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Virtual Teams Downside. There are lots of people who champion the idea of working from home or some other location that is not the office. Most of the advocates of working from home are the people who want to work from home. They declare that they are more productive with fewer distractions or interruptions. In the age of the Internet and the knowledge worker if I get my deadline met at noon or 2:00 a.m. what difference does it make as long as the deadline was made? Compelling points all, but each misses an important component that contributes to the success of any work group and that is team work and better interpersonal communications between members.
There is so much more to human interaction and communication than words on a page or spoken over a phone. Critics of those who work from home find that there are more misunderstandings or miscommunications as a result of the absence of non-verbal cues, which is also known as body language. Experts believe that 50% to 70% of human communication is non-verbal. There are also added costs of video conferencing equipment and licenses, added web security and the overall inconvenience of not being able to walk a few feet and speak to a colleague.
Death By Friendly Fire
In the military miscommunications cause death from so called friendly fire. The military factors the deaths from friendly fire into the cost of miscommunication. For military miscommunications, this price can be really high. The people killed by friendly fire pay the highest but there are consequences for the people who initiated the mid-directed weaponry.
For business, the costs are also high but instead of being “KIA” the costs manifest in security breaches and regulatory problems, which are high costs, but not life or death. That said, there is no reason not to take miscommunication very seriously. As stated above, in the military the people who died and those who caused the death both suffer greatly. So think about what happens when both sides in a company miscommunicate?
We tend to blame one side (the one we are not on) when there is a disagreement over meaning and intent. Public relations people and employees in any industry need to remember that all communication is a two way street. One side of the communication needs to be receptive and the other needs to be clear. Stop thinking about and in terms of the blame game and think more about this problem of geographically diverse employees as an issue of process that needs fixing.
What To Learn About Change Communication From The Walking Dead. There are millions of people who watch AMC’s The Walking Dead. In case you do not here is the story in a nutshell; the program is based on a graphic novel series about a small group of people with nothing in common other than they survived a global pandemic and want to remain alive. They are victimzed by zombies (known as ‘walkers’ in the series) and gangs of other survivors.
Lately the group was accepted into a walled community south of Washington D.C. called Alexandria. The veterans of this sustainable and upwardly mobile community have been spared the grief and violence the new world has because of the location and enormous and well constructed walls.
Rick Grimes, a former law enforcement official, is a veteran survivor and has seen the worst of the post apocolytic world. He believes (rightly) that the inhabitants of Alexandria are living on borrowed time. That they will be killed by ‘walkers’ (who swarm by the thousands) or by one of the other violent, roving gangs of survivors. He wants to teach the people of Alexandria how to make it in the real world. With that, here is the connection to change communications and what the rest of us can learn.
New people are suspect. Grimes and his group are only accepted into Alexandria after passing a battery of interviews and the approval of Alexandria’s leadership. They are housed together, not allowed to have weapons or leave the grounds. New is different, hard to get used to, and suspicious. New means change and no one likes to change whether in the office, the plant, the shop floor or Alexandria.
New ideas are usually rejected. If you work in change communications or just try to have a new idea you have already heard, ‘that’s not the way we do it here’ or ‘why do we need to change, everything was going great until you showed up.’ Grimes wants weapons training and regular patrols to watch for walkers or looters. If you have worked in change communication and been outnumbered in the workplace, you know how isolating this is. Even with the support of company leadership (which Rick Grimes has too) you know that when those leaders are out of site it is very difficult to get the troops to even consider doing something new, nevermind adopting it. Very few support Grimes ideas.
Passive aggressive resistance. The people of Alexandria pretend to be interested in Grimes’ ideas, but they do not pretend very hard. In fact, behind his back several conspire to try and kill him. The leader of the passive aggressive resistance is the local doctor (who abuses his wife and children and Grimes has a thing for the wife, but let’s not get too deep into that) who openly opposses Grimes. In the end, Grimes kills the doctor which for the workplace is analogous to firing someone. Grimes tried to work things out with the doctor and change leaders will try with the passive aggressive people too. But the lesson for the workplace is that there are times when firing someone is the only thing to do. There are plenty of people who will convince themselves and anyone else who will listen that theirs is a righteous cause. Horsefeathers. The unknown and adapting to change is scary and uncomfortable. No one wants to be scared or uncomfortable. While a rational person would try to adapt remember that humans are not rational. The rational part of the human brain is the newest and least evolved. The emotional parts are far more evolved and that is why people react emotionally. It will not end with the firing/killing as those people will always have followers. Instead of seeing the logic of ‘addition by subtraction’ people will get mad and seek revenge.
Stay the course. In spite of the hostility directed at him, Grimes continues to teach the hapless Alexandrians how to survive, and takes direct action in the fight to outlast the zombie hoard. In the office, do like Grimes does. Stay focused on your goals. Be approachable and offer to teach the willing but do not negotiate. Negotiations in change communications will open the door to more and more exceptions. You do not want that and the people who hired you do not either. Remain unphased by whiners, moaners and complainers. Reward those who adapt and change. And make both firing and rewarding very visible.
It is not enough to be right. Remember that in the resistance to change movement with the attendant emotion attached, being right will not matter. In fact direct challenges often lead to more resistance. People double down on the ideas they have held for so long. The Alexandrians are starting to see the logic of what Grimes is trying to accomplish for them. But this has taken several episodes. Take the lesson, stay the course and eventually the rest of the group will catch one. Just give them time.
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Introduction: Five Style Ideas for Writers from David Ogilvy!
We spend a lot of time on the blog talking about writing. Bloggers typically like to write, I certainly do. Writing is the core of what bloggers, public relations and advertising people do. It’s unlikely that anyone would debate that or try and tell you that your ideas and business philosophy are wrong. Some may disagree but would also quickly acknowledge that everyone has a right to an opinion and we value freedom of expression. And at the end of the day, the marketplace will decide who has the best ideas. Not so, at least in my experience, are the choices about style. I can’t say that the style I use is for everyone. I can say that this style works for me and that I learned it under very stressful circumstances.
When I was first asked to write advertising for a subsidiary of The Dow Chemical Company I was petrified. Scared beyond reason. Why? Because I knew absolutely nothing about it and because I feared failing at anything more than my own death. What to do?
Inside our local bookstore was a volume entitled, “Ogilvy On Advertising” by David Ogilvy. I had either by accident or the hand of God found the definitive work on advertising by the man most credit with the invention of modern advertising. It turned out that this “David Ogilvy” was the Ogilvy of the world famous “Ogilvy and Mather” advertising agency. His failures in life and business were many. The thing he had learned from them was among other things, the value of research.
Advertising worked for his and other agency clients. Ogilvy wanted a competitive advantage over those other agencies by writing and designing ads that worked better than those of his competition. So he studied and tested and consulted with the best minds available. Here in brief is what he designed for print advertising.
Style Guide for Print and Web Based Materials
Font: Use the Times Roman font, in 12-point size. This is the same font that is used by newspapers and high circulation magazines. Known as a “serif” font, the differences in thickness in these letters are easier for the eye to literally “grasp” and hold. The use of sans-serif (smooth) fonts allow the eye to “bounce off”. This is less an aesthetic choice than a mechanical one. This font is easier for the eye to read because of the way human eyes are designed.
Line length: Keep sentences to an alphabet and one half in length. Like the font, this is the amount of space the human brain can reasonably process and keep track of, where longer lines are confusing. Our brains do not have the “band-width” for longer lines.
Black type on a white surface: art directors will not like this. You see a lot of reverse (white on black) and other color combinations that are deemed “creative”. Advertising, brochures and other printed materials are not media for creative expression, particularly in business to business sales. Ogilvy and others have found that the reverse type is much harder to read than the black on white. If it is harder to read, it is less likely to be read.
Headlines and photos: The Ogilvy formula was to have a full page ad with a color photo, headline beneath and copy started below, using a “drop cap”. This follows the progression of how the western educated eye will move. The “drop cap” will signal the brain that this is the place to start and direct the eye across and down the page.
Long copy or short? Ogilvy was an advocate of long copy because he said it conveyed the idea that there must be something important to say. This was counter-intuitive 50 years ago and more so now in the age of twitter. I still think long copy is the best way to work because it allows writers the opportunity to share important details, again important for the B to B marketer. So use short sentences on twitter or your web site to attract attention and link them to the longer articles you want to share. The reader self-selects what he/she wants and proceeds accordingly.
There are as many opinions about how to write and how to layout and design a page as there are people who care to share an opinion. I cannot say that this is the absolute and only way to do this. What I can say is that this worked
There are no “silver bullets” when it comes to motivating and engaging employees. But there are things any business of any size can do to connect with their workers. Here are a few specifics. When I worked with employee communications and external positioning I found the best strategy was to make the people who worked at our site, in our business or even across continents at big companies the primary audience. As within so without.
Use Employees For Branding
Build a brand identity with employees. Recognize that employees deliver the identity of the company when they leave the site. Their collective experiences as employees are communicated to friends, neighbors, family members and acquaintances everywhere they go. They communicate about the company at the PTA, at the ball game and when they go to church. Nurturing them while they are “behind the fence” at work is critical to success with customers, recruiting new employees and retaining existing ones. Word of mouth is a very persuasive method of communications. It is more credible and memorable than any ad or article. You certainly do not want employees who are discouraged by a lack of timely or accurate communications talking to customers. I’ve literally taken press releases and changed the headings and sent them to the Intranet editor first. Re-purposing external announcements for internal audiences cuts down on writing, approvals and expenses with vendors.
Making an emotional connection with employees will have further benefits for external positioning and contribute positive business results. This is a powerful communications asset that too few companies utilize. Employees hate hearing news about the company second hand, like reading about it in the newspaper, hearing it on the radio or from a friend or relative. Respect and value your employees enough to make them your most important target audience.