Sunday, 24 November 2013

A look at internal communications through the world of cartoons

This week, the very first cartoon created by famous animator Joseph Barbera has been sold at Heritage Auctions. I was reading this news on the Metro some days ago.

The story about Barbera's work made me want to write down a few thoughts from an internal communications perspective.

Back to the Metro's news, it reported:

Jim Lentz, from Heritage Auctions, said: ‘The story of Joe Barbera’s first cartoon is a fascinating one. He decided he wanted to have a go at writing a story.
So he sat down and drew a complete cartoon which was then shown to his boss, Paul Terry. He took a look at the drawings, shrugged his shoulders and told Barbera to get back to work'.
This historic sketch was based on an aeroplane race between Kiko and a moustachioed dog called Dirty Doug.
Determined to write stories, Barbera quit his job as a junior animator at Terrytoons.”

This is also documented on Wikipedia:

In 1935 Barbera created his first solo-effort storyboard about a character named Kiko the Kangaroo. The storyline was of Kiko in an airplane race with another character called Dirty Dog. Terry declined to produce the story. In his autobiography, Barbera said of his efforts..."I was, quite honestly, not in the least disappointed. I had proven to myself that I could do a storyboard, and that I had gained the experience of presenting it. For now, that was enough."

What did happen next?

Barbera joined GMG where he met William Hanna. Immediately, the two made friendship, and a partnership that lasted for more than sixty years was born. Together, they co-founded Hanna-Barbera and created some of the most entertaining cartoon characters of the last century including Tom and Jerry, The Flintstones, The Huckleberry Hound Show, Top Cat, Scooby-Doo, The Quick Draw McGraw Show, Yogi Bear, The Smurfs, and The Jetsons.

When it comes to the working relationship between Barbera and Hanna, Wikipedia again reports:

Most of the cartoons Barbera and Hanna created revolved around close friendship or partnership; this theme is evident with Fred and Barney, Tom & Jerry, Scooby and Shaggy, The Jetson family and Yogi & Boo-Boo. These may have been a reflection of the close business friendship and partnership that Barbera and Hanna shared for over 60 years. Professionally, they balanced each other's strengths and weaknesses very well, but Barbera and Hanna travelled in completely different social circles. Hanna's circle of personal friends primarily included other animators; Barbera socialized with Hollywood celebrities. Their division of work roles complemented each other but they rarely talked outside of work since Hanna was interested in the outdoors and Barbera liked beaches and good food and drink. Nevertheless, in their long partnership, in which they worked with over 2000 animated characters, Barbera and Hanna rarely exchanged a cross word. Barbera said: "We understood each other perfectly, and each of us had deep respect for the other's work." Hanna once said that Barbera could "capture mood and expression in a quick sketch better than anyone I've ever known."

Today, is there anything we can take from a story which happened almost a century ago? A few of my thoughts can be briefly summed up by the following points:

  • the need for sharing ideas and collaborating in decision making: it would have been useful if Terry had known what other people in the company thought about Barbera's story. I wonder what could have happened if Barbera had had the chance to use internal social media inside Terrytoons at that time? He could have posted and shared his cartoon with colleagues. Perhaps a group could have been created and the project brought forward? Even if, after a broader involvement, the cartoon still had been considered not appropriate to be produced, Barbera could have appreciated the two-way conversation, feed-back and consideration given to his first work and efforts.

  • the relevance of listening to people, recognising their skills and supporting them in developing their own work and ambitions: Terry lost a great talent;

  • the respect for and relationships with people are paramount: they can give birth to strong partnerships, like the Hanna-Barbera one, generating value both inside and outside the company;

  • taking calculated risk can be good and necessary: Barbera had the courage of leaving a job where he felt undervalued, to find success afterward in his career. He knew what he wanted to accomplish, and pursued his goals with purpose, action and determination. He did not let negative feed-back demotivate him or lose enthusiasm: Terry's abrupt response, did not stop Barbera's belief in himself and in what he wanted to achieve in life.

Sunday, 17 November 2013

From novels to organisational transformation

Is there something a novel from the 1800s can tell about how to improve the way companies work in the 21st century?

In 'Transform. How Leading Companies Are Winning with Disruptive Social Technology', author Christopher Morace, brings attention to the popular story 'Through the Looking Glass, and What Alice Found There' by Lewis Carroll, to make the case for today's organisational transformation.

The digital age is characterised by distributed networks, free flow of information, and accelerated speed of business, all of which are requiring organisations to change the way they work.

Morace refers to Carroll's novel in the chapter, 'Disruption in the Enterprise', by writing:

Alice, the main character in Lewis Carroll's Through the looking Glass, experienced this same relentless acceleration on her adventure. One character she encountered, the Red Queen, challenges Alice to race across a chessboard. In the Red Queen's race, Alice finds that she must run faster and faster only to stay in the same place. Frustrated and painting, Alice turns to the Queen and says, “In our country, you'd generally get to somewhere else – if you run very fast for a long time.” To this the Red Queen responds, “A slow sort country! Now, here you see, it takes all the running you can do, to keep in the same place. If you want to go somewhere else, you must run at least twice as fast as that.”

Today, many businesses find themselves in a similar situation, notices Morace:

They're running twice as fast but making little progress. It's like an accelerating treadmill with an equally elusive finish line. When business processes hit the limits of their speed, devices like smartphones seek to make workers more productive, but only at the expense of their evening, weekends, and vacations.

Companies have over-engineered efficiency and exhausted the notion of working harder. They have hit the outer edge of what's possible – yet the demands from customers and competitors keep increasing. The way work is being approached today is unsustainable. Businesses need to find fundamentally new ways to increase productivity and build value. They need to reimagine themselves as companies of the future and let go of the business ideas conceptualised in the eighteenth century that are setting them up for failure. Survival depends upon breaking out of the Red Queen's race entirely – jumping right off that chessboard and into a game they can actually win.

Morace continues his argument by suggesting social, mobile, cloud, and big data to be the technologies that can help organisations to move forward; however technology alone is insufficient.

To date, most companies that have embraced these technologies have failed. Behind the headlines of failure, however, a pattern of striking success has emerged. Hundreds of enterprises have transformed the way they work to take full advantage of social, mobile, cloud, and big data to fundamentally improve critical parts of their businesses in measurable ways. They have reduced costs, boosted productivity, accelerated results, and improved outcomes, putting themselves on a completely new business trajectory.”

According to Morace, to be successful in the 21st century organisations need to:

  • deeply understand technologies and the new capabilities they offer;
  • make the behavioural changes that enable these capabilities to be incorporated into the day-to-day  operations at a profound level;
  • know where to start, how to avoid pitfalls, how to maintain progress, and how to measure and communicate success.

The journey is long, but taking the first step is urgent. Beginning in the right part of business allows workforces to become familiar with this new way of working. They can then apply it to other part of the business and ultimately, transform the company.

Eventually, they move away from battling that stubborn Red Queen and secure their winning place in the race for the future.


Sunday, 10 November 2013

Celebrating women in business

On 8th November, lawyer Fiona Woolf became the 686th Lord Mayor of the City of London, representing a significant milestone in the role of women in leadership.

She is the second woman to take the role as Head of the City of London Corporation since 1189 and first female Lord Mayor this century. Interviewed by the BBC, she said that this special moment “shows the sustainability of women in a senior role” and that “businesses need to capture the innovation and ideas that difference within the talent pool generates.”

Celebrating women in business

Marking Fiona Woolf's first full day in the office as Head of the City of London Corporation, yesterday saw 'The Lord Mayor's Show'. This is a traditional 3-mile parade (from Guildhall to St Paul's Cathedral and on to the Royal Courts of Justice) that involves thousands of participants representing different businesses and organisations, and welcoming the City's new Lord Mayor. The event changes every year to reflect the interest of the new Lord Mayor as well as the evolution of society.

This year, around 150 organisations - from the energy, financial services, transportation, manufacturing, agriculture, leisure, charities, military, etc – participated in the procession. 

For the first time in the history of this show, women had their own float, 'Women in the City & Livery'. Fifty female professionals from the UK, Europe, USA, Malaysia and China were there to represent the importance of gender diversity for business success*.

I like to think of Fiona Woolf's new leadership position, as well as the participation of these fifty professional women in the parade yesterday, as two important ways to recognise the relevance that women professional success can play in the achievement of better business performance.

According to an article published on 'The Lord Mayor's Show Programme' (distributed yesterday throughout the event):

[Fiona Woolf] has undoubtedly been a pathfinder and role model for many women lawyers and professionals.

In 2011, the International Alliance for Women awarded her the World of Difference 100 Award, which recognises the economic empowerment and advancement of women worldwide. She also received the Trailbblazers Award from the City Women's Network. This year, Fiona received the inaugural Outstanding Achievement Award at the Euromoney Women in Business Law Awards.

'These days women can do anything' she says simply. 'I am always nervous about gender stereotypes because we all have examples that disprove the rule. However, in countries that are not used to dealing with women, you probably have to work harder to establish your credibility, that you are a professional.”

In the year head, Fiona Woolf will be the international ambassador for UK-based financial and business related services. Locally, she will visit a variety of core business centres in order to represent the voice of the industry effectively to decision makers. Globally, she will be leading business delegations during international visits to help boost trade and develop business relationships. She will also welcome visits from foreign business leaders on behalf of the UK government, addressing around 10,000 people every month and delivering 700 speeches in the region.

In the Mayoral programme, Fiona reported her vision for the future. This includes a focus on people and capital, long-term value creation, the recognition that "we are in a 'new normal' and business as usual is never a guarantee of future success", as well as a view of the world as an "economy of cities."

I wish Fiona a wonderful career as Head of the City of London Corporation. 

*I would particularly like to thank my colleague Silvia CambiĆ© – a great business woman who deservedly was invited to be one of the fifty female professionals marching in the parade – and who, with Marc Wright, invited me to attend the show and post-ceremony networking event.  

Sunday, 3 November 2013

'The velvet revolution at work' by Smythe

A month ago, author and employee engagement specialist John Smythe, released his new book "The Velvet Revolution at Work". 

As many other people passionate about the subject, I read Smythe's previous work, 'The CEO: The Chief Engagement Officer' published in 2007. I also wrote a review of it in January. 

I was looking forward to the release of the new book, wondering if and how the author's thoughts around workplace engagement were developed during the course of past six years. Adding to this, Marc Wright's recent excellent review of 'The Velvet Revolution at Work' prompted even more my curiosity.

So, here are some of my take aways from the new book of John Smythe.

In 'The Velvet Revolution at Work', the author emphasises the idea - already explored in 'The CEO: Chief Engagement Officer' - of 'people engaging themselves', which means engagement cannot be done to people.

While emphasising this, Smythe writes about the 'primary levers' and 'supporting levers' of engagement. Both levers “enable people to feel invited, safe and keen to challenge and contribute where they work, both for their own benefit and for the benefit of their institution,” writes Smythe.

Primary Levers

The core concepts of the primary levers were also explored in 'The CEO: Chief Engagement Officer'. 'The Velvet Revolution at Work' brings further attention to these concepts through the following notions:
  • Directional, operational and cultural leadership
  • Delivering strategy and change through interventions that engage the right people
  • Helping leaders at every level engage their people – capability.

According to the author, “the prime role of top management is knowing when to sustain business as usual and when to disrupt it. Directional leadership means responsibility for the purpose, direction and strategy of businesses and institutions.”

It falls to the 'C suite' to initiate the process that keeps an eye on the future, whilst others are delegated with operational leadership. Directional and operational leadership are two sides of a coin; neither can operate effectively without the other for long.

In practice, exercising directional leadership involves leaders making judgements about when to distract other levels (from getting on with operations), to step up to the balcony, not just to glimpse at new horizons but to contribute to the journey.

To reap the rewards from engaging more widely requires leaders to design and govern participative strategy and change processes which reach down and across via well-designed interventions which engage people in challenging and contributing to strategy and change.

The answer to the question: 'what are the rewards or incentives for the C suite to switch from top-down, command and control (which is still seen as being quick and efficient by many brought up in its shadow), to broader inclusion in decision making?', lies in the overwhelming evidence that broader inclusion delivers better commercial and cultural performance. And contrary to myth, broader inclusion does not require more time than top-down approaches.”

Secondary Levers

While the primary levers are prerequisite for creating the conditions which will encourage people to engage themselves, Smythe explores three more enablers (secondary levers):

  • Brand: “Employees do as they are done to, not as the brand script dictates. The employee experience becomes the client/customer experience. It follows that if the reality of the workplace experience and culture is at odds with the brand promise made to customers and others, the brand promise cannot be delivered. The fit between the employee experience and the brand promise takes more than paid-for corporate rhetoric.”

  • Internal Communication: “Internal communication lies at a crossroads between being the radio station of the powerful and being a contributor to sustaining a healthy workplace where expression and constructive challenge by employees is encouraged and enabled.”

  • Digital technology: “There is absolutely no doubt that digital technology has revolutionized communication, collaboration and levels of transparency. It has and will increasingly be a key enabler of engagement. In some organisation it helps to suspend or reduce hierarchy in order to enable the challenges and contributions of the many to influence former elites.”

I was pleased to see that all of these three elements (brand, internal communication and digital technologies) were given recognition and consideration within an employee engagement framework. 

When it comes to 'digital technology' in particular, the book acknowledges that:
  • The social behaviours that we enjoy in the face-to-face world have found their way online;
  • Digital brings immediacy of connection;
  • There will be a shift towards negotiation 'online' from negotiation 'over the table';
  • The digital era heralds the onset of wider involvement in decision making, enabling broader groups to get involved where value will be added;
  • The goal in organisations is to achieve the same organic challenge and contribution in corporations and institutions that is achieved outside of work on social media in self-organising communities.
I am sympathetic with Marc Wright when he notices in his review, that this section of the book (digital technology) could have benefited from a deeper development of the discussion around the advantages of using social tools inside the workplace. After all, the world of social media inside the large enterprise evolves day after day, showing more and more evidence of the benefits brought to both individuals and organisations from adopting these technologies at work. 

At present however, I congratulate John Smythe for his new book, and opening up an important discussion for the future of work and employee engagement.