These Donuts are not sweet enough

donutI have set up Internal Communications functions at my last three companies from a standing start. Three companies that had a notion they needed to improve staff communication. Three companies that had not done this kind of thing before. Three companies that knew they had to do something and trusted me to show them how.

The early days are littered with quick wins and euphoric moments as you witness the impact on people of having an intranet for the first time. They embrace the new world of greater transparency, exposure, and awareness. They make better decisions. They pull in the same direction. They have a greater understanding of what the company expects from them and they have a greater emotional commitment to meeting these expectations.

Internal Communications is one of those endeavours that creates organisational value by stealth. Every day you chip away at the barriers to enriching the work experience of your colleagues. Slowly but surely you begin to adjust expectations and you create new norms – and as time passes some of your esteemed colleagues inevitably start to forget about the barren days of years gone by, when they were grateful for any scraps of information that fell off the top table.

It’s then that you may feel that the ‘quick wins and euphoric moments’ become less frequent; and it’s then that an inverse relationship between effort and reward begins to emerge. It becomes increasingly apparent that the harder you try, the more problems you bring down on yourself.

In every workplace across the globe there will be those who subscribe to the fact that the route to a comfortable and less distracted workplace existence is to do less.

If you hand out free donuts, there will always be someone who complains they don’t have enough sugar. I’ve worked with plenty of people over the years who would say if you didn’t hand them out in the first place, nobody could complain they were not sweet enough.

Don’t let inertia get in the way of your ambition. Forget about “if it ain’t broke don’t fix it” – that just points to a complacency and arrogance that will be your downfall. Treat your moaning minnies as an opportunity not a threat, and embrace the challenge of converting them from the dark side – and always consider the possibility that they may be right. Maybe those donuts do need a bit more sugar!

Above all, keep ruffling those feathers and pushing those boundaries – you’ll be surprised how many more winning and euphoric moments are still out there waiting for you to grab them.

Christmas Party Crimes

Office Xmas Party Drunk“2014 has been a spectacular year for the business. That success has not come easily and I really appreciate your hard work and commitment. Because of your individual and collective efforts we now serve more customers than ever before – and they just keep coming!

As you know, next Friday is our annual Christmas party, and I am looking forward to seeing you all there, relaxing, celebrating and enjoying a much deserved night out with your friends and colleagues. Thanks again for your contribution to the company’s continued growth and unrivalled reputation.

Please note that fighting, excessive alcohol consumption, the use of illegal drugs, inappropriate behaviour, sexist or racist remarks or harassment and comments about sexual orientation, disability, age or religion will not be tolerated at this year’s Christmas Party. Disciplinary action may be taken for unacceptable behaviour.”

Phew! Thank goodness for that last bit, I must remember not to fight or take drugs at the party this year. Silly me, there was I thinking that our Christmas Party had an exemption wrapped around it that means the laws of the land and the high standards of behaviour expected of me as an employee didn’t apply…

Ok, this is not real. I made it up. Apart from that final paragraph, which is actually based on recent advice published by the Institute of Internal Communication.

Every year the prospect of Christmas party crimes biting the hand of those tasked with organising them sends us scuttling off to the lawyers in search of sanctuary. Then, shock horror, the lawyers’ stamp their own particular brand of demoralising bumph on a communication that could and should have been positive and uplifting. They mean well and I love them dearly.

My own advice may not be to their liking, but seriously, the risk created by treating your people with a criminal lack of respect far outweighs the possibility that the legalese in your party invitation will actually protect the company if the wheel ever came off.

Employees typically have an employment contract of sorts with an attendant ‘code of conduct’ setting out what comprises potential disciplinary offences. Most cover the spectrum of ‘crimes’, ranging from minor infringements like using obscene language, to the more weighty matters like conviction for a serious criminal offence.

Let’s leave criminal damage, driving whilst under the influence of drink or drugs, violent conduct, and sexual assault to the experts; the local police. Any member of staff who behaves in a manner that leads to arrest and conviction of such an offence deserves what they get, and because they did this at or after a staff party does not necessarily make the employer complicit in that offence. That would be like saying that an employer should be held responsible for an employee who uses some of his wages to buy an Uzi to shoot down his noisy neighbours on his day off.

Absolution for the employer for Christmas party crimes is likely to be determined by their actions in planning and delivering a safe, responsible event, rather than issuing stale words of warning, which will have no effect on changing anyone’s behaviour.

We don’t feel the need to warn responsible adults about their conduct at weekends, or when they’re on holiday, or any other time when they are absent from the workplace. We rightly assume that as members of a civilised society, they understand the law and don’t need to be reminded not to break it.

We are all adults and we all know how to behave. If I fail to live up to my own standards of behaviour, Christmas party or not, I understand and accept the consequences.

Manage well

Think about all the things you do in a day at work. And think about what single act has the most profound effect on your own morale and sense of wellbeing. Is it the free lunch and the cashless vending machine? Is it the beer fridge or the vodka shed on a Friday afternoon? Is it the slide connecting you to your colleagues on the floor below? Is it the opportunity to make a difference? Is it being empowered to make decisions and trusted to do things your way?

patonbackOf course, most of these things are important in varying degrees to all of us, however, thanks to life’s rich tapestry, it turns out that we’re not all the same. All of us are turned on (and off) by different things in different ways and at different times.

That said, the one thing that picks us up more than anything is a heartfelt and deserved pat on the back. Research in 2011 revealed that self-esteem boosts are rated more highly among American university students (aka today’s workforce) than food, remuneration, time spent with friends, drinking alcohol, and even sex.

If you manage people, never forget that real-time recognition has the power to transform a person’s mood, commitment to the cause and level of performance. So before you spend a fortune on formal reward and recognition systems, a shiny new annual appraisal framework,  indoor skyscapes, AstroTurf flooring, helter-skelters, jumbo bean bags and padded cells, just remember that the occasional pat on the back is likely to be the most important thing you can do at work today.

And it won’t cost you a penny.

Next practice not best practice

‘Best Practice’ is one of those buzzwords that gets chucked around corporations with impunity. I get where it’s come from and I get why many like to rely on it – I mean, once you have found a way to do something successfully, why would you not want to replicate that experience over and over again?

Here’s why. The speed of change in human behaviour brought about by the speed of change in technology means that by the time something becomes enshrined as best practice, it is already likely to have been superseded. That’s because for the first time since the written word arrived, we are no longer masters of the message or the medium.

dinosleep2Best practice should no longer be seen as a blueprint for describing the standard way of doing things in an organisation. It’s too safe. It’s too comfortable. And it’s too predictable. I see evidence all over the place, especially in advertising, marketing and PR. If you’re going to cite best practice as your primary justification for doing things in a certain way, you may as well stick a sign above your desk while you’re at it saying “Quiet please, dinosaur sleeping”.

We need to think differently; with agility, fluidity, creativity and a bit more bravery. Best practise has served us well for decades, nay centuries – because we have been able to control the messages and the medium. We are losing this power with every day that passes. Carrier pigeons, telegrams, snail mail, faxes, email – same difference really – all had similar limitations when it came to reach, speed and spread. Social Media has democratised communication like never before and it’s turned us all into authors and broadcasters.

It’s time to forget about best practise. The pace of change is such that predicting ‘next practice’ is what will bring the bacon home.

Gizzits

I have grappled with the complexities of gizzits for donkey’s years. Gizzits for those of you unfamiliar with the term are basically corporate freebies used externally for marketing purposes at trade shows, conferences and the like, and internally, typically to celebrate something.

According to ARRSEPedia, the font of all spurious knowledge for the British Army, the word gizzit derives from the traditional army habit of acquiring souvenirs whilst ‘abroad’. “That’s shiny, gizzit ‘ere!” so the story goes.

For military invasion read trade show. We’ve all seen them. Roughnecks marauding from stand to stand hunting down stress balls, garish ballpoints and shiny memory sticks with sadly inadequate memories. If they get really lucky, they track down the holy grail of trade show gizzits, the mobile phone deck chair.

Note my slightly dishonest use of the third person plural here. Admit it. We’ve all done it…

My real interest in the science of gizzitology is in the internal use of corporate gifts, where they attract greater levels of variance in terms of perceived disposability and value. By value, I don’t really mean financial value, for there is none. Unless of course you count the money saved by not buying them in the first place. No folks, the true value of a gizzit is measured in emotional equity. And this is where things get tricky.

I’ve never worked anywhere where your own branded merchandise is not highly prized. It’s amazing how much emotional value there is in a baseball cap, T shirt or pack of cards dished out, preferably with no strings attached. The road to gizzit nirvana is however strewn with potholes and dangerous bends. There is a very thin line between success and failure when you play with people’s emotions.

If you get it right, nothing beats the power of a gizzit to raise spirits. If you get it wrong, damp squibs and chocolate teapots spring to mind. The challenge is to make sure that the the internal use of gizzits is appropriate, proportionate, timely, on-brand, culturally acceptable, equitable and hits the gizzit-spot (let’s call it the g-spot) of every recipient.

If they are not dished out to everybody at the same time, the ‘have nots’ can get very uppity, even if they know it is on the way. So the logistics have to be spot on. If a particular team or location is earmarked for exclusive gizzitry, those left out will be unforgiving.

Perhaps the hardest thing is getting around the “one size fits all” issue. For example, there is often a bit of a divide between what a senior director would value versus the preference of a front-line customer service representative. Another trophy for the cabinet is great if you have a trophy cabinet. Or even a desk. To someone who hot-desks every day, this is unlikely to land as well. Closely aligned to this is cultural fit. Why would you give a USB memory stick to a work force that doesn’t use computers, or a crystal paperweight to a dynamic young paperless internet company?

So my questions are thus.

  • Are gizzits worth the time, effort and cost or should you consider other forms of internal recognition and celebration that are less problematic?

  • What is the best gizzit ever to land on your desk?

  • What is the worst, most inappropriate or lame gizzit you have ever been given?

Trust me, I’m a CEO

The essence of a great place to work is trust. Thirty years of experience working with the most successful organisations in the world leads the Great Place to Work Institute to conclude that the foundation of every great workplace is trust between employees and management.

In another interview with Erin Lieberman Moran of the Great Place To Work Institute, Mark Ragan recently asked about the role of social media today in Internal Communications. Erin’s response was that the best companies are using it to enhance and strengthen workplace relationships. She went on to say:

“In lousy workplaces, organisations are monitoring the blogs to make sure that there aren’t human resource violations. In high trust environments where leaders trust the people that work within the organisation, they are just letting those conversations continue because there is an understanding and an appreciation that by opening up those vehicles they have insight into what people are thinking and experiencing.”

My regular readers will not be surprised that I concur.

These conversations will still be happening. Employees with an axe to grind will still hold court in the coffee room or the corridor. It’s just that the leadership team won’t have the benefit of knowing about them nor the opportunity to engage with the issues.

Earlier this year, Giam Swiegers, CEO of Deloitte Australia gave a fascinating interview on the use of Yammer within his organisation. Among other things, it gives him the opportunity to personally engage with people out in the open, not only to challenge misconceptions but also to accept responsibility for organisational shortcomings and take speedy remedial action. It’s worth a watch if you are interested in this stuff.


It seems to me that this kind of leadership approach must make a positive contribution to the creation of a high trust environment in the workplace. I’d love to hear from any Deliotte people who could provide any insight into how much emotional credit Giam has managed to accumulate through his approach to Social Media.

Social Media is not everyone’s cup of tea and in my opinion it can only ever be part of a multi-channel approach to employee communications. In some respects the real value of encouraging staff to blog and contribute to cross functional discussions using tools like Yammer is as much symbolic as it is practical.

As long as they are trusted to do so without heavy policing and censorship.

A nice cup of e and a biscuit

Office workers who walk away from their desk to make a cuppa or have a chat with a colleague – even those who sneak out for the occasional ciggy are not robbing their employer of wages.

The idea that presenteeism should be used a baseline for productivity is not just crazy, it is pernicious. Peddlers of such nonsense need to be put straight immediately to stop them causing any more damage to their companies.

Most employers accept this and don’t seek to curtail it. They realise that short regular breaks are good for maintaining focus and mental agility. Unlike the occasional piece of ludicrous ‘research’ there is simply nothing to be gained by adding up the time taken by employees to clear their heads and regain focus.

However, remove the tea from the equation and all of a sudden, things look somewhat different.

Tea breaks pale into insignificance when compared to eBreaks. One survey last year suggests that nearly 2 million British workers spend over an hour every day on social media websites. More than half of the UK’s working population now accesses social media whilst at work, with a third of those (roughly six million) are spending more than 30 minutes on the likes of Facebook and Twitter.

Is this any worse than the good old fashioned tea break? Clearly many employers think so. According the Mark Ragan, 57% of US companies block employee access to social media sites like Facebook, Twitter and YouTube. But I bet they don’t have such issues with the humble tea break.

Well I think they are making the wrong call – and so does the Great Place to Work Institute. The essence of a great place to work is trust. Thirty years of experience working with the most successful organisations in the world leads the Institute to conclude that the foundation of every great workplace is trust between employees and management.

The organisational and financial benefits to any organisation of being a high trust environment are well documented. Companies that appear in the annual 100 Great Places to Work consistently outperform their peers. And according to Erin Lieberman Moran, senior VP at the Great Places to Work Institute, these companies are not blocking staff access to social media.

In a recent interview with Ragan Lieberman Moran says:

“If you are hiring great talent then you need to trust them to make the right decisions. If you’re holding them accountable to their performance, when and how they get their work done should be less important than the actual results they are delivering to the organisation”.

Brings us back to presenteeism. If you trust people and manage them well – and by that I mean keep them busy with challenging and meaningful work – their value should be measured by their results not by their presence.

I take quite a few eBreaks during my working day. OK, so my working day may be extended by a few hours beyond those stipulated in my contract in order to ensure my work never suffers, but that is my choice and quite frankly, I would not have it any other way.

I love my job, I love my profession and I love my company. Without my regular eBreaks, I suspect I’d find it difficult to maintain this level of intensity and I’m sure our relationship would suffer.