16 December 2010

Boost your ego, leave your job

This week I announced that I will be leaving Océ to take on a new challenge as Corporate Communications Senior Manager at Amgen Europe. B.V.
I am really looking forward to my new job, but what I wanted to write about in this blog post is not the content of my current or my new job.

I just wanted to share with you how amazed I am about the enormous amount of sweet, positive, heartwarming messages I got. I talked about this with a few people who had switched jobs too, and they all said the same. All of a sudden people with a role to play become just regular human beings again. Wow, life is so much better if we connect on a human-to-human level instead of a role-to-role level. I know it is impossible not to play a role, but still; I am convinced that it pays out to just be yourself, in any given situation.

In the Netherlands there is a famous book about life in the corporate world, called hoe word ik een rat? (how to become a rat). In a funny way it describes that one needs to become a bit of a rat to survive in the corporate jungle. Push the right buttons at the right time, make yourself visible or invisible at the right time, use you elbows, play the politics game really well. Or, as my manager states it: “success has many fathers, failure one project manager”. Indeed, that is how it often works.

This is a bold statement, but I know I am not a corporate rat. Sure, I loose the occasional battle from a rat. Yes, I am too modest about my successes (although with this blog I am trying to prove the opposite…), but in the long run I still have enough successes to celebrate. My career is still in an upward mode. That’s really nice, but that is not the only reason why I have been walking with a big smile on my face all week. In fact, more important is the fact that all the positive feedback I received proved to me that it pays out to just be yourself. There is room for being genuine in the corporate world, and that is a very encouraging thought.

I’d like to dedicate this blog post to my father. He spent his working life quite high up in the hierarchy of the corporate world, and when he died at the age of 59, his 200 or so business friends disappeared from our lives within two months. Some of these people had worked with him for over 25 years and had seen me grow up. What I learned from that awful experience is that life is too precious to play a game. Or as Stephen Covey states: there is no one who says at their deathbed:’ I really regret that I didn’t spend more time at the office’.

09 December 2010

As Manager Internal Communications, I don’t manage 99% of internal communications

As a Manager Internal Communications I am not responsible for 99 per cent of the internal communications in our company. Think about it: where and how do people communicate? On a daily basis, every employee communicates via email, phone calls, one-on-one conversations, small group meetings, departmental meetings, phone conferences, video conferences, reports, you name it.

In my current job I am responsible for NONE of the above… OK, it makes sense that I don’t write your emails, but - in fact - I have no say in email as a prime communication tool too.

Defining Internal Communications as a profession is traditionally hard. I am still not able to really pinpoint it, but I like the approach of a Dutch consultant, Ilse van Ravenstein. She is the owner of Involve, an agency dedicated to internal communications.

She defines different playing fields. The model varies in words every now and then, but this is my interpretation of it. Our field of responsibility:

1 Players: empowering our employees to communicate themselves (this covers the 99 per cent I mentioned. We can be a consultant to our employees or we can train them).

2 Media: the obvious one, our internal media mix; intranet, newsletters, blogs, you name it.

3 Themes: we often take responsibility for a cross media approach of themes that matter to everyone; strategy, sustainability, change programs.

4 Measure: embed and guarantee: we should measure the internal communications need and -effect, make sure that we embed our efforts in the organization and ensure that our actions are followed up.

5 Organize the IC function: we need to organize all the above: ensure that the Internal Communications function has its place in the organization. We should build up a network of people responsible for internal communications.

Does this model cover it all? No, but I have not seen a better one so far. The definition question will remain, but at least a framework like this allows us to discuss our scope in a more structured way. The model helped me discuss my program with my internal stakeholders at Océ. I am sure that the scope of the internal communications function will differ from organization to organization. With the 99 per cent in mind, it might be wise to focus on empowering the players: our employees. If you are a regular reader of my blog, it should come as no surprise that I think that there is a world to be won in that area.

25 November 2010

ROI or RODP of internal communications

Last week I attended a meeting about communications, and one of the topics was accountability. How can we, as communication professionals show, or better still, prove our added value?

Tough question when we apply it to internal communications. What is the ROI (Return On Investment) of internal communications? Five minutes time saved per employee with our cool intranet page that allows people to find crucial information, times 24,000 employees is an x amount of FTEs saved per year? Nice try, often used, but complete nonsense, as these 5 minutes will be used by every individual to do something else. We will not fire one of them as a result of time won on a huge bunch of added up 5 minutes.

OK, we can just show the numbers: 200 news items, 1 million page views per month on our intranet, 12 magazines, 4 town hall meetings, 10 presentations for the Board. Those are just the bare facts, and it is at least something to show.

I would like to introduce a new standard for measurement: the RODP, or Return On Damage Prevented. Think what would have happened if your employees would have been informed by the press, not by their own organization. What damage would be done if nobody was informed about our latest rebranding and logo standards? I am sure there are loads of examples that we could use to create our own RODP scale. I’d love to hear your examples.

16 November 2010

If your meetings are compelling, useful and effective, don’t read this blog post

In years and years of practice in internal communications I have met so many people who hate meetings. Just look at the faces of most people in a larger meeting. Or listen to people complaining about the fact that their day is fully planned with meetings, keeping them from ‘work’.

Meetings often don’t start on time and don’t end on time. Very often it is unclear what is decided. Action points are not followed up. The meeting is dominated by just a few people (the loudest, not the smartest). We often tend to start discussions without a clue of what the goal of the agenda point is, and there are quite a few meetings that don’t have an agenda at all.

I have asked this question time and time again, to employees in a wide variety of businesses: “How much time do you spend in meetings?” The average number, for office workers, is 30%. Then, when I ask them if they received any training in meeting skills, the usual answer is: none at all; in college, nor at work.

So, we spend 30% of our time doing something that we were never trained to do. This fact never fails to amaze me, and I think it is a hidden problem in many organizations. In my opinion, we internal communicators should tackle this problem. For years now I have been conducting meeting workshops, and people love them. I teach them how to prepare a meeting, how to ensure that everybody can contribute, techniques to keep time and  techniques to ensure that the meeting members stick to the goal of the agendapoint. I add some background about group dynamics and I stress the importance of following up on what was decided. Basic stuff, but everybody loves it.

For me, in my role as manager internal communications, this is probably one of the best contributions I can make to improve efficiency in our organization. People often tell me that they saved hours and hours of time as a result of the workshop.

This could be a Dutch problem, though, as we are consensus seekers by nature. I am curious about that: is it? Please don’t hesitate to share your thoughts and experiences with me.

08 November 2010

Can you find the experts in your organization?

The people finder functionality (we call it who-is-who) is the best visited part of our intranet. If you need a phone number, an email address or a job title it works just fine. But what if I would like to find an expert in, let’s say, project management. Sure, there is the advanced search (who uses advances search nowadays?), but I would rely on the fact that the project management experts filled in their full profile (who does that?). Well, with any luck they might have, seven years ago, when they joined the company, but I bet you that they either didn’t bother at all, or –in any case- never updated their profile (who updates their profile on the intranet?).

Behold, the biggest problems with Who-is-Who, People Finder, Company Yellow Pages. They do the job for us, but only partly.

A few weeks ago I had two very inspiring meetings with people who both addressed this issue in a very interesting way. My first meeting was with a representative of Yammer, the internal microblogging company that is slowly conquering the corporate world. She outlined the plans for expansion to me, and she stressed that Yammer will keep the conversation between people as the core of their business model.

The second meeting was with representatives of a Dutch start-up called GuruScan. They developed a very interesting tool to find experts. Their tool ensures that profiles are updated, cleverly harnessing the strength of social networks. One example: others can designate me as an expert in internal communications. Now, it is one thing if I make that claim, but it is so much more meaningful if others say I am. Check it out, part of their website is in English. So far this has been the best effort I have ever seen in tracking people’s expertise within a company. Interestingly enough the basic idea was once developed in the company I work for: Océ, but that is not the reason I mention it here, merely a strange coincidence.

I am convinced that the key to dealing with information overload is in social media. People will connect to other people to get to the information they need. Yammer and Guruscan have a very interesting philosophy about it, and I think that as internal communicators we need to facilitate the connection between people in our organizations. I challenge you: can you find the experts in your organization? If you do, please let me know how, and don’t hesitate to share your stories on Yammer, Socialcast, Guruscan, or any other tool that can help me find experts!

26 October 2010

Stop communicating, please!

Gerry McGovern, the famous guru on the subject of writing for the web has this famous line: giving an intranet to a communicator is like giving a pub to an alcoholic. Makes me smile every time I hear it, but it is so true!

In fact, this rule probably applies to most of the tools we use internally. Very often, when a manager or a project leader asks my advice, I tell him or her to skip 90% of what they were planning to communicate. Why write a newsletter that nobody reads, why add yet another full, non-relevant intranet page, why make a brochure about your project?

We need to reverse our tendency to communicate. My personal view is that our job as internal communicators should be to reduce the noise, not to add to it. Stop sending, unless you are really sure that you could add value for your readers.

Yes, I am guilty too, don’t get me wrong, but I have promised myself to change my habits, as the era of social media and information overload has changed the way that people want to receive information. Of course, we should not stop communicating, but, at least consider to stop SENDING.

So, why did I write this blog post, isn't that a contradiction? Remember, I am still that alcoholic in the pub, and old habits die slowly. In fact, I will probably write some more blog posts about this subject in the future, as I think the underlying trends will impact the world of internal communications immensely. And, of course, I must be arrogant enough to assume that I am adding value to you readers. I need a drink…

19 October 2010

Did you ever learn to be a knowledge worker – part 2

In my last blog post I raised this question: Did you ever learn to be a knowledge worker? In part two I would like to give you a little background on how this question came to my mind.

In the last few years I initiated the introduction of various free digital tools for internal communications in our company, but I did not do that on my own, on the contrary. In 2006 I joined forces with Samuel Driessen, our Information Architect. It was very interesting to collaborate, as Samuel and I both worked from a different background. We found each other in the middle, in our interest for social media. His cutting edge knowledge about enterprise 2.0 tools, and my knowledge about communication and human behavior was the perfect mix for a very creative approach that led to the introduction of various new tools in our communications mix on a budget of 0 Euros. This approach was well documented in various articles and presentations, so I will no elaborate in this blog post. When it came to executing our plans we could rely on my great colleagues at the Corporate Communications Department who made it happen and an IT team that was willing to take some risks.

We found out along the way that the adoption of enterprise 2.0 in a company is very difficult, as this area is located in what I would call an organizational vacuum between Information Management, IT, HR and Communications. Who owns publications, collaboration, knowledge sharing, document management and archiving in a company? The answer in many organizations is: nobody, really. Different departments own different parts. The Enterprise 2.0 developments force us to seek each others help. To illustrate that: I wrote an internal blog post once, titled ‘help, I’m in IT land now’, kindly commented on by our IT counterpart who said not to worry, as he was here to help (and he delivered). And, yes, my work as internal communicator has changed dramatically over the last few years.

Now, back to the question raised: did you ever learn to be a knowledge worker? After the introduction of the tools, we felt we needed to educate people, Samuel and I created a workshop about social media, and we found out along the way that our audience had actually never learned to be knowledge workers. They loved our explanation about what tool can be used for what purpose. We learned that people struggle to keep up with the information overload and that they are not aware of the great tools out there that can help them. We came to the conclusion that two things are needed. I already mentioned the tools, but a really underestimated second prerequisite is human skills.

That is why we raised this question: do we teach people to be knowledge workers? No, we don’t, and I would call upon all HR-managers, Internal Communications Manager, IT-managers and Information- and Knowledge management experts to join forces. Our employees need help! I hope you are lucky enough to find the same great colleagues from other departments that I encountered. And Samuel, thanks for everything, it was magic!

12 October 2010

Did you ever learn to be a knowledge worker?

One day you became an employee in your organization. Let’s assume you have an international office job. In order for you to be effective, it might come in handy if you start communicating and collaborating with other people both within your organization and with external contacts. Your organization will most probably also expect you to gain knowledge and to share that knowledge.

They gave you a computer with, of course, the possibility to send and receive emails. You were given internet access, you may have received access to some more tools, like SharePoint, FTPservers, you name it. If this sounds like your job, it is fair to say that you are a knowledge worker.

Now, how many of you were ever taught to be knowledge workers? Is there any department in your organization that teaches you how to find, share, document, archive information?

Did anyone tell you how to use a RSS reader to stay up to date? Did anyone give you guidelines for effective Email use? Did someone take the time to explain the main features of your intranet, and were you taught to use a Wiki? Did anybody point out to you that you need to store your documents safely, and accessible to the right people?

In our organization we would never let a factory worker work without safety instructions, yet I have to admit that in some department we allow our knowledge workers to do their job without proper knowledge of their basic tools. I have seen the same approach in other companies that I worked for.

I think organization should put an effort in educating their knowledge workers to use their tools. It would probably take on or two hours of training, and the benefits are huge.

Let me know what you think. Do you have programs in your organization? And do you recognize this need?

05 October 2010

The power of asking questions

Corporate communications is a trade with many branches. We are experts on media use, on advertising, on brand and reputation management. We invent concepts, write stories, deal with the press, provide project communication and change communication and the list goes on and on. But, today, I want to focus on a subject that is often forgotten. A subject that we own or don’t own as a department, depending on the organization: personal communications skills.

In past jobs, I often helped employees develop their own communication skills. During the years, it became very clear to me that many communication problems are caused by the simple fact that we talk in statements. Very often we assume that someone else said something. So, in a conversation,
I make a statement to my fellow communicator. She assumes to know what I said and makes a statement back. This goes on and on, very often with frustrating results. The situation becomes worse if this conversation is an email conversation instead of a personal meeting, as we then also loose the power of non-verbal communication.

To my own amazement I found out that the answer to these communication problems is very simple: learn to ask questions. A question connects straight away. A question opens up the possibility for dialogue. A questions shows that you are interested, but most of all, a question gives you the opportunity to check if your own statement is indeed in line with what the other said. The best question of them all is: what do you need? This question is open. It opens up the opportunity to say what he or she really wanted to say: the real need behind the statement. This is very often the real problem and often has to do with emotions like concern, fear, rejection, insecurity, anger.

By asking this question, the other has to formulate what their real need is. That, in return, gives you the opportunity to do something about it. Sounds simple? Yes it is, but we very, very often forget to do this. Listening is probably the most underestimated communication skill of them all. So, next time you come across a communication problem: ask a question! Or, to stay in character, and ask a question: do you believe in the power of questions too?

21 September 2010

Watch out for the Rumorbuster

Allow me to take you back to September 2008, the days of the global credit crunch. The crisis affected our company too and as a result of cost-cutting measures and lay-offs our Headquarter organization was full or rumors. There were even rumors op a pending bankruptcy, which was not the case at all, but in the midst of the news around the credit crisis nobody seemed to know how bad things could become.
Our Workers Council specifically asked our management to communicate more, as many employees were looking for reliable information about the company’s situation. We, at the Corporate Communications Department felt the same way. We sat down with management and created a communication story line that cascaded through the organization, basically just telling the truth. Yes, it is hard, no we are not going bankrupt, and yes we have communicated all we know.
Regular internal communications practices so far, but we did something out of the ordinary as well. Right after the communication cascade, we launched a site on our intranet, called the Rumorbuster. Here, people could check if a rumor was true or false. They could send their questions to an email address. We checked with our management and posted the answers on the Rumorbuster page. We processed more than a hundred questions, and that was hard work! But it paid out, as the initiative was a great success. In the first few weeks we ran a survey on the site and the response was very positive: 

I think the Rumorbuster is a good initiative
Yes: 94%
No 6%
The Rumorbuster gives clear and hones answers
Yes: 89%
No: 11%
The Rumorbuster should be used more often for internal communications
Yes: 91%
No: 9%

The Rumorbuster was active for a few months. After a while all rumors were successfully busted, no more questions came in., and in all honesty, we were left with a few questions that just could not be answered.

Why was the Rumorbuster such a success? Well, I think because it gave real, honest information with a twist of fun. The fun factor was not only the logo, but we played around with it as well. For example, during the Christmas holidays we published a picture with the Rumorbuster on skis, announcing a short holiday.

But I think the most important factor was that it just did what internal communications should do in my view: BE REAL, our employees read newspapers and blogs too, so just tell the truth, take your internal audience serious, they deserve it.

13 September 2010

A website in 5 minutes

As you are reading this blog post, you have evidently found my blog. I am a Manager Internal Communications, and this is an external blog. Let me explain. I started blogging in our own organization around two years ago. Our department launched the Corporate Communications Blog, mainly to learn about blogging ourselves and to ‘lead by example’. There are now around 30 dedicated internal blogs at Océ, some of them very successful, many of them with a small, but dedicated group of followers, and some of them in a state of near-death.

So, our example worked, but our own blog ‘dried up’ a few months ago. Maybe we felt that we had done our job. Maybe running a department blog is hard. Who knows. Anyway, since I am not involved in that blog anymore, it freed up some time to finally launch an external blog. I am a member all kinds of social networks, and being a communicator, I apparently feel the urge to now and then go beyond the 140 characters and share my views with the world. Ah, vanity…, I am only human, you know.

So, I finally started a blog the other day, and once again I was struck by how easy it is. I set up a blog in 5 minutes, made choices about the design, added and deleted widgets, made custom settings, made rss-feeds available, and so on. Wow, I am a 48 old digital immigrant, who used a typewriter at University. Five years ago I would have needed the help of a designer, a programmer, a hosting service, and who knows who else, and I would have probably paid a large amount of money for this help.
Nowadays it just takes five minutes to make a blog. I used Blogger, the Google tool, but the same goes for Wordpress. They made it so easy for us. And, why call it a blog? With a few alterations I can make it look like a website. No wonder the world of communications is changing. This is what they mean with ‘the consumerization of IT’: everyone can do it. This trend is, of course, well documented and discussed everywhere, but for me it is still too early to take this all for granted. What a development in just a few years! I love it.

And our internal blogs? We made a template available, 30 site owners just took off, never to be seen by our department again. They are all doing a great job communicating internally to a well-targeted and dedicated group of readers.

Help, I will be out of a job soon. Anyone needs a web designer?

09 September 2010

The end of the intranet

The intranet, every internal communicators dream. With the rise of the intranet in the past 10 to 15 years we were in communicators heaven. Finally our news messages could reach every employee. And with a single point of entry, we could finally make all important information available to every single employee in the world!

Well, those of you involved in the intranet know what happened. Intranets are often rated 5 or 6 out of 10 in employee surveys, news messages are not read by the majority of the employees, and let's face it. How difficult can it be to find anything in the ever expanding intranets of major organizations?

With the rise of Google, social media and the unprecedented eruption of information available to us all, the intranet has lost its appeal even more. Why search through complex navigation, when a simple question in my social network is more effective? In our organization our intranet is competing with Facebook pages made by our local offices. Security risk? Maybe, but let's face it, how much information on our intranet is really confidential? And what an advantage it is for mobile employees to have access anywhere, anytime, anyplace, without having to go through our corporate firewalls.

O.K, let me be provocative: my prediction is that the intranet as we know it will have disappeared in the coming five years. All that will be left is a digital repository, an archive. And our dream? Well, it had all the makings of a fairy tale, but it is starting to look like a nightmare now.

Time for new dreams, what a great challenge ahead of us: life after the intranet. Question is: who dares to pull the plug on our old dream baby?