15 Shades of Internal Communications

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BCsiteacket.aspProud to see that Simply Communicate’s Gloria Lombardi chose Brand Champions as one of their 15 internal communication must reads, alongside the likes of Seth Godin. An eclectic list appreciative of the reality that internal communication doesn’t sit alone in the corporate radio station but at its best is part of an integrated system including hr, brand, marketing, leadership and culture.

We encourage you to take a long look at the list on the site but here are the kind words she had for Ian’s second book:

Brand Champions. How Superheroes Bring Brands to Life, by Ian. P. Buckingham

If you were looking for a book describing the role of brand as a powerful and unifying route to sustainable employee engagement, you may want to read Brand Champions. How Superheroes Bring Brands to Life by Ian. P. Buckingham.

In his work, the author shows the link between employee and brand engagement, making a compelling case for branding as something that belongs to each employee of the organisation.

According to Buckingham, at it’s core, engagement is based on reciprocity and the exchange of things with others for mutual benefits. It implies a state where the company and its employees exist in a condition of mutual understanding.

In this context, the employer strives to create a work environment that is satisfying and rewarding for its employees, while stimulating their emotions and desire to address their higher-order needs. “The employer literally invites them to bring themselves to work and become similarly invested (engaged) in the long-term success of their organisation or brand.”

A point stressed by the author is that employees’ engagement with the brand is discretionary, which means it cannot be forced or faked. Engaged employees are usually self-electing rather than made that way by corporate programs. That is why two-way communication needs to be “expanded dramatically.”

This requires allowing employees the opportunity to explore assertions made about the brand for themselves and two-way channels to exchange feed-back. The more empowered and involved they feel, the more likely they are to generate on-brand and on-strategy initiatives through their own power and efforts.

The author writes about a joined-up approach to engagement which takes into consideration the outsider world, such as communities, customers and corporate partners. With the increasing use of digital communications and the power, reach, unpredictability and response time of social media, it’s no longer possible to control stakeholder perceptions with silos-specific communications. Boundaries are blurring. “It’s disingenuous, counterproductive and confusing to pretend that the brand the world outside engages with is or should be any different from the brand “presented” to employees.”

This requires trust and transparency inside the business. “Trust is fundamental to sustainable employee engagement and brands can’t be sustained without engaged employees. There is a lot of noise surrounding the Edelman Trust Barometer for a reason.”

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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.     

 

Stocking fillers and corporate thrillers – best business books

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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

Does a civil partnership between HR & Marketing really make for an odd couple?

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Interesting article in The Harvard Business Review, September 11. Former CHRO, Xerox Corporation discusses the power of working collaboratively to bring about business transformation inside and out, an ideology we’ve long espoused of course.

The article makes some punchy claims about HR that raise an eyebrow or two like:

“The HR discipline is evolving into a strategic voice because its sphere of influence — talent attraction, engagement and retention — is now recognized as the foundation to organizational success”

It may be over-stating the true status of HR at present. But she’s certainly right to highlight the growing empowerment of  employees as a result of the indomitable wave of electronic media that is liberating the  voice of  employees and customers alike and the important role that HR could/should be playing in maximizing the opportunities these channels present:

“…..the pervasive influence of social media on the work world demands change in the way employers motivate and communicate with talent. We’ve seen success with a novel approach to talent engagement: an integrated HR-Marketing strategy that teams Marketing’s brand messaging savvy with HR’s internal perspective and expertise. When HR brings a communication orientation to its role, the entire company benefits. The partnership brings added value to Marketing as well. How much more effective could a CMO be if he or she knew for certain that talent would deliver on the brand promise made in every external marketing message?”

Marketing, as we’ve often illustrated, should be actively courting HR right now given that consumer trust levels as well as employee engagement levels are at an all time low. Bad news for marketing spend as employees after all, remain the promise keepers, choosing whether to truly deliver on behalf of the promise makers. Tapping into and nurturing their discretionary effort is vital.

” When Xerox re-branded itself as a document solutions leader….we recognised that employee engagement was integral to Xerox’s transformation and continued growth as a Fortune 500 company. After all, productivity and the strength of the company brand both live within Xerox’s workforce. Employees, at first skeptical, embraced their new work environment. And HR, as a full partner in this effort, made sure our messages were consistent and reinforcing – not conflicting.”

As Nazemetz rightly acknowledges, while still not common enough, the Xerox HR-Marketing collaboration was not the first of its kind:

“nor are we the only ones doing it, especially as employer branding gains importance. Another example dates from 2008, when Lincoln Financial Group — buffeted by the financial crisis — created an HR-Marketing partnership to foster deeper engagement within its pool of 8,500 direct employees and 1,200 independent financial planners. The collaboration began with research into the pulse of the workforce. We talked with more than 600 employees to understand their relationship to the company, to the brand, and to their work. Then we worked closely to define an employer brand rooted in the voice of Lincoln employees and connected to Lincoln leadership’s vision for the organization. The joint Marketing and HR team brought the brand to life in employee meetings, and through printed and digital communication channels. The CHRO, Lisa Buckingham, connected with the leaders of Diversity and Inclusion, Corporate Responsibility, and Recruitment in order to weave the employer brand into HR communications enterprise-wide. As a result, every HR program was aligned with the Lincoln employer brand, making them feel focused and consistent to Lincoln’s employees.

“It hasn’t always been the easiest journey,” says Buckingham. “But once we got everybody on the same page, everyone agreed how important employer brand is and how it actually touches so many facets of the organization. We recognized that there needs to be a consistency in what we’re saying and what our values are.” One measure of the program’s success: In the 2012 employee survey, 58% of Lincoln employees said they were “highly engaged” — a score well above the financial services benchmark of 35%.”

One of the drums that we continue to bang relentlessly is the fact that sustainable business transformation requires a systems approach to managing culture and people processes from recruitment and retention through to performance management and re-sizing.  In our experience, once leaders view brand and organisation development as intrinsically interlinked, union between HR & Marketing moves from pipe dream to necessity, regardless of whether that sits comfortably with either camp, especially in a market where leaders have no choice but to deliver more for longer and for less.

The London 2012 opening programme – a masterclass in engagement

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I’ve been working in the engagement and transformation business for well over a decade. Never have I seen the so-called people disciplines in such a state of disempowered crisis, cruelly at a time when they are needed the most.

But in these dark days, what an uplifting delight it was to watch Danny Boyle’s genius unfold before the world as we watched the London Olympics 2012 opening ceremony.

While boardrooms pontificate and procrastinate about measurement and meaning citing austerity as an excuse for avoiding the very action that would ironically help to kick-start recovery, Boyle and co conceived a strategy based on the yang of authenticity to counter China’s intimidating, totalitarian, resource-rich yin.

They were up against almost impossible competition. But when put to the most extreme of tests, with the eyes of the world literally upon them, they found a way to out-perform the previous games.

While governments squandered scores of months on enquiries, committees and spin to explain the economic and engagement downturn that has dominated world news since London won the bid , Boyle’s creative team quietly ignored the emasculating criticism levelled at their plans and confidently assembled a complex showcase of brand Britain which from pastoral idyll through to NHS more accurately portrayed what it is to be British than anything I believe any of us has hitherto seen.

To the many change practitioners out there who find themselves increasingly confused and frustrated by the ever-slippery engagement word, take some time out and have another look at the show. Remind yourself that like most things, engagement is essentially a simple concept. It’s more sensation than dry understanding. It’s more feeling than thinking. It’s more story than event.

In the context of an organisation, it’s how connected employees are to the entity they work for and how prepared they are to be themselves or to give more than is contracted from them. It’s the sum of the moments when the hairs rise on the back of a tingling neck or the warm feelgood glow that comes from sensing that an organisation shares the values you personally hold dear. And from the perspective of the leaders the more widespread, consistent and persistent that feeling, the more impact it’s going to have on the way those people and that organisation performs.

Of course there are lessons aplenty that business leaders can learn from the opening to 2012. The first however, is to acknowledge how much engagement really matters and to appreciate the impact it can have. The second is to take action and “make it so”.

Reflecting on THAT oh-so-important ceremony however, it’s worth remembering that:

  • the ceremony was only 1 stage on a long journey from heritage via strategy to legacy. As I wrote in Brand Engagement, don’t be fooled into believing the hype perpetuated by the event or training companies claiming that engagement is a quick, marquee-event fix. Transformation needs more than a short-story mentality from leaders, a vision and journey not an initiative.
  • As the thousands of volunteers, programme of events and interactive opportunities show, from social media through to the relay of champions, collaborative art works etc the route to engagement is the involvement of as many stakeholders as possible as often as possible. Push communication, PR and instruction all have their place. But engagement they ain’t.
  • Your true champions aren’t the marquee names, they’re the Everyman communities, the unsung names, the sum of your potential who inspire their peers with the sense of “if they can I can”. The “guard” of building workers and entire torch lighting process was a masterclass in this principle.
  • There’s nothing more powerful than authenticity. Andy Murray found this out at Wimbledon recently in a moment that transformed his relationship with the public. All the athletes role model this when they’ve given their all and it’s certainly summed up in this “unbelievable” clip of Bert le Clos, father of “beautiful” South African surprise gold medal winner Chad :-).

When planning the ceremony Boyle knew Britain couldn’t compete with the Chinese resources. So he showcased our thinkers, our planners, our builders, our carers, our artists, our singers, our lovers, our tryers , our jokers, our champions and mentors but most of all our indomitable ordinary, authentic people….and look what they achieved!

Quite possibly the last is the most important point of all. The Opening ceremony showcased British ordinariness and diversity in all its magnificent quirkiness. It couldn’t match the razzamatazz and overwhelming corporate might of the US games or the tikeish new world charm of Sydney. But spin and PR aside, it touched upon the weirdly wonderful uniqueness of what it means to come from these small emerald isles and the people who have punched above their weight in the world for such a long time.

I’m not one to gush, but like many people who were trepidatious about these games, I wish a few of the leaders of Britain’s brands would take just a lesson or two from the way Boyle devised and executed his vision of Brand Britain as showcased in the preliminary process and ceremony which gave our Olympics the adrenalin injection they needed.

We would all undoubtedly be a lot the better for it if they did.

Cross-cultural communication and the line manager

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We were asked to undertake an extensive comms audit of the global offices of a multi-national brand. Apparently the leaders were concerned at the differences in the way their town hall meetings were being received in different parts of the world and with diversity in mind wanted to ensure that the cascade approach they adopted to internal communication was working.

What we uncovered, as the enlightened internal communicators out there may expect, was a fundamental difference in the way local communities responded to what they perceived as central dictat. Much depended on:

  • the quality of local line management facilitation
  • the degree of flexibility spelled out in the core materials
  • the behaviour of the visiting Vip leader
  • the amount of consultation involved and quality of the feedback process

The improvement process that resulted included the transformation of the standard team briefing process to a team listening approach as well as skills development workshops for first line managers who were identified as the pivotal communicators.

There are many reasons why this group is so important to local engagement. One of the most important is illustrated in this light-hearted table:

Why not create your own version for the country in which you operate?

Here’s a satirical take on the subject as part of London-based designer Yanko Tsvetkov‘s Mapping Stereotypes project.

Be great to build up an international set, don’t you think?