Tag Archives: corporate culture

Corporate Communication: Speaking Simple Truth to Power

Reading, the other day, that French President Emmanuel Macron has decided that his thought processes are too complex for the media to understand, and thus has cancelled a traditional Bastille Day press conference, made me consider (again) two things:

  • The core of communication is simplicity
  • Speaking communication truth to the very powerful is a vital, but thankless, task

Clearly, Msr Macron was ridiculed roundly for his perceived arrogance, and there were those who accused him of having a Louis XIV complex. (Which appears to have some substance, if you read the reportage following his speech at Versailles on July 3.) He is obviously an incredibly intelligent man and has crammed more into his 39 years than I could hope of achieving in as many lifetimes, however, from a communication standpoint, he has alienated a key stakeholder group, who will have gone on to influence a large proportion of his supporter base.

Some have said that he may have been misrepresented or misconstrued, but my own experience leads me to believe that he simply saw no issue. He’s the cleverest boy in the room, why would he waste his time on people who aren’t going to understand what he’s saying? And that will be his experience of the media. They keep asking questions, the answers to which are, to him, blindingly obvious.

I say my own experience, because it’s happened to me on at least three different occasions – and by different occasions, I mean different companies and different C-suite executives. ‘Why, oh why, oh why’ they said ‘do I have to do this early morning call to the media? They never really understand what I’m saying, it’s all too complex for them, and we often have to go back and mop it up later. Why?’

Sometimes they were a bit harsher than that.

The real question, of course, is not why don’t they understand the complexity, it’s why can’t you make it simpler and easier for everyone. Those in the public eye or in a position of power – our heads, our leaders – are expected to be on top of their material, their field of expertise. They are rewarded for so being.

The media, on the other hand, are – in the main – overstretched, underpaid and covering a wide variety of different topics. Their audience – the public, the consumer, the voter – has neither the time, nor the inclination.

Thus, and as always, the truth of communication is ‘the simpler the better’. Simple, however, is not to dumb it down, but to express it in a way (or ways) that all your audiences will understand and relate to – this will undoubtedly involve a layer of extra work, on top of the work you’ve done to get to where you are. Which is inconvenient.

Speaking this truth to the very powerful, thus, is an extremely dangerous occupation. Someone who believes that their thought processes are too complex to be understood doesn’t take kindly to being told that they can (and should) be simplified.

it is vital that the communication expert steps up to the plate however – the alternative is a leader viewed as aloof, arrogant and possessed of delusions of grandeur – or, in a more corporate context, a leader viewed as aloof, arrogant and out of touch. And with today’s focus on customer experience, inclusion and satisfaction, that’s simply not going to work.

(A final thought – if Emmanuel feels that the media are going to have a hard time understanding him, why has he issued an invitation to Donald Trump? Maybe it’s a President thing.)

 

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Corporate Reputation: Not enhanced by Gurus, Black Belts, Ninjas or Masters

Way back when – 1985, to be precise – a gentleman called Nick Graham founded an underwear company called Joe Boxer, and appointed himself Chief Underpants Officer. And why not? It was irreverent and amusing and – this is the key element – it reflected what the company actually did, and his role in it. His claim that “The brand is the amusement park, the product is the souvenir” provides insight into his thinking and an interesting take on customer relations, not suitable for all, but worth a moment’s consideration.

The point is that it is possible to break away from the conventions of job titles and role profiles – Chief Executive Officer, Sales Director, National Accounts Manager, Head of Human Resources, IT Analyst – and, in so doing, enhance corporate reputation and make a clear statement about strategic direction.

This piece, by Sir Cary Cooper, Professor of Organisational Psychology at the University of Manchester for the BBC, provides a couple of further examples. Let’s hear it for the Captain of Moonshots at Google, who heads up research and development (and whose name, brilliantly enough, is Astro Teller). And take a bow, Berkshire Hathaway’s Director of Chaos, who manages the organisation of the company’s annual shareholder bunfight. From the ridiculous to the sublime, let’s not forget the sandwich artists at Subway.

There’s a point to all of these and even Captain of Moonshots is sufficiently evocative that it’s clear what the job entails and, perhaps more importantly, why it needs/merits an extraordinary descriptor. However, there is a newer and perhaps slightly worrying trend towards ‘differently naming’ roles and positions, and Sir Cary’s article goes on to discuss it.

Coming from the private sector, and having worked in environments where ‘process efficiencies’ and ‘continuous improvement’ (read cost saving and downsizing) had become central to the culture of the business, I am no stranger to people with ‘guru’ in their title. I have met those called ‘ninja’. I have held meetings with ‘commercial black belts’ – people whom, I suppose, will cripple you on price.

Sir Cary says that incomprehensible job titles are an elitist affectation.  All of this stuff surely adds value, but not knowing what the job title means, it’s difficult to ask the right questions about the job, and not asking the right questions means not getting the right answers, and thus not being certain of the value added. But, and going back to what the Chief Underpants Officer said, an organisation which allows incomprehensible, and above all unfriendly and slightly intimidating, job titles – for whatever reason – is not going to have the cultural mindset to be an amusement park for its customers.

For the record, the latest examples appear to be the job titles of ‘scrum master’ and ‘agilist’. The first, ‘scrum master’, gives little clue to what it might be, save (for me anyway) a vague sense of foreboding that it might involve large, sweaty men tearing each other’s shorts. The latter, ‘agilist’, for which you can train and obtain a qualification, is someone who promotes agility in an organisation (I think). And – as an aside – for anyone who’s ever spent time in a large organisation – well, I don’t have to tell you how well that’s going to work.

So what does it all mean for the Corporate Affairs/Corporate Reputation manager? Well, it’s an object lesson in how reputation enhancement and good public relations start at home. An internal view is as important as an external one. It’s no good focusing on overall customer experience and corporate image if – to over-extend the metaphor – your publics cannot relate to those who run the amusement park. And if the corporate culture allows for ninjas, black belts, gurus and masters – then it’s probably about due an overhaul.

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Corporate Reputation – Toyota And The Need For Purpose

I am very fond of the internet. (Even though, obviously, I don’t know all of it.) It’s mostly the way that things just crop up, without one necessarily looking for them, which provide insight into, and opinion on, stuff that is instantly resonant and relevant. There’s always someone out there in webworld who sees the connection between events and best practice, in any field, or sector, or discipline, even when you haven’t. Everything I’ve just said here is, of course, stating the obvious – that’s what you’d expect from the feral communities engendered by the net – and it’s not that which astounds. No – it’s the serendipity with which the net throws things one’s way – almost as if there was some sort of a fate lending an ethereal hand.

Most likely, it’s to do with quantum. Algorithm’s gonna get you.

Anyway – here’s a piece that I think is splendid. It’s from a blog called Decision to Lead – Expanding the Practice of Leadership and it’s by a lady called Frances Frei, who is (according to the blurb) ‘Harvard Business School’s resident expert of service excellence’. Which, to my mind, gives her a bit of gravitas.

The piece is about the whole ongoing Toyota situation of which we are all aware, even if we’re not sure how many cars have been recalled and what, exactly, they’ve been recalled for. Mechanical bloopers, shall we say. Frances comes at it from the angle of what I will call ‘corporate religion’ and what she calls a purpose. You can read the post yourselves, dear blog snorkellers, but Frances posits that Toyota lost its focus on its corporate purpose of ‘improvement’ – improvement of its product and improvement in the way its product was constructed. From the pursuit of this purpose came business success – sales and profits. Toyoat lost its focus – or rather its focus shifted, from improvement as a corporate purpose, to sales and profits as goals in themselves. As these became the goals of the company, so corners were cut, so the pride and motivation of the workforce became less – and it was then but a matter of time before what happened, happened.

It’s a great lesson – shame that it takes a global product recall, and its affect on the consumer, to teach it. The lesson is that businesses and organisations that have true longevity, that are the ones that enjoy enduring success (in the form of sales and profits), that are the ones that engender respect and admiration in their stakeholders – these are businesses for whom sales and profits are not goals in themselves. They are function of the bigger corporate purpose – the mission, the vision, the intent, the corporate religion – whatever you’d wish to call it. With a clearly defined and articulated purpose comes pride and motivation and – yes – reward for the people that make the business or organisation run.

(PS. Lest I be accused of being an unreconstructed, irredeemable hippy, I know that there are industries and business sectors where the purpose is nothing more or less than profit, and the people who are involved in them are wholly subsumed in the pursuit of the purpose – banking, mostly. I will be hippy-ish, mind, and ask whether we’d be in such a global economic bind right now if, perhaps, the bankers had had another purpose, other than sheer greed.)

(PPS. The need for corporate purpose has been around forever. I say this to prevent anyone trying to tell me that it’s part of the New Age of business, where everyone has a voice and everyone’s voice is important, which has been brought about by that life-changing, world-shaping phenomenon, social media. Horse droppings.)

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