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.
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.
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.
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*.
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.
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.
*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.
I’m a little bit Pavlovian when it comes to Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. Every time I see it, I have an urgent need to share it with communicators. This is driven in part by the blank looks from managers, or worse still, communicators I have occasionally encountered when talking to them about engagement. Yet this is one of the fundamental ‘ways of knowing’ that informs our communication practice.
That’s why this post from the the clever content marketers, curators and link-baitering masters at Buffer caught my eye. They have curated 10 very useful theories of persuasion, including Maslow’s Hierarchy and the Reciprocity Norm. These are all useful for communicators.
I’d be interested to hear about what models you find most useful. Add your suggestions in the comments.
What lesson does Disney’s Frozen have for internal communicators?
In the lead up to the IABC World Conference, this came up in the conversation with Natasha Nicholson, Executive Editor of IABC’s CW Magazine about how transmedia storytelling is changing the game for internal communication.
We discuss the difference between stories and story worlds, seeing the corporate story from multiple perspectives and the idea that sometimes, communicators need to ‘let it go’ when it comes to trying to control the message.
A good story is still a good story, but the ways in telling it are now very different and the ways of sharing it are a lot more open.
The full interview runs 14 minutes and is available here.
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.
(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.
In the era of the remix and mashup culture, I am really excited to be presenting a session on two topics that need to meet: transmedia storytelling and organisational communication. The IABC World Conference in June has me presenting the following session:
Traditional approaches to corporate narrative are being disrupted by the multiple forces of technology, social change, trust and a shift in the role of the corporation. In this environment the role of the communicator is shaping, telling and retelling the story of the company is shifting. Employees are co-creators, subject matter experts are curators and traditional business models become opportunities for collaboration. This session will explore:
- The death of the corporate story
- Sense making through social media
- Co-creation as a model for true engagement
- Empowering employees to own the narrative
- How IC is the original transmedia communication strategy
As the conference approaches, I will add some pre reading here on the blog.