The news is always a great place to learn about communications skills and methodology. How to keep things positive while you deflect charges like a "Teflon" president. What happens (or doesn't) when you don't build consensus. The list could go on and on.
Oddly enough, the teachable moments for me in the last few weeks have come from the Occupy Wall Street movement. I keep thinking that their words can teach people in our business a lot about compensation communications. After all, participants in Occupy Wall Street have a message to send that they hope will change behaviors in large groups of people, especially those in organizations. See what I mean?
Let's take a look.
- Describing their purpose. They have told news sources that they are mainly protesting social and economic inequality, corporate greed and corruption. The words make their efforts sound straightforward. But I've also been thinking about the impact on the listener. Even as you hear their philosophy, you may be thinking, "But it's not that simple." Or you may be thinking as I did, "Do they mean me?" As in, since I work in and around corporations, does your criticism apply to me, too?
Lesson? Neither of these reactions will encourage me to listen or act. I'm pointing this out to show that words really do have power and that there's a communications lesson here for us. If your audience doesn't "get it" the way you think they should, you have spoken but you have not influenced their opinion. This can easily (and regularly) happen if you don't audience-test your compensation communications. You can create communications that have no impact, or barely the impact that you want, because your audience doesn't get it the way you assumed they would.
- Explaining how. As the audience for Occupy Wall Street over the last few weeks, have you learned how they would go about the change they are promoting? Any idea what they think your role should be? What the world will look like after they have achieved success?
Lesson? If Occupy Wall Street's representatives have talked about these things, the information has gotten lost. But we need these details to be vibrant and compelling if we are going to react in any way that would lead to change. We need to be able to envision what the changed world would look like, what we would be doing in it and what's in it for us to make the effort to get there.
- Communicating best when something goes wrong. I live across a bridge from Oakland, so I have heard a lot about that location's story. If they weren't having problems, I would have heard a lot less even though I am in the neighborhood. We all may be the 99%, but we feel most comfortable talking to the guy next to us who is probably on the same wavelength.
Lesson? It's a nuisance to struggle to be understood. It takes a lot more effort to speak clearly and understandably to those outside of HR and we put it off a lot. As a result we wait until we can't avoid it, like the end-of-year performance management and compensation activities. Then, we talk to those outside the department but rush back inside our own group -- where we can speak among friends -- as soon as we can. We've got to get out there more often if we want to be understood and achieve change.
It seems like such an complex and interesting time in our world. Interesting, I think, because there so much to learn from watching and listening. (As soon as I stop hyperventilating and get my fingers out of my ears!)
Margaret O'Hanlon is founder and principal of re:Think Consulting. She has decades of experience teaming up with clients to ensure great Human Resource ideas deliver valuable business results. Margaret brings deep expertise in total rewards communications and change management to the dialog at the Café. Before founding re:Think Consulting, she was a Principal in Total Rewards Communications and Change Management with Towers Perrin. Margaret is a member of the Board of Directors of the International Association of Business Communicators (IABC), Pacific Plains Region. She earned her M.S. and Ed.S. in Instructional Technology at Indiana University. Creative writing is one of her outside passions, along with Masters Swimming.