Health and Safety Advice: Come to your senses!

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What image do you conjure up when you say the words health and safety? People engaged in a business critical activity? Or do your eyes glaze over picturing men in grey suits and frowns, tutting whilst placing crosses on tick lists? It’s probably the latter because the term has become part of the pantheon of business-speak cliché and if the organisational equivalent of UKIP existed, there’s every chance you’d vote for them just to avoid having to spend time thinking about the subject.

How about the term “wellbeing”? Well, it fares slightly better but suffers from the same association, with clichéd imagery based on misunderstanding and preconception, seasoned with a large dose of cynicism. Yet health, safety and wellbeing make good business sense for the business and its stakeholders alike and when an organisation invests the time and effort to build a culture in which these terms mean something and are part of that organisation’s usp, tangible business benefits flow.

The concepts behind the terminology are simple really. The sole purpose of the safety practitioner is to protect people from injury while at work and to protect the business from the financial and reputational impacts of potential incidents and enhance their brand in the process. The same applies to the wellbeing practitioner with the focus on sustainable performance levels, albeit safety is something most stakeholders take for granted as a basic requirement whereas health and wellbeing is becoming an increasingly important factor both when recruiting employees and doing all they can to keep them.

We were working with the leaders of a petro-chemical company not that long ago, who found themselves suffering from a spiralling pattern of serious safety “non-conformances”, poor employee survey results and sliding attendance levels. This was undermining their KPIs and was causing a great deal of damage to their brand.

Part of our role was to take an objective view of the leadership culture on-site and it soon became apparent that the issue wasn’t down to the safety procedures themselves. The issue was that the culture in which those processes were being implemented was undermining the systems and procedures and the culture started at Board level and filtered down. In short, the problem wasn’t a technical one but was down to how people were talking to and briefing each other.

All the people processes from induction through to performance management and communication, especially team briefings, were infected with a non-sensory disease.

Managers, in response to the terminology in their performance contracts and appraisals, had adopted corporate double speak. Terms like “terminal events” were used to describe deaths; KPIs to describe goals and standards and “executive” to describe the people doing the job. Sitting through manager-led team briefs was the engagement equivalent of listening to Andy Murray read the telephone directory, no context, no narrative, no story, no emotion but half an hour of bad news, excuses, bollockings and orders. They became as popular as a Monday colonoscopy.

The answer was to re-train the leaders, re-connect them with the stories that defined their careers and get them talking with emotion but more importantly facilitating dialogue and listening, listening, listening. After re-engineering the behaviours and re-connecting the people, the next role was to re-personalise the appraisal, goal-setting and communication processes and to re-position the core values so they had relevance and meaning. We introduced masterclasses led by champions within the business, re-configured the internal comms channels and its wasn’t long before the “KPIs” were back on track.

As respected health and safety expert David Gunniss puts it:

“Most line management and HSE departments interface as per this diag (below). It’s important that every manager, supervisor and worker has a job description and that their performance contract details their HSE responsibilities and that there is an HSE Policy document and Safety Management System. But this simply provides the platform.”

As with communication, for example, it is defined by whether messages are received and understood, not just by crafting the message. Little point having processes if no one is engaged enough with them to bring them to life.

“Workplace culture, both the physical environment and the way people behave towards each other is absolutely vital. It’s fine having the documents in place and understanding the lines of command, but there needs to be trust between leaders and workers and between leaders and their HSE function. If the system’s going to work properly everyone needs to understand the benefits and to take personal responsibility for what they can influence and that means feeling a sense of belonging, ownership and community.”

The benefits to the petro-chemical client were obvious when you consider the costs of getting the processes wrong in terms of fatalities, environmental disasters, morale and litigation and the damage all of this can do to the brand. Or put another way, sound advice from an HSE professional or culture change practitioner can not only prevent the company and its officers from ending up in court but can help create an environment in which innovation flows from actively engaged employees who feel cared for at work. Professional, objective advice can be expensive, but consider the costs of getting it wrong. And in these tough days, who wouldn’t benefit from that sort of unique selling point as part of their customer and employee proposition or when bidding for new contracts?

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Leaders – embrace social media, but remember that Facebook will never replace real face time

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leaderI was reminded of the Facebook vs face time  phrase, which I coined over five years ago, while reading a recent McKinsey&Company article offering insights into how leaders can leverage six social media dimensions for employee engagement.

So-called social media, a much abused misnomer for the relatively new technological, almost virtual, communication gathering points fed largely by constantly evolving gadgets, is literally fantastic. What had latterly been the stuff of fantasy has led to cultural and business revolutions; has liberated many-a-Dilbert from their cubicle and has clearly added a whole new dimension to communication.

I’ve long been a fan of many of the fresh communication channels to have emerged in the last decade or so. But having spent most of my career working with leadership teams in one shape or another, usually trying to help them become more effective, I remain sceptical of the too persistent claims that electronic channels are, or will ever be, communication nirvana. Why? Well, let’s face it, similar claims have been made since man first used electricity to generate messages yet it’s hard enough getting many leaders to talk the talk let alone walk it as their people need them to.

The six social media dimensions and skills outlined by McKinsey’s Deiser and Newton, which they claim every leader now needs, are:

1.     Producer

2.     Distributor

3.     Recipient

4.     Adviser

5.     Architect

6.     Analyst.

I’m not so sure I buy into that list as with all due respect to the authors of the report, in reality, most organisations will do well if, when it comes to any media for that matter, their leaders manage to be:

o       consumers

o       listeners and

o       possibly originators.

The rest of the list, in my view, is the specialist domain of a professional communications function, as this excerpt from a job description for a comms manager at Tesco illustrates:

• Colleagues hear from us first about what’s happening in the business and my stakeholders recognise the impact of the work I deliver
• The narrative I deliver links back to the core purpose and uses it as a central thread to embed a new culture/way of working
• All communication is joined-up, produced to a high standard, is simple, open and honest and sent out in a timely manner
• I explore new ways of communicating to our colleagues, utilising new technology
• I speak to colleagues and get their feedback on the effectiveness and impact of our communication and the channels we use
• I have evaluated the activity and produced positive results
• I build and maintain positive relationships across teams
• Suppliers are proactively managed and reviewed.

But that doesn’t imply that all communication matters are the sole domain of a specialist function, far from it.

Around ten years ago, I was a director of probably the leading internal communications and change consultancy at that time, certainly in the UK. We ran countless diagnostics for clients across sectors and invariably the most persistent criticisms levelled at leaders were:

o       failure to provide opportunities for feedback, involvement and dialogue

o       not listening and acting on feedback received

o       a reluctance to communicate, especially when times were tough

o       not leading by example or walking the talk

I’ve seen nothing since to convince me that those criticisms aren’t still valid today given the state of employee engagement generally or that new media platforms have made much difference as, whatever the delivery mechanism, the old adage of “sh*t in, sh*t out still applies.

No communication strategy, however funky the channels therein, exists in a vacuum. Corporate culture, or the way we do things round here, is inevitably the key component and leadership behaviour has a huge influence on corporate culture.

In short, the issue with leadership communication isn’t channel-specific, it’s mostly about behaviour. And addressing behaviour is way beyond the pay grade of the comms professionals alone, is clearly the domain of the OD, change and leadership development specialists and is the responsibility of the leaders themselves.

In order to ensure that the leadership communication system is operating effectively, leadership teams need first to be able to answer at least the following fundamental questions:

1.     Why are we here, what’s our primary purpose and have we communicated this?

2.     How will we operate and what are our key leadership processes, including the way we communicate?

3.     What are the foundations of leadership, our behaviour as a group, our leadership style?

4.     How do we interact as a leadership team?

5.     How do the individual members behave with key stakeholders, including employees

Speaking as someone who works across sectors, it’s surprising how seldom leadership teams can tick all of those boxes. There’s little point, in my view, bolting on channels, whether new media or old school like Team Briefing, video cascades; town halls or even emails, until the leadership team has addressed these fundamentals. Why? Because of the importance of the term “social” and the behaviour implied.

All communication is essentially social in that it should take at least two and is about information received, understood and acted upon more than information pushed. To be truly effective, it requires a relationship of sorts to exists between initiator and receiver. And the effectiveness of that relationship is mostly determined by behaviour not volume or content.

Much of the effectiveness of communication is dependent on the state of trust that exists between the parties, reciprocal belief in each other and the level of authenticity implied (being what you say). It requires transformational elements (showing that you know the person and care about them) as well as transactional components (being clear about what you want from them). Fail to get the balance right and the initiator becomes just another spammer, cold caller or online pest.

New media may well provide fresh opportunities for obtaining, conveying and sharing information communally. But without the application of basic social skills, the damage it can do can outweighs the problems it solves. And for leaders, this is an especially tricky dilemma, particularly during a downturn when people need the additional reassurance that can only come from pressing flesh and seeing confident smiles.

Most employees welcome fresh channels and involving ways to express themselves. But I can’t think of a single comms audit in which people prioritised electronic media over and above more effective face to face. Take this HBR article, for instance, which points out that despite the rise in the influence of “the machines”, “the face-to-face conference business is robust, we’re flying more miles than ever to interact with others, the brightest minds still converge on innovation hubs like Silicon Valley, and collaborative spaces in firms are increasingly popular”.

As I illustrate in Brand Engagement, while I was working with UK super technology, semi-conductor giant Arm Holdings it soon became clear that engagement is “all talk there”. Their boffins and geeks hardly ever use internal social media – most of their communal communication being face to face. Sure they have all so-called social media bases covered externally and use Twitter in particular to engage with external stakeholders. But the point is, they still believe that sociable face to face, wherever possible, should come first. Their directors clock up masses of air miles ensuring that they visit their global offices regularly and they genuinely pride themselves on their huddle meetings and open door policy. Arm is a business based largely on innovations resulting from what futurist Richard Watson calls “serendipitous encounters” during both large scale and micro meetings that are much more dynamic than Wikis or online forums..

Having said that, we live in an age of exciting innovation, especially with regard to electronic communication. What business wouldn’t want to expand their communications repertoire? And we all have a unique opportunity to “play” with new platforms and potentially bend them to our needs. As with many things in life, however, the answer to how to integrate electronic social media into the leadership practices of any business doesn’t lie at the extremes but in the blend. Success clearly lies in appreciating the technology for what it is and merging  it with all-important, multi-sensory, face to face and cheek by jowl, congregating, gathering in person, pressing flesh, eyeballing and communing with colleagues. New platforms and channels certainly aren’t a substitute for getting the classic basics right. And there’s no more important time to promote this blended approach than during times of attrition when communities need leaders and the reassurance of inspiring, warm words as well as a confidence boosting arm around the shoulder which costs nothing but potentially means everything.     

 

What if Superheroes were Sponsored by Brands?

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In Brand Champions (Palgrave 2011), Ian plays with the notion of the superhero employee as “ultimate brand custodian”, suggesting that people are too complex to buy into the alignment logic of many brand campaigns, intrinsically suspicious of internal marketing and PR. He offers the suggestion, instead, that the great brands are built on authenticity both inside and out and are supported by willing advocates who understand what the brand stands for and who see themselves in the values they project be they customers or employees.

Many of our favorite, comic book superheroes, especially popular during tough times, fight crime for the greater good. But what if they were sponsored by brands and made to ‘represent’ the companies that paid them?

Italian graphic designer Roberto Vergati Santos helps to make this point in his illustrated series titled ‘Sponsored Heroes’ which plays with the juxtaposition of personal and corporate branding in the context of icons many consider to be “heroic”.

Taking familiar superheroes from comics and movies, Santos linked each of them to a specific brand by dressing them in colors and logos of the company.

In the series, showcased on the Design Taxi site, ‘Batman’ can be seen wearing Nike gear, while McDonald’s sponsored Tony Stark’s ‘Iron Man’ suit.

“Imagine if one day capitalism reaches the point, where the big brands start to sponsor the superheroes,” Santos explains. “How would this influence their images? Based on this hypothesis, I decided to experiment with some characters, and see what would be the results of such idea.”

The results are fascinating and oddly disturbing but certainly make you think twice about the relationship between brand advocacy, values and endorsement.

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The future of work & the future for HR

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logo_cipdTo celebrate their centenary, the CIPD invited Ian to contribute his voice to a feature about the future of work and the future of HR.

There’s much food for thought but we were particularly struck by what the leader of Tesco Bank’s HR function had to say, words which had a very familiar feel:

Therese Procter, Personnel Director, Tesco Bank

Centenary-100-thoughts-therese-procterFor me, HR’s future can be summarised in two words: value and values. In the past, the value created by public and private sector organisations has been measured primarily in financial terms. Following the global economic crisis, however, organisations will be judged not only by the financial value they deliver – but also by the social value they create. Consequently the impact organisations have on the lives of employees and customers, on communities, and on the environment will be studied as closely as their impact on shareholder and taxpayer returns. This, in turn, will bring the values of organisations into far sharper focus, because how and why things are done will now be subject to the same level of stakeholder scrutiny as what gets done. I believe that progressive HR practitioners will play a pivotal leadership role in driving both financial and social value in this new era of values-led organisations.

This very much supports our conviction that HR will play a leading role in the eventual  recovery of the more forward thinking organisations.

You can plug into what Ian and other HR strategists, practitioners and thinkers are saying by following this link to the CIPD site.

What does your packaging say about what your people think of your customers?

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During my Interbrand days I was known as a vociferous flag-waver for the behavioural aspects of brands, less interested in the signage; packaging and many physical manifestations of the brand management art.

I guess a large part of the reason for this was that the design team largely had this covered. Yet the people factors were and remain by far the greater business and brand challenge.

But this Christmas, faced once again with a mountain of packaging and the notorious dad challenge of liberating the toys from their cellophane and cardboard cells, assembling them and breathing life into them with the right set of batteries, strokes and nudges, I couldn’t help but reflect on how little the predominantly Chinese packaging departments appeared to care about the customer experience once the purchasing decision had been made.

I’m sure parents around the globe are becoming increasingly frustrated with toys and presents that are ALL about the marketing, shelf appeal and the promise but appear to give scant regard to delivering on that promise post purchase. When faced with a doll that has had three screws inserted into its head and hair to make it look nice on the shelf and a little girl crying in frustration to get to grips with the goods, or a scarlet-cheeked little boy who, try as he may, simply can’t liberate a toy car from the lacerating plastic and tie-grips, it’s easy to see where Tim Burton’s inspiration for The Nightmare Before Christmas came from.

As I frantically cut, tore, peeled, tugged, unscrewed and assembled much more than I was expecting to given the amount of money we had spent on the goods, I pictured in my mind’s eye an army of particularly malicious factory workers in China dexterously engineering micro screws and fastenings that would test the patience of Buddha as some sort of  post -modern, post- imperialistic backlash. But the truth is, the manufacturers are most likely complying with the very letter of the brief from the marketing department in Washington or London and the workers are simply being as efficient as they can possibly be.

So is there an issue for the brands concerned?

Oh yes there most certainly is.

Regardless of the science underpinning the product development, effective brand management is a holistic process. The physical elements of the brand mix need to work in harmony with the behavioural. That means ensuring the customer is engaged with the product at all key stages, un-packing included. But not as some sort of de-facto home-based assembly line operative. And that calls for listening and empathy to be included in the employee skill set

Why?

Because ultimately it isn’t Santa (sorry kids) but we long-suffering parents who pay for the presents. And in the famous words of The Who, “we won’t be fooled again”.

Well….not until next Christmas, birthday, reward day, anniversary, baptism, baby shower……….

Stocking fillers and corporate thrillers – best business books

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xmasbooktree

We’ve been very flattered to feature on a number of “must read” lists down the years. Here’s what that cosmopolitan bunch at design and infographic champions Shift Business are recommending as stocking fillers for the discerning business book buyer. Pleased to see Ian’s Brand Champions in such exalted company……

Looking  for inspiration in your business? Want to try something new and innovate? In this day and age, there are a million and one blogs out there that will give you some great pointers. But sometimes you need something a little bit more in-depth to really get your creative juices flowing. Immersing yourself in a longer-form book can be an ideal solution.

So why not put down your summer blockbuster and instead pick up a business book to help you get a fresh perspective. There’s plenty of books out there to choose from.

Here’s five of our best reads and some detail about how they might be able to help and inspire you:

1. Web Analytics 2.0 by Avinash Kaushik

A company website is vital for any small business out there these days. Who better to learn from here than Google’s own digital marketing evangelist, Avinash Kaushik. In this great book, Kaushik shows you how to use the copious amounts of online data out there and understand more complex strategies such as online analytics and the eight critical web metrics that will help you succeed. This is a book for anyone that wants to measure the effectiveness of their website.

2. The Facebook Effect by David Kirkpatrick

Facebook is everywhere these days! And increasing numbers of companies use the social networking site to connect with customers and prospects. But how did Facebook get to where it is today? What are its secrets of business success? This book will tell you more about how founder Mark Zuckerberg took his company from just two employees to 3,976. Get ready to be inspired!

3. Brand Champions by Ian P. BuckinghamBCsiteacket.asp

Does branding matter? According to Ian Buckingham it really does. He also thinks the secret to success lies with your employees. If employees don’t embody a brand, then how can a company keep its brand promise to its customers. Your employees are your brand custodians and this book will help you turn them into the beating pulse of your company.

4. Content Strategy for the Web by Kristina Halvorson and Melissa Rach

Content is king right? If you still need to be convinced then this is the book for you. It will help you put together a content strategy and explain why it is important for your business. You’ll find out why messaging is worth paying attention to and how to write blogs that resonate. So get reading (and writing!)

5. Good to Great by Jim Collins

This book is about being the best in the world and not just sticking to the average. If that sounds like something you would like for your business, then pick up this book. Filled with inspiring tips and tricks, it is a step-to-step guide on the important things to focus on in business and how to make positive changes.

The relentless rise of foie gras internal communication

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Never in everyday pursuit of corporate endeavour have so many been force-fed by so few.

The rise of social and technological media and the proliferation of communication channels means your average employee could be nearing communication saturation point.

But are they?

I would suggest the appetite for effective communication has never been more keen, yet effective communication is still in very short supply.

Lest we forget, communication is essentially an outcome,not an input. At recent team briefing workshops, I had to make a point of reminding a group of senior civil servants that
“success isn’t measured by volume, pace or quantity. Good communication is a product of whether the message has been received, understood and resulted in the necessary action”.
For a number of years now, when I’ve conducted communication audits for clients, employees across sectors have complained about being bombarded. Despite the rather
trendy discussions about the difference between internal communication and employee engagement, message management and push communication appears to be
increasing.The biggest culprit is the dreaded email.
Having just carried out an audit of internal communication channels for another public sector client currently undergoing major change, I’ve been struck, by a bizarre, and frequently seen contradiction. In answer to the question “How would you prefer to be informed of changes?”, a whopping 76 per cent of respondents voted for face-to-face communication. Of those 76 per cent, some 68 per cent wanted that communication to come from their immediate line manager/s. The second preference was for some form of internal social media allowing them to provide feedback and debate in an interactive, real-time environment.

But when we looked into the communication department’s communication methods of choice, they prioritised: lunch meetings with the CEO and senior team; email bulletins; voicemail; and publications.

As the change programme gathered pace and brought with it ‘right sizing’ and major structure changes, the top two methods fast became the only ‘official’ channels. Sadly, team briefings led by line managers had faded to sporadic bursts.

It’s perhaps understandable that a number of line managers and supervisors had taken a backward step when faced with extremely difficult message management. It happens. But in this case, it was soon very clear that abdication on this scale reflected deep-seated leadership issues. Their CEO, in Hero Leader guise, although well intended, was clearly undermining his leaders. They had also lost faith in their communication function which was simply stepping aside by pressing the forward and ‘cc’ buttons.

The simple fact is that top down, cascade bombardments, particularly by email, are synonymous with lecturing. They allow the originator to tick a box but are largely
ineffective and simply reinforce one-way messaging. Cascading swarms of messages in the interest of employee engagement means the organisation promises one thing yet delivers another. It’s disingenuous and creates deep seated resentment.

Most of us learn much more effectively in interpersonal environments, when we’re involved and can interact with others. This is one of the reasons why line managers and immediate supervisors are increasingly important communicators. When they have the opportunity
and take the time to commit to Facetime rather than Facebook, employees are enlightened and reassured by the example being set as well as the opportunity for face-to-face discussion, debate and reflection.

Nearly everyone now appreciates the merits of electronic communication. But despite the simple temptation of “compose, click and send” and the sophisticated charms of new-wave social media tools there really is no replacement for good, old-fashioned, face to face, eyeball-to-eyeball communication. This is especially true during testing times when people lose what appetite they may have had for Foie Gras and deeply resent the fact that there’s no comfort food on the menu.

*first published as The Last Word in Employee Engagement Today.

You can download it as a pdf by clicking here: Buckingham_last word