Reflections on Brexit: internal agility and the world of work

I am a political animal. From the moment I began to articulate my political values in my early teens I have always been a creature of the progressive Left. But this is not a political blog.

But today it is. Today I find the the personal, the professional and the political cannot be compartmentalised. Perhaps they never can.

As I wake ridiculously early on day two of our new post-Brexit world, I find myself reflecting on yesterday’s events and some of the broader implications for the world of work.

I spent some of yesterday on social media trying to find some articulation of hope and resolution amongst the confusion and despair. I found it in Caroline Lucas’s video – shot and posted in the early morning light. In her Huff post article posted later in the day. And I found it in Rhiannon Lucy Cosslett’s call in the Guardian for the young – those who will be most affected by this historic vote – to mobilise, politicise and fight.

But I also found it at work.

Three things that came into very sharp focus for me yesterday were:

  1. True business agility is built on internal capability
  2. An agile workforce is a flexible, international workforce, and
  3. I am proud to work for the CIPD

True business agility is built on internal capability

CIPD is a knowledge business. We produce and provide content that supports our membership and the wider Human Resource and Learning and Development profession.

I am a huge advocate of building internal capability, particularly digital capability. I have always believed that having such a capability in-house is vital to help us respond to business threats and opportunities.

Businesses should ask themselves: what are our core digital needs, and how do we develop and deploy them most successfully? Well of course at CIPD we have many core digital needs, but one of them is the ability to successfully communicate our message and to reach as wide an audience as possible.

And the ability to do that well and do it quickly.

Over the past year we’ve been building our internal video production capability. Today video is such a potent and important medium that it’s imperative that we can produce, embed and distribute high quality video.

With no budget. And with limited resource.

There’s a post coming up on this soon, so I won’t go into the details of how we’ve set that up here and now. But suffice to say that over the past year we have developed a team of people at CIPD who – on top of their core roles – can do this. And do it quickly.

Yesterday, as CIPD’s Editorial and Communications teams worked out our response to the UK’s decision to leave the EU, we found ourselves on the front foot.

The external agency that we often use to produce ‘corporate’ videos was not available for days. So we called on the internal team.

It took a little less than two hours to film, edit and post a video of our CEO Peter Cheese addressing members’ Brexit concerns and questions and re-stating CIPD’s vision.

Within hours we got our powerful message out there to our members and to our community.

And what is that message? An agile workforce is a flexible, international workforce.

An agile workforce is a flexible, international workforce

It’s something CIPD has been saying for years. We have an accumulation of research, evidence and experience to back up our claim.

We know that it is vital that the UK has access to a flexible, international workforce to plug the skills gap. It is important for business and for our wider society. And it is particularly important in the emerging technology sector (see Techcrunch’s recent post on Brexit fears amongst London’s digital start ups).

Much of London’s success as an economic powerhouse is due to that agglomeration – that coming together – of talent from across the UK, the EU, and beyond.

The Digital Production team and the CIPD as a whole includes many colleagues who were not born in the UK, but who have made it their home. We rely on their considerable skills, their enthusiasm, their passion, their talent.

I am proud to work for CIPD

On Friday 24 June, in responding to the news, colleagues at CIPD really nailed all of our PACE values: expertise, agility, collaboration and a sense of common purpose.

Purpose: so important to unlocking that discretionary effort. Vital for our own self-motivation and to motivating the teams we lead and/or work with.

CIPD’s purpose is to Champion Better Work and Working Lives. Our mission is to help shape the debate around work in the modern world. And – in an increasingly uncertain but connected age – to make work meaningful, to the benefit of the individual, Business and society as a whole.

When our CEO Peter Cheese responded to the EU Referendum results yesterday – in text, in video and in person – he re-iterated that purpose.

Championing Better Work and Working Lives means championing a flexible, international workforce.

[A] key element of our flexible labour market is that it enables employers to access or bring in skilled and unskilled workers from outside the UK to help support business growth and address labour shortages in our public services. It is important that this is not forgotten in any reform of the immigration system. …it is vital the Government continues to focus working with all constituencies on the very real and strategic challenges that continue to threaten the UK’s prosperity in future years, namely the productivity, skills and employment agendas.

Peter Cheese quoted in the CIPD Press Office Briefing, 24 June 2016.

Over the coming months and years, as the UK and the EU works out what Brexit actually means, CIPD will use its evidence and its experience to influence government policy and the wider debate on immigration and flexible labour markets.

Now we’re really talking about the communication of valuable ideas here!

And finally…

A friend of mine recently sent me a quote from Viktor Frankl’s holocaust memoire, Man’s Search for Meaning.

Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms – to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.

We choose our response to events in life. We either choose despair and we give up, or we choose hope and we fight on.

Yesterday I found hope amongst the chaos.

The video

You can see the video at




Structured content and content efficiency – the CCMS story at CIPD

Create Once, Publish Everywhere: at its core, it’s about managing content, broken up into logical chunks, made intelligent with metadata, in a content management system. The benefits of COPE are around workflow efficiency, content search and retrieval; re-use and cascading updates; version control, format transformation, distributed publishing. COPE also supports translation and localisation workflows. It’s a content strategy therefore that addresses CIPD’s content problems as well as our content ambitions. At its heart, COPE is about developing content agility to support business agility – particularly around product innovation and multi channel distribution.

In this post I’m going to explore how we’ve worked with Mekon XML consultancy to choose, set up and configured DITA XML and a CCMS for our pilot project: CIPD’s first tentative steps towards COPE.

Choosing a CCMS – the Conference Room Prototype process

When it came to choosing a CCMS we followed Mekon’s Conference Room Prototype process. It’s a process that’s designed to help organisations evaluate two or more CCMSs and decide which they should invest in. Rather than IT deciding which system to buy, the CRP process engages the end users in the selection process, thereby helping to mitigate the risks inherent in technology projects – mostly those all-too human factors of ownership and training.

We narrowed down our selection to two systems: Jorsek’s easyDITA and SDL’s LiveContent. We already have SDL’s Tridion Web CMS, so LiveContent was always going to make it to the shortlist.

Mekon hosted and ran two two-day prototyping sessions for easyDITA and for LiveContent. Prior to the session Mekon worked with us to write user stories that described in simple, non-technical language typical workflows and tasks of individual users (for example: As a content creator, I want to be able to insert an image into a topic.) These user stories were MOSCOW scored and the feedback analysed.

User scoring was very close, with easyDITA just having the edge. LiveContent was seen as being more powerful. But easyDITA was seen to be easier to use, particularly in terms of its authoring interface.

EasyDITA = ease of use

We were always cognisant, when evaluating both systems, that CIPD’s researchers – our authors – are not in the least bit technical. The user interface needed to be as close a match as possible to what they were used to using – basically Microsoft Word.

easyDITA screenshot

Screenshot from easyDITA

Mekon worked with CIPD and with easyDITA to set up and configure the CCMS to our requirements.  For example we spent some time with the chaps at easyDITA configuring the authoring interface to simplify it further – for example to better represent figure elements and to make the nesting of sections more intuitive.

EasyDITA is also very straightforward to use when it comes to reviewing and editing – again similar to Word. But unlike Word, a CCMS facilitates version control, collaborative working and remote access. That ease of use is something the researchers acknowledged and appreciated. One research advisor commented: “After an introductory session, and with a little bit of practice, the software is pretty easy to use; it’s not that different from reviewing and annotating a document using ‘track change’ in Word”.

Configuration and content modelling

We used Dita4Publishers and the chapter topic specialisation.

Mekon helped us to design the content’s info architecture. We kept the content model as simple as possible, balancing potential re-use and update requirements with ease of use (particularly in terms of authoring).

We spent some time working out which DITA elements to use and how. Bibliographic references are a big deal in research reports and we created hyperlinked bib refs that the authors could easily input, but also that could be extended to become a more extensive bibliographic database at some later date.

Metadata is a love note to the future

In terms of metadata we’ve been working with Mekon and information management consultants Metataxis for a while now to develop a global metadata framework including a corporate taxonomy.

Mekon helped us to import the metadata framework into the CCMS. We wanted to use the CCMS to facilitate CIPD’s thought leadership goals, rather than just efficient content management, so it was important to properly integrate the metadata framework. We had to make quite a few decisions around which bits of metadata worked better in the CCMS (for example taxonomy terms) and which were better in the DITA itself (like the website long description).

It’s important, I think, to get those authoring the work (those who understand the context of the content best) to apply taxonomy terms – not those who process the content further down the production stream. easyDITA mades the application of taxonomy straightforward and an integral part of the authoring process.

Design outputs

CIPD’s research reports have moderately complex designs, and we felt that a straight XSLFO transformation to PDF wouldn’t provide us with the right degree of flexibility in terms of workflow or design. We used Mekon’s IdXML Open Toolkit plugin to convert the DITA XML output into IdXML tags that were easily mapped to design elements in the InDesign template.

Mekon worked with CIPD’s in house design team setting up those InDesign templates and providing training and technical support. Giving the design team structured files that map to pre-determined design templates automated much of the page layout, shortening turn around times.

IdXML tags

The content in its flattened XML form as it comes straight out of the idXML plugin

The text imported into Indesign

The text imported into Indesign

Training and support – don’t ever underestimate it

Mekon ran a two-day training course on DITA XML for the project team. But our authors needed just a very basic understanding of DITA XML, particularly the concept of structuring content to facilitate its management and future re-use.

In terms of CCMS training, Mekon and the guys at easyDITA trained the project team, and we in turn trained and provided technical support to the authors.

Our Research team aren’t a very technically astute group. They approached the project and the CCMS with enthusiasm, but they did find the system somewhat difficult to use. Don’t underestimate the amount of training and support you’ll need to give your authoring teams.

The EasyDITA InDesign plugIn worked well, automating much of the page layout process. But again, our in house Design team needed a lot of training and support. We had to set aside plenty of time and money for training and support.

Chaos reigns… until it doesn’t

chaos reigns

Normally – to quote a famous meme – chaos reigns. Each report follows its own unique process. Nothing is standardised. Everything is slightly chaotic. Schedules are long and deadlines are missed. But with this project we established a standardised content templates and workflows.

Which, although we won’t be investing in a CCMS (at least for now; see my next post: Agile content strategy: flexing to changing and challenging business reality) we can benefit from those improved content management processes. We can capitalise upon and extend those project workflows across the Research department.

We mustn’t squander that opportunity.

Cold storage

So the final stage of our pilot project will be to put the CCMS into ‘cold storage’ (so to speak). To mothball the actual code, as well as document the various configurations and customisations and why they were set up that way – both for CCMS and the InDesign plugin.

That way – when the business is ready – we can pick up the project and implement a Create Once, Publish Everywhere content solution. Because, ultimately, all knowledge-rich organisations need content agility to deliver business agility.


Content playfulness at work at CIPD

In my last post I talked about content playfulness

Content re-imagination, divisible content, digital first – all of these approaches really boil down to a sort of content playfulness – a more imaginative and more expansive approach to what might otherwise be dry, complex, academic content. Like the monks with their mischievous mythical beasts in the Book of Kells, we need to use the 21st century techniques to augment the text and illuminate the main messages.

As you’ll know, if you’ve been following these last few posts, CIPD has been well and truly stuck in a print-based paradigm. CIPD invests a lot of money in its research and policy content, but when we analysed the web traffic we discovered something shocking: not only does this content has no longevity, it also doesn’t have any real impact upon first publication. No one is reading the damn stuff.

But when we looked to how print news media, as well as how content marketing, has responded to the digital revolution we found inspiration and practical strategies to help CIPD to increase the reach and the impact of our thought leadership content. We realised that we could apply a combination of these complimentary approaches to our research and be more playful with our content.

We could assemble the ‘cutting room floor artefacts the researcher collects whilst building the research report – interviews, case studies, data sets, etc. And we could also create ‘divisible content’ – spin offs from the final report – videos, podcasts, animations, infographics – and further spin offs from them: ‘info-bites’ from the infographics and ‘shareables’ from the animations.

And we could use social media to engage existing and new audiences and ultimately drive traffic to web hubs rich with a diverse range of interesting multi media content alongside the PDF report.

So we proposed a second stream to our original Create Once Publish Everywhere project. Not only would we pilot a CCMS and DITA workflow for the authoring, editing and publishing of research reports. We would also investigate whether through:

  • assembling & creating various multi media assets to accompany the report
  • and a dedicated social media campaign

we could make a difference to the impact & the reach of our research content.

We designed a project to help CIPD envision what is possible If we married content efficiency with content playfulness, and chose reports that both represented typical output but were also in production during the project’s timeline.

(You’ll find an account of how we got on with the content efficiency side of things in my next two posts: Structured content and content efficiency and Agile content strategy: flexing to changing business reality).

So what did we produce?

Growing the Health and Wellbeing Agenda

We were somewhat constrained by the current web CMS (we’re currently building a new responsive site) – but this is what the first report on Health and Wellbeing looks like.

web page for health and wellbeing

The web hub page includes

  • a motion graphic animation
  • the report in PDF plus ebook files (both EPUB and Kindle format)
  • for those too busy to read the full report there’s an executive summary
  • a video case study
  • links to related content and the researchers’ blog posts on our new communities platform
  • and links to CIPD’s various social media channels

Labour Market Outlook

Appropriate to the type of report, we were a little more conservative with the digital assets produced for the Labour Market Outlook survey. Alongside the PDF the report is available in ebook formats as well as an animation.

The Future of Talent in Singapore 2030

We had more room to play with the web page with this one – particularly in terms of design – as it sits on a responsive microsite built specifically for CIPD Asia.

web page for Future of Talent report

The page includes:

  • the motion graphic animation
  • graphics
  • the report in PDF and ebook formats
  • and accordion sections with an in depth summary of each of the chapters. This teaser text also provides more content to help the search engines actually find the report.

The creative process

The creative process starts with a conversation between the designer and the author, to understand the report’s key messages. Salvatore (Turi) Scandurra (our multi-media designer) sketches out his interpretation of those themes for stakeholder review and further iteration. The approved illustrations are used to create the animation and multiple spin off assets – creating a unified visual brand for the report that also fits within CIPD’s corporate brand guidelines.

LMO assets

The three animations sit on the CIPD website, but here’s a ‘mash up’ that Turi created of all three, that gives a taste of what was produced.

We built three rich website experiences, with many ways for readers to engage with each of the reports. But of course we’re still publishing in a vacuum if we don’t tell anyone about them. So let’s look at the social media strategies.

The social media strategies

All three campaigns trailed the report across Twitter, LinkedIn and Facebook before publication and on launch day.

We ran imaginative campaigns that included Tweet chats and big-name endorsements and made good use of the multi media assets and spin offs – the animations, shareables and infographics.

A successful campaign initiates and convenes a community debate that continues beyond launch date. From that perspective the wellbeing hashtag was the strongest, still active four months after the report’s publication, continuing to drive traffic back to the report.

You can take a look at all three campaigns at #wellbeing2016 (Growing the Heath and Wellbeing Agenda), #sgtalent2030 (Future of Talent in Singapore 2030) and #cipdLMO16 (Labour Market Outlook).

So what was the impact of these strategies on the traffic to the CIPD website and those all-important PDF download numbers?

The impact on web traffic and download numbers

We compared the data to all three reports with thematically equivalent comparison reports, analysing traffic over a 16- day period after publication.

Here’s the detail (skip this if you’re not a detail-person!)

Wellbeing was the most successful

  • Organic traffic – that is traffic from search engines – increased by 158%
  • Traffic from social media increased by over 300%
  • And we had a staggering 6,069 unique page views in 16 days – that’s close to our best annual numbers!
  • Report download numbers are up by 117%
  • And 86% of visitors to the page downloaded the PDF (our average is around 38%).

The numbers for Labour Market Outlook were also up.

  • Organic traffic increased by 45%
  • Traffic from social networks increased by 98%
  • Referral traffic is up by 58%
  • Total traffic was just shy of 3,000 unique page views (up by 22%)
  • Report download numbers were up by 58%
  • And 60% of visitors downloaded the PDF.

And the numbers for the final report in our project – Future of Talent in Singapore are also a big improvement.

  • Organic traffic is up by 493%!
  • There was a healthy amount of traffic from social media
  • Referral traffic was up by 500%
  • Total traffic was just over 2000 unique page views – not bad when you think what a niche audience this report has.
  • But only 37.5% of visitors to the page downloaded the PDF. I’ve wondered why that number is so low (38% is our average), and think it might be because the web page itself includes a précis of the text; with so much content on the site there’s maybe less need or desire to read the report itself.

In conclusion, unsurprisingly, we discovered that a dedicated social media campaign makes a significant impact to web traffic to a report’s landing page and to engagement with the PDF report itself.

Observations and recommendations


Effecting change is never easy, and during the project we put a few noses out of joint and stepped on a few toes. But with careful stakeholder management, and by embedding the agile development principle of reflection and incremental improvement we managed the negative politics that often swirl around change initiatives.

At regular intervals, the team reflects on how to become more effective, then tunes and adjusts its behavior accordingly.

(Agile Manifesto principle no. 12)

That feedback loop, as well as the sheer quality of the outputs, won over the naysayers in the end.

And the people who most mattered in our project, the researchers – who’s hard work previously published into a void – well they were hugely engaged with the project and delighted with the results. We interviewed the researchers to record their reactions.


At the end of our project we made three recommendations to the business that would help to embed content playfulness into the research publication programme:

  • multi-media
  • social media
  • digital first research


We recommended that all priority reports include some flavour of engaging multi media assets. Both those ‘cutting room floor’ artefacts that the researcher collects as they develop their report, as well as the spin off digital assets the multi-media designer can produce.

These assets augment and they explain the main report, they draw out the most interesting findings and data, they enrich the web experience and they can be used across social media to increase reach and impact.

Social media

All research reports should include a dedicated social media campaign, making full use of those multi media assets – with the effort involved commensurate with the report’s strategic value.

And we recommended extending the campaign beyond the report’s publication date to give it greater impact and to continue the debate.

Digital first research

And finally we recommended that the role of the researcher is extended to become more like that of the digital first journalist (see my post Digital First and Content Playfulness).

diagram representing the expanded role of the researcher

As well as authoring the report the researcher

  • gathers those ‘cutting room floor’ multi-media assets
  • actively engages with the social media campaign
  • blogs and participates on CIPD’s Community platform
  • and appears in the news media as required

In conclusion

With this more playful approach to CIPD’s research content we’ve demonstrated that we can drive more traffic, reach and engage with bigger audiences.

CIPD has this amazing purpose – Championing Better Work and Working Lives – content playfulness helps us to amplify that message.

Digital first and content playfulness

In 2011 the Guardian announced the adoption of their digital first strategy to reverse long-term declining print and advertising revenues and address competition from new entrants – hybrids of original news and aggregated content like BuzzFeed and the Huffington Post.

The Guardian first coined the term ‘digital first’, but other news organisations have also publicly set out their ‘digital first’ agendas, as they struggle with the same pressures and dilemmas.

There are a number of facets to digital first – but the strongest common themes are around multi-media and social media. Basically how do you help your audience to find, engage with and share your news content to give it as wide a reach and impact as possible?

Social media opportunities

The web signals a threat but also an opportunity – particularly the opportunity to distribute content and reach a wider audience through multiple social media channels. As the editor of the FT, Lionel Barber put it in an email to staff announcing their digital first strategy:

…we must recognise that the internet offers new avenues and platforms for the richer delivery and sharing of information. We are moving from a news business to a networked business.

Multi media is at the heart

Multi media content is at the heart of digital first news. As Mu Lin writes in his journalism blog, digital first represents

…an all-inclusive approach [to] content production. When planning a reporting project, we need to consider all forms of content: video, audio, article, photo, interactive features (data/map), etc. Get all these contents equally well produced, then push them through appropriate platforms.

Rethinking news

In writing about the announcement, journalism professor and Guardian contributor Jeff Jarvis states:

[Think of]…news as a collection of pieces of Lego that can be stacked into many shapes… [making] better use of the “cutting-room floor of journalism” strewn with facts, interviews, anecdotes, and insights that don’t make it into an article, all “missed opportunities to engage readers”.

Rethinking the role of the digital journalist

Digital first journalism expands the journalist’s role. The editor of the FT again:

…we need to become content editors rather than page editors. We must rethink how we publish our content, when and in what form, whether conventional news, blogs, video or social media.

Divisible content

Digital first journalism sounds a lot like content marketing’s ‘divisible content’ or ‘content leverage’ approach:

divisible content diagram

Divisible Content 101 © Column Five

Identify your message – Create your piece of content – Break it out into numerous micro assets  – Publish it out across various social media platforms.

Content re-imagination

Which for those of you who’ve read Handley and Chapman’s Content Rules also sounds a lot like their concept of content re-imagination.

reimagine content

Good content is intentionally reimagined at its inception for various platforms and formats.

Content playfulness

Content re-imagination, divisible content, digital first – all of these approaches really boil down to a sort of content playfulness – a more imaginative and more expansive approach to what often might otherwise be dry, complex or academic content. Like the monks with their mischievous mythical beasts in the Book of Kells, we need to use 21st century techniques to augment the text and illuminate the main messages.

In my next post I’ll explore how we’ve piloted a ‘content playfulness’ approach to our research and policy content at CIPD.




Stuck in a print paradigm: analysing the problem of CIPD’s Thought Leadership content

The logical place to start with a COPE approach to content management at CIPD is with our research and policy content. It has a relatively straightforward structure, so it’s easy content to model. It’s content that is re-used across the business in other products and publications. But particularly because our research content potentially has the highest brand value. It’s our thought leadership content; it gives CIPD its authority and gravitas.

Two crucial questions

When we put the business case for a pilot for COPE and structured content to CIPD’s Executive Team last year we were asked two crucial questions:

Firstly, what’s the longevity of this content? Why should we make this huge investment – in technology and in organisational change, if the content itself has no shelf life?

And secondly: what other organisations are managing their content in this way? How are other knowledge businesses COPE-ing?

What is the longevity of our research content?

So what is the longevity of our research content? Given that we spend around £2.5m a year on our research and policy activities, and around £40,000 per report, it’s a very good question.

When we analysed the traffic to the reports’ landing pages we discovered something shocking. This content has no longevity. In the three years after they were published, only the top eight of the 58 reports published in 2011 (14% of the total output) had approximately 1000 unique page views (UPVs) per annum. 

But what was also shocking was that we discovered that the research reports also have virtually no impact in the first year after publication. The top 25% of reports published 2015 had an average of 7,000 annual UPVs. The remaining three quarters are lucky if they get an average 1,000 views in that first 12 months.

With a ready-made audience of 140,000 CIPD members, and – if we extend our potential audience to anyone with people management responsibilities that number swells to 8 million people in the UK alone – those numbers really are teeny tiny.

Andthose numbers are even worse when you consider that on average only 38% of visitors to a research report landing page actually download the PDF.

We’re stuck in a print-based paradigm

CIPD’s numbers might be shocking, but they’re really not that surprising. That’s because we’re stuck in a print-based mindset. We’ve simply transferred a print paradigm to the web.

print paradigm

(Makes your eyes bleed, dunnit?)

We’re publishing our most brand-valuable thought leadership content in PDF format on a hard-to-navigate-to landing page, on a non responsive site.

But the digital revolution is here

Whilst the CIPD is stuck in a print paradigm, its audience is experiencing a digital revolution. We all lead such busy lives, and we publishers, the content providers, we fight to make ourselves heard in the ‘attention economy’.

woman on mobile phone

  • The rise of micro content – bite sized chunks of content designed to intrigue and drive traffic back to the source…
  • The rise of video content – a potent and increasingly important way of connecting with distributed audiences…
  • And the rise of social media – sharing interesting content amongst a community of peers…

have all had a profound impact on the way that people interact with content.

This new digital age means that people are less and less likely to find, and less inclined to want to engage with a 60-odd page academic research paper only published as a PDF.

We need to think differently about how we publish our content

OK, so our research content has no longevity, nor does it have any real impact upon publication. But that’s not to say that the content has no value – we just needed to think differently about how we publish it. And that’s where the second question we were asked: what other organisations are managing their content this way, is where we found our answers to how to think differently.

Initially we went to talk to peers at other organisations who are managing their content in DITA XML. (Thanks to Mark Green at the AQA Qualifications board, Ant Davey of the Rail Safety Standards Board, Stephen Calderwood at Human Kinetics and the content team at the Institute of Engineering & Technology.) All were setting up similar projects, looking to introduce process efficiencies, to re-use/reassemble existing content into new products and greater flexibility for multi platform publishing.

companies using DITA



We reported back. But these insights just didn’t resonate with our Exec Team. The organisations we’d talked to were seen as being a bit too scientific, too technical… not really like CIPD. And … (sorry guys!) … they just weren’t seen as being very glamourous.

What about the Guardian?

‘What about the Guardian?’ we were asked – How are they managing their content? How are they COPE-ing to reach new audiences? And that’s where we found our answers to how to improve the reach and the impact of CIPD’s thought leadership content.

And that’s where I’ll leave it for now. In my next post I’ll explore what we found when we looked for case studies from news media organisations who are also moving from a print paradigm to a digital first world.


Sarah in front of a huge bookshelf

Content Playfulness and the Book of Kells

I was asked a little while ago what was the why of me? (for those of you who know the work of Simon Sinek – what was at the heart of my ‘golden circle’?). However disparate our careers, if we’re lucky there’s a common thread – an essential purpose or meaning to the work that we do.

What’s the why of me?

So what’s the why of me? After a while of reviewing my career, identifying that common thread, what I’m both good at and enjoy, I realised that this is the why of me: I’m passionate about improving the communication of valuable ideas.

When I’m not at work, busy improving the communication of valuable ideas I’m either writing, reading, painting, drawing or taking photos. Basically I love stories – telling stories in images and in words: the communication of ideas.

A visit to the Book of Kells

I’ve been asked to speak at LavaCon content strategy conference next week. For the first time it’s being held in Europe, at Trinity College Dublin. Something I’ve always wanted to do is see the Book of Kells, and whilst I’m at Trinity I’m determined to take a couple of hours out and visit the library there to take a look.

The Book of Kells was written 1200 years ago, it’s now thought a collective effort (early globalisation?) of monks in Scotland, Ireland and the North of England. With such an ancient and fragile object few people get to turn the pages and enjoy the full 340 folios. Fortunately the book is available to view in its entirety online in Trinity College’s digital archive.

Content playfulness at work

The Book of Kells includes an unprecedented number of illustrations: stories, words, pictures. Fantastical beasts and cheeky human-like figures pop up unexpectedly, winding themselves around the latin text.

Screen Shot 2016-05-12 at 11.06.43

As I meandered through the book I could imagine those monks enlivening the dull hours conjuring these mischievous and mythical creatures.

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There’s a content playfulness at work here. The monks used celtic symbols and patterns exotic colours and decoration to augment the text and literally illuminate the main messages.

In writing out the gospels, in turning the word of God into a tangible and beautiful object those monks were improving the communication of valuable ideas – what in the medieval Christian world was the ultimate valuable idea – God’s love and eternal salvation. What was the why, the purpose of the Book of Kells? To create a tribute to God’s glory.

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But also content inefficiency

But of course it was a hugely inefficient process, medieval illuminated manuscripts took years and years of back breaking labour. Occasionally bored comments and complaints found their way into the margins of medieval texts!


Not only is the Book of Kells available to view online, it is also of course on public display. Thousands of physical visitors and who knows how many thousands more digital visitors. Which is ironic, because the book originally had a sacramental rather than an educational purpose. It wasn’t designed to be read and certainly not by more than a select group of priests. There was no audience for this work.

Meanings and connections

It struck me, whilst I’ve been researching the history of the Book of Kells, that there’s a lot of parallels between that ancient text and my work at CIPD.

Only connect! That was the whole of her sermon. Only connect the prose and the passion, and both will be exalted, and human love will be seen at its height. Live in fragments no longer. Only connect, and the beast and the monk, robbed of the isolation that is life to either, will die.

EM Forster, Howard’s End

For me, work has to have meaning, and it certainly helps if the organisation I’m working for has a positive impact on society. The Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development has this incredible purpose: to Champion Better Work and Working Lives. So like the Book of Kells there’s a valuable message and ideas worth communicating. But – and perhaps not quite as extreme as those monks in Ireland 1200 years ago – CIPD also suffers from a hugely inefficient content production process and it’s message doesn’t really have much of an audience.

Since I started at CIPD back in summer 2013 I’ve been working to improve the communication of our valuable ideas, primarily through improving content efficiency and more recently (and additionally) through the introduction of a content playfulness: finding 21st century techniques to illuminate our message and spread the good word (rather than the Good Word!)

Over the next few blog posts I’ll be exploring just how we’ve done that and reflecting on the successes, outcomes and observations from that work.

What does a successful project look like?

Like many organisations CIPD has a number of project managers around the business, both in IT, focussed primarily on managing technology projects, as well as embedded within various teams, with a focus more on delivering operational initiatives. And like many organisations we have a project management community – bringing both groups together to swap war stories, celebrate successes and share good PM practice.

A few weeks ago the PM Community ran a session on the topic of Project Success. In preparation for that session I was approached for my perspective on the matter. What did I think a successful project looked like? Was it the delivery of a project within budget, time, and scope, or was it more subtle than that?

In a previous life (at John Wiley – my previous employer) I was a Project Manager for a number of years. And I was trained to see project success very much in terms of delivering working software within scope, on time and to budget.

Learning as we go along


But I’ve learned at my time at CIPD a more nuanced, more practical and perhaps also more forgiving definition of project success. Yes those other things are important, but more important still is that we learn as we go along. That we continuously ask ourselves what are we discovering and how do we embed those lessons (that come out of both positive and negative feedback) into the project going forward? And – where appropriate – how do we extend those lessons to the wider organisation?

At regular intervals, the team reflects on how to become more effective, then tunes and adjusts its behavior accordingly.

(Agile Manifesto principle no. 12)

If what we’ve learned by the end of the project doesn’t necessarily tie back all that precisely to what we believed we’d learn at the beginning of the project then that’s not a failure, but rather the very definition of success.

Most projects aim to introduce some element of organisational or operational change. And effecting change is never easy. Even the most skilful of PMs can’t always help toes being stepped on and noses being put out of joint. But a powerful technique to help manage the negative politics that swirl around any change initiative is to ask stakeholders for their feedback as the work progresses, and to be seen to include that feedback into the following iteration.

Obviously this isn’t rocket science, it’s good project management practice, but I think placing the emphasis more on the learnings gathered along the way rather than the outcomes leads to a more flexible, a more agile approach. Because desired outcomes may change as the project progresses, but the learnings – if they are acted upon – are always gold.

Maintaining our digital skills: ‘understanding is in a state of perpetual beta’

We are Expert

In my last few posts I’ve been talking about what the PACE values mean to me and for digital projects at CIPD. We are Purposeful, Agile, Collaborative and Expert. In this week’s post I’m going to explore what it means to be expert in the digital sector.

What is clear is that it’s not like it was in our grandparents’ or even our parents’ day.

There’s no longer a career for life with a single set of skills


Previous generations expected a certain evolution to their careers and the acquisition of a set of skills that would accompany them throughout that career. At a time when technological change was slower paced, indeed ponderous by today’s standards, there was a certainty and a security associated with developing your professional skill set.

Developing professional competence meant the gradual accumulation and mastery of a handful of skills that would see one through from awkward adolescence to the gold watch. For example, at 18 my Grandma Butterfield learned the shorthand and touch typing skills that sustained her through her entire career.

Skills have a very short shelf life…

But things have changed. The other week I came across a shocking fact: present day work skills have a shelf life of just 2.5 years. [Deloitte Human Capital Trends Switzerland 2014]. If we’re working from 21 to 67, that means 20 cycles of acquiring and mastering a new set of skills. And that skills shelf life is only set to get shorter, as the pace of change increases.

…And ours are shorter than most

The Digital Production team need to master a set of skills with a shorter shelf life than most; working in an industry experiencing a dizzying pace of change. Bleeding edge becomes best practice within months, superseded by a whole new methodology, new thinking and techniques shortly after.

Countering digital bad habits

Dave Coplin, Chief Envisioning officer at Microsoft UK, spoke at CIPD 2015 ACE. He warned of the digital bad habits we pick up in an attempt to cope with the demands of all-pervasive tech and the information overload. Particularly the tendency to skim read rather than engage deeply with information. But the complexity of the modern workplace and the problems to be solved by teams like ours, means that we can’t graze our way to comprehension.

Keeping digital skills up to date

So how do we do it? How do we as a team operating in this fast moving, complex arena keep up to date, keep innovating?

In a sense we’re fortunate in that there is a natural affinity and overlap between digital skills (as I imagine there are in many teams) – see my last post on Collaboration where I explore this further.

This makes for a team where sympathies, skills and experience complement and interface nicely with one another, and where by pooling that collective experience and knowledge we can both keep our collective skill set current and effectively collaborate to solve complex problems.

‘Collective understanding is in a state of perpetual beta’

Harold Jarche writes that we must accept that

our collective understanding is in a state of perpetual Beta. This is how we can create a culture of innovation.

Harold Jarche, Seeking Perpetual Beta: A Guidebook for the Network Era

Each of us in the team has a personal responsibility to continually seek out appropriate sources of information, filter, understand and relate them to what we’re working on and then be prepared to share with the group to further refine, re-shape and connect.

How do we do it in our team? As well informal knowledge sharing, working closely and collaboratively across different – often related – projects, we also share our skills in more formal ways. Because we’re all passionate and interested in what we do, in the space in which we operate, we’re all reading, learning, discovering. Interesting nuggets are shared with the team via email, curated via Google+, or explored in team meetings.

Digital factoids

Continuous Professional Development (CPD) is only really successful and sustainable when it’s fun and when it’s embedded as part of our everyday routine. So in our monthly team meetings I encourage everyone to share a ‘digital factoid’ we’ve unearthed during our online sauntering. These can be digital humanity-is-doomed-style facts:

  • Did you know Domino’s Pizza launched a physical button (presumably to place alongside the TV remote control) that allows customers to place an online order for their favourite pizza? (Link)

…digital humanity-is-awesome-style facts:

  • Did you know that there’s now an app that pairs the visually impaired with the sighted so that people can provide commentary to help others cope with small everyday tasks. (Link)

…‘march of the algorithms’-type facts:

  • Did you know that comments in discussion threads can be analysed, summarised and graphically displayed to give a ‘a coherent and concise account of the commenters’ opinions’. (Link)

…or just plain weird facts.

    • Did you know that the energy required to power the world’s appetite for knowledge is equivalent to 120 worth of eggs per second. If you don’t believe me, here are the workings:
      • Google claims that a search query requires altogether about 1 kJ or 0.0003 kW·h. (Link)
      • 1 large egg (boiled) provides roughly 331 kJ. (Link)
      • Google claims estimates there are at least 40000 searches per second. (Link)

Therefore – 40000/331 (kJ consumed by search every seconds divided by kJ in eggs) = 120 eggs per second (equivalent of power consumed)
Thanks to Ed Vald, Knowledge & Metadata Manager for this one.

Sometimes they’re directly related to what we’re working on, but often they’re not. But they always prompt plenty of ‘wow’s, discussion and connections between the team and between ideas.

The skills swap shop


We also run a monthly ‘skills swap shop’ (yes I’m a child of the 70s): a 30-40 minute slot in the team meeting where team members share insights from their particular area of expertise or describe what they’re currently working on. Occasionally guests drop in to talk about related projects or skills – last month the Marketing Database team came in to talk about search engine optimisation.

Curious careers

For those of us who are employed in professions with any degree of skills volatility, it is incumbent upon ourselves to keep our knowledge and skills up to date.

Being able to continuously learn, and share that new knowledge, will be as important as showing up on time was in the industrial economy.

Harold Jarche, Seeking Perpetual Beta: A Guidebook for the Network Era

Alan Tofflin

For our own continued employability, for the success of our teams and the organisations we work for, we must remain curious. Our antenea should be forever twitching, on the look out for the latest nuggets of interest relevant to the areas we’re working on. And we need to be prepared and willing to filter, share, discuss and develop that knowledge, those ideas, in collaboration with our colleagues.

Collaborative working

The PACE values at CIPD

You probably haven’t heard of PACE, but everyone who works for the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development certainly has. They are the values underpin everything we aim to do and to be at CIPD, they run through our corporate culture like the words ‘Brighton’ through a stick of rock.

The PACE values are on display throughout the CIPD HQ in Wimbledon, on posters and stencilled onto the wall in our ‘OpenSpace’ coffee shop. This jaunty acronym stands for

Ever since I joined CIPD two and a half years ago I’ve been mulling over the PACE values, what they really mean, how we put them into practice.

In this week’s post I’m going to explore collaborative working and what it means for the Digital Production team.

We are Collaborative

Of all the PACE values, I think of collaboration as the meta value; we can’t be purposeful, agile or expert without collaboration.

  • To build an agile, innovative business, able to navigate and exploit the vagaries of 21st century economic reality;
  • To build our own expertise whilst contributing to the collective understanding of our teams and networks;
  • To deliver successful outcomes;
  • To develop motivated, high performing teams;

we need first and foremost to collaborate.

We are Drucker’s ‘knowledge workers’

According to the Work Foundation, in their 2009 Knowledge Workers and Knowledge Work report, 30% of the total UK workforce constitute ‘knowledge workers’ in ‘jobs with high knowledge content’.

The now ubiquitous term ‘knowledge worker’ originates with Peter Drucker and perfectly describes the work we do in the Digital Production team at CIPD.

Productive work in today’s society and economy is work that applies vision, knowledge and concepts — work that is based on the mind rather than the hand.

Peter Drucker, Landmarks of Tomorrow, 1959

For the Digital Production team we apply our collective vision, knowledge and concepts in the production of useful outputs, namely the delivery of digital platforms, communications and learning.

But knowledge is no longer stable

When Drucker described the concept of the ‘knowledge worker’ almost 60 years ago the knowledge acquired during one’s professional career had some degree of permanence.

But the knowledge acquired during the typical 21st century knowledge worker’s professional career has a shorter and shorter lifespan (see next week’s post Building and Maintaining Expertise).

And knowledge is no longer power

Knowledge might once have been power, but with the transient nature of today’s skills, the miserly hoarding of knowledge is no longer the path to success.

It is those who share their knowledge freely, pooling it with others to build a common, more sophisticated understanding, who thrive and progress in the modern workplace.

Working out loud

The Digital Production team, in common with the rest of CIPD, uses our Workspace intranet platform to work out loud, to share work in progress, milestones and ideas.

Bryce Williams crystallised the behaviours and outcomes of using Social Collaboration tools with the phrase ‘working out loud’ which he boiled down to this simple formula:

Working Out Loud = Observable Work + Narrating Your Work

Working out loud is particularly useful for one’s own reflective learning: grounding acquired knowledge through public narration.

John Stepper expanded Bryce Willliams’ definition, to identify the 5 Elements of Working Out Loud:

  • Making your work visible 
  • Making work better
  • Leading with generosity
  • Building a social network
  • Making it purposeful

Blogging – let’s face it – does have an element of self promotion. (And why not?) But it’s also, as Stepper puts it, about ‘leading with generosity’, contributing ideas to the wider debate, building on other people’s ideas, using platforms and tools that encourage networking, sharing and debate.

The interoperability of people as well as systems

Today’s economy is a social economy with collaboration at its center. In the past, we could dominate by accumulating resources and driving efficiency, but now agility and interoperability that rule the day.  We need to shift our focus from assets and capabilities to empathy, design and networked organizations.

Greg Satel, Why the Ability to Collaborate is the New Competitive Advantage,

I often talk of the importance of the interoperability of systems and of data (see last year’s post on Open Standards and Open Platforms), but the interoperability of the people who build those systems is equally important, particularly the exchange of information and ideas.

We geeks need social skills

For the digital workforce, our social, interpersonal and emotional skills are equally important, if not more so, than our technical skills – for our technical skills soon date.

Communication, empathy, an awareness of how we interact with others and how others will interact with what we build; but above all, the ability to collaborate. And that collaboration isn’t just the ability to get along with your team mates, but the sharing of knowledge and the building of communal ideas with a shared sense of ownership. (For more on this look out for a future post on Ideation.)

Being a ‘techie’ doesn’t mean we’re somehow less human, that we’re some kind of Spock-like, robotic, coding machines. Being a successful techie, building workable solutions, has always meant the close collaboration of peers on common projects of extraordinary complexity.

The interconnectedness of digital skills

The Digital Production team operates in a space where the boundaries of our skills intersect with those of our team mates. Let’s take web content strategy as an example, it has some core skills and processes of its own, but has many commonalities with information architecture and user experience, in fact shares the same worldview (the centrality of the online customer experience).

The edgelessness of the web tears down the constructed edges in the company. Everything is so interconnected that nobody has a clear domain of work any longer – the walls are gone, so we’re left to learn how to collaborate in the spaces where things connect.

Frank Chimero, The Shape of Design

Because of this ‘edgelessness’ of digital work, we must, as Frank Chimero puts it ‘collaborate in the spaces where things connect’. And that’s what makes digital work so much fun: collaborating, building on one another’s ideas and expertise, working together to develop new and innovative solutions that delight, help and inform.

‘Job’ should never be ‘a four letter word’

That interconnectedness of the digital work domain also means that we can no longer think of our jobs as neat, self contained little boxes with a pre-determined, static set of tasks and accountabilities.

‘Job’ according to Harold Jarche ‘is a four-letter word’ because of the way that tightly constrained job profiles and narrow minded managers can stifle the ‘intrepreneurial’ spirit, narrow the space that we need to collaborate, dampen the creativity we need to be innovative – all those behaviours and that momentum businesses need to harness in order to exploit ‘transient competitive advantage’ (Rita Gunther McGrath).

Job profiles as a jumping off point for collaboration

So job profiles mustn’t be a straight jacket, but rather a jumping off point for collaboration and contribution towards the team’s, and ultimately the organisation’s goals and purpose.

Breaking down job boundaries – whilst ensuring people feel safe rather than threatened, that their unique contributions are acknowledged and valued – is key to engendering the collaborative spirt and creativity needed to solve the complex problems we’re working on.

Agile working

The PACE values at CIPD

You probably haven’t heard of PACE, but everyone who works for the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development certainly has. They are the values underpin everything we aim to do and to be at CIPD, they run through our corporate culture like the words ‘Brighton’ through a stick of rock.

The PACE values are on display throughout the CIPD HQ in Wimbledon, on posters and stencilled onto the wall in our ‘OpenSpace’ coffee shop. This jaunty acronym stands for

Ever since I joined CIPD two and a half years ago I’ve been mulling over the PACE values, what they really mean, how we put them into practice, specifically in relation to the projects that define the work of the digital production team.

And over the next four posts I’m going to explore those musings and conclusions I’ve come to.

We are agile

I’ll admit, it took me a while to ‘get it’, but it’s with ‘agile’ that the worlds of running digital projects and CIPD’s values mesh most harmoniously together.

The Agile Manifesto was published in 2001 and has proved to be so successful and ubiquitous in software development circles that its methods and principles have been adopted into general business management; in particular the focus on customer centricity, facilitation-based management, iterative and incremental working methods, outcomes based evaluation, greater individual autonomy and collaboration.

In fact we might say we’ve entered ‘the agile age’, where organisational agility, nimbleness, responsiveness are the watch words for survival in the face of ‘transient competitive advantage’ (Rita Gunther McGrath).

The Agile Manifesto argues that software projects succeed when self-organised teams of motivated individuals come together and work within a supportive environment built on trust.

Build projects around motivated individuals. Give them the environment and support they need, and trust them to get the job done.
(The Agile Manifesto, principle #5 )
The best architectures, requirements and designs emerge from self-organisting teams.
(The Agile Manifesto, principle #11)
Agile teams rely on self-organisation, customer centricity, knowledge sharing, collaboration and mutual trust.

Agile working might be a bit of a buzz word right now, but it isn’t just about flexible hours, or investing in the IT infrastructure to support remote working. Rather it’s about the wider adoption of the principles of the agile manifesto, of the hard won lessons of successful software development, into general business and people management practice.