An organization is made up of people who opt-in to communities and work together to get things done. To communicate and articulate a vision is, therefore, critical for an organization to develop and a community to grow.
Community persona methods provide an important organization development design tool to understand goals that motivate people.
Why do people matter? Because people are the only way organizations, and communities, achieve or sustain anything.
The common oversight is to communicate one vision from one perspective. That strategy ignores the complexity within communities from competing views and complex motivations.
Organization politics, or parochialism, are tangible examples of competing views that impact performance and one communication perspective leaves people confused, or worse, closed off, from the intent.
Anything worth designing is worth understanding motivation. As a practical field of social science, Organization Development (OD) includes 4 categories around increased effectiveness and share a common denominator of motivation:
- Human Process: training, team building, organization design, facilitation, conflict resolution;
- Technostructural: Lean, Six Sigma, total quality management, Agile, Just in Time, business process;
- Human Resource Management: job design, performance appraisal, engagement, rewards systems, diversity and inclusion; and
- Strategic: strategic planning, ideation, innovation, scenario planning, culture change, change management, organization behavior*
What if your OD efforts were not transmitted through a series of announcements, emails, town hall meetings, or other sideshow-barker-style efforts? Is there an alternative?
To move from selling to solving means a move from your motivation to get it done to another’s motivation to solve a challenge.
Envision your new performance appraisal system picked up, repeated, and talked about by employees, themselves, in their words and within their teams, about how the new appraisal system is an improvement over the former one?
Does the thought of employees picking up and leading enterprise appraisal system discussions, perhaps even through employee blogs, bring a galloping sound of the Four Horseman of the Apocalypse to mind?
Organization Development Buy-in to Opt-in
As a continuation from Buyer persona for organization strategy and development I invite you to think of OD or HR work as a marketing campaign.
An organization announcement as a press release? No, not spin.
A town hall meeting as an infomercial? No, not hype.
So how might a marketer approach the opportunity to understand a large group? Marketers might look at demographic or market segment strategies as an effort to classifying potential customers by trait: race, gender, and income. Segmenting helps companies sell goods and services to meet a buyer need.
Segmentation traits, such as race or gender, provide. But, where traits may tell you what, persona design strategies help tell you why. When you search for why you search for what motivation. The core of the persona strategy positions you to provide answer to problems they have.
Smart marketers understand buyers, and many build formal buyer personas for their target demographics.
When you understand your audience, those people who will become your buyers (or those who will join, donate, subscribe, apply, volunteer, or vote), you can craft an editorial and content strategy just for them. What works is a focus on your buyers and their problems. What fails is an egocentric display of your products and services. – David Meerman Scott
Solutions that answer their needs turns the effort from selling to solving.
We need to be a bit more innovative in HR and OD communication strategies. Innovative, not in our minds, but innovative as in game-changing and this type of innovation relies on ideas borrowed from another box.
Thinking out of the box is exactly what people who live and work in a box rarely achieve. So, to prepare for out-of-the-box thinking the 1st step out of the box step is to remove whatever professional hat you wear and replace it with another hat, for this suggestion, a marketing hat. Now that you have a new hat we need to adopt 2 principles:
- Persona perspective is the foundation for community
- Design affects human behavior within community
The Case for Community Persona
The foundation of strategic marketing is that you market to an example of the real person you hope to influence.
David Meerman Scott may have introduced the buyer persona concept to bloggers and the marketing folk navigating the new rules of marketing and PR, but since the mid-90s, Adele Revella, is a pioneer, designer, and advocate for persona marketing; as well as the creator of buyerpersona.com. Scott highlights Ms. Revella in his chapter on how to build a persona strategy:
A buyer persona profile is a short biography of the typical customer, not just a job description but a person description.
The buyer persona profile gives you a chance to truly empathize with target buyers, to step out of your role as someone who wants to promote a product and see, through your buyers’ eyes, the circumstances that drive their decision process.
The buyer persona profile includes information on the typical buyer’s background, daily activities, and current solutions for their problems. The more experience you have in your market, the more obvious the personas become. – Adele Revella
You may have drifted back to the OD world while you read that, but stay with me. Pull the brim of your marketing hat down and read the following with an eye towards each as a market segment:
- the accounting department,
- the information technology department,
- the sales department
Close your eyes and what comes to mind when you think of people within each segment, department, or community?
- What picture forms in your mind of the people in each?
- What might they look like?
- What is unique about each community?
One size does not fit all. And that is why most internal OD strategies struggle to find resonance.
Segments may package people neatly into gender, age, or sex, but do not go far enough in understanding what motivates them. Segments remain in the mindset that you have something to sell them. Market segmentation is limiting.
The Case for Persona Design
Segments may tell you gender, age, and other demographic, but segments leave out something critical: motivation. Corporate cultures, or communities, present unique identities. Identities, not identity. Plural not singular.
I want to borrow some thoughts from the design world and from a pioneer in goal-oriented design, Alan Cooper and the brilliantly, relevant About Face: The Essentials of Interaction Design [4th edition, 2014]:
Quantitative market research and market segmentation is quite useful for selling products but falls short of providing critical information about how people actually use products – especially products with complex behaviors.
We might know what market segment our users are in, how much money they make, how much money they like to spend on weekends, and what sort of cars they buy. Maybe we even have a vague idea what kind of jobs they have and some of the major tasks that they regularly perform. But does any of this tell us how to make them happy? Does it tell us how they will actually use the product we’re building? Does it tell us why they are doing whatever it is they might need our product for … [u]nfortunately, it does not. – Alan Cooper
If you take the time to design an intervention then design with a community persona in mind. Departments within cultures, also thought of as micro communities, have their own sub-cultures and personas. Where these community personas may align, superficially, to the organization goal, each has unique motivation to get their tasks done and interpret enterprise goals only so far as they meet their department goals.
With your marketing hat on, ask yourself if 1 message effectively meets the community persona of the accounting department, the information technology department, or the sales department from the segment example above?
Why would marketing care about personas? Well here are 2 nuggets:
- Only 14% of people trust advertisements – Nielsen
- 94% of consumers trust word of mouth – Forrester Research, Inc.
Understanding buyers and building an effective content strategy to reach them is critical for success. Clear links from content to the place where action occurs is crucial. To understand buyers you need to understand what answers they look for.
If word-of-mouth creates trust, persona strategies clearly meet marketing goals more effectively than traditional advertising. Not surprisingly, trust from within to articulate the need and potential solution set.
Community persona strategies provide an important option to market OD. Certainly more effective than missives from HR or the Corporate deck that come across more as an advertisement.
Steps to Persona Design
Here is the first of many tools to move the OD model from tossing communication over the wall to designing communication to motivate. The difference between getting it done and getting accomplished is meeting the need of the community persona, not simply the need of your department communication calendar.
However, I can not offer an effective prescription for your persona design, nor should you expect one. The suggestions are here to offer possibilities.
10 steps to Personas, comes from Dr. Lene Nielsen’s user interface work. Again, something borrowed from a field apart from OD, but a field that also relies on sociology, anthropology, human behavior, and motivation.
Dr. Nielsen advocates the creation of an archetype of your buyer persona as persona details can provide:
- What the user does,
- watches, and
- is interested in
Dr. Nielsen highlights 10 steps and the questions within each step to effectively answer persona design elements:
- Finding the Users: Who are the users? How many are they? What do they do with the system?
- Building a Hypothesis: What are the differences between the users?
- Data for Personas – Likes/dislikes, inner needs, values;
- Data for Situations – area of work, work conditions;
- Data for Scenarios: work strategies and goals, information strategies and goals
- Finding Patterns: Does the initial labeling hold? Are there other groups to consider? Are all equally important?
- Constructing Personas: Body (name, age, picture), psyche (extrovert/introvert), background (occupation), emotions and attitudes towards technology, the company (sender), or the information that they need, personal traits
- Defining Situations: What is the need of this persona? What is the situation?
- Validation and Buy-In: Do you know someone like this?
- Dissemination of Knowledge: How can we share the personas with the organization?
- Creating Scenarios: In a given situation, with a given goal, what happens when the persona uses technology?
- On-Going Development: Does new information alter the persona?
The goal is to understand that you provide answers for their WIIFM? (what’s in it for me?) filter when you provide content is clearly written to motivate WIIFT? (what’s in it for them?).
We borrowed from the fields of marketing, software and technology design, and user experience. There is a whole lot more to pull from as the series moves along.
We will revisit Alan Cooper, Adele Revella, David Meerman Scott, Lene Nielsen, and others, like Brian Solis throughout. As well as examples where I have worked with community persona design strategies.
As Ms. Revella points out in “Never assume you know the answer!“*
The next intended post: Community persona for change management.
Others ahead include community persona for:
I look forward to your dialogue and engagement.
*modified from Thomas Cummings and Christopher Worley Organization Development and Change
Community Persona Design for Organizations
- Buyer persona for organization strategy and development
- Community persona for organization development
- 4 design tools to meet persona context
- Community persona resource and influence timeline
- Communication with goal-oriented design and community persona strategy
- Community persona for SharePoint intranet design
- Community persona reaction for functional design
- Community persona for change management
- Community persona for project management
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