The Communicator’s Guide to 30 June

Save the date! 30 June is a great time for communicating.

The end of financial year is a busy time for almost every type of organisation. For communicators, there are a few end of year activities that are useful for employees. For leadership communication, it is also a time to consider the messages for the second half of the year. Here are some of the top communication activities to incorporate into your June plans in order to be prepared.

Business Communication Activities

  • Is your employee data up to date? Correct, current employee data is essential for organisations, but it doesn’t take long for records to get out of date. The employee Payment Summaries generated for the financial year are a great trigger for tackling this. If your organisation uses employee self-service or e-HR, remind employees to update their details so their payment summaries can be sent to the right place. There is a strong ‘what’s in it for me’ (WIIFM) factor for employees to correct this information, so this can also be a good time to conduct a related campaign for other data such as emergency contact details or communication preferences such as mailing lists.
  • Be useful at tax time. Consider promoting external links to the ATO within the HR sections of your intranet highlighting anything that may be of particular interest to your employees.
  • Explain legislative change to your employees. In Australia, Paid Parental Leave provisions come into effect from 1 July. There are a range of support resources from the Department of Education, Employment and Workplace Relations
  • Not now, I’m accounting. Different professions have different peaks and troughs through the year. For your organisation’s accountants, financial services teams and payroll services areas, now is not the time to send an employee survey or long communications about benefits. Be thoughtful about what messages are important, and which ones can wait until the following month for these groups.

Leaders and Manager Communication

  • Celebrate the year to date. For those parts of the business who have a high workload in the lead up to end of financial year, remember to schedule some time or an event for celebration to recognise the effort when everything is over.
  • Set the course for the rest of the year. The leaders of the business should be considering the messages required for the second half of the year and begin incorporating them into their communication activities. The following questions can prompt leaders to think about what messages are required:
    • What has happened in your market or industry over the first half of the year
    • What is the most important thing from a customer perspective? From a competitor perspective? From an investor perspective?
    • What successes and challenges has the business faced so far?
    • What has worked well? Who should be celebrated and recognised?
    • What are the three ‘big things’ to focus on for the second half of the year?

Every organisation is different, so these tasks can vary. Choosing financial milestone dates can be an effective way to encourage even the most reticent managers to reflect on their communication needs.

Is instruction or direction better for engagement?

Do you return from holidays full of direction or full of instructions? One is better for engagement.

Direction or Instruction

Where are you going?

A leader I knew used the summer holiday as his ‘blue sky’ period. He would return from his trip refreshed and with a full to do list. His team had come to dread the return, as it frequently marked a change of strategy. In some cases this meant new efforts, change of direction, or even substantial reorganisation.

For his team, there was an important step missing. While he had given himself the time to think through his ideas, to internalise them and to create a to-do list at the end, his team would be frozen, waiting for the action plan. Four weeks of iterative thinking would be downloaded in an hour. In the months leading up to the break, they would shut down their thinking on new ideas or directions, knowing that there was little certainty of priorities on their return. And once the action plan was presented, there was a feeling that even if they agreed with the solution, they didn’t feel a sense of ownership as their input was missing from the actions now dictated.

The leader had come to believe that it was important that he take this time to make sure he provided clear instruction. But by doing all the thinking for them, he was missing an important opportunity to engage them in the problem and the solution. While there is great strength in aligning people behind a target, there is even greater motivation when people have context, information and an understanding of the problem or situation that they are seeking to solve.

What could he have done differently?

  • Balance destination, direction and detail. When it comes to implementation, people work with details. But before you get there, use the big picture to set the destination and establish direction. Your people might know a better route!
  • Provide clear context. Why is the number one thing, the number one thing?Customer, competitor, political, technological, social. What are the factors that informed your thinking?
  • Build the capability. Creating an environment that supports shared problem-solving, open communication, an outcome focus and clear decision-making takes time at first, but becomes a habit and can be done very effectively over time.

By giving up some control, and creating an environment with open communication, clear context, and strong sense of purpose, leaders can help their teams achieve results they may not have imagined on their own. There are times, such as during a crisis, when instruction will still be important. There is substantial evidence that during these times an engaged workforce goes beyond simply complying with instructions and commits to the outcomes.

Leader’s authenticity devalued by undercover formula

It has been interesting looking at Undercover Boss Australia to see what, if any, lessons can be taken and applied to leadership, communication and results.

In previous weeks, I have been able to take away a tip, a strategy or a flaw and use that to look at a broader area of organisational communication or strategy. This week’s episode has frustrated me.  Toga Hospitality CEO, Rachel Argaman took on a number of roles from housekeeping to kitchen hand to concierge in hotels and apartments within the Toga group.

There were certainly moving stories from employees who had experienced difficulties or significant life events. There were issues in the business with evidence that social programs, training and development opportunities were not consistently communicated or applied within some of the establishments. Plenty of fodder for discussion. But not providing a standout theme. Something just didn’t feel right.

What was missing? The CEO. Rachel was certainly present for the people she was working alongside. Her manner was open and inquisitive. One of the factors that makes Undercover Boss compelling (at its best) is understanding the journey of the leader as they discover challenges within the business.  Unfortunately, this element was absent from Argaman’s quest: she wasn’t really present for us, the viewer. What did she learn? What were her insights? What did she reflect on as a result.

Leadership Skills Australia undertook a review of readings on authentic leadership and distilled 5 common themes that consistently featured in the literature:

  • Commit to the truth
  • Know yourself well
  • Show self discipline
  • Show compassion
  • Be genuine

Argaman, a CEO with a strong reputation for her vision and team approach for the organisation, is an articulate believer in the power of authentic leadership, as she has demonstrated elsewhere in local news and older interviews.

Unfortunately in this episode, we were not given a sense of Argaman’s self-knowledge and awareness. It is a shame this aspect of her experience was not more apparent in the production.

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.

PR versus HR is the path to extinction

End of TImes Copyright Jon Kudelka

"Evolution is essential". Image copyright Jon Kudelka

I received this tweet today from Mark Ragan, CEO of Ragan Communications:

HR Isn’t Dead. It’s Called PR | Blogging4Jobs

The headline is deliberately controversial. I read on. The link is to an article by Jessica Miller-Merrel, in which she clearly outlines the way in which different functions contribute to the reputation and communication context of organisations. However, there is much in the article to fuel the mutual mistrust between these areas. And that has to stop. Thanks to Jessica for a good article, even if a little sensationalist in tone. I hope it is the last.

Here’s why.

(An open letter to HR, PR, Organisational Communication, Organisational Development, Internal Communication, Marketing, Change Management and all other professional groups who contribute to achieving better business results. That goes for you too, IT.)

There is so much hand-wring, introspection, flinging of grenades across the invisible walls (or actual cubicles) in companies. This spills over to the blogosphere. Most of the thousands of ‘hammer HR’ or “pound PR” posts seem to originate from people who have had a bad experience within an organisation, but have been unable to effect change. And, let’s be honest. While that happens sometimes, there is a better way.

When we continue the discourse from these deeply entrenched partisan positions, we weaken the position of all the participants. We perpetuate the stereotypical responses of the past:

* HR people can’t write
* PR just spin things
* IT cost us too much
* OD think this is a cult.

The issues behind these jabs are often real. For example:

* [Insert function] people fail to unable to develop professional partnerships effectively with internal stakeholders.
* PR people unable to develop whole-system thinking, based the myth that they can ‘control the message’.
* OD/Change commence a change that is unsustainable or has insufficient sponsorship to stick, subjecting employees to unfair uncertainty.
* HR people unable to quantify their deliverables in language that speaks to the business.
* The IT solutions blow out in terms of time or budget.

However, these localised shortcomings must be overcome in order for all these contributors to bring their specific body of knowledge, perspectives and solutions to the business. Great results occur when:

* HR attracts, develop and keeps the right people
* HR manages workforce risk effectively
* Internal Communication connects people to the brand and the strategy
* PR promotes the organisation holistically
* Marketing reflects and draws on the workforce in an authentic way
* IT deliver smart fit for purpose solutions

Before perpetuating the divide consider these ideas.

If the energy that was spent on sustaining energy and battle around these self-created issues was spent on improving the business, imagine the value that could be created within organisations.

Spend the time that it takes to read a post critical of another professional discipline on reading one about a business that has developed an innovation program without boundaries, or the business value of collaboration.

Spend the time it takes to write a sh*t-mail to your colleagues ‘over the wall’ to rethink perspectives. What can you do to align perspectives?

At its worst, the tension between these functions is neanderthal stone throwing. Territoriality and an inability to adapt will be the death of any professional species that is unable to continue to transform: to integrate, collaborate and create new value in business.

This is the time to evolve into a hybrid species: professional disciplines that can work across boundaries, can focus on the larger goal, who find new ways of creating value (outcomes) together for the benefit of the organisation.

Are you choosing evolution or extinction?

I have a lot of time for Ragan’s range of communication publications. I have picked up a lot of tips over years of subscription (anyone else remember the mustard colour weekly paper mailout?) and I’m sure Mark intended generating a great discussion with this tweet.

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 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.

Stepping into the conversation

One of the benefits of not being a bleeding edge early adopter is that there is much wisdom and experience to be drawn from the pioneers who have learned the hard way. It is the equivalent of being at a busy intersection and choosing the right time to merge. There will never be a complete break in the traffic, but at least you know what you are joining.

Experienced tweeps are going to find this post a case of stating a range of obvious observations, so apologies to you in advance. You are the people I am learning from, so thank you. However, I know a number of communicators who think they may need to do more to understand these channels but are not quite sure of how to step in. For you, here are some of my early observations.

Working within an organisation, I had been a passive observer of twitter for over two years, had researched best use and had even been involved in the formulation of social media policies. I had been waiting on the kerb.

It was not until the 2010 Federal Election that I found my stride, began exploring applications such as hootsuite and tweetdeck, learned some of the etiquette of hashtags, and how to create lists to wrangle the growing sources of information and ideas. In trying out these tools, I am finding that my twitter use has grown in recent weeks. 

I have been watching behaviour. One of my main interests during the election was the degree to which these tools were being used authentically, only to observe the range of pollies who jumped in, uncomfortable and managed. There seem to be an equal number of businesses who have a twitter account but clearly don’t know why (“everybody else was crossing…”)

Over the past few months there have also been some notable public train wrecks and PR disasters amongst journos, sports stars and others who have struggled with the public/private nature of the medium, and with businesses who have applied the communication practices of the past to the new world and damaged their credibility in the process.  

I have also begun to see how many NGO and other dot orgs are using these tools to enlist, engage, enrage and encourage. Then there are the companies who have already ‘got it’, who are intelligently conducting business with their customers by being in the dialogue in an authentic way.

As illustrated at the Media140 conference last week (#media140) (and in today’s twitstorm arising from the outing of an anonymous blogger by the News Ltd paper the Australian #groggate), the acceptable norms of behaviour are still being defined in this medium.

Within the communication industry, there has been a substantial growth in the range of eduction, consulting, and ‘expertise’. There are many good resources and these are questions that professional communicators are taking seriously. (I follow many of these in my range of lists). There are others who don’t know whether to join the traffic or not.

For me, twitter is an opportunity to get prompted about a diverse range of ideas, sources and interests. I hope to take the lessons of those who have become expert at sharing information that is useful with their communities, to be succinct and relevant, to occasionally be a little irreverent. I hope to join conversations and start discussion. I have decided on a strategy. 

I’m stepping in.