Archive for the ‘Communication Skills’ 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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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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Look out IT: You’re getting AMMO

Tuesday, October 22nd, 2013

fusionsquareToday I’m in Nashville, for Fusion 13, the itSMF/HDI international conference, where at 11:15 a.m. I’ll teach a batch of IT folks how to transform their communication skills.  I’ll brief them on using the AMMO tool (audience, message, method, objective), then they’ll practice using it on their business issues.

Fusion 13 is a massive conference — nine tracks (which means nine sessions per breakout period) — primarily hardcore IT stuff. The centerpiece of the program is IT service management, which essentially says that IT needs to be a strategic competency of an organization.  I got some exposure to itSMF through its Cleveland local interest group. I attended their conference and was struck by the similarities to marketing, PR or HR conferences: bring us in at the beginning, we can add value, we’re not just tactical…etc.

All of that is true, and my hope is, as (with respect) IT isn’t renowned for its communication skills, that there might be a couple of forward thinking organizations who might like to have me help them address the shortfall. Stay tuned.

My engagement with this conference is a toe in the water for a broader effort to talk less to communications/PR people, and more to people who are in the business — kind of a continuation of the “outcome-focused” measurement that many of us say is missing from PR. I’ve got experience in a number of industries, and worked with the IT department at one global company on a number of initiatives, so it’s hardly a foreign concept.

Banking, of course, is another area of potential application – after spending more than half my career at KeyCorp and NationalCity, having been a branch manager (albeit briefly) and worked in the business of the business, I have a different perspective on communication than a lot of my peers.

In the meanwhile, it’s here in the artificial but stunning confines of the Gaylord Opryland (2800 rooms), carrying the communication ball forward to the unknown realms of IT. Wish me luck.

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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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How do you sharpen your saw? #ICChat discusses

Thursday, January 20th, 2011

The first #ICChat on internal communications for 2011 was a cozy affair, with great conversation about internal comm skills for the second decade of the new millennium. We didn’t need many questions to prime the pump — just one on how you keep your skills sharp, on whether social media skills were different, and one on how much time each month you dedicate to skills development and polishing.

Getting out among one’s fellow communicators, whether in person or virtually is a solid practice.

CommAMMO: @ShannonRenee I’ve attended a couple of Mashable/social media club type soirees – also try to reach beyond comms orgs. #icchat

susancellura: I continue to identify and attend key webinars, stay involved in my local IABC chapter and interact w/communicators across the world #icchat

ShannonRenee: A1 meetups are good way to stay active & their times tend to be more flexible than formal association mtgs #icchat

ShannonRenee: A1 keeping the saw sharp: collaboration – if I can’t make webinar/event, I have asked our managing editor to go & bring back info #icchat

Thank heavens, our basic skills are still important!

ShannonRenee: A1 still have to know how to write…every so often I attend writing workshops as our language & grammar evolve #icchat

susancellura: @CommAMMO Agree w/@ShannonRenee – writing is still the most important skill needed #icchat

Social media seems mainly to be an application of our existing skills, rather than requiring a whole new set of skills.

susancellura: A2 I think interaction is key for all comms. SM is another tool to build a relationship with clients. It’s about applying the tools. #icchat

susancellura: A2 And, employees have already embraced social media. Not using the tools internally is a missed opportunity to connect. #icchat

ShannonRenee: A2 not sure if the SM skills are “materially” diff from overall comm skills…SM does require us to use our comm skills in new ways #icchat

nishland: @shannonrenee @CommAMMO I think you need good overall comms skills in social media. no diff really. #icchat

I confess to a fair amount of relief at these sentiments. That “old dog – new tricks” thing gets me sometimes:

commammo: @csledzik Huge challenge for me is to keep abreast of all the new stuff – often feel like me brain is full… #icchat

Only one person gave an actual count of hours spent on honing skills — but there was advice on how to do it, and even possible subjects for further learning.

susancellura: A3 Try to push myself every day when interacting with clients. Specifically, I’d say 3 hrs w/webinars, etc. #icchat

csledzik: A3 #icchat I spend a lot of time “learning,” but that’s diff. than “honing.” Scared of doing webinar/workshop on something I already know.

CommAMMO: I am in process of setting a skill goal – interested in learning video tools, 4 examp – but struggling to carve out the time. #icchat

susancellura: @CommAMMO I want to get better at video, as well. Especially if doing it myself, which happens quite a bit. #icchat

It was a nice start to the #ICChat year — we always hope for more participation. Invite someone to our next chat: Thursday, February 17, 2011, at 10 a.m. Eastern.  Read the 20 January transcript here. (Be warned, a couple of spammers laid it on the hashtag pretty thick…as @RJFarr said, “grrr…”)

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Quote-fest on Ragan.com story

Thursday, December 2nd, 2010

Say, while it’s still in the clear, have a look at a story on Ragan.com about jargon, featuring yours truly (and two #ICChat pals, @RJFarr and @Wheati) as the expert(s). http://bit.ly/dTQmJf

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Work-Life Balance: Do we #SoloPR folks have it?

Monday, July 12th, 2010

Over on PRSA’s ComPRehension blog, I opine on tips to help keep work and life in some kind of balance from my perspective as an individual practitioner. Read it and weep, or laugh, or tell me I’m an idiot! http://comprehension.prsa.org/?p=1816

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Getting in Touch with My Inner Geek

Wednesday, July 7th, 2010
bit of a mashup from Integrate 2010

Death by IT PowerPoint - well, just illness...

A couple of weeks ago, I attended that IT conference I wrote about before, Integrate 2010: Uniting the World of IT.  The group putting it on was the Greater Cleveland Local Interest Group of ITSMF-USA, which is a professional association for IT Service ManagementAs I mentioned, it was great — I learned something new, met some interesting people and commiserated with yet another staff function that feels unappreciated. Here is part one of some observations about the sessions and speakers I saw.

George Spalding, VP Global Events, Pink Elephant

Spalding is a jovial, pink-faced man with round tortoise-shell glasses and a somewhat unconventional delivery for his speech, “2000 Years of IT Service Management.” He started his piece with a series of slides that took stories from the Bible and refit them into info tech situations. Think “Noah’s Ark” as an IT Enterprise Software project. His point was to show how silly typical IT responses to issues are — “Why do incidents happen? Someone made a change. Don’t we test these things?”

Spalding went on a while with Biblical story-telling, and from my perspective could have shortened the list. His main audience seemed to be charmed — and there was no denying the main messages: “You’re not in the IT business anymore” was the critical nugget — sound familiar? Prior to Y2K, Spalding said, “Fear, Uncertainty & Doubt” gave IT the freedom to do as it pleased. Once the world kept spinning into the new millennium, IT moved into the service business, and now there’s no returning to the old ways. He’s obviously comfortable with this speech and delivery — he could have been even better with some judicious editing, and a bit of presentation skills editing, too.

Michael Lundblad, Rational Worldwide Sales Executive, IBM

Mike Lundblad comes with a story. An ex-Marine officer, he speaks well, commands attention and represents an important company. The content of his presentation, “How to Recover from an Application Heart Attack,” was so far into the IT manual that I really couldn’t wrap my head around it.  He also seemed mainly to be describing products (Rational and Tivoli), rather than offering some type of independent advice or action steps. Of course, maybe that’s par for the course at these conferences — it was my first one!

Bob Balassi, chief technology officer, Maryville Technologies

Bob wore the same suit/shirt/tie combination on the dais as he wore in his program photo. He was a very polished, smooth speaker, but didn’t move at all (missing clicker hindered the show…note: buy your own – and don’t forget to bring it!). The static delivery hurt the presentation, but didn’t kill it. The title of the presentation is too long to include, but it was on what’s called IT Transformation. That’s the wholesale redo of a company’s IT world, moving from being technology driven to business driven. It’s kind of like when PR teams reorg to align more with their clients, rather than their own internal preferences.

His big message was that A) The transformation will continue (209 million Google results); B) Merger situations tend to push IT into the background, but improving these tools in a service format can yield a 25%-40% productivity increase and a rise in net present value of 5%-10% — that’s real strategic value, not just control-oriented window dressing. Could we make a similar claim for a communications transformation?

In another easily adapted bon mot, Bob said change management — both IT and organizational — is critical to success. Adopt-Adapt-Transform is the modality he shared, along with the need to engage employees and top leadership. He said there are stars, skeptics, cynics and slugs (and stabilizers), and you have to know how many of your team are in what category. I could have been hearing from just about any business improvement consultant. He did a fine job, though his PowerPoint was killing me.

More in part two.

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IT Conference Reveals Unexpected Connection with PR

Monday, June 28th, 2010

Ask most PR people whether they’d like to attend a conference filled with IT people. Go on, ask. Read the conference brochure and marvel at “2000 Years of IT Service Management,” “Achieving Technology and Business Superiority through IT Organizational Transformation,” and “IT Alignment: It Takes Two to Tango.”  It turned out to be one of the best conferences I’ve ever attended.

Everyone should take the time to assess their own objectives for attending a conference, seminar, luncheon or other event. Think through what you want to get out of it, what you’re willing to put into it. My objective, this summer, is to expand the network, among people who might want to engage my services.  I’ve been marketing myself through social media, and among communication organizations — the IABC Conference, my presentation to Lake Communicators, and this fall’s presentations at the PRSA International Conference and IABC’s Research and Measurement Conference.

While reviewing networking opportunities here in Cleveland on Pat Ropchock’s blog (she’s locked in big time), I noted “Integrate 2010: Uniting the World of IT” put on by the Greater Cleveland Local Interest Group of the ITSMFUSA — it’s a mouthful of an acronym that means, “IT people who want to be more relevant and strategic.”  They call the main discipline Service Management,” a process for aligning IT services with the needs of the enterprise.

The themes that emerged from most of the presentations I saw were fascinating.

  • IT feels like it’s not at the leadership table. Instead, they’re brought in after the business strategy’s in place and have to scramble to make things happen.
  • IT struggles to articulate its business value for all but a handful of services.
  • IT gets stuck on describing activities rather than defining its service portfolio in terms that the business leadership understands.
  • IT often can’t “sell” itself effectively, caught up in jargon and technical detail that isn’t relevant to leadership.

What happens if we replace “IT” with “PR” or “Corporate Communication?”

  • A consistent theme of IABC/PRSA material for years was “winning a seat at the table,” and then keeping it. We’ve been talking amongst ourselves for as long as I’ve been in the business about being business people first and communicators second. Yet, we’re still not there consistently.
  • Think about the debates over measurement methods — PR activity is difficult to isolate in the communication mix, and there are no standard answers for return on communication investment. Just last year, PRSA and the Institute for PR began working on a project to prove the business value of our profession. Internal communication is especially vulnerable to the question of ROI — and social media value outside of direct sales is still an unfinished book.
  • PR/Communications people frequently take as a given that their professional activities are impactful, regardless of the lack of data to support that claim. Our “service book” describes our activity from our perspective, not from that of our customers.
  • We (especially in internal communications) tend to resort to tactical explanations using our own lingo, rather than speaking about our work in terms readily understood by HR, Finance and leadership.

Sometimes it may seem like IT is on a different planet — more science than art, more Mars than Venus.  We, however, aren’t that different in our desires to be taken seriously by leadership as business people who employ specialized skills.

In addition to a few other things I discovered, this knowledge about IT was worth the price of admission.

More to follow on the conference shortly.

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