Week 134

A look at how lessons from parent-teacher relationships at schools could be applied to community management and customer service.

Parent-teacher relationships and community management

Last week I met with a teacher at a primary school in our neighborhood in Mitte, both to get some input for our project on technology and autodidactic learning and to get some hints for my career pursuits. We discussed the nature of the school community and how to bring technology into the classroom – to the benefit of both the teacher and the students.

In terms of community management, parents of schoolchildren are a really interesting community to look at. The school is providing a service to the children as well as to their parents, who of course are deeply invested in seeing their children do well. My teacher acquaintance told me she has had plenty of colleagues who are afraid of parents, and who try to avoid them and their concerned questioning whenever possible. She has some interesting strategies for developing a good relationship with the parents and avoiding conflict, and these can be applied in many more areas of work than education. (If in search of business advice, for “parents,” read “customers.”)

Her philosophy when it comes to working with parents is complete transparency. She spends the first few months of the schoolyear concentrating on communicating with parents, as well as getting to know the kids. She makes sure parents know both how to contact her and that they are welcome to do so, and she takes time to answer their questions promptly and in detail. She mentioned that she uses Pinterest to collect her ideas about primary teaching and more specifically teaching math, both so that she can have a collection to refer back to and so she can quickly share links with parents about her teaching philosophy and methods. If they have any concerns or specific questions about her methods, she invites them into her classroom to watch class as it’s happening and see for themselves what it’s like. She said it’s especially from this gesture that she gets a lot of respect, since parents can then see how much patience and skill it takes to manage a 20-strong classroom of young children, and since they can understand more clearly why she goes about things the way she does.

This creates an atmosphere of trust and open discussion – she has nothing to hide from them, and there is no reason for parents to get upset if they know they can voice their concerns without hesitation. She is also able to feel more confident in her work, knowing that she and the parents are on the same page. They are also on same side – clearly working towards a common goal. This way she can make allies out of potential critics and opponents.

Transferring these ideas to business: this teacher, if she were a business, would be exemplary. In order to make her own work more effective, she gets her customers on her side, letting them in on the process and establishing trust.

Week 61: Developing Strategies

How to develop a strategy with the help of mindmaps and whitewalls, the difficulty of teaching community management and our well received series on the Quantified Self.

A strategy emerges

After finishing up our initial research project for our biggest client, we’re now deep into the main strategy work. A lot of insights and ideas have been created and it’s now time to bring order to the chaos of our material to develop a strategy that can be the basis for the next years.

At this stage, I like to get going with a big, fat mindmap. My mind comes up with all kinds of thoughts and little ideas, but never in the right order. So I can either try to focus on the part of strategy I should be working on right now and throw all the irrelevant stuff that belongs to other parts out the window. Or I can embrace the weirdness of my mind and just capture everything that it spits out into a mindmap that makes it really easy to restructure everything all the time.
I’m not a big fan of first creating a structure and then trying to fill it. My brain just doesn’t work like that. I prefer to capture all the stuff that comes to mind and then start to sort through it all. I want to discover the structure that emerges out of the material, rather than pressing the material into a prefabbed frame. I use tools like frameworks only afterwards to test the structure and see if I’ve missed something.

My favorite mindmapping tool is mindmeister. It’s a web app that also allows my colleagues to review and enhance my maps. mindmeister has done a remarkable job, especially with their latest version. They also provide apps for iPhone, iPad and Android. I’m a happy paying customer.

After capturing all the material in a mindmap, I make several runs at organizing it. What helps me at this stage, is putting the major topics and ideas on our office walls with the help of “magic paper”. It’s much easier to spot the red threads when I can take a few steps back and look at the whole picture. It’s the opposite of diving deep into a mindmap branch to flesh out a detail. The walls with the ideas are also super helpful when I’m discussing them with Peter and Igor. At this point I’m so deep into it all that I often can’t see the forrest for the trees. Two of us reflecting back on what the third has worked on, is one of the biggest joys of working together. It always takes us to a new level.

So there you have it. Mindmaps, white walls with magic paper and smart colleagues are the secret to my strategy work.

DDA Community Management Lecture

I spent last Thursday in Hamburg to teach a four hour lecture about community management at the dda. It always feels a bit strange to teach these kind of topics as it seems like there’s not really an agreed upon way to do Community Management or other topics in Social Media. And it’s all changing constantly. So my approach is to teach the mindset of how to approach social media. I talk much more about passion for communicating than how to choose one software over another. My hope is always that the audience will understand that a professional involvement in the social web is about constant learning and experimenting, driven by enthusiasm. Especially community management can be a very exhausting task that will sometimes make you lose your faith in humanity. If you just see it as your current job that pays the bills, you will fail and burn out inevitably. But if you discover your fervor for it, it can be a very fulfilling work.

The Quantified Self series

It took us by surprise how well our series on the Quantified Self has been received so far. We’ve gotten a lot of nice feedback which definitely has encouraged us to keep going and write more about the topic. Last Wednesday, Peter and I have been interviewed for a show on that topic on Deutschlandradio Kultur. It’s always very cool to get asked some smart questions that make you think beyond the stuff that you already have on your mind. We can’t wait to hear the results on air.

#FatSIX and coffee

As we’re heading into this christmas season, we’ve decided to postpone our official Friday afterwork drinks #FatSIX until spring as it’s much more difficult to bring a lot of people together when you can’t stand outside. But that doesn’t mean that we will stop having drinks with friends and acquaintances throughout the winter. If you want to come by for a coffee or would like to join us for some drinks after work, just ping us. If we can make it, we’re always happy to join.