5 Reasons Why ReadyTalk Loves Startup Weeks and Weekends

In an age where companies are fearful their most dedicated, passionate employees may be drawn to the exciting world of startups, ReadyTalk actively recruited and paid for some of its employees to attend Denver Startup Weekend IoT (Internet of Things) 2016.

As the Manager of Innovation Strategy, I had a few goals for the initiative. Chatting with the attendees after the weekend, I’ve compiled this list of the very best reasons to support your employees attending your next local Startup Weekend event.

1. Connect with smart people outside your company walls.

When you’re only exposed to members of your own organization, your view on the world becomes perilously narrow. Working with others from different companies, industries, stages of life, etc. can dramatically broaden your view on things. In my first Startup Weekend team as a participant, my team’s ages varied from 20s to 60s, and we had dramatically different educational and professional backgrounds. I’ve remained in contact with several people I met over that weekend, including someone who I now consider my professional mentor.

Startup

2. Hear really cool (okay and not so cool) ideas.

Before the pitches Friday night, about 8 attendees had plans to pitch. After the speech by Matthew Bailey and some ice-breaker activities, we had over 20 participants stand up in front of the crowd to pitch an idea they wanted to work on. From parking apps to lucid dreaming to asynchronous communication with Grandma, it can just be inspiring to hear the different ideas people have rattling around in their brains. At the Global Startup Battle Startup Weekend in Boulder last November, the winning team was an idea that the founder came up with while listening to other pitches! Even if a particular idea doesn’t move forward, it can spark other ideas.

3. Focus on what’s really critical.

With only 54 hours to work within, a startup weekend team needs to be laser-focused on impactful work. Having time as such a limited resource forces some difficult discussions and decisions. The team needs to (rapidly) break down their assumptions to ensure they’re going in the right direction .What’s the key problem we’re solving for people? Do they know it’s a problem? (How) are they trying to solve it now?
How much time should we devote to getting customer validation? Building a prototype? Preparing for our pitch?

4. Get sh*t done.

At a Startup Weekend event, trying and learning is preferred over deliberating. Everyone pitches in, regardless of background or experience. Compare this to a hierarchical workplace, where junior employees may tend to defer to “more experienced” co-workers.

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5. Get feedback, including from mentors.

Two of our employee attendees said their favorite part of the weekend was the feedback they got from the mentors and judges. I attribute some of this to the fact that the mentors and judges had no reason to sugar-coat information. Our attendees craved this honest feedback.

Now that we’re back in the office and things have settled down, I’ve been asked if I feel we can recreate the magic of a Startup Weekend here at work. And I’m not sure we can. Sure, we can create cross-functional teams and give people a lot of caffeine and an aggressive timeline. But unless we can cultivate a whole network of amazing external people to come in, I don’t know if we can achieve the same level of Startup Weekend euphoria. So as long as we have fantastic employees who are willing to “give up” a weekend of their time to gain this sort of experience, we’ll continue to send them to events like this.

How about you?

Have you tried to recreate a Startup Weekend environment in your workplace? What was your experience?

How to Help Veterans and Why It Matters

There’s a lot to be proud of at ReadyTalk. We have great people as well as awesome perks like being able to volunteer while being paid. But it’s more than that — we have a culture that really values people. And when I type “really values,” I mean I attended a brown bag presented by employees across the company where everyone, including IT, talked about how ReadyTalk is a people-first company.

When you make decisions with people in mind, you can’t go wrong.

One of those things to be proud of in this people-first company is a program known as Returnship. What is it? It’s a lot like an intern program, but for people who are older and are looking to re-enter the workforce. It’s great for anyone thinking about returning, maybe slowly, from new moms to job changers to veterans.

Being a new mom and going back to work was rough

I was a new mom once — one who quit her job envisioning that I’d want to be a stay-at-home mom. About eight months into my time as a stay-at-home mom, I began to remember longingly what it was like to be in an office. Adult conversation became way more important than I ever thought it could be. And though at the time I jumped in with both feet, accepting a mostly full-time position, I wish I’d been able to go at it slowly with a reduced schedule that ramped up as I became more comfortable.

When you’ve been out of the workforce for a while, it can be a shock to re-enter.

The biggest shock of all is that although I had the same skills, my priorities were completely different. I had to think about getting home to make dinner. I also had to decide between Valentine Day parties and meetings.

thank you veterans

Imagine being a veteran

Being a new mom is rough, but being a veteran re-entering the workplace is a bigger shock — especially one who’s been out of the country and has seen combat or the results of combat. Service can change people beyond just priorities. And when they’re ready to return to the workforce, they’ll possibly need more time and different ways to integrate again.

Why veterans?

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics lists unemployment in 2015 at almost 6% for veterans. Yet veterans have fantastic skills. Unlike civilians just entering the workforce, they understand how to get work done. They have a range of skills that are easily transferrable to various jobs, too. And they’re hard workers. In fact, all the people in the military I’ve ever known are tenacious and diligent, meeting deadlines easily. They understand what it takes to get a job done and they’ll do it. They don’t usually complain either about working hard.

We owe it to them, too. These brave men and women have devoted their lives to our country and it’s our responsibility — all of ours — to ensure they’re welcomed back. And because they’re talented, dedicated, and smart — why shouldn’t we welcome them back with open arms in businesses across the country?

They may also need more support. Many veterans struggle with a range of issues mostly around purpose — what do I do now and what am I doing to contribute? They may be more apt to suffer from depression — sometimes from that lack of purpose. And because they aren’t complainers, they’re less likely to talk about it. In fact, Pew Research has the statistic as high as 44% have difficulty adjusting to civilian life … especially soldiers who come home now — post 9/11.

How we help

This blog will touch on the Returnship program again, but in the meantime it’s worth noting that business people can have a direct way to help veterans.

  • Hire a veteran
  • Develop a returnship program of your own with veterans and other workers who’ve been out of the workforce
  • Support nonprofit causes to help veterans like Veterans to Farmers

3 Types of Meetings to Improve Your IT Project

Let’s be honest: IT projects have a terrible reputation when it comes to communication. Whether implementing software, installing hardware, or all of the little updates in between, the actual process of building and maintaining your stack tends to fill stakeholders with dread. Business users want it all, and they want it now … but it better be on time and on budget, no matter what the excuse.

What they don’t see, of course, are all the moving pieces behind the scenes. Technology is more important to the business than ever before. As a result, IT drives real, tangible value, but must also juggle a seemingly endless list of requests (and demands). From requirements gathering to prioritization, project management to implementation, IT teams are inundated with daily must-dos all to help with communication as businesses indicate they aren’t receiving communication.

IT needs communication to be more transparent to business colleagues.

Methodologies like agile have risen to meet this need; and by and large they are successful, empowering technology teams to work more effectively in the face of today’s rapid pace of change. But while newer systems like agile put helpful processes in place around how work gets done, the fundamental ideas behind it aren’t new at all. Whether you call it a scrum or a meeting, communication between key project constituents always has been, and continues to be, the biggest success factor for completing work on time and on budget.

Improve IT projectsWith that in mind, here are three types of meetings that are critical to IT projects and some best practices to keep communication flowing.

Daily: Conduct tiger team scrums.

No matter which methodology you follow or what you call them, quick check-ins with the core group on a daily basis will keep everyone on track. These working sessions should be highly collaborative and hands-on, working through your tracker in real time and gathering status checks from each involved party.

Daily meetings may sound tedious, but those 15 minutes per day will save endless hours down the road by keeping everyone in lockstep.

Weekly: Update business stakeholders.

One of the biggest frustrations that business users feel towards IT is a lack of info and transparency. Often, they hand in their requirements, and don’t hear from their technology counterparts until the project is “complete” – which it never is, because their expectations and understanding invariably change along the way.

Like daily scrums, weekly stakeholder meetings may sound like overkill. But when kept to 30 minutes, they allow IT to share updates and gain clarification, and the business to remain involved and make adjustments if and when necessary.

Monthly: Give executive overviews.

Whether your executive sponsor is in the C-suite or several levels down, it’s important to keep him or her in the loop. A well-updated executive armed with knowledge on your project can spread visibility and enthusiasm throughout the organization, which benefits everyone involved. Executive sponsors can be your biggest champion, or just the signature on the check. Keep your execs in the know to build the relationship and foster goodwill down the line, and across the business.

IT projects don’t have to be full of headaches and hassles. With the right communication to the right stakeholders, everyone can operate more efficiently … and IT will gain a better reputation.

How to Get “Left-Brained” People to Be Creative

People say Mike is a “right-brain” thinker because he prefers subjectivity and creativity and chooses a career path in graphic design, enabling him to tap into this potential. Others view Jane as more “left-brain” because she feels a particular affinity for logic and dealing with hard numbers and data, which is why she pursued engineering to make the most of her skill sets.

These two scenarios probably describe some of your friends or family. In popular culture, and through modern psychology studies, people are classified as right-brain or left-brain dominant depending on how they process information or experiences.

However, recent studies have debunked original theories that people function primarily with one side of the brain or the other; the lateralization of brain function might not be as set in stone. Instead, there are plenty of ways you can get creative and brainstorm with your left-brain employees that you may not have thought was possible before. Here are a few of those strategies:

Make the process straightforward: Remove the potential for ambiguity

If there is one thing that left-brain individuals hate, its ambiguity. When engineers or IT professionals deal with hard data all day, one of the last things some of them want to do is to revert to subjectivity and open-ended dialogue to become creative.

But left-brain people are not devoid of creativity – they just approach it differently. In fact, they use problem-solving (creative skills) daily. Whenever you’re leading a creative collaboration or brainstorming session in-person or over an audio or video conferencing service, map out the process you’ll be taking and any end goals you have. This way, you will be supporting their desire for objectivity, while still leaving room for creativity. Also, set a time limit. If you don’t get what you need in that time, meet again with another time limit.

Make the process easy: Remove the potential for discouragement

One productivity and creativity killer is discouragement: “This will never work.” If your left-brain thinkers feel they’re not bringing anything useful to the table, they may shut down and be unable to tap into their creative potential. It’s also seen as judging. The whole idea behind brainstorming is to open up the options rather than limit them.

brainstormTo avoid this from happening, approach these brainstorming sessions with an open and positive mind. Many companies have adopted the, “Yes and …” approach in brainstorming. Adding on to another’s ideas makes it more successful. Fast Company cites Second City, the comedy improv team, as leading the front on supporting creative ideas with inclusive language like “Yes and ….”

Overall, remember to keep in mind that while your left-brained employees might approach creativity differently, this doesn’t mean their contributions aren’t valuable or insightful. Some of the best ideas have come from left-brained people.

In fact, some of the most famous left-brained people – according to Yahoo – are Benjamin Franklin, Bill Gates, Sir Isaac Newton, and Steven Spielberg.

What Is Business Process Re-engineering?

Your company, like most organizations, likely has a set of processes that define your overall goals and objectives. This process guides everything from how you interact with customers to your ultimate mission as a company. If you are looking to increase efficiency at your organization, it may be time to pivot and consider the business process reengineering strategy.

Researchers at one of the world’s top business management consulting firms, Bain & Company, define business process reengineering as the “radical redesign of core business processes to achieve dramatic improvements in productivity, cycle times and quality.”

Originally pioneered in the 1990s, business process re-engineering transformed over the years giving companies the opportunity to completely re-evaluate or rework their current business value system or workflows in an effort to boost productivity. Two of the key areas companies focus on are redesigning their organization’s structure and leveraging technology to improve overall decision making and productivity.

How does it differ from Lean or Six Sigma?

All disciplines – business process re-engineering, Lean, and Six Sigma are set up to save money, boost quality and increase productivity. Business process re-engineering is transformative and takes longer, Lean is set up to be iterative where smaller changes happen faster. Six Sigma, many would argue, is part of the culture where waste is eradicated before it even gets started.

Start on business process re-engineering:

If this sounds like something your company could benefit from, here are three main steps you should take:

Step 1: Put customer needs first.

Think about your company’s value system. Are you customer-focused? If not, you may want to reevaluate how you approach customer needs and in turn, meet those desires. Ask yourself, “Who are our customers? How can we best serve them?”

bpr

Step 2: Improve or redesign core processes.

Significant research surrounds BPR deals with various disruptive technologies that will aid companies in becoming more productive. Some of these include shared databases, decision-support tools for meetings and audio or video conferencing services. All of these technologies boost worker productivity and collaboration, making offices more engaged and profitable.

Step 3: Reorganize departments, structures or processes.

BPR differs from other organizational development (like Lean and Six Sigma) approaches because it centers on radical change, as opposed to incremental, short-term improvement. While there are many varying approaches to BRP and best practices for implementing this strategy across a wide range of industries, the key belief remains the same: improve productivity.

Need ways to boost productivity?

Companies that use this method holistically to re-evaluate their technology, people, strategy and organization as whole to witness lasting change and improvement. Integration and collaboration also help with productivity.

View Productivity Tools