Who talks to (and about) colleagues like that?


What qualities do you most dislike in a PR practitioner? “Being absorbed with ‘The Message’ and forgetting all about the specific context of the communication that is needed.Gregor Halff’s response to Q8 of the PRoust Questionnaire

I have long been a believer that “language shapes consciousness,” primarily in regards to deliberate words chosen, particularly when reasonable, more-inclusive and dynamic terms exist.

For example, mindfully using gender-neutral titles, such as chair rather than chairman or firefighter over fireman. Gender-inclusiveness aside, there’s a plethora of other areas that need similar “consciousness” in communication. To wit, including ethnic diversity and values, physical and mental health challenges and sensitivities, generational accommodation, and so on—embracing and respecting the human spectrum in its entirety within workplaces and communities at large, rather than marginalizing or patronizing with messaging and tokenism.

One would hope that a similar consciousness of respect is at the heart of most corporate communications functions, particularly when companies are large enough to commit resources not just to HR but also staff (or a team) dedicated to internal communications. Even in smaller organizations, many recognize that “employee engagement” (related to where staff feel their individual contributions are valued) results in healthier work environments and trust in leadership, higher job satisfaction, increased productivity and staff retention.

In her book, Our Turn, Kirstine Stewart writes, “Good communication practices that are successful are built on mutual respect and a commitment to strive to meet each other’s goals. Good relationships start with a thorough understanding of what it is your stakeholders value the most.”

Relationships with employees should be much more involved, intimate and long-term than similar ones with consumers and even B2B partners. Consciously think of it as in-sourcing communication and employee engagement.

And yet, so often today what is read and heard is self-identified “internal communication specialists/strategists”—not just millennials but also “more seasoned” practitioners—mimicking marketing-driven language concepts, such as audiences and messaging, and targeting and activating.

Who talks to (and about) colleagues like that?

Even when couched in terms of employee empowerment and collaboration, many of these concepts and words hark back to old-fashioned, established workplace hierarchies and perceived authority, whereby information is centralized and controlled. And even though employee “advocacy” is a new term used for programmed engagement, “activating” staff or encouraging their ”gamification” move them in “social” speak to a new type of en masse command-and-control that is downright creepy. Anyone else remember Captain Jean-Luc Picard being captured and trapped in “the collective” of The Borg, in Star Trek: The Next Generation?

In the 21st-Century, it is the rarer scenario to witness internal communications in workplaces that are genuinely transparent and two-way engaging.

IMG_2470Broadcasting messages to your target internal audience is a one-way ticket, on track to lose (not gain) the trust and respect of employees.

Staff may be a collective “stakeholder public,” but surely communicators don’t need reminding that employees also comprise many thinking and feeling individuals, not dense and placid sheep for driving or herding like commodities.

As Kirstene Stewart states, “Homogeneity is a creativity killer.” I would suggest not just for employees, but also for communication teams.

Stage-managing communication to internal performers and audiences

Here are some exaggerated scenarios in terms of composite encapsulation, but less so regarding words used far-too often by communicators and marketers in industry articles and reports, podcasts and Twitter chats.

Picture a (pious-sounding) internal communicator catching Francine in the hallway as she leaves early (conscientiously not wanting to be late due to heavy traffic) for an external meeting with building contractors, with whom she’s had long-term and fruitful relationships.

Francine, the communication department plans to target operations staff with employee talking points on how to express our company’s values when dialoguing with external partners. Given some recent negative insinuations in the media about possible code violations, we expect everyone to be great ambassadors for our corporate culture and customer experience.”

Later, a different (equally self-important sounding—perhaps a bit more hipster, as one internship was at a startup) corporate communicator also completes a team assignment. This social media and community manager specialist corners Omar heating up lunch in the staff room (to take back to eat in his small office, so he can continue to go over the next two quarters’ financial projections the CFO requested by end of week), to seed him verse and script on a “program” being introduced.

Omar, on the advice of our social media marketing guru consultant and the contracted vendor company [which pays him to write white papers extolling company benefits of its software program], internal communications thinks your team and you are the right audience for messaging and implementation of our new employee advocacy program. We hope to activate the accounting department first. This should give us an advantage over our competitors, as peeps on social media sure don’t expect enthusiastic marketing and promotions to come from introverted numbers people. If not the boring traditional media, we anticipate that our brand community and identified external influencers will eat it up and amplify the automated canned awesome sauce messages we provide to you even more!”

Separately, both team members finish their communication stage-managing with a disclaimer,

When you share these messages, HR mandates that for legal protection, you should tell your employee audiences their participation is optional….”

[Then the voices drop to conspiratorial whispers]

…. For their own good, do make sure to inject a subtle implication that not participating could affect their career trajectories in terms of activating them for other employee engagement assignments—or job promotions—in future. After all, as salaried staff with some modest benefits, we’re all in this together as a team of employee advocates, so shoot out that pride externally to make some impressions, especially on your family and friends who trust you!”

Francine, with a decidedly fixed smile, murmurs something non-committal. Mentally rolling her eyes, she begins to reconsider the competitor’s offer of employment—a higher position, autonomy and salary than her current scenario—first heard about from a recruiter who had researched her reputation, experience and abilities quite thoroughly.

Omar politely thanks the internal communicator (recalling the person’s hiring six months ago, immediately after completing a one-year digital corporate communications certificate program at a local college). As he’s been quite good at a “balanced” approach to work and life for the last 18 years, Omar starts thinking how he can use this “awesome sauce material” at the next Second City “open mike” evening in front of his community of other wannabe comedians. 

(Go ahead and laugh at my “creativity” because if you think too hard about it you might just cry instead.)

Trust and respect are at the beating heart of effective internal communications

In Our Turn, Kirstene Stewart writes that trust and respect from employees aren’t things you can demand—they have to be earned. She posits that they are most likely to be earned when you embrace the knowledge economy within (and to a certain extent outside) the organization, held by its collective stakeholders.

Not to forget the personal capital earned as an effective communicator and/or leader, particularly when using emotional intelligence to connect the dots of business goals and individual contributions towards them.

(The knowledge economy, personal capital and emotional intelligence are three areas of extended focus in Stewart’s book on female leadership.)

Stewart elaborates that trust encourages constructive criticism, disagreement and healthy debate. In general, Stewart feels transparency is necessary for healthy teams and workplace environments.

However, can an organization claim to be treating colleagues with honesty and decency if your employee communications mindset thinks in terms of a passive audience for broadcast, targeted messages, rather than reflecting its true knowledge economy? Alternatively, stage-managing employees to be “activated” to use their own personal capital (i.e., social media accounts) to tell a “brand story” fed out on an automated conveyor belt (most likely shaped by marketing staff) pretending to be authentic communication?

Trust relates to feeling valued, including what is volunteered at the table for discussion and consumption, both good and bad; it’s the ability to communicate what’s working and what is not.

Trust is earned by allowing staff to (feel they) make meaningful contributions, and belief in the organization’s licence to operate—including each employee’s own stake in the company in regards to work done.

Finally, (ideally) having a certain amount of autonomy in how the work gets done, and the ways staff can communicate their roles, externally if, and only if, they want to do it.

Needing to explain the specific context behind the communication of this Message

I believe that when you read media and industry-related books, reports, articles and blog posts, listen to podcasts and participate in things like Twitter chats you should be in a continuous monitoring and “testing” mode regarding your existing knowledge, experience and beliefs. That’s why the timing of Dana Oancea’s interview, James Grunig: Conventional wisdom is the principal enemy of the public relations profession, in March 2016 was fortunate, as I glommed on to a few of Grunig’s “conventional wisdom” cautions, such as:

Public relations practitioners have long been producers of messages, distributed through the mass media, advertising, or other sources. They generally believe that their messages will affect the way people think about the organizations they represent. These messages generally have been one-way and asymmetrical—i.e., designed to make an organization look good or to cover up behaviors that members of publics object to. This is what Cees van Riel of the Netherlands has called buffering activities, activities that are supposed to create a protective cognitive buffer (abstract favorable thoughts) so that organizations can behave, as they want without interference from publics affected by organizational behaviors.”

It was also providential I read Kirstene Stewart’s book, Our Turn, shortly thereafter.

Not to mention the current chair of the Global Alliance, Gregor Halff, completing PR Conversations’ PRoust Questionnaire, and providing his own take on The Message and other areas that succinctly articulated beliefs similar to my own or added to my knowledge.

The American academic rock star’s interview for PR Romania, the successful (in old and new media) Canadian female business leader’s book and the professionally and personally multi-faceted Dutch-born global association official’s PRoust Questionnaire…all addressed expanding and moving forward the process, mandate and mindset of our profession, industry, craft (whatever you want to call it).

Their words and thoughts move away from conventional wisdom and “communication” command-and-control lip service towards a more respected, engaging, multi-hued, emotionally intelligent and successful outcomes-oriented areas of practice, including the specialization known as internal (or employee) communications.

Ideas that could contribute to trust building, regarding this important stakeholder public.

Not to get all mawkish, but inherent possibilities of different aspects of all three documents swelled the beating heart of this communicator.

Communication contractions and disengagement

But then there are the things read, witnessed and heard that dishearten me.

For example, during one of my current favourite Twitter chats, Wednesday’s #commchat, I suffered palpitations when I was informed,

IABC uses the term ‘audience’ across all our materials.”

Internal/corporate communications participants in the IABC staff-led chat use words like “audience” “messaging” and “targeting” far too frequently for my equanimity—seriously, I can’t get my head around the idea of going into work each day as an internal communication specialist thinking of colleagues as an audience that is a target for specific messages.

Be honest, were how Francine and Omar communication stage-managed in my fictional scenarios really that far from reality?

I posit that it is far more likely that agencies, software vendor company reps and independent consultants—whose mindset often revolves around communication and employee engagement, particularly in social media, as commodities for sale—to be the marketing-language perpetrators.

Here is another example. I occasionally listen to the EE Voice FIR podcast, produced by Sharon McIntosh and Sharon Phillips. Together (and separately), they possess a wealth of in-house experience regarding “employee engagement” (EE). But sometimes things they say in their newer lives as independent consultants give my communicator’s heart pause.

For example, their apparent embrace of the employee “advocacy” concept and mindset, which I wrote extensively about quite some time ago. Alas, this idea has not gone away as hoped; quite the contrary, as the active #employeeadvocacy hashtag demonstrates.

few EE Voice shows ago, “the two Sharons” advised to avoid having staff “sound like parrots” in social media; that is, repeating verbatim canned messages for advocacy. Hey now, how about simply letting employees express their own considered thoughts and words (or not), rather than being programmed? Particularly as most employers are not a “cause” as the advocates/advocacy words suggest.

Their March 20, 2016, EE Voice podcast, In Employees We Trust: Key Findings from the 2016 Edelman Trust Barometer, featured Tamara Snyder (senior vice president at Edelman where she leads the agency’s Chicago employee engagement team).

It’s an interesting segment, and it’s where I found a link to information about Edelman’s new employee engagement-specific study revolving around trust, produced by Nick Howard and Dr. Andy Brown.

I will get into some concerns about the seven-step recommendations in a bit, but for the moment will focus on the podcast itself. I think Tamara Snyder does a good job giving the study some context for the end-user, particularly in terms of how trust in the CEO and company is related to employee engagement.

teacher-407360_640What gave me more pause during the podcast, was when the regular hosts indicate how many of their clients are asking them for help in “activating” employees.

What kind of in-house corporate communicators seek out consultants for help on how to “activate” their staff colleagues? Seriously, can teams not communicate, collaborate, influence and engage on an individual basis, instead of trying to trigger some figurative collective switch?

Language shapes consciousness….

2016 Edelman Trust Barometer Employee Engagement missteps 

On page 4 of the 9-page Executive Summary, the authors indicate the following findings,

…. Many leaders still believe that they speak and their employees follow. That the hierarchical, non-democratic structures of the organisation result in obedient employees who toe the party line and automatically extol the virtues of their employer.

The truth could not be more different.

What the TRUST BAROMETER data tells us is that leaders have lost control over the provision of information about their organisation. There is now a disconnect between authority and influence. The employee is the most trusted spokesperson for your business. And as long as employees don’t trust their employers, employers cannot trust what their employees say.”

As I was reading this executive summary, I was thinking back to Kirstene Stewart’s take on respecting the thoughts and opinions of employees and building trust through earned personal capital. Not that far off the mark from this research…but then the specific contexts of the two pieces of communication (book vs. trust report) diverges quite a bit.

This chart (from page 5) on employee engagement related to trust, Company Importance vs. Performance, is useful. Note its footer line:

There is a significant gap between what consumers expect and how companies are performing. Employees have a pivotal role in influencing many of these areas.”


The summary continues right after,

Ethical business practices are another area that consumers feel is important and leads to them being more likely to trust a company. Again, who do they trust as the most credible source of information about a company’s business practices? The employees.

…It’s surprising how many companies have not realised this powerful, trust-building link. Treat your people well. Support them to talk about the kind of employer you are, how you value your customers and the kind of business you are. Consumers will trust you. And, as the TRUST BAROMETER also shows, when consumers trust you they are more likely to buy from you and recommend you to others.

The Edelman TRUST BAROMETER 2016 suggests that this link extends to the way people communicate and the communications content they create. That there is a significant opportunity to harness the trusted advocacy status of employees who are ‘people like me’ through peer-to-peer and social communications.

The final pages (7-8) focus on “Harnessing employee trust.” My consciousness shaped by specific language immediately thinks of employees being harnessed like animal commodities being driven to market….

The executive summary ends with “A seven-step plan” on how to “harness” your employees, in this case putting them to work as advocates in the marketplace. Steps 1, 2, 6 and 7 are reasonable and respectful in both intent and language; however, I’m of the opinion that “stage-managing” missteps are at the core of these middle three, with #5 being the most egregious:

  1. Develop an easy to remember and repeat story that has this positive force for good at its heart. Don’t settle only for describing your strategy to employees. Show them how this strategy delivers something truly worthwhile to the world, beyond corporate profit.”

  2. Bringthis story to lifewith real proof points that are evidence of your good work. Make sure these stories recognise your employee heroes—those whose actions and behaviours are evidence of the value you bring to the world.”

  3. Help your employees to share your story and proof points with each other and the wider worldGive them shareable content and a simple platform that lets them seed it onto their own social networks where they can advocate you with pride.”

Losing a bit of my Trust

As I’m a long-time reader and supporter of the well-established annual Edelman Trust Barometer, I admit to feeling disappointed that the Edelman agency has jumped on the employee “advocacy” train (or band wagon), promoted by so many consultants and related vendor companies. Particularly under the guise of research on “employee engagement” best practices, when it really comes across as another way to turn communication (and people) into commodities.

Language shapes consciousness.

Think on this, not only are most employers not a “cause” to “advocate” for help (as one might about chronic medical conditions or societal injustices), but from a conscientious-and-respectful internal communications point of view, it seems a pretty weak correlation that you can inspire more trust in companies and employee engagement by #5’s

…developing, repeating and helping employees to share YOUR story to seed on to their own social networks where they can advocate you with pride.

For that matter, if employees are important internal stakeholders, is it not THEIR story?

When I shared the Executive Summary, and my thoughts on the missteps, with internal communications specialist and educator, Dr. Kevin Ruck, he agreed and refined the observation further:

The missing step is how to put practices in place that enable employees to trust senior managers, so that when shareable content is created they can decide, objectively, whether to share it or not.”

(Look for more thoughts from Kevin Ruck on responsible communication leadership, in terms of effective employee communications very soon, here on PR Conversations.)

A contextual conclusion

This post was supposed to be a short rant about the erroneous use of a handful of words being bandied about in internal communications-related documents and forums that were enraging me; the end result is decidedly not a succinct effort.

Brevity may indeed be the soul of wit (and increase the odds of something getting shared in social—even if not read at all or merely skimmed), but generally it doesn’t allow for “the specific context of the communication that is needed” per Gregor Halff’s observation.

Even if my context is excruciatingly long, here’s hoping those who think of internal communications as a specialization and vocation, rather than just a job, understand and appreciate (and think even more upon) this Message, when talking to a Francine or Omar in your own organization.

Respect them as individuals and as internal stakeholders, and you are more likely to be trusted, particularly in regards to your task of communicating employee engagement programs to enhance the workplace.

Feel free to engage and make the communication discussion even more dense and rich, by adding your own “constructive criticism, disagreement and healthy debate” in the comments section below.

* * *

Main and body images by geralt on Pixabay. (Thanks to Jennifer Mattern for introducing me to the Pixabay “free images and video” site.)

Hooked rug (woman driving a cart powered by a sheep) from the St. Lawrence Valley, Quebec, after 1936 (artist unknown). Photo taken by the post author during the “Home Economics: 150 Years of Canadian Hooked Rugs” exhibition at the Textile Museum of Canada.

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35 Replies to “Who talks to (and about) colleagues like that?

  1. In the past few days the unlawful killing verdict in the case of the Hillsborough disaster has vindicated the Liverpool football fans, their families and many ordinary employees of the emergency services who responded to the terrible scenes that occurred in 1989. What this has revealed is the appalling lies, lack of leadership competencies and total disregard, let alone disrespect, of citizens by those who had both power, and at that time, perceived social superiority.

    We are now seeing justifiable questions raised about how the media (and in particular Kelvin McKenzie and The Sun newspaper) communicated at the time and subsequently, as well as concerns about many of the organisations around football (including the FA – http://www.independent.co.uk/sport/football/news-and-comment/hillsborough-inquest-why-the-fas-weasel-words-on-hillsborough-are-inadequate-a7003826.html).

    I don’t think the role of PR around the disaster and what is termed an official cover up, or over the years, has been examined at all, but surely this ought to be done. Talk of a ‘black propaganda unit’ certainly suggests a case to be addressed. To stay on topic here in relation to employee communications, and the way that colleagues are spoken to (rather than with), there is much to consider in our recent history, and how this relates to ongoing attitudes (some of which are evident in the comments). In the case of Hillsborough, there are shocking failures in internal communication and planning, before, during and afterwards. Pressure put on police officers to change statements, reports of lack of direction for ambulance crews from senior officers, and so on speak to the importance of training, internal communications, and respect for those who need the support of competent managers.

    Whilst we can argue that 1989 was a totally different time for IC and modern communications, along with crisis training, have improved emergency responses, it is the underlying attitudes of management (and communicators possibly) towards employees, and members of the public, that warrant examination.

  2. Judy, I did not see your post being about buzzwords. I think you’re raising strong and relevant arguments in favour of effective IC, and one of them is the fact that we, internal communicators, deal WITH employees, managers, etc, therefore human beings, people (just like us) and, as such, internal communication should be inspired by respect, trust and so on.

    Yes, we do need to humanize IC. It seems to be a such an important topic that even IoIC 2016 is dedicated to this theme: “Humanising Internal Communication : it’s a people business”, May 5-6.

    1. Thank you, Lise, for your comment (first on LinkedIn and also here on PR Conversations), as well as sharing the post in a few places. It’s really hard to break through all of the marketing noise in social media, in order to share thoughts on internal communications (and employee engagement) best practices, so thank you for helping out with this! Cheers.

  3. Kevin, gender, as Camille Paglia and Germaine Greer will tell you, is a biological fact and therefore it is indeed self-evidently a matter of male or female. Moreover employees are plainly an audience.

    In a PLC everybody is an employee. As every CEO knows, not all employees are equal. But all employees are either male or female. Where internal comms sits doesn’t matter. It can be with HR or PR or wherever so long as it is well managed.

      1. The UK Chartered Institute for Personel and Development (CIPD) omits internal communication as a professional area in its HR Profession Map (see: http://www.cipd.co.uk/cipd-hr-profession/cipd-hr-profession-map/default.html).

        And CIPD research in January 2016 indicated that few employees think that HR is responsible for internal communication. It was ranked 17th on a list of things that employees think the HR department is responsible for (grievances, recruitment and compliance with employment law were the top three areas).

        1. Kevin – I’ve been pondering the arguments for IC as a stand-alone, more strategic function based around the change agent concept we wrote about in our history paper. Where I keep getting stuck, is the word ‘communications’ as I can’t help but feel that restricts the function’s perspective and potential.

          Human resources (personnel management as I see it) is primarily procedural both in the view that you share from employees, but also in how HR operates in supporting the organisation to ‘manage’ people (contracturally and operationally). It seems that as HR positions itself as a profession, it has done this on the basis of traditional, command/control management perspectives with policies, procedures, compliance, measurement, reporting and so forther as its primary currency in organisations.

          If feelt that HR does not champion the change agent perspective and potential whereby the employee is an active participant in the organisation’s operation (growth, improvement, profitability, success etc), not an ‘audience’ or tool to be instructed and managed.

          So, rather than focusing on internal communications as the independent, missing link, are we not talking about a role as facilitating internal relations (IR) where PR tends to focus on external relations? Of course, there the boundary between internal and external is increasingly porous and people may have roles inside and outside the organisation (local residents as well as employees for example).

          But doesn’t the emphasis on communications, rather than relations tend to lead to the tactical focus on the process of communications rather than its outcomes and benefits both to organisations and employees?

  4. I really enjoyed this post. Yes, it is a long read and we don’t always have time for such pieces, but frankly I am sometimes underwhelmed by the simplistic thinking that is expressed in some more easily digestible blogs.

    I was also bemused at Paul’s take on it. He seems to have completely missed the point and offers very little to the discussion about the special nature of internal communication compared to external PR or Marcomms.

    But I am not actually so surprised about this. Many PR academics say that internal communication is important and then go on to marginalise it or completely ignore it in their work. Some practitioner books on PR also omit any discussion of it.

    Colleagues in marketing sometimes talk about internal marketing, treating fellow employees as if they are exactly like customers or potential customers. Which, of course, we all know they are not.

    Employees are not an “audience”. They are employees. People who have a deep understanding about how the organisation works. People who might just, if the organisation listened to them more, come up with some great ideas about how to make products and services better.

    I have previously said my piece on employee advocacy on PR Conversations, so I won’t repeat it here.

    I am really beginning to think that internal communication as a management discipline will soon emerge as stand alone function. It is too important (for organisations and employees) to be merely a sub-section of PR or Marcomms.

    1. Thank you, Kevin! I’m trying to respond to the internal communications/employee engagement comments (at least the ones that I can take seriously) in the order they are received. Ergo, I will get back to you probably a bit later in the week.

      But just as I said to Sean (and also feel about Toni’s input), when a person who has “chosen” internal communications as a specific area of practice (similar to a vocation) or training, it means a huge deal to me when you appreciate (approve of?) all or most of my post.

      I have some experience in internal communications, but more in the small-communications team mix, rather than as a specialized management discipline (as a SME by staff size, it really couldn’t be justified to have a dedicated staff member or team for IC). I agree with you that in large organizations, likely it will soon emerge as a stand-alone function.

      At least in the smart large organizations…..

    2. (Thanks, Kevin response, Part II)

      The advantage of simplistic posts is that they tend to focus on one thought or concept, meaning not only are they shorter, but they are less likely to compel a reader to seize on one part of the communication, at the expense of the overall theme.

      The disadvantage is that most often, the context of what is behind the short-post and minimal idea isn’t communicated or is misunderstood.

      On the other hand, maybe there really isn’t that much there, and the post is simply a half-baked idea disguised with some “community cool” idea.

      Ergo, you have an output that doesn’t demand a lot of reading or thinking time.

      Less thinking, in my mind, means less acceptance or rejection of the idea. Vanilla-pudding blandness. Conversely, championing without context, but also less investment or likelihood to implement the idea.

      When it comes to internal communications, some things only require an announcement-style of communications. For example, changes to company employee benefits or a schedule of when and where construction will be going on in the building.

      However, if it were change management communication, related to a merger or acquisition, obviously it would need to be more extensive and more inclusive in regards to being a two-way dialogue. Because as you say, employees are “people who have a deep understanding about how the organisation works. People who might just, if the organisation listened to them more, come up with some great ideas about how to make products and services better”…as well as how significant changes to the culture of the organization, I would add.

      Respect and trust in the (internal stakeholder public’s) knowledge-based economy and strategic (why and what) internal communications programs are more effective, methinks!

  5. Heather, gender is SIMPLY a matter of male or female and some extremely rare accidents of birth don’t alter that fact, but are rather exceptions that prove the rule. As to DNA, 60 percent of human dna – for blacks and whites – is identical to a fruit fly’s. The good news is that while gender and dna are biological facts, we humans are not defined by either of them; which is a view that runs counter to the contemporary obsession with identity which you so eagerly, it seems, indulge.

  6. Paul – you are in danger of self-identifying as a prat with your comments.

    I quite clearly stated gender is not SIMPLY a matter of male or female; even in biological terms given that people can be born intersex. Chopping your dick off might not make you a biological female – but it may affect your self-identification as a man.

    If you are transgender, then it may well be appropriate to have sex reassignment surgery to enable your body to reflect your gender identity. Of course, wearing trousers doesn’t turn a woman into a man, but opposition to men wearing dresses reflects particular social/cultural beliefs about gender (much as the same used to be the case for women in trousers).

    Likewise, I didn’t say that you could become a ‘black man’, although a DNA test may show that you have a mixed racial origin as probably the majority of British people do. My point was evidently about determining what ‘black’ or ‘white’ may be in your terms, and whether this is absolute. Indeed, my students showed more maturity in their reflections when critically examining the “I Am NOT Black, You are NOT White” video, which led to a discussion around race, ethnicity, religion, nationality, generation and other vectors of identity – including the influence of the culture and the times we live in.

  7. Heather according to what you have just said – I could be – or become – a black woman and you a black man, as its all a matter of opinion. Do you really believe that gender is not biological: can men have an uterus or babies or periods? In my opinion people can call themselves what they want I shall respect that. However I’m with Julie Bindel – describes herself on twitter as “Journalist, author, broadcaster. Feminist activist. Full-on lezzer. Research Fellow, Lincoln University” – and the renowned feminist Germaine Greer who recently stated in her compelling Aussie twang “Just because you lop off your dick and then wear a dress doesn’t make you a f—ing woman.”

    Trigger warning: What happens when a 5’9” white man tells college students he’s a 6’5” Chinese woman?

    Note from post author: I have removed the YouTube video planted here, as it is off topic and visually distracting.

  8. Paul,

    Gender is not simply a matter of male or female; even in biological terms, there is allowance for those who are intersex. However, gender accommodates social and cultural understanding around sexual preference as well as variation in characteristics of masculinity-feminity. As such it may be more helpful for professional communicators to avoid a simplistic male-female divide, apart from goods/services/policies where biological differences may be relevant. Even then, it is likely there will be variation within male or female populations.

    I’d be interested in your criteria for distinguishing ‘white’ from ‘black’ people. Do you have a colour chart that you use? Is a ‘shade’ of colour absolute or do you apply a situational measure depending on how black/white someone is in relation to others in their ‘community’. Are you going to do genetic testing to make a decision?

    Your reference to political correctness is the lazy response we see all too often as an attempt to insult others. Much like how any woman with a view is inevitably termed a feminist – as if believing in equality is something to be ashamed of, where it is more shameful to be proud of a misogynistic character.

  9. Heather, agreed we should call people by the titles they desire, or mostly so – within limits – out of politeness. But when you imply “that means gender isn’t seen as simply a matter of male or female” that’s just nonsense. Next we shall be arguing – as Rachel Dolezal does – that whites can be black and that it is all about how you feel or define yourself or how PR decides to label you. My beef with this discussion and post is that in the urge to be politically correct you’ve lost touch with reality and crept into the Orwellian creepy nightmare of 2 +2 = 5. For instance, it gets really absurd when people talk about communities being all inclusive or non-discriminatory because in the real world communities are exclusive/discriminatory or they are not communities at all. It gets worse when Toni first says PR is a dialogue (as in that defines its essence) and then says it can be one-way or any-way at all. So people here want their cake and to eat it: they want to have it both ways. In other words, they seemingly want us to suspend our disbelief and to ignore the contradictory content of what is being written. Such expectations – and contempt for readers – is the negation of trust and reliable communication.

  10. Judy – To return to the core aspect of your topic regarding communications within organisations, there are two observations I’d like to make.

    The first is about the expectations of some organisations and IC specialists, that employees can be obligated to use their personal communications (including individual social media channels) to advocate for (by which I mean, to publicly support) employers (or in case of agency workers, their clients), and particularly to be supporting marketing initiatives. This is not surprising given a view I increasingly hear from students (who have picked this up on their placements) that getting positive ‘content’ onto social media is a matter of paying for it. It seems many practitioners (presumably clients as well as their agencies) see no ethical or other issues in paying bloggers, vloggers, celebrities, members of the public – indeed, anyone deemed ‘influential’ – to say what the brand wants, use the brand’s collateral and act as an extension of the marketing/PR campaign team. When you see ‘influence’ in this way, it follows that as employees are already being paid (by virtue of employment – even if that is zero hours or minimum wage), there is an expectation that they will use their social media channels as the employer wishes (indeed, this may be contractural). This depersonalises the employee, so further shifts expectations that they will attend to internal communications and do as they are told.

    What is missing is any respect in the employing relationship and increasing expectations, despite organisations often offering very little loyalty in return. This is my second point really, in that although organisations have power in employing relationships, it is not acceptable to treat anyone solely as instrumental. It is this attitude that people are problematic and cannot be controlled sufficiently, of course that encourages increasing replacement of people with technology. Why worry about any social responsibilities in employment, let alone communications, when people are dispensable and replaceable?

    I’d also like to say that the concept of respect should be at the heart of how we use language. I don’t know if you’ve seen the Guardian’s work on The web we want: https://www.theguardian.com/technology/series/the-web-we-want (including an interesting interview with Monica Lewinsky)? The focus on online abuse and its potential impact is very interesting. Additionally it doesn’t seem unreasonable when language use changes, new words emerge and others disappear (for various reasons, including that they are not longer seen as socially acceptable), to allow people to inform others of how they wish to be addressed. If that means gender isn’t seen as simply a matter of male or female, that we recognise children grow up in various circumstances (i.e. the default isn’t that they have one parent who is male, one female and they are married happily every after), that a firefighter is a more useful label than fireman (although I’m not convinced on ‘chair’ and would prefer another term), that people may move in and out of circumstances (including mental illness), and that communications are polyphonous, we may come to view that society isn’t best served by privileging one demographic over others.

    I also respect my students enough to encourage them to make up their own minds on the basis of wide reading, reflection and being open to understanding and respecting other opinions. Hence we have debated the implications of viewing all relationships with ‘influencers’ (a term we’ve also examined critically) from a commercial perspective. I’m sure they are more than capable of assessing the content of your post, and the source, range and nature of comments.

    1. Thank you, Heather (and Sean) for focusing on the CORE parts of my post. Toni, for the most part you do as well, but you’ve allowed yourself to be led off-track by Paul Seaman, seeming to forget he is (in)famous for doing this on PR Conversations. (For example, on Benita Steyn’s posts.)

      This post is decidedly NOT about “politically-correct” (PC) words, no matter how much patronizing “mansplaining” is found in Paul’s rabid multi-comment output.

      Nor, however, is it about “buzzwords”–the only exception would be the creepy terms like “activating” staff or “gamification.” And I would say Edelman’s new concept of “harnassing” employees is a potential buzzword, which I will do my utmost to help stave off.

      I will return with more considered comments to those who actually want to have a healthy debate. But if the comments are totally (and deliberately) off-track/off-topic and insulting (to me), I am simply ignoring them from here onwards.

      And if off-track and insulting comments become directed at NEW visitors “engaging” on this post, please be advised that I will happily “unapprove” such troll comments or other distractions.

      Toni, do you know the (slang) buzzword “throw shade”?

      throw shade
      to talk trash about a friend or acquaintance, to publicly denounce or disrespect. When throwing shade it’s immediately obvious to on-lookers that the thrower, and not the throwee, is the bitchy, uncool one

      Again, my thanks to everyone who is engaging in RESPECTful “constructive criticism, disagreement and HEALTHY debate”

    2. Heather, I agree with your observation about this shift (I would add from an extreme focus on CONTENT marketing ) to influencer marketing, primarily to external influencers, but also now to (thanks to documents such as the Edelman Trust Barometer Employee Engagement) internal ones—such as staff—are troubling for many reasons such as those you outline.

      I’m encouraged that one “cautionary” movement regarding influencer marketing programs or campaigns is that regulators in many countries are monitoring closely and in many cases penalizing when lines have been crossed, regarding payment or other incentives. I hope agencies who sell this kind of service are taking note. Oh that those same regulators would examine whether employees were being similarly “used” for marketplace mindshare.

      There’s also a growing collective ethos of questioning within active social media participants.

      I will give you a personal example.

      I’ve been on the media list for several years for one of the large cultural institutions in Toronto, resulting in many invitations to exhibit launches as well as regular updates on upcoming programming. I consider this a sign of respect for my personal capital, as it happened after I participated in a community-outreach event where the institution was trying to be more inclusive in both its programming and “influencers” (for lack of a better word) from different segments of society. The cynical person might say the event was held, in part, to justify to the provincial government its continuing funding, but I prefer to think that it also was a conscientious decision by leadership about the need to reflect the communities in which it is based.

      I often decide to share some outtakes. For example, when it is an exhibit I particularly liked, I will share an image from the event or opinion. I might reference a special event or exhibit that is upcoming (learnt about from the email media releases).

      Note that I also do this for cultural institutions or theatre companies, etc., where I am NOT on the media list.

      But if it didn’t impress or inspire me, I simply don’t reference. I look at it as similar to sharing what books I thoroughly enjoyed, versus making no mention of the ones that were a struggle to finish. I’m not going to use up my personal capital, simply to consolidate staying on this media list for invites.

      I found a (small?) agency account, I don’t follow (nor does it follow me) RTing my shares on a regular basis, without any additional commentary. I found this odd. So I inquired, publicly, whether they were working with this cultural organization. “Yes, we help them with social media,” was the tweet response. “Then you should be making it clear it is a client, perhaps by simply including (cl),” I responded. And the RTs from that account stopped.

      Most people aren’t stupid—they can recognize genuine championing of an organization. Or a personal opinion, versus a formulated one whether it was from an external influencer or an employee that “talks like a parrot.”

      In your second point, I’m glad you also focused on RESPECT for employees. I did a search and determined that I used respect, or a form of that word, 11 times in my post (the most overt one being the sub-hed, Trust and respect are at the beating heart of effective internal communications).

      And it was because of your second-point focus on respect in this comment that caused me to visit the Edelman source document to find out how many times “respect” is used in regards to employees.

      By my search count, it is used ZERO times. In some ways that’s not surprising, because if you feel the need to “harness” employees, the employer and its leaders are already contextualizing themselves as owners and masters. (On a side note, do you think some of the language used in the report might be because it was written by two white males….?)

      In my two fictional scenarios, I hope it is evident what was at the core was two hard-working, thinking employees, who should have been respected for their abilities and free will, but were not by the so-called communicators. They weren’t recognized as individual internal stakeholder contributors; instead, they were being targeted with what was essentially a pre-formulated, broadcasted message including (in Omar’s case) an “announcement” about a semi-automation program he (and other people in his department) were expected to “engage” in..

      My daily Canadian reality and consciousness is a culture of accommodation—and respect and understanding that there are differences in the populace—and yet remaining united under common values, as enshrined in the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Unlike the last one, our current Prime Minister’s consciousness is shaped by this reality (I’m sure to a considerable measure shaped by both his PM father and mother’s points of view and experiences) , in both his spoken and written words and (now) legislative actions unfolding.

      His shrug and “Because it’s 2015” answer has already become a part of the feminist (female and male) lexicon in the 21st Century.

      And our public broadcaster (which has finally had its budget increased, after years of being under-funded) is also very conscious in both its programming and voices heard. On a show like The Current (Canada’s multiple-award-winning and most-listened-to information show), it’s the norm rather than the exception, for representatives from various self-identified communities to be asked, How do YOU want to be identified and viewed? (And one of my favourite quotes comes from its host, Anna Maria Tremonti, who said in her keynote speech to CPRS conference attendees, “Listen to listen, don’t listen to speak.” She’s also done a TEDxQueensU talk on the topic of “What I Learned by Listening).

      That’s why I’m glad you are incorporating that kind of (personal) critical thinking into your courses, to allow students “to make up their own minds on the basis of wide reading, reflection and being open to understanding and respecting other opinions.”

      In developing those skills, they are more likely to question (external) influencer marketing and/or employee advocacy programs, in their own professional lives or through their writing.

  11. Toni both you and Judy maintain the mistaken and dangerous idea that “language shapes consciousness,” primarily in regards to deliberate words chosen etc. That viewpoint lacks any respectable philosophical foundations. It is an Orwellian position that is beloved by dictators, censors and wannabe PR manipulators of the public. Let me remind you of a scene in 1984:

    Winston Smith’s tormentor and torturer O’Brien ridicules him for believing that “reality is something objective, external, existing in its own right,” and that “the nature of reality is self-evident,” when in fact “whatever the Party holds to be the truth, is truth.” Winston, resists the idea that words determine consciousness and thereby reality but O’Brien goes on to argue “This thing is true. This thing is a fact. Two plus two = 5.”

    Yes, words matter and we can discuss another time Orwell’s great advice on how to write well. We can also discuss another time what consciousness is and how language fits in; meanwhile I recommend reading Herbert Mead and Raymond Tallis. Today my message to students of PR reading this blog is to be very suspicious of PR professors and practitioners who spout nonsense as they speciously denigrate others (Edelman for instance) in their effort to impress or influence you.

  12. Only for the sake of clarity:

    I have often argued in this blog and elsewhere that communication-to, one-to-one; one way or top-down (however the dominant model is defined) is not only a legitimate, sometimes necessary and effective form of expression for social, private and public organizations.

    Edelman’s intriguing and sophisticated concept of “Communications marketing” is vastly different and more ambitious than the traditional and dominating ‘marketing communication’ practice (see this 2014 link http://www.edelman.com/insights/intellectual-property/the-rise-of-communications-marketing/).

    One would hope that at least the basics of the conversation be clear.

    As for my supposed (Judy?) ambition to push (?) competing buzzwords. frankly I have other things in mind and not necessarily more serious or important.

    Yet words remain important for those who make a living out of using communication as a tool to develop relationships (trust yes, but also committment, satisfaction and control mutuality) with an organization’s stakeholders in an effort to achieve its objectives.

  13. Is PR really about having a dialogue? Or is it better positioned as marketing communications? My reply to Toni’s opining chimes with that of Mr Satler addressing his boss: “Up to a point Lord Copper”. Most PR has nothing to do with democracy, which is inherently about dialogue, even when it takes place within one. Put another way, PR is not about managing relationships between equals. Most of our clients are on a one-sided mission about which they have nothing to be ashamed about; such as making a profit or representing one particular interest in opposition to others. Hence, sometimes one-way communication is called for and when it is encouraged, two-way communication has to be kept strictly limited to ensure that the balance of power is clear in the struggle to fulfill prescribed missions. Hence, Edelman deserves credit for honestly setting that point straight when it describes what it does as an arm of marketing communications or communication marketing.

    I cannot let Judy and Toni’s supposed opposition to buzzwords go unchallenged. Their criticisms are actually merely an expression of their wish to promote their very own buzzwords (diversity, gender blah blah) over ones they dislike. In other words, theirs is part of an ongoing battle between various camps wedded to competing buzzwords rather than a discussion about substance.

  14. I will not, for deference to and respect for PRC readers, dwell on of what I think of the well consolidated Pavlovian instinct permeating a few of our most intelligent and learned, but equally repulsive, commenters (no reference to Sean or Heather or Judy of course) of this truly great post.

    I interpret this as an attempt to say that:

    -words are fundamental in our trade and communication by organizations or institutions shape the way many of us look at the world and that this might not necessarily be the best observatory….

    -in this very blog, now for 12 years running, we have so often made fun of and criticized the use of buzz words in our day to day professional activities, that it might even warrant a special dossier…..

    -this post is also a brilliant, clever and thought-provoking summary and update of this buzzword theme, as well as a critical essay on the ‘political correctness’ plague infecting any potential critical view of what we do… and hampering concerned educators in their attempts to alert youngsters of the consequences of that plague.

    Having said this and thank you Judy…. there are two points I do not agree with and I will now deal with these, one is minor the other major:

    -you say
    Who talks to (and about) colleagues like that?
    I believe that communication is a dialogue and one does not talk to but with…. I am sure you do too, Judy, certainly venial…however if words are important…….

    -more to the point, the political correctness plague has infected all of us who over the years have been, for example, enthusiasts of the Edelman Trust Barometer.

    I can think of at least 10 different explanations that justify and legitimize such enthusiasm but I can also think of one that does not and I am happy that Judy in her piece cites James Grunig.

    Let me explain: as we know, according to the ‘relationship’ school, trust is only one of four indicators that help to evaluate the quality of any relationship. The other three are commitment, satisfaction and control mutuality.

    The public relations profession and academic discourse (the best of both of course) have focused over the years, thanks to the effective Edelman narrative, on trust and completely ignored the other three.

    Right or wrong, the consequences have been that we still use the ‘talk to’ rather than the ‘talk with’ nomenclature . And this has led to the Edelman company to define itself as a Communications Marketing company (I am sure Sean is well aware of this), and beyond many other manifestations I am not happy about, also leads us to use the term engagement instead of involvement.

    That marketing, message, audience-driven culture remains with us. and we should make an extra effort to get rid of it and, more importantly, we must explain this to our younger colleagues and students.

    Cheers and thanks again. Judy

    1. (I decided to respond to you via your second of three comments only.)

      Toni, I suspect we do not give enough credit to you in terms of how often you are the first person to comment on a new PR Conversations post. Additionally, how you make use of this forum (I like to think of it as a communal house, where we invite people in to get comfortable and have debates) to not only give props to a post author, whether principal, regular contributor or first-time guest, but also reputable commenters who are equally invested in, if not the premise, at least an invigorating on-topic discussion, pro or con, a post may nurture or provoke.

      Then you add your own experiences and perspective, from both an academic and practitioner point of view. We may not always agree, but you have earned your credibility honestly (what Kirstine Stewart terms “personal capital”), and at your core is a respect for (most) people as thinking and feeling individuals. For these traits, I thank you.

      As you say, “words are fundamental in our trade and communication by organizations or institutions shape the way many of us look at the world.”

      It’s also the primary function of many practitioners’ daily roles, whether in-house, agency or independent. I don’t believe there is any shame in “crafting” words for a living. Speechwriting, for example, is a specialization for which few are truly gifted.

      Having said this, I need to backtrack to a criticism levelled at me (not by you, but you did seem to partially agree). At the core, this post is about internal communications and whether it does or can aid in employee engagement.

      It is also regarding my concern about overlaying this area of practice (i.e., internal communications) with marketing-style language, except in this case such language is being directed (or targeted) at employees, rather than consumers.

      Nowhere am I advocating politically correct language—but note that one person’s PC term can simply be another person’s daily reality, the language that shapes MY consciousness… but only if I let it, rather than pushing back.

      Or buzzwords.

      As Heather observes, both are a lazy form of communication. And I would say that buzzwords are often used as justification for trying to move one’s craft into a newer direction of paid services. Make it sound like it is customary to harness employees and activate them; or, propose ways for staff gamification via a software platform…and suddenly these concept appear half-way normal.

      (On a side note, I date PRC back to late 2006 conceptualization and first-iteration recruitment, and launch in 2007; a long history in the blogosphere, yes, but not 12 years in this format.)

      Regarding your venial sin about my post title, Who talks to (and about) colleagues like that?, partly it is to grab attention in a noisy world.

      But I didn’t write it simply as clickbait; rather, it’s me (paraphrasing/amalgamating) quoting myself!

      I have used a form of this expression during #commchat, when participants have used audience or targeting or messaging.

      And during one #RaganChat (about “employee advocacy” SHUDDER) I asked whether other participants found the idea of “activating” employees downright creepy.

      Regarding your growing criticism of the Edelman Trust Barometer, and your happiness that I cite James Grunig’s interview with Dana Onacea, it’s important to point out that he was answering her specific questions and that the primary focus related to the conventional wisdom about reputation being at the core of public relations (he says it is “relationships”), rather than the concept of “trust.”

      And even though Jim is the consummate gentleman, I was of the belief that if he was criticizing any organization it was the Arthur W. Page Society and/or its Page Principles, rather than the Edelman Trust Barometer or Edelman’s increasing, deliberate focus on marketing communications or communications marketing….

      This observation does not discount your observations about organizational “relationships” and about trust being only one of four indicators “that help to evaluate the quality of any relationship.”

      Particularly in regards to employee engagement, I can understand the need to focus on commitment and satisfaction. I understand less what you mean by control mutuality, and would be interested if you elaborated on that area further.

      I continue to believe the Edelman Trust Barometer is a worthwhile annual study, and give credit to the agency for devoting its resources towards it. But I agree that far too many people are relying on this “narrative on trust” without taking into account other research that explores additional areas, let alone points of view. We all know that only the questions asked can be answered and analyzed and then formed into a narrative, meaning it already has a place of origination bias.

      And I agree that the term engagement in regards to employees is imperfect, although I’m less convinced that involvement is a superior term. Maybe effective internal communications can’t be captured in a word or two, in relation to outcomes.

      Finally, I co-sign to your,

      “That marketing, message, audience-driven culture remains with us. And we should make an extra effort to get rid of it and, more importantly, we must explain this to our younger colleagues and students.”

      (Pointing out that is what Heather Yaxley did in her recent post…..)

      1. Judy, your are correct on many points and thank you for taking the time. Some things where you apparently misunderstood my words.

        I never had the intention of criticizing the Trust Barometer. As you well know I have been a fan of this tool and its authors since it began.

        I criticize instead ourselves and our colleagues, as we all get on the bandwagon when the Barometer comes out, yet do nothing (or very little) about the other three dimensions of the quality of a relationship.

        To the point that the very concept of reputation now overlaps with trust, and this is, in my view, a disservice to our profession proving that one way, communicating-to and communications marketing are fully justified because our peers are too lazy to communicate differently.

        On this note I am also convinced that the control mutuality dimension is very important for employee relationships.

        There needs to be some dynamic indicator that allow us to evaluate the quality of the organization’s relationshipnwith its employees and the different perceptions of the balance of power between the two subjects is essential.

        Finally, I never even indirectly hinted at the possibility that Jim Grunig was critical of the Barometer and wonder; how you got that impression?

        Words of course are essential to understanding.


        1. Agree more than disagree; that is good. 🙂

          I’m still waiting for you to detail what you mean by “control mutuality” though.

          Toni, maybe I made the Grunig-is-critical-of-Barometer’s-focus-on-trust assumption leap, but it was simply because of the structure of your first comment:

          “-more to the point, the political correctness plague has infected all of us who over the years have been, for example, enthusiasts of the Edelman Trust Barometer.

          I can think of at least 10 different explanations that justify and legitimize such enthusiasm but I can also think of one that does not and I am happy that Judy in her piece cites James Grunig.”….

          1. Very simply: control mutuality is the degree to which parties in a relationship agree that each influences the other. In an employee/company relationship context,
            of course optimal relationships vary according to different variables.

            In a recent oil and gas case among expats drillers in Canada, we found that an employee sample rated their idea of reciprocal influence 8 (company) 2 (employees). The internal communication team decided, in agreement with management, on a program of activities/decisions that would lower that level to 6 (company) 4 (employees)….

  15. Heather, the irony here is that the gender ever-so-sensitive non-binary content and message of this post is PC PR personified. Hence some of what is critiqued in the post might be waffle but it is still superior (in the sense of being fit for purpose short hand) to the mythical all inclusive yuk and useless alternative offered here; which likewise deserves its place on Private Eye’s Pseuds Corner:

    “I have long been a believer that “language shapes consciousness,” [this leads the author to seek to police speech, which irony of irony is totally Orwellian] primarily in regards to deliberate words chosen, particularly when reasonable, more-inclusive and dynamic terms exist.

    “For example, mindfully using gender-neutral titles [‘expectant mothers’ in favour of ‘pregnant individuals’?] such as chair rather than chairman or firefighter over fireman. Gender-inclusiveness aside [this complete rot has resulted in Facebook recognizing the existence of at least 71 genders], there’s a plethora of other areas that need similar “consciousness” in communication. To wit, including ethnic diversity [means defining people by the colour of their skin or ethnic origin rather than their character] and values, physical and mental health challenges and sensitivities [this means treating robust individuals as vulnerable beings – so vulnerable that say the wrong word in the wrong place and they supposedly go to pieces and require therapy], generational accommodation, and so on—embracing and respecting the human spectrum [such meaningless waffle leads its proponents to endorse countless identities and to legitimize endless offense taking] in its entirety within workplaces [actually this leads to division and time wasting in the workplace and elsewhere] and communities at large, rather than marginalizing or patronizing [contrariwise: it this proposed approach that patronizes people] with messaging and tokenism.” [Note; all words in square brackets are mine]

    Sorry to say, but this post is much more patronizing and limp than any of the people or practices it puts puts itself up to denigrate.

  16. Thank you, Toni. I look forward to what else you have to say when you come back.

    Sean, I appreciate you taking up my invitation “to make the communication discussion even more dense and rich, by adding your own ‘constructive criticism, disagreement and healthy debate’” as a comment.

    (I will think on what you said more and perhaps respond to some things.).

    Ah well, Paul, if a PR Conversations post didn’t include something for you to deride and sneer at, what fun could you have with it, proving how much more “PR” sophisticated and smarter you are than everyone else?

  17. The challenge this post poses is to pick the best paragraph to submit to Private Eye’s Pseuds Corner because all most all of them would qualify:

    “And even though employee “advocacy” is a new term used for programmed engagement, “activating” staff or encouraging their ”gamification” move them in “social” speak to a new type of en masse command-and-control that is downright creepy.”


    “…mindfully using gender-neutral titles, such as chair rather than chairman or firefighter over fireman. Gender-inclusiveness aside, there’s a plethora of other areas that need similar “consciousness” in communication. To wit, including ethnic diversity and values, physical and mental health challenges and sensitivities, generational accommodation, and so on—embracing and respecting the human spectrum in its entirety within workplaces and communities at large, rather than marginalizing or patronizing with messaging and tokenism.”


    “Think on this, not only are most employers not a “cause” to “advocate” for help (as one might about chronic medical conditions or societal injustices), but from a conscientious-and-respectful internal communications point of view, it seems a pretty weak correlation that you can inspire more trust in companies and employee engagement by #5’s”

    Such rot give makes PR a laughing stock..

    1. Paul – I fail to see how you can accuse Judy of pseudery by citing the paragraphs in this post that are clearly a pastiche of the practice of pseudery within the IC industry. Maybe your irony meter has failed – but your final sentence sums up the whole post. Judy is saying that the type of pseudery evident in those three paragraphs is the rot that makes PR (and in this case IC) a laughing stock. My irony meter hits jackpot!

  18. Judy – goodness me, that is an EPIC post. I’ll not attempt to chapter-verse my comments, nor to compete at length.

    A former boss, decrying my tendency to ask stupid questions during staff meetings (such as “But why are we doing this tactic? What is the strategy behind it? How does it help the organization?”) said, “sooner or later, you just have to tell people what you’re going to do.”

    I offer this to say that the value brought by internal communication is measurable. We can connect our activities to various monetary and nonmonetary objectives. What is very difficult is to assign a value to each individual tactic — therefore, Edelman uses the Barometer to demonstrate to clients how some specific actions can affect trust, monetizing and programmatizing the “unplanned” employee back fence discussions about the company and its products.

    It is the marketing/branding mindset at work = all communication is, in the end, marketing. All resources and organizational assets must adapt to service the marketing mix.

    The irony is that when an organization truly is a great place to work (not merely the winner of a pay-to-play contest to claim that mantle), great performance seems to follow closely. The organizations with the most engaged workforces score well on productivity and performance metrics. Employees freely share stories and recruit friends to work there.

    As a business owner, I know I have to find some means of getting organizations to hire me to help them — that means I need to identify a need and explain how I can fulfill it. For a lot of communicators, this is the end-all — all communication really is marketing.

    For me, it’s not and never can be. The path to winning in business is not paved with manipulation, deceit. It’s being who you are and keeping an ethical compass. It’s about realizing that not all communication is marketing, especially in internal communications.

    IC represents the single best means of improving organizational performance over time, if only organizations will embrace it.

    1. (Now that the furious off-topic “PC language” and supposed buzzwords–like “diversity” and “gender”–has died down, let’s get back to our regularly scheduled Internal Communications and/or Employee Engagement program.)

      Sean, when the leader who didn’t want your input said, “sooner or later, you just have to tell people what you’re going to do.” I’m curious as to whether you “accepted” it, at least in part. What I mean is that as much as I “advocate” (can’t resist using) for input and differing points of view, at some point the team/department tasked with “communicating” with other employees has to do it, even if imperfectly.

      I like the way both Toni (a bit later) and you bring up a criticism I hadn’t thought of about the annual Trust Barometer–the fact that “trust” can’t be the sole element to measure effectiveness against.

      I know (from personal experience) that staff can despise the current CEO (who maybe was recruited just six months ago), but still believe in the product or service. Conversely, you could have the best boss and fabulous team, but be really unhappy with leadership’s single-minded focus on “shareholder value” above everything else.

      I am filing this line: “….therefore, Edelman uses the Barometer to demonstrate to clients how some specific actions can affect trust, monetizing and programmatizing the “unplanned” employee back fence discussions about the company and its products.” for future reference/attribution.

      I agree with your take on some of the great organizations (engaged, happy, productive workforces). And some of them (staff) DO champion or serve as a company ambassador (freely), sometimes on their own social media accounts.

      The Dell bloggers come to mind (the first iteration have mostly moved on to other companies, but remain pro-Dell/Michael Dell).

      And the grandaddy of them all must be long-storied/living/adapting IBM, with former staff still sticking the past-IBM’er tagline into bio lines. (As much as I think “social” is happily baked into the DNA of most IBM employees, past and present, I do think the company took a real social misstep a few years ago, when it got all hot-and-heavy into EXTERNAL “influencer marketing” programs, including “recruiting” the dreaded social media marketing gurus for IBM “advocacy.”)

      Adobe is similar to IBM in that social became a part of the culture quite early.

      Salesforce was always built on the cloud, and the CEO and all of the hired staff seem to rock that.

      And then there is Deloitte, who seem to make particular use of employee’s personal accounts in terms of RECRUITMENT of others (as opposed to B2B marketing/selling).

      So there are companies where it works, but I would say they remain the exception, not the rule. And that staff BEGIN working at these companies, (happily) realizing this external role will likely become a natural part of the job description. By choice..

      I’m curious whether this is on your company letterhead:

      IC represents the single best means of improving organizational performance over time, if only organizations will embrace it.

      If not, it should be!

      So my thanks for commenting and adding your perspective to my “epic” post. When the compliments come from someone who proudly indicates that he specializes in internal communications and can prove (via measurement) its value, plus ,mainly agrees with my take, that is an honour and even bigger compliment.

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