This blog is about the relationship between organizations and the people who work for them. And, it’s dedicated to the millions of people around the world who go to work every day wanting to do a great job.

Archive for March, 2010

Learning from the Vatican [part 2]

At the time, I found the nun’s description of the disciplined efficiency of the Vatican communication at once awe inspiring and horrifying [see earlier post].  And, even more now as every day brings news of new sexual abuse scandals and questions about who knew what and when?

I have no ‘inside’ knowledge and use the situation of the Church to explore what can and does go wrong in organizations and perhaps gain some understanding of what that might mean to us as communicators.

As an organization, the Church had much that corporate communicators wish for:

  • A clarity of vision, mission and values [more on this later]
  • A trusted and recognized brand
  • Strong and visible and articulate leadership
  • Powerful rituals and symbols
  • A relationship rather than a transactional focus to clients
  • Few layers between the CEO to the front line
  • A structured and disciplined approach to communicating
  • A continuous flow of rich information out of HQ and back from the ‘front lines’
  • A global network of potential communicators [priests] who by calling and training are more empathetic than your average manager
  • Opportunity for weekly conversation with clients and potential clients.

So, what happened?  And what can we learn from this? [to follow]

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Learning from the Vatican [part 1]

Years ago, I was taking the train to Montreal from Ottawa.  Since I had lots to catch up on after 3 days with my client I scanned the car looking for a ‘quiet’ spot where I could make the most of my 2 hour trip.  There was a nun about half way up the car.  Perfect.

Little did I know…  This nun was on her way home to Nova Scotia for holidays and she wanted to talk.  She was simply bubbling over.  Turned out she was the senior Sister at the Vatican Emissary in Ottawa.  And, we ended up talking about how communication worked in the church.  [Full disclosure I am Anglican not Roman Catholic.]

She told me with pride that the Pope could know what was happening in a small village pretty much anywhere in the world within 24 hours.  Quite something since we were talking before the internet, social media and wide spread use of cell phones.  In fact, the cell phone I was carrying that day – possibly the only one on that train – was bigger than, and weighed as much, as a brick.

The Sister went on to say that every day diplomatic pouches would leave the Vatican with important messages from the Pope and the Papal Curia to bishops and priests around the world.  The pouches were officially sealed and could only be opened by those to whom they were sent.  And every day diplomatic pouches filled with the details of parish and diocesan life were sent through the bishops and back to the Vatican where over 200 priests would review, organize and prioritize the incoming material to report to the Pope.

The information that sent from the ‘field’ wasn’t just facts and figures – numbers of baptisms, marriages, deaths – it was also very rich human stories of the community.  This system apparently worked extremely well and must have played an important part in making the Roman Catholic Church one of the most enduring and powerful institutions.

In a world where we seem to all agree that transparency and authenticity is in.  At least technically this system would seem to be ideal [more on this soon].

With all our surveying and data crunching how much do today’s institutional leaders really understand about the human concerns of the people that work for them?  How easy is it for employees to have their concerns reach their leaders in a way that is institutionally meaningful.  In your organization do you have the equivalent of the diplomatic pouch?

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Deborah Hinton Monday, March 29th, 2010
Permalink CEO, Corporate communication, Culture, Internal communication No Comments

“No charges after Axor exec’s trip”

Imagine you’re an employee at Axor, a large Montreal development company. You wake up one day earlier this month to read that your president and chairman has been arrested and jailed in Florida for drug possession. Turns out he was carrying valium and didn’t have his prescription with him. So the good news is that the arrest was the result of a silly technicality. How many of us carry our prescriptions with us when we travel? You’re sympathetic and probably supportive.

The less good news is that you now know your top executive is taking prescription drugs to reduce anxiety.

What’s he so anxious about that he’s taking valium? If it’s about business should you be anxious too? If it’s something else can he be fully focused on the business and on this drug?

So from a communication point of this little moment is interesting and potentially instructive.

As an institution when, what and how would you communicate on this with employees?  clients?  Or would you?

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Deborah Hinton Monday, March 22nd, 2010
Permalink CEO, Customer, Internal communication No Comments