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Creating meaning

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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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

The #1 failure of internal communicators

I’ve been struck in the past few weeks by the number of times I see communications go wrong because of one thing. Little or no thought was¬†given to the “audience” for the communication. No one is asking:

  • if or how the ‘news’, information, change will impact them;
  • what they need or want to know from their point of view;
  • how they might feel about it; and
  • what they might do with it, or, even
  • what the communicator wants them to do with it.

It’s as if communicators are on automatic pilot. ¬†No human empathy or understanding at all.

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Unfortunately, internal communicators are especially guilty. ¬†After all of the executive inputs, edits and reviews it’s very easy not to remember who you’re trying to reach.

“All employees” is often the answer. ¬†But not all employees are created equal when you’re doing internal communication. ¬†Some will be affected directly by the thing you’re communicating, some indirectly and some not at all.

Understanding these differences and framing the communication based on impact is one way of increasing meaning. ¬†And, today it’s something we don’t do very well. ¬†It’s got to be the #1 failure of internal communicators. What do you think?






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The “4 enablers of employee engagement” are really 1

According to “Engage for success“, a government initiative designed to increase employee engagement across the UK, ¬†there are¬†four enablers of employee engagement:

  1. Visible, empowering leadership providing a strong strategic narrative about the organisation, where it’s come from and where it’s going.
  2. Engaging managers who focus their people and give them scope, treat their people as individuals and coach and stretch their people
  3. There is employee voice throughout the organisation, for reinforcing and challenging views, between functions and externally, employees are seen as central to the solution.
  4. There is organisational¬†integrity –¬†the values on the wall are reflected in day to day behaviours. There is no ‚Äėsay ‚Äďdo‚Äô gap

Each of the four enablers is, at its core, a question of communication: The ability of leaders, managers and employees to communicate in a way that involves. 

The UK figures they’re losing¬†¬£25.8bn¬†[that would be¬†$40.25 billion!]¬†in GDP annually. ¬†Why? ¬†Employee engagement. Or rather the lack of engaged employees. Now if that doesn’t wake business and government up I don’t know what will.

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Employees want to go to work to do a good job. ¬†They want their work to matter. They want to feel involved. ¬†They aren’t. Or they aren’t enough.¬†Shouldn’t encouraging and building the capacity to communicate be a priority? If not, why isn’t it?

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“How do we shut Twitter off?”

Reportedly this was a question asked by a senior marketing executive at HMV when some head office employees went rogue on Twitter after learning they were losing their jobs.

Here are my questions:

  1. Given the importance of social media today, how responsible is it for senior executives not to have even a basic understanding of what social media are? How they work or don’t work? ¬†Isn’t it time for executives to get online and start partipating in the social media revolution?¬†[BTW I would ask the same thing of concerned parents whose children will inevitably be on social media]
  2. Will your culture protect you from rogue employees if/when the going gets tough?  If not, what needs to change.
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Deborah Hinton Thursday, January 31st, 2013
Permalink CEO, Corporate communication, Culture, Workplace No Comments

Focusing on the right things is not enough

Focusing seems to be the theme of the week.

First I read about how Canadian Tire managed to grow profits while focusing on reducing energy consumption.

Then, I heard Dr. Hartley Stern, Executive Director, Jewish General Hospital speak at the Canadian Club yesterday about how we as Quebecers should be focused not just on access to medical care, but also on cost and quality. He went on to talk about how his hospital is tracking and publishing results and lessons learned on their website as a key part of thier strategy to improve care, reduce cost and improve quality. This is a radical new approach to health care in Quebec.

And, today, I read “Does Management Really Work?“. The answer: Yes. Where they have the right focus.

But, focusing on the right things is not enough.

Consistent and reliable communication is essential in each of these stories. Communication that makes the invisible visible. The un-understandable understandable. The meaningless meaningful.

How are you and your organization doing on focusing on the right things and then communicating in the right way?

A little focus – hocus pokus…

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Deborah Hinton Tuesday, October 30th, 2012
Permalink Change Management, Culture No Comments

Employee involvement. It’s not magic!

It’s coming up on that time of year again. Year end results. Launching new strategies and plans – for brands, for products, for businesses. The big employee event. And, maybe an employee campaign.

A recent article in the Globe and Mail, “A question of engagement: do you employees want to come to work?” got me thinking about this. According to the report, 67% of Canadian employees aren’t engaged. They would rather be somewhere else, doing something else than coming to work. The article goes on to make two important points:

  1. An engaged workforce isn’t necessarily a happy workforce. [think about nurses – super engaged, but given their working conditions not so happy]
  2. An engaged workforce isn’t necessarily a productive workforce. [it may be a contributing factor, but just one of many]
Wow! ¬†That’s worth re-reading!
Now, with those two conclusions in mind, let’s take a closer look at the annual employee launch/celebration event and ask: Why?
Behind all the fanfare and excitement we as leaders and communicators have made a couple of assumptions. First¬†that a happy workforce [’cause these events are designed to make sure we all leave happy] is an engaged workforce. Second, that if our workforce is happy they’ll be more productive.
Ouch! It gets even worse. “The CEO gives his big rousing speech,” Dr. deCarufel says, “everybody gets a T-shirt and a baloon and eveyone’s excited – for a week. It might create engagement, but that ultimately gets swamped by other factors.”
This creates a big discrepancy between the world we are selling employees at these events and the world they live in.
Wouldn’t we be better off spending the time, energy and money [and we’re talking big money] that we would otherwise spend on these annual employee events and campaigns to design and implement employee strategies that will support them:
  • in knowing what they’re expected to do and how that work contributes to the overall ‘customer’ experience
  • in having what they need – information, tools, workspaces – to make it easy for them to do their jobs well
  • by developing leaders that know how to listen and to respond as well as to tell and motivate.
And, if a big annual employee event helps support all that then let’s do it.
It isn’t magic! ¬†Heck even magic isn’t magic!
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Deborah Hinton Tuesday, October 23rd, 2012
Permalink Communication, Culture, Internal communication, Work, Workplace No Comments

Your reception area. Your brand?

The shocking thing is that with all our talk about brands and brand experience, building entrances and reception areas are somehow forgotten and very often completely out of sync. ¬†Since these may be the first, and sometimes only, thing key stakeholders experience of our organizations in the brick and mortar world, it’s pretty surprising that this discrepancy is between the reality of the experience and the espoused brand experience is so common.

Lately I’ve been onsite at new and potential clients and I’ve been struck by it over and over again.

A pharmaceutical company that prides itself on customer care with a reception of icey glass.  And, another where the security system [monitored from New Jersey] was a remnant of days when they were manufacturing not just marketing. In otherwords, more secure than Fort Knox.

I’ve seen reception desks without receptionist. ¬†They were rightsized five downsizings ago, but the desk remains as a reminder of the past or is it a hopeful sign of the future? ¬†Whatever it is it probably doesn’t reflect what millions of brand building dollars has worked so hard to build.

I recently visited a b2b’s global head office where I was greeted by a security guard. Once you get into reception there are nice leather chairs and a wall of elevators. ¬†No clue about what the company you’re visiting does. OK, this may not be entirely fair since this company is sharing a building with another big tenant, but even once you get to the inner sanctum, it’s all still pretty anonymous except for the bright colours, the odd poster and walls of glass doors.

So what does it look like when it’s done right? ¬†At a minimum, your reception area would give people an idea of what you do and what you represent. ¬†And at their best they would be a living breathing reflection of your brand experience in all its elements.

I once did a piece of work at Nike‘s head office in Portland, Oregon. ¬†It was an amazing experience in many ways, but one thing that struck me at the time and still sticks with me is how they managed to express their brand before I even got out of the car in the parking lot.

Every element spoke to the vision they have for athletes.  The building was low and had a columned walkway leading from the parking to the reception.  In front of each column was a bust of an elite athlete that had represented Nike and that Nike had designed equipment for.  This was a place that worshipped high performance and served elite athletes.

Inside, reception was simple – basketball court flooring, floor to ceiling windows looking out on a track and the occasional ‘athlete’ [mostly employees out for a run or testing equipment] running around a beautiful lake. Woods and mountains behind that. ¬†After this view that spoke of healthy outdoors, the stairs were the main feature of the reception [not banks of elevators, though they must have been there somewhere]. And, on the walls, signed shirts and equipment with images of elite athletes wearing that same equipment.

By the time I got this far, I felt the aspiration of every Nike employee for elite sport and high performance, and knew what that meant for their customers – you and me – and I knew I wanted to be part of it as a supplier and as a customer. ¬†That’s a reception!

How does your reception tell your story?  What experience do people that enter your doors have of your organization? How does that compare with what you want them to experience?

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Deborah Hinton Thursday, October 18th, 2012
Permalink Communication, Culture, Workplace No Comments