Tag Archives: evangelism

How to actually make use of 2012 predictions in business

More emails = more predictions.

Thanks to Fast Company for summarising a huge number; 68 in fact of them. As it shows …well, I stick by my previous post; most are useless.

Still, researchers, analysts and bloggers now have a meta list from which to pick what to copy.

IT Pro favourite analysts Gartner also release a huge volume of reports. Outdoing Fast Company by providing 2012 predictions that span 73 market, topic and industry areas, with more than 300 predictions in total.

There is no excuse for any IT budget requires in 2012 not to include a reference to a Gartner Predicts report highlighting the need for this in 2012.

Of course, knowing with some certainty what is likely to happen is completely useless unless you commit to actually doing something about it. And here, we see no surprises in that most companies will adopt the same approach as the perpetual obese dieter and talk about them, commit to changing … then promptly forget about this, and do nothing. They will then wonder at the end of the year, why users still despise them, business groups want to circumvent them and competitors are leaping ahead of them.

So why, despite this information, some of which will be no doubt useful, most companies will not use this for anything of practical value?

One reason is because they lack any mechanism with which to make use of this information. How many companies test ideas, product plans, roadmaps and strategies against trends and emerging ideas? Or are you simply repeating what you did last year?

A second reason, lots of people read them, but no one does anything other than send a few around to show that they are ‘watching the market’ [typically around review time].

And so nothing much changes.

So for all those evangelists, critics, heretics and passionate supporters of change … NOW IS YOUR CHANCE.

A three step action plan:

  1. Find the evidence. Go forth, find the predictions that support what you have been saying for the past god knows how long, and show that you are not alone in believing them. It won’t guarantee anyone listens and may show that two idiots can share an idea, but you have no excuse. Top tip – look for numbers, look for evidence of the change.
  2. Link the prediction to impact for YOUR company. If there is no impact, no one cares. So what is the impact, good and bad. Can the company make more money? How much more? Are new competitors going to overtake the business, win customers from you? What is the risk of not changing?
  3. Write the happy ending. Show what needs to happen, when, by whom and what it costs? If you don’t know guess. Add some weasily words if you must to caveat these numbers, but GIVE NUMBERS. Is this thousands or millions of dollars/pounds or a few Euros? Tip, if less than a few million, go back to sorting post and changing the drinking fountain. Only big numbers and big impact matters.  And the most important part of any presentation that is essentially an ‘ask’ – TASK SOMEONE with making a decision. Whether yes or no, push to find an owner who can decide on whether to proceed. As far as possible try to avoid having a decision become a passive decision, that is ‘no decision’ is made. An example of this is wanting more information. It is a cop-out. Push for a more formal approval to investigate, and make sure you ask for some resources, however minor to gain some commitment.
So, perhaps I need to refine my original statement …
Most predictions are useless … unless you actually do something with them. On their own they are useless.
Your choice, but whatever you do, don’t come whining next January saying “I told you so”.
You only get to say this if you …
TOLD, SHOWED, PROVIDED EVIDENCE, DEFINED A PLAN and FORMALLY ASKED.

 

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How to hire an evangelist

So after reading my last post you want to hire an evangelist, where do you find one?

  1. Ask people. Think who made an impression on you, then ask them who they would pick. Use your network and those who you trust.
  2. If you do need to advertise, then make the job interesting. Don’t just look in the usual places. Put some adverts in unusual places. Be creative in where you look. Most importantly, be honest about what you want to achieve. If this is truly interesting, people will soon find you.
  3. Take your time and find the right person. Don’t jump to the first candidate you find. Respond quickly, be honest, but don’t rush.
  4. Don’t look for an expert on your products or your company. Look for someone with something interesting to say who cares about your company enough to understand it.
  5. Look for someone who has answers and ideas, someone who can solve problems and complex issues. They don’t need to know all the answers, but they do need to be curious and inquisitive.

And how do you know they are the right person?

  1. You don’t. You won’t know until after they have started, so be prepared to be wrong about the person.
  2. If the candidate is not animated, passionate about their subject and infectious in their enthusiasm, find someone else.
  3. Ask interesting and diverse questions about a range of topics and subjects. Challenge them, push them to defend contentious points. And I mean ask diverse questions, about anything. You want to understand how they think, what they know, how they respond.
  4. Give them real challenges in the interview and decision making process. Make it real. Candidates will shine or flunk under this environment. The best candidates will love it.
  5. If they offend you, don’t hire them. You should be able to disagree and still like them. If you dislike them, so will others. Avoid.

Once you have picked them. Tips for success.

  1. Be patient. It takes time to develop this role and understand the fit. It can take years because you need to build trust and this takes time.
  2. Define the boundaries and be clear about what you want to happen, but not how. If they break these, lose them.
  3. Avoid all sales targets. This undermines the credibility of the role. In fact setting any targets is very challenging. If they do their job well, you may not even realise it. Look for evidence, actions and moving of perceptions. Hard to measure, difficult to judge. Accept this.
  4. Give them some budget and push them to be creative in driving impact from this. Don’t give too much!
  5. Hold your nerve. They will make mistakes, cause some PR challenges. Support them through this as they learn.

Final tip: The bolder the challenge, the bigger the fun. Don’t constrain thinking or ambition. Think big and miss rather than think small and achieve.

The real importance of evangelism

If you thought no one from Microsoft really cared about anything other than selling you the next version of Windows and the latest XBox Kinect controller you couldn’t be more wrong. The company has a number of people whose (lucky) job it is to understand how technology can help society and have conversations about what author and conductor Benjamin Zander would call the ‘Art of the Possible‘. These are not really jobs in the traditional sense, more ‘a calling’, or a place to put those who just won’t shut up about how technology can really make a difference in society. Whilst most people concentrate on how technology impacts their lives, these people focus on how technology can positively help others’ lives. This is a critical difference, because a lot of their time will be spent campaigning for disadvantaged groups, arguing for the voice of the excluded and generally making a nuisance of themselves. And good luck to them, because through each one of their meetings, presentations and discussions they really do make a difference. Not that they will admit this, or those who change their minds will admit to being influenced.

The UK has one of the leading exponents of this role in Dave Coplin. I’m not sure what his title is these days, but it will have the word ‘evangelist’ in there somewhere. If you haven’t seen him, you can find his work on The Envisioners website. If you get a chance to see him speak, then I recommend it. Firstly, he doesn’t really fit the typical ‘look’ for Microsoft, but more importantly if you want to know what Microsoft really thinks about the bigger issues around technology, then speaking to Dave is a great way to understand this. I promise you that you will not be disappointed.

So why does this matter?

Why are Dave and his role important?

Whilst we often see so called ‘technology evangelists’, most are nothing more than salesman. They care about selling you a product, about closing a deal and about signing a contract. Real evangelists don’t. They care about selling you an idea. They don’t care about closing the sale because they know that if they sell you the idea, then you will come knocking on their door asking for the product, not just once, but again and again. In fact they won’t sell you a product, they will point to a sales guy. If an evangelist does want to close the deal, then he isn’t an evangelist, just a good salesman. So now you know.

A good evangelist will become a trusted advisor in the way that a salesperson can only dream of (and never achieve). Selling an idea or a vision transcends any single product. More importantly though, what they will have done is enrol you not just as a fan, but a passionate supporter. If an evangelist does their job right, they light a fire in your imagination. They don’t tell you how their product or service is better, they help you understand how lives can be better. Seriously, an evangelist focuses on the person, not as something to sell to, but as a human being; the most important, most valuable asset imaginable. What an evangelist will do is help you how understand how to make lives better.

Take one of the most famous evangelists, Guy Kawasaki. He started with Apple, but his passion and vision was always bigger. He is now a best selling author and a highly in-demand speaker. The common factor in everything he has done is that it is all about making things simpler/better/easier for the person. Whether selling, planning their lives, developing their career, it is all about the person. The human being. Take any great speaker and you will see the same thing. What matters is the focus on the human. Listen to President Clinton speak about the improving the developing world, Bill Gates about eradicating malaria. Take Ghandi, Mandela, Dr Martin Luther King – it always comes down to people. To humans. The narrative is always about people.

It is a pity that more companies don’t recognise this and invest in people who care about making their products and their company matter by having a real dialogue with customers and society at large. This is not about giving your company a cool spokesperson. In fact the opposite. The best evangelists can go and do go off-script. They will be brutally honest about failures in a way that has PR people cringing, but through this they show their honesty. They know the risks in speaking out – and those risks are real. So when they do this, they are saying, “you matter, because my job may be on the line over this“. How many people that you meet from a company can you say that about? Certainly too few CEOs. Again, if we look to CEOs who care about people, who were willing to speak out and take a position, you find them leading great companies. Richard Branson and Virgin, the late Dame Anita Roddick and the Bodyshop, and Yvon Chouinard the head of Patagonia, a company that not only promotes its green credentials, but lives them daily by supporting protests and risking its name by challenging corporations and governments. More recently we have Blake Mycoski, the founder of Toms Shoes, a company that gives a pair of shoes away for everyone that it sells.

Are you starting to see a pattern here?

The reason that evangelism is important is because it is always about something bigger than the company. It is about people. About human beings. Not sales targets, but real people.Whether that evangelist is the CEO themselves or a role like Dave’s what matters is the willingness to have the dialogue.

Change takes time, and not all companies are founded or grounded in the ethics of Patagonia or Tom’s Shoes, but starting a dialogue is absolutely possible. Appointing an evangelist may not change the world overnight, but it will show that you are at least prepared to talk about things that matter and listen and engage with your most vocal critics to understand what is possible.

Benjamin Zander would approve.