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Well-delivered pretty promises have never produced either a successful presidency or an effective total rewards program. Substance in terms of actual output results must exist below the superficial process. Rhetoric and communications are quite important, but they are not essential because they only shape image rather than create reality. Guess it depends what you live by.

Funny, that this topic arises today, because the blog article already scheduled for tomorrow speaks to that issue.

Jim, I am talking about how not what, so I'm afraid you missed the point of the article.

I think that I missed the point as well. Margaret, it looks like you are making an argument for 'style' over 'substance'.

But maybe I missed a key point in your posting.

This is great because it gets to the heart of a classic communications challenge. The position that good communications = style not substance.

The reality is that you can have all the substance in the world, but if you don't make the effort to explain it in a way that people can understand, if you hold back under the belief that the facts speak for themselves, you will not only inhibit understanding of your "substance," you will create obstacles for your efforts because the people will recognize that you are not making an effort to reach them.

This push/pull of listen to me when I feel like talking and then play along with me when I don't can really get in the way of HR communications. Few organizations make the effort to keep the conversation going. (With emphasis on conversation not just telling them what's on HR's mind). As a result, employees don't understand their role in the strategy, they are confused about what pay for performance is supposed to mean, etc.

The majority of the country believe President Obama has substance, that's why he won. But he has struggled to make his achievements clear in everyone's mind. That's another fact.

Matt Bai's article points out that poor communication played a big part in creating that situation. To learn and improve, the President will need a communication strategy that helps us understand his plans more cohesively and thus stand together (something this country is currently struggling with and many companies do, too).

Helping us feel and see clearly how we are all in this together isn't style, it's the substance, in my experience.

Thank you, Margaret, for that extra explanation.

I'd prefer not to get into a political discussion on the Cafe, but I am glad to see your clarification about compensation communications.

Some of the worst pay programs I've ever seen were very effectively communicated. While that made the initial receptions quite positive and hopeful, it simply raised expectations and increased the disappointment levels when the programs failed to deliver as promised. You are correct, of course, that poor presentation of really well-conceived programs will inhibit or reduce their success.

Bottom line, in communications, is that people listen to what you say (style) but respond to what you do (substance). When the substance doesn't match the syle, dissonance occurs. The two elements must be linked for optimal results.

Paul, this was never meant to be a political discussion. My blog was inspired by the article I cited, which is a common practice on Compensation Cafe. In fact, I thought I made that clear in the second sentence of the blog posting that this had nothing to do with politics.

I wanted to share the article with our readers because the recommendations it made resonated with issues I've experienced in HR communications. Nothing political about that.

Jim, there is no reference in the article to a dichotomy between style and substance.
In fact, just the opposite. One can't live without the other.

Just take a look at what Ann, Dan and I have been espousing in our work on everything we do in compensation is communications. The program that you were dissatisfied with could very well have been improved through the kinds of actions that Ann, Dan and I have espoused. Ones that improve compensation design itself by treating it as a process that shouldn't happen behind the Compensation Department's closed doors, because it impacts all and therefore benefits from a dialogue.

People respond to both words and actions. And the whole point is that actions on their own are misinterpreted regularly(think of an executive pay program that the outside sees as extravagant) and so are words on their own(think of announcing a survey results and then not acting on them. If you work to align actions and words toward a purpose, anyone can be better understood and more effective.

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