Thoughts on ways to improve the management of professional services firms

Monday, October 16, 2006

Using Blogs - and other new technology

Photo: Me and dad outside our hotel, Paris December 2004. Clare Belshaw's blog

In an earlier post I spoke of the question posed on the US Learning Circuits blog, should all learning professionals be blogging. The approach adopted - an open question with people responding on their own blogs - generated a large response. Now Dave Lee is trying to encourage a follow up discussion.

Looking at the low response I think that that people are now blogged out so to speak, that the revised question is perhaps too narrowly defined. However, it does give me an opportunity to talk about some of the things I have been mulling over.

Recently I have been trying to get some of my fellow professionals to consider not just blogging, but other new technology approaches to supporting their work. I am not talking about "big" technology here, rather simple approaches that people can use with minimum support. I must say that I have not had great success.

I understand all the reasons for this, but it still frustrates me. I am not in any personal sense a technology leader. I have been working with new technology for many years and remain a technology lagger. So I take something up when I find it useful. But having done so I then become a strong supporter. Hence my frustration.

Given all this, I thought that I might share with you some of the ways that I do use things such as blogging, as well as the things that I have learned.

Use of Blogs to Keep in Touch

I work mainly from home. This is partially a function of the work I do, but also reflects a decision taken several years ago that I wanted the opportunity to enjoy my daughters as they were growing up. I have gained enormously. But the decision also imposed very real costs, one of which has been a degree of isolation. Earlier this year I began to wonder if my knowledge was still up to date, was I falling behind. I now know that this is not the case.

At the time I started really focusing on blogging I had not fully realized the fundamental change that had already taken place in the blogosphere, the fact that a remarkable number of professionals around the world were using blogs for discussion, as a marketing tool, as a way of promoting their ideas. Further, because they posted so frequently, in many cases 3-5 times per week, there was a currency to their comments making it easy to see trends. In addition, the comment facility on blogs allowed for a degree of response and interaction, making knowledge transfer easier while also building contacts.

Perhaps the most important feature of blogging at this level is the way it acts as a huge information screening device. Most bloggers look round their world for things of interest to them and then include links in their posts.

I presently monitor some fifteen key blogs on a daily basis, quickly scanning to look for things of interest. Given average post patterns, this means that I scan up to 12 posts per day, reading some in more detail. The 12 posts will probably contain up to 30 links, of which I will click through on 3-4 and again scan. 30-40 minutes per day keeps me in touch in a way that is simply not possible with either conventional web searches or the print media.

Note that I do not use feeds. I get over 100 emails a day as it is. I prefer to control my own search and review process.

Overall, perhaps it is not surprising that blogs have taken over as a key information resource for so many professionals. Certainly I no longer feel either stale or isolated. I know that my professional competency still stands up on a global basis, and that's not a bad thing to know.

Blogs as a Tool for Dialogue

I find blogs a useful tool for dialogue, establishing new linkages. Let me take two examples to illustrate.

The linkages established through Learning Circuits means that I now have access to experts who know far more about aspects of learning and development than I do. If I have a problem, I can ask. Why is this important? Well, I think that new approaches to learning and development are critical to improved performance in professional services. So I can take the knowledge of others who perhaps know little about professional services but a lot about learning and development and try to make it relevant to the management of a professional services firm.

Then, too, I have been monitoring the efforts of Chris Marston, CEO of Exemplar, to establish a blog focused on the development of Exemplar as a new type of law firm. I first came across Chris through the blogs of Bruce MacEwen and David Maister. I monitored Chris's blog for a few months to get a feel and have just started to comment.

Again, why is this important? Well, I am interested in Chris's experiences as a CEO because it may tell me things that I can use on this blog and in my advice to clients. I think, too, that I may have something that I can contribute to him.

Use of Simple Technologyto support Service Delivery

One of my constant messages on this blog is the need for the professions to learn from each other. Linking this to the core message in this story.

Teachers are one of our most important and least recognised professional groups.

In 2002, Neil Whitfield had to take over an Advanced English class at Sydney Boy's High, one of NSW's selective secondary schools. He got outstanding exam results. One technique that Neil used was a simple web site giving his students access 24/7 to key information. I asked my daughters about this. They thought that it was a marvelous idea.

In 2002 I was running a Front Line Management training course for R&D staff at Aristocrat, the world's largest manufacturer of gaming machines. A web site giving my group 24/7 access would have been a wonderful idea. I did not even think of it.

So my point is that every professional and professional services firm needs to think about how best to use the technology now available.

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