Wednesday, August 31, 2005

Sandia Retrains for Recruitment

Albuquerque, N.M.-based Sandia National Laboratories realized that it was having trouble recruiting enough computer scientists. To solve the problem, the U.S. Department of Energy lab began relocating certain employees to a retraining organization for training in IT. By the end of the relocation program, Sandia had developed 52 IT professionals.

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Managers Need Strategic Capabilities

According to the authors of Becoming a Strategic Leader (Jossey-Bass), a just-released book on strategic leadership, the typical manager often has difficulty leading in ways that contribute to the organization's long-range success.

The authors, Rich Hughes and Kate Beatty, base their conclusions on eight years of work with nearly a thousand executives and leaders who participated in the Center for Creative Leadership's Developing the Strategic Leader training program. Hughes and Beatty are both employees of the center, a nonprofit leadership training organization in Greensboro, N.C.

During their work in the Developing the Strategic Leader program, both observed that many managers do not lead teams with strategic concerns in mind. Instead, they focus primarily on what must be accomplished daily.

Hughes and Beatty suggest that the skills needed for more strategic leadership can be developed by any employee, not just managers, and that a company will be better for it. "Strategic leaders should come from all functions and work at all levels in an organization," says Hughes. "It's not just the job of top executives.

All employees can develop a strategic outlook and should accept the responsibility of strategic leadership. The process of creating and sustaining a competitive business advantage is too complex for any one person “even the CEO” to develop and carry out."

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Wednesday, August 24, 2005

Communication within senior teams must improve

Communicators could have a role to play in helping to improve communication and teamwork within executive teams. According to a new research report from coaching and leadership company Optima, entitled From Vision to Results: The Role of the CEO, both CEOs and HR directors agree that poor communication skills are the single biggest obstacle to teamwork.

The research, conducted between March and May 2005, canvassed the views of CEOs and HR directors drawn from the UK FTSE 350 (the Financial Times Stock Exchange Index – a share index of the largest companies listed on the London Stock Exchange).

Fifty-two percent of HR directors and 48 percent of CEOs listed poor communication skills as the main obstacle to teamwork, followed by competing objectives, personality clashes and a competitive environment.CEOs are keen to improve the situation as – according to the same report – they value the greater level of innovation that results from teamwork and recognize that individuals develop their skills and perform their jobs better through teamwork.

Source: From Vision to Results: The Role of the CEO, published by The Optima Group

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Is there a "top three" methods of communication?

The following question was recently posted to The Communicators' Network:

Q: I'm currently reviewing my company's internal communication strategy, processes and tools, prior to presenting it to our board. I'd be interested to find out what other practitioners consider their top three most effective internal communication methods?

A: After 10 years in internal communication, I've come to the conclusion that there's no such thing as "best practice." No right or wrong way – only what works best for your particular business at a particular point in time.

I know this because working for a global organization (we have about 90,000 employees and do business in 180 markets), I've learned that what works in one part of the business can't always be successfully exported. Even the Holy Grail of face-to-face comms is only effective under certain conditions.

What will work will depend – among other things – on your current business model (e.g., centralized vs. decentralized); your culture (e.g., command and control vs. collaboration/networking); your audience (the information and communication needs and preferences of your employees according to their role/grade/location etc.); and the nature of the messages you are communicating (e.g., strategic vs. support). When presenting to the board start with the business problem not with the comms solution or delivery mechanisms. What are your specific business challenges, for example, morale; retention; productivity; quality; etc.? And which have comms solutions that you can implement, for example, strategic message alignment; employee engagement; middle-management advocacy; comms competency development; cross-functional working groups; etc.?

This may provide direction in terms of the tools and processes you may need to develop.


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Tuesday, August 23, 2005

Five steps to strategy planning

A strategic approach to managing communication requires a simple but clear plan. This plan should link the output of the communication function to the goals and objectives of the organization. Patricia Bayerlein, a consultant at Gagen MacDonald, identifies five key steps to the planning process.

1. Prepare the planning team
Before developing a strategic communication plan, gauge the readiness and commitment of leaders within the function. Be inclusive and collaborative to create a sense of shared ownership of the planning process. Once those who can commit the time and energy are in place, you can begin developing a work plan or an overarching "blueprint." This should focus on specific issues or business problems the communication function needs to address; clarify roles and responsibilities; identify the additional team members and key stakeholders; and align the planning timeline with the company's overall planning process. Finally, develop a detailed work plan and timeline against which to measure progress.

2. Articulate guiding principles
Once the work plan is in place, the core team should clearly articulate the guiding principles (vision, mission and values) for the communication function, and connect those back to the company goals. Planning teams that overlook this step fail to develop a shared, coherent idea of mission and purpose. Asking questions such as, "Why does this organization exist, what is its purpose, and what is our aspiration for the future?" will help begin a dialogue around your guiding principles.

3. Assess the current situation
Assess the current situation within the company and the communication function to clarify which communication strategies will have the most impact. For example, start with an analysis of the gaps between how the organization is currently perceived and how it wants to be perceived. Or examine differences between the information people want and the information that the organization supplies.

You need to be aware of resources and keep an eye on the future environment so that you can respond to changes. A situation assessment is critical to strategic thinking and management in that it outlines the organization's strengths, weaknesses and performance. This information highlights critical issues that the company faces and the plan must address.

4. Develop a strategic framework
Now it's time to figure out how to address the key business and communication issues. The planning team should draw on a variety of techniques to generate and test goals, objectives and strategies. Typically this would include interviews, group discussion and formal decision-making techniques, including facilitated sessions with communicators representing different operational areas. The strategies should encompass the broad approach needed to achieve goals (general results) and objectives (specific results).

This step can take considerable time as discussions often require additional information or a re-evaluation of conclusions reached during the original analysis. In addition, the team should outline the research and measurement approach it will take. You should now have a framework to outline strategic direction and be ready to complete the written plan.

5. Complete the plan
Take the guiding principles, situation assessment and strategic framework and prepare the written plan. Check in with key decision-makers to address any important questions they may have about the priorities and direction in which the communication plan and the function is headed. Address any issues as they arise to prevent future conflict that may hamper the execution of the plan. The output of this step is your formal written plan.

Source: This is an edited extract from "Five steps to strategy planning," an article appearing in the latest issue of Strategic Communication Management

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Thursday, August 18, 2005

Engaging your board of directors without getting fired

Has your board become bored with CR’s evangelical approach to business and is now seeking to downgrade your company’s involvement? So how do you keep your boss engaged and keep yourself from getting fired in the process?

Here are five things to know before entering the boardroom to help you make a winning argument:

1. Remember the handcuffs:
In 2006 in the UK, the Operating and Financial Review will make it mandatory for executive boards to report future expectations of their business. So board members will be liable for the
accuracy and validity of their financial and non-financial information. If your boss still isn’t engaged, show him a picture of Jeffrey Skilling, ex-CEO of Enron, in handcuffs.

2. Directors Wives Syndrome (DWS):
While many professionals put great support into CR activities, don’t forget the irrational and emotional side. Many charities supported by your organization have the directors’ wives
sitting on their boards.

3. Workers unite:
So much about monitoring and measuring CR activities is about negative issues. Don’t pollute, use unsustainable sources or act unethically are all common mantras. This puts CR practitioners in an uneasy position of being moral arbiters for business. Gain workforce support by placing more emphasis on the good. An engaged and productive workforce can be the last line of defence to maintain your ongoing CR activities.

4. Forget the integrity:
Sometimes it’s more prudent to stay on the right side of key decision-makers in the short term in order to influence long-term gain. Too much integrity can be a hindrance in a cut-throat
business environment. You’re better off in the business making a difference than out of the business with your integrity in tact. Introduce your director to the most influential person you know, make your CEO look good, get positive press coverage and see the difference it can make.

5. Work on mutual advantage:
Highlight the tangible benefit of your CR activities to the board. Tony Hayward at BP recently did in regard to BP’s ongoing CR activities in Russia. The emphasis was on finding a better balance in the benefits of BP’s sustainable operations. If you prove CR improves business efficiency, saves money, provides a legitimate license to operate and impacts the bottom line, there’s no reason to scale it back.

Adapted from “The apprentice: ways to engage your board in CR and not get fired” in the current issue of Corporate Responsibility Management.

Blogged on 3:36 PM by Upay



Selecting KPIs at Thames Water

Although Thames Water, the UK’s largest water provider, has always collected and reported on environmental targets, two years ago senior managers created more strategic key performance indicators (KPIs) for all aspects of corporate responsibility.

During a brainstorming session, senior managers from across the business ended up with several potential indicators in three areas – economic, social and environmental (and a general section if the indicator didn’t fit neatly into one of those categories, but which dealt mainly with governance).

The group then whittled the list to 50, and selected 15 of these that would be “key performance indicators.” The reason for selecting KPIs was to make the job of focusing the rest of the business on CR targets easier. “We decided to identify the key ones to focus on,” says Ed Mitchell, Thames Water’s director of corporate responsibility.

For example, regarding climate change, they selected general indicators like energy consumption, renewable energy generation, fuel for transport and business miles travelled, but decided the KPI for climate change would be one that summed the others up – “global warming potential.” Under governance, the indicators included compliance with a range of environmental certifications and the percentage completed of each year’s commitments on the environmental commitment program (an internal management system).

The KPI they picked was “regulatory violations.” “Regulatory violations are the hard performance measure, so that became the KPI,” Mitchell says.

Adapted from “Selecting key performance indicators at Thames Water” in the current issue of Corporate Responsibility Management.

Blogged on 3:28 PM by Upay



Wednesday, August 17, 2005

According to the Human Capital Index (HCI) study, done by Washington, D.C.-based human capital management firm Watson Wyatt, successful recruiting is a strong indicator of higher shareholder value. The study found that companies that fill positions within two weeks provided a total return to shareholders of 59 percent between 2002 and 2004. On the other hand, companies that required at least seven weeks to fill positions provided an 11 percent return during the same period.

Among the survey’s findings was that the firms with the best shareholder returns fill about half of non-entry-level positions internally, and have moderate annual turnover rates of about 15 percent.

The HCI is a survey of human resource practices that began in 1999. The 2005 survey investigated 147 large North American companies with a track record of at least three years of total returns to shareholders, 1,000 or more employees, and a minimum of $100 million in revenues or market value.

Blogged on 8:07 PM by Upay



Monday, August 08, 2005

Demographics - the means of distinguishing and describing the characteristics of a population - have long been applied to external communication. But only recently have they been used to shape employee communication. But why is this information important? Where can you find it within the organization? And how should you use it?

For several years employee communication consultancy Davis & Co. has been studying demographic trends. CEO Alison Davis offers an example of how demographics can shape attitudes - in this case, about communication. "People in their mid-40s or older grew up in an era before computers. They may use technology, but it doesn't necessarily come naturally to them.

The implication is that if a significant portion of your organization's workers are 40 or above, it's wise not to rely solely on electronic communication." According to Davis, communicators' knowledge should go beyond such commonalities as how many people work for the company. They should know: how many locations there are; how many employees have been with the company more than 20 years; and how many speak English. "These micro-demographics should inform how we communicate (for example, print vs. electronic vs. face to face) as well as what we communicate."

Where to find the information
The best source for demographic information within your organization is the HR or payroll department. The more sophisticated the database managed by HR, the more closely you can analyze demographics data. Unfortunately, many organizations don't centralize all their HR systems, which may require you to hunt down information.
While it's best to obtain data that's as accurate as possible, don't feel that you have to obsess over every detail. The point is to begin to paint a picture of the people in your organization, so you can develop better strategies for reaching them.

"How to apply demographics
Developing messages that resonate is never easy, but it's helpful to think about messages in the context of demographics. For example, a communicator at one pharmaceutical company gathered data that 45 percent of scientists in the R&D organization speak English as their second language. She used this to make her case for creating messages that are more straight forward and use less jargon.Another communicator went further and based on demographics such as education and job category determined that 60 percent of employees in his organization read at a 7th grade level. He convinced senior management to allow him to simplify messages - no more quasi-academic language.

Source: The above information is taken from an article in the latest issue of Strategic Communication Management, "Applying employee demographics."

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Using blogs to discuss sensitive issues

The following question was recently posted to The Communicators' Network:

Q: My company is considering installing a blog on our intranet for the purpose of open discussions regarding the results of our recent satisfaction survey. How can you monitor or manage these discussions?

A: For what you're trying to accomplish, I don't think a blog is what you need. They're mostly one-way channels authored by a single person. For this to work in your case, you would have to have a senior leader be the blog author, pose questions about the survey results and then sit back and see what comments to the postings are. Your challenge would be that, for the blog to have any credibility, you would have to post all comments regardless of their content or tone.If you're looking to stimulate dialogue around the survey results, I'd suggest you instead convene some face-to-face sessions that focus groups of employees on particular aspects of the survey results you're trying to better understand.

Christopher Hannegan - EDELMAN

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Sunday, August 07, 2005

Jo Birriel, president of the Brand Inside consultancy, lists the five "As" or acts of leadership that ensure employee engagement with your brand:

1. Aspiration
Successful branding begins with recognizing the two distinct consumers that impact your brand: the internal (employees) and the external (customers). Your aspiration represents the promise you make to both of them every time they experience/deliver your product or service.

2. Articulation
Communicate in a way that truly inspires, frequently through multiple mediums. Real communication is required, which by definition is two-way and demands as much listening as speaking. It can take the form of employee meetings, town hall gatherings, messages boards and e-mail. It requires visibility and involvement by the leadership team and cannot be completely delegated to HR or communication.

3. Alignment
This is where your approach to internal branding begins to change your organization. It means everything when the organization works together and supports one ultimate outcome - a satisfied customer who returns frequently. This step is often the hardest because it can require tough decisions about significant changes.

4. Adaptation
It's about managing expectations. It's where difficult personnel decisions get made to ensure you have the right people in the right jobs and where you hold people accountable. It's where consumer-focused metrics are introduced and where employees begin to see what changes are required to succeed in the marketplace.

5. Affirmation
This is how people are recognized and rewarded. It's also everything you do to be crystal clear about what's required from your employees to deliver your promise to consumers. It's more than a catchy phrase but a way of leading that recognizes all the employee touch points for influencing consumer experience.

Source: The above article appears in the latest issue of The Business Communicator.

Blogged on 10:39 PM by Upay



Thursday, August 04, 2005

Recruitment and retention are top priorities for senior

Attracting and retaining skilled staff ranks highest on executive agendas for 2005, according to an annual global study by Accenture. Interviews with 425 senior executives at leading organizations in North America, Europe and Asia found that workforce-improvement issues dominated the top priorities, comprising four of the 10 most-selected concerns, including the top two. For instance, the greatest number of respondents, 35 percent, selected "attracting and retaining skilled staff," followed by 33 percent who selected "changing organizational cultural and employee attitudes."

"The most powerful theme emerging in this year's study is a strong and consistent focus on people," says Peter Cheese, global managing partner of Accenture's Human Performance practice. "Even though the business conversations have centered on global competition and the need for execution, business leaders are increasingly aware that nothing happens unless people-talent is engaged in the right way."

The study revealed that senior executives' top 10 business issues are:
1. Attracting and retaining skilled staff (35%)
2. Changing organizational culture & employee attitudes (33%)
3. Acquiring new customers (32%)
4. New processes and products to stay ahead of the competition (29%)
5. Increasing customer loyalty & retention (29%)
6. Managing risk (29%)
7. Improving workforce performance (28%)
8. Increasing shareholder value (27%)
8. Using IT to reduce costs & create value (27%)
10. Being flexible & adaptable to rapidly changing market conditions (26%)
10. Developing employees into capable leaders (26%)


Blogged on 7:42 AM by Upay



Tuesday, August 02, 2005

from Melissa C. Stöppler, M.D.,
Your Guide to Stress Management.Communication Tips for a Healthy Workplace

Misunderstandings and communication problems remain one of the most common sources of workplace strife. While conflict is inevitable, it need not ruin your workday or cause unbearable stress. Try these conflict resolution tips to make your work environment a less stressful, more productive place.

1. Be specific in formulating your complaints. "I´m never invited to meetings" is not as effective as "I wish I had been invited to last Thursday´s marketing meeting."

2. Resist the temptation to involve yourself in conflicts that do not directly involve you or your resposibilities. Even if someone has clearly been wronged, allow him or her to resolve the situation as he/she chooses.

3. Try to depersonalize conflicts. Instead of a "me versus you" mentality, visualize an "us versus the problem" scenario. This is not only a more professional attitude, but it will also improve productivity and is in the best interests of the company.

4. In a dispute or discussion where conflicts arise, try an exercise in listening. Before explaining your own position, try to paraphrase and condense what the other is saying into one or two sentences. Start with, "so you´re saying that..." and see how much you really understand about your rival´s position. You may find that you´re onthe same wavelength but having problems communicating your ideas.

5. Don´t always involve your superiors in conflict resolution.You´ll quickly make the impression that you are unable to resolve the smallest difficulties.

6. If an extended discussion is necessary, agree first on a time and place to talk. Confronting a coworker who´s with a client or working on a deadline is unfair and unprofessional. Pick a time when you´re both free to concentrate on the problem and its resolution.

7. Take it outside - of the group of inquisitive coworkers if they´re not involved in the problem. Don´t try to hold negotiations when the office gossip can hear every word.

8. Limit your complaints to those directly involved in the workplace conflict. Character assassination is unwarranted. Remember, you need to preserve a working relationship rather than a personal one, and your opinion of a coworker´s character is generally irrelevant. "He missed last week´s deadline" is OK; "he´s a total idiot" is not.

9. Know when conflict isn´t just conflict. If conflict arises out of sexual, racial, or ethnic issues, or inappropriate behavior, that´s not conflict, it´s harassment. Take appropriate action and discuss the problem with your supervisor or human resources department.

10. Consider a mediator if the problem gets out of control, or if the issue is too emotional to resolve in a mutual discussion. At this step, your supervisor should be involved. You can consider using a neutral third party mediator within your own company or hiring a professional counselor.

Blogged on 2:12 PM by Upay



Monday, August 01, 2005

Change management vital to future success

Flexibility and speed will mark out the best organizations of 2010. That’s the conclusion of research from the UK’s Economist Intelligence Unit, based on a global survey of over 4,000 senior executives from 23 countries.

In the survey, 33 percent of respondents identified swift adaptability to change as the greatest management challenge for creating long-term value, and a further 18 percent cited speed of innovation.

Technology will be at the core of efforts to acquire these attributes: 41 percent of respondents expect technology innovation to exert the heaviest influence on business models in 2005-2010. The renewed business enthusiasm for technology is also reflected in the fact that 87 percent of executives said it would be critical to their ability to adapt business models and implement strategy.

"The pace of change in the next few years will be relentless," says to Daniel Franklin, editorial director of the Economist Intelligence Unit. "The companies that best understand the dynamics of this change and adapt fastest to the emerging business landscape will be the likeliest to prosper."

Source: The Economist Intelligence Unit.

Blogged on 2:19 AM by Upay