Faculty Spotlight: Kip Soteres

Faculty Photo of Kip Soteres

 


For this week’s post, I chose to conduct a faculty spotlight interview on Kip Soteres. With 20 years of experience in change communication, he has not only made a valuable impact on the field of communication but also on the students he teaches. In this interview, I chose to ask questions regarding both communication as well as his personal interests and how they intertwine:


Q.) One of the first things that struck me was that you are initially from a business background and merged that with a passion for communication. Would you be able to talk about how this combination of business and communication came to be within your professional career and highlight the path that those two disciplines have taken you up to this point in your career?

A.) I actually started my college career as a Creative Writing major and pursued that for about fifteen years. I studied with some very talented poets, received an MFA in poetry, and went to live and write in Athens, Greece. Even then, I was interested in philosophy, especially ethics, and my reading and thinking in those areas have served me well in both business and academic roles. I also had to make a living. So I started teaching English as a Foreign Language. After a short time, I realized that I didn’t like my textbooks, so I asked one of the owners at the language school if I could write my own. My point is that over time I pursued my passions and fed my curiosity. I didn’t have a master plan, or rather – I had several that never came fully to fruition – but the skills I kept learning prepared me for the next opportunity and adventure when the time came.

One way that I think I distinguish myself is a consultant is that I have a deeper appreciation for the strength and beauty of language. Your communication classes don’t always pause to have you listen to FDR’s first fireside chats, for example. Academia is your opportunity to find those prose stylists who write with simplicity and clarity, and who do it with considerable sensitivity to the channels they are writing for and the audiences they are addressing.

Communication theory also gives me a broader-than-average range of lenses that I can use to analyze problems. It’s not like I go to clients and say, “Let’s see how a Kotter change management approach might apply,” or “Let’s see what a Positive Deviance approach will shake loose.” But I have these different tools at my disposal, and that perhaps helps me present a broader and more creative array of options to clients facing tough problems. The reverse is true as well in that I bring my consulting experience to bear on than teaching and advising that I do. I think students value the ways we collaborate to connect the theory and research to life and work.

At its core, language is how humans build our worlds – both the private worlds that we inhabit as individuals and the shared worlds we create in our various social interactions. Through language and because of language, we have the potential to create that world anew every single day, though perhaps too often we choose to live in the same one for extended periods of time. Both in academia and through my consulting practice, I spend the bulk of my time engaging with others to tap into the massive potential that unfolds each day when we open our eyes in the morning.


Q.) How do you see the field of communication expanding in the future? I know that communication is an ever-evolving subject but how do you see it going further in today’s age?

A.) I think it’s going to take a long time for every social science to work through the foundation-shattering evolution of social media. It can take the form of remote work, gamification, learning tools, news feeds, office chat, and file-sharing apps and platforms like Teams, or just straight up evaluations of the dominant channels: Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Tik Tok, etc.

Whatever facet you choose to explore, these tools/apps/platforms amount to an unprecedented power to amplify the best and worst of human networks. Information and disinformation have never been easier to create and disseminate. Our ability to wall ourselves off from disparate perspectives has never been easier. The people working in these spaces and addressing the challenges and opportunities that come with it – that’s going to be very important work with implications that will shape what our society looks like for decades to come.


Q.) You are also involved with creative writing as a personal interest. Being an English major in my undergraduate studies I am always impressed with how writers can convey engaging stories from a variety of platforms. Would you be able to touch on where this love of writing came from and some of the inspiration your published works came from?

A.) My writing is a compulsion. I think it’s important to read and appreciate good writing because that’s how it gets into your bones. That’s a different activity than just reading to lose yourself in the story. It’s learning to take as much conscious pleasure in the evocation of a moment or a feeling, or in the structure of a dramatic twist, as you do in the unfolding narrative. I’d recommend going back to the writing that you most enjoy and ask yourself specifically what it is that you like about it.

So one main source of inspiration for me has always been the writing of others. I notice an effect that moves me or just strikes me as beautiful, and I ask myself what I could write that would let me practice achieving the same effect. That applies to all genres, by the way, including non-fiction. I’ve been very omnivorous in my reading and that reflects the many genres of writing that I’ve attempted – poetry, literary fiction, young adult fiction, fantasy fiction, opera and musical theater librettos, plays, film scripts, etc. For heaven’s sake, I emcee a monthly Opera and art music theory on YouTube each month – Aria412. Check us out on YouTube! Lots of variances and so many great relationships across all of it.

I guess it’s worth mentioning that I don’t think I’m particularly good at it. But in the end, I hope people will largely agree that I brought my best self forward in the effort. In any case, that’s why I started off by saying it’s a compulsion. And I think my lifelong aspiration to be a great creative writer has made me a better person in other respects. It invites me to be empathetic. It encourages a world view that goes beyond mere utility. It helps me to remember that we are here in this life to inspire one another and to promote well being and happiness so far as we are capable.


Q.) Has being an instructor in communication and teaching the subject inversely taught you anything? Of course, there is the old saying that you never stop learning but is there anything that teaching has brought about that you wouldn’t have been exposed to without this experience?

A.) I learn at least as much as my students do every time that I teach. The perspectives of students coming through the graduate programs give me a real sense of where communication is going, where your interests are, what you care about. But with every class, as I do the reading along with you, I also refresh on theories that I’d forgotten about – new approaches to problem-solving. It’s always incredibly energizing. Of course, I’m fortunate to have such a varied life. I get to do my creative writing and participate in communities of the performing arts – my consultancy is thriving – and I get to teach topics that I’m passionate about. I don’t know that I’d be happy doing any one of those activities all of the time. But I’m delighted to be doing them together.


Q.) Finally, what kind of advice would you give to an incoming graduate student or someone who is thinking of continuing their education within the field of communication? Is there anything they should expect or should be prepared to be exposed to?

A.) Be tirelessly curiously throughout your life, but especially now. Use this time as a graduate student to explore ideas and pursue your passions unabashedly. Don’t worry about connecting the dots at first – read as much as you can and engage with each other (even if it’s only through Zoom) to have those intense graduate school conversations that are part of your degree – not just what you do in the classroom or as a part of taking classes.

I also think it’s never been more important to have broad and varied skillsets. In addition to the theory and academic topics that come pretty automatically as part of the curriculum, learn a little about as much as you can about graphic design, HTML, social media metrics, press releases, how to build a good survey, how to write a speech, how to develop a lesson plan or give a presentation. Or get outside the box entirely and interact a little with the other Social Sciences. Whatever you’re learning, challenge yourself to cross-relate it to other topics and to think of ways to put it into practice.

The more disparate items that you pull together, the more flexible you can be in your career choices, and the more likely that you will be able to spot opportunities that take you down fulfilling career paths. I’ve been a learning omnivore all of my life and taking joy in learning for its own sake. I’ve coupled that with a knack for being able to take theories and ideas and apply them for practical impact. Putting those things together has led to a career that I have found to be rich and varied, and it has also expanded my social network in ways that I think go beyond what a lot of people get to experience.

Finally, about a year or two ago I helped Chatham University organize a forum of Internal Communication leaders from major employers in the region. When I asked them what they were looking for in a new hire, they all said the same thing: “We’re looking for people who can write with clarity and sensitivity. In particular, we need communicators who can adapt their writing style and approach depending on the situation, the channel, and the audience.” So don’t neglect your writing and communication skills across all media. It will serve you very well, no matter what you end up deciding to do.


I would like to thank Kip for being able to conduct this interview and be able to share with others his thoughts and experiences. It is always a pleasure being able to work with him, especially this time being out of a class setting. Being able to pick the brain of an academic like like Kip is such a rewarding experience and I hope others get to see the value in an interview such as this. More importantly and to what Kip says, “It will serve you well, no matter what you end up deciding to do.”

Easily Maneuver Conflict Resolution in the Workplace: Tips and Advice for Navigating Controversial Topics in the Corporate Sphere

Working Together Teamwork Puzzle Concept

From firing an employee to the latest office email chain about the current state of American politics, you will inevitably encounter difficult topics, and even conflicts, in the workplace. However, you can easily maneuver these difficult discussions without causing any office drama. Here are a few tips for managing those difficult interactions so that effective workplace communication can continue throughout the workday.

  • First, stick to the facts and leave your emotions at home.

Leave beliefs and emotions out of it. Besides being unprofessionally and a tad bit tacky, emotional reactivity in workplace interactions can skew your perception of the situation. If responding to an email, heed the advice of Patricia O’Conner from her book Woe Is I: The Grammarphobe’s Guide to Better English in Plain English and give yourself a moment of pause to cool off before pressing Send.

  • Say what you mean and mean what you say.

Don’t sugar-coat your intended message. Doing this will ultimately sacrifice clarity, meaning, and intention, and at the root of most miscommunications is unclear, poorly expressed ideas. So, though it is always important to well-articulate when you communicate in the workplace, it is downright imperative to articulate your message well in situations of potential communication breakdown. Thus, when difficult topics arise in the workplace, be certain to rhetorically strategize before engaging in the conversation by:

  • contemplating the purpose of your message,
  • considering the audience of your message,
  • choosing an amenable tone that will be well-received with word-choice that concisely expresses your message without unnecessary verbiage, and
  • contemplating the limitations of your chosen delivery method (such as losing tone and inflections through email and text, lacking time for contemplation before speaking in face-to-face discussions, etc.).

For more information about rhetorical situations, check out this detailed explanation from Norton Field Guide.

Following this advice will help save you from unnecessary, and sometimes angry and polarizing, miscommunications in the workplace. It’s much easier and less stressful to take the few minutes before engaging in difficult conversations at work than it is to speak reactively in the moment about difficult topics and sacrifice clarity, meaning, and intention.

  • Keep in mind that people are not their beliefs and ideologies.

Along with the advent of social media and instantaneous connectivity to one another, we have become conditioned to think of one another during disagreements as opponents and adversaries needing to be defeated rather than as our family, friends, and colleagues who simply have had different life experiences than us and, consequently, have different perspectives than us. In recent times, people tend to passionately debate their beliefs and ideologies as if they are facts, verified through empirical testing with non-negotiable test results. Because of this, it is best to completely avoid discussing any non-objective topics in the workplace, but when the topic is unavoidable, keep your wits about you and don’t forget that these are your coworkers and not the beliefs and ideologies with which you disagree.

  • Finally (but first and foremost), refuse to engage in unnecessary debates.

The best and most efficient way to clearly and effectively communicate in difficult, controversial conversations in the workplace is to simply refuse to engage and interact in conversations with tense, potentially volatile subject matter. Leave those discussions at home for in your spare time. Though you may need to discuss such topics for a project at work or it may be completely unavoidable for whatever reason, you and your colleagues can cooperatively set the tone for productive conversations by setting boundaries and ground rules for such discussions at work, especially for collaborative projects.

To recap, to achieve effective communication in workplace debates, refrain from allowing emotions to sway your argument or message, practice concision and precision using rhetorical situation analysis, humanize those people who disagree and debate with you, but most importantly, avoid unnecessary workplace debates.

To learn more about how to disagree productively, listen to Julia Dhar’s enlightening discussion Ted Talk entitled “How to Disagree Productively and Find Common Ground” about the fundamentals of productive debate skills.

Microcontent and what it Means for Communication and Technical Writing

The simplest definition of microcontent is text, image, or video content that can be consumed in 10-30 seconds. In 1998 Jakob Nielsen Originally defined microcontent as small groups of words a person can skim to understand the idea of the content on a Web page. This can include headlines, page titles, subject lines and email subjects included on a page or displayed on a search results page. microcontent is popular in marketing, social media, technical writing, and communication. The difference lies in structuring and creating microcontent for these disciplines.

According to Mike Hamilton of MadCap Software, “Microcontent must be short/concise, easily consumable and stand-alone”. Stand-alone content can be understood on its own without needing surrounding content to clarify its meaning. When content can stand alone it is reusable which is key for microcontent.

Microcontent is a paradigm shift, we must change our mind set for how we create content. We must understand that it is more than text, it is content that has meaning, purpose, and a job. When we create the content with an eye for conciseness, ability to be consumed, and information that can stand-alone and then focus on its delivery and use, we unlock new possibilities

The following are possible uses for Microcontent:

  1. Knowledge and job aids: Sales Prospecting assets, Pre-call Prep Tools
  2. Marketing and selling content: Conversation aids, preview videos
  3. Content source: Common phrases, common research or facts, and links to internal/external web reference articles.
  4. Search Engine Creation: Knowledge base, online help.
  5. Chatbot: Conversation design elements

The short phrase structure of microcontent lends well to for searches. Once the content is created a best practice would be to always make sure it is searchable. When content is created, it very quickly grows in volume and without a way to search the content can become less usable. You have to be able to find it.

MadCap Software has built a microcontent editor into its latest release of Madcap Flare 2019. This industry first allows content to be marked as microcontent or new microcontent be created then used in chatbots and to enhance help and knowledge base search results.

Whether you are creating social media posts and are addressing an audience with a short attention span or quick steps for job aids, this content can shrink while offering growth in engagement with customers, users and employees.

 

References

https://www.brafton.com/blog/creation/microcontent-what-is-it-and-why-do-you-need-it/

https://www.google.com/search?q=who+coined+the+phrase+microcontent&rlz=1C1GCEU_enUS819US819&oq=who+coined+the+phrase+microcontent&aqs=chrome..69i57.7491j0j8&sourceid=chrome&ie=UTF-8

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Microcontent

https://marketinginsidergroup.com/content-marketing/micro-content-important-content-type-dont-manage/

 

 

Flow Chart/Diagram Types and Terminology

I recently read a job posting for a technical writer where creating swimlane flow charts is a job requirement. I have created flow charts in the past, but this had me thinking what is a swimlane flow chart and what makes it different from other flow charts. I quick search engine query gave me the definition of swimlane flow charts.

Much of communicating and writing is knowing the right tool to use at the right time. Lets take a look at the types of flow charts and when they should be used.

What are Flow Charts

A flow chart is a diagram that represents a process, workflow, or data flow. In the diagram, steps are shown as boxes with arrows connecting them. The arrows indicate the flow of the information or data. Typically process or activity steps are denoted as rectangle boxes. Decisions re denoted as a diamond. This is a very simple explanation of what a flow chart is and its common symbols. There is more than one type of flow chart. Each has its own purpose depending on the industry or situation needing charted. The power of the chart is using the correct type to display the content. Together these bring meaning to the diagram.

Types of flow charts and their uses

  1. Process Map/Process Chart: This type of flow chart is used to map a process. These can be used to troubleshoot problems or provide walkthroughs for decisions. One example of a process map would be to fill an order. Each step in the process leads to its own string of possible decisions and actions.
  2. Swimlane Flow Chart: Swimlanes shows distinct but linked processes in a process. The swimlanes, much like those in a pool, divide actions and decisions into separate lanes. The lanes can represent who is responsible for the process. This could be employee roles or the uses for a piece such as internal vs. client facing.
  3. Workflow Diagram: Workflows are a visual representation of a process. Each step of the process is shown so simplifies complex processes. This allows viewers to focus on one step at a time. These can also include the length of time each step should take. A nursing agency may make such a diagram for their staff to follow while admitting new patients or human resources could make a diagram for the request and approval of employee vacation time.
  4. Data Flow Diagram: Data flows show how data moves through an information system. They are used most often in system design and analysis.

 

Resources:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Flowchart

https://www.gliffy.com/blog/six-flowchart-types-templates

https://www.smartdraw.com/flowchart/flowchart-types.htm

LinkedIn vs. The Resume

More than a few times I have sent a coworker or acquaintance a link to a video on LinkedIn only to hear, ‘I do not have LinkedIn’. When I inquire as to the reason, the response is some variation of ‘I am not looking for a job so I do not need it’. Linked in is used to connect with hiring managers and recruiters but is also a way to network and connect with others in your industry. Keeping on top of industry news, managing professional contacts, and using the profile to build you personal brand are invaluable features of LinkedIn.

Spring has sprung and graduation is around the corner. Let’s look at the value of not only having a LinkedIn profile, but whether it should be different than your resume. The answer is a clear Yes, your LinkedIn profile and resume should not be identical. Each of these is a tool. Each of these has a different mission, purpose, and audience. Because of this each should be tailored to suit their purposes.

LinkedIn Profile

When you have a LinkedIn profile you are online and searchable. Recruiters search for candidates online through sites such as LinkedIn often before posing a position on a job board or database. When used this way, linked in does function as your resume but is more casual. You have the opportunity to use adjectives you may not include in your resume and to include nonwork-related certifications. This personal information can help a recruiter connect with you on a personal level to evaluate whether you will fit the culture at the hiring company.

The first impression. Often the LinkedIn profile is the first thing a recruiter or employer sees. If your profile is outdated or contains inaccurate information, it may lead to a bad impression. LinkedIn Profiles allow you to create a visual brand for yourself. Be sure to include the following to make your profile visually appealing and brand yourself:

  1. Profile picture: Choose a picture which shows you from the shoulders up in a neutral or office background. This should not be in selfie style.
  2. Banner Image: The banner image is a rectangle bar which appears at the top of your profile. The profile picture overlaps the banner. This author uses a cropped image from the cover page of the company’s user guides. It is colorful, graphical, and contains the company name, logo, web address, and physical address.
  3. Summary: The summary section allows you to convey who you are and what you want to do. This is more than what you can do for a company, this is your passion for your industry.
  4. Text Symbols: Symbols such as a lightning bolt, music note, pen, or keyboard to name a few can be added to your headline, summary, or anywhere else in your profile where you want to stand out. This may not be for everyone but used sparingly can be an eye catcher. See Symbols to spice up your LinkedIn profile for a larger list of symbols and how to add them.

Resume

Resumes may be emailed, mailed, exchanged during an interview or uploaded to a Human Recourses Information System (HRIS). These are physical documents which are formal and their delivery is usually targeted toward a specific job or recruiter. The story for each job or task is conveyed with minimal words in a few lines. STAR (Situation, Task, Action, Result) bulleted points are fairly standard.

While you will have one LinkedIn profile, you may have multiple resumes. It is necessary to tailor resumes to specific job titles or industries. Each resume lists what you have done which qualifies you for the position you are applying for. LinkedIn profiles are what you are doing now and what you are looking toward in the future.

Images and branding are not included in a resume. The more plain-text a resume is the easier it can be imported to a HRIS. At the intersection of Human resources and information technology lies HRIS. One feature of these systems is for job applicants to upload their resume to a resume parser. The system identifies the parts and puts the information into a standard format specified by the company. This helps the recruiter evaluate candidates by putting each individual resume into the same format. The recruiter can focus on the content of the resume without struggling to figure out the layout. Resume’s with tabs or those organized by job role may not import easily leaving the applicant with a lot of manual entry into the HRIS.

How Different

How different your LinkedIn profile is from your resume is a matter of debate. Both should serve their purpose and audience, but you must be comfortable with how each portrays you and your skill set. Be clear in your choices and be able to speak to the differences of the profile and resume. A recruiter may ask you to explain the differences between the two. Having you explain your choices can help them evaluate how you think and whether your thought process makes you a better fit for the position.

Resources:

https://www.topresume.com/career-advice/why-linkedin-is-important

https://fremont.edu/why-building-your-linkedin-profile-is-so-important/

https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/20140423001152-22901019-symbols-to-spice-up-your-linkedin-profile/

https://money.usnews.com/money/blogs/outside-voices-careers/2013/07/09/7-ways-your-resume-and-linkedin-profile-should-differ

https://www.hrpayrollsystems.net/hris/

Role of Technical Writers Industry 4.0

The Information 4.0 Writer

The changes that are happening in Industry 4.0 will change the role of the technical writer. How and When are the questions to be answered. As technical writers we explain things, processes, and how to perform tasks. With Industry 4.0 that will continue but the technologies we write about and those that we use will change along with Industry 4.0. Information 4.0 is the change in technical writing that corresponds with Industry 4.0; the trends and technology that will make technical writing possible. Information 4.0 brings technical writing to a highly advanced technical level.

How will Content Change

Because Industry 4.0 is beginning now, Information 4.0 is only a concept. We do not have all the answers to how to create materials, what tools (do the tools even exist), or what materials to create. Preparation is our best ally in this phase. We can evaluate what we know now, and we can plan for the changes as we see them happening.

The Information 4.0 Consortium has identified 4 characteristics of content in Information 4.0. These characteristics embody not only the words that are written, but the format, chunking, release, timeliness, accessibility, and responsiveness to context of that information.

  • Dynamic: Content chunks that can be updated in real-time. When information in the system changes, the content or the user should be able to trigger its build or generation, rather than the writer.
  • Ubiquitous: Content available everywhere, independent of device. It must be online searchable and findable.
  • Offered: Specific content made available when users encounter an issue rather than all information related to all tasks all the time. Content is online, print medium is ruled out.
  • Spontaneous: Content triggered by the context. Meaning the orientation of the device being used or perhaps a specific context for an issue. An example is that information for de-icing a plane would only be available if the outside temperature is near 32 degrees.

Let’s say you need to produce instructions for 5 new system changes for 6 different users or types of users who have 4 distinct roles as users. This means that you will have to produce numerous sets of instructions; unique to each user. The difficulty is in managing these permutations of content without error.

How will Technical Writer Tools Change

Without a tool that applies these characteristics to content, it is just theory. With a tool, these characteristics can be implemented.  There is not a tool that can be used to implement all the characteristics to content. The best strategy for us as writers is to be prepared for what we image the changes may be:

  • Set standards and enforce/teach them: For a standard that content is to be independent of format, instruct writers to avoid inline formatting and use Cascading Style Sheets (CSS) for formatting.
  • Keep tools up-to date: When using a technology tool, take each update. If you try to move from version 8 to version 12 there may be some functionality that has depreciated. Deprecated features are features that remain in software but are not updated. At some time, these features will be removed. If the leap between the past and new software versions is too great, there can be functionality issues.
  • Seek out new industry tools: Whether you look for new tools to solve an existing problem or are just watching new trends in the industry, new tools will be developed to handle Information 4.0. Here are a few organizations and standards to watch for developing tools:
    • Dublin Core: an initiative to create a digital library card catalog for the Web made up of d15 metadata elements. Metadata is data about data.
    • Resource Description Framework (RDF): World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) specifications for how to describe Internet resources such as a Web site and its content. These descriptions are referred to as metadata.
    • Fluid Topics: Captures content in any format to deliver on-the-spot knowledge tailored to the reader and suited to the channel.
  • Keep up with training: It is best to participate in training of existing and new technologies. A common misconception is that workers are smart enough to pick up the material or can research and teach themselves. Thought this is true, there is a possibility of bad habits being perpetuated through the organization if the self-taught employee teaches others their ‘bad habits. It is best to learn how the tool works and should be used by those who designed the tool or by industry experts.

How with Technical Writer Skills Change

As industry changes and technical writer tools change, so must the skills of the technical writer. Let’s look at machine generated text as an example.

For example, if there is a system for hospital equipment maintenance and repair and during a routine automated inspection of a piece of equipment a repair is determined to be necessary. The system will generate necessary reports for management and financial, as well as a full description of what was fixed for an automated fix or a set of repair instructions for a manual fix.

In this case the technical writer will not write the text. The writer becomes a rule maker and curator or the content; they will setup the system to generate specific pieces of content, for specific users, under specific situations.

With this content tailored approach writers will be geared toward writing 500 one-page documents rather than one 500-page book. The content is written in smaller chunks that can be put together in any order, for any different user, for any different state or condition.  The tools to come will handle the mechanics of how this occurs, but writers must understand the mechanics of what data, for whom, when and under what conditions.

Technical Communicators as Effective Change Agents

As business and industry continue to change our work and personal lives, the one constant is change. For workers of the future what skills will change? How will the businesses and customers we serve change? What do these changes mean for communications and technical communicators? Change and transformation for organizations is about helping people change the way they do things. Because technical communicators live at the intersection of technology and users, they are positioned well to be agents of change for their organization. Also, technical communicators typically work with multiple departments within the organization enabling them to bridge the gaps between departments.

Why Organizations Change

Change is important for organizations because it allows companies to retain their competitive edge and succeed at meting the changing needs of customers. Reasons for change include responding to crisis, reducing performance gaps, adopting new technologies, business structure changes such as mergers and acquisitions, and identification of new opportunities.

Types of Change Management

  • Organization Change Management: Managing enterprise changes at the organization level and focuses on culture. This includes Mergers and acquisitions.
  • Program Change Management: Tackles change at the program level. The program is a portfolio of projects. The goal is to balance the need for change with the program’s objective and budget.
  • Project Change Management: Change is integrated into to every phase of a project.
  • Department and Team change: Prioritizing change and raising the success rate for changes. This includes the integration of new technologies and processes.

Champions of Change

Change agents are the person inside or outside of an organization who promotes and enables change within an organization. They do this by focusing on organization effectiveness, improvement, and development. Change agents can volunteer or be selected to facilitate change; it can be a part of their job or their whole job. These people are integral to the change process, they manage change during each stage, and are key to a successful outcome.

Case for Technical Communicators as Change Agents

There are two main characteristics which make technical communicators suited to become change agents:

  • Technical communicators are skilled at making technologies accessible to users through communications.
  • Technical communicators must integrate change when implemented by the organization.

Being the recipient of our own organization change allows us to guide others (coworkers and clients) through change. In her article, 5 Lessons from A Professional Change Agent, Carol Kinsley Gorman states this of the purpose of changes agents, “hired to help leaders become more effective communicators’. Communicate is what we do. Usually that communication relates to change; integrating it, surviving it. Traits of successful technical communicators mirror those of successful change agents, we are:

  • Confident
  • Passionate
  • Driven to explore
  • Creative problem solvers
  • Continuously learning
  • Technically adept
  • Comfortable with chaos

Career paths for communicators and technical writers are not limited to writing web site content and/or writing instructions for software. Our duties integrate us into all facets of organizations and provide the skills necessary to move customers and the organization through change successfully. These skills should not be overlooked by companies searching for talent and communicators looking for opportunities.

 

Resources:

Why organizations change and what they can change

Technical Communicators as Agents and Adopters of Change: A Case Study of the Implementation of an Early Content-Management System

Why is change important in an organization?

Managing Your Customers Through Change

Customer success through change management

4 Types of change management

The role of champions within the change process

5 Lessons from a professional Change Agent

7 Traits of successful communicators

 

The Face of the Workforce in the age of AI

 

As communicators and technical writers, we are always living with change. Changes to messaging, changes to our tools, changes to industry and the workplace. What will that mean for our future as we navigate Industry 4.0, the fourth industrial revolution?

Pittsburgh business owner George Parks spends a large part of his day driving between meetings when his peers are slowing down or entered retirement decades earlier. Entering the Pittsburgh workforce in the early 1950s, he is familiar with how technology, business, the workforce, and  a city can change. He has a standard invitation to meet and talk about business and industry, “Let me take you out for a milkshake.”

George entered the workforce in 1952 as a grass cutter “at St. Mary’s Sharps Hill,” he says with pride. Referring to is St. Mary’s Sharpsburg Cemetery in Pittsburgh, he was 13 years old. Within three years he was setting memorial stones in that cemetery. As a Shaler High School graduate of 1957 he continued working at the cemetery during weekends and summers.

After completing his education at the University of Pittsburgh in Mechanical Engineering he began working in business. Computers were being incorporated into industry at this time. General Electric (GE) had created a computer what was partitioned, or had a hard drive separate from other segments of the hard drive allowing users to divide a task into logical sections. The computer used linear programming, a mathematical calculation, was used to determine the least cost rate of materials for different ores used in the production of steel. “The computer could put the formula together, but there was not enough memory. $1 million for a computer to do the math. GE partitioned it out to the core and multiple computers,” he said.

Sitting across the table from George is like taking a walk back in time. He has seen so much in his life and has seen so much change. He seems energized by the amount and speed of change where others may be exhausted by it. Each business he bought or started has fueled the next, each more technical; Westinghouse Security System, Hipwell Manufacturing (flashlights). Today his latest venture has him delving into Artificial Intelligence (AI) software.

George offers insights into what business owners need to know; how to identify opportunities for incorporating AI to grow their business and what workers need to do to keep themselves marketable in an AI workforce. Will workers be replaced by robots? According to George, no. “ IOT -Internet of Things will be an 18 billion industry within the next 10 years. AI will help make workers perform their jobs more efficiently and with less errors.” Parks says. The power is where AI works with human intervention rather than in replacing workers. An artificial intelligence sturdy by Pwc Global estimates $15.7 trillion contribution to the global economy by 2030 from AI.

Industry 4.0

Industry 4.0 is the name for the trend of automation and data exchange in manufacturing. This is also known as the fourth industrial revolution. What makes this revolution different from the other revolutions is that this is where humans meet the cyber world; where technology is not distinct from people. Computers were introduced in the third industrial revolution, but in but in this phase, everything gets integrated and smart-automated. Much of Industry 4.0 technology is invisible such as artificial intelligence and powerful algorithms. It is an immersive experience in computing to the point that computing will disappear into the background and take minimal effort to control. We will not see the effort of the computing, but the result.

According to George Parks, “AI is expensive now because of the cost to create the algorithm to handle the data load.” His latest company Emergtech is developing AI software to measure acceleration, temperature, and the open/close of automatic doors. We place a sensor on the door to measure these functions, the sensor talks to the cloud and gives a service warning to the inspector. Now inspectors can only identify issues when they are already on-site, often for routine maintenance. Once they leave they will return for the next scheduled maintenance or when they are called for a broken door.” The sensor is constantly monitoring the door and evaluating performance against performance metrics set by the American Association of Automatic Door Manufacturer (AADAM). When a door performs below these standards, the software gives a service warning which alerts the inspector.

Automation enables productivity

On February 11, President Trump signed an executive order on Maintaining American Leadership in Artificial Intelligence. The order recognizes “The United States is the world leader in AI research and development (R&D) and deployment,: and that “Continued American leadership in AI is of paramount importance.” The order describes a multi-pronged approach to U.S. policy on AI; driving breakthroughs, development of technical standards, support AI research, foster public trust in AI technologies, and training the workforce. “The United States must train current and future generations of American workers with the skills to develop and apply AI technologies to prepare them for today’s economy and jobs of the future,” the order states.

With his new business George anticipates the new technology to increase demand for inspectors. With the automated inspection, workers can complete the inspection in have the time and will spend less time on emergency service calls. “They will be on a more regulated schedule, have a better lifestyle. This is a cost savings for the manufacturer and will make techs more money because they need to be more technical.”

The more doors that can be inspected, the more will be installed. “There are 5 million automatic doors in the United States which open and close 50 billion times per year. Only 200,000 of these doors have annual inspections. This software will allow all doors to be inspected by the sensor. The doors will be safer, will be maintenance rather than repairs. It costs less to maintain a door than to repair a door.” Says Parks.

Artificial Intelligence is not restricted to high-tech industries; but at the intersection of people and machines. The retail and food industries are beginning to incorporate the technology. In March of 2017 McDonald’s published its Velocity Growth Plan. The plan aims to retain current customers, regain lost customers, and to encourage occasional diners to visit more often. How the plan will accomplish this is through interacting with customers digitally, offering delivery service, and “Elevating the customer experience in the restaurants through technology and the restaurant teams who bring it to life,” as the growth strategy states.

In August 2018, McDonalds announced that the company and franchisees will invest $3 billion to upgrade stores by 2020. Approximately 360 restaurants in Pennsylvania will be among those modernized at a cost of $266 million. These upgrades include self-ordering kiosks, table delivery using RFID table numbers, and curbside pickup.

The McDonald’s on Route 228 in Cranberry Township was closed for remodeling and reopened in October 2018. The remodel included kiosks for ordering and table service for completed orders. According to team member Beverly Cope, “It’s really a preference to use or not the kiosk. It is best to come when we are not busy and take your time with it.”

McDonald’s uses data from their mobile ordering app to determine customer intelligence about which locations customers are visiting, when they are there, what they are ordering, and even how often customers use the drive through instead of entering the restaurant. This data is used to make recommendations when ordering on the app. It is also used to change the selections on the kiosks based on time of day and the weather.

With the kiosks and online ordering less staff could be scheduled for each shift, reducing labor costs for franchisees while reducing order error rates. A reduction in staff has not happened at the Cranberry Township McDonald’s, “We are so understaffed, we should have two in the dining room helping with kiosks,” according to team member Beverly Cope.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics reported expected growth of 14% between 2016 and 2026 for food and Beverage Service and Related Workers. With this growth additional fast-food restaurants are projected to open. With potentially less staff per shift at each restaurant, but more restaurants open, the workforce is projected to grow.

The future of work

Industry 4.0 poses many questions for workers and working conditions. The greatest of these is the displacement of physical labor by robots or machines. Will there be hundreds of positions eliminated by machines? Will there be new positions to fill that require new skill sets? Through the historical record of industrial revolutions, we see that new technology or method of production expands economic ability and fosters differentiation of employee labor skills.

AI is not a technology of the future. It is here and is shaping our lives as business owners, consumers, and workers. Early indications show that AI will not replace workers but will replace tasks. The percentage of a worker’s daily tasks replaced by AI will vary by industry and by role. As AI is integrated further the workforce workers need to transition to be more technical to be able to work with the AI to accomplish their work. How jobs are performed will change and workers must adapt to close the skills gap created by the new technology.

“We don’t know so our best defense is to be prepared” – Eliezer Yudkowsky

 

 

 

How Chatbots are Changing Communication

What are chatbots? How do they work? Can I build one myself? These may be questions you are asking.

What are Chatbots?

Chatbots are programs that respond to messages they receive through voice commands or texts or both. Chatbots are designed to simulate how humans behave as conversational partners. The chatbot is a virtual conversation in which one participant is a computer or robot. Chatbots can be designed for phone text, social media platforms, websites, and for computer applications. Synonyms for chatbot include: smartbot, talk to, interactive agent, virtual assistant, or conversation bot.

Chatbots pass the Turing test developed by Alan Turing in his 1950 paper, Computing Machinery and Intelligence. This tests a machine’s ability to display intelligent behavior equal to humans or not different than humans.

Still puzzled on what they are? Some mainstream examples of chatbots are:

  • Virtual Assistants: Apple’s Siri, Amazon’s Alexa and Google Assistant
  • Messaging Aps: Facebook Messenger and WeChat messaging aps

What are chatbots, how do they work

Chatbots work much the same as a human at a help desk. For example, the customer opens the chat and asks for assistance, the chatbot responds rather than a human. You could ask the chatbot ‘what are the store hours tomorrow’ and the chatbot will respond with the information available. The response can be delivered as text or an audible reply.

Behind what the customer sees is the programming which controls how the chatbot works. They can be designed to answer questions based on structured questions and answers or they can use Artificial Intelligence to adapt their responses to fit the context of the message.

Why they are the future

In his article Five Reasons Why Chatbots Are the Future, Nicholas Edwards lists the following reasons why chatbots are the future:

  1. They are the new apps – chatbots simplify processes such as banking transactions and travel reservations by acting as our digital helpers.
  2. They use natural language – interacting using our own natural language via speech or text using technology we are already comfortable with.
  3. They are scalable – chatbots can handle ever-increasing numbers of quests; no need to add more chatbots.
  4. They learn and improve – chatbots powered by Artificial Intelligence use the information they receive to automatically improve their performance. This is done without additional programming.
  5. They are the perfect Business Solution – chatbots have are able to guide users through processes and improve the flow of information, this makes them an ideal business solution.

Watson Assistant is a platform to build chatbots:

 

What does it mean for the Communicator and technical writer

Chatbots are the new technology, communicators and technical writers must understand new technologies to keep themselves current in their career; avoiding a skills gap. Each new technology may not fit each organization’s need. It is up to communicators to evaluate the technology and apply it as a possible solution to an organization need.

If a chatbot is viable for your organization you need to perform a content audit or content inventory to be sure the right data to fuel the chatbot exists. A good way to evaluate content is to answer the following questions:

  • How is the information used?
  • What is the purpose of the information?
  • Why should someone read the information?

What communicators need to concentrate on is the necessary changes to existing content so that it is can be published as the repository of information for a chatbot. The content should be solving a problem posed by a user, the chatbot provides the answer. Communicators must take an active role in information architecture, we are the ones tailored to provide the content chatbots use.

Chatbots are the way-finders for content. Communicators and technical writers are subject matter experts on content. Content is still king.

See Also: Consumersadvocate.org: 10 Best Chatbots of 2019

 

 

 

Qualities of a Good Journalist

Journalists are the ones who must gather facts of a news story and organize the facts to tell a story. These activities are the same regardless of the subject, value, format, or medium to deliver the news story. Journalists need to possess the following qualities:

  1. Ethical: Ethics are moral standards of right and wrong that govern our actions. For journalists acting with this integrity is critical to ensure the information shared is accurate and fair. The Society of Professional journalists lists the following in its code of ethics: See truth and report it, minimize harm, act independently, be accountable and transparent.
  2. Persistence: To be the best, journalists need to have a clear sense of their story mission and a large pool of resources. Rejection is a part of the journalist’s job. Journalists must deal with rejection by not letting it derail their progress toward the truth and the deadline. Rejection can come in the form of not getting responses for quotes on a story to a whole story being rejected by a publication. Rejection will always be a part of the job, but by learning to craft better questions based on research and propose stories that align with the publication’s mission.
  3. Enjoy interacting with people: Journalists build relationships with many people while conducting interviews. These relationships become reliable contacts. Having the ability to speak comfortably with people to get them to provide information to you is vital. Interact with the audience before you need them so that when you need to request information it is not taken as a demand.
  4. Expert listening skills: To be a good interviewer a journalist must learn to listen. Journalists are most successful when they ask dimple direct questions and repeat the same with follow-up questions. When journalists are speaking they are not acquiring information which is the goal of the interview. Speak to ask the simple question, then listen. According to Universal Class, Journalism Skills – Listening and Observing:
    Research shows that the average individual only hears and retains anywhere from 25% to 50% of the messages being vocalized, a fact that journalists must be keenly aware of, so they do not fall into the trap of only capturing half of the content of what is being said.
  5. Organized: Journalists handle multiple tasks will few resources. Successful journalists excel at managing responsibilities by staying organized. These journalists run their days efficiently and flexibly always anticipating the need to reroute their time during the day. With few resources, time is not a resource to be wasted.
  6. Accept criticism: Journalists must understand that criticism is necessary; it keeps journalists accountable. With social media it is easy to publish criticism online and the public expects publications to respond. Journalists must become accustomed to explaining mistakes and engage in conversations with readers.

While these are qualities of a good journalist, they can be easily substituted for communicators and technical writers.