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.
It’s rare that Michael and I actually go to the movie theatre. Â But this past long weekend that’s what we did. Â Having heard rave reviews about ‘Gravity’ it seemed the right thing to do on a rainy fall holiday Monday. Â So, off we went to see it in IMAX 3D. Â Wow! Â And, wow!
And in the midst of the wow communication, or the lack of it, plays a critical role in the plot. Â So, without giving anything away two lessons:
- When communication fails big – as in global failure of communication technology – it’s bad. Â Really, really bad. Â And, we are vulnerable whether we’re astronauts or communication professionals. Â You need a back up plan. Â And maybe another. Do you have yours?
- When communication technology fails, even in the high tech world of outer space exploration, you still need basic information. Â Does our hero reach for an iPad? Â No. She reaches for manuals – yes, three ring binders. Â 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. Â Because when anything happens,Â ‘flawless’ communication is more important than ever. Â
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. Â Different things. Â 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. Â The more we looked the more we saw. Â Things we hadn’t seen just a few days before.
What had changed? Â 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.
I recently read a series of compelling articles written to celebrate the Rockefeller Foundation’s 100 years. Their conclusion after all that time, all the brilliant minds they’ve worked with and with all their experience in the field: “innovating for resilienceâ€”resilient networks, communities, and organizations better able to respond to and adapt to these unexpected eventsâ€”is among the most important kinds of innovation we can pursue.”
But how, do we jive the drive for resilience with all the talk about our need for radical disruption. Â The pace of technical, social, and political change is greater than it has ever been. So, how can we reconcile our need for deep and systemic change and this idea of resilience – that is the ability to recover from change. The clue is in their description of the qualities that they believe we need to innovate for resilience? There are six:
“1. FlexibilityÂ | able to change, evolve, and adapt at a rapid pace. 2.Â RedundancyÂ | able to change course and adopt alternative approaches. 3.Â ResourcefulnessÂ | able to identify problems, establish priorities, and mobilize resources and assets to achieve goals.
4. Safe failureÂ | able to absorb shocks and the cumulative effects of slow-onset challenges so as to avoid catastrophic failure if thresholds are exceeded. 5.Â ResponsivenessÂ | able to re-organize and re-establish function and order following a failure. 6.Â LearningÂ | able to internalize experiences and apply those lessons to decrease vulnerabilities to future disruptions.”
Disruption isn’t necessarily about destruction. It can be about building. It can be, and should be a chance for healthy revitalizing change.
What are you, your organization doing to develop these 6 important qualities. Â Isn’t it time?
OK.. He didn’t die, but he could have.
The city of Montreal [at least 1M of us] was on a boiling water alert this week. Water was murky. No one seemed to know if it was just a problem of sediment or whether it was bacterial.
I was on my way to a meeting in the east end of the city when I saw a brief headline on the Montreal Gazette on my phone. I ordered a coffee and asked if they were outside of the boiled water area. They said yes.Â I drank my coffee feeling I was safe. A couple of hours later I learned that the coffee shop was not outside of the boiled water area.
On Friday morning we learned it was a sediment problem not a bacterial problem. Happy? Yes. Â But it could easily have been something much worse. ImagineÂ WalkertonÂ with 1M people!
The more I’ve thought about it, the more angry I get. The information we got seemed lackadaisicalÂ at best. And, Â restaurants, hotels, and other public places didn’t know or didn’t seem to have emergency protocols. Â Robocalls [fake calls to people during our last federal election that got people to go to the wrong polls] did lots better at targeting people.
In an interview of Richard Branson, who was in town for C2Mtl, he was asked to respond to a series of one word cards. One word was “drink”… He said among other things: Â ”I made a mistake of drinking the Montreal tap water last night, quite a lot of it…”
Different scenario and he would have been dead. Oh and so would I and about 1M others.
Communication. Timely, direct, clear and accurate communication. Reaching the people and organizations that need to know. Having emergency protocols that we all know and understand. Â Kinda basic.
Montreal? What have you learned from this?
People and relationships are at the core of all organizational strategies.
This means an adequately thorough and complete stakeholder analysis is key. If the stakeholder analysis is weak then so too is the strategy. And stakeholder analysis starts with adequate segmentation.
Segmentation doesnâ€™t start with a list of generic stakeholders. It starts with a deep understanding of who will be impacted by what you are planning, saying, doing?Â And how they will be impacted.
Seems so obvious, and yet itâ€™s not.Â In the past few weeks I was asked to pull together work of several other consultants to create an integrated strategic framework that would help identify gaps and overlaps in the work and thinking that had been done so far.
Communication was just one of 6 strategic priorities but every other priority had a significant communication component. Three consultants had already prepared three separate plans – media relations, government relations and fund development.
Each plan referred to their own key stakeholder, but not one of them adequately developed the segmentation. Instead, they were almost generic.
Itâ€™s a government relations plan so the target is government. No differentiation between Federal, provincial though both could impact the outcomes for this organization. No reference to which specific ministries. No differentiation between elected and non-elected politicians, or bureaucrats [senior and junior]. Even though each of these segments would have different and important impact on the work of this organization.
None of the plans did any more than a superficial analysis of this already thin segmentation. Instead of really thinking about what the client organization was trying to achieve in relationship to each of the segmented stakeholders, again, plans fell back into generic descriptions and no real analysis.
Even cutting an orange into segments takes some thought and skill…
And, the sad thing is, this failure to segment stakeholders and do some pretty fundamental analysis is not unusual.
The result. Bland planning and a focus on tools and tactics.
No strategy at all.
If you want to be strategic, then developing mastery in the art of segmentation is a good place to start.
Have you ever asked yourself what a great communicator looks like in your organization?
Are there any? Â If so,
- Why are they great?
- What characteristics do they have?
- What impact do they have?
- What can you learn from them? Â What can the rest of the organization learn from them?
If not, why not? And what can you do about it.
Great communicators may just happen, but the ones I know are very disciplined about their communication. Â It’s not something they pull out at the last minute – “Oh now I guess I better speak to my folks!” It’s something that is absolutely build into everything they do and how they do it.
What is your organization doing to build communication mastery? I’d love to talk.
Communication is almost always the institutional fall guy when things don’t go well.
Over the holidays I found myself helping an elderly friend manoeuvre through our medical system. It’s been quite a journey and seems to be ending well for my friend. Â She’s home and slowly getting better.
And it seemed like the biggest challenge over the past couple of weeks has been communication. But has it?
In Quebec, we have clinics – lesÂ centres local de services communautaires orÂ CLSCs – where as a citizen of Quebec you can get free access to doctors, nurses, social workers, psychologists and psychiatrists, physio and occupational therapists, etc. A fabulous idea. They were initially designed to take pressure off of the emergency rooms in our hospitals. Â Today they are also replacing general practices – in Quebec we don’t have enough family doctors, so if you need one this is where you go. Â And, they’ve become the frontline coordination hub for services that enable patients to remain in their homes rather than in institutions. That’s all a very good thing.Â Unfortunately it doesn’t work nearly as well as it might. Ask anyone in the system and they’ll tell you the problem is communication.
Within the CLSC we went to things actually worked well. Â We spoke to an intake nurse right away. We were assigned a long-term nurse within 24 hours. The first full evaluation of my friend at her home happened very quickly. My friend can can have access to a social worker and other resources that will advise her about what she needs to do to stay safely in her own home and connect her to other resources if she wants them – meals on wheels, hairdressing, etc. It isn’t perfect, but it is pretty darn good especially given we were dealing with them over the holidays.
What didn’t and doesn’t work all happened once we had to deal with other professionals outside the hub. The CLSC is neither well connected to the hospital – where my friend ended up in emergency for 3 nights – or to the patient’s doctors – in this case a general practitioner, a cardiologist and a vascular specialist. And the hospital wasn’t connected to the pharmacy – which is the only other hub where critical and integrated information on the patient’s care is held. In fact, the hospital sent my friend home on New Year’s Eve without a single and very critical dose of antibiotic to tide her over until the pharmacy was doing deliveries after the holidays. These disconnects are big problems. The long-term care nurse has [or should have] the complete picture of what’s going on with the patient on all fronts and what that looks like from the patient’s point of view given their context. In this case it was impossible and felt like a telephone game we played as kids but with much more dire consequences if things went wrong.
There are disconnects and overlaps in communication at almost every point in our journey.They are costing the system significant dollars and, I can only assume, the lives of patients.But, look a little deeper and there’s a more fundamental problem.Â The protocols are there. They just don’t work. They were designed for a different system: A siloed hierarchical doctor-centric system. And, it was often badly executed. Except for the patient’s health there seem few consequences.
How many of the communication problems in your organization are the result of management system design and execution problems and not just communication. Let’s stop being the fall guy and push to be part of a fundamental rethink and redesign of Â management and operational systems that no longer work.
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.
Here in Canada, the first day after Labour Day begins a new school year for many children. Â And one of the important lessons our kids learn before they head off to school is to “Stop. Look. Listen” before crossing the street.
And, maybe it’s a lesson we as leaders and communicators can learn from tooÂ as we get back to work after the summer and start in on this new business season full of the pressures of strategic planning and budgeting, achieving last quarter and annual results, annual performance reviews and objective setting for next year.