Wednesday, May 24, 2006


There's a trend in employee comms at the moment for interim managers - especially during 'change' (though isn't everything in business in constant flux now?).

It's something I was initially in favour of as I saw it as offering more opportunities, but I've now had my fingers burned and will tread very warily when anyone comes knocking looking for an interim.

For me, being on the inside of an organisation as an employee means knowing it inside out and getting all the benefits of being part of the business entity. The downside for communicators is being at best, a middle-management employee, so rarely having the clout to make a huge impact.

Working as a consultant makes it easier to have the challenging conversations with senior management, but you're never truly a part of the team. You're regarded as an outsider - and may be perceived as a threat.

The interim should be seen as an insider, but should also have the power and impact of a consultant. But my experience has been very different.

My experience is that:
  • Businesses hire interims to do the jobs no-one internally will touch
  • Hires are made at too high a level - but the work is often low-grade transactional
  • Interims are regarded as employees rather than expert partners, and consequently are rarely used effectively as part of the business decision chain.

I know interim assignments work for a lot of people - at least at surface level. But I wonder how often the expectation meets the actuality for both the client and the interim.

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Perception matters

Why, as employee communicators, do we act grateful when we're invited to the meetings where key decisions are made?

Surely we should be one of those 'functions' that are first on the list when change is afoot in any business. Legal are always there, and HR, Public Affairs and often even the Marketing guys - but employee comms tends to get invited in only after the event to package the outcomes, dice them nicely and make them palatable to internal stakeholders.

I think it's because we don't present ourselves as well as we could. We're happier in our comfort zone as expert writers and editors and thus engage with business leaders as useful transactional functionaries.

It's much harder to step out of that role and really present a challenge to management: to ask the awkward questions, and be a real pain in the arse.........all in the pursuit of overcoming business issues.

But Legal don't have that problem, or HR or even Marketing - never mind our external communication colleagues. CEO's tend not to feel they know better than these 'niche' experts - and will generally engage with them in a more adult:adult conversation.

It's time we grew up and really flexed our muscles a bit - and started asking 'why' a bit more about the issues we're asked to handle. Risky? Perhaps, but the only way to show the real benefit we can bring to a business.

Friday, May 19, 2006

Cast in another light

I was talking to a guy about podcasting the other day and he made the very astute point that the very name of this medium puts a lot of people off.

It hadn't struck me, but he argued that quite a lot of people thought podasting wasn't for them because they didn't have an i-pod.

Of course, podcasting has nothing much to do with i-pods other than the fact that an i-pod is one means of playing back the downloaded content. But you could be using any MP3 or 4 player, your PC or phone or whatever to the same effect.

So, should we be looking for another name for podcasting? It's not broadcast - in fact it's can be 1:1-cast.

Perhaps we should start talking about commscasting????

So thanks Adam from Vodafone for getting beginning to get my mind round that.

Thursday, May 18, 2006

Preaching to the converted

I ran an 'output to outcome' course yesterday with a group of communications managers - 7 IC managers and one PR.

It was focused on internal stakeholder communication and what was most apparent was that communicators want to make communication an enabler for delivering business strategy, but are stymied in so doing by:

  • constantly being forced to react
  • being pushed into the 'package and deliver' box
  • being seen as the people who write and design stuff.

Most of our day was spent looking at how to get into the right conversations so that communication becomes part of the discussion that leads to a business decision rather than simplyt being the transactional packaging of that decision after the debate has concluded.

We also looked at the hoary old subjects of measuring value to the business and making communication a process to deliver business improvement rather than a series of events only sideways aligned to business goals.

My take-away on the day was: Don't talk about communication. Talk about solving business issues, and managers will be far more parepared to listen to you and work with you in the way you want to work.

Thursday, May 11, 2006


Sometimes the simplest of tools are the most revealing.

I ran a training session with a bunch of HR consultants yesterday and included a chinese whipers exercise to simulate an organisational communication cascade.

The construct was a series of four connected statements - with one slightly spurious one attached which had to be relayed through a chain of seven people.

Two groups competed against each other - with the added distraction of me telling very bad jokes to put them off.

The final scribes each noted one statement. Each noted a different statement and neither was actually quite true to the source document.

It certainly caused some pause for thought among the participants. Just how effective are traditional cascades - and how effective is verbal communication, especially in business environment of BAU?

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

Both sides of the coin

I tend to stick up for the strategists in organisational communication: no matter how good the media, it's useless if it doesn't derive from the right plan to create the right outcome.

So I sometimes get it right back in the neck - 'without the outputs, plans are useless'.

And of course it's absolutely true. Communication is only ever going to be effective if we have both the ying and the yang - great planning and great execution.

Thankfully, I still get involved in both, and was quite excited to receive my copies of law firm CMS Cameron McKenna's Solve. This is the firm's client publication - designed to be an awareness-raising light read aimed at current and prospective clients. It's just one part of a well-designed marcoms mix, and also plays well internally with the partners and staff.

I hadn't written a publication for a law firm before, but the client was able to give me a clear brief and strong context of what their business objectives are; how marketing was helping to deliver these goals and the niche where this publication fitted in. Essentially, their culture is about building relationships, and Solve helps reveal the human side of the firm and the law it deals with.

They're very pleased with the result - and so am I - a tactical tool that I think is well executed.

Thursday, May 04, 2006


It's funny how two seemingly disparate pieces of work can fuse together quite powerfully.

At present I'm putting together a training day on the move from an internal communications focus on outputs - those award-winning magazines, events and intranets - to outcomes - what business benefit is the communication actually enabling?

I'm also researching an article on the 40th anniversary of the Apollo 1 cockpit fire that caused the deaths of Gus Grissom, Roger Chaffee and Ed White.

I'd been looking for a powerful motif of outcome-based communication to set the tone for the training day. I found it on page 1 of Andrew Chaikin's book: A man on the moon.

Chaikin quotes John Kennedy, standing on the podium at Rice University Texas on September 12 1962. Kennedy said: "I believe this nation should commit itself, before the decade is out, to landing a man on the moon and returning him safely to the earth."

Whatever political and cold war sentiments charged that statement, it gave an entirely clear direction that steered the efforts of 400,000 people for the next seven years. When Neil Armstong set foot on the moon, the outcome was achieved.

Millions of messages were exchanged at thousands of levels between September 1962 and July 1969 when Apollo 11 achieved Kennedy's avowed intent. But having that clarity of purpose articulated clearly ensured everyone was engaged in reaching a clear goal. Few events, before or since, have enjoyed such clarity of purpose - but what an example of what can be achieved.

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

Lost for words?

Still putting stuff together for the two training days I'm delivering this month, and am most erked as I can't find a very important tool that helps to open up an audience.

The tool is pretty naff - a brass 'tool kit in a hammer' that I picked up in a 'five n dime' in Nantucket some years back (back before 9/11 when you could safely take such things on a flight back to the UK from the US!). It was made in the Far East and cost very little.

The story behind the hammer was nice - though probably apocryphal.

Essentially, the Nantucket whalers were supposed to have used such tools about a hundred years ago. The brass hammer wouldn't have rusted in the cold wet weather, and provided a cosy and space-efficient soluton to storing a mini tool kit - tweezers, screw driver, punch etc.

The hammer had one flat end and one pointed, and I've previously handed it round at the start of sessions and asked people what it's used for.

It normally doesn't take long for participants to work out that the bottom unscrews and that there are tools inside. They're sometimes a little stumped by what the pointy bit is for though......

The story is that sailors would have open barrels on deck to collect rain water during the storms of the south Atlantic. All too often these would freeze over in the night and it was one poor sailor's duty to work his way around the boat with his little brass hammer.........breaking the ice!

I suspect my poor modern imitation is long lost - and I can't find any others anywhere.