Why Does My Stakeholder Escalate Issues?


Giles is upset about what he is hearing. The stakeholder whom he works with has again escalated an issue to his manager. He finds it odd that despite all the hard work he does for the stakeholder ‘silly’ stuff gets forwarded on to his leader. He calls his friend, Sharon to share his situation and seek her views. What follows is a conversation between them. Think about the situation and contribute your perspectives.

Giles: “Thanks Sharon for taking the time. I haven’t been sleeping well these days thinking of the issues that keep getting escalated.”

Sharon: “That’s ok. I am happy to be a sounding board”.

Giles: “You know I work hard and give it all I have. My stakeholder in the engineering team has worked with me for a few months now and we often meet regularly. I have attended most of the meetings she calls for. I also try and give updates on time. Sometimes, I miss it due to other pressing work.”

Sharon: “That’s interesting. Have you let her know when you were unable to share an update and the reasons?”

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Giles: “You know how it is. There are multiple campaigns to manage, many people stop by my desk and I need to respond. There are others who ping me on the instant messenger service. Then, there is my manager who expects me to review other stuff. All this means that sometimes I am unable to give an update.”

Sharon: “So, have you found a way out to manage your time better and to engage your stakeholder differently?”

Giles: “Well, I have a list which I look at. Although, I don’t know if that is what I need to be working on for the day. We have a team meeting where we catch-up. I can’t get through all the e-mail that pours in. Some ask for information, some are just fyi and some are actions which need to be taken. Now I go ‘offline’ on instant messenger to avoid those numerous requests that people ask online. I have started to take a ‘break’ from the non-stop work by sitting in the cafeteria for a while.”

Sharon: “What does your stakeholder think about your ability to deliver work?”

Giles: “It seems patchy. Sometimes they think I do well, often times they are upset that I don’t keep them posted.”

Sharon: “What stops you from letting them know?”

Giles: “I am trying to be more organized but there is always that gap. Why do they need to get so upset about not getting an update? Why can’t they see how much I have already done for them?“

Sharon: “What does your manager think about all this?”

Giles: “She is obviously upset that the stakeholder doesn’t get their update on time and expects more of me.”

Sharon: “Not surprising. I would too if I was managing anyone. No one likes surprises you see! Would you?”

Giles: “What surprises? I think it is all going fine. I don’t think there is an issue.”

Sharon: “You don’t? Then, why would there ever be an escalation? What do you think escalations mean and do?”

Giles: “I guess they only mean that the stakeholder is acting funny and being ‘mean’!”

Sharon: “Giles! You really need to think about this. This can lead to other stuff. Do you want to chat again after a few weeks and check if there have been any improvements?”

Giles: “Hmm. I probably need to have a think.”

How can you help Giles see the implications of his actions or rather inactions?

How Do I Measure My Communication Role Objectives?


Your objectives are a reflection of your commitment to the role and how much you value personal development. There are ‘official’ objectives you want to have and then there are real objectives that will make you a better person and professional. The choice is about the goals you set and the pursuit of excellence that you wish to follow.

You can set very aspiring goals but if they are unrealistic, you will fall short. You can set weak goals but those may not challenge you enough.

Setting measures for your objectives is probably more difficult than just writing them up. Each role will have a different set of measures basis the expectations and goals the organisation has set for the function or team. What must you consider while setting measures for your communication role objectives?

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Here are a few pointers that will help you think through what matters.

Milestones vs hard targets: Often the work you do may not have a direct relation to the organization’s performance. In that case look for milestones that demonstrate tangible progress towards specific determinants of performance and your goals. It can be for example, related to productivity, engagement, motivation or communication satisfaction. These milestones must be closely related to the everyday tasks on hand and the long term view expressed by the objective.

Quality vs quantity: It isn’t about how many objectives and the number of tasks you completed while achieving your goals. It is important to measure the quality of the outcomes considering communication as a function is about relationships, content, channels, climate and other variables.  Consider what behavior you want to focus on.

Dependency vs individual contribution: In a communication role there is bound to be dependencies on not just your team members but also stakeholders to get work completed seamlessly. Knowing which elements involve others and which can be done independently will determine how you craft measures for your objectives.

Control vs influence: When you own a specific project you have greater control over the outcomes. It can get difficult to measure when you need to influence the direction of initiatives that are owned by a stakeholder or a colleague in your team. In such scenarios you need to evaluate the value of your effort in the engagement. Think about the key levers you want to tap during such initiatives.

Short term vs long term: Your measures need to weigh if they are in the near term or something planned for later in the year. For the long term goals break them down into smaller, achievable elements.

There are three parts to delivering on your objectives. Setting objectives is one aspect of the journey. Making them work is more crucial and finally, communicating progress and closing the loop is key.

We often do the first two well but forget to track the journey and make note of our progress leading to mismatched expectations when a performance review conversation takes place.

Most importantly, having regular conversations about your progress with your leader and peers can see you achieve more than you expect.

What are your views?

Bridging the gap between communication theory and practice


Stephen Waddington, Partner and Chief Engagement Officer – Ketchum has been leading an interesting project to improve collaboration between academia and practice in public relations.

I had an opportunity to contribute to a series of letters that were presented at the 23rd International Public Relations Symposium (BledCom 2016).

You can read the complete post here: http://wadds.co.uk/2016/06/28/letters-bledcom-towards-community-practice-public-relations/

“Why Do We Have Templates? They Limit My Creativity!”


Vikram is a designer and works at Unbridled Limited, a start-up. He is upset with the ‘restrictions’ put by the brand guidelines at his organization. He discusses his frustration with his friend, Hanna, over a cup of coffee. Below is an excerpt from their conversation. I invite you to think about the situation and what can Vikram do to feel more liberated creatively.

 Vikram: “I don’t get it. The brand team creates guidelines and they are so restrictive. It isn’t easy working here”.

Hanna: “What do you mean? Thought this was the kind of place you liked to be at? Also I felt this was the kind of work you liked doing!”

Vikram: “It is. I am a designer and my mind prefers to be unrestricted. Now I am upset by the number of restrictions this new brand book has come up with.”

Hanna: “Like what?”

Vikram: “For instance, I am not supposed to create a mnemonic for any program or an event. They say it confuses employees and managing multiple mnemonics is a waste of time and resources. Also the company logo is the only logo we can use. Now that is very restrictive.”

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Hanna: “Is that it?”

Vikram: “That’s not all. I find the choice of colors and visual elements limiting. They saw we can’t use any clip-art kind of visuals. How weird is that? We all love clip-art and all our stakeholders have grown up looking at clip-art!”

Hanna: “I can see how badly you miss clip-arts. But do they add value?”

Vikram: “Yes, they do. They make you look fondly at the posters and remember them for a while”

Hanna: “Hmm…do they? Is that all with the restrictions?”

Vikram: “You won’t believe this one. They say we can’t have visuals of our employees smiling directly into the camera – because it looks fake. How can they do this? My heart sank when I read those guidelines. Without people smiling into the camera how else can we shoot our employees? Look into the distance like some philosphers?”

Hanna: (looking amused) “It does seem like you have your hands tied!”

Vikram: “They are making designers like me feel miserable. Our life isn’t just about templates. We need a canvas on which we can express ourselves. Our mind is free but our hands our tied”

Hanna: “Yes, but these guidelines are there for a reason. If everyone does what they want will it not lead to chaos?”

Vikram: (unmoved) “How can I do work which I can’t show on my portfolio? The campaigns will be like any other work. Boring and uninteresting. Normal is boring. We need to spice things up. Make it exciting and get everyone to say ‘wow’!”

Hanna: “You need to have a think about this. I can understand your pain. There must be a way to look at this situation”

Is Vikram justified in feeling stifled by the guidelines? Can creativity thrive in a ‘templatised’ environment? What advice can you give Vikram?

7 Tips To Improve Your Corporate Social Responsibility Project Implementation


A lot goes on behind the scenes to get an organization’s CSR programming off the ground. Sorting your internal processes is as important as crafting your CSR strategy and plan. In India, with the 2% CSR mandate, organizations are expected to align internal teams and approaches to meet the evolving expectations of employees, management, partner NGOs and the communities.

Mitigating risks, improving connections and accurate records  are a few of the benefits of a robust CSR execution plan. In this post I am sharing some pointers to help your organization gain from stronger internal change management processes.

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  1. Onboard the right team: To begin, choose people who can add value and support your programming. Enlist your Finance, Legal. Administration, Leadership, Procurement and Communication teams. Each team has a role to play in providing guidance, engaging at the right time and championing the agenda.  Basis their experience from the previous year, most organizations have a fair sense of what does work and what needs improvement in supporting causes that matter.
  2. Clarify the roles and responsibilities: Very often, gaps arise when internal teams aren’t sure of who owns which piece of the process. Be it the Finance team who provides guidance on the 2% funds available to the legal team who review and conduct due diligence on proposals, calling out the expectations can improve how well a CSR program is executed. Sometimes, work may need to involve multiple players and simultaneously. For example, getting internal reviews for a proposal can take place while you invite documentation from the empaneled charity partner.
  3. Know the handoff and accountabilities: Spell out who are accountable, responsible, need to be consulted and informed much in advance to avoid missed expectations. Often, internal teams will be awaiting a formal approval or a go-ahead to pick up their piece of the program. By clearly defining the process flow you can get all teams on same page. Sometimes, the project can be a direct (to the end beneficiary) or an indirect (via an intermediary) funding and knowing how each is mapped can reduce risks and uncertainties.
  4. Have checks and balances: Apart from the governance model of the core committee reviewing the plan and programs it helps to have your own set of checks and balances while executing initiatives. For example, have volunteers informally visit and audit a program site, talk to residents in the community or engage the local official to know how the initiative is being received. Seek third party feedback on the program is perceived.
  5. Share learnings: Every interaction internally and outside the organization brings a fair share of learnings. Be it the reactions of stakeholders to the opportunities that were spotted to do more for the communities. Sharing and documenting such learning can go a long way in enhancing the value your organization’s CSR adds. Encourage teams to have a dialogue often so that there is lesser friction and more collaboration.
  6. Recognize successes: Take the time to applaud the commitment of these teams who are often working behind the scenes and yet play a critical role in your initiatives’ successes. Share the personal reflections of these individuals and how they feel involved in supporting your organization’s charity interventions.
  7. Closing the loop: Reconciling accounts with the Finance team is as important as communicating the progress and outcomes of specific CSR initiatives. Every stakeholder will expect to be kept informed about the journey and how the organization is making a difference to the communities you serve. Apart from sharing CSR reports and audit updates it helps to use existing channels to reach your audiences more widely.

Doing the basics right, sticking to your process and improving it as you progress can immensely benefit how you positively impact your CSR interventions.

 

3 Steps To Conduct An Effective Communication Channel Audit


Be it an internal or external organizational communication channel that you manage, running an audit periodically can help uncover gaps, improve value and enhance effectiveness.

Why do you need an audit in the first place?

The reasons are many. Your business may have changed and the market landscape expects the firm to adopt a different approach. Or, the channel has changed ownership and the current method of engagement needs a revisit. It can also be that your channel’s users have matured and now demand more attention.  Likewise, it is possible that the channel’s technology has evolved and you need to stay more close to how audiences interact with the vehicle. It can be that there is limited participation on the channel – a cause for concern.  Lastly, analytics may indicate that your channel needs an overhaul or the communication on the channel isn’t effective enough. Overall, it is good practice to take stock of how your channels fare and continually improve their impact.

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So, how do you go about it? You can approach the audit in multiple ways.

  1. Review the current ‘as-is’ state:Get a sense of what works and what needs addressing. Conduct studies to gauge the current perceptions and what can be better.

Think about –

  • what is the channel meant to do and how is it currently used?
  • is it consistent, timely and updated regularly?
  • do users have any views about the channel?
  • does it need improvement?
  • what measures are adopted to gauge impact and value?
  • are there opportunities to cross-link/promote with other channel
  1. Analyze the issues:Through a review of the process or format, a content analysis or a benchmarking exercise you can discover gaps that need addressing.

Think about –

  • how is a similar channel used in other organizations?
  • what best practices exist?
  • what does research tell you about such channels and effectiveness?
  • what can you consider at the workplace?
  1. Act to improve:Take insights and recommendations to stakeholders, pilot interventions and tweak your model

Think about –

  • what do you propose to change about experience with the channel?
  • what can you do to involve employees or other audiences?
  • over the next 6 months what are the possible actions/milestones you can aim to achieve?
  • how will it improve the user experience or brand recall?

Is that enough?

Report what you find, share progress and communicate your actions to help stakeholders appreciate and for users to acknowledge your commitment to change. No audit is good enough unless you can do something meaningful with it.

Go ahead and try these approaches. Keen to know what you discover.

Follow-Ups and Follow-Throughs – Making Change Happen


If you follow sport and watched your favourite cricketer in action – have you noticed how the bat follows through when the ball is hit to the boundary? Observed how the eyes trace the ball’s trajectory and that the head stays still? Likewise when a soccer player takes a free kick notice how the player follows the ball dipping past the keeper’s outstretched arms? Do you notice changes in the performance of sports persons and wonder how they managed to raise their game?

Irrespective of whether you run your own enterprise or work for an organization these analogies apply to follow-ups and follow-throughs you do as a ‘player’ while you strive to achieve your goals every day.

Anyone managing a project that engages multiple stakeholders and which runs over a period of time will be familiar with the pain of chasing people even when it is their ‘job’ to get things done! Or knowing that your credibility as a professional depends on what you do with the feedback you receive or the insights you gather along the way.

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Even with the most sophisticated software that streamlines processes or initiatives you may still end up getting frustrated when ‘stuff’ doesn’t happen when you want it or the way they were supposed to be. Although seemingly inefficient, unless you follow-upwith stakeholders there is little chance that your plans get the attention they deserve. From next steps picked up at a regular team meeting  to the larger and complex campaigns that span months having a follow-up plan can make life simpler for you.

However, if you spin it around and view follow-ups as a way to connect, steer and challenge the status quo then you probably are in a better place of not undoing a whole lot that has gone wrong too late in the day. In that sense, follow-ups relates to the steady pace and actions that moves the needle on your initiative. It is about your commitment to see work get over the line.

Follow-throughs on the other hand are about keeping your commitment and ensuring stakeholders see you as reliable and consistent. By matching your actions with your words you give others around you the confidence that you are a partner in a shared journey. Just like how a change to the racquet grip by a tennis player or a bowling action tweak improves a player’s efficiency each of us can evaluate and make improvements to our working styles and actions.

Without being overbearing follow-ups indicate the individual’s interest to get things done right. Follow-throughs indicate the individual’s maturity to grow personally and professionally.

Both follow-ups and follow-throughs need us to be aware and grounded. Aware of what impressions and perceptions our actions or inactions create. Grounded – is about realizing we are human and there are always opportunities to get better;  just that we need to welcome feedback and demonstrate our responsibility to change.

What are your thoughts?