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It’s no secret that news travels at the speed of a millisecond in today’s social/digital reality, yet for many companies, response time to mobilize around an issue often seems to be stuck in a different era. The key is accelerating responsiveness while ensuring thorough contingency analysis and planning, thanks in part to the availability of real-time analytics.  At W2O we’ve taken an in-depth look at how to make companies more agile improving their judgment and mitigating problems before they blossom.

How do we do this? We conduct a proprietary, real-time simulation process we call Inception, to pressure-test clients around preparedness. It’s an interactive workshop in which teams confront and respond to a crisis situation that emerges in a social/digital world.  In the debrief following the session, strengths and weaknesses in operational decision-making processes, intelligence-gathering, analytics, content development, and use of communication channels are identified, as are best practices.

Additionally, we follow a playbook. The playbook for an efficient and effective issues process in a digital world includes the following elements:

  • Effective triage increases decision-making. Some issues are urgent and important; others more of nuisance. If there’s a complicated, multi-person process for figuring out which is which—or conversely no process at all—company responses will be slow, muddled, and inefficient. Triage is a good solution. Just as hospital emergency departments employ triage professionals, corporations should have people trained to evaluate crises, make quick decisions, and rally resources rapidly when the situation warrants. Does yours? Are there clearly established internal signals that let him or her clarify within the organization that one issue is a “red ball” while others can be allowed to quiet down on their own?
  • A tight response team ensures you to stay agile. It’s hard to be nimble when you’re too large.  What’s the minimum team size needed to get results fast? Often you can get 90% of what you need from a small team; waiting for the missing 10% can immobilize you. Plan in advance who’s to be on the core team, put their contact information on speed-dial, and ensure they can be reached 24/7. (Equally important: knowing who’s not on this team. Rapid response sometimes requires sidestepping or tactfully saying no to some people who want to be involved but aren’t critical to the decision or immediately available to weigh in.)
  • Calibrate responses based on the platform and expectation; pre-authorize experts. Response time is directed by platform ad channel. Each has its own cadence, frequency, and expectation.  As such, knowing who in your organization has the experience and judgment to respond to key parts of the issue? Ideally, that go-to person should be pre-identified and pre-authorized by the C-suite to speak on the issue, independently providing reassurance while a more complete strategy gets formulated. Interim responses calm panic and let key audiences know you’re aware of the situation and working on solutions.
  • Address the short-term; deal with the long-term. At W2O, we recommend immediate response ideas with a more strategic long-term outlook built into the plan. It’s easier to put issues in perspective when you have initial solutions at hand with the ability to pivot to a longer-term approach; without these starter ideas, the issue can hover longer than it should.
  • Let data and realtime analytics provide the pathway. In times past, you needed to field a research study to gauge the impact of a situation and response to it. Today, you can use near-instantaneous real-time analytics to course-correct and fine-tune your efforts quickly before, during and immediately after a crisis hits. More importantly, if you are doing predictive analytics regularly, mapping potential issues that you can plan for (understanding that there are some you won’t see coming) you can actually spot an issue bubbling up in the earliest of instances and nip it before it hits The New York Times.
  • Respect the news highway. Information is power.  In a fast-paced, ever-changing media and influence environment it is critical that everyone involved in a crisis is educated on how news and opinion forms and flows.  That goes for traditional earned media most of which is also on-line today making sharing and syndication quicker and easier than ever before; the influence on social media posts by anyone with influence, media or not media, and how that can create a firestorm, often without context, within hours all the way up to the national evening news; to paid syndication of earned media and how that amplifies messaging in ways never seen in the past; to the importance of having active social channels and information on all the key influencers who follow and are engaged with your organization, to get into the discussion quickly in the same places where a crisis could be taking flight.    A little education will go a long way for most companies in this area.
  • Value speed over perfection. Issues often swirl out of control due to a lack of responsiveness that is the byproduct of being perfect. Getting your point-of-view out there quickly and updating based on new information is the difference between reputational damage and reputational gain.

Being aware and trained early on is the best remedy for mitigating an issue.  Some companies believe that a social media flare-up won’t affect them, some know it but don’t know how to prepare or get ahead of it with speed, but those who have experienced one know just how much damage can quickly occur.

Issues management and crisis preparedness in a digital age has taken on new meaning causing organizations to deal with the situation in an agile manner often upending traditional corporate protocols and processes.

Those that adopt and adapt quickly will emerge unscathed.  Those that don’t will deal with the consequences.


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Implications and Insights for Communications and Marketing

On the surface, leading an organization in a turbulent business world encompasses very similar actions and decisions regarding strategy, innovation, talent, cost, and investment as it always has.  But to think this is the case would be extremely naïve if not dangerous.  Technology and its resulting impact is literally upending entire businesses and markets causing management approaches and leadership models to be redesigned or abandoned.  Communications and Marketing are already experimenting with new techniques directed by data and analytics pointing to where and how opinion is being formed, influence is being felt, purchase is being reinforced, and relevance is defined.

Given this tumult, the C-Suite is being forced to transcend tried and true processes and beliefs to address the real byproduct of a digital world:  Speed/Agility.  To win today, organizations and leaders need to move quickly, process data and insight fast, pivot at a moment’s notice, and innovate ahead of competition.  As such, decision making, research, investigation, analysis, and business savvy can no longer be part of the traditional bureaucracy.  Competitors and business models are established in the blink of eye.  Customers are gained and lost every second.

The question is how the C-Suite can be supported so as to accelerate progress?  This new found energy derived from a digital marketplace and fueled by technology can provide the following benefits to the business:

  • Entirely new business models
  • Faster talent development
  • Acute learning programs
  • Dynamic product portfolios
  • Improving decision making
  • Greater data driven analysis and insight absorption

As we work to hone our value to the organization, there are specific areas that provide new advantage to the C-Suite in a social/digital world. Doing so requires nothing less than a clean sheet approach to our thinking, our tools, our techniques, and of course, our understanding of the role Communications and Marketing plays in this multi-connected marketplace.

The Differentiators and Similarities Between the Marketing Function and the Comms Function:

Communications

Marketing

Intent Relevance Growth
What are you solving for?
  • Clarity
  • Belief
  • Culture
  • Revenue
  • Brand
What do you need to know?
  • Where opinion is formed
  • How people receive and share info
  • What techniques work
  • Business drivers
  • Consumer insights
  • Efficiency of spend (ads, digital etc.)
New Tools/Technique
  • Data/Analytics/Insights
  • Platforms
  • Apps
  • PESO efficiency

 

  • Data/Analytics/Insights
  • Idea generation
  • Information exchange
  • Internal networks
  • Metrics
  • Influencer outreach
  • Comms Efficiency
New Partnership
  • IO
  • IT
  • HR
  • Sales
  • CMO
  • Experience
  • CCO

Based on the above, there a couple of points that must be raised.  First, data/analytics is now table stakes.  Second, insights and how they are incorporated into a multitude of potential areas – innovation, customer satisfaction, employee engagement, marketing spend, pricing efficiency, etc. – is where the real treasure can be found. Third, the above comparison shares one key element: Precision.   Analyzing data and uncovering insights gives both the CCO and CMO the confidence to inform and engage the C-Suite in new and different conversations about the business with the ability to impact key decisions vital to the future.  Such precision is also based on engaging in new relationships inside the organization providing different perspectives.

For decades, the C-Suite dynamic was relatively stable.  Highly consensual and rigorously formatted.  Comprehending the ever changing situations now facing business leaders and applying that knowledge to optimizing our respective roles in Communications and Marketing raises the value inherent in what we do and ensures the organization is agile possessing the mental dexterity and speed necessary to succeed.

Dynamic Signal’s 2018 Employee Communications/Engagement Report Paints a Haltingly Frustrating Picture of Today’s Workforce Reality Organizations today are struggling to find the right content, context, and cadence to engage employees ensuring they have the right information and relationships to succeed.  However, from an employee standpoint, the difficulty goes beyond just information flow. In the just …

Dynamic Signal’s 2018 Employee Communications/Engagement Report Paints a Haltingly Frustrating Picture of Today’s Workforce Reality

Organizations today are struggling to find the right content, context, and cadence to engage employees ensuring they have the right information and relationships to succeed.  However, from an employee standpoint, the difficulty goes beyond just information flow.

In the just released Dynamic Signal (DySi) 2018 “The State of Employee Communications & Engagement” report –  employees report that the time it takes to keep up with the alerts, texts, e-mails, and conversations both inside and outside the company is robbing them of valuable productive time.  The annual DySi report surveys employees of Fortune500 companies and collects data from communications/HR and marketing practitioners in the field.

This year’s survey data was compiled from employees across these three groups:

  • Employees (1,072 respondents)
  • Corporate communication & HR professionals (311 respondents)
  • C-suite (108 respondents)

Among the key findings:

  • Three out of four (75 percent) employees report wasting time to keep up with the constant dings, pings, chats and more
  • Two-thirds of employees (66 percent) report losing between 30 minutes and 1 hour every day from pressure to keep up, costing over three billion dollars in annual profits from wasted time alone
  • Two-fifths (42 percent) report missing critical information necessary to do their job caused by ineffective communication tools, with nearly half saying this was at least a weekly frustration

“My favorite finding was this: 80 percent of executives we surveyed were effusive in their praise for how well their companies are communicating with their employees. They were thrilled! But then 59 percent of them also said they personally missed critical information intended for them. Well, if communication is not good for me as a senior executive, I assure you, then it’s terrible for employees,” said Joelle Kaufman, CMO, Dynamic Signal.

The digital workforce is one where people are able to multi-task given the information, platforms, and devices but the increasing volume of information and content is causing that behavior to short circuit. As such, employing a strong advocacy system where employees can better participate in the mission and narrative of the organization on their terms can mitigate the tension in the system.

According to Gary Grates, principal, W2O Group, and a noted expert in the employee communications/engagement space, the DySi report shines a light on the ever evolving workforce of the future uncovering the strategic insights and tactical nuances necessary to recruit and retain talent.  “All of this must be viewed through the lens of an open environment, one that has no walls – physical or emotional – and an information system designed to be accessed freely and openly.  Advocacy allows people to control their own adventure, so to speak, and engage in the organization on their terms and in their time.”

According Dynamic Signal CEO & Founder, Russ Fradin, employee communications’ pros must adapt their tools to the developing workforce. “Our report shows that communication professionals continue to rely on technology designed to reach employees in an office, at a desk. This is ineffective and leaves companies totally unable to communicate with half of their employees who are remote, lack a corporate email address, or are generally disconnected. The fact is that mobile phone penetration has exploded in recent years. Technology is finally allowing companies to communicate with every employee, everywhere, reaching an entire workforce in a way that is personalized, convenient, measurable, and efficient.”

Looking for more insights? The 2018 DySi Report on Employee Communications/Engagement can be found here.

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From speaker videos to event photos our SXSW recap page has it all! This year was our 9th year hosting award-winning events during SXSW, so we decided to go bigger and better! In 2018, we officially partnered with the festival for the first time to produce 16 high-profile panels, with 62 speakers across 3 days. …

From speaker videos to event photos our SXSW recap page has it all!

This year was our 9th year hosting award-winning events during SXSW, so we decided to go bigger and better! In 2018, we officially partnered with the festival for the first time to produce 16 high-profile panels, with 62 speakers across 3 days. The programming was insightful, the audience was engaged, and the panelists were razor sharp.

Among those panelists was Noreen Pratscher, Vice President, Corporate Communications and Chief Communications Officer, Serta Simmons Bedding. During her panel she discussed how leading communicators are addressing corporate relevance – ranging from strategy to building relationships with new audiences, and how using advanced analytics allow communicators to stay ahead of the curve. I had the opportunity to chat with Noreen about her SXSW panel, career journey, and Elton John. Check out our interview below.

1. You’ve worked in a variety of industries, from health to automotive, how have your diverse experiences shaped your current role?

I have had the privilege of working across industries and in each, made it a priority to learn different aspects of the business so that my communications counsel and messaging resonated with the leaders, employees and other stakeholders.  Business knowledge is foundational to building credibility as a PR strategist and being able to effectively communicating with key audiences.   In each company, I looked for opportunities to diversify my PR experience as well, to become more well-rounded, including some lateral moves.  Looking back now, each step in my career was a building block to my role today leading corporate communications for Serta Simmons Bedding.

A few key learnings over my years of experience:  solid PR skills and practices are the same no matter the industry: it’s the messaging and application that vary.  Always be open to – and in fact, solicit – feedback from your audiences to effectively shape and evolve messaging.  No matter what the industry, the rate of change today is unprecedented.  To remain relevant and effective, communications teams must have their finger on the pulse of where each target audience is today, and to help them bridge to the organization’s vision for the future.

2. What does a day in a life at Serta Simmons look like for you?

In my current role, I’m responsible for corporate communications, which in the traditional sense means being focused on business performance and corporate issues which includes corporate reputation and branding. The entity that is SSB is relatively new, comprised of two long-standing industry brands – Serta and Beautyrest, as well as our new brand – Tomorrow Sleep – launched last year.  Because of the rapid change in the industry and the business model adjustments we’re making today, much of my work is focused on change management with our employee audience, as well as sharing business progress with external stakeholders (retailers, media and consumers).  I work closely with the CEO, CFO and other business leaders on communications planning, messaging and initiatives to help our employees – and the marketplace – understand how and why we are adapting our business model.  In addition, I have close relationships with my marketing colleagues in the Serta, Beautyrest and Tomorrow Sleep brands, and we partner to  leverage their news and content to reach wider audiences.

3. You discussed mastering corporate relevance during SXSW – how should organizations measure relevance?

There is no single answer to this. Externally, I look at traditional business performance measures to prove adding value: how well we track to plan with growing the top and bottom lines.  With our retail partners, we look at confidence in our business determined by renewal rates and new business capture.  With end-use consumers, it’s awareness and market share.  I acknowledge that it can be difficult to make a direct link between communications and marketing efforts and business success, but these are all indicators of what we need to do to adjust our business – and corresponding communications strategy.

Internally, we use traditional employee engagement surveys to gauge sentiment, and this year, we launched senior leader listening tours with employees.  This is critical as most of our 6000 associates work remotely – in our network of manufacturing plants or in sales roles.  It’s critical to engage with them directly and have leaders be visible and accessible as often as possible to build trust and credibility, and also to assess employee sentiment.  These engagements also help us to identify trending topics that can be addressed in broader employee forums.

4. What was your biggest takeaway from SXSW?

I enjoyed hearing other perspectives from my colleagues on the panel and in other related sessions about connecting with audiences.  In our discussions about corporate relevance  on and off stage, it became clear that there’s no one silver bullet to effectively establishing relevance.  Rather, it’s a combination of strategies and tactics, based on the business objectives and what works for the audiences each of us is trying to reach. What resonated for me during our discussion is the critical need to define and articulate the values of your organization, and live by them.  Also, with the fragmentation and proliferation of channels, the need to build relationships with stakeholder audiences  is critical.  Communicators serve as the bridge between what the organization wants to communicate and what the target audiences care about.

Another experience I truly enjoyed – and admittedly, there’s self-interest here – was participating in Max Richter’s North American debut of his SLEEP concert, sponsored by our Beautyrest brand.  If you missed it, attendees were invited to a ‘sleep in’ at Bass Hall , resting on Beautyrest mattresses while listening to renowned composer Max Richter perform his SLEEP concert live, overnight. It was a memorable experience!

5. Tell us something people may not know about you.

I’m a pretty open book so most people who know me, know my passions are staying connected with my family and friends, enjoying the great outdoors and helping organizations understand contextual changes that impact business.  One life experience that I think is pretty unique is that a few years ago, extended family members and I visited Ireland, in part to explore family history. We found, and knocked on the door of, my grandfather’s childhood home in Kilfenora, County Clare.  The family that lived there could not have been more gracious and welcoming.  We had a fantastic afternoon visiting with them and sharing family lore.

6. Is there a book you’ve read over the last year that you would care to share with our readers?

Yes, it was actually a book recommended to me by my current CEO: What Got You Here Won’t Get You There by Marshall Goldsmith.  It’s a primer for anyone in a leadership role with practical advice and examples about how to recognize and address behaviors that have worked in the past, but will not necessarily help you advance to the next level.  The book recounts key beliefs of successful leaders as they share their own learnings along their respective career paths.  The book contains several practical suggestions and thoughtful insights.

7. If you were on a deserted island and could only bring one album with you, which would it be and why?

Goodbye Yellow Brick Road, Elton John. It was the first album I purchased long ago, and I still love his music.

Want more insights from Noreen? Watch her panel from SXSW.

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An incredibly momentous decision is permeating the C-Suite today:  the prioritization of Employee Engagement. After decades of relegating engagement to events, messaging, celebrations, and the occasional round table to determine what employees want, a true understanding of employee involvement is taking hold. And, at the right level! So, now what? Employee Engagement in a digital …

An incredibly momentous decision is permeating the C-Suite today:  the prioritization of Employee Engagement.

After decades of relegating engagement to events, messaging, celebrations, and the occasional round table to determine what employees want, a true understanding of employee involvement is taking hold.

And, at the right level!

So, now what?

Employee Engagement in a digital age is a completely different animal.  It encompasses and envelopes the entire social make-up of the organization.  It involves multiple functions all working in concert – akin to a symphony-with one goal in mind: encourage interaction with each other around the business interests in a manner that results in mutual benefit.  This can be viewed in terms of career growth, personal development, goal achievement, individual purpose, and advocacy.

Engagement is now about listening intently and proactively activating content, context, programs, platforms, and efforts vs. packaging information against a pre-determined calendar that bears no resemblance to the state of the business.

It means CEOs and other senior leaders must recalibrate techniques and methods for how they lead.  Being more flexible with time and more adaptable with rhetoric. It most assuredly means conveying what is happening in the business more frequently and much broader in reach.

To get there just having leadership discover engagement is only the first step albeit a critical one.  A redesign of several areas – HR, Communications, Production, Marketing, Finance – is essential.  Each group interprets engagement against a common set of principles reinforcing common themes and activating efforts at their own cadence and pace.  This mixture of sounds and activities results in the very engagement being sought.

For Communications, employee engagement is the culmination of its very existence especially given a digital workforce.   The relevance needed to connect and sustain relationships is now the provenance of employees themselves not the organization.  No more guessing. Not more false positives.  Listening, data and analysis, and behavioral insights provide a real time understanding of employee habits.

Engagement has evolved. The myth is that somehow it hasn’t and that traditional methods and strategy still apply.   While it has become a leadership priority – thankfully – unless it’s defined, designed, and developed as part of management system, disappointment will prevail. The melding of generations in the workforce also pose myriad challenges as expectations and information habits are diverse and complicated making engagement difficult.

Which is to say that engagement in a digital world is more important than ever to organizational health.  Preparation, discovery, experimentation, commitment, systems-orientation and listening are the new ingredients for a recipe that shapes and satisfies workforce interaction.

It’s truly a great time to be doing what we do!

Gary

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Change. The word itself evokes feelings of being improved, uncomfortable, fearful, weary, and, in motion.   From an organizational sense, change management is now a 30-year-old practice of shaking up a business or entity to refocus its mission, improve its operations, streamline its delivery systems, accelerate innovation, and better adhere to a marketplace moving at incredible …

Change.

The word itself evokes feelings of being improved, uncomfortable, fearful, weary, and, in motion.   From an organizational sense, change management is now a 30-year-old practice of shaking up a business or entity to refocus its mission, improve its operations, streamline its delivery systems, accelerate innovation, and better adhere to a marketplace moving at incredible speed.  It’s supposed to result in something that is good for all its stakeholders – customers, suppliers, communities, and the like.  But more often than not, Change management doesn’t deliver.

Worse.  Even when a Change effort achieves part of its remit, it is not accomplishing the ultimate demand of the business – keeping it ahead of the curve.  Ready to take on the next competitive challenge.  Or customer expectation.  Or technological shift.  Or talent demand. In many cases, organizations are left limping to the future.  One recent example is a global enterprise that after several change initiatives now finds itself in a place where its very existence is in question.

In a time when one’s ability to not only assimilate but accelerate forward is critical to sustained success, then Change must be “changed.”

So, let’s first examine why Change gets stuck and then identify the signs to avoid it going forward.  To actually begin a process to shift a business, an entire infrastructure must be put in place.  The adage, “organize before you strategize,” is indicative of a major change effort.  Starting with a Project Management Office (PMO) overseeing the entire program right down to various task teams spread out to capture multiple areas of the enterprise. This architecture is surrounded by a vast array of data, information, deadlines, and communications to support it.  In the end, it’s as if another organism attaches itself to the business ignoring what it does or why it exists. Again, the reason is to make move the business literally on the fly, so to speak, as people do their daily work.  It’s this very rigor, though, that leaves Change behind the curve.

In this scenario, what actually happens is:

  1. Change often keeps people in their respective areas to capture better ways to execute something but limits future thinking– Instead of experiencing diverse perspectives and ways of doing things, employees only see what they do in their area, robbing the business of an ability to pivot or address new situations.
  2. Change doesn’t allow true data to be shared regardless of the all charts and projections – Despite all the data typically pulled together by management consultants to fuel the work streams and functional assessments, the important data – competition, customers, and employees – is often missing and with it the ability to think through key decisions based on predictive elements. In one large change initiative, employees were only provided data reflecting their functional area thus negating an ability to see the whole picture and limiting real ideation.
  3. Change doesn’t test people; it merely involves them – Placing people in teams to jointly work on reports and PowerPoints does not test judgement and decision-making ability, two key attributes to be analyzed and strengthened. As such, the company is not using Change to become more confident about addressing the future.
  4. Change doesn’t communicate what’s important; only what’s expedient – Time and again, communications can guide how employees view the future, if constructed properly: provocative, market and customer-oriented, authentic, interesting. Instead, Change efforts find communications just restating the logistical aspects of the effort.

Based on the above, we would recommend the following questions be addressed for your current Change initiative as a means to prevent failure in today’s unpredictable world:

  1. Who needs us to improve and why? – Note the difference. By asking “Who,” it forces us to determine exactly the forces behind the change and the need to explore further the reasons.
  2. Why do we do certain things? – Again, instead of asking “what do you do,” this calls for a more exploratory or self-examination of the type of work being conducted and the reason.
  3. What is happening around us? – From a communications standpoint, this is the most critical piece of information that can ensure Change is set-up to move people to the future as it provides context.
  4. Can we simulate what’s next? – Building in scenarios to Change allows people to experience and experiment with new protocols and the projection of the future is essential to keeping the business nimble.

As an employee, it is also important to lay out the scenario the Change effort is projecting by asking yourself:

  • Will I still be in this job?
  • What skills do I need to acquire?  What skills no longer matter?
  • Where can I acquire new skills?
  • What don’t I know that’s critical to pursuing my career at this company?
  • How am I sharing my ideas?
  • Who do I know outside of my function?
  • Who is the most important influence for you in making the shift ?

Now more than ever, organizations and leaders must work hard to keep their business future-oriented with regard to being thoughtful, agile, adaptive, resilient, and smart.  Initiating Change programs to break through the technology and expectation gates to lean into the future vs. getting run over by it are both smart and necessary to bridge to the future— if they themselves don’t become an unintended barrier to long-term benefit.

A tight, strategic communications approach that encompasses key questions at the outset or during a Change effort can significantly alter or reinforce the company’s ability to rethink the entire experience.

Just as we view Change to be something that envelopes the whole organization, so too, must we recognize that only when all the elements – communications, engagement, system, behaviors, metrics – are in sync can there be an effective route to continuous improvement and excellence.

Gary

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Forget messaging, channels, commentary, speeches, events, campaigns, PowerPoints, and the like; think customer journey, leadership focus, decision making, investments, strategy, positioning, retention, recruitment, trust, relevance. Having spent my career in corporate communications for companies globally in a variety of industries and segments, the one truth about communications— specifically inside organizations— is that it’s a proxy …

Forget messaging, channels, commentary, speeches, events, campaigns, PowerPoints, and the like; think customer journey, leadership focus, decision making, investments, strategy, positioning, retention, recruitment, trust, relevance.

Having spent my career in corporate communications for companies globally in a variety of industries and segments, the one truth about communications— specifically inside organizations— is that it’s a proxy for how the business is led and managed. In a digital reality, internal communications have taken on an even more critical role, becoming a reflection of the management model, the relevance of the business, as well as the strategic intent of the enterprise.

Internal communications can identify both potential issues and broken systems such as pursuing the right imperatives and priorities, to uncovering innovation and potential new markets and opportunities. The digital realm we all now find ourselves in has shifted the balance of power to customers and employees, forever upending how organizations are led, managed, and operated. For organizational (internal) communications, the migration to strategic from tactical has been nothing less than profound.  Often relegated to parties and newsletters, posters, and internal portals, communications inside companies must now not just reflect the company’s mindset, efficacy, purpose, judgement, voice but its interdependencies and vulnerabilities. It can be a major component in achieving success.

In fact, the five key elements of organizational success today, which can be summed up below, are in fact both driven or hindered by ineffective internal communications:

  1. Customer (Trust) – gaining loyalty, positive discourse, and repeat purchase from customers begins inside with smart, productive employees
  2. Innovation/Technology – keeping ahead of market and customer trends, driven by employee ingenuity, passion, and collaboration
  3. Cost – constantly balancing costs and investments is a reflection of individual and collective actions throughout the enterprise
  4. Talent – attracting and developing people is essentially the most powerful competitive advantage in business and is centered on how engaged, informed, and motivated the workforce is managed and communicated with
  5. Agility – speed and flexibility rule the business landscape

Unfortunately, communications is often viewed through a tactical lens with time wasted chasing symptoms of unhealthy environments rather than propelling the business forward, informing and influencing management planning and behaviors.  It is deployed by leaders as a siren for espousing promotional content about the current and future state of company.

In a digital and social reality, this is a deadly mistake.

First, employees don’t believe the rhetoric any more.  Second, the expectation is that they will be sought after to provide the solutions to the business.

When employees have information on the business along with context they can participate in creating value.  They can operate more strategically and operationally in a nimble and agile manner.  They can initiate dialogue, discussion, and debate with colleagues and managers.

The can go from being passive members of the organization to confident, aggressive partners.

So, what is it about internal communications that provides such magical power?

First, communications by nature is about people.  The relationships and interactions between and among people in different circumstances, scenarios, functions, and regions, which result in rich and diverse data and insight.  It can paint a picture around collaboration, engagement, and understanding.  It can shape perspectives and the promise offered to customers and external stakeholders.

At its best, organizational (internal) communications opens and cultivates a discussion (and even a debate) with everyone inside the business. At its worst, communications becomes a series of messages directed at people via multiple mechanisms, producing a contrived feeling of connectivity and relationship building.

Second, the ability to capture the business in a clear, comprehensive way, giving meaning to people inside and outside the business, is necessary given the information overload we all face. Further, in a time of flux both politically and socially, the ability to gauge risk around policies, programs, and decisions internally with a highly informed workforce is critical to organizational balance and health.  Finally, with everyone calling for authenticity and transparency, internal communications allows the business to see itself from the audience in.

Digital makes everyone more aware today due to 24/7 access to information.  But for organizations, internal communications make employees smarter due to context.

The values and imperatives associated with today’s organizational (internal) communications can be summed up in three ways:

  1. Expert in perspectives (worldview), mindset, behaviors, actions of the workforce using analytics, digital intelligence, and insights to form arguments and perspectives
  2. Expert in issues, policies, investments, strategy, operations, financials, and relationships to connect the dots in a manner that moves the business forward
  3. Expert in narrative and content formulation for various audiences through numerous platforms and among key leaders and managers

Internal communications in a digital age is a strategic management catalyst directed at:

  • Behaviors
  • Connections
  • Confidence
  • Collaboration
  • Relationships
  • Knowledge

It is a connective tissue for major corporate initiatives and employee engagement.

But it is not about employee engagement.

As an example, true employee engagement requires several elements to work in concert – Leadership, HR, Line Management, IT, and the employees themselves – to engender interest, involvement, discussion, and advocacy on behalf of the organization.  To that end, communications is the means to an end that without strategic intent can be a myopic activity that tends to favor activity over result.

The democratization of the workplace is an outgrowth of a digital world where information is ubiquitous and relevancy difficult to achieve.  Acting as an expert in how the organization behaves and operates based on data and insight, and shaping the nature of your story using digital platforms and face-to-face interaction, has elevated the practice of internal communications from the Christmas Party to the C-Suite.

The question is: where do you reside?

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It’s been nearly 30 years since the business world discovered a host of new programs and initiatives generated by consulting firms to rethink strategy, improve processes, deploy new systems and technologies, reduce costs, streamline functions and business units, recruit and retain talent, and solidify leadership practices.  During that time, the success rate – defined as …

It’s been nearly 30 years since the business world discovered a host of new programs and initiatives generated by consulting firms to rethink strategy, improve processes, deploy new systems and technologies, reduce costs, streamline functions and business units, recruit and retain talent, and solidify leadership practices.  During that time, the success rate – defined as the organization achieving the results set out by these various initiatives – is approximately 30%. Translation: Over 70% of these efforts fail.

Countless millions of dollars are invested each year on change management, yet the Return on Investment remains extremely low.  Ironically, adding to this dilemma is that a review of the communications approaches typically used to drive such programs internally reveal little has changed in the analysis, strategy, content, frequency, and structure.  This failure to improve and strengthen internal communications in support of change management initiatives is a key contributor to their mediocre results. In fact, it’s astounding to see the same mistakes being made year in and year out and no one – leaders, managers, communicators, consultants, employees – standing up to declare defeat.

The Digital Effect – It’s all about Dialogue and Debate

With business and society now ensconced in the digital age, such apathy regarding change communications can no longer be tolerated.  Employees are often operating with as much or more information on the company, industry, competition, and customer set as managers and leaders.  Opinions and discourse on change efforts are shared openly and sometimes discretely. Employees can reference outside sources as to the legitimacy of the initiative, check on past efforts, look up commentary on forums and blogs, and determine how media and analysts covering the organization characterize the situation.

The bottom-line: If people believe the information they are hearing and are involved from the outset, then the rate of success rises exponentially.

So, why in an age of open discourse and new technology, are internal communicators and leaders still following an outdated playbook regarding change management communications?

Here are a few reasons:

  • Communications is not integrated with the management model
  • Communications is based on a “sell” approach (what the organization wants to say) vs. a “discover” (the information employees want to know and discuss) approach
  • Consulting firms denigrate communications to a tactical necessity (PowerPoints, events, meetings, materials), severely limiting its value
  • Communications professionals rarely employ any type of analytics to understand the workforce relying instead on instinct
  • Communicators fail to ask relevant questions or to learn about the change effort in enough detail to challenge or offer better ideas for execution
  • Leadership fails to recognize and demand that Communications be seen as a strategic driver of the change effort

The “New” Playbook

The major lesson taken from over 30 years of change is this: employees want dialogue, discussion, and debate to understand, engage, and believe. The digital age is all about connectivity and conversation.  From a communications perspective, it’s about Discover vs. Sell.  Allowing people to get there themselves rather than selling them on the idea.

The example below describes just how different each method truly is:

The Six Questions to Ask at the Outset of a Change Effort… to Get Results

If you’re about to get involved in a major change initiative, you might consider getting answers to the following questions before doing anything:

  • What’s the current understanding of our business situation internally?
  • How does the workforce perceive the company today?
  • What communications content and methods are being used to engage and connect with employees?  Are they going to be effective going forward?
  • How much do I understand the change program itself and how am I connected to the PMO overseeing its implementation?
  • What do we ultimately need employees to know, feel, and do regarding the initiative?
  • How aligned am I with managers and leaders to drive this effort?

The pace of business is only going to get more intense, causing leaders to rethink everything from purpose to products to process to people.  Communicating and connecting with employees while engaging with them in meaningful and authentic ways throughout the change effort itself increases the chances for success. Employing new techniques, utilizing analytics, and developing new forms of content work together to expand thinking and give people the freedom to be – accept the shifting environment and choose the path forward.

Organizational communications has certainly come a long way…

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Relevance is the measure that any organization regardless of size, scope, and category can employ to truly understand and address the reality facing their audiences in a manner that provides mutual benefit. Ensuring our clients understand the power of relevance and that they’re accurately able to measure their relevance is something our firm values deeply. Learn …

Relevance is the measure that any organization regardless of size, scope, and category can employ to truly understand and address the reality facing their audiences in a manner that provides mutual benefit. Ensuring our clients understand the power of relevance and that they’re accurately able to measure their relevance is something our firm values deeply.


Learn more about Mastering Corporate Relevance in a Distracted World during SXSW


I had the opportunity to chat with fellow colleagues Gary Grates and Rob Jekielek surrounding our recently announced W2O Group Relevance Model and Index. During our conversation we discussed our  new corporate intelligence framework, why this matters for every brand, and how this will allow our clients to build an unfair advantage. Take a listen below.

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