Friday, April 30, 2010

Branding Haiti: Humanizing Crisis

For every country, in crisis or not, there is a branding initiative. Sometimes it's created by the press to get viewers. Sometimes it's reinforced or changed by stakeholders to create new impressions and effects.

Haiti is no exception. Its crisis has been covered extensively, and for me, the branding of a country in desperate straits has lost its impact. Right or wrong, that's what happens with overexposure.

This is as true for businesses as well. Vary your theme -- talking points only go so far until no one hears them anymore.

And So?

Here is a different view of Haiti -- the continuation of everyday life. I think the press and charities should add some of these images to their package to give a fuller and more accessible take on the connections between the people in crisis and those who can help.

What do you think?

These photos were taken by Sendra Dorce weeks after the earthquake.

Monday, April 26, 2010

What Does It Mean to Be Authentic?

What does it mean to be authentic when you communicate within an organisation? My clients have been struggling with this lately because of the recession's push to restructure.

An Example: Banking on Change

One executive at a large bank told me that the current climate has created fear and distrust in messages disseminated through her organisation.

High-level managers have told her that even the announcements about new (and real) benefits don't "feel" genuine to employees. This lack of belief has made project uptake, new initiatives -- and even morale -- a big challenge.

What's In a Word?

There was an interesting comment made on this subject by Richard Exon on the Channel 4 discussion about communication skills of Britain's three contenders for Prime Minister. He defined "authenticity" as the ability to be believed.

This means that being authentic -- once understood as telling the truth -- has become to mean seeming to be honest. This is a huge shift to jargon for a word that used to represent unmitigated truth.

And with communication, it's all that matters in the short-term. In the long-term, of course, you need to live up to your words.

Credibility vs. Truth: Bringing it Back to Business

My client and I worked on her challenges by taking this as a motto:
Successful business communication is about credibility.

Brand, for example, is a set of promises and beliefs. If experience proves to consumers that the promises feel fulfilled and beliefs are upheld, the brand is strong. If not, the brand is weak and probably not doing a company much good.

Internal brand is where every successful organisation must start. Without it, the external brand will show gaps and peel away in important places.

To help strengthen my client's internal communication, we went back to the core values and beliefs around which the brand was formed. Then we wrote communications from there.

It worked like a charm.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

More on the Relationships Among Communication, Organisations, and National Culture

As those of you who have read previous posts know, I'm working with Ved Sen and ThinkPlank on a training programme that helps Indian and Western organisations communicate more effectively -- both within and across national and business cultures. The programme is called Engage.

Engage was designed to facilitate successful off-shoring endeavors for both Indians and Brits. In his new article, begins to scratch the surface of difference by tying together assumptions British/Westerners make about truth and morality and the influence of religion.

Here's the first paragraph of Gods, CEOs, and Politicians:

We are all shaped by religion. Some more so than others. Some of us are formed by the beliefs we are exposed to. Some by a reaction to them. We may stray very far from our roots, and turn our backs on many or all of the ritualistic observance of religion that we were born into and grew up following. But the vestigial framework of our understanding of the universe, its power structures and our role and working within them seems to persist. I’m not an expert on religion or sociology. So what follows is just my armchair observation of how our religious beliefs explain a lot of our behaviour as Indians – both social and organizational.

Continue reading here.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Change is Disorganizing: Communicating through the Fear

Learning is disorganizing -- as change occurs, we are forced to navigate unfamiliar territory to get to a new place. For most people, it's very uncomfortable.

We have a couple of choices. We can find a way to survive the unknown, despite the sense that we're riding waves and don't know where we'll land. We take control where we can find it, holding onto a branch here or there for the moment we float past.

The other alternative is to grit our teeth and refuse to budge, but we will move, or circumstances will move around us, regardless of our desire to stay put and keep everything the same.

What Does This Mean for Organisations?

Those who have responsibility for communication can either offer information in ways that help employees feel better OR give them impression that they're about to drown.

Unfortunately, as constant as change is in all organisations, even the most experienced communicators too often disseminate information without considering what the employee needs to feel more in control.

Even if it is all you can offer as a manager, do everything in your power to make those who work for you feel heard. Consider not only the content but the medium and tone through which you're communicating. It will make a world of difference.

You might want to see a previous post on politics for an example where UK parties blew a perfect opportunity to do just that and get ahead in the polls.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Engaging Indian Teams

Learning across contexts is a fascinating area, and my clients in London and New York hail from all over the world.

I am now working with a company called ThinkPlank, "a consulting and projects company that helps clients navigate the continuing business challenges and opportunities presented by digital convergence."

Ved Sen, Progga Sen, and I are conducting a training workshop in London on engaging the Indian workforce for those doing business or considering expanding to India.

We'll be focusing on face-to-face communication, telephone contact, and getting problems solved when working on both the individual and organisational level.

Come along if you're in town. It should be a lot of fun.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the UK Debate: Social Media Effects Old Media in a New Way

In watching the BBC UK political coverage on the night of the debate, it occurred to me that a more interesting precedent was being set than the televised candidates together talking.

It also reminded me why I created my business -- people can understand how to listen and respond in theory without much skill at actually doing it. I help clients transform presentations into conversations people want to continue. In the case of the debate, they needed a hand. Change is challenging for everyone.

Before the Debate, and Because of It . . .

Channel 4 News
offered two ordinary voters the opportunity to confront representatives of the major parties live on television without notes, scripts, or rules. Not only that, Jon Snow facilitated challenging questions from the ordinary voters and pushed the politicians to answer.

Really A Big Deal?

It's not new to have ordinary voters interviewed on camera outside the studio -- and it's not new to have experts argue with an anchor or each other. But it IS new to find a real discussion going on, live and unedited, between non-experts and the people who they might elect.

This would not be possible without Twitter. National news in Britain has been "taking email" and quoting Tweets for ages. Supposedly from the horses mouth, perhaps the News management felt that live people in the studio would offer the same sort of information.

Acceptance of Social Media allows people to talk face to face. New media makes old media possible again.

Of course, Tweets, email, and canned interviews are selected for very specific effect and to underline a pre-determined point. You don't actually know what people will do if you put them with other people in a room together. Even with facilitation, you don't have complete control.

The effect was rather fun. The two voters were aware of the candidates' positions but couldn't believe a word. The expert (yes, there has to be an expert somewhere) who joined them had an explanation -- people in Britain are engaged in politics but not in the main political parties or with the candidates.

How much better market research could you possibly get as a candidate? Polls and Twitter (and other social media) are all hearsay. Live human beings reacting candidly on camera (and without TV prep) is really all you have to know.

The results in the candidates' response (again) demonstrates why my business is booming: people have a very hard time breaking bad habits and in listening. Here you had a chance for political representatives to offer proof of concept -- and all they had to do was demonstrate that they heard their constituents.

Change hit the candidates, and they couldn't adjust. They were televised -- everyone could see them not acknowledging the views of people on whom they depend for their jobs. Voters didn't have to guess anymore whether they were heard -- they could see that they weren't.

Not Restricted to Political Life: Business Life is Rife with Non-Listeners

This is not an issue restricted to politicians. My much less well known business clients struggle with it every day.

Too often, it's hard for people with an agenda to listen. It can feel threatening to show you hear others' perspectives. Worse, sometimes it simply not occur to them. But you need to be able to at least fake it effectively.

Demonstrating that you hear when someone speaks is only the beginning. But it IS essential to any further communication. This all might sound obvious, but my business clients struggle with the same issues.