400 words #013: Perceptive perceptions

Over the past year or so at Substrakt we have been doing a lot of work focused on our culture and brand.

This has involved deep and searching conversations and questions of mission, vision and values. We have been developing new thinking around tone of voice, content and positioning as well as revising and improving internal communications and policies around parental leave, inclusivity, health & wellbeing, professional development and more.

The most recent part of this project has been to ask our pal Rob Macpherson to undertake some perception analysis work for us.

Afterall, it’s all well and good doing all these new, good and interesting things but if it doesn’t make any impact on how people understand who you are and what you’re doing then it’s not working as well as it could or should.

Perception analysis work is something that Rob regularly undertakes for the organisations he works with.

It involves Rob conducting structured conversations with nominated ‘key stakeholders’ (these could be members of staff, clients, partners, suppliers, etc) whose opinion you value, on the condition of anonymity.

These protected conversations, with a ‘neutral’ third party (Rob), are aimed at achieving a level of frankness and honesty that might not be as possible if you were to have those conversations yourselves.

Rob then summarises the (anonymised) responses in a report.

It is the equivalent of hearing what people are saying behind your back.

And, just like that would be, it is equal parts fascinating, insightful, chastening and frustrating.

But the beauty of it is you can’t disagree with any of it!

The report contains people’s perceptions, and you can’t tell someone that they don’t think or feel what they are telling you they think and feel.

I’d thoroughly recommend it, in the spirit of radical candor it gives you a clear and unambiguous guide to what people think, what is landing and making an impact, how things are coming across. All of which is vital information for any organisation.

And for us? It was heartening to see lots of positives, and useful to understand where we could do better or change our approach. Noone gets it right all the time, by being open to that fact and asking for feedback – through work like this or not – you’ll be able to keep improving.

400 words #012: change your tools

Last weekend I changed the web browser I use.

Now this probably doesn’t really sound like a particularly good topic for a blog post but bear with me!

For years I, like many of you, have used Google’s Chrome browser.

For the past year or so it has become increasingly slow, buggy and annoying. But, even though I spend the vast majority of my working day using it, it seemed like too much effort to change. Humans are creatures of habit and I’m no exception.

Last week it became almost unusable and GMail stopped working properly, which seemed like the final straw. So I switched (to Mozilla’s Firefox in case you’re interested).

It has been curious to reflect on the impact that simple change has made on my day-to-day productivity.

I have numerous bad habits when it comes to my web browser usage, the worst one being that I often had 50+ tabs open.

So many that even the fav icons (the little icon that indicates which site the tab is showing a page from) disappeared, which made returning to the correct tab a fun (read: incredibly frustrating) game.

This habit, whilst well-intentioned (“oh that could be interesting/important, I’ll leave that open and read/respond to it later”), actually ended up fragmenting my attention and focus to such a degree that I wasn’t really being particularly productive.

Because Firefox doesn’t ‘shrink’ the size of tabs based on how many you open (it has a scrollable bar when you have too many tabs to fit within the visible area) I find I have far fewer tabs open at any one time which has already insitgated a shift in how I engage with tasks and content (in short, I am much more focused, or at least it feels like I am).

The low-level anxiety that came with having innumerable tabs open (lots of things that were jostling to be returned to, read and responded to or digested) has gone.

This has been one of the most surprising benefits of making that one small change. I suspect there is a lesson here about prioritisation, focus, digital attention spans and more. And that there are likely many other aspects of my day-to-day habits that could do with similar tweaks.