Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Not a tick box exercise

Communication will move no organisation forward if it's treated as a tick box exercise.

In the last couple of weeks I've run training and started on new projects that have all demonstrated the value effective organisational communication can bring - but all have also shown how communication can be lost in task-orientated organisations.

There is still far too strong a mentality, especially in project work, that sees communication as a 'workstream' - something that can be bracketed off and completed by checklist. It's also an exercise that's undertaken by communicators and conducted once the real decision making has been made.

I'm currently working on a communication strategy document for a project within an organisation that wants to improve the way it manages some of its non-core activity. The project is sound and will deliver a better way to work and some good cost savings - but they've been managing communication in a reactive way, and have been focused on a communication strategy as an end in itself, not a means to an end.

There's already a strategy document, but nobody's using it since it feels like an off-the-shelf where only the names have been changed. Its creation feels like a theoretical exercise rather than something that's actually helping the project team open the right doors, get the right information and come up with something better for the organisation.

As I said when I delivered the latest O2O course last week, I don't believe in a communication strategy. I believe in a well thought out and articulated business strategy and then planning effective communication to help deliver that strategy. That's where I am now: taking the project strategy - which fits directly with the business goals - and why we need to communicate, what we need to say to each group at each stage and how best we can connect with them to ensure the project reaches the right outcome.

My plan probably won't look anything as grand as what the client may be used to, but I hope it will be rather more useful than the beautiful creation that currently sits in the project area, unloved, untouched and unwanted.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

The waters of change....

.....People are faced with an unhappy choice. They can try to preserve their traditional culture by putting up barriers against the outside world and trying to resist change. Or they can go with the flow, forget the past and melt into a bland generic culture where everything is the same and nothing has much depth. One way leads to isolation and hostility, the other to a nagging sense of loss. But there is another possibility. It is to carry what you have taken from the past on an open-ended journey, showing it off, throwing it open, making it a point of contact rather than a point of honour.....

The words above could have come from any of the culture change/organisational communication tomes written in the past few years, wise words about embracing change but being proud of our past. It's certainly the strategy I've seen played out across the raft of mergers, acquisitions, closures and re-engineerings I've been a part of over the last 18 years.

But, these great words of management wisdom are actually culled from the pages of the Riverdance souvenir programme.

Last night, for our 20th anniversary treat, Jac and I took the kids to one of Ireland's most significant exports of the past 20 years; a show so infused with a mix of energy and nostalgia for the 'oul sod' that anyone with even the smallest percentile of diaspora heritage would get a lump in their throat. For a few, that might be bile at the unashamed sentimentality of it all, but for me, it's a real sense of pride in a perfectly packaged show trading on the heritage of my family's home country.

I didn't expect to get a slice of management change speak with my ice cream - but isn't that what Riverdance is all about? In two hours, it distills the perfect cultural change programme through dance and traditional music - leaving the old, embracing the new, honouring the past and energised for a great future.

We had a great night out...........................and I must be far too deeply into this change communication stuff if I can really draw a parallel between a modern cultural phenomenon and organisational change!

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

It was 20 years ago today....

20 years ago, Jac and I looked like this - but on June 13 1987 we actually put on slightly nicer clothes to walk down the aisle at St. Mary's Church in Harefield, Middlesex as husband and wife. Funny enough, the weather was pretty much like today - a sunny morning with heavy rain forecast for the evening. We got through the pictures and all that malarkey in bright sunshine - though we got soaked on the way to the hotel in the evening.

A few days later we were strolling down 5th Avenue in New York and I remember feeling totally elated.

Three kids, nine jobs (me 6, Jac 3), 19 cars and four houses later, we're still rock solid.

It's hard to believe that back then mobile phones were in their infancy, email was a joke and the Internet had yet to be unleashed on the world. I had a 'laptop' that nearly broke my shoulder when I carried it, used a hard-copy library and microfiche to research my articles while working at Which?, and used to post 'Yellow Drafts' - hard copies of draft articles for review by the great and the good - often posting out 20 or 30 copies of an article which would come back a few weeks later with hand-scrawled comments all over them.

Life changes, but today I'm feeling weirdly constant.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Katie Hopkins: honesty the best policy?

Sometimes wearing your stone-cold heart on your sleeve does you no favours. Apprentice shrew Katie hard-nosed Hopkins has apparently been given the push by her employers, The Met Office.

According to a BBC report, Hopkins has failed her probationary period with Britain's weather information service - and the report alludes to the fact that she may have been telling porkies about her salary too.

Hopkins considered being a bitch to be a business virtue - but in a business world where open and honest communication is a prized - though rarely realised - virtue, her Thatcherite, greed-is-goodness seems to have tripped her up big time.

She's had her day in the sun, and going 'kiss n tell' to the News of the World will, I hope, hasten her fall from C list to F list...and, I trust, F-off list.

This week: what I like/what I don't

I wrote to Tre Azam and have offered to clean up his website for him.....but he hasn't got back to me - despite me being an utter media whore.

I was at Grand Designs Live on Sunday and was interviewed on camera for Friction TV - I don't know if my piece is up there, but it's the second time in just a few weeks that someone has come up to me and stuck a camera in my face wanting my opinion. Weirdly it hasn't happened in the previous 43 years of my life, so maybe I'm growing into the face of 'Mr Joe Average'.

Anyway, Grand Designs was a significant disappointment - little to reflect the aspirational, green-tinged delight that is the Channel 4 show, and much more of hundreds of retailers trying to flog very similar looking showers, wood flooring and garden sculptures. Thanks to Nicki at WWF for the tickets - but I'm glad I didn't have to pay.

I don't like the London 2012 Olympics blog czars much either. On their own blog, responding to the launch of the event branding they say:

London 2012 team Says: 7th Jun 07, 7:11
Update: We have received many comments that reflect the tenor of negative comments found elsewhere on the web and often containing offensive language that, for obvious reasons, we cannot publish. Rather than act as an echo chamber we have published a selection here that say something a little different.

They've then printed 18 comments and seemingly closed the debate. I've shared my views - they've been censored. They weren't offensive and were as pertinent as any that have got through the censors. What annoys me hugely is that this is a publicly-funded organisation stamping on open, public debate. Isn't that totally against the spirit of a blog? Isn't it a manipulation of the media?

I do like the BBC this week and spent a couple of hours in Southampton last night locked in a passionate debate about output ranging from Springwatch to Panorama. A few years ago I started facilitating workshops as the BBC was going through a major change programme. Out of that, I got involved in Public Accountability and have ended up on the Regional Audience Council for the South of England. While i think our impact is very limited, it's good to get a chance to debate programmes we have a passionate reaction to with the people who make and broadcast them.

I came out of last night's meeting energised and far more aware of the impact of programming on other viewers and listeners. There's an awful lot wrong with the BBC, but far more right - and I applaud them for their policy of engaging with stakeholders - a nice counterpoint to London 2012 which seems very much on the defensive.

Thursday, June 07, 2007

Tre Azam

Tre Azzam was one of the Apprentice candidates 'fired' before they'd got the job last night. Given that I've had more hits to this blog today (just for mentioning Katie Hopkins) than I'd normally get in a week, I thought I'd see if the 'magic of Tre' has the same effect.

International businessman and leader of world conglomerates he may be, but as one of Sugar's cronies described him last night, he has 'a small vocabulary, about half of which is composed of swear words'.

Tre talked up his own reputation as a marketing, design and brand consultant - but his own website IDMM does him no favours. It's riddled with typos, grammatical errors and the misuse of language.

Okay, I often type faster than I think, but my cack-handedness very rarely ends up in the client's final version.

Tre, mate, I think you need someone to review your site content - I'd do it myself, just for the laugh!

Interested in outcomes more than outputs?

There are just two places left on my Output to Outcome course which I'll be running through CiB in London on June 19th. I only run the course for small groups, so there's plenty of time to look at individual circumstances and scenarios during the day.

If you want to know more about it, give me a shout at mark.shanahan@leapfrogcomms.com.

All about playing the game

Last week I interviewed Judith Leary-Joyce, whose new book, Inspirational Manager is published by Prentice Hall Business here this month. She talked a lot about the key to being a truly inspiring manager as being the ability to build and sustain great relationships.

So contrast that with the BBC's hit business show - the Apprentice which offered a fascinating semi-final last night.

Now Alan Sugar is not my idea of an Inspirational Manager. He barks and bullies and makes sure everyone knows he's always the boss. I'd hate to be apprenticed to someone whose only idea of the 'right way' is his way.

Last night's round of interviews for the candidates also showed how unprepared they are for management - one, Tre, came out as a loner and a bit of fantasist. What struck me most is how he has clearly been a favoured son, and has been brought up to believe in his own hype. One chap was nice but dull ans there's another real 'Tim nice but dim' through to the final in Simon - definitely a poor finalist from a poor selection of candidates.

The more interesting candidates were Kristina and Katie - definitely the two powers in the competition. Kristina's dogged, bright and clearly ambitious. She's a player with a hard streak - but is positively soft and fluffy when compared to Katie Hopkins who was Sugar's first choice as a finalist - but then stepped down when it finally struck her that winning the competition would mean uprooting to the lovely suburban landscape that is Brentwood. Clearly Katie had no plans to be an Essex girl.

Hopkins is the antithesis of Leary-Joyce's vision of an inspirational manager. Katie's a great relationship builder as long as those relationships are on her terms and will meet her end-game.

We've probably all had the kind of boss who'll climb over anyone's back to ensure they get to the top - and Katie coupled that duplicity with an ability to manage upwards by turning on the charm and the flirtatiousness whenever the situation demanded.

I'm not surprised that Katie is ex-army - she's part of that breed who works hard plays hard and ruthlessly removes any barriers to 'project Katie'.

The thing that amazed me most is that she's a mother to two young daughters - reading the kind of profile she provided in the Met Office's magazine last year pages 8 & 9, and watching her through the 10 weeks of tasks, family simply didn't feature.

And I don't think her family had much to do with her decision to pull out of the final. I don't think she ever had any intention of working for Sugar. Katie was in the game to win: she's been there all along to promote 'project Katie'. I'm sure she'll be successful in that, and we're witnessing the birth of another C list business celebrity a la Ruth Badger and Saira Khan.

What we're not seeing in the birth of a great manager - would you want to work for Katie Hopkins....or for that matter, have her report to you?

The Apprentice is great entertainment, but it's as much about business and management as Alan Sugar is about football - there's a connection, but it's becoming ever more tenuous.

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

London 2012 logo? Sums it up really

Some bright spark has come up with an alternative take on the new London 2012 Olympic logo.....

D'ya know, I think he or she might have cracked it....!

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

London 2012 - sponsored by ZZ Top

So here it is, right at the cutting edge of contemporary design we have the new album cover for ZZ Top!.....No, hang on, it's......it's...... a radical new look for the SS.....nope, it's a really rubbish jigsaw.....no...it's a broken Rubik's cube!
What we have, of course, is the new visual identity for the London 2012 Olympics. It's an image that's meant to draw us all in and make everyone in Britain proud to be associated with this great event.
What a load of cack. Top branding agency Wolf Ollins should really know better, but have allowed a bunch of 20-something creatives to dictate a look and feel that's entirely alien to anyone who isn't a post Generation Y.
The London 2012 organisers should have known better, but have succumbed to Emperor's New Clothes syndrome. Someone should have been brave enough to object to this tosh, but no-one wanted to appear untrendy, out of touch and uncool.
So what have we got? A tawdry dayglo cartoon devoid of any link to sport, devoid of any link to London. Something to be proud of? I don't think so.
This design has no class, but more than that, it has no connection. This doesn't strike a chord with all those with a stake in the games - it's merely a triumph of arsey design over function.
I'll bet the burghers of Paris and Madrid are having a good old chuckle - and I'll bet this isn't around when the flame's lit in 2012.
If Seb Coe and his buddies wanted to connect with Team GB - from kids to grannies, why not open the design competition up to the public - or at least let us vote on the options.
However much this particular turd is polished, it still looks like a pile of poo to me.