11 July 2011

Fifteen minutes of fame

Proudly presenting the first guest blog from: Manon Sas, internal communications advisor, The Netherlands. Manon's private blog

Being the very first guest writer at this blog is just one of this year’s memorable moments. What else? Well, I’m taking my career to an exciting next level: I’m the best followed member at my organisation’s Yammer platform! It’s like being the kid that’s picked first to join the sports team.

What are you working on? That’s that main question of Yammer, a free application that can best be described as internal corporate twitter. Read what your colleagues are doing, comment, like, share or set up a community. Basically: the same things that happen at the coffee machine, but then without the ‘how was your weekend’ and ‘did you hear that Ian …’ chitchat!

At my company early adaptors were very eager to join Yammer. Many first time visitors never returned. Others started to really use the platform. It didn’t take very long before the IT and Legal guys started asking questions. Are we sure our competitors are not on the platform stealing our ideas? True – after leaving the company (i.e. to work with The Competitor), you can still access Yammer if no one else deletes your Yammer account. And yes, we use the basic free service (as opposed to the premium account which has security tools). But so does global consulting firm CapGemini who use Yammer with approximately 20,000 members worldwide, including the CEO. So our Yammer community is growing as well as my fanbase ;-).

Do I miss the coffee machine chitchat? No worries, I still have lots of coffees. Isn’t that the whole point of coming to the office?

28 June 2011

Any guest writers out there?

I would like to open up my blog for guest writers, as I’m sure that you will otherwise get sick and tired of hearing from me all the time ;-) So, would you like to contribute, just once, or on a regular basis, on a broad spectrum of communications subjects, please drop me a line at vanveenarns@gmail.com, or add a comment in the comment box.

This blog is a hobby, of course, so I cannot offer you any financial reward, just a growing number of readers, and a change to engage with other professionals. I am looking forward to your contributions!

07 June 2011

A CEO from communications heaven

I was lucky enough to be invited to a town hall meeting with a CEO of a company. For multiple reasons I cannot share with you who the CEO is, or what name of the company is. It doesn’t really matter. What matters is what happened to me. I was inspired by this CEO. I was invited to the meeting by his communications advisor, and she told me beforehand how wonderful he is in town hall meetings, and what a pleasure it is to work with him.

In the meeting he addressed a crowd of around 300 employees, who were just told that their budgets were cut. Employees were given the opportunity to ask questions beforehand. My communications contact there told me that the CEO never wanted her to prepare questions. His philosophy is that he should be capable to formulate the answers himself, and boy do I agree with that!

Now, what did the CEO do that inspired me?

1. He used just one (!) slide, to reiterate the company’s strategy, explaining it in simple words, and stressing the importance of every word, not leaving room for any doubt about the fact that he had thought about it, made the choice, and was ready to defend that strategy to any audience.

2. He did not use any business lingo, on the contrary, he spoke in clear, personal, genuine words.

3. When answering the questions, he picked the most difficult ones, and answered them straight on, with great respect for the feelings behind the question, addressing that feeling and explaining very calmly the rationale behind his decision. Every question, no matter how hard, or sometimes unreasonable, was answered this way. Here, it really showed that he was not prepared by a Q&A session, but that he could answer from his own knowledge of the matter.

4. He took ownership of his decisions, admitting mistakes, explaining which parts were his call, and why he made those calls. He said: “I believe in chance before you have to chance”, which I think is a great one-liner, and explained that that was his duty. To chance the company’s direction before this chance would be enforced.

5. I came out inspired, and so did 300 employees, so whatever he did, it was successful.

Communications, it can be so simple if you keep it simple!

11 May 2011

Secretaries are communication heroes

Way back, when I was a student at university, I was taught that secretaries are important communications hubs, both in formal and informal communications networks. So, if you want to do communications research, on how informal communications networks function, for example, secretaries need to be included in that research.

Over the years I have learnt another feature about secretaries: they may be the most important communicators in many organizations. Actually, it is fair to say that apart from organizing their bosses work, communicating is probably their main task. I dare to state that secretaries communicate as much as communications professionals and I feel that their work is underestimated and underpaid.

Think of it: they write emails, letters, make phone calls all day, organize meetings, make meeting minutes. And I have found that they often master digital communication tools, like Office programs and social media far better than their bosses, or most other employees in the organization. They are probably the group with the best communication skills in the workforce.

I feel that often they are a victim of the tendency in many organizations to delegate the real work as far down as possible. They don’t have anyone to turn to, and most often they deliver time after time. Just felt the need to write that down at least once in my life.

Value them, my friends, they are the heroes of the modern office!

27 April 2011

Is social media ruining students?

Last month I wrote a blog post entitled 'students don't use social media'. Under this somewhat provocative statement, I shared with you my observation that students don't see social media as a separate entity; it is just part of their lives. Highly recommended reading, that blog post, of course ;-).

Interestingly enough, I received an email from Cathryn Vance (thanks Cathryn), who shared this infographic with me, stating that it would be interesting to the readers of this blog. And, indeed, it is a nice overview, very balanced, leaving room for your own judgement. To me, it shows that research and insight around social media are maturing. We have left the phase of fore or against, and we are starting to focus on pro's and con's. I find this a very healthy development, as all media have pro's and con's. Knowing these, help us communicators choose the correct media wisely. Hope you enjoy the infographic as much as I did. If you find it hard to read, here is the link to the original site. http://www.soshable.com/is-social-media-ruining-students/. There you can click to enlarge the image.

Is Social Media Ruining Students?
Via: OnlineEducation.net

21 April 2011

Enter the Intranet Innovation Awards 2011

Just wanted to point you to a very interesting award. Last year, working at my previous employer, we entered the competition, and although we did not win the award (darn…), entering did benefit us. The award is not for the entire intranet, but focuses on great ideas and individual improvements to intranets. The awards are given for specific, tangible innovations that benefit the organisation.

Last year, as we entered, we were forced to sit down with a couple of people involved and think about what we did. And that is great; in every day’s fast business life we hardy take the time to look back and write down what we achieved. I found that to be one of the benefits.

The award is organized by James Robertson, one of the world’s leading intranet experts, and a regular speaker at the leading intranet events around the world.

Try it out, who knows you will win this time and get worldwide recognition. Unfortunately, I will not be able to participate this year, as I have very little involvement (yet) in the intranet in my new job.

29 March 2011

Grumpy Old Communicator

Reading the blog post that I wrote over the past few months, it struck me that I have been writing a lot about what is wrong in our communications profession, or what needs to be improved. Why is that, I asked myself? Don’t we have great jobs? Every day is different, we get to be involved in all parts of the organization, we can be creative, can organize fun events, our jobs are becoming more and more important in organizations.

So, to all my readers (and I can see from the statistics that they are spread all over the world), I am sorry if I came across as a grumpy old communicator. Hey, being in communications in 2011 is a ball! Never in the history of mankind have we been using so many different media. The social internet is revolutionizing our jobs, but the old communications rules still apply, so we are in the middle of a revolution.

Why then, was I so grumpy? After some thorough soul searching, I came up with two possible answers to that question:

1 I am in the middle of a mid-life crisis…

2 As our profession is changing, our scope becomes very unclear: what is, and what isn’t corporate communications? These questions bothered me, and I just wrote them down.

I leave it up to you to decide, but I promise to cheer up!

17 March 2011

Students don’t use social media

In the past two years there have been numerous discussions on social media forums about the use of social media by the younger generation. People come up with all different kinds of statistics, showing one day that teenagers, students, generation x,y, or z are not using Twitter (for example), and the next day that a different research outcome shows exactly the opposite. Very often these researches have no scientific backgrounds or methods whatsoever, and what makes it worse, is that people use these very shaky statistics to prove their point for whatever cause they want.

I wanted to share with you a few recent experiences I had with students from both Western and Eastern Europe. I had groups coming to my workplace, and I gave some guest lectures and presentations about the subject of social media. Before I started, I would always ask students if they use social media themselves. An average of only 5 to 10 % would raise their hand! Now, what an amazing outcome. One would expect a score close to 100%, right?

Interestingly enough, after this first question, I would always fire a few more questions at them: ‘Who has a Facebook account, who has uploaded a YouTube video, who uses Flickr, who shares music, who has worked with a wiki’? Well, eventually, all fingers were raised… They just told me that they were not aware of the fact that they were using social media.

Here is the thing: we, the older generation, need to make a distinction between the old media, and the new media, between 1.0 and 2.0. For these students, and most certainly for the generations even younger than them, the term social media is not relevant. They are just using the media that they know, and they are not aware of the underlying revolution. Nor do they care about the term social media.

So, I wonder what happens when I tweet the title of this blog post: students don’t use social media. It might trigger some interesting discussions. Hope people take the time to read this post, as clearly, my point is something else.

08 March 2011

Wiio’s Laws, or why communication always fails

About 10 years ago, I was a part-time lecturer at the Business Communications Faculty of a university in the Netherlands. The subject I taught was Communications Research Methodology. For the students it was one of the last subjects in their final year, before they would start to work on their Master’s thesis.

To set the scene in the first lesson, I always kicked off with a presentation of Wiio’s laws. Osmo Wiio is a Finnish researcher, who wrote these laws as a bit of a joke. Although these laws are a clear exaggeration, I always told the students, that once they would start their career, this might be a good framework to always keep on hand.

These laws typically received mixed reactions from the students. Some loved them, others were puzzled by them, and some even became almost angry with me, as they thought that my view on our profession was for too negative. This mix of reactions was – of course- exactly what I was looking for, as it would spark of a nice discussion about what communicators can and cannot achieve in an organization.

To this day, I always have a copy of Wiio’s laws on the wall of every office I work in. It serves as a reminder to me to never underestimate the difficult job that we as communicators have.

Wiio published his laws in 1978, but I think they are still valid today, or even more valid, probably. Well, judge for yourself, here they are: communications’ own Murphy ’s Law or Wiio’s laws*

1 Communication usually fails- except by chance

· If communication can fail, it will

· If communication cannot fail, it nevertheless usually does fail

· If communication seems to succeed in the way intended, it must be in the way which was not intended

· If your are satisfied that your communication is bound to succeed, it is then bound to fail

2 If a message can be understood in different ways, it will be understood in just that way which doe the most harm

3 There is always somebody who knows better than you what you meant by your message

4 The more communication there is, the more difficult it is for communication to succeed

So, next time a communications project fails, you can now explain that Wiio’s Laws were to blame.

*In this version, I left out some of his laws that refer to mass communications, and I have seen some other versions with minor changes.

24 February 2011

Keep It Simple Stupid!

A few years ago I came across this thought provoking statement for the first time. It was used in the context of a communications plan, and it was referred to as the KISS principle (the first letters of Keep IT Simple Stupid, obviously). It is such a nice phrase to use in discussions about communication plans, as it always provokes a reaction; it always puts people off guard. I have noticed so often that people really started to pay attention when this principle was thrown into the discussion.

The great thing about the KISS principle is – of course- that everybody immediately knows what you are talking about. In the corporate environment we often tend to make things far too complicated. Managers often feel that their messages need to show that they really know what they are doing.

So often does this tendency lead to phenomena like what I like to call ‘PowerPoint Body Building’. “Hey, look how complicated this chart is. I manage this, and I know all the details”. So, OK, you got muscle, but what was it that you were trying to say to us, because we are totally lost here…

Another issue with many managers or project leaders is that they just want to communicate too much. You don’t need to cover all your areas, just focus on what is important to your audience. Communication is very much about what you don’t say!

When I make a communications plan, I usually try to get the KISS principle (spelled this way, and just explained once) in the communication strategy part of the plan. It is a great phrase to refer to whenever people make things too complicated. Everyone knows immediately what you mean when you give feedback.

Anyone any other examples of principles that they use? I’d be curious to hear about them.

17 February 2011

Sorry, we don’t speak English here

English is the business language in the corporate environment, no question about it. I hope my German and French readers don’t feel offended, but this is reality in the global village that we call world.

If we were to look at the communications profession as a toolkit, language (so, in the corporate world, the English language) is our most important tool.

O.K, this is a given, but I’d like to point out two things that we sometimes tend to forget in our daily practice.

1 Native English speakers have a huge advantage over non-native speakers. I am Dutch, so I spend most of my days communicating in a foreign language. My English is in reasonable shape, but clearly, I miss many nuances as a result of the fact that I am not communication in my native tongue. If you are a native English speaker, please take into consideration how difficult it can be for a foreigner to communicate in a foreign language.

2 I think we, as communications professionals, should stress more and more that we need to train people to master the corporate language. It never fails to amaze me that we keep hiring people in a corporate environment that don’t master our preferred language at least at a basic level.

Well, I hope I did not make too many mistakes in this blog post. Native speakers, please forgive me, and if you want to see a real funny example of what I just wrote, just watch this hilarious video.

01 February 2011

A communications plan is not a communications calendar

It is the core of our job: a communications plan. If you are a regular reader of my blog, you might recognize that I challenge current practices every now and then. Here is one that you might recognize. Too often I see communication plans that have just two elements: a stakeholder analysis and a communications calendar. I have seen some (well, many…) consultancy firms in my day doing just that.

The element that is too often missing is the communications strategy. OK, so we have this project. Do all project members agree on the core messages? Given the stakeholder analysis, what should our strategy be? Why do we come up with the media mix in the communications calendar? I have seen numerous plans state that they want to engage their stakeholders. Then, when I read the calendar, there are newsletters, intranet pages and kick-off meetings planned. You don’t engage people using digital media and presentations... OK, I know many of these consultants just copy and paste from their previous assignment. If you are a consultant: use a better template! If you want to hire a consultant, check if their communications plans are more than just communications calendars. Our profession is becoming mature, you know

18 January 2011

Feel like a child again, start a new job

So I started a new job. Gone are the days of warm goodbyes (thanks Océ colleagues, what a great way to part), back to reality and the beginning of a new exciting journey. One of the first differences I noticed is the use of social media for external purposes. The pharmaceutical industry is very different from the printing industry. This business is all about quality and safety. Everything that distracts people from these two key performance areas is more or less irrelevant. Moreover, this is a highly regulated business. Companies are very restricted in what they can say or do in the outside world. So, more than ever before, I need to stress that this is a personal blog. I will keep following trends in internal communications, but I will not share any information about my present company.

I noticed first hand now how digitalized our world has become. Fortunately, I have kept up with the trend, but consider all the new things I need to learn: a new phone, a new operating system, a new teleconferencing tool, a new intranet, a new navigation system in my car, you name it. When you need to change all these things you suddenly become aware of how depended we have become on digital communication tools. I felt like a little child that first week, and I am still figuring out Vista, but at least I can answer my phone now ;-)

One of the greatest things for me to pick up will be the staff engagement program (volunteer work, sports, theatre, staff celebrations, you name it). There is a lot available, also from the corporate HQ, but good ideas are more than welcome.

04 January 2011

10 things that struck me at Océ

  1. Proud to have worked for a typical Dutch engineering firm, with great engineers and designers who make fantastic printers.
  2. Where are the women at the top???
  3. Very decentralized organization.
  4. Great history, what will the future bring?
  5. Great, nice, creative colleagues at the International Communications Department, who are at their best when they organize fantastic trade shows.
  6. At HQ language breakdown, my estimate: 2% English, 38% Dutch, 60% local Limburg accent (very different from standard Dutch)
  7. The HQ closes for two days during Carnival.
  8. WOW, do they know how to celebrate ‘Carnaval’ in Venlo. I have learned to see the difference between ‘Carnaval’ and ‘Vasteloavond!’
  9. The financial crisis really hit us. What an impact!
  10. As everyone says: Océ will always stay in your blood. That’s correct.
All the best Océ, I really enjoyed my time, but it is time to move on! Amgen, here I come.