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Archive for the ‘communications’ Category

I’ve been a fan of the sitcom “Southpark” since shortly after it began to air – around 1998, I think. And while I’d never wish Cartman as a manager on anyone, we can use his “Respect My Authority,” quote as a lesson — in reverse — to all the people managers on the planet.

Managing people for more than a decade has taught me several valuable lessons. None more important than knowing your team deserves your respect – just as you expect the team to respect you.  For example, when your inbox overflows with emails and your phone won’t stop ringing on a busy day you might think it wise to tune out staff requests in order to focus on your own priorities.

This may serve as a manager’s fatal error. 

Instead, call a quick staff meeting and let those you supervise know you’re buried alive in work to-dos, and before you vanish for several hours you want to identify the work of the team that requires your attention. Presto. You’ve communicated your need to go heads down, but you’ve also told the team that what they do is equally important and you don’t want to hold up the work flow.

This little communication strategy helps you earn (and keep) the respect of the team. By connecting with them, and trusting they will understand your need to prioritize, the work that absolutely needs to get done will become clear and you’ll enable others to keep making positive contributions.

Congrats! You’re a great boss.  Today.

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Value proposition. I steer clear of words like this. Buzz words and phrases don’t excite me. But if you’re in front of leaders at an organization and want to make your mark — be noticed and memorable, or have an impact on the meeting itself — you have to think about the value you can lend to the conversation.

Being “on” in every meeting or hallway conversation seems daunting. Minds play tricks on us all the time. Distractions of work, mental to-do lists and issues at home all come in to play. So think of these four strategies to, at the very least, prepare yourself to contribute at work meetings — so you shine (even if for a moment) — and so your leaders remember just why they hired you.

  1. Thirty Second Reboot. I love my Mac because on those rare occasions that it needs to reboot, it takes all of 30 seconds. Humans can reboot their minds and moods in about the same amount of time. Try it before your next meeting starts. Before you step into the conference room or dial in to a conference call, clear your head. A few deep breaths, some positive self talk or even a quick walk will help you center yourself. I’ll frequently walk two or three flights of stairs to both clear my head and spark some adrenaline prior to the meeting.
  2. Identify The Meeting Objective. Every meeting has an objective. As the meeting begins, write down what you believe the objective of the meeting is all about. “To plan the annual employee summer picnic” or “Create activation strategies to engage with clients,” are two examples. With an objective staring back at you, you’ll stay focused on the intent of the meeting.
  3. Stay Engaged (No Matter How Boring The Subject). Posture at a meeting is one way to, through body language, tell everyone at the conference table that you’re a relevant part of the conversation. Sit up. Cross your arms in front of you on the table. Make eye contact with others when you speak. These tactics work on conference calls, too. (Instead of making eye contact, visualize each person when he or she speak and pencil out your thoughts before talking.)
  4. Say Thanks. When the meeting wraps up, thank the team for convening. Saying “Great to see you,” or telling the meeting host, “Thanks for including me,” serves as a reminder that you’re part of the group.

These basic strategies will help you stay focused and become known as a productive contributor. It’s part of your personal value proposition as a professional.

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Many of my peer-to-peer communication discussions ultimately turn to that age-old question: “What would you do if you had the top communication post – VP of Communications or Chief Comms Officer?” Seems the actions reserved for that first 100 days can make or break anyone, no matter how much experience they have traveling through the bloodstream.

So those first 100 days boils down to a few critical components. PR firm Weber Shandwick published an e-book on this topic a couple of years ago and the info really hit the mark. I’ve summarized some of that content, below, and have included my own thoughts as well as comments from my friends who practice PR and communication every day. I hope this creates more discussion on the topic – so feel free to comment and share your ideas.

The First 100 Days In The Life of a New CCO

  1. Get aligned with the organization’s culture as well as the CEO’s vision, strategy and objectives. How does the CEO communicate? What are his/her expectations? What behaviors are most valued by the executive team? What’s the political landscape?
  2. Get to know your communications team. You’re inheriting a team that has its own expectations, strengths, weaknesses and past successes. You must prepare to adjust your perspectives to fit in with the group, not vice versa. Listen carefully during one-on-ones with each communications staffer and take time to get to know the team as individuals. You can gain their respect by involving them in your planning and learning process. And don’t forget to acknowledge the great work they’re doing.
  3. Get to know the business. Spend time with each business leader. Attend their team meetings and meet individually with each of them. And yes, go to them. Use your interviewing skills to identify their challenges, desires and perceptions about how communication can help their business. These sessions will help you build support for communication across the company. Take copious notes as you have these meetings. You’ll use many of their ideas to create your comms plan.
  4. Talk to key stakeholders and get their opinions on the organization’s reputation. Ask similar questions of reporters, customers, strategic partners, and vendors. What has the company done well? What could we do better? Understanding the nuances from various stakeholders will help you craft a plan that nets results.
  5. Create the foundation of your plan by Day 100. Be proactive with goals, objectives and tactics that you and your team can drive. Don’t wait and let others come to you. There will be plenty of that along the way. Apply what you’ve learned listening to your team, the business leaders and the C-suite. Take the communication wheel or con or rudder, align PR plans with business strategy and your research steer your efforts. (And don’t forget to involve your team in the development of this plan!)
  6. Measure something. Media impressions, interactions with stakeholders, or issues and crisis situations avoided because of proactive engagement. You’ll know the C-level expectations when it comes to metrics and analytics. Include the measurement component in the comms strategy and create an executive summary or dashboard that focuses on results – at a minimum this should roll up once a quarter.

There are many more pieces to this puzzle, but these six steps are the crux of what will help you have a great experience as the chief communications person.  No matter what level you’re at in your career, think about how you would approach the role. Do you and your comms team currently work from a plan that is tied to business strategy? If not, perhaps it’s time to ask why.

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I sat through a lunch and learn meeting on social media yesterday. A co-worker launching a new social networking site – one of the first this company has ever considered – partnered up with a social media expert from another Fortune 500 company across town that leads the market in a number of food categories. This expert gets a six-month sabbatical from his organization to go uncover how other companies are approaching this new world of marketing/social networking (and I want that job!).

At first glance, the average outsider looking in might wonder what food has to do with medical technology. Answer: In the world of social media, it’s all frighteningly similar.

Our discussion during lunch wandered around from individual backgrounds and experience (e-marketing, corporate PR, engineering) to the rapid pace of change happening to the Internet, which has since its inception been traveling at the speed of carreraour CEO’s Porsche. Roughly six months in our everyday life equates to two full years on the Internet. And there is no speed limit on the information superhighway.

Just how do large, staid companies differentiate from those organizations in the world nimble to the ways of the ‘Net?  We cower in fear…at least at the onset.  The corporate board rooms filled with 50-something, graying men and women look quizzically at their marketing VPs talking about Twitter feeds and branded YouTube channels. They scoff at CEO blogs that actually INVITE customer feedback and potential criticism to the newly launched widget.

That is until their very own board members – other corporate leaders who are vying to stay relevant in the land of social media/networking start asking questions at the conference table.  This level of CEO-to-CXO peer pressure starts to drive the inevitable change big, fat, slow-moving companies must make. It’s not up for discussion and it’s not an if/then choice. It’s a “when” choice and the “when” was yesterday. Mr. or Ms. CEO, if you missed the boat, you’re going to do more than get your feet wet if you hope to catch up. There is no room for another mistake.

Given the macro-economic state of the world, a fever pitch now resides with all things social media/networking. Nothing is more “mission critical.” To message to customers – to actually sell product and generate revenue, compete and be legitimate – companies simply must open the door on this next phase of marketing.

And really, it’s just the sands of business paradigms shifting yet again – like they  always do. The landscape might feel new, but the level of risk and reward is the same as past transitions.

The ride, however, is vastly more interesting than anything I’ve ridden to date.

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Work should never feel like work.

To pay my way through college, I labored long summer hours for a moving company owned by my next door neighbor. It was the dirtiest, hottest, most physically challenging work I’ve ever done (far more difficult than completing a sprint triathlon). For $6.25 an hour I worked 70 hour weeks during my summer breaks hauling pianos and boxes filled with books and sofa sleepers and, my favorite, the family deep freezer up basement stairs and into a moving van. That, my friends, is labor. I would wake up hating my work. Understandably.

Flash forward 20 years and my life’s work is quite the opposite. After obtaining that degree in corporate communications from Buena Vista University located in toney Storm Lake, Iowa, I have been practicing my first choice in a career field, public relations, ever sense. I love my work. But more than practicing a craft that I was well-educated and trained to do, I’ve found the place to do it where I really make a difference. Don’t jump to conclusions, I’m not changing how PR is done, because like most career options, there are very few original PR strategies. But I’m practicing a craft that I love for a company that, at the end of the day, does amazing things. The work I do ultimately impacts the lives of millions of people and that makes work not seem like work at all.

It’s cause to whistle…not while I’m working, but out of amazement to my fortune.

One’s life work can be filled with despair or boredom or a lack of direction. For me, though, I found my strengths early, honed those skills carefully and the result is in working for a company where what I do matters.

I don’t work. I don’t toil. I don’t labor.

I just do…happily.

Have a great Labor Day everyone!

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I’m not ashamed to say that I work for a large corporation. The company makes about $12 billion a year and continues to grow. Its world headquarters sits right here in Minneapolis, about 13 miles from my home. The company employs 38,000 people around the world and its products enhance or save the life of someone every five seconds of every day throughout the year.

Working for a company that does so much good for others enables me to drive home at night and sleep well. Even in my own distant way, the contributions I make at work five days a week have a small impact on the lives of other people. The information shared through the corporate communications office that I’m a part of ultimately helps people (physicians and consumers) make good decisions about life-enhancing and even life-saving medical technologies.

PawlentyWith that little preamble, Tim Pawlenty, Minnesota’s Governor, stopped by my company this week to say farewell to our outgoing CEO and welcome the newly elected CEO to the company. As a Republican, Pawlenty has long been a friend of corporations of all sizes that call Minnesota home. It’s hard for him to ignore a milestone happening at one of the largest businesses and employers in the state.

So during an employee event mid-week, the Governor made his appearance, shook a few hands, said a few words of encouragement and congratulations, then continued on his important schedule.

My politics are middle-of-the-road. But I voted for Mr. Pawlenty and I can say that his “no new tax” policy was one big reason he got my vote. My decision is based on the enormous misappropriation of state funds that occurs in Minnesota. Until legislators and the administration can fix the problem of flushing money down black holes and instead putting it into the right places, I’ll continue to appreciate politicians who are adamant about NOT raising taxes.

This is the second Governor of Minnesota that I’ve stood within a few feet of. The first was Jesse Ventura, who in person was actually a kind guy and quite articulate…a freak of nature who had no business running state government, but pleasant nonetheless.

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I’m moving forward.  Don’t hate me. Even though I’m a resident of “The City Where the Bridge Collapsed,” it’s time to get life back to normal. As normal as is possible without getting all weird.  So here’s a thought to contemplate:

“The secret of the demagogue is to make himself appear as stupid as his audience so that they’ll believe they’re as smart as he is.”

— Karl Kraus

In my role as a public relations “counselor,” I wonder if I tell my CEO this, he’ll buy it or if he’ll look at me and stare, thinking, “And you are…???”

Did Kraus really mean one should appear as stupid as his audience? Or does he essentially believe that a great speaker who speaks to the common ground of his or her audience will garner the best results?  Perhaps Hillary Clinton could learn something from this.

Perhaps we all could focus a bit more and consider our audience before our mouths start flapping.

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