A Primary Skill for a Reputation Manager is the ability to communicate professionally in many circumstances and conditions.
However we all think we are capable communicators whilst the receivers of our communication sometimes differ from opinion.
Let’s really see just how valid this contention is.
Here is an oldie but goodie self – test that you can take to measure your ability to communicate.
Instructions for Self-Test
Print yourself a copy of the test. Then complete it within 4 minutes. This is sufficient time if you concentrate and work rapidly. Let’s go.
1. Read everything before doing anything.
2. Print your name in the upper right-hand corner.
3. Circle the work “name” in sentence two.
4. Draw two small squares in the upper left-hand corner.
5. Put an X in each square.
6. Sign your name under the title.
7. After the title, write “yes”.
8. Put a circle around each work in sentence six.
9. Put an “X’ in the upper left-hand corner of this paper.
10. Draw a triangle around the “X” you just put down.
11. On the reverse side of this paper, multiply 703 by 9,805.
12. Draw a rectangle around the work “paper” in sentence nine.
13. Callout your first name when you get to this point in the test.
14. If you feel that you have followed directions up to this point, callout “I have”.
15. On the reverse side of this paper add 8,850 and 9,805.
16. Put a circle around your answer in No. 15, put a square around the circle.
17. Count out loud in your normal speaking voice, backwards from 10 to 1.
18. Now that you have finished reading carefully, do only sentences one and two.
How did you fare?
(This article previously appeared in my Powerlines Newsletter Number 38 – April 2004)
As a company with good intentions, how do you communicate bad news such as a profit warning, in such a way that you can minimise negative market fallout.
What goes through most company management’s minds are: “What if shareholders pull their money out? Well, they may or may not.
Today, that decision can depend at least in part on a company’s reputation in the market place – how a company is perceived by shareholders and the public- whether they think it operates efficiently, has credible leadership and has a firm grasp on the industry and its place in the market.
The challenge lies in how you manage and shape those perceptions and get the right message across to the investment community about your company. Especially in the Internet Age when you have no control over the flow of information and rumours.
After all, how can you control perceptions when any investor, large or small, can gather detailed information on your operations with the click of a mouse?
These days, it takes extraordinary knowledge and skill to navigate the territory of managing perceptions and building a corporate image and identity. Not only do you need to have a good understanding of how perceptions are formed and how the investment community operates, but more important, you have to find ways to get your message across in an era of uncertainty!
Indeed companies that once had time to react to a drop in earnings or an internal crisis before breaking the news to the investment community now must find ways to get ahead of the news or stay in a reactive mode and face the consequences.
In today’s high-pressure, nano-seconds environment, a company can’t afford to employ a communications policy that forces shareholders and potential investors to read between the lines when problems are present.
As a company you need to be transparent and communicate consistently and proactively. Some companies want to go quiet during bad news, but they need to communicate regularly in good and bad times.
Many companies have learnt that openness and transparency relates to much more than just financial data. A good example is the increasing interest in for example ethical investing.
More and more investors are looking at measures beyond the “financial statements”. They are increasingly looking at the drivers of reputation such as whether management is capable in running the company, whether the organisation is playing a role in sustainable development and whether it has an adequate record on managing it human capital etc.
So here are some valuable strategies and tips that can minimise the potential damage:
– Open the lines of communication and educate analysts and other stakeholders such as opinion leaders as your business climate UNFOLDS. Keep them in the loop through regular briefings and knowledge sharing LONG before whatever hits the fan, does.
– Prepare for any fallout. Message preparation should take place long trouble strikes. In today’s climate a company only has a nanosecond in which to respond. How ready is your company to respond to a news crisis? How quickly can you post new information on your website? How quickly can you communicate DIRECTLY with key stakeholders and influencers? (What about the use of social media? A CEO Blog, Use of Twitter and Facebook?)
– Take time to build relationships before a crisis hits. Build relationships with stakeholders, analysts and key opinion leaders. Another way of spelling the word TRUST is “TIME”. It takes time to build relationships and credibility. Start now. Identify stakeholders carefully. Today one person with a PC and a modem can damage your company’s reputation.
– Benchmark your communication process both formally and informally. Executives go for annual medical check-ups but they also go and see the doctor when they are feeling uneasy. Conduct regular spot checks. (Use online survey methods such as zoomerang and surveymonkey to track issues and perceptions)
– Incorporate maximum disclosure as part of your company’s strategy. That means that it’s not so much what you say; but how consistently you say it. Define what is meant by mandatory disclosure, voluntary disclosure and involuntary disclosure (I deal with that in my Stakeholder Reputation workshops)
– Manage expectations. The best way is to be honest and keep people informed. No one likes untimely surprises. No one likes bad news, but it becomes more palatable when it is less likely to damage a person’s personal position.
As a general rule I would suggest that it is better to be honest upfront. Be careful to discern between pure hype and honest information.
If you do have negative news, be honest but concentrate on sharing that the company has a clear focus on its mission and goals and a commitment to follow through on its strategies. When potential investors sense the management team’s commitment, their confidence is strengthened.
Minimising the fallout from a profit warning is an essential strategic planning exercise. It is education of the highest order.
It is an exercise that deals in perceptions and intangibles. No company is immune to this happening.
The only positive lies in HOW your company will respond.
I have been contracted to run a course for Marcus Evans called Crisis Management and Communication for Reputation Protection at the Grand Millennium hotel, Beijing, China 24 – 25 March.
Check out the Event Website: http://bit.ly/gcctGS
This story came to me via Seth Godin’s blog and is called Sad Tim, and forms an ideal introduction to my post.
‘At the post office the other day, a guy wearing a beautiful handmade scarf finishes his transaction and starts away from the counter.
A small nail holding the moulding apparently isn’t hammered in all the way. It catches the scarf, pulls the threads and ruins the scarf. The man turns to the counter, looks at the postal worker who took his money and says, "There’s a loose nail here, it just ruined my scarf."
Tim, the postal worker, beaten down, tired, given up, stands behind the counter and barely makes eye contact. "Oh."
End of interaction.
When you allow (yes, allow) all humanity to be stripped from your day, all day, then what?’
Organisations are slowly realising that they NEED to change to differentiate themselves from the competition and the process that they use with employees is now called Employee Engagement. To some it is just a buzzword but to others it is a strategy that sets their firm apart from another i.e. To become an Admired Company and preferred employer.
Managing your organization’s reputation has become one of the most important strategic imperatives for any organization. An Organization’s reputation is derived from the way the organization is perceived by its various stakeholders.
These perceptions are impacted and influenced to a large extent by how the organization behaves and performs. The engagement of the Employee stakeholder in this vital process is essential, as a reputation is built from the inside outward. Living the brand promise, changing employees into reputation builders and not destroyers and brand ambassadors is a vital strategy in this quest.
It goes without saying that no company, small or large, can win over the long run without energized employees who believe in the mission and understand how to achieve it. That’s why you need to take the measure of employee engagement at least once a year through anonymous surveys in which people feel completely safe to speak their minds.” — Jack Welch, Former CEO, General Electric
The employee stakeholder needs to be treated with care. Creating a positive work environment is of mutual benefit to employers and employees and builds loyalty. Employee communication programs should be designed to create opportunities for strengthening the relationships between employees and management. The many changes that the work fabric has encountered over the past 10 years have eroded the traditional loyalty approach that many employees had.
With constant cost cutting, restructuring, downsizing, mergers, employee equity drives and outsourcing happening all the time, employees must start to wonder when it will happen next at his area of work. Under the old “social contract” between employee and employer, the employee expected a lifetime or long-term job in exchange for regular promotions, benefits and a pension.
In the “new work order”, employees will seek short-term social contracts in which employee and employer will outline mutual commitments for each other’s success. Such agreements will be individually forged. “Making generalizations” about what will work for all employees is not realistic anymore.
In many research surveys on company loyalty, workers in hourly and customer service categories scored the lowest. While low wages in those categories are a factor, customer service workers had the lowest loyalty scores even after accounting for the effects of income. That finding may be a major cause for concern, one study said, because customer service workers are most likely to be in a position to influence customers’ perceptions of a company.
One study looked at six factors controlled by companies that could affect loyalty namely the direction the company is heading, work satisfaction, recognition and rewards, opportunity for growth, work environment and work/life balance. Companies need to give consideration to all six factors to improve employee commitment but some studies show that recognition and rewards and opportunities for growth need the most attention.
Companies need to evaluate themselves, and then decide what steps need to be taken. Too many companies are relying on resources and programs from the old social contract, the researchers said.
The bottom line is that employer – employee relations is at the ebb of change, and that it is now even more important to build these relationships. The role of the stakeholder reputation manager is to ensure that these relationships are important on both sides of the relationship.
Hewitt defines Employee Engagement as “The state of emotional and intellectual commitment of a person, group or organisation to the entity with whom they are employed.” Whilst another definition states that it is “employees who are mentally and emotionally invested in their work and in contributing to their employer’s success.”
A result achieved by stimulating employees’ enthusiasm for their work and directing it toward organizational success. To do this, engagement calls for striking a new bargain with employees: Organizations invest in creating the conditions that make work more meaningful and rewarding for employees. And employees, in return, pour extra effort into their work and delivering superior performance.
This means that the Employee Stakeholder needs to be carefully profiled and engaged.
Footnote – The above is an extract of my Strategic Employee Stakeholder Engagement program that I recently launched and facilitated in Malaysia and will repeat in Johannesburg from the 2nd – 3rd March. See http://employeestakeholdermanagement.invite43.com/ for more information.
Short Powerful Statements…..makes the best mission statements. Over the years I have developed a love for one-liner jokes and graffiti…..and I learnt that those statements have more power than long-winded statements.
Workers of the World Unite!
Who wrote: ‘ We shall fight them on the beaches, on the seas’….Winston Churchill
Who said – We need to obtain venture capitalist funding in order to create a system by which we can raise the competencies of our people so that one day we can invade other planets and establish our financial systems there…
In fact, No one – No it was not Goldman Sachs….
JFk just said: Let’s put a man on the moon by the Year X…
Who said: Don’t push me, Just don’t push me!
Anyway, I use this as a revelation exercise to teach the importance of vision and mission statements.
Point: Short Powerful statements work: Ask the general public when they swear, HAHA. They use words that are short, powerful and gets the message across, and sometimes they can follow it up with visual media such as a finger used in a gesture format.
The same rules applies when addressing CEO’s.
Example – I once attended a Board Meeting in which the HR Director when asked, replied that staff turnover was 2% down on last year’s 26%. Everyone then carried on with the proceedings. In my role as Devil’s advocate, I then asked" How much is the 24% in TRUE costs?"(True Costs – Variable & Fixed, Direct & Indirect costs). When he stated the figure the CEO exploded.
When you communicate with CEO’s always relate your examples to COSTS. That’s how they get interested.
Show them and tell them what the costs are of inadequate communication, poor reputation & skewed stakeholder perceptions, and then they will become interested. Show them what you are going to do about it in an innovative way and they may even become excited.
Also read my post Workplace Misunderstandings costs Billions
This brings me to another bone of contention and luckily a question that few CEO’s have posed at their PR & Communication Managers – How much are you spending on Stakeholder Relations and specifically how much are you spending on each stakeholder? What is your ROI?
Read my post – How much are you spending on Stakeholder Relations?
Remember that you want to get their interest, but at the same time you want to be prepared for questions they may raise.
As an employee, individual and citizen of this country we are faced with this dichotomy every day of our lives.
As an employee, you may find yourself at a barbecue when someone turns around and asks you what it is like working for your organisation? Now do you tell the truth – after all transparency and the truth are vital today or do you give the traditional corporate talking head version: “We are a company of integrity, a company of beer and roses?”
As a citizen the South African government expects you to be a proud citizen, an ambassador of this country but on the other hand you experience and deal with crime and corruption every day. Must you therefore be loyal and not speak the truth?
The media is castigated for speaking the truth or apparently only giving their version- for not reporting enough on the good news. Again, truth versus loyalty! How do we balance this in our organisations?
In other organisations, serious witch hunts are undertaken when a mysterious e-mail surfaces highlighting contentious issues and incidents. Again, what do organisations want? Truth or Loyalty?
As an employee what should you do about issues in your organisation? Speak up and get “bombed?” Speak up and be castigated as an “impimpi?” (A spy) Phone a friend in the media? BCC the wrong person? Leave it until it destroys your organisation’s good name? Apply for protection under some act that deals with protective disclosure?
Here are a few questions you should ask in this context and ideas that you can use:
- What is the state of upwards flow of communication in your organisation? Is the process working well?
- Are you relying on tools such as anonymous hotlines and other forms of media? Who measures their effectiveness and efficiency? Does your hotline to which people can call in or ask a question work? Can I phone it without fear of negative repercussions? Do you have in place a cross-functional panel which can respond and provide recommended alternates if needed?
- Do you have an active suggestion scheme operating in your organisation? Ideas are the lifeblood of innovation.
- Take a close look at the Occupational Health & Safety Act and its communication system. It is a tried and tested system that works well under the right conditions. Can you learn from it?
- Examine statistics such as exit interviews, internal audit reports, safety records, etc.
How often don’t we hear that sort of remark! And even worse, this: "We know that communication is a problem, but the company is not going to discuss it with employees (Excerpt from a Humour column – words uttered by an AT& T manager)".
The issue is that were there is smoke there’s fire, and what organisations need to do is pinpoint the real cause of the communication problem. And that is dependent on proper communication diagnosis and root cause analysis. Let’s analyse this word Diagnosis:
‘Diagnosis – The effective solution of organisational communication problems is dependent on a thorough diagnosis. In the absence of a thorough diagnosis, a person may apply the wrong solutions and this approach can lead to the prescription of treatments for ailments that do not exist’.
Few doctors just amputate. They seek further tests before making decisions. The same rule should apply to communication interventions. Here is some guidelines for proper diagnosis:
- Pinpoint and describe the problem
- Gather and interpret the evidence (Beware Desk analysis . Seek diverse opinions and inputs on defining a problem).
- You can rely on your own judgement but preferably you should use someone that understands communication as a process, both from an interpersonal and organisational point of view.
- Look at the big picture: i.e. regard the entire organisation as the client (Business units are only a system within a supra system).
- Always perform root cause analysis i.e. so you can determine the real causes and not just address symptoms.
- Keep in mind that problems occur in clusters. When one problem or barrier has been identified, there will most likely be others associated with it. Example – A staff member who does not show responsibility because of undefined or unrealistic work expectations will likely also show a level of distrust in his or her superiors.
- Remember that Problems and barriers tend to sustain and reinforce each other.
In performing the diagnosis you should pay attention to this as well:
- Face -to – face communication, whether one-in-one or in groups;
- Written communication in the forms of letters, memos, e-mails and internal reports;
- Communication patterns among individuals, sections and departments;
- Communication channels and frequency of interaction (communication workload);
- Communication content, it’s clarity and effectiveness;
- Information needs of individuals, sections and departments;
- Information technology, particular with respect to the human and organisational aspects of using communication and information technology;
- Informal communication, particularly as it affects motivation and performance;
- Non-verbal communication (such as physical layout of work areas, marks of seniority or norms of dress and manner, as they affect the efficiency of the organisation;
- Communication climate, or "corporate culture"
Remember that as a rule all communication interventions should start with a proper diagnosis. Could you spot the one I left out?
To me some of words are nothing other than doublespeak – the art of non communication or language that appears to communicate but fails to do so because the communicator is attempting to obstruct the truth.
Paul Hellman writes in an article called Words and Things in the AMA journal of 1995 the following statement about the word "World -class". He writes about reading about a bunch of terrorists being described as world-class in a newspaper.
He asks the question : " Does it really matter?
Terrorist: Get in the van. We’re taking you hostage.
Hostage: Not so fast. I need to know whom I’m dealing with.
Terrorist: Don’t insult us. We’re an extremely reputable group of fanatics.
Hostage: I’m afraid " reputable" isn’t good enough. Kidnap me in a few years when you’re world -class.
Now that is a debunk of the word ‘World Class’ in my opinion.
Last week Roland Schoeman of the South African swimming team got into trouble when he called an Indian shouting spectator a monkey after he was goaded into a false start at the Commonwealth Games.
Last week, New Zealand TV host Paul Henry cracked up — for about a minute — over the name of Delhi Chief Minister Sheila Dikshit. “What’s her name? Dick-shit?” He says. “And it’s so appropriate because she’s Indian so it should be dick-in-shit, wouldn’t it?” New Zealand has reportedly issued a formal apology, and the Indian government has lodged a formal complaint against Henry, who has been suspended without pay. See video
And, a few months ago Australian swimmer, Stephanie Rice lost her Jaguar sponsorship after she made a ‘homophobic’ tweet after the Aussies win over the South African rugby team.
Three unrelated and yet perfect examples of the interconnected society we live in.
No longer can you just speak out. No longer can you just say what you want, where you want and how you want.
The Bible verse about the tongue being a two edged sword comes to mind here.
What these incidents teach is that we have to be more vigilant over what we say, when we say it or how we say it. We have to become more aware that the power of communication has now increased because of the power of social media and interconnectedness.
It is not just the 6 Degrees of Separation rule that applies, it is now the potential of words to not just be damaging but to become viral and destroy hard-earned reputations.
Think twice before you tweet, Think twice before you speak is now the new rule.
As that famous quote states: ‘It is better to let people think you are a fool, than to open your mouth and remove all doubt’
P.S – I will never forget the words of a Japanese professor: ‘The meaning to words do not lie in the words we use, they lie in people’s heads’ – Now that is something to think about.
Analyse any manager’s job description and you will seldom find Communication Improvement as a defined job responsibility, task and defined output.
Why? Is it because the process is seen to be elusive? The PR Practitioner or Corporate Communications Manager’s job? Just as a point could be made that we do not need HR managers , since the management of human resources is a line management function, so we can argue the point that to leave communication to the Communications department is to court disaster.
Traditional organisational structures are very good at compartmentalizing functions causing the "traditional silo effect". There is an old saying: " That which is not inspected, will never be respected".
To improve communications flow in your organisation, I have formulated a number of questions for you to ponder over and to discuss at your next meeting.
- Have all managers been trained in the communications responsibilities of their work? I believe that all managers need to receive training in interpersonal, intrapersonal and organisational communication. We cannot assume that people know how to communicate. We must equip them with knowledge and skills to do so. No media will ensure correct communication. People make communication work.
- Who monitors standards of communication and the handling of problems that have communications implications? Too often Labour Relations problems are solved using traditional IR methods, only to later on realise that the real causes were not addressed.
- Are communication responsibilities written into their job descriptions?
- Who is pro-actively and professionally managing internal and external communications in the organisation, and does that person have the professional know-how, responsibility, authority, accountability and status ? And most importantly is that person sharing and coaching the rest of the organisation or is he or she just managing their silo?
Still in doubt? Then ask any employee what breaks down more often than the photocopier or delivery vehicle. They will all say Communication. Why not make it a manager’s responsibility? Why not provide them with the tools to improve it?
The CEO was scheduled to give the keynote address at an important convention and so he asked one of his brightest employees to write him a punchy; 20-minute speech. When the CEO returned from the big event, he was furious.
“What’s the idea of writing me an hour long speech?” he demanded. “Half the audience walked out before I was finished.”
The writer was baffled. “I wrote you a 20- minute speech,” he said. “I also gave you the two extra copies you asked for.”
I rest my case.
That is wrong! There are subjective and objective reality.
Subjective reality, is reality seen through our inner mental filters that are shaped by our past conditioning. Objective reality is how things really are.
Although it is possible to perceive objectively, we cannot take in the totality of reality and say anything about it; we can only point to some of its characteristics, since we all trapped by our own mental cages – we are all biased.
So whenever we explore reality in any specific manner, we have to leave out something. For example, when you describe an orange, you cannot say anything about its totality. You have to talk about its colour or its taste or its shape. If you want your description to encompass the whole thing — its colour, shape, and taste all together — you can only say, "orange."
It is the same with objective reality. If you want to say anything about it, you have to focus on its specific characteristics.
An important part is to understand the view of objective reality. This understanding comes through discussions about it and through your own investigation, your own exploration and experience. This view is, in some sense, not one experience, but what unifies all experiences. It is the over-arching picture that makes all experiences intelligible and meaningful. The more we understand the view of objective reality, the more we know where we are in our journey.
The more we understand the view, the more we know how distorted or how objective our experience is. Thus, understanding the view is a valuable guidance and an important orientation. In time, as our realization process progresses and deepens, our experience corresponds more with the view. When experience is exactly harmonious with the view, this is what is called total realization or enlightenment.
To move us along this understanding continuum, I believe that research and more knowledge can assist. For instance, it is only once a doctor has positively diagnosed an illness that we should really start to worry about it.
That is why it is so important in my reputation work that clients communicate effectively. Knowledge backed up by substantiated facts – verified research can often assist in shifting opinion away from subjectivity to objectivity, hence the importance of strategic stakeholder –specific communication plans. However feelings and emotions are a separate issue to be dealt with.
Example: In a crisis, when there has been a death, you need to deal with the emotions and then the facts.
Perhaps this story explains it all : A man, who is the father of a year-old youngster, met his pastor on Sunday afternoon.
"Why weren’t you at church this morning?" was the first question of the spiritual adviser.
"I couldn’t come," was the answer. "I had to stop at home and mind the baby; our nurse is ill."
"That’s no excuse," said the pastor.
"It isn’t? Well, next Sunday I’ll bring him to church with me and see how you like it."
Action Plan Lesson – Always be ready to communicate the truth.
Three men were working. Each one was busy with a trowel, cement and bricks.
A passer-by went up to the first one, who looked very bored, and asked him what he was doing.
" I’m laying bricks", he said sullenly. The passer-by then asked the second man, who looked somewhat more enthusiastic, the same question: "I’m building a church", he replied. Asking the same question to the third man who was whistling while he was working, the passer-by was astounded when he replied: " I am building a cathedral".
What are you building? Why do you work for your company? What is the underlying reason your firm is operational?
We all need a purpose, a vision, a mission – call it what you like – to motivate us to action.
A vision is a rallying cry. It is a short, powerful statement. It empowers people and makes them believe that they can do.
Think about the following:
– We will overcome!
– Workers of the world unite!
– Viva! Amandla!
What is your company’s vision? Is it a rallying cry?
Or is it like one of those typical long-winded corporate statements on the walls in reception areas.
Are you living that vision?
This was shared with me years ago, and I cannot remember who. However I thought I’d share the information…..
The Kindle has a new competitor….a BOOK…Here is the Media Release.
THE LAUNCH OF BOOK
Introducing the new Bio-Optic Organized Knowledge device, trade-named BOOK.
BOOK is a revolutionary breakthrough in technology: no wires, no >>electric circuits, no batteries, nothing to be connected or switched on. It’s so easy to use, even a child can operate it.
Compact and portable, it can be used anywhere — even sitting in an armchair by the fire — yet it is powerful enough to hold as much information as a CD-ROM disc.
Here’s how it works: BOOK is constructed of sequentially numbered sheets of paper (recyclable), each capable of holding thousands of bits of information. The pages are locked together with a custom-fit device called a binder which keeps the sheets in their correct sequence.
Opaque Paper Technology (OPT) allows manufacturers to use both sides of the sheet, doubling the information density and cutting costs. Each sheet is scanned optically, registering information directly into your brain. A flick of the finger takes you to the next sheet.
BOOK never crashes or requires rebooting, though, like other devices, it can become damaged if coffee is spilled on it. The "browse" feature allows you to move instantly to any sheet, and move forward or backward as you wish. Many come with an "index" feature, which pin-points the exact location of any selected
information for instant retrieval.
An optional "BOOKmark" accessory allows you to open BOOK to the exact place you left it in a previous session — even if the BOOK has been closed. BOOKmarks fit universal design standards; thus, a single BOOKmark can be used in BOOKs by various manufacturers.
Portable, durable, and affordable, BOOK is being hailed as a precursor of a new entertainment wave. BOOK’s appeal seems so certain that thousands of content creators have committed to the platform and investors are reportedly flocking to invest. Look for a flood of new titles soon.
Stakeholders expect it. And smart companies are doing it: integrating their reporting of financial and nonfinancial performance in order to improve sustainable strategy.
How can managers better identify, describe, and confront the issues of environmental and social sustainability that their companies increasingly encounter? One answer is One Report, a method of integrating information about financial and nonfinancial performance into a single, jargon-free document.
HBS senior lecturer Robert G. Eccles and coauthor Michael P. Krzus explain the benefits and value of the One Report method. Plus: book excerpt from One Report: Integrated Reporting for a Sustainable Strategy.
Leslie Gaines-Ross, Chief Reputation Strategist of Weber Shandwick, commented in the article that "In today’s multi-stakeholder and multi-channel society, CEOs are increasingly concerned about reputational risk, both for their company and themselves. Now is the time for CEOs to carefully explain their companies to stakeholders, engage in productive two-way conversations, and clearly communicate their contributions to the market and society.
If stakeholders are left on their own to unify all the information they need about an enterprise, companies could find themselves vulnerable to misinformation and hearsay and put their reputations at risk."
Just reading this quote also defines a new look at the use of social media in an organisation. How to integrate not just reporting but two-way conversations with stakeholders. And, the importance of integrating reporting and use of social media into a company’s strategic communications plan.
Interesting and essential reading for Stakeholder Reputation Managers.
Whether you are implementing new systems, redesigning business processes, or transforming organization structures through downsizing and M&A, effective communication is absolutely critical.
A former colleague used to write, “Communication is more than the tangible vehicles and tools that convey information; it is the glue that binds internal and external stakeholders to your vision, mission, goals and activities. Effective communication engages the hearts and minds of all stakeholders.”
With regards to a change process, the objective of these communications is to move your target audiences along the following continuum with the stated effects:
- Awareness – individuals are conscious of the change
- Understanding – individuals have a shared meaning of the change
- Acceptance – individuals internalize the change and have a more favourable outlook
- Alignment – individuals provide appropriate levels of support for the change
- Commitment – individuals begin to claim responsibility and ownership for the change
This is only achieved by developing a communication strategy that utilizes multiple communication vehicles and delivery channels throughout the course of the change process. Most importantly, these communications must build upon each other to share a bit more of the story as it unfolds. It is not sufficient to make a global announcement the day before or the day the change occurs.
Here is a framework to make it easy for leaders to remember as they communicate direction to the teams they lead – The 7 P’s of High Performance:
Perspective – the big picture – the environment, market, competitors, customers needs, technology – an overview from 30,000 feet.
Problem – what is threatening (or wrong) with the current situation – what is not working as well as it needs to – where would we likely end up if we did nothing.
Purpose – what are we attempting to accomplish stated in both objective and subjective terms – what are our goals for this initiative/change process.
Principles – criteria (or critical success factors) we have used in our thinking process to insure success – the relevant guidelines we have applied.
Plan – what is our “go forward” proposition we believe will move us in the right direction – how the future will look different – how things will be different for people.
Process – an update on what steps have taken place to date – plus the next steps we contemplate in conjunction with the next P.
Participation – what necessary and important role for involvement we see for the team – stated as in :invitation” – and creating the opening for involvement from all players needed for success.
Here are some other resources and thoughts:
From the book “Nameless Organizational Change,” by Glen-Allen Meyer. In a nutshell:
- Organizations market their products and services
- Leaders (and change agents) know how to market
- Changes are given names (e.g. “Super teams 2010”)
- Named changes are hyped and marketed throughout the organization – We see this often in South Africa where campaigns have an ethnic name
- In the marketplace outside of the organization, people can say “no” to marketed products and services they do not want.
- Inside the workplace, people cannot easily say “no” to the changes that are marketed “at them”
- My experience is that most change “communication plans” are, in fact, marketing plans
- Since they cannot say “no” to marketed change, dissonance is established in the minds, psyches, and beings of people who want to say “no” but who know that, in some way, they must comply
- In addition to genuine change, this dissonance produces stress and resistance during change
- Stress and resistance to programmatic, marketed organization change causes signs of dysfunction during major change including absenteeism, turnover, accidents, tardiness and more
- These signs of dysfunction add cost and time to major change.
The “nameless” approach helps leaders implement change without the hype and without the resistance produced by marketed (i.e. “communicated”) change. A model for nameless change is presented in the book including the step-by-step process by which the change is “seeded” and “harvested” in the organization instead of being driven by complex and “slick” change marketing plans.
In short, I believe that people at work today are far savvier “consumers” of change than were their predecessors of even ten, fifteen, or twenty years ago. People “object” with the “flavour-of-the-month” objection because they’re rather well used to the methods of change being promulgated by many management gurus.
I’ve found the book ‘Communicating Change: Winning Employee Support for New Business Goals’ by TJ & Sandar Larkin http://amzn.to/a9261T very helpful but for my money Kotter’s Leading Change Book http://amzn.to/ckQtMN) is the best.
From Kotter’s principles, one can readily derive excellent models and specific instruments for promoting and monitoring change management. For a short version, there is his classic 1995 Harvard Business Review article, “Why Transformation Efforts Fail,” which cites insufficient communication as a chief cause of failed change management.
Listening is a key concept in stakeholder management. By listening to your stakeholders you can gather valuable information, plug gaps and design appropriate strategies to maximise relationships and reputation.
A Valuable but underutilised tool in many companies is the suggestion scheme. The suggestion scheme can be very useful to pick up hints and ideas to improve processes but could also be seen as a risk management tool. Employees may sometimes use this scheme to communicate issues and risks that exist.
I always check the use of this scheme when doing a communications audit and have been astounded by how few organisations have a flourishing scheme. Almost always the statement is that it is not working. This reflects a lack of strategic planning and championing of the process.
Perhaps this will help you to plan for or revive your suggestion scheme.
ARE MANAGEMENT & STAFF OPEN TO NEW IDEAS AND SUGGESTIONS?
Before a Suggestion Scheme/Box can be implemented you must consider whether a climate for innovation exist in the organisation.For instance, can any individual answer yes to these two types of questions:
- "In my business unit new ideas are welcomed and management is willing to support you in the subsequent implementation".
- "People in my Business unit are open-minded and accept the possibility that there may be better ways of achieving the same objectives"
It is my belief that you will be asking people to be creative and innovative and yet most people don’t believe that they are creative or, are stifled when they are.You will have to provide interventions such as training to enable staff to think beyond the boundaries.
Your aim should be: " How can we stimulate the creative thinking of our people". There is enormous creative potential locked inside the heads of staff, "How can we tap it?"
It starts way before a suggestion box or a suggestion scheme.
Every Organisation suffers from innovation inhibitors – attitudes and policies that limit the search for new ideas. For example, a group of senior managers at a large educational research institution reported recently that managers tend to resist good ideas suggested by subordinates. That is a clear organisational inhibitor to innovation.
In order for the suggestion scheme to work you will have to create awareness of these inhibitors and provide interventions to overcome them. You could for example run a course, on Creativity and Innovation for Senior Management, covering topics such as types of creativity and the creative process, types of thinking, characteristics of the creative organisation, methods to stimulate creativity and innovation and breaking the barriers to corporate creativity.
This will start to create a climate in which suggestions can flourish.
Here is some specific notes on suggestion boxes/schemes that you can use. The suggestion scheme can be approached from two angles i.e.:
- A new idea scheme
- A cost saving scheme
PLANNING THE SUGGESTION SCHEME
An analysis of suggestion schemes in world-wide shows that the formula or success in implementing the schemes are as follows:
1. All details of the system must be well planned from the definition of a suggestion to evaluation and award criteria.
2. Responsibility for programmed co-ordination must be assigned to a responsible management member (someone who will "Champion" the cause).
3. Programme details and procedures must be clearly communicated to all employees.
4. Top management must visibly and enthusiastically support the programme and communicate it’s continual commitment to it.
5. Acknowledgements must be prompt.
6. The program must receive ongoing publicity.
I strongly believe that suggestion schemes can work, if properly administered. The question that will arise from the individual is normally: "What is in it for me?"
Adequate financial incentives should be provided but that is not enough.What people really want is public acknowledgement, personal expression of appreciation coupled with financial incentives.
SELLING THE BENEFITS OF A SCHEME
To ensure that a suggestions scheme will succeed, you will have to "sell it" to management and staff, preferably from the top down.
The following steps could prove advantageous in doing so:
1. At the launch of the scheme – the purpose, details and advantages should be spelled out to them orally and then followed up with a written document.
2. An attractive notice or poster, briefly summarising the essential features of the scheme and designed to draw attention to it, should be placed on notice boards in the branches.
3. A suggestion Committee should be selected on the basis of their technical and managerial knowledge to appraise and rate the suggestions fairly and accurately. (Some members noted for their creativity should be included).
4. The suggestions should be evaluated on a regular basis, i.e. bi-monthly.
It is essential that suggestions should be dealt with promptly, so that staff may be assured of the sincere desire of management to receive and evaluate suggestions.
5. Regardless of its value, every suggestion should be acknowledged promptly and as soon as possible the employee who made the suggestion should be advised of the outcome thereof, by personal interview or letter.
This will prevent staff from losing interest in the scheme.
6. Any usable suggestion should result in some definite recognition to the employee concerned, ranging from: Honourable mention, or letter of appreciation to a maximum cash award.
7. In order to ensure impartiality on the part of the members of the committee it is desirable that the person who comes with the idea’s identity be unknown to them to prevent bias.
8. Every suggestion that is adopted should be noted on the staff member’s service record for consideration when the question of promotion arises.
9. The Suggestion Scheme could also be viewed as a complaints channel provided the Department head’s authority is not undermined.
Due thought needs to be given to the award criteria. These can range from tangible to intangible awards.
Financial awards could consist of various grades of suggestions per company ranging from Overall award for the year to Quarterly awards. It can,however,be assisted by other methods:
A Floating Trophy.A large floating trophy should be purchased and be given annually to the company or branch which came up with the best reward, at either the Annual Conference or the AGM. The individual and regions name should be engraved on nameplates and mounted on the trophy. Another factor is that this trophy can be held and displayed at the winning office for the period between judging, thus generating regional pride.
PUBLICIZING THE SCHEME
You will have to actively drive and sell the programme. This could be effected by:
- The running of promotional campaigns, i.e. using well designed posters, circulars in pay packets etc.
- Placing photos of staff awarded and an article should be published in the in- house magazine and corporate newsletter.
- Another alternative can be involvement by the HR Division. The design and running of a "Creativity and Innovation" training workshops can assist in the process. The benefit of this course will be that Managers, including staff, will know how to evaluate ideas, generate ideas and how to share ideas.
- A climate for suggestions can be created.
What are you doing to capture the thoughts and ideas (the intellectual capital) of your employees? Time and time again research has shown that employees have ideas that can benefit the organisation.
Unfortunately ideas and thoughts are like light bulbs. If not captured, they disappear at the flick of a switch.
However there is more to a media policy than just an instruction that tells staff who will speak or is allowed to speak to the media. A Media Policy can be a document that sets the tone for communication with the Media and other stakeholders.
The advent of the Internet and Social Media have changed the traditional rules and landscape of media relations. Today an employee or a stakeholder can have their own presence on Facebook, have their own blog, send pictures from their phones directly to websites on the Internet, making it more difficult to control messages.
Some companies profess to believe in engagement with stakeholders, yet do not allow their staff to access social networking sites, whilst others embrace the new technologies. Some cite bandwidth issues as their biggest constraint, yet time and time again it has been shown that unless transparency is understood, a company will not easily open up to these new tools.
This makes the writing of a media policy a vital exercise to steer clear of potential reputation risk. This makes the writing of this policy no longer the responsibility of the PR department, but that of the Risk Committee.
Writing a best practice media policy will therefore need discussions with subject matter and 3rd party experts, dialogue with stakeholders, an understanding of the issues in a company as well as knowledge of the latest laws, rules, regulations, needs and expectations of stakeholders.
Only when these issues have been discussed and researched, can a policy be written. I also believe that it is vital for any business not just to design and write a best practice media policy, but that this policy should be accompanied by a guideline that contains hints to deal with not only the media but also communication with other stakeholders.
To write a media policy you will need specialised help. You can either work with your PR Company or enlist the services of an external services provider such as a specialised writer and/or a Social Media company to assist you in this regard.
Here is a part example of a policy and a short checklist to guide you in this process (Please note that this is not a complete list).
Example of a Media Policy
The objective of the XYZ Company’s Corporate Communications policy and procedure is to ensure that the information contained in all communication with stakeholders is consistent, accurate, fair and timely.
(This statement is not as simple as it looks. Issues of transparency needs to be carefully researched, especially legal issues, issues of voluntary, mandatory and involuntary disclosure and whether the organisation wants to be transparent, i.e intent)
To ensure this, it is the policy of the XYZ Company that:
The Company will comply with all laws and regulations regarding public disclosure of material events, financial results and operations;
- The Company is committed to non-selective, fair disclosure of information about The Company without advantage or disadvantage to any participant in the financial market place;
- The Company will voluntarily disclose any non-material information, which is not the subject of a confidentiality agreement and determined by senior management to be in the interest of stakeholders, shareholders, the investment community and the public;
- All disclosures to the media will be communicated by an authorised Media Relations Officer or designate;
- All disclosures to the financial community, including investment analysts, brokers and current or potential investors will be communicated by the CEO, CFO, and Investor Relations or their designate(s);
- All the Company media releases, information prepared for the financial community, and all other Company related information for public disclosure must follow the procedures for review and approval outlined herein;
- The External Communications Policy applies to all the Company employees and, with respect to their reference to the Company, all subsidiaries and associates;
- Management will be responsible for ensuring that this policy and related procedures are communicated and followed consistently in their operations;
- Non-compliance with this policy may damage the Company’s reputation and/or cause the Company and/or its shareholders to be prejudiced and to suffer damages and/or losses;
- As with all of The Company’s policies any non-compliance will be treated as serious and will result in disciplinary action and could give rise to civil and/or criminal liability on the part of the employee. It is the responsibility of all employees to familiarise themselves with this policy.
The Public Relations Manager can be contacted should an employee wish to seek clarity or assistance with respect to any aspect of this policy.
Example of a Checklist: Due thought needs to be given to the clarification of procedures for preparation, review and approval of external communication materials:
- Media Relations
- Industry Analyst Relations
- Financial Analyst Relations
- Stakeholder Relations
- Conference/Seminar/Roundtable/Speaking Opportunities/White Papers/Opinion Pieces
- Corporate Identity
- Email Signatures
- Crisis Communications
- Acquisitions, Partnerships, Subsidiaries and associates
- Naming conventions
- Customer/External Newsletters
- Internal Newsletter
- Website and Intranet issues
- Blogging, Facebook usage, Wikis and other Social Media
- IT related issues.
As you can see, due thought has to go into the writing of this policy. Who needs to be consulted and vet certain information? Example – Internal newsletter may have content and remuneration information that has to be cleared by the Human Resources Director.
From a reputation risk perspective, you want clear policies, implementation guidelines & tips for all of these areas.
Writing the policy is one thing. Once you have written it, it needs to be authorised by the Board, and other parties such as the Company’s Legal and PR representatives. Getting the policy scrutinised by external 3rd party experts is advisable.
Once the policy is approved, it is useless to just distribute it and get it to be filed in the company’s policy manual. It is also not sufficient to just communicate the contents via a memorandum or e-mail to managers and staff.
I believe that it is vital that specific training is conducted throughout the organisation, so that staff can understand the dangers and peril of irresponsible communication and the impact it can have on the reputation of the institution. Training managers in Media Relations awareness is not the same as Media Spokesperson training and the two should not be confused.
Media awareness training differs from practical spokesperson coaching. Let me explain. Companies traditionally appoint two to three spokespersons. The spokespeople (who are carefully chosen), need to receive hands on practical training in front of cameras, microphones and live audiences. This type of training is expensive and time intensive and is normally conducted in a studio. Some trainers put spokespersons on the spot and then proceed to show them their weaknesses. This often breaks down people self-confidence levels and should be avoided (You cannot build on sand). Spokesperson training should be positive and uplifting and conducted in simulated environments.
However I believe that general management also need “contextual” training – training that will add to their understanding but that can be added on in a studio later. It is this training that is needed to ensure adherence and compliance with the Media policy.
Managers need to understand the media stakeholder, how they operate and how to conduct themselves in a media interview situation. This is typically the type of training I conduct in my Media Survival Skills workshop.
Often senior management are the people who have to formulate the messages that spokespersons need to convey or decide on an approach in dealing with the media. They therefore need to understand the media stakeholder, so that these messages and chance interactions with the media will be positive and uplifting.
My favourite saying is that media relations need to be approached with strategic intent and if you do not know the rules of the game, how can you play it.
I believe that my recommended two-tier approach to writing a Media policy and implementation is the best for building sound media relations and minimise that type of reputation risk in the organisation.