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I’m excited to share that W2O has partnered with The LAGRANT Foundation (TLF) with the first–of-its-kind fellowship targeting ethnic minorities pursuing careers in healthcare communications. It’s a $50,000 three- year commitment which will fund the Future Leaders in Healthcare Fellowship Program, placing 2 fellows per year in a 10 –week paid fellowship in one of the following offices: San Francisco, New York, Austin, Boston or Minneapolis.

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More than ever, we need to diversify our workforce and continue to help you, our clients, increase diversity in your communications functions. This is a win – win for everyone. It gives men and women something to aspire to and allows a venue for stellar, diverse talent.

When I started this company in 2001, it was grounded in healthcare PR, and the reason I’ve been in healthcare communications for so long is because it fuses two of my passions – communications and health. Now that W2O group has expanded into additional verticals (Tech, Consumer, Auto, Entertainment), I think it’s important to continue to leave a positive impact and I think this partnership is the perfect venue for that.

View this interview with Kim L. Hunter, The LAGRANT Foundation (TLF) Chairman & CEO, Dr. Rochelle Ford, a professor in Syracuse University’s School of Public Communications, and myself for additional insight.

I’m proud to partner with The LAGRANT Foundation (TLF). We’re going into our 15th year in business and I couldn’t think of a better time to team up with an organization like TLF which aligns with our principals of excellence and progress within the marketing and communications industry.

View the press release here for more details.

All the best, 
Jim

As each year passes, graduating classes of Millennials continue to join the workforce, bringing with them their media and technology focused minds and experiences. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, Millennials are on track to make up 44% of the workforce by 2025. To say that Millennials and technology go hand-in-hand is an understatement. Luckily, they bring that insight to the PR industry day-by-day. With this in mind, we went to the movers and shakers themselves to discuss how the Committee of Millennials at W2O group believe that Millennials are shaping the industry and what is ahead for this “disruptive” generation.

Culture and Balance

First and foremost, office culture has drastically changed since we joined the workforce. We’ve said goodbye to the strict 9-5 and hello to connecting outside of the office. Now, thanks to social media many coworkers are able to connect outside of the common cubicle; and thanks to Mark Zuckerberg, offices across the nation as well as with our neighbors across the pond, are able to stay connected through Facebook groups, and up to date on the activities occurring throughout the company, regardless of location.

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Office culture overall has become more laid back, casual and many offices include an open floor plan to encourage collaboration and communication among coworkers. Additionally, Millennials are more focused on developing friendships with those they work with in comparison to Gen X or baby boomers. There is a large push to establish and maintain office culture through fun events throughout the year, outside of the typical annual office holiday party.

In The Know

Say what you will about Millennials being fully absorbed into their phones and social media, but in the PR industry, it is increasingly helpful for those to be “plugged in.” According to study conducted by the American Press Institute, 88% of Millennials use social media, specifically Facebook, as their primary source of news and check it regularly. In this industry specifically, there has been a shift from traditional practices to incorporating more digital media strategy and encouraging a larger presence on social media for clients. Being “plugged in” has us on the frontline of all things tech and consumer based, and with that we are able to suggest different platforms and ideas on how to expand a client’s reach to a different audience in a fresh, new way.

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However, we argue that it is more than just our strong connectivity that puts us at the cutting edge. Rather, it is our desire to question common practices, to ask and learn more, which sparks yet another difference between us and other generations. Millennials love to contribute and suggest new ideas so a company that promotes that kind of participation is key for prospective jobs.

What We Look For

 When asked, “What attracts you to a job,” or what made our Millennials choose W2O Group, many of us reported that the opportunity to communicate and bring ideas to the table is a huge attraction in a potential workplace. Overall, many noted that when interviewing, they highlighted that having strong and natural conversations with interviewers was something that they took into account when choosing a potential workplace. In this day and age, it is no longer only about a skillfully crafted job description and a decent salary, but rather the work / life balance and culture a company supports that this generation is looking for.

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Gone are the days where an entry level employee is discouraged to share their thoughts and ideas. Where previously, they would have to go through their manager and then their manager’s manager to get an idea pitched at a meeting. Now, we are encouraged to contribute wherever possible and at all times. Many also suggested that it was a lack of “red tape” at W2O that drew us here and what we saw was a company that recognizes the flexibility to do what is needed to get the job done.

Moving Forward

Regardless of the daily criticism Millennials receive, whether it be for being too self-involved, too out of touch with traditional concepts or pushing back more than some would like, this generation is shaping not only the workplace, but the public relations industry as a whole. We don’t claim to know everything and our tech savviness will soon fade with newer platforms emerging every day, but until then we will continue to ask questions, remain “plugged in,” and look forward to what is yet to come.

 

Three Steps to Avoid the Inevitable and Construct a More Resilient System

Obfuscate.

Big word. It means to make something “difficult to understand” or to purposely “confuse” so as to make unclear.

Unfortunately, this is the state of employee engagement today as organizations strive to improve relationships with employees. It comes at a time when workforce productivity, retention, and recruitment are the keys to successful business performance. It also comes at a time when workforce cynicism is at its highest making engagement difficult if not impossible.

Interestingly, we also find ourselves in a place where HR leaders and communications professionals have access to incredible amounts of data and information that, for the first time, uncovers the behaviors and underlying motives that lead to or negate engagement.

Let me explain.

There are two ‘uber’ factors causing business leaders, HR and Communications executives, to spin their wheels, so to speak, obfuscating the real opportunity to gain greater levels of engagement:

1) Manufactured Complexity – Over the past several years, employee engagement has become big business with millions of dollars being spent on studies, coaches, platforms, training, and systems. This is a ripe area for large management consulting firms and even political polling firms to extend their respective reach into a client. Unfortunately, the by-product of this entry is complicated and often contradictory methodologies and research cause organizations to chase a number of characteristics. Once such model includes over 100 criteria forcing leaders to literally “chase their tails” in a hopeless circle to achieve results. This is what we refer to as the “Symptom-Led” solution.”

2) Real Complexity – The truth concerning engagement is that it is, in fact, complex. To achieve any state of equilibrium, organizations must comprehend that employee engagement is composed of many different, yet interrelated parts. From values to policies, management relationships to compensation, and communications to recognition. Comprehending how each part fits into the system and then how they all work in concert, clarifies the concept of engagement and mitigate the complexity.

So how do organizations get their arms around this evasive yet critical competitive advantage?

At the heart of any engagement dynamic is Trust. Trust to engagement is akin to Faith to religion. It is the foundation.

Lack of Trust causes people to question intent. When this happens no amount of commitment or action can overcome it. Trust, then must be nurtured always if organizations are to survive and prosper.

Three Steps That Avoid FailureOperation ENDURING FREEDOM

Given our extensive experience in this area, often supporting companies to center and clarify misguided attempts at addressing engagement, there are three specific steps to take both to respect the importance of Trust and set the pathway forward and also to mitigate risk:

1) Define Engagement at Your Company (yours and your employees) – Probably the most important aspect of properly achieving engagement in your organization. Every company must define what engagement looks like and means in order to calibrate the right formula. Also, how do your employees define engagement? What behaviors and attitudes do they display? Without knowing the terms of engagement in your company, anything that is designed will be wasted effort and investment falling short of expectations.

2) Determine Your Employee Worldview and Archetypes – Employees, like customers and consumers, have the ability to access information 365 24/7 from multiple sources. As such, they are influenced and impacted on almost everything. Against this reality, how and what shapes their opinions and beliefs?

W20 Group’s proprietary Employee View™ analytics tool allows leaders to discern how employees view the business. It characterizes the archetypes that shape the organization’s workforce. Below is an example of such an archetype profile. This analysis begins to direct the internal communications model needed to drive engagement providing the tone, cadence, content, context, frequency, platform and system needed to gain interest and generate trust. For each archetype represented in the below graphic, internal communications needs to be nuanced, calibrating content, context, tonality, frequency and platform. As an example, if a significant portion of your workforce defines themselves as “catalysts” then internal communications must be more provocative pushing people to think more critically about things.

Example: 4 Types of Employee Archetypes

Communications profile

  1. Passionate Preservationist
    Career oriented/strong company pride – respectful of status quo
    This group tends to be long-time employees who have had successful careers in the company. They are highly engaged but often blind about the opportunities and gaps inherent in the culture and business. They are also more often than not the ones who state in meetings that “we tried that before and it failed” or “good idea but won’t work here.”
  2. High-energy Catalyst
    High potential/high achievement – catalyst for change
    The most powerful group in any organization. High potential, talented and committed to winning. Can be frustrated by inertia and perceived lack of discipline and commitment to change. This is the key target for any leadership and internal communications effort!
  3. Productive Minimalist
    Productive/satisfied
    A large population of the workforce sits here—come to work every day, do their jobs, and are generally satisfied with the way thing are.
  4. Denigrator
    Marginally effective/highly critical – “Victim” mentality
    Typically the smallest group within a workforce but also the most dangerous in terms of culture deterioration. These folks tend to gossip the most, work the least and trash every company decision inside and outside the company.

3) Communications Should Drive Curiosity – The critical element in any engagement formula continues to be communications. It is the glue that holds all the other elements of an engagement formula together while directing future-focused efforts.

For the most part, internal communications is still a dissemination system distributing propaganda and materials designed to promote the organization. It is used to SELL the organization to its employees.

But this no longer is effective. We live in a DISCOVER world where people need to experience, discuss, debate and delve into subjects to gain their own understanding and form their own opinion.

Communications then must be developed to initiate curiosity among the workforce. To delve and probe into important issues facing the business inspiring conversations to take place and cultivating organizational interest informing leaders on what’s important not the other way around.

Employing communications in this manner, coupled with data culled from the Employee View™ above, opens up a whole new network of internal influence from which to elevate engagement.

Viewing Engagement as a System and Communications as a Catalyst

Getting the three steps right point the organization in the right direction in terms of achieving engagement and intentionally connecting employees in much deeper ways to themselves and the business. For employees, engagement is neither abstract nor obtuse. Engagement must be experienced as a shared value. That is, everyone who conducts themselves in a similar fashion gains a shared benefit and feeling.

But, the organizing principle from which engagement can be formed is communications. Communications as a catalyst for moving ideas, generating patterns, encouraging discussion, and informing decisions and policies all conspiring to drive employee engagement that achieves strategic business goals.

The collision of well-intentioned yet highly complicated approaches and models with a more challenging business climate and highly cynical workforce are causing unnecessary and detrimental implications for organizations searching for higher levels of engagement.

Avoiding such pitfalls is not as difficult as one would imagine.

The shift in thinking just needs to happen at the leadership level first!

Gary

If you are anything like the millions of people working around the world, your ability to clearly see and grasp your organization’s mission and strategy and apply it to your own responsibilities is being clouded on a daily basis.

Why?  For the most part, the volume of information being received is enormous.  Most of it does nothing more than clutter the mind and distract attention.  Inside organizations the amount of irrelevant information and communications is leading to some of the lowest employee engagement scores globally.

So, what can be done?

Improving Organizational Clarity is one of the most important yet elusive goals of today’s CEO.  Drawing a consistent line of sight from an employee’s job to the marketplace can result in numerous benefits to the business and to the individual.   Innovation, collaboration, integration, efficiency, experience, and new knowledge are all byproducts of such clarity.  But clarity is a daily challenge within companies as people struggle with conflicting priorities, high workloads, multiple reporting lines, silos, and an avalanche of information all conspiring to cloud people’s thinking if not judgment.

Enter Analytics

The journey to changing this reality begins today with analytics.  Make no mistake, the information being sought is not a mere regurgitation of the “hits-clicks-eyes” formula that somehow attempted to place meaning or value on quantity vs. quality while seeking relevance of information and relationships. Rather, analytics is about bringing together a rather large set of variables – content, context, media, timing, socio-economic factors, frequency and cadence, recognition, actions, and word-of-mouth, to name but a few. The new picture being painted mixes science with intuition, data with observation, and facts with perceptions.

Such insights allow senior leaders and communicators alike to gain a better grasp of the intricacies of their workforce and, more importantly, the efficacy of their management model. The result is a more appropriate and responsive communications strategy and effort internally – spending the right time and resources in areas that drive and add clarity, influence behavior, and encourage engagement.

While analytics are certainly driving organizational clarity increasingly, there are a number of trends we will continue to see play out:

  • Employees as your next product – That is to say, we must begin outfitting employees who opt in with information, data, and tools as part of external informal and formal outreach to customers or consumers to build trust and engender relationships.
  • Employee Engagement through conversation – That means creating conversation streams within the organization with specific employee groups – polling them, raising subjects of interest, and obtaining opinions, etc., as a means of involving people in the overall business.
  • Treating employees as customers by defining employee segments by interest vs. function or job position, further honing our understanding of how employees think and process information to further target content.
  • Tying Citizenship and Business Strategy closer together to better align individual values and interests with the direction and approach of the organization.  Studies have found that leading brands are drawing Citizenship closer to Strategy in an attempt to gain employee interest, support and influence behavior.
  • Redefining the Management Model to focus on facilitation, engagement, discussion and debate.  The result is a new set of behaviors and characteristics for manager level professionals.
  • Balancing Social with Facial – In an era of social interaction fostered by new media and technology, the need for face-to-face communications to share knowledge, engender dialogue, and strengthen relationships has never been greater. Unfortunately in too many organizations, managers are relying too much on such new technologies in lieu of conventional face-to-face communications. World-class organizations are balancing internal communications and the management model to reflect this reality.
  • Redesigning Internal Communications Systems – These efforts are toward becoming more open, transparent, interactive, creative and dimensional in terms of content and context.
  • Leadership Messaging Challenges. It doesn’t Cheerlead – Messages and Rhetoric from senior leaders, including CEOs, are taking on a more provocative tone after years of being overly optimistic.  Research has indicated that employees feel more respected when their leaders deal with the reality of the business situation rather than sugarcoating things.  Further, employees want leaders to discuss honestly sensitive issues such as layoffs, offshore job creation, globalization, pricing, restructuring, and financial performance.
  • Strategy as Narrative – The trend continues in translating the business strategy into a narrative that can be followed and comprehended by all employees.  The Narrative is a story arc that is dimensionalized, continually populating all internal communications platforms.
  • Establishing a Communications Standard – Best practice organizations are establishing a Standard for how employees will be communicated with.  Typically designed as a “promise,” the Standard calibrates strategy, management behavior, internal communications, and employee engagement to achieve organizational clarity.

Opening up people’s eyes literally and figuratively is allowing leaders to shine a strong light on how behavior impacts performance.

By improving organizational clarity in all its forms to be a catalyst in helping leadership and the workforce get smarter about the business and their role in in its success can be the major determinant in sustainable growth.

Internal agency structure as a USP is just a canard

An article recently published in PR Week trotted out once again the old canard of the inherent benefits for clients associated with their agencies’ internal structure, specifically that those agencies who dispense with the ‘old’ hierarchies and embrace a ‘no titles’ structure will blaze a trail of enhanced client service.

It’s a nice idea, but unfortunately in most cases it is just a solution searching for a problem. I have worked in several agencies during my career to date, and have experienced both the ‘hierarchical’ and ‘no titles’ set-ups. Was there any difference between agencies in the quality of our client service that could be directly attributed to how we were structured internally? Not at all.

The stated aim of getting rid of titles is basically to ensure that only the most relevant agency personnel work on a particular piece of business, no matter which function they are part of, where they are physically located or their level of experience. Makes perfect sense, of course, but this is perfectly possible within a normal agency structure.

In most cases, failure to give a particular client the services of the best possible team is the fault of senior management, not the agency structure. An enlightened leadership team will always make sure that clients’ needs are met, not letting internal rivalries and fiefdoms or separate agency offices’ P&Ls get in the way.

The next time that you are selecting an agency (or interviewing to join one), ask yourself the following question: do you want to work with an agency that ranks its own internal structure (or lack of) of equal (or greater) importance than what it can do for you?

If the answer is no, then you know whom to call… 😉