Recently, after being briefed on the company’s internal communications strategy and plan for the year – the CEO of a global organization posed a compelling question: “Fast forward to December, tell me why all of this didn’t work.”

As we enter a new year, it’s always a positive and somewhat idealistic time. Strategies and plans come together with their requisite measures and synchronized business goals. For communications professionals, specifically those involved with organizational effectiveness, the challenge remains – how can we improve employee engagement.

Former General Electric CEO and leadership guru, Jack Welch, often describes employee engagement as the most important measurement for a CEO. “There are measurements you need to understand at a business to know if you’re on the right track, Welch once told a major business journal. First and foremost, is employee engagement.”

As you begin the year, ask yourself the following questions as a means to test your internal communications programming to ensure the results are met and possibly, exceeded.

What are you Solving for?

The most important question to answer is whether internal communications is directed at improving employee engagement. This can be done based on specific business goals – providing line of sight between people’s jobs and customer needs, marketplace expectations. Engagement includes but is not limited to leader rhetoric and commitment; manager involvement; feedback and discussion; and recognition.

Is it a Conversation-based model?

How are you planning to catalyze dialogue internally? Without dialogue, discussion, and debate, internal communications is nothing more than a cadence of information with no real intent or meaning. A key measure of this approach is to constantly discern what people are talking about inside, which leads to the next point.

In order to ignite discussion, are you provocative?

How is Data informing decisions?

Where do employees go to get specific information inside the company? Do they prefer video? Are they active on social channels? What is the volume and the key themes from feedback?

All of this is now available through technology and must be incorporated into your planning and decision-making. Data and insight provide precision allowing for course corrections during the year.

Is your plan Activity-based or Solution-based?

Step back and objectively size up your plan. Is it designed to solve the key objectives of the business. Or is it a series of activities? Do the elements connect and work together to create a better destination? Often this simple exercise is an eye-opener leading to a more strategic realignment.

Is the CEO involved ?

The most critical determinant in engagement, as Welch stated, is the CEO’s commitment. Engagement and effective communication starts at the top and is based on leadership’s view of the business, its prospects, challenges, opportunities, and competitive reality. Internal communications professionals must have access and influence in the C-Suite helping to direct the organization’s narrative and counsel the appropriate actions that link strategy to execution. When this takes place, companies achieve coherence and most importantly, clarity.

Are you Mobile?

With organizations increasingly featuring employees outside of their own offices and placed across the globe working across time zones, while more office stable or manufacturing oriented employees operate across boundaries, companies are building their IT systems including communications platform outside their walls. Mobile applications allowing everything from benefits updates, to stock price alerts, to CEO briefings, and up-to-date competitive news, are becoming more visible.

Delving into these questions at this point to avoid end of year mea culpas can prove to be a wise investment of time and talent.

Is the Organization Getting Smarter?

Ultimately, employee engagement and organizational intelligence are inextricably linked. At the heart of engagement lies information (content). Is it contextual? Is it relevant? Does it challenge assumptions? Does it encourage experimentation that leads to innovation? Does it help people to make the argument themselves?

One notable organization, upon naming a new CEO, went from focusing on what they knew to what they didn’t. Translation: Internal communications became more provocative and meaningful touching on competitive moves and products, societal shifts, internal issues such as quality and productivity, etc. It’s focus is on expanding people’s knowledge and building confidence in the future. Results thus far indicate a more robust interest in important company initiatives and a more active discourse among employees on topics that just a few months ago were never broached. A recent CEO blog to employees reflects this new found approach. In it the CEO asked a very profound question – “Who is our most dangerous competitor?” He explained that competition today comes in all shapes and sizes and is no longer confined to a company’s competitive set. After an incredible amount of employee posts, most offering key competitors as the answer, the CEO stated that Amazon was the most dangerous competitor because it keeps “changing the level of customer expectations.” Amazon, which is not in this company’s competitive set provides a different way to think about the business and is a proxy for a new business strategy about to be introduced.

This is particularly important to capture employee attention with so many distractions. It is also crucial for long-term business success especially as companies continually redesign business models in a social and digital context to be more fluid, agile, and omni-channel.

As business becomes more seamless and friction free the very nature of the workforce will be revolutionized. Analytics will provide more specific information on employee engagement making it easier to discern performance and thus merit compensation. This type of transparency will result in higher levels of organizational acuity that couple with new technology will force a more sophisticated approach to internal communications.

Now Ask Yourself …

The role of internal communications as we’ve reiterated is to improve engagement. To do that, it needs to move the workforce to become future smart or capable of recognizing and navigating the myriad changes taking place around them. It’s about balancing the marketplace with the organization and the individual. And then balancing the individual with improving the lives of others as well be it colleagues, customers, communities, etc.

Given all of that, how will your own performance be evaluated at the end of the year?

It’s December 2016…

Spending time now to address the inherent discrepancies or gaps in your internal communications strategy and plan will go a long way to ensuring you get the results you seek and the company demands.

It really comes down to seeing ahead … just as this CEO did!

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Shhh.  Listen.  It’s the sound of your company or product or brand (or future) being overtaken.

It may be by a new technology.  A shift in consumer tastes. A societal change. An internal snafu. A different competitor. A trending topic.

Recognizing and preventing marginalization is arguably one of the most challenging realities of business today.

This issue of CommonSense…for the C-Suite is meant to shine a light on this important aspect of a leader’s responsibility.

Hope you find it useful.


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As I join WCG and the W2O Group, many thoughts and objectives go through my head – meeting our talent and clients, learning about where we innovate, and looking for growth opportunities that align with our clients’ greatest needs and our people’s passions.

These are all important fundamentals that will receive much of my time and attention. But they are basically the same to-do’s for anyone in my shoes joining any new agency.

The reason I joined WCG is because it isn’t any agency. Building on WCG’s unique success thus far, and contemplating its equally unique future potential, I can’t wait to collaborate with Jim, Bob and Gary as well as all of my new colleagues and clients, to explore, test and action ideas that I believe can continue to propel WCG on its journey as a next practices agency of the future.

Smart Growth  & Avoiding Agency Sprawl

If an agency’s annual revenue grows by 16%, has that agency become 16% more valuable as a client partner? If a firm’s headcount increases by 12%, has it become a better place to work by a factor of 12%?

Counting bums-on-seats and the total amount of fees that clients pay them is an essential responsibility for the agency’s owners and managers. But too often these figures become central data points to demonstrate the intrinsic value of an agency to its clients and its people.

WCG needs to provide a geographic footprint and set of capabilities that match our clients’ shifting and growing needs. We also need to have a certain scale that allows for continued investment in innovation, as well as a platform that allows for the on-going development of our people.

All of the above requires WCG to continue to grow. But we must avoid building a company so far-flung that it takes us away from client counseling, product innovation and people development and merely traps WCG’s managers and owners in the business of “feeding the beast” that we built.

As with urban planning that seeks to avoid unintended sprawl, WCG’s growth should be smart, with the right shape in mind for our organization. We need to build tools, expertise and a geographic presence that are doggedly defined by the needs of our clients and the aspirations of our people. We also need to ensure that WCG’s organizational shape as a client counselor and program activator always fits like a glove with the other W2O companies which can provide our clients with insights and analytics that they simply cannot get anyplace else.

Going Being Global

Choosing whether or not to ‘be global’ is as false a choice as choosing whether or not to accept gravity. Organizations and individuals are all operating in a globalized reality. The only variables are our level of awareness and the choices we make.

Companies make a choice to ‘go global’ through specific financial, strategic and operational decisions. But once additional markets have been opened, new products launched and a wider set of consumers are being touched, companies – at their center – must be equally deliberate about being global. That doesn’t always occur.

In addition to executing specific ‘going global’ investments and activities in new markets, similar to GE’s concept of ‘reverse innovation’, global brands and companies must subject themselves to ‘reverse influence’ whereby, the center of their organization – including but not limited to the C-suite – is infused with and influenced by a mosaic of global expertise, insights and intelligence on an on-going basis.

This reverse influence should be sustained, it should disrupt assumptions and broaden the waterfront of perspectives that impact real decisions. A company’s agency partner should be a part of this reverse influence. WCG wants to be that type of partner to our clients with our people and our point of view.

Borderless Trust

If you you want to be trusted anywhere in the world, tell the truth. However, beyond that, there is not a one-size-fits-all approach to building, managing or repairing trust across all markets or every stakeholder relationship.

How does a Brazilian multi-national energy company build trust with policy makers in DC?… How can an Indian healthcare company establish trust with doctors when entering a new market like the UK?… How should a US food & beverage company repair trust with moms in China’s Tier 2 & 3 cities after a recall?

Attaining borderless trust requires certain universal principles and behavior. But then it gets local – quickly. No one needs to read or write more words about the influence and impact and highly localized aspect of of social media communities and conversations. Similarly, most of us  drown in thick monitoring reports from multiple sources that go unread, dashboards that only cover half the markets you are in and less of the languages your consumers speak, and buzz analytics that merely measure… buzz.

All the while, strategic decisions are ill-informed and campaigns cannot be assessed in real-time for either course-corrections or amplifications. And there is certainly no central repository, let alone criteria for, true influencers across all borders.

Borderless trust requires diving into local conversations and communities and building real relationships. Local instincts and expertise are definitely required. But any approach to listening, analyzing and measuring requires a singular divining rod that is informed by (and can influence) an organization’s overall strategy.

WCG can draw on W2O Group’s proprietary solutions that equip our account teams to provide uniquely powerful counsel on how our clients can build, manage and protect borderless trust.

That’s not happening at any agency. And that’s why I am so excited to be here.

Note: Jim and Bob’s thoughts on hiring Chris can be found here.

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Question: When does technology become a burden?

Answer:  When it’s not assimilated into the operations, culture and management of the enterprise.

More and more organizations are introducing internal platforms to encourage collaboration, innovation, discussion, and more effective work styles.  Just as many are finding the technology lying dormant as managers and employees continue to conduct work in the same old manner.

This issue of CommonSense…for the C-Suite provides answers and specific questions for handling this dilemma.

We hope you find it useful and relevant.


Abigail Rethore

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For CEOs and CCOs alike, real time comprehension of an organization’s position in its evolution is arguably the most important skill to direct the future.

Why? Knowing this allows for the one competency every organization needs to master – innovating the business model.

In this issue of CommonSense For The C-Suite we posit the underpinnings necessary to align business, communications and operational strategies at various points in a company’s trajectory.

We hope you find it relevant and useful.



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According to numerous business statistics, almost all management teams spend a day to a week every year away from their regular responsibilities to plan for the future while hundreds of millions of dollars are spent annually by business on internal conferences, meetings, and seminars for managers and leaders.

From a communicators perspective, we are often brought in to plan and/or support these meetings.  The question is “how much value do these internal meetings provide?”

The latest issue of CommonSense for the C-Suite offers specific advice on increasing the ROI for Company Leadership Confabs.

We hope you find it relevant and useful.


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How is social media and analytics transforming leaders?

Are managers grasping the significance of a workplace where information is democratized and expectations for open, transparent, authentic relationships are now the norm?

This issue of CommonSense…for the C-Suite delves into the new construct reshaping how organizations lead and manage people.

We hope you find it informative and useful!

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Today, we have some exciting news. Our very own Gary Grates, Principal, W2O Group, and global leader in change management, corporate strategy and organizational communications, has been elected to the Advisory Board of ABERJE, the Brazilian Association for Business Communications. This comes in part to Gary’s role as an adjunct professor in the joint ABERJE-Syracuse University advanced professional certificate program. In addition, Gary has taught organizational communications to hundreds of mid-to-senior level professionals representing an array of leading Brazilian corporations.

If you want more details on the announcement, you can see the official release here. In the meantime, I took some time to sit down with Gary to ask him a few questions about this new opportunity:

[Aaron] Gary, congratulations on being elected to the advisory board of ABERJE, the Brazilian Association for Business Communications. Talk a little bit about why this is a big deal.
[Gary] Really two reasons. The first is that ABERJE is a very well-respected public relations association representing leading brands and organizations in Brazil and Latin America. The group provides an array of services including education programs in partnership with leading institutions such as Syracuse University’s Newhouse School of Public Communications; industry best practices; awards programs; certificate programs; outreach; publications; and proprietary research . The second reason is that Brazil is major player in the global community and its public relations industry is smart, sophisticated, and active in defining the evolving role of communications in business and society.

[Aaron] Now you are also an adjunct professor in the joint ABERJE-Syracuse University advanced professional certificate program? What kind of courses/subject matter do you teach?
[Gary] Since 2006, I’ve been a teaching a three-day course on Strategic Organizational (Internal) Communications and have had close to 300 professionals complete the program. The course covers all aspects of internal communications – engagement, workforce dynamics, organizational behavior, employee worldview, system architecture, content development, platforms, social media techniques, feedback, recognition, skills, etc.

[Gary] As someone that has served in global leadership positions at companies like General Motors and GCI, tell us a little about the perspective that you will bring to the advisory board.
[Gary] Simply put, my role is to provide a perspective on how communications is being assimilated into the decision-making bodies of organizations and the changes that such influence are having on the profession and its value. Also, the growing use of analytics and models in gauging behavior, influence, trust and reputation.

[Aaron] Given the future potential growth of Brazilian businesses on a global scale and continuous changes taking place in technology and society, talk about the strategic importance of this advisory role to W2O Group.
[Gary] Again, being involved with such an influential group whose reach and scope cover such a broad and important area provides our firm with insights and knowledge as well as access to talent and thinking. Further, how data can be applied in the market to raise a new level of communications counsel and support.

[Aaron] Do you have a sense of some of the issues/opportunities that you will tackle in your first few months on the advisory board?
[Gary] At this point, not really sure what the first few months will bring but I do know that there are a wealth of issues, challenges and opportunities ahead of us that will not only keep me busy and engaged but also provide new ideas to the firm.

Thanks Gary! Good luck with this new opportunity. I look forward to updates along the way!

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With information being ubiquitous to most everyone, why is it that leaders and employees are struggling with basic comprehension of organizational goals, strategies, priorities, and expectations?

Could it be that the tools of communications have replaced the content, context, and interaction necessary for real learning and assimilation?

This issue of CommonSense for the C-Suite delves into the subject of organizational effectiveness.

We hope you find it relevant and useful.



Gary F. Grates

p.s. You can download a PDF of this month’s newsletter by right-mouse clicking here.

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