Brett Sadler

The Perennial Pruning of Emails

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I’ll start this post off with a (non) scientific fact:- We almost all dread the incessant stream of Emails coming through. 24 hours a day, non-stop.

I have always been a big fan of keeping on top of Emails. I use my Email inbox as my ‘to do’ list. If it is in my inbox, it needs dealing with in some way. As soon as it is dealt with, it gets filed away which means it is no longer something for me to worry about.

I was away from work recently for four working days (most of which were spent on an MBA residential school). I prepared my inbox as best I could by filing away anything not needed and had it down to about 85. This was a pretty good place to start from as I generally aim to keep my Email inbox at under 100.

I call this the ‘perennial pruning of my Email inbox’ and realise that this has become my new norm of working.

As the Emails kept coming while I was off, I was able to keep on top of them for the first day. By the second day I was losing control due to the volume of Emails coming in. By the third day I had given up trying to control them.

In case you are thinking there are other things I could try, let me run through just a few things I have tried:

  • I have set up loads of rules to automatically file away the not-so-important Emails so that they don’t clog up my inbox;
  • I have turned off my automatic Email notifications;
  • I even try keeping my inbox closed at different points of the working day, in a vain attempt to be more productive;
  • I only check Emails at certain points of the day.

So how come I still feel that Emails are ruling me, rather than the other way around?

I have come to realise that I have it all wrong. The process of keeping my Emails under 100 was completely beside the point. I need to tackle the source i.e. the senders of the Emails. (NB: After reviewing my inbox I realise that many of Emails were originally sent by me! Oh no!! I can hardly blame everyone else for this problem……)

So, starting from now I will be carefully considering each and every Email that I send. I will still send some Emails, but I want to make sure they have a clear purpose, that I am not asking for an unnecessary response and that I always consider whether a good old fashioned face-to-face (or telephone) conversation would work just as well.

Will I be more productive? Will I send less Emails? Will I receive less Emails? (so many questions…..)

Follow my posts for progress updates!!

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2018 will be THE year

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2017 was a tough year for me professionally and personally, but I have decided to start the new year off positively by saying that 2018 is going to be a much better year for me.

Why I hear you say?

Well, here are three of the professional reasons:

  1. I am determined to finish my MBA – this will be the end of three years of hard graft and quite simply I am looking forward to having some spare time again…….as well as the huge sense of satisfaction of completing the masters;
  2. I have two new areas at work to get stuck into – improving customer services and tenant participation, both have lots of scope for positive change and the chance to make a real difference for our tenants;
  3. I have a new professional mentor – after five years with my previous mentor, it felt like time for a change. Hats off to the Chartered Institute of Housing for offering this free service to members.

So, nothing scientific and nothing factual, but spending some time pulling these together has shown me that I do indeed have a plan and I know I work best with a plan.

So here’s to 2018 being the most successful yet.

Here’s hoping yours is really successful to.

 

A Few Thoughts on Defining Innovation

I’ve been asked many times for my definition of ‘innovation’, so here’s a quick post of my thoughts.

Innovation doesn’t always mean a huge change – it doesn’t always have to be something spectacularly large or life changing. Some of the best innovations I can think of are really small, but make a real difference to peoples lives every day – everyday innovations.

Innovation is a word often overused – the definition of innovation is a new idea, method or product, but it isn’t always ground breaking (or even new). Some people are just better at promoting their (not so new) innovations. Innovation for innovations sake.

Innovation as a process – this is something I really like. Improving an idea or concept by a step process, rather than it being seen as something only the few creative individuals in the world can do, like magic. I would go as far to say that almost anyone can innovate.

Innovation can be whatever you want it to be – it’s down to the individual or organisation to define what their view of innovation really is. Is it a linear process that means you can achieve true ‘innovation’ or a continuous process, or even something in-built into your personal/organisational culture?

Whilst on the subject of innovations, here is one of my all-time favourite innovations – the ‘lucky iron fish‘.

ironfish

The Lucky Iron Fish is a small iron cooking tool that infuses your meals with a healthy amount of natural iron to help prevent iron deficiency and anemia. It’s simple to use, and provides a natural source of iron that’s perfect for everyone, especially those with an increased need for iron: athletes, vegetarians, vegans and women.

 

Two years and counting…

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After finishing the second year of my MBA studying through the Open University, I finally have some spare time to write a few blog posts.

So for this one, I will be again reflecting on what I have learn’t to-date from undertaking the course.

The first thing is probably obvious, but it has been a huge challenge. Not just in terms of the workload, but in terms of time management. There have been days and weeks where I feel like I have been solidly working or studying and doing nothing else. There have also been days when I would happily have thrown the towel in. But I have survived.

The second thing is that I have again broadened my knowledge. I’ve just complete the Corporate Finance module which has well and truly tested all students. I would be willing to bet that the drop out rate is pretty high during this course, culminating in the 3 hour written exam at the end. Again, I have survived (just).

The third thing is that again my horizons have been stretched. I purposely chose the course as I wanted to move outside of my comfortable ‘Housing’ bubble and build a network of colleagues beyond my usual circle. Along with this, the course content has stretched my horizons as well, to talk much more about profit, CSR (Corporate Social Responsibility) and the big wide world of corporate finance. OK, so I may never be involved in floating a company on the stock market, but I have a much better idea of how companies are valued and the many intricacies involved.

But overall, I have survived the end of the second year. Roll on the third (and final) year.

 

My blog posts – a success or failure?

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OK, so I’ve been a bit slack of late with blog posts. I’ve been busy both inside and outside of work, but I thought I would write this one about my experience of writing my blog!

So firstly, I’ve got the grand total of 78 followers for my blog. Considering I started writing it some years ago, this seems pretty poor, right? Well actually, I’ve been constantly surprised by how people mention that they have read some of my blog posts.

I’ll give you a recent example.

My last blog post was titled ‘working out loud’. It has been viewed 28 times, with 1 like. Hardly massive numbers. But I’ve had more than one person share with me that they have read my blog post and more than one positive conversation about its content.

It never ceases to amaze me that I can publish a blog post and feel utterly demoralised that its had so few views, only to find that it has actually made an impact on the very few people who have viewed it. It all depends on how you measure success.

The other consideration is that, although I only have 78 blog followers, I have over 1850 Twitter followers and over 750 LinkedIn links, so actually my potential audience for blog posts is a lot more than I give myself credit for!

So, would you call this a success, failure or at best indifferent? I would love to hear you thoughts…….

Working Out Loud

working out loud

Are you someone who likes to work out loud?

I have long been an advocate of working out loud and by this I mean being open about what I am working on and seeking advice and best practice from others.

The popularity and acceptance of social media makes this task so much easier. I can just pop a quick post on LinkedIn (or a quick tweet on Twitter) asking for some best practice advice, or even just asking a question I would like the answer to. It really has produced some views and information that I can honestly say I would not have had otherwise.

Of course, it doesn’t have to just be through social media that we can work out loud. For me, its a much wider approach that can be adopted, where whole organisations can be encouraged to work out loud through a transparent culture where customers and stakeholder views are really valued. I’m not talking about sharing trade secrets or commercially sensitive data, but just letting customer and stakeholders know what an organisation and its staff are working on and allowing them to help shape and influence this journey.

I realise that not every organisation operates a values drive culture where you are encouraged or even able to work out loud, but for me this should be the panacea for an organisation. Frederic Laloux in his book ‘Reinventing Organisations’ sums this up perfectly:

Any information that isn’t public will cause suspicion – why else would someone go through the trouble to keep it secret?

There is something really refreshing about being open, making connections and getting the best possible outcome, all of which can be achieved through working out loud. So go on, next time you are faced with a difficult issue or wicked problem, why not try and open it out to others. You might just get a useful answer.

An MBA (and Housing) – a perfect fit?

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What relevance does an MBA have in the world of Housing?

As some of you will know, I have been studying towards an MBA (Masters in Business Administration) through the Open University.

As I am now half way through the three year distance learning course,  I thought it was an opportune time to reflect on a few of the key learning points from the MBA so far, to help answer the very question of its relevance. Here are the main ones:

I have had to step outside my comfort zone.  I don’t just mean in terms of the course content here. I am studying with a much wider range of people than I would normally work with; people who work in the for-profit sector, internationally, in family run businesses and global institutions. This is definitely not my usual close-knit Housing network and the diversity of students was one of the key reasons I signed up for the course.

I have a toolbox of useful business tools and concepts. I can now take these into my working career, whether that is ultimately within or outside the world of Housing. An MBA does not give you all of the answers, but it certainly helps to provide a wider and much deeper understanding of business. I feel more equipped than ever to tackle almost any issue at work.

The boundaries between for-profit and not-for-profit are difficult to define. The MBA course has brought this home to me on an amazingly regular basis. In Housing we are increasingly talking about profit, while in the next breath making it clear to anyone who will listen that we are not-for-profit. In a lot of ways, the definitions don’t matter – its more about having clarity of purpose within an organisation and ensuring that this is transmitted throughout the organisation.

There is a big world beyond Housing. I can’t stress this point enough. The MBA has shown me a taste of the big wide world out there beyond the Housing sector and I would argue that this ‘wide world view lens’  can be used to challenge and shed new light on old existing ways of working and thinking. I am the only ‘Housing’ person in my group and have really enjoyed being questioned and challenged on some of the Housing norms I have come to accept. I would like to think that I am a much better professional for it.

For me an MBA certainly has some relevance in the world of Housing. Sure, it might not be for everyone, but if nothing else it gives me a toolbox of theories and concepts with which to challenge the old ways of doing things, with a sound base knowledge of business which goes beyond the normal Housing world.

I for one am looking forward to taking this forwards in the rest of my career.

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The completer finisher

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I have always considered myself as a completer finisher, someone who can be relied on to get things done. But in terms of blog posts, the description just doesn’t fit.

I have recently realised that I now have 15 unfinished blog posts, ranging back over a number of years. Some of these are just blog titles and a few lines, whereas others are 95% completed. Often I get inspiration to write something but just fail to get the right tone, or the right ending or after I’ve written something, I think it just isn’t interesting enough to publish!

I find that generally I write a blog post in just a few sittings. I draft a post, then revisit it a day or so later to make some final amendments and additions, and then publish it. Maybe I should take longer writing my blog posts, but in honesty, this just slows down the process for me. I am much better just writing what I think, tidying it up and then releasing it to the world.

So this blog post is a confession of sorts. I am not the completer finisher I thought I was.

Being a Google Geek

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The entrance to Google and You Tube offices

Call it what you will, I am slightly obsessed by Google.

I have been lucky enough to visit their offices a few times, I have lots of Google related books, Google pens, even some Google drinks bottles (yes, you have read that right). But I often ask myself, why Google?

Over the past few years I have talked to different Google staff members (and also staff from organisation’s that work really closely with Google) and they are always interesting, inquisitive, can-do people. This isn’t by chance. Google are well known for having a clear corporate culture and rigorous recruiting practices. They pay well and pay staff according to what they produce.

So, just how do you whittle down a reported two million applicants per year, down to several thousand who are actually offered a job at Google? It’s a mammoth task, but one which they manage to do by having (amongst other things) clear processes, guidelines and consistency. Some would say that despite these shackles, Google have managed to still keep that entrepreneurial spirit, culture and wonder within the organisation.

I have blogged about this before, but Google engineers have ‘20% time’, whereby they work on anything they want, as long as it’s related in some way to Google’s work. Not that Google are the first or last company to offer this mind (see 3M’s post it note history), but it fits in so well with Google’s overall organisational approach, which includes innovation at its core and taking risks, from recruitment right up to 10 x Moonshots.

Google also only employ the very best applicants. (with two million applicants I guess you can). But they still actively search for potential staff members. Just think about that for a moment. They receive an absolute shed load of applicants each year, but they still spend time and money searching for the best.

This leads me on another area I love about Google. Every staff member is encouraged to ‘act like they are the owner‘. This helps build the entrepreneurial approach of staff, individual ownership and an inclusive organisational culture. I love this. I take this approach in my working life wherever possible.

They also have really cool offices. It is interesting to note that over the past several years, the office environment has been steadily changing, with lots more organisations using the same approach as Google – to have a fun, functional space to encourage innovation and (dare I say it) face-to-face talking! When I last visited the Google offices, there were loads of ‘in real life’ conversations taking place between Google staff, all over the building. Who would have thought it!

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Google floor 9

I could go on. As you would imagine, in an organisation the size of Google, there are lots of approaches, guidelines, mantra’s and stories, but I will save some of these for future blogs!

If you want to learn more about Google’s approaches, I can highly recommend Laszlo Bock’s book ‘Work Rules’. It gives a really in-depth insight into the recruiting and retaining practices at Google. It is honestly a fascinating read, whether you are a fellow Google Geek or not. You may read the book and think, ‘that would never work in my organisation’ (or at all), but I am sure you will pick up at least a few jems.

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A Single Digital Strategy?

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For my last blog post of 2016, I thought I would write about my experience to-date of developing a single Digital Strategy.

As anyone who has read my blogs before will know, we wrote a one-page Digital First Strategy some time ago.

DFStrategy

Our current Digital First Strategy

This was a challenge in two ways:

  1. Our strategies had always previously been several (or more) pages long;
  2. Would it make sense in just one page.

The reality is that the one-page strategy was quite successful. It has led on to our organisation developing future strategies with a ‘no more than 2 pages’ mindset. This is definitely progress.

But one question that always troubled me, was why we had a separate Digital First Strategy and Digital Inclusion Strategy? Actually, to me they were quite different strategies, not least because in both cases we were starting very much from scratch. But now that we have successful delivered the first phase of our Digital First project and we have a new Digital Officer in post, it seems the perfect time to merge the two in to one Strategy. This is serving as a useful time to review where we are up and work out where we want to go next.

One of the acid tests will be whether other staff and customers also understand the Strategy. This is something we will have to test in the new year. But so far, the ‘stop and reflect’ stage, and the ‘draft a new one-page strategy’ stage is working quite well.

Another, arguably more important acid test, will be whether the new Digital Strategy actually results in any positive changes on the digital front. For that, we will have to wait and see what 2017 brings!

 

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