Thursday, December 29, 2005

Out with the old

The year is finishing at an unexpected pace - it's December 29 and I'm sat at my desk judging a communications competition and planning no fewer than three projects, all of which kick off next week.

The competition judging has proved very interesting - I'm judging three classes in a business communications awards scheme. I spent last night judging the writing category. About a third of the entries were engaging, well written and deserving of recognition. From those I was able to pick my winners. Another third were solid efforts, but nothing exceptional while the remainder were really not very good. Had I been the publication editor I'd have been sending them back to the writer for significant reworking. What I wouldn't have been doing is entering them for awards. Is this a sign of me getting old - or are we beginning to see the outcomes of the age of 'deferred achievement'? Perhaps those who have only recently moved from education into work are so used to getting a certificate for anything they do that they expect one for a mediocre piece of work. Well, they won't be getting a pat on the back from this curmudgeon.

Two more classes to judge today and this morning's effort has made me smile. I have to judge special issues of existing publications - but none of the entries has sent me their standard efforts to judge the special editions against.....

Anyway, I'm gearing up for a busy January with three projects around change. One is long-term as a company transforms its IT function into a global, customer-led entity, while the other two are tactical, covering a head office relocation and a factory relocation. It's great to be involved in all three, but so noticeable that communication has only rated any interest when the big changes are upon them. Somehow that ramps up the temperature far more than necessary. Had communication been part of the culture of these organisations prior to committing to transformation, I'm sure the waves created would be significantly less seismic.

Anyway, ours not to reason why - ours to get in, do a good job, and enjoy the benefits.

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Famine or feast

Flippin' eck - it really is famine or feast in this business. All that crossed my business viewpoint in October/November was tumbleweed. So what did I do? Write, phone or turn up on the doorstep of virtually everyone I know to see what work - if any - was around. Luckily Jac has got locked into one client on a six month project, so there was still some money coming in. As for me it was a case of making some very thin work stretch a very long way.

And so we headed into December and I was sufficiently worried to start looking at roles working for other people - not something I want to do after almost six years of running my own show, but there appeared to be a creeping inevitability as the days clocked up, but the work didn't.

However, the knocking on doors seems to have paid off. I was invited to become part of a project at Cadbury Schweppes, and that will really step up in gear after the New Year. I've now just heard that I've won another pitch - and the client wants to get cracking on Jan 3 - and there's another project from a longstanding client that'll also ramp up in early January. Suddenly I'm not going to have sufficient days available to meet all the demands on me. But that's what evenings and weekends are for. January looks as though it'll be a demanding month - but no doubt by the time I'm three or four months into 2006, the feast will be abaiting agin and I'll be looking for the next bite.

The moral of this little tale? Enjoy the half full glass, because something will always turn up.

Wednesday, December 14, 2005


Having had a euphemistically 'quiet' November, December has really taken off, and the pipeline looks good for the New Year too. Typically, as the work hots up so has the social front with Christmas approaching and all that.

Last weekend was one of contrasts - Saturday morning L-B completed her swimming levels (and knocked off 72 lengths of the pool to celebrate!), Saturday night saw Jac and I foot-stomping away to the saw Doctors at Shepherds Bush Empire, and Sunday saw Rory and I undertake our first and probably last pilgrimage to Stradey Park.

My 12 year old has always been a bit of a fish in the water and over the past couple of years she has worked her way through a set of levels that test everything from stroke to speed to stamina via agility and courage. I'm immensely proud of her - she has a towel full of achievement badges and is far and away the best swimmer in the family. I'm also delighted that I'll no longer have to get up at 7am on a Saturday to take her down to the pool for an 8am start! Anyway, she now has a term off, and then is going to train as a lifesaver - and I'll bet she'll be a good one!

Having already been up for more than 12 hours when we got to the Empire on Saturday night, I was waning a bit and could have done with a sit down. But Saw Doctors gigs aren't like that. This is where the folky end of country meets punk in a football crowd.

It was the first time Jac had been to a SD gig - and she confessed to being a 'little too English' as 2,000 members of the diaspora communed in all things Irish. There's more than a sentimental edge to the SD's lyrics, with plenty of hand-wringing over leaving the 'oul country' and heartfelt commitment to the green and red of Mayo and the claret of Galway. But it's done with such fun and such energy that it's impossible not to be swept up in the football song refrains that infuse just about every slab of Saw Doctor material.

So for about three hours drinks passed overhead, strangers hugged and jigged and we were all back on the N17 (stone walls and the grass is green) - a great night.

Up early again next morning to hit the M4 and the 360 mile return journey to Llanelli. Now with Wasps having drawn one and lost one of their opening Heineken cup fixtures, this was a must win occasion. They didn't. They lost....tamely.

Still I'm glad to have visited Stradey Park, the west Welsh acre that spawned Carwyn James and Phil Bennett. To tell the truth, it's not very impressive - less intimidating than Bewery Field in Bridgend for instance and with a softer, friendlier crowd than some other Welsh venues. Like so many historic sporting homes, it's set to disappear under a housing estate in a year or so as Scarlets move to a new home on the edge of town.

It was a long drive back in the fog, but good to spend a day chatting with Rory - even if the rugby lived down to expectations.

Thursday, December 08, 2005

Little vices

Chocolate is my vice.

I do a reasonable amount of sport, eat my vegetables and have fewer than the allowable number of units of alcohol each week. But for the last five or six years I've gradually gained weight - virtually all of it around my stomach. I have a terrible sweet tooth and could live on Cadbury's Dairy Milk.

Today I won a new contract for what could be an interesting and relatively long term asignment..........with Cadbury Schweppes.

Sonmehow I don't think the waistline's going to be shrinking much in the next few months.

Wednesday, November 30, 2005

First impressions

You only get one chance to make a first impression - and it can make or break a relationship.

Having spent 90 minutes this week with a prospective client, whom I don't expect to become a client, not least because of the impression I made by wearing a navy cashmere blazer accompanied by a mis-matched pair of black and brown suit trousers (the result of dressing in the dark), I began to think about occasions when first impressions had made a negative impact on me.

The one that sticks most in my mind was turning up to the first day of an interim contract that I knew two others befopre me had turned down.

I arrived at the office and was met Having kicked my heels for a good 15 minutes in reception, a project co-ordinator turrned up and signed me in. There were no passes ready for me to get through the security doors or use the canteen or vending facilities - and no steps were in hand to get me the passes.

The project office had one small window at one end - I was shown to a desk at the other end. it faced the wall. No-one looked up when I came in or made any attempt to greet me. They just carried on doing what they were doing. My boss and her boss were both going to be out of the office that day - and possibly the next. There was no induction planned for me and everyone else on the team was pretty busy doing whatever they were doing.

I had no laptop. I had no phone. I had no idea what I was supposed to do.

I was given a few reports to read and diligently did so until lunchtime - when everyone else disappeared into a meeting. Later in the afternoon I started going up to my new colleagues and trying to get their take on the project's communications. This continued on the next day when there was still no plan for induction or in fact anything much to get me involved. All of my colleagues were painting a fairly depressing picture of the project - and a couple confessed they were on the point of leaving.

At the end of day two, I felt like joining them! Despite finally spending time with my new boss and indeed her boss over the next fortnight, I never got over that initial feeling of joining a failing project. I conducted a diagnostic which suggested that communication wasn't really the issue and that the project itself was on somewhat shaky ground. My boss agreed - her boss didn't. But I still felt like a square peg in a round hole, and decided not to continue past the diagnostic phase.

It could, of course, have been so different. If the employer had made it easy for me to be part of the team in that first few days, I think I would have entered into the work whole-heartedly. Had there been an induction plan; had people made time to get me up to speed; had my colleagues given the impression they valued what I - and they - needed to do, then I'd have gibven it my best shot. But my first impression stuck.

Those first impressions so often do.

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

One of those days

Yesterday was just one of those days. It was a Monday, of course, and I seemed to be suffering from the effects of a busy weekend where L-B had turned 12 and we'd seemed to have people in, out and through the house absolutely all of Saturday and Sunday.

Anyway, I learned two lessons yesterday: never get dressed in the dark, and don't go into pitch meetings when you have a migraine.

With L-B heading off for the school bus shortly after 7.30am each morning, we're all up a bit earlier now. It was still dark outside when I crawled out from under a very warm duvet and opened the wardrobe to inspect what was a) clean b) businesswear c) vaguely matching.

To my mind I'd selected a blue jacket, blue stripey shirt and grey trousers. Anyway, more of that later.

The effects of a non-stop weekend had left me with the seeds of a migraine. Sophie and Rory fighting just before we left for school brought the first shoots of pain and vivid colour, and by the time I got into the office and sat down at the PC, my brain was somewhat disconnected from the rest of me.

Anyway, a couple of migraleve later, I was printing out a credentials pack for the three people I was meeting as I pitched to take on the PR for a hotel/conference centre. Now external media relations is stretching our skills a little - I have done it, but not for a while. However, this potential client approached us and this was a call-back following an initial meeting.

I was driving over beyond Oxford for the lunchtime meeting, my head now settled into a dull throb, when I glanced at my grey flannel trousers. They were, of course, not my grey flannel trousers, but a pair of suit trousers, black with brown pinstripes. Funnily enough, they go great with the shirt. Also the shirt goes really well with the jacket. But the jacket and the trousers actually don't match up at all.

By now I was past Oxford with just 30 minutes to get to the meeting - no chance to nip home and change or even into a shop to get something more appropriate. No surprise them when the headache began to kick back in.

I arrived at the potential client and met not three but four immaculately dressed execs. I'd explained by e-mail that my pitch style was conversational and that I would rather talk with them than merely do a show-and-tell presentation.

For the next 40 minutes they sat stony faced; hardly an interjection; no signs of emotion really either way. It also seemed that the brief I was working to had moved on, so much of the basis for my PR plan was on very unsteady ground. One person in the meeting grew openly hostile, another said absolutely nothing in the who 90 minutes I was on site. Meanwhile a small team of navvies was alternately drilling at the back of my eye sockets and then hammering at the inside of my temples.

I alternately wanted the ground to open up and swallow me and to slap the new marketing manager whose role seemed only to score points at my expense. Of course I just smiled, was polite and carried on climbing the north face of Everest.

I know we could do the job and do it very well for the client. Our prices are keen and our ideas - based on the brief - were sound. However, I came out of the meeting feeling that our chances of success are about the same as a snowball in my oven lasting through Christmas.

I'll wait and see for the client to come back......But the blue jacket/brown pinstripe combination was NOT a good idea.

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

Mucked around

I really enjoy most of the aspects of being part of a very small company. We get to work on some really nice projects and there's no opportunity for the corporate politics and back biting that occurs in larger organisations. The downside is that clients and others know we're small - and simply don't give us the respect they'd accord a larger business.

At the moment this is manifesting itself in several ways: we're owed money by a couple of large clients, but their payment processes are so Byzantine - plus the fact that we hardly register on their radar - that it's proving very difficult to get anywhere with them. The sums involved aren't large, but why do the biggest companies take longest to pay the smallest?

Secondly we're suffering from re-book fever. So many meetings have been cancelled or shifted recently that it's now becoming hard to balance the time we actually spend meeting clients to getting the job done. Most people have had the good grace to phone to postpone, but on a couple of occasions I've driven across London only to be told 'Oh, sorry he's in a meeting and will have to cancel' once I've arrived - and that's an existing client, not someone we're merely pitching to.

Still, on the upside, there's some new work coming in that will stretch us in a new direction, and a couple of promising partnerships beginning to gain pace too. 2005 has been a tough year, but the prospects for 2006 are brighter.... so long as we can pin down those meetings, and cash the cheques!

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

Coining a phrase

By chance, I think I coined a phrase the other day to describe the normal workings of a small business. Certainly it fits Leapfrog and the rollercoaster working style we've come to love in the past five and three quarter years.

The phrase is 'manic to panic' - manic for those times when there are seemingly more projects on the go than hours in the week to fulfill them, and panic when there are clearly more than 24 hours in the day and very little on the books to fill that time.

We're always aiming for somewhere in the middle - though often veering towards one of the extremes.


I had a weird small job last Thursday - Armistice Day - to take some pictures of the Australian WW1 War Graves at Harefield. They're within the parish church graveyard - the same church where I got married back in 1987.

Harefield was the site of an ANZAC war hospital. Originally created with the expectation of 60 summer patients and up to 150 in the winter. By 1918, the hospital was regularly stacked to the gunnels with over 1,000 patients.

More than 100 who made it back from the front never recovered from their wounds and were buried with full military honours in this quiet corner of Middlesex.

Last Thursday was appropriately dank and grey and all the more poignant for the fact that a funeral - I think for a child - had just taken place a few yards away in the main cemetery. The raw aching despair of loss was palpable as friends and relatives left flowers, balloons and toys on the grave.

My photographic subjects lay in neat rows tended, but cared for only impersonally. Young men denied a life by the machinations of those far from the front.

Monday, November 14, 2005

Unexpected outcome

I spent a couple of days last week in Carrickfergus, Northern Ireland. The weather was characteristically seasonal - horizontal rain blown in by a storm force wind - but the welcome was warmth itself.

I was over in the Province to deliver a workshop on communications during change to a bunch of forensic scientists. They were a great crowd and it was a good couple of days with a huge amount of knowledge transfer (both ways I might add!).

These guys are facing an unexpected challenge in coping with Northern Ireland's peace dividend. World renowned for their expertise in the forensic science of bomb damage, blood splatter and the detritus of terrorism, they're now having to adapt to being a market-led service operating in a peace time environment - and it's not easy. Suddenly they have customers and competition and a distinct lack of clear purpose. For 30 years they were part of the fight against sectarian terror in the six counties. Now, they deal with burglaries and run of the mill crime - alongside the odd murder.

They will change - they have no choice. But sometimes even peace can have a few casualties.

Friday, November 04, 2005

Is it really a virtual revolution?

98% of Brits have never heard of blogs - yet a new one is launched somewhere in the world and something like 20 million blogs are now in existence just in the English language. Is it a fad among the technoliterate or is it really part of a social communication revolution?

Last night at the BBC, CiB and the IABC linked up to jointly host an event called @Joining the Virtual Revolution. Nevon's own Neville Hobson, Neil Mcintosh from Guardian Unlimited and the BBC's Head of Knowledge Management, Euan Semple all gave their own take on blogs, wikis and podcasts and the impact they're having on both on corporates and on citizens (or subjects as passport-carrying Brits are known).

Neville took the strategic route, showcasing some examples of corporates using blogs well - and those such as Dell and Land Rover who appear to have a blind spot to the social communication revolution. He also stressed the impact podcasts can have - bringing voice to the masses when face to face isn't possible. Neil looked more at how the mass media - and particularly The guardian is responding to the democratisation of communication - it's certainly worth checking out their travel site.

Euan looked at how the use of bulletin boards, blogs and wikis behind the firewalls of the BBC were breaking down the barriers between the various management and production silos at play within the broadcaster.

While the guys said little that I wasn't already aware of - this being a general overview to an audience of business communicators, there were some real pearls. There was a little debate around blogs purporting to be written by CEOs and actually coming straight from the typing fingertips of their corporate communicators - this 'shamblogging' (have I coined a term here?) rapidly becomes obvious and does more communication harm than good.

What also really interested me as an organisational communicator was the consensus that these new tools are merely that - new ways of supplementing and augmenting existing channels - not a replacement for face-to-face or whatever horse fits the particular course an organisation is taking.

However Euan made the most telling point for me. He stated that certain senior management blogs had considerably more credibility than the e-mails eminating from the BBC's top management team which were often unread and perceived as bland spins. Blogs, on the other hand were considered personal, intimate and credible. I think there's a real clue here for communicators.

Back home later in the evening, I listened to Davis Davis, potential Tory leader proclaim that the age of spin is coming to an end. Will these new tools of social communication hasten that end?

Thursday, November 03, 2005

Best way to market

I have to admit that I'm in a quandary over how best to market my services. As with most very small companies, people who know me tend to come back and use my services - I've been working with the same design agency now for almost 15 years and my most lucrative client has used me for more than a decade.

But it's not safe to rely on these guys coming back month in and month out with new and interesting projects - changes in their business may well lead to me falling out of favour in time.

Whenever business has been quiet, I've looked to market the skills I offer and the services I provide to organisations I'd like to work with or for. That has always worked better than waiting for responses to an ad on a page or people just happening to reach my website.

I'm not one for cold calling - how often will people look to buy services from an organisational communication professional as the result of a phone call? Sometimes I'll write a letter or fire off an e-mail - but rarely to a cold lead. Our kind of business is built on close working relationships, so that has to be some kind of connection for me to even think about proactively contacting someone who hasn't used my business before. So, I'll keep a regular eye out for who's moved where and will also work the network - getting back on the radar of people I've enjoyed working with in the past.

Many of the letters and e-mails prompt little or no response - not necessarily a bad thing as I'm not into heavy selling - but may just prick a memory bubble that could lead to a conversation or even a piece of work further down the line. But a few do prompt a good response and it's gratifying to know that people want to work with Leapfrog again - even if they may not have anything immediate.

But the most useful tool for me in marketing Leapfrog is personal relationships - getting out and meeting my peers and colleagues and sharing those subjects of mutual interest. Tonight I'm off to a seminar on blogs, wikis and the other new technology tools at our disposal. I'm there to learn, but also to market myself.

At the other end of the scale, I'm looking at ad opportunities and making more of my website. However, I've yet to really divine what value they bring other than shoring up my presence within my comms niche.

There may be a better way still of promoting Leapfrog's services - I'm certainly still looking.

Tuesday, November 01, 2005

Just the average insecurity

I seem to be spending more time on pitching than doing at the moment. One biggish project has been held up while the technical architecture of a web site is sorted out, while a piece of change work is taking a little longer to get up to speed than I'd originally hoped.

In the meantime I'm trying to market myself for short-term and writing pieces - while my partner is doing exactly the opposite. Next week she starts on a six month five-day-a-week contract with the prospect of it extending significantly longer.

Sod's law dictates that when I'm busy, I get a couple ofr quests a month for smaller, tactical pieces that I invariably have to turn down. But when I've got gaps between projects, no-one's in the hunt for someone to carry out that job that'll take only a day or three.

I hate not having enough to do. Even though I know that I've got two days in Ireland on a project next week, and other stuff that'll kick in shortly afterwards, I'm not enjoying this week. I'm not good at managing quiet time - it must be catholic guilt about not working or something.

Oh well, I better get back to polishing my latest pitch... for about the fourth time this week, and it's only Tuesday.

Saturday, October 29, 2005

You are the.....

Ha! I've been shortlisted to appear on the Weakest Link....It could take anything up to a year though.

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

Media wannabe

So. Today was my media 'wannabe' day. I'm one of those people who sit in front of the TV and shout out the quiz show answers. For years I've infuriated my family through University Challenge, Mastermind, Ask the Family, Screen Test (with Michael Rodd)....and more recently the likes of Millionaire and Weakest Link.

My kids - driven by avarice - keep saying I should go on one of these shows. So, finally, a few months ago I downloaded and completed a contestant application for the Weakest Link. Weeks and then months went by and I heard nothing and then, last week, out of the blue cam a call inviting me to an auditon in Oxford.

Well, around 8.30am this morning I pitched up at one of the grottiest hotels I've ever been near in my life. Flock wall paper (with a terrible Constable print hanging on it) competed with red banana leaf carpet. This was hardly starsville at the BBC!

There were nine of us there and we were told that we weren't competing against each other, but that this was going to be a couple of hours to test our suitability to take part in the programme. James and his mate...James, the researchers, explained that although Weakest Link is a general knowledge quiz, what really matters is the banter with Anne Robinson. So what they were looking for was people who had a bit of life and chat about them who'd make good television.

First off, we had to speak for a minute about ourselves, and then complete a 20 question written general knowledge test in three minutes. That's my forte - and I think I got all the questions right. But again, this wasn't a Mastermind audition, so my general knowledge zeal could well count for nothing.

After the test came a round of the game with little James taking the role of Anne. I got both my questions right - several others were just as successful but others weren't and as a team we banked £50....... pretty pathetic really. We all had a chance to nominate a weakest link and explain our reasons answering Robinsonesque jibes as pitched in by James. I think I held my own, but probably sounded a bit of a smug bastard by the end.

Anyway, then it was onto three minutes of individual filmed interview and then we were out the door. I'll hear in a week or so if they want me to be on a show. If they don't, I won't hear at all.

Weirdly, I've just spent my afternoon at Broadcasting House testing out new broadcast-related phone applications - if you fancy DAB and digital TV on your phone, it could be here within 18 months to two years.

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

Cib Knowledge Bank

I've put my thoughts on output v outcome communication together in an article that you can find here: I'll be interested in the response.

Masters of the Universe

One of the biggest complaints that internal communicators have in the UK is the lack of formal professional qualification opportunities. It looks as though Kingston University is addressing this in part with the launch of their new Masters Degree. Only thing that looks slightly oodd is that it looks like you have to have completed the Diploma before you can get on the Masters.

I talked to several other people who've been around internal comms for a good few years now, and we all agreed that the Diploma was a bit junior and not worth investing £4,000 (a year??) on. So, would we automatically be excluded from the Masters? And are Kingston overly-limiting those eligible to gain recognition for their knowledge and experience?

Monday, October 17, 2005

And it was all yellow

Apparently, I'm yellow. I found out last week on a devlopment day. I've got a few red tendencies; I'm certainly not green, and there's precious little blue about me.

So what does it all mean?

Well, yellows are your common or garden 'people people'. We're expressive and direct, curious and impulsive. We're good communicators and can be persuasive. We love the big picture - but don't want to be bogged down in the detail. We laugh easily, like varety and enjoy the people we meet. We're creative and great at starting things off......but we're not completer finishers.

I once worked in a team of three where all of us were yellow people - it was great fun, a chatty, warm environment....but as for getting anything out the door....pah!

It's good to know I'm yellow - and that I need some blues, greens and even a red or two around me. I think I'm probably a fish and 13 too...!

Thursday, October 13, 2005

Worthwhile event

I'm looking forward to attending an event on the brave new world of electronic opportunities open to corporate communicators - - looks like good speakers and a good agenda and I always enjoy having a nose around at the BBC.

I'll post a report when I've been.

Monday, October 10, 2005

Tick the box

There's a real downside in getting involved in change projects - and that's 'tick the box' communication. Several times in the last couple of years I've been asked to get involved in a project only to find that it had been running for months without any 'communication' because they hadn't got anyone to fill the role.

Of course, what they've meant is that formal communication hasn't taken place. Largely, there has been a massive fanfare at the beginning announcing transformation; a couple of set-up e-zines detailing the project team....and then a big fat nothing.

But that has been a very pregnant big fat nothing. Every meeting the project team has had with people in the business has communicated - and without a consistent story at the core, the communication has been skewed depending on who has been in the meeting. Every week that has gone by without any framework for communication has led to radio silence from the centre - and a hubbub of half truths and mis-communication out in the business.

Where the real trick has been missed is in project team members waiting for a communicator to come in and fill the void.

It's daft really, as the first thing I establish when I get involved is that I'm not going to be the voice of the project. Every project team member - from executive sponsor to the most part-time member has a voice they can use to help the change process.

What I can do is assess stakeholders and their needs; work with the team to build a consistent story based on objectives, context, fit with the business, dovetailing with business as usual, reasons for change, milestones, success factors and the like and can put some formal tools at their disposal to enable understanding and involvement. I can work with leaders to shape their role as communicators - I can take the horses to water......but I can't make them walk on it.

Somehow there's an expectation that when the comms person gets 'on-boarded' (now isn't that a horrible expression!), everyone can blow out their cheeks, relax and get on with their role - the box has been ticked and comms will miraculously happen. But that misses the point - the comms role enables others to step up to the mark. It doesn't do all the doing - that way spin and disaster lies.

Actually, even without a formal communicator on board, most change projects can establish and live by some excellent rules of good communication - so much of it is sense. It's just a shame that sense doesn't appear to be common.

Monday, October 03, 2005

The Monday after the weekend before

My head hurts, my back and legs are aching and my typing fingers are freezing!..... Just another Monday morning then.

Work status is slightly more up in the air than usual for both mine and Jac's projects. Jac has an offer that she's thinking over at the moment while a project I've been working on for the last year has now reached a point where it really should be taken in-house by the client. But they're in the ummm...and ahhh....err??? stage at present. Still, a couple of interesting pieces have come in over the last few days that'll pick up the slack if said vision and values piece moves on finally.

Anyway, it has been a very busy weekend. On top of L-B's swimming and Soph's drama, Rory has been putting together pictures for a wildlife photography competition and we've also had the season's first mini rugby festival.

Dad and son Spent Saturday afternoon at Rickmansworth Aquadrome with Rory pointing the camera at all things aquatic. He was really pleased and I was really impressed with the results (above) - pretty damn good for a nine year old I think! Both pictures were taken right at the end of the afternoon as the rain finally let up and the sun started to set - why hadn't we just waited until then to go out....?!

Then it was up early yesterday morning for a drive over to the grove Minis festival where Oxford RFC U10s came a creditable third with thumping wins over Gosford and Abingdon and a smashing one try apiece draw with Wallingford. We lost in the semis to the eventual winners and the side came away with great credit. Meanwhile I'm knackered having just led the warm-ups and attempted to run some coaching through the day.....that's what comes from being an unfit, 41 year old.

It's feeling very autumnal now and I've just had to put the office heating on for the first time since May. So I guess it's finally goodbye summer.

Thursday, September 29, 2005


Why is it that people are allowed to be extremely rude and personal if they dress their insensitivity up as 'constructuve feedback'?

Thursday, September 22, 2005

Outcome v output

Part of the new piece of work I'm involved in is working on a conference. It will be the first opportunity to share some key decisions on the proposed transformation project and, as such, is a key milestone.

However, there are some rather loud warning bells a-ringing. First, the conference is being planned off the side of the desk by a person with no communication background and little comms interest. All she's focused on is getting an event organised: another box ticked. The date for the conference has been set - but doesn't square with the programme's timeline - to the extent that some of the key decisions won't have been made. Why has the date been set? Because that's when the HR director decreed it would be. The agenda has also been set - including a very touchy-feely session around how people feel about the change. Well, how the f*ck are they supposed to feel? In a change situation, all people are interested in is what it means to them. They'll want to know what the new structure is; where they fit in it; how they'll get from today to the new organisation and how long that's going to take. These guys want to know how they'll be assessed for the new roles and what they need to do next. At the moment the agenda covers only the new structure - not where anyone fits within it or how they will make the transition from one to the other - nor what support is planned for those who won't make that transition.

There's no opportunity for teams to get together at the event to discuss what it means for them or to question the leadership team. In fact, the leadership team have no plans to articulate just how they'll be leading this change.

Finally there's no follow-through. This is seen as an event and not part of a process. It's happening because it's due to happen and at present, no follow-up is planned.

Just by announcing the conference, the leadership team has raised expectations. Their present take on the day is a damp squib. It will murder those expectations and could put the programme back weeks if not months. Fortunately we've got several weeks to turn the situation around. There's huge opportunity here - if the leadership team is brave enough to focus not on an 'output' - a one day event, but on turning that event on its head.

We need to be focusing on the outcome - what is it that the leadership team want to achieve and how best can they use the conference - the chance to get the 200 people at the heart of transformation together.

If we can move their thinking on to defining desired outcomes and success factors and then build back from there, we can gain some real benefit from bringing these people together.

Wednesday, September 21, 2005

Not so bad

The project I bailed out of still wants to use me - and is prepared to treat Leapfrog as an 'expert external adviser' rather than insisting that I become a pseudo member of staff. That's great - it means I can use some of the other people in my network for the areas where I'm weak, and I also won't feel that I'm being sucked into the quagmire of corporate politics. The whole programme may not have legs - that'll be seen when the business case goes in, but by maintaining some independence from the team and the management they're dealing with, I'm in a far better position to give and follow-up on honest advice rather than being tied by the baggage an internal role invariably brings.

It could all go tits up yet, but at least I now feel better about the programme's communications.

Tuesday, September 20, 2005


I've just resigned a contract after just two days on board. It was a contract for a large but staid organisation where I needed to work from their office and wear a suit. The money was good - though the programme was iffy, with a flawed make-up and no visible leadership support.

Just two days there made me realise that I thrive only where I don't have to fit into the convention of a team. I do great work when I can go in, have the meetings and come away and do the work, surrounded by my stuff, my music, my trees and my life.

It's a failing in me, but I can't overcome the sterility of a project office.

Tuesday, September 13, 2005

Today feels good.....

Turned down some work because I'm too busy; saw one project move ahead while another is near completion; received a contract for a piece of work that could make the year really rather profitable.......and am basking in the satisfaction of being an England cricket fan.

Earlier this summer, my lad really began getting into cricket. More recently he spent a day at Lords getting some good coaching and enjoying a county match. Last night we were out in the park recreating Freddie's bowling and KP's batting (though Andy Strauss is the current hero). Who knows? In about 15 years, maybe it'll be RJ Shanahan out in the middle carving the Aussies apart..... Oh, on days like this, one can but dream.

Monday, September 12, 2005

Tense, nervous headache.....?

'Tense, nervous headache?' It's an ad strapline that has stuck in my brain for years - mainly because we corrupted it. What was supposed to follow it was: 'Nothing works faster than Anadin.' Think about it.... - nothing works faster than anadin. So our take was 'Take nothing, 'coz nothing works faster than anadin.'

Anyway, I'm rambling. It's tense this morning on all fronts. The final day of a wonderful Ashes summer has started. The equation is simple. England simply need to bat for about the next six hours. The aussies have to get nine wickets and leave sufficient time to knock off what they hope will be a small total. Sounds simple, but the pride of two nations and years of bragging rights hang on the result.

This year the Ashes has been a phenomenon - even my wife was watching what little action there was yesterday. And the halo effect is palpable. My son, who'd never picked up a bat before spent a day at Lord's learning cricket skills and watching a Totesport match. Like me before him, he has now adopted Middlesex as his team, and we both scan the net each night to keep up with their fortunes....while planning just one more day of live cricket before the season ends. Better still, he's regularly dragging me round to the park to practise his reverse swing and reverse sweeps. Now if we could just get five-year-old Sophie to stay at cover for more than four seconds....

Still, it's tense here on a number of fronts. Last week we went after three contracts. We've already been ruled out of one, which is a shame as it looked interesting, but still have two on the go. If either (or preferably both) come off, it'll make all the difference between a very good year and an average year for the business. All will be resolved in the next couple of days, but it's very distracting trying to do the bread and butter stuff while waiting for the phone to ring.

Tuesday, September 06, 2005

The blame game

Hey George W - stop playing the blame game and just get on and sort out the Katrina mess. It's amazing how the self-proclaimed world leaders and moral arbiters for the planet absolutely go to pieces when the mess is in their own back yard.

As the hurricane neared the gulf coast, I was able to sit in the UK and watch a thousand satellite images, maps and indeed live pictures on my PC screen. The local TV news stations all knew that Katerina was coming and where it was going to hit - disaster as news was happening all around them. Yet the politicians seemed to have their heads stuck firmly in the levees - perhaps that's why they were breached.

And with seemingly everything in the 'land of the free' it all came down to money. "Get in your cars and head for high ground." Now there's a plan - but a pretty shitty one if you haven't got a car. and when it was all over and the underfunded coastal defgences were in pieces what happened? Dubya flew over in his plane. Days went by while the local, state, and federal authorities all passed the buck and meanwhile the poor, the sick and the elderly died.

The images of bloated corpses floating in the streets, the dehydrated and starving babies, the predominantly black faces of the bewildered and abandoned could have come from Darfour, or Eritrea, or Rwanda. But they don't. They come from the world's richest country. They come from a country where the middle classes and the rich got the escape card and the disenfranchised have literally been left to rot.

The maggot infested underbelly of American society has floated to the surface and it's ugly in every sense. Ugly in the easy access to guns that have led to crazed lawlessness on the streets. Ugly in the greed that has so graphically divided the US into haves and have nots. Ugly in the 'I'm all right - it's them that's the problem' attitude that places corporate power as King.

Maybe the hurricane will shake Bush's convictions. But if he has a conscience, it's still not particularly explicit. Maybe it will change attitudes to the poor - but I doubt it. Maybe it will change attitudes to the environment and indeed America's role on this planet. But again I doubt it.

More Americans will die in iraq and Afghanistan today - with billions of $ of funding behind them. Many more will die in Louisiana, in Alambama and in Mississippi today because the funding they needed and they still need wasn't in the right place at the right time. So stop with the blame and concentrate on your own people George.

Friday, September 02, 2005

Tell me what I want to hear

The CIB Freelance Forum nearly got into an interesting debate this week - unfortunately it fizzled after just half a dozen posts.

A member had been asked to put together a newsletter survey questionnaire and was wondering if there was a standard document for this kind of exercise. She was swiftly flamed from several quarters - the flamers, me included, questioning the value of this kind of survey.

Two or three times a year I'm asked to audit internal media and the conversation often goes something like this:

Client: We'd like to survey readers of our publication.

Me: Why?

C: We want to know what they think of it.

M: Does it matter?

C: Err, yes. We spend £100,000 each year with an agency and have a dedicated member of staff working full time on the publication. So we want to be sure that our readers like it. And if they don't like it, we need to take their criticism into account and act on it.

M: So what do you want to ask them?

C: Oh the usual. We want to know if they read it; how long they spend reading it; what they particularly look for; their views on the design and the readability of the content.

M: These are people who have no choice in whether they receive the publication or not. It's like pay and benefits: part of the package. If they all come back and say they hate the publication and never read it, what would you do?

C: We'd have to obviously make changes; look for another supplier and perhaps even change our approach to having a magazine.

M: But do you really expect your readers to say such things?

C: No, they're normally quite happy with what they get - we get high ratings which really helps when it comes to entering awards and so forth.

M: So actually, the survey is more about justifying a full-time role and a spend of £100K.

C: Oh, I wouldn't say that. We're a well respected team and confident that our comms strategy is delivering real results to the business.

M: So you don't really need a publication survey then?

C: I suppose not. Thanks, bye.

Most probably then go off and find another agency who'll do what they want. But a few call back and we get into a much more interesting and mutually beneficial conversation. That's around how best they can use the communication tools at their disposal to improve employee engagement.

Instead of worrying about design or typeface or how well-written the pieces are, the conversation moves to what information needs to be shared in an organisation to motivate the best people to stay longest. That's what employee engagement is all about: keeping the people you need for as long as you can.

If I'm an employee, I'll stay if there's a reason for me to get up and come to work. If I have the tools I need to do my job; I understandnd what's expected from me, see how that fits into the overall direction of my business - and if I feel my contribution is valued, I'll not only stay, but will probably become an ambassador for my business. But if any of those factors fail, I'll start looking elsewhere - or at least gripe about my employer when I'm down the pub on a Friday night.

And clearly, effective communication across an organisation can have a huge influence on my engagement. But it's affected by much more than the company happy sheet. My communication with my boss; the believability of senior leadership and the information I have at hand are probably all far more important to me than the set-piece tools constructed at the centre.

Corporate communications cannot manage the communication agenda across an organisation and it's vital that today's communicators rise above the print and the keyboard to understand what's really important to colleagues in the business. Find the drivers that attract and retain people within your business - there are many sophisticated survey tools that can help that work. Once you know the drivers, you can use all the tools at your disposal to influence them - and it's this influence that should be measured, in the context of the business plan and company performance.

Don't ask people: do you like my magazine? Ask them what they need to know to do a fantastic job in the organisation - and then provide the right tools, based on the needs of the organisation, team and individual to share that knowledge.

Thursday, August 25, 2005

End of the dog days

Slowly, slowly, working life is coming back to normal as the dog days of August come to an end. At least some clients are now back at work - though France remains stubbornly on holiday, and the UK isn't too far behind.

But one project has been signed off this week, another has stepped up a gear, and a third is set to come up to speed after next Monday's Bank Holiday. The slight snag is that one client still has huge expectations of getting a piece written, designed, printed and dispatched by mid-September, but hasn't actually put up anyone to deliver a brief yet. Still, that's what weekends and evenings are for.

One of the dilemmas facing Leapfrog at present is how to deal with one client demanding tactical comms help when what they really need is some fundamental work with their leadership team to define, align and plan around change. We could stick in there and deliver smart looking media - but media that has no credibility. Morally that doesn't feel right and will do no good for either our business or the client in the long run. But at our level of operation cash-flow is king. So do we sacrifice short-term gain? At this stage, my heart and head are saying one thing, but the business bank balance is saying quite another. So no decision yet.

Finally, while I still hate AOL, I was able to complete the modem drivers upgrade yesterday. AOL had put a solution in place. It wasn't perfect, but I was able to work around it - using two of their three suggested steps and part of the other. However, it still makes me angry that they are steamrollering customers into an upgrade with poorly-written flaky software at the heart of the process.

Tuesday, August 23, 2005

AOL service???

I've wasted most of my day today. wasted it trying to upgrade a modem driver with a piece of crap purporting to be an update from AOL. Oh, it'll happily uninstall my old drivers, but will it replace them with the new ones? No it bleeding well won't.

So I try it a couple of times to make sure I'm doing the right thing - with the same lousy result. Each time I have to recover my system - and the whole operations wastes about an hour or so. So i get back online and go to AOL's wonderful Live Help. Now it's not easy or quick going through all the steps I've done to pinpoint why the software won't load, but I try - and get kicked off Live help. So I try again, same result. The next time I'm given useless information - and then logged off entireley. And the fourth time, when i start with 'please don't log me off' - i get logged off.

So I ring AOL Member Services - at 7.51p per minute. After 25 minutes of going round in circles I'm told to log off, put the phone down and use a dial up to connect to my account and redownload the same piece of software that hasn't loaded from two other sources. CRAP ADVICE - and suffice to say it doesn't work.

So I try to get an online complaints form....but guess what, you have to rind custmer services for that. So I did, over an hour ago. It took seven minutes and five seconds for them to agree to send me a complaint form....and it still hasn't arrived!!!

Why am I bothering with this upgrade? Because they told me I have to do it before the 31st or my broadband reduces in speed to 128kbps - about a third of my current speed.

I hate AOL.

Monday, August 22, 2005

The phony war

One of the essential changes I needed to make when I left corporate life and started my own operation was to ban the Monday morning blues. From way back in my schooldays I'd hated that feeling that used to seep in some time after lunch on a Sunday: that feeling that said there were five working days ahead. Back then it was the dread of Latin, Maths and Chemistry and in my working life that morphed to a general low feeling that my time was over for another week and that the following five days would be at the command and control of whoever my boss happened to be at the time.

Of course, so often the dread was misplaced. I largely enjoyed my corporate career and it was only the last couple of years that brought me back to my Sunday/Monday blues. Anyway, when I was setting up Leapfrog, I made sure that there would be no way that I'd ever have to waste my Sunday afternoon and evening worrying about Monday.

These days, Monday morning is my time. Unless I have to, I try not to schedule client meetings into this time - and certainly don't demand the 8.30am 'team meetings' that used to unduly put the pressure on all concerned in my last corporate role. With the globalisation of work and the fact that we're far less office bound than ever before, there's no reason for Monday morning to have any special significance.

Of course, August is the most phony of working months, and I'm glad it's coming to an end. While I despise the Monday morning blues, it's good to have some shape in my working life. That shape goes out the window in the dog days of the summer when everyone's either away, just about to go or has just come back. Projects crawl along at something less than a snail's pace and decision making is as drowsy as the weather. Roll on September. Roll on the working week.

Sunday, August 14, 2005

And now I'm back...

...not from outer space, but from a great break in Ireland.

It's rare to go to a place that truly matches - or even surpasses - expectations, but Kilmokea House, nestled on the Wexford/Waterford border managed it majestically. My latest non-professional picture was taken in Kilmokea's renowned gardens.

We've had a week and a bit of lazing, eating too much, playing a bit of tennis, driving around Leinster too much (with a couple of forays into Munster) - and celebrating Sophie turning five.

Last night was a bit of a downer on the way home. The ferry was two hours late in which meant sitting on the Rosslare quayside from before five until about half eight in the evening. Luckily we managed to wangle a free upgrade out of Stena, but still didn't hit the road until nearly half eleven at night (I hate reversing down steep ramps on ferries...!). Some 238 miles later we arrived home just shy of 3.30 this morning.

I'm knackered now, but am stress free and raring to go.....after a dad and son bonding day at the cricket tomorrow.

Tuesday, August 02, 2005

On the national features pages....

Well, we made it to the Indy's motoring supplement. Text only in the on-line version, but with a picture in the printed version of today's Independent.

If you want to read what Rory and I had to say about Aston Martin's DB9, check out

Wednesday, July 27, 2005

If we build it, they will come

The UK's internal communications organisation - CiB - has opened its Forum to all contributors at but it's still a pretty dead area. That's a shame since there's a membership of about 1,000 communicators who could, and possibly should, be meeting, networking and bouncing ideas around through this site. Hopefully with more people able to access the site there'll me more dialogue. But, like so many message boards, the 'if we build it, they will come' mantra doesn't hold true. It's not clear where the message board fits into CiB's own comms strategy (if there is one...) or what purpose it fulfils.

That's in contrast to a much slicker e-mail based CiB freelance forum which has built an active community of interest. Acting as a virtual water cooler for a disparate (and occasionally desperate) groups of largely UK-based freelancers and two-person agencies the forum brings a real sense of belonging to participants.

It'll be interesting to see what effect opening up the clunkier message board has. But so far, the fish just aren't biting.

Tuesday, July 26, 2005

Horses for courses

I've just had one of those infuriating 'turf' conversations with a photographer about using non-professionally taken pictures in an employee publication.

His view is that corporate mags, like any other media, are fighting for brain-space among readers with a host of other professionally produced magazines and have to demonstrate the same quality that one would expect from a news stand title.

His argument is that if the client is prepared to pay for the words, they should invest in the imagery too.

Fair enough when you have the budget to justify the expense. But internal comms is so much the poor relation that I've found clients prepared to spend ten times their annual internal comms budget on one external ad.

So I'm of the opinion that you need to go for 'horses for courses'. Sure get a professional in for your high impact cover shots and for key news and feature shots within the publication, but be prepared to accept submitted shots and take some of your own where necessary.

However, there has to be a quality threshold - and you'll get far better results if you can give a tip sheet of what's acceptable to potential photographic contributors. While the digital revolution is opening photography to all, the average phone camera shot won't cut the mustard - and not will that 4cm square image saved at 70dpi.

If you can give contributors a style guide with tips on how to compose a technically competent shot and also guidelines on how to save the image in a size and format that gives the page designer scope to use the shot to its best effect, you can probably cut down on 50 per cent of the rubbish you'll be presented with.

In the end there's no substitute for using a professional who's in sympathy with the aims, style and demographic of your publication. But in these days of limited budgets, you can complement the professionals with 'amateur' shots - just be picky and set high standards.

Monday, July 25, 2005

Another week...another project....

And so Monday dawned. The chance to get a couple of projects out oif the way and get into a couple of others that have been hovering for a week or two. But now as I write about six hours later, nothing much has happened.

Across the UK, kids have broken up for the summer. The result for me? A wide and varied selection of voicemails and out of office e-mails to deal with.

This week, I'm supposed to be conducting nine telephone interviews. Unfortunately only two interviewees are around. I should also be getting sign-off from a CEO on a client project, but that CEO is out of the country. I should be making final tweaks on a launch campaign for another client - but no-one's home there.

I'm open for business - but everyone else seems to be at the beach.....bah humbug!

Friday, July 22, 2005

Sometimes it's all worthwhile

Being a media wannabe occasionally has its advantages. The other week The Independent asked me to roadtest a car. That in itself would be good. When I heard the car was an Aston Martin DB9, it was great.

I may be 41, but I was like a grinning 12 year old for the afternoon when Rory (my 9 year old co-tester) and I got behind the wheel of this feat of engineering excellence.

Did I like it? Well, you'll have to read the Indy's motoring supplement to find out.

The right questions v the right process

I've recently been doing some work around employee surveying - engagement surveying seems to be the term of the moment - and it has been a revelation seeing why and how organisations survey their employees.

The spectrum has run from an organisation's communication team that actively manipulates focus groups so that the results they come out with matches their expectation when they went into the room; to several organisations who have been asking the same questions for five or more years, despite huge changes to their organisation, to one company where the process of collecting and tracking information is all important - and they don't really do a whole lot with it between each annual event.

And that's what has got me thinking: how many organisations treat their EOS as an annual event rather than an integrated aspect of their people process. How many actually do the pre-work to identify potential drivers of employee engagement and then build their surveys year-on-year around that? How many really follow through on the actions using PDPs, team goals and the organisation's business strategy to deliver changes to/for/with their people? And how many complete the loop by saying what they've done, and then carrying the learnings into the next round of surveying? And how many are now moving their surveying on from an annual event to six monthly or even 90 day checks?

Some clearly are - luckily I've been able to work with a couple who are really making use of the stats to inform their people strategy and have made the links from organisational objectives right through to PDPs. However for others, I'm still seeing the holy grail of the upward employee satisfaction curve as all important. But if you're not asking the right questions in the first place, how useful is that?

Thursday, July 14, 2005

Proud to be a Londoner

I'm a Londoner and immenseley proud of my city. Yesterday as I walked across the Millennium bridge, having travelled on the Tube for the first time since the bombs, my passion for the city of my birth was reborn. Decked out in its summer splendour, the panorama north, south, east and west from the Thames was stunning.

But London is about much more than great views. It's a city based on many faiths, many cultures, many talents and many strengths. I've just watched the scenes from the capital as Londoners took to the streets for two minutes of remembrance for all those who were callously killed last week; for those who remain and for all of us Londoners who are far far stronger than any fundamentalist of any creed or colour.

Strong, united, defiant.

Monday, June 20, 2005

The best work

My partner and I pick up two kinds of work - direct to us and via agencies/consultancies. and somehow, the stuff we win directly has always turned out to be more successful.

It seems that the work that comes through third parties almost always has something hidden or strings attached. It doesn't necessarily make the work less satisfying, but over the past few years I'm probably into double figures on projects where I've had one scenario described to me only to find something different when I've met the client face-to-face.

I've recently picked up a contact with a financial services business via a third party. Ostensibly the project is to kick-start their vision and values communications. But a week in, it's clear that their V&V doesn't actually square with their culture and that more comms would be no more useful than polishing a turd.

It's likely - if they're brave enough - that we could be in on the ground floor of a very significant change programme. I think the client has known this all along, yet still went out to an agency to find a person or small business willing to support a comms need that's not really there - yet.

Effective communication isn't a panacea and some of the work specifiers and agencies are mixing comms with change when looking for solutions. I'm very happy to unpick the differences, but it too often leads frustrating false starts for both sides.

Monday, June 13, 2005

Do people have to fit into processes - or vice versa?

I've got a sore throat. I've had it for a week, and it isn't getting any better. But up to today, I haven't been near a doctor's surgery for about six years.

As you can see, we're building towards a connection. That connection comes from the fact that today I did walk into my doctor's surgery - and into a mis-communication loop that led to both me and the person I was attempting to book an appointment with to be less than satisfied with the exchange.

Now here's the situation. I moved into the area around 10 months ago, and my wife registered me with my new doctor. And that was it: until today.

So I walked through the door and up to the desk of an empty surgery. That's empty other than the two receptionists sat behind the desk busying themselves with their papers. I smiled. One briefly raised her eyes from her papers and then carried on what she was doing. It was a good 30-45 seconds before she acknowledged my presence. That put me on edge a bit.

"Hello," I said, "I'd like to make an appointment to see a doctor, I'm registered with Dr. xxxx."

"Is it an emergency?" the receptionist replied. "I don't know, I said. That's why I'd like to see a doctor." "Well, is it an emergency or can it wait?" she replied, immediately sweeping back round the loop from which no good could emerge.

"I don't know," I said again. "I haven't been to a doctor's for six years, and it's bothering me sufficiently to come down here now."

"Well I can only book you in if it's an emergency, " she continued, and I'm pretty sure she folded her arms at that point.

"Mrs. Txxxxx," I countered. "I'm not medically qualified and unless you are, I don't think we can come to that diagnosis - and anyway, I don't want to be talking about my symptoms out here. When can I get to see a doctor?"

"If you think it's an emergency, I can book you in to see Dr. Jxxxx at 6pm, after surgery's finished."

She said it in such a condescending manner that I was minded to stick a large medical dictionary up her nose. But at that moment I saw a sign behind the counter. It read: 'Since we introduced our new booking procedure, most patients have welcomed the new process. Some, however, have been extremely rude to our staff. This is not helpful and could necessitate us removing you from your doctor's lists.'

Now no-one has actually explained to me what the booking procedure was, but a light was going on that I probably wasn't fitting into their procedure. So I asked to see the Practice Manager.

Mrs T got on the phone: "Have you got time to see Mark Shanahan?" (no mister for me!). "He's unhappy with the booking procedure."

Frankly, I wasn't unhappy with the booking procedure. I was unhappy with the 'customer service' I'd received when trying to make my first ever booking at the surgery.

So I trucked upstairs to see Mrs. P. I retold her my experience and she explained that the booking procedure was to phone in and make an appointment on the day you feel ill - and that all today's scheduled appointments were full. After that, it was emergencies only and that they didn't take bookings for future days. Also, they were two doctors down and generally short staffed in terms of medical care.

It was an enlightening 10 minute visit to the surgery that could have taken less than two.
The lesson I took out was that Mrs. T and I got into the wrong communication loop through her expecting me to know the system, and through me expecting to be treated as an individual, not a component in a process.

Public servants like Mrs. T need to remember that they're dealing with individuals: people with different levels of need and understanding. Assuming knowledge is a dangerous thing - but can be overcome very easily by asking just a couple of establishing questions first. And the first question should never be....."Is it an emergency?"

Thursday, June 09, 2005

Where do Values come from?

I'm on my third Values project of recent times and all have a commonality: the Values have originated/been imposed from the top of the organisation.

As a consequence, they're aspirational, a little airy-fairy and not really in keeping with the way the business operates.

All three companies are ruthless drivers of profits with dividend-hungry investors looking to gain the maximum return possible. Consequently the 'managers' leading each organisation are targeted on - and measured on - short-term profit.

Yet the values espoused by each company are around valuing colleagues; being customer-led and being recognised for their community responsibility.

If companies choose to act hard nosed, why don't they EVER accept that this attitude is truly what they do value?

Who are they kidding?

Thursday, May 19, 2005

Is blogging getting corporate?

Not sure how I feel about IBM having a set of guidelines for bloggers IBM and those participating in wikis. On the one hand it makes good corporate sense makes personal views and free speech just a little more corporately - controlled. I guess it's an inevitable step, but I hope it doesn't put IBMers off making useful, challenging and informed comment to the world about their working life.

I'm interested in seeing how other organisations follow suit - anyone got any other good examples out there?

Sunday, May 15, 2005

Busy when I should be blogging

It's typical. when I'm working on communicatons, I'm generally too busy to blog - but of course that's the time I should be blogging, because that's the time when I'm at the heart of what's going on in organisational communications.

If I step back at the moment and look at the work I'm involved in, it's quite wide-ranging, but so little is now involved in conventional print media. In fact, precisely one project putting together entries for a grad scheme directory.

As for the rest, it's a mix of strategy building, internal comms training, e-zines and web writing (and e-zines linked to inter/intranets).

I'm having fewer conventional meetings too, with many more teleconferences and web chats. My working day, my working timeframe and my working links are all changing - and it's good to see that it's much the same for my peers.

I took part in a fun and useful webchat with CiB this week covering its merger with the ICA and plans to get closer to other organisations including IABC. I hope these plans come to fruition - as I could do with saving on the subscriptions.

Such chats are becoming commonplace now - good when we know the participants already, but I have my reservations when breaking new ground with new people. We don't want to become a race or profession of geeks - and I've yet to meet a webchat that enables me to see the whites of my fellow chatters' eyes.....

Thursday, May 05, 2005

Who's using the tools?

The blogs are out there - but how many organisations are making use of blogs, never mind podcasts and other new media to engage their internal audiences?

How many are lifting the quality of their intranets by introducing RSS feeds of what's new, what's news and what's just plain interesting to know?

How many wikis have escaped from the IT departments to provide a useful means for project collaboration - how many, if any, people are using such tools to create their own internal communications?

As ever, I suspect the technology is ahead of the market - at least from my UK perspective. Also, I supect the marcoms guys are going to grab these new tools rather faster and more readily than their organisational comms counterparts. But what an opportunity we have to use new technology to help engage with our colleagues.

We just need some brave souls to take the plunge, sort out the legalities and get up and running.

Wednesday, May 04, 2005

How far to push

Recently I interviewed a selection of business people for a case study. The case study was around innovation, following the conception to delivery of a new product. The guys who were charged with making the product were very proud of what they'd done, managing volatile liquids; building plant from scratch; widening their knowledge into a related but unfamiliar area - well out of their usual scope of operation. The product had been delivered to spec and on time.

The marketing people were less pleased. The production costs were well above what had been forecast and the speed of delivery was some way short of expectations. For them, the product had made it to the market - but by the skin of its teeth.

So I went back to my client: "It's a great case study," I said. "But it's not that straight upward line to success. If we're to really share what you've learned from the experience, this will need to be warts and all. People have been very honest talking to me, and my text will reflect that."

"No problem." said the client. So I produced the case study, and circulated it for sign-off. The changes began to filter back. Suddenly the issues weren't so bad; the costs were massaged and the trenchant opinions were pared down. I argued the toss where black had turned white - and the compromise was shades of grey. But in the end the agreed text was pretty anodyne.

It may have satisfied those directly involved in the project, but was far less immediately useful for those who would have benefited from knowing the perils and pitfalls of bringing something completely new to world to the market.

So what did I do? I fed back my views honestly but in a tempered logical way. And then I took the money.

I'm looking forward to writing more case studies for this client. I hope I can inch them towards greater openness. But in the end, they will make the decision on how 'honest' they are prepared to be.

I can take the horses to water - but I can't make them walk on it.

Friday, April 15, 2005

Do the do - or help others?

It used to be so simple. Managers came to the comms team when they had something to communicate. Consequently, professional communicators could plan and execute and track the response. Hopefully they'd learn from whatever impact the message had created and use that knowledge to make things better next time round the loop. The downside was that communicators could become bottlenecks or spinmeisters or simply didn't know enough about the deep down detail of the relevant part of the organisation to create the right impact with their take on the communication.

But now, especially with the rise of electronic tools, everyone, anywhere within an organisation can be a communicator. The tendency is to go for the immediate: to bypass the professional communicators in order to grab the immediacy. So, much organisational communication is no longer planned. The consequence can be repeated mistakes, informaton overload (or gaps, or duplicaton) and organisational communication chaos.

So where does that lead professional communicators today? Should we strive for that control over the 'doing' once again, or find another role within our organisations?

My view is that we'll always have some role in developing and maintaining the formalised communication - defining the comms strategy; implementing key parts of the plan; owning the corporate channels. But the genie is well and truly out of the bottle now - and there's no way we should want or need to stuff the cork back in.

We've got to move on: to accept that most organisational communication will be generated away from our PCs. But we have a huge role to play as coaches, mentors, setters of standards and policies and educators on how those within our organisations can get the most out of the tools available to them.

That means us knowing our businesses (not just communications) better so that we are seen to have a valuable input into their working lives and can help them use communication as the powerful business tool it should be. No communicator can afford to be sniffy about others 'invading our space' - that way lies King Canute. Instead, we should welcome the interest - it's not an invasion and work from within to embed effective communicaton as the way we get things done.

Still learning

Ok, I've just changed my settings and now anyone can post a comment on this blog - it'll be interesting to see if anyone else is watching.....or if I'm just talking to myself. Still, nothing new there!

Thursday, April 14, 2005

Bizniss Speak

What is it with corporate communicators? So often we arrive at work as normal people, switch on our PCs and forget the rules of dialogue. Normal language is replaced by a weird hybrid comprising management speak, jargon and a skewed formality that we'd never use when talking to you face to face.

I can understand having to unmangle Byzantine word structures when editing source material from line and project managers for speeches, presentations and the like, but I'd expect more from people who's job is to get people talking within and around their own organisations.

We spend our working lives preaching the benefits of putting yourself in the receiver's shoes when it comes to organisational communication, but too often merely ape how we perceive CEOs should speak. In doing so, we're in danger of missing the connection with our audiences and creating barriers rather than breaking them down.

In the 80s and 90s there was a drive for using plain English to communicate - but often this missed the point too, over simplifying what needed to be said, and creating a patronising 'nanny English' that underestimated the intelligence of those on the receiving end.

It's that intelligence that has to be the start point for finding the right words, the right tone and the right emphasis for communications designed to engage, involve and inspire.

Our audiences are generally bright and well informed. With so many information sources vying for their attention, our words have to grab them. To grab them they need to resonate; to be familiar; to be in the parlance they're comfortable with.

People don't talk in management speak or over-formally with their families or friends. So why should we impose it at work?

Thursday, April 07, 2005

It's my party.....

Weird. I turned 41 today and the level of static, surprise and expectation was just a fraction of 12 months ago.

Last year, 40 was a milestone and one where I felt the need to put an ocean between myself and the day-to-day realities of life. So on April 7 2004, I sat in a baseball stadium watching the Yankees edge out the Devil Rays. Back at the appartment, the phone kept ringing and e-mails regularly clocked up wishing me joy on entering my fifth decade.

Today? Lovely cards and presents from the immediate family and aside from that......nothing.

Still, I got a fortune cookie yesterday saying the '40 is now merely the middle age of youth while 50 is the youth of old age'. Not sure it made me feel any better, but it's nice to have nine years of breathing space before even contemplating getting older!

Monday, March 21, 2005

Service behind the smile

I hate service that's insincere, inattentive and impersonal - and managed to receive all three wrapped in one beaming Aussie package yesterday.

Now we tend to drop into cultural stereotypes when looking at face-to-face service, be it in retail, restaurants or even in our own businesses: - Americans are buzzy but insincere, Germans are frosty and efficient, the French are superior (or at least think they're superior to those they're serving), and the Aussies score for being naturally warm and friendly.

Yesterday at a chain restaurant in Oxford, we were greeted with warmth in abundance - and left vowing not to return to this particular establishment for a fair while yet.

First thing: we explained we were in a hurry (daughter number one was playing in a concert and we were grabbing some dinner in between her rehearsal and the performance). So we waited 10 minutes to order. We asked for a jug of water, it never arrived.

Twenty minutes went by, no food arrived. Then beaming waitress announced to my daughter that they'd run out of popcorn chicken and could she make up her platter with more of the remaining offerings - we said yes. Time passed. Daughter number two's plain pasta arrived, drenched in sauce. Son's meatballs were cold, wife's prawn salad arrived with three prawns. They should have been hot; they were cold. One wasn't even cooked through. Daughter number one's chicken platter arrived with no chicken at all.

The waitress asked if everything was ok - I said no and explained what wasn't, said we'd run out of time and asked for the bill. Five minutes later it arrived - no deductions, so therefore no tip offered. Wife, son and daughter number one ran for the exit and the concert. Daughter number two mixed eating and wearing her ice cream. I was keen to go. Waitress asked if I wanted an ice cream. 'No thank you' through gritted teeth. 'Another drink?' 'No thank you' (with a sub text of 'piss off and let me get away NOW!'

She then waylaid us by the stairs to wish us a 'great evening'. I wonder if some people are thick skinned or just thick?

Anyway, rant over. The homily for the day, if there is one, is that if you're going to offer service with a smile, make sure you've got the skills, product and timing to deliver beyond the grin.

What do we want of our professional organisations?

I'm based in the UK and belong to the UK's largest internal communication professonal organisation. But it's dominated by publications professionals and is in danger of retreating up its own cul-de-sac if it doesn't grow up soon and embrace the real challenges affecting communicators today.

Now I find that the IABC - the American-dominated organisaton also for internal communicators is having a similar period of angst.

Is it time that organisations such as these realised that internal communication means much more than glossy magazines and the corporate intranet?

I want to be part of an organisation I can be proud of. I want it to challenge my thinking and give me opportunities to learn from the experts and debate with my peers. I want it to stretch my knowledge and engage me in debates around change and progression in organisations where great communication can make the difference between success and mediocrity. I want my organisation to be thought leading not self-serving. I've held out hopes that IABC may fill this spece - but now strangely it seems that CiB may take the lead if it can sideline a few dinosaurs who still stand in the way.

Of course I can carp from the oputside or work from the inside to make a difference. While there's a large part of me that absolutely hates to be part of a committee of any kind, maybe it's time to work within one or both of these organisations to effect change.