Monday, December 13, 2010

Institutes, inertia and a time to break out of the circle

Last Friday, I was chased for my annual subs for the Institute of Internal Communication - and organisation I've been a member of in the UK for 20 years. It didn't take me too long to decide that I didn't want to renew.

Under its British Association of Industrial Editors guise, I began to make the switch from consumer magazine journalist to internal communicator, successfully acquiring a Certificate in Industrial Editing. As the organisation morphed into the British Association of Communicators in Business, I became one of the last people to be awarded a Diploma in Business Communication. Under its Communicators in Business Guise, I was a national committee member and was made a Fellow of the organisation. But, as the recession bit and my career direction turned more to academia, CiB (or the IoIC as it now is) and I began to diverge in thought and action.

Today, internal communication plays only a small part in my business output. I write about it, but have found that B2B and B2C work is both easier to pick up and, at the moment, more satisfying. For me, that's because too many businesses have shown their true colours during the economic downturn: turning to organisational communication not to help engagement and build for the future, but to slip back into the default of command and control - telling people what to do if they want to still have a job.

It has been dispiriting. At a time when we should be making a paradigm shift to more open, transparent, enabling and effective communication, underpinned by a far wider armoury that should be built on the opportunity of social media, top teams have been slow to change, and communicators have been weak in championing the necessary cultural shift. There are, of course, pockets of brilliance - but the practice or organisational/employee/internal communication has actually moved far more slowly and covered a lot less ground than it thinks it has in the past two decades.

The fundamental for me is the focus on and rewarding of output over outcome - reflected ingloriously in the organisations supposed to represent the organisational communicators' role and advocate its ascendancy.

The revolution hasn't happened: the 'new' has a distinct whiff of emperor's new clothes; and organisational communicators remain in low earth orbit when we could be reaching for the stars.

I'm going to keep on doing what I'm doing - though probably ever more in b2b and b2c. Internal communication isn't dead - but it seems to need some radical new medicine.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Here is your audience: now engage

I spent a fascinating day at the University of Oxford on Saturday, taking part in my first academic conference. The British Association of American Studies' 2010 Postgrad Conference - American Geographies - brought together probably 40 doctoral students from across the UK and beyond to present papers on a range of themes within anthropology, literature and history.

It was my first experience of this kind of event and I was struck by both the intellectual power on show - and by how unengaging so many academic papers are.

I sat through 11 papers before presenting my own and, I think, nine out of those 11 speakers read their prepared texts, hardly raising their eyes from the page, and taking virtually no account of the audience before them. In some cases, it was a very sterile experience, and I found my thoughts drifting far from the seminar room. In other cases it was frustrating: a really good subject with some nuggets of great information - but presented within an academic convention that clouds understanding with meaningless verbiage, and creates a barrier between the presenter and the audience by means of the academic 'do's and don'ts' of presenting.

I don't need the presenter to say 'end of quote' when they reach the end of the passage they're quoting. I don't want them to read in a monotone and make no effort to check for understanding. I want them to engage with me and work to ensure I can share their experience and be a part of whatever knowledge they have to bring to the room.

I tried to do that on Saturday - I had notes, but no fixed script. I expanded on points where people seemed interested and truncated material that was grabbing less attention. I used images to illustrate my points - but was very conscious to avoid reading my slides. I'm not sure how successful I was (I didn't cover everything I'd planned to say), but I got some great feedback after my session.

Walking away at the end of the day, one thing that struck me was how few presenters smiled or looked for a response from the audience. Maybe this was a one-off experience, but I suspect it's an area that academics should be working on more.

Monday, November 08, 2010

Breathe, hold...and release

Lots going on at the moment, which is always good. I've got several projects on currently and while some are more fun than others, they're all stimulating.

I'm busy on the PhD front too with a paper to deliver at the BAAS Postgrad conference this coming weekend - and that's adding a bit of stress as I haven't had a whole lot of time to prepare.

However, I've learned over the past 20 years that when life's busy and stressful, the best release is to get a way - even if just for an hour or two - and do something totally different.

To that end, Jac, Sophs and I went walk in Wendover Woods yesterday afternoon. The glorious golden hues of Autumn were a bit past their best, but it was still a relatively warm afternoon; the ground wasn't too muddy and once again I was brought up short by just how beautiful it is here in the Chilterns.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

The feedback that makes it all worthwhile

Eek! Almost a month without a post. Not because I've got nothing to say, but much more so because I've been flat out for the last few weeks.

I'm just about surfacing for air now, and it was great to get a bit of feedback for a rush job carried out over the weekend:

Hi Mark

Just thought I would pass this on to you, just in from the client:

Thanks so much. We have just gone through all the files and your guy has done a really thorough job. Please pass on our thanks - also for honouring the initial quote. We will be sure to recommend him to others here at BL.

It's always nice when a client - or a client's client - appreciates the effort.

Monday, September 27, 2010

It's a runner

Thanks to everybody who took time to complete the employee comms in engagement survey - according to my colleague at Brunel who knows far more than me about these things, the sample size is now viable.

So, when time permits, I'll start digging into the findings.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Employee communicators in engagement survey - one week to go

The survey monkey's still ticking over as more and more communicators complete the research questionnaire on the role of employee communicators in engagement. There's still a week to go if you want to add your voice which you can do here

To whet your appetite, here are a few of the trends at the half-way collection point:

  • Almost half the organisations that have responded have no engagement strategy
  • While the majority of organisations recognise the difference between communication and engagement, only 4% claim that recognition is total
  • Almost 90% of communicators who have responded have some responsibility for their organisation's engagement agenda
  • HR is the top 'owner' of engagement - drawing twice the response of 'everyone'
  • HR is also the most common owner of the engagement strategy
  • When it comes to tools, nine out of 10 communicators use email and the intranet
  • Fewer than half still use printed newsletters/magazines
  • Over 80% of respondents formally use social media in the comms mix, with blogs and internal social networks the most common uses
  • Engagement varies widely among responding organisations. No organisation is fully engaged, though 30% claim a 7 out of 10 engagement score
  • Asked what would make the greatest difference to engagement, the most popular response so far is a more joined up approach between functions.

That's a slice of the picture with a week still to go. Will it change? Your views could be vital.

Monday, September 13, 2010

In this only a Transatlantic issue?

Interesting: after an initial splurge of responses, the last couple of days has seen only a trickle of responses to my survey looking at the role of employee communications in engagement. In many ways, that's to be expected: those who are interested will respond immediately while others will either delete the message or put it on the 'nice to do' pile for some time never. Still, there are still 12 days left, and if I can double the current response over those 12 days I'll have something robustly statistically viable.

This is a learning experience for me, and one of the most noticeable features is the strong UK/US bias to responses. They're running fairly even; I have a few from Canada; a few from Scandinavia and ones and twos from other northern European countries. I didn't expect much from non-English speaking countries (or countries where English isn't the language of business), but hoped I'd pick up some response from Africa, Australia and New Zealand and, most of all, India. But as yet, it's radio silence.

I have a presentation to prepare this afternoon, but after that, I suspect I'll be pushing the survey out to those particular communication outposts.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Early days, early findings

Just one day into the survey mapping employee communicators' roles in engagement and there are already a gratifying number of responses from across the UK, Continental Europe and North America - it would be great to get some input from other parts of the world too.

Anyway, the number of responses is statistically interesting, but perhaps not get a truly viable sample - still there's a fortnight yet to go.

Some early findings - which may well change as the number of responses rises suggest:

  • Almost half of all respondents have a role that includes employee communication - but has responsibility for other stakeholders as well.
  • Almost half of all respondents state that their organisation has no employee engagement strategy.
  • A third of respondents' organisations really don't differentiate between employee communication and engagement.
  • Virtually all employee communicators are involved in engagement strategy or implementation, with a third of respondents stating their team 'owns' engagement in the organisation - though HR is the most common 'owner'.
  • The intranet is the most widely used communication channel from our early respondents, closely followed by emails - with face-to-face channels very popular, but restricted by time and capacity, especially of leadership.
  • More than three quarters of respondents to date use social media in their organisations, with blogs and internal social networks leading the way - though one respondent is also using virtual worlds.
  • Engagement levels vary widely, and the 'must haves' to help employee communicators vary from a social media strategy to effective line management support and a joined-up approach across functions.

However, this is just a broad-brush round up 24 hours into the survey. It still has two weeks to run. If you haven't taken part yet, why not do so here?

Thursday, September 09, 2010

The role of Employee Communications in Employee Engagement

While the debate continues around the correct terminology for employee engagement, there's an equal lack of understanding of the role the employee communication function plays in engagement within organisations.

I'm currently working on a report covering exactly this area, and would very much like to get a snap-shot of where exactly employee communication practitioners operate today within the engagement agenda.

It strikes me that too few organisations today differentiate properly between employee communication and employee engagement - but I'd like to apply some evidence to that hypothesis.

So, if you have a role in employee communication and perhaps play some part in engagement in your organisation, pleas complete this survey and help build a picture of what role the employee communication team plays in engagement - and how you're fulfilling that role.

The survey will be open until September 24th - and I'll post details of the final report once it's published.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

The eternal triangle

I had a phone call yesterday afternoon asking for a price on a piece of work. The call went something like this:

Prospective client: I need a brochure written, what will it cost?

Me: Okay, let's step back a bit. Can I check what outcome you want to achieve? Who's your audience and what's their expectation. Actually, I've got quite a few of this kind of question, so can you run me through the story of what you're looking to do?

PC: Listen, I need a brochure - do you want the work?

Me: Okay. Let's focus on a brochure. Same questions: who's it for? What's its purpose? Are you thinking electronic, print or both? What other comms tools do you use and how will this fit in? Wh...

PC: FFS. Look we're a new independent financial services business and want to have a brochure to send to prospective clients and leave behind when we do face to face sales calls. We're launching next month. We've got the website and the logo and need the brochure as soon as possible.

Me: Okay.....So in effect, you want two pieces of communication - one to mail and then one for meetings.

PC: No, why would we want two?
Me: Err, won't people be getting the same piece of collateral twice?
PC: That doesn't matter. Just tell me how much a brochure will cost.
Me: How long's a piece of string?
PC: What the f***? Are you taking the piss?
Me: No, but I suspect you may be. The cost of a brochure will depend on quite a few factors - the content, the design, imagery, the ease of getting hold of information and the time it takes me and a designer to come up with a draft. From draft stage there's time involved on both sides to get to a finished product. Then there'll be print costs, distribution costs etc. etc. At this stage with no kind of brief, I can't quote a price. I need far more information from you.
PC: Well, my mate Jeff reckoned an eight pager should cost no more than £2K - how does that sound?

Me: Meaningless - do you mean just the copy, just the design, just the printing or what? I think you need to sit down and come up with a rather more detailed spec before asking for prices.

PS: Listen mate. I know what I want. I want an eight page brochure to be delivered by the end of next week and I want it cheap. Comprendez?

Me: Okay mate: I can put all my other client work aside for the next few days, engage a design firm work with you to devise the copy, work with them to come up with a design concept and if you agree to it immediately, we can get a rush print job done next week....after the Bank Holiday. I'll charge a premium rate for my time as this is a rush job and you'll also pay a packet for the designer. We'll probably have to pay more for a rush job at the printers since nothing's yet booked in - and the job will probably suffer in quality for the lack of a proper brief and the fact that it'll all be rushed. And, if you suddenly decide to make changes at the 11th hour the budget and timescale could all go out the window.
I can do quick to the best of my ability but it'll cost you more.
I can do a very cost-efficient job at high quality if you give me the time to structure it properly.

All you'll get in your timescales for the kind of money Jeff's talking about is something quick and dirty. Is that how you really want to communicate your new business?

PC: Yea right. I'll call you back.

He hasn't.......

Fit for purpose costs, whether it's in time, money or both. Fast? High quality? Cheap? Perm two from three.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Grimond's vision of the future wasn't far off

Last month, when I was researching in the Eisenhower Presidential Library in Abilene, Kansas, I was struck by a White House Staff Note from October 1957. The short piece in the news round-up aimed at White House insiders chimed with significant resonance. Was there more than a touch of Nick Clegg's post electoral coalition dilemma?

The note recounts a conversation between Jo Grimond, the Liberal Party leader at the time and Jock Whitney, the US Ambassador to Britain. According to the White House record: "Grimond made an unusually frank admission to Ambassador Whitney that would shock his followers, namely he envisages no future for his party except by merging with the Tories or the Labor (sic) party, either of which he could contemplate........Grimond observed that the party's future might be in developing modern political ideas, selling them to one of the major parties, and then joining that party to ensure implementation and prevent backsliding to extreme policies."

It's worth noting that Grimond saw both rival parties as facing dilemmas in holding together the extremes of their support. But, tantalisingly, the report doesn't say which of the big beasts he preferred the Liberals to merge with.

Tuesday, July 06, 2010

Make the most of your line managers

I like this post from Melissa Dark over in Aus I've added a comment which I hope will be moderated soon!

Funny, I commented on a Melcrum posting recently on one of their hub articles - and it took about a week to be cleared!

Monday, July 05, 2010

Social Media - it's neither the replacement nor the panacea

I've had two conversations today that sum up for me the range of misconceptions people have about social media. The first was with a shared services director who wants a social media strategy created for her team. It was an odd request - even odder as it came to me via a design agency.

The oddest thing was that the team all work in the same building - in fact in a big open plan space on one floor. One wonders why they need a strategy for social media when they all meet in real life every day. The next thing on the odd scale was that they don't have a communications strategy. They have a few electronic communication tools - and in fact, a great director who's a powerful force for engagement.

Having got a sketchy brief this morning, I called her - and things began to fall into place. Her team's going through a big change: they actually want a communication framework aimed at supporting the delivery of their business goals - but her marketing colleagues had been pushing heavily the virtues of a facebook site, tweets and a blog. To my mind, that was a bit of overkill in a smallish team, one-room environment and with a person who sets a great example for face to face comms. There are virtues in using some social media - and there's definitely a role in the team for social learning. But a social media strategy? Her wider organisation doesn't have one yet and to my mind, she'll be much better served by building a comms framework and activity plan that allows for, and enables, social media tools to be part of the comms mix. Where she does need to get a handle on social media is with some rules for her team on what's acceptable or not in a work environment. Apparently it has been a free-for-all in the past - but now the upper management has taken a draconian attitude and the kind of social communication that's now an unstoppable part of everyday life is now verboten in that workplace. We talked about a happy medium: all part of creating a great place to work. But what emerged at the end of an hour's conversation was the need for a good old integrated communications plan with a mix of tools that will achieve the right outcomes. Will I get the project? I don't know. I'm sure there will be social media specialists offering something completely different from me. But will their offering be truly suitable? In this case, social media tools alone won't meet all the needs of this team.

However, I had a conversation this afternoon with a friend who works for small business that supports charities and is crying out for a social media solution. Working in the UK and three Continental mainland countries, this business communicates at present only by email, the phone and one annual get-together. Money's tight, but they were looking to set up a newsletter for staff and volunteers. Yet they really don't need the formality of this - but assumed 'that's what companies do'. As a result of our conversation, my friend is investigating some 'free' solutions - a facebook page; a twitter account and getting on one or two of the forums aimed specifically at organisations that deliver services to charities. I think she's already moved a long way down that road in her head, but assumed a professional approach to social media would be expensive. We simply talked about some common sense rules and about adopting the same professional standards of managing dialogue in the same way she would through other media. I came off the call feeling good: feeling I'd validated her thoughts.

It's time we stopped handling 'social media' in business as if it was another new world. It's a communication evolution that has a strong, but not overwhelming, role to play in organisational communication. My view is that communicators have a role to play in educating people around integrated organisational communication. In the end, it's about the right horses for the right courses. The skill is in tipping the most suitable beast.

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Wisdom no more

Just over 24 hours ago, I had a wisdom tooth removed, ending - I hope - a saga that's involved a long period of discomfort - and certainly one that doesn't help a freelance lifestyle. It's amazing the disproportionate effect one partly-erupted tooth can cause, and I've had months of toothache and infected gums before finally biting the bullet and having the nasty third molar removed.

Yesterday was almost euphoric. Having been promised cutting and stitches, the tooth popped out far more easily than expected. Of course these days, teeth are 'elevated' not pulled! My head was frozen from my scalp to my lower jaw so I was certainly feeling no pain when I returned home. By midnight, the drugs and pain killers were just about wearing off but I was in good shape. By 4am, with the first birds tweeting, I was still awake with a horrible dull ache radiating from the now empty tooth socket to a point just over my right eye.

I've achieved a lot less than I'd hoped for today - I'm tired but can't sleep but the pain killers are making me drowsy. Still, it's a very temporary thing and I'm sure I'll be bouncing back tomorrow.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Capturing the authentic voice

Over the last few days I've been writing a number of statement pieces for particular characters within a couple of my clients. In each case, the person voicing the particular piece of communication has a distinctive style and particular way of communicating. Putting words in their mouth, so to speak, made me very aware of my need not to sanitise individuality ans to ensure that not only the content was authentic, but that the communication also captured the true voice of the speaker.

Years ago, I used to work for an Austrian lady who was well known for her ability to strangle the English language yet still get her points across in a vivid and memorable manner. Face to face, she was compelling. On paper, she was often hilarious but the point was made and the reader was always clear that this was a personal and passionate communication. However, she was promoted and gained the services of the organisation's external PR agency who started 'improving' her communications: cleaning up the English and applying the same bland urbane style that made so many of this organisation's public communications so un-memorable. Somehow, she lost some credibility and her pronouncements, which had been 'must read' just became part of the overall deluge of information swilling around the place.

Over the last few days, I've been working hard to try and capture the voice of those I'm helping - frankly with mixed success. In the end, it has to be the participant's communication and not mine, so where a couple of people have toned the edge down, I've had to acquiesce (though most of the authentic voice has been retained). But as I always say, I only draft the copy - those who have to deliver it must take my draft and personalise it. The more they can make it distinctively their own, the better it will be and the more credibility it will retain. A client has done precisely that this morning - building on my words but making them sound as though they genuinely come from her. It's much more her communication now than mine - and that's exactly how it should be.

As communicators, it's our job to give voice through the right channels to the people who really matter. There's no value in carefully crafting words if they lack authenticity - we simply won't make the right connections. Written communication should create a picture in the mind for the reader. That picture has to conjure up the speaker - not make the 'ghost writer' a visible presence.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Back in the saddle

Back to work properly this morning after a week and a half on a research trip in the US. Just 112 emails to respond too...and I thought I'd kept on top of stuff while I was overseas!

It was good to spend time absorbed in my research, though the trip threw up a number of points of comparison with the work I'm currently involved in.

While researching in the NASA HQ archive, I spent my first few days in Gallaudet University - the US' premier education facility for the deaf and hearing impaired. Everyone working in the conference hotel signed and many were themselves hearing impaired. Apart from being a very quiet place to stay, it also threw me a little to find myself as the minority communicator. I don't sign (and even if I did, I imagine I'd have learned BSL not ASL) and not everyone I was dealing with read lips. I was out of the swing of mainstream communication and had to work harder to be 'heard'. It made me reassess the way I communicate, and certainly will shape my thoughts on employee communication - and getting through to those hard-to-reach audiences, moving forward.

Last week I was right in the US heartland working at the Eisenhower Presidential Library in Abilene, Kansas. Some 160 miles west of Kansas City, the archive is in a small farming town, home to 6,700 people, 33 churches and, weirdly, about half a dozen petrol stations. I was immensely struck by the genuine warmth and friendliness of the people - a fellow researcher actually made the point that 'the beauty of Kansas is in its people'. Abilene is at the border of the flat lands: this is plains country; home to cattle and crops. It was a massive contrast to Washington DC and the issues that affected people were significantly different from the coastal fringe. Sure, the BP oil disaster was the lead national story, but what people were talking about was much more oriented to family and farming. There was also quite a lack of curiosity about other countries, other continents. People, in general, were fiercely proud and protective of Kansas first and the US second. Not too many had ventured over seas and their view of the world was very much coloured by their every-day experience - though a number worked for big organisations: the likes of AT&T and the US Government. Sometimes when we communicate out from the centre, we forget about what really matters and drives the mindset of our far-flung receivers. Sometimes culturally, we're more different than we let on.

Finally, a week looking at Presidential communications from 1957-1960 has reminded me that what goes around comes around. The fledgling NASA had all sorts of problems managing stakeholder communications. The Head of Comms felt his function was under-resourced while his boss felt the team was underskilled for the role they had to play. Not a lot changes, eh?

Monday, May 24, 2010

The joy of freelancing

It's about 80 degrees outside - rare for Britain in May and rarer still, it's the third day in a row that the temperature has climbed way above the seasonal norm. Of course, it's a Monday, and a busy Monday as I grapple with a deluge (well, nearly) of content for a website; some thoughts on a presentation later this week, and - for most of this morning - editing an agency's paid pitch document.

The fun part is that I've got the mother of all head colds at the moment. We've just come through the big family event of the year - Kirsty's wedding - and I held out on the germ-spreading through the chocolate-making (Rory was doing the table chocs); the 200 mile drive north on Saturday, thee dressing-up game; the big event and a drive back into Harrogate, before my defences were finally breached.

Saturday night was hot and sticky - so was I. Yesterday was an endurance, driving back home in the heat of the day. Thankfully Jac let me crash out when we got back. Nearly a day later, I'm red-eyed, hoarse, headachey and shivery.

If I was an employee, I'd be tucked up in bed. But running my own show, if I don't work I don't get paid. What I've learned over the past decade is that colds, man flu and the like are as bad as you let them be. Yes I feel grotty today, but necessity says sweat it out. I've got too much stuff to do - and simply can't afford to be ill.

Friday, May 14, 2010

Spring's Connections extends the employee engagement debate

It's always nice to receive a fat envelope with my copies of Badenoch & Clark's Connections magazine -and the Spring package duly arrived this morning. I've contributed 18 of the 28 pages this time round, and am particularly pleased with the features on:

  • Employee Engagement

  • Onboarding; and

  • Social Business Enterprise
while I also had fun particularly with the analysis pieces on social media in the public sector and the legal industry's response to both a changing market place and the Legal Services Act.

I got some great contributions this time round. so if you want to read the employee engagement thoughts of the likes of David MacLeod, Mike Klein and Sean Trainor, or learn about social business enterprise from guru Rod Schwartz, or even find out how the likes of BP and E.ON bring their businesses to life from first contact until you're happily ensconced in the job, get hold of a copy of Connections. It will be on the Badenoch & Clark website soon, but the print version always gets a head start. So, if you'd like one of those old-fangled but nice smelling hard copies, email

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Our friends electric

Yesterday, I found out that Gordon Brown was stepping down as Labour Leader via Twitter. The same social medium informed me that West Ham had sacked Franco Zola as their manager this morning, while a business acquaintance informed me we'd both been at Wembley Stadium this day 25 years ago to see Wealdstone grab the non-league double by winning the FA Trophy.

I've worked for much of the last five days with the BBC News website in the background, spending almost as much time working out the permutations of the UK's next Government as I have on finessing a wireframe on a new corporate website, finalising a training module I'm due to deliver, or even assessing the impact of the changes that appear to be happening inside one of my clients - a firm that was swallowed up by a bigger player at the end of last year.

While I might have cause to worry about the impact of that change (I note the MD left a couple of weeks ago), I'm not on the inside, so any change in the way they run their comms will happen to me - not with me. Change may be afoot,but I can't influence it and will have to wait and see what comes out the other side.

And, for all the 24-hour wall-to-wall media coverage, I'm feeling ever-more disenfranchised by the Machiavellian intrigue that is UK politics at the moment. The election and its immediate fallout were fascinating to follow via twitter and the political blogs. At first it felt as though we, the electorate, were actually having an impact. But over the last few days I've begun to feel ever more like the outsider looking in. For all that we seem hard-wired to the action, the politicians have defaulted to what they always do: backroom discussions leading to politically expedient deals that favour those on the inside - very possibly at the expense of the so-called 'good of the nation'.

Social media may have made us a more immediately connected and critical audience - but that's what we remain: an audience outside the action. Democracy may have set the change train rolling, but it will be a political oligarchy that charts the direction for this country once again in the coming months - with every danger that our PM may once again be anointed without the mandate of the people.

Fascinating, though somewhat disturbing times.

Friday, May 07, 2010

The social communication election

Was supposed to be writing copy; updating a website and tracking a call-over today - I'll manage the last.

Instead I've been following the election via the BBC News website and Twitter - fascinating stuff and an object lesson on how politics has moved closer to the country through social communication.

I've got to work now, or I'll be working all weekend. But will try to gather my thoughts later.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Top tip for internal comms students?

Rachel Allen is compiling a list of top tips for internal communications students - I've chipped in, and it's probably worth keeping an eye on.

Why not add your own tip here?

Monday, April 19, 2010

Ashes to ashes

The last few weeks have been a return to the 'new' normality - if that isn't a paradox.

Much like the first eight years of Leapfrog's existence, I've been working a number of projects in parallel; chipping in with the odd weekend shift and pounding the keys through odd bursts of late-night inspiration.

I spent a good chunk of March chasing a number of different work opportunities - I was offered a job...and turned it down; came close to landing a long-term piece of work for an airline....but was pipped at the post...(grrr)...and then landed projects from two clients who had placed virtually no work externally for over 18 months. I've even picked up a tiny piece of work from a consultancy I last worked for in early 2008 - interesting, though their end-client thinks his business is perfect (it's not!) which makes comms and engagement a bit of a hard sell!

Anyway, overall, there's a definite sign of recovery - though it's fragile and too much more Icelandic volcanic dust may even put the position into reverse. I'm supposed to be in Edinburgh on Thursday but flights from London look doubtful and I've already had to knock back a meeting in Dublin on Friday - still we'll manage with a combination of technology and a couple of sub-meetings half way up the motorway network.

While the work's definitely coming back, what I'm noticing is that budgets are still tight; pennies are being watched more hawkishly than ever; and the internal teams I'm working with are leaner than ever, with wider responsibilities and a task to sweat their assets harder.

I doubt there'll be any big budgets and easy projects through 2010 - but it's just great to have a pipeline building and variety in the work diet.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Onboard or overboard?

I'm researching a piece on 'onboarding' - the effort an employer makes to welcome you into your new role - at the moment and was reflecting on the good and bad experiences I've had over the years.

The way you're inducted (or is it induced?) into your new working life can make a huge difference to your attitude to the role and how engaged you become in the business. At best, it can set you on the way to becoming the perfect ambassador for the business. At worst, it can send you overboard all too quickly. I've had both.

Quite early in my career I joined a big national company and found that my boss had cleared his diary on my first day to ensure he was on hand to answer all my questions and show me the ropes. He also made sure all the hygiene issues of security badges, car parking and all the rest were sorted before I started so that I had a smooth entry into the business. During week one, he'd set up a series of meetings tailored to exactly what I was going to be involved in so that I got a little face time with the key people right up front. For the rest of the week, I shadowed my colleagues in the team, going to their meetings and learning how things got done in the firm by being involved. In between these meetings I had all the usual health and safety stuff - and on Friday lunchtime, we all went out for a team lunch. Within a week, everything felt familiar and I felt I was a contributing member of the team.

Contrast that with a project a few years ago when I turned up as the new communications lead for a new phase of an ongoing project for a major transport infrastructure operator. I arrived as planned on day one at the new office to find the building door locked. I had no pass to get into the building and, even after following someone into the reception area, found the project team were secluded behind another locked door. I rang my new boss - but her phone was on voicemail. I rang her boss - my main client - and found she was set to be on leave all week. Eventually, someone came out of the office and let me in.

I was met by silence from a dozen people ranged around a long narrow room, with all their work stations facing the wall. No-one knew who I was or why I was there. There was a narrow window at one end of the room - needless to say, the only spare work station was right at the other end - and that was mine.

Day one was useless. My boss was off site. I had no security pass, no log-in to the system; nothing to do and no means of generating my own work. My new 'colleagues' made no effort to help and were reluctant to to talk to me. They all headed off for a meeting at lunchtime, and didn't return for the rest of the day.

I nearly didn't bother coming in on day two. I did, and spent most of it getting all the necessary passes and log-ins sorted - time consuming admin that could have, and should have, been sorted before my arrival. I didn't meet my boss until day three - and even then she had no onboarding plan for me. I was very much left to my own devices.

The programme experience improved a little after that first couple of days, but I never felt settled in the role and was secretly delighted when the who thing was canned about six weeks later when the business was suddenly put up for sale.

The old adage of 'you have only one chance to make a first impression' is all too true with onboarding. And in these days where an engaged organisation is the holy grail, you really need to pay attention to getting that initial welcome right.

But what does 'right' look like? Care to share?

Monday, March 08, 2010

Squaring the employee engagement circle?

I started a discussion on LinkedIn in the Melcrum Communicators' Group about Employee Engagement being a misnomer. My argument - shown below - comes from my feeling that though we've coined the term, we haven't really agreed a strict definition of what EE is. But there's a stronger point emerging in my mind too: that's the feeling that to place the responsibility for EE with IC devalues it and makes it unattainable. Anyway, some of the heavy hitters in the field are now weighing in to the debate. It'll be interesting to see how it develops further. Please do get involved, either by commenting on this blog, or here in the Melcrum Group if you're a member.

Here's my opening question - and the response (with names removed) to date:

Is employee engagement a misnomer?
So, employee engagement's the holy grail for successful organistions. But why have we coined this phrase? It hardly sounds inclusive does it? Doesn't the employer need to be engaged too? And in fact anyone who works alongside the organisation like your key suppliers and any temps/contractors or outsourced functions. So are we limiting ourselves by a poorly thought-out name?

The problems organisations face in this post-recession world are pretty-much common to all: keeping the best performers; continuing to drive productivity; growing market share; attracting the right people.....and for those already there, doing more with less. And there's a growing consensus that the best way to deliver on high productivity demands is to have an engaged organisation. Macleod defines this as being underpinned by four enablers:Leadership, Engaging Managers, Voice and Integrity. All are vital - but perhaps difficult to achieve if we continue to call it 'Employee' engagement.

So is it time to ditch the term - and what could succeed it as a more relevant shorthand for what we're all striving to achieve? And are MacLeod's enablers sufficient?

I'd love to hear your thoughts.

Posted 5 days ago Delete discussion

Comments (12)


Not just ditch the term--cremate and bury it too.

The one-way nature of the term belies the cynicism exhibited by a good share of organisations who see it as a way to generate extra productivity cheaply--and by practitioners touting unsustainable returns on investment for ginning up one-way "employee engagement" schemes built on implicit promises that organisations may not be willing or capable to honour.

Engagement is at a minimum a two-way street. But in the current environment, where organisations have been pulling back from a lot of traditional commitments,multi-directional re-engagement across the stakeholder universe becomes vital. And, playing a pivotal role, organisations may need to reshape their workforce relationships completely to be able to engage their workforces to support their customer and stakeholder agendas.

Employees have more external credibility than corporate spokespeople these days, and while internal communication needs to continue to support employee productivity, it needs to raise its game to support employees as a credible external communication channel. Abandoning the inward--and often cynical--mentality embodied in the term "employee engagement" is a crucial step.

I think the majority agree (and repeatedly agree) that the term 'employee engagement' is imperfect and for all sorts of reasons.

Here are my top 3:-
1. the term 'employee' is myopic
2. 'employee' and 'engagement' are two highly misunderstood terms in their own right - put them together and it creates a different order of magnitude in ambiguity (and let's not even discuss 'employee-brand-engagement')
3. employee engagement 'professionals' have been dining out on this ambiguity for years without shifting the results, driving even more cynicism.

I do not believe that a name change will not get over the deep-rooted cynicism (think: Consignia-->Post Office, Personnnel --> HR) as you point out Mark the term has been coined so why not capitalise on it? (Ironically, the four enablers you reference from "Engaging for success" introduce even more ambiguous terms e.g. "strategic narrative")

I do believe the priority for the profession is to keep the name and raise their game.

There are currently 3 debates running on professions changing the name of their offer:-
1.change management
2.internal communications
3.employee engagement

They have at least 3 things in common:
1.They all talk about holistic offers with very specialist disciplines, so therefore difficult to define and ended up with generic terminology.
2.The impression of distressed professions lacking confidence in their own ability.
3. Angels dancing on the head of a pin.

"Keep the name and raise their game" just about says it all for me. I recall you saying something similar recently about the need to focus on action rather than re-definition.

I think no one word or short combination of words will ever accurately reflect what we'd all like it to and this should not deflect us from striving to do our best for our companies or clients.

Agree with J, let's not use management science terms to define the hell out of this so we lose touch with the people with whom we're supposed to be 'engaging'. Remember it's not the language our people speak.

Agree with MK and others. It feels like just the latest catch-all phrase to describe what the organisation wants - like "employee/internal branding" and "loyalty" before it. And while it implies a two-way relationship, the reality is usually trying to extract greater productivity and ideas from the people in the organisation.

Conversation with Liam Fitzpatrick recently when we were presenting a masterclass on internal comms - he also highlighted the degree to which it's become meaningless because everyone can re-define it to encompass whatever they're doing at the moment.

It also calls to mind an issue that I don't think is much discussed yet amongst we comms professionals - where do we draw the line between permissible expectations of our employer organisations and over-reaching demands that encroach on people's personal lives? Communications sent home?

Much of the talk of recent years smacks of one-way demands, even when dressed up in the talk of personal development - "emotional engagement", "bringing our whole selves to work", etc. Why? Who benefits?

And in my experience it's often not accurate either - emotions can be negative as well as positive, but those are not welcome at work, presumably.

The problem is that employee engagement is a term coined to provide a common focal point for addressing a multitude of problems. Like most such terms it will mean different things to different people and be used to drive different agendas. Ultimately it boils down to language and the fact that as human beings we can seldom be sure that any word or phrase means exactly the same to one person as to another. If be killed the term and cremated and buried it we would still be left with finding something else to convey all the term is intended to convey.

The real issue is not the term, but the fact that it has become part of the management lexicon and so joined the ranks of management speak. It has thus become part of a top-down solution to improve organisational performance and so will - for that reason - always arouse suspicion amongst the very people that are supposed to be engaged.

Mark Shanahan - second contribution

Excellent responses and builds. I dislike the term employee engagement but I'll use it as the common coinage here. But I'd like to throw out a further question: why are so many organisations making employee engagement a responsibility of internal comms? To me, comms is just one enabler but the 'task' of employee engagement still seems to reside firmly in the IC camp in a number of organisations I work with. Is there a more appropriate place in the existing organisation for employee engagement: a place where it can be co-ordinated and driven truly effectively? Or do we need to create a new function that enables the kind of multi-directional approach that MK raises?

It strikes me that however good the IC effort, we'll never reach engagement nirvana if its not matched by the right leadership behavours, systems and policies, culture and environment elsewhere in the organisation.

I find it interesting that management theories seem to have decided that certain things coming together will facilitate employee engagement (though no two agree on what), but they look at completely different ways of describing highly motivated and successful leaders. One group of leadership gurus found that the examples leaders gave of their "career best experiences" had something in common. Those experiences occurred when they were working in an organization that needed the competencies they were good at and were passionate about. Isn't it just that simple for employees? Before offering/accepting a job or promotion, employees and employer need to agree that 1) the candidate would be good at the job (not just someone who excelled in a previous job and was due a promotion), 2) the organization needs and rewards the things the employee is good at, and 3) the employee feels passionate about getting the things done the job requires. They call this the "sweet spot." Applying this concept to having the majority of employees finding their sweet spots would mean that the organization would know what kinds of employee skills and behaviors are truly needed and valued, there would be a training/development program geared to finding and developing people with those skills, and making assignments of people based on what they truly enjoy doing. I'm not sure how employee communication would make any of that happen.


Hooray! a debate about a term that's not properly understood, not universally defined and probably no better at getting to beneficial organisation outcomes than good, old fashioned job satisfaction.

I wonder if the fad gurus have got organisations so fired up about another sticking plaster solution to what essentially is poor management, that they don't care that it's not universally agreed and if there is no proper (and tested) definition, it can't be measured in any way accurately.

Iit's highly unfashionable - not to mention financial suicide - for consultants to be so post modern in their views, but I too wonder about the ethics of trying to "engage" employees past the normal activities of their role. The decline of trust in organisations, the slavish attention to the shareholders means that employees KNOW - whatever the management says - that they are a cost on the balance sheet and can be "trimmed". In which case, where does the whole concept of engagement fit in?

And even the definition of the term is so managerial, it's doesn't really allow for the possibility of two way discussion(MK). However, unlike AS, I do think that IC has a role to play here if only to support the whole idea of voice that is a major part of some of the older (and less fashionable) models which once guided the development and creation of jobs. This thinking also had feedback as a crucial element of how employees feel about their role and while this is primarily line manager led, it can also be a corporate responsibility.

But for me, the key objection to the whole notion of engagement is that it doesn't work without trust. Trust has been (and still is) in short supply, with UK public sector organisations in particular glancing nervously over their shoulders wondering when the 14-26% cuts are going to hit, and who will get the chop.

OK - rant over and I'm going to go and watch some mindless TV.

So many views, so little consensus, and no surprise. I rest my case on why I believe noone will ever come up with a better terminology than 'employee engagement' despite its flaws.
Despite the valid diversity of viewpoints I cannot believe that anyone would ever question the role that employee communications plays in engagement.
However, I do believe that when your only tool in your toolkit is a hammer, every problem is a nail.
Without putting a spanner in the works (pun intended) how about a debate around the value of measurement vs communication in driving employee engagement?


In spite of my earlier comment, I do believe communication plays many different possible roles in enhancing the chances that engagement can occur. I even wrote an article for Melcrum a few years ago about Linking Communication to Engagement--and the link happens through research. So...I don't see the issue as the value of measurement VS. communication; they work together.


This debate is important - both parts of your question are entirely valid Mark, as is each response above. I remember a heated debate on this and getting very frustrated - to me this definiton is a great example of how our industry has taken something that's hugely emotive and means something different to each person, and tried to over define and over-process it. If I remember rightly, the whole concept arose out of decades of academic research (the concept of 'affective commitment' isn't it?) that became trendy c. 2000 with the talent wars etc.

So each employer knows that if people feels good about the work they do they do it better and will contribute more. And each person in the organsition (at all levels and roles) feels more equipped to give their best if the culture allows them to and they feel it supports them, is genuine and initiatives not contrived. So we want to spread a positive emotion, and then go at it in a formulaic and programmatic way? I guess it's about balancing the risk - but for comms practitioners this is a very difficult balance.

Internal Comms is crucial to any engagement 'programme' as Angela says. How can we achieve any progress across an organsiation without effective communication of some sort? But Mark's points on the wider ingredients of the content and perception of comms (leaders' behaviours, policies etc) are also pertinent. Should the IC team own engagement? We go full circle to owning that emotion, that 'click', that feeling of connection that engaged people and engaged organisations have.

Like any good role brief, I think it comes down to clearly defining what the end goal (success) is to be and then both sides understanding what they're asking of each other. Maybe that would bring clarity to Sean's prompt above. And I hope there'd be different answers from place to place...

Monday, March 01, 2010

Let's not forget the basics

I spent the greater part of this morning with a client turning an inside-out document the right way round.

The document was a detailed project update as the organisation approaches a major milestone on its change journey. It was written by the programme manager and the comms lead sensed it wasn't quite up to scratch. He'd tried to turn it round, but felt that a fresh pair of eyes would help.

He was right, and over a fruitful few hours the work became an object lesson in getting the basics right.

First, there was no clarity on what the piece was meant to achieve. It was more than just an update - buried in the text was a call for some very specific actions. That was half the problem - the important stuff was buried. Much of this morning has been spent digging it out and making sure the call to action would help achieve the project manager's desired outcome.

Second, the piece was written from an internal perspective: the writer simply hadn't put himself in his audience's shoes. There was far too much about what he knew rather than what his audience needed to know. A lot of that was context setting. It wasn't necessary at this point in the change journey. We stripped out the bulk of the context and added some links to past updates - if people want to know the full back story, there's a 'compelling narrative document' underpinning all the comms. There's now a link in the latest update to that.

Third, the piece was written in a mix of passive language and project jargon. Just making the language active made it far less clumsy; far more direct. Turning the project jargon into the everyday language of the business made it more accessible and much more straightforward.

Finally, there was the sheer bulk of the piece. Everything including the kitchen sink was in there: one size fitting at least two, probably three, distinct audiences. We've certainly come up with three slimmed-down versions of the document now - each aimed at a specific segment of the stakeholder audience.

It has actually been refreshing to go back to first principles and turn around something that no-one would have read into a piece of communication that really meets a need. It's being road-tested on a few internal bods this afternoon - I'm looking forward to the feedback.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Keeping it real

I missed out yesterday on something that's rapidly becoming a Monday morning tradition: a face to face meeting with a friend, colleague or associate where we both have the chance to chew the fat on work, life and all that's somewhere in between.

A few weeks ago I met up with Rich the legal journo; then it was Paul the consultant, and yesterday should have been Annie the PR-turned-lawyer. In this age of electronic communication, there's all too little time to stop, pause for breath and have a good old chat about what's happening in our world, and seemingly less opportunity to have those outside-the-office talks face to face.

Back when I started work in the mid-80s it was all so different. At Which?, we were regular lunchers en masse as a team, often frequenting the pubs around Charing Cross and then the lower reaches of Camden. Later when I worked agency side, we lunched in the pub most days, and certainly on a Friday, not a lot got done in the afternoon. In between times, I worked in the age of the business lunch where I was either hosting business feeds or being a guest of a supplier or my peers just about every week. And we weren't like the French: lunchtime was a time to sort out business issues over a pint; to be creative and come up with great solutions. There was a great bond, working as a team but in a social situation - far better than the forced team-building so loved by big business in the 90s.

And for me, it was the mid to late 90s when everything changed. As email really took over as the medium of convenience, and as intranets and the first clunky collaborative working tools replaced phone conversations and meetings, the culture of informal face to face contact went out the window.

As we worked longer (though not necessarily more effectively), the social lunch - especially with alcohol - became increasingly frowned upon to the point of being a total non-starter. And as social media have emerged, the urge even to meet people face to face has been seen too often as too much of a time waster.

I hold the opposite view. I can achieve far more meaningful contact in one face to face meeting than in any chain of tweets, emails and blog posts. Today it's far too easy to feel we know peers and colleagues because we follow them on Twitter or are friends on Facebook. The reality is that we may have a far wider framework of acquaintances, but we can't ever really get to know these people if all we're doing is conducting a keyboard or touchscreen relationship.

By nature, I'm a pretty anti-social networker: it's easy to hide behind the keyboard, harder to get out and spend the time really engaging, face to face. I'm trying to break my bad habits - even if it's more likely to be in Costa than in the pub.

Anyway, last time i went into my local, a pint cost £3.75. Even if I wanted to get drunk in work time now, I couldn't afford to. That's a sobering thought.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Apparently, there's a fear among many senior leaders of adopting social media within their organisations as it will lead to a loss of power. Hierarchical business structures ensure that power is always at a higher level - and the real power resides in the Boardroom. Therefore, the thinking goes, if you democratise communication, you'll democratise decision making and those who sit in the Corporate Suite will be disempowered.

Frankly, that's a right old load of tosh and misses both the benefit of connecting people across your organisation and the real truth that no business is a democracy.

I'll leave the social media analysts to argue the first point. My limited, but pragmatic, understanding is that great ideas don't just happen at the top of any organisation. Therefore, if social media provides new tools to improve organisational effectiveness; to open up conversations among communities of interest within organisations and to make better ideas travel through the right parts of the organisation quicker - involving all the right people along the way - then why should any executives fear them?

As for turning businesses into democracies - tosh and double tosh. Isn't that where great leadership comes in? Great leadership isn't command and control. It's not sitting divorced from the organisation, reading the balance sheet and declaiming what should be done.

Today, more than ever, as most organisations take the first steps to economic recovery, it's all about being at one with the heartbeat of the organisation. It's still about all the traditional stuff of understanding your market, your stakeholders and the wider business environment and charting a path to deliver success. It's about having the right strategy to thrive and the cash, processes and technology to make it happen. But it's all about PEOPLE. It's how you bring them onside, involve them in making their working world better and tap into their expertise to make a better business outcome for everyone involved in the organisation.

The nub is that you don't have to know it all or do it all: the best leaders are those who can tap into the consciousness of the organisation and make the kind of decisions that enhance engagement AND improve business performance. That's real leadership.

Social media are tools that can help that happen. So why on earth should any organisational leaders be afraid of them?

Monday, February 08, 2010

What's in a name?...Or, do the terms we use limit us more than they should

Much of my life at the moment is involved in aspects of employee engagement as I try and get myself around some of the knotty problems organisations are involved in as the economy all too slowly emerges from recession.

The problems are pretty-much common to all: keeping the best performers; continuing to drive productivity; growing market share; attracting the right people.....and for those already there, doing more with less.

For my clients at least, a return to profitable business doesn't mean a return to the business costs of pre-2008. Their internal teams are leaner, budgets are meaner but the expectation of success is as high as ever.

The great thing is that many more organisations than before have realised that the best way to deliver on high productivity demands is by having an engaged organisation. The Macleod report defines this as being underpinned by four enablers:

  • Leadership
  • Engaging Managers
  • Voice and
  • Integrity.

I agree that they're all absolutely vital yet feel they're very difficult to achieve if we continue to use the term 'employee engagement'. I can see why it's used - not least the fact that it's been the common currency term among communicators and HR people for a number of years.

But thereby lies the problem. It's a term used almost as a throw-away by business leaders and given to HR or Comms (or often a combination of both) as a transactional task to deliver. The assumption is that with the right 'corporate hygiene' and internal comms we will draw everyone into the business to deliver far more than the 'competency' people are recruited for.

But MacLeod - and anyone with any sense would see that engagement has to begin at the top. While boards may be beholden to shareholders and analysts, only they can set the tone for the organisation: only they can create the environment and role model the behaviours that set the tone for the whole organisation. They must be engaged more than anyone else in the organisation. Employee engagement implies a top-down, traditional structure and some kind of paternalistic benevolence from the top.

But engaged organisations aren't like that. My definition of engagement is simple: it's creating the right culture to keep your best people longest. That means having the right behaviours, beliefs and ways of working to ensure that everyone knows what their role is within the organisation and are confident to give of their best in delivering on expectations. But it goes further: it's about creating an environment where everyone works collectively to drive the business forward - that means having leaders at all levels who listen, lean and apply great thinking irrespective of the thinker's job title.

Talking to David MacLeod last week, we agreed that colleague engagement is probably a better term. However, that's still a little limiting to me as to my mind it still implies a group of people who work directly within the organisation. But businesses, government departments, charities and any other functional community tends to have tentacles winding out in all sorts of directions that remain within that community.What about the contractors? What about the outsourced functions working in your building? What about those suppliers you work with every day, without whom your job could not be done? Aren't these all a part of the community that needs to be engaged to drive the organisation forward? Shouldn't we be investing in the tools to bring these quasi-internal stakeholders on board too? Surely it's by embracing this wider community that we'll achieve real engagement.

So what to call it? A large part of me wants just 'engagement' - but possibly that's too vague a term. Business engagement's a possible: but doesn't that exclude the public and third sectors?

At the moment, the best I can come up with is organisational engagement - still a mouthful but a more encompassing, less one-way and less top-down term. But does it have legs?

Thursday, February 04, 2010

Engaging conversations

Some days in this job lift the spirits - and yesterday was one of them. It was a day of good conversations moving several fronts forward.

Two of the best conversations were with Leon Benjamin and David Macleod. I'm still mulling over what they had to say, and much will end up as a magazine feature so this blog isn't the right place to pre-empt that piece. However, each played into the employee engagement conversation with both style and insight.

Leon Benjamin has long argued the case for social media inside the company - his own blog distills it here. During our conversation he made several telling points that struck home with me: most around the fear and insecurity of the current crop of business leaders and managers who draw power from hierarchy, and are afraid of losing that power through the non-hierarchical building force of social networking. Leon argues that old-style leaders gain and maintain their power from the top of the organisation: the Board makes the decisions; the rest of us implement them. Real leaders, by contrast, draw their power from the bottom: they're prepared to share; prepared to listen to and learn from anyone in the organisation who can help it thrive. His view is that this braver style of leadership will emerge - ever more so as Gen Y becomes more established in management structures. The conversations in business will change as social media technology usurps more traditional channels. The days of command and control management are numbered: hierarchical structures aren't going to collapse yet, but the foundations are already shifting.

It was a pleasure too to speak to David MacLeod about employee engagement. We discussed whether it's even the right term since the stakeholders affected range wider than a strict definition of 'employee' but also because employee engagement reflects a hierarchical 'us and them' approach that's at odds with the truly collaborative, involved, shared environment that a truly engaged organisation must be. Colleague engagement seems a better term - but employee engagement was used for the report since it's the common currency term within its own community of interest.

I questioned David on whether he was 'preaching to the converted' as most of the events he and his colleagues have been speaking at have been organised by HR and comms people for HR and comms people rather than those who need to adopt and champion EE - organisational leaders. He agreed - but countered that they're now working hard to get on the right platforms to hit those leaders with a more analytical bent who clearly aren't buying in to the whole concept of EE quite so easily.

We talked about 'what next?' following the review too. The completion of phase 1 will be the launch of a raft of EE material through BIS in March; but the really interesting part for David is phase 2: making it happen. I agree with him strongly that there's no magic bullet for EE. There's no one-size-fits-all solution that automatically creates the right attitudes and behaviours that will deliver the right outcomes. Every situation is contextual and the set of requirements that will deliver engagement in organisation A may be quite different from those that will bring engagement to life in organisation B. So, it's eating the elephant one bit at a time - there'll be a similarity of flavour, but the texture will be very different with every bite you take.

What's clear is that Leaders are pivotal. EE can't be created, sustained and nourished from a comms or HR function somewhere in the middle of the organisation. It has to be embraced and actively championed from the top and at all the points of influence throughout the community. It isn't a task - it's a more complex set of beliefs and attitudes that values people as much more than a cost on the balance sheet.

Wednesday, February 03, 2010

MacLeod - preaching to the converted?

I'm interviewing David MacLeod this afternoon. He's the lead author of the Government's Employee Engagement review - Engaging for Success published last year. While I'd read about the report before this morning - I hadn't really dug into the document. So I sat down after breakfast and have ploughed through the whole 157 pages since then.

I'm impressed by the weight of evidence MacLeod and his team have pulled together - great case studies, not just from the largest, best-resourced organisations, but from a good number of SMEs too. What's it's lacking is context: it states that the UK lags behind in terms of employee engagement, but doesn't show what other countries are doing better and or even where in the world employee engagement is already being seen to make a quantifiable difference to business on a more widespread basis.

However, two questions are burning on my lips - what happens next? And, isn't the report simply preaching to the converted.

I may be wrong, and happy for the author to correct me, but all the briefings I've heard about on the report have been aimed at HR people and communicators. But we're already bought in: we're doing the do, striving to make engagement the way of life in our organisations. The laggards seem to be at Board level: CEOs and primarily CFOs. I haven't seen much evidence of them being directly targeted as the key stakeholders in this report.

That could well be because the report is weak on just how leaders can deliver the cultural change necessary to create employee engagement. There's plenty of anecdotal evidence in the report - but it's not a toolkit for action - and the call to action is frankly weak.

So my second question is 'what next?' - The review aims to open up the debate, bring resources together and challenge organisations to respond. I'd love to know from the author just what that response has been.

Monday, February 01, 2010

Jan 2009 v Jan 2010 - there is a difference

So we're now into the second month of 2010. We're officially out of recession and my CiB colleagues (or the Xchange team anyway), say that the only way the organisational communications market can move is up. I hope that's the case, though I've yet to see the fragile optimism translate into money in the bank.

But looking back on January - with the perspective of a whole day - I can already see that the month was quite a different proposition from its partner in 2009. I have been a lot busier than at this time last year, and while this isn't reflected in a poor billing month, there's definitely more reason to feel positive.

If I look at my January calendar I can see that barring a couple of snowed-out days, I was engaged in the dark arts of communication on every work day. I'd love to say it was all day every day: it wasn't. I'd love to say it was all fee-earning stuff: it wasn't.

In January 2009, I waited for the anticipated surge that has happened every year since I started Leapfrog in 2000. It never came. This year I didn't expect it. I had a few small pieces of work carrying over from December, and have completed or brought these close to completion over the last few weeks. Bits of billing have gone in, some more will happen over the next week, and more small tactical pieces of work have come my way. Not the much-needed 'big project', but all good stuff, and all a real step forward from this time last year.

What's been different from 2009 is the number of conversations I've had about upcoming work of all varieties, and the number of pieces of work - of all hues - that I've been asked to quote for. Not everything has been rosy, but the overall feel is that the market's finally beginning to move.

On the downside for me, I had some facilitation work that I hoped would lead to a larger piece of change comms work. My piece of the jigsaw went well - but the team made a crucial decision that day to run the project from Switzerland rather than the UK. It's the right decision and means they can resource the comms internally. It was tough to miss out on the work, but I hope the client saw enough in me to consider using me in the future. Certainly they were very positive about the planning/facilitation I did for them.

The upside is a number of conversations about work opportunities - some for ad-hoc support, others for the more encompassing 'big project'. These conversations just weren't happening 12 months ago. I've spent a significant amount of time putting pitch material together and the vibe feels a lot better than last year. While much of the quality work remains in-house, there's a bit more budget around, and certainly more appetite for communication as a means to prepare organisations for the upswing.

I now feel I'm on the runway, wheels rolling. It's a much better feeling than last year when I, and too many of my peers, were stuck in a snowdrift.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Latest 'Connections' hitting intrays across Europe

The latest copy of 'Connections' - Badenoch & Clark's B2B publication is now out. It has reached its 11th issue, and I've written the bulk of it since the start. You can read it online here. I think there's some pretty good material in there this time round.

One of my targets for 2010 is more regular publication work - online or in print. It's something I still really enjoy doing. So, I'm on the lookout for opportunities.

Monday, January 18, 2010

A good morning so far

It's only just 9am on Monday morning and already I've had a three-feature pitch accepted by a magazine and had a case study cleared off at source. Things are looking up!

Thursday, January 14, 2010

It's snow good

I live in maritime climes on an island not known for its extremities of weather. We assume that, throughout the year, trains will run, roads will be passable, power supplies will be consistent. The last eight days have rather thrown all of that into a cocked hat - and the knock on effect for Britain's fragile business recovery will probably take some time to gauge.

The middle of last week was a write-off business-wise. It should have been the first week back for most people after the long Christmas break, but just a day in, we were faced with the worst snowfall since 1963. all the schools closed round here, if you hadn't got a 4 x 4 the roads were a no-go area and public transport ground to a halt.

By Monday, all the kids were back to school and normality should have been returning - there was even a slight thaw. I was set up for a day of case study work, followed by the last workings on a 70-page piece of marketing capability development communication with the prospect of the rest of the week being devoted to a project kick-off and all the actions that would flow from yesterday's planned meeting.

But it snowed again. One of my two case study contributors saw his university campus close for the day Monday - leaving him with a 12 mile walk home. Things were no better yesterday. I did manage to speak to the other people I needed, so at least have one case study in the bag.

I waited for the big report to arrive - I needed a hard copy to mark up and it was being biked to me. It arrived 26 hours after it was expected. I spent the next five hours working through my end of the project but had no way of getting it back to the agency until yesterday. Then, yesterday morning my contact phoned: stuck in the snow, miles from his place of work. I finally dropped in my marked-up copy at 1pm - having driven across the Chilterns at about 25 miles an hour. My contact still hadn't made it to his office.

I should, of course, have been in London - but that meeting was cancelled too. Some participants couldn't get to London, others couldn't even get into the UK. I'd planned an agency meeting on the back of my trip to London with the intention of warming up a slow-burning relationship that has been fitfully fruitful over the last decade or so. Needless to say, that face-to-face was replaced by a brief telephone conversation.

At my end of the business food chain, the impact of a freezing week and an amount of snow that would seem negligible if we were in the Alps or Canada, say, has been significant. The work hasn't gone away, but has been delayed to the point where my nicely planned week will crash into other upcoming activities once the white stuff's finally gone. My cashflow's fragile enough at the moment, and delays like this don't help - not do the 'empty' days that any micro business can expect, but that none of us relish.

We did have the snowball fights and the bracing walks last week; I was able to get some university work done and catch up on the boring business admin (which largely involved writing cheques for my accountant and the taxman), but I really wanted to start 2010 with some business momentum.

I sensed a fragile optimism as we headed into the New Year - I hope the stuffing's not been knocked out of it by a dose of Siberian conditions hitting our temperate shores.

Wednesday, January 06, 2010

Weather 1 UK 0

Once again a few inches of snow has brought Britain to its knees. It's actually snowing quite heavily out here in the Chilterns - we've got five or six inches on the ground and the only things moving on the roads are 4 x 4s. All the kids' schools are closed , as is Jac's office. I struggled into work...down the stairs and through the kitchen - but my clients in Bucks and Berks are conspicuously quiet this morning. Still, it makes for a few nice pictures! I won't be using my outdoor 'pondering' seat this morning - and I may pass on a swing too.

Monday, January 04, 2010

Let's get rolling

Odd day today. I've been back at my desk since 8.30am, but the three kids are all still in the house, with their respective school terms not starting until tomorrow. So today feels like a bit of a false start. I carried over one project from before Christmas, and am doing some artful tarting on that this morning, but chasing down contacts for another live project seems to be a fruitless task so far - I'm sure first day back for corporate bods means a lot of internal meetings and clearing a backlog of hundreds of emails - I know I've already got rid of many invitations to purchase viagra, hook up with hot girls and invest in Nigerian mining operations already this morning.

Still I hope the year begins on a livelier note than 2009 - that became scarier and scarier as January remained dead. Last year I left it too late to react: this year my resolution is to be far more proactive. Nothing happens if you're not making it happen.