communication

The mandatory pre-conference blog post and social update: #IABC19 Edition

I thought about a lot of #comms things on the way to Vancouver ahead of #IABC19 and this is my jetlag-fuelled take on why this is a crucial time for Communication Professionals.

It’s WCE. World Conference Eve. Already this week, fellow airline passengers from all parts of the globe have been subjected to communication professionals explaining their job and answering questions – the airline seat/UBER pitch is longer than the elevator pitch – as they wended or in some cases still wend their way to Vancouver for IABC’s annual tribal reunion.

In Vancouver, it’s 11.22pm Friday as I begin to write this, but back home in Australia it’s already Saturday at 3.52pm. I travelled back in time almost a full day as a result of crossing the International Date Line. Maybe I am feeling retrospective as a result.

Time accelerates as we age. I’m the same age as IABC, and I know with the number of changes I’ve experienced in the past year (from personal, professional and purpose perspectives) that sometimes, time moves a little too fast to allow the list to ever be entirely crossed off. So, here we are in June, the night before the Biggest Gathering Of People Who Do What I Do (henceforth called ‘the comms tribe’) and I am writing a blog post because…well, because you can’t not have something to show. It’s WC, people!

IABC World Conference is an interesting wormhole that brings the past, the present and the future together along with the comms tribe. It is the fire that we gather around to tell the stories that make sense of our professional world: Where did we come from, where are we going, why am I here?

IABC is approaching it’s 50th year as an organisation in 2020, with roots going back much further than that. The business of communication is not new. Here’s a paradox, though. While the practice becomes professionalised, new research is developed, the technologies both of communication and of the businesses we seek to improve continue to develop. And yet, the core challenges of the communication profession often seem inscrutable, constant and wicked:

Information is not communication.

While the former grows meta-exponentially, often fuelled by the activities and technologies of ‘communications’ we see greater problems than ever in terms of facilitating shared meaning. This isn’t a new problem.

There’s more noise than signal.

Ok, we know the sender-receiver model was talking about technology and not about people so it’s a very flawed way of viewing human communication. But, as a metaphor, it is truer now than ever.

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Internet Minute 2009

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Internet minute 2019.

Emotion trumps fact.

Communicating things that matter in a way that matters is really hard work. Complexity is inevitable. And it’s increasingly hard to fight misinformation because of the aforementioned noise, biases, bubbles and shareability.

Bad information = shareable. Good information = lost in the noise.

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Not a fake tweet.

Everyone and everything communicates.

Our species has been communicating for hundreds of thousands of years. It’s a little arrogant of us as communication professionals to rock up at well after 11.59pm on the evolutionary clock and think we’re suddenly going to be in charge. But our career-ancestors, the shaman and the priests, the academics and the jesters, the town-criers and the cave painters, the scribes and the documenters – the leaders – have been doing this much longer than we have, and in very few cases have they ‘got everyone on the same page’. At best, they’ve been able to create resonance, or motivate, or inspire or lead. At worst, they’ve been propagandists or censors, Inquisitors and snake-oil sellers. I’ve gone on a tangent, but a relevant one. At the worst points have they ‘controlled the story’ or ‘silver-lined’ it, neither of which promotes understanding and shared meaning. If we think we are in the business of control, we have to ask which of those professional columns we will be in when the AIs machine-learn the history of communication somewhere shortly down the path.

Which leads to another wicked problem.

Communications technology has been the tail wagging our collective dog.

Pretty much since Gutenberg.

A quick review of any of the literature of the past 50 years of communication practices shows that what we do has been play catch-up with channels as communication vehicles as they are developed largely by people who are not human-communication professionals. Do any of us want to go through the 2010s retrofitting ESNs to corporate cultures because IT got a bulk license when they did the infrastructure deal? No. But here’s where we have learned. There are multiple current studies and approaches being developed by communication leaders and academics dealing with the next big technological wave: AI and what it means for communication, business and society.

(For all the issues with the World Economic Forum, Davos can at least be relied upon to make sexy the issues that communicators strive to educate their businesses and clients for the preceding three to five years.)

It’s hard but we got this.

Bear with me. I know this got dystopian and at the moment seems pretty far from an inspirational post. There’s no “15 seconds of a baby elephant chasing geese” distraction in this blog.

Well, one GIF maybe.  But only to sustain us to the end of the story.

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Ok, back in the room. Focus people.

Because we – as people who are employed by business, governments, lobby groups, public organisations to use our knowledge, skills and profession to achieve outcomes that wouldn’t be as effective without us – have a pretty competitive and tough job at the moment. We’re fighting disinformation, tech change, other professional disciplines who don’t wait for permission.

The ‘where did we come from…’ is different for many communicators. You know on Survivor, when they merge tribes? Communication as a profession is still at that stage when Jeff gets everyone to throw their buffs in the fire. (Best Jeff Pobst voice: There is no internal comms tribe, no external comms tribe, no brand tribe, there is just Professional Communication.)

giphy

But we’re a bit ahead of Survivor contestants. We have our Global Standard and Code of Ethics to guide us. Which is exactly why coming back to the cave of #IABC19* is so important. I am so excited about what I will hear over the next few days.

The problems faced by the tribe will be near-universal. Wherever they are. Whatever the maturity of the organizations and industries they support. Someone else will have felt that pain. But someone else will also have found a different way, using the approaches and skills and disciplines we have collectively arrived at.

One example recently I witnessed was a panel presentation at the Australian Corporate Affairs Summit (#theCAS) where each panelist cited what was working in their organization, and each type of example was something not new for IC, but that was new to their organisation or sector, and applied with learning and insight. In comms, with professionalisation, we are seeing survival of the fittest practices: those that have had measurable impact.

KNOW FEEL DO (1)

In business, we communicate to create change

What do we do? We can take courses, we can join webinars, we can build our skills and stay current. But, communicating with each other, sharing stories, is still the most meaningful way to make sense of it all.

To paraphrase broadcaster and conference speaker and Celeste Headlee from her podcast interview with Dan Gold** a few weeks ago it’s through listening deeply, inquisitively and critically to those stories from all of our #comms tribe that we continue to advance and develop ourselves and the profession.

Happy #IABC19 everyone.

*If not in person then on LinkedIn, or Twitter, with the tag #IABC19.
**Correction. An earlier edition of this post incorrectly called Dan Gold Mike Gold. I think what I meant was ‘Dan Gold, who is great on the MIC…’

Disclosures: In addition to being an independent communication advisor I work with IABC to develop the Corporate Membership offering in the Asia Pacific region. I attended The Corporate Affairs Summit as a representative of IABC APAC, and this is my late homework. 

There is always another way to see things

The colourful dress is a great metaphor for the need to remember that people see the world differently.

The colourful dress is a great metaphor for the need to remember that people see the world differently.

I have known that things aren’t always the way you first see them since I was a child. My rainbow does not look the same as the rainbow that the vast majority of you see. I don’t see the explosion of red when bottlebrush is in season and I am just as likely to be wearing a purple tie thinking it is blue as I am a grey one thinking it is green.

I am colourblind.

For the most part, this colour uncertainty is something curious. The most serious consequences for me included not being able to choose being a pilot, a policeman or an electrical engineer as a career.

During a working bee I once spent half an hour looking for tins of green paint that turned out to be the very same tins of pink paint I had moved aside to commence my search. Other volunteers were dispatched to search for me, and when they arrived, they pointed to the cans that I had placed aside. The look on their face told me they couldn’t understand how I couldn’t see this.

Over the last two days I have found it fascinating to see how people have responded to the #thedress, the phenomenon of the photo of a dress that appears to be different colours depending on the viewer.

Original photo from tumblr user swiked.

What has stood out is the degree that people are ready to become entrenched in their position that the dress either has to be white-gold, or blue-black.

This little internet storm highlights one of the biggest challenges to communication. Everyone who is sure the dress is one colour and not the other (just like the working bee paint rescuer) struggle to accept that there could be another way to see things.

This post from arts and culture site Hyperallergic on the philosophical roots of the reaction to #thedress explores the how these experiences of ‘otherness’ challenge our understanding of the world.

But the gift that I have been given by my other-sightedness is a daily sense that there may be another way. Over the past twenty years, my work as a communicator and change manager is to help leaders, project managers, employees consider that blue might be gold and white might be black.

There is always another way to see something.

It is such a great, simple metaphor for differences in perception. Craig Silverman at Poytner has written a wonderful piece on what the whole episode can teach journalists which I recommend to anyone involved in writing, communicating and change. As Silverman writes:

“The simple truth is our brains process information in ways that can lead us astray. This is something every journalist needs to be aware of and account for in the work we do.”

For the record, I have no opinion either way on the colour of the dress. There are some excellent explainers about the phenomenon from New Scientist and IFLScience.

Communicate with…

COmm

How Not to Be ‘Manterrupted’ In Meetings

I once worked in an ASX 25 company where despite there being more women than men in the workforce, only one person in the ‘top 200’ senior manager group was female. Such a chronic lack of diversity changes the quality of communication, collaboration and leadership within a corporate culture.

Similarly, within the communication professions there are a higher number of women in internal and organisational communication roles (although senior roles as disproportionately held by males, as is the focus of research by IABC and Global Alliance). Too often, the biggest issue named by communicators is ‘getting heard’ by management.

At the risk of mansplaining – here are some ways communicators can ensure their voice is heard.

TIME

Manterrupting: Unnecessary interruption of a woman by a man.

Bropropriating: Taking a woman’s idea and taking credit for it

We all remember that moment back in 2009, when Kanye West lunged onto the stage at the MTV Video Music Awards, grabbed the microphone from Taylor Swift, and launched into a monologue. “I’m gonna let you finish,” he said as he interrupted Swift as she was accepting the award for best female video. “But Beyonce had one of the best videos of all time!”

It was perhaps the most public example of the “manterruption” – that is, a man interrupting a woman while she’s trying to speak (in this case, on stage, by herself, as an award honoree) and taking over the floor. At the VMAs it might have counted as entertainment, but ask any woman in the working world and we all recognize the phenomenon. We…

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From the Melcrum Blog: Has employee engagement lost its humanity?

Engagement remains an essential topic for organisations and leaders. I recently contributed to an online debate on whether in the process, employee engagement has lost its humanity. This is an extract. For the full discussion, including Jane Sparrow’s response, see the Melcrum blog.

For the employee, engagement doesn’t happen at a conceptual level. Like trust, engagement for them is an accumulation of perceptions and experiences, relationships and interactions.

The intensity of these individual experiences – positive or negative – will determine their scoring on factors that describe how connected they feel to their work, whether they enjoy what they do, the degree to which they feel they make an impact, whether they are able to provide good customer service.

Workplaces can foster or impede this. Engagement in organizations – when we look beyond the drivers and the factors in the instruments that measure it – consists of the accumulation of these human experiences.

– See more at: https://www.melcrum.com/blog/has-employee-engagement-lost-its-humanity#sthash.zuaDF7oe.dpuf

 

Communication lessons from #IBMCMOStudy

View “Communication lessons from #IBMCMOStudy” on Storify

The Spring communication health check

It’s spring, the days are warmer, and things are growing! In preparation for summer,

Time for a check up...

The grass has ris...

people are back at the gym, and healing the winter lawns. Winter bodies and gardens aren’t the only thing that benefit from some care and preparation for the seasons ahead. Like all natural systems, an effective communication strategy requires time and focus to grow.

We are quickly approaching the last financial quarter for 2011. Taking time before the new year to ensure your communication system have all the levers in place will be essential to delivering the 2012 business strategy for your organisation.

Take this 30-second health check to see how prepared your communication function is for the new year.

Business performance can be improved with effective communication in your business.  As a communication leader, you need to be ahead of the curve when it comes to communicating strategy.

If any of these levers are not in place, you may not get the results you are aiming for from your communication efforts.

We have a spring special on communication health checks for small and medium size businesses. Contact us on +61 412 504 252 to discuss how this special offer can help your business, or email us via this spam-safe link http://scr.im/meanbiz.

What communication channels didn’t exist when you were born?

A brief history of all things internal communication, part 1. Channels.

A history of communication channels

What channels didnt exist when you were born?

I have started developing an interactive timeline of the history of internal communication. The finished product will include developments in organisational theory, management practice, technology and key thought leaders and their impact on communication.

Part one of the timeline includes some notable milestones in communication technology and channels. I’ve included an overlay of the birth years for boomers, gen Y and millenials.

What communication channels didn’t exist when you were born?

Are there any channels you think should be included?

Next – key management theory and practice that influenced the development of internal communication.

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.

Five of the best

There are sites that we visit once and those we check every day. And then there are those few sites that consistently bring you back for valuable, rich content. Here are five that proved valuable this year.

One
www.brainpickings.org
well curated with a creative spirit. consistently curious, eclectic and informative.

Two
www.bnet.com.au
business blog with a different voice, regularly helpful for sharing solutions.

Three
www.changethis.com
bringing big ideas forward with disciplined argument and reason through manifestos.

Four
www.getstoried.com
responsible for one of 2010’s great online conferences, the reinvention summit.

Five

Classics

Classics


www.acommunicatorsview.com
IABC veteran providing sage advice for comms and business.