Go on – hug a cynic!

I’m sure we’re all familiar with the usual “employer brand”-style communication campaigns. You know, the glossy brochures filled with beautiful people decked in power suits, killer smiles and emasculating handshakes? Or the so-called “champions” plucked from the ranks of the unwashed and the obscure as apparent beacons of the corporate values and virtues paraded at awards ceremonies, on “star of the week boards” or launches.

I’m a little ashamed to say that in the past, I’ve occasionally been complicit by commissioning “fairytale” imagery and copy or adopting a “no negatives” approach to recruiting internal facilitators which belied the workaday reality of the people whom the initiative was meant to represent.

Marketing certainly has its virtues. But internal audiences are much more demanding than customers. They expect authenticity from their representatives and gritty realism from their representations. And it’s a tad short-sighted to recruit employees on the back of false and empty promises. They’re unlikely to recover from the cold dose of reality that meets their idealism once they’re through the revolving HQ doors.

One of my “eureka” moments on the long and winding road through corporate change and development is that the power to be engaging, more often than not, comes with a dose of skepticism; a maverick edge, a darker side or even a little vulnerability.

Consider the enticing power of the rebel; the hooded renegade; the Everyman who represents the rank and file. Or reflect on the beguiling charm of the flawed hero or the beauty with the scar!

I was interested to read a McKinsey article suggesting that 2/3rds of major change programmes fail because of the failure to target true leaders and positive change role models. Well, as shocking as that statistic is for the big battalion consultancies, I know from current and past experience that the first line management community is absolutely key; the senior leaders must walk the talk but just as importantly, the sometimes cynical but usually authentic informal leaders have a very powerful influence over their peers. But it’s impossible to spot them unless you’re prepared to take a people-centred and mentoring-focused approach to change and live the values from the diagnostic through to evaluation stages.

In my experience, it is far more effective to connect to employees via the sincere medium of true representatives who not only reflect a personalised take on the corporate values, behaviours and culture but who are brave and honest enough to give a warts and all representation of what it’s really like to work there. That’s why I favour the use of the People Panel; the facilitator with less polish but bags of character; or the informal editors of the grapevine whenever I’m called upon to help facilitate change.

So go on! Be brave and embrace your cynics. After all, tough times call for thinking differently and when was the last time you saw one of the “fragrant T&T “crew leading an innovative and even revolutionary charge?

For more information on mentoring programmes for the leadership community drop us a line.


4 thoughts on “Go on – hug a cynic!

  1. Ah, but will the cynics embrace you back? Or land you a smack in the kisser? 🙂

    Having said that, if you CAN recruit them, they’ll do you more good than most other things in a change programme.

    Nice post, Ian.

  2. Pingback: 5 ways to bridge the engagement gap | The Brand Trilogy (TBT)

  3. Pingback: 5 Ways to bridge the engagement gap « Bring yourself 2 work

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