5 Ways of Removing Barriers for Great Collaboration

Collaboration rarely happens on its own. It takes a motivating spark, a reason that creates value for multiple people, a trusting environment and time. When true collaboration happens in the workplace the value added to the organization is exponential. Collaboration creates long-term buy-in and often creates working relationships that last for years, spurring even more collaborative initiatives.

Below is a list of principals I have noticed that should be in place, or at least recognized as beneficial, for a collaborative environment to grow. When these types of ground rules are not shared by all collaborative work usually halts, and it becomes difficult to reset and work on new projects and initiatives.

1. Use Whatever Tool Set That Gets the Job Done
Never limit a technology tool set to only what is best known to you and your team. By dictating that no other tools can be used to collaborate other than those currently in place, you limit both who will be willing to work with you and your team, and new innovations may go unnoticed and unmastered. Try out a new tool and you will learn in the process.

2. Allow For Disagreements But Not Arguments
For any collaboration to work and produce results open and frank conversations need to take place. However, if those conversations get personal or are not focused entirely on the work there is a chance misunderstanding can occur. It’s best to keep a tone of respect in all situations, but if lines are crossed apologizing and moving forward anew is just an honest, heart-felt conversation away.

3. No Holding Grudges (Assume Positive Intent)
Decisions must be made during a collaborative project. Some decisions may not go your way or be how you think they should go. This cannot become a source of frustration. Once decisions are made and the group has moved on, so must all members of the group. If you find that you cannot move on, you should remove yourself from the team until you are able to get past the decisions that didn’t go your way.

4. Trust Is A Must
No work moves forward in any lasting way without staff members trusting each other and their leaders. This is such a basic, foundational aspect to collaboration it’s almost not worth mentioning it. If you have not established a trusting relationship with colleagues you must begin there and repair in order to move to a collaborative space.

5. Don’t Sign Up For A One Time Thing
Collaboration needs to be a attitude and an approach toward work that lasts over time. Working on projects with multiple people and multiple teams is rewarding, but takes a commitment.

My hope is that this list inspires you to contribute your own ideas about how to promote a collaborative work environment. Please share your thoughts with your colleagues.

Talking Points: Encourage an environment where self-starters will thrive

Managers don’t need to touch everything

  • Give self-starters a sense of ownership
  • Help develop a trust-based relationship
  • Don’t compete or attempt to be better than your staff
  • Give self-starters access to leadership

Celebrate successes, never dwell on failures

  • Nothing kills self-starters’ attitudes like harping on missteps
  • The best innovations were always preceded by failures
  • Not everything is a home run, small things count too
  • Do not just show up when thing go wrong

Allow for space

  • Never allow the words “we’ve always done it this way” stand
  • Let self-starters challenge the status quo
  • Don’t let self-starters cut themselves off from the group by being too rigid
  • Look for opportunities to launch a career rather than keeping butts-in-seats

Ask more questions

  • Rather than making statements, ask questions
  • Set clear expectations and then step back

How are you running staff meetings?

  • Do you always talk first?
  • Is there space on the agenda for others?
  • Don’t list the meetings you will attend, focus on the why
  • Never have a meeting to justify existence

Call projects “beta” or “demos”

  • Self-starters want to be able to try new things
  • If something didn’t work, be willing to kill it off; self-starters may have trouble letting it go
  • Try an agile approach if possible; more small goals, sprint to get something done and out into the world

Broadcast email and the marketing mix: 5 things to remember

1. Real value is calculated

I can show you how email drives traffic to websites, but translating that into actionable data that can be used to create priorities, budgets, and employee focus is another matter entirely. Email isn’t sexy, it just works. And of course it works, it wouldn’t have lasted this long if it didn’t work. But we must spend the time to justify resources for this old medium. University Communications has plans to implement an email testing and analytics platform later this year to dig further into the value of sending email. I will share our learning back out to the community quickly, but we can’t stop there.

The current untested theory is that Ohio State sends too much email to our constituents. However, the platform drives significant traffic to our websites. Surveys, focus groups and one-on-one conversations this fall and winter will help determine both how our constituents are consuming online services and tools, and what products are connecting and keeping them engaged in the life of the university.

This coming year you should determine what your email campaigns should be doing, how to test them for success, and when to implement change based on your learning.

2. First place you notice an offering. So what’s the call-to-action?

Yes, the digital world is changing our lives, and new tools replace old tools. But some paths remain well worn for a reason. Email is how LinkedIn signals to you that a colleague wants to connect. It’s how Twitter chooses to share with you that you have new followers, and suggest other people to follow. Most social media services have reminder emails associated with their service. Many people first get wind of an event, opportunity, news story or highpoint by browsing a well crafted email message. OSU Today has maintained between an 8,000 and 11,000 open rate throughout its history.

So if this is how people are reminded to connect with a service, how are you using the medium to make sure the content creates the right call-to-action? What are the lessons social media and other markets can teach us about using a well-crafted call-to-action? Test out ideas and segment your audience to try new things. Try placing events at the top of the message and more internal news at the bottom. Create special landing pages within your website just for email traffic and match the call to action and tone of the e-news with your landing page.

No one solution will work for everyone, but attempting new tactics will get you more data to analyze.

3. This has got to work on a phone

Mobile email use chartSo you aren’t a designer, let alone an email designer. Not a problem. University Communications will release mobile friendly, branded email templates later this year based on what we learn from increased analytics and testing. This is no longer a nice-to-have marketing resource. It has become a must-have. While we are relying on general industry statistics rather than our own numbers to begin heading down this path, mobile first is now a major force in all we produce in the digital space for Ohio State.

Check back with me in the fall and I will have more to say on this matter.

4. Personalized doesn’t mean leading with a name

If your target audience lives in a certain area of the country, surprise them with content that would only make sense for someone who lives there. If your audience are all degree holders of a specific academic area, surprise them with news about current student success within that area. This is true personalization. Adding a user’s name to the greeting of an email will more likely increase the creepy factor. Try making your audience feel connected to your area of Ohio State through the strategic placement of content.

5. Must move to an opt-in model

I know you have access to your alumni email addresses, I know that faculty, staff, and students have email addresses stored in PeopleSoft, and my area is just as guilty as everyone else in sending out unsolicited email messages… but there is a better way. When e-newsletters are opt-in the click through rates are doubled, and sometimes triple that of unsolicited messages. If your content isn’t good enough for people to want to opt-in, start improving your content. Once you have that going well, a  call-to-action within your e-news should  register new users and ask loyal ones to share through email forwarding and posting to their personal social media.


Digital Strategy + Case Studies

Ohio State’s Big Digital Idea
Ohio State constituents, just like the rest of modern society, are actively using digital, social media and mobile services and tools. The university must offer equally compelling services and content in this space to engage, excite, motivate, and inform our audiences. We must transform our approach to how we offer digital experiences. We must be faster to adopt industry best practices, and we must share data about and for our audiences throughout all Ohio State digital applications for the benefit of user experience. We must adopt a Service-Oriented Architecture (SOA) approach to every digital experience we construct – independent of any vendor, product or technology. By moving quickly and reacting to new opportunities, we will keep Ohio State constituents engaged. We will surprise, educate and motivate our audiences by offering personalized and relevant online experiences.

Ohio State’s Digital Strategy – Draft – 

  • Deliver digital services that absorb the complexity of Ohio State on behalf of all users.
  • Make available, and continually improve priority user-centered services for mobile use.
  • Decouple data, presentation and end-point delivery.
  • Measure performance and user satisfaction to improve services.
  • Foster collaboration through encouragement and support from a digital services advisory group.

Deliver digital services that absorb the complexity of Ohio State on behalf of all users.
Ohio State’s constituents should not have to seek out department after department to get a full picture of what Ohio State has to offer. Our user-centered approach means that we will make it easy for them to find and share the information they need and to accomplish tasks.

Case Study – Media Magnet
George, an Ohio State alumnus in chemistry, receives the e-newsletter Connect, and follows a link to an interesting story about recent research advances in his field of study. While on the research feature page, the alumnus looks for more information about other advances related to chemistry. However, because there is currently no way to communally tag content across departments and units, the only content George sees are others items from the e-newsletter.

With the proposed Media Magnet project (contact to learn more), all Ohio State units and departments can participate in an aggregation service that will solve George’s problem. When content is tagged and shared in a common, predictable way, web applications can be built to take advantage of new content without human intervention.

Media Magnet

Make available, and improve priority user-centered services for mobile use.
Make priority information and services available on demand and on any device. Doing this work creates the opportunities for sharing data, pulling from common data resources, and making experiences consistent across a multitude of devices and platforms. This involves identifying the highest-priority services to optimize for mobile use.

Case Study – OSU Mobile Grades
OSU Mobile (iPhone/Android) has been a wonderful addition to Ohio State’s digital landscape. Not only are students able to check their final course grades using a mobile device, but with the most recent version, students are able to log in and see Carmen quiz and test grades. This new section of OSU Mobile is called “My OSU.”

Debra, an Ohio State alumna, is interested in continuing her education. If her account was activated, she could log in using OSU Mobile and see her grades from past quarters/semesters. She could order her transcripts directly from the same screen. Capabilities like this turn into engagement opportunities for continuing education, mentoring or volunteer opportunities, and more. A possible engagement tactic would be to provide Debra volunteer messages with strong calls-to-action alongside her personalized experience on OSU Mobile. Creating opportunities where the mobile experience continues through the life cycle of an Ohio State constituent is a major key to keeping alumna like Debra engaged in the university beyond the student years.

Grades on OSU Mobile

Decouple data, presentation and end-point delivery.
A college or unit’s website is not the only destination for the content and services offered through their business functions. Content, data, transactions, services, and profiles will be shared using a web services model. Applications can be built to personalize and customize content and services for individual users.

Case Study – Ohio State “portal”
As a recent alumnus, Tess would like to apply for graduate school. Since Tess has been out of school for two years, her account is no longer active. In fact, Ohio State messaging has directed her to create a new account in the TAS system. She is now online, trying to apply using her TAS credentials. Tess is getting frustrated with her online experience.

Ohio State needs a common portal for alumni, students, prospective students, faculty, staff and donors.  This web and mobile interface would follow alumni like Tess through the entire relationship life cycle. To make this digital relationship worthwhile for users like Tess, all units at Ohio State need to participate. If data is available about Tess’ relationship with Ohio State, it should be shared – with all security measures enabled – to create a robust user experience.


Measure performance and user satisfaction to improve services.
Develop objective performance measures and identify tools to measure performance and satisfaction with digital services. Create benchmarks and use analytics and surveys to constantly review user satisfaction with our digital services and content.

Case Study – A social digital partnership
Social media extends conversations beyond the traditional boundaries associated with marketing. Hashtags, direct responses, encouraging input, and other tactics create communities around topics in the digital space. Ohio State must use these, and other tactics, to engage and then direct our constituents to new opportunities – career development, volunteerism, event attendance and ultimately giving to the university.

Lucia graduated from Ohio State’s College of Business before it was named Fisher College. She has a great affinity for Ohio State, but has not given volunteering for Ohio State much thought. By placing messages in our e-newsletter products, social media channels, and traditional websites all directing Lucia to return to Ohio State digitally to re-engage through volunteerism, we create an opportunity to bring Lucia back into a meaningful relationship with her alma mater.

Tactics likes these are highly measurable. Ohio State must begin to put values onto Lucia’s interactions so that baselines can be created, and growth over time can be measured.


Foster collaboration through encouragement and support from a digital services advisory group.
In combination with units and colleges, an advisory group is needed to excite and activate our Ohio State digital developer and communications community. A core group of leaders will identify opportunities for sharing content, create policies where necessary, and establish best practice models. Led by a “Big Idea,” the advisory group will empower supporters and allow teams to form where inspiration and innovative opportunity meet. Overarching principles must be agreed to in order to get this off the ground. A core majority of the organization must be bought-in, and a “get-to” environment needs to be established to motivate volunteers. People must be inspired by the new opportunities, and invited and encouraged to participate through many small acts of leadership and recognizing successes.

Case Study –
Tony is a developer in University Communications. He’s worked at Ohio State for seven years – mostly at the college level providing web support and development to faculty members and department chairs. Tony has a long history with needing to recreate services because he has no data access to an authoritative source. He and other talented university developers launched a new service called the University Code Repository (UCR). UCR is a software repository management platform using git. UCR was created as a tool to provide a university-wide resource for code management, code review, and general collaboration for software projects at Ohio State.

Through encouragement from his peers and manager, Tony became excited about the UCR project because he saw a need, he saw how his skills and talents could influence the future direction of Ohio State. This type of staff engagement and involvement largely goes undocumented, and is not widely known about outside of very specific communities. This type of staff engagement is how the future digital Ohio State experience will be constructed.




Book Review: Accelerate Change at Ohio State

Imagine being able to run with new ideas generated from a cohort of the most energetic people you’ve met at Ohio State. Imagine focusing your energy on strategic projects, and taking risks by releasing new digital services that refocus the university’s attention, while laddering up into shared goals and objectives. Imagine moving the needle, even with small improvements.

Accelerate by John Kotter

Accelerate by John Kotter

John Kotter’s latest management book, Accelerate: Building Strategic Agility for a Faster-Moving World, implores forward thinking firms and progressive organizations to establish a new organizational structure to accomplish this cultural change. This new structure, the Dual Operating System, is actually based on a state most organizations have experienced in the past; one organizations pass through naturally, but cannot maintain over time. The Dual Operating System is separate from, but moving in concert with, an operational/hierarchical structure, and keeps the organization on pace with the ever changing digital landscape.

Led by a “Big Idea,” and a “Guiding Coalition” of supporters, teams are formed where inspiration and innovative opportunity meet. Overarching principles must be agreed to in order to get this dual system off the ground. More than 50% of the organization must be bought-in, and a “get-to” environment needs to be established to motivate volunteers. People must be inspired by the new opportunities, and invited and encouraged to participate through many small acts of leadership.

Kotter’s overarching premise is that the traditional hierarchical management structure, rooted in the post WWII economic boom and cemented by corporate growth, will not provide the innovation and flexibility needed to succeed in today’s fast-paced digital world. To make his point, Kotter plots out the creative energy stages of most organizations – from start-up, to well oiled machine, reliable operator, and finally a bureaucracy unable to adapt quickly to changing opportunities. Kotter explains that there is a moment in time just before hierarchical structures completely take over and processes are necessarily operationalized, where innovative risk still remains at the core of a company’s culture. It is this moment, Kotter claims, an organization must recapture in order to progress in the new digital space. This moment is where hierarchies and agile structures recognize the need for one another, and work toward common goals.

It would be very easy to claim that Ohio State University is an organization stuck in the bureaucratic phase. However, I have witnessed all kinds “states” of Ohio States. We are many organizations at once. Without a doubt I have run up against bureaucracies, but I’ve been a part of innovative bursts, grassroots initiatives, and small creative efforts that have moved the needle in how Ohio State’s constituents use digital services and applications. There is no “one way” Ohio State progresses with digital advances and innovations. Ohio State is a hugely diverse organization that ebbs and flows with innovation – moving into command and control, settling into bureaucracy, only to be rocked by new innovation.

An obvious example of this would be OSU Mobile. I would place how social media programs were launched at Ohio State into this “strategic, agile, grassroots” category as well. The (Go) project also fits nicely into this paradigm. Go was first described to me by Eric Schnell, Beth Black, and Jim Muir at the Innovate 2010 conference, and then again in the basement of the Science and Engineering Library later in the Spring. Eric and Beth were looking for a way to keep URLs short and reliable over time, while utilizing the Ohio State brand to signify a trusted association with the university. Their original concept was centered around citation URLs for academic journal publication.

Since Go’s launch, the entire university has embraced the shortened URL service. Over 30,000 URLs have been shorten by Ohio State faculty, students and staff, and today, the largest users are social media managers and marketers providing short memorable links for promotion and general consumption. Go links are used in Wexner Medical Center TV commercials, on athletics promotions, on WOSU, and many other public spaces. Go started as an agile, grassroots, digital success that moved the needle on how Ohio State offers digital services to its constituents. Today Go has been operationalized, and it is a reliable, stable service.

How do we replicate this kind of innovation? How does Ohio State promote small projects that contain the potential to shift and accelerate digital innovation? For this digital innovator, the answer lies in John Kotter’s new book.

What Social Media Knows That Broadcast Email Must Figure Out

Conversation Clip Art
©Clay Sinclair

Social Media is the digital equivalent of having a really smart and cocky younger sibling. Everything he does seems to overshadow the rest of the family… and it’s all stuff the older kids did (maybe half as well) years and years ago. The older kids, in this overly extended metaphor, are of course the Web and Broadcast Email.

The oldest child is of course the Web. Producing a website takes writing skills, a tremendous amount of design skill, and if you are lucky, a large chunk of coding skill (although coding seems to be the least invested in). The web has to be “rebuilt’ every 3-5 years, and someone needs to own a long term vision for how it will be received by not only end users, but internal stakeholders, peers, bosses, business partners, and the list goes on and on.  Running a university’s website is a full time job for three or more people, and to do it well you need five or more.

The middle child, in this scenario, is Broadcast Email (we don’t call them Blasts because that’s tacky). Building, curating, cultivating, and data mining lists is the difficult background work, and it largely goes undone. It’s just plain easier to send everyone everything. Segmentation is possible, but the more segmentation the more extra work is created, and a disincentive springs up around innovation and creativity. Most Broadcast Email strategies are centered around speaking loudly in one direction to fill the business needs of a unit or program. Users are almost never considered during planning – other than how they can become ticket buyers, donors, participants.

Social media on the other hand, has decided to start having conversations with audiences (Novel, I know). And so much like a younger sibling, most social media managers don’t have a long history of trying, and failing and trying all over again at technical and design tasks that, at times, seem as large as painting the ocean. I’m thinking pre-CMS, pre-CSS… No, instead they have dashboards, vendor tools, built in analytics and reporting. No grinding of teeth to get something to align 255 pixels right of center.

So sure, social media get’s picked on. But most of what social is doing (timely posts, audience interaction, measuring ROI in near real time) are things both Web and Broadcast Email can learn a lot from.

Like listening and responding to an audience. Does your email strategy include answering every question generated by your last email send? Are you soliciting a two-way conversation directly within the copy and designs you send out? Are you trying to generate engagement *and* awareness? Your social media manager is. And social media is eating your lunch broadcast email. You better hurry up and figure out how to create relevancy before the your audience tunes you out for good.

This blog post came out of planning for a lunch and learn being held at University Communications’ South Campus Gateway offices later this month. If it goes well, and is well received, i.e. adds value for folks, I’ll turn it into a UC Academy session.

I Got Big Plans, Big Plans I Say


Bob Shea’s wonderful book, Big Plans, is a must read even if you don’t have little kids around the house. The protagonist is a child who has the confidence and tenacity any of us would borrow from liberally. His direction is unclear. He moves from a boardroom to the White House to building a rocket ship in a matter of pages, but does it all with the confidence of someone unafraid of failure.

I think about this each time we take on a new project here in Interactive Communications. Before the work begins, and as I and my staff begin to socialize the idea, we can either feel overwhelmed by the task ahead or forge into the unknown (or partially unknown) with fearless abandon. Great projects pull away from the gate due to this kind of energy. Big plans are contagious. Big plans are plans others want to get behind… but often only once the plans start to seem like an inevitability.

In the very early stages of taking on new, potentially game-changing work, Big Plans can feel like the edge of a cliff.

Over the next few months (Feb-May 2014) my staff and I will be gathering requirements, talking through business processes, considering user experience, testing features, and planning navigation structures all in support of a new online experience for alumni. The project’s first milestone, but not its finish line, is September 1, 2014. We’ve got Big Plans, You See!

I hope to be speaking to many Ohio State staff in the coming weeks and months about this project. If you meet with me, let me know you’ve heard about our Big Plans.

Three Two-Word Sentences

Mike Eicher, SVP for University Advancement recently challenged a few members of his leadership team to sum up their roles in three two-word sentences. By way of example, he described his key responsibilities as:
1. Drive growth.
2. Develop talent.
3. Provide direction.

My boss, Melinda Church, VP for University Communications asked that her direct reports do the same. Below are my three two-word sentences describing my role at Ohio State.

1. Inspire others
2. Innovate constantly
3. Data-based thinking

What do you think of this exercise?
Did I capture my roll here at OSU?