The art and science of collaboration


Featured speakers


Kristina Halvorson: So, our next speaker and our final speaker before we break for lunch and into our breakout sessions for this afternoon was … we were honored to feature her at Confab Higher Ed last year, and she spoke to great acclaim, so we’re thrilled to bring her back to the main stage here at Confab 2018. I asked Day what she has done in her life that posed a great risk but came out all right. She said, “I actually moved to Germany to pursue my undergrad studies without speaking a word of German, or being accepted into a school.”

Please welcome to the stage Day Kibilds.

Dayana Kibilds: Thanks, Kristina. Thank you. All right. Hello, everybody. So, thank you Kristina for that. I’ve done other similarly silly things throughout my life, and if you’re curious, I’m happy to share at lunch. Right now, I’m working at Western University, which is in London, Ontario. If you know nothing about London, there’s really only two things you need to know. One is that London gave the world Ryan Gosling. And second thing, Justin Bieber. So you can imagine what it’s like to live there. I did not start my higher education career at Western, though. My very first job in higher ed was at Penn State. “We are!”

Audience: “Penn State!”

Dayana: Thank you. I worked for the online branch of the university called the World Campus in various roles, mostly marketing and recruiting. And then I move to the Undergraduate Admissions Office as first a writer and then their CRM business analyst. After that, I moved to Cornell University for a year and I actually was in Alumni Affairs and Development and Annual Giving, mostly as a digital content strategist.

And yes, I am pregnant. This is a baby, not just breakfast. So if I do anything embarrassing up here, it’s his fault.

So, when I was preparing these slides, I thought I would start with an inspiring definition of what collaboration is. So I was thinking maybe something that said, “People coming together with different expertise, backgrounds, talents, to create something magnificent that none of us could do on our own.” So I’m like, okay,, let’s see what it says. And to my surprise, this was the definition that was there.

“Enemy nation,” “occupying” as a verb, like that, “usually willingly.” So when I read this, I said to myself, actually, you know what, this is exactly what collaboration feels like. It isn’t this fantastic thing where we’re all so excited to work together and negotiate and give and take. No. It’s a war. It’s a horrible war.

So when I read this, it happened to coincide — this was last summer — with the final season of a very popular TV show. And I was thinking of my concept of collaboration and this model I’m going to share with you today and this show. And the parallels were just unbelievable. So I thought, “Wouldn’t it be fun if I presented my model based on this TV show?” And it is. It’s really fun. So we’re going to talk about it in the context of Game of Thrones.

Now, spoiler alert, if you have not seen the last season, last episode of Game of Thrones, first of all, what is wrong with you? Second, spoiler alert, I will be talking about that last episode. If you are not a Game of Thrones fan at all, first of all, what is wrong with you? Don’t worry, you actually don’t need to know anything about Game of Thrones to understand the concept that I’m going to share with you today.

So, let’s get right to it. Imagine that there’s an army of frozen zombies, which are called Whitewalkers in Game of Thrones, that are assembling somewhere very cold, probably Canada, trying to eat us all. They have all these people, they’re trying to come down into the world and eat all of us. The only way to stop them is if we could get all of these people in different kingdoms to collaborate so that we could join forces and defeat them together. None of us can do it alone. We’re just not big enough, okay?

So, imagine a situation similar to this one in your organizations in which the end of the world is coming unless you do this project. And if you do this project ... the only way to do this project is if you can get all of these stakeholders in your organization to agree. Now for those of you that work at universities like me, you understand how difficult this is because there is no hierarchy. You can’t go to the president and say, “Can you please tell all the deans to listen to me?” because that’s never going to happen. There is no going to somebody’s boss at a university. So how do you get all of these people to collaborate?

Now in Game of Thrones, the problem’s very clear. “If we could get all of the kingdoms to collaborate, we could kill the zombies.” So keep this example in mind, your own example, as I go through what the concept is going to be so that you have some idea of how you could use the tool I’m going to share with you to implement some of these projects or strategies in your own home organizations.

So I’m going to start by telling you the four things that you need, and then the process that you need to follow to implement whatever that thing is. Maybe it’s a new website, maybe it’s a new software CRM, maybe it’s a new email communications strategy. Whatever it is, keep it in mind.

So first thing that we need: a strategist. So the strategist is the person that identifies the problem. “Yo, there are zombies. They’re assembling. They’re going to eat us.” They’re very passionate about solving this problem, attacking this problem. They believe in the common goal: surviving, user experience, similar things. And they have a very clear vision of how you actually arrive at that solution.

So I’m going to bet, because you guys are here, a lot of you are probably this person. So you know what the problem is, you know what the potential solution is, if only you could get people to collaborate. It doesn’t hurt to be very handsome.

However, no matter how handsome you are or smart you are or respected you are, you need data. So the second thing that you need is data. This could be historical data, maybe from your website. Maybe it is, whatever, in your library, something like that. Maybe you can create projections from this data. Maybe you don’t have enough historical, but you have a statistician that can help you project into the future what would happen if we don’t kill the zombies. Or maybe you don’t have that much quantitative data. Create some data: do surveys, do focus groups, do user testing. Find ways to prove that what you are saying is a problem, as the strategist, is actually a problem, with data.

Now, another really useful thing to do is, in conferences like these, talk to your peers and say, “Do you have this problem?” I found one thing, especially at universities, that works really well is if you say that your rival school is doing it or not doing it, or you’re doing it first. That really works. So find the benchmarking, find the comparisons, draw from your own experience. That’s valid evidence as well.

Most important thing, though, is to find the real-use cases. So it’s very different to say, “A percentage of blah, blah, blah is blah, blah, blah,” than say, “Well, this person, Jane Smith, had this experience on the website, and these 10 other people,” listed by name, “had a similar thing.” So find real-use cases that you will use as examples to prove that what you say is a problem is a problem and to exemplify some of this aggregate data. Okay? So so far, two things: strategist, evidence.

Third thing you need are visuals. So, if you watch Game of Thrones, you know that Jon Snow had these two things. He was a strategist, he had the evidence. He collected a bunch of evidence from Whitewalkers, he had fought them himself. But it is very different to show up to a meeting and say, “There are Whitewalkers,” than to bring a Whitewalker to the meeting. So bring your Whitewalkers to the meeting. How? You find a way to represent all of that data you just gathered visually. So maybe using graphs, maybe using charts. And those real-use cases that you found, make sure you find the absolute worst one — kind of looks like that — and represent it visually. You don’t have to be a designer, you don’t have to be very good at representing things visually. Just find a way for it not to be words, okay?

Why is this important? Three things. 1: People understand faster when they see a visual. A lot of people understand data, but almost everybody understands a good visual. So you would lead to faster understanding. The other thing it does is it commits whatever the problem is, whatever the thing is, to long-term memory instead of short-term memory. So your stakeholders, the people you’re presenting to, will remember whatever that image is more than all the words that you said about it, for longer. And then the third very important thing is that it inspires action. So you are going to be more compelled to want to get rid of these things if there’s one in front of your face, instead of me just telling you that they exist up in Canada. Okay?

So three things: strategist, evidence, and visuals. And the fourth component that you need are the right people. So, when you’re presenting your pitch, you’re not going to do that to all of the stakeholders the very first time at once. You’re actually going to have a staged kind of roll out, presentation roll out. And the very first time you present your proposal, it’s going to be to a core group of stakeholders. Like a first layer of stakeholders. And in this core group, you have to be very careful about who you choose to be in that group. Typically in my experience, I’ve chosen about a third of the total stakeholder body. So if I have 20 stakeholders that need to be involved in this project, I pick about six people to present this idea to first.

And within these six people, I have my biggest advocates, so the people that love me no matter what. They think I’m a genius, they think I’m handsome. The most adamant naysayers. So those are the people that no matter what I say or don’t say think I’m a complete idiot and I have no idea what I’m talking about. Both of those people need to be in this group. And then you fill up the rest of the room with the reasonable, respected people that, when given information, will make the right decision, a.k.a. your decision, right? So those people are typically respected among their peers. They’re very well known in their stakeholder circle, but they have no feelings toward you either way, okay?

So we have strategist, evidence, visuals, and the right people. These are the four things that you need to set up as you’re preparing your proposal for whatever this project is that you have in mind.

Now, let’s talk about the process that we follow. First thing that you do, you prepare a proposal. Now, this proposal must include all of the data that you gathered, all of the visuals you created, and perhaps the most important thing about this proposal is that it says the word “DRAFT” on it, very big. Very big. This document has to feel like it’s a work in progress, no matter how final lit actually is from your perspective as the strategist. So put the word “DRAFT” on it, make a typo—no? No gasp? No typos on purpose with this group. Leave something out. Make it feel like it’s not completely done because you’re going to present it to that core group of stakeholders first.

Now remember who’s in the room: your supporters, your naysayers, and the reasonable people. When you present this to them, you’re showing them a draft proposal. You’re saying, “Hey, I saw this problem. I gathered all this evidence. Look at these horrible worst-use cases here. I think this might be the solution. I’m not done, this is a proposal. What do you think?” And what will happen, the beauty of what will happen in that room is that when you ask them, “What do you think?” you are no longer a part of the conversation.

So, if you present this proposal as a journey, the same journey that you took as the strategist to discover what the problem was, gather the evidence, present the visuals and arrive at a solution, most likely, what will happen is your supporter will always say yes, no matter what. It doesn’t matter what you put on the paper. Your naysayer will always say no, no matter what, no matter how smart it is. But those reasonable people, the neutral people in the room will have followed that journey with you and will have landed at that same conclusion that you landed, that you wanted to make, that you wanted them to reach. So they own it suddenly, right?

So when you get to the solution and you take a step back and you say, “What do you think?” you just sit back and you let them discuss it amongst themselves. So naysayer will say no, supporter will say yes, and then the neutral people will try to bring them to the middle. So they’re negotiating with each other about whether the solution is right or not. And the beauty of having picked these people is that they actually represent the entire spectrum of stakeholders, because you chose them carefully.

So most likely, all of the issues that anyone is going to have with this proposal will come out in this first meeting. And you are taking notes, you’re writing things down, you’re making changes, you’re negotiating, and then you finalize that document. You take the word “DRAFT” off. You add all of those notes that the group talked about in that meeting, and then you present it to everyone.

But when you present it to everyone, you no longer say this is your proposal. You no longer say it’s a draft. You say it’s a proposed solution to whatever the problem is created by and with their peers. So I don’t know about your organizations, but that makes a huge difference in universities where central is the devil. And if central tells you what to do, it’s pretty much bad. If you tell them, “Actually, you know what, this was actually built in collaboration with all of the deans of the academic colleges” or “all of the heads of admissions of the campuses.” When you say that, it’s a completely different thing. And you still give them an opportunity to, of course, give feedback. Maybe the core group missed something. And then you still make changes and amendments. But by then, it’s a lot less likely that they’ll reject the proposal entirely because they’re not going to lose face in front of their peers that really kind of came up with this together. And that core group of stakeholders owns this a little bit. So they’re not going to let it go as easily because they were involved in the creation of it.

So this is the model, this is the process. I’m going to show you one example of how I used this at Penn State University in the Undergraduate Admissions Office. I do have another example at Cornell, but I don’t have time for it today. So if you’re curious after, come find me at lunch and I will share it with you.

So let’s talk about Penn State. So Penn State is a huge university—20 undergraduate campuses in the state of Pennsylvania. And every single one of these campuses hosts one to five open houses over the summer. This is what that event calendar looks like. You are not supposed to understand this. You are just supposed to panic, like I did, because imagine if you are responsible for the invitation strategy for these events. And what your stakeholders want—in this case, it’s all the heads of admission at all the campuses—is to send an invitation and a reminder per event. You’re like, “Oh my god.”

So I understand how that makes sense to you, but you have to understand that prospects are not mutually exclusive and one student in Pennsylvania might get multiple invitations to all of these events or some of these events, and they’re all called very similar things, and they’re happening at similar times and dates and locations, we can’t do that. We can’t do that.

So I’m the strategist, I see the problem, right? But that’s not enough. What do I have to do? I have to gather evidence. So what I did—because I managed the CRM at the time—I knew how the permissions were set. If you don’t happen to manage the CRM or whatever it is you need, go find friends, people that have access to data. So how are permissions set? Well, if a student lives outside of Pennsylvania, they would only get invited to the main campus event. If you are from Penn State, you know saying “main campus” is a big no-no. You have to say University Park. But I’m going to say main campus now. So these students would only get five invitations to the five events happening on main campus. Not great, but you know, this is the way permissions were set.

Now, if you live in Pennsylvania, because there are 20 campuses in the state, the state is divided into 20 service areas, and the campus closest to you has permission to communicate with you. So you would get the five main campus event invitations, plus the two invitations to the two events happening at the campus near you. Okay.

If you’re a prospect in Philadelphia, you would get the five invitations to main campus events plus the two invitations to the events happening at the campus nearest you, but there’s another campus in Philly because it’s a big city and it has three campuses. And you actually told Penn State at some point that you liked the campus over there instead of the one over here, so they also have the rights to communicate with you. So you would get their invitations, too.

And because you are the lucky winner of living in Philadelphia and we want to torture you, we’ll also invite you to a special bus trip, that you can get on the bus for free and come to main campus. So you would get ... I think this is like 19 different emails in like a month and a half, to similar events, similar times. Sometimes the same event. Great. So this is horrible. You’re starting to get the point, right?

But this is not the worst-use case. This is the worst-use case. Yeah. So when I presented this to them, I didn’t put “Worst-Use Case” on there. That’s just for you guys. So if this poor soul was brave enough to carefully approach our table at NACAC—so this is a huge college fair, happens all over the country—the way we set permissions is, if your campus sent anybody over the span of the three days that we were there to staff a table for any given amount of time, you have permissions to communicate with that lead. This is what would happen. 32 emails I think it is.

So when I showed this slide to my core group of stakeholders, they gasped, like “Oh my god, we can’t do this.” What happened when they saw this? It inspired action. It committed this to long-term memory. So much so that they actually called it the Rainbow Slide. And the great thing about the Rainbow Slide is that eventually down the line after we had kind of started to implement, or when we were presenting to the big stakeholder group, when somebody wanted to stray, they were like, “But remember, we don’t want the Rainbow Slide. The Rainbow Slide is bad. We have to avoid the Rainbow Slide.”

So this whole concept of duplicating communications and bad user experience turned into “We don’t want the Rainbow Slide.” That’s what it was for them, and that’s why it’s so important to find a way ... first of all, find your worst-use case, and then find a way to represent it visually. So I did this in Excel. It is not nice, it is not design-y. It is Calibri. So you don’t have to know how to do it. You just have to find a way to make it not be words, okay?

So what was the strategy in the end? Again, not super important, but what we did is we ... this is what I proposed. I said, “Okay, this is the terrible problem. I think there’s a problem. Here’s the data. Here’s evidence. Here’s the visual representation. Here’s what I propose. Why don’t we split the event timeframe into two, and we send a first invitation to everything, and then a second and a third, depending on the timeframe for the student. And then within this email, instead of sending 10 emails, we list the 10 events that they would be interested in, so they’re able to see all of the options that they have throughout the state for the campuses that either have rights to communicate with them or they have expressed an interest in.” Okay.

So I presented this and then I took a step back. I was sitting down, so it was not a literal step back, it was a figurative step back. And this was actual evidence footage of what happened in the room. Very colorful, yeah.

So the supporter says, “This is awesome. I don’t have to write a single email, you’re going to do it all for me. This is great, it’s going to look better than I can ever make it look. Awesome.” The naysayer literally said, “I don’t want another campus’s name in my email. I just want an email with my name on it.” And the reasonable people were like, “Well, you know. Yes, that’s going to happen. But also, your name is going to be on other campuses’ emails, so you’re going to get a little bit more exposure. And it’s not like they’re not hearing from those campuses. They’re just getting 20 emails and yours is going to be at the bottom of that pile. Wouldn’t you want to be featured more prominently?”

So the reasonable decision-makers in the room—remember, the right people in the room are key—were the ones kind of going from one side of the spectrum to the other to meet in the middle and find that solution. So I took all of these notes. What we ended up doing was—I’ll go back—adding a fourth email at the end of this timeframe, just for those events that were happening later in August, for those campuses that thought maybe they needed a reminder. And then we had a backup plan, which was, if we saw registration numbers were dropping, we would send a targeted email just to that segment, just to that campus for that event in order to boost the registration numbers. So out of the 600 emails we were going to send, we only did that four times.

So what were the results? Increased registrations. What? Are you telling me if you don’t confuse people, they actually get what you want them to do and they come? Are you telling more emails does not mean more registrations? I’m sure that’s wrong.

Significant reduction in workload for my email builder. So I did manage the CRM team at the time. I took their workload from 600 emails to five. Now, they were more complex because we had to do the permission thing inside the content of the email and rank the events and so on and so forth. But that’s a lot more exciting work for them, trying to figure that out, than like mindlessly duplicating email invitations. Obviously a better student experience. Isn’t that what we all want? Don’t we want a better student experience? We certainly say that we do.

And most importantly, a precedent for future collaboration. So the following year and the year after that and the year after that, instead of trying to have this entire conversation again, you just say, “You know what, that really worked pretty well last year, so we’ll just make these tweaks here and there. This email wasn’t necessary or maybe we’ll move the date for this one.” But you don’t have to redo the entire strategy anymore, and you have gotten these 20 people used to working with each other and seeing that working with each other actually produces results with less work for them. So that precedent is crucial, not just for the future of your communications strategy but for any other strategy, any other implementation that you want to do because now they trust you, right?

So I still haven’t answered a very important question. If you are a Game of Thrones fan, you know that collaboration did not work for him. So he was the strategist, he had a vision, he knew the problem. He had the data, he had the visual representation of the worst-use case. He brought the Whitewalker to the meeting. In the meeting, he had his supporters, Daenerys and Tyrion, his naysayer, Cersei. But he didn’t have the reasonable, respected decision-makers, right? So when he made his pitch, “Hey, why don’t we unite so we don’t all get killed?” there were no people in the room to bring both sides of the spectrum together to try to find the solution that actually worked for everybody.

So it is a crucial that you pick the people that make you uncomfortable and the people that you are just going to trust that, with a good argument and good data, will actually arrive at the same solution that you want them to arrive. So this, once again, proves that Jon knows nothing. If only he had come to Confab, he would know.

Thank you, everybody.

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