Manage the change – manage expectations – upskill users
For those who have no experience of them, online meetings may be surrounded by an air of mystique that is fuelled by quite strongly prejudicial views. Some of that negativity comes from fear of change, some comes from a poor previous experience and some comes from simply not knowing what an online meeting is like.
One obvious solution is to explain what synchronous communication is. It requires all participants to be available at the same time. It’s live, it’s real-time. Its opposite is asynchronous communication, which frees up participants from the need to be available at the same time. It’s self-paced. Face-to-face communication is synchronous, as is the telephone, chat rooms, video conferencing, instant messaging and web conferencing. On the other hand, all forms of recorded media are asynchronous, including books, CDs and podcasts. But asynchronous communication can also be two-way, as with letters, email, discussion forums, blogs, wikis, etc. Self-paced e-learning is asyncrhonous. Virtual classrooms are synchronous.
To be ‘online’ implies a state of connectivity, typically through a device such as a computer that is connected to the Internet. Face-to-face communication is clearly not online. Most traditional media, including print publications, tapes, CDs, radio and TV can be regarded as offline media.
Being between a rock and a hard place
When you ask people to meet for learning or to transfer information online for the first time, you are asking them to adopt a way of working that they may regard as innovative and unproven. You may meet boundless enthusiasm, but you are almost bound to meet some resistance. Some will see the two words “meet” and “online” as a contradiction in terms.
When they are managing the introduction of new things, many people use a well-known model that is described in a book by Geoffrey Moore. It is especially relevant to people in sales and marketing. He speaks of “crossing the chasm” between the first 2.5% to take up a new idea or technology, he calls them “innovators”, and the next group – the 13.5% whom he calls “early adopters”.
Crossing the Chasm, Geoffrey Moore. Harper Business; Rev. 1999 ISBN-10: 0066620023
Crossing your own particular chasm
You are likely to run into a number of different barriers before you can say the project to introduce online meetings has crossed the chasm.
You may struggle to win support for online meetings without the involvement of senior line management. They are likely to be interested in setting targets, and so it is useful, if you are the person who is driving the change, to provide reports to managers, hold briefings and make sure you keep you commit them to gving you feedback.
You’ll need to “do your sums”. Estimate the benefits in comparison with conventional meetings and other potential investments in business improvement. Find the most influential sponsor you can. You may need to sell online meeting as a leading edge project, or play it down according to the culture of your organisation. It is essential to create the conditions where IT support is behind what you are trying to do.
You must provide satisfaction and you may even have to provide rewards (tangible and intangible) to encourage people to take part. You’ll need to ensure the meetings tools are accessible and easily available to all when they need them. People must have the time, budget and tools to reach mastery quickly. Look for local support and champions (advocates). It may sound like a paradox, but try to maintain personal contact with them face-to-face and not just online.
|Who||Attracted by||Put off by||Tactics||TimeLine|
|Top Managers||Cost saving Forward thinking Ownership of content||Cost Risk Lack of early action||Make them part of the project||Throughout|
|Co-support functions||Online meetings will help us all||Online meetings compete for resources or attention||Any time through the project|
|Other projects||This project will help us||The project competes for resources or attention||Seek linkages and synergy||Any time through the project|
|Senior Line Management||This meets a business need||It takes time to do||Meetings Briefings||Three months prior to launch|
|First Line Management||I may not need to pass on briefings to my people second hand||It takes time to do I have to manage it||Briefings from senior management Help Desk||One month prior to launch|
|People who attend meetings||I can meet anyone, whenever and wherever I want||Lack of social interaction Techno fear||Ad campaign Personal tution||Two weeks prior to launch|
|Trainers||I am involved||I am not involved Will online meetings put me out of a job?||Integrate into the project||From the start|
To help to recognise the stages that people may be passing through towards trust and support for online meetings, we have adapted a model of change that appeared way back in 1986 in a magazine article by American academic, Diane Dormant. The ABCD’s of managing change. In M. Smith (ed.), Introduction to performance technology. Washington, DC.: National Society for Performance and Instruction.
Stage 1 Ignorance:
At first people don’t know what they don’t know. They are indifferent to the use of online meetings because they have no knowledge of them. You need to take a leaf from the book of the advertising professional. Do not go too deeply into logical argument or persuasion. Expose people to intriguing messages, slogans and eye-catching statistics. Be brief, be lively and positive. Try viral marketing using the full range of social media (Twitter, Facebook, and so on). Publish good news stories and act as Champion to pass on messages about new methods of meeting that will resonate with those who hear them.
Stage 2 Anxiety:
Raising awareness won’t stop people from fretting over how meeting online will affect them personally. Will they have difficulty and spend time dealing with problems? Will the system crash? Will they look foolish in front of their colleagues or managers? Will they come away from meetings with all boxes ticked? Will they miss important information if the participants are not physically present? Now you need to take on the personality of a counsellor, reassuring participants with honest and authentic facts. Respond with sympathy, or pre-empt real fears by revisiting all the positive benefits of meeting online. If you are introducing online meetings as an enterprise-wide change, then you might think of giving vent to concerns through focus groups, road shows or FAQs on a website where you can gather questions, concerns and misapprehensions and then deal with them at future stages in this model for change.
Stage 3 Curiosity:
As long as you continue to answer questions in a cool, calm and open manner, people will move on from “how does this affect me?” to “go on then; show me”. This is an important shift from self-protection to accepting that there is going to be a change in how they do meetings. As Champion you must now explain the process, features and benefits of online meeting in some detail. You might put together some case material such as video talking heads or a panel of witnesses – trusted colleagues who have piloted the change. As soon as it’s available you should use qualitative data about the results of meeting online. Demonstrate how webinars (for example) can reduce time spent in meetings while increasing the amount of useful information that a participant can process, make meetings more dynamic and focused, and so on. Show it as more inclusive, closer to individual needs, more flexible, accessible and effective and participants will soon be ready to try it out for themselves.
Stage 4 Readiness:
Once they are ready to take part, people may still be unsure about how colleagues or managers will react to what they are doing. Now you become trainer/coach, teaching people how to take part, deal with resistance and derive maximum benefit from meeting online. As they learn from one another, participants will themselves become advocates and fend off the “nay sayers”. Look out for positive shifts in attitude due to emerging and measurable results, and make capital of them.
Stage 5 Acceptance:
Ready, willing and able to use new methods of meeting, participants now begin to enjoy personal benefits. You may be hearing technical or procedural questions, or the exchange of suggestions for improvement. Now your role is implementer, as people relax, introducing more challenging or more ambitious activities that use the new methodology.
A continuous performance improvement approach permeates the project. Listen for and act upon ideas for modifying materials and procedures. Ensure any defects are fixed and watch the project gets ever closer to the personalities and preferences of users.
Stage 6 Fatigue:
As people become regular and practised users, they may experience a sense of boredom or dissatisfaction. The sense of novelty and innovation has faded and they want greater challenge, more variety or more ambitious forms of interaction. Now you pass into the ultimate role of maintenance. Keep manuals, reusable items such as welcome slides, action plans and agendas, as well as the software, hardware and success stories fresh and up to date, otherwise disillusionment will set in. Encourage participants to express their own suggestions and assurn them that they will be shared and given consideration.
Above all, each link must be reinforced between the newly-adopted methods of meeting and the goals of the organisation. No-one should stop striving for other, even more effective and innovative ways of reaching those goals.
In 2004 a study of executives from 303 companies concluded that the best meetings involve lots of sharing of documents and visual information. The greatest productivity comes not from presenting and reviewing data, but from having everyone on the same page working towards a common goal.
Online meeting tools do this very well. The British seem to take to it better than their French and German counterparts. UK business managers more than others said they thought viewing documents together was the greatest benefit in driving productivity.
French and German managers rated being able to see facial expression. Even with video it is difficult to observe body language and facial expression. However with a little knowledge, skill and practice you can use various features and techniques in a virtual meeting in order to pick up other cues to test mood and motives.
We are not recommending that you go online to socialise or meet new people for the first time. However our opening premise was that online meetings might save you from ruin at times when it is not possible to meet in the conventional way. In those circumstances, there are many useful tricks and techniques you can apply for building rapport and a team-working spirit.
Part six of this ten-part series is about designing your meeting, using the right combination of media. We’ll talk about the use of text and imagery and how to achieve a good balance and engage people without over-engineering the design. We’ll post it in a couple of days time, so do please come back.
We’re hoping you will add your own ideas to these blog items too, so we can create of it something that is representative of the experience of a wide range of practitioners and helps us all to understand what works and what doesn’t.