CommScrumming from Bromley,Kent

Mike Klein

Greetings from the first-ever CommScrum founders’ retreat.  Amid a bacchanalia of mulled wine, Thai curry and private-label bourbon,  we Scrummers took a look at the current state of organisational communication, life in the corporate world, and in particular the fate of blogging as a viable means of getting opinions across.

As one could expect, the discussions were robust, particularly in terms of whom we believe our target audience should be, with my fellows seeking to engage (hate that word but can’t think of better) CEOs and senior folks from other disciplines, and me tenaciously clinging to the ground that CommScrum should be about empowering communicators to challenge conventional wisdom whether it comes from above or below.

We did come to some shared conclusions, the first of which is that blogging is toast.  We’ve largely run aground on our own blogging, hence the paucity of recent posts. We’ve also come to appreciate that our LinkedIn group is a success, with 417 members worldwide, including some of the best thought leaders from Europe, North America and Australasia.

So, we’re going to concentrate on evolving CommScrum to the next level – developing the quality and membership of the LinkedIn group.  And, when we have a collective opinion, we’ll either post to a collective platform like CIPR’s Conversation, write a white paper, and even, submit a post to a real print publication.

Thus, aside from links to these external postings, we are burying the blog.  The Blog is dead, long live CommScrum!

Lindsay Uittenbogaard

Right.  Commscrum isn’t about the founders, it is about provocative challenge to the current communication profession. It means to save its practitioners from wading around in the ‘dark side’ of reactive, subservient mud to talk to about what really counts.

It’s about people who have an affinity with fun, edgy, smart communication talking about business, from a viewpoint where that communication is integrated with its overlapping disciplines: PR, Public Affairs, HR, Brand, Marketing… all for pre- and post- business-decision purposes.

Taking that – as a very specific frame – to the members of the Commscrum group on LinkedIn as a single virtual platform, passes the ball to the next phase of possession.  An exciting game.

Dan Gray

When we started this blog, there were two defining features: first was the commitment to challenging orthodoxy, to strap up our cauliflower ears, sharpen our studs and be prepared to indulge in the odd ‘Mauri sidestep’; second was the unique four-handed nature of our scrums, priming the debate and letting it be known that anyone and everyone was welcome to pile in and say their piece.

On the second, the migration from the blog to the LinkedIn group was an obvious evolutionary step, taking our four-handed approach and (at the time of writing this) turning into a 417-handed one. Killing off the blog just makes this official, and it’s the right thing to do.

As for the future, I’d point to my single favourite scrum, which was started by Adam Hibbert on the LI group, which essentially boiled down to: if everything the CommScrum stands for is so obvious to us, why does it continue to be anathema to so many organisations?

Firstly, it’s a great question – the kind of big ‘Why?’/‘What if?’ question that the CommScrum is there for. (‘How to…’ is fine as the ultimate destination of a conversation, but it’s not an appropriate starting point for us; there are plenty of other forums to address these kinds of tactical questions.)

Secondly, its intent was a kind of root cause analysis – something that might actually lead to a way past the conceptual/institutional roadblocks that stand in our way. We never really got that far, though, and I’d like to see us resurrect and develop this line of investigation further.

Kevin Keohane

Having been party to the construction of the above, I have little to add.  One, it had been within the realm of possibility that CommScrum had run its course. Two, I want to see the CommScrum dialogue extend beyond “communication” in its more traditional sense and into the realm of “communication” as a creative strategic business management and design discipline that doesn’t just reflect but actually shapes and defines organisational direction.  Looking forward to the next stage in the revolution.

Retreating to the Future


Are we just Talking Heads on a road to nowhere?

Kevin Keohane – CommScrum Queensway

PWC’s 2011 Global CEO Survey puts the talent agenda – that is, branding, acquiring, inspiring, developing, mobilising people – as the number one issue that will result in driving change & growth in 2011-2012.  Clearly, employee engagement and communication are at the heart of all of this.  The Economist Intelligent Unit Companies at a Crossroad report says the same thing. McKinsey Quarterly focuses on Organisational Health as a source of competitive advantage. Again, processes aside, it’s all about communication.

The IABC Research Foundation publishes a study telling us that the economic downturn has had an effect on budgets, manager communication is important, email (83%) and intranets (75%) are key channels, social media is catching on, and people use surveys to measure employee opinion.

OK, I know, I seem to bash IABC a lot, but honestly it’s in the way that you get frustrated when someone you love acts like a complete idiot and embarrasses themselves time after time, when you know their heart is in the right place.  Really – take that report off the site and hide it, and refund its cost pro rata to members.  For environmental reasons if nothing else.

But really, we might as well take the word BUSINESS out of the organisation’s title.  Because we just don’t talk business, it seems, in IABC content anymore.  Measuring business isn’t business.  Surely the IABC study should be about how communication and engagement can deliver all these growth imperatives for leading businesses; strategies and tactics for how business communicators can be the drivers of these critical success factors.  Instead … well, read the report if you can stomach it.

IC needs to start thinking in C-suite terms.  I’m not saying we should all aspire to be CEOs or CFOs, but at least think in terms of how what we do delivers the stuff that CEOs need (and it isn’t about the tactics, though we seem relentlessly committed to staying in that comfort zone).  The irony is that, in my experience, these conversations are easier at C-level anyway since you save all the insecure, jargon-littered territorial pissing across functional silos.

Sigh. Thoughts?

Dan Gray – CommScrum West Brompton

Plus ca change (as your Publicis masters in Paris would say), n’est-ce pas?

I find myself looking back to our very first CommScrum ruck and, in particular to Mark Schumann’s comment on it – how the communication world he entered bore little resemblance to the one we’re in now, and about how IABC was in the process of kicking off a major piece of research to get to grips with the consequences.

Judging from your links above, the results of that exercise don’t appear to have born much fruit, do they?! (“We’ve learned from our mistakes, as a result of which we can now repeat them exactly!”)

Looking back over those words, I think I can see part of the reason why. Just look at the wording of the purpose of the research…

…so we learn, firsthand, what it takes for a professional association to be relevant, and to deliver value that professionals consider essential. [emphasis added]

i.e. not the essential function of communication in a changing business context, but specifically the function of communication associations; not guided by what business leaders / employees / customers / investors / communities consider to be communication’s essential contribution to their lives and livelihoods, but by what its own existing member base thinks about what they need. Go figure if all that’s farted out is more of the same. (Not meant as an ad hominem attack on Mark, btw – far from it – rather the inertia seemingly brought about by a counterproductive, narrow-minded interest in self-preservation on the part of the wider institution.)

Look, we all know what needs attention and why – perhaps best articulated by Mary Boone in her great comment on our ‘glass ceilings’ debate a while back.

My one overriding thought on all of this is that it’s a bit like the debacle at Copenhagen last year. If that taught us anything it’s that, if you believe that something has to be done urgently to tackle the ‘perfect storm’ of climate change, population growth and diminishing resources, there ain’t much point in waiting on politicians to take the lead. You have to just get out there and do what you already know needs to be done.

In the same vein, it’s time for us to forget about what professional associations are or aren’t doing (they’re always going to be behind the curve) and just get on with doing it ourselves.

Commscrummer Lindsay Uittenbogaard in The Netherlands

I guess there’s only so much theorizing you can do about internal comms without it needing to be backed up by good practice before we can justify moving to the next level. And this discipline doesn’t seem to be getting to that next level, judging by the level at which the content in those reports is pitched. In fact, if we’re going to be darned depressing about it, sometimes it just feels like we are going backwards, in a catch 22.

Our work can only as good as the leaders we support (through their enablement, sponsorship and leadership) – and leadership appreciation of communication – has that stepped up? And just like other support functions – IT, Finance – people only notice when it’s not working: let’s face it IC will never reach 100% effectiveness. And then there’s the reciprocation angle – communication is a two way street – does IC have participation or is it met with auto-delete? Well I guess all that comes down to how good your work is – which takes some time to cultivate in your own unique working context.

So you need time, skill, management patience, management comms appreciation and talent, management sponsorship, a forgiving yet open culture, and a budget. So the odds are on that most of us are going to fail… perpetuating the lack of management patience, comms appreciation and talent, sponsorship: hence the catch 22. On the other hand, those who can stomach this as a backdrop and succeed can take it all. So I don’t want to bash IABC, I think they’re just pitching at a level where most IC professionals are still working.

By the way – although I agree with you, Kevin – measurement is business – a part of it at least.

Mike Klein: Commscrumming away in the land of the almost-midnight sun

We’re not on a road to nowhere.  Neither is IABC, though the road they are taking to satisfy their middle-market constituencies leaves them vulnerable to some criticism.  But I do believe that old-school, broadcast, channel-focused internal communication is in the process of a downgrade.

Increasingly, business success is dependent on smaller groups of people with bigger impact.  As this is shifting external communication away from a pure focus on press relations, it is shifting internal communication away from an emphasis on broadcast media and dutiful measurement.

Both kinds of work will still be necessary, but seen as more implementational and junior than it has been in recent years. In contrast, the drive for “social business” continues apace, and may well be where practitioners are seen as having the highest value-add, particularly if they show a penchant for identifying and mobilising high-value audiences and constituencies as opposed to just being able to maintain a suite of online accounts.

Sure that’s a long way from IABC’s current research, but it’s also a way from where the newly enlightened communication converts of McK and PwC sit as well.    It’s nice at a certain level that the management consultancies recognise what we recognised about organisational communication years ago, but it will be interesting to see if they have any intention to staff up or skill up professionally, or simply to blag their way into the business with amateur skills and a dated approach.  Indeed, it would be very interesting to see if anyone at McK or PwC might find the IABC research useful?

Central comms is out, team comms is king.

Monologue post-starter from Lindsay Uittenbogaard Commscrumming from The Hague

Your annual communication survey results have just come in. On initial inspection, they show a fairly healthy appreciation and appetite for managed communication. As the comms responsible, you sit back feeling proud and a little bit smug actually, that the steps you took to encourage more frequent dialogs between senior leaders and staff; to ensure that Line Managers had enough of the right information to brief their teams on the latest developments on a regular basis; and to refresh your intranet pages – however painstaking it was, all paid off.

You take the results home and decide to spend a half day the following morning going through the freeform comments (while drinking your favourite coffee in your favourite mug as a kind of mini celebration).

So then, as you pore over the data – a scary thread emerges. There are some 20,000 staff in the organization and most of the respondents seem to be saying that their communication requirements differ quite considerably from the need that is articulated in your strategy in subtle but crucial ways. Many of those staff members are contractors, with an average employment duration within the organization of about 3 years. They work all over the world, although there are a few office hubs in key locations. You see that their world starkkly splits into ‘operational topics’ and ‘management topics’ with these needs:

for operations
– a great sharepoint platform with good support and site development resources, including external site capability for collaboration with suppliers and customers
– the availability of ad hoc communication support on 2 levels:1) = intelligent information administration, 2) = project management
– top quality, readily available soft skill training in, for example Best Practice customer interfacing, virtual teaming etc
– a clear, simple and intranet site with a great search function so that all of the general company information like admin forms, organigrams, latest company presentations etc can be easily sourced
– a good onboarding program, tailored to each location
– a mechanism for capturing and sharing learnings.

for management
– for their line managers to keep them in the loop at least once a month on overall organizational developments that affect their teams, as well as other developments in general
– for senior leaders to be visible and accessible enough that each staff member could have a voice and a connection at that level should they need it – but to be able to read about what the top level agenda looks like and why from the CEO via the newsletter on a monthly basis as a way of double checking what their manager tells them as well as assessing how safe the company is as an employer.
– a big, professionally managed annual event / roadshow that takes stock of the year past and the year ahead and allows people to celebrate, face to face.
– and an unspoken given – alignment with external comms, affiliation with the brand identity and professionalism.

What they say they don’t want is:
– to have to fight for communication support for their work / try to find their way around company communication and information management resources on their own.
– an intranet homepage that assumes it is their landing page, hosting a round up of news and links from in and outside of the organization. If they want to find something, google is better. The intranet is not maximised on their desktop all day long.
– a company newsletter that assumes it is the answer to all of their communication requirements, including information on staff joining and leaving, public holidays and the recipe of the month. They will scan a newsletter for around 50 seconds to see if there’s anything they need to know and that’s it. Recognition is nice. Staff appreciation is important but they don’t want to be part of a cringey, false club that is the equivalent to a ‘welcome drinks do’ on the first night of a package holiday. Real societal connections at work are local.
– a warm and cuddly communication style. People have their own lives: they don’t need their employer to ‘be their friend’, they don’t trust the ‘published communication line’ very much anyway (or they read it in context).

In short, communication management has become less about ‘mass engagement’ but more about how comms can support a team within an organization. It can facilite better quality team engagement with the overall company vision so that each member of that team knows how its work can best contribute to overall value. It can provide the right resources when needed so that team can meet the stakeholder engagement and information management requirements of teams and projects. That’s it. Forget leader as servant, forget central comms as being the centre – the team is king and the better we can support that, the more valuable we are and the more solid our footing.

Tagged ,

Free Choice? Democracy Anyone?

Mike Klein – Commscrumming from Belgrade (sort of)

“Is Change Democratic?”  That was the question I spoke to in response to an invitation by the European Association of Communication Directors (EACD) to speak at a seminar on change communication at the University of Belgrade in Serbia last week.

Now, being Serbia, a nation with a tenuous democratic history and double digit unemployment, a majority didn’t buy the argument.  “People don’t have a choice,” the dissenting majority said, perhaps failing to comprehend the idea that very few workers are actually hauled into their offices and chained to their desks.

But while the idea that acceptance of – or resistance to – organisational change is a function of free choice may be hard for Serbs to accept doesn’t make it any less real or powerful.  Indeed, I think the question of acknowledging the role of free choice is the single most fundamental question facing business communicators today.

Ignoring the centrality of employee choice, further, may well be the bad seed that turns the 70% of change initiatives that fail into dust, leaving them defeated rather than disintegrated.  Recognising the centrality of free choice, in turn, may well leave us with a new suite of approaches, and even refreshments to traditional tools like cascades, roadshows and newsletters.

The time has come to tackle this question head on – is free choice at the root of all organisational behaviour?  And if do, to what extent are organisations more democratic than they appear?

Kevin Keohane – CommScrum Bayswater

Pipping Dang Ray to the post – “It depends.”

Different people, different cultures, different organisations and types of organisations will all have differing degrees of expectation and behaviour in terms of “free choice”.  In the one hand many might see employment as a privilege and not a right (North America?) – “Like it or lump it, vote with your feet.”  Others, for example more Socialised countries (Germany? Scandinavia?) might see employment as more part of the social contract – “This is my job, my right, you will listen to me.”

I think the more interesting question is the second one – are organisations more democratic than they appear.  We’ve all seen “listening by numbers” with surveys and focus groups and feedback – and then nothing happens or the leaders do what they planned anyway.  We’ve also seen where genuine employee engagement and personal implication in organisational change has resulted in significant improvement in culture, systems and processes.

Another interesting thought is to look at Partnerships (i.e. professional services and law firms).  I have a lot of experience in these environments and can tell you with confidence and certainty – when it comes to driving change to improve business performance, democracy ain’t all it’s cracked up to be, brother.

Perhaps at the root of all this is “intent” – one of your favourite topics recently.  Sometimes change has to happen and it doesn’t matter whether the employee has input or not.  Other times it’s needed.

Arguably, however, deeply embedded norms and cultural artefacts can result in behaviours that have little to do with free will and choice – to what degree can you REALLY “be yourself” at work?

Lindsay Uittenbogaard in Delft

It would be a whole lot easier to implement change if change was less democratic and more dictatorial, wouldn’t it? As much as I like to think that among an organisation of mature citizens, the appetite for change ( and success of it ) be would determined by some kind of invisible mass judgement that kind of magically and systemically steers the best path forward … that’s just not always the case. Of course Kevin, you’re right, different levels of democracy exist in different places, I suppose that my tuppence on this is this… let’s not assume that more is better.

Democracy does save an organisation from making bombastic royal-size screw ups, but there are a whole load of people who can sustain their own skewed perspectives without being led otherwise if they can have a voice in preventing change that move against their agenda or view.

Dan Gray – CommScrum London

Indeed, KK (and Lindsay), you’ve pipped me to the post!

As CommScrum’s “anorak-in-residence” I find myself reaching once more to situational leadership theory and – in particular – Daniel Goleman’s six leadership styles, which would tend to suggest that, at least when radical change is in the offing, a democratic approach is probably a poor choice.

I’d also point to a model from Dunphy and Stace, which I think frames things rather more concretely. They also suggest a contingency approach to change implementation, ultimately boiling down to the assessment of three factors:

  • The nature of the change (incremental or transformative)
  • The time available to make the change (time/no time for participation), and
  • The degree of support that already exists among key interest groups

Bottom line, if time is available and key interest groups support the change, then by all means drink deeply from the well of more collaborative and consultative models – “participative evolution” and “charismatic transformation” (which essentially map on to Goleman’s “democratic” and “visionary” styles). But when the brown stuff’s about to hit the whirly thing, that’s a different matter.

Command and control ain’t always wrong, ‘kay. It’s just wrong if that’s the only style in your locker.

The most colossal mother of all change programs ever

Lindsay Uittenbogaard – Commscrumming from Kuala Lumpur

I have just finished watching the most thought provoking documentary I’ve ever seen: Zeitgeist – A Way Forward.  If you haven’t heard already, it’s a lengthy film that presents an irrefutable train of logic to show that our economic systems are at the root of the world’s poverty, hunger, health, crime and environmental crises.  It was as if bell had rung in my head when I realized, while watching the film that connecting these world issues to money as a root perpetuator, was of course a simple truth.   Somehow I had just not seen it like that before.

Like being given a terminal illness diagnosis, the conclusion is that our future is definitely not going to get better.  But what could be possibly suggested as the solution?  Surely we would all know about a way out of this by now, if there was one…

The film illustrates how computer-based global resource management, the abolition of money and ownership, and new way of life for all could achieve a central worldwide goal: efficient use of resources for the sustainability of life.  New cities, designed from scratch, would incorporate infrastructures of intelligent systems to dispose of waste, supply water, transport people and goods, as well as grow local food produce. All goods would be designed to last and most would be built by automated machinery – all of this drastically reducing the need for labor.  People would live as equals in standard, efficiently designed homes with naturally sourced power.

What would this give us?  It would make free healthcare, housing and education available to every single person on the planet and it would eliminate crime, poverty and unnecessary harm to our environment.  It would give us all an attractive future.  Wow…  And there is nothing preventing us from taking this course of action – except ourselves.  If it went to a vote of the world’s population, we would have a majority ‘yes!’ and we’d be on the case tomorrow.  But for many reasons, there are millions of people who wouldn’t be able to comprehend participating in such a radically changed world such as this.

As a communicator, I felt a whole aspect of this vision was missing from the film.  Assuming that somehow, every country did agree to adopt the Zeitgeist way, how would we actually manage the change?  Imagine 2050 as being the year assigned to the ‘cut off point’: the collapse of all monetary systems and legislative ownership.  How would people behave in the years leading up to that deadline?  Would it be an all out show of indulgence and hoarding, of doing all the things we will never be able to do again? Or would extravaganza seem pointless?  How long would it take to arrive at our new physical world after 2050?  Maybe it would take 250 years to demolish, design, rebuild, and re-landscape high-spec living provisions…for 6 billion people?!

Then what about human nature?  Could we be happy in a global society like this?  What about our need to keep busy discovering, differentiating, rebelling and satisfying our vanity and egos?  Would the arts and education keep these wants at bay?   The film was clever to show that human behaviours are learned, not genetically predetermined.  Behaviours are contextually triggered – or not, so perhaps just the first one or two generations in this new world will have the most behavioural challenges – before it becomes normal not to be greedy, ambitious and competitive.

The ‘old world’ will seem like immature history and the decision to manage resources together, quite commonsensical.  The mind boggles.  I hope we take this direction – it seems like the best possible future we could carve out for ourselves and I’m in.  And I’d also like to be involved in implementing the most colossal mother of all change programs ever.

Kevin Keohane – CommScrum Colorado

Read this in Colorado and just landed in London, which gave me some time to think about this on the plane.   I think this is a topic that most of us ponder pretty regularly – and wiser heads than mine from Hegel to Milne and many others have philosophised about human beings and their nature.

One part of me, the cynical side, says “No way.” The adage that “If you can’t change your people, change your people” might play in a company of 10,000 or 100,000 people, but is such change scalable? Has it ever been attempted? (Al Gore has had a pretty good run at it I suppose). And of those 6 million folks who might want to drive (and benefit from) such change, how many of them will really be able to buy into this vision – whether due to their government, their access to information, their education, their literacy…  The accumulation of wealth and therefore power has been relentlessly moving in the opposite direction for some time now.

One part of me, the idealistic side, says, “Well, maybe.”  Social communication has been enabled by technology on a scale never seen before, so it is hard to predict its longer-term impact – but events in Egpyt, Libya, Bahrain etc. demonstrate that movements can gain momentum once they hit a tipping point.  The real question is sustainability – in both its narrower and broader sense.

My conclusion?  Everyone probably thinks this is a good idea in theory, but in practice will believe that everyone else should change (the tragedy of the commons).  Until an economic model that works with 0% growth that is 100% sustainable, we’re kind of screwed.

Mike Klein – Commscrumming from Zeitgeist (er…Denmark)

The distinction between quantity and quality of life is a big one.  Systems that are designed to be “fair” usually end up degenerating into repression, be it of the active brutality of the Stasi in East Germany or the passive brutality of Scandinavia’s “Law of Jante” or the Dutch admonition to “just be normal, that’s crazy enough.”

Aside from the fallacy that “fairness” can work as a viable social model, it’s also worth questioning the basic definition of “sustainability” at play.  Indeed, all discussion of “sustainability” internally or externally warrants giving the inferred definition a good kicking.  “Zero environmental impact” vs “continuing the business for another 100 years” are two entirely different sustainability ball games.  Indeed, alarmist propaganda like Zeitgeist can actually detract from more sustainable sustainability approaches, while hardening internal opposition to world-friendlier ways of doing business.

Dan Gray – banging his sustainability drum in London

Hmmm… How to contribute without descending into a major polemic (you have, after all, strayed into my pet area)? I think the best answer is probably just to provide a couple of links…

Firstly, speaking to Mike’s point on definitions, I humbly direct you to the ‘executive summary’ of my own position on what it means to be truly sustainable here – A better way to bigger profits. In addition, I’d point you to Umair Haque’s brilliant HBR blog for a customarily provocative portrayal of the battle ground – what he frames as The Capitalist’s Paradox.

I will allow myself one additional parting shot…

KK, it’s not about growth or no growth, but what do you want to grow?

Mike’s right about the distinction between quantity and quality of life (at least if I’ve understood him correctly).

It’s long been my view that what the economic orthodoxy has yet to grasp is that their kind of growth has not done one jot to actually make people *happier*, largely because they’ve similarly failed to grasp that wealth is not an absolute concept but a *relative* one.

Thus, whilst in absolute terms, economic growth may well have lifted people out of poverty, in *relative* terms they have actually become worse off, since the proceeds of growth flow so disproportionately – as most perversely illustrated by the extortionate bonuses being paid once more to the bankers, while Mr and Mrs John Q. Taxpayer are still carrying the can for their thirst for the quick buck.

Lessons in the Jasmine?

Mike Klein – Commscrumming from København

Having talked about “revolutions” over the last year or so, I find myself oddly flat-footed when it comes to discussing the wave of revolution sweeping the Arab World.  In some measure, this is because my severe pro-Israel bias makes me skeptical about how this will all turn out.

I also find I have little to add beyond what my friend in Boulder, CO, Rachel Berry has to say (  While I think corporate executives often can think in dictatorial terms, today’s workplaces are generally more democratic than the violent Arab dictatorships that are being overthrown and that we ought to use caution when drawing deeper parallels.

One exception I will make is that of speed.  While corporations like to think of themselves as “big”, a company with 200,0oo employees has fewer people than the third ranked cities in Egypt or Libya or Iran (or Arizona for that matter).  In the time it takes to mobilise a flashmob in Alexandria, smartphones and a good sense of an organisation’s social landscape can send a rumour or pronouncement around “the company world” in seconds.

Contrast this to days-long and even months-long approval processes for even routine documents.  These are a double-edged sword.  On the one hand, today’s communication speeds can punish errors swiftly and seriously.  On the other, official communication can and does increasingly find itself behind observable facts and the spread of rumor.  The speed of socially fuelled revolutions should serve as a caution to those who dither about what and when to communicate.

Lindsay Uittenbogaard in The Netherlands

Agree: the pot of unrest in the Arab world has been brewing for decades.  You could say that the speed of social communication is directly proportionate to the mass will behind / significance of the desired new outcome.  Either that or social communication is just about some inconsequential ‘interesting’ gossip.  Conversely, ‘official’ communication to reactionary events has less momentum – an automatic disadvantage.

Kevin Keohane – London

In the foggy mists of my education I recall something called “stability delay analysis” which was all about the phenomenon that building in deliberate delays in financial transactions, legal actions, engineering, etc., are sometime built in to ensure “flash in the pan” decisions don’t create serious breaches, distortions, accidents or errors.  It could be argued that this is a critical role that bureaucracy plays in government and business.  In this world of instant gratification and any form of delay being seen as “administrative b.s.” – I want it all, I want it now, I want it fast – it could be that the rapidity we see in expectations of the “consumer experience” are being translated into expectations about bigger social change.  A guy on the street with a smartphone isn’t making academic distinctions necessarily … but I ramble.  Raises some questions:  How fast can revolutionary change happen without destabilisation?  Too big for my brain … Berlin Wall, Velvet Revolution vs. the overthrow of Ceasucescu (probably spelled that wrong).  Is it possible to stem the tide of a revolution to help ensure its success?

Dan Gray – screwing in his studs in London

Mike, I’m probably going off on a wild tangent here, but when it comes to assessing the malaise of ‘traditional’ communication approaches, framing the lessons to be learned from these events purely in terms of speed is, IMHO, to ignore something much more profound.

If only it were as simple as addressing the tendency of organisations to dither about what and when to communicate.

As tempting as it may be to believe that ‘If we could just do things a bit faster, loosen the reins a bit, rid ourselves of some of the treacle of bureaucracy etc.’ then everything would be peachy, the reality is much more complex than that.

It’s not just traditional, hierarchical, centrally controlled models of communication that are ill suited to a world of rapid change; it’s the whole system – the business and organisational ecology – that spawned them.

Reshaping communication and reshaping the organisational orthodoxy go hand in hand; otherwise all we’re doing is rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic and the use of social media (however effective) just ends up being a ‘sustaining innovation’ solution to a much more ‘disruptive innovation’ problem.

Motivation, Schmotivation

Commscrummer Lindsay Uittenbogaard Kicks Off in The Hague

Sometimes I wonder why communicators cling on to a steadfast interpretation of how communication adds value – when actually it’s completely context-related.

Here’s a fictitious scenario.   Imagine company x had a difficult time last year:  some organizational and staff changes led to drops in quality.  These same changes made seamless customer partnerships a little less seamless.   Salaries did not increase by much.  Training kind of dropped off the table and staff morale is low.  Customers are not delighted and some negative publicity rears up – staff morale becomes lower.  Altogether, it’s not THAT BAD.  It’s just a bit tough.

That’s when you realize just how little communication has got to do with motivation in this case.  No matter what is transmitted / shared / discussed / workshopped in this context – the message doesn’t mean much when the substance isn’t there to support it and when faith in the company direction ebbs away.  Sure – an amazingly engaging leader can give a fabulously energizing speech enlivening everyone to a motivating vision – but that’s the leader, not the communication resources behind him or her.

However, imagine now that the same company just won a major piece of new business and the mood is high.  The company is on a roll and people are actually smiling.  There is more internal investment and more importantly, more affirmation from the market that the company is on the right track.  Recognition programmes become meaningful…  media messages are more believable…  engagement events become more popular: people trust that what the company is doing is working and they want to join in.  Media communication boosts that wave and carries the company further.

The point here is that our value is fluid , which is why it can so easily slip through our fingers.

Kevin Keohane, CommScrum Londinium

Clearly the “value” of communication derives from (a) the problem it solves or (b) the end result to which it contributes.

That’s where a lot of employee communication loses its way, so the point of fluidity is valid: moving the “engagement driver” score up 1.2 year on year neither solves a problem nor contributes to a direct result, as the scenario you outline above brilliantly demonstrates.  Often times communicators who have been brainswashed about the importance of “measuring success” measure things that are irrelevant or only loosely connected to the reality of the business.  Service-profit chains and statistical “best friend at work” gymnastics notwithstanding, ultimately it’s results that matter – and often communicators who are too deeply technical in their expertise, experience and outlook can wind themselves into springs or wander in the wilderness — very busily.

So is “employee engagement” an input or an outcome? Answers on a postcard…

In fact, our own Dang Ray is working with me on an organisational change project where there is a huge culture shift within the communication function itself around exactly this issue: why are we communicating anything that isn’t connected to the strategy of the function/business (and I’ll even accept an ‘indirectly’ answer here)?  Similarly I ‘m advising a Corporate Communications director about phase 2 of an internal brand engagement effort and it’s as much about business strategy and organisational alignment as it is about any “communication” that helps make that happen.

So the “fluid” nature of value comes down in some ways to chasing the right KPIs… I suppose it’s all about focus.

Mike Klein – Cømmscrum  København

Not all that is valuable can be measured, and not all that can be measured is valuable.  A truism, but never more true than in the realm of communication.  This dichotomy becomes even more poignant in a “results now” environment, where time and political capital that could be invested in building a sound infrastructure and developing finely targeted stakeholder communication gets spent on dumbed-down broadcast messaging well before there is real action to trumpet.

On the other hand, one man’s dumbed down broadcast messaging is another man’s proof of life and confirmation of viability.  The real difficulty in measuring the value of communication is measuring who the communication is valuable to.

Coming up with a single corporate measure may be defensible in justifying spend, but it is also narcississtic.  It may capture a relationship to the company’s bottom line, but underrate the contribution the communication made in settling a rattled employee, for instance.

My ultimate measure, if we want to go for broke in the measurement department, is to see if communication-driven alignment in an organisation can reduce the organisation’s dependence on line management.  If we could prove that one smart comms person is worth more in productivity, value and concerted action than ten managers, then this whole conversation would be rendered moot.  Who would like to fund that PhD thesis topic?

Dan Gray – CommScrum London

Can’t say I’ve got a tremendous amount to add to the excellent rucking above. Kind of connected to Mike’s last point, though, I find it interesting to note that one of my own personal favourite theses on motivation (that of the great Frederick Herzberg) places “relationship with supervisor” (that supposedly sacrosanct relationship in all organisational communication) firmly in the hygiene factor camp alongside salary, working conditions etc. Hmm…

To KK’s question above, as I’ve said many times before here and elsewhere, ‘engagement’ is entirely subjective, in my view – it’s a state of mind, as individual as the individual. Some folks thrive on the opportunity to innovate and be creative; others are just stoked when their numbers add up. Fundamentally, it’s about a sense of meaning, a sense of purpose and a sense of achievement. 100% outcome, in my book, and one (if I might be so bold to suggest) over which the comms team exerts little or no direct influence.

A (hopefully relevant) analogy…

KK emailed me earlier this week about a Forbes list of – supposedly – the world’s most sustainable companies. I say supposedly because the list was topped by an oil company and contained a hefty number of banks to boot!

Now I don’t know enough about the research methodology, or the activities of the companies concerned, to comment definitively, but I’m willing to bet that (much like the Gallup 12) it concentrates on a bunch of supposedly ‘standard’ indicators around corporate governance structures, CSR reporting etc. which bear very little relation to what it really means to be ‘sustainable’.

I raise the example because, for me, comms is to engagement what CSR is to sustainability. The former is a leading measure of activity, frequently divorced from the broader business context in which it sits. The latter is a lagging measure of the cumulative, long-term impact of everything you do. (Hence the importance of our profession brushing up on Systems Thinking.)

Commscrum’s predictions for 2011

Dan Gray – CommScrum London

Wow. Is it really a month since we last posted? I suppose the LinkedIn group is partly to blame/congratulate for that – a lot of conversations have migrated over there – but still, it’s a bit of a poor show, and we promise to try and do better over the coming months.

To kick off the New Year, we thought we’d borrow from an annual tradition of KK’s on his own blog, and put forward some predictions for 2011 – three apiece from each “scrum forward”, plus one or two wild cards from all of us. Having been conspicuous in my absence from the last couple of rounds, it’s about time I rejoined the fray and got the ball rolling so, FWIW, here are mine…

1) Sustainability as fundamental long-term viability (an impetus for redesigning core business) rather than ‘green’ and old-fashioned corporate philanthropy (a tactical bolt-on to soften the blow of ‘business as usual’) will hit the big time. Unilever, P&G and Walmart all moving in this direction suggest the elephants are already learning to dance to the tune of real sustainability.

2) As a result, brand narratives will increasingly seek to connect core business activities with serving a higher social purpose, as a means of attracting and retaining customers and talent. (When guys like Michael Porter start prosthelytising about it, you know the idea of ‘constructive capitalism’ is gaining mainstream acceptance!)

3) The need for authenticity – for this sense of purpose to be baked into everything a company does (in the very products and services it provides, in its organisational design, and in the way it conducts its daily business) – will place an increasing premium on genuine strategic consulting capability, leaving traditional brand/comms agencies vulnerable to a major turf-grab by the management consultancies.

Kevin Keohane – CommScrum London

These predictions may, or may not, align with those at DTIM – which haven’t been written yet …  🙂

1)  Employer Branding practice will shift focus to an “internal” rather than an exclusively “external recruitment” focus, with the realisation seeping through that employer reputation is as much what you and your people (and indeed others) say and do on a day to day basis as what your recruitment media communicate.  Dan’s right, authenticity will be seen to matter more. Watch (ideally with a wry, and possible patronising, sense of humour) as all the previous “external” focussed experts magically transform themselves into employee engagement specialists. Cue EVP v.’2.0′.

2) Many organisations will realise that putting “media” after “social” was neither as complicated as gurus were making it out to be, nor as easy as the “just jump in” brigade would purport (tip o’ the hat to Mr Klein).  Cue social media ‘2.0’.

3)  Many “best practices” in employee communications, whether related to writing, intranet, cascades, social media, etc. will become ‘so easy to do and adapt’ that there will be some more innovative firms wondering why they have to hire “communication professionals” to do it.  Which bodes well for external suppliers and providers, and perhaps less so for in house people.  But don’t worry; these things are never as dramatic as hyperbole such as mind suggest…


Lindsay Uittenbogaard CommScrums from The Netherlands

Hmmm.  Well aside from the fact that you NEVER know what is around the corner, here goes:

1) Business schools start to put 2 and 2 together to see that no matter how good communicators are at ‘representing their industry’, ‘stating their business case’ and ‘measuring their outcomes’ – they’re not going to get sponsorship if leaders don’t really get it.  Communication learning makes it on the management school curriculum.

2) The whole communication piece starts moving into its own function (if it isn’t there already) because the internal and external pieces have got to go together.  Any HR / Sales / General Management influence on the direction of communication becomes seen as more of a hinderance than a home.

3) Some Senior Internal Comms veterans start moving out of the profession because the past 10 – 20 years emergence of internal communication – and all of its hopes and aspirations – is settling into a more permanent state of realism that may not be such an interesting battle to keep fighting.  However, these movers are finding that they’re making pretty good leaders now…  surprise, surprise!

Best wishes for 2011 folks.  Mike – over to you…

Mike Klein – Commscrum Janteloven

Am feeling a bit battle-weary at the moment, which is tempering my usual optimism:

1) I see strong signs of cultural retrenchment in 2011 – with the WikiLeaks controversy serving as a clarion call to those who want to roll back all the technology, transparency and interactivity that we have started to take for granted.  Some practitioners will be in for a very tough 3-6 months until business realises the world has truly changed.

2) At the same time, the idea of social and tribal communication, my personal hobby horse as well as a way of looking at informal communication as driver or inhibitor of change, will gain currency – even in management circles.  Impacts will not only include enhanced roles for clued-in comms pros, but also the opening of other “people fields” like diversity and knowledge-management to communication pros.

3) While I don’t necessarily believe that Sustainability will be the banner all companies raise in 2011, I do think organisations will start getting more real about “raison d’etre”–not just in terms of mission (what they do) and not really vision (who we want to be), but more “who they are”.  Expect some evolution in this space.

And…as the last worder here, a meta trend:

Anger.  Political anger is at extreme levels throughout the West.  Even in 5% unemployment Denmark there’s a “throw the bums” out drumbeat as elections approach.  Recent political violence in Europe and  the anger-swilling Tea Partiers in the US highlight a trend with real organisational implications.    Most of those rioters and Tea Partiers are pissed off, and they work some where.  And chances are, politics aren’t the only thing they are angry about these days.

Best – and hopeful – wishes for 2011 from the Land of the Missing Sun.

When communication loses common sense.

Lindsay Uittenbogaard Commscrumming from The Hague

I saw the communication plan for a new business improvement programme last week.  It was an MS excel sheet embedded at the back of the programme introduction slides.  As the responsible person for communication in this particular part of the business, I waited as the spreadsheet opened to see what was inside with a curious (and slightly infringed) mind.  Who had written a communication plan without involving me?  What were the contents?

Some 20 rows had been completed.  The contents specified the types of document that would be shared, which levels of the governance organization structure would receive them (and the RACI definitions per item), and how often they would be shared. There was no mention of how the improvement programme would inform / involve the wider stakeholder groups – or indeed how their input would be incorporated to support the desired ‘improvement’ outcomes.

Momentarily, I caught a glimpse of the near future: multiple parties work through their emails whilst simultaneously tuning in with one ear to bi-weekly ‘improvement programme’ steering committee conference calls, responding only when their names are called out or speaking up when their latest caffeine hit kicks in.  Documents are emailed, boxes are ticked, people tune in vaguely, and at the end of 12 weeks the improvement does not happen and another priority comes up requiring programme-style communication.

Coincidentally, on the same day, I was asked by a member of the IT Security Team if I could fill in a compliance form to certify that certain communication items had been distributed for audit purposes.  My comment in this process was “But that communication was only read by about 30% of the recipients who received it.”  The response was: “We don’t need to check that – we just need to know that the communication took place.”

Is this just me being cynical on a cold, rainy Thursday in November or is the common sense behind communication being overtaken?

Mike Klein – Commscrumming Coolly in Cold Copenhagen

“There are those who know the price of everything…and the value of nothing.”  The ever-perceptive Oscar Wilde was speaking of the cynical, and such cynicism about communication remains rampant among both who purchase it and practice it.

Coming from a political campaign background, I can go toe to toe with anyone on the matter of surveys and measurement.  And much of what I encounter is the “measurement for measurement’s sake” along the lines Lindsay decries above.

Recently, following a survey fielded recently at my current employer which included (shock and awe) a number of open ended questions, I had a conversation with a fellow comms pro and blogger suggesting a closed-ended “pulse survey.”  I listened with skeptical interest, and then saw the questions being suggested.  “I’m aware of the change.”  “I understand the change and my place in it.”  And on and on.  Positive, leading questions, with little scope for eliciting real issues reverberating under the surface.

To be sure, the value of any pulse survey is more in the trends and less in the questionnaire.  But when we communicators give credence to the idea that communication is a tactical box to be ticked rather than a strategic force that defines the shape of the boxes, we do ourselves and our clients no favors.  Resist dumbed-down measurement with violence if need be.

Geoff Barbaro Commscrumming in Melbourne, Australia

Lindsay, it’s a great question you raise, though the more I deal with companies and organisations, the more I wonder whether common sense is allowed to permeate any sphere of their operations and directions.

When I read your examples, I wonder how much of this has to do with the organisation and how much of it is the result of external influences. For example, in your IT compliance audit example, was that the result of a demand from the insurers, the requirements of the relevant legislation or even the advice of the legal team to avoid liability issues?

Nothing in your examples leads to a conclusion that an organisation is trying to live its values, achieve its vision, look after its people, implement its strategies or align all of these with operations. Or as Mike would say, to work with intent. Your exclusion from the communication planning process, the dictatorial outline of the nature of people’s involvement in the process, the failure to care whether people embrace the communications involved are just some of the factors that scream “we say we are one organisation committed to a vision, but we are really a mob of managers who want to exercise some command and control over the rest of you.”

Yet this seems to be accepted as good management, good leadership, even a good use of resources. Even worse, Mike will probably be able to provide plenty of examples where this will be measured in ways that produce good results.

I don’t believe common sense is the silver bullet, but I do believe it shouldn’t be abandoned entirely. Where common sense can be utilised, it creates really effective, efficient and successful operations and communications without the need for too much oversight and management. And it aligns with vision, values, strategies and intent where we properly understand and care about them. Where common sense can steer us wrong and can’t be utilised is where you need to institute great communications, engagement and change processes with good leadership and management.

I want to tick one of Mike’s strategic trapezohedrons, not some tactical box, so I look for communication as a human activity between people, meaning common sense must play a part. I’m not convinced that the ways we organise businesses encourage the use of common sense.

Keohane from London

Mike Klein said it already a while back: Intent. Basically that’s my response.  What are we trying to accomplish?  What is our intent in undertaking the activity?  Too often the tool is driving the process.


Winning a Two-Front War

Mike Klein–Commscrum Copenhagen

While this may be the best of times for business communicators—with a growing realisation that the work we do is actually done at the core rather than the periphery of the value chain, there is an equivalent recognition that neither most business leaders nor even much of the profession is willing to embrace that realisation, choosing instead to see business communication as mainly a source of internal journalism and driver of yet more top-down cascading.

Few are exempt.  Even cutting edge pros—members of the CommScrum linked-in group, still find themselves selling and delivering a higher percentage of top-down executional programs than they would prefer to, and as yet, are unwilling to fall on their swords for more effective if less easily explained alternatives.

Leaders as communicators, communicators as leaders.  Two distinct fronts, one distinct war.  At stake, not only the relative performance of business communicators as a profession, but potentially, the performance and viability of business itself.

The core issue is the same—communication is not merely a facilitator of performance but is part of both process and output.  The understandings required of C-suiter and Lead Communicator are fundamentally different, and the conversion experience needs to be quite different.  Neither group can be ignored, particularly if we are to shift this conversation within the next year as CommScrum does.  But neither group can be treated equally.

The C-Suiter needs to see, touch and feel how communication shapes and smoothes each aspect of process, production and acceptance.  S/he needs to see the maps and verbatim quotes that demonstrates that the organization is much more of a dynamic and relatively freely connected social system than a neat series of boxes and lines through which information flows downwards pristinely and immediately.  S/he needs to also recognize that “engagement” isn’t some kind of a whistle-while-you-work-for-peanuts employer nirvana but a series of states which offer challenges as well as opportunities for improvements in innovation as well as productivity.

The Lead Communicator, in turn, needs a transfusion of facts, images and cojones to be able to win a wrestling match with a C-suiter when the C-suiter asks for posters, mouse mats, Facebook page or a cascade.

CommScrum will do our part—this is the direction our live activities for the coming year are heading in.  But what more can we do?  The opposition is fierce—not only the comfort that executives take in the seeming stability of hierarchical approaches, but also a communication conference and association industry that has more to gain by selling skills instead of upgrading attitudes.

Any ideas?

Lindsay Uittenbogaard–Commscrum The Hague

OK – we keep talking about the need for this step change.

The distinction you make Mike, between 1) leadership recognition of the potential value of communication and 2) the willingness of leaders to embrace that value, helps to clarify this ‘problem’.    But it’s not as if our leaders ‘got it wrong’.  It is our job – in part – to cascade  messages top down and drive programs to meet the needs of our sponsors.   The step change we communicators are talking about here is that communication can make a bigger impact.  It can improve business performance, employee motivation and innovation.  BUT HOW, EXACTLY?

Tangibly speaking, what does this extra piece actually look like?  In practical terms – how can we describe how this extra, golden dimension of possibility works in real life, without becoming so lofty and abstract that we lose our audience?

I don’t think that people are unwilling to embrace communication, I think they are unable to – because they don’t understand how to.   People in business will do anything to move faster, better, cheaper.   Why would they have any reason to ‘block’ that hidden value we communicators seem to be sitting so uncomfortably on top of?

We click in the minds of our leaders as resources when they want x – but we don’t click in their minds as resources when they need y and z. Why not?  Because there are dozens of other execution processes that people know and use that don’t involve communication as we might.  It’s a slow re-education process and these people need to be shown the alternative – how it fits together and what the better results can be.

Winning the two-front war means working with leaders to truly understand what they need, connecting and articulating a communication involvement that makes sense to them and them showing that it works.   Not easy.

As a starter, here is a challenge: is there a Commscrummer out there who can write down clearly what that extra communication involvement means while keeping their feet on the ground?

Kevin Keohane – CommScrum London
Geoff Barbaro makes the point that leaders who are “poor communicators” can nonetheless be effective in their roles (heaven forbid).  Granted this might well mean they deliver EPS quarter on quarter and their companies are hell-holes, but in other instances they may well preside over fully “engaged” workforces in fully sustainable businesses.   Visionary, charismatic orators able to inspire legions to a clear and compelling shared Mission, Vision and Values do not great leaders (necessarily) make – they can run businesses into the ground as well as anybody else.  [Just as great writers are not by default great communicators (Liam Fitzpatrick already took that bullet so I should be safe).]

If there is one thing that agency life provides in spades, it’s perspective and variety.  In a given week I am advising the CEO of a European technology company on strategic positioning, and then sitting with the Vice Chairman of a Big 4 firm about a major change initiative, and then advising small professional services firm on aligning their values to their talent development framework, and ending the week launching a corporate website launching/repositioning a brand “from the inside out”.  Perhaps if were part of the internal comms team at a big insurance company, or head of employee engagement at a technology company, or head of communications at a law firm, my perspective would by definition be quite different. {Back to the CommScrum Typology of Internal communicators(TM)].

But if there is one trend I’ve detected, it’s that for the most part the end justifies the means when it comes to communications and employee engagement – in a world where all too often there seems to be a communicator’s mentality of entitlement (the means justify the ends).  Just as ad agencies need to live in a world where the answer might not be a :30 second TV slot, communicators need to lead in a world where the answer isn’t about “communications” as they define it but the results they deliver by hook or by crook.

So – I’ve boiled it down to this: the so-called “talent” agenda is, according to both McKinsey and The Economist, in the Top 3 in terms of driving sustainable growth (just behind availability of credit and economic recovery).  A recent SAS study of more than 20 Global Fortune 500 companies clearly indicates that the effort to attract, engage, and retain talent almost always falls over at the functional leadership and line management level (years ago, it was about making the case to “leaders”.  Many communicators seem to be stuck there).  Communicating with employees is clearly an important element in addressing the opportunities to add value through talent.  But so does Marketing, and so does HR, and indeed IT and others.  Therefore, it’s Darwinian.  Those who can demonstrate the ability to connect the dots at a “higher level” than the packaging and distribution of content will contribute greater value to their organisations and will be “communicators as leaders”.  Those who continue to believe that “internal communications” has some sort of sacrosanct mandate will be like the Recording Industry of America trying to outlaw MP3s and become channel managers – with content management too if they are lucky (?).

“New” leaders in employee (talent) communications will probably not come from traditional “internal communications” camps (though some certainly will).  And some organisations, and the practitioners within them, will trundle along quite happily along the tried and true “old world” tracks.

Deborah Hinton – Commscrum Montreal

Is it just a two-front war?  Most days the challenge seems more complex than that!

On the question of Communicator-leaders or leader-communicators, I think we should be developing way more of more of both.  In the short to mid-term that’s what the ‘talent’ agenda needs Kevin.  And, if we positioned ourselves to go out of business for the longer-term [someone said that on this space a while ago, and it wasn’t me] we’d be headed in the right direction.  Leader-communicators rule!

Mike I agree that far too many of us are spending far too much time on delivering tradition top down communications and fighting fights that we would all like to think are behind us.  Is it because after all everyone knows how to communicate?  Or is it because of what Lindsay suggested:  Somewhere along the line either we aren’t delivering the value that organizations expect/need [and we’ve promised] or we have not gotten the credit for the value we’ve delivered.

If we aren’t delivering the value why is that?  Is it because we don’t have the skills and knowledge we really need to deliver value today [see other conversations here and the current discussion on the CommScrum Group on LinkedIn: Building communication mastery in a cross-disciplinary inside/out world].  Or, is it because we have the skills and knowledge but haven’t been given the chance?  And, if we aren’t being given the chance then how do we position ourselves to get/take the chance?

Or, is it because when it’s done well, communications are so integrated in the discussion and so seamlessly delivered that we don’t [and perhaps shouldn’t] get credit? Or, is it all of the above?

Side bar:

I spent nearly two days last week at the Mellon Colloque at the Canadian Centre for Architecture []. Part of an occasional attempt to break out of my bubble.  The topic was “The expanding curatorial field”.  Pretty isoteric stuff.

Interestingly what I discovered is that the curatorial world is facing some of the same challenges/issues we are.  What are the boundaries of the field?  What is the role of the curator?  How do you curate – the noun and the verb, the process and the product?  And what has primacy – in this case Architect-artist or Artist-architect rather than Communicator – Leader or Leader – Communicator.  And, disappointingly though I learned a lot, there were no evident or easy answers.