From Buzzmachine: "The shift from the industrial economy to whatever follows is well
underway, only the leaders of the old order are largely blind to it and
in that willful ignorance, there is great risk."
In accordance with prophecy, in 2010 I'm on a mission to get the word out about the revolution that's going on in employee communications.
In the first week of March I'm going on the road with my friends Suzanne Salvo and Steve Crescenzo on a week-long speaking tour of the American South (more like a traveling circus) that will bring us to San Antonio, Atlanta, and Tampa Bay with half-day seminars focusing on social media, visual communications and creativity.
Later in March I'm building on those themes as the organizer and host of RonCon 2010, a full-day conference with killer pre- and post-conference sessions in Vancouver March 22-24 and Calgary March 24-26.
I have a new-found admiration for anyone who organizes conferences. Putting RonCon together has been a huge learning curve for me -- negotiating with hotels, figuring out online registration software, getting a merchant credit card account, making travel arrangements for the speakers, soliciting sponsors, and the list goes on. But it's all done now, planning-wise, and my attention is turning to consulting projects and, of course, making sure I get bums in seats for RonCon. And posting here once in a while.
I wrote this about 15 years ago. It's from the conclusion of a chapter I wrote for a handbook on employee communications:
The way large companies operate is changing. The decline of
the hierarchical, militaristic corporation and the rise of the open, flat,
customer-driven service organization have serious and profound implications for
internal communicators. If we cannot find ways to link our jobs with the newly
emerging business paradigms, we could wake up and find ourselves locked out of
the system -- a dying race of corporate functionaries, serving only the arcane
needs of the executive instead of looking for ways to help the entire company
As a corporate journalist, you are in a unique position. You live in the
eye of the hurricane of change. From where you stand you can see things others
can't see. The words you put on paper can help lead your readers out of the
chaos and push your organization in positive new directions.
Expand "the words
you put on paper" to include a few more channels and some promising new
technologies and you have a vision that is more relevant today than it was
when it was conceived.
My friends, it's almost 2010.
It's time to sift through the ashes of corporate journalism, find
whatever didn't burn, and rebuild our profession for the new, wired
There are lots of good things being done towards this end. Indeed, there's a little revolution going on out there. I'm on a mission to help communicators join that revolution -- and then lead it in the organizations they serve.
People who work in employee communications often have an uphill battle convincing corporate leaders of the value of open, transparent communication. There's a big fear of communicating bad news or acknowledging problems in the business because it might be seen as a sign of weakness, or play into the hands of union activists, or tip off the competition, or risk legal action, or cause trouble with securities regulators, or, or, or. The list goes on, as do the travails of communicators as we fight the good fight to push against these forces.
The best companies understand that not communicating, or communicating in a guarded, bureaucratic way, just erodes management's credibility and widens the gap between disengaged employees and their leaders.
But even the best companies can get caught in situations where for some reason, they just can't put it together and communicate when they really need to. A recent case in point, IBM's communication breakdown in the wake of the arrest of senior VP Bob Moffat on insider trading charges. Technology blogger Robert X. Cringley recently pointed out in a blog post that, almost a week after the arrest, "IBM has made no comment on the case to the press or even to its own employees." Here's a further excerpt from Cringley's post:
Why no comment? I’ve been wondering that aloud for the last day or
two, asking my friends and almost anyone I meet why IBM would be so
foolish not to at least issue a press release on the arrest? After
all, the company supposedly cooperated with the SEC investigation.
They should have known the arrest was coming. Why weren’t they ready
with at least some statement reaffirming corporate values or possibly
distancing themselves from Moffat?
Doesn’t IBM management owe that to its 398,000 employees?
They removed Moffat’s bio from the IBM web site, but that’s all.
Lack of comment suggests Big Blue doesn’t know what to say. Perhaps
the company is paralyzed. Maybe there is disagreement in the executive
ranks about how to handle the problem. Maybe Moffat, himself, was the
guy who would have helped craft any response but now he’s unavailable.
But it doesn’t smell good.
Cringley's observations are a stark reminder of the embarrassing consequences of not communicating with employees and other audiences about something that's in the headlines. I wonder how the internal communicators at IBM are doing right now. My heart goes out to them. If Cringley's reporting is accurate, it must be a nightmare.
A recent blog post by agent provocateurPenelope Trunk is headlined "The Internet Has Created a Generation of Great Writers."
Says Trunk: "The best writers in the history of the world are graduating from
college, right now."
She points to Stanford University research that shows today's students are writing much more than previous generations, and in a profoundly different way. Consider these findings:
An amazing 62 percent of student writing is outside of school. That's a giant paradigm shift from the pre-Internet age, when almost all writing was for the classroom.
Not only are students writing more, they're writing things they truly care about and want others to read.
And they're writing in a lively, competitive and very public marketplace (text messaging, Twitter, Facebook, etc.) that hones their rhetorical skills and teaches them how to influence their audience.
Trunk's loveably brazen conclusion: "So everyone can just shut up about how no one can
My further conclusion, drawn from her insightful observations, is that internal communication is going to be part of this giant paradigm shift. Companies that put the policies and tools in place that allow employees to use their powerful new communication skills at work will ride this wave to a more humane and productive workplace -- and a more profitable business model that builds value through collaboration and community-building.
Imagine that. In the future, the most successful companies will be the ones who attract the best writers.
In this entertaining rant on Buzzmachine, famed social media commentator Jeff Jarvis tears a strip off Cablevision for a bad customer service experience -- and then goes on to gleefully document how Cablevision competitors Comcast and Verizon responded to his complaint.
Jarvis' post graphically illustrates why every company should be monitoring and responding to online comments and conversations about it. Verizon's and Comcast's quick responses, and Cablevision's institutional deafness, are a microcosm of what's happening everywhere in the service sector.
We're past the point of early adoption in this new world. If you're not in the game today, you're falling behind, and your competitors are eating your lunch.
I love Jarvis' concluding line: "Now that we're all in media, everyone in the company is in media relations."
After two and a half years as an associate with Longview Communications, I am returning to private practice. I'll continue to work with Longview as a contractor on selected client projects, but my new independence gives me the opportunity to pursue opportunities as a consultant and barbecue evangelist.
I plan to focus my communications consulting practice on the areas where I have deep expertise: employee communications, crisis communications and, of course, the fast-emerging new world of social media.
As of July 3, 2009 my e-mail address will be ron at ronshewchuk.com and my business phone number is 604-351-1999. I'm moving into my new office space in North Vancouver this weekend, and should be up and running on Monday.
On a personal note, although I look forward to working with Longview as a contractor, I'll miss the daily contact with my dear colleagues, who are great people and brilliant communicators.
A recent article by Jennifer Robison in the latest Gallup Management Journal recognizes the consuming challenges facing corporate leaders these days, but reminds them of the need to stay focused on employee engagement. Gallup is in the employee engagement business, so the article is, of course, designed to prompt existing clients and prospects to pick up the phone and get some help. But I don't mind self-serving pieces like this when they ring true and have useful information and advice, and this one certainly does.
Here's a taste:
If businesses are to survive, leaders can't overlook opportunities to
boost productivity and profitability -- and that means employee
engagement is more critical than ever. "There's a tendency right now to
freeze -- to avoid doing new things for fear of doing the wrong thing,"
says Denise McLain, Gallup principal. "Freezing is a mistake. You can
always change tactics later if you need to and adapt when more
information comes in. But the worst mistake is to overlook engaging
your employees. When times are tough, leaders need all the engaged
people they can get."
Gallup has a giant pile of data from years of surveying employees that shows a direct connection between high engagement and business success. Companies with engaged employees have more loyal customers, better productivity and higher profits than those who don't. And the flip side is also true. "bottom quartile" companies with highly disengaged employees "have 51% more inventory
shrinkage, 31% to 51% more employee turnover, and 62% more accidents
than business units in the top quartile."
So how do leaders get employees engaged, and keep them that way? Here's a summary of Gallop's advice:
Remind everyone they're all in it together. This means communicating what's happening and why - and showing some empathy.
Ask for employee input. People are more engaged when they know their employer cares about their opinion and responds to comments and suggestions.
Create a focus. Having a common purpose brings a team together. This means getting out of "reaction mode" and communicating a long-term vision.
Share the news -- good and bad -- with employees first. "No matter how bad the news is, people will always think of something worse unless they have accurate information from leadership."
Don't abandon front line managers, your primary conduit to employees. "They need support like never before because they may be feeling as uncertain about the future as the employees they manage."
Demonstrate optimism by paying attention to people. "A good way to prove your optimism is to double down on people and products....show your people today that you believe in the future of the company--and that you're ready to meet it when it arrives."
This stuff all sounds like common sense, and you've heard most of this before. But in a time of crisis, common sense can be one of the first casualties. The Gallup article is directed at business leaders, but it might as well be a manifesto for corporate communicators. Here's how it ends:
Preserving or augmenting engagement isn't easy. It takes commitment
from the top. But the return on engagement almost always outweighs the
investment. "Worldwide, the best companies realize they can't afford to
ignore employee engagement," says [Tom Rath, Gallup global practice leader and coauthor with Conchie of Strengths Based Leadership.] "But then, the best companies
Communicators, take heed. If you're not currently giving your senior leaders advice like this, get on it.
Common sense does not always prevail on its own. What are YOU going to do next?
I have the honour of sitting on a panel of IABC Master Communicators today to discuss the future of our profession. The discussion will be led by one of Canada's leading communicators, Jacqui d’Eon, Deloitte Canada’s Chief Communications Officer and IABC's 2008 Master Communicator.
The theme is "Are Communicators Still Relevant -- Or Have We Become Disposable?"
The panelists were asked to contribute two or three minutes of commentary to help kick off the discussion. Here are my notes:
I believe there is a crisis of confidence in our profession, at least on the internal side.
We’ve been through a very dark time over the last decade, a time in which employee engagement has declined and digital communication tools have proved to be far less effective than expected.
This is a time of great change and opportunity for employee communicators, but I worry that we might not be not up to the challenge.
I worry that many of us are trapped in our roles as technical/tactical specialists -- constantly posting, posting, posting to intranets that don’t get read and don’t get measured.
I worry that we’ve forgotten how to offer strategic advice, or how to effectively say no to stupid instructions from our leaders (and offer them thoughtful alternatives).
I worry that, at time that calls for leadership and action, we are so paralyzed by our habits, stifled by the bureaucracies in which we work, and fearful about the security of our own jobs, that we are doing nothing where we should be doing something.
I worry that we’ve forgotten about the basics of the old RACE formula (research, analysis, communication, evaluation) and we’ve become entrenched in our role as order-takers and crisis responders.
And I worry that the new social media tools, which reduce the need for intermediaries like us, could speed the erosion of our strategic importance.
I always say the more you worry about something, the less likely it is to happen. So in the end I’m optimistic about the future of employee communication, and here's why:
We’ve got powerful new tools that have uses we haven’t even begun to explore.
There’s growing interest and attention by corporate leaders in improving engagement, because there’s hard evidence linking engagement to bottom line business performance.
Put Web 2.0 technology together with the burning need to improve engagement, and you have a big opportunity to rebuild a new kind of loyalty -- a new kind of corporate culture based on the creation and support of strong internal communities.
There has never been a better time to make the business case for improving internal communication.
A once-in-a-generation opportunity is right in front of us and we must seize it now.
Richard Edelman’s blog post yesterday is worth a read, and reflects the sentiment of a recent post on this blog. The salient Edelman quotes:
“We’re entering a new era of Mutual Social Responsibility, a virtuous circle in which people consume what they need (not what they want) while companies agree to achieve financial AND societal objectives.”
“...new voices ... must be incorporated into a global governance model based on a stakeholder society. Non-governmental organizations, communities as well as employees and consumers are entitled to a hearing. This is an evolution from the shareholder society which concentrates only on investors and is regulated by government. It calls for an outside in, listening approach by business and government because both of these traditional institutions have lost the mandate to lead unilaterally.”
“It is important that CEO’s use future public speaking opportunities to move from company stewards to private sector statesmen.”