Sharing documents and the Open Document Format

What’s The Open Document Format about?

If you ever send or receive computerised documents by email, this is important for you.

Have you ever you received a document that you did not have the right program to read (Word, Office, Adobe, docx, pdf etc), or the contents were rearranged? And isn’t it frustrating to have to upgrade software you are used to just because others do?

The Open Document Format helps.

What is a document format?

When a computer saves something you have typed on the screen, it puts it in a thing called a file. The file is what you attach when you email it to someone, and the format is the way that your program writes the file.

Now, various computer programs write their files in different formats. It’s as if one saves your document in language A and one saves it in language B. The person the other end can only read your document as you wrote it if their program also reads that file format or ‘language’. If you have the same program, about the same age, then you will be ok.

Why don’t documents get saved in the same universal format?

There is a technical argument that some formats cannot cope with new, clever things that software companies invent for us to use. So formats need to change every few years.

There is a commercial fact that if you get enough people on the same software, everyone else has to buy it in order to share information. Equally, if you tweak your format every few years then everyone has to buy an upgrade in order to keep in step, so as a software supplier you sell a new program to write letters even when the old one still works fine.

What is the Open Document Standard?

Adopting the Open Document format is the UK government’s attempt to decide which of the file formats is comprehensive enough to cover most needs, and suggest that is used for all communication. My opinion of the reasons for this are:

  1. in order to make their documents available to everyone, the govt would need to issue documents in every format that was around, and that takes time and cost
  2. it costs UK businesses a huge amount of money each year upgrading when many do not need the functions provided by the ‘latest upgrades’
  3. being tied to one software supplier just to read documents is not a competitive market
  4. most importantly, some software suppliers do not publish details about how their format works. So if that software company goes out of business or stops supporting its ‘outdated’ formats, both you and the govt lose the ability to open and read older old documents!

Why should I use the Open Document Format?

  1. To eliminate the familiar problem of someone asking you to resend in a different format, download a new program or upgrade
  2. to give you the choice which word processor you use
  3. to give you the chance to invest in new software when you need to, not when incompatibility forces you to
  4. so that you will still be able to read your own documents in years to come

How can I use the Open Document Format?

Most software packages now allow you to change the ‘default’ format when you save a file. It will be in your user settings and you will also be asked when you install new software. You certainly do not have to spend any money to start using this standard. There may be a few minutes needed in training, but it is very simple. You only need to alter the default once.

Libreoffice and google docs have automatically used this standard for years. Libreoffice is used by millions and can be downloaded for free, so give it a try whatever you already use – it will look very familiar and does most things well in my view (I’ve used it for ten years now).

Further reading

More details from the UK government here.

Guardian comment here.

An article about how some software suppliers worried about how they might lose the ability to keep you tied in with them here.

Capacity Building for the Environmental Volunteering Sector

Information from Funding Central Website
Status:
Open to applications
Application Deadline:
15 March 2013

Contact me to discuss the subject of applying for grant funding in General

Description

One-off grant available for the development and delivery of volunteer management training to boost environmental volunteering.


Details

Maximum Value:
£ 200,000

Value Notes

Defra intend to award a single grant and the maximum funding available is £200,000 split into £100,000 per year over a two year period from April 2013 to March 2015.


Extended Description

The scheme is focused on enabling environmental volunteering organisations to build capacity to create more volunteering opportunities and also to support local community volunteering for environmental action.

The overarching aims of the grant are:

  • To build the capacity of the environmental volunteering sector in England in order to increase the volunteering opportunities the sector is able to provide and thereby ultimately increase the numbers of people volunteering for the benefit of the environment.
  • That this work should benefit the environmental volunteering sector in England as widely as possible (ie rather than just the organisation awarded the funding), in terms of the outputs being widely accessible and used, the contribution to building the sector’s capacity to increase volunteering and providing a positive and tangible legacy.
  • That this work should also support local community volunteering, tapping into the potential power of people wanting to look after and improve their own local environment. The work should therefore contribute to helping enable and empower communities to get involved, take responsibility and make a real difference to local people and wildlife.

The specific objective of the grant is to:

  •  Enable development of a common resource for the sector, comprising development and delivery of training modules on environmental volunteer management designed to enable volunteering organisations to train staff and others (including volunteers) to manage volunteers. This will assist the sector in increasing its capacity to manage and deploy greater numbers of volunteers.
  • Include an element of ‘training the trainer’ to create a cadre of trained individuals within environmental volunteering organisations able to sustain provision of the training beyond the period of this grant.
  • Improve and expand the infrastructure of support from environmental volunteering organisations for local community action.

Latest Information

The application closing date is 12pm on 15 March 2013.


Key Criteria

To be eligible, applicants must:

  • Be UK based.
  • Be run on a not-for-profit basis.
  • Have expertise in the field of environmental volunteering and the organisation(s) involved must be engaged and influential in this field.

Eligible Expenditure

Costs associated with eligible projects.


Match Funding Restrictions

Up to 100% of the agreed eligible costs for a project may be funded. However, contributions from other organisations and eligible funding sources are encouraged.


Application Procedure

Grant applications will only be accepted via the Bravo, Defra’s e-Application portal. Interested organisations must be registered on Bravo to access this opportunity.

The document ‘Applicant Instructions: How to Register on the Defra e-Application Portal – Open Process’ gives infomration on how to register and apply.

Applicants are required to submit a detailed Project Plan setting out information including the milestones within the project, the timescales for delivery of the project and the spend profile throughout the project period. This Plan will be submitted to the Authority for assessment and will be inserted into any resulting Grant Agreement for signature by the successful applicant and Defra before the project commences.


Addresses and contacts

For further information on how to obtain this funding opportunity locally, please contact the following:

Contact details:
David Morley Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA)
Procurement & Commercial Function – Grants, Room 401,
Foss House,
Kings Pool
1-2 Peasholme Green,
York,
YO1 7PX
Telephone:
01904 45 4516
Email:
Email contact

Workshop – your next business plan

I have just returned from a very useful workshop held by the Fieldfare LEADER group, which included great advice on keeping records for a grant-funded project and also gave information about future RDPE LEADER grants.

Workshop – Making plans for your future

I am able to work in conjunction with the Fieldfare team and offer a 3-hour workshop for businesses or community organisations to make plans and clarify your ideas for the future. The workshop will be useful for anyone, not just those who have a grant in mind. Here are the key points:

  • housekeeping
    • to take place before the end of March 2013
    • cost approx £20 (plus VAT) per person
    • duration 3 hours, probably to take place on a weekend
    • venue – Winchester
  • content
    • your main goals
    • gathering your ideas
    • what information and resources do you need
    • what about the money

You will leave knowing more about what  you want and what steps will help you to get it. We will decide on follow-up workshops as necessary.

Complete the form below now if you are interested – we can only run with enough applicants.


[contact-form-7 id=”577″ title=”Workshop interest”]

How to Pay for an Apprentice

Cash Fund to get an Apprentice is Extended

For those who missed the announcement after the New Year break, a cash payment of £1,500 to get an apprentice is extended to the end of 2013.

This quick guide will explain how to benefit from an apprentice. By the end of the page you will appreciate where they save time, and then make you money.

How to Pay for an Apprentice

All you need to do is earn more each month than the apprentice costs you.

Currently these are the principles of apprenticeships:

  • they are your employees*, drawing a regular wage
  • you commit to improving their skills on the job
  • they undergo some formal training, for example at a college, usually at your cost
  • your business gets more work done, so in time the apprentice should earn you more than they cost

Whilst skilled employees and subcontractors need briefing on the task and expected standards, apprentices also need some demonstration or instruction. The key is to build up a mixture of simple tasks that save money by supporting skilled workers, and others where the apprentice takes time to learn but soon becomes competent.

Consider the straightforward jobs that hoover up skilled workers’ time, and resist the desire to get your money back every single day!

* Some schemes do the employment administration, but you still commit to providing work and experience for a regular fee.

Myths about Apprentices

  1. They cost money. True – you have to pay the wages and training costs. But, like any other employee, they will only cost you money overall if you don’t make good use of their skills
  2. They leave when they are trained. Again, like any employee, your apprentice will be loyal to you if you are worth staying with. Employees don’t leave when they are happy and valued
  3. They are a liability and slow the work down. For the first few days, possibly. As with any person you employ or subcontract, you should line up tasks which are within their skills. Training someone takes time initially but soon they become more independent. Frankly, if you can’t delegate you do not yet have the skill to grow your business, but you can learn to gain from an apprentice
  4. Apprentices are slave labour. True – if you only give them basic tasks in order to be ‘useful’ from day 1. But you will be saving a few pounds per day rather than profiting from a skilled employee. And of course myth 2 will kick in – why should they stay with you?

What now?

You grow a business by getting more income, not saving costs.

Firstly decide what manpower you need (whatever the skill level) to help you do more business.

Secondly, calculate what type of manpower will work best for you (e.g. recruiting, sub-contracting, apprenticeship).

Contact me to discuss expansion and assess your options. My job is to help you make business decisions, not sell you an apprentice.

Andover Personnel Group

Meeting and LinkedIn presentation

28 November 2012

Background

There is a lot of guidance on the internet and in publications, on how to do things step-by-step on social media and particularly LinkedIn. However, it is not so easy to find out how to evaluate and create a relevant plan for best results for your organisations. Members of the Andover Personnel Group wanted to explore how to form a plan, rather than just diving in and assuming they need to know every feature, so we held a discussion during a meeting.

Highlights

The discussion was wide-ranging and started with some facts and figures about social media usage, before moving on to ‘what’s in it for us?’ Some of the points that were particularly noteworthy were:

  • the levels of use and demographics of visitors
  • the amount of time people spent (or did not spend) on the various sites
  • how simple it is to input information with almost no validation
  • the impact of employees’ individual profiles to an organisation
  • separating the substance from the background noise

Summary

There was no doubt that asking ‘why?’ before ‘how?’ is better than simply diving in because everyone else is. As a result, everyone went home with a series of actions they would take to ensure that their organisations reviewed their social media plans in a considered way.

Although we talked around the slides a great deal, the presentation slides (pdf format) are here for those who want them for review.

Contact me to arrange facilitation for specific projects for ideas in your organisation.

Dealing with failure

The word ‘failure’ can be very emotive, and in a business context can be quite debilitating. I was recently asked to do a short workshop of about 45 minutes on the subject of failure and thought that I would share it with you.

Aims of the ‘failure’ workshop

  • to explore what the word means to you
  • to discover your current strategy for failing
  • to leave with a modified strategy that may be more effective

The workshop runs in two sections – the ‘process’ part and the emotional / human part.

Take a minute and to yourself what the subject of failure triggers in your mind, and what failure means to you. Is it ever useful? Is it emotional? Is it alien as a concept? Our group came up with a board full of words, almost all related to emotion rather than pure fact or logic. The factual words we got were ‘outcome’ and ‘goals’.

Perhaps if we had to come up with an emotion-free definition of failure it may be:

‘something that results in an outcome that you did not want, and / or does not result in the outcome that you wanted.’

Setting good outcomes or goals

We discussed a number of formulae for setting good outcomes or goals and, without exploring each one in detail, wondered if we could emphasise two components and also add two more steps to most of the models.

It’s worth emphasising:

  • evidence – make sure that you know what success will look like to avoid a false perception of lack of success
  • control – be very aware of what you have control over before setting a definite goal. If there is something significant that you cannot control, it is unrealistic to expect success all of the time.

What we could add:

  • acceptable tolerances – they exist in engineering, so why do other business settings get encouraged to pin everything down to a specific value rather than an acceptable range?
  • potential side-effects or by-products. Often if an outcome is not achieved there is consolation in the form of lessons learned or other benefits. Why not consider there in advance so that their existence is seen more as  as benefit than spin for something going wrong?

The overall recommendation is to avoid being so specific in your original aims that success or failure balances on a knife edge. This reduces underlying stress and the burst of disappointment, which dissipates as the events fit into perspective.

Reflecting on how we would approach something which could go wrong, we noticed what a more flexible and realistic approach to setting goals could be like.

This ended the ‘process’ part of the workshop.

Emotional reaction to failure

We started the part of the workshop that deals with individual reactions by considering how we would coach a colleague or client through a setback or failure. With that in mind, we contrasted it with the way that we reflect on our own setbacks, and in general found that we offered others more understanding and tolerance than ourselves – even though we were not being insincere or condescending to them.

One of the most common emotions expressed was fear about what might happen, and we will probably follow-up with a workshop on this, because fear of the new or unknown can definitely rectrict business growth and personal development.

For now, the lesson was to treat ourselves at least as well as we do our colleagues to get a more useful reaction to setbacks.

The new strategy

Having gained an appreciation of some practical elements of our processes and some more helpful insights into our own reactions it was time to consider an amended way of approaching important tasks. The steps we considered follow – you can of course expand and fill in stages that you personally find useful:

  • set appropriate goals that you have control over and which make it clear what will have been achieved
    • add acceptable tolerances to some of the figures
    • add a ‘bail-out’ condition, i.e. if things are not working, when is it wise and acceptable to stop
    • be aware of any useful side-effects (including learning and improving) that add to the overall value of the experience
  • monitor your progress
  • review both planned and unplanned benefits and setbacks
  • reconsider your tolerances in the light of your experience – you can probably tighten them a little for next time

Summary

The concept of failure is such a personal that I can’t give a definitive guide in a manageable blog post or even a group workshop. However, here are some of the key points that people found useful:

  • with practise you can replace the word ‘failure’ with more useful ones or focus only on the learning points. This can be useful as long as you appreciate that for many people failure is a real word that triggers real emotions which need to be considered. The well-worn phrase ‘there is no failure, only feedback’ is valid only if it is sincere and acknowledges personal disappointment or frustrations
  • there is a scale between ‘success’ and ‘failure’, with many useful outcomes in between
  • setting useful goals is vital – both to know when you have achieved something and to be aware of what lies along the scale towards total success. Goals can include tolerances, acceptable lessons and the odd surprise
  • the concept of tolerance is not a cop-out. Sometimes second and third place are OK when they lead to first
  • business involves people and people have emotions. It takes skill and practice to work with both emotion and logic, and it is key to recognise which one is influencing the decision process at any one time

So, enjoy tweaking the way that you go about things in order to recognise how far towards the success line your actions are. Failure will still exist, but it may be a place that you are aware of rather than frightened of, and one which you rarely visit.

Succeeding in demonstrations and events

A couple of times I have recently got involved in helping people make the most of their opportunities at events or exhibitions, and someone suggested that I put up a few hints for anyone planning to do a demonstration or have a stand. The notes below are just a short taster of the thought process that can really give you results.

How do I choose the right exhibition to attend?

It can be so tempting and flattering when you are invited to attend or exhibit at a show – with privilege tickets, a guaranteed audience, early discount or other carrot. So always do a bit of research to find out and decide:

  • who typically attends
  • what competition will be there
  • do people visit the event to sell or buy
  • what do you expect your time and money to get you?

What resources do I need?

To some extent, that depends on the answer above – what your aim is. Do you want people to take a sample, book an appointment, experience your product or style of presentation?

If you want people to stop to talk with you then make sure that you have some refreshments ready and space where you can talk undisturbed. All too often people are geared up to give away leaflets and samples but have not planned to help anyone who is really interested. Always have a diary and plenty of business cards, but avoid thinking that success means how many cards you have given out.

Who should be on a stand?

If you are just attending an event, then people on the stand need not necessarily be the subject experts, but they should know what your business or organisation does and does not do. As a minimum they should be able to:

  • make a visitor at ease
  • enquire what the visitor wants and be able to understand their answer
  • explain what your organisation does WITH RESPECT TO the visitor’s needs
  • be able to get them time with the ‘expert’ e.g. book a time for them to chat now or later
  • be able to take detail and make an appointment for a follow-up discussion
  • know when to stop talking and let the visitor think!

Be very aware of the keen helper, who loves what you do but cannot explain it in simple terms or relate it to a visitor’s needs. Equally, a keen helper who is not an expert can provide a good welcome and act as a very good triage system to make you as effective as you can be.

What should I give away?

Basically, something that will remind people of you and which they will not take purely for the sake of it. For example, sweets and pens disappear rapidly but have little benefit to you. Ensure that anything you give out is asked for rather than thrust into people’s hands, and it must contain your contact details and ideally a hint of what you do.

What about doing a demonstration?

In crude terms, do a demo or presentation either when people would not understand what you do from a description, or if they need to see you do it in order to spot the difference from your competition. So a presentation should fit the audience needs, not be a sales pitch. And a free taster session should educate the recipient about you, not just give them something for nothing.

A golden rule is that when you want to demonstrate your skills and not all of the audience can interact, you must have helpers on hand to give people some sort of commentary. Very often an expert can be doing great things and getting a lot of interest, but their helpers cannot capitalise on it by highlighting some of the special bits that they have done to the visitor standing next to them.

Keep your demonstration relatively short (it is not a free training session after all), so that people who found it engaging can speak to you within a very short time and take it forwards. If your slot is too long, they may hang on until you stop but then dash to look at the rest of the show.

Summary

  • know what you want to achieve
  • aim to provide a useful and memorable experience, not a sale to every visitor
  • give away things for a reason
  • have enough help on hand
  • ensure your help is fully briefed
  • even if your aims are low key, be prepared for a flood of enquiries
  • make sure that ‘experts’ are regularly on hand to deal with the post-demo interest
  • make the demo useful, and leave them wanting more!

I hope that you have found a few pointers, and remember that each bullet point is a subject in itself. Have fun!

Are you failing yourself as a boss?

Tomorrow I’m leading a short session for a local group (http://www.linkedin.com/groups?mostPopular=&gid=2040411) under the broad heading of failure. Far from making it a  downbeat session. we will be exploring:

  • how we apply the f-word differently to ourselves than those we may be with (sometimes more critical, sometimes more tolerant)
  • how we can prevent the real failures (e.g. when no lessons get learned)
  • how we can spot things early
  • how we can remember to apply good coaching skills to ourselves

Preparation? Well, between now and tomorrow morning you might like to bear in mind a recent event which looked like a failure but had a very silver lining.

I’ll write up how it went, and also produce a quick handout as well.

Enterprise workshops with University students

Last week I had a great day as an ‘expert’, helping with a two-day student course on enterprise in an event called the Dynamo Challenge 2010. It followed the fairly popular format of setting teams a task to develop a business plan for an idea, then having them present the idea to a panel for feedback and marks. So what was that formula that made this one good?

The ‘Dragon’s Den’ experts

The organisers invited a team of about thirty experts, who cam from a broad range of backgrounds. They included accountants from some large firms, business coaches and consultants, marketing consultants and business owners in fields as varied as product design and logistics. Although we only attended the day, we were well briefed on our roles and very much welcomed into the delivery process. For me, it was so good that with minimal time to get to know each other, the experts were able to work well together to coach the students – the last thing they would have wanted was a bunch of smug or very directive ‘experts’ sounding off about what was right, or points-scoring between each other!

The Graduate Enterprise workshop format

The organisers did a good job selecting a venue ( the Marwell Hotel near Winchester) that had good parking, plenty of breakout rooms and an un-stuffy atmosphere. Here are some of the things that I think really contributed to the success:

  • an icebreaker for the undergraduates to meet the experts, who acted as customers in a free-for-all sales hall
  • keeping the energy very high and the activity times short
  • bringing in enough jargon to represent the real world, but making the emphasis practical more than academic
  • keep the spirit of experiential learning – do, reflect, learn, plan. See David Kolb’s learning cycle, (http://www.ldu.leeds.ac.uk/ldu/sddu_multimedia/kolb/static_version.php et al)
  • having meaningful rewards for the winners
  • including ‘meetings’ with the experts as well as information presentations. This again reflected real life, where a business has to find a business advisor and decide what to take on board

Business Startup Courses for the future

So, what do I take away from the event?

Having both lectured on an enterprise course and delivered business coaching for a number of years, I feel that a practical approach is invaluable in preparing for a thriving business. Because there are few right and wrong answers, success is more likely to come from someone who learns from experience and puts their own mark on a process. There is a strong argument that attitude and approach make an entrepreneur, and it is the business theory and academic side that builds on what the entrepreneur starts.

It reminded me how dry some business startup courses aimed at ‘adults’ can be, and is something I will bear in mind to make sure that the Simply Work for Yourself experiences I will run next year alongside the online course will be upbeat, fun, challenging and memorable.