August 2015

Managing Metadata for Responsive Web Sites with Subject Schemes

CIDMIconNewsletter Laura Katajisto, Microsoft Corporation

Dear Friends,

One of the highlights at the 4th annual Best Practices conference this year in Galveston, Texas, was the video illustrating the FISH! philosophy. As everyone watched the antics of the fishmongers at Seattle’s Pike Place Market, we were immediately struck by how much fun they were having. They joke with customers, heave salmon through the air, and generally cut up. The result-higher sales. The fun they are having is completely integrated with their jobs and makes them more effective sales people.

When the participants at the conference took up the FISH! philosophy as a management technique, we were very enthusiastic. We discussed each of the four central tenets of the philosophy: Make work fun

  • Be present for your customer
  • Choose your attitude
  • Make someone’s day

Much of the interest centered on the first tenet: Make work fun. Many participants added to the discussion by providing examples from their departments of great experiences they had had with staff members. Special events offsite, celebrations at the end of grueling projects, awards for work well done-all activities designed to build morale and encourage camaraderie among the writers. Many of the examples pointed to using “fun” as a reward away from work.

Although I enthusiastically support having fun to celebrate, I believe that the message from the FISH! proponents goes beyond this initial response. Notice that the fishmongers have made fun an integral part of the work. Fun is not a reward away from work-it is an expression of enthusiasm for the job itself. Making work fun means to be completely involved in the excitement of a meaningful and successful professional activity.

We know, of course, that many technical communication professionals genuinely enjoy the work they do. In fact, many might tell us that they enjoy the work more than they enjoy participating in a particular work environment. They like the work in spite of the job. The work of designing and creating innovative and effective technical information embodies significant personal rewards of accomplishment.

But personal satisfaction, while important in the workplace, is not enough to sustain an entire enterprise. I have found, in fact, that for every enthusiastic worker, you may have four to five who view the job as a necessary evil. Some organizations we’ve studied even resemble the “toxic energy dump” that the FISH! authors describe in their first book.

Does that mean the managers need to spend more time on fun? Is it the responsibility of the organization to host parties and supply foosball machines? Or, is it the responsibility of the manager, the organization, and the staff to find opportunities to energize the staff around the work itself by making the work interesting, fulfilling, and fun?

Recently, I’ve been corresponding with Monica Burnette, information-development manager at Teradyne. She describes the struggle she has had in getting senior management to understand the value of the work done by her team, a task familiar to most seasoned publications managers. To her surprise, she has succeeded, at least with the current senior manager. Her team has become part of cross-functional design teams, involving product development, marketing, documentation, training, support, and others. They are in the thick of designing the products to make them more viable for their customers. The writers are integrally involved in the design of the user experience with the product and its support. Monica, at least, sounds as if she is having fun. I suspect that her team members feel much the same way about their involvement in product design. In fact, they may be surprised by their amazing good fortune to find jobs that are actually fun and are likely to result in real value-added to the company. Much like the fishmongers, their fun in doing their jobs will have a direct result to the bottom line.

From my perspective, the energy that one devotes to a job is central to having fun. You can, quite easily in fact, make any job boring. You can also make any job fun by looking for the core value that the job adds to the organization and its customers.

Certainly, the manager, like Monica, needs to sell the team’s services, tell the team’s story, so that what could be a clerical job of getting publications out the door, actually becomes part of the product and part of customer service. At the same time, the writers must be ready to take on a challenge.

Too often, I find that writers get personal satisfaction from activities that add little to the bottom line. They get bogged down in tweaking layouts, making something “read better,” or debating the intricacies of grammar rules. Even though these activities might be interesting, they add little or nothing to the organization or its customers.

Managers have an obligation, I would argue, to ensure that the “fun” surrounding the work makes a difference by adding value to the product. Monica’s team is, I expect, having fun through their participation in the product-design process. It’s not a party-probably it involves lots of hard work and occasional frustrations-but fun nonetheless.

Fun in technical-information development involves, I believe, working in collaborative teams, getting involved with the customers for the information on a regular basis, participating in interactive analysis and design sessions, creating something that has value to the business and its customers.

The reward comes, in fact, when colleagues, management, and the customers appreciate the sound, innovative work. As a manager wrote me just yesterday, they are continuing their information redesign activities and “the customers seem pleased.”

My message to managers-look very hard at your workplace. Is the job fun or tedious? Are staff enthusiastic about what they are doing? Are they enthusiastic about the right things? Are they simply throwing fish around? Or, are they selling more fish? If the fun they are having (or not having) doesn’t contribute to the bottom line, find something that does. CIDMIconNewsletter