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.


Why change just isn’t that hard

Earlier this morning, I tuned into a new podcast I’ve just started following and heard them talking about how change is soooo hard.


The recent 30th anniversary of the Mac reminded me just how easy it is to change behaviour when it’s well motivated. ¬†

Think about it. ¬†When you first learned how to type there was no going back to writing by hand. You could get your ideas out faster and the result was cleaner. ¬†I’m not saying there aren’t things that you want to write by hand – personal cards and letters, diaries, reminders to yourself, but generally there’s no going back.

When you got your first computer Рeven with all the technical challenges and you know there were many Рthere was no going back to that clunky typewriter and carbon copies.  

And, as the technology improved over the years we’ve all made the transition without batting an eye. ¬†If you still have doubts think of all the technology you use today that you didn’t use 5 years ago [or even last month] and how it’s changed your behaviour. ¬†And, it’s not only about technology. ¬†

Nearly a decade ago, I looked around while I was walking around my neighbourhood and noticed a startling thing. I saw older people who were physically active and those who were confined to walkers and wheel chairs. Although some of those who were incapacitated were there because of debilitating diseases, many of them were there for what were lifestyle choices. It was a moment of truth for me. Which did I want to be?  

I ¬†knew which direction I was going in. ¬†Having spent years as a couch potato – occasionally going on a diet or for a walk – I was starting to wake up with aches and pains. ¬†I’d¬†watched¬†my my weight slide up and up. I decided that it was time to start training and then about 6 years ago I joined Weight Watchers and I’ve never looked back. ¬†¬†It didn’t happen over night, but¬†I lost over 40 pounds. I started a routine of yoga and running that I have learned to love. My lifestyle and fitness level today aren’t anything like they were a decade ago. ¬†It’s been a major and sustainable change.

Why? ¬†Well, when change is well motivated it’s easy.

Where does that leave those of us who have seen one failed change management process after another?  It leaves us with the realization that no matter how well the change was communicated, no matter how many times people were told they needed to change or disaster would ensue, no matter how much was spent to market the change and tell them all the benefits, the change was not well motivated from the perspective of those who were being asked to change. 

If you have any doubt, check this out.

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With thanks to a colleague of mine¬†Tom Hendrikson, a fellow¬†student¬†of the¬†“mechanics, orientation and spirit of the creative process”¬†and Chief Breakthrough Officer at¬†Sixsense Strategy Group. I tuned into the podcast just moments after we’d hung up after a conversation about change and what motivates change. Nice contrast! ¬†And thanks Tom for reminding me about this great video. ¬†

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Creating spaces that create…

I’ve just arrived at the offices of one of Montreal’s most internationally recognized and awarded new media and entertainment studios.

It’s across the street from a building that looks ready for demolition and¬†in a warehouse where the only sign is huge and says: “Espace a louer” [space for rent]. ¬†I go up the steps, through the front door and¬†into the ‘lobby’ – big word for the little space. ¬†It takes a minute to find any indication of where the business is. ¬†Once I do I climb the stairs and find myself in their reception slash kitchen slash dining slash coffee slash creating slash… space.

I’m greeted, very casually, by someone sitting behind a “reception” desk. ¬†A lot of distractions. I’m early so I take a seat on a long black leather couch and I look around.

White floors, white walls and white ceiling. ¬†But it’s not antiseptic or cold. ¬†It’s oddly warm and appealing. It’s messy. Paper and tinfoil creations hang from the ceiling. ¬†People are constantly moving through the space – clients rolling their suitcases through on their way back to NYC or Los Vegas or LA; staff of various ages but mostly male and mostly young walking fast or zipping through on skateboards, or making themselves tea or coffee, chatting.

Then a guy arrives and starts playing around with something on a big touch screen. ¬†All of a sudden an eyeball appears and is projected onto a huge round screen on the wall in front of me. ¬†He plays around for a bit, but something’s just not working. ¬†A younger guy shows up and starts helpfully making suggestions. They experiment with different things together. Now it’s clear that they are trying to get the huge full screen eyeball to rotate.¬†I’m fascinated.¬†He leaves. Then they are both gone. They both comes back with a more senior tech guy… Play around. Disappear so he can show him something… ¬†This is creating. ¬†

The three of them are focused on the thing they are trying to create together. ¬†Not each other. ¬†No posturing. No ego. No competition – or at least not in this moment. ¬†This is especially surprising because this is one of the most high¬†testosterone geek environments I’ve ever been in except for one other; this one doesn’t have acrobats. ¬†

Compare this experience to a recent visit I had to another corporate head office. ¬†There, I find the same¬†white walls and ceiling. This time natural wood floors. Red rather than black leather couch. Kitchens and nooks.¬†Open office space even for the CEO.¬†Spaces created for people to meet and exchange. And, by all accounts employees love it. Who wouldn’t it’s modern, clean, bright and¬†beautiful.¬†But, where is everybody? ¬†And, what are they working on?¬†Those that are there have there heads down in their space. ¬†It’s quiet. ¬†Really, really quiet.

So what’s going on?¬†Is it that the work of most organizations is not about bringing into being but solving problems as an end in themselves?¬†Is it that not all creating takes collaboration and ¬†when there is no real aspiration to create together you can’t fake it?¬†

The thing is we’re not thinking about it. ¬†Today, most leaders believe: ¬†

  • Their businesses need to be more innovative.¬†
  • Their¬†employees [all of them] need to be more creative and collaborative.
  • They can magically create spaces that will lead to more and better creating and innovation like lighting a fuse that leads to an explosion.



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Deborah Hinton Wednesday, January 8th, 2014
Permalink Change Management, Culture, Work, Workplace No Comments

Two leadership lessons from ‘Gravity’

It’s rare that Michael and I actually go to the movie theatre. ¬†But this past long weekend that’s what we did. ¬†Having heard rave reviews about ‘Gravity’ it seemed the right thing to do on a rainy fall holiday Monday. ¬†So, off we went to see it in IMAX 3D. ¬†Wow! ¬†And, wow!

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And in the midst of the wow communication, or the lack of it, plays a critical role in the plot.  So, without giving anything away two lessons:

  1. When communication fails big – as in global failure of communication technology – it’s bad. ¬†Really, really bad. ¬†And, we are vulnerable whether we’re astronauts or communication professionals. ¬†You need a back up plan. ¬†And maybe another. Do you have yours?
  2. When communication technology fails, even in the high tech world of outer space exploration, you still need basic information.  Does our hero reach for an iPad?  No. She reaches for manuals Рyes, three ring binders.  Technical manuals with coloured covers that instantly tell you what they are for, coloured tabs for the different sections, simple images and little text. Do you have yours?

You might want to take a lesson from “Gravity” and prepare for anything. ¬†Because when anything happens,¬†‘flawless’ communication is more important than ever. ¬†

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Deborah Hinton Tuesday, October 15th, 2013
Permalink Communication, Culture, Internal communication, Work, Workplace No Comments

“I am not a number!”

Well, it turns out you are.  Lots and lots of numbers.

Numbers can be used to diminish and dehumanize. Survivors of the holocaust concentration camps living in Montreal bear the evidence of their experience; numbers tattooed on their inner arm.

As recently as 1996 when the last residential school in Canada closed, First Nations People were stripped of their names and given numbers. “I’m 31” was an opening line to a testimony I heard¬†while attending the Truth and Reconciliation Commission hearings here in the spring.¬†And this legacy lives on. “I’m from treaty 5, bordering on 6”. No community name, just numbers.

Or, numbers can be used to celebrate and encourage¬†– sports sweater numbers are so associated with particular players that they get retired¬†[e.g. The Hab’s Jean Beliveau’s #4], being named “number 1” , milestone birthdays.

Or, numbers can just be the backdrop to our lives. I remember getting my Social Insurance Number. It was a right of passage. Now I could finally go out and get a real job. No more babysitting for me.

When I got that job one of the first things that happened was that I was assigned an employee number. Now I had all the rights and responsibilities of an employee.

Numbers are still an important part of my life: phone numbers, apartment numbers, passwords [OK numbers and letters], credit card numbers, health insurance numbers, invoice numbers, postal codes, GST/PST numbers, cheque numbers, bank card numbers. Lots and lots of numbers. Nothing special.

Unless and until they are.

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Deborah Hinton Thursday, October 3rd, 2013
Permalink Culture, Work, Workplace No Comments

Humility, respect & a customer experience to remember

Michael and I love to cook. Over the years our beautiful German knives had started to show it. No amount of sharpening was going to bring those blades back. And a cook without functioning knives is no cook at all.

So, off we went with a bundle of knives to visit L’√Čmoulier a very small – not much bigger than a walk in closet – store that specializes in knives. We walked through the door into a different world. A world where Japanese knives of all sizes and shapes line the walls. ¬†They are beautiful and we can’t help but feel that our once majestic knives had never compared.

We were greeted on that cold and rainy November day by the owner. A very young man who very obviously loved knives. He was very knowledgeable and proud of his collection. Many of the knives are designed with him by Japanese artisans for the store.  The prices were staggering $300 to $1,500 or more. One look. One touch. One try and you knew why.

We dumped our lowly knives on the counter. He smiled. And lovingly took each one in his hand. Rather than trying to sell us on new – and trust me Michael and I can be persuaded on these kinds of things – he estimated how much it would cost to sharpen our knives. It was a lot, probably the price of one of the original knives, but what’s a cook without a knife, and we’d get our 5 knives back ‘better than new’.

A week later we come back to see how our humble patients had done. The owner, who by the way I now know is Guillaume de L’Ilse [see here for more on him, his knives and his store], welcomed us warmly and disappeared into the back of the store. ¬†He returned a few minutes later with a small package wrapped like a beautiful gift in a colourful tea towel: our knives. ¬†He gently unrolled the towel and presented each knife to us now gleaming and sharp. He was right they were ‘better than new’.

That was over two years ago.

Very rarely a customer experiences is just so right that you are somehow deeply touched by them. This was one. Thanks Guillaume.

Worth considering what it was about this experience that turned knife sharpening into such a memorable moment.

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Deborah Hinton Tuesday, September 17th, 2013
Permalink Culture, Customer, Workplace No Comments

A series of transactions does not a relationship make

re·la·tion·ship  Noun.  1. The way in which two or more concepts, objects, or people are connected, or the state of being connected.

trans·ac·tion     Noun. 1. An instance of buying or selling something, a business deal.  2. The action of conducting business.

In the world of branding, the holy grail is the customer relationship. But for most organizations that relationship falls short. Why? Well because it’s not a relationship at all. ¬†At best it’s a series of transactions. At worst it’s a single transaction.

As long as the last transaction went well from the customer point of view they’ll probably be back. Or, in the case or banks or telecoms, even if the transaction doesn’t go well the cost of getting out of the ‘relationship’ is too high to move. I’ve actually consulted to an organization that had a strategy around inertia. ¬†Oh dear!

So, what’s the difference? ¬†When does a transaction or a series of transactions turn into a relationship.

Well, for me, at least, it’s when it’s personal. ¬†And, by that I don’t mean the overly friendly and creepy call with the aforementioned bank or telecom where they start calling you by your first name or remembering your birthday.

In marketing and internal communications in particular we act as if we can build trust and loyalty on a series of transactions.  I guess if your selling a commodity or a simple product you could think that. There are some branded products I just love.  It will take a lot for me to change. They are on the shelf where I shop, they cost about the same as the competition [or maybe even a little more] and they do what they are supposed to do every time.

But don’t mistake that for a relationship. ¬†The first time I don’t get what I expect I will leave and I won’t look back. Your customers are the same.

Complex products and services are a little different. There will need to be a person-to-person interaction at some point in the customer experience – whether it’s at point of purchase or some time later. And that’s where the potential for relationship happens. And smart companies – like Apple – make sure those interactions are “genius”.

Brand loyalty, can develop when when time after time you experience the brand through empathetic and effective [it must be both] professionals. But, even this is not a relationship to the brand. At best it’s a relationship with your employee or a series of employees.

So, any of you who are out there trying to develop customer relationships with your Brand, you’re missing something pretty fundamental.

Your customers, if they are building relationships, are building them with your employees.

You can’t have one without the other.

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The brands that forget this do so at there peril.


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Deborah Hinton Tuesday, September 17th, 2013
Permalink Culture, Internal communication, Workplace No Comments

Culture + chemistry

What makes some environments platforms for personal and professional success? What makes other environments platforms for certain failure no matter how great the job is?  The answer: Culture and chemistry.

In the past couple of years, I’ve heard story after story of clients hiring execs that end badly and execs making big career changes that end badly. I just read¬†this piece¬†by Daniel Rosensweig about his best career mistake that got me thinking.

Even the best job ¬†description and pay and benefits package in the world aren’t going to make up for a failure to find a match in culture and chemistry. ¬†It’s very personal.

Some people will thrive in a toxic culture with adequate chemistry.

Others will die.

It’s what happens when executive search firms, hiring execs and candidates focus on matching the level, size, scope, role of the job and the pay check to the skills and experience.

On paper it all looks good, but once the candidate is on the job it unravels.

The job may or may not be the dream job. ¬†It just needs to be adequate. ¬†But if the culture and chemistry aren’t right even the best job in the world is doomed to failure.

Don’t underestimate the power of chemistry!

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Deborah Hinton Thursday, September 12th, 2013
Permalink Culture No Comments

Building an ethical compass in your organization

The ethical compass. ¬†It’s elusive. ¬†All to often organizations faced with moral and ethical issues get focused on compliance. We’re pretty good at crafting codes of conduct and business conduct. ¬†It’s big business…

We can learn from the past.  Did you know that Catherine the Great had a code of conduct for her court?

We can learn from each other.  Check out this comparison of codes of conduct for British Petroleum and the Canadian Armed Forces.

We communicate them and an the related policies and programs [whistleblower hotlines, amnesty programs, etc].  Why?

Well, it could be the¬†discrepancy between the espoused behaviour and reality.¬†It’s got to be more than the¬†“tone from the top”.

Or, ¬†it could be the failure to recognize that:¬†“… the ethical pressures are the same in North America as they are in difficult regions in Latin and South America, North Africa and easter Europe.”¬†[see:¬†Getting back to basics. Who? Why?]

Or… ¬†it could be, as a philosopher I heard a few years ago [and now can’t find] said, that we’re taking the focus off of where it should be – individual responsibility and values.

I was reminded of this today in an article about SNC-Lavalin’s challenge in building back its reputation after a series of bribery and corruption charges. ¬† “The challenge is to ensure employees can respond positively to four questions:

  • Is this what you’re doing right for the company?
  • Is it consistent with the company’s core values?
  • Is it both legal and ethical?
  • Are you willing to be held accountable for your actions?”

What do you think? ¬†Should we be spending more of our time on developing understanding around these 4 questions than on communicating codes of conduct, policies, and procedures? ¬†Is this the ethical compass we’ve been searching for?

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Deborah Hinton Wednesday, September 11th, 2013
Permalink Change Management, Communication, Culture, Work No Comments

“Trouble at mill?”

I write a lot – ¬†well over 200 blog posts [here and elsewhere], regular posts on LinkedIn discussion groups and 1,000s of working papers and discussion pieces for clients – and I’m sometimes frustrated by the limits of the English language. ¬†How do you write plainly, crisply and still have the language reflect fresh thinking?

This week I was reminded that English is a living language. Constantly evolving. ¬†Just listen to Prince William outside the doors of St Mary’s Hospital earlier this week and hear him say:

“I’ll remind him of his tardiness when he’s a bit older. I know how long¬†you’ve all been sat here.”

What? ¬†I couldn’t believe my ears. Grammatically incorrect and charming colloquial English at it’s absolute best, spoken by the future King of England.

I know this phrasing well thanks to my family in Yorkshire and favourite characters on Corrie. ¬†And for decades if not centuries, it’s been commonly used in the north of England. Unique. And, that’s where it’s stayed. ¬†But, now it’s been used publicly ¬†by a key member of the English¬†stiff upper lip class and heard around the world. Are we on the verge of hearing this in fashionable circles everywhere? ¬†And from there to a neighbourhood near you.

English may have its limits, but it is a living language. ¬†Social media is increasing the pace of change. ¬†For someone who spends much of their life writing, that’s a very exciting thing.

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Deborah Hinton Friday, July 26th, 2013
Permalink Communication, Culture No Comments

Slow down. You move too fast…

This past weekend Michael and I headed up to Mount Royal. What was unusual was that we’d started off late, so by the time we’d gotten up to the mountain it was so hot and humid running was just out of the question. So we did a nice long chiwalk instead.

At one point we started noticing things. ¬†Different things. ¬†The woods went from a mass of green to bursting with the colour of wildflowers — wild roses, morning glories, yellow daisies, Queen Anne’s lace, columbine. ¬†The more we looked the more we saw. ¬†Things we hadn’t seen just a few days before.

What had changed? ¬†We’d slowed down.

Another reminder that slowing down is a good thing.

And since, I know many of you are beginning to gear up for your annual planning, take a deep relaxing breath, slow down, and look. Look from different perspectives but especially from your customers’ and your employees’. You my be amazed by what you see and the different opportunities you uncover.

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Deborah Hinton Monday, July 8th, 2013
Permalink Corporate communication, Culture, Work 1 Comment