The next course of the Communications Cookout is Grilled Quesadillas with Smoked Gouda, Jack Cheese , Fresh Rosemary and Granny Smith Apples.
An unconventional quesadilla to say the least, but addictively delicious and easy to prepare. A soft flour burrito shell is layered with gratings of two cheeses, then a sprinkling of chopped rosemary and a layer of thinly sliced apple. After a pinch or two of salt and pepper, more of the cheese is spread over the apple layer, and the quesadilla is topped with another burrito shell. The whole thing is grilled for about three minutes per side over medium high heat and then cut into pizza-shaped slices. Served with a crisp, dry, fruity white wine, it’s a gluey, tangy, herbal piece of heaven.
For our purposes, the quesadilla is a metaphor for the communciation vehicle, the internal print publication in particular. It’s a classic format. Most of us have had a quesadilla in a Mexican or Tex-Mex restaurant, and it is usually filled with jack cheese, shredded chicken, some salsa, and maybe some refried beans. Fried on a griddle until the cheese turns gooey, it is served with some salsa, guacamole and a dollop of sour cream. And most of us have written, edited, or at least contributed to a company newsletter or magazine, with its stories about the latest corporate program, quarterly production numbers and financial results, information about changes to employee benefits, and so on.
This menu’s modern take on the traditional quesadilla nicely parallels the changing tastes and needs of today’s employees, and how the company publication needs to change with them. In my handbook, Writing and Editing the Internal Publication, I document a major shift in employee attitudes and values based on a great book called Values Shift: The New Work Ethic and What It Means for Business, by John Izzo and Pam Withers. In the book Izzo and Withers talk about how the workplace dynamic is shifting in a way that gives skilled employees more power and control over their destiny than ever before — and how reducing turnover and keeping employees is the biggest issue facing business today.
The new generation of employees has vastly different expectations of employers. Today’s workers detest the corporate heirachies and paternalism that have defined big business in the past. They are sick of the enormous stress of the modern workplace, they are oppressed by technological change, and they expect their employers to make things better. And they care more about their family, their health, and ethics than they do about power, prestige and money. The greedy, selfish “me” generation has been overtaken by self-aware, moral, non-materialistic employees who expect a lot from their employers, and are more than ready to leave for more socially responsible pastures if their company doesn’t live up to their high expectations.
And so, although the vehicle or delivery mechanism might not need to change (the burrito shell that holds the filling of the quesadilla, or the print publication that delivers information to employees), the contents surely do. Just as the new-age quesadilla reflects a more modern and sophisticated taste, we need our internal publications to reflect the changing values and expectations of employees.
That means recognizing the stresses of the modern workplace and demonstrating what our organizations are doing to make life easier for their people. It means telling stories in human terms that make the vision of our companies real. It means breaking down barriers and encouraging real two-way communication that builds new connections between our company’s leaders and its employees. And it means creating shared experiences that create a true spirit of community. Finally, it means communicating with integrity — providing our organization with open, honest, timely and ethical communications that build trust, the most important building block for anything else in human life.
What it doesn’t mean is using the employee print publication as a vehicle for delivering hard news. News in big organizations happens at a pace that print just can’t keep up with, and is ideally suited to electronic communications. As my friend David Murray says, today’s print publication is less about news, and more about providing employees with a physical embodiment of a company’s brand, its values and its culture.
One more thing. If we think of the burrito shell as the physical container of the quesadilla, then paper, ink and staples are the shell that holds the contents of our employee publications. I’ll talk later about this as we progress through our menu, but I want to illustrate an important issue here. I believe that, by embracing new technologies like e-mail and intranets in the 1990s and abandoning print as a channel for employee communications, many big organizations have disenfranchised huge segments of their workforce. It’s as if we decided, collectively, that it’s just as effective to throw our cheese through the cooking grate and onto the fire below as it is to wrap it in a tidy shell. Shame on anyone for wasting food, and shame on our profession for wasting so much information by throwing away a perfectly good communciation format, the print publication.