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.
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 wasÂ 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. Â No human empathy or understanding at all.
Unfortunately, internal communicators are especially guilty. Â 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. Â But not all employees are created equal when you’re doing internal communication. Â 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. Â And, today it’s something we don’t do very well. Â It’s got to be the #1 failure of internal communicators. What do you think?
According to “Engage for success“, a government initiative designed to increase employee engagement across the UK, Â there areÂ four enablers of employee engagement:
- Visible, empowering leadership providing aÂ strong strategic narrativeÂ about the organisation, where itâs come from and where itâs going.
- Engaging managersÂ who focus their people and give them scope, treat their people as individuals and coach and stretch their people
- There isÂ employee voiceÂ throughout the organisation, for reinforcing and challenging views, between functions and externally, employees are seen as central to the solution.
- There is organisationalÂ integrity -Â the values on the wall are reflected in day to day behaviours. There is no âsay âdoâ gap
Each of the four enablers is, at its core, a question of communication:Â The ability of leaders, managers and employees to communicate in a way that involves.Â
The UK figures they’re losingÂ ÂŁ25.8bnÂ [that would beÂ $40.25 billion!]Â in GDP annually. Â Why? Â 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.
Employees want to go to work to do a good job. Â They want their work to matter. They want to feel involved. Â They aren’t. Or they aren’t enough.Â Shouldn’t encouraging and building the capacity to communicate be a priority? If not, why isn’t it?
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…
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:
- An engaged workforce isn’t necessarily a happy workforce. [think about nurses - super engaged, but given their working conditions not so happy]
- An engaged workforce isn’t necessarily a productive workforce. [it may be a contributing factor, but just one of many]
- 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.
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. Â 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. Â 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. Â 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? Â 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. Â 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? Â At a minimum, your reception area would give people an idea of what you do and what you represent. Â 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. Â 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. Â The building was low and had a columned walkway leading from the parking to the reception. Â In front of each column was a bust of an elite athlete that had represented Nike and that Nike had designed equipment for. Â 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. Â 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. Â That’s a reception!
How does your reception tell your story? Â What experience do people that enter your doors have of your organization? How does that compare with what you want them to experience?
No this post isn’t about drugs. Â It was written earlier this year for a project I was working on and that didn’t go anywhere. I’m posting it today, because I realized there are some important general lessons here worth sharing.Â Yes, this is a story about new ways of thinking about university education, but it could equally be about business, health systems, the arts… Â any other institutions.Â Specifically, it’s about how the assumptions we make and our lack of understanding of the client experience stop us from seeing the opportunities that are there to see. Â I’d love to hear what you think.
Imagine you live in Afghanistan. You spend your day maneuvering between mortars and shells dropping from the sky. At the end of the day you have one hour when you might have dial-up internet access. You get yourself ready and get online with 160,000 other students around the world. A single working mother in Montana.Â A Chinese researcher.Â A labourer in rural India.Â A Lithuanian office worker. You all have something in common. A burning desire to learn. To better yourselves.Â And maybe to change the world.
Early this year, Dr. Sebastien Thrun shocked his colleagues when he announced he was leaving his tenured position as Research Professor of Computer Science at Stanford University to join David Evans, Professor of Computer Science [University of Virginia] in starting Udacity. Their idea? To connect the best teachers in the world to students who otherwise wouldnât have access. To educate, âliberate and motivate people around the world to solve developing world âproblems and make the world a whole lot better.â
As Dr Thrun describes his decision: âYou can take the blue pill and go back to your classroom and lecture to your 20 students, but Iâve taken the red pill and seen Wonderland.â
Dr Thrun caught his first glimpse of Wonderland when he and a small team at Stanford decided to offer his course in Artificial Intelligence [normally given exclusively to students who each pay $30,000/year for their privileged Stanford education] online and for free. Â They were completely blown away when 160,000 students from around the world signed up.
This wasnât just another online lecture. When Sebastien and the team at Stanford took on this experiment it turned their traditional teaching methods and assumptions upside down.
âAll the mechanisms that make teaching great survive in this medium,â says Professor Thrun. But, it took a little thought and ingenuity.
The lecture method wouldnât work. They needed to create a way to involve students in their own learning.Â They used a ânapkinâ and pen and a close up shot of Dr Thrunâs hand writing while he described the lesson. This approach created an intimacy that surprised everyone. Students reported feeling like they were sitting next to him getting personal tutoring.
But it still didnât engage students.Â So, they decided rather than lecturing only that they would build the course around a series of short quizâs. Students were able to enter their answers and get immediate feedback on how they were doing.
Putting the student at the centre.Â The next big realization was that whereas the motivation at Stanford was to âweedâ students out, in this online environment where capacity and bell curves were not an issue they could focus on finding ways to ensure student success. So, they designed the course so that students who needed to could redo quizâs until theyâd learned the lesson and get additional online support if they needed it.
Good students received encouraging emails from Dr Thrun.Â In the end, the results were pretty astonishing – 248 students answered every question, quiz and completed every assignment perfectly.
The course was adapted into dozens of languages opening up access to students whoâs first language is not English. Â And women, normally reluctant to sign up for technology courses, reported feeling âmore respected and protectedâ studying in this online environment.
By the second week, Dr Thrunâs classroom was empty. The 200 Stanford students were participating online. They could ârewindâ to go over parts they didnât get the first time.Â They could do the course while they travelled on public transportation to and from the campus.Â They preferred Dr Thrun in video!
So, for Dr Thrun there was no going back. Â By thinking about education from the student point of view. Â By learning and adjusting what and how they did things. He and his colleague are creating open access to education and changing the world. Â Isn’t it time for us all to take the red pill to see Wonderland?
Since the first time I saw theÂ Canadian Museum of Civilization under construction on the banks of the Ottawa River, I knew this was going to be a very special building. Â And, I knew that the architect thought about built space in a very different way. Â Douglas Cardinal has gone on to be one of Canada’s great contemporary architects and as a member of the Blackfoot tribe in Alberta remains one of few native people in architecture. And until today I hadn’t really ever thought there was anything I could really learn from him beyond the joy of experiencing one of his buildings. I was wrong.
Today I heard an interview with him on CBC, which sadly I have not been able to find the link to, that shed some light on his approach and made me think there may be something that there’s much more to Douglas Cardinal than beautiful buildings.
“The final key to Cardinal’s success lies in the research-intensive pre-design stage of each of his projects. Before designing a building, Cardinal thoroughly analyzes the project from the outside-in (looking at the natural environment around the building) and from the inside-out (consulting with everyone who will use the building about their needs and desires.)”
Imagine if we, as leaders and communicators, did research and planning from the outside-in to understand the environment and the stakeholders around our organizations and where they stand in relationship to what we are trying to do – and the inside-out to understand everyone who will work for and with our organization to understand thier needs and desires in terms of what we’re trying to do. Sadly, in my experience we do a very superficial job of this at best, and may or may not connect the inside/outside views to create a fully integrated approach to building and sustaining relationships with our key stakeholders.
What if we changed that? Â What would happen if we learned from Douglas Cardinal?Â
Here he is talking about form following function when he was designing St Mary’s Church in Red Deer. Â He describes how he started with the liturgy and how the most important thing is how the space would serve the needs of the people and then goes on to talk about how, because he’s started working from the inside-out, he gets artistic permission to design the sculptural form:
I laughed out loud when a friend of mine, EstherÂ Barragan, who’s living and studying in Italy posted this question on Facebook a few weeks ago. Â I found it especially funny because my friend is a designer. Â I mean if any jobs could be described in a fresh and exciting way wouldn’t they be design jobs? I just can’t stop thinking about her question.
So, off I went to Wikipedia to see make sure I knew what a job description really is.Â I think we have the answer to Esther’s question. Â When “strategic human resources methodologies” are “used to develop a competency architecture for an organization, from which job descriptions are built as a shortlist of competencies.”
I’m sorry, I’m still laughing. Â Corporate language, the jargon we use in organizations, just sucks the life out of everything, even something as important as a job description.
Maybe it’s time for a little refresher in “how to express ourselves to fit the occasion.” Here’s a perspective from another time and place:
The opening ceremony at the London Olympics cost an estimated $42M [US]. Â The production took years of planning, 1000s of professionals and 10,000 volunteers and livestock, involved artists of all kinds, designers, managers and trades to install 1000 of tons of equipment and materials and animate the whole thing. Â Just thinking about the logistics of such an undertaking is breathtaking.
At Simply Communicate, they recently reflected on “What the Olympic Opening Ceremony can teach corporate comms” in an interview withÂ Adrian Smith. Â The full article is definitely worth a look, but there are three mainÂ lessons and a central idea that Adrien drew from the Olympics 2012 opening ceremony that I want to share [my words]:
- Have one vision for the creation
- Recruit and engage a range of experts and create an environment where people from a wide range of specialist disciplines [verticals] are able to bring their expertise and ideas to bear on the creation of the whole
- The “best” idea “wins” no matter where it comes from.
Adrian then goes on to his central idea. He argues for the fundamental role of design in corporate storytelling:Â ”There is a whole new generation of corporate communicators who do not know what a live event can do. And production companies are losing out because there is a generation that donât know what design can deliver in terms of story and theatre. As time goes on there is a danger that this lack of theatre in corporate events will become the norm.Â I hope that the success of the Opening Ceremony may be a catalyst for people thinking about taking emotion and engagement from a live performance as opposed to a video on a website.”
What do you think? Â Are we as leaders and communications professionals too focused on the facts? Is it time to bring back the ‘emotion‘ and ‘engagement’ of live performance? Â Does design [and design thinking] have a place in corporate storytelling? Â Is it time for us to expand our storytelling palette? Â