Unstructured Play at Work

The Today Show this morning featured a segment about how kids are in too many structured activities, and that the brain actually develops best through unstructured play.  A guy from screamfree.com even talked about how kids learn to think and innovate by not having so much structure.

So what about in the workplace?  Is innovation drying up?  Is it because we have too much structure and scripted activity in our jobs?  When was the last moment you had an unscripted, unplanned, unstructured moment at work?  I'm not talking about a unexpected fire-drill.  Sometimes structure and process helps you get through those.  Have you had an impromptu brainstorming session with your staff, taken a siesta under your desk, or stood on your head in your office?  How about a lunch out where you don't talk about work?  

I'm one of those people that wakes up in the middle of the night to write down ideas that pop into my head.  Is it because my brain has a chance to rest in an unstructured way?  

Many companies are starting to extend their suggestion box programs into true innovation drivers by setting up unstructured idea-sharing systems.  It's a sort of social networking concept that gives people time and space to contribute ideas. Companies like Bright Idea are banking on the fact that we need more open idea sharing and time to network online. Are you using idea-sharing or types of unstructured play to drive innovation?

Dogs at Work and Corporate Social Networking

I'm not talking about all of us working like dogs every day (although sometimes it feels like we have to bark and growl our way through 70-80 hour work-weeks, right?), but every place that I have worked, start-ups and Fortune 500 companies, I hear people talk about wanting to bring their pets to work.  

During the dotcom boom, I saw it happen - anything to keep people happy at work in a super-competitive hiring market. I've also seen executives do it, having their assistants take mid-day poop walks, while forwarding calls from a headset (seriously).  

Question is, does this common request for canine companionship at work mean people just miss being around their pets? Perhaps, but I'd venture a guess that it's an indicator of a need for community beyond the daily work-like-a-dog grind.

OK, admittedly, I'm one of these people.  I signed the petition to have an official "bring your dog to work day" -- although the thought of controlling my dog at work around other pets while I'm working seems a bit daunting.  We looked at ways to make it happen and between building code restrictions, liability issues, allergic colleagues, it just never seemed realistic.  Closest we ever got was to host pet adoption days in our lobby or common areas (a great idea to support your local shelter, for sure), but not really meeting the need.

The American Human Society says that morale and productivity increases in places that bring pets to work, and pet-friendly employers talk about reduced stress levels and fewer absences.  Check out dogfriendly.com for more about dogs at work programs (hmmm).

Back to the community concept though.  Talking to others about my pet seemed to be an outlet, a creative stimulant, a way to identify with colleagues, much like parents sharing kid stories with other parents.  Yes, there are moms' groups, dads' groups, running groups and more in many companies, all possibly filling these same needs.  So what do they do for the business aside from giving employees an outlet to find balance?  And more importantly, should they be required to contributing something other than increased morale?  Were talking about the company formally creating employee affinity groups based on non-business related topics or interests.

I've seen corporate diversity programs fund organically formed groups with the requirement that they contribute to the company in a defined, business-benefit delivering way.  That got me thinking about how online, internal social networks can work to connect employee interest groups, and can they grow into a benefit for the business?

Could setting up internal social networks like personal blogspaces, affinity group wikis, and idea-sharing sites help form communities that ultimately benefit the business, or will they detract from more than contribute to the bottom line? Will they work for any group or are they just dogs diverting our attention?

CIO Insight magazine last year called Corporate Social Networks, "The Next Big Thing" and touted how they help people do their jobs.  No argument from me on that one, but where does that business relationship building intersect with personal information sharing in so many companies that are establishing blogging policies?

What do you think?

Bringing on a New CEO

Change is normal, but never feels right when you're at the receiving end of it.  It's the same for your employees when inheriting new leadership. You've conducted an intense search to find the right fit for your company, perhaps with key shareholders and your board of directors involved. Now you need to introduce your decision to other leadership and employees in a way that helps them embrace the change.

Undoubtedly with a new CEO comes a fresh, new vision for the company and the opportunity, or challenge, of launching it internally.  We consistently see companies hold that vision tight, script a very intense release of a new strategy, and then wonder why retention rates suffer and productivity decreases.  Some key objectives when you're introducing a new leader and his/her vision are to make changes clear, get employee input and buy-in, and be consistent and frequent with your communication. Think constant drumbeat here.

So, easier said than done, right?  As usually is the case, with a new CEO comes other new leadership and sometimes the departure of some trusted individuals with a good bit of history at the company.  This doesn't make the job of getting buy-in easier, but it does create an opportunity for engagement.  

Having helped companies through this process, the one thing that is clear is that attention is heightened during a time of transition. Employees, clients, analysts, consumers -- either rooting for your company or not -- want to know what will happen, and in most cases, want to have some influence.  Setting the tone with your communications and with engagement opportunities will help them feel a part of the process, understand your vision and be willing to support and contribute to its success.

With all of that in mind, consider the following for welcoming a new CEO to your company:

Be as open as possible during the search process
Explain the process for finding a new CEO to your staff, and where you are with that process.  Short of divulging who is on the list, there are many things you can share with the company to help people understand that the company's future is secure.  For example: who is on the search committee (board members, shareholders, search firm, HR, other leadership, etc.); what traits are you searching for in a leader; how many people are being seriously considered; what is the planned timing for making a decision.  Including an outlet for questions and submission of ideas to the search firm creates an open forum for conversation and builds trust in the process.  

Do initial outreach
We've seen new CEOs do some terrific outreach, even before their first day leading the company.  Personal phone calls and lunches/meetings with existing leadership demonstrate the desire to build trust, understand existing state of the business from a variety of perspectives.  Doing these one-on-one gives each of the existing managers a chance to shine and share information.  Whether the CEO is coming from inside the company or outside of it, this is a great step to getting your leadership on board and to leverage their experience to solidify your direction for the company. Once you've heard them, it's much easier to sell your vision.  The best cases of initial outreach include as many levels of leadership and management as possible, individually or in small groups. 

Brand the change process
Part of the battle to making a change accessible is to help people identify with it.  We've seen companies brand change internally to draw attention to opportunities to influence it and have an open dialogue.  Good practices with branding this type of change include:  keep it positive, indicate that every employee owns the change to come, respect the company's history.  

Here are a couple of examples:
  • Discovery Communications - Reaching New Heights - this one is positive, shows where the company can go, respects where it has been, implies that everyone needs to do it together.
  • PG&E - Transformation@Work - this one indicates that change is happening and employees are a key part of it, also that it's a process, not something just done to them.
Develop clear messages and provide access to real information
You're getting the idea that more information is better than less information.  So, consider your company's platforms for getting the word out.  Do you have a robust intranet?  Do you have an e-newsletter or do regular webcasts?  Do you have a corporate blog?  To keep the drumbeat consistent, leverage your most frequented communications channels to push your messages about the new leadership.  

A best practice includes creating an online hub for news and resources surrounding the introduction of new leadership.  The hub should reinforce the new vision of the company, include any and all internal and external news (we'll get to that in a sec), and offer resources to support employee success during the process pointing to engagement opportunities (see below).  We've built them before with these types of sections:
  • Get to know the CEO - include bio, photos, video message, blog/personal q&a, testimonials, an opportunity to send him/her a message
  • A New Vision for the Company - info about the introduction of the new vision, visioning meeting schedule
  • Organizational News and Information  - include internal and external news about the transition you're going through.  Including both positive and negative news that may evolve externally builds your credibility with employees (acknowledging that you know they see this stuff anyway).
  • Resources for Success - Training courses (leading during times of change, for example), reference library, access to change ambassadors, flexibility and work-life resources available at your company.
  • Get Involved!  - here's a spot for your key engagement opportunities...discussion boards, recognition program links, idea campaigns 
So, back to the "real" part of the message.  The critical aspect of introducing a new leader is to be as genuine as possible and to deliver a consistent and real message platform to employees.  Your workforce is smart, right?  Otherwise you wouldn't have hired them.  Keep that in mind as you share information.  This builds confidence in the new leader and shows integrity.  Past IABC surveys show that topics that employees want to know from CEOs include:  the future of the organization, overall corporate strategy, top-line financial results, major changes and restructurings, board feedback, major stakeholder issues and responses to media attention.  Don't forget, you have their attention during the transition. (Incidentally, IABC is a great resource for information about employee communication).

Create engagement opportunities
Last, but certainly not the least of concepts when introducing a new CEO, creating avenues for employees to participate in the change process enhances its success.  If you traditionally haven't asked for input, you might be surprised that employees have been waiting for a chance to offer opinions, but want to do it in a low risk way.  We've done great town hall meetings, sharing tons of information and providing visibility and access to new CEOs, but with few live questions from employees.  Really, who wants to be the one of the first to question the new CEO in front of the entire company?  (That's why those small groups are so much better at the onset of the CEO's tenure - and are smart to continue).  Here are some other techniques to give employees a way to interact:
  • Change Ambassadors - look for individuals in your organization that are natural opinion leaders in their area of the company.  Often your HR group can help you identify them.  Bring them together to share their ideas on how to get employees on board and develop a grass-roots engagement plan.  Give them the tools to share information (department blogs, videocasts, meeting budgets, etc.).
  • Transition Stunts - depending upon the culture of your company, it can help to introduce a light, fun engagement activity to get people thinking about what it would be like to be the new CEO.  Whether a photo contest, story submission series, or employee-generated video stunt, ask employees to share their perspectives with the rest of the company and develop energy, excitement, empathy and engagement.
  • Idea Sharing Program - If you have one, perfect, if not, a CEO transition is a great time to launch one.  You're employees are closest to the business on a day-to-day basis.  Give them an outlet to share solid business concept ideas that relate to the new vision and watch your business begin to solve long-time issues.
  • Recognition Program - During transitions is the best time to acknowledge important contributions.  It shows you're paying attention and appreciate the challenge associated with embracing a new vision.  Leverage your existing program or develop a special transition recognition for those change ambassadors or others that shine during the introduction of your new vision.
  • Employee Survey - Whether a full-on survey of your company or spot survey, asking for feedback about how the transition is going will help you understand your effectiveness maintaining consistency with asking for input.
Set expectations
Once you've got people smart about who the new leader is and embracing the new vision, there will always be those that just can't get on board.  The importance of clearly setting your expectations in line with your vision can't be underestimated. Consider communications expectations, performance and productivity expectations, respect in the workplace, and anything else that supports your mission, then communicate them through your mission, values and strategy with which you expect everyone to align.

There are many ways to roll out a new CEO or other leader, so share your thoughts with us!  If you need assistance introducing new leadership in your organization, Vivazu Communications can help.

Talking UP the RIF?

So you have come to the conclusion that you need to have a reduction in force. Hopefully, you've considered alternatives (everything from work-sharing to voluntary separations to early retirement), and have met with your labor and employment attorneys.  Next, you've gotten your HR folks involved and started alerting business units, and the rumors start spreading from the chatter.  Did you know that talking up your RIF actually can help?  No, seriously...you just need some tools.

Smart communication planning can help ease the RIF process.  
We keep hearing that it's hard to find really great tools to help companies through communicating during a RIF and manage rumors and other side effects.  Lots of information is available about the legal aspects of what needs to be done (thank goodness), but we find companies tend to reinvent the wheel when it comes to telling people about it.  

While we do agree there is pretty much always need to customize message and timing, having a basic toolkit for a RIF can be a huge support for participants in the process.  Here are some communications needs to consider in the process:

Know the State of Your Company, Industry, Market and Your RIF Situation.
Consider the state of your company and the factors in your company's RIF situation (which you should have gone through with your legal counsel) that inform your communications strategy.  For example:
  • What is the reason for the RIF?  (staff redundancies following an acquisition or merger, loss of clients or contracts, new technology creates increased efficiencies, something else?)
  • How did you determine who was included in it? 
  • How open have you been with information that a RIF might be on its way?
  • How many people are affected and at what level?
  • What is the current state of your industry?
  • Have you had successful or challenging RIFs in the past?
  • What's going on with recruiting efforts in your organization?
  • What are your competitors and partners doing?
  • What are your clients or consumers saying about your company?
Identify Participants - Who Needs to Know?
These factors and many, many more should be evaluated first.  The next step is to figure out who needs to be involved in the process, and who doesn't need to be involved (HR, Legal, Finance, IT, Admin, Managers, Employees, Press, Analysts, Consumers).  In the interest of managing the rumor mill, our experience has shown that transparency in the process supports a smoother RIF with lower risk and less loss of productivity.

Develop Key Messages and Delivery Mechanisms
Develop your key messages to important audiences involved in the process, and determine how they are delivered. This is a critical step as what you say and how you say it sets the stage for the success of the action. Consider that streamlining for business effectiveness and profitability might sit well with Wall Street, but smack of insensitivity to remaining employees who have lost respected colleagues in the process. Being clear with your message and delivering them through the proper channels is key.

This could include some of the following concepts, but something very different depending upon the culture of the company and the circumstances you've considered above. 
  • Human Resources staff meet with managers and deliver notification training
  • Managers notify departing employees one-on-one and discuss with remaining staff in small-group meetings
  • Company leadership addresses the larger workforce in a town meeting
  • Sales staff mentions with customers in their regular business connections
  • Communications staff issues a release and makes/manages calls from trade, business, and consumer media
  • Investor Relations and Communications groups manage analyst community and shareholder inquiries
Develop a Communication Rollout Plan (Timing)
Once you have your audiences that need to know, and your key points you need to address, you need to be smart about the timing of notifications through the delivery mechanisms you've chosen.  Does your need for compliance require particular timing with shareholders?  Do you want to 

Create a Notification Manager's Toolkit
Having a toolkit as a guide for the rollout of a RIF has proven effective for parties involved (at least with our experience).  Toolkits should include the information a manager needs to know about the RIF in order to conduct notifications in concert with your business interests identified earlier.  Here's what we've included in RIF toolkits:
  • Schedule of Events - notification timing for various groups or individuals, when messaging will go out to various parties, timing of meetings and events with leadership
  • Internal Talking Points - key points that should be leveraged in conversations with employees during the process
  • Notifying Departing Employees - manager notification scripts, HR notification scripts, severance plan guidelines, talking points around benefits, compensation and termination of special plans, manager & HR FAQ
  • Notification Training Materials - include training materials related to how to handle the notification process
  • Points of Contact - who the manager can contact for more information, HR, legal, security contacts, etc.
  • Media Relations Information - contacts of Communications staff and/or company spokespeople on the RIF or related issues, plus information about what to say if the media, analysts or shareholders contact you about it.
  • Additional Resources - including related organizational announcements, business plans, strategy documents
Identify or Create Spaces to Share Information Internally
To support the remaining workforce and those in transition, provide access to as much information as possible through an online hub or intranet, or via your company's most-frequented internal network.  Include resources for managing change, idea-sharing points, a place to ask questions and contact someone to get them answered.  As always, consider that anything you publish internally to the company can make its way outside the company with ease.

That last statement really means be cautious, but don't be afraid to be transparent.  If you're prepared and you have started with a solid reason for the RIF, being clear, consistent and transparent about it is the best thing you can do. It gives you the opportunity to manage perceptions about why you're doing it and the intended effects on your company.

Need support with communicating a RIF?  We can help...Vivazu Communications.

Welcome to 'the open org'

Welcome to The Open Org, an open source for the latest in business communication and new approaches to transparency in the workplace.

The Open Org is looking to bring light to the mystery of why we hold so much back at work each day. Office politics, job security concerns, competitive secrets, corporate history, whatever the case may be—business culture has traditionally dictated that we keep it under cover. In a more open popular culture, filled with social networks, open discussion forums, accessible cyber communication technology, and more, the business benefits to embracing a more transparent culture are growing.

Since our businesses are constantly changing, transitions drive much of our need for open, ongoing communication with clients, employees, contractors and partners. We’ll work to discuss issues like internal business communications and culture, technology and its affect on transparency, new ways to engage your audiences and yes, those naked moments make you feel exposed at work.

Rule #1 of transparency is that we share what we know and think. Rule #2 is that we ask those around us to do so, as well. So, The Open Org needs you to strip down to those really good ideas and comments and send ‘em our way.

Thanks for joining the ride on
The Open Org. We promise to keep it thoughtful, clear and stripped of any bunk.

The Open Org Blog Team:  Sponsored by Vivazu Communications, the blog team includes a group of communication professionals with crazy work experiences in media, technology, design, television, government, human resources, corporate development, and much more.