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Internal Communications, seriously.

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Why leaders need to change their opinion about internal communication

Back in the eighties, I studied HR management. During this study I noticed that teachers were prejudiced towards the HR students. They had no respect for the students. I wondered about the reason for this. “HR People weren’t to be trusted”, “HR people will take good care, especially of themselves”, “HR People have no real strategic influence, they are merely handyman for management”, “Working for HR means that you do not have a backbone, no balls, no guts” and so forth. All very wrong and very prejudiced visions indeed.

However, during my internship at a large Truck factory I soon found out that this vision was not only shared by the teachers; HR lacked respect. Especially during crisis.
A few mis perceptions that were responsible for this poor image:

  • HR did not have a focus on achieving results.
  • HR only needed to manage the administrative organization with regards to people that need to keep their job.
  • HR did not have a ROI, at least it could not be measured.
  • HR did what they were told to do. They followed a policy that had been set out for them.
  • HR Managers lacked balls. They were selected for not having a backbone or guts to stand up and put on a fight.Although “Human Resources” in general were known to be the most valuable asset a company could have (and the most expensive one) HR managers didn’t get credits for their job

Over the years HR managed to overcome these stereotype visions, at least at larger companies. But it took 20 year or so to get there.

So, why did it took so long?

It’s a self-fulfilling prophecy:

  • Companies did not look for competencies that could change the way people think about HR, so they would hire those people whose profile would fit their biased vision,
  • HR managers were not taken serious, they did not have a chance to develop strategy and policy.
  • Obvious, it’s no job for Goal getters.

Also, there is nothing more difficult to change then a corporates’ culture. Entire societies can change their values and ideologies faster than corporates change their culture.

  • Top level management hire only those who will fit their biased profile.
  • Top level management raise their successors so they will share the same values.
  • Top level management often are “Laggards” when it comes to innovative change. Most certainly so if that means they have to revise their way of thinking and working.

During the last few decades, HR managed to alter this incorrect vision. They became more professional and accountable for their job. People working for HR also have different competencies then before.

What about internal communications?

It often seems as they now suffer under the same incorrect perception HR had back then.

  • Internal communication have no real ROI at least, it can’t be measured.
  • Internal communications is a girls job, therefore worthless compared to “real work”.
  • External stakeholders communication is far more important, so it gets more funding and staffing.
  • Internal communication requires no special skill other than to say what we want to say” because employees “have to listen…they need the job”.
  • Internal communication can wait because management needs to focus on achieving results.

Although these assumptions are incorrect, they give internal communications a bad image. It needs to change and you don’t get 20 years to do it!

Why such a hurry?

Social Media!

Social Media alters the way we communicate. It defines a new set of rules that can’t be controlled by any authority. So, if you don’t communicate well with your employees, they will not be your companies ambassadors on Social Media.

You often hear that Social Media democratizes information. But that is not true. It anarchizes communication. Obviously, your company better train its employees to deal with Social Media in a way you would like them to. Internal Communications can and should play a large role in this. But to make it happen, they need credibility, decent funding, sufficient staff and the right mindset…and they need it fast. Perhaps even, some of them do not have the competencies needed for this “new role” but that’s another discussion.

Help your Internal Communications wherever you can, you deserve it!

Social Media Policy

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An example of a Social Media Policy:

Make social media channels freely available to your employees,
but expect them to be accountable for their behavior — and their daily work!

This policy isn’t written in legalese. It’s written for employees.

We believe in the importance of democratizing media and in an open exchange of information enabling people to engage and learn. Social Media is a new and rapidly growing medium for collaboration, discussion and networking. We support the responsible use of this technology and offer the following guidelines for those who participate or comment on social media sites.

With the term Social Media we mean the set of tools that rely heavily on user generated content and interactivity. Examples are: Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn and all kinds of Blogs, Wikis and discussion threads. The principles and guidelines contained in this policy should be applied to all online activities.

While participating in Social Media, it is important that you understand and follow existing policies that are not specific to Social Media butt still apply. These include our company’s Corporate Guidelines, Code of Conduct, Business Ethics, Privacy Policy and Security of Information Policy.
• Employees must respect proprietary and confidential information. Such information cannot be disclosed or otherwise shared in any way.
• Do not comment on rumors, either to deny or affirm them. Please note that rumors could be helpful, so notify your Comms person.
• If you question whether it is appropriate to share certain information, don’t.

Our company respects the free speech rights of its employees, and has no interest in forcing employees to conform to specific, company-approved beliefs, views or positions. But it is important to remember that you may be seen by others as representing official company views when you participate in social media.

If you comment or blog about any aspect of the company’s business or any aspect of your position and job, identify yourself as an employee and state that you act upon your views.

Do not engage in conversation with our customers, claimants, and the media. Only those officially designated by the company have this authorization.
Copyright, Fair Use Laws

Do not post copyrighted material owned by others, including the company’s own copyrights and brands. It is good blogging practice to link to other’s work, data or information whenever possible.

Appropriate Use
While some employers forbid any access to social media sites during work hours and using work computers, we believe that these sites and tools can be a valuable means of sharing information, collaborating on work problems, and increasing employee engagement and satisfaction. However, the company also expects that employees will use sound judgment and common sense when accessing or participating in social media during work hours, and will not abuse this privilege. There is a difference between taking a few minutes during the day to update a personal profile on a social networking site, and using work time to maintain a personal blog related to a hobby or outside interest while allowing work performance to suffer.

When employees leave the company, material written on company assets or property during their employment remains in place and is subject to all terms of this policy.

Violating the Policy
This policy applies to all employees, contractors, temporary workers and interns. Employees who violate the Corporate Social Media Policy may be subject to corrective measures up to and including termination of employment. If an employee’s manager believes that improper or excessive use of social media during work hours is resulting in performance issues or is creating a risk to the company, the manager has the right to take disciplinary action.

Credits: Brand Camp cartoon by is by Tom Fishburne of marketoonist.com. Also, content is mostly created by Troy Janish on Social Meteor

Social Media a blessing in disguise?

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Yeah, I know, this subject is not entirely new. But if you look for it, you’ll notice that this issue gets more attention lately.

Are Social Media to be considered as a possible threat to one’s relationship? I think the answer to that question is YES Duh!

If I mention this to my friends they say; “Noud, you are confusing cause and effect. People who meet people and get involved have a bad relationship in the first place”. Sure this is true, at least for some.

Well, let’s look at the statistics: over 20% of the divorces (in the US) are said to be linked directly to Facebook and over 80% are linked to Social Media in any way. So there seems to be a relation here. But -for arguments sake- let’s not discuss the Cheating ones, for they will Cheat given the chance. And this chance grows when one is to meet people through Social Media. But, how about the others? The ones that get stuck in the “web” and find it difficult to prioritize their time and attention. They are the ones that have problems with their non-virtual-community like their Family, Job and Friends (I write it so,  to emphasise that the virtual community comes first place). It would be naive to deny their existence. And I predict, they will increase in numbers at the same or even higher rate as the growth of the Social Media apps and community their users. It’s not a question whether, but how it will affect our private lives?

For myself, I have always been a guy with lots of hobbies and I’ve always had problems dividing my time. Back then there was School, Friends, Family and Hobbies. I have learned the hard way that you need to attend to any of those or you will lose them (well, not all, I’ve always had Hobbies ;) ). In the early nineties the Internet appeared for mere mortals like me. My wife and I argued often about the amount of time that I was “allowed” on the Internet. She was right off course. I am not blessed with the gift to prioritize. We where often arguing about me spending to much time on the internet. Since then I’ve also had an issue called “Midlife crises”  that became clear to my friends and family  after I bought a Porsche and  got involved with sports, lost 50 pounds or so, and eventually, after a few years, I got myself a ticket to the Hospital (one day admittance to the IC).  Finally  the age of Social Media dawned. With regrets, I closed my eyes for a few years and denied their existence . But after I opened  my eyes again they where still there.  And how wonderful they are. What great opportunities did they offer. I said to myself; “Let’s try one out, only for a moment, only on a occasional base.” …BAM! …There I was stuck in the middle of the Social Media Web. Nowadays, I’m always looking on my iPhone, reading all these interesting posts. I really am a sucker for this. I just can’t deny myself  the pleasure of reading them. On a daily basis I do not dare to estimate the amount of time spent reading Tweets, trying different SM apps, browsing LinkedIn or Facebook, Flickr and so on. Also for my work, this is a mandatory, therefore legit- action. Need I mention how this reflects on my Family situation? Well Ok then. My wife imposed a curfew: after 22.00 hours there will be no more iPhone, iPad, Macbook Air, Laptop or Desktop! That’s so hard.  So I find myself reading Tweets on the toilet, bathing and I even used the excuse “walking the cat”. That one was new! My kids don’t really mind though, for they are born in this age and so, they have seamlessly adapted this technology.

Having said this, I can’t believe that my perticular case  is an exception and Social Media can become be a threat to our Non-virtual-life as a partner, father/mother or colleague.

Time for a Social Media Detox Clinic? Franchise perhaps?

Corporate Culture vs. Social Media

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In the line of my work, I often talk with Corporate Comms. They all share three issues on their “to do” list best described as:

Lets do something with…

1: Social Media
2: Engagement
3: the Intranet

These, offcourse, are very crude subjects, and without a strategy plan for either one, you’ll have a hard time fulfilling them. Thanks to Social Media however, loads of information on these matters can be found on the internet. You only have to look for it.

A good plan means you’re half way there. I’m convinced you will be able to do this, without hiring a Social Media Specialist!

If it’s all that easy, why are there still so many Corporates strugeling with these issues?
There is an “old school” phenomenon called corporate culture responsible for this.

It’s what makes a good plan fail. Even well organized IT Projects, often spread out over years, fail.
In the Netherlands there is an example of such a fail project, called OV Card. It’s about a chipcard that replaces the old Ticket system for Public transportation like trains, metro and busses. The Government has spent over a Billion euro’s over the years having been warned that this card could easily be hacked.
They went along disgarding these warnings. Two days ago hackers showed on national television how easily and untracable this hack can be done, and now the Project has come to a halt.
You don’t have to be a Rocket scientist to understand that -if intervened before- this could all have been prevented if only they would have listened to the comments given years ago, and taken on an IT Security Specialist to investigate these security issues. A lot of money  could have been saved. (For us Dutch, one Billion euro’s is a lot of money).

I think it’s fair to say, that Corporate Culture (along with Corporate Identity) needs to be taken into account when you want your project to succeed.

So my 5cts would be to start with Engagement (Corporate Identity) and Social Media, take small steps, look for best pratices and pitfalls on the internet and read these books:

Made to Stick, by Chips and Dan Heath. How a simple SUCCESs formula helps you getting the message accross. It learns you from what stuff urban legends are made of.

Switch, also by Chip and Dan Heath. How to change things when change is hard. It shows everyday people —employees and managers— have united both minds and, as a result, achieved dramatic results. This is a great book with tons of best practices (rather than Theory alone ;))

Engage, by Brian Solis. The Complete Guide to Build, Cultivate & Measure Success in the New Web

With risk of cliche’s, these books are universal and timeless. I have found them to be really complementary and a great help!

© These are my thoughts but if you want them, you can take them. Do as you please but: do good.