This blog is about the relationship between organizations and the people who work for them and the communities they operate in. And, it’s dedicated to the 100s of millions of people around the world who go to work every day wanting to do a great job.

Archive for June, 2011

The best invest in their people! Really?

Tony Schwartz recently shared his thoughts on “how the best companies are investing in their people”. He believes all human beings have four sources of energy: physical, emotional, mental/cognitive, and spiritual. So, companies who want to the best performance need to make sure employees’ needs on all four sources are adequately met as a business priority. Makes sense. Sadly, when asked, Tony couldn’t name one company, not even his client Google, who is currently doing this.

Still, I think there’s something here worth giving thought to here. As a starting point for thinking about what institutions are doing or not doing to create better places to work

Physical – All of us need to be adequately nourished, rested and fit to perform well. What is/should/could your institution doing to ensure that employees are?

In my experience only one company, Nike, even came close on this one. Makes sense since this is the business they are in. Their cafeteria looked out on a beautiful ‘lake’ and redwood forest in Oregon. The food that was prepared and presented was healthy and nutritious and not “granola”. There were a range of culinary delights on offer and even a selection of wines and beers. The portion calorie count was clearly listed even then almost 8 years ago. There was a track, a cross-country trail and a gym on the property. Though I’m sure there was an elevator, everyone I saw walked up and down the three story court floor stairs. People worked intensely but they also seemed to know when to break. You got the sense that employees treated their business life as they would their athletic training.

At Google, according to Tony they are very aware of this source of energy and do many things to actively support employee health including covering the cost of employee meals and making nap pods available.

Emotional – We need to feel our work is valued and appreciated. When and how do the people in your institution thank and recognize each others work [and really mean it]?

I’ve seen this done well and badly and often in the same organization. So much depends on the skill of the manager. We all know when our work is really appreciated and when we’re being manipulated. This is not about the usual employee award programs. It is about getting real and timely recognition from your colleagues, your clients and your boss.  Leading outside the lines is a great resource for beginning to thinking about this from an institutional point of view. Managerial moment of truth takes the idea further. It’s not about what one of my clients called ‘cumbaia’. It is about setting conditions for a fair game.

Mental and cognitive – We need to be adequately focused. How does your organization keep the work focused and prioritized?

Most organizations I know are currently suffering from 24/7/52 syndrome. Thanks in part to technology and cultures that are hyped on “bigger, better, faster” there are no breaks insight. The pace of work looks manic from the outside, and feels overwhelming on the inside. Days are full of meetings. The work gets done outside of that. There’s little or no time to think. Tony suggests that even Google fails on this one. I think in addition, this is the place where we need to think about the impact our work space itself has on our ability to do a good job.

Spiritual – We need to see that we are contributing to something that is based on deeply held values and a clear sense of purpose; something that we find meaningful. How does your institution make sure that employees feel the organization is doing something meaningful to them and aligned with their values?

I think employee recruitment and selection is key on this one. If you’ll never get over the fact that if you work for Rio Tinto Alcan that 10% of the world’s energy every day is used in the production of aluminium then you will never be a match for this business. If you believe that aluminium makes lives better because it is the only fully recyclable product in the world and used in millions of applications and that’s what you care about then you’ll be a match for the business.  If you join the company before knowing these facts, that’s a problem. This spiritual element is either a match or it isn’t. As an institution you can make the reality more evident for employees but you can’t fake it.

So, maybe, just maybe, it’s really all about recruiting and selecting the right people and then setting the conditions for people to do great work and supporting them in ways that they find helpful.  Now there’s an idea.

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Deborah Hinton Thursday, June 30th, 2011
Permalink Culture, Work, Workplace No Comments

“The new ad cost us millions mate, millions…”

A little fun, from down under, that takes a look at the employee side of this equation.

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So wrong on so many levels, and yet the main point is just too right to be really funny!

Employees?  Who are they?

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Deborah Hinton Tuesday, June 28th, 2011
Permalink Change Management, Communication, Internal communication No Comments

The [r]evolution of storytelling.

Unbelievably, yesterday was TED’s 5th anniversary.  The TED talks have enriched our lives and learning over the past few years.  For those of us who find it hard to break free of our bubbles – personal and professional – TED is an amazing gift and window on other worlds and other thinking.

Thanks to a good friend and a link on FaceBook, I celebrated this milestone in a special way.  This collage and animation of TED sound bites inspired in less than 2 minutes! So put your brand marketing, human resources, and/or communications professionals hats on, and think about this:

Are you part of the [r]evolution?  If not now, when?

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Deborah Hinton Tuesday, June 28th, 2011
Permalink Communication No Comments

Let there be light!

Over the past couple of years I’ve had this niggling feeling that just won’t go away. Communicators and human resource professionals are working in the dark. Demands are changing. Resources low. Pressure increasing. Time?  Well there isn’t enough. Result, we’re running from one event, crisis, deliverable to the next. Not only are we not thinking beyond the next week, month, quarter, but we’re working in the dark.

This came home to me again in the past couple of days. Rachel Miller had tweeted a request for help for a masters student, Sonsoles Lumbreras. Sonsoles is doing research for a dissertation that will focus on the use of social media in the context of organizational change.

Given the topic and the cause, I offered to help. And, what an interesting project that turned into. Amazing to find in my very little sample [9 executive contacts, all at major international companies] that companies either don’t have a group level internal communications person or don’t have a social media strategy so don’t have anything to say or my contacts don’t know the Communications people… What? Don’t know the Communications people?

How can we help our organizations develop strong and sustainable relationships when institutionally we aren’t doing that ourselves?  How can we understand, and I mean really understand, the impact of what we’re doing if we aren’t widely and deeply networked. We have to get out more my friends! It’s not an option.

Let there be light!

By the way, Sonsoles wants to speak to people in international businesses with operations in the UK.  If you’d like to help her e-mail is:

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Deborah Hinton Thursday, June 23rd, 2011
Permalink Change Management, Corporate communication, Culture No Comments

Making “magic in the marketplace”

Today, thanks to Mitch Joel’s Six Pixels of Separation, I came across this key note address by Bill Taylor, the founding editor of Fast Company Magazine and author of Practically Radical: Not-So-Crazy ways to Transform Your Company, Shake Up Your Industry, and Challenge Yourself.

Here’s what really caught my attention:  “You can’t build something special, compelling, distinctive in the marketplace unless you also build something special, compelling distinctive in the workplace… Strategy is your culture. Culture is your strategy. Success today is about so much more than just price, performance, features, technology, pure economic value. It’s about passion, emotion, identity, sharing your values… Real magic in the marketplace is when you make your organization more memorable to encounter.”

And that my friends can’t happen when the relationship with employees is the last thing on the C-Suite’s agenda!  It can’t happen when leaders do not trust employees [though they expect employees to trust them], where leaders are not loyal to employees [though they expect loyalty from them] and where they are not proud of employees and the work they do [though they expect employees to be proud of the leadership and the organizations they work for].  Broken cultures on the inside will always show on the outside sooner or later!

Recommend you take the 20+ minutes [Bill comes in at about minute 4] to watch it.  Some great stuff on bench marking too!

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Deborah Hinton Tuesday, June 21st, 2011
Permalink CEO, Culture, Workplace No Comments

A case of “internal communication deficit disorder”.

This week a Canadian University was diagnosed with internal communication deficit disorder. Though not rare, the disorder is almost always fatal if left untreated.

Concordia University is an institution I know well.  It’s 45,000 students studying in over “300 undergraduate and 200 graduate programs” are at the centre of the downtown community I work and live in. I studied and graduated with my MBA from there; began studies for a PhD there; taught there; consulted there; worked with a student intern and volunteers from there on an urban farming project.  And it’s an institution that has seemed sick at the core for some time; perhaps even further back than the Fabrikant murders in 1992.

Last year, for the second time in 3 years the President left before the end of their contract. After considerable bad press and internal finger pointing, the interim President, Dr Frederick Lowy, asked an external committee to review the governance of the university. This week, Concordia University received the report “Strengthening governance at Concordia:  A collective challenge“.  The review pulls no punches in reporting the situation and recommending changes to all aspects of governance.

Among other things, the review panel reported that the university was “…blatantly deficient internal communications“…  had created “…a lot of distrust, often bordering on mutual contempt, between the various communities of the University.” And that “…the chorus of negative response [to the most recent President’s departure], the depth and even the fury of that response could only have arisen in a context where long simmering governance and internal communication problems between the Board and the University community, to say nothing of other outstanding matters, had neither been addressed nor resolved.” The report reflects my experience and understanding of the good [and there is a lot of good there], bad and the ugly of Concordia.

Today, the University has a decision to make:   To take the recommended course of treatment for internal communication deficit disorder or not; to act on the letter and spirit of the report and its 38 recommendations or not.

If they do, it won’t be either a quick or easy recovery but recover they will.   Concordia has an opportunity to change how they do things.  To become a place where the board, faculty, administration, and students work together to create a unique and compelling experience for those who want to study and learn, to teach and do research, to invent and explore new ideas.  In the end, this report and its recommendations are less about fixing something that is broken and more about supporting Concordia in becoming the great institution it has always had the potential to be.

As a neighbour, alumnus and friend that’s my hope.


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Looking for our own revolutionary ‘spring’!

It’s been quite a week!  A week that is making me scratch my head and wonder and brings me back to a topic I’ve written about here at least once before.

Michael and I are very lucky to live in Montreal for many reasons, but one of them is that there is a lot going on here in terms of institutional sustainability.

A friend of mine, Milla Craig, is leading the nascent Finance and Sustainability Initiative.  This is a “cross-section of finance and sustainability experts and professionals focused on transforming the traditional business model and enabling the finance community, business leaders and government institutions to make and value socially and environmentally responsible investments.” This is a good thing.

And, the David O’Brien Centre for Sustainable Enterprise has recently launched the Sustainable Investment Professional Certification.  The certification program will introduce finance professionals to a new way of thinking about investing. A way to ensure sustainable investment by understanding potential future risks to business from an environmental, social, and governance point of view.  This is a good thing.

As a member of Concordia University’s extended community, I participated in a recent David O’Brien Centre Corporate Roundtable earlier this week.  The room was full.  The perspectives widely varied – academic, corporate, entrepreneurial, NGO, volunteer.  But everyone in the room was interested in questions of sustainability and how they might contribute positively to changing the world [my words]. This is a good thing

Dr Peter Brown from McGill started off the discussion with a brief presentation.  The topic was ‘Degrowth’.  There will be an international conference here on the topic next year.  The premise is that growth as the underlying motivation for our current economic system is the main factor driving the decline of the environment.  Though we didn’t go there, I’m sure that we could also argue that organizations that focus on growth as their primary motivation will increase social and governance risk as well.

Now here’s what I found most interesting and perplexing.  As a student studying Biology in the mid-70s I read “Limits to growth”.  The case was compelling.  So here I am 40 years later.  I asked Dr Brown what had changed since then.  He said:  “We have more evidence.”  This is a bad thing.

Time is running out.

So, how do we move from research and raising awareness to system wide action, fast? How do we take the energy, focus and action of the grass roots sustainability movement to move our political and economic systems.  Do we need our own revolutionary ‘spring’?


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Deborah Hinton Saturday, June 18th, 2011
Permalink Communication, Culture No Comments

Two days. Two stories.

It started at a recent lunch with a past client.  She’s a senior executive who’s been around the board rooms of some of Canada’s largest and most influential companies for most of her career.  We were talking about the ‘soft’ side of institutional life and the potential power there is in strengthening the employee relationship.   “I agree with you”, she said.  Then came the bomb… “but unfortunately the executives I know just aren’t interested.  This is simply not on the agenda in the C-Suite”.

Fast forward a few days and I’m attending an evening with Dr. Jody Heymann, Canada Research Chair in Global Health and Social Policy and head of McGill’s institute for Health and Social Policy.  She and Magda Barrera co-authored the recently published book “Profit at the Bottom of the Ladder: Creating Value by Investing in Your Workforce”.  After years of research their conclusions are simple – listen to employees [especially those ‘at the bottom’], treat them with respect and you will reap the rewards of higher profits. This is not necessarily new news.  Nor is it a surprise.  It makes sense that you treat people well and they will be more engaged and productive.

So, how do we think about this apparent discrepancy between the research results and C-suite priorities?  What’s going on?



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Deborah Hinton Friday, June 17th, 2011
Permalink CEO, Work, Workplace No Comments

Why retire?

Why indeed.  When you love what you do?  Are connected to the community you do it for?  And, have a vision beyond yourself for the work you do and the organization you do it for?  Six minutes that will make your day:

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Deborah Hinton Thursday, June 16th, 2011
Permalink Work No Comments

Scale & proportion in communications

“The Fisherman,” Saul Steinberg, from The Labyrinth

I think internal communications design at its best is compositional.  So, that takes me to the arts to see if there are things I can learn there.

Scale and proportion are two important considerations for the artist or architect. Should they be considerations for those of us who design communications plans?  Scale refers to the size of the work.  Proportion refers to how we see elements within the work in relationship to each other.

It’s easy in the heat of the moment or the “big” announcement to lose sight of what really matters to our colleagues in different functions and at different levels across our organizations.    Not all decisions and announcements are created equal from the point of view of those we’re trying to reach and engage.  Not everything is as big to “them” as it is to us.

Designing a communication approach that is the right proportion and scale for the news we’re sharing is as important as any other aspect of communication plan we’re building.  Overdoing something that isn’t all that relevant to employees or failing to communicate something that is will lead to equally bad outcomes:  Confusion and erosion of trust.

Thinking about the scale and proportion of the communication from the receiver’s point of view helps.

  • Scale – the number and variety of communication channels,  the frequency and duration of the communication,  the effort level to engage people in a conversation
  • Proportion – how evident we want to make the communication in context of everything else that is going on organizationally at any point in time and over time, and within the communication itself what is most relevant/important for different employees to ‘get’.

Next time you’re about to communicate a ‘big’ new corporate decision, business strategy, human resources policy, technology change,  acquisition, or quarterly financial results, think about what this news really means for the people you’re communicating it to.  What impact – direct or indirect – will it have on them?  What do you want them to know, feel or do as a result of your communicating with them?

And once you have the answers to these questions, think a little bit more like an artist, design a communication that is right in terms of scale and proportion.


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