It was ten years ago this week that I started Rob Jackson Consulting Ltd. During that time I have often been asked, “What’s the story behind your logo?”. I normally answer this at the end of a workshop or presentation but, after a decade, it’s time to give a more public answer.
Early on in the process of setting up the business I honed in on a one-sentence description of what I wanted to achieve with my work, “Engaging and inspiring people to bring about change”. So, when my friend Mike Marshall of EastSleepThink offered to design my logo for me, that’s the brief I gave him – try and reflect that goal visually.
Mike and his team went away and riffed on the theme of change and came up with a number of designs. One memorable option was an egg. Mike explained he saw eggs as representing new starts (I had left the comfort of employment for new life working for myself) as well as a process of change. However, his key inspiration was that apparently my bald head reminded him of an egg!
Of all the designs that Mike and the team came up with, the one that I liked most was the blue chameleon. Why?
Blue is my favourite colour.
The chameleon represents dynamic change, adapting to its environment.
I thought it looked cool.
My children – then ten and twelve years old – applied their childhood alliterative skills to name it Colin the Chameleon.
The decision was made.
Since that day in early 2011, Colin has appeared on slidedecks and handouts front of thousands of workshop participants, conference attendees and event audiences as well as featuring on my website, social media, print, shirts and other marketing materials.
So that’s the story of our logo. Colin the chameleon signifies change. The inspiration for you to make that change is down to me.
If you’d like to know more about how Rob Jackson Consulting Ltd can help you engage and inspire people to bring about change the drop me a line. I’d love to hear from you.
I am forever grateful to Mike and his colleagues for their support getting my business up and running almost a decade ago. If you need brand and design work doing, please do consider EastSleepThink.
This year’s global pandemic has caused more of us to work from home than ever before. Some have loved it, some have tolerated it and some long for a return to the office. As someone who has worked from home for most of the last ten years I thought some of you might find it interesting to learn about my set up – the tools and techniques that make working along at home a pleasant and productive experience.
I refitted the office with new furniture last year and invested in a new sit-stand desk, an electric model from Ikea. The sit-stand facility is not only potentially good for my health but provides work benefits too. For example, when delivering online training I find it much better to stand to deliver content rather than sitting. At an in-person event I’d be standing at the from of the room so being upright is a more natural posture for me when working with a group.
If you’re investing in a sit-stand desk I recommend a floor mat as well (I don’t endorse the product in this link, it’s just a helpful article). A mat provides some cushioning against a hard floor, educes the stress on your ankles from too much stationary standing and (so some claim) helps fight fatigue. With a hard wooden floor in my office I certainly find a mat beneficial.
When not standing at the desk I have a good office chair to help with posture as well as a sit / stand stool which helps with posture and alertness – when using it I can’t put my feet on the desk and recline into a more laid back and relaxed position!
Good technology is essential these days for any productive workplace. Here is what I use almost every day:
13inch MacBook Pro 2020
My main computer. It’s light and small enough to be portable (should those days of travelling ever return!) and compact enough to store away at the end of the day (see below for why that’s important). It’s also powerful enough to cope with the demands of delivering content over the likes of Zoom. I’ve used a MacBook since 2012 and this latest version was an upgrade worth making in light of the changes the pandemic brought, forcing me to do more online delivery.
The only office / business phone I own. It does all it needs to do, including keeping me connected to the office when I’m away – these days if I have to pop out and walk the dog or get essential groceries. The seamless integration between Apple products is a big benefit to me, second only to the privacy Apple provide, which is essential for keeping business data secure.
Key to working from home is saving paper – you don’t need loads of it taking up space and posing a fire risk. That’s where the iPad comes in. I use it for all my speaker notes when presenting as well as lot of my reading, saving a forest or two of printing a year.
Which leads nicely into this handy piece of kit. reMarkable is a device about the same size as an iPad but with an e-ink display similar to that on a Kindle that can be written on, replacing the need for a notebook. It has plenty of capacity to store thousands of pages which can be formatted according to a range of pre-set templates (lined, blank, dotted, organiser layouts etc.). Notes can be filed into folders, synced with my other devices and emailed to other people and apps as PDF documents. I have the first version (a second version came out in July 2020) and I love it.
Dropbox, Evernote and Things 3
I’ve talked hardware so far but these three pieces of software deserve a mention.
Dropbox keeps all my files synchronised between my devices. If I need a file whilst I’m walking the dog I can access it on my phone just as easily as I can on my computer in the office. It also gives me the security that if any of my devices get lost, damaged or stolen, the files are all still there and can be accessed as soon as I get a replacement or login via another machine.
Evernote is where I keep all my reference material: clients notes, business receipts, content for my newsletter, interesting articles I read online, resources for preparing new training, ideas for things to write about. Whether it’s a webpage, a typed note, a photo or an audio file, it all goes into Evernote. Like Dropbox, I can access all of this on any device as the material is stored in the cloud.
Things 3 is the app I use to keep track of all my projects, actions and to-do lists. Like the other software I’ve mentioned it’s always in sync on every device and keeps me on top of everything I need to do. Adding new actions is effortless and can even be done simply and accurately using Siri. I’d be lost without Things 3.
One of the hardest things for people new to working from home is having the space to be productive. Many people have had to find a workspace in kitchens, on crowded dining tables, in spare rooms or in living rooms whilst the kids watch TV. It’s been a real issue this year for those who have home-schooled children, or live in smaller properties (or both!) especially as the switch to home working happened overnight for many, leaving no time to prepare.
I’m lucky that I have a dedicated space in my home for my office, as the pictures below show. Sure, my work stuff has to share with some of my CD collection and personal filing but its a place where I can close the door and tune out the rest of the household when I need to, a task made easier with a good pair of headphones! In fact, the only downside with my office is the window is next to the front door, so delivery people and the postie can always see someone is in, even if I can’t answer the door because I’m delivering online training or taking a call.
A good routine is one of the most important aspects of effective home working. Having a good space for working helps immensely, but it’s only part of the story – you still need the discipline to get the work done in the face of the other distractions of being at home.
Having followed Graham Allcott’s advice in his book, “How To Be A Productivity Ninja”, my typical work-at-hone day is scheduled around my energy and attention levels. I know I work best in the morning, so I crack on and get all the important stuff that requires my brain at its best between about 8am and 1230pm. I limit my lunch break by tying it to the lunchtime news – as soon as that finishes I’m back to my desk. The afternoon is usually set aside for reading and working on less demanding things like email handling. When I get the post lunch lull around 230pm I take the dog for a walk and return, raring to go until the day ends.
Finally on routine, it’s important when the work is done to pack it away for the day, especially if the work space is also family space (hence my earlier point about a compute small enough to pack away). Doing this gives a clear signal between work and home life. With some bosses expecting work into the evenings now their staff aren’t commuting as much and, for someone like me, meetings taking place outside of ‘normal’ work hours due to the working time of overseas clients, having a clear signal that the day is done is important.
So that’s it, a bit of an insight into the means and method of how I work from home. I hope it’s been of interest and potentially some help too, perhaps inspiring you to make some changes for the new year?
I’d love to hear your working from home tips and tricks as well as any feedback you’d like to give – please leave a comment below or on the social media platform where you found this article.
PS – this is my last blog post for 2020. The next article will go live on 8 January 2021.
This unusual year has led many of us to question the norms we’ve lived under for so long. Before 2020 I often heard leaders of volunteer engagement say that their volunteers, especially the older ones, would never embrace technology. Then along comes Covid-19 and guess what?
It turns out that as we all rushed to change how we worked, volunteers of all ages were just as quick to adapt, embracing Zoom, Teams and a multitude of digital platforms. The old orthodoxy was well and truly challenged, which begged the question: perhaps the issue was never the reluctance of volunteers to use technology but some Volunteer Managers projecting their own resistance to new ways of working onto their volunteers? (feel free to debate this in the comments below).
It’s not just in volunteer management that these norms are being queried. I’ve heard variations on the following two questions being asked of trainers and event organisers over recent months:
How much does it cost for you to deliver the training online?
Why is this online event charging people to attend – shouldn’t online events and training be free, especially in these difficult financial times?
Let’s look at both in a bit more detail.
How much does it cost for you to deliver the training online?
The implication behind the question is often that online training should be a lower cost than in-person training. Charging by the hour, however, it costs the same to deliver content online as it does in-person – a two hour workshop in a meeting room still takes two hours to deliver over Zoom.
Actually, you could argue that preparation for online delivery takes longer, because of the need to consider alternative ways of engaging people in the content. Similarly the investment in a high quality delivery platform (like a pro-Zoom account) costs money that the trainer needs to re-coup. In which case the question is, why doesn’t online delivery cost more?
And that’s all just considering cost. The value the training delivers to a client may be even greater if the issues they face are more acute than ever. Speedy online delivery might help resolve the issues and so carry greater value to the client. Look at it that way and again the question is, why online delivery doesn’t cost more?
Finally, please remember that if this training would have been done face-to-face in ‘normal’ times, online delivery at the same price is delivering the client a saving. Why? Because they’re not having to pay for the trainer’s travel expenses, hotel accommodation etc..
Why is this online event charging people to attend – shouldn’t online training be free, especially in these difficult financial times?
I’ll start by saying I have some sympathy with this question. Many organisations are facing rapidly shrinking budgets, spending freezes and potential staff cuts. Sadly, this often hits training and development budgets first and makes the cost attending an event harder to justify, a ridiculous argument if you consider training to be an investment in the skills and capabilities of an organisation’s most value asset (especially in challenging times), its people.
With that said, I think the driver behind this question is a belief that online training carries less value than getting a group of people into a room. Because online delivery is valued less it should, therefore, cost less. Take that argument to it’s logical conclusion and it would mean we place no value at all on free training, which is perhaps why (in my experience) about 50% of people who book onto free courses never turn up for them.
I’d also point out the following about objections to there being a cost to online training and events:
If you would have attended the event in ‘normal’ times and been happy to pay, bear in mind that you would also have had to spend money on travel to and from the event, perhaps a hotel as well, and maybe even meals whilst you were away. So, even if you pay to attend the online version, you still save money on the other costs.
Bear in mind that the organisers still have to put effort and money into an online event. They may not have venue and catering costs to meet, but they will have to invest in an online delivery platform, a booking system, and spend time figuring out how to make things work for attendees so they still get a great experience etc.. The desire to save money by attending an online event has to be balanced against the organisers not only covering their costs but making a profit. With other funding becoming scare, events may be an important source of income that enables them to keep operating, helping all of us in the future. Do we really want our infrastructure organisations and professional associations to go bust at a time when we need them most?
Remember that the people who deliver training content and facilitate workshops are often freelancers. They pay their mortgages and feed their families from the income they earn. They don’t have a regular salary and often can’t access the government schemes that have supported employees during the pandemic. Charging for their work isn’t a choice, its a necessity for survival.
In writing this article I hope that the next time we see an online event or training we’ll all think twice about what’s going on behind it and why a fee might have to be charged to attend. I also hope it’ll spark some thinking that will help us all start to consider the best way to mix online and in-person events and training when the pandemic is behind us and we can all get back in a room together.
On which note, I’ll conclude with this thought.
If we’re happy to pay an event fee and travel costs to go to a conference in-person, but want online events to be free, then what is it about the in-person offering that we value so much we’re happy to pay for it? Assuming the content and value delivered is the same offline as online, there can only be one answer – the thing we value most is morning tea! That’s a lot of money we seem to be willing to spend for a cuppa and biscuit!
Disagree with me? Great! Tell me why by leaving a comment below.
Changed your way of thinking as a result of what I’ve written? Tell me why by leaving a comment below.
Want to ask a question? Guess what? Leave a comment below.
As the sun sets on 2019 I am in reflective mood, turning my thoughts back to the last twelve months as I prepare for the Christmas break.
In some respects, 2019 has been in tough year.
In February we lost one of the leaders in our field, Susan J Ellis.
Volunteer engagement professionals around the world lost an advocate and a friend, someone who was as fearless in her evangelism for what we do as she was in challenging us to grow and move forward.
Susan was also my mentor and my friend for more than twenty years. With her death I lost someone who was incredibly important to me.
Then, just a few weeks after Susan’s death, my mum died. Mum had been taken into hospital with suspected jaundice just after Valentine’s Day. It turned out to be cancer. She lasted just eight weeks before the disease took her. It was – and still is – a massive shock to me and my family.
Losing two people who shaped my life up until now – albeit in different ways – was a real kick in the guts. Needless to say that by late April I was ready for 2019 to be over!
This year has also had its challenges on the work front. If you ever thought the life of a consultant was one that led to riches, let me tell you now that you are very wrong! Hearing of my work trips to other countries may sound like I lead a glamorous life (and I am certainly very fortunate for), but the current climate for business means I’m squeezing the financial margins all the time. International work is simply a necessity when work at home is scarce.
Some of the recent challenges in the UK are:
The legacy of the years austerity and resulting tight budgets for things like training and development
Uncertainty and nervousness caused by Brexit
The low strategic priority many organisations give to volunteering, which means the idea of engaging a consultant to develop volunteer engagement is off many people’s radar
The sometimes extremely long decision making timeframes organisations go through when they do want help – the record so far is about eighteen months from enquiry to delivery!
Of course we all have challenges and I’m not looking for sympathy or a pity party. I’m simply being honest about the challenges of what I do as I look back on the year that’s gone.
Of course it hasn’t all been doom and gloom, far from it. Running a one-person volunteer management training and consultancy business for more than eight years has been a rollercoaster ride with many more ups than downs.
Whilst 2019 was the first time in five years that I didn’t visit my beloved Australia, I did go to Canada twice and the USA three times (albeit briefly – two visits to the States were barely forty-eight hours long!). It was an immense privilege to:
Co-present the opening volunteer engagement plenary and run workshops at the Points of Light conference in St Paul, Minnesota
Deliver the opening keynote address to the Volunteer Management Professionals of Canada / PAVRO conference in Ottawa
Work with an amazing team at this years “The Future is Now: Tech trends” hybrid conference, broadcast from Hamilton, Ontario
Make my first visit to South Dakota to present at a state-wide volunteer management conference in Sioux Falls
Work with the wonderful people at the Minnesota Historical Society again
Deliver workshops in Ontario for some fantastic clients (I just missed filming of The Handmaids Tale outside the training venue by a few hours!)
Whilst it always sounds like the majority of my time is spent overseas, the reality is that I mainly work in the UK. I’ve had some wonderful clients this year and met some amazing people doing excellent volunteer engagement work. I’ve been to Scotland and Northern Ireland (hint hint Wales!) and all across England. What I see and hear from the volunteer managers I meet is inspiring and invigorating, giving me huge pride to be a part of this amazing profession.
To all of my clients a huge thank you for hiring me in 2019. I hope you’ll have me back in 2020 (hint hint)!
To everyone I have met, trained and spoken with, thank you for your time, energy and commitment. I look forward to seeing what you achieve next year.
To anyone I didn’t work with in 2019, well bookings are open now for 2020 so get in touch and let’s make it happen!
Finally, this will be my last article of 2019 with the next one going live on 10 January 2020. Thank you to all of you have have visited my blog and read the articles I have published over the last twelve months. Your continued support is both humbling and very much appreciated.
I wish you all a restful and enjoyable holiday and look forward to engaging with you throughout 2020.
Around this time last year I took the opportunity to reflect on why I do what I do every day. Now, a year on, I want to take a slightly different approach.
In April 2020 it will be nine years since I sat down at my desk for the first time as an independent consultant, event speaker, trainer and writer. A lot of water has passed under the bridge since then but the core values behind my business, Rob Jackson Consulting Ltd, remain the same. Shortly after the company launched, I wrote a piece on my old blog site explaining those values and I want to revisit that because the principles I signed myself up to back then still hold true today.
So, here is that 2011 article. It has been edited slightly to tidy it up – I think I have become a better writer in the last nine years and can’t help but make some changes! (NB. a link to the original version is at the end of this article).
Organisational values. Rarely have I encountered a topic in my career that has provoked so much scepticism. From those who are totally against corporate values to those who just think its is all hot air and no action, it’s unusual to come across anyone who thrills to the idea of discussing values.
A former boss of mine talked about people, not companies, having values. People, he argued, are all individuals and have differing values. Companies cannot force their values onto people, so there is always going to be some tension between people living their personal values and abiding by corporate values. The conclusion, therefore, was that talk of corporate values is pointless.
On the other hand, one charity I know restructured and, rather than deciding which skills and competencies they wanted and redeploying and recruiting staff accordingly, they decided to focus on values. The recruitment process was focused on exploring individual employees’ congruence with the charity’s values. Those with the strongest fit stayed. Those with the weakest fit were first in line for redundancy. They firmly believe this has given them a more committed staff base to build on for the future.
One of the nice things about being your own boss is that your corporate values are your personal values. There should be no conflict between the way the firm goes about its business and the way the owner behaves. That’s why I want to use this article to explain the six values of Rob Jackson Consulting Ltd, or as I put it on the website, what I believe about the way I go about the work of engaging and inspiring people to bring about change.
1 – Honesty
This is a non-negotiable for me. It is an absolutely fundamental value. That’s why it is first in the list.
I will always be honest in my dealing with clients and potential clients.
I will not sell you a service if I don’t think you need it.
I will not commit to doing a piece of work if I don’t think I can do it (either because of availability or fit with my skills).
I will be honest and upfront about how I can help and what it will cost you.
I will also be honest in what I say and write about the volunteering movement. In my view there aren’t enough people speaking up and speaking out about volunteering issues. I want to help fill that void with honest views, opinions and advice. That’s what I hope this blog will increasingly be used for.
This is a critical time for the volunteering movement in the UK and I hope in some small way that I can honestly and helpfully speak and write about the issues we face.
2 – Passion
It say’s on the company website:
“At Rob Jackson Consulting Ltd we are passionate about the potential of people, about their potential to effect change and make the world a better place.”
In fact passion is a word that I keep hearing when people talk about how I go about my work. I am happy about that because, for me, being in the volunteering movement isn’t just a job, it is a vocation.
I am passionate about volunteering, about what I do, about how I do it and about the difference it makes. I want to bring that passion, that enthusiasm to my work with clients. I want others to share that passion and enthusiasm. I want volunteers to feel even more passionate and enthusiastic about their work and the difference it makes. I want paid staff to feel even more passionate about what they do and the challenges & opportunities they face.
It is this passion about the potential of people that is at the core of my vision for the business to engage and inspire people to bring about change.
3 – Fun
According to a survey I once read, the average person spends 99,117hrs at work during their life. That’s about eleven years! I don’t know about you but I don’t want those eleven years to be devoid of any enjoyment.
That’s why I want to bring a sense of fun to my work. Yes, what my clients and I do is serious and we take it seriously. But let’s also get serious about having fun.
In early years education children learn through play, through having fun. Who says this has to stop when you’re a child? In my experience people learn more if they are having fun learning. I know I do.
So I want to enjoy my work and have fun doing it and I want that to be your experience of working with me too.
4 – Integrity
There is a great book on leadership called ‘The Leadership Challenge’, by James Kouzes and Barry Posner. In it they argue that a critical ingredient to effective leadership is integrity – living out your values.
That’s why I wanted to blog about them here, so I can be open about them and let people judge for themselves if I live them in my work.
Kouzes and Posner sum integrity up in a chapter on leaders modelling the way as DWYSYWD – Do What You Say You Will Do.
That’s my goal – please tell me if I get it right (or wrong!).
5 – Value
In the past I’ve had the pleasure of being involved in shaping the content for conferences. One of the things that delegates had always fed back about previous events was the price – it was, in their view too, high.
From the view of the organisation I was working with, the price was the minimum they could offer as it allowed them to break even, just. So we took a different approach. We increased the price just enough to cover inflationary rises to our costs but re-focused the content so that is gave really good value to the delegates. After the next event we got very few comments about the price, but lots about how valuable the conference had been.
Value refers to the perception of benefits received for what someone must give up, in this case the price. Where the organisation in question had gone wrong in the past was in focusing solely on the price (keeping it as low as possible without making a loss because they thought this is what got people to book places) rather than on the value of what people were paying for.
That is an important point I am taking into my new business.
I have to charge a fee for what I do. This is my livelihood now. This is how I pay my mortgage and feed my family. That’s why there is a price for what I do.
But if you hire me I hope you don’t feel like you get a service that simply costs money (price). Instead, I hope you feel like you get a service of real value, a service that is built on many years of experience and that is dedicated to bringing you benefits that will help you achieve your goals.
6 – Effectiveness
Someone wisely said that efficiency is doing this well but effectiveness is doing the right things well.
There isn’t much to add really, it speaks for itself and that’s how I want to help my clients – focus on doing the right things well.
I’d love to hear from you in response.
Have you worked with Rob Jackson Consulting Ltd over the last nine years? Do you think we lived out our values? How? And if not, why not?
What values are important to you in your work? Why?
Please leave a comment below so we can explore this topic further together.