enough so you can gasp in a few shallow breaths? You’re not focusing on what you’re trying to write, your focusing on those gnarly fingers around your windpipe.
  4. Can’t get started. It’s always the first sentence that’s the hardest. As writers, we all know how EXTREMELY important the first sentence is. It must be brilliant! It must be unique! It must hook your reader’s from the start! There’s no way we can get into writing the piece until we get past this impossible first sentence.
  5. Shattered concentration. You’re cat is sick. You suspect your mate is cheating on you. Your electricity might be turned off any second. You have a crush on the local UPS deliveryman. You have a dinner party planned for your in-laws. You…Need I say more. How can you possibly concentrate with all this mental clutter?
  6. Procrastination. It’s your favorite hobby. It’s your soul mate. It?s the reason you’ve knitted 60 argyle sweaters or made 300 bookcases in your garage workshop. It’s the reason you never run out of Brie. FACE IT ? IT?S ONE OF THE REASONS YOU HAVE WRITER’S BLOCK!

How to Overcome Writer’s Block Okay. I can hear that herd of you running away from this article as fast as you can. Absurd! you huff. Never in a million years, you fume. Writer’s block is absolutely, undeniably, scientifically proven to be impossible to overcome. Oh, just get over it! Well, I guess it’s not that easy. So try to sit down for just a few minutes and listen. All you have to do is listen ? you don’t have to actually write a single word. Ah, there you all are again. I am beginning to make you out now that the cloud of dust is settling. I am here to tell you that WRITER’S BLOCK CAN BE OVERCOME.

Please, remain seated. There are ways to trick this nasty demon. Pick one, pick several, and give them a try. Soon, before you even have a chance for your heartbeat to accelerate, guess what? You’re writing. Here are some tried and true methods of overcoming writer’s block:

  1. Be prepared. The only thing to fear is fear itself. (I know, that’s a clich?but as soon as you start writing, feel free to improve on it.) If you spend some time mulling over your project before you actually sit down to write, you may be able to circumvent the worst of the crippling panic.
  2. Forget perfectionism. No one ever writes a masterpiece in the first draft. Don’t put any expectations on your writing at all! In fact, tell yourself you’re going to write absolute garbage, and then give yourself permission to happily stink up your writing room.
  3. Compose instead of editing. Never, never write your first draft with your monkey-mind sitting on your shoulder making snide editorial comments. Composing is a magical process. It surpasses the conscious mind by galaxies. It’s even incomprehensible to the conscious, editorial, monkey-mind. So prepare an ambush. Sit down at your computer or your desk. Take a deep breath and blow out all your thoughts. Let your finger hover over your keyboard or pick up your pen. And then pull a fake: appear to be about to begin to write, but instead, using your thumb and index finger of your dominant hand, flick that little annoying ugly monkey back into the barrel of laughs it came from. Then jump in ? quickly! Write, scribble, scream, howl, let everything loose, as long as you do it with a pen or your computer keyboard.
  4. Forget the first sentence. You can sweat over that all-important one-liner when you’ve finished your piece. Skip it! Go for the middle or even the end. Start wherever you can. Chances are, when you read it over, the first line will be blinking its little neon lights right at you from the depths of your composition.
  5. Concentration. This is a hard one. Life throws us so many curve balls. How about thinking about your writing time as a little vacation from all those annoying worries. Banish them! Create a space, perhaps even a physical one, where nothing exists except the single present moment. If one of those irritating worries gets by you, stomp on it like you would an ugly bug!
  6. Stop procrastinating. Write an outline. Keep your research notes within sight. Use someone else’s writing to get going. Babble incoherently on paper or on the computer if you have to.

Just do it! (I know, I stole that line from somewhere?). Tack up anything that could possibly help you to get going: notes, outlines, pictures of your grandmother. Put the cookie you will be allowed to eat when you finish your first draft within sight ? but out of reach. Then pick up the same type of writing that you need to write, and read it. Then read it again. Soon, trust me, the fear will slowly fade away. As soon as it does, grab your keyboard ? and get writing!

Selecting the right keywords to signpost your site

Selecting the right keywords to signpost your site

Search engines are the vehicles that drive potentialcustomers to your websites. But in order for visitors toreach their destination – your website – you need toprovide them with specific and effective signs that willdirect them right to your site. You do this by creatingcarefully chosen keywords.

Think of the right keywords as the Open Sesame! of theInternet. Find the exactly right words or phrases, andpresto! hoards of traffic will be pulling up to your frontdoor. But if your keywords are too general or tooover-used, the possibility of visitors actually making itall the way to your site – or of seeing any real profitsfrom the visitors that do arrive – decreases dramatically.

Your keywords serve as the foundation of your marketingstrategy. If they are not chosen with great precision, nomatter how aggressive your marketing campaign may be, theright people may never get the chance to find out about it.So your first step in plotting your strategy is to gatherand evaluate keywords and phrases.

You probably think you already know EXACTLY the right wordsfor your search phrases. Unfortunately, if you haven’tfollowed certain specific steps, you are probably WRONG.It’s hard to be objective when you are right in the centerof your business network, which is the reason that you maynot be able to choose the most efficient keywords from theinside. You need to be able to think like your customers.And since you are a business owner and not the consumer,your best bet is to go directly to the source.

Instead of plunging in and scribbling down a list ofpotential search words and phrases yourself, ask for wordsfrom as many potential customers as you can. You will mostlikely find out that your understanding of your businessand your customers’ understanding is significantlydifferent.

The consumer is an invaluable resource. You will find thewords you accumulate from them are words and phrases youprobably never would have considered from deep inside thetrenches of your business.

Only after you have gathered as many words and phrases fromoutside resources should you add your own keyword to thelist. Once you have this list in hand, you are ready forthe next step: evaluation.

The aim of evaluation is to narrow down your list to asmall number of words and phrases that will direct thehighest number of quality visitors to your website. By“quality visitors” I mean those consumers who are mostlikely to make a purchase rather than just cruise aroundyour site and take off for greener pastures. In evaluatingthe effectiveness of keywords, bear in mind three elements:popularity, specificity, and motivation.

Popularity is the easiest to evaluate because it is anobjective quality. The more popular your keyword is, themore likely the chances are that it will be typed into asearch engine which will then bring up your URL.

You can now purchase software that will rate the popularityof keywords and phrases by giving words a number ratingbased on real search engine activity. Software such asWordTracker will even suggest variations of your words andphrases. The higher the number this software assigns to agiven keyword, the more traffic you can logically expect tobe directed to your site. The only fallacy with thisconcept is the more popular the keyword is, the greater thesearch engine position you will need to obtain. If you aredown at the bottom of the search results, the consumer willprobably never scroll down to find you.

Popularity isn’t enough to declare a keyword a good choice.You must move on to the next criteria, which isspecificity. The more specific your keyword is, the greaterthe likelihood that the consumer who is ready to purchaseyour goods or services will find you.

Let’s look at a hypothetical example. Imagine that you haveobtained popularity rankings for the keyword “automobilecompanies.” However, you company specializes in bodyworkonly. The keyword “automobile body shops” would rank loweron the popularity scale than “automobile companies,” but itwould nevertheless serve you much better. Instead ofgetting a slew of people interested in everything frombuying a car to changing their oil filters, you will getonly those consumers with trashed front ends or crumpledfenders being directed to your site. In other words,consumers ready to buy your services are the ones who willimmediately find you. Not only that, but the greater thespecificity of your keyword is, the less competition youwill face.

The third factor is consumer motivation. Once again, thisrequires putting yourself inside the mind of the customerrather than the seller to figure out what motivationprompts a person looking for a service or product to typein a particular word or phrase. Let’s look at anotherexample, such as a consumer who is searching for a job asan IT manager in a new city. If you have to choose between“Seattle job listings” and “Seattle IT recruiters” which doyou think will benefit the consumer more? If you werelooking for this type of specific job, which keyword wouldyou type in? The second one, of course! Using the secondkeyword targets people who have decided on their career,have the necessary experience, and are ready to enlist youas their recruiter, rather than someone just out of schoolwho is casually trying to figure out what to do with his orher life in between beer parties. You want to find peoplewho are ready to act or make a purchase, and this requiressubtle tinkering of your keywords until your find the mostspecific and directly targeted phrases to bring the mostmotivated traffic to you site.

Once you have chosen your keywords, your work is not done.You must continually evaluate performance across a varietyof search engines, bearing in mind that times and trendschange, as does popular lingo. You cannot rely on your logtraffic analysis alone because it will not tell you howmany of your visitors actually made a purchase.

Luckily, some new tools have been invented to help youjudge the effectiveness of your keywords in individualsearch engines. There is now software available thatanalyzes consumer behavior in relation to consumer traffic.This allows you to discern which keywords are bringing youthe most valuable customers.

This is an essential concept: numbers alone do not make agood keyword; profits per visitor do. You need to findkeywords that direct consumers to your site who actuallybuy your product, fill out your forms, or download yourproduct. This is the most important factor in evaluatingthe efficacy of a keyword or phrase, and should be thesword you wield when discarding and replacing ineffectiveor inefficient keywords with keywords that bring in betterprofits.

Ongoing analysis of tested keywords is the formula forsearch engine success. This may sound like a lot of work -and it is! But the amount of informed effort you put intoyour keyword campaign is what will ultimately generate yourbusiness’ rewards.