Oct 30, 2015


If you had the chance to go back and try again, would you? Sometimes the work wears you down. You reach a point where you have lost the spark, lost the thread, lost sight of the big idea. You start to feel like you are holding back the thing you are supposed to lead. So you make the choice and walk away - not because it's done but because you feel like you don't have enough left to give. 

But it lingers there in the back of your mind. You compare the next assignment to it and the one after that, and they don't really quite compare. You pick up new experiences and wisdom and think about how you would apply them to that thing you left behind. It was the thing that mattered, and it still is. And you know that if you went back you would do it differently. Because you're a different person and the work is in a different context and you'd approach it with a different mindset. The distance helps you see it more clearly. Being away from the details helps you see the potential and the perspective you lost sight of when you were so close to it. You couldn't have done it differently if you had stayed. But maybe now... 

Sometimes we leave so we can go somewhere better. But sometimes we leave so we can come back better.

Sep 27, 2015


1) Your work talks and it is more eloquent and honest about you and your potential than anything your voice could ever convey. So whatever the assignment, do the best work you can.

2) When someone offers you an opportunity that interests you, no matter how much of a deviation it is from your plans or your path, be wise enough to say "yes."

3) To paraphrase a former colleague: whatever interests your boss should fascinate the hell out of you. Deliver on that and you'll have more space to pursue the things that interest you. 

4) Your boss' interests notwithstanding, the people who work with you and for you are every bit as important as the person for whom you work. On most days they are even more important. Treat them that way. 

5) It is entirely possible to be professional and also have fun. In fact, I think the ability to have fun is an essential part of being truly professional. A job in which you don't laugh at least once a day is not a job you should stay in. 

6) Every professional workplace will talk about things like values and core competencies. The HR people will probably list them on a poster in the lunch room and on letterhead and in the annual report. Whether it is on the list or not, nothing else on that list is more important than respect.

Sep 20, 2015


There's a growing body of research in the field of behavioural sciences that smart communicators should be paying attention to. It's work that isn't usually led by communicators. In the public sector, where it is gaining real traction, it tends to be led by policy experts drawing on the expertise of social scientists, psychologists and behavioural economists. But it presents an enormous opportunity for communicators to assume a strong role and to prove and improve the value of their work.

If you're not familiar with the field, behavioural science is being applied to design relatively small, low-cost interventions that generate proportionally large results. Often referred to as "nudges", the idea is that you can tweak the way a policy is applied to counter the natural psychological biases in all of us that may prevent us from making what would logically be considered the better choice - like enrolling in a pension plan. (For more background and examples, see the work of the U.K.'s Behavioural Insights Team.) 

If you look at the growing list of successful nudges in jurisdictions around the world, many of them are essentially based in sound communications practice - things like using clear language to increase compliance with policy. And the data-driven approach taken to prove the value of nudges can actually validate the importance of sound communications practice. But just as importantly, the science behind nudges can also help communications be much more successful. It provides a deeper level of understanding when you think about who your audience is and the dynamics that influence their response to you and your thing. 

Smart communicators would be wise to embrace this. And, while I may be bias in this, I think smart communicators who also have experience in policy development are also the wise choice to lead the implementation of nudges in any organization wanting to more effectively engage its clients. 

Sep 18, 2015


A wise colleague once drew the diagram below to illustrate the idea that, in any attempt at engagement, there are essentially three audiences at play: active, engaged and interested. They all have a relationship with you, but the dynamic of the relationship is different for each.

The active group are often valuable. But, whether well-informed or not, critics or constructive contributors, they are often the same vocal participants you would likely hear from no matter what. The engaged group are those who essentially watch but don’t speak. They pay attention but don’t feel either compelled or comfortable enough to actively contribute. And the interested group are those who may not even be aware that they have a vested interest in the discussion because they don’t see the relevance of it to their lives. But this doesn’t mean their input is potentially any less valuable.

The goal of effective communication, if you're serious about making something happen, is to move more of the interested and engaged toward the active group to expand that group beyond the usual suspects and build some critical mass. One important element in achieving that movement is to ensure the engaged and the interested understand the issue and its relevance to them. The simple truth is that people more actively involve themselves in things that matter to them if they are comfortable enough that they understand it. Note there is a difference between whether they actually do understand and whether they think they understand. Arguably, many of those who are actively involved already are less informed than they think or misinformed by others. And when that’s the case, what’s the value of their contribution?

So increasing actual understanding of what you do, how you do it and why can ultimately serve to:

  • Ensure the actively involved are well-informed, adding greater value to their contributions and avoiding unnecessary confrontation.
  • Reduce the barriers that potentially keep the engaged from actively participating. 
  • Increase the likelihood that the interested will see the relevance of an issue to them, thereby making it more likely they will move to the engaged or active group.
  • Overall increase the number and diversity of voices involved in any discussion.
  • Build a more trusting relationship between you and all those involved.
Not that understanding is the be all and end all, but it is a necessary gateway to engagement. My wise colleague also talked about the need to provide what he called ladders of participation. By that he meant that once you have their attention and they have sufficient understanding to want to act, you need to give people ways to act. And, importantly, you need to give them more than one option. My colleague used the example of Greenpeace. There are those whose support for Greenpeace extends to a donation and wearing the Greenpeace t-shirt. Then there are those who are willing to chain themselves to a whaling ship in protest. And Greenpeace provides a range of participation options between those two extremes. Once you're engaged, you choose how to act.

These ladders are particularly important to help those seeking to move from engaged to active status. Options for how to participate do two important things:

  1. They respect and empower the participant by placing a level of choice in their hands; and
  2. They reduce the amount of courage required to become actively involved with you and your thing.
So know who your people are, and then help them become what you need.

Sep 10, 2015


Don't waste it, the precious opportunity you have to really get people's attention, to help them understand, to help them trust, to forge the relationship. Don't waste it on junk communication. Don't waste it on content that doesn't matter to anyone but you. Don't waste it trying to be something you're not. Don't waste it talking about the obvious. Don't waste it trying to replicate something that worked for someone else. Don't waste it with messages devoid of meaning and relevance and humanity. Don't waste people's time.

Countless other voices are competing for their time and their attention and their trust and their loyalty. Whatever communication you put out there, make it worth somebody's time. Not everybody's - just the ones you care about. And if you make it worth their time, they'll give you more of their attention next time. But if you waste it, they won't give you a next time. Because they don't owe you anything in return until you've given them something of value. 

Jul 25, 2015


There's the plan, in all its well-thought-out, nice tidy glory. With its timelines and page numbers and logic and clarity. Then there's how stuff actually ends up getting done. There's usually a big difference between those two things. You know those people you work with who somehow always stay calm when the plan starts to fall apart? The ones who keep their head when it's all going off the rails? Those are the people who understand that difference between the plan and the path and are comfortable in the gap.

Jul 20, 2015


Here's what you need to get stuff done: the right people with the right idea at the right time. Having all three won't guarantee success, but anything less will make success much harder. Maybe even impossible.