Executive Communication


Public relations is counter-intuitive in the sense that it’s a study of what you’re communicating by not communicating. We’re not taught to think this way and to do so seems slightly paranoid.

Here’s a couple of communication principles organizations and senior leaders can put into practice in order to avoid the fallout—the Tiger Woods effect—of not shaping the message before, during and after a crisis.

1/ Don’t wait for a crisis to be transparent in your messaging– Don’t leave things to chance or fool yourself into thinking that those you manage will be satisfied with your less-than-full disclosure. Even when you have nothing substantive to report, you can be transparent about that, and avoid the guessing game that will invariably take place among your staff and just as invariably result in a less than generous construction/interpretation of your silence. Why be transparent when you have nothing to say? Does that seem counter-intuitive to you? Because it allows the folks in your organization to share in the journey, and share the burden: It establishes trust in your leadership. It’s ok to communicate the half picture, if that’s all you know; the point is to make every effort to keep others in the loop.

2/ Get out in front of the message- Communicate and do it as soon as possible. In some cases it may not always be possible to communicate immediately– say, if you are dealing with some sort of shock or trauma associated with the event at hand. Perhaps in the case of Tiger Woods that was the shock of getting caught. No matter — take the essential time needed to work through the shock or grief, then you or your PR person should  jump into the fray and address the situation as honestly and accurately as possible. You don’t want to add scheming and intentional obfuscation to the list of your misdeeds.

3/ Hold a quarterly Town Hall meeting— Dedicated meetings convened with the goal of two-way communication should be held on a quarterly basis regardless of the type of organization you’re in. A simple form can distributed and incorporated into the meeting (not after the meeting) where participants can weigh-in anonymously about what’s going right, what’s going wrong and which corrective actions may be taken. The next meeting date should be scheduled and expectations should be clearly managed–what important milestones will be achieved before the next Town Hall is convened? When something goes wrong it’s too late to communicate. Be open and consensual and communicate purposefully on a quarterly basis or more frequently.

4/ Establish a leadership and/or manager communication plan: I heard one CEO say managers better know how to communicate or they should be fired. Really? Keep your managers updated regularly through two-way communication channels offered by social media. Establish a process to listen to their concerns so they can incorporate your organization’s strategic goals into what they do everyday. Are they concerned only with performance or have you trained managers to partner with those they manage. When managers take the time to explain the value of the employment experience (or volunteering experience for non-profits) they can drive engagement and motivate employees/volunteers in a way and impacts the bottom line. Managers/supervisors are the most important communicators in your organization. Don’t let this channel go to waste. Teach them how to help advance the career goals of employees in addition to bottom-line corporate financial objectives. Aren’t they related anyway? Thoughts?

Photo Credit: Stefano A’s photostream, licensed by Creative Commons.

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I’d like to stress the importance of a communicator’s understanding and participation in what’s going on outside the corporate firewalls as a vital aspect to succeeding internally with Sharepoint’s panoply of social media tools. Beyond the configuration and intranet governance issues that must go in to a proper Sharepoint deployment, let’s not forget that something organic has grown up around us — something we can’t control anymore; namely, two- way conversations and dialoguing on the likes of Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn at the kind of engagement levels that we as communicators would kill to have inside our organizations.

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I believe our required reading on this topic, if any, lay out there — in understanding the premises of social media I think we uncover why these social media channels are so popular. Not the “Sharepoint for Dummies” isn’t a stimulating read, but are you still a dummy after you’ve read it…always wondered about that 😉

Social media is useful to me because there’s a lot of smart people out there from whom I can learn; in fact, I’m sure I could learn something for every one of you. That’s one of the premises of social media.

Organizations that wrestle with the premises of social media may not fully buy-in to the value of consensus and inclusive (in our case, employee) feedback —  let’s face it, not all of us grew up trusting the wisdom of crowds and the value of consensus; certainly Boomers were taught to question this very thing. Yet I don’t think many of us would argue the value of employee feedback as the basis for informed senior leader decision-making, would we?

Social media is a golden opportunity for communicators to deliver a consensus-driven decision-making model: Sharepoint provides the tools
to help senior leaders lead with transparency in the style of Mr. Obama (his prescient use of social media in the last election), and I believe this is the real value to organizations. The ability to deliver data from internal social media that reflects a consensus among employees is something tangible communicators can bring to the table. Senior leaders need a pulse check from their front-line and they need it more frequently than an annual employee engagement survey. This presents an opportunity for communicators using Sharepoint with social media.

Our social media communication strategy must deliver leadership transparency. One can’t expect to change a corporate culture from risk-averse to transparent by setting up a few blogs for senior leaders or the CEO, or simply encouraging employees to populate their My Site employee profile with personal information in the hope that this will somehow mushroom into a Facebook-like usability craze among employees.

Communicators can deliver value to the enterprise with Sharepoint’s RSS feed capability, for example, which kicks out an e-mail to notify you of blog updates — a blog in which you specifically expressed interest and to which you willingly subscribed to receive updates. That’s a bit different than the top-down cascaded corporate messaging pattern of old — this is targeted messaging and a reduction in unwanted e-mail. Every blog also invites opportunities for two-way communication on posts, leading to a lively two-way or multi-layered conversation thread among many participants.

Social polling invites blog readers to comment on a post in a number of different ways, some of which are non-threatening, leading to greater collaboration. Workgroups can “follow” other team members to boost collaboration (with their permission, of course), receiving updates on team or individual progress on activities, work assignments or projects. Whole teams can easily create and edit a document — a 401(k) Summary Plan Description, for example, or a set of intranet governance rules — with version updates made clearly visible in a collaborative wiki workspace.

Micro-blogging applications like Twitter and Yammer (not one of Sharepoint’s out-of-the-box capabilities) have been used effectively by CEOs and corporate marketers as immediate sounding boards and feedback mechanisms for products and ideas, and have proven to be very useful platform for real-time updates (Tweets) during a crisis.

Sharepoint with social media offers previously unknown possibilities to gather unfiltered feedback and facilitate the right conversation and collaboration among employees.

Photo credit: psd’s photostream, licensed under Creative Commons.

I’ve been thinking about the value of micro-blogging applications for CEOs, and it seemstwitterto me that the use of Twitter (or Yammer, the micro-blogging service for internal corporate applications) for a CEO or anyone else in the corporate space becomes an issue of engagement, culture and two-way communication. I believe two-way communication, by definition, is an intelligent effort to incorporate employee feedback into corporate decision-making. So the use of Twitter becomes an issue of a CEO’s comfort level with consensual decision-making (wisdom of the masses) as opposed to the top-down, cascaded messaging prevalent at most companies whose businesses were built by traditional means.

But there’s an important distinction to be made; namely, that the use of Twitter at companies like Zappos is a reflection of their business model and culture. Zappos use of a next-generation communication platform like Twitter makes perfect sense because their business model was built online — they sell shoes over the Internet. What legacy-based organizations have to overcome is the cultural perception that their business model was built without reference to these new communication tools and platforms.

You get my point: It makes sense for the CEO of a new media firm to send out tweets during the day about how she’s meeting with venture capitalists, or how he’s working on a hot new product that will jump start sales in this sluggish economy. His communication with employees is direct, unfiltered and and in real time. This holds great promise and possibility for employee engagement. And President Obama obviously understood the value of this platform in directly connecting with Millennials during the last election — many felt connected to the Obama cause, even if, in some cases, it was only a staffer who sent the Tweet, and not Mr. Obama himself.

But for Twitter or any Web 2.0 next-gen medium to work the organization must be committed to open dialoguing, direct connection and two-way communication that leads to consensual decision-making. To me that’s the real issue: how transparent does the CEO or organization want to be? I think generally, owing mostly to generational preferences/differences, there is a definite line drawn in the sand when it comes to transparency at most legacy-based organizations. The openness has its limits — whereas outside the firewall, no such limits exist. Legacy-based organizations may not be as comfortable making decisions based exclusively on the wisdom of the group, or waiting for complete consensus.

I’ve heard consensus-driven decision-making explained this way: Google works by arranging the organic searches that receive the most hits in their order of precedence. So… if there is a consensus that Twitter is the top organic search result returned for those who Google the search term “micro-blogging,” well then, Twitter, by consensus, must be the leader and best choice in micro-blogging. It seems to extend to other areas of life as well, at least for Millennials. Rather than “deferring to the expert,” as Baby Boomers (and Gen-x cuspers like me) were trained to do, Millennials bow to the consensus of the masses. They won’t move forward until there is a consensus.

I would say that trying to deploy a Twitter-like application (or any social networking strategy) at a company that does not have buy-in at the top for consensual decision-making and transparency is like, in the immortal words of Seth Godin, trying to put a meatball on an ice cream sundae. My feeling is that increasing and encouraging two-way communication through vehicles like Twitter will only be successful if senior leadership is committed to acting on the wisdom of the preponderance of employee feedback.

Photo credit: xotoko’s photostream licensed by Creative Commons.

Looks like someone in the corporate space truly understands the value of two-way communication and direct, uncluttered and unfiltered messaging. Great post from the Zappos CEO about how he uses Twitter to get traction with the values embodied by his company. You can read the full post here: http://tinyurl.com/dgsh4a

Here’s a snippet:

“I’ve talked a lot in the past about how we’ve used Twitter at Zappos for building more personal connections with both our employees and our customers. In fact, we recently debuted on FORTUNE MAGAZINE’s annual “100 BEST COMPANIES TO WORK FOR” list, and they began and ended the article talking about our use of Twitter to build more personal connections with people. That in itself is its own reward that has both personal and business benefits, but for this blog post, I wanted to share my stories and thoughts on how Twitter has helped me grow personally.

For me, it comes down to these 4 things:

Transparency & Values: Twitter constantly reminds me of who I want to be, and what I want Zappos to stand for
Reframing Reality: Twitter encourages me to search for ways to view reality in a funnier and/or more positive way
Helping Others: Twitter makes me think about how to make a positive impact on other people’s lives
Gratitude: Twitter helps me notice and appreciate the little things in life”

Thoughts? Agree, disagree?

Have you seen this? Joe McKinnon of DailyBeast weighs in on Twitter. Well actually he trashes it — one of many victims of the over-information highway and, I admit, the panoply of options from MySpace to LinkedIn to Twitter can be confusing and overwhelming.

While boomers settled into and embraced e-mail, millennials and Gen Xers embraced social networking. In some ways never the twain shall meet. While I respect Joe’s communication expertise, he shouldn’t make the mistake of throwing out the proverbial baby with the bathwater.
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Read the full story here: Journalist who does not understand the value of 2-way communication, collaboration, trashes Twitter http://tinyurl.com/cdjr6f
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Joe does have a point and an interesting point of view, and we do need to sit back and judge the strategic value of new communication platforms. But I disagree with his assessment. He doesn’t understand the value of two-way communication and directly connecting with people. It all depends on how you use Twitter and what your goals are. It’s also a generational thing, I believe — no one can stop Milennials from communicating through texting or micro-blogging, their preferred medium. I agree that the proliferation of other communication options can get mind boggling. But some may find them useful. It’s always a challenge to find the right balance, but this author is wrong in throwing out the baby with the bathwater.

Weigh in, what do you think?