Archive for October, 2011

Strategic communication professionals have some real lessons to learn from current political discourse. There was a time when most of us thought that those in the limelight who say simplistic and silly things would be readily recognized as inexperienced, lacking in needed expertise, suffering from insufficient intelligence, and unprepared for serious problem-solving responsibility.

In fact, I believe that serious journalists thought essentially the same thing.  Just report what they are saying, and the people out there will see how unprepared and thoughtless they really are. There was a fundamental belief in the intelligence of the average person, and well thought out  ideas to triumph over weak ones.

It seems that in today’s politics each candidate assumes that if he or she plays to the lowest common denominator of their support, and finds the most simple of words to cure complex ills, that this base of followers will just feel better and fall into line.  And if those simple words are repeated often enough, they will actually begin to sound like truth to even more people.  And if one’s inclination is to not question what is being preached, it becomes easier and easier for people to accept a simplistic solution that makes them “feel” better.

The simple solution this week is the flat tax.  It strikes a positive nerve with large groups of people who experience frustration every year dealing with their income tax forms.  And so each candidate has come up with a different, simplistic flat tax with no explanation about implementation and consequences. Pick the one that is easiest to understand, and “feels” the best, and then repeat it over and over again until it takes on an “air of truth!”

In today’s competitive world of 24-7, breaking news journalism, it is more attention-getting to focus mostly on the excitement of the “horse race.” Colorful, extreme people make great news copy, and keeping them in the race makes  dramatic daily headlines.  It’s just too boring to write in-depth about the feasibility of solutions. Why would you want to weed out the most colorful of the players in your drama?

For the strategic communicator the only response to this reality seems to be aggressive counter-argument.  And when high dollar advertising is involved, the one that can spend the most, and repeat the most, will generally win the day.

In the end, the unintended consequence is social and political polarization, with extremes fighting extremes. But we know that the most complex problems also have complicated solutions.  They require experienced, talented leadership. Most politicians will get elected on simple “feel good” ideas, and then face the reality of day-to-day problem solving.  They will have to muster the courage every day to try fresh new ways forward, take risks, and adjust their solutions with experience. And, sadly, this reality is a long way from the frightening simplicity of today’s political communication.


Read Full Post »

A colleague recently reminded me that I once said that if you want to make change happen it might require engineering a crisis!  Indeed, I admit I have made that remark from time to time, and I still think there is a small element of truth in it.  But mostly my intent was to go on and articulate what I see to be a larger truth.

My experience has been that for most people to want to reinvent themselves and change their organization, they must first see a better way forward to a better future. During periods when they are complaining about all the little things they see wrong, they really mean they are no longer believing that overall success is likely for their institution and themselves in the days ahead.

In most of these cases I think it’s best to find what big ideas have worked in the past, or are now working, and then recommend that more like them be used to launch a renewed and revitalized strategic plan.  In other words, focusing on specific problems often creates and reinforces a larger negative environment, which can  actually paralyze growth. But, by revitalizing what has been working for the institution, overall morale can be improved and everyone can once again become inspired.

Admittedly, a real crisis will bring about an intense desire for change. In fact, that can be felt throughout American society right now.  Today, I am attending the Texas Book Festival and there is a demonstration immediately outside my hotel window! Hundreds of young people are marching and chanting : “We want change, and we want it now!”  Moments like this certainly are ideal opportunities for creative leaders to emerge with new ideas about a brighter future.

So, I guess my original “element of truth”  is that you should never waste a natural crisis!  When you have one right there in front of you,  you should recognize it as an opportunity for launching a new or renewed strategic plan with bold new tactics.  But when such a natural crisis doesn’t exist, I certainly think that to manufacture one risks turning the entire climate too negative.

I prefer to think the best approach will be to find what ideas have been working, and then come up with more creative ones like them. This should make people feel good, reinforce a positive work climate, and generate a widespread excitement about joining a positive renewal movement to reshape the future.

Read Full Post »

This week I was a presenter at a CASE institute for senior marketing and communication professionals. One of the sessions I led was a review of my latest book which attempts to outline a subject matter for understanding and dealing with internal politics. I made the point that senior professionals are likely to spend half their time dealing with the politics of their institution. Most agreed. Some said they spend more than half.

We had only an hour to review the topic. So I asked the participants if they would attend a day and a half program exploring the topic in-depth with a faculty of seasoned survivors. I explained that their time would be spent  in interactive sessions discussing all facets of the problem. Their response was quite encouraging.

I imagine that such a conference might be organized around topics such as: 

1. The Political Nature of Institutions

2. Characteristics of Academic and Support Cultures

3. How Leadership Styles Define Political Problems

4. Institutional Misconceptions and Attitudes to Overcome

5. Identifying Typical and Individual Problems  

6. Examples of Potential Solutions and Initiatives 

7. How New Responsibilities Can Change People

8. Essential Political Survival Tools  

9. Teaching Your Institution About What You Do 

The purpose of this institute would be for each participant to leave with his or her political challenges thoroughly addressed, and with some tested ideas about what to try next.

Each time I point out how much time we spend dealing with internal politics, I have been reminded that no program or course is ever offered on the subject!  This institute would finally solve that problem.  I welcome your candid thoughts.

Read Full Post »

This week I attended a workshop led by the co-founders of E Pluribus Partners about the immense power of developing a “culture of connection” inside every organization. 

The E Pluribus partners have aggregated research findings from psychology, psychiatry, sociology, organizational development, and neuroscience to demonstrate how “a feeling of strong connection between management, employees and customers provides a competitive advantage.”  In fact, they argue that without this strong connection people “will never reach their potential as individuals, nor will the organization.”  I was most especially interested in their reference to connection with “customers.” 

Call them customers, clients, students, donors, or supporters of any kind, as I listened I found myself thinking:  “Whatever happened to customer service?” 

 At one time in our profession we talked abundantly about how a happy customer became repeat customers, attracted other customers, and were the best ambassadors we could ever hope to have for telling and retelling our story.  We demonstrated how cost-effective it was to build strong loyalties rather than to focus mostly on constantly finding new business. Then airlines began to treat us as captive revenue units who needed them more than they needed us, and our banks made calling them on the phone a matter of talking to a whole series of automated impersonal recordings with little chance of ever getting through to a real person. Indeed, organizations of all types drove us to their websites, where even there it was impossible to find the email address or direct phone number of a real person. Alas, genuine connections for the most part have given way to digital, impersonal efficiencies, and human trust and meaningful  relationships have all too often been lost.

In the end, however, I was encouraged during this workshop to realize that all the writing I have been doing here over the past year about the power of integration and the use of group process has been right on the mark. Using orchestrated group interaction to get “everyone on the same page” with respect to vision and values, and inspiring  people to use a common voice in telling the story, is also building the strong “connections” with the customers and constituents we will need to give our organizations a meaningful and powerful competitive advantage. 

Building connections, then, is truly what integrated and relationship marketing is all about. So, I suggest you look into the work and writing of  the partners at:  www.EPluribusPartners.com

Read Full Post »