Posts Tagged ‘Management’

What’s the matter with IABC?

Thursday, June 6th, 2013

It’s happened to a lot of organizations.  Business shifting under their feet, departure of key exec, search for new leader, struggle to change without losing customer base, new leader leaves sooner than expected after difficult tenure.

It shouldn’t, however, happen to a membership organization comprised of professional communicators.

The drama over Chris Sorek’s departure after less than a year at the helm of the International Association of Business Communicators has to have been avoidable.  We counsel our execs and clients about this. Books are written, conference presentations, academic papers all say the same thing: “Tell the truth, tell it first and tell it all,” according to Bruce Hennes of Hennes/Paynter, the crisis management firm based in Cleveland.

The tragicomic saga opens when Sorek takes over, succeeding Julie Freeman.  Julie, who held the post for 10 years, communicated quite effectively, in my book. She was visible, involved, supportive. Sorek was a little invisible, a little remote, seemingly more comfortable out of the spotlight in his 11 months. That’s fine; not every leader is an ENFP.

But as the changes began, including massive staff layoffs and restructuring, I believe the numbers were 15 of the 32 employees, Sorek still hung in the background. The always excellent David Murray had a good summary and analysis, as did Ragan.com, all without a word from the executive director.  In corporate life, we often call that, “insulating the CEO” from delivering bad news. But hey, this ain’t a corporation, its our bloody (and bloodied) association.

On IABC’s web feature, “IABC in the news” Sorek hasn’t been present since an interview in August 2012.  Freeman often took to the IABC Cafe, the blog platform. Sorek never did.

Who was that masked man?

Meanwhile, IABC’s LinkedIn group is full of members and nonmembers asking about what was happening at our association (I’ve been a member near continuously since, well, a long time ago). The International Executive Board (IEB), a volunteer leadership group, did its best to fill the void, but the paid head of our association was strangely reticent, leaving the spokes duties to our IEB chair.

I am wondering whether I need IABC anymore. I’m active in other groups — PRSA’s Employee Communication Section for one, the Institute for PR Commission on Research, Measurement and Evaluation, for another, and have a strong community of outreach via social media.  Add to that the desire to speak and write less for my communication family and more for senior execs in industries that might need my professional help, and we’re coming to an inflection point.

In the end, I’ve opted to stay in IABC, at least for 2013. I have a few personal frustrations — despite a long history of chapter leadership and good experiences with the Heritage Region Conference, the International has been a tough speaking nut to crack. As a small business guy, I need to make good decisions about how I spend my time and money.

This latest imbroglio, including a request from our IEB chair to “stick to the speaking points” was a real tale of the cobbler’s children. Seriously?  IABC tried to tell it first, but the technology didn’t cooperate. It didn’t tell it all because of privacy concerns (and a desire to avoid feeding voyeurism, according to one comment).  That made it seem like IABC wasn’t telling the truth — the failure to explain reasons behind decisions makes people believe they’re being deceived, as Joe Williams teaches.

Now, the search for an executive director begins all over again. The question is, who wants that job?  It better be someone who knows how to connect with membership from the very start, who will do a good job of listening to membership and who can exude confidence about the plans for the future.

 

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I miss blogging

Wednesday, May 8th, 2013

OK, I’m kind of lying. I don’t miss the blogging I did four years ago. You know, the blogging I did because I didn’t have a job or clients and needed to do something productive.

I talk to people “in transition” frequently. I try to say “yes” as much as possible, because I remember what it’s like. Communication AMMO still has just one employee, and it only now seems like it’s going to allow me to earn a living for a while. But it’s a darn site better than the waiting many of our colleagues have gone through for the past few years.

Blogging is a little bit of an ego trip, so obviously, I’m not doing it right. The frequency of posting is way down, and so to is the number of people reading my fevered musings. I’m not feeling very fascinating these days. I’m putting most of my energy into work for clients, work for classes taught and work for volunteer opportunities.

I DO feel like I still have something to say. So, don’t be too surprised if I’m a little more visible than in recent months in this space.

In the meantime, if you are in position to hire people, don’t turn your back on folks who’ve been out of the game for a while. If you can use an extra hand, reach out to a colleague working on launching their own gig. Be generous as you can be, even if only with your time, your support, and your coffee.

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On the balance sheet, it’s ‘goodwill’

Friday, September 28th, 2012

A fever dream of most communicators I know is that we could quantify in monetary terms the public relations/communications value to organizations. It inspires yearning, craving, shivering, salivating and panting — at least in a few communicators I’ve known.

The marketing folks love to lord it over their PR colleagues — X impressions equals Y prospects equals Z sales. We don’t apply that formula often, and I worry that if we concentrate too much on quantifying impact on sales, we wind up reducing our role by at least half if not more.  In the broadest sense, all communication functions are about impact on the business of the business, true, as we won’t sell as much with a bad reputation as we might with a good one.

The trouble is that looking for that direct formula can lead to discounting issues management, employee communications, social responsibility, community relations, and all other stuff that isn’t directly related to product/service PR.  This is why I embrace the term “integrated communications,” but reject the inclusion of the word “marketing” in between the two words.

What we need is a monetary proxy for reputation, and I wonder whether “goodwill” might be a worthy solution. Goodwill is, in a merger, the difference between book value and the price paid in the acquisition. It’s the value in real terms of the brand, the reputation the acquired company brings to the table, the potential sales represented by the customer base.  You might say that the intrinsic knowledge of the employees (as opposed to the explicit knowledge) has value in that construct too. Think of an industrial firm, such as Goodyear, with all the patents it owns, all the innovations it’s bringing to the table. Surely those are worth something in financial terms.

Improving reputation, even if it doesn’t draw an explicit path to revenue, should lead to an improvement in the overall value of the enterprise. The activity that brings about that improvement can be quantified in terms of impact through research, both objectively (in terms of behavioral factors such as recommendations), and subjectively (in terms of qualitative measures such as willingness to recommend.) We then could look for statistical linkages among those data.

OK, my academic friends can sharpen their red pencils, no doubt, as I’m grossly oversimplifying. But I’m fairly certain that there is something to this. What if we could document the reputational impact of influence?

Think with me…

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Notebook: Reputation questions to chew on

Monday, September 10th, 2012

With trust in business — particularly big business — holding steady, but near all-time lows, and a political climate bent on slavish promotion of business and business people on one side, and equally slavish denunciation of business and business people on the other, where does that leave the public relations function of reputation management?

What are the components of reputation, and how do you measure them? What role do business executives play in supporting or undermining reputation? How do social media reflect popular opinion — or not? Do transactional relationships help or hinder reputation? Do simple errors constitute a crisis of reputation? Why or why not?

How should businesses (and other organizations) respond to reputation issues? What role does organizational behavior play? What about employee behavior, customer service, problem resolution?

I’m pondering these things, and realizing that they’ll take some research and exploration.  Stay tuned for some expert witnesses in this space in the days and weeks to come.

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Why leadership is so hard

Monday, June 11th, 2012

There are a ton — a ton — of embarrassing anecdotes of business leaders gone wrong. The idiot complaining that the employee parking lot is too empty after 5 o’clock and on the weekends. The moron sending flamemail to the whole company. The dipstick complaining that their compensation is down, too.  What the?

We surely are at the point when everyone knows what effective leadership looks like. It’s authentic, honest, accountable, human, skillful and/or brilliant. It’s giving not taking; gentle not harsh, and visionary AND operational.  Of course, all of these characteristics are measured by anecdote, so how real are they?

Leadership is bloody difficult, not least because leaders need to balance the needs of multiple stakeholders.  Owners  want profits, communities want good citizenship, employees want security and differentiated pay, and the leaders themselves have their own needs and wants. Leaders who do well at balancing these needs seem to do well, and others…we read about when they screw up.

Leadership is making decisions, often with just enough information, and in a snapshot of time bereft of intelligence about the future.  Sometimes it works and sometimes not.  All the adages about hindsight being 20/20 are true – you try to learn from your mistakes, almost using experience as a form of crystal ball. We want to believe it’s a science – especially leaders who hail from the financial and technical disciplines. Those are the leaders who love processes!  We also want to believe it’s an art — inspirational, aspirational.

The reality is that it’s a series of difficult decisions, of instinctual judgement calls, of switching between intellectual and more emotional action. That’s why the good leaders are so good. And why the bad leaders are so bad.  In my own career, I’ve had to make decisions without all of the information almost all of the time. For the most part, it’s worked out fine, but the risk of failure never leaves me. What have I forgotten? What salient fact is missing that would make me change my mind? If I’d only known!

Most people who do not lead have no concept of what it’s like, particularly at scale, when it’s not just your own skin in the game, but others’.

One small business person told me that as successful as he is (and the path to wealth increasingly winds its way along starting one’s own business), the fact that other people are depending on him to be the smart guy weighs on him every day.  The challenge to build something, the desire to achieve isn’t present in just anyone. And even the best will come face to face at some point with the reality that leadership is decision.

That’s hard.

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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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CEO Transitions Need Employee Attention

Monday, June 14th, 2010

When you’ve worked most of your life in big companies, as I have, it’s easy to forget that major change is a huge employee issue regardless of the size of company.  Big company complexity can be daunting to contemplate, and I’ve heard people pine for smaller firms with the idea that big change would be easier. News flash: It ain’t necessarily so.

Central Federal Corp and CFBank — a four-branch bank headquartered in suburban Akron with 66 full-time employees, according to Yahoo! Finance — is going to find out how easy it will be, now that former kahuna Mark Allio stepped down. According to Crain’s Cleveland Business, Allio offered his resignation at the company’s annual meeting, and now the firm is searching for a new leader, with General Counsel Eloise Mackus steering the ship in the meantime (and “indicating interest”, per the Crain’s piece).

During any big change process — and a CEO transition is usually a big one — employees get distracted; it’s human nature. There are at least 65 people at that company wondering 1) Who’ll be the boss? 2) What will he/she change? and 3) What will it mean for me. It won’t help matters that the company’s financial performance (as with many banks) has suffered during the recession. Now the boss quits and there’s going to be a “process” to replace him.

Employees are ripe for worry, and worried employees seldom give great service, which ostensibly is the raison d’être for community banks.

The tendency of the board and leadership team is to look inward to themselves and the shareholders. Yes, they have a fiduciary responsibility to those owners, but they must not ignore their wider team. I don’t know that they have or have not — but they will need to ramp up the contact with the ordinary employees and be sure they’re equipped with the right tools to manage the customers and prospects.

Here are three “must-dos” —

1.  A note to employees with a draft customer letter — explaining the change and next steps, including a basic timeline.

2.  Questions-and-answers document anticipating what customers, community leaders, friends and family will want to know about the change.

3.  Commitment to a weekly email note and a twice-monthly conference call for managers updating everyone on progress.

It’s not a hard thing to do at all, and following these steps can make it a whole lot easier to glide through the transition.

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