Monthly Archives: September 2015

Mindful Moderating (Part 5)


By: Jo Ann Hairston

Work Smart, Not Hard

Growing up I heard this phrase, “work smart not hard” on a regular basis all the time around our house. As one of three children with a father in the military and a very organized mother, this phrase could be heard daily. We were told it is not enough to just do the work you have to do, but to first think about your objective and steps needed to accomplish the goal and then get to work. Seeing both the big picture and the details as a pair is not a comfortable skill set for many.  Most of us are best at seeing one or the other.  However it is a blend of the two that is the most effective for working smart, not hard.

One aspect of working smart is eliminating redundant effort, and to avoid confusing “being busy” for getting a lot accomplished. For example, if there are multiple projects underway simultaneously (who doesn’t have that going on?) you may spend a lot of time in the day getting caught up in finding the particular item or iteration of a document. One of my so-called “gifts” is the ability to make individual sheets of paper grow or morph into something else, enabling them to hide and avoid detection when I need it.  That can mean even more time needed to find the appropriate version of the document you are working on.

Example:  You have projects A, B, C and D on your plate.  They are all active but are in different stages/have different deadlines.

  • Project A – The groups have been done and you are waiting for transcripts before writing the report.
  • Project B – The groups will be conducted in the next two days and the client is asking for all kinds of last minute changes to the guide.
  • Project C – The groups are in two weeks and you have the recruit to supervise, draft guide to prepare and facility logistics to finalize.
  • Project D – The project has just been announced and you have a proposal to prepare, bids to obtain, recruiting criteria to confirm, etc.

Any one of these projects has the potential to generate multiple documents that are written, sent to the client, revised, resent to the client. (Repeat as often as needed)  When someone calls or emails with a request, changes or revisions, I want to be as efficient as possible in finding and amending the correct document and sending it quickly on its way.

Some moderators are very organized with only one project folder open at a time and carefully putting the folder away before working on the next one.  My style is to have all folders out on the desk and to reach for the one called for at the moment needed. I recently had a project with two sets of clients in different states and at different stages along the continuum of a project.  As the guide was developed and sent for review, it became clear that all members on each team were not up to speed on the latest changes made or hadn’t opened the latest email.  Further, the changes to the guide were happening more than once a day.  The normal way I mark the guide is to put the most recent version date in the footer on the left side. (Revised 5/27/15)  It became apparent that what needed to be added to the version date was the time of day as well. (Revised: 5/27/15 11:51 a.m.) This meant we could quickly compare footer notes and review/comment on the same version.  Some moderators like to indicate which iteration by saying version #5.  I can see how that might work, but I worry about miscounting the versions.  For me, date and time seem to work.

Another part of working smart is the way the moderator’s guide is organized.  RIVA writes “universal guides” that can be accessed by anyone on the project team and the intent of the question or the activity planned is shown fully along with instructions to the moderator to initiate a specific activity at a certain point during the discussion.  Full sentences and instructions inside a “universal guide” provide these advantages:

  • The client is crystal clear about your plan to obtain the information they are seeking. They understand your strategy easily when they review the guide.  This tends to eliminate a number of questions during the guide review call and rewrite process.
  • If the project calls for multiple moderators, a universal guide helps everyone operate with the same point of view.
  • Since one project can occur in the same time frame as another project, it is very likely this guide will be set aside briefly for other work and returned to in a timely manner prior to conducting the groups. Being able to read the whole question as well as a description of each planned activity will get me up to speed very quickly and prepare to conduct the groups efficiently and effectively, without relying on my memory of my original intent.

To avoid being overwhelmed with too many words on the page, a RIVA guide is generously spaced and makes use of bolding or different colors to provide emphasis or a reminder to pay particular attention.  Since the moderator only has seconds to glance at the page to confirm direction of the topic, this is NOT the time to conserve paper and get as many words on the page as possible. White space actually helps draw the user’s eye to the text. The blank area (white space) forces the eye to focus on the text. White space will influence the flow and readability of content. At the risk of recommending the obvious (you’d be surprised how many don’t take this step), take the time to number the pages of the guide as well as numbering the individual questions within each of the subtopics. Again, this level of detail makes the client review meetings move along much more efficiently when all can refer to the same element with clarity.

My last tip on guide development is to figure out a template that embraces your style and be consistent in using it.  What works for me is bolded, centered subheads with the time allotted showing on the 2nd line of the subhead. As well, I make sure all pages are numbered and all questions are numbered.  It makes me a little crazy to see a guide with a long list of bullet points all left adjusted. How do you know where you are when you glance down? It also works to indicate probes with a double indent and bolded so I can use them if needed.

In summary, my childhood lesson of “work smart, not hard” seems to have filtered into my adult life as a moderator.  Who knew that my parents would pass on their DNA to me and some effective life skills as well?

Work Smart, Not Hard