‘Experience is one thing you can’t get for nothing’

VMA Group's UK/SA Communicator's Network banner… so said Oscar Wilde … and I’d add it to it that you can’t get solid experience without engagement – and that was the topic I was asked to cover at this morning’s South Africa / UK Communicator’s Breakfast, hosted by Lisa Wannell at the VMA Group HQ in London’s leafy Bedford Square.

Specifically, I shared insights from the recent #IABCafrica14 conference in Cape Town. The attendees at the VMA session were from a range of corporates; agencies; freelancers – and also a senior communicator with experience of the workings of the South African government.

To suit the time of day I was asked to keep my brief talk easy-going and accessible – which I hope you’ll find is what follows, set out in an A-Z format (of sorts).

South Africa is a unique environment, yet good practice knows no borders if you adjust for context – there’s a lot to learn and plenty to get on with!

Here’s what I took away on how to engage on the original continent:

  • Global LinkedIn statsS – is for Social – and it is still growing – for example, 3m people are now on LinkedIn (vs. 17m for the UK) [for context, compare population counts of 52m vs 64m ].
    • Tip: if you’re looking to operate in South Africa, get ahead of the curve and be sure to have a social presence. The LinkedIn Executive Playbook may come in handy if you want to lead from the front.
  • U – is for Underground – who knew De Beers have coal mines too? (To be fair, they have a point: it is all carbon – some of it is just more dense).
    • Tip: more to the point, there are some real good practice gems out there to be picked up – not to mention an opportunity for yours to be recognised: http://gq.iabc.com/

Tortoise on the loose #IABCafrica14

  • A – is for Alignment – something that is easier to arrive at if you use the IABC Global Standard: Ethics, Consistency, Context, Analysis, Strategy, Engage…
  • F – is for Friendly – where else do you get such a warm welcome?!
    • Tip: read why venn anyway? – and then mark your calendar for #IABCafrica15 coming up in Johannesburg in 2015! On the road a lot? Then these two may also be of interest: #Eurocomm (London, April ’15), #IABC15 (San Francisco, June ’15). Last but not least, if you want to attend a future UK/SA Breakfast, reach out to Lisa Wannell.
  • R – is for Recognition – South Africa punches well above its weight in terms of Gold Quills.
    • Tip: who doesn’t want to be introduced as ‘the award winning…’ – so to be fair, the bar is high, but that never puts off the best: gq.iabc.com
  • I – is for International – South Africa really is at the global forefront on thinking about corporate governance, specifically through the ongoing work to implement the recommendations from the King III report.
    • Tip: want to boost your understanding of governance and help lead an organisation at the highest strategic level? Learn how, here.
  • C – is for Connectivity – 3G/4G/WiFi can at times be a challenge in South Africa. It is most definitively not evenly distributed – but then again, neither is it in the UK. It is easy to be misled by the relative bubble that is London.
  • A – is for Action… ask yourself: are you doing what you love?
    • YES: great! Glad to hear it. Now is the perfect time to update your CV. Build your network before you need it. Need help? Work with your recruiter – and get out there and share the good practice you’ve built up (links galore above!).
    • Maybe: that’s entirely normal – build your network before you need it. Get a perspective from a recruiter – and get out there and network. There are a panoply of links above to get you started…
    • I’m starting my own… brilliant – and good luck. This might come in handy.

Either way, be sure to let me know how you get on. If you think somebody else could benefit from the above, please do share it.

Michael Ambjorn is founder of // Align Your Org – and Vice Chair @IABC. You can follow him @michaelambjorn

Only half of communicators say all their work is aligned to corporate strategy and goals

Benchmarking survey reveals that high performing organizations, when compared to their peers, are:

  • Twice as likely to keep language simple and jargon-free
  • 80% more likely to have a process for creating great corporate stories.
  • Twice as likely to make emotional connections to their audiences
  • 60% more likely to think about communication from the audience perspective.

The #11ways benchmarking database, developed by Michael Ambjorn and Stephen Welch, covers 81 organizations, across 10 countries, with approximately 390,000 employees.

“We wanted to develop a database to explore the connections between communication practices and organizational performance”, says Michael. “What are the common communication practices that have an impact on performance?  And are there things that communicators do which actually contribute to organizational underperformance?”

Well it turns out there are.

In their recent session at the World Conference for the International Association of Business Communicators, Michael and Stephen explored these connection with a brand-new presentation format, involving magical mind-games, geo-mapping and role-play.

But the serious research came from the benchmarking survey, which reveals some of the challenges communicators face.

The know-it-all leader and the know-a-little communicator?

Half of organizations say that corporate messages are generally devised by senior executives, potentially relegating the communications team to the role of a paper-boy or paper-girl: just delivering the message.  Indeed, some communications departments are referred to the SOS team : “Send Out Stuff”. If corporate leaders are devising the messages they’d better be good at it, but only 20% of benchmarked organizations think their leaders are good at communicating. There must be a lot of horrible communications going on.  Or, as one organization anonymously told us:

“Executives that think they know how to communicate with employees, but don’t!”

So it seems that executives should listen to communicators’ advice more. But only a third of communicators admitted that their level of business know-how and understanding was high. Two-thirds of communicators, we therefore suggest, need to improve their business understanding if they want to advise business people.

Think audience!

High performing organizations are much better at this. Indeed: 71% of them say they think specifically about things form the audience perspective, vs 45% of average organizations. Bu there are other indicators too:

  • Average organizations are 40% more likely to pack a lot of messages into their comms. High performing ones are much more parsimonious about packing messages into comms.
  • Average organizations like to talk about themselves.  High performing ones are more balanced: only five in eight say they like to talk about themselves compared to seven in eight average organizations.
  • Average organizations like jargon: only 21% say they keep their language simple and jargon-free, compared to half of high performing organizations.

So the typical communication in an average organization is stuffed with  messages, ‘all about me’, and has jargon-galore. Where as in a high performing organization, things are likely to be simple, clear and with two-way channels built in.

Hwæt!

Storytelling has become de rigeur in organizations but it doesn’t mean all stories are good ones. High performers seemed to have cracked it by borrowing from Adam Smith and Henry Ford: half of them have developed a process for creating great corporate stories, vs only a quarter of average organizations. Great stories don’t appear, they need to be created, to evolve and to have meaning.

“Hwæt” is the opening line of Beowulf, the epic story that has lasted 1,000 years. Which of your organisation’s stories will last half as long?

“We need to do more as communicators to align our organizations and make use of our professional knowledge. The IABC global standard for communicators is the best place to start. Follow this and you will avoid the #11ways, and deliver great corporate results”, says Michael.

Stephen adds, “When only half of communicators say their work is aligned to business strategy and goals, and less than a third admit to understanding the business, the profession has a serious problem. Luckily these skills are easily taught – I teach them all the time – so there is hope.  But our research tells us that – for many communicators, it is a case of ‘step-up-or-ship out’”.

If you’d like to talk through the full analysis or talk about solutions to these issues, please get in touch:

Stephen Welch | @stephenwelch11 | stephenwelch [at] eml.cc & Michael Ambjorn | @michaelambjorn | michael [at] alignyour.org

#11ways @ #IABC14 – TUNE IN

Hwæt! 

Whether you’re in Toronto in person – or attending remotely via Twitter – we would love for you to pitch into what @StephenWelch11 and I are aiming to be the most tweeted talk of Toronto:

#11ways @ #IABC14

There’ll be numbers for the data-driven, there’ll be mind-tricks – and quite a bit of banter.

We want you there – please add this to your calendar (.ics) and tune in, in person or via Twitter.

Meanwhile, here’s the official blurb – you can get it on the #IABC14 app as well:

#IABC14 App - click to download11 ways you can ensure your organization underperforms

Michael Ambjorn and Stephen Welch, two innovative presenters, are doing a double-act for the first time. Together they will take you on a journey looking at the power of cultural alignment in driving strategic business performance, to help communicators engage with leaders and deliver on the strategy and engagement elements of IABC’s Global Standard. Michael and Stephen will draw on their own professional experience and latest thinking, to explore how communicators have a role to play in increasing employee engagement, enablement and culture.

P.S. Want to help us get more data? Join our benchmark exercise (and retweet this whilst you’re at it – we’d be ever so grateful).

Follow @michaelambjorn and @stephenwelch11 for more of the above. You can also join the conversation: #11ways and of course #IABC14.