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.
Turns out trying to increase productivity and motivate and engage employees is nothing new.
Last night I was watching Antiques Roadshow [yes, it's one of our favourites]. Â And, someone brought in a series of “work incentive posters” from the 1920s and 30s. Â Besides being valuable [as per estimates by Swann Galleries], they were visually stunning and the messages sometimes funny and familiar. Â The language might be different, but are the messages the same?Â
Â Â Â Â Â
And finally in this age of wikileaks and with a smile:
Facebook is here to stay.
Much had been written on Facebook and other social media and the opportunity for organizations from the point of view of external and marketing communications.Â And many, probably most, consumer brands are actively pursuing strategies that incorporate social media.
On the employee side of the business, the focus has been much different.Â Most of whatâs been written has focused on security issues, firewalls and the sense or non-sense of blocking employee access to social media. Â Our undeniableÂ obsession with Facebook and social media makes me think we’re still asking the wrong questions when it comes to employees.
For example, letâs just take one data point:
57% of people talk online more than offline.
What implications, if any, does this fact have on the relationship we’re trying to build with employees. Â What does it mean for our human resources and internal communications strategies? Â Â If, when and how does it change employee expectations in terms of work tools and tactics and the employment relationship? And, who’s leading that discussion in your organization? Could it, should it, be you?
Thatâs the thing about a bad nights sleep.Â You get a chance to rethink your thinking.Â And what I think this morning is that yesterdayâs post is misleading.
WikiLeaks original mission was whistle blowing.Â Clearly much of what they are now publishing â US embassy correspondence, the location of medical and military sites that are vital to national security in Canada and the US â is not.Â It is sharing information that is confidential or âsecureâ.
And the media rhetoric has focused on the relationship between freedom of speech and privacy of individuals, institutions, and countries.Â Clay Shirkeyâs post did a fabulous job exploring this area in âWikileaks and the Long Haulâ.
And for me this debate misses something critical: Â 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 âusâ know whatâs really going on in their organizations.Â Why?
Iâm guessing that you, like me, have been following the WikiLeaks story. Â Â And if youâre like me, I feel that weâre asking the wrong questions.Â Focused on the wrong end of things.
The fact is leaks happen.Â They have happened since well before Watergate.Â WikiLeaks changes the scale, but it doesnât change reality.Â 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 âusâ know whatâs really going on in their organizations.Â Thereâs something deeply wrong here.Â And it has little to do with a website called WikiLeaks.
In 2008, WikiLeaks was awarded the Economist magazine New Media Award.Â Today, there are calls to close down the website.Â 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”).Â And, today the founder, spokesperson and editor in chief Â Julian Assange is in hiding.Â Heâs 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?Â In 2010, the WikiLeakâs focused on Iraq, Afghanistan and the US State department.Â At the risk of sounding antiestablishment the leaks are getting closer to real political and economic power.Â So, the reaction is not surprising.
But focusing on the website and the founder is distracting us from asking another perhaps more important question:Â How bad is it in organizations that whistle blowers have to blow whistles at all?Â And what do we need to do to change that?
Youâve heard it beforeâŚ Actions speak louder than words.
So, are we just making all of this institutional communications stuff just way too complicated â for ourselves and the people we work for and with?
Why donât we just do it?Â Set up the conditions that allow our employees [including managers by the way] do the best possible job âŚ.
Well becauseâŚ organizations are changing their mission, vision, values and strategies every year or two or with every change in leadership depending which comes first?Â Itâs like clockwork.
And the same time their employees are trying to keep up.
Realigning key business systems and processes â operations, technology, finance, HR.
Realigning the organizational structures and reporting relationships.
At the same time as they are being more innovative, collaborative, nimble, engaged, customer-focused, – all fasterâŚ
And the organizations weâre in arenât designed for all this change.
Weâre wrapping ourselves up in knots. Putting in more hours.Â Doing more stuff.Â Creating Rube Goldberg Machines of our organizations?
It just can’t be that complicated.
What do you think?Â Can we stop all the madness and just do it?
As communicators we like to believe that the communication begins once we send the news release, change the banner on the intranet, distribute the communications tool kit for all managers, host the CEO in a virtual or real town hall, send the survey, publish the newsletter, or post the blog.
The truth is that for most important change or announcement the communication started well before, often [and sadly] long before the professional communications team was even involved.Â The communication started when:Â the President cleared their agenda for a week with no notice.Â Or, when the GM started having way more/fewer than normal meetings behind closed doors with her most trusted advisors.Â Or, when men in suits turn up unannounced at one of our distant locations.Â Or, when shouting is heard coming from a boardroom during a strategic planning meeting.Â Â Or, when the Director of Marketing who is due for a promotion is seen smiling for no apparent reason.
The bottom line is that communications in your organization are happening now with or without you.
Do you know whatâs really being communicated in your organization?
Iâve always thought about the design side of what I do as a musical composition and the implementation side as conducting.Â Itâs not something I talk about that often but I was reminded of today as I read a draft of the new introduction for Robert Fritzâs book Managerial Moment of Truth.
There Robert describes the âcomposedâ organization:Â âJust 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.â
And thatâs 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.Â It isn’t separate from External Communications.Â It isnât about implementing the right campaign or change management program.Â It isnât about telling stories.Â Â It isnât about knowledge management.Â Â It isnât 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.Â 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?
âIâve challenged our team to end this year at the No. 1 [sales] position in the marketplace.Â If that doesnât happen. . . my thoughts are simple:Â If youâre the most profitable No. 2, it may be a better position in the marketplace.â
Yes, this is a reported quote from a real executive: Kevin Williams, the new CEO of GM Canada, at a press breakfast yesterday.Â Do you have any idea what he was trying to say?Â I didn’t so I asked a handful of professional friends what they thought.
In general they did not have a clue what this CEO was trying to say though one person actually thought it was a veiled threat of downsizing directed at employees.Â And, they all gave a kind of resigned sigh and shrug after theyâd thought about it for a few seconds.Â Itâs just not that unusual in the business world to read or hear statements like this.
So, in the tradition of this blog, this is less about GM and more about what it may reveal about the challenges institutions – especially public institutions – and their leaders face when their executives are out talking to the media or industry analysts.
Any of you who have worked close to a CEO knows that a team of people probably worked on this âpositioningâ for weeks.Â So itâs generally not for lack of expert advice and support.Â Â And, it is highly unlikely that the whole event including this statement wasnât scripted from beginning to end.Â Even so:
- The statement is unclear â Our goal is to be No 1 in sales or No 2 in sales but No 1 in profit? Why isnât it No 1 in sales and profit?
- The statement is pretty tentative â We might or might not make No 1.Â Why?Â Is it our strategy or our team?Â We donât know what the best position in the market is â No 1 in sales or No 2 in sales and No 1 in profit?Â Is that because we think our competitors will have to buy the No 1 in sales position?
So, what is going on?Â Why waffle?Â Why not take a stand and clearly state the goal:
- âWe will be No. 1 in profit by the end of the yearâ?Â Â In that case, you’d need to signal to investors that you’re also planning for growth.
- “We will be No. 1 in sales by the end of the year”?Â In this case you’d want to signal to investors that you won’t achieve the growth in sales at all costs.
So, why all this signalling?Â Why wouldn’t you just state the goal completely and clearly.Â Well, you need to give yourselves a little leeway, a little gray zone.Â Â Despite all the talk after the economic meltdown in 2008 big investors are still focused on the short-term.Â The next quarter is only 3 months awayâŚÂ And even for potentially decisive, bold and imaginative leaders the risk of a fickle and volatile market is just too high.
And, that leaves you and me and 10s of 1,000s of customers and employees [and potential customers and employees] scratching our heads and wondering what ourÂ business leaders are smoking?Â Is it any wonder employees and customers donât trust big Corporate?
What do you think?Â And, perhaps even more importantly, if you agree with me, what can we do to change the game?
This summer will you might âSee the USA in your Chevrolet?â but you wouldn’t be “Driving your Chevy to the levy” if GM had their way.
Earlier this week, the New York Times reported on a memo GM sent to Chevy employees in Detroit.Â The message was clear.Â Stop saying “Chevy”.Â From now on their beloved product will only be called Chevrolet.
âWeâd ask that whether youâre talking to a dealer, reviewing dealer advertising, or speaking with friends and family, that you communicate our brand as Chevrolet moving forward,â said the memo.
The logic: consolidated and consistent branding.Â One product.Â One name.Â No nicknames.
Why would a company with the brand experience of GM want to try and reverse out of a nearly 100 year love affair between Americans and the “Chevy”? And, how could they think they could?Â Chevrolet â… continues to hold its position as General Motors’ highest-selling brand to the present day, with “Chevrolet” or “Chevy” being at times synonymous with GM.”Â Â Itâs ââŚone of the worldâs best-known, longest-lived product nicknames.â
And, how could a company with the history and size of GM think that a memo like this would stay âinsideâ?
Just 3-days after the memo leaked and increasing public pressure, the company reportedly ââŚcalled the memo âa rough draftâ and âa bit of fun.â Â And, ââŚexplained that there would be no âmassive change of direction.â
What do you think ?Â A clumsy attempt at a viral campaign?
I donât know, maybe it’s just been a strange couple of weeks, but Iâm starting to think that employee communications is a vast social media wasteland.Â At the very best, weâre nowhere near the âgarden-of-Edenâ-promise of these tools.
With the exception of one very interesting conversation with Rex Lee at RIM about their plans for “drinking their own champagneâ and the occasional case study it seems to me we arenât making much progress.
Shel Holtz is still making the case heâs been making forever against blocking.Â Not blocking is so basic that itâs 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, Iâve been reading about and speaking to people whose organizations are doing amazing things using social media externally.Â And, after a little investigating discover that thereâs little institutionally-driven and supported use of social media inside these same organizations.Â In other words, these organizations have created a powerful b2b strategies based on Web 2.0 and social media while their employees still canât access Facebook from their desks.Â 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 doesnât mean that person-by-person employees arenât microblogging for work using StatusNet [full disclosure Evanâs a friend], or project-by-project managers arenât implementing wikis and blogging, or department-by-department that teams arenât using YouTube to post training videos.Â It just means that Iâm not seeing or hearing about too many integrated internal and external social media strategies.
Why arenât these smart customer-focused organizations being as smart about their employees?Â Has it just been a bad couple of weeks, or are you seeing what Iâm seeing?
Sign up for mailing list
For Michael's other blog see:
From Marshall and me
- Two leadership lessons from ‘Gravity’
- “I am not a number!”
- Humility, respect & a customer experience to remember
- A series of transactions does not a relationship make
- Culture + chemistry
- Building an ethical compass in your organization
- Labour day. It’s not just the end of summer.
- “Trouble at mill?”
- Here’s what I know to be true
- Slow down. You move too fast…