Friday, April 16, 2010

Progress and women´s magazines

I gave a talk today at the Diaconia University of Applied Sciences to an auditorium filled with media students. The subject of the entire day was the responsibility of lifestyle media for what they present.

My talk (unfortunately in Finnish) is below. I focused on how a progressive lifestyle journalist should position himself or herself. I claim, that it is very easy to get stuck to the old rant on how journalists should be independent and not promote any specific idea. I claimed that the justification for being progressive for instance on sustainability can be found from the Ethical Code of Conduct for Journalists where it states that journalists have a responsibility to tell people what is happening in the world. And as climate change is the big issue of our time, you do your job poorly if you don´t build ethical and environmental norms into your work. Already journalists have made a commitment for human rights, this is the other big ethical test.

In the presentation I suggested that when dealing with sustainability, lifestyle media should build on what they do best: enthusiasm and encouragement for action. They should promote excellent and ethical choices with the same enthusiasm they promote a new eyeliner. Making things appealing works far better than the message about giving something up.

The third main point I raised was on how change in lifestyles happens. This I would claim is the ultimate test for women´s magazines. Most lifestyle media still deals with change by showing one person one morning transforming their life completely. This is understandable cos it´s easy to build a story around it. But if you actually look into research on how change happens, people who do big transformations always relate to other people. By showing this link and giving the readers tips on how to win support and get people along, lifestyle media could be one of the most powerful instigators of action for the better.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

How Are You Doing?

As part of a project we are doing at Demos Helsinki, I have spent time reviewing and reading various future reports on the competencies and skills the Finnish society and Finnish companies need. One of the big issues seems to be the need for better people skills. Companies and experts see that customers are more and more demanding year by year. Simultaneously companies need to make sure that the best people really want to work for them. This means that understanding people is broken into better HR, better customer understanding and better self understanding.

One of the ways to support better self understanding are the annual evaluation talks that managers are required to give to the staff. I have taken part in two of them in the last two weeks. In one of them I was the one interviewing, in the other I was being interviewed.

These talks usually get quite a bad rap. Most of my friends are able to tell horrid stories of a boss who really does not listen or continuously interrupts the staff member. I have also taken part in a talk where the boss starts the discussion by saying:"Well, we have two hours reserved for this but I don´t think we need all of that." In another case the boss had left most of my critical comments on her performance out of the report. Experiences like these or not letting the employee talk send a clear signal of inequality.

I do understand that experiences like these make a lot of people frustrated. However, I would encourage both the boss and the employee to take this experience seriously. This builds from the amazing two positive experiences this week.

At Demos Helsinki we do not have a clear hierarchy, which means that we have divided the responsibility to give the evaluation talks amongst the staff. This means everyone gives and everyone gets a talk. Especially in an organisational culture like ours a structured question list really helped making the discussion useful for both parties. When you are asked to evaluate your own competencies and get feedback on them and your performance, you are also given a chance to recognise how you could develop yourself. Somewhat formal questions on your development ideas for the organisation are actually somewhat challenging.

At least I noticed that my own view on my work and my colleague´s view differed quite a lot. I was quite surprised by the things mentioned as my strengths and as areas that need improvement. Discussing them through and searching examples that prove the point makes one realise how others see you. The talk made me like my place of work more. When a person you value tells you what you are good at is incredibly empowering - and useful. I left both of the talks smiling, feeling like I learned something.

The views in the reports I have gone through paint a picture of a working life where the need to develop and renew oneself is continuous and never-ending. If this estimate is correct, the need to know oneself becomes crucial. But we too often think that all this needs to be done alone.

Monday, April 05, 2010

Budget Luxury Is Possible

In the last 10 years I have stayed in some really crappy hotels. What has become clear is that price does not guarantee a thing.

Most people want a good bed, peace and quiet and a decent breakfast. Internet connection would also be nice. However, more often than every now and then I have fought with a crappy air-conditioning system, tried to find something fresh from the breakfast buffet of sweaty cheese, stale croissants and weird mayonnaise salads. And even in some fancy hotels the only thing they have to offer is a 10 euros per hour slow Internet, which works only with a cable. Hotels too often only end up increasing the traveller´s stress. I also cannot stand the idea that hotels are just copy-pasted to dozens of locations without any link to the local setting. I don´t want to stay "anywhere in the world".

But the good news are: there is hope. Easter in Amsterdam showed that great can be affordable. The new Citizen M budget boutique hotel chain provides the essential: great bed, natural light in all rooms, free WLAN, beautiful settings, good breakfast - and excellent service. The rooms are small - I mean under 20 sqm2 - but everything works. The breakfast comes in a paper bag but has freshly pressed orange juice and a fluffy but crispy croissant. It seemed Citizen M has got it right: invest in quality in the things that really matter - staff, interior design, produce, bed.

The design furniture lobby was one where you did not feel like you were working in a hotel lobby. You were not constantly surrounded by people with supersize bags and tour groups waiting for their bus. The staff at Amsterdam City was relaxed and hospitable. I and many others ended up working in the lobby for the entire day. The canteen had a selection of personal British and Dutch snacks and dishes - not the normal boring Pringles cans. The staff was helpful but not intrusive. They seemed to switch smoothly between the canteen and reception. None of the regular "you can go and ask my colleague".

The most amazing thing was that when I tweeted on the hotel, the staff responded in 10 minutes asking if they could give me any more information. We exchanged some messages back and forth and within a day I got great information on their take on sustainability and service. They told me that "from the development of our hotels, the efficient building system is combined with a dedicated offsite factory allowing the construction of the rooms with higher quality, less environmental impact at the construction site, less waste produced spite of reducing the total construction time from 2 years (market average) to around 10 months." This answer came from Diego working at the Amsterdam hotel, not from someone somewhere in the "service center". It seemed clear to me that the staff is proud of their concept - and the enthusiasm is addictive. You can find out more here.

And all this for, get this: 90 euros for a 2-person room.

By now they are only in Amsterdam. But according to the website, "hotels are planned across Europe – in all major cities – such as: London, Barcelona, Glasgow, Berlin, Stockholm, Brussels, Milan, Copenhagen, Moscow, Paris, Istanbul, Warsaw, Budapest to name a few." I wish the best for them. My first visit to Citizen M made me a loyal regular. I love promoting companies like Citizen M and Virgin, which have realised how to make the entire service chain work. They are also proving to the consumer that the whole extra premium for better experience is often just disguised greed.