The new European Spam Law: What does it mean for your business?

You may have already heard about a new law coming to the EU governing mass emailing and email marketing. It has created concern among many companies scrambling to get their subscribers to “properly” opt-in. You may well have, ironically, received an email to that effect. So what does this mean for the people sending the emails – should you panic?

The General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) is a regulation coming into force for all EU member states on 25th May 2018. If you send any emails to businesses or individuals within the EU after the deadline then you will need to work within the new regulations or you could face fines of up to €20 Million or 4% of a brand’s total global annual turnover – whichever is the greater. By the way, UK’s decision to leave the EU does not affect this, the Government has confirmed that the UK’s decision to leave the EU will not affect the commencement of the GDPR.

What are the challenges?

No “Soft Opt-In”

“Soft Opt-In” is when you have a list of email addresses which you have obtained through channels not specifically related to the marketing of your services, yet is reasonable to assume the people receiving the emails know who you are and might expect emails from you. They may be, for example, previous customers or part of your close business network. These lists are marketed to without first asking specific permission and expecting the recipient to “Opt-Out” if they do not want to receive any more – though a way to do so is made available on every email sent.

‘Soft Opt-in’ is seen as quite a grey area concerning current email laws. After all, what does “people who might expect to hear from you” mean? Previous customers? Your LinkedIn contacts? Some companies push it as far as paid-for lists where the recipient agreed to be contacted by “Third Parties”.

Opt-in must be specific

The GDPR takes a hard line against this practice. Consent will now have to be “freely given, specific, informed and unambiguous”. In order for recipients to receive your email, they must have specifically nominated themselves to receive it. The burden now falls on the sender to obtain consent before mailing, rather than with the recipient.

Another common tactic to bolster subscription rates is to use pre-filled checkboxes or clever wording to count as consent when offering something unrelated such as a free white paper or competition. The GDPR again outlaws this specifically. While giving consent may still include checking a box on a form, ‘choosing technical settings for information society services,’ or ‘other statement or conduct’ it goes further to say ‘silence, pre-ticked boxes, or inactivity,’ does not count as consent.

So what do you do now?

The time to act is now. If you have used any of these tactics in the past – or have lists in which addresses have been gathered outside of the new guidelines then they could become useless to you once the law comes into force. Business should pro-actively contact their soft opt-in subscribers with a request to sign up properly, also known as a “Double Opt-In”. This is seen as the best approach after the law comes into effect. There are no allowances for any lists created before the act and so any list compiled in any way that does not adhere to the new legislation is unlawful.

If you need any help getting your business ready for GDPR, contact Merriborn Media. Email our Managing Director, Trevor Merriden on or 07771 926197. We are proud to have practised what we now preach. We have always believed in the privacy and integrity of subscribers to our free weekly newsletters and, as such, have had to make no changes to be up to date with GDRP and now advise existing clients in the same way.

Sir Winston Churchill and the lost art of dictation

I spent part of my summer holiday reading Boris Johnson’s “The Churchill Factor: How one man made history.” Love or loathe Johnson as a politician, he’s a fantastic storyteller and one chapter – revealing the extraordinary writing habits of the great wartime leader – grabbed both my professional and personal attention.

On Sir Winston Churchill’s love of dictating late into the night to one of a team of fatigued typists, Johnson speaks for all writers when he says: “I don’t know anybody else who is capable of knocking out first-class copy after a long drunken dinner.” Yet Churchill somehow could – and did.

Reeking of tobacco and alcohol, he would pace the wooden floorboards of his home at Chartwell Manor in Kent, dictating for several hours at a time to one of his typing team. Sometimes he would even take the flummoxed assistant with him into bathroom and bedroom, dictating and disrobing simultaneously to save time, if not their blushes. Then, once they had been sent away, he would go through and correct mountainous sheaves of paper by hand and send the whole lot off to be retyped, before finally turning in for the night.

Chartwell Manor, says Johnson, was effectively the home of one of the world’s first word processors before they even existed – with Churchill as the “gigantic engine for the generation of text.” And almost uniquely, he managed to reconcile quantity with quality – he generated more published words than Dickens and Shakespeare combined, while winning the Nobel Prize for Literature and many other accolades for his works along the way.

There will never be another Churchill. And I don’t suggest you try to become one late into a drunken evening at home – it’s likely only to cause difficulties in your personal relationships. But for all those who struggle with writing – and every day I hear from people who tell me they do – I would recommend that you adopt at least one of Churchill’s habits, that of the lost art of dictation.

Churchill of course could afford to employ a team of typists. You probably can’t – and you are unlikely to have a PA willing to following you all over the place. Or indeed you may be the PA. It doesn’t matter – we all have something to say and we are blessed these days with affordable voice recognition software, which Churchill never had.

So I always say to clients who tell me they can’t write to speak instead. It takes a supreme mental effort to assemble the right words in your head in the right order, so don’t. Just talk as you would normally and if your words come out in a jumble, so be it.

It’s time to rediscover the lost art of dictation. Like everything else, writing is a habit. So whatever is in your head, just get it out of your head. And when the wonders of technology allow you to see down on paper or screen what you have just been saying, you will find it much easier to edit quickly.

None of us will be like Sir Winston, but before you know it, you will be creating something you didn’t know you had in you.

High-speed collaboration the way forward for Ferrari and friends

Last weekend’s British Grand Prix was really exciting to watch – I love this time of year, when Wimbledon, The Open, Test cricket and the Tour de France all jostle with it for attention in the summer sporting calendar. It also reminded me of an excellent talk given earlier this year by Tanja Levine, director at Ashridge Executive Education. Formula One is often seen as a very self-contained world, but appearances are not always what they seem. Tanja has helped Ferrari develop a high-speed approach to collaboration, via a consortium approach with other companies to solving digital challenges.

Her presentation, made at the inaugural MERIT Summit in Barcelona to over 200 HR and L&D and senior business school figures earlier this year, highlighted a number of business challenges facing Ferrari as it recently approached its 70th anniversary. In particular, how could Ferrari prepare employees for a future where the only certainty seemed to be uncertainty and disruption? And how could it turn the digital environment to its advantage?

Ferrari chose Ashridge (part of Hult Business School), to help it find a way forward. Two things quickly became clear. Firstly: innovation and new ideas needed stimulation and fresh thinking from a diverse mix of outside corporations and not just from existing Ferrari employees. Secondly: as the new digital world touches every function and hierarchy, any collaborative approach between businesses would need an equally diverse range of experiences from tech disruptors, thought provocateurs and future millennial customers, as well as senior executives.

The concept of a consortium community to share knowledge, experience, failures and solutions at its heart. Businesses as diverse as Puma, Unilever, Uber, Tiffany & Co, Deutsche Telekom, Merck and Coca-Cola became involved in working on innovative new digital futures for other businesses as well as their own.

One important feature was the way in which the collective brainpower of the consortium group was used, through sharing failures and barriers (and not just success stories) and the use of the programme’s virtual team collaboration space, before, during and after the programme.

The full story is covered in more detail elsewhere for those who want to find out more. It’s fair to say though that the Digital Futures Programme is itself highly innovative, with a strong emphasis on live, immersive and collaborative learning for the benefit both of those working for Ferrari and its partners. Regular readers of my blogs will know this is just the sort of thing to get me excited and it has become embedded in my mind as a great example of good inter-company collaboration.

Ferrari says it has learnt a lot from others – and the others say the same thing. The programme now has a consortium group of 20 organisations who have emerged with tangible and measurable ideas to strengthen their businesses. A senior executive from GM Merck says: “It was amazing to be able to get a hugely diverse team to work on [our] digital case challenge. It yielded many new innovation ideas on how to design and leverage digital innovation and new business models. I took many ideas back home to my team, which we will follow up.”

This initiative has, at its core, been about been about partnership and allowing those previously outside to tap into the brainpower of consortium learning. So why not look outside your own business – and give a deeper level of inter-company collaboration a try?

Tanja Levine spoke about the Digital Futures Programme at the inaugural Merit Summit in Barcelona earlier this year. The next Merit summit will be held next January 2018 in Lisbon, Portugal

Never forget how far you have come – how 20 middle-aged Dads learnt to just keep going

Two weeks ago, we had a pretty big adventure.

By “we” I mean 20 middle-aged men from Garden Fields Cricket Club, from #StAlbans, #England, enjoying highly variable levels of fitness. We decided to walk for 3 days, 66 miles (over 106 km) and just under 9,000 ft of climbing – and descending again (think Scotland’s Ben Nevis twice – and then some).

To say the walking the route was tough was something of an understatement – it was brutal …however, we also had lots of fun and stories to share as we walked – never a dull moment – and, of course, lots and lots of blisters.

We did all this to raise money for Great Ormond Street Hospital and Children’s Charity in memory of Maisie Ryan of Garden Fields JMI School. Our children all attend this school – and when Maisie died suddenly aged 6 last year, we felt we needed to do something to honour her memory. So we came up with the idea of the walk and set a highly ambitious £20,000 fundraising target.

For a very long time, as we were planning our adventure, it really looked and felt as though we would fall flat on our collective faces in fundraising terms – we were nowhere near where we wanted to be. Yet, somehow, with the help of 450 separate donations – from not only our wonderful friends, family, colleagues, but also many complete strangers and a little extra help from the wonderful UK Gift Aid tax break – we have crawled slowly on and on and on. We now stand proudly and look back down our metaphorical mountain at close to £22,000 funds raised in total.

So the point of this week’s post is to encourage any one out there who feels frustrated; who has had a bad day, week, month or even year; who doesn’t feel that they are progressing; to stop, reflect and look at the view. You probably have climbed higher and travelled further than you may have realised.

Celebrate what you have already achieved, before you focus on what you have not. Then just keep putting one foot in front of the other and tick off the small steps on the way to big progress. And let’s not forget that the journey is at least as important as the finish line: just as we did on the walk, you will travel with amazing people and meet some incredible and generous people on the way. So just ….keep … going!!!

By the way, yes, there is still time to support us … Please click on the link for more details … and please share the post if you want to as we enter the last week or so of our fundraising drive. We’d love you to help us take a few more steps before we finish.

Your employees DO want to generate their own content. So trust them to do it.

This week I’m indebted to the Learning Technologies Summer Forum for blog inspiration – and it came in the form of a great new piece of research on user generated content from Kallidus, presented by Tim Drewitt. The findings are important for those who are moving, as many are, towards more collaborative forms of working and learning in their organisation. It holds important clues around how best to encourage employees to generate User Generated Content (UGC) to underpin vibrant, self-sustaining communities in the workplace.

There are several interesting findings from the research, but what leapt out at me was the difference in perceptions of those who planned to make use of UGC – and those who already had. The biggest stated challenge to the creation of UGC of all who took the survey was a lack of time (54%). No surprise there – time is always the enemy in everything we do, but the stated reason perhaps masks deeper fears employers may have around trusting their employees to generate their own content at work.

So the research cleverly probed further by breaking down responses into: 1) Those with plans for UGC; 2) Those who were using it already; and 3) Those who were using it with some success. The chief concerns of those with plans (but no action to date) were that there would be “no interest” from users in generating content, while concerns over the accuracy of the content produced and the “risks” that this presented also featured strongly. Yet those who had enabled employees to generate their own content had found their fears around a lack of interest to be largely unfounded. And those who had employed UGC most successfully had quickly realised that the risks around were less of a worry than they had imagined. To me the message is that employees will be willing to generate their own content if given the right encouragement and opportunity – and while content of course needs to be moderated, they can largely be trusted to do so responsibly.

The type of UGC seen as most successful by early adopters, relates largely to those demonstrating expertise or technical skills around a product or service, perhaps ahead of the “views from the top” from the organisation’s leaders. Our own research shows that the impact of genuine enthusiasm for user generated content from senior management cannot be overstated for kindling the fire of participation – and yet it is the widespread production and sharing of content from all over that fans the flames of a vibrant workplace community.

Why Collaboration really is Child’s Play

Yesterday, I took my 10 year old son to school. We discussed why the dirty football kit was still in his school locker, the baffling contents of his pencil case and the need for (yet another) missing water bottle lost property search. It’s the sort of conversation parents have with their children everywhere each weekday morning.

Then, out of the blue, he said: “Daddy. I’ve been thinking. Let’s smash down the garden fence on each side of our house. Then all the other children can play with us in a much bigger garden together.”

After a few seconds contemplation, I explained that while this might be the good idea, the neighbours might not want this. They might want some privacy.

“What’s privacy?”

I tried to explain what “privacy” meant – not very well.

“But the grown-ups will get more privacy if the children are in the garden playing together. You keep telling us that we play so nicely together – and it will give you time to get on with all that “other stuff” that you always say you like doing but can’t, because we interrupt you all the time.”

Fair point. So I told him that even if the neighbours thought it was a good idea, the removal of the fences could create all sorts of highly complex issues long term around property rights and boundaries.

“What does “long-term” mean?”

I tried to explain what “long-term” meant – not very well.

“But you always tell us to enjoy each day of our childhood – and not to worry about the future. And if there’s no garden fence, isn’t it easier anyway for the grown-ups to talk to each other and sort it all out?”

Hmm. So I told him that while this may be so, the neighbours could sell the house one day and the new neighbours might not want someone else’s children in their garden. This could involve a lot of fence-building DIY for grown-ups and maybe even discussions with expensive property lawyers to help us remember where the fence used to be. It could all get very messy.

“But why would people pay other people to do things that stop them talking to each other? Isn’t talking a good thing? You always tell us to try and sort out our rows first, before coming to Mum or Dad.”

I was on the ropes, but fortunately the school run is a short one. But it made me realise that while we all instinctively “get” the benefits of collaboration, in work as well as home, entrenched thinking and systems can sometimes obstruct otherwise excellent common-sense ideas.

My son returned from school later, once again without the dirty football kit or the missing water bottle. But at least he reminded me that in some respects, collaboration really can be as simple as child’s play, if we only have the imagination to let it happen.

Manchester: how the “business as usual” workplace brings us hope from despair

Like many people this week, I found it very difficult to sleep on Tuesday night, having woken to such dreadful news from Manchester earlier in the day. I tossed and turned – and eventually gave up at 5am. So I went downstairs and turned on the radio …

I was very fortunate to tune in first to BBC 5 Live’s daily business show Wake up to Money. A special edition included a panel of Manchester business men and women talking about how the local business community can best help everyone recover following the terrible events. In fact, just listening to them talk helped. I would recommend anyone to listen again – 45 minutes later I had a much greater appreciation of the power of earthy and relentless business pragmatism in accelerating our return from despair to hope.

Those who have suffered most – and those nearest to them – of course need a whole different magnitude of time and space in which to grieve. For the rest of us, the need this week has been to work our through our collective shock, sorrow, and anger on their behalf. The Manchester business community, as represented in the BBC panel, to me represented the best possible response – a perfect alchemy of genuine empathy with the strongest sense of resilience imaginable.

Hearing them talk, it struck me that for many of us the workplace this week has been an essential forum for the recovery of our collective self-confidence. The panellists saw instinctively that every factory, shop or office in Manchester that opened as normal, every meeting or conference that went ahead as planned and every “business-as-usual” discussion that took place all accelerated a return from the depths of despair. And the workplace should never be a place to deny or suppress our emotions – heartfelt discussions with clients about the tragedy and several messages of sympathy for the city of Manchester from overseas work colleagues this week all played an important part for me in the recovery from horror.

For many of us, the “business-as-usual” workplace has been a really important place to be this week….

A football lesson for work: write down your principles & the results will follow

Three years ago, I found myself in a new role I hadn’t dreamed possible. Eleven boys of mixed ability, complete strangers to one another, were thrown together and a new Under 9s football team was born – yes, we are “The Mighty Orient”.

They needed coaches, so another Dad and I rolled up our sleeves and got to work.

Three years later ….

The headline story is that we have played around 90 games and won about 75 of them. In each season we have been promoted – and we’ve also won 2 cups along the way.

The real story, though, is MUCH more interesting. We’re very proud of our record – of course we are – but the best thing we ever did, by far, was to write down the principles by which the boys, the coaches and parents needed to abide by in order to play for “The Mighty Orient” – it’s about a page long, but below is probably the most important para….

For the boys, to win a game of football is an important source of this enjoyment – but not the only source. As coaches we will focus on our purpose ahead of the “end-product” in order to help the boys enjoy their football to the utmost.

Therefore winning to us means:-

a) developing the best in each and every player, for the benefit of the team;

b) instilling an atmosphere of mutual support within the team, and respect towards the opposition & officials;

c) win, lose or draw – a commitment to learn collectively in order to play better football together in the following game. 

The emphasis is on developing the boys ahead of winning games. But this does not preclude having a “winning mentality”; we want all the boys to have that – they enjoy winning, and so they should!

As coaches, I would give us about a 7 out of 10 so far in sticking to the above – there have been many mistakes, like thousands of amateur football coaches up and down the land, that we have made along the way. But perhaps the most interesting thing is that the parents – and sometimes the boys themselves – have at times reminded us of our own principles, when we have been in danger of losing sight of them ourselves. Our proudest achievement is that they have become as aware of the importance of principles and values as we have – and it is they who have sustained us when we have felt weak and weary.

This is a an example of a genuinely successful collaboration and sense of collective ownership here – and football coaching has taught me more about the importance of having strong values in teamwork in the workplace than any other experience.

All the research shows us that if you write down your beliefs and values, you are more likely to keep to them. And if you focus on your conduct everyday, then better results are sure to follow.

After the Big Show is over: How to make sure your brand new ideas get delivered

On Wednesday this week, I had the good fortune to attend the excellent Learning & Development Show run by the CIPD. Every year, this show is flooded with like-minded HR and L&D professionals. We are a pretty positive lot – and every year we return to our workplaces full of hope and new ideas.

Once the Big Show is over though, the equally Big Question has to be:

“What happens next?”

As somebody who writes about collaborative working and learning a LOT, for example, I’m constantly inspired by the positive impact on innovation, engagement and productivity that better collaboration brings within any organisation. But I’m also acutely aware that not everyone feels as passionately as I do.

To make real change happen in a business, therefore, we must find a way to take the cynics with us. So I’m indebted for this blog to a tweet from Paul Duxbury, a learning and development professional at the show who wrote what for me was the tweet of the conference:-

#cipdldshow whatever you encounter at the Show ask yourself “what would the most cynical member of the Board say about this?” #grounded

This is absolutely spot on – a wonderful question for everyone to test themselves against. The best innovations and the biggest differences we can achieve come through staying grounded.

“Grounded” doesn’t mean becoming cynical, sceptical or inert yourself – quite the opposite. Instead it simply means putting yourself in the shoes of the person who is most likely to oppose your initiative.

Try first to collaborate with them and to at least understand their cynicism, even if you don’t agree with it. This is the key step to modify and develop all those ideas and good intentions you bring back with you from any seminar or conference.

Even if you feel you can only go part of the way to meeting your sternest critic’s concerns, it is essential that you try. And, in the process, it also means you will be going most of the way to meeting the concerns of most of the vast majority of those whose support you need to make change happen.

So I’d love to know – when you get back from this or indeed ANY seminar, show or conference, what tactics would YOU recommend to others to make sure your new initiatives and ideas get delivered?

Winning workplace collaborations: start with the end in mind

There’s an excellent report just out – “Guidance for Collaborative Working” just out from the Centre for Effective Dispute Resolution. – that provides great advice on how best to make workplace collaborations more effective.

The report makes the important point that the word “collaboration” is very much over-used or misapplied. For example, technology solutions are often referred to of themselves as being ‘collaborative’ yet technology, on its own, can’t bring success to collaboration, even if it can make it easier to achieve. This in turn makes it harder to understand when collaboration can – and cannot – work.

Everyone instinctively “gets” collaboration – but many don’t really know how to talk about it with real business value in a workplace context. This is why we worked recently with 10Eighty to engage 100 leading HR and L&D practitioners to understand how businesses can harness collaborative working.

It quickly became clear there two camps of understanding- those who thought about collaborative working either in terms of the business benefits it could bring; or simply as a process through which work was organised.

Among those thinking mainly of the business benefits we found:

a) Over 7/10 (72%) said they thought of collaborative working as a way to bring together a broad range of talents to a project or task;

b) More than 6/10 (62%) said they considered it as a means to break down silos in an organisation;

c) A third of those who replied (37%) saw it as working in ways that “unleash energy” in an organisation;

Among those thinking mostly about collaborative working more as a process:

  1. Over half (55%) believed the collaborative working simply meant working on projects or tasks in close physical proximity to one another;
  2. A significant minority of over 4/10 (43%) believed that collaborative working effectively meant “making decisions by consensus”.

It’s heartening to see that both CEDR and we both believe that collaboration, when explained simply as a process with no clear line of sight to the business benefits, leads to confusion rather than clarity. One leading blue-chip HR director put it superbly well in our recent report: “When creating a debate around collaboration in your organisation, start with the end in mind. Those who successfully introduce more collaborative forms of working into their organisation do so by first understanding and then explaining its benefits to other stakeholders, rather than attempting to “sell” the detail of the process too soon to their colleagues.”

Merriborn Media is a business dedicated to developing clever content, engaged online communities and effective collaborative working and learning for clients. Both Merriborn Media and its founder Trevor Merriden were ranked in the Top 3 of social learning evangelists for 2016 in a recent major study.