Top Five Reasons to Give Up on Millennials

 

Thank you, Deloitte’s, for a ‘just when I thought I’d seen/heard everything’ moment. Please give it up for the ‘MilleXZials’ – an amalgamation of Gen Z (ages 14-20), millennials (21-34) and Gen X (35-51). Apparently, their ‘mobile consumption behaviours’ – and, I’d venture, many other of their consumption behaviours – are pretty much the same.

Being older than all of these amalgamated whippersnappers and, yet, probably possessed of the very same consumption behaviours, I think Messrs Deloitte have missed a trick here. ‘MilleXZials-boom!’ would have been so much better. The point is that ‘milleXZials’ are everyone.

As, on a slightly smaller scale, are Millennials. Here are five reasons why we should ditch the lazy catch-all that is ‘millennial’ and get on with understanding the needs of a micro-segmented audience.

Millennials are not a distinct group

Only in that they were all born between 1980 and 2000. Stating the obvious, the oldest are 38 and the youngest are 18. Socially, economically, politically, ideologically, technologically – they’re different shades on a very broad spectrum. They cannot be influenced, communicated with or sold to with a one-size-fits-all approach.

Millennial is not a synonym for ‘the youth of today’

Because while some of them are, others – very clearly – aren’t. (Recently I read the phrase ‘Millennials, and their older siblings…’ Hell’s teeth, I’m the older sibling of a top-of-the-range Millennial. Talk about broad generalisations.)

Millennials are not ‘the workforce of tomorrow’

Saw a presentation recently entitled ‘Boomers vs Millennials: are you ready for the shift in your workforce’? End-of-generation Millennials are 38 years old. They’ll have already been in the workplace 16 years, supposing they endured higher education. They’re your boss. A quarter of Millennials have been in the workplace for 10 years or more.

Millennials do not all want the same things

Whether that’s world peace, corporate purpose, recyclable coffee containers or a sushi bar in the workplace. To imply that they do is to lose focus and render any communication strategy so broad-brush as to be wholly ineffectual.

Millennials are not disadvantaged compared to the previous generation

They can’t all afford houses because house prices have risen out of all proportion to the price of anything else, and society’s rules vis a vis home ownership have changed. That being said, there are jobs to be had, and jobs in ‘new’ industry sectors (think internet, social media, fintech, bioscience) pay comparatively well. Millennials live as well, if not better, than previous generations. Even if ‘millennial unrest’ was a thing, it isn’t.

Dump Broad Groupings – Embrace Nano-Targeting

Millennials was the first socio-economic group that wasn’t.  (And there will be no more that are.) Regardless of any other influences – and there are myriad others, obviously – the incredibly rapid growth and implementation of new technologies alone has seen to that.

The internet, as we know it, became a thing around about 1995. Thus, Millennials born in 1980 grew up with dial-up and cables. Millennials born in 1995 grew up with smartphones and broadband. Facebook was founded in 2004 – early Millennials would have been all over it. Later Millennial has probably closed his or her account. Early Millennials are sporting FitBits and confuse automated call centres with AI. Sharp-end Millennials are already thinking about having payment chips implanted in their hands.

For the last time – ‘Millennials do this, and Millennials think that’ – it’s lazy, and it’s unimaginative. Millennials don’t exist.

Diageo recently made a song and dance about micro-targeting – given the current rate of technological development, evolution, implementation and utilisation (and its effect on society) expect to have to coin a new term for a new group every month or so.

It’s not micro, it’s nano.

Reputation Management, Millennials and Corporate Purpose – Part 2

This article, by Tony Langham, CEO of Lansons, for PRWeek, conflates reputation management, millennials and corporate purpose – three hot topics, each deserving commentary of its own. I started with reputation management – now let’s look at corporate purpose.

Millennials and their older siblings want to understand why a business exists. They want to know its purpose and what it stands for. They want to see corporate citizens that play their part in the community.

Corporate Purpose – Shiny Object Syndrome?

The evidence that genuine purpose improves corporate performance is compelling. The concern is that having a purpose is seen solely as a means of achieving the performance improvement.

Two things:

  • Spending considerable amounts of time and money on identifying a shortlist of purposes for your company – as many do – seems a flawed approach. Either you have a genuine purpose, or you don’t. And if your purpose is making the most amount of widgets at the best price, then so be it
  • Purpose, for many, seems to be inextricably linked with corporate ethics, whereas, to my mind, a purpose might reference an ethical agenda but it doesn’t have to in order to be valid

Employees are not engaged by engagement, and having a corporate purpose does not make your stakeholders purposeful. Creating engagement and purpose amongst your employees and having external stakeholders build a purposeful relationship (one that will be acted on) with you are both functions of many and varied factors – and buying a tailored statement of purpose isn’t one of them.

Having a corporate purpose should not be confused with having positions on diversity, equality and sustainability and being prepared to share them. Nor should it be confused with CSR programmes. These are simply ethical behaviours. While I am not wholly convinced that ‘people, planet, profit’ is the correct order of things, they are the things that matter, regardless of whether you have a statement of purpose or not.

Purpose, Mission, Vision – What’s The Difference?

Assuming the role of interested layperson, it is easy to search for ‘purpose’ in connection with some of the world’s best known corporates – Google, for example, Microsoft, Apple, IBM, Amazon, Facebook, LinkedIn, Tesla, Starbucks and Coca-Cola.

And the interested layperson finds that, amongst the missions and the visions, there are very few mentions of purpose. Facebook has an updated purpose, but this is also reported as being a mission and a goal. IBM ‘translates company purpose through (three) values’. (And uses ‘mission’ and ‘purpose’ in the same sentence to describe the same thing.)

Having a credible vision, mission, and set of values is important. They are three of the many and varied factors that lead to engaged and purposeful employees. To the outside world, not so much. External stakeholders shouldn’t have to be told what your values are – they should be able to deduce what they are through corporate behaviour. That is, of course, if they actually care.

It says something about the concept of purpose, however, that some of the world’s largest companies seem to be simply re-working – or re-labelling – their missions, or their goals, or their values in order to tick the purpose box.

Purposely Distracting

Needless to say, this approach delivers a hotch-potch of styles, approaches and themes – from the sales-driven (Apple, Amazon) through the product-led (Tesla, Starbucks) to the almost hopelessly idealistic (Coca-Cola, Google).

To misquote Alec Guinness, these are not the purposes that stakeholders are looking for. (If indeed they are looking at all.) At best, they have been designed by committee (you can see this in Apple’s 2017 mission statement compared to Mr Jobs’s original and personal ethos) at worst, you might be forgiven for thinking that they’re an attempt to distract from what the company – or its leadership – is really doing.

In terms of facilitating understanding of why a business exists, its purpose and what it stands for, they are not up to the task. They are complex and lack authenticity. Arguably, these companies would be better off without, and letting their corporate behaviour speak for them. Supposing, of course, they trust it to do so.

Reputation Management, Millennials and Corporate Purpose – Part 1

This article, by Tony Langham, CEO of Lansons, for PRWeek, conflates reputation management, millennials and corporate purpose – three hot topics, each deserving commentary of its own. Let’s start with reputation management.

Reputation Management – What Does It Actually Mean?

Reputation management is seen as a synonym for crisis and issues management and risk mitigation. There are at least two obvious reasons for this. The first is that ‘reputation management’ -as descriptor for what we, as communications professionals, do – simply isn’t very clear.

That’s not to say that ‘public relations’, or ‘corporate communication’, are much better, but one cannot help but thinking that the industry came up with ‘reputation management’ to make itself sound more weighty, more serious and more deserving of a seat at the top table.

‘Public relations’ has the merit of doing what it says on the tin, and being easily explained in one or two sentences. Likewise ‘corporate communication’. The downside, stating the obvious, is that ‘public relations’ suffers from a longstanding image problem. That image problem is not going be solved by changing the discipline’s name, however – particularly if the new name is ambiguous.

‘Public relations’ and ‘corporate communication’, as labels, still work well. High quality, effective, measurable work should address the image problem.

Institutionalised Communication

Reputation management does take in crisis management and risk mitigation, of course, but they are not prime directives. The prime directive is, as it always has been, getting out there and making opportunities to tell your story in ways that will connect with your target audiences, so as to build a positive, beneficial and measurable relationship with them.

Another reason, then, why reputation management is becoming aligned with the lawyers and the accountants, is that the prime directive is being suppressed. Communication has been institutionalised. Reactive communication has become the best communication. (Arguably, in some areas, ’twas always thus and it should not be forgotten that the reputation managers of today were often the corporate affairs advisers and capital markets communicators of yesterday.)

I have two examples of this, one first, and one second, hand. In both companies – no names, no pack drill, but both recent – communication (corporate affairs, reputation management – what you will) was almost wholly reactive. In both cases, I took this to be a function of the industry sector (finance, since you ask), naturally conservative and risk-averse. I now think I was wrong – it’s a general malaise.

The core function of the communicator is to champion active communication strategies, that use all the tools available, to communicate the corporate personality and proposition. And that means creativity and persuasion – having the ideas and getting the approvals necessary to make them happen.

Is There Value in Purpose?

Which brings us neatly to this video which dates from January 2018. A good example of corporate creativity, of personality and proposition and – one can but imagine – a certain amount of persuasion to get it over the line.

Obviously, it’s fraught with risk – it’s an overt statement of what the company stands for, which it now has to stand by, forever, and, let’s face it, someone’s going to be offended by it. But it appears to be authentic, a real statement of what Sodastream is.

Refreshingly, it’s not a ‘purpose’, requested by the board, designed by committee and handed off to the communicators with a brief to ensure everyone knows what it is. But more of that anon.

Meet the new boss, same as the old boss – corporate purpose and employee engagement

Well, that’s a relief. Appears that engagement, as the raison d’etre for internal communication, is falling out of favour.

Turns out that people are beginning to recognise that the measurement of employee engagement (expensive yearly staff surveys) and actual employee engagement are not the same thing.

This piece from IC Kollectif in Montreal doesn’t quite say that, but it is a good read and makes excellent points. https://www.ickollectif.com/single-post/Breaking-The-Rule-Of-Engagement-New-Opportunities-For-Internal-Communication

Back to basics for Internal Communication

So IC professionals can get back to what they should be doing. Supporting the company’s business efforts by ensuring that all employees are fully informed about the business, its plans, strategies and values, the roles that they play, how they are expected to play them, and how they will be supported in so doing.

In other words, engaging the employee through the promotion of knowledge and understanding.

This, then, makes interesting reading – credit to Rachel Miller at allthingsIC, and The Big Yak, an IC unconference – great name, great concept – held on June 9 in London, www.thebigyak.co.uk. It’s the list of agenda topics.

Lot of old friends on this list – lot of perennial issues. Always good to see them still front and centre and being considered seriously. Personal faves would include CEO communication, getting exec buy-in, making managers communicators, and that old doughnut, communication strategy.

Nota bene, however, nowhere on this agenda is there mention of ‘engagement’. (OK, there is once, but I take it to mean ‘involvement’.)

Is ‘Purpose’ the new ‘Engagement’?

But sadly, as the rot of engagement is cut out, so begins the insidious rising damp of purpose. Even within the excellent Big Yak agenda, there it is – ‘connecting people to purpose’.

And the rise of purpose communication will not be – is not – confined to the internal communication discipline. This will affect – is affecting – communicators across the board.

This piece in the London Business School review makes both fascinating and terrifying reading – https://www.london.edu/faculty-and-research/lbsr/li-four-principles-translating-purpose-into-practice?platform=hootsuite.

It’s fascinating because the evidence that genuine purpose improves corporate performance is extremely compelling. It’s terrifying, because that’s what they said about employee engagement. As The Who said – meet the new boss, same as the old boss.

I worked with a company, not so long ago, for which the very measurement of employee engagement was the engagement itself. It was all about the scores and how the scores were communicated. It was also a company searching for a purpose – significant amounts of money were being spent with external agencies to identify and refine a shortlist of purposes, one of which would eventually be selected to be the corporate purpose.

Two things strike me as wrong here.

  • Purpose, for many, seems to be inextricably linked with sustainability, whereas, to my mind, a purpose might reference a sustainability agenda but it doesn’t have to in order to be valid
  • Spending considerable amounts of time and money on identifying a shortlist of purposes for your company seems a flawed approach. Either you have a purpose, or you don’t. And if your purpose is making the most amount of widgets at the best price, then so be it

What also strikes me is that purpose is the new shiny object on the block. Everyone claims to want a purpose, when they really want the performance uptick that accrues to companies with a purpose.

So the ExComm decides on a purpose for the company and hands it off to the communicators – the new Director of Communications and Purpose – with a brief to drop everything and ensure all stakeholders know what the purpose is, and why. Then measure awareness of, and adherence to, the tenets of the purpose. Because, obviously, the measurement of the thing is, as we know, the exact same as the thing itself.

But at least this solves the question of what’s happening to the budget that will be freed up when you stop doing the employee engagement survey……

Right Messages + Right Spokesperson = Audience Engagement

So let’s talk a bit about messaging and spokespeople and audience engagement.

A recent commercial radio news bulletin, here in the Emerald City, concerning the renewal of a corporate sponsorship of a leading entertainment venue.

An opportunity, with the right messages and delivery, to enhance the general perception of a company, and get people on board.

Include detail, avoid buzzwords

The spokesperson talked about transforming the sponsored building into a ‘smart venue’. This may well be a thing, and it may well be something that can be delivered – but without any explanation, it’s a lost opportunity to connect with the audience. Then there was ‘improving customer experience’. Without specifics, why should anyone care?

It is too easy to substitute a shorthand term for the real message. ‘Smart venue’, when we mean a building that can tell you where things are, tell you how long the queue for the ladies’ loo is and allow you to pre-order two hot dogs and four pints via an app on your smartphone. ‘Improving customer experience’ when we mean discounted gig tickets, a chance to meet the band and 4G in the mosh pit.

Messages are the detail that gets people interested, draws them in, makes them want to be involved. In this case, however, both key points sounded like buzzwords from an approved list, drawn up because research shows they’re what the customer wants to hear.

Suitable spokespeople, not senior spokespeople

The spokesperson had clearly been briefed, and did a workpersonlike job, but sounded uncomfortable and didn’t have the detail that would make the story live. Agreeing a spokesperson is not easy – often simple seniority carries the day.

An alternative approach is to establish a panel of ‘subject matter experts’ who take the spokesperson role when it’s their area.

Another is to spread the responsibility – get agreement that a handful of senior people should alternate as spokesperson, thus limiting the exposure of any one in particular.

And there’s selection of opportunity – the less able spokesperson gets the less pivotal gigs.

Training to tell stories

In the real world, of course, this doesn’t always work. The media want to speak with the CEO, and no-one else will cut it. Or maybe the news story is about a ground-breaking use of technology and only the CTO will do.

Which is where, of course, the message and the spokesperson should be managed in tandem.

Messages are not buzzwords, and a spokesperson is not someone reading buzzwords off a script. Training and rehearsal – above and beyond a simple ‘briefing’ – help the spokesperson to build their own story around the messages.

Telling a story that they’re comfortable with not only brings the message to life, but allows the spokesperson to be genuine in their delivery.

It’s the combination of interesting detail and genuine delivery, by someone who’s comfortable with the material, that creates audience connection and propensity to engage.

Communication and Engagement – Not The Same Thing, Not Even Close

I consider myself a complete communicator (try and ignore the hubris) having worked, variously, in external communication, internal communication, public affairs, investor relations and reputation and issues management. I try to see the whole picture, from the ‘who, what, why, where, when, how’ communication point of view. (Not necessarily in that order, mind. Probably start with the ‘why’ and the ‘what’.)

This is an interesting piece (I digress, but it’s worth it) pondering why the various communication disciplines have to be separate. They’re not. There’s no strange voodoo in internal communication and you don’t need a doctorate in the dark arts to communicate externally. It’s about objective, target, message, medium and measurement, all as part of the over-arching business strategy.

One thing that I am certain isn’t included in the communicator’s remit, however, is ’employee engagement’.

I have said it before and I will say it again – good communication has its part to play in engaging employees, by making them aware of the company’s vision, mission, purpose and values, by delivering regular updates on the organisation’s progress and by humanising the leadership (amongst other things). But engagement is not communication and communication is not engagement.

Rather, an engaged workforce (read ‘loyal, committed, passionate, dynamic and happy’ and please note I do not include ‘agile’) is the result of getting a number of things right – management skills, equipment levels, working conditions, pay, benefits, work/life balance – all of which are HR functions.

The only possible scenario in which communication could lead engagement is one in which the communication of the results of an engagement survey (and the actual survey) is viewed as the engagement itself. But this, surely, would be to say ‘we expect employee levels of satisfaction with the status quo – let’s call it employee engagement – to increase year-on-year as our communication team tell them more about it’. Sometimes with the subtext ‘and God help you if they don’t’.

But that couldn’t happen, could it? It would imply that the organisation, and what does for its people, is perfect already – and that the failure to engage with it is down to the employee and their lack of understanding.

So why, therefore, am I seeing an increase in the number of communication jobs advertised with engagement in the title? Twice this week – a Head of Internal Communications (sic) and Engagement and a Director of Communications (sic) and Engagement.

Were I of a suspicious nature, I would be tempted to speculate that ‘engagement’, so recently the Next Big Thing, is on its way to becoming the Last Big Thing. ‘Engagement’ has become a box to tick, something to measure, and the things that actually drive employee motivation continue, as they always have done, sometimes well, sometimes badly, behind the scenes.

Of course, if you’ve been running an employee engagement survey for the last four years, then you can’t just ditch it overnight (you can, actually – but that’s another story) so you need to find a home for it – and where better than the communication department? They’ve got plenty of time on their hands and no-one really knows what they do anyway.

Some conclusions, therefore:

  • Let’s stop talking about employee engagement and talk about employee motivation, or satisfaction, instead. The change in language would a) distance us from the industry that has grown up around measuring and reporting ‘engagement’ and b) place the responsibility for staff satisfaction back where it belongs – with HR
  • Monitoring employee sentiment is an ongoing and regular thing, not a yearly survey. By all means do a yearly survey if you must – and if you can afford it – but it should be run out of HR. Alternatively, you could provide regular updates from your communication listening groups (you are running those, right?) to your leadership team – and encourage them to do something visible in response
  • Let’s keep focused on demonstrating – and finding new ways to demonstrate – the value of strategic communication, and what it entails, to the organisation’s leadership. Show a united front (all communication disciplines working together seamlessly), educate – and disabuse of the notion that the communication department has spare capacity for projects that are losing favour or have become inconvenient

A Tipping Point For IC?

The thing about being an old communicator is that, over time, years of experience become clarified and whittled down to very simple basics. Sometimes this means seeing things in stark relief and the way ahead, for you anyway, becoming incredibly clear.

Reading the CIPR Inside document ‘Making It Count – The Strategic Value and Effectiveness of Internal Communication’, published in November 2017, occasioned one of those moments. Being honest, it was one of those ‘oh shit’ moments.

The issues identified by the CIPR document were (and this may not be an exhaustive list, so read the damn’ thing yourself) as follows. (The summaries following each issue point are drawn from the report, but are my own words.)

IC’s ‘professional branding’

(The term ‘professional branding’ is used (by me, here) to mean how IC is viewed when it isn’t in the room.) IC is tactical not strategic, it lacks business acumen, it is not measurable, its function is unclear. Communication within an organisation is seen as important and valuable – but is spoken of (by senior management) in broad terms that do little to suggest an understanding of tangible benefits or the risks of not doing it.

IC’s ‘place’ in the organisation

CEOs responding to questioning about the value of business functions highlighted IC as important but, understandably, said that the areas that generated profits had the most value. The impression is that IC practitioners, on the other hand, fell that they are wholly undervalued and, in some cases, merit a place on the board.

What IC actually is

Many IC practitioners surveyed used the terms ‘IC’ and ‘engagement’ interchangeably, a confusion which hints at a lack of professional clarity. ‘Culture’ was also thrown into the mix. CEOs mentioned IC strategy, but were talking IC tactics. It appears IC is often a simple delivery system and not the instigator or shaper of the message.

What IC delivers to the organisation

Motherhood statements (from senior management) such as ‘Internal communication is extremely important…..it’s right up there and (I) would rate it at a nine or ten, because if you don’t communicate effectively with your people….. you’re probably going to have a dysfunctional organisation’ imply no real understanding of IC delivery or benefit. 

How IC is measured

The summary finding ‘there is a strong focus from leadership on performance and targets’ illuminates and damns in one. CEOs agreed that an engaged workforce (engagement/IC confusion) was more productive, but believed it was difficult to to prove with hard data.

Finally, and I cannot ignore this, there is a clear indication of corporate attitudes to IC in the sample size. The aim was 40 senior managers ‘however, (the CIPR) found it challenging to identify the full sample for varying reasons, including access to CEOs’  – the end result was 14.

I want to be clear, I disagree completely with the CIPR when it says the report ‘delivers an upbeat assessment of the practice, with senior leaders demonstrating a sharp understanding and appreciation of internal communication.’ Sadly, I think I got a different version of the document.

But I was always told that one shouldn’t highlight problems without offering solutions – so, what should we be doing about all of this? Here’s a few things – by no means an extensive list, without the detail that is required to initiate a conversation – we might consider starting with.

  • Let’s put IC where it belongs – in Corporate Affairs, Communications or PR. It’s not part of HR and it’s definitely not part of marketing. It needs to sit with other comms functions to be part of a central messaging unit
  • Let’s be sure we know the difference between IC and Engagement. Communication can help deliver employee engagement, but Engagement (and its measurement) sits with HR/OD
  • Let’s ensure that we know what IC’s goals are (they should be aligned to the company’s goals) and use them to develop a strategy. Only then should we talk tactics
  • Let’s put measurement in place – start simply, with a couple of questions for each employee. These questions could form part of a wider engagement survey (there is no irony in this), or could be on the intranet or could be printed out by line managers, filled in by staff and handed in to IC
  • Let’s get involved in messaging – reflecting the corporate messaging, and developed by function, by department, by team – as granular as you want, as long it’s relevant and useful – and use this opportunity to enhance management understanding of the role
  • Recognise that IC (and Corporate Affairs) are unlikely to get seats on the board, and maybe not even (officially) on the ExComm. But also recognise that both are ‘trusted advisor’ functions and, as such, require business knowledge, business acumen and a healthy respect for cash flows and bottom lines

I first became aware of IC as a discipline 23 years ago – before I became aware of a thing called the world wide web. Before I had a mobile phone. It is not a new thing and there has been plenty of time for it to ‘mature as a specialist discipline within the broader communication function’ – and I have experience of several organisations where it has.

The CIPR report shines a useful and timely light on the issues confronting IC as a discipline. It should be treated as a call to immediate action.