Archive for the ‘behaviour’ Category

How do you choose a jury for Morrissey?

posted by Peter Roberts

It has just been announced that former front man of The Smiths, Morrissey will have his libel case against the NME heard before a jury.

 The case is based on an interview given by the singer to the magazine in 2007, which he claims was “twisted” to make him appear racist.

The case is not expected to he heard until next year, but what struck me in light of these developments was the likely process to best select an objective jury panel. Clearly, this is no slur on juries per se, but an illustration of the feelings aroused in most of us by artistes and their work. The questioning of potential jurors could be hugely entertaining, but largely inconclusive. It will probably be easy enough to weed out those who have strong views – either way – for the singer, but what of those, and I include myself, who are burdened by what I’d call our cultural prejudices? I know nothing about One Direction for instance, who are most probably a likeable and hard-working bunch, but there’s something in the name that strikes – pardon the expression – a wrong note in me. I would do my best to remain impartial if the poor things were in the dock, but they occupy a place in my heart alongside the likes of Steven Seagal and Pixie Geldof which I’m afraid to say consigns them to a perennial state of irrational dislike.

The libel hearing will make for great theatre; I hope they manage to find the right reviewers.

Brand guardian or brand detractor: It’s a game of two halves

Thank the Lord for football, not only does it entertain, anger and frustrate in equal measures it regularly provides a perfect case study that neatly encapsulates a wider issue. Today’s lesson is brought to you by the creative musings of Ryan Babel, who currently dwells in Liverpool. Here we have the perfect example of an aggrieved employee deciding to vent his anger and personal views via his favourite social network, in this case Twitter.

The issue here is how much control can and will his club exert over him? He is facing an FA charge of improper conduct, at a time when the Club has more than enough problems of its own. Now there must be something about the internet up there on the Anfield side of the City, because the end of last year saw a player’s mum very clearly and succinctly express her views on her son’s new home.

As an employer, how do you handle this? How can you ensure your staff utilise their potentially large social network to support your brand? Now in Ryan’s case I am sure he is expressing a widely held view that was doing the rounds of the dressing room at the final whistle, but would the Club wanted those views shared with the world? Probably not. In the case of the ranting mum I can pretty much guarantee that those rants went down as well as Gary Neville popping into the Kop for a meat pie and a shandy at half time.

Away from the highly charged cauldron of football, these two extreme examples highlight the issue of an employee’s brand. How can organisations at best utilise this asset and turn them into a brand guardian and supporter, before they become at the very least another issue to deal with or at worst a vocal brand detractor?

“I’m eating my cookie”

  I won’t subject you to a long intro, instead sit back and enjoy this great clip. Senior executive media training should be compulsory.

 “I’m eating my cookie”

 Yes, he did lose his job.

Do playboys make good role models or more importantly good brand ambassadors?

 Here at H&K Towers apart from making sure the hole for the new CrossRail station at Tottenham Court Road is big enough we spend a fair amount of time advising clients on how to exploit and manage their sport sponsorship programmes.

So I was very interested in ITV4’s recent programme called “When Playboys ruled the World”, an insightful look into the success and excess of two of our greatest World Champions, Barry Sheene and James Hunt, which also made some interesting comparison to today’s sporting champions. After putting aside my secret desire to be them, what became clear is that the general public and therefore the media’s tolerance of a personal indiscretion nowadays is zero. Our almost voyeuristic urge to seek out the slightest news that could bring down a star borders on the feverish, but our own personal standards would seem to have dropped. While at the same time to read some of the headlines relating to our sports stars now, you would think we were back in Edwardian times.

So what is happening? Should we feel sorry for our highly paid superstars? Are we turning into a nation of hypocrites, where we expect our sports stars to be perfect, as a result freeing us up to do what we want? Do we long for the day when a rebel in the mould of Hunt or Sheene may burst onto the stage and stick two fingers up to the now established norm? These are all questions that anyone considering a sport sponsorship endorsement campaign need to consider.

More fundamentally, we live in an age where despite limitless access to information and, in theory knowledge, we no longer have the trust to believe in anything we are told and so are continually disappointed- “you mean to say a 18 year-old earning £25k a week has drunk too much and crashed his car – how could this happen? He is such a nice boy, look at that photo spread he did in Hello with his mum last week?”

Personally I believe we have lost all sense of perspective, I want my racing driving to drive really fast, I want my footballers to score lots of goals, I want my film stars to entertain me. If I want advice on how to be a father or what constitutes a healthy level of alcohol intake I will talk to my real friends and family. Unless of course you count Britney Spears and Wayne Rooney as close family and friends and in that case you probably are in trouble…

For sponsors though, the process is getting harder, the understandable desire to protect your brand means that you end up putting up walls between you and your star. The problem with that is the bigger the wall the more people will want to see what is going on. Or should you, as a sponsor, embrace their inner bad boy and roll with the inevitable punches? Whichever route you choose perspective, awareness, trust and being prepared are key to you surviving and making the partnership a success.

Now where is my Brut aftershave? I feel a night out with the ladies is required.

An online shaggy dog story

 John Lewis that doyen of the middle classes that has been a rock on the high street has managed to get itself caught in a whirlwind of public hatred and is a victim of an onslaught of online vitriol. What could it have possibly done? Scantily clad women, broken a religious taboo, questioned the validity of X-Factor? No, it is running a new Christmas advert.

It seems its new Christmas advert with the dulcet tones of Ellie Goulding and heart warming images of people buying presents for each other, had the audacity to show, for at least eight seconds, a dog living in its kennel in some snow.

This seemingly innocuous display of heart warming Christmas spirit (a little boy brings his pet dog a present) has generated over a 1,000 posts on their Facebook page and our understanding is they are under pressure to change the advert.

Is this the way the new world is going? Dogs live in kennels, always have done and always will. My chickens live outside, should I feel guilty? Should I bring them in? By posting this will I be targeted for not caring enough for my chickens and not bringing them in when it gets cold?

Social media is a great force for good and everyone should have a voice, but scenarios like this beg the question – at what point do you listen and at what point do you stand your ground?  

I for one think it is cute that the boy loves his dog enough to buy, wrap and deliver a present to a pet he obviously loves. He just doesn’t happen to want a great big shaggy dog wandering round his house.

When monitoring social media, context is everything and organisations need to have that in the forefront of their mind before they make any decisions. In this case, I think the course of action and response is clear. Brands need to know when to stand their ground and stay true to their original principles. Even if it means that some people will put them in the dog house (sorry couldn’t resist it.)

Recession recovery poses crisis management risks for industry

On the weekend I wrote a post for our new Energy & Industrials team blog, titled Habitual behaviours force shippers and miners into crisis management mode.

The basis for the post was the correlation between:

 “…two seemingly unconnected events…25 people were killed in a West Virgina mine exposion [and] a Chinese coal carrier ran aground on the Great Barrier Reef…I say ’seemingly unconnected’ because geographically the two events are about as far apart as you get. The respective industries are also unrelated…”

The connection is actually in the habitual behaviours performed by the respective companies, and to learn more about those you should click on the link above and read the original post.

What I’m more interested in here is a quick look at the sheer volume of corporate crises that we’re seeing in 2010. At least four major car makers (Toyota, GM, Honda, Nissan) have had multi-market product recalls. At least two major consumer brands (Nestlé, Unilever) have had issues with palm oil. I’m not even going to touch anything that’s been specifically labelled as a “social media crisis” in this list of examples.

Looking at all of these, the common link is still habitual behaviours. Whether it’s cutting corners on safety or engineering standards, taking short-cuts on voyages to speed up transit times, weakening the supply chain by creating untenable bottle-necks or driving suppliers down to almost margin-less prices, or other unsustainable corporate behaviours…none of these things are “one-offs”. They are all tried and tested behaviours that have become ingrained in an organisation’s culture.

When the global financial crisis hit, many of my clients assumed I was run off my feet with crises. The opposite was true. One or two disasters in a recessionary environment will have a much greater impact on business managers than they would do in the good times. (RM, if you’re reading this, I was still busy!)

In the past 18 months we first saw a deluge of stories about banks’ risk managers being ignored, followed by story after story about careers in risk management being the new black. When the economy is in meltdown and your business is more exposed than ever before, you pull all the stops out to ensure crises just don’t happen. When the revenue tap gets turned back to a trickle, you cut “non-essential” operations – those pesky things like marketing budgets (where’s my ROI???), crisis training (why are we doing this if we haven’t had a crisis in three years???), media monitoring (we’ve cut our marketing, we don’t need to pay for media clips???).

Which is why we now have problems.

After 18 months of hyper-sensitive operational behaviour I think companies have forgotten what it’s like to have to deal with a crisis. Regardless of the growth in social media over the same time, the fundamental principles of good crisis management haven’t changed, but it seems the effective execution of those principles has gathered enough dust to make a real difference. This has been compounded by those bad habits being repeated faster, on a bigger scale, as companies try to trade their way back to the heady days of 2007.

There’s not actually any reason why so many of the high-profile crises of the past six months should have made the headlines to the extent they did.

I expect we’ll see still more high-profile crises rolling out before the end of the year. It should be a good year for crisis management consultants, because for every company in crisis today there are usually three or four who were lucky it wasn’t them. But that’s not good news for shareholders.

What I should have said about crisis management at our change communication event (Part 3)

After last week’s change and communication event at Hill & Knowlton I’ve been following up an answer I gave to the question: ”What do you tell internal audiences about a change program, compared to what you tell external audiences?”

My answer at the time was: tell them both the same thing. So far we’ve looked at the consistency of message argument for this, and the information security one. Today I’m going to throw the social media hat into the ring.

There’s an inevitability about change that some people won’t like it. There’s an inevitability about things we don’t like…we complain about them. Years ago we’d get our mates together down the pub, or around for scone, or any of a million ways of having a conversation, and we’d all hang around and gripe about stuff until we felt better.

Now with the internet, we can get millions of people together for a gripe and we don’t have to buy any of them a beer. Brilliant!

The problem facing change managers then is this: if any of your audiences don’t like what you have to say (and if you make any staff redundant then you’ve already got on board this particular train), then that audience has everything it needs to wage war on your organisation. And rest assured, it’s in the best interest of certain stakeholders to take advantage of that change in mood.

Here are three ways that this has already happened (probably happening right now if you really want to go looking for it – the point is it’s not like I’m giving people new ideas for how to cause you trouble):

  • Facebook groups/fan pages to save something or boycott something. Local sporting facilities are a classic example. Easily set up by an anonymous administrator, easily shared because if you’re reading this then you’re probably sitting within two metres of someone who’s on facebook already. Unlike most blogs a facebook page doesn’t need a moderator, so even if something does get pulled down by an administrator it will have already been seen.
  • Please re-tweet [insert tweet here]. Doesn’t need to be anonymous to kick it off because if support swells then the last thing you have time to do is search for that first random tweet (note this is different to issues such as that experienced by Vodafone because the tweet in that instance came from its account). If you really want to put a rocket up this kind of action, you use the please re-tweet approach to gather fans for your facebook page.
  • Form letters. Boring I know – there’s no video, there’s no social networking, and you can’t check in from your iPhone. In fact, not really “social media” on their own, but definitely a bit of retro Web 2.0. Annoyingly though, the online form letter is brilliant for capturing the “oh, it’ll only take a second” protest because it’s made as easy as humanly possible for people to participate (just click here!). Rest assured, the online form letter is designed to position your detractor’s argument in the best possible light, positioning you with only one “appropriate” course of action – usually the opposite to what you’re going to do. We’ve had clients receive thousands of these for various reasons, and unfortunately the biggest problem we usually encounter is the complete absence of any opportunity to reply. If you were writing a letter yourself, you’d usually include a return address…not usually the case for online form letters.

Regardless of the form the protest takes, the consistent problem they all raise is that of consistency, i.e. the availability of the same information to stakeholders in different audiences. Which is the point we started at.

By ensuring that common information is made available to whomever wants it, you won’t necessarily avoid criticism entirely, but you’ll be able to address it. And usually correct misinformation.

In some instances, smart use of social media will actually enhance the objectives of the change program, but you have to get it right because the footprint you make will be there for ever. Rest assured, your detractors will get it right. The only defence you have is openness, transparency, and information.

What I should have said about crisis management at our change communication event (Part 2)

Yesterday I started to follow up a question from last week’s panel discussion about the relationship between organisational change and communication, in particular the idea that internal and external audiences should be given the same information.

In this post I’m going to expand on the idea of information security.

This particular issue came up in the case of an organisation undergoing some changes to its workforce (it’s fair that most of the world’s companies probably are at the minute, so timely…). The challenge presented was around the implementation of the change program – if, as per my contention, we’re supposed to tell everyone the same thing at the same time, how can we expect the changes to be implemented with minimal external disruption?

Good question, and having had a week to think about it, the exact answer I keep coming up with is…you can’t. To clarify, I think you should share the same central theme with your stakeholders throughout, contextualised to suit their needs. And broadly speaking you should try to communicate in as timely a fashion with each audience as possible.

That’s not to say tell everyone everything, all at once. Rather, if you have information that’s sensitive to the change program internally, and relevant to external audiences (e.g. customers or suppliers), then try to coordinate the information flow so that the right people get the right message at the right time. I like to think of it as giving people the information they need to do the job they need to do with it. Knowing what that information is…that’s the job of the change manager. Sorry.

This isn’t an issue of trust. It’s one of effective project management, and it’s one of balance. If you’re asking a team to implement something, and there’s a clearly defined process for them to follow, then they need as much information as it will take to achieve the outcome. If, however, you have an outcome but want the team to devise the implementation, then they need different information (and probably more freedom as well).

As Scott McKenzie often says: “Your employees are adults. Treat them like it.” I agree, but adults also get speeding fines, take documents out of buildings when they shouldn’t, email things home that they shouldn’t, have affairs, go to the pub, leave stuff on trains, have the occasional brain explosion…whatever it is, chances are it won’t be all that life-threatening. But if incorrect or incomplete information lands in the wrong hands, or the right hands at the wrong time, then a day-spoiling phone call won’t be far away. Shortly after that is when many organisations go from a well-intentioned change program to a call to our Issues & Crisis Management team (usually about half an hour after news crews have already lobbed on the doorstep).

I think it comes down to being sensible with what you share, when, and with whom. You’ll always have a knowledge gap between the change manager and their team, and the rest of the organisation and its stakeholders. By securing information until such time as the organisation’s ready for it to be released, you’re just helping to streamline the process. It’s a question of balance.

Tomorrow we’ll have a look at the social media ramifications of change programs in Part 3.

What I should have said about crisis management at our change communication event (Part 1)

It’s not unsual for Hill & Knowlton’s Head of Change & Internal Communcation, Scott McKenzie, to catch me on the hop, but he had a couple of good cracks last week at our panel discussion about the role of communication in managing organisational change.

One of the questions he hit me with last Wednesday night was around the issue of what do you tell internal audiences about a change program, compared to what you tell external audiences.

My answer at the time was: tell them both the same thing, because whatever you share internally will find its way out, and if you tell external audiences something you haven’t told your people then you’re in for all kinds of trouble.

In the post-event melee it was suggested to me that I hadn’t given enough credit to employees who know what constitutes commercially sensitive information. So, I feel I should expand on my response (not changing it mind!). There are three areas I want to address, which we’ll do in three parts:

  • Consistency of message
  • Information security
  • The inevitablility of social media

From an issues or crisis management perspective, change is usually something that one or more of your audiences will already perceive as a Very Bad Thing. This perception comes from the fact that different audiences have different needs, incentives, cares, problems etc. They’re all valid, but that doesn’t mean they’re all helpful.

This being the case, what I would see as the single most important consideration for communicating any major change would be to find the common ground that all (or as many as possible) of your audiences share. Usually, that’s the future health and success of the organisation as a whole.

By using this common ground as an anchor point for the rest of your messages, it’s easier for your various (and disparate) stakeholders to 1) understand how the change impacts them, and 2) understand (and possibly even appreciate) how the change impacts other stakeholders.

By extension, if those audiences can understand each other better, they’re likely to find more points of commonality. If those points of commonality are aligned with what’s good for the organisation, then this is obviously a Very Good Thing. That being the case, you want to create as many potential points for your audiences to connect on as possible – ergo, tell them all the same stuff.

In the yet-to-be-written Part 2 we’ll look at information security in more detail.

Colourful quotes continued

Shortly after publishing this post yesterday on the importance spokespeople (and business leaders) communicating their personality, a friend sent me a link to a Harvard Business Review post, by Roberto Verganti, on a tenuously-related topic.

I particularly like this passage: “…visions are intrinsically ideological and biased towards a clear aspiration of how the world should be: They strongly reflect the personal culture of the thinker.”

For many spokespeople, managing the art of communicating their organisation’s key messages in the thrust and parry of a media interview is enough of a challenge to be going on with, thank you very much.

However, for those in true leadership positions, a bigger challenge is communicating Verganti’s idea of personal culture. If you’re a business leader then you were hired to manage a business (or you built it up yourself), so that’s a given. But if you want your people to follow you, you need to share your vision and show them you’re prepared to lead.