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.

Survey Fatigue

I’m not a big fan of annual employee engagement surveys. I dislike the habit and ritual that lies behind them. They are positively dangerous when driven by ‘learners’ and they are massively overpriced and disruptive when driven by ‘experts’.

I worry that they offer the illusion of proactivity and action to the executive team and the spectre of failed promises to everyone else. And by the time the analysis is done and workshops rolled out, it’s all a bit tired and out of date. On top of that they are the ultimate time-suck on busy employees who have got a lot more to worry about than completing a 70 question survey.

pig on scalesAt the risk of exposing myself as a bit of a limp wrister, I think that intuition is a much undervalued tool. I think there is much truth in the old rural cliché, (which admittedly I have slightly bastardised) – ‘you fatten a pig by feeding it, not by weighing it’. Any farmer can tell just by looking at his drove whether or not they are eating enough.

There’s no escaping the fact that some people quite like data. Not everybody feels quite so comfortable with trusting intuition. So naturally I accept there must be some middle ground here.

So how about an approach that provides the same data you can get from an annual survey in ‘real time’ at zero cost?

Many companies use Net Promoter Score (NPS) to provide quick feedback from their customers. Its key selling point is it is quick, easy and most importantly, it respects your customers’ time by only asking them a single, straightforward question – “How likely is it that you would recommend [your company] to a friend or colleague?”

Many companies (including Apple) have adapted this approach and deployed it internally (eNPS). I’ve done it myself and it works. Once a month send one twelfth of the company a two-question survey, making sure that no member of staff is surveyed more than once a year.

  1. “How likely is it that you would recommend [your company] as a place to work to a friend?” (provide a scale of 1 to 10)
  2. “Tell us more if you’d like to” (provide a free text box)

Use the same scoring mechanism used by NPS, which over time allows you to plot your performance. The verbatim feedback provides a rich seam of regular feedback that is fresh and ‘in the moment’.

The most important thing is that you examine and share the monthly feedback with those tasked with improving organisational effectiveness and development and you put it to good use. Regular strategic and tactical interventions are made possible by adopting this kind of agile alternative to the annual behemoth.

Winner winner chicken dinner…

Is happiness the truth?


♫ ♪ Clap along if you feel like… happiness is the truth… ♫ ♪

Don’t assume that an engaged employee is a happy employee. People often confuse employee satisfaction with employee engagement and they really shouldn’t.

Think about it. What emotional states demonstrate that you really care about something or someone? Being happy with everything they do and say is not what I’m thinking. I’m thinking frustration and envy for starters. Let me explain…

The most valuable employee is the one who gets frustrated when change doesn’t occur. She gets frustrated when she sees complacency and waste. And she cares enough to say and do something about it.

At the same time, she feels envious of a rival’s reputation for superior customer service or a world class new product – and she really wants to do something about it. She won’t settle for second best and continually pushes the boundaries to find better ways to do things. She knows that your rivals are stealing your customers because you’re missing a trick and she’s not prepared to sit there and do nothing about it.

The happy chappy she sits next to gets on with his job, smiling his way through the day, doing everything that is asked and expected of him. He’s a valued staffer. He’s been sitting there for years, keeping his head down, enjoying his work, and he never rocks the boat. There’s nothing wrong with that – but will he follow you into the trenches when the going gets really tough?

Don’t get me wrong, I’m all in favour of happiness and fun. Most employers recognise its value in the workplace and many rightly go out of their way to promote it. The danger comes when that is the primary focus of their employee engagement efforts, because this renders it no more than window dressing. An employer that ignores the more fundamental drivers of engagement in favour of window dressing is in trouble. And you’ll probably find that such an employer also prefers to be surrounded by people who nod a lot and say ‘yes’ all the time. Their silence and compliance is seen as loyalty. I see it as a lack of engagement.

The truth is our most engaged people irritate us now and again. Their passionate pleas for change may be inconvenient. Their madcap suggestions can be distracting. Their anger and frustration when simple things block their progress may embarrass us in front of our colleagues.

Get over it! Provided they are doing it because they care about the business; and they care about inefficiency; and they care about waste; and they care about the company’s future, we all need to encourage them, reward them, and pray to God that they multiply.

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.

Marriage Guidance

Are you married? Did you get engaged first? I know a bit about marriage – eighteen years and still going strong may not make me an expert but I think it qualifies me to share a few insights.

What makes a successful marriage? Having a roof over your head? Having enough cash to pay the bills? A couple of nice holidays every year? Actually, no – meeting these basic needs has nothing to do with it. Sure, if these things are missing even the strongest of relationships will feel the strain, but these basic needs do not make a successful marriage.

So what does? In no particular order, here are my top ten tips for marital harmony.

Respect each other’s individuality Become too controlling
Allow each other freedom to breath Smother each other
Listen Shout
Treat each other as equals Try to be superior
Support each other Disrespect or undermine each other
Remember you are together by choice Take each other for granted
Have fun together Take yourself too seriously
Support your partner’s goals & aspirations Ignore each other’s dreams
Trust each other Be dishonest
Take personal responsibility Don’t wait for an apology

relateAre you an engaged employee? Are you married to your job? See where I’m going with this?

Not only do the language of employee engagement and the language of love share the same vocab, the list above suggests that the similarities extend beyond mere semantics.

Read it again and tell me which of the above tips does not translate immediately into the relationship between employer and employee.

That’s why pay and benefits don’t register on my employee engagement scale.

Jon Weedon
Corporate Agony Uncle

Speak from the heart

ImageAndrew Mason, CEO of Groupon was fired yesterday. It’s not difficult to see why. The company’s share price has fallen by 77% since it went public on the NASDAQ in 2011. Not many CEOs can survive such a horror show.

What makes this story so different is the manner in which staff were informed.

Such high level ‘departures’ are normally accompanied by the usual nonsense about leaving ‘by mutual consent in order to pursue other opportunities’. Nobody ever buys the line and yet the PRs still trot it out with alarming regularity.

How refreshing then to see staff being informed by the man himself, clearly in his own words, with an honesty, humility and good humour that serves to make his thank-you to the ‘People of Groupon’ all the more powerful and irresistible.

Here is the text of his email in full. It is worth reading. I can’t remember ever reading such a brilliant piece of leadership communication.

People of Groupon,

After four and a half intense and wonderful years as CEO of Groupon, I’ve decided that I’d like to spend more time with my family. Just kidding – I was fired today. If you’re wondering why … you haven’t been paying attention. From controversial metrics in our S1 to our material weakness to two quarters of missing our own expectations and a stock price that’s hovering around one quarter of our listing price, the events of the last year and a half speak for themselves. As CEO, I am accountable.

You are doing amazing things at Groupon, and you deserve the outside world to give you a second chance. I’m getting in the way of that. A fresh CEO earns you that chance. The board is aligned behind the strategy we’ve shared over the last few months, and I’ve never seen you working together more effectively as a global company – it’s time to give Groupon a relief valve from the public noise.

For those who are concerned about me, please don’t be – I love Groupon, and I’m terribly proud of what we’ve created. I’m OK with having failed at this part of the journey. If Groupon was Battletoads, it would be like I made it all the way to the Terra Tubes without dying on my first ever play through. I am so lucky to have had the opportunity to take the company this far with all of you. I’ll now take some time to decompress (FYI I’m looking for a good fat camp to lose my Groupon 40, if anyone has a suggestion), and then maybe I’ll figure out how to channel this experience into something productive.

If there’s one piece of wisdom that this simple pilgrim would like to impart upon you: have the courage to start with the customer. My biggest regrets are the moments that I let a lack of data override my intuition on what’s best for our customers. This leadership change gives you some breathing room to break bad habits and deliver sustainable customer happiness – don’t waste the opportunity!

I will miss you terribly.


(above text unashamedly stolen from The Guardian)

Before today I knew nothing about Andrew Mason. I now feel I know a lot more than about him and what makes him tick than I could ever have learned from reading 100 stories about him in the business press.

And it seems to me that Groupon’s problems are not the result of poor leadership. As an occasional Grouponite myself, the fundamental business model is the real problem.

After all, there’s only so many cut price spa treatments, manicure sets and restorative scalp gels a man can take.

Good luck Andrew, I have no doubt this is not the last we’ll be seeing of you.