Monthly Archives: February 2011

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.)