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October 10, 2012


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There is only one question a modern, progressive employee communication effort should strive to answer - "How smart do I want my people to be?"

This question has multiple dimensions and challenges leadership to reflect and act on its management model in a manner it can support and commit to...

The techniques, style, cadence, frequency, content, context, and other crucial elements of an internal system flow from this basic question.

Answer this and as a communicator you'll know what to do next (including looking for a better gig!)

Gary, that's a piercing enough starting point that weeds out a lot of marginal activity, I imagine.

Of course that also requires defining what "smart" means in a given culture. Smart means one thing at a law firm or a business consultancy, say, where smart means "intellect."

And another thing at a Southwest Airlines or a Zappos, where cultural understanding and emotional intelligence might be more important.

And maybe a third thing entirely at a Google, which demands vastly different kinds of smarts from widely various populations of people.

So your question is single, but hardly simple. Agree?

Hoo-boy. Where to start. As an unabashedly enthusiastic capitalist, I got no problem with coming up with a product that makes money. Money's not everything, but it sure makes buying things a lot easier.

There's nothing wrong with using electronic tools in communication, either, provided the dogs eat the dog food, if you catch my drift.

What IS wrong is the idea that one size fits all -- there's competition for employee attention, and some people will want an email, others a memo, others a magazine, others a podcast or video. Some won't want anything. It just goes with the territory.

Gary's question -- how smart do you want your employees to be? -- is a useful starting point, indeed. We always have stuff we need our employees to know - but knowledge and understanding are separate issues, as are commitment and action. That's how it all works -- awareness, understanding, commitment, action.

Those are different objectives that may need different tools...Employee communicators can't be any less than the company's internal experts on communication -- how it works, what has to happen to move from awareness to action, the process of knowledge transfer and creation, the mechanics of how information flows (or doesn't) in the organization.

We won't get there by posting ephemera on the eNews. That's so freakin' 1987...

That's what struck me, Sean. The musty smell of some of those bullet points. But then I also object to the 2030-ness of Jim Shaffer's vision (see next comment).

Employee communication consultant Jim Shaffer emailed me his response.


Employee communication, whether it's the process or function, should exist to create value as defined by the customer. The customer is the person who buys the product or service. This isn't unique. It's what every person, process or function should be doing in today's organizations.

There's a difference in employee communication--the process--and employee communication--the function. The process should be managed in a way that improves the decisions that are made and the actions that are taken to improve results.  Results don't change unless work changes.  Sometimes an employee communication function can play a role in this process. Sometimes they're too narrowly focused to have much impact. Sometimes strong leaders can make it happen without the assistance of a function.  

In some companies, employee communication is merely a needed-to-play ante, if you will. You need to manage communication inside the organization just to get the product out the door. However, in other companies employee communication is a needed-to-win capability.

These organizations use enriched communication management as a source of competitive advantage. "We beat the other guy because we can move information and knowledge faster and more efficiently than they do. For instance, a reason some pharmaceuticals can get their new product cycle time down to under 10 years (versus some who are still up around 12-13 years) is that they can move information across the pharma matrix better than their competitors.

The role of the function can vary. Historically it's been a cost center focused on information dissemination. Whether the information had any effect on decision-making or the way work got done was inconsequential.

Numerous market forces are changing that. Budgets and staffing to support low or non-value-adding work is going away. Employee communication functions are starting to understand their business role--to add value as defined by the customer--and that doesn't mean the so-called internal customer who may well have represented another source of waste. The shift is from producing output to producing outcomes that matter to the success of the business.

We're working right now with a company that's going through this transition. At the encouragement (insistence) of the CEO, the function has declared that it will stop doing work that has no clear connection to executing the business strategy, doesn't change the way work gets done, can't be measured and doesn't promise a sustainable business impact.

We're also helping them change the way they prioritize work. There's nothing complicated about it. They're prioritizing work based on the size of the returns. As an example, in a wellness effort, they would take on a project that reduces risk factors and health care costs by 50% before they would take on a similar project that only reduces them by 20%. Not a new concept to much of their organization but foreign to the employee communication people. They're making the shift nicely. The customer is better off because of their work. The company is better off. And they're going home at night feeling more important about their contribution to the enterprise. When they add value, they feel more valued.


@Jim: I've always appreciated your piercing focus for its ... focus. Sometimes I object to the sharpness, because I believe there employee communications people need to be concerned with a bigger picture and more long-term concerns than immediate cost-reduction or revenue enhancement.

To go wearily back to Southwest Airlines: SWA employee communications' long-term focus on the corporate legend, the culture, the philosophy, the ethic, the mission ("free to move about the country") ... I doubt any of that paid off in any immediate way.

But I think it has paid off in a self-actualized workforce full of people who appreciate their unique culture, their place in their industry and their contribution to society.

Which is good for customers and employees and shareholders alike. But which doesn't fit into your tight funnel.

Or am I missing something?

In today's global, hyper-competitive and fast-moving world, the greatest value of employee communications is probably fostering trust, confidence and change.

No matter how invincible and unbeatable a company appears today (like Apple, for example), its decline is inevitable. Just ask the folks at Nokia, Blackberry, AOL, Holiday Inn, Yahoo!, U.S. Steel, etc., etc.

The pace of creative destruction is accelerating, but decline can kept at bay, sometimes for decades, if an organization has the ability to adjust to changng times and new competitors. This struggle is playing out at the level of nations (Japan, Russia, India, etc.)and industries (computers, payments, education, music, etc.), as well as at individual companies (Sony, Opel, Foxconn,etc.)

Assuming leaders can determine and articulate the appropriate response to major threats, the next most critical survival factor is employees having the trust and confidence to change. If they don't, decline is almost certain.

Currently, we're seeing this lack of trust and confidence crippling the state government of California, Hewlett Packard, American Airlines and many others. The jury is out in regard to Facebook and Yahoo!

The challenge is greater than ever today because we are in a time where distrust in all institutions is rampant. Confidence is low almost everywhere because of the recession. Social cohesion is deteriorating in many countries. Everyone knows someone who has fallen behind.

In this enviroment, the tendency of most people is to try to hold on to what they have rather than to make bold changes in the hope of a better future but often this is exactly what is needed, at least in the workplace.


You perfectly describe the corporate culture-eating cancer that I glibly mentioned in the beginning of my post:

"The challenge is greater than ever today because we are in a time where distrust in all institutions is rampant. Confidence is low almost everywhere because of the recession. Social cohesion is deteriorating in many countries. ... In this enviroment, the tendency of most people is to try to hold on to what they have rather than to make bold changes in the hope of a better future but often this is exactly what is needed, at least in the workplace."

It's a huge problem, but one that ought to worthy corporate leaders and imaginative communicators licking their chops.

I'm with Sean. My biggest concern about this product is its one-size-fits-all approach. Not to mention the off-the-shelf nature of it. My biggest complaint about big communication consulting firms (coming from a one-person shop) is that they often do the same thing. They think what worked at Company A will also work at Companies B, C and D.

I think any company's dollars would be better spent investing in a communication audit that uncovers exactly what is working and what's not, what people need and want from communication and the best ways to deliver it.

@Robert. I agree. Dickmeyer's contraption may be better than nothing at places where no internal communication operation exists. But I wonder how much better it is than the communication apparatus that the communicators have organically (even by instinct rather than measurement) have cobbled together.

I didn't say anything about short or long-term focus. I said communication needs to be managed to add value.

The reality of leading a business is that it needs to balance the tension between the short term and long term.

Value gets added this morning when the parts inventory manager gets a part to someone on the production floor who assembles the part and gets it to shipping on time to meet the customer's promised delivery date.

People can't ignore today.

But, they also need their eye on turning molecules into medicines in 10 years versus 12 years so people get the medicines they need faster and sometimes at a lower cost.
FedEx needs to reinforce the Purple Promise because it reinforces the values that have been and always will be the core of the company. And they need to capitalize today on the routes to Asia Pacific that Fred Smith created 30-plus years ago.

In my book and in all of my writing and speaking I talk about the need to create clarity and meaning for people. This enables to them to see how they fit into something much bigger than a narrow job. This relates to your comment about self-actualization.

And I talk about painting a clear, shared vision for people so they understand how what they do today affects their ability to serve customers 20 years from now.

Communication people need this balance. Unfortunately some are too often focused on getting the newsletter out so they can check the box rather than addressing more strategic concerns that may not deliver instant gratification such as what I mentioned about our work with FedEx.

I think you might be confusing me with someone else.

I don't think corporate communication can be thought of without thinking of company management as well. Heron's success was as a negotiator in management, as we discussed when you did the paper on the book.

A communicator who sees themselves as a cog in the machine will only impart what management wants to communicate. A communicator who sees themselves as part of management will stick their nose in the business and get busy fixing. These are both revolving doors - see yourself as cog, management sees you as cog. Stick your nose in and fix, and management sees you as fixer.

@Jim: OK, I'm convinced.

@Yossi: Right on. But if you're gonna go fixing, you have to have as strong an idea of what you're trying to do with the organization as management does. Most communicators don't feel that strongly about it.

Those communicators perpetuate the idea of corporate writers as writers who failed at other disciplines - those who can't, do corporate writing.

Consultants can always claim success by picking the companies to work with who will best reflect their offerings. Those who tie themselves to a company are forced to adapt and be far more creative.

And let's pose a challenge for PDP: What about a company whose management should never address employees directly? Let's take a big, shiny Apple as an example. Paranoid Exec. Brilliant on stage, tyrannical to employees in person. Engineers flock to work for the idea, but hate any encounter with the man. What would PDP do?


I just watched your "Really?" video on YouTube. There's a reason "really" dominates discourse: It expresses a permanent sense of exasperated alienation from work, marriage, social discourse, the machine-and-gadget life and civilization we've spread to the four corners of the globe, and even to our acquaintance--and our intimacy--with our own thoughts and feelings.
It's a verbal shorthand that expresses the desire to push something away forever, and forget one ever knew anything about it. Why? Because nothing works as it was intended to work, and it's too late to fix it: It never will work now!
Many of the comments above this comment box elicit the "Really?" response, beginning with Louise Dickmeyer's machine-like view of employee communications, her PDP model, her EmployeeCommunicateOmeter, and most of all, her "quantitative proof" that PDP and the CommunicateOmeter" work.

Bill Sweetland

What can I explain about the Really? Happy to do so and thanks for weighing in.

SaaS tools aren't par with machine-like view. We just happen to use technology as one part of our solution.

The model works. EmployeeCommunicateOmeter is Mr. Murray's term!

We survey to establish a baseline and check back on progress - by survey and listen to our anecdotal evidence.

This would be the video to which Mr. Sweetland prefers:


I would have embargoed this until next week, when I'm not posing as a sane thought leader, but that's the way it goes these days.

And on the challenge posed by Yossi Mandel, we wouldn't likely work with the company. CEO has to be on board.

Re. CEO being on board. That's fair, Louise. And no, I don't expect you to answer Mr. Sweetland's critique. Except when I read your claim to measure "employee absorption," I said, "Really?"

One more point to you. As I said privately, I am NOT cynical about the proper goal of employee communication being to make every multinational company feel as much as possible like a 19th century furniture shop.

It's just that I think there's much, much, much more human effort involved than you suggest when you claim that "PDP makes Murray's dream a reality."

Perhaps I (we) are unnecessarily pounding this penny nail with a sledgehammer.

But when your only hammer is a sledge ...

Fair, but not useful.

There is a great deal of human effort involved in what PDP prescribes. First and foremost - having a courageous CEO who is willing to be transparent - whether he/she is right or wrong. Having an a cross section of employees drive what the topics are needing to be communicated; able to tee up the rumors and provide direct answers. Having employees, once they trust the more open communication, offer ideas and suggestions to improve processes. Leaders being bold enough to share company performance measurements with everyone; measures that only the front office used to see and sharing them in real time so that they are relevant to all - including the front line. Those are examples of the human effort that we cultivate through - not in and of itself - the use of our tools and approach.

I learn as I go so keep offering your compelling comments. Thanks.

Dave Seifert, longtime strategic communication manager at Hallmark and now owner of the employee communication consultancy Seifert Communication, weighs in via e-mail:

In many ways, I think the mission remains unchanged from recent years: build a fully engaged workforce of employees who understand how their work makes an impact on the success of the organization. To do that, we have to communicate openly (tell more, not less), candidly (tell the truth) and regularly (have a plan to avoid the silent periods that cause the grapevine to explode). And, oh by the way, two-way is still what's needed. Some of the tools have changed, but the basic principles haven't.

We have have blogs, smart phones, intranets and other electronic possibilities, but people don't change. Employees want to feel valued (that doesn't mean recognition programs) and management wants to make money. Employee communicators can do more than anyone else in an organization to break down that divide and help the organization work together for success.

I think most US CEOs want all employees to shut up. The CEOs want employees to fail to think about how the company is run, because CEOs believe how the company is run is none of the employees' business.

CEOs do not want employees thinking deeply about shareholder value, because shareholder value means cutbacks in pay and benefits and vacation, and more unpaid overtime. Plus layoffs, with everyone left now facing more work.

CEOs, and their toadies in personnel departments, want new employees to be grateful that they are being offered jobs at the minimum wage, with very limited benefits and caps on hours. And no expensive overtime.

And if potential employees don't want to work under these conditions, the CEOS will call, in the US of A, their local GOP backroom boys and orchestrate a "Americans are lazier than foreigners" campaign across their state.

Some employers' messages to employees are messages of vilification.

Teachers make too much money.

Scientists waste money.

Janitors should not make enough money to buy the cheapest, most run-down, house in town.

As I type, Canada's beef industry is frozen in time because the co-CEOs at a giant (formerly Tyson) slaughter house don't want to listen to employees. So the plant got dirty and the e-coli killed people.

Thanks, incidentally, US meat inspectors. You spotted the tainted beef crossing your border, and blew the whistle.

Anyone who saw Jack Welch on CNN last weekend saw the genesis of kill-communications philosophy.

Maybe some CEOs want to to pay for some "machine" to tell their CEO-story, but I've become so cynical that I believe the CEOs do not want an exchange of ideas, and the CEOs only want one-way communication.

Having employees who think makes it a bit harder to close a plant and move the equipment to another state, and start up again union-free with wages 50% lower, or move it to another country, and start up again with wages 70% lower.

In the original post, her response, and on her web site, I fail to see she has any understanding of big time multi-location, multi-national organzations with truckers and sales reps and country-cultures and layoffs and plant closings and bribery and million-dollar bonuses to four people out of 40,000 in a company.

But maybe when she thinks of a CEO she is thinking of the guy with 20 employees in a diner.

And that still takes Englishman Gordon Ramsay to come to New Jersey and fix up the restaurant.


Goddamn, Kilgore, that's quite a rant. And there's plenty of truth to what you're saying. But as I told a pal at the tavern last night who was railing against corporate CEOs and all corporate life (apropos of Jack Welch's b.s.):

We are stuck with these behemoths, and anything we can do to make them better--or to appeal to CEOs' better angels or to the handful of big-minded bosses--we should do.

But it's important not to pretend (and Heron didn't in his book) that CEOs all want everyone to know everything and only communication logistics prevent total transparency.

Such venom. And here we are just trying to change the world, one company at a time, by leveraging the power of internal communications.

Somehow, it was assumed we believed we were a be-all-to end-all to all employers out there. Not so. We target companies with non-desk employees for starters.

The CEOs who connect with our company are willing to open the kimono. They have gaps in their internal communication and know it. They realize they have to shift their culture. That for instance top-down, cram-down will not work (among other motivations).

This includes the small employer as well as the Fortune 200 who reached out to us because they realized at the plant level, they had an employee engagement problem and wanted to address it. [Those Generation Y’ers will not just do what their told to do on a production line – they have the audacity to want to understand the WHY of what they are doing, and how that fits in with the overall scheme.] So this company with its 65 US plants had a problem and was intrigued with how we could help to solve it.

And to be sure, it is no easy task to bring these companies on board. But when we do, we are struck by the consistent response and outcome of enhanced internal communication.

Keep it coming, though! This is quite an interesting exercise being filleted by Murray’s knife.

I know, right?!

Seriously, Louise, you were pounced upon here as the representative of a thousand consultants and communication vendors who fill the exhibit halls of communication conferences, every last one of them saying some version of, "We're just trying to change the world, one company at a time, by leveraging the power of internal communications."

People who bring technological solutions to human communication problems aren't just a nuisance, they're a MENACE; because CEOs believe them. You had to know I felt this way when I sent you a speech I gave about my white paper, in which I said,

"I’m bored by so much talk of technology. Since the advent of intranets 15 years ago, about 75 percent of the conversation in this business has had to do with 'integrating print and online' communications, e-blasts, CEO blogs, employee blogs, podcasts, internal social networks, online video, Twitter, Yammer, macrosharing and microsharing. If I had wanted to kibbitz all day about gizmos, I wouldn’t have become a communicator, I’d have gone to work at a Radio Shack."

Louise, I'm not accusing you of being a sharper. I think you probably have a good product, and I KNOW you're willing to engage in conversation with the communication community, which is much more than most of them other vendors can say.

But I ask you: Why do you have to claim you are changing the world? Why can't you just say you offer companies an apparatus to help them do a better job of communicating with their people.

If you privately believe that this is making the world a better place, fine. But if you're going to rent a blimp to tell everybody how you're saving the world with your PDP Solution, then Questions Will Be Asked.

Ahhh David. I so understand all that you say. And yes, it seems so cheesy to say that – changing the world……(I was being a bit snippy given the lambasting. You have to give me that.)

The truth, hard as it is to live with on our end, is that we really are sincere in our vision. We are, in every conversation with prospects, trying to get companies to understand why they need to communicate effectively. What the cost is to them for doing it poorly; What their options are for improving – whether it is through our product or not; What the fallout will be when the economy improves and turnover returns with a vengeance; What the cost of employee disengagement is to their operation, etc.

I understand your distain for technology. I honestly appreciate the expertise and comprehension by you and your associates of the complex topic of employee communication. I do not fancy myself to be in your ranks. Not even close.

And, I do appreciate your appreciation of my willingness to engage in this conversation – painful as it is to get skewered.

But is it possible to consider that we might just be on to something?

Louise, achieve a great case study with PDP, and get back to me. I WILL HEAR YOU OUT.

Maybe (maybe) we'll leave the last word to Roger D'Aprix, who many of us consider the father of modern employee communication.


I think Jim is correct about the performance side of employee communication. But I would add that there is an equally vital educational/information role that must be played. The employee audience is now living through a revolution from industrialization to financial manipulation that threatens the very existence of companies as even short-term stable employers.

People need information more than ever before to manage their careers and lives in the face of the actions of the new robber barons. In former times the Kodaks, GMs and HPs of the world provided proud institutional environments where people could find community, security and meaningful work. Those days are gone, and although I hate to acknowledge it, it's every man (or woman) for themselves in a precarious world.

The financial manipulators are in charge as they squeeze every dollar and inefficiency out of their assets.Only intelligent and sophisticated employees armed with vital, accurate information will be able to cope. We need to explain this new deal in a way that will allow them to understand and survive. We owe them at least that much.

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