How About UX For The Employees?

"The Scream" by Edvard Munch, 1895 via Wikipedia

A thing isn't a thing until it's got a fancy technology acronym. Preferably one with an X.
And so the simple idea that users should own the experience has one: UX.
Briefly, it's the art and science (mostly science, they like to say) of optimizing the customer's interaction with your digital properties.
But I have to wonder:
  1. Why must we limit UX to a website? Or a mobile app?
  2. Why is it only bounded by your brand, as it inhabits the virtual?
  3. Why can't we expand the UX concept so that employees become a primary target audience?
Any leader will tell you that the most important stakeholder of any organization is the employee, not the customer. Because if employees are happy, understand their jobs, and are resourced and empowered to deliver, they will do that with joy. 
That means 87% of the salary you're paying is garbage. 
That means for all of the emotional customer service you claim to provide and all the intellectual knowledge production and collaboration you say you offer...you don't.
Want to maximize ROI? 
Set up a workplace that makes logical sense to the staff, and consider only secondarily the biased views of executives - who mostly interact with each other.
  • Organize departments to facilitate collaboration and not stovepipes
  • Display KPIs prominently on a TV screen in a public place, one that includes both mission performance indicators and leadership feedback scores
  • Make projects responsive to a dedicated PMO (project management office), and not to a functional lead
  • Establish an employee communications council staffed from every department in the company
  • Make the physical layout easily navigable
  • Establish places and spaces to socialize, and to retreat
  • Have walk-in counseling, mentoring and training
  • Establish on-site daycare
  • Yes, offer free food and drinks
Again, it's just so basic: Workplaces cannot be robotized, virtualized, or dehumanized. They are enterprises of people. And people work well when their experience of the workplace is positive.
The premise of UX is that control is removed from the mind of the designer, the architect, the party formally "in charge." This person or group may be well-trained, an expert and have the best intentions. But that does not mean they know what the people want or need.
The job of a designer is only to follow the lead of the user. No matter what kind of user they are.
If you want the organization to be well-run, let the employees themselves run it.
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Painting: "The Scream" by Edvard Munch, 1895 via WikipediaDisclaimer: This blog is written by Dannielle Blumenthal in her personal capacity. The opinions expressed here are the author's own and do not reflect the view of the National Archives and Records Administration, or the United States government.  

Why The Heart Of Your Brand Is Not A Pretty Face

Photo of Dani Zimmerman by: Daniel M. Viero / Flickr Creative Commons

Runway models sell products. 

But don't confuse them with the brand.

The heart of who you are - your image, to other people - is more boring.

It's real, but it's invisible, and extremely difficult to describe. 

Your brand is a series of decisions.
  • Who is picked to run a company, an agency, a school.
  • How ordinary people treat one another within the organization.
  • What kind of website you design. Which mobile apps you fund. Whether you personally go out on social media or not, to represent your brand.
  • How budgetary funds are allocated. Which projects get the go-ahead, or not.
  • How people get recruited, promoted, demoted, and fired.
  • What stories are chosen to run on the news.
  • What people do with your material in their spare time. If they share it on Pinterest. 
  • The values you portray everywhere. How employees act, who use your name on their business cards and LinkedIn profiles.
That's why having a focus is so important to having a brand.

Because it isn't any one thing. It's a combination of multitudes. And if nobody knows what you stand for, you will end up standing for nothing.

Branding is a business call. It's for leaders to lead. It's that serious.

Marketing folks can tell you a lot about your brand - afterwards.

But if you want to actually build a brand, you must be more than a well-designed ad.

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Disclaimer: This blog is written by Dannielle Blumenthal in her personal capacity. The opinions expressed here are the author's own and do not reflect the view of the National Archives and Records Administration, or the United States government.

Management Lessons from Challah & Wine

Photo credit: Tim Sackton/Flickr

The traditional Shabbos meal begins with wine and challah. Although they taste good, I never really understood why we bothered. 

* On the traditional deep purple wine, or grape juice often used in its stead. When you combine them with the also-traditional white tablecloth, get ready for someone to spill - and stains that never come out.

* Re: challah, it literally takes forever to make. Mix, knead, rise, punch down; rise, bake; wash everything. 

You could use white wine, or clear sparkling peach grape juice. You could buy the challah. A lot of people do that. But why do so many bother to do things the old fashioned way?

So what about this.

* What if the point of the grape juice is the stain?

* What if the challah exists for the slow nature of making it?

Here's what I mean. 

When you have an organization full of people, those people are going to be "imperfect." The systems will frequently be "broken." The surrounding environment will never be "optimal."

And in that broken-ness is an opportunity. 

Instead of striving for an impossible robotic perfection that we know can never exist and that we wouldn't want to live in, maybe we can just celebrate being human.

Instead of worrying about when the grape juice will spill, maybe we should spill it first. And then we can relax, remove all the false expectations, and go about achieving things that can really be achieved.

About the challah.

Some people take an entire week to prepare the Shabbos meal, not just the opening bread. I know of one person specifically. Literally, on Sunday, she wakes up and starts shopping and cooking for Friday night.

One time we went to her home to share in a Jewish holiday celebration, for Purim. It was warm, and lovely, and fun. Because she really had taken the time to focus on what is important to her, in her life - bringing people together to celebrate G-d.

That's the management lesson of challah: to focus on people, the most important part of the organization, some would say the entire organization - by taking the necessary time.

Managers don't have to believe in G-d. 

But it is good to put one's work in context.

Technology, budget, process reengineering are great. But they're also gravy.

At the end of the day, every workplace is about human beings.

The job of a manager is to harness their strengths, by optimizing the culture.

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Disclaimer: This blog is written by Dannielle Blumenthal in her personal capacity. The opinions expressed here are the author's own and do not reflect the view of the National Archives and Records Administration, or the United States government. 

A feminist at the Shabbos meal.

When I was a little girl we used to travel to Toronto, Canada to visit my Bubbie and Zayde. And to Monticello, New York to visit Grandma and Grandpa. (May they rest in peace.)

To the outsider, Shabbos meals were anti-feminist. Bubbie and/or Grandma both cooked and served the food, and sat at the table and listened as Zayde and/or Grandpa led the goings-on.

The men made kiddush, doled out the wine, gave us bread after the traditional washing of hands.

But you wouldn't want to "liberate" them, Norma Rae. Had you dared the women would have tossed you out on the doorstep by your ears. The kitchen was actually "her-space," and the women knew that we could gather there "getting food ready" and just let the men do the men thing.

We could participate in the table conversation or not, but it wasn't in the end "our" conversation.

"The neck turns the head," Bubbie used to say. Traditional Orthodox feminism is that the woman tells the man what to do, but subtly. Is it simplistic? Yes. Does it work most of the time? I doubt it. From what I saw from my grandparents, they did things together. Good marries are about half and half. 

But you can preserve the image of who's running things. 

Here is the positive about having a parallel gendered culture, for Jewish women. It insulates us from unwanted sexual attention. (Although apparently not Jewish boys, judging from the amount of literature now coming out about sexual molestation of them by male teachers...very disturbing.) 

It's liberating to create safe spaces for expression. It values the role of mothers and enables questioning of relationship status quos.

But of course it's hurt as well. It does create the image that women are separate and inferior - even if it's a token image - because women don't "learn" or "lead" like the men do. It creates a disjuncture between home and work, because at work women absolutely can and do take charge. And it's not fair to men or women to shovel them into roles that don't necessarily fit.

It's important to emphasize that you can be spiritual and completely outside of religion, but if you choose a religion then your spirituality is intimately tied to actual knowledge of the religious texts. In my experience Jewish schools vary as far as education goes, a lot, but when you get a good teacher who really sits there and talks to you it can change your life. 

And vice versa, a bad teacher is like eating pizza with a bug in it, you never want to eat it again and then it takes a really long time, if ever to dip your toe into those waters.

As far as me, I have an unbelievable aversion to any expression of sexist shit, but I also crave a warm and family-oriented meal, generally. 

I also get a little bit panicky sitting with people for too long of a time, being much more comfortable thinking about the thoughts running through my own head. 

So if I had to drive that train and run the kind of kitchen that my grandmothers did, it would sink me. But the notion of a place and a time and a structure, just stopping to hang out with family and friends to celebrate and be warm about our faith, is beautiful. 

I wouldn't want to be "on display" in that kind of setting - I actually prefer the traditional ways of my youth, hanging back with the women in the kitchen. It feels more proper. 

But the next generation is very different about it. I don't think that setup totally works for them.

But that's what feminism is, right? We get to choose what we want to do.

At the end of the day, it doesn't really matter how we structure it, as long as nobody is trying to dominate anybody else.
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Disclaimer: This blog is written by Dannielle Blumenthal in her personal capacity. The opinions expressed here are the author's own and do not reflect the view of the National Archives and Records Administration, or the United States government. 

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