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?

Policy Schmolicy

When you write a policy, you probably do so because someone somewhere wants to manage risk and protect the people it’s aimed at. Despite this noble intent, many flinch when a new policy is announced because they think that yet another cherished freedom is under attack.

It doesn’t have to be this way. Policies can empower. They can liberate. They can enrich. And they can make you feel a whole lot better. That’s because they tend to provide clarity around what is acceptable and what isn’t. This clarity removes doubt and fear that can otherwise stifle an individual’s personal and professional development as well as cripple the organisations they work for, by blocking innovation and collaboration, and encouraging risk aversion, inertia and even withdrawal.

To be effective a policy has to make sense and land well with the intended audience. The ‘what’s in it for me’ question must be addressed right up front. “Failure to comply with this policy could lead to disciplinary action, including dismissal” just doesn’t cut the mustard.

That’s a bit like telling people they are lucky to have a job when they submit an idea to improve the conditions they work in.

With words like ‘compliance’, ‘discipline’, ‘conflict’, ‘declaration’, ‘grievance’, ‘enforcement’, ‘monitoring’ and ‘unauthorised’, the language around policies is littered with negativity.

I promise you there’s at least a glimmer of positivity in every policy and a shed load in most, so stop focussing on the doom and gloom and bring out the positives. Demonstrate how the policy will liberate you to get out there and sell more stuff, build better products, provide even better support to your customers and even maybe encourage you to evangelise about the great company you work for.

Given that most policies fly out of Legal, Finance, Internal Audit and HR it may be too much to expect the language within to ensure a smooth landing with the intended audience. This is where Internal Communications should take over the controls, ease back on the throttle, and bring the plane in safely.

The next question is do they really have to be so damned prescriptive?

Pulling in the same direction

I love working in Internal Communications. What’s not to love about trying to create a climate inside an organisation where the major factors that influence employee engagement can thrive: respect, trust, openness and recognition. For me it is the noblest of professions that has the potential to drive business performance like no other.

Marketing, Public Affairs and PR may well get all the money, resources and glory.  Am I bothered? Not a jot, because I get the quiet satisfaction of knowing that what Internal Communications is doing is more challenging, more complex and every bit as important.

Internal Communications has unique challenges that external facing teams don’t have to contend with, and this fact alone makes the job such a blast.

Perhaps the biggest of these challenges is securing the enduring commitment of the senior leadership team. I say enduring because that is the key difference between external and internal communications. External communications only really needs the commitment of the senior leaders at certain points in the supply chain; budget approval, communications plan sign-off, cooperation at media training time & rehearsals, and then sticking to the script when let out in public. The rest of the time they can generally leave things in the very capable hands of the Corporate Communications team and not give a second thought to what they’re up to.

Internal Communications however needs the commitment of the senior leadership team all of the time – and I mean all of the time.

From the minute they walk in the door to the minute they clock out 13 hours later, day-in, day-out, they need to be acutely aware of the influence they have on their people. One unguarded moment; one throwaway comment on a conference call; one ill-considered line in an email; that’s all it takes to expose a potentially critical lack of alignment with company’s strategy and values, or with the rest of one’s peers on the senior leadership team.

More than anything, leaders need to live and breathe the company strategy and values through their actions,behaviours and words. Their job is to bring to bring this stuff to life internally and to empower and energise their people to follow the company’s strategic intent.

Just one loose cannon could lead to entire divisions working against each other and pulling in the wrong direction.

Internal Communications is there to facilitate and support organisational alignment – and without leadership alignment the odds are stacked against you. That’s why I believe that the single most important part of our job is to facilitate and support leadership alignment.

It’s a bit harder and infinitely more interesting than simply managing intranet content and spraying corporate messages around with the Internal Communications scattergun.

I made you a cake but then I ate it…

I can’t think of a single word in the English language that pisses me off more than the word “but”.

There’s no other word quite like it for sucking the positivity out of a room. No other word comes close to plucking defeat from the jaws of victory.

Just when you think you’ve cracked it, out pops the ‘b’ word and everything unravels. I’d love to help you but… I think it’s a cracking idea but… It’s one of the best meals I’ve ever had but…

Think about it. What does “but” actually do?

I’ll tell you what it does – it effectively puts a line through the words that immediately precede it, rendering them a pointless waste of time. 

The dictionary says that “but” is a conjunction used to indicate contrast. That’s far too generous.  Contrast is good – it provides clarity and makes things sharper and more visible. I think we need a new definition.

but [buht; unstressed buht]
A word used to dilute the power of the words that precede it.

Infographic Nirvana

I love a good infographic. I love the way they help to make sense of often quite complex data and information through very simple visual cues. They turn numbers into stories; and when you are innumerate like me that is a big deal. They are also brilliant at showing progression, growth, and history in an informative, engaging and sometimes witty way. Like any good story, they can touch your emotions in a way that numbers and data can’t. Well, for me anyway.

I particularly like the way that infographics tend to be non-linear. There are no pages to turn; you just keep scrolling down the screen revealing fresh content as you go. This is a very comfortable and familiar experience for digital natives, who can take in a lot of information very quickly this way.

One of my favourite examples of a good infographic design is this one created by to provide a visualisation of American debt. Setting politics aside for one moment, one can’t help but admire the way the artist has illustrated the scale of an almost unimaginable quantity of dollars.

I’m actually looking closely at the art of infographic design at the moment as I’d like to use this technique to illustrate the incredible 10 year history of the company I work for, combining internal corporate milestones with external customer facing highlights.

Rather than attempting to grab people’s attention with pages and pages of traditional text, I think a good infographic could tell our amazing story in a few moments. When you are competing for peoples’ attention against the pressures their day jobs, this is an attractive option.

Another increasing trend I have noticed is that of animated infographics. This is quite a cute example that charts the history of the iPhone. I think the music helps as well.

I haven’t yet come across any public examples of infographics being used by Internal Communicators. Given the benefits I have described, surely there must be companies out there using them to help staff digest complex organisational data?

What do you think?

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.

Work must have value

I have studied employee engagement ever since I got into Internal Communications. That’s why we do it right? Never before have I been struck by the simplicity and poignancy of a single statement in all my reading on the subject:

“The engaged stay for what they can give. The disengaged stay for what they can get.”

I picked it up on Twitter via @adamparnes who had just blogged about his experience at a National Geographic forum he had attended which had been facilitated by Leadership Development consultants Blessing White. The trail led me to Blessing White’s 2011 Employee Engagement Report. Do yourself a favour – read it!

The concept of recognition is not new. Every study on employee engagement ever made will mention recognition as a key driver of positive behaviour. However, I haven’t seen many that focus on the value of work. Gallup touch on it in their 12 Elements of Great Management, where I recall the phrase “money without meaning is not enough compensation” however the context was more around working for a company that has a noble cause and a vision that inspires.

What I love about “The engaged stay for what they can give” is the focus on individual contribution. If you feel that your own endeavours add real value to the company and are contributing to its success your motivation levels will be sky high and you are likely to hang up pretty quickly next time that pesky recruiter calls.

On the contrary, no matter how much love and loyalty you feel towards your company, if the work you are being asked or allowed to do does not feel valuable, no amount of money, free lunches, great benefits, table football or sleeping pods will keep you there for too long. And if it does, that’s where the rot sets in.

Work must have meaning. It must have value. If the meaning and value disappears you begin to tread water. OK, you are still motivated by the rewards for doing that job and you still do your job. You even look busy a lot of the time. But the days drag on and your main focus becomes the clock on the wall. You tune out. Discretionary effort goes out of the window, and in no time your increasing disillusionment turns to bitterness and you begin to sap the energy of those around you.

It’s simple. The secret of driving employee engagement lies in matching the operational and strategic needs of the business with the individual skills, interests and aspirations of each employee so that everyone feels that the work they do has value.

This was beautifully illustrated in last week’s episode of Downton Abbey in the following exchange between Mrs Isobel Crawley and Lady Grantham:

“If I am not appreciated here I will seek some other place where I will make a difference. I mean it. I cannot operate where I am not valued. You must see that.”

Blimey – I never thought I’d end up quoting a popular period drama to make an intellectual point about employee engagement…

How do you make people laugh?

I’m a really funny guy. I’m not joking – I’m truly hilarious.

I have developed very successful strategies for making people laugh. I fully understand the dynamics of the chortle. When I tell a joke I deliver the key elements perfectly every time. Without fail.

I lay the foundations and set the scene so perfectly that when I deliver the punch line it has everyone laughing their heads off.  And if I don’t deploy the element of surprise, I’m a master at dropping in a spot of exaggeration or a beautifully observed piece of irony. Believe me, I really am very funny.

Convinced? No, of course you’re not.  You think I’m a bit of a twat who thinks he is funny and is clearly anything but.

The moral of my story? If you want to make people laugh, don’t keep telling them how funny you are, start telling jokes.

OK, let’s change the question a little. How do you make people feel engaged?

Can you see where I’m going with this?

If you want to make people feel engaged, don’t keep telling them what a great employer you are, start engaging them.

Precisely how you do that will differ from person to person, office to office, city to city, and country to country. You probably don’t want to start telling Jewish jokes in downtown Tel Aviv or Irish jokes in deepest Dublin.

However, there are some universal truths in employee engagement, like respect, trust, openness and recognition. So don’t keep telling people you are going to trust them, or treat them with respect. Just do it.

Q:  When is the worst time to have a heart attack?

A:  When it’s your go in a game of charades.