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.