Posts Tagged ‘internal comms’

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…

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…!

Scotland’s shame

posted by Scott McKenzie

Those of you (the majority) who are not interested in the parochial world of Scottish football will have missed a quite disgraceful incident at a match that took place in Edinburgh last night.

Neil Lennon, the Celtic FC manager, was assaulted by a fan who ran a full 50 metres before police and stewards eventually caught up with him. What is more galling is that Mr Lennon has had to put up with death threats and indeed the very real threat of receiving mail bombs in the post. In that context he is very lucky indeed not to be seriously hurt.

So what does this incident tell us?

Well, frankly it makes me feel ashamed to be Scottish. The motives behind the assault and the death threats are purely sectarian. But I don’t want to dwell on the neanderthal nature of people who support this hatred (it’s just too depressing).

Instead I am keen to understand what other workplaces would see a leader have to put up with such public, intense and very personal danger? Professional boxers?  UN Peacekeepers? High profile politicians perhaps?

How do they focus on performing in the day job when the world around them is so chaotic and threatening? And what can those of us who work in high-intensity, but less life-threatening working environments learn from these experiences?  How do they perform already difficult tasks under such enormous pressure?

And for the record Celtic won 3-0 last night keeping their slim hopes of winning the championship alive. Perhaps we should invite Neil Lennon to talk at one of our H&K events…

Talking of which please keep 15th June free in your diaries. With the London Olympics just round the corner we’re planning an event around how employees can act as key advocates of brand and sponsorship campaigns. More details to follow in my upcoming blogs…

Are we in the armbands business?

posted by Scott McKenzie

I’m not the first to say that change is a continual process. But we often fall into the trap of thinking that we can ‘do’ change, when the truth is  we are all of us being carried along by an invisible and unacknowledged  ocean swell, made up  of hundreds of decisions, actions, circumstances beyond our control .

There we are, happily doggy-paddling, or grimly front-crawling away, our own destination in mind, when we stop and tread water for a moment, only to discover that we are suddenly a lot further out than we thought, and being swept even further out with every passing moment.

As communicators, our role is often simply to draw people’s attention to a change that is already happening. The risks are self-evident; we can’t let people drown, we don’t want them to panic, we need them to keep swimming. We need to find a way to support employees through the change in direction – give them some armbands, if you like.

So it’s a case of letting them know I’m swimming beside them, so they don’t feel alone. I match my stroke to theirs and keep reminding them where we’re headed. That way they can work with, not against, the wave.

This was a guest blog by Laura House, Senior Consultant in the Change & Internal Communications practice here at Hill & Knowlton

Employee Engagement and the Big Society

posted by Scott McKenzie

The Prime Minister launched his Employee Engagement Taskforce yesterday.

He even managed to make a fairly explicit link with his “Big Society” agenda – “This initiative fits well with our agenda of devolved power and authority”…

This should be exciting. After all having a senior sponsor like Dave will surely help raise the importance of engaging employees in workplaces across the UK. Right?

So why am I a feeling a bit underwhelmed? Maybe it’s because we have been here before. Indeed with the very same authors.

I like David MacLeod - he is a passionate advocate of employee engagement and has done more than most to put it on the agenda of Chief Executives. Much of what was in his original report should be regarded as best practice. But has it really had the impact it originally promised?

I am also concerned that the rhetoric being used here is… well a wee bit fluffy… For example, I don’t think our agenda here is really about “coming up with new approaches to help people improve [employees] wellbeing”.

It is actually much more hard-headed than that. It’s about connecting employees with the purpose of the organisation in a meaningful way. In other words if I believe in what I’m doing, and see how it fits into the organisation’s objectives, then I’m far more likely to be productive.

So it’s far more about the bottom line than making people feel happy.

P.S. – I see a lot of HR Directors in the list of taskforce participants… it would be disappointing if once again Communications had been over-looked as a critical stakeholder…

How Gypsies can embrace change…

posted by Scott McKenzie

One of the great things about working at H&K as every now and again I get a request that completely bemuses me.

So when my colleague Lou Watson asked me for my views on what the Gypsy community should be doing to “embrace change” I was initially dumbfounded. She later explained it was for an article in Corp Comms magazine  (you can read the full article here).

I will confess I know relatively little about the Gypsy community. And am not one of the many millions of viewers of the scarily popular My Big Fat Gypsy Wedding

But even allowing for that it did make me think that the big principles of change should still apply – whether it’s for a community or an organisation. Right?

So here’s what I suggested as a five step approach:

1. Set out the case for change: Leaders in the Gypsy community need to explain their vision for the future of their community. Including the societal and economic imperatives driving the need for change.

 2. Leaders need to act as role-models:  leaders in the community need to step up and be voices for that change.

 3. Engage the Gypsy community (ies): Leaders need to bring their community with them, actively consulting, listening to concerns and demonstrating how they’re responding to feedback.

 4. Reach beyond your borders: Leaders need to identify and consult with advocates for the Gypsy community in broader society seeing politicians, police and community groups as allies not adversaries to explain a new vision and gain buy-in and support along the way.

 5. Celebrate successes: Visibly demonstrate where examples of the new type of community are working in practice and keep praising your heroes to help people see that the new vision for the community is becoming a reality.

I hope that constitutes good advice… I would value your views!

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.

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!

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…