Posts Tagged ‘internal communications’

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…

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 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…

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?

Union activism: alive and kicking

posted by Scott McKenzie

One of my earliest memories is of wandering down Sauchiehall Street on a grey, cold Saturday afternoon. It was the early ’80’s and there were lots of striking miners with placards. I can only have been 8 years old but for some reason I decided to put my pocket money into one of the collection jars. This was an unusal act of unselfishness from a notoriously tight-fisted youngster.

Sadly the collection jars were not so unsual. I grew up in the West of Scotland at a  time where the traditional industries were in terminal decline. Industrial action was common. Union activism a way of life.

In the intervening decades that way of life has come to feel anachronistic for most people in the UK. Excluding the occasional Tube strike.

The NUS demonstration on Wednesday which culminated in the stormy scenes at the Conservative HQ at Millbank may signal something of a return.

In recent weeks we have seen action at the BBC, Fire Brigade and London Underground. The long-standing BA dispute rumbles on. Representatives of Public Sector unions are unlikely to sit still as 500,000 of their colleagues lose their jobs.

These are turbulent times. And interesting times to be a communications practitioner. What value can we add to resolving these disputes? What advice should we give our leaders?

My boss Richard Millar was asked about this on CIPR TV earlier this week. I liked his answer which is essentially communications strategies around managing disputes can be boiled down to two approaches:

1) Escalate the conflict and win – which is what BA have sought to do

2) Escalation the communications and win – essentially be more open, transparent and responsive than the Union. Become the credible source of information.

There has been a lot of recent debate about the value of internal communications. Some have gone as far to say that it is dead.

 Many commentators thought the same about Union activism. I wonder if it will turn out to be an equally inaccurate diagnosis.

Banking’s Panto villain?

posted by Scott McKenzie

I felt pretty dismayed watching BBC’s Question Time last night.

Among the illustrious panellists were the historian Simon Schama, the usual smattering of politicians as well as the successful Hedge Fund manager Hugh Hendry. He appeared to be there as the representative of the Banking Industry. Or perhaps as the panto villain for the evening. UK viewers can judge for themselves here.

As someone who has constantly encouraged the Banking industry to explain its value to the broader population I found Mr Hendry’s portrayal of the industry to be deeply troubling.

There is no doubt that he has some very interesting views (at one point he appeared to condone torture). And he was certainly entertaining. But in my view he did not seem to have much empathy with the plight that lower and middle income families are facing in the UK.

He may argue that this is not his concern. That his company creates value for the UK economy and as a higher rate tax payer he more than pays his share.


I am not sure his cousins in Retail Banking would thank him for his views. These are the ”bankers” who serve communities right across Britain. And they have been pretty embattled over the last 3 years.

I have stated previously how badly I feel the High Street Banks have done in getting their message out about the contribution they make to society. I still feel that they have done precious little to repair their reputation among their customers, employees and broader stakeholders.

I fear that their job was made a tiny bit  harder after last night.