resources

A global perspective on the state of internal communication

IC Kollectif has launched a unique addition to the internal communication canon. The ebook, Disrupting the Function of IC, A Global Perspective featuring contributions from 30 global internal communication leaders.

What is impressive is the degree to which editor Lise Michaud has facilitated diversity in the conversation about practice. This is truly a global communication guide. With voluntary contributors from every region, the guide has captured the differences in the current state of how practitioners need to respond to their organisations.

Diversity brings difference, and a particularly exciting aspect of the project is the range of different opinions. There are few places (outside Twitter) where there is such representation of views and practices that span all the IC practitioner tribes; IABC, Global Alliance, CIPR amongst others.

There are divergent views on how to approach the ongoing symbiosis between IC and technology, on engagement, on the most important skills and the biggest challenges. Communication and communications.

Some of the common themes include:

  • Change is constant, so skills and experiences in responding to changing environments continues to be essential for the communicators.
  • Technology has been and will continue to be a factor for communication practice.
  • The need for the profession to hold the line in terms of ethical practice, dialogue and creating accountability.
  • Liam Fitzpatrick’s key takeaway stands out for me as the common sense that is far from common – stop looking for ‘the next big thing’ and focus on the outcomes.

I feel privileged to be in the same company as the other contributors and applaud all the authors for bringing current and new thinking to one place.

Let the conversations begin!

The 222 page ebook can be downloaded from IC Kollectif (free subscription required for download).

http://www.ickollectif.com/single-post/2017/06/11/Disrupting-the-Function-of-IC—A-Global-Perspective

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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.

 

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.

Making your message work for everyone

There is a well known Indian folk story that describes how a group of blind men who encounter an elephant all have very different descriptions based on their individual experience of the parts, rather than the whole. When we communicate, it is important to break down ‘the elephant’ into the parts that make the most sense to the most people.

The 4C Communication test ensures that your messages are clear enough to describe the whole to four very different people.

4C Communication Test

  • A colleague: This tests clarity and depth of understanding. It is the ‘fact check’ version of a message. A colleague will be able to understand the concepts and the detail of the message. Framing your message for a colleague tests for credibility.
  • A child: This forces us to use the most essential elements to create a simple message. Simultaneously conceptual and concrete, the ‘for a child’ test is a challenge of eliminating all but the core. Framing your message for a child tests simplicity.
  • A customer: This message test asks us to focus on the ‘so what’ of a message and to consider the relevance to the ‘other’. How does this help me? Why should I care? Framing your message for a customer tests relevance.
  • A cab driver: Be prepared to explain yourself and to hear a counter-perspective*. Does your message stand up to the scrutiny of a stranger? Framing your message for a cab driver tests for opposition.

There are other variations of this. Consider the personas that would be useful tests in your environment.

*In no way am I suggesting that cab drivers are essentially argumentative. However, my unscientific sampling spread over many years would indicate that many are conversationalists who have a sense of public opinion, often based on talk radio. 

Get the foundations right for 2015

How many times have you heard “I can’t believe it is December already!” from colleagues or family lately?

The end of the calendar year provokes responses ranging from shock at the speed of time passing, through to satisfaction at the achievements of the year, to mild panic as people look to their plans for 2014 and realise what is missing.

For communicators, December is a time to be able to reflect on the achievements of the waning year, while setting up for success in 2015.

Capture knowledge from the year

  • Take time to capture the lessons, issues and achievements of the year. If you already have a reporting process, pull out the highlights.
  • If communication projects didn’t have a formal post-implementation review, take time to capture successes and the areas that needed improvement.
  • Consider an annual ‘communication report’ to key stakeholders.
  • Consider whether to seek recognition for quality work. The IABC Gold Quills are open for entries until 7 January.*

Plan for the year ahead

  • Understand the priorities for the businesses, teams and clients you support for 2015.
  • If they do not have clear plans yet, use the opportunity to schedule communication planning sessions with your key stakeholders.
  • Determine how to address any gaps or improvements from past communication projects.

Prepare yourself

  • Take time to assess your capabilities based on what was achieved and what will happen in the year ahead.
  • Plan development options such as participating in professional associations, seeking coaching or undertaking skills training to fill any gaps.

Keeping plans simple

The pace of change in organisations requires us to be adaptive. Plans change, often. Focus on tools and processes that enable flexibility, that are simple to use. Using a common approach across your organisation builds skill and consistency. The Shorter COMMS Plan is a simple methodology to support better outcomes from all types of communication; whether small projects, business planning or team management. A new one-day workshop designed to help apply the Shorter COMMS Plan is being held in Sydney on 4 February.

New Workshop to apply the Shorter COMMS Plan is now available.

New Workshop to apply the Shorter COMMS Plan is now available.

 

* Disclosure: I am Co-Chair of the Gold Quill Blue Ribbon Panel for Asia Pacific.

 

 

New change management presentation added to the library

The Meaning Business Presentations page has a few new additions, including the PRIA webinar on change, and a super short guide to the Shorter COMMS Plan.

Help employees tell their stories with simple tools

The Universe is made of stories, not of

Crowdsourcing is a growing feature of organisational communication; but it is not entirely new. In near-bygone times of the employee newsletter, stories sourced from the frontline were a staple form of content. People like to hear what people like them have done. In particular, people like to hear how people like them have solved a problem, achieved a goal or overcome a challenge. These stories are the lifeblood of organisational life.

As digital communication expands the ability to capture and share stories, it is important to give employees tools and resources to help make their sharing effective. In particular, understanding the basic nuts and bolts of what makes a story a story is a useful reminder.

The four Ps – people, place, plot and purpose

This short video from the clever folk at StillMotion provides a beautifully simple model for helping people shape their information in a way that tells a story.

 

Once…then…then…

There are many tools that help people listen for, capture and shape stories. Various sentence structures provide ways of outlining the context, the characters and the challenge. Perhaps the simplest of these is the Pixar model (adapted from a range of sources)

Once there was a ___. Every day, ___. One day ___. Because of that, ___. Because of that, ___. Until finally ___.

There is always more than one perspective

Organisations are microcosms of the rest of the world. In the world there are millions of stories that overlap, different experiences of the same event. Any story-work within organisations or communities needs to recognise this diversity of experience.  This TED talk from novelist Chimamanda Adichie is a compelling example of how multiple stories shape our existence.

It is impossible to talk about the single story without talking about power. There is a word, an Igbo word,that I think about whenever I think about the power structures of the world, and it is “nkali.” It’s a noun that loosely translates to “to be greater than another.” Like our economic and political worlds, stories too are defined by the principle of nkali: How they are told, who tells them, when they’re told, how many stories are told, are really dependent on power.
– Chimamanda Adichie

The idea of managing multiple stories in the organisation is at the heart of my work on ‘strategic story worlds

Keep it human

There is an abundance of material on storytelling available on the web. It is important to come back to the basics before embarking on any formal storytelling activities.

We are human, we are already hardwired to use story as our means of making sense of the world. By being conscious of this as a start point, it is possible to ensure ‘storytelling’ in organisations is not a trend or just a process to be followed to get people ‘on the same page’ but is instead a fundamental part of the sense-making capability of an organisation and its people.

Rumours of the change curve’s death are exaggerated

The change curve isn’t quite dead yet.

 

In their new study, The Agile IC Function, Melcrum have looked at how organisational complexity has changed the demands on managing the IC function. In outlining the research, Melcrum point to three ‘foundation beliefs’ about communication that are ready for disruption.

It is exciting work, providing real benefits for comms leaders looking for new approaches to manage in workplaces that are changing constantly.

The study points to the non-linear nature of transformation, and proposes that the curve has outlived its usefulness do to the degree of concurrent change within organisations. Here I am taking on the change curve’s right of reply. I would argue that it the change curve is the only model comms and leadership use for managing change, they are doing it wrong.

Models out of context are lines on a page

So many models in communication get applied to the wrong thing, and then practitioners are surprised when the result wasn’t what was intended. This particularly applies to applying linear approaches to complex interactions.

One of the most famous misuses of a communication model is that of the Shannon-Weaver ‘communication model.’ This linear model that shows the flow of ‘messages’ being diluted by ‘noise’ is still embedded in many resources about communication.

Here’s the problem. This model was designed to describe how data is diluted as electrical signals move through circuits. The context for the model had nothing to do with human communication*.

Shannon-Weaver's communication model has little to do with human communication

Shannon-Weaver’s communication model has little to do with human communication

But it is a compelling diagram. So much so that it has been taught as a model of communication in business schools, leadership training, and is in the top search results in response to the question ‘How does communication work.’

The problem isn’t with the model; it is with how it is used.

Let’s go back to the origin of the change curve: it was an interpretation of the work of Elisabeth Kubler Ross in her book On Death And Dying to look at how people move through bereavement in five typical stages.

 Denial | Anger | Bargaining | Depression | Acceptance

 It was then and remains a heuristic model for viewing human experience.

Organisational change practitioners in the 1970s and 1980s soon understood that there were parallels at work. Organisational change is a process of managing loss. Resistance to change is a form of loss aversion: loss of job, loss of status, and loss of certainty.

Many change models derive from the theory of loss

Many change models derive from the theory of loss

Download the PDF of all the models

Any leaders who has had to conduct layoffs face to face with employees, or who has had to manage a major relocation, or change a structure, or communicate that there will be no bonuses this year will have seen how accurate the change curve is in describing the individual response to change.

The challenge, as identified in the new Melcrum study, is that this response doesn’t ‘scale up’ very well. The individual experience of change can be understood, but how do you design change communication for people going through multiple iterations with no beginning and no end?

Babies and bathwater, and a little irony

Models are ways for us to understand behaviours and systems. They are a proxy for the real experience of the organisation. Understanding the balance between the context for the model and its pragmatic application is essential in order to navigate the world of work. Complexity in organisations means that few linear models will work in isolation. There are seldom the ‘simple answers’ practitioners crave.

Melcrum’s new study raises very important questions for IC leaders and encourages them to think smarter about how to deliver services in a changing workplace. Leaders do need to work with new models and approaches for this new environment.

This means challenging lots of assumptions and existing processes as they ask leaders and partners to change their understanding of what contemporary IC practice is. And that’s going to provoke anger and denial in some practitioners before they accept it and commit to working in new ways.

As they introduce new ways of working, IC leaders can expect to face resistance from the ExCo to doing things in new ways. Or their HR Director may not initially be supportive of changes to the structure to be more adaptive. And the manager in the business area who is used to embedded communication support will almost certainly resist having resources taken away.

And this is exactly where the understanding (rather than the rigid application) of the change curve will remain useful. Maybe there is some life in the old curve yet.

The change curve still has some life in it yet.

The change curve still has some life in it yet.

*For an excellent description of the birth of the Shannon-Weaver model, I recommend James Gleick’s The Information.

Disclosure: From 2012-13 I was Research & Content Director, Asia Pacific for Melcrum. These views are my own.