Internal Communications: You Get What You Pay For

A colleague of mine once said that Internal Communications is the "neglected stepchild" of the communications profession and over the years it is easy to figure out why.

There is absolutely no glory in it.

Internal Communications isn't glitzy. It's not about press, or social media, or trade shows. You don't get interviewed on TV. It's not multimedia.

It's about talking to your people. Sort of like - here we go - keeping the family together!

And we know how much fun Thanksgiving Dinner is when you've got all those old dynamics swirling around.

I did not even know there was such a thing as Internal Communications until I came to work for The Brand Consultancy, where they did something called "Internal Branding."

Basically, this was training the employees to operate in accordance with the mission/vision/values espoused by the brand.

Early on I realized that training did not work. Because people are not morons (largely), they are thinking adults and they will resist being robotized at all costs.

It is absolutely amazing that one even has to articulate this but if you think about the bubble in which most executives operate you can start to see what the issue is.

Most executives operate too far from the frontline to see their employees as people. Rather they see themselves, in an exaggerated form, and then their external audiences.

The staff matters, but in sort of a distant way. Like marble chess pieces. You care about them and don't want them to crack, but you don't really see a beating heart inside.

In any case. Not every executive is like that of course. I have been privileged to meet and work for several who have an unbelievable level of sympathy and empathy for their employees.

One of these served at the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency, where I worked when I first joined the Federal Government.

This individual spent all his time - and I mean all his time - concerned with the welfare of the employees. Teaching people to treat each other better. Proving to them that "the pie gets bigger." I do not know what his motivation was, only that it was during this time that I had permission to do a whole lot of things. For example:

* We audio-casted an internal meeting about an upcoming reorganization to the field - this was a big deal around 2003

* We transformed the employee publication into a photo-centric glossy in which the employees were the focus - it was People Magazine just for them

* In the publication we "advertised" internal services that were already available for free

One thing I did not get to implement was a prototype publication online where we had an Amazon-style rating system for the articles, so people could give an article four stars for "great" or one star for "horrible." I guess they thought it would hurt people's feelings, that they were not ready. They were probably right.

When I think about the projects I've done that went very far, versus the ones that did not, each and every time there was an executive sponsor who either believed in the work or trusted me to run with it.

That is the thing with Internal Communications. You have to trust the person in charge. They are, in a sense, the professional parent to the workforce, the person they go to cry to when they're getting beaten up at school.

I have seen this function work and not work. I've seen people get their heads handed to them because they made a mistake and it embarrassed someone.

Internal Communications is not child's play. It is very serious and very important work and it will only get more so.

You've got to trust the people you pay to execute on it for you, if you want to get results.

Solve The Problem: Symptom vs. Cause

The other day someone told me that they didn't care much about the outcome of the election because "nothing changes anyway." The only thing that bothered them though was the "policy of killing babies."

OK, the abortion debate. I wasn't going to ruin a good conversation by responding the way I wanted to: "You must be out of your mind."

Because factually speaking an abortion is not killing a baby but rather preventing a fetus from becoming one.

Also when one considers that globally women are far from free to control their reproductive lives (let's work on child slavery/"marriage" shall we?), and the poor life prospects of unwanted children, it seems sort of farcical to insist in fetal rights vs. all other human considerations.

I agree that abortion is a problem. But if you want to solve it look to the causes (rape, incest, peer pressure, poverty, absent parent, etc.), rather than focusing exclusively on the symptom (unwanted pregnancy).

At work there is a tendency to focus on the symptom, the immediate and visible problem, rather than the cause. Most "crises" can be traced to factors that are intangible, invisible, difficult to measure, non-obvious and slippery. Strong leadership, management, teamwork etc. are not things you can "see" but their effects can be observed in how the organization is run.

A great doctor treats the whole person - body, mind and spirit. S/he asks questions that range widely across your life, not to intrude but to get at what is going on. Because a single illness can cause multiple symptoms that are seemingly unrelated.

Similarly when you assess a situation it is helpful to back away from the symptom itself and look at the context around it. It is there that you will find the cause. And once you have the cause you can begin to identify workable solutions.

In medicine this is easier than in organizations and social life of course. But it can be done even at the individual level. Simply refuse to perpetuate the dysfunctional behavior. Act normal. You being a voice of reason despite pressure to fold and become a "zombie" can have incredible ripple effects.

Good luck!

P.S. All opinions, as always are my own. Not a political endorsement or non-endorsement.

Women and Men Do Shop Differently: 5 Observations

The other day my daughter said to me, "Feminism is just fine, but men and women are not the same." She is an aspiring neuropsychologist and given any social situation, where I see the group dynamics she sees a brain chemical. 

From a sociological perspective there are a lot of reasons why gender differences exist and a lot of uses to which groups put them. From a marketing (or outreach) perspective what matters are the patterns. Here are a few that I see:

1) Expressed vs. Implied: Marketing to men has to be tangible - auditory, visual, kinetic (hear it, see it, move it) versus to women merely a suggestion is enough and even preferable. Another way of putting this is that women are engaged with the story around a product while men are engaged with the idea that the product itself approaches perfection.

2) Status: Men buy things to compete with other men and they think of it as "acquiring," so there is a certain level of permanency. Women will buy virtually anything if they think it makes them look good. For women, the competition is self-oriented - between themselves as they imagine they are, versus as they imagine they once were or could be.

3) Delegation: If men could get away with never setting foot inside most retail environments they would, because they see shopping as feminine. So they prefer either to automate the process (e.g. shopping online) or to let the women take care of it. Versus women see shopping as a "quest" for the right thing which hopefully ends in a "Victory." 

4) Time: For women, shopping is a destination, an activity, a hobby, and a release and so they lose all concept of time once they enter a store. Versus men believe that time spent shopping is time wasted. 

5) Guilt: Both women and men feel guilty about spending money. Both justify the guilt in some way. Women tell themselves they are shopping to take care of someone (even if it's themselves) versus men justify purchases based on whether it enhances their prospects for survival - not just literally but in the abstract sense, e.g. survival at work.

At the end of the day men and women may purchase the same things. Literally - clothing, perfume, even tattoos can be unisex. But the mode of taking in information that drives a purchase, and the motivations for handing over the money, do seem to differ. A very interesting topic of study.

Listerine and the Business of Shame

Image via Kilmer House, a blog dedicated to the story of Johnson & Johnson and its employees. Frederick Barnett Kilmer, for whom the blog is named, was J&J's first scientific director. The blog is written by J&J corporate communications. This is a great example of corporate branding best practice.

Marketing, as an industry, trades on shame. Subsistence happens on one level, admittedly not cheap but not nearly as expensive as the stuff you are routinely offered to buy. Or the stuff you don't need, but that marketers invent, convincing you along the way that you must have it ("creating a market.")

It is a paradox that shame is universal, and yet we universally seem to have trouble talking about it. Maybe that's because of the nature of shame. It's designed to keep people in line - nothing more and nothing less.

Shame is a spiritual theme. In the Garden of Eden, the Biblical story goes, Adam and Eve felt shame when they sinned against G-d. There was nobody there to make them feel that way - they just did.

Shame is enforced by the group against the individual. It's a way of keeping the powerful in power. The targeted person - who may or may not have done anything wrong - is marginalized, punished, laughed at, silenced.

Usually there are interlocking forces around shame as a tool. So you learn in religious school about what G-d supposedly wants, and then there are people in power who enforce those rules and enforce themselves as the keepers of them.

It occurs to me often that organized religion creates more problems than it solves because of the way it shames people. Honestly I think there would be peace in the Middle East right now if religion were not a factor among the negotiating parties. Because too often it defines any compromise as shameful.

Shame makes us take on debt we could otherwise avoid. It makes us fight with people we otherwise have no bone to pick with. It drives us to shame other people, just to relieve our own agony and despair. Shame makes us try to compensate for our own insecurities by becoming overachievers. And overachievers run a lot of races that don't matter, distracting them from more important priorities that don't come with an award attached.

Listerine makes it sound simple to get rid of shame: Just rinse with antiseptic and you'll be fine.

The problem is that only works temporarily.

In real life the answer is not that simple, but here are some thoughts:

1. Probably the first thing is to admit your own shame, even if only to yourself. Whatever it is, stop spending a lot of energy fighting it or directing your energy to temporary fixes. Preferably, write it down. Once you look at it on a piece of paper, that scary monster loses a lot of its bite. Like the movie says, you can "burn after reading."

2. The second is to look to a third party for validation. Even if you just go on the Internet - it is pretty big and I guarantee you, whatever you are going through, no matter how strange or minor it may seem, someone else is going through it as well.

3.The third is to gain support from a community. Online, offline, close friends, acquaintances, formal or informal support network - you name it. The last time I went to Panera an elderly man looked at my computer and then lifted his hands and said, "I couldn't ever use that thing, even if I wanted to." He was surrounded by other elderly people who laughed and said the same. That's support.

4. The fourth is to take concrete action steps to eliminate the impact of shame on your life. Are you living beyond your means to prove you're not lesser than anyone else? Working in a career you hate? Those are good places to start. Everything is subject to change - you just have to take that first step.

5. The fifth is to offer your support to other people. It doesn't have to be that they are the same as you. You don't even have to know what their problems are. But as you give your support to others, you get support back from the Universe. It works that way.

All this is not to say that marketing is bad. I find that it gives me tremendous joy. I love advertising of any kind. The sight of new products gives me joy. It's fun to take them apart in terms of marketing strategy, and it's fun to actually buy them.

But shame as a motivator isn't fun. It isn't necessary and it doesn't really propel you anywhere, in your career or in life. Like I read somewhere the other day - just be who you are. You have no other choice, anyway.

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