Archive for the ‘Internal Communications’ Category

All good things must come to an end. And Great Things must begin!

Wednesday, March 15th, 2017
Sean's career in summary

What a long, strange, wonderful PR trip it has been!

For eight wonderful years, I rode the wave of the entrepreneur. Communication AMMO is my second-longest tenure of employment in my near 30-year career in Public Relations and communications. Beginning next week, CommAMMO becomes part of True Digital Communications, a Greater Cleveland-based communication agency, that focuses on the digital world, including advertising, marketing, PR and content.

In my new role, I will lead the education practice that Communication AMMO and True Digital have partnered on for several years, and will also establish a new internal communications practice, which will include the Face2Face Communication Learning Program that CommAMMO acquired two years ago.

I’m thrilled to have the chance to cross-train people on conducting both the Face2Face and AMMO programs. As part of the firm’s leadership team, I’ll also have an operational role for True. As an educator, helping others learn is a critical part of who I am.

This is a terrific opportunity — only such a great one could get me to move on from CommAMMO — and I’m looking forward to working even more closely with True’s principal, Chris Baldwin, and being part of the True team!

This post also appears on LinkedIn. 

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Leadership relies on communication

Saturday, November 19th, 2016

That's crazy talk! Our friend Google defines leading as a physical act, as in leading an animal, or as a demonstration — showing someone the way. Business management started with the former — Theory X, where employees are like children who require strict discipline — and began taking the latter approach — being more human and treating employees like adults and “leading by example” in more recent years.

Management, on the other hand, has a different set of definitions: The process of dealing with or controlling things or people; the responsibility and control of an organization.

Note that control is implied in leadership, but explicit in management. The question of control in an interconnected age has become rather fraught of late. We’ve long observed that employees are smart, that control is illusory, that we must enlist people rather than merely command them.

In organizations where leaders respect employees and seek to recruit them to the business purpose, mission, values and vision, there’s sustainable success. In others where those precepts do not hold, success may come, but not be sustained.

In successful organizations, employees buy in. They understand their role in organizational results, they feel a connection to the organization and they act accordingly. Internal communication strategy should support the effort to create appropriate context, foster identification with the organization, and demonstrate the behaviors necessary for the organization to thrive.

In organizations where there is an uneven distribution of communication skill, where communication capabilities vary according to the individual leader, process is essential. Leaders must have access to a toolkit that helps them be effective. Ideally, the toolkit should recommend what to communicate, how to communicate, and provide some sort of mechanism to create discussion.

A few recommendations:

  • Conduct a leadership communication audit. Discover to what extent leaders are doing communication well. Holding staff meetings, asking questions, engaging employees in planning and tactics are three areas that tend to work to improve communication in teams. This audit should be a combination of self-reporting, peer-reporting and employee feedback – a true 360 degree view.
  • Establish processes for leadership communication that start with audience analysis rather than “messaging.” Leaders should ask, “who is my audience? What do they know now? What are their current behaviors? What do I need them to think, feel or do differently?”
  • Help leaders think through the communication implications of their business strategies and objectives. This thinking is the cornerstone of an effective communication process. During this discussion, ask questions regarding the changes, objectives, reasons and effects. That’s what forms the content of the communication action.

More communicators could embrace the portion of their job that’s about communication itself — no one else can accurately call themselves experts in that discipline within your organization. If not us, whom?

Tell me what you think!

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HBR covers employee complaints about managers

Wednesday, August 12th, 2015

It’s almost a cliche, so much so that some don’t even believe it.  Employees have certain expectations about their managers, and too many managers totally #fail at meeting them.  In the Harvard Business Review, Lou Solomon hits the high (or low) points.  Read the article, then see http://bit.ly/CommAMMOF2F.

 

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You are the expert in communication

Monday, July 27th, 2015

Does that headline make you nervous? A lot of corporate communicators (public relations, internal comms, etc.) don’t embrace the full extent of their capabilities. Your organization has internal experts in finance, law, accounting, operations, supply chain, marketing, public relations, etc., but you might not be seen in the way that could be most valuable for your organization.

What sort of impact would improving communication among managers and employees yield? If you seize the mantle of “expert in communication,” you can move into new territory beyond being the tactician, and have great impact on the functioning of your organization.

There is no one better qualified than you to take this on. Your friends in HR may “own” training, but you’re the best judge of the state of communication among managers and employees. You can be the sponsor for improving it.

When I ran the Face2Face Communication Learning Program for Joe Williams Communications, the people who typically brought us in to train their managers were communicators. Companies like John Deere, Lucent, Merck and Prudential had communicators who saw the effort to build communication capability in their companies as crucial, and they made it happen.

Now that I’ve bought the F2F program from Joe, I’m once again beating the drum for a more strategic view of communication that includes this type of training. Sure, I’m a capitalist – but this happens to be intrinsic to my purpose in professional life: To help people and organizations communicate more effectively.

This purpose gets me going every day. It’s a passion — because I see the impact in real terms. Companies that communicate, perform. People who communicate well foster and maintain better relationships with everyone.

I can help people, teaching them these tools, sharing my own experiences and setting an example to others.  Communication can change peoples’ lives for the better, and it starts with someone declaring that more effective communication is something the organization deserves, wants and needs.

Can we start with you?

 

 

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5 questions to ask your employees now

Friday, April 17th, 2015

ThinkstockPhotos-185452608We’re struggling in internal communication. The move to “social” within the enterprise is shifting our focus to tactics when we are still grappling with strategy.

What is internal communication for?  Are we advocates for employees? Advocates for management? Internal propaganda officers? Magazine editors?

We exist to help create organizational competitive advantage. Our executional elements for that will include tactics and tools, certainly, but in the end, our messaging and measures must reflect our existential mission.  Research from a few years ago (O’Neil, J. (2008)) shows that the answers to five questions can reveal *53% of the variance in employee comprehension of strategy, vision, values, etc. Here they are:

I am kept informed about the reasons behind company decisions. Nothing is more important to comprehension than reasons, and yet, organizations still persist in the belief that they’re not relevant or important enough to share. I think there’s a fear factor here — “What if they disagree with the reasons?” So what! Tell people plainly why you’re doing what you’re doing. They may not like it, but will respect you for sharing.

My business unit/function does a good job of communicating information to all employees. Perception of value is crucial. When employees believe the organization is good at internal communication, they tend to better understand the business.

The information I receive from my business/function is complete. Another faux pas is restricting information from internal communication. Employees are smart. They know when the sin of omission is committed, and in the absence of information, they will make up their own.

I am kept informed about major changes occurring within my business/function. When the answers to this question are poor, you’re almost guaranteed to have a workforce that doesn’t comprehend what you need it to. It’s shocking how many times leaders will assume that people don’t need to know about a major change, often claiming that because it’s outside of their area of direct responsibility, it’s not relevant.

I am kept informed about major changes occurring within the company. How can you operate your organization without keeping people abreast of the most significant changes? There are too many organizations which simply don’t think employees care. Good heavens, of course they care! Don’t you care about your organization? There are counter-examples, but the exchange relationship commonly associated with customer relationships usually doesn’t apply when you work for the company. It’s a less transactional, deeper and more substantive relationship with employees that leads to high performance.

Why not ask these questions every three months for a year?  Quick, easy surveys, postcards after town halls, postscripts to intranet stories.  Ask them and use the results to guide your editorial and manager communication activities. You might find the results more than compensate for your time.
*R2 = .526; F = 625; p = .000

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Employee comms planning requires research

Friday, July 25th, 2014

186140619We shouldn’t need to say it. As internal communicators, we’re one of the few in an organization who can take the pulse of the firm. Even in our editorial roles, we talk to people all the time. We (hopefully) know the business, its goals, challenges, strengths. We understand leadership’s priorities and how communication can help move them forward. We’re the experts.

We need to make decisions based on facts and data, not conjecture and conventional wisdom. That takes research.

I’m not saying it all has to be quantitative, academically bullet-proof (though that doesn’t hurt), but we’re the only ones who can bring employee intelligence forward to the leadership. We need to find the balance between just executing and doing proper outreach, judging the effectiveness of our messaging, channels, tools and techniques.

Imagine a conversation with your boss like this:

B – What’s happening with our employees?

U – We got 400 hits on our strategy story last week!

B – So?

U – Uhhhhhh.

Been there?  It should be more like this:

B – What’s happening with our employees?

U – We got a lot of comments on the strategy story. Most were OK, but a couple of them make me think we need to test some other ways of explaining the strategy to make it more relevant to more people.  I followed up with a couple of calls to some people, and I have some ideas about what to do differently.

B – Tell me more!

That’s a different dynamic.  We need more research up front, more evaluation during our communication activities, and more measurement afterward to connect with business objectives.  I know internal commsters are totally slammed, but this is about being a serious business person. No other department gets away with ignoring this vital discipline.

How about it? What prevents you from using research in your work? What holds you back?

 

 

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Summing up: IABC Heritage Conference a Winner

Thursday, October 17th, 2013

Conf_BrochureI’ve given serious thought in recent months to letting my IABC membership lapse. With all the drama earlier this year, it crossed my mind more than once. But then, I attended the Heritage Region Conference, Oct. 13-15 in Indianapolis.

The IABC International is huge — 1,500 isn’t out of the question — and its venues, large hotels in big cities (New York, Toronto, etc.) makes for a spendy trip for the likes of a sole proprietor. But the regional conferences are more compact, are in smaller cities, and yet offer terrific programming.

This year was no exception.

I’m a little biased, as I had the chance to speak once again, but the quality was wonderful — Jim Lukaszewski held court for three hours, evangelizing on the concept that communicators need to be much more business-centric than communication-centric, particularly in times of crisis.  We know that we get more popular when it’s time to sweep up after some sort of conflagration, but too often, Jim averred, we see communication as the solution to every problem.

Case in point at my own expense:  Jim asked why the CEO of BP — Tony Hayward, of “I’d like my life back” fame — lost his job in the wake of the oil platform explosion that killed people and brought the US gulf coast to its economic knees.  I piped up instantly — blame-shifting, insensitivities, cluelessness

Jim said I was wrong – it’s just how things are done. The disaster happened on his watch, and so he paid the price. He’ll be OK, Jim added, because these guys get paid no matter what. But he’ll never lead as large or important a company as BP.  Jim’s point: we communicators need to better understand how business operates, not just the role that communicators play in it. There’s more, of course, including Jim’s gentle good humor, phenomenal stories and exceptional insight that comes from doing this work for 40-odd years.

Tim McCleary of The Involvement Practice keynoted Monday morning, offering not only a valuable speech, but a couple of fun exercises demonstrating how we can move from informing to involving people.  Establishing the central objective, then helping people understand it through real dialogue, then immersing them in the world of the new so that they own that objective and finally activating the power of the internal network (the What, Why and How of communicating change), was clear, intuitive and actionable.

Kent Lewis of Anvil Media, and serial entrepreneur, talked social media analytics — but not in a dry, statistical way. He shared stories of how to measure effectively — key performance indicators, metrics and goals for each platform, content strategies, etc. — that resonated well with attendees. Two big reminders for me — YouTube is the world’s second largest search engine, so having content on that platform is critical; and that SlideShare adds immeasurably to both search performance and sharing content effectively. One more from Kent — LinkedIn is essential in B2B, and one’s company page needs to be robust, clear and urgent.  I need to get on that right away!

That’s just a couple of examples.

The point is that about 150 attendees really got the chance to network. I met at least five people I’d not met before, and I reacquainted myself with dozens more.  The seven-person dinner Monday night at the Dine-Around was terrific, even if Harry and Izzy’s shrimp cocktail blasted my head (and everyone else’s) into a tear-streaked paroxysm of anguish and bliss.

IABC might be struggling to right itself, but they might have kept me in the fold thanks the Heritage Region team’s great work.  Check out the Twitter stream at #iabchrconf.

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It’s all about communication

Wednesday, March 20th, 2013

Regardless of what field of public relations/corporate communications/ marketing/ social media you are in, your ability to communicate effectively and to use the tools of communication effectively are what make you different from other business people.  Yep, we are all business people — it doesn’t matter if we’re in-house, agency, researcher, academic, not-for-profit, or what.

Sometimes we forget that, and sometimes we forget that we are communicators.

Reading the New York Times’ Corner Office feature on the second page of the business section every Sunday reveals that 99% (not a real number – just, well, a lot of them) of the leaders featured say that their own effectiveness depends on communication. They value good communicators, succinct, cogent, thoughtful, planful. But it’s often not about the “telling” part of communication.

The apogee of my career came when Dennis Long, then the head of retail banking for KeyBank of Washington, told me that my communication style was going to be career-limiting. He said, “there’s a line between confidence and arrogance, and you’re crossing it.”  He told me to make fewer statements and ask more questions, to realize that I didn’t have much of a base of experience on which to demand people take heed.

This echoed my boss, Rob Gill, who told me, “You are a talented guy, but you don’t have enough experience…” Rob told me to start learning how to listen and ask good questions.

This took me aback – I’d heard from pretty much everyone how terrific I was since joining Key on the teller line, moving up quickly and eventually into the management training program.  We didn’t cover asking questions, listening or really anything else but effective presenting in that program. I thought it was about positioning myself as an expert, making pithy, amusing, but still important comments based on my experience not only at Key, but also in my years elsewhere.

Communicating, to me then, was about me — not about other people. Now, I see it quite differently.  It’s about our audiences, the receivers of our communication, certainly — but they also are human beings deserving of respect as sources of wisdom.

In many communication professions, we scorn our publics — they’re too stupid to understand our brilliant campaign, they’re clueless about how our business works, or merely disdainful of business in general. They’re ignoramuses who don’t understand the Very Important Work our not-for-profit does in the world!

As a part-time educator, I’ve learned the hard way to respect the students – not merely as the vessels into which I pour wisdom, but as participants in an almost sacred ritual: Communication.  We don’t have it without them, without the circle, never ending or completing; always open at some end.

I’m so grateful to Dennis Long and Rob Gill.

It takes commitment to be a business person who uses communication, who is a communicator. It takes courage and a desire to do right. It’s my calling.

Is it yours?

 

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Putting Management on the Nice List

Tuesday, December 18th, 2012

By Amanda Marko

It’s the time of year when we’re all making our lists and checking them twice. A recent stop at the rental car counter gave me a peek at what me employees have on their wish lists.

While waiting for my keys, I overhead a customer pointed out that a policy was being implemented differently at another branch. The employees didn’t argue the point; instead they were eager to comply, but also quick to lament that management hadn’t shared the information with them. From the sounds of the conversation, this wasn’t the first time management had failed to convey a policy change.

The employees seemed disappointed, frustrated and a little embarrassed. They were earnestly trying to provide excellent customer service, but they felt doomed to fall short of a standard set by the leadership.

The rental car company is far from alone. “Tell us what you’re doing, so we know what we should be doing,” is a cry from employees that doesn’t get heard at the highest levels of many organizations.

Employees want to be a part of the solution, but if they don’t know the reasons for policies, procedures and initiatives, their hands are tied when it comes to execution. Employees need to know the why so they can have confidence in their role.

Management can give employees what they really want by making a list of its own. Instead of a wish list, it’s a to-do list that will make the business strategy the guide for of every person in every corner of the organization.

• Share the rationale for the strategy – don’t shield employees from harsh realities.
• Personalize the strategy for individuals, teams, regions, business units and functional areas.
• Put measurements in place and celebrate progress.
• Tell stories of all types of employees demonstrating the model behaviors.
• Encourage employees to contribute ideas within the framework of the strategy, and then implement them.

Your business strategy is powerful. It can motivate, inspire and guide everyone in the organization. Used correctly, the strategy can help management build trust, remove barriers, and protect the brand. When employees understand the strategy, they will be empowered to set priorities and execute consistently.

What else should be on management’s to-do list to make employees’ wishes list come true?

Amanda Marko, president of Connected Strategy Group, connects companies with stakeholders to make the business strategy reality and goals achievable during times of change. Connect with her online at www.connectedstrategygroup.com and on Twitter @connectedstrat.

 

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3 essentials for employee communicators

Thursday, July 5th, 2012

Employee communication continues to get a bad rap. Communicators who do internal comms get paid less than the media relations folks (you could look it up!), and frankly, in a lot of cases we deserve it.

When you do internal, what is your responsibility?  Populating the intranet? Editing the magazine? Rewriting news releases? How about functioning as the in-house expert on how organizational communication works or doesn’t work? Counseling management on how to be better communicators?

I don’t know why, but the latter couple of tasks seem to be outsourced more often than not (and thank you very much!) — I don’t think I’m necessarily smarter than I was when I worked at KeyCorp, National City or Goodyear, but I am a bit more experienced, perhaps. Winning an internal consulting effort while in-house was a tough sell — a lot of people were more comfortable with me as a writer/editor, a tactician rather than a strategist, despite my efforts to develop a contrary angle.

There are three really important actions internal comm-sters need to take if they aspire to more responsibility, more professional prestige, and/or more money:

Increase your business knowledge. You need to be a businessperson who happens to use communication to help advance the organization. That means numbers, reading business, being up on the products and markets, and not caviling endlessly about how boring it all is. It’s your job.

Better understand the process of communication. Why are people more comfortable in small group discussions than in large groups? Easier to participate, share information and make decisions (at least in one view.) How do communication styles affect collaboration? (Look up Myers-Briggs).  Why do complex topics require discussion? (The Q&A enables people to process the information more effectively than merely reading something.)

Align content and strategy. This should be a no-brainer, but there are many constituencies in an organization, and a lot of them don’t care about anything except “getting the word out.” Guess what? If there’s no link to the business objectives, no one will care.  Too many times I’ve heard, “no one reads that stuff” as they’re demanding additional tactics (more email, a video, a paper newsletter). The fact is that some stuff just isn’t interesting and people won’t consume it. If you have a strategic content plan, you have something to point to when you say no. Now, my pal Patty Vossler would say, “don’t say no without a yes in your pocket,” and she’s right. Ask the question, “what do you want people to think, feel or do as a result of the communication?” If their goal doesn’t match the objectives of your organization, probe for clarity and bridge the gap. More on that another time.

In the meantime, read this excellent speech from Dr. Bruce Berger of the U of Alabama. It’s more pithy and not as simplistic. But then, he’s a darn smart guy.

Whatever you do, do not punt, fumble or otherwise abdicate. If you feel like you can’t do these three things, go into some other line of work. Nuff said!

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