Sunday, 15 March 2015

Global Community
I was at a talk last week and the topic was culture, its definition and how it applies in a variety of organisations and industries. One speaker defined it as the values of your organisation, another said it was each and every decision that you make and another said it is how you and others act. Professor Geert Hofstede says ‘ Organisational Culture can be defined as "the collective programming of the mind that distinguishes the members of one organisation from others."

However you define it, this post is focussed on how you communicate it within your organisation. In this piece my focus is to look at how culture influences community and in particular in globally dispersed teams.

What is our traditional understanding of community? It is a town or village where a group of people live or a commanility that develops from joining something such as parents of school children, a church group etc. Where I live and for many of us around the world this understanding of community has changed over the years as we added diversity to our countries. However, the main elements that make up community remain the same.

·         Feeling of belonging
·         Similar aspects of background
·         Common purpose and goals
·         Developing trust and respect
·         Make friendships
·         Support

A lot of these elements grow organically from face to face meetings. So how then in a globally dispersed organisation do you build a sense of community. Here are some of the areas to consider;

Employees should be inducted into the organisation as if they were physically present. They need to know what the organisation is all about, what is at the core of the business. I spoke in another posting about storytelling in organisations and stories are a great way to share this sense of belonging. Employees themselves can share stories and learning experiences and can mentor new employees. Celebrate similar events around the same time simultaneously such as fun Friday and share the stories of the event.

Similar Backgrounds
While diversity keeps life interesting it can be very comforting to meet someone of similar backgrounds as ourselves. Providing a forum for employees to ‘chat’ to someone of the same background can be very beneficial to building that feeling of belonging.

Common Purpose and Goals
The bestselling author Daniel Pink says there are three things we all look for; (1) Purpose (2) Mastery and (3) Autonomy. If we are allowed to do our job and learn new skills we can check off number two and three but purpose can be a little harder to figure out. Community can do a great service to providing us with a purpose, we can feel we are part of something bigger than just ourselves. Our short term achievements which can leave us satisfied but only briefly are towards a longer goal and bigger purpose. A reciprocal benefit is gained by the Community itself which is fuelled by this common purpose, they feed off each other.

One of the speakers at the conference I attended was from a manufacturing background and she spoke of their contingent workforce management policy which was to include all employees both contract and permanent in corporate events. In a globally dispersed team where there is little in person time this has to be managed a bit more. Leaders within an organisation should be very familiar with their team. We make friendships with people we have things in common with. It would be important to link people up, perhaps having an employee page for each employee where they get to share their life, interests, hobbies. Creating community among dispersed teams can be much more challenging than when physically present and if friendship and cordial communication happens outside of actual work it can help red flag if there are any issues that might be creeping in which you might not be aware of.

Technology has transformed how and when we communicate. It has facilitated building community in dispersed teams. Corporate intranet can house areas where top management can share what is happening within the company, employees can give updates on what they are working on, management can give feedback. All can be done in short periods of time. Employee pages as mentioned above can be stored here, similar to a facebook model where employees can connect.

Corporate Social Responsibility
Following on from our desire to be part of something bigger than ourselves, to have a common purpose we also need to work together on projects to have shared experiences. Having a Corporate Social Responsibility programme as part of your communications strategy would allow employees with similar interests across the world to join together and work on a project. A team could be developed, goals set and employees will work together and then sharing their achievements with the wider community provides a positive culture for all.

Summary of Ideas to build Community in a Globally Dispersed Team
1.       Induction for new employees - history
2.       Storytelling – purpose and value
3.       Mentoring programmes – learning and sharing
4.       Corporate Social Responsibility – shared experiences
5.       Intranet - communication

To make it work will require effort, time, structure and resources but a community within an organisation can create a positive work culture and the benefits of that, well that deserves a post all by itself. 

Tuesday, 10 March 2015

Corporate Social Responsibility for Small Business

What is it?
Corporate Social Responsibility is the continuing commitment by business to behave ethically and contribute to economic development while improving the quality of life of the workforce and their families as well as of the local community and society at large. (The World Business Council for Sustainable Development, Making Good Business Sense by Lord Holme and Richard Watts.)

Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) has also been defined as corporate citizenship or ways a company uses to promote positive social and environmental change. Mallen Baker takes it even further to say CSR is ‘about how companies manage the business processes to produce an overall positive impact on society’.

I like these quotes because they break CSR down into manageable components. Larger organizations can have whole departments dedicated to this area but in a smaller business it has to become an integrated function and tick a lot of boxes. Before a business decides to take steps to integrate CSR into their business they must answer some initial questions such as;
1.       What policies and procedures do you already have in place that can be seen as socially responsible?
2.       How does your culture meets your employee’s needs?
3.       What are the needs of your local community?
4.       What processes can be improved to integrate CSR?
5.       What larger scale projects are in line with your corporate strategy but will also bring positive results?

Why do it?
Larger corporations have embraced CSR for many years but smaller businesses have been slower to do so. Many small businesses feel it costs a lot of money and in fact that doesn’t have to be the case. According to Chambers Ireland 99% of business in Ireland is small to medium businesses and they employ 70% of the population. That’s an exciting figure as there is still a huge amount of growth potential in the area of CSR in Ireland. Jill Poet of Organisation for Responsible Business says that 45% of small businesses don’t know what CSR is.
Edelman Ireland found that 80% of consumers prefer to buy from companies they trust. Joe Carmody Managing Director of Edelman Ireland says ‘to build trust you must have a level of transparency and accountability’. He says ‘people also trust businesses when they see them reinvesting in their community and when they see them taking solid ethical positions’. When companies are active in their community they are also more accessible to potential customers. So from an external communications perspective it seems a solid argument but it’s also as persuasive from an internal communications stand point.
Corporate Social Responsibility humanizes organizations. It can reflect their personal story. Employees will also develop the same level of trust with the above mentioned transparency and accountability. When employee’s needs are being met retention rates will improve, recruitment costs should go down as you develop a positive employer brand.

How to do it?
Often times CSR can happen organically. An employee may come to management with an idea to get involved in something or perhaps there is an event in the community. A situation arises in the organisation that causes a change in the way things are done. Businesses become socially responsible without actually planning it. However, the time comes when it makes sense for something that you are putting resources into to become more structured, quantifiable, evaluated and measured. It’s nice to do but it should meet strategic goals also.
Here are some suggested steps to get started:
1.       Research what is currently done in your organisation that falls under CSR guidelines
2.       Engage employees in setting goals and objectives. Employees will be more passionate about projects they have helped create.
3.       Have a structure and decide how you will assess impact and success.
4.       Resources – it’s important to be realistic when setting a CSR goal. Look at the time, finances and people available. It’s ok to start small and the project can develop from there.
5.       Where to start will depend on the situation. A project may have been presented to you or you may feel it is needed in the local community where the organization is situated.
6.       Who – is this going to be company wide? Are you going to give staff time off to volunteer? Who will coordinate the projects?
7.       Stakeholders – list everyone applicable to your organisation to ascertain who will get helped with the various projects
8.       Decide how to quantify and assess the success of projects.
9.       Communicate – both internally and externally to maximise value

Evaluating Success
If CSR starts internally then that is where it should start to be assessed. Lots of research and data support the belief that if you facilitate employees in meeting their inner needs they will be happier as employees. Dr. Bob Deutsch, author, says that in using your in born resources you can create a fulfilling life. Businesses through little or no increased cost can do this. Informal and formal feedback from employees can ascertain the impact of the CSR programme. When recruiting employees they can be questioned as to the effect the perception of the employer brand influenced their decision to apply. Employee satisfaction levels can be measured. For many regulated industries there is an onus and responsibility to ensure compliance and certain standards will need to be met. These benchmarks can be clearer to assess.  Software technologies have been developed to allow businesses to input key figures, develop key performance indicators and then provide metric feedback based on these figures.

These tools can be very helpful but it is also essential to realise that overall CSR success can take time and is a longer term strategic investment in your business. Let your Corporate Social Responsibility programme inspire you and bring benefits to your business as well as the advantages it generates outside the organisation. Have fun!

Wednesday, 4 March 2015

What's Your Story?

“A big part of a CEO’s job is to motivate people to reach certain goals. To do that, he or she must engage their emotions, and the key to their hearts is story.” 
— Robert McKee, Harvard Business Review, June 2003

Storytelling has been around in countries such as Ireland for more than 2000 years. These stories were witty and inventive but their real attraction was they engaged their audience and struck a cord. They met the need for fun, romance, laughter and tears. This art form lives on today not only in our personal lives but in business too.

 Storytelling is often used by marketers to engage consumers and influence buyers. It is effective because companies know consumers lead busy lives and with busy minds have limited capacity to take in additional information. Robert McKee a scriptwriting teacher says you can gain a competitive edge by having a compelling narrative for your brand. Think of some of the most successful companies that we know and what are their stories? The Lego Corporation takes its narrative very seriously. Ole Kirk Christiansen, a master carpenter who founded LEGO in Billund, Denmark in 1932 instilled the company’s value which was for children to ‘play well’. He made high quality wooden toys and the goal was for children to have the very best toys. This philosophy of high quality guided the company for almost a century. Even now every new employee gets a tour of the small brick building where Ole Kirk and his family once lived. They learn of the hardships he endured to keep the company going. They learn another principle which is the bedrock of the company that of only the highest of quality will be acceptable.

Robert McKee says treat the customer to a pleasure filled story and then let word of mouth do the marketing. He says stories ‘capture hearts as well as minds’. Consumers want to be cast in this story, it needs to make sense to them as well as making them feel good. Traditional persuasive marketing as he calls it is no longer the way to go he says. Having a narrative not only engages your customer and hopefully garners a reaction in purchase but can help relationship building to ensure further business. Joe Carmody, Managing Director of Edelman Ireland says that ‘businesses that enjoy public trust are more successful than their distrusted rivals’.

 Translating this story into your internal organization can be even more important to engage all employees in the Corporate Vision. Knowing the company story helps employees to feel a shared sense of purpose and part of something bigger. Maureen Gaffney in her book Flourishing says that our minds are built for achieving goals. In order to have that feeling of satisfaction from achieving goals we need as employees to know where we are going. Stories can help employees to see leadership as authentic and trustworthy. It can very importantly help guide decision and policy making. Storytelling can plain and simply make us happier and more productive employees. Harrison Monarth in Harvard Business Review says storytelling evokes a strong neurological response. He cites Neuroeconomist Paul Zak‘s research which indicates that our brains produce the stress hormone cortisol during the tense moments in a story, which allows us to focus, while the happier moments releases oxytocin, the feel-good chemical that promotes connection and empathy. Other neurological research tells us that a happy ending to a story triggers the limbic system, our brain’s reward center, to release dopamine which makes us feel more hopeful and optimistic.

At Inside Strategies our focus is on taking these theories and narratives and turning them into practical business strategies for your business. Here are some ways to do that:
1.       Hiring the right employees – tell your prospective new hire your ‘story’ to get their reaction. Ensure you include the vision and future in the story. Note which parts they are attracted to, which parts they comment on etc. This will tell you a lot about the person.
2.       Induction and training – further your story during the induction and training process and in regular training for current employees. Using a story with anecdotes and analagies can be a great way to do it. Anthony Tjan of Harvard Business Review says ‘what are the messages that we remember? They are the ones where the message was humanized’. Tjan says ‘Heart, guts, and the ability to connect are critical in the early stages of company creation and beyond. Leaders can communicate to their employees why they came up with their idea, how it came about, the hardships in getting there and where the company can go.
3.       Interest – in training, stories can make information much more interesting and keep the listener engaged and attentive.
4.       Structure  - stories are structured. They have a beginning, a middle and an end. They have a plot, characters, a climax and a resolution. Projects within an organization can be structured based on the format of a story.
5.       Decision making and policies – stories can guide employees in decision making. For example in organizations such as lego where quality and enhancing the play experience for children was the ‘story’ this allowed leadership to take the organization out of its slump in the early 2000’s and go back to basics and rather than letting the market decide they focused on what the consumers wanted and built high quality products around this. Most leaders probably don’t even realise they are doing what they are doing but they are in fact living the story without realising it.
6.       Authenticity – As Tjan points out above a story humanizes the leadership. In agreement with Paul Zak’s research stories reach us in a place that facts and figures can’t.
7.       Dream – a story that evokes optimism in employees invites them to dream of the future and what can be achieved. Steve Jobs presentations were always good because he ended with an idea or vision, something for the future he made the audience want to be a part of it.
8.       Diversity – Organizations embrace diversity and employees from different backgrounds but it can be very helpful to share personal stories to further connect people.

9.       Positivity – As Paul Zak’s study on oxytocin demonstrated a story with a happy resolution can release oxytocin and create a feeling of happiness in employees.