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.

The Savagery of Social – implications for internal communication

This, I suspect, may get me into trouble. Let’s talk about the nastier side of social media for a moment, and then let’s consider the implications that arise for internal communication and the already established trend of using enterprise social networks like Yammer, Workplace by Facebook and, well, Sharepoint. (There are others, clearly – like Slack and Unily – arguably collaboration tools, or bespoke intranets, but as it’s all about ‘sharing’ – and odds are on that ‘conversation’ is also being mentioned – they’ve got all the characteristics of the established social media channels.)

And that’s the issue, really. Here’s a piece from The Irish Times (written by Jennifer O’Connell) which says ‘social media has shown us that when humans gather with no rules, savagery prevails’ and goes on to say ‘there’s a brutality now in the way we communicate with one another that did not exist before social media’. The article, which is definitely worth a few minutes, starts out looking at Ed Sheeran’s decision to leave Twitter, touches on the Orange Mussolini in the White House and uses personal experience to further illustrate the point. And it’s all demonstrably true.

Quite some time ago, I attempted to categorise this phenomenon. (If you can be bothered, you can find my original post here.) It’s ‘an ailment that afflicts a small but significant proportion of the population when they are presented with the opportunity to post whatever they like to a public forum’ – appearing to be compulsive and involuntary. It can take the form of simple intolerance of anyone else’s point of view, or extreme bad language, or posting of inappropriate material (visual or written), or racial harassment or career-threatening stupidity. That it’s a small proportion of the population is important – although the Brexit ‘debate’ has shown that the proportion may be larger than first imagined – however, as is always the case, it only takes one.

So – what does this mean for enterprise social networks? First, let’s go back to the Irish Times piece (above) and note the words ‘with no rules’. Social media have no rules, and anyone can say whatever they like, hiding behind a blank avatar and an anonymous username. Obviously, in the workplace, there will be rules governing the use of corporate intranets, collaboration tools and how employees represent their employer on external social media. Won’t there?

Well, actually, not necessarily. From personal experience, there are companies that have not thought about a code of practice. That do not have a Use of Social Media Policy. That – and this is terrifying – won’t implement guidelines because they don’t see them being at one with the spirit of social media. It’s all about sharing and collaboration and conversation, apparently – placing guidelines on how you do it would stifle its very essence. Hang the potential consequences.

Again, quite some time ago, I did a piece on my experience of implementing a very early version of an enterprise social network. (And again, if you can be bothered, you can read the whole thing here.) The conclusion was – ‘give people a voice and they will use it, as if it is a right. They will use it despite the fact they have nothing to say. They will use it to settle grievances, even scores, wash dirty laundry, put hearts on sleeves, bare souls and share the unthinkable. And probably try to unscrew the inscrutable, given half the chance.’

There are many companies (three that I know personally) – no names, no pack drill – who use enterprise social networks. There are consultancies who offer to implement an enterprise social network in your business. My experience is that they do not work – amongst the workplace as a whole – as they were meant to, generally because a busy workforce does not have the time to add an extra layer of complexity to its day-to-day and also – obviously – because not everyone wants to share their work. Because it’s theirs.

So what happens is that the expensive tool becomes a means for the few to blow their own trumpets and a further few to ‘like’ the fact that they’ve done so. And there is always the risk of wholly inappropriate, reputation-damaging content – although, in fairness, there is a less of it than I envisaged, way back when. But still, the expensive tool is a reflection of the shiny object that it imitates – faint, but a reflection nonetheless. And if social is becoming increasingly savage, thoughtless, stupid and radical then – without the policies, guidelines, checks and balances in place – so must your internal network.

From all of this, there are clear take-outs:

  • If you have an enterprise social network, govern it with a strict policy
  • Have a corporate ‘Use of Social Media’ policy in any case – you never know when you’ll need it
  • If you haven’t got an enterprise social network, think carefully – do you need one, or is it Shiny Object Syndrome?
  • Remember, the role of internal communication is to keep the workforce appraised of the organisation’s successes, vision, values, strategy, policies, procedures and its corporate religion, thereby generating a sense of belonging, belief and purpose. It is not to encourage free debate around these things, as Google has found out.

 

Crisis Management – The Idiot’s Guide To Creating A Plan 1

2009 Research by Burson Marsteller (a PR company) into European companies’ level of crisis-preparedness revealed that while 60% of companies polled had encountered some sort of crisis, 53% didn’t have a plan in place to deal with a crisis when it happens to them. Just so the full horror of this has time to sink in – I’ll repeat it in slightly different terms.

Over half of European companies, it would seem, are wholly unprepared for the ‘phone call at 3.00am that tells you your factory’s on fire, or one of your planes just came down. The Monday morning call from the Department of Health to say that hospitals up and down the country are stuffed to the gunwales with patients, poisoned by your range of ready meals. The sight of two of your workforce plummeting past the window, having been issued with badly-maintained harnesses. Your CEO shooting himself in the foot, describing your product range as ‘off the record, real shit, know what I mean’, or your CEO simply shooting himself, having realised that the whole fraud game is up.

Do I need to go on? Everyone knows that a good crisis – or sometimes just a minor issue – can destroy a company, brand, organisation, or person’s reputation overnight if it’s not handled in the right way. Think of the examples. Hoover and the flights debacle, Ratners, Nestle and the baby milk, Coke and Dasani, Thierry Henry, Goldman Sachs, Britney Spears, Enron, Exxon Mobil – the list is, quite literally, endless.

And still, over half of European companies do not have a crisis plan in place. Without labouring the point, a crisis can happen at any time, and it’s one of those strange serendipity things that at any time is exactly when crises do happen. There’s no warning and it will be the middle of the night – that much is guaranteed. It is tantamount to malpractice for any communicator daring to describe himself or herself as professional to ply their trade in, or on behalf of, a company that doesn’t have a plan in place. Think about that for a moment.

Of course, it’s easier said than done. If you’ve not created a plan before it might, understandably, seem a bit daunting – and it’s not made any easier by the fact that there are a million conflicting opinions on what a plan should look like and what it should contain.

It’s also all to easy to put off, or ignore. Hey – your company, or your client’s company has never had a crisis – why’s it going to start now? Anyway, how difficult can it be? And just think of the cost, time and effort involved in putting a plan together! All perfectly good arguments – until such time as you are bitch-slapped by the big, wet, metaphorical haddock of crisis. At which point you are going to be really, really, abjectly sorry. Trust me.

In a perfect world, one would expect the industry bodies, or the industry’s ‘bible’ (copyright PRWeek 2009), to provide a handy cut-and-out-keep guide for the benefit of their members and readers – something to get you started. But it’s not a perfect world, and they don’t. In fact, as far as I can see, during the lazy and brief trawl of t’internet I conducted earlier today, there’s not much out there that doesn’t have a price attached to it.

So, for the good of mankind, I’m going to do a partwork here, just for you, my faithful blog snorkellers. Over the next few days – could be weeks, depends how deeply I dive into my subject – I shall, I hope, give you enough information on the key aspects of crisis management for you to develop your own skeleton plan. I shall deal with what constitutes a crisis, when issues become crises, who is responsible for the various facets of a crisis, preparing for a crisis, communicating during a crisis, business continuity and getting back to normal after a crisis. And, most likely, one or two spin-off topics.

So – tomorrow, in Creating A Plan 2, I’ll deal with What Is A Crisis.

CEOs Avoid Social Media

Ah – there you are. As you were.

When I read the title of this piece from the august and authoritative communications organ, Communicate Magazine (a title which I have simply stolen and used as my own), I was – I will not deny it – delighted. At last, I thought, CEOs show some sense. CEOs have (collectively) told their social media advisers (gurus, probably) – people whom I imagine to look and behave rather like the character Grima Wormtongue out of The Two Towers – that enough is enough and, starting today, we’ll be avoiding that social media malarkey, an’ thank you kindly.

Grima Wormtongue and a CEO, yesterday

Grima Wormtongue and a CEO, yesterday

Unfortunately, I was a bit previous. On fuller examination of the article’s contents (go on, do the clickety, you know you want to) I find it is reportage of yet another survey by yet another holistically thinking communications agency, promoting their expertise in the field of corporate reputation management by revealing (ta-DAAAA!) that “more than one-third of American CEOs do not consider the reputation their company has on social media when making decisions…….however, B2C CEOs consider social media more than their B2B counterparts.” The figures, because you’re gagging for them (I can tell) are thus:

  • B2B businesses only respond to online crises 43% of the time
  • (This is) well behind consumer-facing companies’ 63% response rate
  • B2B companies are twice as likely to entirely avoid addressing reputational issues with their digital audience

(I am afraid that I didn’t feel compelled to read the rest of the findings, but should you – dearest blog trotter – be desperate, here’s a link to the source.)

Anyhoo, having taken a bit of time to analyse the sentence “more than one-third of etc etc etc”, sad to say, I’m not sure what it means. Does it mean that, when making decisions, American CEOs don’t think about the potential effect that decision may have on social media communities and how they may, therefore, react (positively or negatively)? Or does it mean that American CEOs (possibly through the offices of Grima Wormtongue) have managed to put a value on the reputation their company has on social media, but don’t really care about whether that value goes up or down as a result of the decisions they make? Either way – and this POV won’t surprise those of you who know me – I think we’re allocating social media a corporate-reputation-affectiveness weighting (yes, I just made that up) that it doesn’t have. I would be fascinated if American CEOs have managed to put a value on social media reputation, mind.

(And, just briefly, how was this research carried out? Was the question “Out of every 100 online crises, how many did you respond to?” really asked? Yes, I know I’m being facile. Sorry.) (But, a serious point here – we’re obviously not talking about crises, we’re talking about issues. No company can be unlucky (or incompetent) enough to have encountered 100 real crises.)

So. I’d like to attempt an answer to the burning question raised by this research, which is (obviously) ‘why are CEOs avoiding social media?’ And in formulating my answer, I provide this piece of evidence, which I shall call (to make it sound weighty and official) ‘Exhibit A‘. It’s quite old, but it is the record of an online complaint being addressed, reasonably sensibly, by the company at which the complaint was aimed, and the subsequent response from the complainant.

Ladies and gents, I put it to you that the reason that social media ‘issues’ are being avoided by many (not enough) companies is because a vast majority of those using social media – and commenting on a vast range of topics, including the doings of big corporate – are completely and utterly hat stand. Dribbling, incompetent loons, gibbering into the void. And no matter what you, the corporate, do or say, you will not win.

Best, often, to keep schtum.

Not just me, then………

Good morning, dear blog snorkellers all, and welcome to the bloggy equivalent of diving for meal stars in a tank full of spiders and cockroaches but, thankfully, without Ant and Dec. For those of the faithful that haven’t got a clue what just went down there, it’s a knowing and thus quite irritating reference to the current expression of the Great British zeitgeist, ‘I’m a Celebrity, Get Me Out Of Here’ only, of course, they’re not and everyone (secretly) wants them to stay there. Especially Nadine Dorries and Helen Flanagan, two people without whom I am absolutely certain the world would continue on its merry way, not in the least bit troubled by their absence.

So, you must be whispering amongst yourselves, ‘why has he called us here’ – on a day like today, as we barrel headlong into a gripping British winter. Well, since you ask, it’s for reasons social mediaeval, trotters mine and something that you may be interested in persuing yourselves. It is this – see – an article by one Charlie Brooker, reproduced here by linkery to t’Guardian newspaper of this parish, without so much  as a ‘by its leave’ or, indeed, permish from Brooker himself. I do hope he’s not overly bothered and decides that it’s a) too much faff and b) uneconomical to get all McAlpine on my ass. As the Mercans might say if they knew who McAlpine is and were as able to bend the English language to their will as I am.

I’m in agreement with this train of thought because it suits me to be so. Anyone who knows me will know I’m not a great fan of t’social, and this article posits that “Like the wheel, social media is another invention that is starting to resemble more of a millstone than a breakthrough.” It also suggests a few simple rules to solve a problem like the internet. Unlikely, you may say. P*ssing in the wind, you may say. Important, I say, and eminently necessary as we spiral headlong into a digital despond where, OMG, everyone is LOL, or worse, ROFL, or even, at the extremes of society, RAOTFLMFAO.

I think it’s code for ‘I’m a Luddite, Get Me Out Of Here!’ And I’m waiting for my request to be granted.

PR – Image Problem? What Image Problem? (Part 2)

Came across this blog post. Authored by one Steve Riches, food and drink editor of The People. Which is a bit like being culture editor of New Philistine magazine. Actually, it IS culture editor of New Philistine magazine. Mind, you, this train of thought is probably lost on Steve. Seems a bit of a lacklustre twat, that’s the problem.

Anyway, he’s got some misperceptions about PR and – in fairness to the revolting oaf – these misperceptions are not his fault. They are the fault of many of those who work in this vale of tears that we call ‘spin’.  In many ways, it has to be admitted through clenched buttocks, he’s bang on. He got my name wrong though – it’s ‘Jeremy’, not ‘James’. And I’ve never met a Lola-Lu.

Anyway – same old point, dearest blog snorkellers. What are we doing? How did we let it come to this? Why are we – and our organs (CIPR, PRCA) – not frantically trying to put a reputation management programme in place? Why didn’t we start trying to put such a programme in place years – decades – ago?

But back to Steve – I am minded of Winston Churchill’s response to an outraged female, when I see Steve accusing me of vacuity:

“But you’re in PR!”

“And you, sir, are an ugly, boorish lout – but tomorrow, I shall re-train.”