Posts Tagged ‘manager communication’

IABC Heritage Region Conference: Outstanding

Wednesday, October 17th, 2012

Professional association conferences can be rather tedious affairs. They’re hard to program owing to the wide variety of experience of membership, the need for a balance of presenters between people who are selling something and those who are merely sharing, and no small disparity in skill as a public speaker. I know, because I’ve worked on several of them. One conference I’ve come to appreciate is the  International Association of Business Communicators (IABC) regional conference for members in the upper-right quadrant of the U.S. — the Heritage Region. When the Heritage conference came to Cleveland in 2009, I ran sponsorships, and in 2010 for Philadelphia, I was speakers co-chair and introduced a keynote speaker, and in 2011, I spoke in Detroit.

This year, Pittsburgh was the venue, and I sponsored the event and conducted a breakout session on employee engagement. It was an excellent conference, filled with first-rate programming at a fraction of the cost of other, larger ones.

I met some new people (which is the main goal for me at these things, along with having the chance to present), and heard some excellent communicators share interesting perspectives on our profession and its future. Here, briefly, a few of my observations:

Alison Davis got us started with an inspiring, if familiar, call to earn our stripes as strategists. Davis is a good speaker, and my only complaint is that the message is pretty basic stuff (see above on comment about the difficulty of programming when many levels are in the room).  But her methods were fun to hear, and she used Joan Jett and Bob Seger to open and close her talk.

Dina Wolfman Baker reorganized her communication department to align with an organizational refit, and started the process with primary research among 30 stakeholders, plus a time study to see where staff time was being spent. It’s rare, in my experience, to see so strategic a method for reorganization. The process too frequently is more political and financial — wider spans of control, certain number of reports by budget, etc.  Baker’s insights emerging from the research weren’t limited to structural questions, either — one factiod — a disconnect among leadership in expectations regarding willingness to accept advice from communicators and sharing strategy with them. The new structure brought more focus and expertise to bear on the topics that mattered most to the organization.

Robin McCasland runs internal communication for an IT services firm facing cultural change owing to acquisitions. She focused on the combined company’s shared distinctiveness and the appeal to a higher purpose to reinvigorate leadership enthusiasm and employee identification with the essentially new firm. But, she doesn’t ignore, either, the very real need to ramp up understanding of the industry and business among employees as the company looks to grow.

Erin Dick, whom I try never to miss on a dais, gave a terrific talk on a familiar topic – the ever increasing pace of change in society, including in the communication field. Dick is a high-energy, entertaining speaker who really gave a clinic on how to give a presentation. Great multimedia, enthusiasm and excitement (and some really cool, even scary new tech that’s already here, not just in the future.)

Jeff Hutson, who I got to introduce, had the unenviable position of kicking off the second conference day at 8 a.m. after the inevitable dinner out at the end of day one. Jeff is a research geek like me, and he shared some practical tools to help math-o-phobic communicators get over their fear and embrace the numbers — or at least, embrace someone who knows how to embrace the numbers. This notion informs a class I teach at Kent State University on measurement and ROI in communications — the goal isn’t to teach people to do measurement, it’s to help people do an RFP and evaluate the people who’ll do the work.

Betsy duWaldt, a colleague and Kent and former head of internal comms at First Energy Corp., is finishing up her Ph.D. at Duquesne, and she shared First Energy’s path to reinventing its employee communication — including a fascinating look at how the CEO won over a skeptical workforce. (Sorry Betsy, no photo!)

D. Mark Schumann, amid his trademark flowing mane of steel-grey hair and frequent self-deprecating quips, called on us to reinvent our profession and ourselves in our third keynote, then presided over a panel discussion where four breakout facilitators (including Moi) shared details and action steps that participants suggested to complete that reinvention.  It was a great close to two great days.

I may be largely “done” with IABC’s international conference, but the Heritage is a must for me.

I’m seeing a lot of IABC this fall — I’m speaking in mid-November at the IABC/PRIME Research conference in New York and talking employee communication measurement. Should be a great time — and another great, small conference from my longest-tenured professional association.

P.s. Why do I think IABC, PRSA, etc., are valuable, and what are my concerns and complaints about them? See this post on PR Conversations.

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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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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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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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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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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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‘Change Agents’ often get changed

Monday, August 1st, 2011

Allstate Corp. announced the departure of Joseph Lacher, the head of its home and auto insurance businesses, and the Wall Street Journal blames comments Lacher made about company CEO Thomas J. Wilson.  According to the Journal story, Lacher used a multi-syllabic phrase with lots of F’s and K’s and S’s while complaining about the company’s financial results.

Apparently Lacher has been under scrutiny for a while — the second-largest U.S. insurer pointed to less than-expected results in Lacher’s unit for his abrupt departure, which the Journal says came a couple of months after the vulgar commentary.

Why is this worth discussing?

A Wall Street analyst said that Lacher had been brought on board as “an agent of change,” with an eye toward revamping the company’s culture and improving operations. This is familiar.  Large, older companies often have proud histories and well-established cultures that can be (well, nearly always are) resistant to change, particularly if the change is coming from “an outsider.”

I have no idea what sort of leader Lacher was (or is) — but I know of several cases where external talent is brought to a company to shake things up and change the status quo, and the status quo rebels. We know that senior leaders can be a little, well, arrogant.  They’re here because someone thought enough of them to pay them the big bucks and hand them a bunch of responsibility, that mostly, they earned via a track record of accomplishments.

Confidence isn’t in short supply, and many believe they’re fixing something that’s broken, especially in companies with recent operational and performance issues. That can lead to abrasive personalities and griping managers.

But who cares if they gripe? You hired this person to make change, and nobody likes change. What winds up happening is that the reactionary forces inside the company overwhelm the change forces. You can’t get things done and the regression to “what’s always been done before” drags down performance.

In most cases, the conventional wisdom says that a new leader needs to establish a specific plan for his/her first 100 days. Many say that outlining priorities for change during that time is essential, but I disagree.

The first 100 days should be spent asking questions and listening.

What are the main issues that hold down performance? How have you addressed them in the past? What was most and least effective? Who are your stars? What makes them successful? How do you and your team work together? What are your personal strengths and weaknesses?

Describe a time when you’ve had to make a difficult change to your work, your life or your team? What did you think you did well during that time? What would you do-over if you had the chance?

You can’t assume that the changes you plan to make are right for the new organization. You need to learn and tailor your recommendations to your new company.

Joe Lacher had been at Allstate for a while, two years this fall, and the Journal cited sources that claimed he was getting frustrated with his boss’s style.  It could be that Lacher used his first 100 days wisely, or perhaps he got everyone peeved and wore his ambition on his sleeve.

Change can’t be imposed, it has to emerge, and it needs the right conditions to thrive.  You won’t make change by telling your team that the CEO is a F’ing A$$.

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