Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Cogent plays dress-ups

This is an email that I sent to everyone at Cogent Consulting this morning, reprinted here because I think it demonstrates the values that we're trying to pursue (and some other people seem to agree). The background is that we're having an offsite this weekend and one of the staff has asked everyone to 'dress nicely' because there will be a professional photographer to take some staff shots. Unlike most of our decisions, this wasn't telegraphed or discussed in advance. There was some resistance.

I broke my transparency rule yesterday, and let what was for me a considered decision look somewhat arbitrary and without explanation. So, why have professional photos of the staff?

First, we're going to be doing more and more work for people who don't know us personally, or even by reputation. The pool of work from people who already know us has shrunk, and the team has grown. Neither of those are bad things - from my perspective they're an inevitable part of time passing. What it also means to me is that we need to be a bit more careful/particular about how we present Cogent as a product/service.

Presenting Cogent has lots of aspects. Peter Styles from RedBubble was talking to some people last night while I was on the phone and pointed to me and remarked "these guys can be the Pivotal Labs of Australia". That assessment appeals to my ego, but it's also an interesting guide to projection, promotion and marketing. The Pivotal guys blog a lot, and they produce open source projects - we do some of each, but not as much as we could. I don't put enough emphasis on it myself.

Another aspect of presenting Cogent is making the website look "polished". It's hard to put my finger on what that really means, but we all have websites that give us a "wow" factor, even if we'd come up with quite different results if we listed those sites. It's not a single thing that makes the difference, but I think that one thing is having well-presented, reasonably consistent, photos of the staff. It literally stops the company from being a faceless entity. Hence the professional photographer on the weekend.

If you stop by the TW office you'll see that they make extensive use of real photos of real staff right in their reception - there's a wall with large scale images, not just snapshots. From memory Evan is reclining in a deck chair working on his laptop :-) I'm not proposing something like that right now, but I wouldn't rule it out in future either - I'm proud of the people in the company and I want them to be the face of the company. I don't want everything to be about 'senior management' as it is in lots of places. We may find other places where putting photos of our staff makes sense - for example, tender documents often list staff, and I think having small photos included in a list like that makes it more appealing (I have this strange idea that saying no to even a picture of a person's face is harder than saying no to a piece of text *s*).

Anyway, there's the rationale. If there are people who have personal objections to photos under any circumstances then of course I respect that. If the resistance is because it seems 'corporate' or corny then I'd like you to try to overcome that for just a little while, since I sincerely believe this is helpful.


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