culture

Why I’m shitposting about #scottyfrommarketing while Australia burns

Friends and colleagues, you probably wonder if I’ve taken leave from my senses for the last few weeks. Not those of you dealing with the day to day of the fire emergencies across Australia: I hope you’re ignoring me and getting on with the practical things and staying safe. 

First, I am not living in an area directly impacted by anything other than some smoke and stories from people I know who know people who have had losses – of property, of animals, and in one case, their neighbour’s life. I am this writing from a place of privilege and fortune and as I do my thoughts are with each community affected, those whose losses are real and painful, and with those working to help others in every capacity. 

Where possible, with colleagues, friends and family spread wide, I am attempting to amplify useful information, knowing that at times like this, people directly impacted are listening to their local news, their local authorities, the RFS or CFA or CFS according to state:

http://bit.ly/AusEmergencyWarnings

And I am following the best advice on how to practically help recovery efforts, primarily through cash donation and legitimate fundraising efforts: https://www.abc.net.au/news/2020-01-01/bushfire-relief:-how-you-can-help-frontline-services/ 

I have spent a lot of my downtime on social media being critical of, sarcastic about, and commenting on the performance of the PM during crisis. I’m not equipped to be a politician. I know my limitations. 

So why am I, a communication professional and writer, spending time piling on to the criticism directed to the Australian Prime Minister, Scott Morrison? How does me shitposting and criticising and sharing critiques actually helping while people are still in response mode, wile flames move in, while Defence Force evacuations are occurring in communities that are in states of emergency? 

So what gives me cause to be so overtly critical? What gives me the right to mock #scottyfrommarketing and to pile on with the other critics? In my communication career, I’ve spent a lot of years helping organisations – employees and leaders, recover from bad leadership. Through communication, reputation and culture work, I have seen the residual impact on teams, divisions, departments and whole businesses when leadership has turned toxic.

Much of my communication career has been focussed on trying to help leaders and managers cut the bullshit and communicate in honest, authentic and impactful ways with the people in their organisations. Through listening, through self-awareness, through taking a constructive and humanistic approach. As a certified communication management professional, I am bound by a global standard that includes ethics and truthfulness in communication practice. 

And I’ve seen the damage that non-consultative, directive, ego-driven leaders who are working out their own psychological issues in a way that impacts dozens or hundreds or thousands of employees. 

I’m self-aware enough to know I do not have the disposition, the diplomacy, or the skill to be a politician. But I do know what genuine leadership looks like. What we are seeing from ScoMo to all appearances is a fabrication. 

If during his time as a marketer, Scotty was doing his job, he would have a strong awareness of sentiment. He recently claimed he’s not going to make policy decisions on the back of what people have to say on Twitter. But you can guarantee his team is using every social media analytical tool at their disposal to understand how the tide is turning. At the moment, the responses are crude and rudimentary: attempting to shift the rhetoric and messaging without having to concede policy shifts from the entrenched party positions on coal, climate, cost-shifting emergency response from Federal to State jurisdiction.

And that’s why I am using the critical hashtags and tagging both the Facebook and Twitter accounts for the PM. He shattered his own illusion of not being swayed by public opinion when he chimed in about the firefighter who said ‘he’s not my PM’ being taken out of context. That was enough for him to jump on Twitter to tell his side of the story. It also showed that the messages are getting through from every Quiet Australian who has decided this is not the time to be quiet. Perhaps at some point, through an FOI request, or during a Royal Commission or some other form of inquiry into the responses to this catastrophic season, or when this year’s Cabinet papers are released in 20 years, the effort to monitor and to willfully ignore the views of Australians will be apparent. 

The sentiment is shifting. Other conservatives are finding these positions untenable and unsustainable. When the FT is calling for your head, the markets listen. I’ve said elsewhere in response to the Machinery of Government changes #scottyfrommarketing rushed through in order to beat the Thodey report into the public service that if he was the CEO of a listed company, Morrison’s decision-making would be called into question. 

That was prior to the even more ramshackle and reputationally destructive performance of the last few weeks. Any commercial Board would be assembling their Risk committee and making serious deliberations about the viability of the CEO. Australia deserves better, and despite the banal reassurances of our Chief Marketing Officer, Australia can more than one conversation at a time. Now is not the time for the people in response and recovery mode to be focussed on ineffective leadership but on the survival tasks at hand. But that is no reason for the rest of us, from our privileged positions of safety to not demand more of the leaders who are failing their constituents. 

Okay, now I am ranting. Back to leadership skills. Even the most sociopathic leaders can in the right circumstances be swayed by the things that their minders won’t say to them. 

“When you say ‘we’ all the time, you come across as not taking responsibility”

“You can’t talk your way out of this, you need to show some humility”

“I know you think you are demonstrating strength, but unless you can do it without that grin, you just look smugger”

“You might be hard-wired to deflect and not say ‘I don’t know’ but every time you run the same key message past people without answering the question – even if the answer is ‘you don’t know’, you’re damaging your credibility further.”

“People hate you right now and that’s not some kind of test of wills… unless you rapidly learn to genuinely listen, and not just fake it, you’re going to destroy not only your credibility but also that of the leadership team…”

“You need to understand it’s not about you and what you want to say”

They are paraphrased examples of real feedback that has been impactful with managers and executives in the public and private sector, giving them a moment when they have realised their impact isn’t what they hope it to be.

Scotty would like us to think he doesn’t know – or that he knows best – but let’s make sure he gets some feedback:

www.twitter.com/ScottMorrisonMP

https://www.facebook.com/scottmorrison4cook/

https://www.pm.gov.au/contact-your-pm

https://www.aph.gov.au/Senators_and_Members/Parliamentarian?MPID=E3L

The stories of those with the experience at the front need to be heard – not just nodded at but heard by those in power. The stories of kids who have been afraid of the smoke, or who don’t understand why other people are frightened should move compassionate, capable people. There is wisdom and hope and the real community spirit in those stories. 

We deserve leaders who are capable of paying attention to those stories and adapting instead of pushing their own narrative. 

Disclosure: I have worked as a communication consultant for a number of state and federal government departments and agencies. I am not a member of any political party.

3 tools and an essential skill to help managers communicate better

Three tools and an essential skill for manager communication

Organisations ask a lot of their operational and line managers. The day-to-day administration of a team while also focusing on delivering business results can be overwhelming for even experienced operational managers. Functional areas such as finance, human resources, property and procurement regularly decentralise activities to people leaders or provide self-service options that also shifts the action to the manager.  

It becomes apparent why managers can struggle in their communication efforts. An employee’s immediate manager has a significant impact on their experience of the organisation they work for. Across a range of communication audits and studies, ‘immediate manager’ is cited as a preferred source of information, and yet the performance of managers is also cited as a challenge.

It’s no surprise then that so many engagement or communication surveys show that manager communication is not meeting employee needs or expectations. Meanwhile, in research across a wide variety of industries and organisations, line managers in organisations have a consistent request:

Make it simpler for me.

Three tools and an essential skill

There are three simple tools that people managers can adopt that will add to their communication competence and increase their effectiveness in communicating with not only their teams but other parts of their organisation and their stakeholders.

“For us this means…”

Being able to complete a very specific sentence is an important capability for line managers in any organisation. That sentence starts with “For us, this means…”

Organisations are complex. It’s almost a cliche to state that, but it remains an unavoidable truism as the nature of work continues to shift and organisations continue to try and deliver their outcomes in perpetually changing circumstances.

The days of control and command where a manager could know everything that was important to their team are gone.

Given this fact, the role of the manager shifts from being the keeper of knowledge to the provider of context. Providing managers with enough information, giving them time to digest and internalise change, and equipping them to translate priorities for their business area equips them to fulfil their role as a credible source for the team and empowers them to do it in an authentic way.

“For us this means…” is the bridge between the universal messages being driven by the CEO or Executive team, or a corporate communication function, and delivering consistent yet relevant information to the parts of the organisation where change actually occurs.

“Elbows out”

Think about how we usually experience the people we work with. We see them at their most normal as they talk to us day to day about their work or their weekend. We see their natural body language. Regardless of whether they are extroverts, introverts or somewhere in between, we can observe their authentic style.

Now think about what usually happens for managers when there is a substantial change they are required to support. They are provided dot points, speaking notes, briefing packs or a script from the project or human resources or a change team. And then they are asked to deliver those messages. For some, this takes the form of holding the script, and ‘seizing up’ as they are constrained in their communication style. What we see is they suddenly become “elbows-in” communicators as they clutch the script in front of them and lose their natural style.

Investing in managers’ communication competence to enable them to be “elbows out” communicators, comfortable to deliver the essence of a message while not being restricted to a script that forces them to sound inauthentic delivers results in terms of credibility and equips them to be the trusted source that their employees and team members want them to be.

Think before you speak

Managers face time pressures and unfortunately too often this translates into a lack of preparation for communication. Planning communication does not need to be difficult or time-consuming. Five simple questions can help a manager prepare for any kind of communication activity. It might be the one to one meeting they are having with a team member, or it might be the monthly all-hands meeting; asking themselves the following five questions to prepare can help them hit the mark on their message and most importantly, focus on the outcome of the communication.

What is the context of this communication: what is going on here, what has already happened,  and how does that affect what I want to happen?

What outcome am I hoping for and what will that look like?

What message does that individual, team, partner, customer, or stakeholder need in order to move them towards that outcome?

Given the context, the message and the desired outcome, what is the most effective method for this communication? Is this something that needs to be communicated face-to-face?

What is required to support this communication activity to ensure the outcomes are achieved? This might be selecting the right place and time, determining what additional information is required, involving others in creating the communication or ensuring there is a feedback process.

It is no coincidence that those considerations form the abbreviation COMMS:

  • Context
  • Outcome
  • Message
  • Method
  • Support

(More information on applying the COMMS planning approach is available freely under a Creative Commons license.)

While simple on the surface, applying these three skills consistently can transform the quality of manager communication.

Listening is the special sauce that brings it all together

Binding these three skills together is a manager’s ability to listen deeply. This includes listening to what the organisation requires them to achieve, as well as listening to what their team needs in order to deliver.

At a time when organisations continue to struggle to engage employees, equipping managers to be effective communicators has a direct benefit and is far from a ‘soft skill’. Investing in developing manager capability in these four areas provides an advantage in terms of reputation, risk, productivity and engagement.

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”?

Pixar President Ed Catmull on open communication

Communication needs to be between anybody at any time. Outside the structure, and outside the order.

Ed Catmull, President Pixar

In a short video interview, Ed Catmull talks about the challenges to open communication on Toy Story.

via Fastcompany

Ed Catmull, President Pixar

Special: Why this budget is an employee engagement nightmare and how leaders can make it better

An open letter to leaders and communicators in the Australian Public Service and Government Agencies

It may seem frivolous to talk about employee engagement while a razor hangs over 16000 to 25000 people’s jobs*.

There are around a quarter of a million people within the public service going to work today wondering what their future will be following the first Federal Budget to be delivered under the new Government. They will be wondering whether they are part of the “pain with a purpose” that the Budget is set to administer. If not them, their colleagues. If not their colleagues, those in another agency to be merged, subsumed or integrated.

Poor communication during change has a substantial negative impact on employee engagement and consequently on productivity, performance and culture. Uncertainty is crippling.

Every time an employee hears something fundamental about their role from outside their organisation, trust is destroyed. For workers in the public service or other agencies, where the debate about jobs, roles and size is played out in public, this is a difficult time (It is also one that occurs to a greater or lesser extent each budget or electoral cycle.)

“Our fatigue is often caused not by work, but by worry, frustration and resentment.” – Dale Carnegie

Disruption disrupts

Major change – transformational change such as redefining the scope and remit of an agency, or bringing together separate departments – in the short term creates a range of predictable responses and an accompanying downturn in productivity.

Study after study** about the negative impacts demonstrate that a number of conditions are a guarantee of reduced trust and disengagement:

  • Creating a high level of ambiguity by referencing major change without specific details
  • Publishing information externally on change that impacts individuals publicly before communicating directly with them
  • Providing no opportunities for input to change or its implementation
  • Not gathering feedback
  • Gathering feedback or research and not acknowledging the findings (even if the findings cannot be acted on it is key to be transparent)
  • Making ‘big bang’ announcements that are not supported with ongoing change and communication initiatives.

The news isn’t all bad

Significant change is an opportunity to maintain and increase engagement. The approaches to implementing major changes – even where it requires cuts – can provide a catalyst for the kinds of leadership and communication that build trust and strengthen the capacity for change. Towers Watson have shown how organisations that get this right see benefits in productivity, trust and capability.

It is possible to communicate in a way that is humanistic and respects employees. A study by Hewitt of change and engagement during the GFC indicated that in those companies where managers were able to explain the context of the tough decisions, engagement was retained or even increased.

A leaner public service will require higher levels of engagement to deliver ‘more with less.’ Yet, unless these changes are led effectively with meaningful employee communication, the support of the employees required to do the work will be eroded at exactly the time they will be needed the most.

In the UK, the recession, and the bite on business and government triggered the Macleod Report, an investigation into the value of employee engagement in the workplace.  Subsequently this has become a major government initiative to foster higher levels of employee engagement as an economic driver.

“As our public services face the reality of an end to the years of rapid growth in investment, it is hard to see how the quality of service we all aspire to see – employees and citizens alike – can be achieved without putting the enthusiasm, commitment and knowledge of public service employees at the forefront of delivery strategies.” David Macleod & Nita Clark

Four things public sector leaders can do now to maintain engagement

1. Make real communication a priority now

All the Ministerial Releases that can be printed or posted on the intranets (plural) will not actually address the communication need at the heart of this challenge.

During uncertainty people need more real communication, and they need it from their managers and supervisors fast. The majority of trust and engagement is attributable to the actions of leaders and supervisors, not memos.

Real means two-way face-to-face communication. Dialogue, listening, and discussion are part of the sense-making process for major change.  This requires planning, commitment, time and skills – at a time when costs are being scrutinised. But the cost of not adopting real communication is another workplace-generation of low engagement and mistrust.

2. Listen

This is what it says on the tin. There are two levels of listening that are key. The first is as a leader, genuinely listen; take time to hear and acknowledge the experience of people facing change. The second is institutional listening; ensure that there are ways of capturing the attitudes, questions and concerns of employees. In environments where listening has not been high on the agenda this is a big – but symbolically priceless – change if it is done effectively. This doesn’t mean ‘just another survey’ or feedback box. It does mean engaging in dialogue about the reality of the changes.

3. Stop waiting to communicate until there is more information

There will always be an information gap. That doesn’t mean there should be a communication gap.  Realise that not communicating is not an option.  Talk about possible scenarios, and talk to facts. Talk about process in the absence of details of the change. When there is nothing to update, tell people there is nothing to update. Ask questions.  Or listen.

If employees are reading something outside the organisation – whether in the news or on twitter – be prepared for some form of communication inside.

Making an announcement then asking employees to ‘discuss this with their manager’ without equipping managers and supervisors to have next-level conversations about change sets them up to fail. Even in organisations with healthy levels of engagement, it is not uncommon for there to be a pain point at the mid-level manager. They are expected to be the local face of change, yet are also typically facing the impact of changes themselves.  If it’s important to increase the focus on communication during uncertainty for employees, it is twice as essential for managers.

4. Be real

Communication is never a substitute for strategy. If the strategy is going to be challenging, saying otherwise is not going to make it better. Although the public is accustomed to spin being part of the political discourse, spin has no place in employee communication.

Discuss what the future requires, what the current situation looks like, and what needs to happen to bridge that divide. For managers and supervisors, this means taking the time to be able to understand change and discuss it.

If you don’t know, say you don’t know. Establish links to the policy and strategic priorities you do have greater certainty about.

The seven things to do next

  1. Have a plan
  2. Understand the context
  3. Put it in real language
  4. Prioritise face to face and dialogue
  5. Listen
  6. Support managers in their role
  7. Communicate some more.

As change and uncertainty is a feature of every industry and sector and part of the landscape of business – the new normal – rather than accepting the negative consequences, leaders have the opportunity to face into the change and use the change as a catalyst for open, constructive communication.

 

*The Commission of Audit has up to 25000 jobs to be cut depending on the recommendations applied.

** including Towers Watson, TJ Larkin, Hewitt, Edelman Trust, Melcrum

Disclosure: I have provided advisory counsel, change and communication training to a number of Federal and State Government departments, agencies and directorates, both as Meaning Business and in my former role as Research & Content Director, Melcrum Asia Pacific.

Discovering the soft edge of strategy

In his book The Soft Edge: Where Great Companies Find Lasting Success Forbes publisher Rich Karlgaard explores the humanistic aspects of strategic advantage. He outlines five elements of the ‘soft edge’  of the organisation that are needed for success: trust, smarts, teamwork, taste, and story.

In an excerpt in this recent Inc Magazine article, the idea of focusing on culture and the human side appears to be a surprising discovery.

The Soft Edge - Post It Summary by Meaning Business

The Soft Edge – Post It Summary by Meaning Business

(As an aside, I find fascinating the degree to which start-up literature gets excited about good practices that have been long established in more traditional organisations. It’s like watching teenagers ‘discover’ the music their parents listened to. I’m working up to a post on the things startups can learn from established business practice and vice versa.)

What is exciting is the way that Karlgaard sets some parameters around the kinds of stories that matter in organisation.

The stories that matter are the human stories, in which real people did something, learning and growing in the process. It might be customers, it might be your CEO, it might be a field sales rep who has learned to believe in the value of what she’s selling.

Story is also the story that you tell yourself about yourself, and that every employee tells himself or herself. Story is what gives meaning to everything, both inside and outside the business world.

If those stories are lacking or, worse, depressing, there is simply no amount of strategy and tactics that can make your company great.

Business Planning and Strategy: 5 Things You’ve Overlooked | Inc.com.

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.