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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.

 

What leaders should expect from their communication counsel

As a leader, what should you expect from a communication strategist?

What a great question, and the subject of a recent post on the LinkedIn CommsScrum Group (requires membership). Having worked with C-suite, executive and Board-level leaders across a range of industries, here are some things I think leaders should expect from their comms strategists.

They will treat you as a person. Trust is a process of reciprocity, but it pays dividends. Experienced comms strategists will understand that leaders are human. They will recognise that in business, an executive can seldom get to where they are without some communication strengths, but that their current positions may mean that constructive feedback about areas for improvement isn’t always forthcoming. A good strategist will seek to understand the executive’s business goals and personal context in order to develop programs that help to achieve both.

They will listen. And they might ask more questions than you may be used to from anyone except the CEO or Board. As an executive, you have so many aspects of the business in your head that making connections, judgements and evaluations about your operation is instinctive. Experienced comms strategists will seek to understand your business priorites from your perspective. And in the process, they will (depending on their approach) seek to understand the ‘why’ before helping you with the ‘what’.

They will build on your strengths. An experienced communication strategist understands that protecting the authentic strengths of a leader is a key priority. They will take time to understand what you are best at. This isn’t the same as never asking you to do something you aren’t comfortable with; strengths are sometimes underplayed.

They will talk to you about the business, not just about communication. Experienced comms strategists are business people using communication as a driver for business results. They will ask about goals, about performance, about metrics, about culture, about competition, about risks and issues. And then they will start talking about communication. If they jump straight to the comms stuff, beware.

With that in mind:

  • Be clear about your expectations and in describing what a successful engagement will look like from your perspective.
  • Be open to professional counsel with a view to building trust.
  • Be prepared to contribute time, opinions and knowledge in the development of strategy.

 

Not the zombie apocalypse

Preparing to work with a communication advisor doesn’t need to be scary

Lord David Puttnam: Online commercial strategies have ‘actively damaged’ news and information relaying | The Drum

As part of Bite’s Stop Content Pollution event, filmmaker and digital ambassador Puttnam spoke about the challenge facing communicators in a crowded content marketplace.

I’d be very surprised if there were graduates coming out of media courses who had been told that their principle job is storytelling. I would be very surprised. They are being told that their job is impact. Lord David Puttnam

Lord David Puttnam

Lord David Puttnam

via Lord David Puttnam: Online commercial strategies have ‘actively damaged’ news and information relaying | The Drum.

Communication lessons from #IBMCMOStudy

View “Communication lessons from #IBMCMOStudy” on Storify

Authentic leadership when it counts

In her final show as guest host of Radio Nation Life Matters, Angela Catterns convenes an excellent program about leadership.

Using the recent example of Queensland Premier Anna Bligh’s performance during the Queensland catastrophes as a springboard for discussion, Angela is joined by studio guests Rosemary Howard Director of AGSM Executive Programs and  Catherine Harris from UNSW.  The session includes an interview with former Prime Minister Malcolm Fraser, and thoughful talkback comments. Covering social, political and business leadership, the discussion summarises a number of the themes and challenges for authentic leadership. Definitely worth a listen.

Podcast and transcript
http://www.abc.net.au/rn/lifematters/stories/2011/3146774.htm
Facebook
http://www.facebook.com/RNLifeMatters?ref=ts&v=wall#!/RNLifeMatters

Anna Bligh’s authentic leadership during the January crises set a benchmark for authentic communication. IABCNSW is hosting a professional development lunch  on Crisis Communication with guest speaker Brisbane City Councillor David McLachlan on 30 March.  Details here: http://www.iabcnsw.com/calendar/15/41-Crisis-Communication-in-the-digital-age.html

Two-way communication helps all parties in successful franchise. Lessons from Undercover Boss Australia Part 3

The third installment of Undercover Boss Australia saw Janine Allis, founder and head of Boost Juice head into her franchise network to see the operation up close.

A master brand is the key asset of any successful franchise.  Allis’ enthusiasm for the brand was clear. The employees and franchisees selected for inclusion on UBA represented a commitment to the healthy and youthful spirit of the brands – they generally seemed to be loving life.

For franchisees, there is a challenge in balancing being a small business owner at the same time as being part of a larger organisation.  Tina and Steve Wood, Boost store owners from Perth named hiring the right staff as one important factor in turning around the profitability of their store and increasing sales.

Franchises frequently rely on young, casual and part-time labour and as a result can struggle to retain employees. Brand strength is an important factor in being able to create an employee experience that can engage a young, mobile, award-wage workforce. Supporting the employment brand with access to development programs, networking opportunities between territories and the ability to move geographically can increase retention and commitment of employees.

MD Allis demonstrated considerable empathy towards individual franchisees and their employees in her interactions undercover.  However, not every franchise business experiences such open two way communication.

A comprehensive study of conflict resolution between franchisees and franchisors released by Griffith University earlier this year found that communication is an area many franchisees feel could be improved.

Professor Lorelle Frazer, lead researcher and Director of the Asia-Pacific Centre for Franchising Excellence revealed that only half of the study participants felt communication from franchisors was timely and accurate.

There is a risk for both parties when communication breaks down.  For the franchisor there is a risk to the brand and reputation. Franchising provides a centralised approach to marketing, advertising, product and promotion that creates a consistent quality experience across a dispersed workforce. Failing to communicate this to the franchise network will lead to erosion of the brand value.  There is reduced opportunity for collaborative innovation (ideas from the front line), and ultimately reduced profit.

For franchisees, there is a risk to their business if they do not have all the information a business owner needs. A lack of competitor or territory information, lack of shared information between other franchisees, and unmet expectations of support can hamstring a franchise from planning for and achieving growth.

Where a franchisee is unclear about the programs and support available, there is even less chance that this information will be made available to the face of the brand – the person making your smoothie.

Undercover Boss Australia highlights power of listening

What if those in power could be ‘everyman’ for a day? The premise is simple and rooted in

Listening

Listening is a key leadership skill

dramatic tradition. In Greek myth, Zeus would disguise himself as a beggar in order to reward the kind and punish the cruel. In Shakespeare’s Henry V the king becomes a common soldier the night before battle. The latest incarnation of this idea is Undercover Boss, in which the head of a company takes on a series of frontline roles disguised as a new employee in order to discover first hand the customer and employee experience.

The format, created by ex-BBC documentary-maker Stephen Lambert, has run successfully in the UK, the US and is now commencing in other countries, including Australia. The popular US version has also been criticised for the PR element –  trying to provide a human face to CEOs, a group ‘suffering’ from poor public image after some of the executive excesses before – and during – the economic crises of 2008 and 2009.

Spin aside, the series shows that effective two-way communication in organisations improves engagement and leads to better business outcomes.

The newest spin-off in the franchise, Undercover Boss Australia kicked off Monday on Ten with Domino’s Pizza Enterprises CEO, Don Meij taking on a range of frontline jobs across the business he has been with for over 20 years, including delivery driver, human billboard and pizza maker.

“Australian workers are feeling the pain, working harder and longer. Are workers really asking ‘what about me?’” was the question posed in the opening sequence. The opening aside, on screen, Meij quickly demonstrated an authentic leadership style and openness in his interactions with his leadership team.

Since hearing of the Australian version, I have wondered how well the format would translate for Australia as there are a number of cultural differences that have seen other reality formats crash and burn here. The Aussie bullshit detector is particularly acute and ‘ra-ra’ sessions are justifiably viewed skeptically.

Also, Australian’s are not always quick to tell deeply personal stories. This was demonstrated in one of the more awkward exchanges in the first episode, where Meij sought to draw out the story of one of his young workers. This was the show’s weakest moment, but  is a central element of the ‘find it and fix it’ formula used by the American version.

The biggest problem with the overseas versions is in the ‘reveal’ and ‘reward’ section of the show. There have been many cases where the solutions are one-off donations for the individuals, as if we have slipped into Secret Millionaire, the other creation from Studio Lambert. This makes for great ‘tissues’ television for viewers, but from a business perspective, many of these solutions feel superficial and unsustainable – band-aid solutions that do nothing to address the root causes of the issues in the business, and that could (or would) not be replicated across a workforce of thousands.

However, it is here that Meij demonstrated some great authentic leadership. He owned issues where he saw the business needing to support the stores more effectively.  And although granting a number of personal rewards, these were clearly contexted as recognition for the efforts and commitments of the employees.

As he spoke to his employees he appeared humble, open and genuine in reflecting his experience of his time with them, their hopes and commitments, at one point saying “You’re doing an amazing job and I wanted to acknowledge that.” Recognising people not only for their achievements but also acknowledging their ambitions is a powerful approach.

Undercover Boss Australia has the ingredients: the implied drama of being ‘undercover’, the human interest stories of the employees, the leaders who learn about themselves in the process, the ‘reveal’ and the ‘reward’. And for leaders, some great lessons in the power of listening. In the words of one of the participants “Every CEO should get back down to earth level and see what we see every day.”

How well do you listen to your business?
Regardless of the size of your business, a real awareness of the operations and the people within your organisation is essential. The good news is it doesn’t always require glasses and a fake beard. Here are three ways to get closer to employees immediately. They key is to provide opportunities for the leader to listen. And if at first the issues raised seem unimportant, that is a failing of the culture and leadership, not of the employees. The quality of discussions will change over time.

  • Walk around. If you are visiting an interstate office, spend time in the office while people are doing their jobs. Show genuine interest. Practice deep listening. Ask open questions.
  • Open discussions. Whether sharing a sandwich and a coffee, or just getting out from behind desks and talking, small group discussions (8 is a great number) can be an effective way of increasing open feedback.
  • The CEO hotline. Can any employee in your business phone or email the boss if they need to? The first step might be to have a set time each week or month when employees can ring and discuss anything about the business they feel the need to talk about.

Don’t think that one shared sandwich will change your culture, but a sustained approach to talking with small groups of employees provides leaders an opportunity to listen to what is happening and speak openly about the business.

Undercover Boss Australia screens 8.30pm Mondays on Ten. Next week, Veolia Environmental Services.

Forum highlights power of sharing stories authentically

I had a blast on Thursday chairing the Melcrum Strategic Communication Management Summit in Sydney.  

Across two days of presentations and activities, there were some common themes that stood out for me as representative of the things that are helping communicators navigate the ‘new landscape’ (post/mid GFC, social media, changing industries, post-spin). They are not new themes, but regardless of what changes occur in the corporate or public sector landscape, these themes hold true.

1. It’s about stories. For most communicators reading this, I am preaching to the choir. Stories are how we make sense of the world. We can transmit information in a lot of different ways, but the context, the character, and the connections are brought to life through story.

2. Authenticity is the secret ingredient. One compelling theme was the genuine change, engagement and commitment that comes with authentic communication. There were great examples: the CEO of an organisation in crisis, speaking openly to employees in very plain terms about not only what was happening, but how it was affecting the workforce, customers, and him (in that order); the power of simply saying ‘sorry’ (and meaning it); the companies tapping into those parts of their workforce who are already communicating openly and authentically in the social media sphere. There was great authenticity too from those communication professionals and allied disciplines including change and leadership who generously shared all aspects of their stories – the good, the bad and the ugly.  

3. Involve/Get involved. It’s not up to communicators to do it alone. We have to partner with the right collaborators – inside and outside organisations. Although Social networking and web 2.0 tools can help us connect, share information, get feedback, value and rate, it’s not about the technology. It is about the mindset to reach out and involve. The types of scarcity thinking that drives silo mentality in organisations will not support the new social economy. We need to enable and entrust people to participate in the organisational dialogue.

I can’t do justice to the stories that people shared in a few short blog paragraphs. But I can say ‘thank you’ to the communicators who demonstrated these ideas so evocatively.

And a big thanks to Melcrum for asking me to be a part.