Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Why I can't do what you want if you can't explain it well enough...internal communication

Now I may not have started out as a guru at explaining myself to others. Just ask my team.

But what I do know a little about is explaining (on the large scale) strategy to staff - in financial services but also other industries. 

What does that mean, exactly? The bit about "explaining strategy to staff"?

It means this... what the context is, where the company aims to be in that picture, how we're going to get there (together)...and...drum roll...what your part is in that bigger game plan.

But here's the trick. And listen up leaders because most of you get this wrong. Consistently. I say that with due humility because I get it wrong too.

The "trick" is this:

1. Get clear on the actual strategy
2. Get clear on the context (outside and inside including what your team are thinking, feeling and experiencing right now)
3. Get a sense of what needs to be done to deliver on strategy then (this is really important) 
4. ASK the top team (maybe up to 10% or more of your team) how to do it...and listen to what they say - that's the operating plan! And the messages.
5. Finally, tell everyone. Again, and again, and again, and again and again...until they start to mock you.

There are many other, longer, ways of explaining these top five essential actions in making strategy relevant to teams - and whole organisations.

But after more than a decade and a half inside, and outside (advising), large and small financial services companies (and some others) on internal communication, I can offer you the short version.

Of course the real test is my own business, BlueChip Communication. In recent years I've worked with a mentor who is not a communication expert, at least in the "corporate communication" sense. And yet what he said about communicating strategy is absolutely right. I use this wisdom everyday at BlueChip. 

Paraphrased, it's the summary version of how to make strategy real. 

"Define your strategy in five or six key sentences. Then repeat them. All the time, to everyone."

Has it worked? Well ask one of our people next time you see them...

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

#QantasLuxury = social media stand up

Wow. Just last week a group of senior corporate affairs people were talking about the interaction between traditional and online media.

You know the rub - social media can be where an issue starts and then traditional media grab it and it's away. It moves so fast you either can't respond, are ill-equipped to do so or management just don't 'get' the right way to deal with it. And before you know it, splat. The brand, online and off, has a big mess to clean up.

Usually however it's not kicked off, as one tweet described, by a management own-goal. 

Today here's a great example, courtesy of Qantas. We've been following the twiiter storm that came after Qantas announced this competition

What followed was painful to watch. The twitterverse, as it can, turned nasty. 

It was almost like watching drunk, bored uni students sit around seeing who can make the wittiest, nastiest wise-crack at each others' expense. 

Funny yes, pleasant no.

So from twitter announcement by @QantasAirways this morning to twitter backlash, broader social crankiness, then mainstream news. ABC News online and the SMH were right there, along with others.

Along the way we got the YouTube video, and, from @QantasAirways, this tweet with a picture of "Australia's most famous pyjamas".

Bottom line for financial services social media? Three things:

1. Understand how your audience sees you NOW. Are they already hugely annoyed? Then wait. Save your social whatever for another day...and think about polling, listening in to customer calls, or simply checking the idea with someone on the front line.
2. Have a contingency plan. Know what it looks like if it does (unlikely I know) go to custard. Let's say you do think it's a great time to launch a new competition to win a low value prize pack...stop for a minute and scenario plan what might go wrong. It's communication risk management 101.
3. Have senior folk (sign off) on call, and already socially aware so that under pressure they make the right call, or back yours.

Qantas may well have done all this...and still had a less than ideal day. 

Hopefully they also have a sense of humour. Twitter as stand up is hilarious. Perhaps not so when it's your own brand.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Picture a perfect client: top 5 secrets to being one

Much like a perfect summer day in the Cotswolds, a 'perfect' client is delightful.

Mythical also. Much like the perfect PR firm or consultant. 

If, like me, you believe perfection is found in moments, not perpetuity, then perhaps you'll sympathise with the idea that perfection is the journey, and not a fixed end point. 

While this landscape looks good at a distance, the picture was taken with an iPhone (the dark shadow top right is from my case) from a moving train. It's not perfect. But stand back and it looks pretty good.

Standing back from the client relationships (financial services PR firm) BlueChip values the most and we find some wonderful pictures.

Five features of the 'perfect' client

A perfect client, or a perfect client relationship, features at least five (pretty universal) factors:

1. A vision
2. Clear expectations and communication
3. Frank and fearless feedback - positive and sometimes "notso"
4. Business results - commercial outcomes on both sides
5. Teamwork

But dig deeper, to look for a bit more gritty reality, and the picture gets a bit grainy. Not out of focus, but less perfect. More real.

The cold hard truth of 'perfect' clients, 'perfect' relationships, or 'perfect' consultants is that it's BS.

There's no such thing.

There are a few less glamorous inputs...so here's my take on reaching near perfection and staying there as a client (or PR consultant)

Five secrets to near perfection as a client

1. Work out what you really want...
2. And why it matters...then share it generously & relentlessly with your PR firm
3. Tell them what you really think, kindly
4. Help them deliver for you and still make an appropriate profit (they'll love you for it)
5. Treat them with respect...like a dear and smart friend who wants the best for you.

Because they probably do. Of course if they don't, they're the wrong PR firm.

But if they do, which you already know (it either oozes out of them or it doesn't), and you do the less glamorous but more important stuff above, they'll open a vein for you. Almost literally.

And suddenly perfection looks too easy. The relationship is warm, the results are exceptional and everyone is having a good time.

The picture is damn near perfect.