IABC Has Lost Its Way

The mess in which IABC finds itself as a result of the bungled communication around the layoff of half its staff is so sad that to say much about it here would just be piling on. I can’t improve on the justified criticism laid out by other leading communicators including Shel Holtz, David Murray and even industry icon Roger D’Aprix, who lamented, “”I have literally spent a career fighting the sort of Friday afternoon massacre carried out by new IABC executive director Chris Sorek.”

I’ll just say that today’s IABC is not the organization I loved and to which I gladly volunteered years of my professional life as an accredited member, chapter president, district director and executive board member. IABC has losts its way, in a big way, and I only hope it can find its way back. The key to its comeback, I believe, will be a renewed focus on its lifeblood — members and volunteer leaders at the local level.

I allowed my membership to lapse, thus giving up my accreditation, a year ago out of frustration with how far IABC has strayed. Here’s hoping they figure out how to attract people like me back to their membership.



Bad News About Employee Engagement Spells Opportunity for Communicators

There is a tremendous opportunity for employee communication professionals brewing. Now, perhaps more than any other time in our profession’s history, we can cement our place as a value-added business function by helping our organizations fix a problem that threatens their ability to remain competitive.

I believe one of the greatest challenges facing businesses today is the continued disintegration of employee engagement. I’ve written about this epidemic before and research continues to show that businesses are trying to achieve their goals with employees who are demotivated, disappointed in their work experiences, distrustful of management and who have simply checked out.

The latest study comes from Maritz Motivation Solutions. They surveyed more than 1,000 workers across industries and the findings show a continuation of disengagement that began around 2008 with the U.S. economic crisis. Among the findings:

  • Only 45% of employees said they feel rewarded and recognized by their employers
  • Of those who did not feel recognized for their efforts (which is the majority), 80% did not feel completely satisfied with their job
  • Of those who did not feel recognized, 58% did not feel motivated to go beyond their normal job duties to get the job done
  • 33% identified themselves as employees who just “stay the course” rather than being motivated to make a difference, move the organization forward, or innovate “what’s next.”

A workforce that doesn’t feel recognized or rewarded for a job well done is a lot less likely to exert much effort in their work, the study found. And a disengaged workforce can be deadly to businesses struggling to compete in an increasingly competitive global marketplace.

That translates into real dollars, folks. Companies today need employees who are willing to apply their talents and skills, ready to innovate, and who will go the extra mile to get things done.

Communication can play a crucial role in turning things around. Studies have shown there is a direct correlation between companies that communicate frequently and openly with their employees and the degree to which employees are engaged. Companies with effective communication practices have more engaged workers, and more engaged workers create more successful companies.

We should grab hold of this opportunity and not let it go. This is a real problem that smart leaders should be worried about. We should be getting time on our leaders’ calendars to sit down and talk about how communication can help re-engage employees. If we don’t, we might have a lot fewer employees to communicate with down the road.


Feelin’ the Love

I’ve spent more time in the last 10 years going on dates than I care to admit. Let’s just say that it’s not easy to find that perfect match, and being a self-employed single dad in your 40s doesn’t make it any easier.

Although I’m happily matched with the right person now, dating is a brutal experience. Meeting someone to whom you’re attracted is just the beginning. Connecting with someone who shares your interests, values, aspirations and priorities is difficult. It’s even harder finding someone with a certain degree of shared life experiences and backgrounds. Even after all that, the other person might look great on paper, as they say, but then there’s that elusive, intangible quality that seals the deal: chemistry.

If you don’t have the right chemistry with the person you’re dating — or the person you’re married to — everything else is going to be an uphill struggle.

The same is true with jobs. Finding the right job is a lot like finding the right mate. You might be attracted to it, you might discover shared values, priorities and backgrounds. But if the chemistry isn’t there, it’s just not going to work in the long run.

Such is the case with a job I took in January. I left behind my 12-year-old consulting practice because I was lured by a position with a great company that I felt would put all my skills, talents and experience to work. It looked great on paper. It looked like the perfect match.

But the chemistry just wasn’t there.

I’ve spent hours agonizing over the reasons it didn’t work out, and there are many. I won’t go into them here, of course. But I can’t minimize the role of chemistry — that intangible quality which, when present, can lead to all sorts of successes and endorphin highs. And, when lacking, can leave you heartsick.

Mismatches happen to people in all types of businesses and at all levels. I worked at AT&T when the company spun off its manufacturing businesses to create Lucent Technologies. The woman at the helm of that spin-off was Carly Fiorina, a well-respected and successful executive. Later, she was hired as CEO of Hewlett Packard. It didn’t work out. Looked good on paper — a successful, driven executive from the technology industry who was used to working in tumultuous situations. I’m sure there were many reasons it didn’t work, but I’ll bet lack of chemistry was one of them. When the chemistry is lacking, there’s just not a lot you can do about it.

So I leave that brief return to corporate life behind. Like any failed relationship, I contemplate what I could have done differently, I think about what I can learn from the experience and I figure out what I can do to make sure the next endeavor is more successful.

And I’m returning to what might be my true love: independent consulting. I’m lining up projects, rebuilding my business, taking the lessons from the past and applying them toward a better future. My next match, whether that is a new client or, perhaps down the road, another employer, will certainly benefit from a more evolved me.



In an interview with CBS News, President Barack Obama says the biggest mistake of his first term as president has been his inability “to tell a story to the American people that gives them a sense of unity and purpose and optimism, especially during tough times.”

Obama’s presumptive opponent in this fall’s election, Republican Mitt Romney, pounced on his remarks, saying, “Being president is not about telling stories. Being president is about leading, and President Obama has failed to lead.”

This is not a political blog and what I’m about to say is not politically motivated. But Romney couldn’t be more wrong.

Yes, being president is about leading, but a big part of leadership is telling stories. Ronald Reagan knew it and that’s why he is still called “The Great Communicator.” The most successful CEOs also know it. I once worked for a company in which the CEO was obsessed with telling stories because he knew their power in helping employees understand his vision for the company. And in business as well as in government, those without a vision are lost.

Carol Kinsey Goman, a consultant and expert in culture change for business, wrote several years ago that “Good stories are more powerful than plain facts. This is not to reject the value in facts, of course, but simply to recognize their limits in influencing people. People make decisions based on what facts mean to them, not on the facts themselves. Stories give facts meaning. Stories resonate with adults in ways that can bring them back to a childlike open-mindedness — and make them less resistant to experimentation and change.”

I don’t know many people who would argue that change is not needed in our country. Obama ran and won on that platform, in fact. Perhaps he’s on to something. Those who believe he has failed to bring about the change he promised — and I would think Romney is among them — might consider that the president might be right in his assessment of his first term. Perhaps if he had been a better storyteller, more change might have happened.


Drop the Membership Requirement for Accreditation in PR

Last year, while still a self-employed communication consultant, I allowed my membership in the International Association of Business Communicators to lapse. When I did, I immediately lost my Accredited Business Communicator (ABC) status, which I had earned in 1992.

I had been an IABC member for 23 years before ending my membership. I had been president of the Richmond, Va., chapter twice, district director for two years and served on the international executive board for three years. However, I didn’t have an employer to pay for my memberships in both IABC and the Public Relations Society of America. I chose to stick with PRSA because it better meets my needs at this point in my career and due to dissatisfaction with IABC’s focus on products and programs rather than the member experience.

When I dropped IABC, my accreditation went away, as if I never had it.

Accreditation was a point of pride for me, but it was also valuable in other ways. The ABC process is rigorous. It includes submitting a portfolio of work and sitting for a thorough written and oral exam. (PRSA’s Accreditation in Public Relations process is even more so.) Achieving the designation was like receiving a seal of approval from my profession. I can’t directly quantify its value in terms of getting higher salaries or better jobs – I got my current job without having the letters behind my name – but I do believe ABCs are looked upon as leaders in the profession, just as those who have the APR label.

I pay more attention when I read articles or listen to presentations by accredited communicators. I figure they have the body of work and the recognition of their profession that lends a bit more credence to what they have to say.

Accreditation also opens doors. At chapter meetings and conferences, I had a conversation starter when I ran into other ABCs or APRs. Accreditations aren’t exclusive clubs, and most accredited members don’t look down their noses at peers who are not accredited, but having an ABC did create an immediate camaraderie.

It’s time to remove the “members only” requirement for accreditation in IABC and PRSA. Lack of membership in IABC doesn’t mean I suddenly became less experienced or knowledgeable about my profession. It simply means I could no longer afford, or no longer found value in, membership. IABC does give me the option of preserving my accreditation for an annual fee (which I won’t do). It’s just another way to make money rather than focusing first on what’s right for the profession – which is one of my gripes about IABC in the first place.

PRSA requires ongoing professional development and public service, making the APR a more meaningful designation that goes beyond simple membership. Beyond the membership requirement, the APR at least helps to strengthen the profession. IABC should adopt similar conditions and drop the membership requirement. Both designations would then serve the public relations profession by setting standards through their accreditation programs rather than simply using them to add numbers to their membership lists.

P.S.: There’s an interesting, relevant discussion going on over at Gini Dietrich’s Spin Sucks blog about her proposal to somehow regulate the public relations industry. One idea is for required accreditation to be the mechanism for setting some sort of minimum competency level for PR professionals. Of course, the first step in that scenario would be removing the membership requirement for accreditation by either IABC or PRSA.

The Rodney Dangerfield of PR

“Employee communication is the Rodney Dangerfield of PR.”

That’s the assessment of Bruce K. Berger, Ph.D., the Reese Phifer Professor of Advertising and Public Relations at the University of Alabama. While researching the latest literature on best practices in employee communication, I came across his excellent speech delivered in October 2011 to the PRSA International Conference. In it, Dr. Berger makes a compelling case that in spite of all the research proving the business value of employee communication — and there has been much in the last 10 years — it still gets no respect.

Dr. Berger argues that employee communication in most companies is “utter folly” because they “continue to act against their own self interests by perpetuating failed communication programs that drive employee distrust and
cynicism and reduce engagement and commitment.”

He adds: “We know what needs to be done to create cultures for communication, but too many organizations just don’t do it. They fail to move from KNOWING to DOING.”

I’ve chosen to make employee communication my career because I believe in its potential to change and drive organizations. I’m passionate about it (despite agreeing with Dr. Berger that employee communication is decidedly not as sexy as media relations or crisis communications). From the beginning, though, I had to dig deep for research that bears out employee communication’s value. Well, we have the research, so now there’s not much excuse for organizations that fail to actually do something.

Read Dr. Berger’s lecture here. It’s only 10 pages and worth every minute if you believe, as I do, that employee communication is the most important communication in which an organization can engage.

Answering the Why

While consulting with a Fortune 500 consumer products company, my client and colleagues and I conducted internal and external research as the basis for an internal communication plan. As we talked with employees in focus groups, one theme kept reappearing. Employees didn’t just want to know where the company was headed and what decisions management was making. They also wanted to know why.

Answering the why is probably one of the most overlooked — and one of the most powerful — aspects of employee communication.

We might do a great job of communicating strategic messages on behalf of business leaders. These might include new products the company is launching or new markets it’s entering, investments the company is making and policies that are changing.

We might do an even better job of telling compelling stories about a team’s innovative approach to solving a problem, an employee’s passion for her job or the unique culture at one of the company’s plants.

These might make for interesting content. Employees might enjoy reading these stories on the intranet or hearing the CEO talk about them in town hall meetings. Leaders might believe they’re doing their part to create an environment of open, transparent communication. And they might be right.

But ask employees what’s missing from the information they receive about the business and often they’ll say they want to know the reasons behind company strategy, leaders’ decisions and changes in company policy and procedures.

Why is the why so important? Because it strengthens employee engagement. Sharing lots of information about the business is a good start toward engaging employees, but you can knock the ball out of the park when you start to talk about why. It helps employees put the pieces of the puzzle together and to make sense of the organization’s complexities. It helps them establish “line of sight” between what they do and what the business is trying to do. It helps them understand the reasons for business decisions, even if they don’t like those reasons.

Why is the company acquiring this seemingly unrelated business? Because it provides an entry point into an adjacent market.

Why does the company have such a stringent social media policy? Because it has a strategy when it comes to engaging with consumers and it wants to speak with one voice.

Why is the company laying off 100 people at this plant? Because bringing its cost structure in line with competitors is in the company’s long-term best interest.

Many business leaders forget that employees are investors, too. Even if they don’t invest their money in company stock, they do invest their time, energy and skills in the enterprise. Business leaders would never communicate a major business decision to investors without explaining why they made that decision — at least, if they want investors to continue investing. The same is true of employees. If you want them to continue investing their discretionary effort in your company, answering the why is essential.