Saturday, 29 November 2014

Boosting Corporate Reputations With Effective Communications





"The single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place".

- George Bernard Shaw 



Recently, I wrote to some multinational companies  operating in one of Nigeria's most important sectors. By respectfully suggesting some tips they could use to strengthen their communications efforts, I believed they could boost their reputations. 



Now each of these companies has been operating in the country for decades. Most of them have skilled professionals handling their communications/PR programmes and crafting content to reflect their missions, values and corporate social responsibility (CSR) initiatives. So understandably, they might believe that they have got their corporate reputations 'covered', and would not need to consider ideas from a lone communications advisor/blogger. 




Fair enough, but a mistake. 



Why? 




Not because I am a 'thought leader' or an expert in communications/PR/branding - honestly far from it - but for one reason. 




I am a stakeholder, a fraction of  a potential customer demographic and a member of the public. 




This sounds simplistic but let me explain: I may be one of those faceless, nameless people who form the sometimes vague group of 'external stakeholders', but there's more. The perceptions of members of this group and actions they could take, would make the difference between healthy profits/returns or financial losses for the multinationals.






We all know how it works:  A good corporate reputation leads to trust in the brand, which leads to increased patronage of the company's products/services, resulting in higher profits for the business. 



The reverse is true. A corporate reputation is often so fragile that when a crisis breaks, and there is unfortunately no established crisis-management system to mitigate the 'shock', a business suffers from a plummeting stock price and/or a loss of market share. 




Since a company is in business to make money, creating and sustaining a sound reputation is crucial for its continued survival.     




Using Communications To Build Trust For Workplace Results 


Regardless of the sector in which an organisation operates, there should be a drive towards improving its image.




Whatever strategies used, it is advisable for a company seeking to improve its reputation to start by nurturing a culture (hopefully already) built on a solid  foundation of trust. Trust at the workplace triggers employee engagement.  Interestingly, a 142-country study conducted by Gallup revealed last year that worldwide, only 13% of employees were engaged at work. Engaged, (or 'tuned on') professionals, do great things for the company -  they do the required work  plus discretionary duties not listed in their job descriptions; they  increase productivity; they protect the brand; and boost the companys reputation.  



At the workplace, trust is a good way to coax employee engagement. Yet companies today do not prioritise it.








Indeed, a study cited by Mashable revealed that only 40% of employees really trusted their bosses. Companies that had a high level of trust among their employees were 2.5 times more likely to be leaders in revenue growth. Moreover, such companies significantly outperformed their peers in achieving key business goals such as customer loyalty and retention; competitive market position; ethical behaviour and actions; financial results; and profit growth. 



The question thus begs to be asked: How could a company build trust at the workplace? 



This could be done by developing a system to ensure that  clear and consistent two-way communication between Management and the employees addresses the concerns of the latter. In order to be effective, this communication stream should be strengthened by timely, factual feedback and consistent actions to remedy lingering issues. Over time, employees will come to trust the communication system.  Happier and more motivated, they willingly become the company's cheerleaders. 



Evidently, getting communications right make good business sense and helps to boost corporate reputation. Nevertheless, in this interesting infographic provided by Weekdone, 41% of respondents highlighted a lack of communication between staff and management as the single biggest mistake companies make in managing their employees. This revelation notwithstanding, some of the benefits of highly effective communication practices included: 47% higher total returns for shareholders; 19% higher market premium; and 4.5% times more likely to have highly engaged employees. 



It is thus important to use an effective communications strategy, (such as the one crafted by this blog, details of which are explained in the next section), to  ensure that employees accept the project/campaign/change programme that the company seeks to implement, and that they work towards making it successful for the benefit of all.




Using  Communications  For External Parties
 

Externally, effective corporate communications promote engagement with the public. This engagement should neither be limited to companies publishing press releases,  nor should it be reduced to merely posting links online. 




Today, the usefulness of social media is  not restricted to marketing purposes. When used responsibly by trained executives,  social media fosters genuine interactions with the public and opens conversations with various external groups such as customers, partners, communities, government agencies, citizens, etc. This development helps to build goodwill and improves perceptions of the companies.




Below are suggestions companies could include in their external communications efforts: 




1) Incorporating social media









While it would have been obvious to people in this digital age to be visible online, I was surprised to see that one of the multinational companies I wrote to, Company X, had a very limited social media presence. Excluding a LinkedIn page and a newly-opened Youtube channel, its Twitter feed had been inactive for over a year after a single tweet, and no social media buttons could be found  on its website. 




This development means that its worthwhile CSR programmes buried in some deep recesses of its website are not easily visible, neither can its press releases be easily shared  to social media platforms. Moreover, its YouTube channel, on which interesting videos are uploaded, would draw in more 'interactions' if only it asked simple questions about the visual content to encourage conversations. More should be done to increase its visibility and to show that it is a caring, responsible corporate citizen. 




In isolation, the case of Company X might be a 'so-what' issue, until I checked out just three of its important competitors and one thing became obvious -  Company X was lagging behind considerably.





Presently, the rival companies have as a minimum, slots on LinkedIn, Twitter, YouTube and Facebook. Its biggest competitor, (granted, with a bigger portfolio and greater assets), in addition, has Google+, Instagram, Flickr and RSS feed accounts. But more importantly, all three companies truly and regularly engage on social media. They share useful, informative and inspiring content, roll out contests, ask and answer questions, and celebrate  'followers'. Moreover, these competitors have dynamic websites, (as opposed to the static website of Company X), on which social media buttons are visible, making it easy for the public to share their  information, thereby  extending their influence.





To be fair, one should not compare apples and oranges, but If Company X, an international company, were to be privy to the results recorded by those three competitors - as well as by other  local  companies in the sector that  include social media initiatives in their communications' plans -  it would rethink its strategy. After all, such companies are unlikely to continue to invest in their social media programmes if returns on investment were lacklustre or outcomes of other business indicators were disappointing.  Indeed, valuable uses of social media, as explained by Salesforce Canada, are not limited to vanity metrics such as the number of 'followers' or 'likes'  companies get online, but could be used to measure goals such as customer service improvement, thought leadership in the industry, and how partnerships are used for business development.





Although it is impractical to hop onto every social media platform, there seems to be an unspoken consensus that companies serious about their digital presence, should be visible on LinkedIn, Twitter and Facebook. Well whatever social media platform you choose, it is helpful to keep abreast of what your rivals are doing and then formulate strategies that would allow you to compete favourably.  



If you need more persuasion about including social media in your business plans, here are tips for convincing your CEO to get your company on board. It may be easier than you think.




For the companies already on social media -  more  engagement  with  the  public is required. Your content should be a mix of company-specific information, industry news and lively interactions with 'followers'. Avoid concentrating solely on your content in order not to appear narcissistic. Celebrate/reward your most loyal customers/clients/followers and let the public see how you value your audience.




Note that companies are increasingly adding blogs to their websites. This move helps not only to boost (sales) conversion rates and to enhance customer service delivery, but also to get a better 'pulse' on issues most important to their customers/clients/partners, which if not resolved, could negatively impact their businesses.



It would become necessary to hire content creators for your corporate blogs and social media marketing experts for your online efforts, if your in-house staff can neither handle the extra workloads, nor are keen on managing technical aspects of search engine optimisation and social media tracking. But do something more to stay relevant.




Remember that the type of content you share in your social media networks, (blog posts, images, infographics,  videos, podcasts, etc.);  is just as important as the timing of the posting, (when  your audience is online - specific hours on weekdays, weekends, holiday periods, etc);  and the methods used, (via automated tools, in 'real' time, or a combination of both options). Therefore do some research, find out what works for you and stick to it.




What should be noted is this: Social media must always be used in conjunction with, and not to the exclusion of, your other communications, marketing  and PR efforts. PR Daily explains this angle perfectly in a cautionary piece advising you about being flexible and innovative in your marketing campaigns.



2) Using the Communications Strategy of this blog 



Once more, I recommend the Communications Strategy crafted by this blog to be used for your key campaigns or initiatives.






It comprises six simple components which when used together,  is  a powerful tool for handling communications for both internal and  external stakeholders. The components are:



1) "The What";

2) "The Why";

3) "The Who";

4) "The How";

5) "The When/How Long";

6) "The Crisis-Mode Plan".             



This Strategy helps to fuels a healthy corporate image because of its inherent emphasis on clarity and transparency. Each component seamlessly leads to the next, eliminating speculation and misinformation. Companies could customise the Strategy and use it to improve their communication methods. By ensuring that clear, relevant  information is distributed and regularly reaffirmed,  companies would be regarded as credible and would benefit from  improved corporate images.





Conclusion



So while those multinationals I contacted may or may not  take my suggestions seriously, (well you win some; you  lose some), organisations  seeking to benefit from good reputations should view their communications as essential tools for strengthening their brands. 








To recap the suggestions given:



Inside the company



 - Use communications to build trust by developing a two-way communication system that is strengthened with timely, factual feedback and consistent actions;



 -  Apply  this blog's Communications Strategy to ensure employees' acceptance of company's programmes for successful delivery.




For external efforts



 - Include blogs, use varied content and  incorporate social media in your other communications, marketing and PR efforts. Engage regularly with your audience online;



 - Hire experts if necessary, to write content, handle technical aspects of social media marketing, and to  track/monitor  campaigns;



 - Adopt  a customised version of this blog's Communications Strategy.  



Doing these things would give you  sufficient fodder to take your reputations to the next level.



And let us take a cue from George Bernard Shaw's quote and not believe the illusion that we have communicated effectively with our targets simply because we have crafted and distributed the content. Instead, we should test our communications and retain only what achieves our goals. Favourable results would then unfold.  





How have you improved your corporate reputation using communications? Kindly share your experiences below, anonymously if you prefer.


Don't rush off just yet. Please remember to:  


1) Share this article in your social media networks by clicking on the large icons at the top of the post or below. No more excuses :-).


2) Sign up for updates in the blog's right sidebar so that you are immediately notified via email when a new blog post is published.


Many thanks!  




Recommended reading




Need help in business writing?


Hire me for a writing assignment, some consulting work and/or coaching sessions in formal writing and communications.  


Contact me by: 

A) Sending a direct email to: Lucilleossai@gmail.com  



B) Calling for advice and a  free consultation:



Nigeria:                0704 631 0592 

International:     +234 704 631 0592   



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N.B– First, third, fourth and fifth images courtesy of Stuart Miles; via freedigitalphotos.net. Second image courtesy of Basketman; via freedigitalphotos.net. Last image courtesy of Ddpavumba; via freedigitalphotos.net.


Thursday, 30 October 2014

Management 101: Creating A 'Listening' Culture







"Most people do not listen with the intent to understand; they listen with the intent to reply"

- Stephen R. Covey


Time is arguably the greatest change agent of all.




Once upon  a  time,  (at  the  beginning  of the Industrial Revolutionwhich began in England and spread to the western world in the 18th and 19th centuries), the top-down hierarchical, commando-style managerial approach was effective. Management set rules and employees were expected to follow them, with little or no resistance. It was simple - workers were in fact rewarded for compliance or would have been sacked for flouting orders or for being 'trouble-makers'.




Then gradually, disillusioned workers 'ganged up' to form unions, realising that there was strength in numbers. They dared to question the norm and were able to change industrial practices.



That was the beginning of the demise of the authoritarian 'because-I-said-so' managerial style.



In the 20th century, the rise of globalisation and the emergence of the "new" employment relationship meant a paradigm shift in managerial  practices.




Fast forward to the 21st century - a period with rapid advances in technology and with a rising influence of new media, and you will notice one constant...




Time indeed changes all  things.






When hearing is not enough


 
Management in this era cannot hide behind the  veneer of  passive listening  in  order  to  regurgitate what is communicated. Employees today are more educated and more discerning,  easily deducing  insincerity and hypocrisy. They also know when they are being fed 'propaganda'.




Of course, the easiest way to determine whether professionals are truly valued is to note whether or not their most pressing concerns are  addressed in visible ways.



For example, a key, almost global concern for modern employees, is the lukewarm or non-existent support from Management for the career development of workers despite implicit and explicit statements, and in spite of evidence linking career development to attraction and retention of top talent.







This is what I do not understand: Most companies worth their salt these days have standard policies for professional development, so why isn't this crucial issue implemented, tested and revised for effectiveness? 



Why should  you, as a professional with A,B,C qualifications  and experience in X,Y,Z be  left  to 'waste away' in  an unchallenging function    
which    does not stretch you professionally?





And  why  would you continue  in  a company  when Management has within its power, to provide what it had implied it would, during your induction programme - a defined plan for career advancement - yet has consistently failed to do so?



The answer?



You should not remain in a dead-end role when other alternatives are available, neither would you continue in an organisation that consistently fails to keep its promise on a crucial issue. 



You are also likely to exit the company for one that has a verifiable track record of valuing its employees  by:  providing training and support; giving interesting assignments where they could grow; and of great importance, by providing feedback as to how their efforts directly contribute to the company's successes.



Yes, such a company is likely to prioritise  a listening culture at the workplace.




For the sake of objectivity, it  should  be noted  that during changes in Management or factors beyond its control, workers sometimes do not get what  they want. Employees understand this reality and for this reason,  a good communications strategy, highlighting the "Why" component  and the "Crisis-Mode Plan", is recommended for a co-operative Management-employee  relationship.





The link between good communication and leadership effectiveness



Mr. CEO - As the most important driver of organisational perception, note that you cannot create a listening culture if you lack good communication skills yourself.
 


If you are still unconvinced of  the real effect of communication on your leadership capabilities and on your company's bottom line, then this 2014 research by the Ketchum Leadership Communication Monitor group should interest you. They analysed the perceptions of over 6,500 people, in 13 countries, on five continents regarding the link between effective communication and effective leadership. This is what was discovered:



"Open, transparent communication is absolutely critical to effective leadership. It is again the top-ranking attribute, with 74 percent viewing effective communication as very important to great leadership. Yet only 29 percent feel leaders communicate effectively. This gap between expectation and delivery has substantial commercial implications. Indeed, a clear majority of respondents boycotted or bought less from a company during the past 12 months due to poor leadership."













Well there you have it Mr. CEO.



Effective communication is not one of those 'soft' skills you can relegate to the 'good-to-know-fads-with-little-practical-value' section. As a bonus, great communication skills will make you better in your role and a more credible leader.



At the helm of your company, you could start by improving your communication skills and then encourage your management cadre to do the same.



Promote a listening culture at work.  Provide support for communication training in general and for active listening  in particular for your managers.  Develop a system to measure how effectively improvements in communications help attain organisational goals.



You just may be surprised by the results...

  





Conclusion


In general, it is not enough to hear what complaints/suggestions are made by the staff via whatever channels, if Management is simply listening to respond, instead of listening to understand, as Stephen R. Covey advises in his famous book, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People”, (1989).











Even the most modest effort made by Management to really listen to its staff and  to provide what is desired, within reason, communicates a proactive, caring culture. When professionals feel valued, there are no limits to what they would achieve for the organisation. 



Ask the modern-day employee and you will be told that his happiness at work is not always tied to being offered more money and perks, (although these incentives would be attractive). His true happiness and job satisfaction  are  often linked  to how well he is listened to, understood and appreciated for his work; as well as how well he is treated on an interpersonal level.





A listening culture benefits everyone.




So what are you doing today to create a listening culture at work?

  


Kindly post your comments below, anonymously if you prefer.   




Don't rush off just yet. Please remember to:

 
1) Share this article in your social media networks by clicking on the icons below. 



2) Sign up for updates in the blog's right sidebar so that you are immediately notified via email when a new blog post is published. Never miss an article again!




   
Recommended reading



Discussion Forum #2 - What Would Make You Happy At Work?

 
 

Need help in writing? 



Hire me for a writing assignment, some consulting work and/or coaching sessions in formal writing and communications.  



Contact me by:  


A) Sending a direct email to: Lucilleossai@gmail.com.


B) Calling for advice and a  free  consultation:

Nigeria:            0704 631 0592 

International:  +234 704 631 0592   



--------------------------------

N.B– First three images courtesy of Stuart Miles; via freedigitalphotos.net. Last image courtesy of David Castillo Dominici; via freedigitalphotos.net