IC: Your future is the ability to generate ideas

MADRID – My trusty researcher and I have completed the majority of background work ahead of my putting finger to key and Sharpie™ to A3 paper in crafting my second book, Brand & Talent, out in 2014 through Kogan Page.

Having been around the block in the worlds of internal communication and employee engagement, the whole thing makes for quite depressing reading.  There has been virtually no innovation in the field of internal communication and employee engagement in nearly 20 years.  And using social media isn’t innovative, by the way. Nor is calling it “gamification” (today’s latest old rope).

I think the insight lies somewhere in the region of Dan Pink’s Drive – specifically his observation, which I don’t think he made nearly enough of, that there is a difference between algorithmic and heuristic approaches.  It similarly lies in the territory of increasing scrutiny and debate about the irrelevant that seems to be the stock in trade of the professional associations.

It certainly brings clarity to a point I made to my good friend Mike Klein several weeks ago when we explored LTUAE over some wonderful curry in Brick Lane, London.  I had half-jokingly asserted that internal communication is an organizational capability that no longer required an associated function.  That unlocked some of Mike’s thinking about an IABC-related article he subsequently published on Ragan.com about competence vs advocacy.  My reaction to the draft article he asked me to look at was that distinguishing between whether advocacy or competency were the “right” strategies for an association was missing the whole point.  He begged to disagree.

But having been pondering this and reviewing the research in front of me, Pink has nailed it without intending to.  The association view of the world is one of competence and capturing best practices. Those who know me know my view about so-called best practices.  The profession’s obsession with discovering, rewarding and sharing ‘best practices’ is probably the single best way to institutionalize an inability to innovate.  In other words, in the various associations’ quests to codify and file what the best approaches are, it has rendered the vast majority of practitioners unwilling or unable to think and behave heuristically.  To solve the problem in front of them using a blank sheet of paper.  Which leaves scant few of us to get on with innovating.

I told Mike the real prize was if communication professionals could prove that they could generate ideas that solve problems and overcome challenges – pigeon-holed definitions and competences aside.   He begged to disagree.

So, coincidentally, Pink’s separation of algorithmic and heuristic approaches brings me into agreement with Mike: That a competency-driven approach is about as wrong as you can possibly get, but for very different reasons than those Mike puts forward in his usual eloquent (if not in my case persuasive) way.

Where has this led me? Without spoiling the thesis of the upcoming book, it’s pretty simple.  The role of professional communicators needs to shift from tactical competence to value-building integration to heuristics. Ideas.  Again, I have a passion for organisations and their stakeholder ecosystems as a complex adaptive system where mastery of only a single discipline is worse than useless; it destroys value by overly focusing on narrow competence.  Dan Gray and I call it the down stroke of the T; the value now and in the future will be predominantly in the cross stroke.

This has been proven at the coalface, at least in my personal experience, where my role has been more focused on shaping senior leadership thinking around integration, alignment, and cross-functional collaboration relative to Purpose, Ambition, Proposition and corporate strategy than “how” we communicate and engage.

This, to me, is really where we all ought to be operating.

And yes, of course, competence is needed. But it’s just a foundation, and one that in my opinion has been grossly overcomplicated and made harder than it really is.  I always equate associations attempting to codify this stuff as the equivalent of the church’s use of Latin in Medieval times … trying to blind ‘em with science is the last refuge of the scoundrel.

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People are not your greatest asset

LONDON – At least that’s what this article in HBR states.  And they are right (yes it was a deliberately provocative headline, but it worked).  The point they make is that

It’s how you empower your people. Think about it. What is the primary purpose of a business organization? To assemble a group of people, who previously may have had no association, and empower them to accomplish productive work toward the organization’s objectives. More effective empowerment typically equals more productive work.

Yep.  Empowerment. Erm, engagement.

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Another corker from Jim Clifton at Gallup

LONDON – I tend to refer to Gallup Management Journal a fair bit to find data and thinking that supports advice I give to clients and to inform my thinking about the world of Brand & Talent.

In his post “Good to Great? Or Lousy to Good?” he makes a brilliant point about organisations who hit the numbers through selling (and losing) customers based on price alone.

Company leaders talk a good game about growth at state-of-the-company speeches. But then they go right back to their offices and continue okaying new contract lows to hold customers or win replacement business. They do this largely because Wall Street has not really caught onto the deep implications of organic growth and how to spot it, even though it remains the best single metric to predict sustainable growth, sustainable profit, and share growth. If someone said to me, “In your 30 years of studying customer data, what is the indicator or single metric that is the key to buying or selling stock?” My answer would be, “Same-customer sales.

Have a look here

And … note this article is more than 5 years old.

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Vanity commenting

We’ve all seen it:  a blog posting or a LinkedIn Group discussion amongst a community of interest, and in the middle of the discussion comes a comment – usually from an agency / consultancy to be fair – that is more for the benefit of self-promotion than contributing to the discussion.

To be fair, all of us are now in the business of managing and building our personal brands, particularly in the social media space – and part of that includes participating in the conversation economy.  I’m sure I’m guilty of “ego commenting” myself.

But I’d argue that if the “ego posters” aren’t careful, just as with any other brand and marketing communications, their attempts could be counter productive.

Some examples: Bob responds to a post about X with a tenuous link opening door to a monologue about his experience as a general manager in the defence industry – a thinly veiled attempt to demonstrate high level trusted advisor status.  Janet sends a hilarious email to several people who know Bob and his (ahem) propensity for self-aggrandisement – “Good thing we have Bob around so we can all sleep at night.”  Just like with a business or consumer brand, your brand exists in the minds of your audience.  Everything you say or do has an effect, sometimes not the intended one.

Another example:  A client (Davina) gets a glowing write-up in the trade press spurring a discussion about the way she’s dealt with a challenge. The discussion is by and large about the technique at hand and exploring the idea – but of course there are a couple of posts from Niall (and the group is well aware of Niall’s combination of sanctimonious lecturing coupled with delusions of competence) that seem more interested in (a) subtly knocking down Davina and (b) implying that if Niall had been in charge, things would have been done a lot better and more effectively.  Once again, the emails do the rounds and Niall’s brand is further damaged.

On the other hand, there are examples where someone shares a really insightful personal story.  For example, the discussion on topic X is heading in one direction when Gary puts forth a simple and quite touching remark redirecting the conversation into totally new territory.  Gary’s brand equity rises exponentially with a single, sharp intervention.

Now these might be a slightly apocryphal, but that’s how communities communicate and social communication happens.

What are your comments and posts like?  I’ve got it wrong plenty of times (no shortage of self promotion, vanity, or ego here I’m afraid).  But I do now strive to think – Is this comment for them, or is it for me?