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2014

Over the last year and culminating with the Gray Thursday / Black Friday holiday kick off shopping event it seems to me that there has been no major progress or extension of the omni channel shopping experience.  I have seen where the online experience has been expanded and a greater focus placed on the online experience, however there still seems to be a very solid line between the online and the brick and mortar experience.  The only crossover I’ve seen from the major retailers is to suggest to shoppers in the store that if they can’t find an item in the store the shopper should look online.  From an omni channel shopping perspective this has been a disappointing season.


I’m disappointed because there are so many little steps that could have been taken that would have really enhanced the overall customer experience across both the online and the brick and mortar shopping experiences.  I see the omni channel shopping experience as a collaborative shopping experience between the customer and the retailer, between the online and the brick and mortar outlets and even between the retailer and the manufacturer.  This to me means that you must focus on reducing or eliminating any real or imagined competition between the channels and present a seamless shopping experience that focuses on the customers’ experience.


I have seen a great many deals offered both online and in the stores this year.  This is a great opportunity for the customer but the experience is still separated between the online and the brick and mortar outlets.  A great way to start is to allow and encourage a customer to purchase in a store and ship the product to their home or final recipient destination.  It is very common now for retailers to offer the purchase online and pick up in the store option however it is not very common at all for the retailer to allow the customer to purchase in the store and ship it to their home, one retailer that supports this is Eddie Bauer.  Eddie Bauer does this with a phone desk in each store that is connected directly to their catalog call center and the shipping charges are waived for customers that place an order from the store.  This is a creative way to complete the sale and provide the ‘endless aisle’ concept that so many retailers advertise.


Another simple opportunity is variable discounts on a sale.  The majority of retailers offer these scratch and save cards either in the store or provide the card in a sale flyer for the customer to scratch and show for a discount in the store.  Why not offer this scratch and save via the mobile phone and email.  This is a feature that Red Box offers frequently to customers and its a great way to encourage purchases.  The added twist that retailers could provide is variable discounts between online and in store purchases that could be adjusted on the fly depending on the current sales and inventory availability.


And now for the audience participation portion of the show…

What types of cross channel services and offerings would you like to see to enhance your shopping experience?  Retailers are focused on maintaining sales volumes through reductions in pricing rather than expansion of sales, or even maintaining sales through creative utilization of eCommerce services. Did you shop over the Gray Thursday / Black Friday period?  What was your experience in stores and malls?

tbrouill

Omni Channel Shopping

Posted by tbrouill Nov 29, 2014

This season my family took advantage of the new shopping offering of ‘Gray Thursday’ and went to the local shopping mall at 9:00 PM to get our annual fix of frenzied Christmas shopping.  We actually missed the earliest door busters but were still able to experience the event.  This year’s event was a little surprising to me because of the basic fact that there were no new omni channel shopping opportunities.  This was surprising to me because of the potential opportunities I recognized in the last year.  I find this especially interesting because at the same time that people have been discussing the opportunities and increases in online sales it seems that not one retailer has taken the steps to increase their omni channel shopping support.


I’m disappointed that there have been so many missed opportunities to enhance the experience.  The major retailers are talking a great game about the omni channel shopping but I see that most are losing out on enhancing the experience.  There are great opportunities to cross over from eCommerce to brick and mortar however in my experience these are just lost opportunities.  This seems to have been the year for social shopping tools and third party sales tools over the Internet in the form of Groupon, LivingSocial and RetailMeNot shopping coupon type services, then you have tools such as Yelp, Urbanspoon and Where for help in locating products and rating services. 


The gaping hole in progress over the previous year is new eCommerce capabilities from retailers that cross over channels.  When I went to the mall with my family this year I expected there to be a lot of advertising in stores promoting their eCommerce capabilities.  Unfortunately there was nothing in sight, even from retailers like Best Buy Mobile and Verizon.  This year the retailers frankly seem focused on maintaining sales share through price reductions rather than gaining sales share through increased utilization of eCommerce advertising and sales capabilities.  Retailers are allowing the large retailers such as Wall Mart drive their strategy into matching the price reductions to maintain sales share which only reduces the margin and requires even greater sales increases to deliver profits.  This is a losing strategy for all retailers!


I am getting closer and closer to converting to eCommerce shopping for Christmas and birthdays simply because of the convenience.  I find the brick and mortar shopping experience to be more and more disappointing and even unnecessary for most of my needs.  Some things will always require the personal experience of seeing and touching the merchandise, however those products are becoming fewer and farther between. 


And now for the audience participation portion of the show…

What types of cross channel services and offerings would you like to see to enhance your shopping experience?  Retailers are focused on maintaining sales volumes through reductions in pricing rather than expansion of sales, or even maintaining sales through creative utilization of eCommerce services. Did you shop over the Gray Thursday / Black Friday period?  What was your experience in stores and malls?

As I have previously discussed, crowdsourcing is another category of social networking and so the tools supporting this are also social networking and team development tools.  I have also previously suggested that you focus on free tools in building this capability across your collaborative network because it will encourage adoption of the tools by your partners.  It is especially important to take into account the adoption and use of tools by your partners because the success of your crowdsourcing depends on the adoption of the tools by your partners.


Social networking and team management and support tools is currently in a robust state of discontinuous change requiring flexibility and imagination to support the needs of your partners and your efforts in achieving value from your crowdsourcing efforts.  This translates into expecting the loss of tools and expecting, and planning for, the loss of or need to replace tools.  Using my own experience in using tools to capture and even share discussions I can say that sometimes this can be very frustrating.  The selection runs the gamut from robust tools that provide both free and subscription based plans to very simple notes tools. 


Another important aspect or feature of tools is the ability to support, access and update from multiple platforms simultaneously.  In my opinion, this is the most important feature requirement.  There are many tools that may profess to provide this capability but many of these tools don’t deliver on that promise.  An interesting point to this requirement is that tools that charge for the service are not necessarily more capable in supporting this feature.


Where does this leave you though from a tools perspective?  There are two types of tools in this group;

  1. Tools that support content collaboration such as Dropbox or Google Drive.  These tools provide the platform to share and collaborate on documents across platforms and are free to use.
  2. Tools that support the social networking and team management such at LinkedIn, Google+ and Evernote.  These tools all provide the ability to connect and communicate to a group along with a robust notification and participation capability through email or smartphone apps.

I feel it is important to understand and classify the capabilities of tools so that you can evaluate the tools against your process and people requirements.  It is very easy to get lost in the tools evaluation process and lose sight of the objective and requirements you are trying to support.  Remember, the sequence of execution is critical to the success of any effort, focus on process first, then the people that will use the process and then you can be the most successful in selecting the technology and tools to support your requirements and deliver your objectives.


And now for the audience participation portion of the show…

How do you incorporate the different methods of communication to support your collaborative network needs and objectives?  Do you have a formal maintenance communication plan that your partners have participated in developing?  How does the informal communications methods impact and support the formal communications?  Have you developed an evaluation plan for your communications methods, a type of continuous improvement process for your communication methods and communications plans?

tbrouill

Crowdsourcing Tools

Posted by tbrouill Nov 25, 2014

Crowdsourcing is at its simplest level a type of social interaction that is supported through Internet capable tools.  These tools support the secured notification, publication, distribution and archiving of the results of the crowdsourcing topics.  My methods of evaluating and selecting tools is to focus on process, people and technology in that order.  This allows you to focus on the critical aspects of process and people before selecting a tool to support the process.  Another practice of mine is to focus on free tools first to evaluate tool capabilities to support your objectives. 


These practices are especially fitting, and important, in the crowdsourcing tool selection process because the objective in crowdsourcing is participation and free tools eliminate one of the major hurdles to broad participation and acceptance.  Free tools run the gamut of capabilities and features to support a wide variety of needs.  Remember, in previous discussions I pointed out that LinkedIn provides a great model for your crowdsourcing activities and this especially includes the free access.  An additional and equally important aspect of free tools is the social tools market maturity.  The social tools landscape is rapidly changing bringing new tools and capabilities while at the same time tools that were popular suddenly lose popularity and fall behind in capabilities causing them to suddenly disappear.  Google itself may be one of the greatest examples of this practice.  Google regularly delivers new tools along with new features and functionality to their existing tools and on the flip side, they are also constantly evaluating their tools to retire. 


Google will retire a dozen or more tools annually in an evolutionary practice that improves the Google ecosystem.  This is just one example of a large enterprise that is pushing to move forward in social tools and capabilities, however the overall marketplace provides the same practice in a survival of the fittest evolution.  Over the last couple of years I have taken up and dropped social networking tools on a regular basis and in fact the rate of adoption and rejection is increasing.  The social networking and teamwork tools are at the forefront of the discontinuous change evolution process and in fact in many ways these tools and capabilities are driving the evolutionary process.


The crowdsourcing practice and methodology must embrace however at the same time is driven by the creative destruction concepts that have been a popular topic of discussion for many years in the mainstream business practices.  These practices make it particularly challenging to select a costly tool because of the high risk of choosing wrong.  Remember, the objective of crowdsourcing is a high level of participation across a great number of participants to deliver value added capabilities to the participants.  The key to early adoption and participation across the widest range of participants is a free tool.


And now for the audience participation portion of the show…

How do you incorporate the different methods of communication to support your collaborative network needs and objectives?  Do you have a formal maintenance communication plan that your partners have participated in developing?  How does the informal communications methods impact and support the formal communications?  Have you developed an evaluation plan for your communications methods, a type of continuous improvement process for your communication methods and communications plans?

Obviously, crowdsoursing without participation is not crowdsourcing, its kind of like one hand clapping in fact.  In my last entry I discussed the importance of topics to draw interest in participation.  In this entry I will discuss ease of participation.  Ease of participation is critical to successful and robust crowdsourcing.  In our daily lives today there are so many things competing for attention that it is important to incorporate methods that both bring the topic front and center and then provide the means and opportunity to respond both quickly and easily. 


This is a very important aspect of crowdsourcing and just as important as the topic aspect.  After all if your partners have a difficult time participating in a topic it may not matter how interesting the topic itself is.  The ease of participation starts with an open communication plan and capability that broadcasts the topic and also a brief sentence or two of responses to the topic.  I’m sure this sounds familiar to most readers, as the LinkedIn model.  This, I believe is by design at LinkedIn and is regularly improved to encourage engage the active participation in the topic.  For these reasons I believe that LinkedIn is and should be viewed as the goal for developing a robust crowdsourcing participation platform.  Its not to say that there is nothing that annoys me about LinkedIn, however, on a whole the objectives and the execution I believe provide a robust and easy to use platform to provide an example for crowdsourcing.


What is it that makes LinkedIn a successful platform?  The subscription capabilities are the first thing; simple sign up and the ability to subscribe to focused topics by joining groups which allows participants to focus their attention in specific areas.  Another important aspect of the subscription process is the ability to invite new members to subscribe and by the same token to allow members to un-subscribe.  These two aspects of the subscription capabilities encourages active groups because a group will wither and die without interesting topics.  This provides an experimental aspect to the topics and groups that encourages trial and error.


The second aspect leading to the success of the LinkedIn platform is the subject notification and participation links. This supports the flipside of the crowdsourcing coin and without the participation there would be no need for topics or even participation platform.  Without the feedback loop It would simply be a broadcast network.  This participation provides a great method to gauge the popularity and importance of a topic simply though the measure of the responses to the topic. 


There is one final aspect of the crowdsourcing model to support the value and that is archiving the topics and responses.  This is not an aspect that is supported very well by LinkedIn but is a critical requirement for value generation in your crowdsourcing efforts. 


And now for the audience participation portion of the show…

How do you incorporate the different methods of communication to support your collaborative network needs and objectives?  Do you have a formal maintenance communication plan that your partners have participated in developing?  How does the informal communications methods impact and support the formal communications?  Have you developed an evaluation plan for your communications methods, a type of continuous improvement process for your communication methods and communications plans?

tbrouill

Crowdsourcing Topics

Posted by tbrouill Nov 22, 2014

I view crowdsourcing as a type of communication between and across your collaborative partner network.  As such it is important to select topics that are of interest to a wide variety of your partners to encourage participation.  These topics should focus on the business problems, networking improvements and then also a healthy dose of business and efficiency improvements.  These topics should be of interest to the broadest range of participants and in order to be of interest the participants must see an opportunity of benefit realized by participation.


The million dollar question though is how do you maintain a steady stream of topics that draw interest to the widest range of partners?  The only way to be successful in this effort is to engage your partners to bring their own topics to the group.  I think of it this way, crowdsourcing is analogous to a cocktail party where there are a wide variety of conversations taking place across and among the participants.  Some of these conversations involve one or two parties and some of these conversations involve six or ten participants.  All of these conversations are of interest to the participants and by the same token, all of these conversations won’t be of interest to everyone single person attending the party.


How is crowdsourcing the same type of activity?  Well, first of all you will have a wide variety of active topics at any one time.  This is important because this will engage the widest variety of participants.  Crowdsourcing is a social activity, in the same manner as Facebook or Google+, and in these types of social activities the number of participants is important to develop the most robust network and by the same token more valuable to the participants.  Crowdsourcing in this case is focused on business or professional type of social networking, it is social network though at its heart.  The secret to the success and benefits of the crowdsourcing practice is to generate a vast variety of  topics and then let your network participants identify the winners from the losers.


One of the most valuable features of crowdsourcing is also one of its most difficult to embrace, that is the fact that everyone is equal in this type of social network and in order to achieve the greatest benefit all partners must participate and in order for all partners to participate they must realize some benefits from their participation.  This must be a two way activity that all partners realize benefits and this means that sometimes you will not realize direct benefits from participation in every topic.  You must though participate in crowdsourcing as you would any other network activity and remember that you must make a deposit before you can make a withdrawal.  Crowdsourcing is the great equalizer across the large and the small and no one topic will generate interest just because a large and powerful participant presents the topic.


And now for the audience participation portion of the show…

How do you incorporate the different methods of communication to support your collaborative network needs and objectives?  Do you have a formal maintenance communication plan that your partners have participated in developing?  How does the informal communications methods impact and support the formal communications?  Have you developed an evaluation plan for your communications methods, a type of continuous improvement process for your communication methods and communications plans?

tbrouill

Crowdsourcing Methods

Posted by tbrouill Nov 19, 2014

Crowdsourcing methods are related to and supported by the tools as I mentioned previously.  These methods must be supported by the tools and next it is important that the tools and the methods be flexible to support changes and improvements in the methods that are identified and incorporated based on the executing and supporting these methods and tools.  Remember there are two keys to success, one is a focus on the process, people and technology involved in supporting the collaborative network and the other is maintaining the sequence of your focus as process, people and technology.  Do not allow the focus on technology to overcome the process no matter how much pressure.


One critical function of the crowdsourcing process is encouraging the participation of as many partners as possible.  This requires two factors to encourage the participation:

  1. A topic that is interesting to a broad range of partners.  This interest is generated by a topic that can provide benefits to the partners that participate.  In other words, in order to be successful you must select a topic that will provide benefits to the broadest range of partners.
  2. Ease of participation in the discussion through methods and technology.  The methods include maintaining a current distribution list of your collaborative network partners.  The technology is the communication methods such as social networking tools that allow partners to check in and check out of discussions very easily.


The way that I think is best to view the crowdsourcing is to think of it as an asynchronous conversation across a broad range of partners.  This can be as simple as something like a LinkedIn discussion where members are notified of the discussion and can easily check in to monitor and, or, participate as they desire.  This allows a broad spectrum of participation in a manner that does not require remembering to check in on the conversation.  The process that makes the LinkedIn discussion groups work so well is the regular updates regarding the discussions to the members of the group.  The development and use of private discussion groups ensure that all the members have the opportunity to participate.  Never underestimate the power of inclusion in this process, the key to collaboration and participation is generating the broad inclusion of all members of the collaborative network. 


Now then, after you’ve developed this process to maintain, coordinate and communicate the discussion you will need to develop a method to wrap up the discussion with a document of results that include the benefits to the members of incorporating the suggestions.  This should be developed from the beginning as a library of capabilities, processes and best practices to be utilized by the network.  This library must be open and available to the members at all times for reference.  This library is the reason for collaboration and will bring benefits in an on going basis.


And now for the audience participation portion of the show…

How do you incorporate the different methods of communication to support your collaborative network needs and objectives?  Do you have a formal maintenance communication plan that your partners have participated in developing?  How does the informal communications methods impact and support the formal communications?  Have you developed an evaluation plan for your communications methods, a type of continuous improvement process for your communication methods and communications plans?

tbrouill

Crowdsourcing Tools

Posted by tbrouill Nov 16, 2014

I have previously discussed that successful crowdsourcing across your collaborative partners depends on ease of access and use.  It is important then to identify tools that can easily be implemented and used across your network that are free.  I focus on the free tools because they provide an opportunity to experiment with your methods, practices and developing a framework before investing in  tools and technology.  I have previously advised many times that free collaboration tools are an optimal method to ‘try before you buy’ in your collaborative framework development.  This method allows you to turn your framework development methodology on it’s head because of the impact that a tool’s cost and methods play on the decisions.


Taking the cost of the tool out of the equation allows you to focus first on your own process before selecting a tool.  In order to have the greatest opportunity for success you must focus on Process, People and Technology in that specific order.  Taking the cost of technology out of this equation allows your focus to remain where it belongs; the process and the people.  In addition, taking the cost out of the technology acquisition allows you to make quick decisions and just as quickly discard bad decisions in your framework development and implementation. 


Process and framework development and implementation is an iterative process, it is very much a lean development process that must initially allow for and support quick and sometimes drastic decisions.  Taking the cost of software out of the equation allows you to move through this process in the most beneficial manner.  Think about it, if you’ve made the decision based on early analysis and decision to spend on a software tool you are less likely to discard that purchase, even if you find out later that the purchased tools do not support your best practice methods.


Another, and probably more important factor supporting the use of free tools at least initially is the acceptance and participation of your partners and especially your extended partners.  Since you have no control over your partners’ decisions to purchase and implement tools the cost is an important factor in their decision making process.  All in all, the acceptance and implementation of free tools is much greater than any decision requiring spending funds and especially funds that would support a soft return. 


Remember the crowdsourcing practice does not present a hard return on investment, it really presents the promise of potential value.  In this economy it is extremely difficult to expect your partners to spend on this type of soft return without a pilot to confirm the potential.  Therefore it is critical to the growth and expansion of your crowdsourcing collaborative effort to develop a low cost method to participate.


And now for the audience participation portion of the show…

How do you incorporate the different methods of communication to support your collaborative network needs and objectives?  Do you have a formal maintenance communication plan that your partners have participated in developing?  How does the informal communications methods impact and support the formal communications?  Have you developed an evaluation plan for your communications methods, a type of continuous improvement process for your communication methods and communications plans?

Crowdsourcing can be one of the most effective tools in your collaboration tool box to provide the benefit of collaborative solution delivery, engaging extended partners in your network and developing new partners for your network.  Crowdsourcing incorporates social networking tools into a framework that will quickly and efficiently engage participants to resolve a business challenge. The nature of crowdsourcing aligns with collaboration and supports the maintenance and development of your collaborative network.  It is important to incorporate a range of tools in your collaborative tool box in order to efficiently and effectively maintain and extend your network partnerships. 


Developing and maintaining your collaborative network is one of the most difficult factors in delivering long term value and benefits to the network.  You must overcome the natural tendencies for your partners to drift away and eventually abandon the network.  I think the most effective and even efficient methods to maintain the network is to encourage participation and then make that participation easy and interesting.  Providing a framework supporting easy and interesting participation can be difficult and requires the addition of a tool to support.  This framework is crowdsourcing and the tools are social networking tools.


A good example of a crowdsourcing framework is the hash tag communications practice in Twitter, that has spilled over now into so many areas of communications and networking.  The concept is very simple; define a topic as a hash tag and then all communications that include that hash tag can be tracked as one group for response and information.  This concept has been around for a very long time, from the grocery public notice board to email groups and chat groups, Twitter however has really taken the concept one leap forward by introducing the method to social networking and providing a tool that will broadcast the information, questions, comments publicly for the world to react.


I am referencing Twitter here to clarify the concept and the methods for developing your crowdsourcing framework, obviously you would not want to use an open public social networking framework for your extended partner collaboration framework.  However, I suggest that you should use the Twitter capabilities as your requirements starting point when you are going through your own crowdsourcing definition and tool selection process.  I also suggest that you focus on open and free networking tools to start with as you are developing your methods and process.  These tools should be easy to use and free so that your partners are encouraged to try. 


In order to be successful in developing the crowdsourcing collaboration across your extended partner network you must first eliminate as many hurdles and objections that you can.  Cost, availability and ease of use are three key hurdles that must be overcome.  I suggest following the Twitter model as your framework because it brings ease of use.  Then free networking tools address the remaining two hurdles; cost and availability.


And now for the audience participation portion of the show…

How do you incorporate the different methods of communication to support your collaborative network needs and objectives?  Do you have a formal maintenance communication plan that your partners have participated in developing?  How does the informal communications methods impact and support the formal communications?  Have you developed an evaluation plan for your communications methods, a type of continuous improvement process for your communication methods and communications plans?

Crowdsourcing can, and should, be viewed as a form of collaboration that can support fund raising, research in addition to engage your network partners.  I view crowdsourcing as a form of collaboration ‘light’ because it does not generally encourage the strong relationships and close partnership that traditional collaboration embodies.  Crowdsourcing does, however provide a valuable method to engage a broad range of participants in short activities or pieces of a broader project.  Crowdsourcing provides another tool in your toolbox of methods to encourage participation and introduction of partners to your network. 


Crowdsourcing can be used as an introduction to the benefits of collaboration.  This provides a focused objective that can be broadly shared across your network to encourage participation of your extended partners.  These extended partners may be new to your network or they may not be the close, inner circle, of strong partners.  This provides the method to broadcast a need and request response without requiring heavy participation or long involvement.  This method of introduction provides a framework for engaging and encouraging further participation.  This can provide a great introduction to power and value of collaboration to potential new partners and partners that may not engage actively in the collaborative network.


You will notice, I’m sure, that this is very similar to a Request for Information (RFI) process that has been utilized for many years in the business environment.  Crowdsourcing is quite a bit different though than the traditional RFI process because of both the type of requests and the type of responses.  These crowdsourcing requests can be as simple as one question and the process itself is more conversational.  The responses received also are more conversational and much less formal and are generally more simple responses than the traditional RFI process.  I think of the crowdsourcing method as the next generation of RFI, this is the RFI of the social networking age.


Crowdsourcing utilizes social networking tools and capabilities to quickly and efficiently move from a concept to a business benefit.  These tools support the crowdsourcing methods in an iterative, or agile method, to allow you to quickly form specific and short term collaborative networks to deliver business value.  Crowdsourcing should be thought of as the ‘agile’ RFI process.  This process provides two benefits, a quick turnaround from concept to business value and a quick method to engage extended partners in your network. Crowdsourcing becomes another tool in your collaboration toolbox that can and should be used to engage your extended network in short efficient bursts to deliver value to the network.


And now for the audience participation portion of the show…

How do you incorporate the different methods of communication to support your collaborative network needs and objectives?  Do you have a formal maintenance communication plan that your partners have participated in developing?  How does the informal communications methods impact and support the formal communications?  Have you developed an evaluation plan for your communications methods, a type of continuous improvement process for your communication methods and communications plans?

The life cycle of your collaboration network has a special flow due to the social relationship building and maintenance aspect of the network.  This life cycle is driven by the social networking aspects of your collaborative network and because of these social networking aspects the relationships goes through phases of strength and close participation to distance and low levels of participation.  This means that you must constantly focus on maintaining your existing relationships along with developing and expanding new relationships.


Think about your own social and professional network as a reference and example for the collaborative network.  In your own social networks you have a ring of close friends and acquaintances with whom you regularly interact.  You have your strongest relationships with this inner ring of friends, these are the people that you depend on for providing and receiving personal support and regular interaction.  Your effort to maintain these relationships may be relatively low although the time you spend interacting is very high in comparison to your outer social networking rings of friends and acquaintances. 


Think about how much time and effort went into developing these close relationships though and you will have a better understanding of the time and effort that you will need to extend to develop your collaborative network partnerships.  There are two distinct phases to the life cycle; developing the relationship and then maintaining the relationship.  These two phases are critical to understand and accept with focused participation in order to grow and maintain your collaborative network.  Both of these phases are equally important because failure to continue to participate, or a reduction in the time and effort devoted to either phase will result in atrophy and eventual death of your collaborative network partners.  For this reason it might be better to think of these phases based on the type of effort and time required to support them.


As an example of the type of entropy that will result if you reduce or don’t maintain the professional collaborative relationships, think about your own personal relationships, or even your professional relationships when you change jobs.  When you were going to school you probably had a good number of close friends and then a large number of acquaintances with whom you interacted. While you were in school you spent a good deal of your time, both during classes and weekends interacting and essentially maintaining these relationships.  When you graduated from school you probably maintained your relationships with your close friends and your relationship with your acquaintances dropped off due to drop off in time you spent maintaining those relationships.  Your collaborative network requires the same type of maintenance and a lack of maintenance will result in the same drop off in the relationships.


And now for the audience participation portion of the show…

How do you incorporate the different methods of communication to support your collaborative network needs and objectives?  Do you have a formal maintenance communication plan that your partners have participated in developing?  How does the informal communications methods impact and support the formal communications?  Have you developed an evaluation plan for your communications methods, a type of continuous improvement process for your communication methods and communications plans?

I have discussed previously the types of relationships that you will encounter and develop between and across your network as they relate to the types of information shared and level of participation.  It is also important to take into account the effort necessary to maintain and even grow the relationships based on the communication methods you are incorporating.  It is all well and good to understand and incorporate the tools to support the communication methods, however these tools will not magically make the relationship materialize and grow.  Making the relationship grow requires effort over  a long period of time.


This effort can be compared to learning any new skill, you must consciously engage and even schedule the activities until they become second nature to your everyday activities.  I believe that these activities are not standard operating procedures for most people.  The need must be recognized and then you must practice until it becomes second nature, at which point you will begin to enjoy both the effort and the results of the effort.  Relationships are difficult things to develop in both your personal and professional lives and they require start up effort and regular maintenance.


Once you have developed the relationship though the time and involvement does not stop.  You must continue to maintain these relationships to ensure they flourish and do not die off.  Collaboration and relationships require additional investments in both time and effort to maintain the relationships.  One additional point that is important to remember and account for is that these relationships and involvement will fluctuate based on the the availability and the value gained from the relationships.


It is important that the relationships deliver value to all involved parties.  This value generation is the driving factor to developing and maintaining the relationship.  Collaboration relationships require developing and maintaining a ‘win-win’ framework to encourage the long term participation of partners.  Your network partnerships will dry up and die if all partners involved do not perceive and realize a value.  In the beginning of the relationship development everyone involved is excited about developing new relationships and it is fun to learn about your partners and share experiences.  This will only carry the relationship so far and the factor that will encourage maintaining the relationship is the value that you and your partners will gain from the relationships.


The importance of developing and maintaining these relationships can and will be dramatic.  The effort you put into developing these relationships will be minor when you begin to realize the benefits of the relationships.  There is a increased start-up effort required though and this must be taken into account and accepted in the relationship development.  Then you must be prepared and plan to support the on going regular relationship management efforts.


And now for the audience participation portion of the show…

How do you incorporate the different methods of communication to support your collaborative network needs and objectives?  Do you have a formal maintenance communication plan that your partners have participated in developing?  How does the informal communications methods impact and support the formal communications?  Have you developed an evaluation plan for your communications methods, a type of continuous improvement process for your communication methods and communications plans?

As I mentioned previously, formal communications methods and plans provide a framework for the long term communications and connectivity of your collaborative network.  On the other side though comes the informal communications between and across your collaborative partners that provides color to the framework.  Informal communications include everything from the lunch or breakfast meetings and get togethers through the impromptu phone calls and emails to catch up and extend the conversations.  Formal communications have an agenda and a schedule while informal communications are free form and even spur of the moment.  That being said though don’t be mislead regarding the importance of informal communications!


Informal communications add and support the personal side of collaboration and without the personal side of collaboration you will revert back to the customer / service provider relationship. As I have previously discussed, there is a bit of a chicken and egg similarity to the formal and informal communications methods that support your collaborative network.  I don’t think it is important to dwell on which method should come first or even which method is more important, they are both important in supporting a vibrant and growing collaborative network. 


Informal communications methods build and support the growth of the social network that connects your collaborative partners and encourages participation.  These communications methods should be regular and more related to the social networking aspect and focus on building the team and relationships between members.  An important ingredient to the success of your network relationships is the personal side and informal communications methods focus on the informal side. 


Informal communications should first focus on giving and supporting your partners.  The old adage that you must make a deposit in your relationship before making a withdrawal is especially true in developing your collaborative partnerships.  You do not want to be viewed as the person that only calls when you need something, this detracts from the relationship rather than enhancing.  In addition, you don not want to be viewed as the person who only calls when you have a new service or product, this will also detract from the relationship.


When you come right down to it the informal communications methods can and should be very closely modeled after a business sales practice.  The most successful salesmen are the ones that do not come across as ‘selling’ to you.  The most successful salesmen develop a personal relationship with their clients and their key communications maintain the relationships through what I am calling informal communications methods.  In a successful collaborative network you want to foster the environment that is open and honest in supporting the needs of the partners.  The formal and informal communications methods are a critical ingredient to foster this type of environment.


And now for the audience participation portion of the show…

How do you incorporate the different methods of communication to support your collaborative network needs and objectives?  Do you have a formal maintenance communication plan that your partners have participated in developing?  How does the informal communications methods impact and support the formal communications?  Have you developed an evaluation plan for your communications methods, a type of continuous improvement process for your communication methods and communications plans?

Formal communications are important in your collaborative partnership network as a means to encourage and support continued communications that are required to maintain your network and partnerships.  Formal communication will keep the lines open and provide regular updates regarding progress and needs of the partners in your network.  The formal communications keep the lines open and the communications active and this is important to the success and long term growth of your network and partners. 


The formal communications as I’ve mentioned can be divided into two key types; maintenance of the communication, and focused or project based communications.  These two key types of communications themselves are focused on supporting two very different needs and objectives of the network.  The maintenance communications support the longer term overarching communications across the network and partners.  The focused, or project based, communications support the immediate needs of a project or initiative.  These two types are completely different and include completely different methods and tools to deliver their objectives.


The focused, or project based, communications type and methods follow the project management methodology practices you incorporate and agree to across your network.  These follow the communications of initiative status, risk management, change management and project schedule management.  Each of these types of communications have been generally accepted practices in project management methodology for a long time.  These practices must and will be incorporated in the projects and initiatives started in support of your network and partners.  The methods of these communications will be determined and agreed to in the initiation phase of the initiative.  These methods take on an added level of importance because of the nature of the participants spread across internal and external organizations.


Maintenance type communications are the plumbing, or the infrastructure, of the partnership network communications.  These communications methods maintain the open communications in a manner similar to newspapers, or magazine, or web publications in that the information is published for public consumption.  These methods of passive communications are important to provide information in a method that allows your partners to choose the time and the type of information they consume.  Another type of maintenance communications is events or conferences or conventions.  This type of maintenance communications is active and encourages the participation and support of the partners.  The event encourages participation of the partners through presentations of successful initiatives and new events and opportunities in the network. 


Formal communications provide the infrastructure and framework to support on-going and regular communications.  This type of communication is important to the maintenance of the collaborative network because of the planned and continuous nature of the communications.  This provides the regular updates and reminders of both the capabilities and the needs of your partners. 


And now for the audience participation portion of the show…

How do you incorporate the different methods of communication to support your collaborative network needs and objectives?  Do you have a formal maintenance communication plan that your partners have participated in developing?  How does the informal communications methods impact and support the formal communications?  Have you developed an evaluation plan for your communications methods, a type of continuous improvement process for your communication methods and communications plans?

I consider two key types of communications that are part of your collaboration partnership network; formal communications that are directed and planned, and informal communications that are ad hoc and more like social communications. Each of these types of communications are important to the success and growth in both span and maturity of your network.  In addition, each of these types of communications supports the other in filling out the relationships and providing depth and strength to the relationships.  I have said many times to many people that it is hard to dislike someone after you’ve eaten with them as a means of building the relationship.


It is common discussion that body language and speaking tone are important aspects of communications and without the face-to-face interaction the communications can easily become misunderstood.  You must work harder to be clear in your communications when the visual and tonal aspects are missing or not available.  The same can be said of the two communications types of formal and informal; you must have the informal communications to build the framework that will support the formal communications more effectively and efficiently. 


Your collaborative network will start with the formal communications of interacting with a partner to either provide or receive a service.  This interaction will grow and develop through providing mutual benefits.  With this growth there will be an expansion of the formal communications to support initiatives and improvements to the capabilities and the partnerships.  This growth in formal communications is necessary to ensure the successful delivery and maintenance of the initiatives.  It is also necessary when the number of participants grows in order to ensure the expectations and direction are clearly understood and executed in a planned manner. 


Personal relationships and resulting informal communications is a natural result coming from the formal communications and initiative interactions that should be encouraged in the collaborative network.  These informal communications and personal relationships become the glue that grows and strengthens the partnerships.  The sequence of the type of communications is not important, it is a type of chicken and the egg question, what is important is building and growing the relationships through informal communications.  The fact of the matter is that it doesn’t really matter which comes first, formal or informal communications, it is important though that the two types of communications are developed and encouraged.


Humans are social animals that crave the community and social interaction of the community.  Your communications types and plans must take this base into account in order to be successful in communications and grow the collaborative partnership network.  These two types of communication are critical to the growth and stability.


And now for the audience participation portion of the show…

How do you identify and address new opportunities in your current business market?  Have you ever tried to develop a SWOT focused on new business opportunities or new markets  to evaluate the fit for partnership and as a means to address and meet new opportunities?  Do you regularly develop a SWOT analysis to evaluate your internal capabilities and needs to support new business and market opportunities?