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.


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

Why you need to master the art of segmentation

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 doesn’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?  And how they will be impacted.

Seems so obvious, and yet it’s not.  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.

It’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…

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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.






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Deborah Hinton Wednesday, May 15th, 2013
Permalink CEO, Communication, Management No Comments

Anatomy of an internal announcement. Top 3 lessons from Yahoo!

In the week since it was first announced, Yahoo!’s policy stopping remote work has created a firestorm focused on the policy and its implications for worker flexibility in general and the tech industry in particular.

So now, for something completely different, I think it’s time to take a closer look at what we can learn from the announcement itself. Here are my top 3 lessons:

#3. The headline matters.¬†¬†“YAHOO! PROPRIETARY AND CONFIDENTIAL INFORMATION ‚ÄĒ DO NOT FORWARD”. Whatever happened to a subject line so that you know what the memo is about? Instead, here the title is: “Confidential”? Yeah maybe. “Proprietary”. Well isn’t everything that’s done on behalf of the company? “Do not forward.”¬†Anyone who’s worked inside any organization knows this is a redflag to a bull. These legal ‘requirements’ make our institutional leaders less credible with every memo. They are virtually impossible to enforce and the consequences even if they could be are just not that clear.

Mistake #2. Don’t manipulate.¬†The message itself was¬†drafted using the “sandwich method”. You’ve all seen it before. Upbeat good news. Followed by the downbeat less good news. Followed by a little more upbeat good news. It assumes that people won’t be able to handle the news without softening the blow. It’s manipulative and everybody knows it. Manipulation kills relationship.

Now for the biggie…

Mistake #1. Make sure you know who your message is really for. ¬†“Beginning in June, we‚Äôre asking all employees with work-from-home arrangements to work in Yahoo! offices.” This message isn’t relevant to most employees. ¬†In fact, with over¬†14,000 employees, it turns out there are¬†about 200 remote workers who will be directly affected.

That leaves 13,800 who received the memo and aren’t directly affected. ¬†Of those,¬†there’s a % who are already coming to work every day.¬†This message is completely irrelevant to them except perhaps to make them feel a little smug or proud.

The rest, and there are by all accounts many at Yahoo!, who have taken advantage of the flexible working conditions by staying home for the “cable guy” too often need to know that their behaviour is no longer acceptable. This is a performance management issue. ¬†And, it’s management who, for whatever reason, have not been held accountable. The focus for the communication, once you get beyond the 200 remote workers is management. And making sure they know they are responsible and accountable for their employees being onsite to work and giving them what they need – training, mentoring, support – to be successful.

Their memo, directed at 14,000 employees left virtually all of them wondering what it means for them and speculating with each other, their families, their friends and media online and off.

Now that’s a lesson we can all learn from.

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Deborah Hinton Thursday, March 7th, 2013
Permalink Communication, Internal communication No Comments

The fall of the cubicle wall

First it was the Berlin wall. ¬† Now it’s the cubicle wall. ¬†Workspaces even in the most traditional environments – banks, insurance companies and law offices are changing. And they are changing in pretty radical ways. ¬†Shared work stations, open space and windows, tables, couches and banquettes instead of cubicles and enclosed offices. ¬†Even though the initial motivation of these organizations is cost cutting, according to an article in today’s Globe and Mail employees report an overwhelmingly positive experience and increased productivity.

Perhaps even more interesting, given the focus of this blog, is the implication for communication and change management. ¬†One would hope that there would be something equally inventive, but when faced with some issues “10% of negative comments are about noise and work behaviours that become distractions, the bank is doing training and distributing tip sheets about having consideration for others.” ¬†Good grief! I think the walls just went back up.

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The employee amplification effect

Converged media is the new marketing sweet spot.¬†I first heard Jeremiah Owyang¬†talk about it and the implications for institutional branding in spring last year on Mitch Joel’s Six Pixels of Separation Podcast.

The idea is that converged media is the proactive, integrated management of three types of media:

  • Paid media. This is what we used to think about as advertising. The institution pays a third party to carry their message – newspapers, magazines,¬†television, radio, cinema, direct mail, and paid search.
  • Owned media. This is anything the institution carries in it’s own channels – brochures, signage, point of sale, retail outlets, websites, microsites, Facebook fan pages, mobile apps.
  • Earned media. This is what happens when the brand experience generates word of mouth discussion – virtual and not. Letters to editors, Facebook, Twitter, Digg, Youtube, Flickr, blogs, forums.

It’s a simple and elegant way of looking at the new world of media:

Paid + owned + earned = reputation

Since then I’ve heard and read others on the topic. But, up until now something pretty key seems to be missing. Do you see it?

  • Paid media – focus on potential and current customers
  • Owned media – focus on customer-focused and
  • Earned media – ¬†the objective is to have customer ‘fans’ who love the institution, its products or services so much that they talk favourable about it.

We all know that brands and reputations are built and can be destroyed by employees. Imagine if the integrated media strategy was built with an intentional focus on employees:

Paid media Рinvolving employees and other key internal stakeholders [e.g. strategic suppliers] Рas an source of insight, a reality check, pre-launch.

Owned media – including internal communication channels – intranet, town halls and other key institutional meetings, internal micro-blogging [e.g. Yammer], instant messaging, blogs, wikis, sharepoint, orientation programs, feedback systems, newsletters, management, etc.

Earned media – was designed to support and encourage employees, suppliers and their families in being part of the discussion – good, bad and indifferent – and we had a way to learn from the conversation.

Imagine the amplification effect that would happen by including internal stakeholders!

The case for investing budget in internal communication has never been clearer.  What will it take to get internal communicators into the planning, implementation and evaluation of converged media strategies?   

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Is doing good good?

Companies, all kinds of companies, are getting more involved in “doing good”. But, why? What’s the primary motivation? Building the brand or creating a better world?

Flash back to the mid 1840s, Titus Salt a woollen manufacturer had already made his fortune. He was planning to retire. Instead, he decided to consolidate his 5 mills on one site and improve the lives of his workers. He had already begun to try to improve the living conditions of his employees and would take 2,000 workers {and their families] on day trips out of the dirt and grime of Bradford and into the fresh air of the country around it: by train into the Yorkshire Dales, to his own estate or the seaside at Scarbourough.

He was not alone in taking action to improve the social needs of his workers, but his vision was bigger and more comprehensive. He would open one huge woollen mill, Salts Mill, outside of the heavy pollution of Bradford in Shipley. He would create a healthy place for workers to live and work.


They would have access to a dining hall across the road from the mill. Workers homes would be built in a ‘village’ near by with a church, schools, a library, a hospital, a park, allotment gardens. Everyone would have access to water, drainage, gas and a backyard with a private toilet. The main street would have shops to provide for all of the tenants needs. He would build almshouses [in the end 45] and a chapel for the infirm or aged on one edge of the village near the hospital. And he did. He built Saltaire – named after the mill/founder and the river that runs beside it.

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The cynical would say this was all paternalistic and self-serving, but when Titus Salt died 100,000 people thronged the funeral’s processional route. And, 100,000 people can’t all be that wrong.

Titus Salt was a man of his time. He was a man who wanted to create a better world. And in making a better world for his workers he did better business and created a brand that endured well into the 20th century. Today Saltaire, the town Titus Salt built, is a UNESCO heritage site. A monument to a man and a time of incredible social vision.

Flash forward 160 years. How many of today’s brands will be remembered for the good they did? What will their legacy be?

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Deborah Hinton Thursday, January 3rd, 2013
Permalink Culture, Management, Work, Workplace No Comments

Lessons from a zipper

Three winters ago I bought a coat from North Face*. ¬†It wasn’t the most expensive coat I’ve ever bought nor was it the least. I live in a climate where having something that is warm when it’s -20C or colder is pretty much a basic requirement. ¬†And for me it needs to be light enough to wear when it’s colder than about 9C. ¬†It also needs to be stylish enough to wear to a client. Three simple criteria. ¬†And surprisingly not that easy to meet.

This coat does in spades.  I love it.

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So you can imagine my disappointment when I put my coat on this year for the first time and realised that the zipper was broken.

Off to my dressmaker Carmen. ¬†She laughed. “Can’t do it!” was her starting position. ¬†Then after a few minutes she said she could but it would be complicated. I would need to go to a shoe repair to have the grommets removed [they’d have to put them back too] and then I’d need to buy the zipper. Not any old zipper. The exact zipper. After a bit of tooing and froing, we figured out a way that she could replace the zipper without the shoe repairman step. ¬†It would be very time intensive to do, but she could do it at a price. Well worth it I thought. I headed home to search the internet for the zipper.

First lesson. ¬†A zipper is more than a zipper. It’s many parts you don’t know the names of put together to make a zipper. ¬†And for each part there are dozens of variables – colour, material, size. ¬†And the company that makes my zipper , YKK, makes 1000s of zippers for 100s of uses. I soon gave up on this idea.

That’s when I complained to my husband, Michael, and he said the genius thing: “Why don’t you call the store where you bought the coat.”

Second lesson.  Listen to your husband. He might be right.

So, I went on line to search for the stores phone number. By mistake I ended up on the North Face site. ¬†And there it was: ¬†“The North Face¬ģ products are fully warranted to the original owner against defects in materials and workmanship for the lifetime of the product. If a product ever fails due to a manufacturing defect, even after extended use, we will repair the product, without charge, or replace it, at our discretion.” ¬†Too good to be true.

Third lesson. It wasn’t too good to be true. It turned out to be as easy as:

  • Calling – The person on the phone was ‘friendly, not familiar‘ and knowledgeable. Obviously proud to be working there – something in his voice.
  • Shipping it to them [for less than the cost of a zipper] with a reference number, and
  • Waiting. Two weeks later just as the temperature here plummeted my coat arrived. ¬†No charge. Good as new.

This is crazy. How could North Face afford to do this?

Fourth lesson. ¬†The more I thought about it the more I realized smart companies can’t afford not to. Companies don’t design products to fail. But if they do what an incredible learning opportunity.

North Face had learned that they could use to improve their products and services. I told them how much I loved this coat more than once. They knew my address, etc from our interactions. They knew the model of coat that an urban dweller like me would fall in love with.¬†They could find out how well the fabric and belt were wearing after 2 full winters. They could see the problem with the zipper first hand and would be able to better understand if it was a supplier issue or a design flaw. They’d learn a lot!

You don’t design products to fail, but when they do, there’s a real opportunity to deepen your customer relationship. ¬†I’m so happy ¬†I’ve already told my friends and family this story. And, now I’m telling it here.

How smart is that?

* I have no relationship to the North Face or any of its employees except as described here.


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Deborah Hinton Monday, December 3rd, 2012
Permalink Communication, Culture No Comments

Beware: Manipulation mania

“Make employees feel they are doing something meaningful.”

“Have and show faith and trust in your team.”

As leaders and communication professionals this is the kind of advice we get. It comes regularly and it comes often.

There’s something deeply wrong.¬†We want to build healthy sustainable relationship with employees. But taking this advice is almost certainly going to kill the relationship.¬†Let’s take a closer look.

First, the work employees do is either meaningful to them or it isn’t. ¬†If we’re ‘making them “feel” that it is, we are manipulating them.

Second, we either have faith and trust our teams or we don’t. ¬†Having and showing faith and trust in our teams when we don’t is also a manipulation. ¬†This time we’re manipulating ourselves.

Neither of approach is sustainable.  And neither is good for relationship.

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There’s a manipulation mania out there. Beware. ¬†It’s a bad thing?


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Deborah Hinton Monday, November 19th, 2012
Permalink Communication, Culture, Internal communication, Management No Comments

Learning from village life

I’ve just come back from a family celebration – a 100th birthday [not mine!] – in Yorkshire, England.

Having grown up on stories of village life as depicted in shows like ¬†“All Creatures Great and Small”, I’d assumed at best they were either¬†¬†a glimpse at an idyllic [if challenging] past or complete fantasy.

So I was very struck by the reality of village life I saw on this visit – the central square that you inevitably pass through no matter where you’re heading, the weekend market, the hussle and bustle as stores open in the morning, the quiet calm of the evening, the conversations on the street corners as friends bump into friends and share stories, the friendly ‘Hello, luv’s’, the call of the church bell. ¬†Now I’m sure there are downsides of village life – everyone does seem to know everything – but on balance it seems to function well as it has for centuries.

I’d been thinking about this and organizational life: what are our equivalent of a central square? what are the rythmns that punctuate our daily and seasonal business life? how we greet each other in the parking lot, reception, hallways of the places we work? how we tell our stories? what is the equivalent of the church bell to call us out of ourselves and put our work lives in context? What can we as leaders and communicators learn from village life?

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And, then I came to Robert Fritz’s most recent post¬†where talks about his own village in Vermont to show how “freedom as a value not a concept”. ¬†It struck me again, that we have even more to learn from village life. ¬†As Robert points out it can be a pretty effective way of organizing ourselves to bring things that matter to us into being. After all isn’t that what our organizations are about?

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Deborah Hinton Wednesday, October 10th, 2012
Permalink Culture, Workplace 2 Comments

Internal social strategy is no strategy at all

Not so long ago if you talked social and internal communication you’d be talking Christmas and retirement parties. ¬†Sadly, I’m not sure things have really changed all that much.

Despite a recent report from McKinsey Global Institute¬†and the FastCompany article that followed and claimed: ¬†“…¬†social technologies stand to unlock from $900 billion to $1.3 trillion in value…¬†¬†Two-thirds of the value unlocked by social media rests in ‚Äúimproved communications and collaboration within and across enterprises,‚ÄĚ according to the report. Far from a distraction, in other words, social media proves a surprising boon to productivity.”

This huge potential stands in stark contrast to the reality of the organizations I’ve been speaking with lately where it is clear that there is no social media strategy for internal communication. ¬†Instead, they are relying on either trying to close down employee access to all things social media or on employee guidelines like these:

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Former bad. Latter potential helpful and something we’ve discussed here before.

But, beyond that it seems whatever social is going on is ad hoc and depends to a large extent on two situations:

  1. a single leader somewhere in the organization taking a stand and closing down all other means of communicating as a team [e.g.¬†One exec who said no to endless product training and emails. ¬†He started a wiki where team members could answer each others product questions and where he played an active role in ‘curating’ content to make sure it was the most up to date and accurate. It’s working beautifully from both the team and the customer point of view]
  2. grass roots initiatives that spread like wildfire [e.g. a small team started using Yammer to connect to each other on internal questions, issues, a basic logistics. Within weeks it had spread through the whole organization.  The question now is how to keep the executive from pulling the plug]

Now, I’m not against these hacks. As you know, quite the opposite. But, given the potential productivity gains cited by McKinsey isn’t it time to do more than rely on hacking?

Isn’t it time to recognize the value of connecting internally¬†? Isn’t it time to¬†create an internal social strategy that¬†creates the context for an integrated system-wide view that encourages and supports an approach to how our organizations live social internally?


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