Intent: From “Seat at the Table” to “Hand on the Wheel”

A few weeks ago, I uncorked an entry on CommScrum which proposed yet another challenge to status quo thinking about the drivers of business performance.

For too long, in my view, business thinking, and particularly thinking within business, has seen only financial results (how much money you made) and operational results (how many widgets you made) as the sole measure of organizational success.

To be sure, I have a number of problems with these views in and of themselves—but what I have found most missing is that that in looking at financial and operational results as sole valid measures of organizational performance, the void such an analysis leaves is gaping and obvious.  “’Why?’, ‘What for?’, ‘So that…’” Or, in other words, the fulfillment of some kind of explicit or implicit intent which provided sufficient direction to elicit the performance required to achieve those results.

I was intrigued by the response my piece received on CommScrum—sufficiently to move the party over to my own pied a terre and try to raise the ante a bit.

In identifying “intent”—a consciously or unconsciously addressed set of values, goals, aspirations and/or purposes–as a driver of organizational performance, it becomes possible to analyse, sharpen, or redirect performance and the attendant resources required to drive performance.

It becomes easier to create resource and people management systems that reflect performance and accountability against actual organizational intent, rather than vague notions of good practice or civic or commercial virtue.

It also becomes easier to assess the influence of intent on organisational effectiveness against competitors in the same sector—the extent to which customers are buying an organisation’s intent as well as its dog food.

Whether one believes that intent is either stated or unstated, recognizing it as one of the three core drivers of business performance doesn’t act make it “the answer” or “a silver bullet.”  But by distinguishing it, and defining it as a consciously or unconsciously addressed set of values, goals, aspirations and/or purposes, allows it to be addressed, measured, influenced, and–if necessary—sharpened, turbocharged and unleashed.

For those of us who work in the realm of organizational intent—really any of us who work outside of narrow financial and operational functions, or, in some cases, within those functions but with some discretion about how to align those functions with the overall desires of the organisation as they understand them, this is revelatory.  It means that not only can we make a difference in the way our organisations perform, it means that we can often make the difference.

One thing that emerged in the CommScrum debate was a rather heavy attack on the use of the word “intent” to describe the combination of a core “raison d’etre” with associated promises, principles and practices designed to direct the use of the organisation’s resources in a common, productive direction.  Some suggested a mix of terms, others said it was all about “alignment”.

Chiropractors think health is all about “alignment”—but alignment for its own sake makes no more sense than widget production for its own sake.

This is not to say that alignment (and expertise in identifying inconsistencies between intent, finance, and operations [or, more sharply, between conflicting elements of intent) is unimportant.  Creating alignment out of conflicting priorities and practices is powerful and productive.  But nine times out of ten, the best solution to choose is the one that produces the results most consistent with organisational intent rather than the one producing the easiest alignment.

More importantly—particularly for communication and people professionals, a recognition of the centrality of intent as a core driver of business performance is by definition a recognition of our own role at the centre of the business, with direct responsibility for creating value.  (This is also where the intent discussion becomes tightly aligned with the Stockholm Accords, in that the Accords also acknowledge the central role of communication as a driver of organisational performance and value).

As communicators in particular, our job, fundamentally, becomes one of analyzing and discerning business intent, and in creating the most favorable conditions for that intent to be fulfilled.  Those conditions could be external (making the commercial or press environment more favorable) or internal (making intent better understood so that it can better drive improvements in such areas as planning, logistics or customer service).

Will that change our jobs?  I would hope in the same way that Columbus’s trip across the Atlantic did—in reshaping our own perspectives as well as those of whom we work with.  After all, for a profession that has spent decades calling for a “seat at the table”, I would hope the recognition that we actually have a hand on the wheel will call us to kick things up a few gears.

The original CommScrum post can be found here: http://commscrum.wordpress.com/2010/09/03/the-age-of-intent/

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Pigs, Winston Churchill, and the Stockholm Accords

Those of you who know me personally will know that I am unusually fond of pigs.  But I never thought I would have the opportunity to blog about pigs in a professional context.

Winston Churchill was a big-time pig fan as well.  Aside from using the pig silhouette as shorthand for a self-portrait, Churchill made a famous comment about the different ontological perspectives adopted by various species.  “Dogs look up to us, cats look down on us…but only pigs look at us as equals.”

Such a porcine perspective becomes relevant in light of the recently adopted Stockholm Accords.  In explicitly acknowledging the role of communication as central to value creation, the Stockholm Accords subtly but firmly challenge professional communicators as the equals of the other key players at the leadership table–operations, finance, etc.

That those other players may not yet be ready to believe we are their equals does not make us any less so.  It doesn’t mean we have any entitlement to be recognised by these folks as equals, particularly if we aren’t acting as if we believe and know our work and our insights to be of equal value and import.

Conversely, our own recognition of our own equality need not be conditional or contingent on being elevated by “the leadership” or given a seat at “the table”.

Leadership and strategic centrality are given by words, thoughts, actions and results, and by the nature of organizational momentum.  In this recognition one finds the real beauty of the Stockholm Accords.

As for the beauty of pigs, or the role and value of the communicator, it is not merely in the eyes of the beholder, but in the mind, heart and actions of the beheld.   Who says pigs can’t teach us a few lessons?

For more information about the Stockholm Accords, visit http://www.stockholmaccords.org/

The Stockholm Accords: Not Radical…But Revolutionary

An eventful summer has kept me largely away from the internal communication blogosphere over the last several weeks, but one thing that deserves mention—and has seen much comment of late—is the agreement on the so-called “Stockholm Accords.”

The Accords, which speak to the legitimate role of strategic communication within and around the business environment, at first glance appear to be an innocuous set of documents—and one which breaks little new ground.  To the uninitated observer, the documents treat internal and external communication as separate disciplines, which has prompted them to be criticized in a number of quarters, and, the critics argue, their collective authorship mainly by international “public relations” groups renders them yet another effort to perpetuate the externally-focused status quo.

But what is actually remarkable about the Stockholm Accords, in my view, is that they subtly but comprehensively redefine the status quo itself.   In essence, they declare, strategic communication has emerged as an indispensible driver and definer of business and corporate strategy.

While the Accords do speak to distinct internal and external roles, these roles now exist in a context where internal and external intentions are explicitly and implicitly aligned and integrated into an organization’s overall thrust.  To the extent to which the Accords speak to tactics, they speak to those tactics necessary for communicators to gain the access, power and resilience to support the newfound centrality of their roles for organizational success—including the solution of organisational problems beyond what may have been considered the previous remit of communication.

Indeed, it is not much of a stretch to move from the wording of the Accords themselves into a view of the organization where its success reflects a combination of its abilities to manage resources and its ability and willingness to demonstrate and deliver on its intent.  If intent management is to be considered as fundamental and central of driver of organizational behaviour as resource management, then it means that communication is truly taking its place alongside finance, operations and technology–recognizing, of course that communication is, ultimately, the means by which intent gets transmitted and operationalised.

The Stockholm Accords call themselves a call to action—not a call to arms, but by no means a call for permission either.  They set up a vision of a world very different than the one where communication disciplines played second fiddle to the “real work” being done by the operations, finance and accounting guys, and they declare this world to be the real, viable, current state of affairs.

In doing so, they challenge us to stop asking for a seat at the table, and start acting as if we have one.  While moderate, not radical in tone, the Stockholm Accords are nonetheless revolutionary.  Viva la revolucion!

To download your copy of the Stockholm Accords, please visit: http://www.wprf2010.se/wp-content/uploads/2010/05/Stockholm-Accords-final-version.pdf

Big Gaps in the Marketplace

In my latest posting to Communitelligence, I focus on three major gaps in the business communication marketplace–gaps that if filled could yield big commercial dividends while addressing major needs in the industry.

Gaps identified include:

*  A need for real ownership of the “communicator as leader, leader as communicator” space, particularly in terms of academic and experiential learning

* The need to provide access to strategic and integrated business communication support to businesses with fewer than 3000 employees, and how the advent of new technologies like the SnapComms suite of turnkey intranet tools can make such clients more financially viable for consultants in this space

* The gaping need for top-shelf, practitioner-oriented PhD programs in business communication to support practitioners looking to make late-career transitions into academia.

The full piece can be found at www.communitelligence.com.

COMMSCRUM: IABC at 50–The View from Cape Town

Following on from a tactic shared during the 40th Anniversary IABC Conference in Toronto–a newspaper article written from the future–the CommScrum gang turn the tool on IABC itself, with a Wall Street Journal article chronicling the 50th Anniversary conference in 2020.

For a glimpse into a very exciting future for IABC, visit www.commscrum.com.

COMMSCRUM: The Best–And Worst–of Internal Communication

In our last post before this year’s IABC conference in Toronto, the CommScrum crew take a hard look at the best–and worst–developments in the field in recent times.

Standouts include the proliferation of new voices and networks in the internal communication field, the viability of networked and social communication within organizations, and the emergence of storytelling as a legitimate form of business discourse.

On the other end of the spectrum, the mutation of employee engagement from a reciprocal process to a measured outcome that can be outsourced for a price, and the pervasive emphasis of confidence over competence that’s been filling conferences and training courses but leaving communicators empty.

This edition can be found at www.commscrum.com.

“It’s Not Just About Social Media”–An Introduction to Social Communication

“It’s Not Just About Social Media–An Introduction to Social Communication” is a new presentation that outlines the core of my approach to communication strategy–to focus on the informal social groups and networks (tribes) in organizations and communities, alongside a focus on traditional channels, hierarchies and organization charts.

While social media can make these informal networks and tribes more visible and easier to influence and harness, I see it as a mistake to collapse the underlying theory and mechanics of a social communication strategy with the arrival or use of technology which may or not be acceptable within a given organization.

Indeed, the only software required to run an effective social communication program is an Excel spreadsheet–to identify key members in the community and the formal and informal groups to which they belong.

The only hardware required is a telephone–to allow for ongoing and regular communication with the key informal leaders within your area of responsibility.

Social Communications is grounded in timeless practice: it has a lineage dating back at least to 1840, when Abraham Lincoln articulated his “Lincoln Rules” for running successful political campaigns.

Social Communication approaches work well in internal communication situations–and particularly well in change programs which involve smaller core groups along with an extended network into the organization.

They also can be easily applied in external communication situations where the community of interest is well defined, for instance in a niche market or around regulatory or legislative issues.

The presentation can be found here: http://slidesha.re/cmSQEn.  If you would like to discuss with me, please email me at mklein818@yahoo.com

Innovation vs. “Best Practice”–New CommScrum Conversation

The all-important battle between innovation and a reliance on “best practice” takes centre stage in the latest edition of CommScrum, as the “Scrum Forwards” raise the questions of what constitutes innovation, why the reliance on “best practice” can be dangerous and stifling, and why there is still such focus on “best practice” in the business communication industry.

The post can be found on CommScrum at http://commscrum.wordpress.com

Join the new CommScrum Group on LinkedIn

CommScrum, the four-way blogging collective challenging conventional wisdom in the communications field has launched a new LinkedIn Group, starting with 50 members from around the globe.

Anyone interested in exploring new ideas, creating cutting-edge events, or making their talents and skills known to other like-minded practitioners in the consulting and in-house worlds is invited to participate.

If you are a LinkedIn member, please sign up here:http://bit.ly/aNdsV6.

Otherwise, sign up at www.linkedin.com, and then look up the CommScrum group.

For more information, please email me at mklein818@yahoo.com

CommScrum: Time to Say Good Night to “Employee Engagement”?

This week, I join my three collaborators from CommScrum in a robust discussion about the viability of “employee engagement”.

The discussion starts like this:

To be sure, the intentions behind the “employee engagement” movement of recent years were more-or-less honorable, to create working environments where employee participation was appreciated, and to ensure organizations used language that didn’t discourage such participation out of hand.

But as time went on, a prevailing definition for “employee engagement” came to indicate “the discretionary effort contributed by employees,” (as if there was such a thing as “non-discretionary effort” in organizations that benefit neither from slavery nor sleepwalking). Moreover, many in the internal communication industry leapt in as offering “employee engagement solutions” that could help generate extra-special-discretionary effort well beyond that warranted by what their clients were willing to reciprocate with.

The discussion continues in full at: http://bit.ly/8jp99l