Monthly Archives: August 2011

My email policy

In an effort to increase my own personal productivity and improve my work-life balance, I am only treating emails on Sundays and Wednesdays. This idea came to me as a direct result of re-reading Tim Ferriss’ “4 Hour Work Week” this summer.


In one part of the book, Tim discusses the Pareto principle and its many applications in business and personal work. Looking at how I spend my time, I listed working activities and tried to identify which ones are the most crucial and how much time I spend on them (and when). With regard to email, I saw that I was basically reading and replying to emails all the time, with little special effect. What I should be doing all the time is developing and delivering learning solutions. Or having a life!

Example: During the pauses in a training day, my participants would go off to eat, drink a coffee or just get some fresh air. They would regularly ask me if I was coming and I would reply that I’d first check my emails. Before I knew it, the break time was up. This was happening almost every day. I have decided now to prioritise break time!


Another part of Tim’s book got me asking myself: What are the things that I appear to be very efficient at, but which are not necessarily mission critical tasks? Again: Email!

When I started as a freelancer, I didn’t own a Blackberry. I would train all day (except for having breaks!), get home late and then read my emails. My wife was not happy! (Nor was I). So, I bought a Blackberry in order to receive, read and reply to emails and no longer be restricted to my laptop connection. Read email whenever I wanted?! Wow! Result: Read email all the time! Even on holiday… I had become extremely efficient at replying to email. A colleague of mine recently told me she didn’t know anyone who replied as quickly as I do. But what was I winning? Did other people reply to me as quickly? No! Did I spend all my free time replying to email? Yes!


From now on, I will only be looking at email at 2 specific times during the week. I figure that anything urgent should not be done with this medium anyway and I can always change my mind and revert back to my Crackberry life if the addiction rears it ugly head again.

I’m quite confident that this will not dissatisfy anyone and if it does, let me know.

And if you don’t get an answer quickly enough, give me a call 🙂


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Putting the bottom line top when talking

Suspense is for the movies! As a general rule in communication, you should make your point as early as possible. If further explanation is needed, that’s fine. But the point has to come first, so that all the rest makes sense to the other person…


Quite often when we are talking, we know what we want to say but the other doesn’t. We know the context, but the other doesn’t. Our objectives are clear, but only to us. To counter this, you need to make sure that you get to the heart of the communication as quickly as possible. This is known as putting the bottom-line top. Start with your point, keep it in mind and don’t keep people in suspense..


Compare the two following replies when Emily arrives home to see a doctor driving away from the house:


EMILY: What happened?

JOHN: Well… When I got up this morning I was already in a bad mood, because the neighbour was playing his music so loud. So, I went out to the garden to do some work. As it started to rain, I tried to work a bit quicker and when the neighbour came out in his garden, I looked up to talk to him while I was banging in a nail and banged my hand. It hurt so much that I couldn’t really drive so the neighbour called the doctor. Buts it’s OK now, no big deal.


EMILY: What happened?

JOHN: I hit my hand with a hammer, but it’s OK now. No big deal. It all started this morning – when I got up I was already in a bad mood because the neighbour was playing his music so loud. I went out to the garden to do some work. As it started to rain, I tried to work a bit quicker and when the neighbour came out in his garden, I looked up to talk to him whilst banging a nail in and hit my hand. It hurt so much, that I couldn’t really drive so the neighbour called the doctor.


If you are like me, you preferred the 2nd response. There is not much difference, but John gets to the point, quickly.


When you are talking to other people, try to put yourself in their shoes before you start talking. Ask yourself:

  • What do they want to know most?
  • What is the most important thing to say first?
  • Am I saying the minimum effective dose, or adding in lots of irrelevant details?


If you put the bottom line top when talking, you will deliver clearer messages, create better understanding and your interlocutor will get better ROI for his listening effort.







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SoMe, Smart workers and the impact on workplace learning (ASTD Webinar notes)

Having just had a great ASTD Webinar conference with @JaneHart, I thought I’d share my notes on what she had to say about the impact of Smart Workers, Social Learning and Social Media on learning in the workplace. Or rather:


Given how Smart Workers work, what is the impact of learning in the workplace?


(Note, these are my notes, but not my thoughts – all credit must go to Jane!)

(Unless I quoted her badly 🙂 )


First of all, Jane shared 8 key features of what defines Smart Workers as “smart”. The slides from the Webinar will appear here soon, but for now, here’s what I grabbed (somehow I missed 1 during the kids dinner time!):

  • Learns continuosly and is aware of this
  • Wants immediate solutions to performance issues
  • Is happy to share knowledge
  • Learns best with and from other people
  • Keeps up-to-date with own industry and profession
  • Constantly striving to improve
  • Thrives on autonomy


What does all this mean for workplace learning? And for L+D professionals?

  • A lot of learning takes place under the L+D radar
  • SoMe can be used for formal AND informal learning
  • People cite the best learning tools as free social online tools
  • Smart Workers use SoMe tools to find, join, share and improve
  • Learning solutions must be embedded in the workflow, not more than 1 click away
  • …and L+D professionals will need to show that formal learning is VITAL if they expect people to jump out of the workflow to join in
  • L+Ds future role may be to support people in idetifying and using the best resources – as @JaneHart says: “the guide on the side, rather than the sage on the stage” (see also link from @BillCush)
  • Informal learning will become more and more important as the knowledge working era continues to grow and take shape
  • Although L+D people sometimes worry about quality control with SoMe based learning, most people who actually implement such learning solutions in their companies say it is not an issue (eg Peter Butler from British Telecom’s Dare2Share project)


There are tons more resources kindly shared on this page: notably including links to the work of @JayCross and @CharlesJennings, the @JaneHart survey on top tools for learning and youtube videos about Intel and BT’s knowledge sharing efforts.


Thanks to @ASTD for the invitation, Citrix for the simple and effective Webinar experience and @JaneHart for the presentation.


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What we want from call-centres

I am currently busy training new call-centre agents for a commercial role for a large international bank in Belgium.

(Thanks @KluwerOpleiding for the work and @vanderlocht for the collaboration).


In the morning of the 1st day of training, I ask participants to create a charter of 10 best practices for call-centre agents and then to call a real company to see how they perform.


This blog-spot simply lists the things we debrief following the exercise. For most of the calls made during training, the call-centre agent my participants talked to failed to perform well on these points…


If you are working in a call-centre, this is what my 12 training participants want from you when they call:

  • Have some dynamism in your voice and smile
  • Present yourself and let the client do the same – then use his or her name from time-to-time
  • Be polite
  • Take your time – or better said: Be available and give time to the caller
  • Stay professional, but not cold. Not too familiar, but friendly.
  • Speak at a nice speed, adapted to the person you are talking to
  • Explain things, including what you are doing whilst on the phone
  • Use positive language (eg: “I will do XYZ” vs “I will try to….” or “I can’t do ABC” vs “I can do DEF”)
  • Help the client to talk: Ask questions and apply active listening skills
  • Use the information you are given by the client (listen well!)
  • Propose things, don’t just answer coldly the question you have been asked
  • Give advice that is concentrated on the real need of the client and not just an answer to the question he or she asks you (so you need to listen first!)


These final ideas are the top 3 things my training participants want when they call call-centres. These are MUSTs if you are a call-centre professional:

  • Make some listening noises whilst the client talks to show you are paying attention – this can be the odd “uh-hu” but will mostly consist of repeating and reformulating what you hear
  • Explain why you are putting someone “on hold” or transferring to someone else
  • Find a solution!


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