Chris Hardie

Blog, Tech, Business and Community Building

communication

April 22, 2014

Creating effective proposals

Over the years I've gathered some notes and reminders for myself about what makes a proposal effective, and I thought it might be useful to dump those out here.  This info is mostly geared toward business proposals (pitching to a client, convincing a co-worker, justifying an expenditure, etc.) and other professional uses, but it might be useful for other scenarios too.

Plan

Before you start writing, make sure you have a plan for what you're creating:

  • Approach: is a formal proposal the right approach for this task, or would the people involved benefit more from a more iterative/collaborative/informal approach?
  • Audience: who are you writing the proposal for? What do they already know about the topic? Are they already "on your side" and just need some details worked out, or are you persuading them to change their minds? What other audiences might also see the proposal?
  • Goals: the primary purpose of a proposal is to get your audience's approval. Are you clear on what you're trying to get approval for?
  • Scope: what does your audience need to hear to give their approval? What kinds of information do they NOT need to hear? What will their reaction be?

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April 21, 2014

Are you working around someone?

Krohn Cactus 1Not every person can do every job or thrive in every role they end up in.

Sometimes people lose interest in their work, get promoted beyond their capabilities, or didn't have the skills/experience to be a good fit in the first place. That this happens at all may speak to some area for improvement in the way people are hired, trained, reviewed or promoted in a given business or organization, but it's also an inevitable part of how companies and not-for-profits made up of humans change and grow.

When someone isn't a good fit for a role, the important thing is how the organization handles it.

Unfortunately, I've seen all too often that some organizations don't handle it at all. Instead, they leave everyone else to work around the mismatched role or problematic behavior. At best this wastes an opportunity for helping someone improve and rearranging "human resources" to better fit the needs of the business or organization. At worst it saps morale, leads to otherwise high-performing people leaving, costs a lot of money and significantly decreases the effectiveness of the organization overall. Working around someone who isn't right for the job does a disservice to them and can be toxic to the life of a business or organization.

So how can you tell if that's what is happening? Here's a list of signs I've seen in my experiences that might mean you're working around someone:

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March 4, 2014

An odd jobs list for staff and volunteer engagement

SwansWithin any given business or organization, the ideal is (probably) that everyone working or volunteering there will not only take on all of the tasks and projects that are clearly a part of their recognized role, but that they'll also work on things not necessarily assigned to them but that are still useful to the overall goals of that organization.

If everyone shares the same vision and goals, and everyone participating is sufficiently empowered and inspired to work toward those goals, this ideal can be easy to realize.  There is almost certainly always something else that can be done to support or further the mission of the places we work and volunteer; if there's someone who regularly ends up having some "down time" with "nothing to do" then there's probably something else wrong - with the person's mindset, the structure they are working within, or the organizational culture overall.

In practice, I've found that people have different personalities and personal/work backgrounds that lead them to respond differently to this idea of "working on things that weren't necessarily assigned to me."  For some, it's a no-brainer and they can jump right into that mentality.  For others, it represents a threshold of riskiness and potential for failure that they may not be willing to cross: "If it wasn't assigned to me and I do it wrong, I don't want to be responsible for the outcome."  For still others, it can just be the challenge of imagining tasks or projects outside their job description or previously assigned duties; the inertia of working within familiar problem spaces is hard to overcome.

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edc-blog
December 12, 2012

Blogging about economic development in Wayne County

I'm excited to see that Valerie Shaffer, the new President of the Economic Development Corporation of Wayne County, has started a blog about her activities in that role.  The blog is complemented by a "frequently asked questions" section on the EDC website, which tries to address some of the common questions (and misperceptions) about the organization.

Whatever your take on the EDIT Tax, the EDC and their role in economic development efforts, this is a new and welcome level of transparency.

Shaffer's posts so far are authentic and to the point, bypassing some of the marketing spin that it might be tempting for an organization of the EDC's prominence to engage in when they know site selectors are looking.  She links to related resources, encourages questions and feedback, and makes repeated commitments to opening the lines of communication between her office and other voices in the community.

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November 11, 2012

8 ways for the Wayne County Democratic Party to be more effective

Capitol Dome'Tis the season for political reckonings.  As the national Republican Party performs a messy post-mortem on its failed strategy to get Mitt Romney elected President, the Democratic Party in Indiana is also asking itself what it needs to do to be more effective.  The Indianapolis Star says that "Indiana Democrats have plunged to their lowest level of power in decades after Tuesday's election."

This week the Palladium-Item's editorial page rightly took the local Wayne County Democratic Party to task for being too quiet and minimally effective in local politics. (I am on the P-I editorial advisory board but I did not contribute to that piece.)  Today's edition features some analysis of the local party's current leadership, with about the amount of internal finger pointing you'd expect from an organization in some disarray.  It's the candidates! It's the leadership! It's the unions! We just need to get on Twitter!  And so on.

I've followed local politics for a while now, perhaps never so closely as last year when I was a candidate myself running on the Democratic ticket.  It was an eye-opening experience in many ways, including discovering first-hand the significant organizational deficiencies in the Wayne County Democratic Party (and how well-organized the local Republican Party is, due in no small part to the tireless efforts of its Chairwoman, Misty Hollis).  Unfortunately, I've seen some of those deficiencies come into play again in this year's campaigning.

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June 6, 2012

Getting specific about local government transparency

Magnify Glass and MoneyThe idea that we need more transparency in conversations about the future of the city of Richmond, Indiana, especially from government entities and other influential community building organizations, seems to be gaining traction. That's a good thing!  I wrote just a few months ago during Sunshine Week about how important this is.

At the same time, I'm seeing the word "transparency" used in a lot of different ways, some of which skew the meaning in unhelpfully, possibly harmfully.  I've also had a few people ask me for specific ideas of what more transparency might look like in this community.

So, while I've no illusion that any definition I suggest here will be broadly accepted, I think it's worth trying to clear away some of the fog about what kinds of transparency we (those whose futures are intertwined with that of the city) could expect and ask for from our leaders.  I also think it's worth taking stock of how well Richmond leaders are doing at being transparent.
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March 25, 2012

RP&L, Steve Saum and employee performance reviews

Barbary sheep ~ "head-butting"2012 has been a challenging year so far for the leadership of Richmond Power & Light, Richmond's municipally owned power company.

Most of the strife centers around the firing of RP&L General Manager Steve Saum; the short version is that the Board of Directors unexpectedly removed Saum from his position after a negative performance review, and Saum along with others are concerned that he wasn't given due process.  After the story hit the media, there's been additional concern about the way the RP&L Board has (or has not) communicated the reasoning behind their decision and what it means for the future of the utility.  There's a story in today's Palladium-Item with some new revelations about the proceedings.

Few are in any good position to pass judgment on these matters.  In my limited interactions with Steve Saum I've always found him to be a person of good intent and competence in his leadership.  I also know most of members of the RP&L Board well enough to say they are people of good intent and great care for the future of RP&L and the City.  (Full disclosure: I ran unsuccessfully for election to the RP&L Board last year.)  And no matter what you think of any of their actions or decisions, it's just a painful and messy thing when matters of someone's employment and livelihood (or managerial methods) become a topic of public conversation.

But even with the limited facts available about this series of events, it seems there are some missed opportunities to reflect on moving forward:

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January 2, 2012

Queries for good email management strategies

Inbox ZeroThe new calendar year is a great time to think about how you manage your personal and work/organizational email accounts.  I know that I benefit from the opportunity to purge or rotate out some old folders, delete large attachments just sitting around taking up space, and think about how well my setup is working for me in my daily workflow.

There are a lot of different strategies out there and each person has to find what works best for them.  Here are a few queries that might help you think about how well your strategy is working for you:

  1. Are you able to work through your e-mail inbox in a reasonable amount of time every day, respond to or delegate time-sensitive questions/comments, convert messages into to-do items, or otherwise file them away on the first pass through?
  2. Do you make good use of e-mail filters available in your mail reading program to highlight/tag/sort messages in ways that make you more productive? - Read More -
September 15, 2011

Truth in advertising

False advertising?At some point when I was fairly young, I was excited to learn about the concept of "truth in advertising" - the notion that it actually matters whether what you say in a public announcement or description of products or services is true or not.  I was even more excited to learn that there was an official government entity (in the U.S., the Federal Trade Commission) empowered to enforce truth in advertising standards, and punish those who would dare publish falsehoods.  It totally knocked my socks off to further learn that ordinary citizens could submit claims of false advertising and compel advertisers to change or withdraw their deceptive advertising pieces.

What a world of pure and unflinching justice we could then live in!  To walk around knowing that the slogans and invitations on billboards, newspaper ads and television were all required by law to be true, and that onerous fines and the shame of the public eye awaited the occasional miscreant who would stray from this noble code.  No need to worry about being deceived or misled as a consumer; we could always have confidence that advertisers would stand by their claims.

Like I said, I was young.

But at the risk of sounding curmudgeonly, I do think there's been a notable shift in the standards we hold marketers and public figures to when it comes to truth in advertising.  Seems like somewhere around the mid 1990's, we kind of gave up on it.

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July 25, 2011

Rediscovering what you already know

J.C. Penney Co. store downtownI see a surprising number of organizations and businesses that suffer from the malady of reinventing basic business processes and rediscovering tools and resources they already had, at the expense of using up valuable staff time and straining relationships with their customers and constituents.

Sometimes this reinventing and rediscovering happens because there's been a change in staffing, sometimes it happens because people just don't bother to write things down.  But I'm amazed at the "shortcuts" people think they're taking to work around those cases:

  • We couldn't find our username and password to manage our website domain name, so we just registered a new one and re-printed our business cards.  Problem solved!
  • We forgot that our last IT person already had a Facebook page setup, so we setup a new one and then asked everyone to like the new page.  Problem solved!
  • We're not sure where the source design files are for our marketing brochure, so we'll just design a new one.  Problem solved!

Meanwhile you've lost a bunch of would-be visitors to your website who still have your old business cards, halved your population of Facebook followers, and wasted someone's week on solving a problem that was already solved.

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