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#commsbingo – Conference Edition

It’s comms conference season, and that means the internet will be abuzz with 140 character insights from a range of events.

There are exciting – and challenging – emerging trends and new insights. We will see that in abundance at the excellent #IABC16 this week as the worlds leading communication membership association gathers around the theme of innovating global communication.

When you have been fortunate to have attended, chaired, co-curated and presented at a fair range of communication conferences and events*, you do start to see patterns in terms of insights and learnings. These recurring insights form a kind of communicators BINGO!

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#commsbingo

If we are to judge the progress of our profession by the wisdom shared on twitter from many comms events, then it seems we are caught in a loop. Yes, communication events do attract emerging practitioners. But seeing foundation knowledge shared as revelations does raise some questions about how effectively we are preparing communicators for professional practice.

If we are to continue to develop, to grow our collective commons and body of knowledge, we need to keep pushing for deeper insights, evolve our discussions and move beyond the foundations through research, education and creating connection.

Oh, and if you have any other #commsbingo insights, please tweet them so we can collate the common knowledge.

Share well!

*I have been a past chair and co-curator of Melcrum Strategic Communication & Digital Communication Summits in Asia Pacific, presented at the 2014 IABC WC in Toronto, and have been involved in communication professional development since before twitter was invented. Learn more about the Shorter COMMS Plan in this free webinar.

Making CSR Communication Pop

Cutting through the noise and getting people to engage in your CSR program can be a challenge. Here’s six tips in two minutes for making your message have greater impact.

These tips and more form part of the next Shorter COMMS Plan workshop being held on 22 June. If you work in community engagement, at an NGO or charity, or simply want to improve your communication results, the workshop will provide you practical tools and tips.

 

Engage employees with better communication choice

Technology has changed the way we consume information outside organisations, and it is natural that we want the same choices within. Companies that incorporate channel choice in their communication mix will win the war for engagement.

Find out the seven ways you can improve the choices for employee communication channels in this presentation.

For more information, see the article Changing channels: why employees demand freedom of information choice on LinkedIn Pulse.

Three strategies for embedding CSR through better communication and design

A simpler CSR

A simpler CSR approach.

One of the greatest challenges for employee communication in any organisation is information overload. A consistent theme from communication research is that often in organisations there is too much of the wrong information.

Line managers and employees in many organisations struggle with complexity.

They have a single consistent, valid request

make it easier for me

What has led to this situation?

Change. Changes to processes, products and procedures. Changes to the markets that companies operate in. Changes to regulations. Customer expectations. Social and political change. Technology. Technology. Technology.

Against this background, asking employees to focus on ‘another thing’ can be a challenge.

In addition to the number one rule for employee communication* there are three things organisations can do to ensure the CSR&S initiatives achieve the outcomes they need to for the company and its stakeholders (including employees).

*The number one rule is ‘make it relevant, make it simple’.

1. Have a few clear strategic messages that are reinforced all the time

Provide the ‘why’ for your whole CSR program in a consistent way.

Many CSR&S strategies are comprehensive documents that run to many pages, are produced, launched and then fall stagnant until the next reporting period. For CSR&S to come to life, a clear narrative is required that is reinforced consistently through leadership communication, as well as in other channels.

If CSR&S is not a key strategic focus for a company, it is essential for leaders to find ways to incorporate it.

Example

A mid size professional services firm develop a comprehensive CSR three year plan. The strategy recommendations include:

  • policy changes for procurement
  • changes to energy supply for regional offices
  • a customer charter that addresses client groups with specific CSR challenges
  • a scorecard for governance
  • plans for corporate relocation to sustainable headquarters
  • new approaches to succession planning for the partner group and
  • support for leading practice labour and OHS programs.

Individually, not all employees will be impacted in the same way by these initiatives. Expecting the whole of firm to be across every aspect when it is not their core business has a potential to feed the information overload and reduce engagement.

However, the key message for the strategy and for all leaders to continue to reinforce is:

Our business strategy recognises the benefits of a comprehensive approach to CSR. The outcomes of this strategic approach will include financial benefits, reputational benefits with clients and opportunities for employee development.

Individual projects or changes can be communicated in the most effective way according to the type of change outcomes, the audiences, and the available channels.

These subsequent changes are then congruent with the message from the CEO through to every line manager that ‘We treat CSR as an important part of our business.’

2. Be clear about what ‘engagement’ with CSR programs looks like.

Define ‘what’ people need to do differently.

Traditionally, employee communication has focused on the hearts and minds of employees, getting people to ‘buy in’ to changes or initiatives. An increasing body of research shows that getting people to take an action is more powerful at shaping their perceptions. Instead of ‘think, feel, do’, it is more effective to get people to ‘do, feel, think’.

In order for employees to engage with CSR&S initiatives, it is essential to be clear about what that engagement looks like. What will people be doing? How is that different to today?

As a result of the program do you need employees to:

  • Start following a new process
  • Reduce waste through using workplace procurement and cleaning vendors
  • Stop acquiring clients from unsustainable industries
  • Share or record information for reporting

Many ‘communication problems’ are actually process issues. With smart process design, sometimes communication is barely necessary. Make it easier for employees to take the actions required.

3. Use good design to enable action

Make the ‘how’ intuitive and simple to do.

Well-designed processes, procedures, systems and tools reduce the volume of communication needed.

There is no training manual for how we use a social media tool such as Facebook, or our smart phones or the motor registry queue. In the best cases, taking the necessary action ‘just makes sense’.

Originally focused on online channels, increasingly, user experience (UX) or customer experience (CX) design methods are being used as part other kinds of change.

  • Instructions tend to be build into processes
  • The online component is seamless
  • Visual communication provides clear clues to action
  • Operational instructions are just in time, rather than relying on people knowing how to do something just in case.

Better communication comes with better strategy

Unless CSR is treated strategically, there is a risk that communication about initiatives, processes and programs will get lost in the competition for a share of employee attention.

Addressing some types of CSR&S efforts require organisations to rethink their operations at a broader scale.

  • Communication can go part of the way. Without visible, sleeves-rolled-up leadership, the best communication program cannot sustainably embed CSR into everyday activities.
  • Being clear about what people will do differently by adopting new CSR programs and processes helps communication be clear, targeted, and enable action.
  • Better process design will make it easier for employees to take action with CSR programs, allowing for a focus on the big picture messages about the benefits of better CSR.

 

Three blogs on the Back to the Future thing that are worth your travel time #bttfd

Topical, light-hearted and listicle friendly. That is why Back to the Future Day has given the whole content marketing tribe a little shot of Pepsi and a jolt of lightning.

Aside from the ‘what they got right and wrong about the future’ trope that has even the scientist-communicators on board, it is an opportunity for reflection on what has changed in culture – and in specific industries – since then.

Communicators and marketers are no exception. Here are three #bttfd pieces that are worth your travel time.

All Things IC

An early contender, Rachel Miller came out strong with a piece on timeless advice for communication professionals.

The future may not be here as it was imagined in the films, but I think it’s an exciting time to be working in the field of communication and be interested in all things technology related.

I agree with much of Rachel’s list of timeless principles for Internal Communication, including

  • Trust is the currency of communication.
  • There’s no such thing as purely ‘internal’ communication.
  • Don’t view communication as something you do to employees, but for and with them.
  • The role of professional communicators has shifted from content creatorsto content curators.
  • Work is a thing you do, not a place you go.

See her full article for more advice.

B and T

B and T have taken the opportunity to look at the marketing efforts around the date, including the emphasis on digital, and the need to develop marketer’s skills in a changing world, through a guest post from ADMA CEO, Jodie Sangster.

It is striking in the number of available and cross-channel consumer touch points the campaign will to reach today versus the number that existed when the movies was released in 1989. Digital, social, video and mobile were, in some cases, decades away (CEO of Snapchat Evan Spiegel was yet to be born) and the idea brands would have access to terabytes of data, most of which has been generated in the last few years alone, would be as fanciful as Marty’s hover-board.

Read the full piece at B&T.

The Conversation

And rather than looking back, The Conversation has invited some of the brightest future focussed researchers, thinkers and academics to consider what will things look like in 30 years time.

Digital everpresence will disturb existing political systems enabling individuals to transcend territorial boundaries and wield digital influence outside of the nation state. Everpresent personas will disrupt domestic political orders transforming the Earth. Thas Nirmalathas, Professor of Electrical and Electronic Engineering, University of Melbourne

A thought-provoking read at the intersection of speculation and technological progress.

When the Kotter change model creates a disconnect for mid-size change

Applying the Kotter eight-step model indiscriminately to project-level initiatives and operational change leads to challenges.

Generating a ‘sense of urgency’ for mid-level changes creates unnecessary competition for share of mind.

In a typical large organisation undergoing transformation, there are likely to be dozens of project-level initiatives and concurrent operational change.

The paradox of change urgency (1)There is a paradox. Urgency at an organisational, strategic level provides momentum for the projects and initiatives that are necessary at the deeper levels of the structure. However, at an operational level, the sense of urgency translates into confusion and an inability to absorb the change impacts.

The underlying need for change at the project or operational level needs to be rolled up to the overall strategic imperative. Creating urgency around the detail of the change creates noise. This manifests itself as an increased request for project branding, change-specific communication channels.

Solutions include:

  • Ensure that the narrative of urgency remains at the enterprise level
  • ‘Bundle’ change impacts across programs
  • Implement at an operational or individual level as rapidly as possible based on the capacity for change

Institute change by designing for action

Consider the broader world beyond organisational life. As citizens and consumers, we conduct all kinds of complex behaviours and transactions ‘online’. The online environment changes constantly. Yet there is no change management plan for ‘the internet.’ Methodologies such at UX and User-Centered Design ensure that (successful) apps or sites or technologies are intuitive and based on making action easy to complete.

These disciplines do not apply only to online and technological change. The ability to design the ‘pointy end’ of change within organisations in a way that enables action at the right time without requiring substantial training or commitment becomes an opportunity for making continual concurrent change something that is easy to digest.

As Bill Quirke writes in Making the Connections, “Organisations are short changing themselves by not seeing communication through to the end – converting awareness into action. The real value of internal communication is to help business ends by enabling employees to turn strategy into action” (Quirke, 2008).

This is an excerpt from my chapter Kotter in context: is the classic change model damaging your mid-size change? in A Communicator’s Guide to Successful Change Management, edited by Craig Pearce.

3 Keys to managing multiple change projects in changing contexts

Why change is complex...

Why change is complex…

Writing in Accelerate/XLR8 (2014), Kotter recognised complexity and the shifts in organisational structure and networks, and the need for agile methods of mobilising people within the organisation.

In practice, change at the project level has three qualities that can complicate the effective management and delivery of benefits or the desired outcomes.

Concurrent – there are seldom single projects underway in an organisation. Depending on the degree of internal organisation and prioritisation, these initiatives may or may not be coordinated.

Continuous – while individual projects come to an end (and ideally deliver their targeted benefits), there are typically a sequence of projects being rolled
out. There is no fixed future state, only a series of iterations. The idea of ‘versions’ of the future state is a powerful metaphor for this: change version X.X.

Compound – change impacts from one initiative have flow-on implications for other initiatives. When delivered top-down, the aggregate compound impact of change can be miscalculated. This can be an overestimation of the ability to absorb change at an individual level, or it can be a failure to calculate capacity for the impacts of accumulated incremental change.

In the most effective organisations there is coordination of impacts across the range of concurrent projects. There is strategic value in effective governance that provides alignment of the intention of transformation with the operational reality of the ‘current state’ organisation.

This is an excerpt from my chapter Kotter in context: is the classic change model damaging your mid-size change? in A Communicator’s Guide to Successful Change Management, edited by Craig Pearce, a free resource packed with user-friendly and functional insights and advice on how communication contributes to effective change management.

This post first appeared on LinkedIn Pulse.

So much information, so little time

Remember a little while back when you couldn’t go to a workshop or a conference on change, leadership, strategy, innovation or communication without the keynote quoting the Shift Happens/Did You Know? research?

I certainly used those numbers on more than one occasion with leaders trying to understand the shifting nature of communication in the social era, and the #futureofwork in a post-global economy. The 2015 version from Erik Qualman has updated references to social marketing and we see the exponential scale of social shift.

But if you want to immerse yourself in the real-time version of this, then interetlivestats.com is your go-to resource.

Watch this number rise for each social platform, realtime.

Watch this number rise for each social platform, realtime.

Here you can watch the sheer overwhelming volume of online activity tick over.

With so much data being created, accrued, shared and stored, it prompts a few questions:

  • how do we focus on the most useful things instead of getting carried with the current?
  • how do we add value to the volume, through interpretation and insight?
  • how do we maintain a voice while recognising ours is one of billions?
  • how do we make sure we are not just adding noise?

These aren’t questions just for communication professionals. They are core questions for us as people in the age of mass data.

Response to ‘Is it time to bin the idea of “Change Management”?’

Employees are human, and their response to change will be driven by that

Employees are human, and their response to change will be driven by that

One of the ironies of change management is that practitioners have the capacity to be resistant to change in their own field.

In this post from Stefan Norrvall from January 2015, there is an argument that it is time to say goodbye to attempting to manage change.

Many change management tools and frameworks seem to come from a view that all change is a top down imposed thing that has to be “sold” to employees or it needs “buy in” from key stakeholders. This just furthers the notion that stakeholder have little input into the change itself and need convincing or manipulation to get into agreement.

Entrenched positions present a problem for all participants in change. Should organisations try to continue to manage change formally, from the top down? The idea is repugnant to Norrval and the #responsiveorg tribe.

Yet we are still not at the stage in most organisations to take away the systems and structures of change that evolved to ensure a balance between participation and deliberative action toward the change outcomes a change program seeks to achieve.

I agree with much of Norrval’s position – change is designed poorly. In so many organisations, change is imposed rather than co-created. Poor strategy leads to poor change management. 

But in the revolution, we need to accept that whether they are the targets of change, or the architects, or the collaborative participants, employees and other organisational agents are human, and their response to the approach to change will be driven first by that.

  • If the context is not clear, people will resist.
  • If the systems and processes of change do not match the scale and nature of change, people will resist.
  • And large scale change (whether an aggregate of small change, or major impacts such as role, location, identity) does have the ability to trigger the human response to loss.

We as change practitioners need to make it simpler – not overly rely on systems and models. But in an effort to be more human in our approach to change we also need to ensure that in replacing ‘change systems’ we don’t simply fail to consider the degree of change required to make this approach a success.

Source: Is it time to bin the idea of “Change Management”?

The cost of collaborating poorly

Graphic designers… from imgur user Abaft.

This post from imgur user Abaft really made me chuckle when I first saw it. Recently I have been working with a range of creative suppliers: designers, social, content, web, and it made me think of the feedback sessions we have. In communication and change, we (as clients) often have a very specific idea of what we want the outcome to look like, and sometimes it takes a few goes to get there.

But behind the humour, I think this image says something more serious about the challenges that crop up between communication craft and communication strategy. It made me wonder if designer has missed an opportunity to help the client through the non-creative part of our job: coach, strategist, advisor. Because the rework (sometimes) comes from having missed something in the brief.

Unlike the trusted creatives I am lucky to work with, the creator of this fee scale has not ensured clarity and trust from the client before the design process gets underway.

A little bit of knowledge goes a long way when shaping a brief – understanding the creative process as a client helps us (as clients) understand what is possible and what is not. Too much knowledge, and we become perfectionists unable to articulate our goals, and our preferences. In a creative process, we all bring bias and personal taste to the room, and it is the job of the designer to help the client through this by explaining the process.

Spend time upfront in establishing a strong rapport. Spend the time clarifying the outcomes and the brief. Spend the time in giving the feedback.

This fee scale would look different if it drew on the sweet spot where collaboration occurs.

Once there is trust, clarity about the problem to be solved, and collaboration toward creating solutions, then there is the space for the designer (or a writer, or a coder, or any professional service provider) to deliver.

Collaboration doesn’t mean all being in the room at the same time all of the time. It means ensuring that the range of skills and ideas of the co-creators are able to be brought to bear at the right time in the process.

As clients, our job isn’t to be sitting on their shoulder. It is to ensure our creatives understand what they are collaborating with us to create. And to trust their process when it leads to a better outcome.