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May 05, 2009

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Ok, I agree with some of this, but I have to take exception to a couple of your comments that struck me as a little unfairly disdainful and a tad smug:

"Think of the inherent talent and learned skill that Heron is demanding of the communication manager, who must sensitively and insightfully intuit what employees want to know about. And we’re not talking about doing a few focus groups or surveys here, because employees don’t know themselves what they’re really curious about."

I agree that employees sometimes don't know exactly what they want to know, but if a ccommunicator actually HAS the sensitivity and intuition you tell us we should, I'd suggest that one can (and I actually HAVE) run focus groups and designed surveys that DID in fact elicit some real and legitimate areas that could be, and should be communicated. Just because an avenue isn't a one-on-one, face-to-face situation, doesn't necessarily mean it can't be helpful.

Which leads me to my other issue. You say:

"And once he or she has come to understand the workforce, division by division, location by location, department by department. . ."

And, in a perfect world, I'd agree completely with you. Unfortunately for me, I don't live in a perfect world, so I can't spend all day everyday visiting all locations, and chatting at leisure with any and all employees I come across [thereby taking them away from THEIR work] to gather these ideal sources of information about their perspectives, challenges and wants. I have a boss too, and he or she usually has a very long, detailed list of tasks that I'm expected to deliver, so I simply don't have the luxury to be a wandering Socrates, much as I might wish I did.

Let me hasten to add, that doesn't mean I don't completely agree with you that I have a responsibility [and, I do consider it a top priority] to find ways, even within the ridiculously silo-ed corporate environment, to make real connections with as many employees as is humanely possible, and develop a relationship with them that not only allows, but invites and encourages the flow of information. However, to discount some of the tools [like surveys and focus groups] that will allow the modern communicator to interact with employees and still deliver on all the other demands they have, seems a bit rigid to me.

Interestingly though, I didn't find anything at all "jarring" about Heron's list - it's almost precisely the environment I work in everyday. What I find fascinating is how consistent the recommendations, the issues, and the remedies are despite a 60-year span of time.

First, Kristen, I have no doubt you have what it would take to do what we're talking about here. Your tale several months ago of squeezing a lively town hall meeting out of stone convinced me once and for all of that.

And what you did there required an understanding of power and personalities far more subtle than you could have ever ascertained in formal measurement vehicles.

"And, in a perfect world, I'd agree completely with you. Unfortunately for me, I don't live in a perfect world, so I can't spend all day everyday visiting all locations, and chatting at leisure with any and all employees I come across [thereby taking them away from THEIR work] to gather these ideal sources of information about their perspectives, challenges and wants. I have a boss too, and he or she usually has a very long, detailed list of tasks that I'm expected to deliver, so I simply don't have the luxury to be a wandering Socrates, much as I might wish I did."

Of course this is right. But we're discussing the IDEA of employee communication here, not its workaday practice in our dreadfully fucked up world-class organizations. Should we limit our discussion here to what's possible with your long to-do list and your "ridiculously silo-ed corporate environment"?

In challenging communicators to consider whether they have the drive and the skill to do what we all agree could and should be done to communicate with employees, I'm asking us to make sure our own house is in order before we start thinking and talking about how organizations might reorder themselves or reorganize our jobs to do the kind of genuinely effective employee communication that Heron is discussing here.

I've known a lot of communicators who, presented with this kind of challenge, would leave immediately for an organization where they could do their little daily news briefs and write the employee publication.

Hell, I might be one of those communicators myself. Heron's challenge is profound and logistically mind-boggling.

But I sure would like a chance to find out. Wouldn't you?

No argument with that at all. I'm fully in support of challenging ourselves and each other to keep the demon complacency at bay.

Just so long as we at least keep the nasty realities in the backs of our minds, so we don't just wax philosopical ad nauseum about a "Brave New World" and thereby never actually DO the excellent, valuable things Heron, and you, suggest.

P.S. I appreciate the kind words!

Kristen, I don't worry about keeping the nasty realities in the backs of our minds, I worry about pushing them there for long enough to think about what Heron's talking about. But your last post tells me that my last post ought to be "The Heron Now," a series of real-world recommendations for those who want to apply Heron's principles in their modern communication jobs.

If you're going to do that [and I think it's a GREAT idea], you might want to try to get paid for it, and write a book instead of giving it away for free!

Strunk & White

Heron & Murray

A good idea.

Second the book motion.

You must state somewhere in your forward that you expect "Heron & Murray" to be as thoroughly villified as "Strunk & White" after 50 years, providing that your book sell as many copies as S&W.

Err, foreword.

Thank Heavens we don't use typewriters anymore, no? Corrections were a pain.

Or perhaps thank IBM and Microsoft et al.

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