Communication Control to Collaborative Communication

In many organizations, there are two main streams of communication: the officially-sanctioned media and what’s actually used to learn the information. Instead of taking a “command and control” approach to these communications, there are ways to make it more collaborative.

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A KISS of Cognitive Load

KISS is a common acronym: Keep It Simple, Stupid. This video explains why it’s important for your communications.

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Emotional Appraisal Theory + Zeigarnik Effect => Anxiety

Organizations are struggling to communicate with employees. Reports are consistent in that employees don’t believe their organization communicates effectively. One 2014 About.com survey is summarized in an article titled “Why lack of communication has become the number one reason people quit.” One of the specific findings was that employees don’t feel like change is communicated well. Most corporate communicators believe they’re communicating well, but the employees disagree.

Some of the challenges with communicating are real. We don’t repeat the message, or we don’t use communication channels that reach the employees. Those are misses that, given enough resources, we can address, but even communicators who effectively repeat the message and use multiple communications channels find that their communications still aren’t making it through. Communicators can review their use of best practices like inverted pyramid writing and writing taglines or titles that tease rather than inform.

The problem may be not so much that employees don’t hear the message, but rather they don’t understand what it means to them.

WIII-FM

Everyone listens to one radio station – WIII-FM. That is, in their own head, they always listen to “What is in it – for me?” They always evaluate the news from the perspective of how it impacts them. Sometimes we call it relevance. Sometimes we call it importance. Whatever we call it, employees are trying to understand how what we’re saying impacts their security, opportunity, and day-to-day work.

It’s a challenge to communicate across the organization and simultaneously speak into each person’s world. Good communicators use the primary communication to provide framing and then offer secondary support in the form of manager coaching about how they can – and should – communicate to their team about the specific impacts to them.

The problem is that even when the technical details of a change are communicated well, employees can feel like the change isn’t communicated well, because they don’t have a way to appraise the situation or know how to feel.

Emotional Appraisal Theory

One of the theories about how our emotions are formed includes a step between the reality of the situation, where our brain appraises the situation, and its impact on us. Richard Lazarus, in Emotion and Adaptation, explains that we evaluate our situation primarily from the context of whether it is:

  • Goal Relevant – Whether we believe it matters to me or not. This is the basic “Do I care?” filter.
  • Goal Congruent – Is the information in alignment with my goals – or not?
  • Ego Involvement – Based on my own idiosyncratic background, how does this news threaten what I believe about myself?

He further explains that there’s a secondary set of appraisal criteria, which shame our emotions about a situation:

  • Attribution (Blame/Credit) – Can we assign credit or blame for the situation to an another individual or to ourselves?
  • Coping Potential – Do we believe that we’ve got the capacity to cope with the news?
  • Future Expectancy – Do we expect that the situation will improve or get worse? (In essence, do we have hope?)

The appraisal of our situation based on these criteria shapes how we’ll respond emotionally to the information. The challenge for corporate communicators who hope to help employees feel good about their employment is ensuring that employees can evaluate information – even bad information – in a good light.

One problem that we fall into is that we communicate insufficient, incomplete, and partial information without expecting when more information will come, and, as a result, we accidently stumble onto the Zeigarnik Effect.

Zeigarnik Effect

Simply put, the Zeigarnik Effect says that we remember more strongly things that are incomplete than those that we’ve completed. It’s the reason why the song that is on the radio when you turn your car off can get stuck in your head. It’s the reason why we ruminate over the things that we didn’t get done.

When you communicate incomplete information – or information that can’t be completely processed by the employee – the necessary effect is that the employee will be focused on it. If you communicate ninety-nine things well and one not so well, which one will your fellow employees remember? Because of the Zeigarnik Effect (and perhaps a bit of negative bias), they will remember that one thing. In that one thing, they’ll find frustration.

Frustration because they can’t figure out what it means to them, because the information isn’t available to them. That frustration sets the emotional backdrop for an anxiety-producing situation.

Anxiety

Anxiety is simply a fear that there is an unknown issue that will negatively impact you or your goals. It is fear, but it’s not a fear that can be resolved, because there’s not a specific, known threat. Anxiety is produced when there are real risks that can’t be articulated – or when our brains fill in the gaps in the information that we have, and we fill it in with whatever seems most useful now.

When starting with a frustrated state, the information, ideas, and systems that get filled in can have a negative bias. The result is a set of predictions about things that might happen that would make the situation worse – and thus anxiety.

Changing the Equation

The good news is that, by specifically targeting the emotional appraisals that Lazarus points out, we can limit the degree to which people are unable to resolve how they feel, the Zeigarnik Effect, and, in the end, the anxiety that is produced. Less anxiety in our employees translates into greater psychological safety, more engagement, and lower turnover.

In the end, we want our communicators to be able to lower our turnover.

Using InfoPath Today (Not Just Say “No”)

My friend Mark Rackley sent a note out a few weeks ago asking for a video saying “no” to InfoPath. I politely told him no – to the request. Not because I think InfoPath is an up and coming technology, but because I don’t like what I’ll call “grumpy old men” posts. (His post is Seriously, It’s Time, Just Say “No” to InfoPath.) My hope with this post is to find a more balanced view – and to work on a path forward rather than shaming you into believing that you’re somehow bad because you have InfoPath forms in your environment.

I’ve been trying to help people do the right things with SharePoint (and associated technologies) since 2008. That’s when we released the first SharePoint Shepherd’s Guide. I think that getting off InfoPath is the right path. At the same time, I want people to know the path forward. I want there to be a way to learn how to create forms in new technologies that do the same or similar things that InfoPath does.

Creating vs. Using

The first point of balance is the distinction between creating new forms and having users fill out old forms. These are two different things. Users filling out existing forms is just a matter of converting the form to a newer technology when it’s appropriate. The end of life for InfoPath is set. In 2026, support will end. That still seems like a long way off, and it is. That isn’t to say we shouldn’t start the process of migration from InfoPath, it’s saying that the sky isn’t falling.

Certainly, if you’re creating new forms in InfoPath, you’re creating technical debt. You’re creating more work you’ll need to do in the future. That’s why, if you’re trying to kick an InfoPath habit, the first place to start is with new forms. The second place to go is to update the forms to a new forms technology when you must revise them. I’ll come back to both of these scenarios in a moment, but for now, let’s address the cost of technical debt.

The Cost of Technical Debt

Mark quotes another good friend, Sue Hanley, as saying the cost of technical debt increases over time, so you should start to work on it immediately. As a software developer and in a software development world, this is true. However, the role of InfoPath isn’t exactly that. Certainly, if you continue creating forms, you’re creating greater technical debt. However, if you don’t create or revise existing forms, your technical debt is actually going down – but only slightly.

First, let’s do an analogy. Let’s say that you can borrow money at 4% interest (say on a house), and you can reasonably expect an 8% return on an investment (say in the stock market). In that case, you should really keep as large of a mortgage as possible and invest the money in the stock market. From a sheer numbers point of view, you’re money ahead. Of course, there’s risk and uncertainty, but over the long term, keeping a mortgage and money in the market at the same time is financially profitable – at least slightly. Few people recommend this kind of a strategy even though it’s financially a sound practice.

In the case of InfoPath, the longer you wait – up to a point – the greater number of features you used in InfoPath will be available in other ways, the better the usability of the new tools will become, and the better the education will become. The net effect of this is that your cost to convert – if you’re not adding to your existing forms – will be smaller. That being said, it may not be enough to justify the risk that you’ll run out of time if you wait too long.

There Isn’t a Migration Strategy

There’s not going to be a magic wizard that will convert all your forms into another Microsoft technology. PowerApps, the “heir” to the forms legacy, isn’t built the same way, so there’s no one-to-one mapping between what we did in InfoPath and how it’s done in PowerApps. If you’re planning on staying on Microsoft technology for forms, you’re going to have to do the heavy lifting of converting your forms by hand.

As Mark points out, there are a few third parties that have InfoPath converters already. It’s a big market, and there may be more forms vendors that want a piece of this market. In the worst-case scenario, you might be able to defer the cost of changing your forms until near the end of support, and then use the automated conversion to another technology. The risk here is that the converter technology won’t handle the tricks you used with your complex forms. It’s another possibility for deferring the investment – but it’s not one that I’d recommend unless you’re absolutely backed into a corner.

It’s a Modern World

SharePoint’s modern pages are beautiful and responsive in ways that the classic interface could never be. If you’re delivering your InfoPath forms via the browser and InfoPath Forms Services, you’ll never get the beautiful modern experience, because InfoPath Forms Services isn’t going to get an upgrade to modern. This can be an issue once you’ve made the change to all modern, but if you’re still working with an on-premises server, it’s likely that you’ve not yet made the switch.

The good news is that the forms will continue to work – they’ll just have a classic interface.

Creating New Forms

The real rub for the InfoPath end of life comes for those organizations that are still creating new InfoPath forms because they know how to do it – and they don’t know how to do the same things in PowerApps. In most cases, it’s time to bite the bullet and learn how to accomplish the same objective in PowerApps rather than creating more technical debt with an InfoPath form.

Even if you’re just modifying an InfoPath form, it’s time to consider your other options. It may be that the form is simple, and you can use a SharePoint list form to capture the data, or a very lightly modified PowerApps form attached to a list. If that’s the case, then make the change today. Where you’re going to have to touch the form, you might as well see if you can get it converted quickly.

The big problem comes in the form of situations where there’s no clear answer as to how to convert an InfoPath form to PowerApps, because there’s no published guidance on how to do what you used to do in InfoPath inside of PowerApps or some other forms tool.

InfoPath Feature to PowerApps Conversion

Here’s where I get to be a shepherd again. First, we’re building a list of things you used to do in InfoPath (features, techniques, approaches) and the way to do them in PowerApps. The InfoPath to PowerApps conversion list is on the SharePoint Shepherd site. Go there and see if the thing you want to do is already listed.

Second, if you don’t see what you need on the list, send us an email at Shepherd@SharePointShepherd.com, and we’ll see if we can understand what you’re doing in InfoPath and how it might be done in PowerApps. Please feel free to send us an example of what you’re doing (but please don’t send your actual forms).

Finally, Laura Rogers has excellent resources for PowerApps training. If you’re interested, she’s got a PowerApps Basics course, or you can click here to see all the courses she has to offer.

The Fundamentals of User Adoption: Hassle Maps

I struggle with the curse of knowledge. I’ve learned things, and I can’t remember the world before I knew what I’ve learned. Whether it’s something trivial and technical like how to wire an ethernet cable or solder a connection to make an old-time serial connection, it’s difficult – but not quite impossible – to see what it’s like to not know these things. (See The Art of Explanation for more on the curse of knowledge.) The problem is that when I, and everyone else, begin to build a path for my users to adopt a technology, I forget that I know things that they don’t. The results that are simple to me become mountains the users can’t or won’t climb.

Keeping Secrets

I’m sitting at my desk working away, and, unbeknownst to me, my wife is watching me. Her desk is right next to mine, and it’s just a quick glance from her computer screen to mine and vice-versa. My concentration is interrupted when she exclaims, “How did you do that?” I come out of the concentration, like someone awoken from a sound sleep, trying to understand the question and ask, “What?” She explains that I caused something to happen she’d never seen before. It might have been as simple as switching programs with a few keypresses or something more complex, like moving information from one program to another.

The running joke is that I’m keeping secrets from her. I knew something that I wasn’t telling her that would make her life easier. From my point of view, I wasn’t keeping a secret at all. From my point of view, it was something I had learned and was using, but I hadn’t even considered that I was using it. From the simple Alt-Tab to switch programs in Windows to the more complicated techniques for copying notes from my Kindle books into One Note, there are things I had learned along the way that she didn’t know. They could help me but not her.

[If you’re interested, our 30 Office Tips and Secret SharePoint projects both came largely from these “secrets” that I was keeping.]

When it comes to being able to use the tools that you have, sometimes the problem is a simple answer that you don’t know – it’s a secret that drives you towards work arounds and seemingly irrational behaviors.

Irrational Behaviors

Most of us believe we’re rational beings. We delude ourselves into thinking that we behave logically. We ignore the chief financial officer who’s driving the fancy new car. We look away from the upgraded airline seats when we know it’s more expensive than a meal at a good restaurant. The decisions we make that aren’t rational are all around us, but we choose not to see them. We buy things for status and recognition rather than practicality and still insist that we’re rational creatures.

The truth is that we’re not rational creatures. We’re predictably irrational (see Dan Airely’s book, Predictably Irrational). We have a hidden brain that is silently shaping our thoughts and decisions. (See Incognito for remarkable insights into the illusions that our brain creates.) Daniel Kahneman explains in Thinking, Fast and Slow that our emotional, automatic parts of our brain lie to our rational brain, allowing it to think it’s in control and that it has the full information. Jonathan Haidt uses an elephant-rider-path model to create a powerful image for how much our control our emotions (the elephant) have and the reason why our reason (the rider) seems to be in control. (See The Happiness Hypothesis.)

The upshot of all of this is we would love to say that small things are really small things, and they don’t change our behavior. But they really do. A little nudge here or there can change your diet from unhealthy to healthy – or vice versa. If you change the order of the items on the menu so healthier options are more prominent, more people order healthy options. It’s simple, subtle, and subconscious, but it works. (See Nudge for more on the impact of nudges.)

The Short Walk

A few minutes of walking shouldn’t matter. The problem is that it does. Zipcar was having trouble getting the level of subscriptions necessary to make the system work. Zipcar is a shared car service that allows members to get a car when they need it rather than owning it. In large cities, there’s very few reasons to own a car and they’re expensive. Zipcar allows people to get short-term use of a car without the hassle and cost per use of a traditional car rental place, but it requires a subscription for the privilege of access.

Cars were parked a ten-minute walk away, and they couldn’t get subscribers. The strategy was changed so that cars were within a five-minute walk, and the subscriptions shot up. They found a discontinuity. They found a place where something small that shouldn’t have mattered did. After all, a few minutes wouldn’t materially change a person’s trip, but it did trip some sort of an internal switch about what was and wasn’t a good plan. (See Demand for more on this story.)

The Ethnographic Study

Ethnography is most often associated with anthropologists who are off in the wilderness discovering new tribes of never visited people. It’s wild and adventurous. It’s also mostly fiction. The days of discovering new tribes of people untouched by modern civilization is largely gone. However, that isn’t to say there aren’t millions of people who aren’t understood. Ethnography is about simply learning about other humans without judgement or reframing. At its best, ethnography exposes the hidden complexities of another human’s life. It shows the struggles they go through that we don’t even consider.

Fancy design firms prefer to call their ethnography “user studies” or observational studies, because apparently that means you can charge more for them. However, the fundamental approach is the same. Join the studied group’s world with as minimal disruption as possible, and write down what you see. What tends to happen is you begin to see the hidden hassles that make up the person’s world. (See The Ethnographic Interview for more on this process.)

The Hassle Map

Zipcar had stumbled onto a hidden hassle for car use. Most users wouldn’t move past the hassle to buy a subscription and access the car. The message for those of us trying to drive organizational change is that small things are getting in the way of our users doing what they need to do. It can be as small as a minor bit of knowledge that is missing – that we can’t even see is missing – or it can require some sort of a structural change to the way things are done. However, a small change can make a big difference.

The default option is a powerful force, whether it’s the default file save location or the eye-level cereals in the grocery store. Whatever is easy and noticeable is what tends to be chosen. Have you changed the default option to the behavior you want?

Have you identified the small hassles that seem like nothing but can seem insurmountable to the user? Is requesting access easy but not perceived as easy? Do questions like cost centers and reporting structures scare away the intern just looking for a place to share the documents they produce?

The simple but frustrating reality is that small hassles will stop users from taking rational behaviors. Our goal in organizational change and user adoption is to minimize as many of the small hassles as we can, so fewer people abandon our desired change.

Time to Talk Tantalizing Teasers

We need people to read our emails, no matter what the subject matter. Lucky for us, there are ways to engage, intrigue, and tantalize our readers without our communications being dry as a desert. We discuss some of these techniques in this video.

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Fundamentals of User Adoption: Five Factors

The fundamentals of user adoption were discovered in a corn field in Iowa before 1962. For decades, these fundamentals have been used to explain the growth of technology. You’ve probably seen the adoption bell curve with the labels of innovators, early adopters, majority, and laggards. But you may not have known where it came from or what it means for you as you’re trying to roll out your latest IT project. Everyone is focused on the communication and internal marketing of the solutions, but they’ve forgot to tune into “what is in it for me” (WIII-FM) radio. What appears complicated on the surface isn’t impossible if you break it down.

Down on the Farm

In the two decades starting in 1950 and ending in 1970, US farmers moved from feeding 14 people per farmer to 47. This greater than three-fold increase came due to innovation changing the way farming was done. Numerous changes that arrived one after another greatly improved productivity and at the same time greatly reduced the value of the crops that were being produced. Farmers who took advantage of the innovations became very wealthy. Those who didn’t found that the same level of production yielded them less money. The economics of supply and demand pushed the price per bushel down, so to even maintain their financial footing, farmers were forced to adopt new innovations.

The Iowa State University Agricultural Extension Service and a man named Everett Rogers studied how innovations were adopted in the hopes of helping Iowa farmers adopt innovations faster – thereby helping Iowa’s farming economy remain strong. He and his colleagues discovered that there were five factors that led to adoption of an innovation.

The Five Factors

When left to its natural progression, only five things matter when it comes to how quickly an innovation will be diffused through the market. They are:

  • Relative Advantage – To the person adopting the innovation, is the change 3%, 30%, or in the case of the farming innovations, 300% better? The greater the relative advantage, the quicker the innovation will be adopted.
  • Compatibility – How compatible is the innovation with what you’re currently doing? Hydroponics might be a more effective way to grow plants, but if it’s not what you’re set up to do, it may be of little value.
  • Lack of Apparent Complexity – Here, complexity works against you. The more complex the problem seems, the less likely the innovation is to be adopted. If you can make an innovation appear simple, it will be more widely adopted.
  • Trialability – The more someone can try the innovation and roll back to the way things were working before the innovation, the more likely they are to try it. This increases safety and makes the decision less risky.
  • Observability – How observable are the changes others make, both in terms of the change itself and in terms of the relative advantage? The more observable, the more rapidly the innovation will be adopted.

The more you can manipulate these factors effectively, the greater the changes are that you can get user adoption.

Manipulating Relative Advantage

The biggest lever we have in increasing adoption is changing the relative advantage. Even when we can’t change the literal relative advantage, we can change the perception of the relative advantage. Most user adoption work focuses on communicating the value of the change to the individual users.

The mistake that is often made in this is to communicate the advantage to the organization rather than the individual. Everyone listens to the messages being sent via WIII-FM. They want to know “What is in it for me?” By communicating the impact of the proposed change to the user in terms of how it will impact them and the organization, the relative advantage is more tangible and adoption is increased.

Of course, listening to the user and considering what’s in it for them personally may lead you to service-level changes that does improve the relative advantage to them.

Manipulating Apparent Complexity

Sometimes subject matter experts are so enamored with what they’ve built that they offer too much detail. They communicate the “advanced options” when the user just needs the basics. Consider the car you drive. Most of the time, you don’t care how the engine gets the greatest fuel efficiency with variable valve timing. When you tell someone that such a thing exists, they begin to wonder about it and, in some cases, worry about it.

In your communication, you can focus on the important parts like the gas pedal, break, steering wheel, and turn signals. If fuel efficiency is important, communicate that it’s handled, but don’t go into details unless pressed. You’re walking a line between allowing users to make up their own stories about what’s happening and giving them so many details that it “feels” too complex.

Manipulating Observability

One of the most effective ways of driving user adoption of any technology in your organization is by increasing the visibility of the successes. Whether they’re the presenters for show-and-tell, case studies, or something else, publicizing successes is important to helping others know that they could be more successful, too – if they would just adopt your new technology.

Learning More

If you’re interested in learning more about Everett Roger’s work, you can read more in Diffusion of Innovations.

Writing Like an Egyptian

You’ve heard of walking like an Egyptian, now we want you to write like one. Well, in a way. This video discusses what’s called “inverted pyramid” writing and why you should use it in your corporate communications.

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This is a Story

Humans are born storytellers. Whether you believe you’re creatively inclined or not, we’re all masters of storytelling. In this video, we discuss how to use stories in a professional setting – yes, it’s okay to do that – and why they’re so good at engaging and educating.

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The Signal and the Noise

Ever notice how easy it is for conversations to be drowned out in a crowded place? It’s frustrating when you need to communicate with someone right next to you, but there’s too much noise to be heard. This video will help you cut through the noise and get your signals through in your corporate setting.

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