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.

Knowledge management

Connecting for big business benefits

This morning I came across three articles. Three different perspectives. Same conclusion. The more connected we are as leaders and as organizations the better.

Perspective 1 - CEOs. A study of 65 chief executives from around the world discovered that CEOs spend an average of 6 hours out of their 55-hour work week alone. The remainder of the time is spent in business meetings [virtual and face-to-face] and lunches and on the phone. CEOs may not like it, but it is how their work gets done and confirms Henry Mintzberg‘s seminal study “The nature of managerial work”  [1973].

Perspective 2: Leadership teams. In their new book Strategy & Business, Rob Cross and Jon Katzenbach describe how: “In most companies, the phrase top team is a misnomer…” Instead, they go on to say:  [P]ower comes from … members’ informal and social networks, their determination to make the most of those connections, and their ability to work well in subgroups formed to address specific issues… [A]s much as 90 per cent of the information that most senior executives receive and take action on comes throughout their informal networks – not formal reports or databases.” The conclusion: Enriching networks enriches organizations.

Perspective 3: Organizations. “Web 2.0 … promote[s] significantly more flexible processes at internally networked organizations: respondents say that information is shared more readily and less hierarchically, collaboration across organizational silos is more common, and tasks are more often tackled in a project-based fashion.” This study goes on to demonstrate that the more networked an organization the more business benefits. If you, or your leadership team, ever had any doubts it’s worth taking a look.

Connecting is what we as human beings do. We’re social creatures. Our organizational work gets done with, and through, other people.

Helping your employees connect. A little idea with huge potential business benefits.

It’s a potentially beautiful thing.

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WikiLeaks: Take 2

That’s the thing about a bad nights sleep.  You get a chance to rethink your thinking.  And what I think this morning is that yesterday’s post is misleading.

WikiLeaks original mission was whistle blowing.  Clearly much of what they are now publishing – US embassy correspondence, the location of medical and military sites that are vital to national security in Canada and the US – is not.  It is sharing information that is confidential or ‘secure’.

And the media rhetoric has focused on the relationship between freedom of speech and privacy of individuals, institutions, and countries.  Clay Shirkey’s post did a fabulous job exploring this area in ‘Wikileaks and the Long Haul”.

And for me this debate misses something critical:  There are people in organizations all over the world who are willing to risk their jobs, their personal freedom and maybe even their lives to let ‘us’ know what’s really going on in their organizations.  Why?

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Deborah Hinton Tuesday, December 7th, 2010
Permalink Communication, Workplace No Comments

WikiLeaks: What’s wrong with whistleblowing?

I’m guessing that you, like me, have been following the WikiLeaks story.   And if you’re like me, I feel that we’re asking the wrong questions.  Focused on the wrong end of things.

The fact is leaks happen.  They have happened since well before Watergate.  WikiLeaks changes the scale, but it doesn’t change reality.  There are people in organizations all over the world who are willing to risk their jobs, their personal freedom and maybe even their lives to let ‘us’ know what’s really going on in their organizations.  There’s something deeply wrong here.  And it has little to do with a website called WikiLeaks.

In 2008, WikiLeaks was awarded the Economist magazine New Media Award.  Today, there are calls to close down the website.  And cries of foul from the freedom of speech crowd. “There’s always been a divide between those who want the Internet to be open and free and those who view that as a risk, who want information to be protected and controlled,” said Jonathan Wood, global issues analyst at Control Risks. “This obviously highlights those divisions.”

In June 2009, WikiLeaks and Julian Assange won Amnesty International‘s UK Media Award (in the category “New Media”).  And, today the founder, spokesperson and editor in chief  Julian Assange is in hiding.  He’s reportedly had his life threatened, Interpol has put him on its red notice list of wanted persons and there is a Europe wide arrest warrant out on him on charges of sexual assault.

What changed?  In 2010, the WikiLeak’s focused on Iraq, Afghanistan and the US State department.  At the risk of sounding antiestablishment the leaks are getting closer to real political and economic power.  So, the reaction is not surprising.

But focusing on the website and the founder is distracting us from asking another perhaps more important questionHow bad is it in organizations that whistle blowers have to blow whistles at all?  And what do we need to do to change that?

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Deborah Hinton Monday, December 6th, 2010
Permalink Work, Workplace 3 Comments

The music of internal communications

I’ve always thought about the design side of what I do as a musical composition and the implementation side as conducting.  It’s not something I talk about that often but I was reminded of today as I read a draft of the new introduction for Robert Fritz’s book Managerial Moment of Truth.

There Robert describes the ‘composed’ organization:  “Just like a musical composition, the company can have major themes, secondary themes, accompaniment, counterpoint, balances between sections, and the overall integration of the parts to the well-structured whole.”

And that’s exactly how I think about the work I do. Internal Communications is not about pushing the right message/information to the right people at the right time.  It isn’t separate from External Communications.  It isn’t about implementing the right campaign or change management program.  It isn’t about telling stories.   It isn’t about knowledge management.   It isn’t about the tools and tactics at all.

It is about how all of this is orchestrated and what that looks like from an individual employee’s – executive or not – point of view over time.  It is about how all the communications aspects come together to support the institution in achieving their goals while making it easier for their employees to do their work and feel pride in the work and the organization.

When employee communications is done well it is as beautiful as a sonata and as compelling as a tango.

Is that how it is for you?

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Are we really in a social media wasteland?

I don’t know, maybe it’s just been a strange couple of weeks, but I’m starting to think that employee communications is a vast social media wasteland.  At the very best, we’re nowhere near the “garden-of-Eden”-promise of these tools.

With the exception of one very interesting conversation with Rex Lee at RIM about their plans for “drinking their own champagne” and the occasional case study it seems to me we aren’t making much progress.

Shel Holtz is still making the case he’s been making forever against blocking.  Not blocking is so basic that it’s pretty discouraging to think that more than half of organizations still do not allow, never mind encourage, access to social media.

And over the past few weeks, I’ve been reading about and speaking to people whose organizations are doing amazing things using social media externally.  And, after a little investigating discover that there’s little institutionally-driven and supported use of social media inside these same organizations.  In other words, these organizations have created a powerful b2b strategies based on Web 2.0 and social media while their employees still can’t access Facebook from their desks.  And, they are still getting a flood of one way corporate and departmental communications by e-mail and or posted on their Intranet 1.0, punctuated by the occasional video conference or virtual town hall.

That doesn’t mean that person-by-person employees aren’t microblogging for work using StatusNet [full disclosure Evan’s a friend], or project-by-project managers aren’t implementing wikis and blogging, or department-by-department that teams aren’t using YouTube to post training videos.  It just means that I’m not seeing or hearing about too many integrated internal and external social media strategies.

Why aren’t these smart customer-focused organizations being as smart about their employees?  Has it just been a bad couple of weeks, or are you seeing what I’m seeing?

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“Resistance is futile”

At first glance social media is pretty alien.  It’s another technology getting in the way of face to face relationships.  And, as communicators we know in our hearts this is not a good thing.

And yet this is the irony of social media.  This technology that on the surface seems to dehumanize in the end enables us to accomplish one of the most human of all needs – to connect with each other.

In the past week or so I’ve been reading about how GM management believe that giving employees access to social media “humanizes” the company with their clients and potential clients.  But, I’m afraid this misses the real power of social media:  The power to “humanize” institutions internally.

The organizations that embrace social media on the inside are enabling their employees to connect with each other across:

  • time,
  • geography,
  • function, and
  • level.

They’re helping employees access the information and expertise they need, when and how they need it to do their work.  They’re energizing not just the formal organizational networks, but the informal as well.

Today the number of  organizations who are giving employees full access to social media inside and out are few.  Tomorrow they will be many.  “Resistance is futile.”

What will this change mean for the Corporate Communications or Internal Communications functions? Not only what we do, but how we do it. I’d love to hear what you think.

By the way, as predicted by my social media mentors – Michelle Sullivan, Julien Smith, and Mitch Joel - I’ve learned that social media doesn’t get in the way of face to face relationships.  In fact, quite the opposite.    And, that’s a very good thing.  Thanks you guys.

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Deborah Hinton Tuesday, May 18th, 2010
Permalink Communication, Internal communication No Comments

“Open book policy can inspire staff”

This headline from the today’s newspaper caught my eye.  The article describes the experience of two businesses that had successfully implemented an open book policy with employees.

Pretty courageous for privately held businesses I thought.   And then I read this…  “Although bullish on open-book financials, there is one line element you won’t see passed around among employees:  salaries.  “Revealing individuals’ salaries “would create too much drama,”  Mr Sim. “Maybe one day we will figure out the salary thing, but our culture isn’t ready for that level of discourse.””

Is it the culture that’s not ready?  I wonder.

Imagine if salary structures were as competitive, equitable and fair as we tell employees they are.  Why couldn’t we?  Why wouldn’t we share this information?

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Deborah Hinton Tuesday, May 4th, 2010
Permalink Communication, Culture, Internal communication No Comments

The PowerPoint addiction

The abuse of PowerPoint has been a hot topic around our office for some time.  Michael [Hinton], my partner in life and business, is working on a paper “The Economics of PowerPoint” with Ryerson Prof Tom Barbiero.  And, several years ago he wrote a short pamphlet, “Exorcising the demons of PowerPoint”.  He’s been sharing it with participants in his presentations skills trainings and had planned to build a workshop based on it.  The reaction to that idea was so strong and so negative – “Are you kidding?  We can’t think without PowerPoint!” – that Michael eventually decided to shelve it.

So, today’s post by Seth Godin caught my eye.  From there, I followed a link that took me to Elisabeth Bumiller’s article on the US military’s PowerPoint addiction.

That made me think.  If there’s a single communications tool that dominates organizational communications, it’s PowerPoint.  And, if there’s one communication tool  professional communicators rarely talk about it’s PowerPoint.

Why is that?

Institutions use PowerPoint when their most senior executives speak to employees.  They rely on it when employees present ideas and plans to their managers and to each other.

In one organization I know of, you’d never go to a meeting without your deck even if you’re not presenting because you know that sooner or later the meetings all turn into “dueling decks”.  And in another if you want to understand the evolution of the thinking on any institutional topic you always refer back to “the decks”.

So, why are we so addicted to PowerPoint? Is it because the structure gives us comfort?  And the format helps us feel professional?  Does it protect us by giving us an illusion of being clear and concrete while actually being ambiguous enough that we can talk our way out of pretty much anything we present?  Is it because we don’t need to spend as much time clarifying and articulating our thinking?  Is it because if we weren’t building decks we wouldn’t know what to do?

And why do institutions feed this addiction?

How much time are the people in your organization spending on preparing PowerPoint decks?

What role does Communications play in perpetuating or stopping the misuse of PowerPoint in your organization?

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From conversation to joint creation

This just arrived thanks to the Ideas Project.

John Hagel, author and business strategist, builds on the main idea presented in my last post by making a powerful argument for why social media need to be part of internal strategies.  Social media are no longer just about conversation.  They are tools for helping institutions set the conditions for collaboration and joint creation.

If you’re a professional communicator what if anything does this mean for you and what you do?

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Deborah Hinton Friday, April 23rd, 2010
Permalink Culture, Internal communication No Comments

Learning from the Vatican [part 3]

Today, few believe the Vatican was unaware of the ‘priestly sexual abuse’ that occurred over several decades in Ireland, the US and more recently reported in Germany.  Instead, it is widely assumed that they knew and their response was ‘cover-up, evasion and criminal negligence’.  It is “a time for contrition” it is also a time to reflect on the role of internal communications in this most terrible story.

In the Roman Catholic Church as an organization there are many features we would wish for as corporate communicators [part 2] including a clearly a structured disciplined communication system designed precisely to feed very “rich” information up and down the system [part 1].

It is impossible to believe that what was going on in individual parishes around the world wasn’t known within those communities.  Institutionally, they either knew or they didn’t.  If they didn’t then as communicators I think we need to ask ourselves why?  And, if they did and didn’t act.  Again why?

Collecting such vast amounts of rich information may have contributed to

  • Seeing and not recognizing
  • Listening and not hearing
  • The long time delays

And may also underscore the importance of the art rather than the science of communication.  What can we do to ensure institutionally we’re listening wisely?

Once the institution understood what was going on that same in depth knowledge may have actually served to enable the cover-up and manipulation rather than ensuring swift and appropriate action. Unfortunately and as we’ve seen during the global financial crisis and the aftermath this may not only be an isolated situation.  We as corporate communicators have been fighting to get to the strategic table, so if you’d been in the room when these issues were discussed what would you have done?

And, finally, a lesson:  If the leadership of any organization values the institution over the employees or its clients – where the means justify the ends – then all the great communications systems in the world aren’t enough.  If that is so, what are the implications for us as corporate communicators?

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