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, 2011
Recently, I threw down the gauntlet:¬† Can technology help reinvent and humanize internal communications?¬†¬† Today, I thought we might take a look at one of the worst ideas in employee communications – the quarterly town hall ‚Äď to see.
Quarterly town halls were intended to give employees the opportunity to hear the important financial news from the CEO and to ask questions and interact with executives.¬† But, in reality these moments never really get beyond a one-way communication thinly disguised as two-way?¬† And never move beyond the question/response format into a discussion. Far from building relationships they encourage a deeply transactional approach. ¬†Once the CEOs presentation is over and the one or two planted questions asked the call is done for another quarter.
Oh wait, no it‚Äôs not.¬† The CEOs town hall may be over, but unless you‚Äôre a senior executive and therefore hosting your own town hall, you now have to endure the same thing with your senior executive.¬† And unless you have the good fortune to be a front line employee who can‚Äôt be taken off the manufacturing line, or out of the call centre or off the retail floor, the pain is not over.¬† You may need to listen in on, or lead, at least one other.¬† That‚Äôs a lot of meetings every quarter.
Stopping town halls altogether seems impossible.¬† Trust me I‚Äôve tried. There‚Äôs almost a primal need for CEOs and execs to have this moment in front of employees.¬† So, over the years I‚Äôve experimented with different models.
In the most successful, we tried sending an e-mail announcement from the CEO [and of course the news release it was derived from], followed by team meetings where managers led discussions with their people about the local implications for the news.¬† And, a week or 10 days later the CEO would host a town hall.¬† By then there were real questions and issues that had surfaced and something close to human interaction could happen. ¬†Qualitative and quantitative surveys for the pilots showed higher level of engagement and retention so we kept going and eventually implemented across the organization.
But now, what could it look like if we used technology to humanize those quarterly sessions like the teachers in Palo Alto were doing in yesterday‚Äôs post.
The quarterly process would start with a video with the CEO ¬†[not a talking head; maybe even embedding technology like the Khan Academy uses] to tell the story of the quarter [don‚Äôt get me started on the paucity of storytelling or the short-term focus on financials].¬† Not just the dry financials, but feedback from customers and/or a roving reporter‚Äôs ¬†view of things that matter to employees from the quarter.
Next, managers [well supported as part of their own management development curriculum] would meet with their people to explore the implications of the news for their teams, departments, regions.¬† This time would be spent discussing and developing tentative conclusions, surfacing issues and articulating the questions that matter most to employees.¬† This would be even more powerful if we pushed the idea beyond formal hierarchy to focus on cross-functional project teams and/or internal partners.
After 10 days or 2 weeks it would be time to consolidate input and feedback and have the ‚Äútown hall‚ÄĚ conversation with the CEO and his execs so that they can answer outstanding questions and discuss the issues and implications together.
And, I‚Äôm guessing the quarters will start to meaningful support to the business from the inside out.¬† More engaged employees.¬† More business savvy employees, leading to better business decisions.¬† Strengthened internal relationships.¬† Real business value.
In a recent post, Mitch Joel introduced me to Salman Khan.
At about minute 7, ¬†Salman got my attention when he talked about how teachers used his YouTube videos as homework and changed the nature of their time with students in the classroom.¬† Now, instead of classroom time being ‚Äúone-size fits all lectures to 30 kids fingers on their lips and blank faces, looking slightly antagonistic‚ÄĚ,¬† the time is spent in the classroom is on working together with their peers on problems that advance their learning.¬† This way, the students learn are able to pause, repeat and watch the video ‚Äėlectures‚Äô in their own way and time to build to mastery. ¬†By minute 15, I was sitting up as he described how the teachers have used technology to humanize the classroom.
The potential link between what Salman describes and the way we orient employees and build their institutional competence is clear.¬† And, using this approach to inspire the creation of powerful leadership development programs pretty obvious.
But, can we use technology to humanize the workplace? ¬† Think about your corporate internal communications?¬† How much employee to human time are your employees getting ‚Äď with peers, with direct reports, with their supervisors and executives? ¬†And how can we make that time together more valuable – to the employee and the institution – by making it more human? And, can technology help? [more soon]
Sustainability is on my mind. ¬†¬†I‚Äôm literally trying to get an urban farming project off the ground ‚Äď it‚Äôs a roof top garden – here in Montreal. ¬†I‚Äôm attending talks and workshops on urban farming and spending an increasing amount of time hanging out with food security, food systems, social business types and¬†environmentalists. ¬†I’m learning about their passion and energy and the power of their grass roots orientation.
But in the past month, I‚Äôve been increasingly struck by how the rhetoric hasn‚Äôt changed since the 70s when I was getting my first degree in Biology [e.g. big corporations are bad, our economic and financial systems are at the root of our environmental problems, we need more direct control over our food sources and quality, think local, there are ‚Äúlimits to growth‚ÄĚ, climate change is a real and growing issue, ‚Äúsmall is beautiful‚ÄĚ] And, I‚Äôve been wondering what we can learn from the past 40 plus years.
It‚Äôs not that advocates and activists have not been making a compelling case.¬† Here in Canada, David Suzuki has been speaking out since the late 60s.¬† Over the decades he‚Äôs had important and influential platforms from which to preach and enlighten – hosting weekly radio and tv shows, writing bestselling books, and doing cross country speaking tours more times that I can count.¬† Al Gore‚Äôs case was so compelling that the movie won Academy Awards for Best Documentary Feature and for Best Original Song in 2006 and he won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2007 for his work on raising awareness on climate change.
It‚Äôs not that our behaviour hasn‚Äôt changed at all.¬† A second or third season episode of Mad Men is a good reminder of how far we‚Äôve come.¬† It‚Äôs the sixties.¬† Don Draper, an advertising exec in New York, buys a Cadillac convertible.¬† The family takes it for a spin and a picnic.¬† Once they‚Äôve had their lunch, they stand up. Betty, his wife picks up the picnic basket.¬† He bends down lifts the picnic blanket up. Shakes it.¬† And they all turn and walk to the car leaving the refuse and garbage from their meal in the field. ¬†¬†Our reaction in the west is visceral.¬† We can‚Äôt believe we‚Äôd every have lived like that.¬† And we know we did.
But the unfortunate reality is that though we may be changing, we‚Äôre not changing fast enough to make a significant difference.¬† Somewhere between our hearing the message and real and significant action something happens.¬† We hold back as individuals, families, communities, provinces and nations?
Some friends recently suggested ¬†the issue needs “The most colossal mother of all change programs¬†ever“.
From a communications point of view I‚Äôm fascinated.¬† What will it take to bring this message, this conversation to life in a meaningful and sustainable way [Inconvenient Truth, let's face it is so yesterday in people's minds]?¬† What will it take to radically change our behaviour?¬† What will it take to make sure the next 40 years sees the change we need – environmentally, socially, economically?¬† And how can we as communicators be part of the answer?