Posts Tagged ‘employee communication’

When the story is just so bad…

Monday, August 6th, 2012

Crisis communications doctrine often seems to say that confronted with a giant, stinking pile of horse manure, there has to be a pony in there somewhere. But for the past four-plus years, there haven’t been any ponies for the banking and finance industries.

Witness the current mutual smackdown in the presidential election – which, by the way, has barely started by historical measures. We still have the two coronations-come-conventions to endure, then the sprint to the finish with debates, endless TV and surrogate campaigners.  How’d you like to be the PR rep for Chase? Bank of America?  A private equity firm?

There doesn’t seem to be any chance to win.  The story line of the financial crisis has been set — it’s the evil bankers who are to blame. Private equity outsources jobs and destroys companies. Wall Street is a bunch of greedy b@stards  who pushed the economy over the cliff and got sweetheart bailouts from their pals in government.

Truth is secondary to the narrative – nuance is avoided in favor of simplistic sound bites, and the thought is that the shadowy players pull the strings while the rest of us dance.

How do you combat that?  In Star Trek, it’s a Kobyashi Maru – a no -win scenario.   Maybe the problem is the “defense” part.  Maybe these industries should stop shouting against the waves and just go about their business — communicate internally, with clients, and never mind trying to convince the uninterested (if not hostile) news media.  Go direct and forget trying to win the argument.

What do you think? Is it worth fighting so hard?

 

 

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Connect with me this fall

Monday, July 16th, 2012

There will be three great opportunities this fall to sharpen your professional saw, and to schmooze with me!  Sept. 10-11, I’m at “Connect 12” the PRSA Employee Communication Section conference at NYU in The City. Oct. 14-16, I’m the bronze sponsor for the IABC Heritage Region Conference in Pittsburgh at the Westin. Nov. 12-13, I’m back to New York for the 2012 IABC and PRIME Research Global Strategic Communication and Measurement Conference (where I’ll be speaking as well as schmoozing!)

Each of these conferences will be terrific. The PRSA section conference will be my first; I went to International in Washington, D.C., a couple of years ago, and managed a section dinner which was great fun. I’m looking forward to lower Manhattan and a chance to meet new folks and connect with friends.  The Heritage conference is outstanding – I spoke last year in Detroit, introduced a keynoter two years ago in Philly, and have served on both the sponsorship and speaker committees in the past. It’s always great to connect with IABC peeps!

Two years ago, I spoke at the IABC Communication and Measurement Conference in Seattle, and I’m delighted my friend and Institute for PR Measurement Commission colleague Mark Weiner (CEO of PRIME Research) invited me to participate this year.  Expect a great program at The Yale Club.

Hope to catch you at one – or all of these!

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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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Getting attention with internal communication

Monday, January 16th, 2012

It’s become a cliche, you know. Overworked employees who can’t keep up with all the information they need to consume to be effective, despite (or because of) e-mail, voicemail, Facebook, Twitter, Yammer, Sharepoint…  But why blame the tools? It’s the strategy that needs work.

I recall 17 years ago when “we want employees to manage their own information” became a watchcry.

The idea was to create a repository of news and information and get people to seek it out.  This change from “push” to “pull” was supposed to take the heat off of communicators and bring about a knowledge revolution. Instead, employees voted with their feet, ignoring most all the news we pushed out, especially the stuff that supposedly was “important” — the company strategy, leadership messages and  human resources materials.  We were repurposing news releases in those days, not really originating stories from the employee perspective. We were passive, and we waited for our internal clients to come up with stuff.

Well, that’s not altogether true. We called them and asked, “Got any news?” What we should have done is treated employees as our clients and looked for reasons to do a piece, not expect our leaders and managers to come up with stuff on their own.

All through the years, our best-read materials at Key, Goodyear, National City and other places were stories, not news. They had people and drama and conflict and tension, or at least a compelling new angle on our business, told through example and demonstration, not mere recitation of fact.

At Goodyear, we had our interns do a ton of writing for our intranet, GO.  During their yearlong assignment, they’d cover plenty of news, such as events, quarterly earnings, significant announcements and industry doings, of course. But they also had to originate stories, particularly in the last couple of months of the assignment.

They wrote country profiles, talking with leaders and others about the business situation. They did stories on different parts of the business and people. And they did a multipart series focusing on one regional business, or on the fastest-growing geographies in the company.

These stories got read because they helped employees make sense of the information instead of merely leaving everything up to them.

We began to attract news from all the major business units, increasing our annual story count into the range of 1,200 – 1,500 stories per year.  Over a two-year period, we tripled our monthly GO traffic (visits and pages viewed) and saw a 10% increase in understanding of our company strategy.

How do you get attention, cut through the clutter? Write (produce) stories that matter to your employees, balancing the need for leadership to transmit information with the need for employees to have relevant content available to them.  Do research among employees and leaders to discover what those stories should be, and do it often.

All you’ve got to lose is your irrelevancy.

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What are your predictions?

Sunday, January 1st, 2012

I decided to take a stab at putting together a “communication predictions for 2012” post and asked on Twitter for contributions in hopes of getting it out this coming week. As it happens, Judy Gombita (@jgombita) and Paul Seaman (@paulseaman) have obliged with their thoughts, and Heather Yaxley (@greenbanana) has written a definitive post on PR trends that bears close examination.

I’d  appreciate your thoughts, especially about measurement and internal communications. Where might we go in 2012?

My reactions to Judy and Paul are below – about Heather’s piece, I can say only, READ IT.

Judy’s comment:

Fingers crossed @CommAMMO: #corporatecommunications (aka #PR) is going to embrace LEADing (not OWNing) #SoMe for integrated communications.

Integrated communication is not only inevitable, but highly desirable, especially around Social Media. What I’d hate is to have Marketing inserted between Integrated and Communication.  As Judy’s crossed fingers aver, this isn’t an ownership question, it’s a question of leadership. You know my adage: All marketing is communication, but not all communication is marketing. Thanks Judy!

And Paul’s:

@CommAMMO #corporatecommunications the only safe prediction is that 2012 is unpredictable. Yet I forecast an increase in PR spend over 2011.

Speaking as a small businessperson, I hope Paul’s right! But I also hope that the increase in spend includes a modicum for effective measurement, research and evaluation. We CAN measure the effectiveness of communication activity and do so cost-effectively, but not for free. I fervently hope that the extra PR ducats are for issues management, reputation and employee communication, not just publicity and press agentry. Here’s hoping. Many thanks, Paul.

Note: 2012 marks my third year in the land of entrepreneurship and blogging/tweeting. It’s been fun, and I very much appreciate your kind attention to my fevered scribblings. As per lately, I’m blessed with clients, teaching, grad school and family obligations, but aspire to participate in a few chats and cogitate herewith for your consideration. Mazel Tov for 2012!

-Sean

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Five Themes of Effective Internal Communication

Friday, September 9th, 2011

From 12, clockwise: @llibitz, @csledzik, @dak1966, @jgombita, @gypsynits, @ic_jen. Jeremy Schultz (@jschultz) is at center; no photo available for @GnosisArts.

The monthly Twitter discussion on internal comms, #icchat, made its return from summer vacation on 8 September, and after one question from the moderator (that’d be me), it was off to the races.

Special guest Jeremy Schultz (@jschultz) of Intel did a fine job juggling five or so concurrent discussions (a usual occurrence in Twitter chats) as the lively crowd picked his brain and shared their own tools and techniques.

Five themes emerged from the discussion:

  • Social tools inside organizations are coming on fast
  • Communicators play a critical role in enacting and facilitating them
  • Face to face and 2-way communication in general are still important
  • Leaders should use the social media tools that fit their personality and style
  • Storytelling is still the single most important activity in internal communication

It’s a commentary on the thin internal comms organizations that all five of these things are considered so vital — and it’s interesting what’s left out. I can’t do justice to the speed and depth of the conversation — we’re usually a small but voluble group (and often with different participants each time).

There were lots of very specific tactics –things people are using to great advantage: Wikis (@JGombita pointed out the persistence of the Wiki), @llibitz mentioned the internal social media tool called Handshake, a web 2.0 version of intranet, and sharepoint. @IC_Jen talked about Flowr, a kind of Facebook-meets-Sharepoint tool that permits documents to be uploaded to given topics. And internal blogging, where the blogger and communicator work together on the copy and organization.

@Jschultz talked about giving counsel to execs, helping to match personality and style with the right communication tools, rather than just saying, “you should blog.”  @CSledzik shared the difficulty in getting employees to move from simply expecting to be handed information to reaching out and asking for it (2-way communication does need two parties), even though leadership is committed to making the switch.

@Gypsynits was interested in how culture and values communications made their way into the business-focused, business-objectives world, and @jschultz didn’t disappoint. He points out that at Intel, these beliefs and the company values and vision are well-established and well-known — simply implicit in all communications.

Check out the “Storify” highlights — I still mourn the death of wthashtag for transcripts — Or if you’re a glutton for text, read all 180 or so posts in this ugly PDF of nine pages and more than 4,000 words. Read from the bottom up.

Many thanks to Jeremy, and to @gypsynits (up REALLY late), @jgombita, @llibitz @csledzik @ic_Jen @dak1966 & @gnosisarts. You make it great!

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Collaboration – 3rd “C” Toward Integration

Thursday, August 11th, 2011
Copyright, Creative Commons

The essence of collaboration

We think of integration as logical for organizational communication. But there’s resistance to integration as well, from budget jealousy to outright turf wars preventing even the low-hanging fruit from being plucked.   As I wrote earlier, we can realize a lot of the benefits of integration by adopting a step-by-step process, starting with communication, proceeding to coordination and finally to collaboration. These are the 3 C’s.

Collaboration is working jointly with others or together, especially in an intellectual endeavor (adapted from Merriam-Webster). The key difference between coordination and collaboration in our context is discrete effort: when we collaborate, we decide to combine our efforts toward completion of an activity. Here are two examples from my own history.

The Goodyear Tire & Rubber Company operates a decentralized communication team, with the geographic business units in Asia, Europe/Middle East/Africa, Latin America and North America each operating its own communication team.  The heads of comms for each have a dotted line back to the chief communication officer, but budgets and functional reporting is to the business unit, usually to the unit president.

Goodyear moved along the 3 C’s spectrum slowly. It used to be that sharing strategy and plans was strictly ad-hoc; some units would forward a couple of pages to the CCO, some would give only the broadest outline. That made it very difficult to represent for the function with any sort of context, let alone establish common processes.  Best practices among units didn’t circulate well, and even budget visibility was limited.

By establishing an HQ position dedicated to increasing both communication and coordination, Goodyear was eventually able to establish a common planning process, combination bottom-up and top down.  With the intranet circulating best practices (often just a short story detailing what PR event had occurred and the results), in short order teams within units began to collaborate, borrowing event strategies and communication content from one another and working on cross-functional projects. Members of the corporate communication team were even invited to speak at regional communication meetings.

At National City Corporation following a determined effort to increase communication and collaboration across the communication function (see my posts Use 3 C’s to Work Together and The 3 C’s Toward Integration: Coordination), Marketing reached out to the retail communication group for assistance with a new campaign.

Corporate Communications worked with other units on materials development, retail asked for Corporate Comm help for a retail investing project, and Corporate Communications, Legal and Investor Relations formed a cross-functional team to work on financial PR releases. Even the measurement program benefited from collaboration, with marketing asking Corporate Communications to research the impact of news media coverage on a direct mail campaign, and corporate comms working with marketing to include unpaid media in its regular brand research (See “Measuring Company A”), and the Risk group asking for Corporate Comms help in understanding the impact of media on reputation.

Both of these cases marched steadily from communication to collaboration.  At both companies, there also were situations where they got stuck — a business process optimization team struggled to get past the communication stage, for example, and never made it to collaboration. But even in that case, the visibility of budget spend and the decision to coordinate several business unit and function-specific process improvements still demonstrated value.

It’s hard to truly integrate departments for a lot of reasons — the desire of executives to control their expense profiles top-to-bottom, among them.  The financial folks will want to add a fourth C — consolidation — which often seems like a synonym for integration. No leader wants to give up either headcount or budget willingly, regardless of the benefits — alignment, consistency and efficiency among the most frequently noted.

However, if we apply the 3 C’s effectively, we can gain all the benefits of integration except the financial ones.  For a lot of organizations, that’ll work just fine.

 

 

 

 

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The ‘3 C’s’ toward integration: Coordination

Wednesday, August 10th, 2011

On 9 August I introduced the “3 C’s” — as a pathway toward integrating communications, or at least realizing the benefits of integration.  The first “C” is communication, where we reach out to one another to share information about our activities and solicit some feedback. The second C is coordination.

The definition of coordination is bringing into a common action, movement, or condition (slightly adapted from Merriam-Webster). I expand that definition like this: Coordination means mutual sharing of information that leads the parties to alter in some way that information, or its planned distribution.  You and I discuss our respective goals and what we’re doing to fulfill them, and we alter our plans as a result of that discussion.

For example, back to National City in 2008 — financial crisis, etc. We’d started communicating across our business unit silos, and realized that one of the units was planning a communication at the same time another unit had a major management announcement.  In our discussion, the latter unit asked if the former could wait a couple of days to avoid conflict. That used to be a recipe for a turf war, but because we’d discussed the need to coordinate and agreed, the two units came to an agreement in short order.

That sequence got replayed a lot — the units would make a few changes to messages, timeline, even audience to accommodate each other.  It made for a much more harmonious team, but also made it easier on the audiences, who didn’t have to try and absorb multiple messages and priorities. It also had the ancillary effect of sharpening and making more consistent the business unit and corporate messages.

There were a couple of times when corporate needed to insist on changes, but prior to the onset of our communication meetings, we might not have even known something was coming from the business units, let alone have the chance to offer suggestions to focus the messages.  We also made our own adjustments from time to time — in particular, stepping in when a unit’s distribution got moved up and conflicted with our own activity. That generated trust and credibility and permitted us to gain valuable visibility to an important business unit priority.

Coordination is a logical follower to communication, and it sets the stage for the next of our 3 C’s — collaboration.

 

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Use 3 C’s to Work Together

Tuesday, August 9th, 2011

There’s been an animated discussion over at SpinSucks.com following a post from the always interesting @GiniDietrich on whether public relations needs mostly to be about driving sales.  Gini says,

You see, I believe a few things:

  1. Public relations (not publicity) can and should be measured to sales results;
  2. Public relations professionals need to gain some basic marketing skills or our industry will become defunct;
  3. Public relations is the very best place for content development because we are, after all, writers; and
  4. Really good content does more than attract Web site visitors or increase brand awareness – it generates inbound leads for the sales team.

Reading the comments, it’s evident that she’s got a lot of support for these notions, and while I don’t disagree that PR can drive sales, I don’t see that as the only role we PRs should play. There’s a bunch of stuff that we can do — issues management, employee communications, reputation management — that could be claimed by other departments but are mainly within our primary skill sets and usual responsibilities. The comment stream debates the point more than adequately (and entertainingly.)

But the reason I’m taking up your valuable time now is about how to set aside our provincialism and play well with others.

There’s substantial scholarship in the area of integrated communications, both against it in concept and for it. The thrust of the argument is whether all communication functions are aiming toward an eventual marketing outcome — driving sales. My colleague at Kent State University, Bob Batchelor, is solidly in that camp, as are communicators like @BethHarte and Gini.  I’ve frequently said that all marketing is communication but not all communication is marketing, but that could be a style preference: for too many marketers, all stakeholders look like customers, and all channels look like megaphones — I don’t want to “sell” to employees, community leaders, governmental officials, et. al.

I fully recognize the elegance of a unified approach to communication strategy. There are many benefits to integrating communications, but actually pulling everyone into the same department can be challenging, and we have to guard against efficiency getting the best of tailoring messages and methods. So how do we realize the benefits of integration without necessarily integrating?

I’ve got a process: The 3 C’s — Communication, Coordination and Collaboration.  I want to give each of these appropriate due, especially regarding how you measure, so I’ll tackle the first in the this post, then write some more on the others.

Communication seems so easy and basic, but it isn’t.  I’m aware of two organizations – large, global, complex — where you learn very quickly that the various communication functions aren’t talking to each other very much at all.  In particular, matters of budget, strategy and tactics take place in isolation, siloed-off from the beady eyes at “corporate.”

In short order, that leads to inconsistency in go-to-market (we can be consistent and still have appropriate tailoring), and lack of appropriate visibility and strategic alignment. At National City Corporation, a regional bank, we were in the thick of the financial crisis.  The communication team was distributed — a relatively small corporate department, with the business units (Private Bank, Corporate Bank, Retail and Operations) hosting their own departments.

Given the crisis circumstances (anyone remember 2008? Me too.), we needed to speak with one voice, to provide leadership and strategic understanding, to know what employees and customers were talking about.  So, we instituted a daily conference call for communication leads across the company. We started discussing these matters — not with an eye to seize the conversation and dictate strategy, but to better understand the situation and provide guidance.

Within five meetings, our working relationships improved. Within a month, we agreed to meet in person and work through a strategic process to better align our groups. Three months in, we were able to cut the meetings to weekly, because we’d started cooperating on many communication opportunities.

Communication opens doors — but only when it’s done with a heart for authentic improvement and understanding, not power grabs and dictates.

More on this coming up.

 

 

 

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Pret A Manger Customer Service Relies on Communication

Monday, August 8th, 2011

It’s hard not to blush green with envy. A company that really seems to “get” communication as a business process rates a Sunday business feature story in The New York Times once in a few blue moons, and British sandwich shop Pret A Manger sounds like a great place to work. Read Stephanie Clifford’s story here, but here are a few highlights.

Five things Pret A Manger does well

1. Foster Teamwork: The pay is not high, the working conditions frantic and stressful and the turnover huge in fast food. But Pret A Manger puts cash behind teamwork, rewarding teams rather than individuals with cash bonuses. Even when  individual workers do really well, they get cash that they have to share to those who helped them excel. This team attitude means that everyone pitches in, and the communication process in the stores supports that effort through daily kick-off meetings and peer-support culture. This isn’t a high-tech solution, just an effective one.

2. Establish Strong Processes: Making sandwiches isn’t hard. Making them consistently well is art. Pret features recipe cards with photos so that people can see how the food is supposed to look, step by step. When you train on how to make a sandwich, your peers support you along the way. Plus, there’s a process to move up — and your peers help you get there — that’s clearly communicated. Communication isn’t something being done to employees, it’s intrinsic.

3.  Leaders Lead: Store managers and kitchen supervisors know what food needs to be ready when, and peer communication supports the effort. The managers encourage their charges continually, even when issuing correction. They also train — and the trainees’ final exam? Training someone else. You have to know your stuff to train someone. It’s further evidence of how managers and staff “own” communication.

4.  Customer Focus: The store is staffed to reduce customer wait times, not maximize revenue per employee. That’s a liberating decision for the workers, who are hired at least as much for their cheerful attitudes as anything else.  No one is really overworked in  a Pret store — there might be as many as nine cashiers on duty in the morning there, as opposed to the one or two at your average Starbucks.  Starbucks has a great reputation, but standing on line there is legendary. One barista, one cashier isn’t going to cut it at Pret.

5.  No Say-Do Disconnect: This is an essential business maxim — your behavior as an organization tells a lot about your real priorities. If there’s too great a disconnect between behavior and rhetoric, trust evaporates. Pret doesn’t just communicate about its priorities, it appears to live them.  Its employees seem to like that — their turnover is orders of magnitude lower than its fast food competitors. That means satisfied customers, lower costs, and better performance.

What’s not to like?

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