Roger Swannell

Author: roger (page 1 of 136)

Four and half things I’m proud of from my four and a half years at the British Heart Foundation

1. I worked with an awesome team

I’m proud of the team I’ve built, and how we’ve developed ideas about how the team should work.

When I started I was the only person on the team and now there are four of us, an Ecommerce Manager, a Senior Ecommerce Executive, an Ecommerce Executive, and an Ecommerce Buyer. I’ve always been keen that everyone on the team is a generalist and knows about all the different areas the team works in, and the other team members embraced this wholeheartedly. I’m also glad that we took the initiative to seize opportunities to do our own thing regardless of permission, and that we developed a team culture that took everyone as being on the same level (no hierarchical seniority) and supported each other whenever we needed it. A request for help from a team member was always higher priority than any other work.

2. I developed my thinking

I’m proud that I opened my mind to learn from lots of different people, both inside and outside the organisation.

I developed my thinking about digital and innovation in charities and not-for-profits, so much over the last four and half years, how changing the way we think is more important than introducing new tools and systems, and how an organisation causes problems for itself when it is always looking inwards.

I developed lots of my ideas about how teams work, how to work effectively and innovatively, how flexible working requires measuring outcomes-achieved rather than hours-worked, and how we can increase agility to be able to change direction quickly among so many other thoughts. All of this thinking has really helped me clarify my position on so many things about the present and future of digital, innovation and ecommerce for charities and not-for-profits.

3. I improved my skills

I’m proud that I learned so many things that were completely outside what I need to do my job.

I’ve learned how to write contracts and negotiate with suppliers, how to manage a team to overcome organisational challenges, how to deliver training that takes people’s thinking up into big concepts and then down into the details of processes, how marketing is really all about how the organisation sees itself, how logistics in the real world is so hard to get right but so important for the customer experience, and how providing great customer service is about fastest route to resolution, how to design and build chatbots, and how difficult designing and building large enterprise systems are, and so many more things.

4. I contributed to the cause

I’m proud that I worked for a cause that I wanted to support.

Over my time at the BHF we doubled the annual income achieved by Ecommerce. That’s more money for the life saving research that the BHF funds. I also contributed to the BHF outside of my role, donating stuff to be sold in shops., helped other teams increase their income, supported them to learn new systems and processes, built chatbots for them. Feeling that I have a purpose and am playing a small role in making the world a better place is important to me and what I love about working for charities and not-for-profits.

And a 1/2. I resisted the culture

I’m proud that I did all of the above despite the culture I existed in.

Despite a culture of no clear vision or leadership and shifting priorities we were able to become an almost semi-autonomous team and work on the things we knew could deliver value to the organisation, even if it wasn’t part of our role or didn’t show n our P & L. Despite a culture of guessing at targets, making decisions by opinion, not having much awareness of the 21st century world we live in, and not investing in future growth we were able to develop some understanding of what our customers wanted and deliver value that was out of proportion to our team size. Despite a culture of inequality of career progression I was able to support a team member to develop their skills, take on more responsibility, and achieve a promotion.

I’m only half proud of this because there shouldn’t be anything to resist.

Changes in thinking for the future of charity ecommerce

Not using short-term thinking about the organisation making money, but rather having vision and understanding of what problems we should be solving for our supporters.

Not starting with ‘what things can we sell’, but rather ‘what value do our customers want from us’.

Not following traditional/industrial/Talyorist thinking of putting lots of the same types of people in the same building and giving them fixed processes to follow, but rather than modern thinking of diverse and remote teams focused on solving a problem (imagine a workforce that is truly representative of our supporters and our society because we can employ someone with a heart condition from a South-East Asian background who lives in a small town somewhere but can login and work as a customer service agent for a few hours every Sunday afternoon).

Not longer applying the old charity mindset of value flowing one-way from supporters to the organisation, but rather applying a two-way value exchange model to thinking so that everyone gets the benefits.

Not being all about pipeline value delivery where the value of a thing moves through the business step-by-step until it reaches the customer (but not joined-up because of the organisational hierarchy constraints), but rather platform value delivery where we create things that customers use to derive their own value because we’re with our supporters every step throughout their life, from cradle to grave (and building services that can be sold to other charities).

Not looking inwards but rather having an appreciation of the trend in modern business of moving from ‘optimised-for-production’ (doing what is efficient for the business) to ‘optimised-for-consumption’ (doing what is effective for the customer) and how that shift will affect charity/retail/ecommerce.

Mental Health First Aid training

I completed the two day Adult Mental Health First Aider course. It provided an overview of various mental health conditions and a framework for supporting people with poor mental health.

Although the course was really interesting and helpful, what was also interesting was who was on the course and what that says about mental health awareness in workplaces.

Who was on the course

The types of people taking the course is interesting in helping to understand how mental health first aid and promoting better mental health in the workplace currently is and where any gaps might be. As this is only one course it provides a very small data set so the conclusions are spurious at best, but still it’s interesting to think about.

Gender split

There were twelve people, two men and ten women, on the course. I wonder if its because mental health first aid is seen as the responsibility of the HR department and more women work in HR. Arguably, men need to learn the skills of a mental heath first aider so I wonder if there is an opportunity to encourage more men to take the course and target more traditionally male workplaces.

Role split

6 in HR, 4 in frontline service delivery, 2 others.

It makes sense that frontline service delivery people would need mental health first aider skills, and it’s interesting that organisations still regard mental health as falling within a HR role in the workplace rather than being a shared responsibility, although perhaps HR people are best placed to raise awareness all across an organisation.

Two of the participants were from PR agency that had received Mental Health Awareness from Bucks Mind, so although this is just one example it suggests that small awareness sessions create lead generation opportunities.

Sector split

There was a broad spread of industries; insurance, construction, charity, PR.

It was good to see some many different industries. I guess it could be good to target industries with more well-known mental health issues, high-stress environments, those with lethal means, etc.

MHFA isn’t a legal requirement in the way that physical first aid is so businesses that pay for their employees to go on the course must be doing so because they believe in the value of encouraging better mental health at work.

What did I learn

The course changed my perception of mental health. It made me realise that we all have mental health and it exists on a spectrum. Sometimes we have better mental health and sometimes we have poor metal health. This viewpoint removes the ‘us and them’ between those who society regards as having mental illness and those who don’t. It makes it about health rather than illness.

It inspired me to want to find ways to build better mental health and acceptance around seeking support into the workplace culture so that rather than there being a single mental health first aider in a workplace that people go to for support, we all work in ways that encourages better mental health and supports people

Week Notes #145

What happened this week…

  • Answered defibrillator enquiries and processed lots of orders. 
  • Met the new Digital Strategist for Retail. 
  • Set up Live Chat on the website contact page. 
  • Discussed processes with a new defibrillator supplier 
  • Set up new products for London to Brighton Bike Ride. 
  • Discussed ecommerce configuration in AX. 
  • Attended a workshop for Data Management for advertising technology. 
  • Enabled StatusCake monitoring for the Online Shop. 
  • Wrote more handover notes. 

Read this week…

Doing next week…

  • Taking delivery of the new Sports Clothing. 
  • Send clothing to the photographers. 
  • Setting up House Clearance payments on the Online Shop. 
  • Answering defibrillator enquiries and process orders. 
  • Volunteering chatbot hackathon. 
  • Setting up Freshdesk for the Survival Team. 
  • Writing lots more handover notes. 

Interesting stat of the week…

  • As the London to Brighton Bike Ride approaches, we’ve seen a 147% increase in unique page views for L2B Tickets between May so far and the same time period in April. However, comparing this year to last year, London to Brighton unique page views are down 80%. 

In the not too distant future…

  • The new range of sports clothing on the Online Shop. 

Week Notes #144

What happened this week…

  • Answered defibrillator enquiries.
  • Discussed using Magento Marketplace functionality to support fundraising and dropship selling on the Online Shop.
  • Discussed using the Online Shop to take House Clearance Payments
  • Agreed the Facebook dynamic tracking work for Magento.
  • Decided to put Selling Furniture on hold.
  • Received cost prices for a new branded merchandise from a new supplier.
  • Discussed the overview of how Ecommerce will work when AX goes live.
  • Met the new Email Marketing Manager.
  • Set up new London to Brighton product in Magento.
  • Held second interviews for the new Ecommerce Executive role.
  • Wrote 19 pages of handover notes.

Read this week…

Doing next week…

  • Setting up the FTP for sales exports into AX.
  • Reviewing the progress of the Heart Helpline using Freshdesk.
  • Working on the new flat-lay style product images
  • Creating a range plan for the new branded merchandise.
  • Writing help articles for defibrillators.
  • Discussing Heart Helpline support for Selling Defibrillators.
  • Writing more handover notes.

Interesting stat of the week…

  • Over the last thirty days of having a banner on the home page to link to the BHF Ebay store, 0.03% (14) visitors have clicked on the banner.

In the not too distant future…

  • A new aesthetic to the product images on the Online Shop.

An experiment in focused-working

The problem

Too many things that need to be done right now. Too many emails. Too many meetings. Too many distractions. Not enough time to do the bigger pieces of work. Not enough focus on the important outcomes.

As a team we want to deliver more value and do so more continuously, But, as I’ve learned about Modern Agile principles, you can’t do one without all the others. In order to be able to deliver value continuously we need to be able to experiment rapidly, but in order to experiment we have to be willing to make people awesome, and provide psychological safety. People need to feel like they aren’t going to get in trouble by deviating from normal working practices, they need to feel like they’ll be able to achieve more and show the results of their efforts. So we needed an experiment,

The hypothesis

We can be innovative about how we work. We can find ways to focus better on doing things that make the most difference and achieve the best outcomes. We can figure out how to make the team more autonomous. We can focus on achieving outcomes rather than ticking off a to do list.

The experiment

For fours days in a row, the team decided what work they wanted to focus on. We tried to avoid talking about to-do lists and focus on the outcomes we could achieve for our customers.

We agreed that we could work when, where and how we wanted to. No need to work 9 to 5 if we didn’t want to. We won’t measure our work by hours spent but instead by outcomes achieved. We wanted our measures to be qualitative rather than quantitative. We agreed to go wherever we wanted in order to be able to focus. No need to be in the office if we didn’t want to.

We switched on our out-of-office emails and tried to avoid distractions to focus on deep work. And then we got on with it.

The retro

After our four day focused-working experiment we shared our thoughts on how it went for us.

What worked well

“I wrote a list of things I wanted to work on this week beforehand. This really helped keep me on track. I tried to work on only things on the list or things relating to the list.”

“Working from home/office split – working in different locations helps you stay in touch with what is going on but also gives you time to focus on what you are doing. There were a lot of email exchanges , which in an ordinary week would probably have been strung out for a week or so but as it was my number 1 priority I had time to work on it, respond quickly and get it pushed through quicker.”

“Focusing on a product worked well. Already we can see the traffic/sales are up from work we are doing so we can see that this week as had an impact.”

“Prioritised what needed to be focused on by creating to-do lists.”

“Setting a task that was completely self-driven – i.e. I wasn’t waiting for anything from anybody else.”

“9-5 still works for me as the children are around ALL of the other hours in the day. 7 days a week. 365 days a year. Repeat. Forever.”

“As a team, we are starting to think differently about ways of working, how to focus and be effective.”

“No has yet told me that we can’t work this way.”

“Being in an office felt like I had to respond to emails because I felt more visible, but on the days I worked at home I definitely completed bigger tasks.”

“I wonder if perhaps a different way to do focused work is to alternate people on the team doing it so that someone takes care of customer service enquiries, etc., whilst the others focus and then swap the next week.”

What didn’t work

“I didn’t really veer away from my 9-5 hours. Perhaps that is what works for me, but I couldn’t get out of that mind set.”

“I didn’t get everything completed on my list.”

“A lot of what I do still relies on emails back and forth from externals or internals – how smoothly or quickly this goes impacts the speed and focus of the task. Two tasks I had down didn’t get done due to lack of or slow response from others.”

“I worked mostly usual office hours. If that’s what works for us then that’s fine. I think the point of it isn’t to say don’t work usual hours, but that the more we think of measuring our work by the outcomes we achieve rather than the hours we work, the better. It’s about measuring quality rather than quantity.”

“I think I’d like to try working outside of office as then I wouldn’t get so distracted by emails. Even if it was working the standard seven hours a day, starting at 4pm to handle emails for the day and then working on something bigger till 11pm.”

“Can’t say that the work I did had any impact, so perhaps I chose the wrong things to focus on.”

Biggest distractions

“For me these were customer service enquiries and things from other teams that needed to be actioned. Both took me away from what I was working on at various points throughout the week and both I couldn’t really leave for the following week.

“Due to the nature of the job, responses to emails can still distract me as I am used to having to deal with emails very quickly. I find it really, really hard to ignore them, especially if I know I can answer them or help.”

“Many emails felt like they had to answered right away. I’m not sure how to ever get away from this, other than perhaps more notice to people the week before rather than just OOO emails (Although I still maintain that nothing bad happens when we’re on leave for a week).”

Other questions to think about…

How did it feel? Was it uncomfortable in any way or did it feel better than usual working?

Would you do it again? Should it become a usual way of working?

What else or different would you do to work in a more focused way? Should we run different experiments to find other ways to work in a more focused way?

What we learned

We can most definitely achieve bigger and better things by working in this way.

Saying that we were going to work in a different, more focused way helped us to do so. Being out of the office and having OOO emails on helped, but making the conscious effort to be focused had the biggest effect.

Being more disciplined with ourselves to choose work that was self-contained and could be completed within the given focus period helped to achieve things.

Getting away from the usual working mindsets of 9 to 5 and answering emails is hard. It’s really drummed into us that this is how we should work.

The future

In the near future we need to decide whether to make this way of working (four focus days every two weeks) a part of our usual working practice.

If we do move away from the 9 to 5 I hope the team gets better at listening to their minds and bodies about when and how to work, rather than looking at the clock, but we’ll need to make sure the team don’t overwork.

Even if we continue to work office hours, four days of focused-working every two weeks will help us achieve better outcomes and make the team more autonomous.

In the longer-term future, this is about moving away from ‘command and control’ management to ‘decentralised, distributed, and diverse’ leadership.

Week Notes #143

What happened this week…

  • Undertook our first focused-working experiment
  • Answered defib enquiries and processed orders
  • Created a new medical devices sales report
  • Wrote new blood pressure monitor product descriptions and submitted for medical sign-off
  • Had a Christmas card catch up with the buying team
  • Analysed campaign spend vs sales on current campaigns running
  • Writing advertising briefs for advertising campaigns – pride and Christmas cards
  • Processed Right To Be Forgotten Requests
  • Explored new product ideas for supporter merchandise
  • Discussed the Heart Helpline supporting on answering defib enquiries
  • Spoke to the events team regarding images for the new event clothing advertising campaign
  • Updated the Terms and Conditions on the Online Shop to cover selling defibrillators
  • Discussed a large potential corporate order for defibrillators
  • Went live on social paid and PPC blood pressure monitor campaigns
  • Got some links on blood pressure monitor website pages
  • Prioritised all development work
  • Set up new London to Brighton products in Magento
  • Wrote requirements for product reviews and low stock notifications
  • Designed email templates
  • Researched furniture delivery partners
  • Christmas cards and branded merchandise photo shoot.
  • Arranged second round of interviews for the new Ecommerce Executive role
  • Learned how to schedule products for ticket
  • Fixed clickable homepage images on desktop
  • Completed RMSP Artist work
  • Fixed finance issues with Freshdesk

Read this week…

Doing next week…

  • Scheduling in Facebook tracking fix and Instagram pin implementation
  • Going through fundraising site testing feedback from fundraisers
  • Raising the PO for the Magento license
  • Taking over Clothing buying from the Accessories Team
  • Discussing low stock notification and product review work with iWeb
  • Meeting to discuss selling furniture
  • Interviewing for the new Ecommerce Executive role
  • Meeting with the new Email Marketing Manager
  • Reviewing the first week of BPM advertising campaign

Interesting stat of the week…

  • Comparing April 2019 to April 2018, number of users increased by 13.3%, with referrals from the website increasing 4.8%, organic search traffic increasing 21.8%, and email traffic by 120.5%.

In the not too distant future…

  • Writing defib help articles to answer customer questions.

Week Notes #142

What happened this week…

  • Defibrillators enquiries and orders processing of almost £14k (our best week ever).
  • Discussed our focused work experiment.
  • Discussed Range Plan responsibilities and AX learning for Ecommerce.
  • Sent User Stories for the defibrillator webpages to the Content Experience team.
  • Met with a UX designer to discuss the design for the Defibrillator Advice Centre.
  • Listened in on the Marketing & Engagement Directorate townhall, and began thinking about objectives.
  • Tidied the Online Shop and looked at category reorganisation.
  • Discussed the security requirements for using the Freshdesk customer portal.
  • Began updating the Terms and Conditions to reflect drop-shipping defibrillators.
  • Interviewed for the new Ecommerce Executive role.

Read this week…

Doing next week…

  • Undertaking an experiment in focused working (Advertising, Magento dev, blood pressure monitors, defibrillators and supporter merchandise).
  • Discussing selling defibrillators with the Heart Helpline.
  • Takeover Clothing buying from the Accessories Team.
  • Discussing selling furniture online.
  • Discussing Christmas Cards stock management and marketing.

Interesting stat of the week…

  • 32% of defibrillator orders are paid by invoice with 68% paid by credit card. Defibrillators make up 86% of sales with cabinets, cases, etc. making up 14%.

In the not too distant future…

  • Reviewing the results of our focused working experiment.
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