Employee engagement in pictures

I found another picture that says it all.

This time, it’s not the person whose job it was to paint a white line at the side of the road who skirted around the fallen branch – this time it the person whose job it was to paint the double yellow lines down the centre of the road!

This is clearly the work of an engaged employee:

Why? Simply because the picture below is clearly the work of a somewhat less than engaged employee!

Permission to send

Make no mistake about it, I do not consider employee communications sent by email SPAM. My definition of SPAM would include the words ‘bulk’, ‘unwanted’, ‘unsolicited’ and ‘indiscriminate’.

Even the most cynical and jaded employee could never accuse employee communications as being indiscriminate. By definition ‘bulk’ would apply as any broadcast employee communications are likely to be sent one-to-many. On the ‘unsolicited’ side, as an employee it would be pretty hard to argue that the company does not have a right and perhaps even a legal obligation to inform you of certain things relating to the work they are paying you for.

That leaves us with ‘unwanted’, which is where I think this discussion needs to focus. This is the basis of permission marketing. Why waste time sending messages to an unreceptive audience? A loyal and enthusiastic customer is likely to elect to receive marketing messages from their favourite brands providing they don’t overdo it. Similarly, a highly engaged employee is more likely to read an email from their CEO than one who has switched off from the company they work for.

So it is a constant challenge for Internal Communicators is to assess the penetration of their company’s broadcast emails.

My experience suggests that very few companies use email management systems/providers such as Vertical Response or dotMailer for their internal audiences. If they did this would be a pointless debate as all the metrics you’d need would be at your fingertips. Come to think of it, why not use these products for Internal Communications? Let’s leave that question for another day!

Most companies use enterprise email clients like Outlook. Yes you can see how many of your emails are never opened if you wish to deploy the read/unread request for every message you send out, but this doesn’t prove much and it annoys the hell out of email recipients. Yes you can survey staff or seek feedback through focus groups – but you can’t do that too often, so the granularity in detail you need will more than likely be missing.

There are many reasons why staff may chose not to read a broadcast email. Not seen as relevant, too long and wordy, annoying frequency, too busy, lost in all the noise, bad past experience etc. Without good feedback mechanisms we’ll never really know.

So why not stick an unsubscribe button on every Internal Communications broadcast email? On a message by message basis you will get instant feedback on the readers’ reaction to the email, measured by the number of unsubscribe requests.

You could then use this data to go back to the requestor on a one-to-one basis and seek feedback which could contribute to you changing the timing, frequency, content, and tone of future emails to improve their effectiveness. You could also use it as an opportunity to seek to change their mind about unsubscribing.

Ideally someone who has actually tried this could share their experience here. Is this something you have already considered and may try out in the future? Do you think your staff would be brave enough to hit the unsubscribe button?

Unclear proliferation

We live in a connected world. Buyers have found new ways to buy. Sellers have found new ways to sell. Motorists have found new ways to insure. Students have found new ways to study. Writers have found new ways to publish. Recruiters have found new ways to recruit. Gamblers have found new ways to gamble. Musicians have found new ways to be heard. Families and friends have found new ways to share.

In under a second Google can find more stuff than a pre-internet research assistant could have hoped to have found in a lifetime. In a matter of minutes companies can be rocked to the core by the whiff scandal spreading across the globe faster than the speed of light through multiple virtual channels that are virtually impossible to control.

Yep. We live in a connected world all right.

Many companies are jumping on the social media express, leveraging new and exciting communication technologies and behaviours to find new ways of connecting with their customers and staff. So given the ease, speed and reach of communication technology these days, it’s little wonder we all understand our company’s strategy right?

Wrong. On the contrary, while the world around us has never been more open, transparent and accessible, life in a typical organisation has never been more opaque and trust has never been in such scarce supply.

Why is that? Could it be because many organisations still hang on to the mechanical, bureaucratic, command and control models of organisation that have been with us since the days of the carrier pigeon? Is it because they still cascade carefully crafted, legally sanitised state of the nation speeches through multiple layers of distracted or disengaged management? And because they strip out any semblance of personality from CEO communications to make sure they don’t put a foot wrong, nor waste a single precious word? Somebody told me the other day that their company still sends memorandums around in the internal post! For sure – this could be part of the problem.

Too many organisations continue to inflict somewhat outmoded values and behaviours on an increasingly sophisticated young workforce; a workforce which is already shunning email because it’s too damn slow. Banning Facebook? What’s all that about? You may as well ban prayer in the mosque or swimming at the pool.

I am a very enthusiastic champion of social media. Getting active on Twitter has expanded my professional horizons immeasurably and demonstrated the power of networking on and offline. So when Yammer popped up inside the organisation I was one of the very early adopters because I got it. I didn’t need convincing. I tweet, therefore I yam.

And Yammer has been a very positive experience for my company. It has got our people sharing ideas, intelligence, information and (dare I say it) banter, across the company irrespective of traditional organisational boundaries, allegiances and geographies. It provides us with a means to improve knowledge management, collaboration and innovation in ways I had not thought possible just a few short years ago.

However, it has also given us another channel to contend with. Another application which needs to be opened up every morning, and another source of potentially distracting real-time alerts set to interrupt us as we go about our work.

As you can imagine this causes me some conflict as I have been beating the social media drum hard and fast for quite some time in and out of work; while at the same time witnessing my own increasing failure to keep track of an ever growing number of external and internal sources I rely on for professional and industry news, views and ideas.

I managed a wry smile when I read the following tongue-in-cheek plea for a ‘ceasefire’ recently on one of my favourite community forums:

“Most working days start with logging in to desktop, Yammer, Intranet, IM, Jabber, Jira, Confluence, Conference Calls, Outlook, OCS and getting a coffee. By then it’s almost time for lunch.”

Beware folks, there’s many a true word spoken in jest. As Internal Communicators we absolutely need to embrace these new channels, but we cannot let them multiply at will with no checks or balances. There is a clear and present danger that important information and meaning gets lost in all the noise. Rather than bringing more clarity, the proliferation of communication channels could well be making things less clear. There needs to be some form of unclear deterrent if we are to avoid meltdown.

When it comes to Internal Communications you need to have a single source of truth. One place that staff enjoy visiting and trust; which is a well-managed, easy to find and full of good quality up-to-date, fresh content. I still believe that place is an intranet; albeit the 2.0 versions built on blogging software that encourages instant feedback and interaction as well as opt in/opt out and ‘alert me’ functionality.

Sure, drive footfall through a multi-channel approach, including word of mouth, email, noticeboards, video on demand, and the pervasive SM channels including Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn that to varying degrees most staff are using already. But do just that – drive footfall. Don’t repeat the same messages time and time again across every different channel. It’s called spam and your audience will switch off sharpish if you do it.

Social Media in particular should not be used by corporate communicators for pumping out corporate messages. These channels are designed for discussion not presentation; relationship building not hectoring and lecturing.

Everywhere I look I see people predicting the demise of the machine bureaucracy and the rise of the ‘networked’ or ‘connected’ organisation. Centralisation will be swept aside by decentralisation; formal hierarchy will bow down to informal networks; executive planning will succumb to collective learning; leadership will be usurped by the ‘wisdom of crowds’ and instead of working for departments, we will all band together in tribes. Their message is clear – organisations that fail to embrace these new paradigms are dinosaurs heading for extinction.

Poppycockasaurus. It’s all a matter of balance. Machine Bureaucracies that loosen up a little and open their minds to the new possibilities and opportunities offered by embracing the ‘networked’ or ‘connected’ revolution will live long and prosper. But only if they hang on tightly to some of their rigour and discipline at the same time.

And thrusting new business upstarts will find that all that flashes, blinks and swarms is not necessarily the route to salvation and sustainability. There will always be a place for strong leadership and high level company strategy will never successfully be determined by an all-staff vote.

Maybe, just maybe I could be persuaded to turn up for work in a loin cloth.

Marketing bull

There’s nothing like a bit of marketing bullshit to invigorate your day.

You know the kind of stuff I’m on about: “I need a cradle to grave solution pronto – I want you to shoot for the moon but let’s not boil the ocean on this one amigos, we simply don’t have the bandwidth”…

I’m delighted to report that in my relatively short experience with my current employer I don’t see much of this (other than when agencies pop in to pitch for some business and the occasional chai latte).

So imagine my surprise when I received a draft communication recently from one of our own Marketing boys about a new product he wanted to let everyone know about, which contained the following line:

“…as part of our overall drive to dial up the volume button on our value pillar and to make value core to our brand this year across all channels…”

On the whole, the draft was actually a beautifully written piece and got the message across perfectly until this sliding tackle from behind left me with no choice but to reach for the yellow card.

My modest contribution to improving this line was to simplify the text by removing the offending words, leaving:

“…as part of our overall drive to make value core to our brand this year across all channels…”

Hands up anyone who thinks the volume button and value pillar will be missed?

Space invaders

We have been hijacking everyone’s Windows lock screen at work on and off for a while now. It gives us a nice instant attention grabbing opportunity to remind people of something that is going on, for example a product launch, or as in today’s instance, a donor drive for the Anthony Nolan Trust. It’s non-intrusive in that it only appears when you unlock your screen after periods of inactivity or being away from your desk, and provided you don’t overdo it, it is a nice highly visual trigger to supplement other more conventional communications channels.

And then we went one step too far. The Marketing Team decided to create a series of branded images celebrating our commercial arrangements with Manchester United and Barcelona, for whom we are the official betting partner. Within hours people were complaining about having their ‘personal space’ invaded by an image of the Red Devils. They have a point. We have a very diverse workforce; however the one thing you can say about most of our staff is that they love their sport.

OK, so we can all be proud of our official betting partner status with arguably the two biggest club sides in the world. But if you support Liverpool, Chelsea, or Manchester City do you really want to see Manchester United players staring out of your screen at you every day?

With emotions running high I took the opportunity to throw up an instant poll on our intranet and a few days later the results made very interesting reading.

“The screensaver on my work computer belongs to the company – they can put anything they like on there.”

Admittedly the Wayne Rooney reference was a bit of a gag given all of the nonsense in the tabloid press recently, but I must confess that I expected a slightly higher percentage of staff to agree with the seemingly blindingly obvious statement that the company can do what they want with everyone’s desktop given that it belongs to them.

After a couple of hundred votes, representing well over 10% of the company, nearly a third of respondents made a clear statement that the screen on their work computer belongs to them and thereby implying that we have no right to intrude upon it.

So either I try to look for ways to change this mindset, which I must confess is rather tempting, or I simply accept this as a genuine sentiment and try to make sure that future images are slightly more palatable to what clearly has the potential to be a a highly partisan crowd.

What would you do?

Ninja worrier

Emotional stress is a killer. It is a major contributor to heart disease and other life threatening illnesses. It also causes exhaustion, irritability, angry outbursts, muscular tension and poor concentration levels.

So a stressed employee is unlikely to return optimal performance right? And what is worry if it is not a manifestation of emotional stress?

I don’t worry about much. I certainly never worry about things beyond my control. I don’t tend to worry about things within my control either because I have always found that worrying about things rarely, if ever, contributes to making them better. I have always enjoyed a quiet but resolute confidence in my own ability to make the right decisions, exercise sound judgement and produce good quality work on time without the need to panic or get stressed about missing details or deadlines.

This of course does not mean that I don’t sometimes let people down. Of course I do, we all do, but the people or projects that may have to wait for something are invariably the victims of necessary prioritisation.

Over the years I have learned how my apparent state of calmness even under considerable duress (a skill I acquired during my 15 year stint with the Metropolitan Police) can infuriate people, especially worriers. I guess it’s easy for a worrier to misinterpret my own lack of worry as a lack of interest or even focus; which actually could not be further from the truth.

Years ago I worked for a very talented lady who was also a ninja worrier. She used to react to the pressures of work by winding herself up into a state of increasingly heightened emotion, which occasionally led her to explode in violent rages. And I of course made things worse by not reacting by jumping to attention and running around like a madman pretending to looked stressed.

I was a rower for many years and if rowing teaches you anything it teaches you to remain calm and to channel and control your power so that it makes a positive contribution to the smooth passage of the boat.

If you get anxious and rush in at the catch, it’s like hitting the break pedal instead of the accelerator. The whole crew suffers when you rush your stroke. They have to compensate for your action and work harder themselves. It’s all about controlled aggression.

The truth is, these days, the only thing I ever worry about is the fact that I never worry about anything.

The Communications Revolution according to Stockholm

On 15th June 2010, the World Public Relations Forum gathered in Stockholm. PR practitioners, researchers and educators from every continent and over 20 countries ratified the Stockholm Accords, a new manifesto re-affirming the importance of PR and Communication Management in organisational success.

I must confess when I first read the Stockholm Accords it came across as a bit of a last gasp from an industry in its death throes. An industry which recognises it has to adapt or die in the face of a social media and networked organisation tidal wave which threatens to sweep aside the old order.

Let me remind you. Like it or not, it isn’t about mass communications anymore – it’s about masses of communicators.

The authors of the Stockholm Accords spelled it out quite clearly. Their objective was to launch a “global public relations program for the public relations profession” in a “conscious and planned effort to argue the value of public relations”. Oh dear thought I – more PR spin.

Then I read a magnificent blog post by my friend Mike Klein, which triggered a few dormant neurones into life and I saw that I had been missing something really quite exciting.

It’s not about the huffing a puffing of PR practitioners desperately trying to justify their existence. It’s about the very real convergence of two previously distinct endeavours. It’s about external and internal communications coming together. It’s about cross functional “strategic communication” emerging as an indispensable driver, definer and guardian of corporate strategy and reputation.

On page 12 of the Accords, one of its architects Toni Muzi Falconi acknowledges that even the most empowered public relations director cannot realistically hope to directly monitor more than ten percent of the communicative behaviour of her organisation. It has probably always been thus – however the difference today is that the communicative behaviour of the organisation can spread across the globe, into every digital nook and cranny within seconds. The old order still sees this as a threat not an opportunity. It is both of course.

On the same page comes the welcome recognition that much of the value created by the organisation comes from fuzzy (not linear) and immaterial networks that normally disrupt the distinction between internal and external audiences. I say welcome, because if you don’t recognise a problem it is very hard to fix it, and I fear that too many communications professionals continue to bury their heads in the sand over this one.

Furthermore, I absolutely love the assertion, actually, let’s call it recognition, that the most important element of communication management is understanding how an organisation’s reputation depends largely on the actions of employees. My definition of action includes words and behaviour; I trust theirs does too.

Some of the language used in the Accords worries me a bit. The authors talk of coordination and oversight to ensure consistency of content, actions and behaviours. This smacks a bit of the old corporate communications paradigm.

Sadly, the authors chose to call it coordination of internal and external communications, not convergence.

I may just have a bash at getting that amended…

Trust everybody – but cut the cards

I make no apology for devoting a third consecutive post to the issue of trust. It’s important peeps – and it’s topical.

Deloitte’s fourth annual Ethics & Workplace Survey was published this week and surprise surprise, lack of trust and transparency are the dominant reasons why employees are on the hunt for a new job.

The headlines declare that one third of all Americans will seek a new job once the economy recovers, and just under a half (48%) say their primary motivation for doing so is a lack of trust in their employers. Forty-six percent say a lack of transparent communication from their leaders is the primary cause of their dissatisfaction at work.

Harry Stottle

Actually, this comes as something of a relief. I’ve barking about the importance of trust in the workplace for longer than I care to remember. The evidence I tend to cite is plain old common sense supplemented by centuries of academic study, starting BC with Harry Stottle’s Rhetoric, in which the great man himself explored the importance of trust in effective communication and persuasion. So it’s always nice to see some more up-to-date evidence.

My angle today is trust v. monitoring and my question is around the management of risk. Specifically, what is the best way to prevent secrets from leaking out of an organisation?

There is a huge industry devoted to developing, selling and maintaining surveillance and monitoring software and systems designed to prevent secrets from sneaking out of the corporate firewall. Now I’m not suggesting that investment in this area is a complete waste of money – what I am suggesting is that anyone who thinks you can prevent the leak of secrets simply by deploying tools is either delusional or has not thought about it hard enough.

The truth is there is no electronic or physical way of preventing organisational leakage. The best you can hope to do with such measures is to catch someone after the deed has been done. And then what? I guess you hold a public flogging to act as a deterrent to other would be offenders. Doesn’t sound particularly attractive to me; and the flogging story is even more likely to leak than the original one, which again does not feel like such a good idea.

Surely it is far better to create an environment where the original leak is far less likely to occur because the potential flogee feels trusted, valued, respected and dare I say loved? Instead of scuttling off to the media, disgruntled Joe feels less inclined to repay his employer’s trust with sabotage and subterfuge. He feels more inclined to trust his employer because his employer trusts him, and he feels able to talk about his frustrations internally without fear of being pilloried.

The people when rightly and fully trusted will return the trust. Yep – Abraham Lincoln new the score.

I know some you will read this and think I’m either being very naive or bit extreme. Just for the record, clearly there are other things that need to be in place beyond blind faith in humanity. You know; things like policies & procedures, awareness and education and maybe even a bit of random email monitoring if you must.

Trust everyone, but always cut the pack before dealing the cards.

Trust is still a must

On the rant I mentioned yesterday. Maybe rant is a little strong. Letting of steam may be a bit fairer. Anyway, the post came across as an impassioned plea for more trust and transparency in the work place.

The guy was clearly frustrated, and he broke a few basic rules of social media netiquette by ‘SHOUTING’ a bit at unnamed individuals who in his eyes seem to get a kick out of  ‘being in the know’.

I was with him 100% in sentiment, but feared that his manner had the potential to undermine a very important debate, as well as create a negative perception among people that didn’t know him and thereby damaging his own personal equity.

I also feared that the naysayers could use the post to take a swipe at my beloved Yammer.

So I called him up for a chat. And guess what – I was beaten to it. A call from up on high had already been made to his boss, along the lines of “have you seen what this guy has written – how can he be trusted with sensitive information after writing something like that?”

Exactly as I feared. His rant had diverted attention away from the real issue and drawn attention to himself in a way that he had not intended or desired. Many people would have been put off by such a reaction and it would have been easy and forgivable to say “sod that, I’m not playing on Yammer again, it’s far too dangerous”.

Fortunately he didn’t. After a few hours of reflection he returned and apologised for his earlier rant, explaining how his passion for the company and his desire to see it be the best it can be lay behind his emotional plea.

He then went on to list the following reasons why he believes transparency in the workplace is a good thing:

  • It helps employees understand why
  • It allows for consistent messaging across the organization
  • It leads to faster, more efficient execution
  • It heals we/they divisiveness
  • It keeps good people from leaving
  • It facilitates the best possible solutions

That’s better! That’s what I call a proper contribution to a very important debate.

And it’s made even more compelling by the fact that it’s not from a text book on employee engagement or from the mouth of an organisational effectiveness guru.

It’s straight from the heart of a very engaged employee.

Trust is a must

Our Yammer network is growing by the day and as time passes my excitement about its potential for increasing the speed and quality of collaboration, knowledge sharing and innovation across the company rises.

So naturally I get very protective when something happens that potentially undermines our continued use of my new favourite application. One of the issues I know causes some discomfort among senior executives everywhere is the issue of trust and confidentiality. So one thing you don’t really want to see on Yammer is open discussion about commercially sensitive information that needs to be kept in a closed loop.

After many thousands of conversations and contributions on our network since it was brought to life last year I have yet to see anyone cross this boundary.

Actually this comes as no surprise to me. I have long believed that when you trust people to behave appropriately they do. Secrets fuel gossip, speculation & rumour, which quickly spreads around as people who feel excluded and unworthy probe and speculate. This can be very disruptive in any work place – and sooner or later they become open secrets in any event.

And because people have no stake in them (and they only have half the story) they are far more likely to say or ask something inappropriate in the wrong place at the wrong time.

In my experience the more stuff you try to hide, the greater the risk you run of it leaking out. On the other hand, if you treat people as adults and trust them with information, they will repay your trust and respect the need to exercise discretion and moderation when talking to the outside world.

Of course there are some things that need to be kept secret. But I think that too many companies have a tendency to overplay the secrecy card – and this can have a seriously detrimental effect on organisational culture and effectiveness.

One of the guys at work had a bit of a rant on Yammer a few days ago on this very subject.

More on this tomorrow. Trust me, it’s a good story…