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.

Cultural norms

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

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

Labour day. It’s not just the end of summer.

Labour Day; ¬†that last bitter sweet day of summer. ¬†On September 2, summer will officially be behind us even if it doesn’t really end until September 22nd. ¬†

And for many of us ¬†it’s the beginning of a new year a hang over from getting back to school that first day after labour Day. ¬†To me it feel like the beginning of a new work year. ¬†And this may be closer than anything to the original reason for Labour Day. ¬†

Labour Day has its origins in the¬†labour union¬†movement, specifically the¬†eight-hour day¬†movement, which advocated eight hours for work, eight hours for recreation, and eight hours for rest… ¬†The origins of Labour Day in Canada can be traced back to December 1872 when a parade was staged in support of the Toronto Typographical Union’s strike for a 58-hour work-week.”

On Monday, take a minute. ¬†Think about workers around the world – blue or white collar – working 24/7/360 so that you and I can¬†have the life we have. ¬†And, on Tuesday, we’ll all be back to work.

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Deborah Hinton Friday, August 30th, 2013
Permalink Union, Work, Workplace 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

Building a brand experience is just not that complicated…

But, you do have to think about it.  

Here’s the text of an email I just sent to a well-known and respected restaurant in Old Montreal that obviously didn’t think about it:

“Imagine booking a reservation weeks in advance.¬†Imagine looking forward to spending your anniversary on a beautiful terrace and eating a fabulous meal with your husband. ¬†Imagine waking to a picture perfect summer’s day knowing you’ll be having a special end to the day. ¬†Imagine getting a call to tell you [actually it’s worse than that. I booked the reservation. My husband got the call. It could have been a surprise. I’d told them it was our anniversary] … ¬†Sorry you don’t have a reservation and… it’s your fault because you booked online and …we’ve had a wedding booked for months and…¬†No real apology. ¬†No offer of anything to compensate for ruining our anniversary plans.”

I’ve had drinks on this terrace and a meal or two. ¬†The service and food have always been impeccable. ¬†But, in this one interaction they have erased all that.¬†The restaurant has left us to try to find something at the last minute in a town where the nice terraces at good restaurants are booked way ahead.

Thinking about the brand experience isn’t that hard. ¬†But you do have to think about it!
This restaurant has one chance to redeem themselves [with me, my husband and my friends – my mom’s already heard the story]. ¬†Let’s hope the person who receives my email thinks about it.
As for me I’m just glad we won’t be opting for dinner at this restaurant…
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Deborah Hinton Wednesday, June 19th, 2013
Permalink Communication, Culture No Comments

Not all stakeholders are created equal. Now what?

Not all stakeholders are created equal.” ¬†If you care about the experience of your brand – internally or externally – understanding this lesson is essential. ¬†
Years ago I worked with the office of a global agency here in Montreal. ¬† The single most important communication they had was around the work they got or didn’t get. ¬†The impact of this news was not the same for all employees, clients, suppliers or competitors. ¬†For simplicities sake let’s just look internally.
The news on a pitch comes in, most likely to the partner in charge or another senior member of the team that developed the proposal. ¬†They learn that they either got it, or not. It’s either good news or bad. ¬†Now what?
There are the partners in the local office. ¬†And the partners and execs – peers and superiors – in the agency outside the local office. ¬†There’s the team that worked directly on the pitch, sometimes for months. ¬†There are those who’ve worked indirectly supporting the main team. ¬†And there are those who didn’t have anything to do with it.
This client had no standard way of sharing this news. Employees reported not knowing what was going on. ¬†They’d find out through grapevine or news releases… Or by watching for ebullience or despair on the faces of the partners. If they won the business, a partner ¬†would email everyone to invite them to a celebration – from beer and chips to champagne and caviar depending on the size of the win. ¬†It might be the first time the Montreal team that worked on the pitch heard about it. ¬†If there were team members from other offices they’d find out through the grapevine. ¬†If they lost the business the news would just trickle out.
In either scenario the agency lost the benefit of learning and team building. ¬†And worse the bad news scenario created speculation, confusion and cynicism. ¬†Employees knew that they weren’t trusted to handle the bad news. Leaders were afraid they’d have to answer tough questions and wouldn’t know how.
By working with the partners to understand that all employees are not created equal in relationship to this kind of news we were able to build a framework for this element of their strategy. No matter what the news, good or bad:
  • Partners would inform each other immediately – face-to-face or by text or by email – of the outcome.
  • Employees directly involved on the pitch, in the office and in other offices, would also be informed as quickly as possible and ideally in a face-to-face meeting [conference call or Skype if necessary because of the schedules of the partners] with a chance for them to learn the outcome and discuss the implications for the team. ¬†This meeting would be relatively short.
  • Other employees – depending on the size and nature of the news and it’s implications – would either receive an e-mail [while the pitch team was in their meeting] inviting them to a small group meeting with their partner, or to gather with the pitch team for a celebration or mourning
  • Peers and colleagues outside the office would be informed as appropriate after that
  • The partners and pitch team would create opportunities for debriefing and learning within the days following the news.
The result. The partners gained confidence Рthey knew what they had to do and got better at delivering the bad news Рwere able to build trust relatively quickly.  This was only one small element of the work we did together, but by the end of my mandate there was a strong sense of one team building business momentum.
The approach was pretty simple, but it did mean thinking about the announcement from the point of view of different employees.  It also meant implementation with no exceptions or excuses.
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Deborah Hinton Thursday, May 23rd, 2013
Permalink Communication, Culture, Management No Comments