To get to great, first drive out the bad…

bad behaviourThe notion of moving from ‘good to great’ is often used as a key driver in encouraging improved performance within organisations. But a fascinating article by Huggy Rao and Robert I. Sutton in McKinsey Quarterly suggests that if you want to create and spread excellence, you should start by eliminating those negative, destructive behaviours that often hold back great performance.

Case studies and academic research show destructive behaviour – selfishness, nastiness, fear, laziness, dishonesty – has a five times greater impact on employees’ moods than positive interactions; introducing confusion, destructive conflict, distrust, and dead ends. Interestingly, this “bad is stronger than good” effect can also be seen in a wide range of other settings from romantic relationships to group effectiveness, so it’s not just major organisations that could benefit from this approach.

Eliminating destructive behaviour and beliefs clears the way for excellence to spread – to spread and sustain something good, you’ve first got to take out the bad

Seven ways of breaking the bad…

1. Nip it in the bud

The best bosses nip bad behaviour in the bud but always aim to treat people with dignity.

Building on the ideas behind the “broken windows” theory, the aim is to address low-level, small acts of bad behaviour before they become seen as acceptable – allowing even a bit of bad behaviour to persist suggests that no one is watching, no one cares, and no one will stop others from doing far worse things.

This “compassionate hard-ass” style of leadership doesn’t withhold bad news or hesitate to tell employees when and why their work isn’t up to scratch – but it works hard to give the feedback in context and with consistency.

2. Plumbing before poetry

Getting people to focus on the small, mundane, and gritty details is an effective way of eliminating negativity. And this needs to be done before you can move onto the grander, big vision, picture of the future.

“You’ve got to fix the plumbing before you spout the poetry.”

3. Adequacy before excellence

In the same vein, too many companies develop a strategy based on ‘exceeding customer expectations’ when the vast majority of customers are really just looking for a good level of service. It’s ‘bad service’, when customer’s basic expectations are not being met, that gives organisations real problems.

Research suggests that whilst 25% of customers are likely to say something positive about a good customer-service experience, 65% are likely to say something negative about a bad experience. Similarly, whilst 23 percent of customers who received good service told ten or more people, 48 percent who experienced bad service did the same thing.

Making things easy for your customers and delivering on their basic expectations is crucial to keeping them coming back.

4. Use the ‘cool kids’ to define and eliminate bad behaviour

Identify those people within your organisation who have the most influence on the way others behave and respond to new ideas. Get them on-board with the idea of eliminating the “bad”, work with them to define what “bad” looks like, and encourage them to stop behaving that way themselves.

Want to stop people constantly looking at their smartphones in meetings? Find a couple of influential team members and ask them to keep their phones off and in their pockets during meetings and to help you encourage other team members to do the same. Keep at it and soon everyone will be switching their phones off and putting them away.

5. Kill the thrill

According to Mark Twain, “There is a charm about the forbidden that makes it unspeakably desirable.”

Often bad behaviour is simply driven by a feeling of getting one over the establishment. Identifying and removing this sense of victory can be enough to stop the behaviour.

A large sawmill was losing a million dollars’ worth of equipment a year to workers who stole simply because it was seen as a source of prestige among peers. Having identified this, the sawmill managers moved to eliminate the thrill by letting employees check out equipment for personal use anytime they wished. Bragging about stealing something that’s there for the taking doesn’t earn you prestige and the theft rate immediately dropped to virtually zero.

6. Try time shifting: move from short-term focus to long-term consequences

Research from New York University suggests that people are more prone to behave badly when they are preoccupied with the here and now. But, when they focus on the link between who they are now and who they want to be in the future, they behave more ethically and begin to develop more constructive long-term behaviour.

Encouraging employees to look to the future and making the impact of negative actions more vivid to them, helps link short-term actions with long-term consequences.

7. Focus on the best times, the worst times, and the end

The “peak–end rule”, developed by Nobel Prize winner Daniel Kahneman, suggests that – no matter how good or bad an experience is or how long it lasts, judgments about it are shaped most strongly by the best and worst moments and by how it ended.

When eliminating the bad, looking at the worst and final moments in a process or activity should give a good steer on where to focus changes.

The state of Internal Communications 2013-2014

GatehouseStateoftheSector2014Gatehouse have released their fifth annual State of the Sector report, looking at the key challenges facing Internal Communications in 2013-2014.

Conducted in November 2013, the survey received 157 responses from organisations ranging in size from a few hundred people to more than 50,000 employees.

The full report is well worth a read, as always, but I’ve pulled out some of the findings that I found most note-worthy.

Responsibility for Internal Communications remains fragmented and patchy.

  • 68% of the survey’s respondents felt that Internal Communications and senior leaders were on the same wavelength – leaving almost a third apparently struggling to connect with those at the top
  • This lack of commitment is endorsed by the fact that 38% of respondents thought there was no clearly articulated Internal Communications strategy within their organisation.
  • 71% of respondents had dedicated Internal Communications roles, leaving almost 30% with additional responsibilities including external communication, PR, HR and marketing. 12% looked after both internal and external communication.
  • Nearly half of respondents’ organisations employed between 1-5 dedicated Internal Communications personnel. 20% had an IC function with more than 20 people (most of these in organisations with 50,000+ employees), 10% had no dedicated IC personnel at all.
  • Only 7% of respondents were part of a dedicated IC function. 45% were part of integrated corporate communications function, with the remainder split across a number of other departments incl. HR and Marketing.
  • Nearly a quarter of respondents (23%) say there was no dedicated budget for internal communication within their organisation. This seems to reflect a trend towards centrally held budgets where communicators and others have to establish a business case to secure budget for specific activities.

Face-to-face communications are still key

Unsurprisingly, face–to–face communications remain some of the most effective channels for leadership and line manager communication; team meetings, away-days and conferences with senior leaders were all being used by over 70% of respondents. Formal cascade meetings, senior management site visits and roadshows were also widely used.

88% of respondents used events as part of their internal communication mix (up 8%  on last year) with almost 50% of respondents holding more than three events per year for audience groups of 100+.

Interestingly, whilst 90% of line managers are given dedicated communication support, just 43% of respondents had programs focused exclusively on senior leaders, which looks like a real missed opportunity.



Print still has its place.



New Social Media are being added to the Digital Communications mix

E–mail is still the most popular digital channel, used by over 90% of respondents, closely followed by intranets (83%), electronic newsletters (76%), then video conferences, blogs and plasma screens, all at around 50%.

At last, it seems that Internal Communications teams are getting to grips with some of the new social media tools available. Around a third reported that their organisation had implemented an Enterprise Social Network or some sort of social media platform. 50% of respondents are using some form of instant messaging to communicate with their audiences. And 16% said that their organisation had developed an employee app (this is the first time that apps have appeared in one of these reports).

Some of these innovations are no doubt in response to changes in the way users are viewing communications. Two thirds of respondents said employees in their organisations were accessing content from home or through mobile devices – a trend that is likely to increase over the coming years. Interestingly, given the cautious approach taken by most IT depts, 38% of respondents said employees were now using use their personal devices to access business content.

The report offers a rather strange warning about the dangers of ‘being seduced by social media chatter’. The numbers clearly reflect that fact that most organisations are still finding their way with social media – 17% describe their use of social media as ‘advanced’, over 40% describe their situation as limited, whilst 15% say social media use is ‘non-existent’. Whilst no-one should be deploying social tools simply because they are there, there is equally no point ignoring them altogether. There is plenty of evidence as to the value of these new social media, and those organisations seeing the most benefits are those that are using and learning about them now.



Measurement and Evaluation

The two most popular tools used to measure the effectiveness of Internal Communications are employee engagement surveys (used by 75% of respondents) and intranet analytics (64%). Focus groups and dedicated IC surveys were used by around a third, whilst just one in five (21%) had conducted a comprehensive IC audit. Worryingly, 12% of respondents say they do not measure the impact of Internal Communications at all.

Encouragingly, nearly two thirds of respondents thought people understood the values and the mission and vision well or very well. However, less than half of them said the same for the organisation’s short–term plans or strategy. This suggests organisations are seeing more success in long-term, set-piece communications but are less able at delivering day-to-day news and responding to changing business priorities.



Priorities and Challenges for 2014

The five key areas for focus in 2014 -

  • Improving electronic channels (61%)
  • Leadership communication (61%)
  • Developing / refreshing the Internal Communications strategy (60%)
  • Improving communication planning (52%)
  • Improve face-to-face communication (52%)

Enhancing line manager communication, building the Internal Communications function and capabilities are less of a priority than 12 months ago.

The top five challenges -

  • Communicating the organisation’s strategy (685)
  • Ensuring channel effectiveness (37%),
  • Re-engaging employees (31%)
  • Communication planning (29%)
  • Communicating the organisation’s values (20%).

Financial challenges appear to be less of an issue this year: restructuring, cost–cutting programmes, headcount freezes have all declined in 2013.


How links and hashtags increase your chances of a retweet…

They say every tweet is a chance to spread your ideas and build relationships with your followers. So, if you’re looking to grow your influence, how important is it to start including hashtags, numbers, quotes, photos or video links? The data team at Twitter have been trying to find out.

They analysed over 2 million tweets sent by thousands of verified users over the course of a month, specifically looking at tweets containing certain measurable “hard features” of Twitter:

  • photos
  • hashtags (#)
  • links
  • videos
  • numbers or digits — i.e. a sports score or an official stat

They compared the numbers of retweets given to tweets including each of these features with the average numbers of retweets that each user would expect to get anyway. In this way they have been able to identify which features within a tweet have the greatest impact on average retweets.

Whilst it’s clear that people don’t engage equally with every Tweet, adding video, links and photos to your tweets is indeed likely to result in an impressive boost in the number of retweets.

theeffectonretweetsof_alltopicsIt is worth recognising that different features bring different rewards depending on the subject matter. For example, the charts below show that tweets about TV work best when featuring quotes, whilst sports topics benefit more from hashtags or photo URLS. (You can see the full interactive charts here.)

As with most things in social media, they key is to think about the context and the audience and be prepared to try different approaches for different topics #experimentingiskey!


Get yourself a really effective to-do list habit…

to-do-list-clipboard-5762117This is a really effective approach to managing your to-do list, and a nice story too.

Almost 100 years ago, Charles Schwab, the president of industrial giant Bethlehem Steel, was looking for a way to boost both his own efficiency and that of his top management team.

Ivy Lee, sometimes credited as being the father of public relations and also a well-known efficiency expert of the time, went to go see Schwab with an enticing proposal, “I can increase your people’s efficiency if you give me fifteen minutes with each of your top executives.”

“How much will it cost me?” Schwab asked.

“Nothing,” Lee told him, “unless it works. After three months you can send me a check for whatever you think it’s worth.”

Schwab took the deal and the next day Lee met with the management team, taking less than 20 minutes with each to explain his plan, “For the next 90 days, before you leave the office and go home at the end of the day, I want you to make a list of the six most important things you have to do the next day, numbering them in their order of importance.”

“That it?” the executives said.

“Almost,” said Ivy Lee. “When you come back to work the next day, I want you to start at the top of the list and work on each item in turn. Cross off each one as you finish it and only then go on to the next. If something doesn’t get done, put it on tomorrow’s to do list.”

The executive all followed Lee’s instructions every day for the next three months. When Charles Schwab reviewed the results he was so impressed with the improvement that he sent Lee a cheque for $25,000. (Some estimates suggest this was the equivalent of over half a million dollars at today’s rates!)

If you want to try Lee’s approach for yourself, here’s a few thoughts to bear in mind…

Six things. Keep your list realistic. Six things not sixty or ten!.

Important things. Not urgent things. Not someone else’s things. Things that are important in helping you achieve your goals.

Make sure each “thing” is a task you can finish today. Not “Write that book.” but “Write x hundred words about (specific topic).”

Write your list at the end of the day. You have a better perspective on what is important and what’s achievable.

Every day. Every single day.