My blog has moved…

posted by Scott McKenzie

So, if you want to continue to read my random thoughts on life, organisations, change and internal communications then please  keep visiting me here.

You also have the added bonus of reading what my other H+K colleagues have to say across a range of topics. Go on take a look. You know you want to.

In the meantime, thanks  for taking the time to read my blog…

The CIPR Excellence Awards

posted by Scott McKenzie

I have mixed feelings about awards dinners.

On the one hand I think it is great that people seek validation from peers on the quality of their work. It helps to raise standards and share best practice across the industry. On the other hand I think a good definition of hell would be the never-ending awards ceremony…

 ”And now onto the 76th and most prestigious award of the evening… so far…”.

I was therefore pleasantly surprise by how much I enjoyed myself at the CIPR’s Excellence Awards last night. I was fortunate to be asked to judge one of the categories. It was odd to be there in that capacity.  Nothing up for a prize. Not really rooting for anyone.  It was a bit like watching a football match which doesn’t involve the team you support.

Then it came to the category I had judged. It’s fair to say the (deserved) winners seemed genuinely surprised, thrilled, excited, when their entry was announced as the winner. And I’ll admit it…. I felt a tiny glow of satisfaction at having played a small part in making a table full of grown women so happy.

And I have to say I really enjoyed the judging process. Along with my fellow judge Rachel Royall we reviewed dozens of entries, and after some serious analysis and debate we reached a shortlist of six outstanding entries, whittled down to the one winner following some panel interviews. We were hugely impressed by the standard, although, as ever there are things we would like to see improve:

On the upside…

  • There was a huge degree of creativity demonstrated
  • Many of the entrants were seriously trying to get to grips with ROI
  • Some examples were genuinely taking risks, genuinely innovating

Things to improve…

  • Not strong enough links between communications activities and the business objectives
  • Not enough evidence of segmentation/targeting
  • As a result there were some scattergun tactics deployed

All in all it was a richly rewarding experience. There is definitely some great work taking place across the different sectors. Indeed if what we saw represents a genuine cross-section of the work being produced by communications practitioners across the industry… then ours is an industry in rude health.

P.S. – from this Friday I will be migrating my blog somewhere else on the H+K blogosphere… the prestigious HANK blog…  I do hope you continue to visit…

The limitations of the employee engagement survey

posted by Scott McKenzie

We Brits are easily pleased. After an admittedly long and wet Spring, a couple of days of sunshine has palpably seen the mood of the nation improve.

I have noticed it in my colleagues and clients. People are smiling and laughing more. A lot more in fact. People seem more motivated, enthusiastic, happy. I have just come from a meeting where my colleagues were as passionate and engaged as I’ve ever seen them. It was great. Now clearly I could isolate that to the motivational factor of working alongside me but I’m guessing that this would be an erroneous conclusion…

It has got me thinking about the way we measure engagement.  It has become a boom industry. Many reputable research companies sell products that claim to make a direct link between communications and employee engagement. The models used are impressively engineered – seemingly simplifying the complex picture that is engagement.  Making convincing claims about how if you pull this lever just a bit more, you will get this improved result.

Beware. In my view, it is the old story of the alchemist trying to turn lead into gold. Many of the models used are based on some frankly very dodgy assumptions and an even dodgier reliance on pseudo-science. 

For those who are profitting from this industry that may be heresy. But I’m afraid it’s true. The best you can demonstrate is a correlation between some communications activity and an increase in engagement. The reality is that there are so many variables which impact on how engaged an employee feels.

It could be the relationship they have with their manager, or their colleagues. It could be how much they are paid. It could be whether they feel valued or recognised by leadership.It could be the nature of their work – do they feel they’re doing work which has genuine meaning?

And yes, it could be affected by something as simple as the weather.

Human beings are inherently complex. Making the simple connection between communications and engagement makes sense at a conceptual level. But we should see it for what it is. Just one of the variables.

That’s not to say we shouldn’t measure engagement. We should.  Indeed we are not averse to selling surveys ourselves. But for us the value is in genuinely using the data to inform your decision-making process. Employee engagement surveys should be a speedy, low-key way of quickly identifying potential risks and opportunities… Although we should be incredibly cautious about acting on the data alone. You will only get a meaningful picture of what is really going on by speaking and listening to some real-life people.

Which reminds me. My H+K colleague David Iannelli and I are talking about this very topic at the CIPR’s measurement summit on 13 June. Hope to talk to you there… and I hope the sun will be shining!

Why listening matters

posted by Scott McKenzie

It has been an odd week. The Bank Holiday weekend meant some much needed respite for my wife… and so I was on childcare duty. A long holiday weekend with my two little girls.  I was genuinely excited about it. Well I was until two nights of teething related lack of sleep, relegated me to the role of zombie-daddy.

Suddenly, just surviving the three days felt like an achievement.

And then from feast to famine. All my girls have flown the nest. A week away at my in-laws. So for a short while  I have reverted to a bachelor’s lifestyle. Takeaways, listening to loud music, exercise,  and err… sleep.  

In truth, the house has felt like an eerily empty place.

And while I miss my girls three nights of good sleep has had a hugely rejuvenating effect. Zombie no more.

I have felt more tuned in at work. Able to concentrate more, able to laugh more, able to really listen to what my clients and colleagues are saying.

In fact listening has been a recurring theme this week. At H+K we put all of our consultants through an active listening course. Two of my team have been through it in recent weeks. It has been fascinating watching them apply what they have learnt. Suspending their agenda, asking open questions, playing back what they have heard, probing for the central question.

As I’ve said before our job is to be more than message crafters and channel managers. Ultimately, we are problem solvers.

Developing listening skills is critical for effective problem solving. The risk for the quick-minded problem-solver is that you jump to a solution too fast. My colleague Naomi and I were talking about just how important active listening really is.   Without gathering all of the data, without probing questions which take you to the heart of the matter, how do you know you’re even solving the right problem?

As I fly over to be reunited with my girls I will be contemplating how I apply these problem-solving skills to my ongoing sleep deprivation. So far my active listening has been constrained to the plaintive cries of my teething toddler. And sadly that has yielded few answers…

A slow, lingering death

posted by Scott McKenzie

What lessons can you share about engaging people through a crisis?

It’s a great question. Put to me by a colleague in the last 24 hours.

The economic downturn has thrown up plenty of businesses lurching from one crisis to another. Where the very survival of the organisation is in question. Anyone following the dire events surrounding Rangers Football Club will recognise this. This is an institution which is nearly 150 years old and part of the fabric of Scottish society. In many ways it is far more than a business – for many it represents a sense of identity, of shared heritage, relecting a huge community within Scotland and Northern Ireland. For transparency’s sake I should point out that my allegiances are with the other big Glasgow club. But I have watched with a sense of wonder as a decade of financial mis-management catches up with Rangers. Mis-management is perhaps generous. Terms like tax avoidance, cheating or financial doping have been (more appropriately) used.

In any event it is the supporters who are paying for it now.

As someone with no real emotional involvement I have wondered how Rangers players, staff and supporters would react to what has been a particularly grim and relentless stream of bad news. It has been a mixed picture.

Some have howled at the moon. Denying the very facts being put in front of them. Refusing to accept the reality – lashing out at the authorities who have simply tried to apply the rules in very difficult circumstances. In some instances disgracefully threatening individuals and their families.

Some supporters have gamely tried to raise money to plug the holes in the finances. Yet the estimated £134m liability make any attempts in this regard feel pathetically futile.

And yet others have responded with incredible dignity. Most notably the players - who have accepted draconian short-term pay cuts in order to see the club through to the end of the season. While I will never have more than a grudging respect for Rangers, I have been impressed by how some of the players have carried themselves, and indeed, how they have performed at a time of incredible adversity. What more evidence do you need that engagement is about far more than money?

And so the future of Rangers remains in doubt. The much criticised mainstream media in Scotland have tried hard to paint a variety of positive pictures on the future of the club. None have stuck. None have had any credibility. So far… (perhaps this latest news will be different).

So in answer to the original question – I think many lessons can be drawn from this crisis. Without a powerful, shared vision for the future, without strong leaders, without the ongoing engagement of the players who have so loyally stuck to their task, and indeed without any money, it is hard to see what future the club has. Whatever happens the reputation of this veritable institution has been altered for good.

Indeed it is hard to assess whether we are witnessing the reputation of Rangers Football Club at its lowest ebb. Or watching the unfolding of a painful, slow, lingering death.

We are more than newsletters

posted by Scott McKenzie

I got quite irritated this week when someone dismissively described what internal communications practitioners do as being “just about newsletters”.

It’s not that I have a problem with newsletters themselves. In fact I’ve added our ten top tips on creating newsletters at the bottom of this post.  No, I genuinely believe newsletters can – and do –  play a vital part of the communications channel mix. It’s what lies behind the sentiment that bugs me.

There is an implication that the IC practitioner as newsletter “owner” has an inherently tactical view of the world. This IC practitioner is apparently not able to understand the bigger picture, or provide strategic counsel to senior leaders. For me  it’s like suggesting all PR practitioners really do is write press releases.

Which is frankly absolute rubbish.

Yes as a profession we have our fair share of channel managers. But I would argue that this is an essential part of the core skills you develop as you progress. Understanding the channels is simply part of the learning curve, the apprenticeship if you like, all practitioners must go through.

As I’ve stated before the economic downturn has presented an opportunity for our profession to enhance its standing with senior leaders. And yet , from what I can see, the reputation of our industry remains in the balance. I, for one, would like our profession to work more effectively to address this issue. Bodies like the CIPR, IoIC, IABC, Melcrum, etc all have their part to play. 

Senior communications practitioners can – and do – add value to their organisations. We are just really bad at communicating that to the people that matter. There’s an irony there somewhere…

(And as promised… here are our ten top tips for newsletters…)

1.  The newsletter should not just be used as a single communications channel in its own right. It should be an access point to different channels/media/content eg. via social media, intranets, videos, etc.

2.  The purpose of the newsletter needs to be established – is it an information update? Is it part of a broader piece of communication or engagement activity?

3.  The classic newsletter is a top down push of information from the corporate centre…  in our view it’s important that it becomes a broader conversation. The newsletter needs to reflect the content and the sentiment of its key audiences. Establishing that as a principle at the beginning is key.

4.  So, we would therefore recommend involving people from across the organisation. Establish a rolling editorial panel of employees. The content needs to reflect what’s really going on, it needs to be fresh and engaging. It will mean that people are more likely to read and respond to the content.

5.  Ensure that the tone and style presents the content in the best possible light. Yes, it should probably reflect the norms of the organisation but in our view you can’t go far wrong if you follow the lines of a magazine/newspaper (tabloid) article, involving as many images and quotes as possible… and going light on the technical jargon.

6.  Think about distribution – is there an employee-base of remote workers (employees who work off-site, in a factory, driving, etc) who do not have access to a desk-top PC that need to be involved? Will you need to distribute hard copies? Will you need to design another ‘printable’ version, that can be handed out or pinned up?

7.  It’s important to get feedback, so consider techniques which will make engagement easier to measure like rating the content, feedback to the editor (or maybe even have a regular survey after the newsletter has been published).

8. Ensure content is meaningful – balance out corporate messages and high level strategic info, new products and services with people-stories and external news.  

9.  As with any other source of news, a summary (teaser statement) to introduce the article is sufficient with a click-through to content option (only for html).

10.  Name and masthead should clearly reflect brand look and feel – but it also needs to be as human as possible, with images of real people, even if the content is very business-focused, it can be a real person delivering it.

Switching off the lights

posted by Scott McKenzie

There are moments of parenthood which are genuinely surreal. I often come home to a scene which resembles a modern-day Mary Celeste. A half-eaten plate of food,  the living room light on, TV still blasting away, and an untouched glass of wine… All usually signs that the youngest daughter has woken up suddenly, and disrupted the solitude of a quiet meal in front of the box.

Ours is truly a life of constant interruptions.

I was considering this as a possible answer to a question my colleague Sue Cook posed to  me about Earth Hour , which will take place this coming Saturday. For the uninitiated, Earth Hour is the annual Climate Change campaign which has the simple approach of asking us to switch off unnecessary lights, appliances, etc, for just one hour.

Sue’s question to me was fairly fundamental: how do we get people to change behaviour? How do we get them to switch off the lights?

At one level it’s a question that seems so easy to answer. I mean how difficult is it really to switch a light off. My three-year old daughter can do it. (Then again, she can also switch them on… which may be a small, but growing contributory factor to the problem!).

There were conflicting views when I put this problem to the team. The solutions fell in to three camps:

1) Make it cool

2) Make it simple

3) Punish people

Clearly there are drawbacks and benefits to each solution. Making it cool sounds great, but runs the risk of being a fad. This isn’t really about doing something for one hour… we are looking for long-term, sustained change. Right?

Make it simple? Well, as I said, at one level it couldn’t be more straightforward. Yet we still leave our appliances on. Is it that things are really too complex for us? Perhaps it’s about being nudged more often. We recently did some work with remote workers at a global heavy industrials company. We were trying to ask employees to follow essential processes (including Health & Safety measures). Our approach was to really understand where key points in the process might be… where exactly would people make decisions, or simply forget about the process? Having done that forensic analysis it was then all about having simple (but visible) prompts and reminders at key points in the process. The results were impressive. There was a marked improvement in the adoption of key processes.

As for the third solution… yes we could punish people more. We could make people pause by introducing draconian punishments for high energy usage – including fines, or even public humiliation. I’m a great believer in incentives and disincentives…  Indeed the market may already be heading that way in any case as rising energy prices begin to provide a growing disincentive for wastage…

I am sure the best solution will borrow from all of the above. My view as with any change process is that it needs to feel immediate for the people who need to change.The changes need to be based in real-life, it should resonate with their everyday circumstances. The changes proposed should have tangible, meaningful impact.

And maybe that’s the real problem. Turning off a light switch just feels so… well… small. Particularly next to an objective like saving the planet. Are we really able to make the emotional (and rational) connection between that huge goal, and our small action?

So Sue,  I’m not sure if that answers your question? Probably not satisfactorily, but rest assured my household will be doing its bit this coming Saturday. Well if we’re not interrupted that is…

Regular rhythm and structure

posted by Scott McKenzie

Life seems to be getting back into some kind of rythm and structure. You can more or less set your watch by my youngest daughter (in bed at 7pm, awake at 11.30pm, 2am and 6.45am).I’ve got used to my new commute and new area. Although I still don’t really know where anything is.

In fact that’s the very feeling we have seen many times when working with clients on major change programmes. There’s lots of ambiguity. Lots of uncertainty. People literally don’t know where anything is. Which is why putting in place a regular rhythm and structure for communications is important. Identifying a channel that can be the trusted source for information about the changes taking place. Something which people know is coming – even when there is no “new” news. It fills the vaccuum. Reduces the risk of rumours and speculation.

It smoothes out the peaks and troughs of the change process.

And so back to my life. Some things are still changing. Tonight I’m having a rare night out with my friends. We are celebrating the imminent departure of our friend Spen from his London job. He moved his family out to the provinces last year and has now got the local job to go with the country pile. I will miss him enormously.

Keeping the “rhythm” theme there is even the promise of live music tonight. Although the suggestion of “jazz fusion” feels more like a threat than a promise…

P.S. – I’m making a big effort on the rhythm and structure of my own blog… so please expect to see a new post most Fridays from here on in…!

Citizens of the company unite

posted by Scott McKenzie

I found out today that the City I was born in… has become a City. Again.

Although, I am of course delighted to see Perth regain its rightful status, I have to admit to being a bit bemused by the whole process. I had always assumed Perth was indeed a  City. Not a huge metropolis like New York, or Paris, or London (where I have lived for the last 10 years) but a beautiful, ancient, Fair City nonetheless. I am almost as perplexed that any administrators could take that status away, as I am that it is the Queen who has the authority to give it back.

Don’t the citizens (or townsfolk) decide whether they live in a City, or Town?  Is it not part of that collective sense of belonging, that sense of identity we all share around the place we live in, or come from? That is not something that can be decided upon by important dignitaries, whether they are kings or queens, or presidents or prime ministers.

Or CEOs for that matter…

We have worked with a number Executive Boards over the years who have struggled to articulate what their sense of identity really is.

“We’re a charitable business… no a business with a broader charitable purpose… no, no, no we’re a charity that’s trying to make money…”.

You can see people tying themselves up in knots. Surely the answer is right there in front of them. Simply, ask the people that matter. Your employees. Your customers. Your stakeholders.

Unlocking that sense of common purpose, the reason we exist, the reason we come to work… surely that would be a very powerful thing. For any organisation. Or company. Or business. Or charity, etc, etc…

The ballad of Barrett’s privateers

posted by Scott McKenzie

I recently spent a couple of weeks visiting my parents in Canada. The mix of two kids under three, a long haul flight and jet-lag was, to say the least, not particularly relaxing. My mum and dad worked hard to give my wife and I a little bit of down time. The best example of this was a glorious day ski-ing, followed by a Friday night out.

Frankly, there is nothing more gratifying than sipping a cold glass of beer with the gentle ache of a day’s ski-ing in your legs. What made it even better was the live band that night.

Sarah (my wife) and I are both Celts and lovers of Folk music. The band gave us our first introduction to the music of Newfoundland. We were enthralled as we heard beautifully sung ballads about leaving your country, family and home behind. The songs were often bawdy, colonial tales of amorous adventures or drinking disasters. One in particular stood out - the infectious Ballad of Barrett’s privateers.

It’s been a couple of weeks since we got back and I still find myself humming it, or singing parts of the (very catchy) refrain in the shower…

It has made me reflect once again on the importance of storytelling. Humanity has had an oral/aural tradition of telling and re-telling stories for millenia. It is where many of our common myths and legends were born. As corporate storytellers we often focus on the rational. The facts and figures. These are important indicators. People want to know whether we are we up, or down.

But do we invest enough time getting behind the emotional elements of the story? The bits that really resonate. The bits that are sticky, memorable, easy-to-repeat. The bits that have you singing in the shower?

P.S. – we are really looking forward to hosting the next LCEG event here at H+K on the 20th March…