PR and communication is multi-layered. These posts are our take on what's going on in business, in the community, locally, nationally and internationally. It's about what's good practice and what can be done better. Let us know what you think.
One of my InfiniteLatitude colleagues in Germany posted an article on his blog about how music aligns the brainwaves of people working in aligned tasks. It got me thinking.
An organisation I was working with was undergoing big changes. We were trying to get people to work across the silos, to create 'joined-up' thinking and action. Previously, the silos had been concreted in, with little understanding about what others did in the organisation. It was effectively seven mini-organisations in one. This led to ineffective work practices, doubling up of some work and other necessary work being missed.
This happens in many workplaces and it is costly. It impacts on profits and performance. This is where effective leadership and communication need to work hand in hand to create a culture of alignment, where people are 'on the same songsheet' (to use an overdone cliche), where they develop a natural rhythm of working together, and they understand intrinsically what's needed, how to work together to produce results.The organisation I mentioned above wanted to get the message across to staff that working together is much more than simply turning up and sitting at desks in the same office block.
In the first year of the change, we gathered as many people as possible together in a large hall. Everyone was issued with a large drum. The afternoon's activities culminated in people being invited to beat out a rhythm, one section at a time. For a while, each section of the hall was playing to a different beat. But gradually, through skilled leadership from the conductor, we got to a point where all were playing the same beat. They got the message - whatever part of the organisation they worked in, we were all part of the same team, moving to the same beat.
The following year, we brought in an orchestra, with a single player starting to play Vivaldi's Four Seasons. Gradually, the whole orchestra joined in, playing their different parts to create the whole.
It effectively symbolised how the organisation was coming together, each person playing their part to contribute to the organisations single purpose.
This was all led by the CEO, who was passionate about breaking down silos, who put in place systems and processes to help achieve it. He was supported by leaders throughout the organisation who were equally committed to seeing the silos broken down and staff working more effectively together.
The initiatives I've mentioned were supported by a lot of other communications tactics designed to implement an on-going communications strategy. All driven by the CEO's determination to have staff working together in tune.
The results were that staff developed a more effective rhythm and a postive culture as they worked towards a common goal.
A friend sent me one of those group emails - you know the sort, with truisms and funny pictures that seem to go round the world a mutlitude of times. It had this picture in it.
It brought to mind a topic I've raised with HR professionals and managers from time to time.
That is, every organisation hires people for particular roles. They hire based on CVs that tick the boxes for the skills they've advertised for. Fair enough. Those CVs of course, have been tailored to suit the role in the hope of getting the job.
But, people have way more than this to their name. They've served on school boards, had jobs in other industries, maybe changed careers. They've managed private projects - perhaps built their own home and managed it all themselves.
But how much of the skills, experience and knowledge employees have built up over years, maybe decades, is captured and used in their present role?
Probably only what is perceived as what's directly relevant in a similar role. What a waste. People have life history. They're often mentors to others, they have leadership skills. Quite simply, they've done stuff.
They don't have to be in high management positions to add value to your organisation. I have seen people who have such rich experience and knowledge, overlooked because their present role doesn't exploit this. They become disenfranchised, dispirited, and feel undervalued - because they are undervalued.
It doesn't take much to make much more of your people, to value them and at the same time gain a huge amount of talent, without cost:
- When you decide to hire, make one of your first orientation tasks to ask your new hire to fill out an on-line form, before they start. It should include information such as - have you served on a committee such as kindergarten, schools, professional organisations? Have you ever managed a project such as building a house, managed a home refurbishment, organised the school fair? What was your role? What was the result? What skills or experience unrelated to this role do you have?
- Do this for all your employees, explaining that you want to find out how to maximise their talents and make their role in the company richer and more rewarding.
- Develop this information in a (confidential) database within your HR department.
- Create a process so when new projects are initiated, you can look for expertise, skills and knowledge internally first, across the organisation, and second from other departments, rather than employing external expertise. This provides you with the opportunity to have others 'act up' into roles and extend their experience as well.
- Develop a holistic culture of seeing staff as a whole person, not a role.
These tips are simple. They're logical. They result in people who feel valued, who add value and who will become positive ambassadors for your company.
(Update below) This morning, I received a phone call from a woman who asked to speak to the person who looks after the Strata Communications website, to discuss an upgrade.
I said yes, that would be me. Maybe she decided that if the company owner was answering the phone, it wasn't worthwhile talking to us. But, whatever her thoughts, she hung up. I wish I knew which company she was representing.
Now, when I was growing up, my parents taught me all about manners. No matter what, to use manners. It goes for business just as much as personal, everyday life. Yet there are many companies whose staff present a poor image of their employer.
And it results in poor reputation and ultimately, loss of customers. That woman who rang me didn't know that I'm in the market for a website revamp. I was interested. And she hung up because, I can only guess, if the business owner answers the phone, then it's not an important enough account for them. Perhaps.
That leads me on to another aspect of this subject - everyone in the company is important. When dealing with anyone, remember, the person at the front counter is equally deserving of recognition as the boss upstairs.
The privileged few
This always goes towards company culture. How many times to you see the car parks nearest the front door reserved for the CEO, then the CFO and the COO, etc. What messages are you sending to the rest of the staff, and also to your customers and other people who matter to your company?
That the rest of your staff aren't of value. That you don't really look after them, and they are, bluntly, lesser beings.
Without them, of course, you don't have a business. And unless the CEO is also the owner (and even if she/he is) everyone has the one status of employee.
Reputation is built on how you communicate through actions and words. You communicate as much or more through how you're seen to view your staff, how you interact with customers and prospective customers, as through your sales brochures, good news media releases, or marketing campaigns.
Update 4 February: If you want great customer service, try this: Overland had a sale on for shoes. I was looking for a pair of shoes for a wedding. They had just the right ones - could have been designed with my outfit in mind. But, not in my size. I needed a half-size up. No matter. They located the last pair in the country in that size, got my name and address, and assured me they will be posted to me (see, NZ Post? People do post stuff still). And, if they don't fit, I can take them back and get a refund. If they do, then they're mine. All at sale price. Now that is customer service. (And the shoees have just arrived and they're brilliant - thanks Overland).
LinkedIn has just put up a new facility, with chosen people trialling a thought-leadership blog facility.
Leadership takes many forms. Conventional thinking says there's coercive, charismatic, and collaborative leadership. I think there's more to it than that. Many people are leaders even when they don't see themselves as leaders. They're the ones others come to for advice, who will speak up in the staff meetings to spell out thoughts others are reluctant to voice. They're the ones who provide the thinking, and who influence behind the scenes. They don't always have to be out there, on stage, in the public eye.
These are the important leaders, because they are the ones who are the 'power behind the throne.' They're also the ones who help make our communities what they are.
Why leadership is important in small business
So, why is leadership so important in our community? Of course, our obvious community leaders are our local government representatives (some of whom aren't leaders, but happen to have stood for election and got the votes.) But I'm thinking of those who own and run the companies that provide the backbone of our economy. And because it's so important to the economy, it's even more important there is great leadership.
So often, people start their business because they know how to do their job. They're good at it and they want to be their own boss. Then they expand - take on an apprentice perhaps, or additional sales staff, or partners. The business grows and develops.
Or, the entrepreneur has a grand idea that works - it takes off (think Mark Zuckerberg and Facebook).
Every business, large or small, needs great leadership if it's to be a success.
Some would say you're a leader if you've gone out and built a business. Not necessarily so. As I said before, many businesses are built because someone was a good plumber, lawyer, accountant or electrician. That they're good at their core role doesn't make them leaders. It makes them good plumbers, lawyers, accountants etc.
Being a good leader means you;
- Have a vision. You know where you want to go, what your business is going to be, and what it will stand for.
- Have a strategy. Having a vision is one thing, Knowing how you're going to achieve it is another. Big ideas remain big ideas if there's no strategy on how to make those ideas a reality.
- Have a plan. Visions and strategies don't happen unless you know what you're going to do to bring it all together.
- Know how to collaborate. It's fine having dreams and a vision but you need everyone to buy into the dream. Sharing your vision, allowing your associates and staff in on the deal and having their own input, can only enrich the big picture.
- Lead. Yes, I know, obvious if you're the leader. Actually, it's not that obvious to many. Being at the helm means being able to take charge and be decisive, setting the direction and most importantly, set the example to create the culture, to create the buy-in . . .
When the Government announced it would consult iwi over the question of water ownership, it was clear it was a sop to quieten the dissent to the sale of New Zealand's energy companies. So one has to ask, how valid is the description of consultation to this process?
When it comes to consulting with the community, it's a brave organisation (or complacent) that assumes the community will not see through a 'tick box' exercise designed to confirm what's already planned.
On Monday, we had the Deputy Prime Minister Bill English turn up at a hui with Tainui to discuss water ownership - and the chairs were mostly empty (11 adults, four kids). Whether you agree or disagree with this whole issue is irrelevant when it comes to good consultation. And right now the Government is displaying all the signs of complacency, comfortable in the knowledge it will do what it wants, regardless of community opinion.
The Government had decided it would call the shots on how it would consult with Maori over water ownership. It didn't ask, it instructed and expected Maori to be compliant and come along to be told what the Government plans. Bill English reckoned he was happy, and if Maori didn't want to show up, that was fine. Clearly, he wasn't about to ask what better way there could be to consult.
Ngati Tuwharetoa and Te Arawa leaders took a different approach today - they turned out in force at Taupo. This was because they want to engage directly with the Government over the issue. These two iwi have a different position to the others and therefore are taking a different approach to how they sort things out over the water ownership issue. But, it's clear Ngati Tuwharetoa and Te Arawa want consultation on their terms.
And that's the point the Government appears to have missed. To consult effectively, you need to find out the best way that will connect with the people you want to consult with. And, calling a few meetings consultation doesn't make it consultation if there's a pre-determined pathway and result.
I talked about this a couple of posts ago. The trouble is, the government seems to think it is inviolate. But just as poor process affects a company's reputation when they need to consult, so it affects a government - at the ballot box.
Riding roughshod over complete sectors of our community isn't going to win hearts and minds. It's divisive and damaging. A collaborative approach, involving the whole community, over this issue would be a far better and more constructive strategy.
Of course, politics will always get in the way, so convenience and political pragmatism wins out over good practice.
There's a peculiar attitude that seems to prevail in some organisations. That it's OK for managers, whether middle or senior, to take someone's work and alter it because they want to make their mark rather than add value.
Now, there are times when a document or project needs to change because priorities have changed, or facts are incorrect. That's a good thing to pick up on and ensure the end product is accurate and reflects the company's direction.
It's another story completely, when someone in a position of power takes a project, or a document, and makes inconsequential changes in order to leave their mark.
This speaks to an unhealthy internal culture. It leads to disempowerment and frustration as these interfering people (usually) take credit: "Without my input, this wouldn't be nearly as good...." is the unspoken message.
The cultures where this is allowed to happen are the ones where there is a lack of strong, inclusive leadership, which I touched on in an earlier post.
Leadership isn't just about the head honcho, although s/he sets the tone. A leader can be anyone, at any level. They're the ones who have the ability to inspire, to support others, empower others, know how to delegate and how to give credit. They also know that leaving others to get on with their jobs will in the end, be constructive, achieve the required goals and contribute positively to the organisation.
Those who seek to take credit for others' work, who diminish by interference, inserting themselves in every part of the process, are the ones who demonstrate they are not leaders, but in fact are exhibiting domineering behaviours.
Being a 'boss' is not necessarily being a leader. There are many who need to learn this.
I was interested in a story on Media Watch on Radio NZ discussing the role of journalists in the coverage of the Pike River mine explosion and the Canterbury earthquakes.
In particular, the interviewee discussed how, what was for some intrusive journalism in fact contributed constructively to telling the poignant stories that made up these events. This is what journalism is about - communicating the stories, background and facts that contribute to the headlines.
What I find disappointing is when communications people act as gatekeepers, particularly when there's a crisis. The job of communicators is to communicate. Sure, there's times when information can't be released for legal or privacy reasons, but overall, the job is to tell the story and working with journalists is an integral part of the job.
It's fairly obvious that if information doesn't come from us, as the organisation in strife, then someone else is going to fill the vacuum. Rumour takes pride of place and others' viewpoints and perspectives will lead.
So what to do:
- Lead with the news. Let journalists know as much as you can what the story is - don't make them work for it.
- Recognise that journalists will talk to others. Accept it.
- Don't allow vacuums to develop. Make sure your communications are aligned and that you're talking to all those people (stakeholders) you need to - internal and external.
- Make sure you facilitate media requirements - help them meet their deadlines (or risk being referenced as not available). Help TV set up their shots (ensuring it's appropriate to your circumstances), radio to get audio and print their photos (making sure it's right for your organisation).
- Understand that journalists have their job to do, just as you have yours. Make sure they understand your priorities too, and acknowledge theirs.
How often have you seen government and local government consult with communities, and you just 'know' they're consulting because they have to, and they've already made the decision?
Frustrating when you have what you believe is great input into something you care about. But, apparently, they don't care at all about what you might think. They just want to get on with the job.
I've seen great examples of community engagement and consultation. I've seen times too, when it's been a tick-box exercise, where the community's opinion is sought in order to meet legislative requirements, quiet any critics, feed them a sop and hope they go away.
Well, it's not only government that needs to think about engaging with the community. Businesses large and small operate in the community. What they do affects the people around them, as well as those who work with them and for them.
Mostly, when a company wants to do something that might affect the community, they take the decision, then implement it. Then, when the community comes out in an uproar because they don't like it, the company's surprised. Well doh . . . . those same people who made that decision are probably the same ones who groan and moan about the latest council decision they didn't know about till after the event.
Effective engagement with a community about an issue that affects them will help your business in many ways. For instance, it can reduce the number of appeals through the legal system, it can avoid negative publicity, and most of all, it can actually enhance your reputation and relationships with your communities
This is a little rant because I am tired of seeing Google ads promising the moon regarding media coverage. "We guarantee media coverage..." they claim. Yeah right. Unless it really is the first self-cleaning fabric, for example, or truly water-powered car, media coverage is not guaranteed. How can they promise media coverage when:
- Journalists aren't in control of what happens on the day (how many product and companies got coverage on 4 September 2010 and 22 February 2011 in New Zealand?).
- It depends on the bureau chief, news editor and editor as to what gets in and what doesn't.
- Sometimes, it just ain't news.
If a PR company only 'does' media, then they're not PR companies, they're media shops and that's quite legitimate and fine - that's what they choose to do. And if you're a prospective client, be suspicious of any 'guaranteed media placement.'
A full-service agency does corporate communication, often including investor relations, marketing communication, community relations (including engagement and consultation), and often, but not always, internal communication. And yes, media relations.
So, what can you expect?
- Your agency needs to understand your business and your industry. They won't know it all straight off and if they claim to, then be sceptical, because there's plenty that no-one can know unless they've worked closely with you for some time, to understand what's going on behind the scenes. But, they do need to have done their homework and researched your company, and the industry you're in.
- Expect to provide a full brief. This means you have to do your homework. Why do you want a PR agency? What do you want to achieve? If you just want media coverage, expect to be advised as to how realistic your expectations are. If you want support for your in-house communications department, be clear as to who will be doing what - do you want advice and strategy or do you want implementation support?
- What budget do you have? Most companies don't want to reveal their budget first off, because they worry the agency will maximise their work to fit, regardless of what's required. However, it's also unfair to expect an agency to put (costly) hours into a proposal that might well put you off because it goes beyond what you can afford.
- Any good PR and communications agency will let you know their pricing options - hourly, retainer, project-based.
- You can also expect to be told who will be working on your account. Don't be fooled by the 'stars' being trotted out to sparkle at the presentation, to have your work fobbed off to more junior staff. There's nothing wrong with junior staff working on your account, but you need to know who will be doing the work and who's responsible for what.
Having spent many years working with and for local government, I know about jargon. (I can almost hear your chorus of agreement!). It comes from the anonymous people behind the scenes and I have sat in many meetings embarrassed as councillors have debated important issues, clearly not understanding the jargon-ridden reports in front of them.
Corporate communications and documents can in their way be as bad, but government and NGOs, in my opinion, are the worst offenders. Why, I really don't know, because they are the ones which most need to connect with their audiences.
I've just completed a major plan for a client, and part of the brief was to tell their story and communicate their plan in lay language so the public could easily read and understand. This was a departure for them which public feedback told them was really welcomed.
Internal communication, too, should rely on lay language. So often I've heard of staff getting the wrong end of the stick because of unintelligible jargon.
Here's a 'memo' I composed for a LinkedIn discussion on this subject. Sadly, it's not too far from the truth for many organisations.
"I am confident that, at the end of the day, we will gain some quick wins through onboarding then socialising the concept of eliminating jargon. Going forward, we will all be on the same page – indeed singing from the same song sheet – and be thinking out of the box when it comes to the language we utilise in the C-suite. Initially, it will be similar to herding cats, and the process will identify the square pegs in the round holes, but we will achieve some upside and a paradigm shift as we reach out and break the silos through the use of intelligible language.
Or: "We're not using jargon from now on, so that everyone can communicate effectively."
That's what it's all about - effective communication both internally and externally. That's a basic requirement for effective public relations and communication in all its forms.