Productivity tips from Referential's Barbara Leavy

I know we are all guilty of wishing there were more hours in the day.  Unfortunately, we need to face the reality, there is… and always will be… 24 hours in a day.  The one exception is that one day of the year when the clocks turn back, but hopefully we are getting an extra hour to sleep and not an extra hour to work! In this fast paced world we live in, the ability to multi-task and prioritize is essential to our success, our productivity and especially our sanity.  If we all keep a few tips in mind it can help to effectively juggle what is on our plates.

Make a plan:

  • The first step to effective multitasking is having a plan or setting goals. You can’t “just wing it” and hope that your projects will be completed to the best of your abilities.
  • By thinking ahead, it will help ensure that nothing falls through the cracks.

Make sure to set reminders: 

  • If you have a data base where you can create tasks to manage your work, make sure to do so. Check your to- do list early in the day and prioritize, keeping in mind there will more than likely be a fire drill that comes up during the day.  Tackle what is most important first.
  • Use your outlook calendar to your advantage, it can be an easy way to track deadlines.
  • Flag emails that you need to address but cannot respond to immediately or you need to investigate prior to responding. Take some time at the end of your day to review your flagged emails and respond or create a task or reminder where appropriate.

Break down and combine tasks when possible:

  • We often look at our workload like an insurmountable mountain which can be intimidating. Break down those tasks into smaller manageable chunks.  This will enable you to work on multiple tasks at once, and if they are smaller they will feel more manageable.
  • If possible, try to concentrate on similar tasks at the same time. In order to effectively multitask, it helps if the projects you are working on are somewhat similar. This way your mind is not jumping from one thing to another, allowing you to “get in the zone”.

Step Away:

  • You may find that by stepping away for a brief time will give you a chance to clear your head and may also give you some inspiration.
  • With so much on our plates it is easy to feel guilty if we take some down time. So, take a short walk, grab a cup of coffee (away from your computer) or get some fresh air. I am pretty sure your brain will thank you!

Remember, not all tasks are equal.  It is up to you to evaluate your tasks prior to beginning to determine true priorities.  Keep in mind that some tasks may require your full attention, at that point you need to put your multitasking hat on the shelf for a while!

The 3Rs of Supplying References to Analysts: From Referential’s Jennifer Doyon

Why does it seem that analyst requests are getting more and more demanding?  It used to be that they would ask for five references with a name/email address/phone number for a report not coming out until early next year.  Lately, we have seen the requirement for references has increased significantly; not only do the analysts now want a phone interview, but they’re asking each customer to also complete an extensive survey.  Your customers are busy and so are you, right? Let’s think about these three Rs to help you determine your response:  What is Realistic?  What is Reasonable?  What is the Return?

What is realistic?

Is your product really ready to be included in this report?  Can your company compete with the major players?  Are you asking customers to comment on products they haven’t truly tested?  If it’s a stretch, perhaps you can opt out and revisit the option next year.

What is reasonable?

Have they asked for 20 references and they need them by Friday?  Don’t hesitate to ask for an extended deadline if the ask is going to cause major disruption to your team.  More importantly, don’t ever jeopardize your relationship with a customer because of some external pressure.  Hopefully, you already know which customers are willing and able to connect with analysts.  If not, ensure you have the time needed to identify and properly vet your references.

What is the return?

What percentage of your audience is going to make their buying decision based on this report?  Will it affect the company’s bottom line?  Identify the most influential analyst evaluations where you expect a solid return, and focus your attention on those.  If it is a lesser known analyst report among your prospective buyers, determine if it is truly worth the time and effort of your customer advocates.

In the end, remember that analysts are people too, and they have many priorities, just like you.  They are helping our prospective clients make informed buying decisions.  Analysts have a responsibility to dig in to find the real story and connect with real users.  Sure, their demands seem a bit unrealistic at times, but if you’re prepared and selective, you’ll make the analyst “work” for you.

We're already half way through 2018!

Hard to believe but we are half way through the year. Time for mid year check points not only with employees but also with clients. We just completed a round of client reviews.  Simple format – one slide with goals for the client and progress in the first half, plus a second slide with action plans should there be any issues and comments about what is expected in the second half. These reviews complement the monthly metrics and client checkpoints that we also do. In addition to a checkpoint of first half results, we also looked at statistics which allow us to compare client performance to industry norms.  We looked at everything from what percent of customers contacted agree to participate in advocacy programs to how long does it take to fulfill an average request for advocate participation.

It’s good to take a step back and assess.  Each team has done very well in the first half and is looking forward to an even more impactful end to the year.  The reviews are always a valuable experience. There is a chance for learnings that we can bring to all clients, valuable insight to share with our lead contacts, and there were many pats on the backs for jobs well done!  The first half has been full of amazing accomplishments and huge financial impact for our clients.  Looking forward to even greater success in the second half of 2018!

Time to refresh your program?

This blog post from Influitive has hints for spring cleaning your AdvocateHub.  All great hints and ones we do more frequently than only with a spring refresh.  If you are an active member of our hub you have probably noticed that we update regularly.  Each quarter we change the theme of our Hub. We brainstorm potential new ‘locations’ and have a Hub challenge where participants can vote for our next destination.  And then the refresh begins. Our Hub manager, a position which rotates so we all have expertise with AdvocateHubs, chooses a specific day for the change.

Over a pizza lunch we make quick work of a full refresh.  All challenges are reviewed to ensure they are still relevant and we check for broken links. Photos that accompany each challenge are reviewed and the majority are changed to align with our new theme.  Our latest change was In January when we moved from Germany to the Olympics and Korea.  The changes to challenges and the visual theme are the most visible though behind the scenes we’re also looking at advocate groups, rewards, and our metrics.

While the Inflitive article is specific to AdvocateHub refreshes, it really applies to all types of advocate programs.  How do you keep your program fresh and relevant?

Newbies - great at reviewing documentation

Documenting processes, in detail, is rarely someone’s favorite activity but it must be done!  It has been such a help when someone new joins a project, whether or not they are a new hire.  We’ve had the combination of new hires and new clients recently, quite a training challenge, but things go much more smoothly with documentation in place. We’ve found it helpful to have a draft document to start from and then do shared editing.  We might not have one person involved with all the details of every aspect of a project so group-work is required.  It’s been really helpful to have the newest members of the company involved.   When a process becomes second nature sometimes you miss documenting all the fine detail and don’t always specify each step of a process.  “Then you put the info in the database” sounds simple enough until someone new asks questions like   “how do you find the correct record?”, “do I update contacts and/or accounts?”, “can we write it however we want or is there a naming format?” and so on.  Having someone new follow behind will catch where we’ve made knowledge assumptions.

When we’re lucky we can then leverage the documentation from one project to another, not often, but nice when it happens!

The challenge of multiple calendars!

As a company Referential has quite a long list of clients. I don’t think any of us work with just one client and often they assign emails to us for the duration of the engagement. When you have multiple clients, that leads to multiple emails to check, and multiple calendaring systems. Some of us consolidate everything to our personal calendar or our Referential work calendar to see it all online, all in one place. But that doesn’t work well for everyone.  One has a colorful notebook with meetings color coded and another has a fairly sophisticated post-it system.  It’s clear this is a case of ‘one size doesn’t fit all’!

Checking 2, 3, or even 10 emails and associated calendars is not easy.   Do you have any helpful hints?  It’s a common issue when you have multiple clients, we’re interested in hearing what works best for you.

Frozen - the Database!

One of our clients has a major database update shortly and yesterday was the last day for changes.  Everyone was scrambling until nearly midnight to complete as many updates as possible.  For the interim period we have to log our changes manually, then when the new database is live we’ll input everything. We were talking about the change this morning and someone made a good analogy.  It’s like moving from one house to another.  You clean up your old place and it’s exciting to move somewhere new and fresh.  We did take advantage of this database change to do some ‘housekeeping’ and data clean up so when we’re live in the new environment we’ll have not only new functionality but ‘fresh’ data too.

Over time large databases often need some attention and this was the time.  An opportunity to make sure phone numbers were formatted consistently, to change the few UKs to United Kingdoms, and so on.  A little planning and work up front will really pay off with great benefits. Just one of the special projects our clients have where our data expertise can automate tasks and ensure accuracy.  Looking forward to when we go live!

Events - details, details, details

We’re helping one of our clients plan a select customer appreciation event to be held at their annual user group conference.  As with many large conferences the event is in Las Vegas.  Couldn’t be easier to work with the people from the hotel, as we change details they’re very flexible and send new quotes almost immediately.   It’s a late afternoon/early evening reception with appetizers, should we have 3 or 4?  Hard to believe all the decisions that went into the final table and chair layout!  And our RSVP list keeps growing, nearly every single person invited is attending. Even for a 90 minute event project management comes in handy.  We’ve been tracking all the issues associated with customer and internal employee invitations and RSVPs; ordering and shipment of awards that will be presented; not to mention all the decisions necessary for food, drink, and entertainment.  Everything’s in one spreadsheet stored at a shared location  This has been a real necessity as the key decision makers are scattered in multiple states.  Putting some structure around this has made it easier for all involved.  At any time we can all check the current status of issues and action items.

For even a smallish project, when key players are all remote from each other, what works best for you?

Back to school - project management class

It’s been a long time since any of us have taken a project management class and our new college hires have very little experience in that regard.   We purchased an online course and are going to give it a try. Honestly, it was the right Groupon offer at the right time. We had just started looking into options.   12 months of access, a 30 hour course. The flexibility to access the course at any time is something we really needed. The social aspect will be interesting – they have forums, student contributions and announcement features which allow you to interact with other students and their employees. IT University Online. Do you have any experience with them? Would love to hear your thoughts.

We want to ensure the team sharpens their skills, we’re not necessarily going for PMP certification but we’ll see as things progress.