Month: April 2014

This is why we fight. This is why we shouldn’t complain.

logo_to14On Sunday evening, I completed the online check-in for the 2014 Ride to Conquer Cancer. the RTCC is a 200km ride from Toronto to Niagara Falls, with benefits going to the Princess Margaret Cancer Centre, one of the top 5 cancer research centres in the world.

Last year the ride raised 19.1 million dollars, but more importantly, it gave us hope. As we rode through Ontario, we were surrounded by sadness – people peddling in loving memory of friends, family and peers no longer with us, but we were also surrounded by yellow flags. We were surrounded by survivors.

In 2012, my ride started like most. I knew someone that knew someone that was battling cancer. When I got the news, I did what we all do. I shared FB status updates, liked heartfelt posts and retweeted fundraising efforts before returning to the security of my own insignificant problems. I did the most I could without really doing anything. I cheered from the side as people I knew peddled for a cause or for closure.

Things changed when my Dad got sick. Aggressive brain cancer. Horrible prognosis. I started reading stats and tried hard to hold onto the hope that maybe he’d be the miracle case. I started raising money. Instead of doing everything I normally did (essentially nothing), I forced myself to believe that every dollar I raised could be the one that helped them find a cure. I organized concerts. I asked people for money. I asked people for help. I admitted weakness and fear. I was scared and RTCC let me think about something else. All my energy could be directed somewhere meaningful.

Quickly, I realized that people are amazing. Strangers, families, and friends rallied behind me. The stories they shared kept us believing. They gave me and my family hope… almost too much hope. Naively, until it was really bad, I still thought Dad was defying the odds. To be honest, until we moved him into a hospital bed that took up so much space in the family room that we had to move his favorite chair, I thought he was strong and stubborn enough to simply outlast this disease.

This year is different. Dad’s gone and I don’t know what these 200 km will be like. Instead of riding for his cause, I’m riding in his memory. It will be good for me in some sense as well; eight hours to think about the life he led and the times we shared. It’s a chance to say goodbye in a way that I know he’d respect.

Cancer is awful. I know that’s not a surprise to anyone, but it takes away your will to fight. This year, those yellow flags will be inspiring for another reason. Each time I see a flag, I’m going to see someone that refused to quit. They took the pain. They took the poison. They spent months, if not years holding on by a thread. They persevered.

My family has dealt with too much loss lately. Old friends. Fathers. Husbands. Mothers. Wives. Aunts. Grandmothers. Cousins. Despite all that, I’m encouraged by two people in my life that are fighting. They refuse to yield. They turn into the torrents and gusts and defy the storm to do its worst. Remarkably, I’ve never met either of these people in real life. I work with a woman that is everything you’d dream to be. She’s determined, hard working, funny as hell and a dedicated mom. I worked with her husband at my old job, and he and I shared sushi, beer and work drama almost every day. I looked at her picture on his desk every morning while I waited for him to get organized for a coffee run.

Somehow just from two pictures and casual stories, I felt like I knew her. Little did I know that when I switched jobs we would start working together. We shared jokes and work drama, and I realized that she was a f@cking rock star. She’s the type of person that makes you re-evaluate how you approach your life – plus she mailed me a Tom Waits shirt to say thanks for working extra hours. But suddenly, she was gone. Emails were going to other people. She was no longer in project meetings. I didn’t know until she was packed up and beginning her first fight.

She kicked cancer’s ass. She reshaped her life and did everything right. She even started drinking some blended green juice that made me physically ill to even look at. Now she’s fighting breast cancer for a second time, dealt a hand that would make even the biggest gambler toss away their two cards and concede their stack of chips, but her outlook and spirit is still unbreakable. She will not stop fighting and she’s showing us how we should live life (especially when ours is undoubtedly much easier).

Forget tattered leather jackets, skin tight jeans and high top Chuck Taylors. Carissa is punk rock.

Another man fighting this same fight is someone I’ve only shared emails with. We “know” some of the same people. We “love” some of the same things. We bonded through his talent and my appreciation. I guess if life were a Venn diagram, our circles would touch but only ever so slightly. Yesterday, I wrote to him about his new music and shared that I had given a few of my songs to my father – another music lover – and they were played many times as sitting in a chair or lying in a bed became more common.

Will was diagnosed with cancer in his mid-twenties. For a gifted word smith and peaceful man, it just doesn’t seem fair.  He used music as his inspiration, documenting his treatment, his anger, his hope and his reality in eight beautiful songs that try their best to remove shock of the stark message they carry. Honestly, there are moments on this record that take my breath away, but their are moments that help me understand the torment my Dad went through and refused to discuss.

Both these people refuse to stop fighting. They were given something awful and turned it into beauty and inspiration. They take statistics and challenge them with heart and determination. They fight, and it’s why we should all fight. It’s too easy to think we have it bad, decide that life is trying to push us down. I’m realizing that most of us are lucky. We come home after work with money in our pocket and a house filled with love and warmth. We see life and it’s endless possibilities. We have the freedom to look back and laugh and the time to dream about what might be.

I’m sorry these two great people have to go through this, but selfishly, I’m thankful for them showing me how to really understand what’s important and what life can really throw at you.

I’ll be riding the 2014 Ride to Conquer Cancer with my Dad’s picture on my back and the memories we share in my heart, but Carissa and Will’s names will be attached to my bike frame to remind me that not everyone has the chance to ride 200km in beautiful countryside left only to complain about the pain in their legs.




Social adoption:: Find their solution, don’t sell yours

img-collaborationIf you read this blog, chances are you’ve spent countless hours trying to sell the value of collaboration to business units or project teams across your organization. I’ve tried to creative tactics – honestly, I’d have a few less greys if Daniel Pink had published To Sell is Human years ago – focusing on business issues, value propositions, inspiration and potential.

I’ve sold the successes we had and retold the stories we shared. I’ve surfaced problem resolutions and surprising outcomes to help teams connect positive outcomes to their own situation. I dug and dug until I found something that connected with the target audience. Obviously, I see huge value in collaboration; sharing ideas, encouragement, support and expertise is what I do on a day-to-day basis and what I expect from others, but that’s not a universal truth and it’s important to remember that when you are trying to “help.”

In almost every org I’ve worked for/with, the training for social technology is to simplify the tools and site development to the point where any user can start building sites and sharing content as soon as possible. Make it easy to use and impossible to break. We develop templates to minimize the required starting lift. We create chunked support materials to allow employees learn only what they need to learn to perform a task.

Unfortunately, that simplification also makes it hard to control the flow of information and content on sites. Employees are routinely asked to fit a square peg into a (nicely designed) round hole. For our Jam sites, we ask teams to use the SAP created templates or a customized TELUS template. This makes it easy to create sites, but also makes it easy for the purpose of the site to get lost behind widgets and design. The general assumption is that if we can let teams hit the ground running, chances are they will be more interested in sharing ideas or content.

In reality, the most important collaboration occurs before you design or launch any new site.

Selling collaboration is one thing; creating a solution is another. Before a team creates a solution, there are many important questions that should be asked. At TELUS, we’ve stopped talking about the benefits of collaboration, and now simply ask why is the site being built, what value does it add and what will help it stay relevant over time?

If your new users can’t answer these questions, chances are even the best designed, easy to use community will stagnate quickly. Even worse, if users don’t know why they are visiting a site and are forced to hunt blindly for content, the platform will become a distraction that will derail productivity.

We’ve realized that standardization and simplification are important, but creating sites that allow users to ask a question, find an answer or consume content effectively is what will drive results and allow the user to get back to the task at hand. Alex Pang – author of the Distraction Addiction – offers this insight:

“There are times when it can be a lot more efficient to ask the person who knows the answer to a question, than to hunt around the corporate intranet or two-year-old crowd-sourced FAQ for the answer,” Pang writes. “However, we need to just do that judiciously, be mindful that your convenience may come at someone else’s expense, and do it only when necessary.”

So how can you help?

The biggest value I can add to any discussion about collaboration is perspective. When I meet with teams, the first thing I do is share a single .pptx slide.

What is the purpose of this site?

While this seems like an obvious question, it’s one that gets forgotten more often than not. Is it a marketing site? A support channel? A site set up because your director said we need to use the new tools? If you don’t determine the purpose of your site, you will most likely not showcase the best content or user experience.

If you want your Jam space to be a support channel – maybe an easy way to allow field technician to ask a question to a large group of technicians and capture that context – it makes sense to surface the Forums or even Feed Widget on your Overview page. If your site is more of a brochure site – maybe a Meet the HR team – it makes more sense to showcase the People widget (Featured Member) and work on an engaging Overview page. If it’s a Learning space, highlighting the appropriate content (maybe, using hashtags) helps direct users as soon as the page loads.

Bottom line, even though ideas like all content must be accessible in less than 3-clicks have been debunked, your site will be more effective is you surface appropriate content on the home page. In order to do this, you need to clearly understand the site’s purpose.

Will this site improve on existing process?

In large organizations, the creative workarounds teams come up with are incredible. When a tool or process doesn’t meet a team’s needs, it is morphed until it does. Asking a team to change for the sake of changing is a difficult and often detrimental to your working relationship. If you don’t ask this question, and proceed to implement a solution that impacts actual work, your business partners will begin to question your intentions.

Sometimes it’s best to simply walk away.

When I meet with teams and ask them to explain there current process and try to determine if changing how the team does something is worth the work and training required. If it’s not, I am honest with them. “Listen, this tool won’t make your team more productive or reduce the time required to perform specific tasks. If there are other issues you are having, maybe we can use our collaborative tools to help.”

I’d rather earn their trust and build a relationship so when I do find a problem that can be solved by our collaborative tools/methodologies, they know I actually understand there issues and am trying to help.

How can you keep group members coming back?

By definition, collaboration is a two-way street. A lot of group admins assume the two-way flow of ideas and content is the responsibility of the users. By asking this question prior to launch, you can model behaviors and pre-set the expectations of the group. How often will the content be updated? What is the expected reply time to questions asked in the forums? If a group admin doesn’t have a clear understanding of posting cadence and service level agreements, users may question the value of the site.

When we launched Jam, we asked technicians to use Forums to ask questions, promising timely responses. Because no SLA was documented, questions took a back seat to other tasks. Once technicians realized it was faster to call another technician or simply start scouring product documentation, they stopped using the site. We lost their trust, and almost instantly our collaborative space became static.

When we proposed a similar solution to another group, we talked expectations and commitments. Group admins committed to answering all questions within one hour. As a result, technicians began to trust the process and actively participate. The tool met the needs of the user group and as a result, the Jam space was successful.

Before you can help team use new tools and transform they way they work, I suggest you take a step back and determine if they are ready to support the transformation and if the shift is appropriate.

Are your learners finding the right content in SAP Jam?

2 men jigsaw pieceI spent most of last week in Vancouver for product meetings and TELUS team focused sessions. On Day 2 of our Performance Culture sessions, Jocelyn Berard (VP Leadership & Business Solutions International at Global Knowledge) sat with us to talk about leadership and influence.

The session was inspiring, but the big aha moment (or a-ha moment?) for me was a quote he shared from a physician placed in charge of a hospital. When asked what made a physician a good leader, the doctor suggested that before you can lead physicians, you need to prove you actually are a good physician.

The concept of being an expert before becoming a leader is something concerning in today’s world. Technology provides everyone a platform for thought leadership (undoubtedly, sharing ideas and theories helps progress leadership and collaboration at the speed of fiber optics), but it also changed the job description of most HR professionals. We are no longer expected to simply understand benefits and hand out forms; we are essentially tasked with being technology champions (for anyone that’s seem their organization migrate HR process to the cloud, we can commiserate over a drink) and solution architects in addition to any traditional expertise our roles might require.

We are constantly asked to display our knowledge and establish trust with the people we help on a daily basis, and as a result we need to be equal parts visionary and subject matter expert. We are not just asked to teach people about our tools, but how to use them most effectively. In simple terms, if we can’t help people how can we lead them?

Over the last year, my role has switched from big picture visionary to task based efficiency. Truthfully, I’m okay with that. If we are asking employees to change how they work, why they work and also learn how to use tools to help execute on either transformation, as an HR professional, I need to be able to help when questions are asked. At TELUS, three of us are tasked with promoting JAM (our social hub) and collaboration. We’ve spent the last few months creating demos, providing tips and tricks and hoping to show employees how social collaboration can improve business efficiency and drive results.

Over the next few weeks, I’m going to share a few of the tips here. Ideally, people will read these tips and want to share their own. Mine will be focused on JAM, but collaboration is about capabilities, not tools.

Sharing targeted content in Jam

One of the biggest complaints we get from our users is that there is just too much information being shared. The feeds move faster than they can process/digest, and groups become unruly within weeks. You often hear that too much collaboration is a problem that most orgs would love to have, but in reality, too much content is as scary as not enough content for many users.

To help “promote” relevant content, you can use the Featured Content option, but that is a very manual and restrictive process. If you use the Featured Content (or any of the default settings), you cannot feature specific, user generated content over time. Instead, we made the decision to filter content widgets by hashtags. Using the hashtag is an incredibly easy way to promote content that aligns to key corporate objectives or is timely and appropriate (for example, we leveraged the hashtag for our career development process and yearly objectives to coincide with the deadlines for both).

In most cases, your Content widgets will be filtered by type. Whether you chose “Featured”, “Last Updated”, “Most Viewed” or “Most “Liked”, you are basically locking into a singular strategy for content promotion.


You are either leaving the decision to the group admin (featured content) or the voice of the crowd (any of the filters that rely on views or updates). In this example, our Content widget is filtered to display the last five documents (this includes a video, pptx, image file, Jam poll and a wiki page) that were updated within this specific group.



Using hashtags allows you filter the content displayed but still leverage the voice of the crowd. You can surface documents based on key topics, but allow update date, likes or even views determine what documents get highest priority. In this example, we want to showcase any content applies to leadership. By adding the hashtag “leadership” to the Content widget, we ensure that only users will only see content that has been tagged appropriately.

To add the leadership hashtag:

  1. Click Edit to switch your wiki page into edit mode.
  2. Navigate to your Content widget.
  3. Click the Edit button.
  4. Type “leadership” into the Filter by tag text box.
  5. Click OK.

When the page reloads, you can see that the Content widget now only displays the content that has been tagged.


Instead of five documents, you only see three. Essentially, the group admin has determined what topics are most important to the group, but allowed the group to determine what content is most effective or important.

Hopefully this tip will help you streamline the user generated and social content and provide a more tailored and effective environment for your group collaboration.

If you have any strategies you’d like to share, please leave links or comments.

Fresh start: TELUS Transformation Office

services_hero-300x139Wow. Yesterday already seems like a distant memory. For most of the last year, I focused on building marketing materials, doing research, creating strategy & recommendation documents and working with pilot customers in preparation for a new role within TELUS. Knowing that as of yesterday we finally moved from planning to reality hasn’t quite sunk in – you know, forest through the trees type of thing – but my work  life has changed completely.

Yesterday, we launched TELUS Transformation Office, a future of work consulting wing within TELUS that aims to help organizations improve corporate culture and improve employee engagement. Ideally, we can take our experience, insights and successes and help other organizations in their own attempt to evolve leadership, digital readiness, career & talent services, and the onboarding experience.

Without question, this is a new type of mentality for us. Learning is a unique space. I honestly believe that there are very few walls between people in this industry. We’re all in the business of helping people, whether it’s internally or externally. We share freely on blogs, wikis, chats, twitter, at conferences and basically in every forum possible. We all have the same, altruistic goal; to make work better for the people we support.

Right now, most of this sharing is done informally and meant to inspire, not transform. By formalizing the process, we hope that organizations can get the traction not only to start the journey, but to continue it. The end goal is too important to have it pushed to the side of the desk or the left to the energy and influence of a few dedicated workers.

I was in a very fortunate position. I loved my job and I love working for TELUS. In terms of Enterprise learning/collaboration and corporate culture, TELUS is pushing the boundaries and changing the conversation. It was no longer a desperate ask of “how can we fix this?” When we talk to anyone about the state of learning, collaboration and culture, they ask “how did you fix it?” It’s no longer theoretical knowledge. Great culture and collaboration is reality at TELUS.

In my (almost) five years at TELUS, we’ve gone from virtually no social technologies and very little cross functional collaboration to an industry recognized success story. We’ve incorporated a leadership model that encourages collaboration and as a result, we’ve deployed new tools and cultivated a workforce that not only understands how to share and leverage technology, but why collaboration is vital to our business and can dramatically improve the customer experience. Simply put, we’ve taken our ideals and moved them from an HR project to a organization-wide vision. The difference is huge.

Basically, in terms of learning, my role was as close to the perfect fit as I’ve come across. I was able to explore tools, work with new people and really try to prove value in the methodologies and capabilities we’ve been preaching for years. We were able to successfully unite leadership, learning and collaboration. That’s probably why the possibility of helping other organizations do the same thing is so exciting. It’s no longer a pipe dream. The need is there, the technology is available and – without sounding like a documentary trailer – the time for change is now.

Society isevolving; it’s harder to get people’s attention and as learning professionals we need to constantly reevaluate our approach. It’s scary, but it’s also exciting. We know that the fundamentals of leadership and learning should be blended with the move to a more technology based ecosphere to help people understand how to succeed and feel connected/supported. We know that people demand more from their job than just a pay cheque and that right now and we know that almost half of the people that go to work each morning aren’t happy. This needs to change and we want to help.

Watch this video to learn more about how we transformed TELUS, and how we can help you.

Failure must be an option

love-mlm-failure-010A few days ago, I read a quick article about what – outside of passion – defines a great leader. According to LB Adams, the number one trait that great leaders should possess is the willingness to fail. At TELUS, risk and innovation are part of our DNA and as a result, we prepare for and react quickly when we aim high and come up short.

As I talk to more and more organizations, I realize that TELUS team members are very fortunate and in most cases failure is not an acceptable outcome. Imagine working for an organization where employees rejected learning opportunities and any career development that involved testing of any sort because they were afraid how their managers would react if they failed the associated quiz?

If an employee is scared to even register for training, how could they ever feel comfortable suggesting changes to products or process? Even scarier is to realize that if an employee was afraid to share an idea or push free from routine, over time it will be harder to help them feel inspired to come to work every day.

If you look at any organization’s values, chances are you will see some sort of variation of innovation standing arm in arm with respect, communication, respect, quality and integrity. It’s great to have these example on the wall of your boardroom, but how can you push innovation if mistakes and failure are deemed unacceptable?

How does fear impact team culture? Immensely. Optimism is hard to find in most orgs. For every energetic, glass half-full employee you meet, you will find at least one that always thinks the worst. How many times have you heard statements like, “that won’t work” or “our people won’t buy into that” the minute an idea is thrown out for evaluation?

In the last four years, we’ve been forced to trust each other and test the resolve of our team members. Was everything perfect? Did we hit a home run every time we stepped to the plate? Of course not, and looking back it was those failures that helped make huge strides as we shifted direction. Originally, we developed a strategy and deployed it to the organization. We saw good success and were thrilled with the organic growth we saw across pockets of the org, but when we were forced to dig deeper, we also saw opportunities for improvement.

Even with high adoption rates and dramatic increase in usage, we made some tactical errors, none bigger than the decision to roll out independent channels for social learning and collaboration. We were so happy to be able to provide a complete suite of independent tools – micro-blogging, video sharing, document collaboration, coaching, mentoring, subject-matter expertise and personal profiles – that we overlooked the fact we were creating new silos of information. We built tools internally, leveraged existing technology and purchased new tools that didn’t integrate seamlessly with what we had. We opted for a phased approach to help ease team members into the collaboration space, which ultimately led to increased demands for training and siloed collaboration.

In a recent interview,  Shawn Price (President for Global Cloud and Line of Business at SAP) mentioned that these individual channels were like ghost towns. At TELUS, they were more like club memberships. We had high traffic and collaboration – this infographic is a great place to see how collaboration increased over the last few years – but users opted for the the technology that best suited their comfort level. If I was trying to force a golf metaphor here, our users didn’t play other courses.

The more we analyzed our collaboration metrics, the more obvious it was that if an employee understood how to create a video and share it internally, most likely they continued create and consume that type of content. There was no proof that they also explored skills sharing, micro-blogging or blogs and wikis. People tend to stick with technology and processes they understand and we unintentionally facilitated that behavior.

When we made the decision to consolidate our social tools into a singular collaborative platform – SAP Jam – we started to realize that our success hid some of the failure. We encountered territorial users, unwilling to learn new technologies. We encountered users that demanded specific features instead of adapting to new, more robust set of tools that provided more collaborative options. We realized that our collaboration data, in a consolidated form, was a success story, but we were actually promoting a strategy that created segregated audiences. We had to build migration training/strategies. We had to rework communication plans.

What this meant was we needed to re-evaluate our adoption and learning strategies and ask the business and the leadership team for patience and support. In certain organizations, we would have encountered resistance. “Didn’t we just try this?” “Why should we invest more resources in something that is already in place?” There was no talk of ROI and no skepticism that we could get it right and improve on the successes of which we were so proud.

we were able to present a plan that highlighted where we succeeded, but focused more on where we went wrong. We didn’t try to cover up gaps. We readily identified them as areas we knew we missed and would win over. Our assumptions about adoption were proven wrong over time, and as a result, we were able to come up with a better launch and adoption plan for the release of Jam.

What does this mean? Well, in less than a year, 75% of the organization has accessed our collaboration platform. We’ve been able to consolidate tools without losing the support of our user communities. We’ve lowered the TCO and required support resources. We also created a better, more targeted set of learning materials based on the metrics we tracked from our other tools and how existing learning was consumed.

We are early on in our deployment; the first year is often heavily based on communication, transition and migration but our failures have helped us determine a plan that will hopefully turn a good story into a great one.

It’s easy to tell someone to roll out a consolidated, integrated solution. It’s more realistic to prepare for small wins and failure while you move towards your ideal end state (the utopia where tools that talk to each other, users that are participative and happy, and leadership that supports the project). In most cases, that dream state is not possible – we all fight for every dollar and every successful adoption story. But if your leaders let employees be pragmatic and learn from each incremental step, you will get there.

By letting your organization know that it’s okay to fail and move forward, you will develop resilient workers that take that core value on innovation off the boardroom wall and truly live it every day.