What is it we do again…?

posted by Scott McKenzie

I was flying home from New York last week and unusually for me – my wife says I can be a bit unfriendly to strangers - I struck up a conversation with a lovely older lady sitting next to me.

We talked a bit about her job importing antiques into the US, about the parts of the UK and Europe she liked visiting and about US politics. And then she asked me the killer question - “what do you do”?

I find this question difficult to answer. It’s so obvious and yet intangible at the same time. Perhaps the simplest definition is this “We help organisations communicate about change”.

This is simple enough. But it doesn’t really sell the “value” of what we do (a topic which has been much debated recently). I found myself talking passionately about the role we play in helping leaders and employees understand each other better.

And it’s true. I genuinely believe that when we are at our best  we influence leaders to see the wider picture. To see beyond the bottom line.

We can (and often do) remind our leaders that organisations have a broader obligation to their employees and other stakeholders.

In that context the contribution we make is significant. Our role moves beyond news gatherers, or channel managers. We become problem-solvers. In David Maister’s words we become trusted advisors.

H&K’s new leader – Jack Martin - talks about this being the “fifth chair”. So just like the lawyer, or accountant, or investment banker, or management consultant, we professional communicators have a role at the top table advising the Chief Executive.

Jack sees no reason that we should not be seen as senior counsel – after all we are responsible for engaging employees, consumers and other key stakeholders. We help build and protect the brand and reputation of the organisation. We manage in Jack’s word the “public” risk.

There is clearly value in all of that. So, why should we not play a senior, strategic role?

Communications Counsel? I like the sound of that.

Redesign backlash: Website vs. Intranet

posted by Scott McKenzie

What do Gawker Media and Digg have in common? Loyal customers turned furious users. 

An article in The Independent today discussed the ‘battle between users and developers’ when redesigning websites.

 It showed the customer backlash following Digg’s redesign, 2,500 predominantly furious comments on an employee blog post; and Gawker Media’s redesign was similarly disastrous. It saw a 50% slump in visits to its flagship blog. That’s a significant loss of support.

 This prompted me to think about intranets.

 Redesigning a website is not too dissimilar a process to redesigning an intranet. However, if change is to be successful inside an organisation, employees need to be engaged from the beginning.

 So how can we get employees on board?

  • Understand the desire for change – run a survey; find out what, if any, changes employees want 
  • Involve employees in the design – communicate what changes you plan to make, use employee polls to find out the favourite design concepts, run a competition to choose the intranet name, invite employees to test the new site pre-launch
  • Keep in touch post launch – make it easy for employees to get in touch, keep them updated on future improvements

 One thing to remember is that every user experience is different.

 We are never going to please everyone when launching a new intranet – or website as Digg and Gawker Media have shown. However, by engaging employees from the start we should be able to please the majority and satisfy the rest. 

 I’d be interested to know whether Digg or Gawker Media spoke to their customers first.

This was a guest blog by Naomi Goodman, who is a consultant in H&K’s Change & Internal Communications practice.

Killing engagement. Post script.

posted by Scott McKenzie

I think Employee Engagement is still breathing this morning.

Last night’s debate at the offices of Baker Tilly helped highlight the fundamental issues at stake.

1. Should we be approaching engagement from a starting point of great HR  systems and processes , or is more about how we build more meaningful, emotional “connections”,

2. Can employee engagement be explicity linked to business results, and even if it can, should it be?

3. Do leaders genuinely want to engage their people? And if they do – do employees really want to be engaged by their Chief Executive as opposed to their line manager?

The panel wrestled with these questions and many more. It seems to me that these are serious questions that deserve more discussion, more insight, more analysis.

My tuppence worth is this: there is a risk that this debate gets stuck on the fringes. We must avoid taking a deeply entrenched position.

For example, are we genuinely saying that we should not have good performance management systems in place? Or that building an emotional connection with employees has no bearing on business results?

We need to be careful that in the midst of heated debate and passionate rhetoric we make some false choices.  It seems to me that there was a lot of expert insight on the panel last night, but not a lot of listening and learning from each other’s viewpoint.

In my view that’s one of the most important elements of engagement. Let’s make sure we do more of it.

Finally, a big thank you to Matt and the team for making the debate happen.

Killing employee engagement?

posted by Scott McKenzie

I am one of the fortunate 80 who have made the cut for tonight’s Employee Engagement: Art or Science? event.

Of course, the answer to the question is inevitably “both”. (Yes - so it’s a fairly hackneyed dichotomy – one I have shamelessly used before…!)

Looking at some of the commentary ahead of the event I clearly need to work out whether I’m a co-conspirator for the end of “employee engagement”, or not.

I do have problems with the “employee engagement” label. There is a risk that it has become slightly meaningless. You see leaders using the words without really believing there’s anything behind it.

Which undermines those of who care deeply about the importance of the connection between organisations and their employees.

Here at H&K, we firmly believe that employees need to feel a strong sense of purpose, that they need to feel that they are part of something valuable and that they understand the direction of the organisation. Put all of this together and you could easily give it the label “employee engagement”.

But the label is not really what’s at stake here. It’s the principle behind it. So in our rush to be co-conspirators we need to take care we don’t kill that very principle.

I look forward to hearing how the debate takes shape!

Escalating conflict

posted by Scott McKenzie

A few years ago I had a slightly uncomfortable moment while working at a world famous Oil & Gas company.

I was in a meeting with a client when one of her stakeholders knocked on the door and asked to speak to her. My client went out into the corridor where the two of them proceeded to have what I can only describe as a “right barney”. For non-native English speakers -”barney” could be translated as a prolonged – and very vocal – argument.

Clearly it was both an uncomfortable and awkward situation. It highlighted the level of pressure both individuals were under. And the lack of awareness that they had around the impact their behaviour had on those around them.

The incident came back in to my mind as a result of some data the CIPD released earlier this week around conflict in the workplace.

The CIPD research makes an explicit link between the challenging economic circumstances with increased levels of conflict.

This is not really a surprise. Over the last couple of years most of us have had to adhere to the maxim “more for less” as we seek to reduce inefficiency and increase productivity.

But this can lead to a human cost. More workload, tighter deadlines, more stress. Is it any wonder that stressed employees then find themselves in conflict situations?

For people managers this puts even greater focus on their communciations. Do they have the skills, capability and experience to manage this conflict? Can they recognise the underlying issues and handle them with emotional intelligence?

This is one of the great cross-over points between communications and HR, pyschology and management. And it’s something we have some experience here at H&K  in tackling.  For example, we work with a fabulous Organisational Pyschologist called Arndis Jonsdottir who is really adept at understanding what the underlying causes for conflict are.

We also offer a great Leadership Communciations course  which has a specific section on managing conflict. I’d be happy to talk to you about it.

Whether you enlist our help or not there seems little doubt that conflict in the workplace is a significant issue. One you can’t afford to ignore.

Engagement, Discretionary effort and Freakonomics

posted by Scott McKenzie

I like the way that my successor as CIPR Inside chair Sean Trainor describes the importance of engagement in his recent PR Week podcast.

He rightly talks about “engagement” being an over-used term. In my view it is often inappropriately used – sometimes lazily, occasionally more cynically.

One of my biggest concerns is how often employee engagement is described as the outcome we are seeking to achieve. It is not.

We live in a world driven by the bottom line. Engagement is an enabler to better results – whether they are profits, customer service, patient satisfaction, etc., or whatever results drive your organisation. These are the real outcomes our Chief Executives care about.

Sean makes the absolutely key connection between engagement and discretionary effort. In other words if I have the choice to do something of incremental value for my organisation will I do it?

These are the real moments of truth that we all face every day of our working lives.

I have always believed that it makes intuitive sense that if you have an employee who understands the direction of their organisation, and believes in it, and understands the role that they can play… you are likely to get better business results.

But how do I prove it? Is it too much of a leap of logic to assume that an “engaged” employee will be a more productive one? It’s at this point that I wish I thought like Professor Stephen D. Levitt of Freakonomics fame. Perhaps we should all club together to ask him to explore the behavioural economics behind employee engagement?

Although there may be no need. A couple of pieces of research may be making the picture a little clearer.

Thomas Lee brought this research by Hewitt to my attention, and I am also grateful to Kevin Dwyer for highlighting some work the Corporate Leadership Council has released.

This data is useful to us. As I have long argued the way we promote this profession has to be about more than good use of language. We need to understand the numbers and how they relate to what we do. We can then present an overwhelming business case to our leadership.

Perhaps I should put that call into Professor Levitt after all…

Changing the guard

posted by Scott McKenzie

What a week in UK Boardrooms.

It really has been the changing of the guard. We have seen changes at the top of BAT, HSBC and Lloyds Banking Group.

We also saw the end of an era at Tesco with Sir Terry Leahy stepping down after 14 years. Sir Terry’s achievements are remarkable and there is no doubt that he will be a tough act to follow.

His replacement Philip Clarke is well-placed however. He is a Tesco-lifer. He understands the UK and International businesses. He is well-respected.

Mr Clarke will be fully aware of the challenges seen recently at other retailers (most notably Asda) when new CEOs have stepped into the role.

He will  be keen to avoid any uncertaintly or ambiguity about his approach. He will want to avoid any damaging mis-steps. He will want to show that he is  up to the job.

A big challenge for him will be to establish his own way of doing things. He will want to create some early momentum and to send a clear signal to his key constituencies (shareholders, customers, competitors, employees, etc) that he really means business.

He will want to establish  a fast-paced agenda which demonstrates that Sir Terry will not be missed. And for that he will need the active support of his Board and his broader leadership team.

And they will have their own agendas and their own ambitions.

Clearly Mr Clarke will need to use his considerable influence and power to manage those relationships. 

In our experience he will also need to work with those colleagues to create a shared vision. What will be their rallying call?

Of course, it starts with Mr Clarke himself. Why should people believe in him? What is his story?

It will only be when he has set out a genuinely compelling narrative for the future of the organisation, and built an emotional connection with his key stakeholders that we will see his agenda gain speed. 

For it is through those connections that he will get the discretionary effort he needs to surpass the achievements of his successor.

We wish him well.

P.S. – You should check out our friend and client Henri’s article on how leaders can effectively communicate strategy… Unfortunately you can only access this if you’re lucky enough to have access via Melcrum to The Hub.

The miracle of technology

posted by Scott McKenzie

Tonight my two-year old daughter and I will have our regular transatlantic webchat with my mum who lives in British Columbia.

I find it hard to believe that my technophobe mum has suddenly become so very web-literate… which is of course driven by the powerful incentive of being able to talk face-to-face (kind of) to the grandkids on a daily basis.

Technology has allowed my mum to follow my daughter’s progress, to interact with her, dare I say even build a relationship with her… even from many thousands of miles away. In that sense technology really has been an enabler.

But how do you know which development is going to be the next Skype, or the next Second Life (remember that)?

For Internal Communications practitioners (and their key stakeholders) it is difficult to weigh up the costs / benefits of investing in technology, or digital media. You only have to see the number of questions and requests for case studies across the various LinkedIn networks and other online communities.

Our experience has been that you have to start small, test with lots of key people, build a community of interest and see whether it takes hold. There are no guarantees. But being clear on what you think the business benefits for the technology are would be a really good place to start.

And if you are struggling to keep pace with developments in technology then you are in good company. Just ask the new Chief Executive at Nokia

Time will tell whether that was a well developed piece of internal communications which rallies the troops… or an ill-considered rant. I do know people are jumping off the burning platform… the question for Mr Elop is whether they are the right ones?

P.S. You should check out this excellent piece of slideware on how the emerging digital technologies will affect the way organisations communicate…

A fit of pique

posted by Scott McKenzie

Cricket followers will have been unsurprised that Australia captain Ricky Ponting has found himself in hot water for losing his temper… again. Let’s face it he does have some form.

You might expect me to castigate Mr Ponting. After all he is a role model to his team, Australia supporters and young aspiring cricketers across the world.

If his actions took place in any other workplace – a factory, or retail outlet or office then I’m sure he would also be facing disciplinary procedures.

Yes damaging the working environment in a fit of pique is unacceptable.

But I must admit I felt a bit sorry for him. After all he was playing in a World Cup match in front of millions of people across the world. It was his first match back after injury. He had been performing well when a stupid mistake saw him run out (not sure how to explain this to non-cricket lovers – basically he failed).

Apparently he threw some equipment at a television. As I understand it he did so in the “save haven” of the Australian dressing-room. And when it became clear that he had done some damage he apologised and immediately offered to pay for a new set.

So, I did feel for him when he had to go through the public humiliation of a disciplinary charge and the subsequent fine of 50% of his match fee. That is a very expensive temper he has there…

I guess my point is that his workplace is very much in the public eye. He is under an enormous amount of pressure. He is passionate about his team and his country. So if that spills over in the privacy of the Australian dressing room should he be so publically punished?

I’m sure that most people will argue that with a leadership role comes certain responsibilities. And it’s difficult to argue with that. But we also want leaders who are committed, passionate and you know what… human.

Don’t we?

Two years on

posted by Scott McKenzie

I am in a reflective mood this morning. My beautiful little daughter – Erin – is two years old today. Time has just zipped by since she came into our lives.

In those two short years I have got engaged, been promoted, got married, and gone on honeymoon. My two my best friends have got married and have had kids (or are having kids). My sister has also had her second child. There have been lots of happy occasions… in which Erin has more than played her part.

What scares me is how much of a unique personality she already has. Bossy, cheeky and inquisitive. Much like her mother.

I try to think about what life was like before she was born and it is genuinely difficult. I imagine I went out more, I definitely got more sleep and was probably more fun at parties… although to be fair the only parties I go to these days involve jelly and ice cream…

I first started this blog at a time (just after Erin was born) when I was fully aware that my life was changing. In fact my first post talked about the various roles in my life.

One of which was my decision to take on the role as chair of CIPR Inside. A role I recently relinquished (although leaving it in the safe hands of new chair Sean Trainor and my friend and former colleague Phil Turner).

So, the last two years have been a rollercoaster ride… scary but ultimately fun and rewarding. And with a new baby on the way and an imminent house move there is even more on the horizon…!

I promise to keep you posted.