Saturday, 28 July 2012

Components Of A Communications Strategy - The "How"





4) The "How"

This refers to the actions, both strategic and operational, that are to be undertaken towards achieving the 'desired good'. This component also includes the methodologies, processes and expertise required for successful implementation of the initiative/project.



This component is really the heart of the communications strategy, which if ineffective, halts the entire process. Due to the fact that it is the 'bolt' of a project, it is in this area that the  investments of time, effort and finances are most expended.



Ironically, the "How" could be the easiest part of an initiative to handle, if  its three 'pillars' are present: if the technology is superior, the expertise is certain and the professionals are available.



This does not mean however that the methodology chosen to implement the 'desired good' should be decided without first taking into consideration the complexities of the initiative. To clarify this issue, let us examine the "How" during corporate social responsibility initiatives. 




The "How" during corporate social responsibility initiatives


Corporate social responsibility (CSR) initiatives are almost always guaranteed by 'smart' companies seeking greater collaborations with their host communities. This is due to the desirability of a good corporate reputation, which is believed to lead to wider stakeholder acceptance of the corporate brand, thereby translating to increased profitability and/or sales. Moreover, healthy CSR-community relationships promote mutually-beneficial associations. They also increase the possibility of smooth operational activities, particularly in 'troubled' or impoverished areas such as those with disaffected youth, illegal activities and ad-hoc vigilance groups.



Deciding thus on the "How", (the methodologies/processes/analytics etc.), to employ in order to ensure favourable outcomes of CSR initiatives, is crucial to the companies implementing them. Multinationals - sometimes viewed by local critics as the opportunistic entities riding upon the persistent wheels of capitalism - are particularly vulnerable to the perceptions of the community. Nevertheless, local companies are not exempted from certain expectations from the public.



Let us consider at this point, that our fictitious indigenous oil company, Company I, operating in the challenging Niger-Delta region of Nigeria, (often considered to be 'hostile' due to worrisome incidents such as sabotage of pipelines, piracy, abductions etc.), decides to launch its CSR initiative which it hopes to implement every year. The 'desired good' is the automatic employment of twenty university graduates who studied courses related to science and technology, with the minimum of a Second Class Lower (2:2) degree qualification. These graduates, (male or female), should not be older than twenty four years at the time of the testing, must have concluded the obligatory national service and should be indigenes of the state in which the oil company operates. Perhaps Company I, via this initiative, wishes to commit to a long-term plan aimed at both demonstrating its goodwill to the host community, as well as its understanding of the main concern of the local populace - the gainful employment of its youth.



The employment is contingent on the attainment of specific academic qualifications. Nonetheless, the presentation of university score sheets should not be considered as the sole proof of knowledge. This is due to the unfortunate possibility of examination malpractices and corruption in certain educational institutions in the country, a development of which the local company is aware.



The "How" required to implement the 'desired good', would thus need to be strategic in order to identify the most-deserving candidates. A specific route should be followed:





1) Communication of the CSR initiative and ownership of process


In  its  press release, the oil  company announces its CSR initiative, (employment of twenty graduates etc.). More importantly, it states that it would reserve the right to use whatever methodologies it deems fit for candidate selection, from the large pool of graduates who meet the eligibility requirements.










2) Outsourcing of recruitment drive to external consultants


Company I outsources the recruitment drive to Dragnet Solutions Limited*, a renowned company in Nigeria, which specialises in deploying testing methodologies, whose expertise encompasses biometrics, test-development services, computer-based testing and an IT-training academy.




Dragnet Solutions Limited acts as external consultants and would incorporate into the recruitment process, computer-generated testing tools, (the technology), which would be ensure that the oil company’s pre-set questions, encrypted in binary form prior to the scheduled date, would only be deciphered at the time of the testing by the computer programme, in order to become immediately available to the candidates. Dragnet Solutions Limited guarantees controlled processes by selecting the ‘question order randomisation’ option, (the expertise), for the industry-specific questions chosen by Company I. It also oversees a controlled environment, (candidates are searched to ensure that no support materials are used etc.), to ensure standardisation of the procedures. Tests results would then be collated by the computer programme but interpreted by the external consultants, (the professionals); instead of officials of Company I and recommendations would be given. This development would eliminate potential cheating and lobbying, thereby ensuring the quality of the top twenty-five, who scored the highest scores, for the next stage.




3) Participation in selection process


The shortlisted candidates would then proceed to the final stage: a stringent interview whereby the panel, (consisting of Dragnet consultants and the oil company's top HR officials), would conduct interviews geared towards ascertaining the potential and overall marketability of the candidates. The final twenty candidates would be unanimously selected by the panel members.




4) Hire of candidates


At the oil company’s request, the list of the successful graduates  are published on Dragnet’s website. Company I then contacts the chosen twenty and hires them. These graduates are enrolled in the company’s induction and socialisation programme for new entrants.



                     


  

In this way, the "How" would have been effectively utilised to identify and select the most deserving candidates for employment, which in the long run, would reduce costs associated with rectifying inefficiency or poor performance. This is also crucial because the oil company would need to review its annual budget to accommodate the new hires and create appropriate roles for them. 




Without rigorous recruitment and selection exercises, the process of candidate selection would be left to discretionary powers which if flawed, might lead to gross incompetence in the long term. This development would arise because the graduates would have lacked the knowledge base which should have been the foundation for careers in the technical field. Employed without this requisite knowledge, the candidates might fail to perform satisfactorily over a certain period, despite regular training and the assumption that everyone is 'teachable'.  



As a result, Company I might decide to 'cut its losses' and discontinue the initiative to reduce costs. This ripple effect may lead to backlash from the citizenry, especially from the host community which may state its displeasure at the ‘unfair’ treatment of its indigenes regardless of the rationale given. A damaged corporate image would follow and if left unchecked, it would have dire effects on the continued operations of the oil company in that 'hostile' location.





Conclusion


In this case the "How" was used as a strategic tool to ensure the success of the CSR initiative, as well as a precautionary measure against its 'failure'. One fact remains clear - companies should plan this component more precisely to pre-empt shocks and project failures which would negatively impact the bottom-line.



Barring all hitches, the "How" should effortlessly lead to the next component - the "When/How Long".














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*Dragnet Solutions Limited is a solutions-oriented multiple-intelligence technology and talent management firm. Since its incorporation in 2007, it has provided premium services to organisations in the public and private sectors in Nigeria. It is the preferred partner for various testing and assessment requirements.



N.B- First image courtesy of stockxchange.com. Animations courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Saturday, 14 July 2012

Components Of A Communications Strategy - The "Who"







 
3) The "Who"


These are the key people responsible for the success of the 'desired good'.


Identifying or choosing the right individual(s) to drive a change plan or launch a new idea is intricately linked to the issue of leadership.



In various discussions in social media platforms, the leadership discussion is seen as the primary drive for introducing and sustaining initiatives.



We have all heard the saying:  "leaders are not born but made". Well  if the statement is true, then it seems that fewer  are 'made' every day. Some people confuse autocratic or dictatorial  methods for  true leadership. Others believe that being 'one of the guys' gives them automatic passes to the 'community' of great leaders.



I am certain that opinions would vary about the qualities which characterise a true leader. However, in my opinion, a true leader should generally be brave enough to do what needs to be done and wise enough to know when to roll up his sleeves and get down into the 'trenches' when the need arises. His actions should demonstrate a strong conviction for his cause, making him comfortable enough in his own skin so as not to be prematurely swayed by the perception of others or by various pretensions. This is leadership by example; and in the organisational context, no other way is as effective.





The "Who" during a minor change initiative



Deciding on the right person to handle any change initiative can be a tricky process. It must be handled carefully to avoid office politics with all its negative connotations.



If the change impacts a small unit in the organisation, for example the sales team, it may seem that the obvious thing to do would be to instruct the regional sales manager to drive and handle the change programme. However, the area manager, supervisor or line manager - by virtue of constantly being in close proximity to sales/field officers and having direct knowledge of problems/limitations or challenges experienced - may actually exert more influence, (and thus gain more commitment/loyalty), from the sales team, than the distant regional boss who sits in his plush office, occasionally barking orders and giving ultimatums.



Therefore, it takes a discerning mind to be able to select the most competent individual to drive the change initiative, even though he may not be the most obvious or popular choice.




The "Who" during significant organisational change

























The "Who" is expected to be responsible for the 'desired good' and depending on the scope of the change initiative, should drive it towards completion.




This requires someone with a short-term focus but long-term plan as change programs usually go through different phases and do not, (or rather should not), stop once they are perceived to have been (successfully) implemented. This is due to the fact that the efficacy of the 'desired good' would need to be monitored and measured after the implementation phase, for a more accurate assessment of its impact. If found inherently flawed, it should be revised by employing crisis management tactics or adopting 'damage control' actions.



Often, the "Why" and "Who" components are closely linked. This is because the individual giving the rationale for the change initiative, (the "Why"), is often the one who has created sufficient visibility to be automatically deemed responsible for its success, (the "Who"). Logically, by the time the justification for the 'desired good' has been supplied, the individual who would drive its success should already have been identified for fluidity of purpose.



In certain cases however, when the change is significant or transformational in nature, either originating from the CEO's vision or impacting company culture/operations,  it may not be practical for one individual to be 'saddled' with the responsibility of  trying to gain organisation-wide acceptance, as well as attempting to direct the change throughout the conception-implementation--assessment cycle.



To shed some light on this point, let us examine the fictitious case study of Company X.






Case study of Company X


Mr. W, the newly-appointed CEO of Company X, an IT service firm operating in Nigeria, requests for data to be collated from its customer service unit. After receiving documented reports clearly linking the loss of clientele to very poor customer service and attitudinal problems, he decides to revolutionise the firm's customer service unit in order to eliminate inefficiency. He starts by announcing the 'Same-Day Rule' - a system whereby all minor technical complaints are logged/recorded and solutions offered, at no extra charge, for all clients throughout their warranty periods.







He also sets up a unit called the 'After-Hours Hotline Unit', (AHHU); he outlines 15-hour rotation shifts during the week and approves the hire of highly-qualified technical staff. The main function of these skilled professionals would be to man the 'hotline' and offer solutions to complex technical issues, from 5pm-8am weekdays and from 11am-9pm weekends, public holidays included. The AHHU staff would enjoy higher salaries, regular training, access to state-of-the-art technology and other perks in exchange for unusual working hours and demanding duties. The CEO believes that the creation of the unit would not only increase efficiency in the company's services, (its core business), but that it would also translate to increased revenue and place Company X in the advantageous position of being the first among its competitors to embark on such a drastic change. The specialised unit is especially relevant considering the ineffective maintenance culture in the industry and (as it is sometimes stated), unprofessional service delivery in the country.



After giving the rationale for the creation of the AHHU, Mr. W might initially encounter resistance to this bold action plan, especially from the regular staff, for a variety of  reasons, one being the fear of job losses. Nonetheless, after a period of planning, consultations and communications with staff and managers, he is able to get sufficient support for the implementation of his vision.



Yet, it is not practical for him to be the sole driver of the initiative. This is due to the premise that the change requires collaborative inputs from various segments of the organisation such as: the technical unit, finance unit, communications unit, human resources and marketing/sales team. The CEO may thus decide to inaugurate a cross-functional team, (comprising staff of the stated segments), to implement the change programme. The team would be required, every quarter, to track the impact of the AHHU with quantitative indicators and forward the results to him for assessment. Should results be positive in increasing market share and profitability, Mr. W might decide to include the initiative in the mid-long term business strategy of the company.



In this scenario, the "Who" becomes extremely important to the overall success of the 'desired good' and would tend to have a direct impact on the success or failure of the change initiative. 






Conclusion


As stated earlier this component is closely linked to the issue of leadership. It also has implications for responsibility, often confused with accountability.



A notable quote by Pasi Sahlberg, a Finnish educator so states: "Accountability is what is left when there is no responsibility. Many languages do not have a word for accountability. Almost all do for responsibility"*. 



My interpretation of the quote in the organisational framework can be summarised thus - if the "Who" is prepared for both the joys and the challenges of a change initiative, either championed by himself or delegated from above, (and by extension, assumes responsibility for it), the issue of liability/blame, (thus accountability), even when acknowledged, would not be paramount in the collective psyche of employees. It is because a true leader would always allude to the possibility of a contingency plan/alternative route to be undertaken should the 'desired good' fail, for whatsoever reason, to actualise. (The "Crisis-Mode" component would be tackled at a later date).



Incorporate a dynamic and competent "Who" into your organisation's communications strategy and watch your 'desired good' gain momentum.




The "Who" would also help pave the way for the next step - the "How"...






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*Pasi Sahlberg Blog - www.pasisahlberg.com/blog


N.B- Images courtesy of freedigitalphotos.net



Saturday, 7 July 2012

Components of A Communications Strategy - The "Why"









2) The "Why"


This refers to the rationale, reason or justification for the implementation of the 'desired good'.



In general terms, this component becomes important especially when driving change initiatives, no matter how small they may be perceived. If handled properly, it eases the transition to a new system, process or program. For this reason we would examine the "Why" within the context of organisational change.



In today's fast-paced era, managers sometimes do not have the 'luxury' of time to provide sufficient justifications for a proposed action. Moreover, they may be required to deliver results within the confines of incomplete information. When they do provide explanations however, these are often overshadowed by their military-style orders. It is no wonder that even though they expect full co-operation, they receive lukewarm responses.



It has thus become important for managers seeking to implement change initiatives to objectively consider the following:



A) Whether the justification is 'ego-induced'.


B) Whether the justification is clearly communicated as the practical option.





The justification as an 'ego-induced' declaration







Many managers today lack diverse skills for their evolving roles.  This is true even for managers who are considered effective in delivering results or in motivating their teams. When questioned about a decision, they sometimes fall into the 'because-I-said-so' category.





Some adopt 'power tactics' - using their positions or influence to make arbitrary decisions just because they are able to do so. Unbeknownst to them, such actions tend to alienate them from their teams. They are often ignorant of the simmering resentment from the employees in their unit, mistaking temporal compliance for consent. The employees however are simply biding their time until they are able to show, in no uncertain terms, a disapproval of the managerial style of their boss and/or their resistance to his change initiatives.




Even if a rationale is given but construed as  'ego-induced' and thus simply mirroring the perceptions of the power-obsessed executive, it would not yield widespread acceptance.




For example, a regional sales manager working in a mobile network company, who is known for adopting 'power tactics', may give the rationale, (the "Why"), for increasing individual sales targets of his team members  by 20%, as being  'necessary' in order to compensate for the poor sales recorded in the previous month. He might even hint that there might be consequences for all who fail to meet the new targets. However, without proper justifications for the increased targets such as the following:



I) The telecommunications company undergoing colossal losses due to operational/technical setbacks and thus needing to boost revenue to cover costs;


II) The sales unit needing to liaise with the marketing and technical teams in order to pool together talents and resources to boost sales so as to save jobs across the board etc.



The reasons given would be seen as yet another avenue for threats and intimidation. The employees would display lukewarm actions or outright resistance, despite the gravity of the situation. This is because the justification given by the manager neither acknowledges how the change would impact the employees' performance, nor addresses other factors which might yield favourable results. People should not be expected to work miracles if neither support nor tools are given to enhance effort. If under extreme stress, the sales executives may be forced to adopt illegal, (or at the very least), unethical measures to obtain the required results - the ends justifying the means - thereby tarnishing the corporate reputation if such actions become widespread.





The justification as the practical option



Now your justification "makes sense". Tick. But why is it not receiving the support necessary to drive home your objective? Often times, this problem could arise if it is not the practical option for that circumstance. If you also consider the fact that the spontaneous reaction to any change is resistance, (we are all creatures of habit), it becomes clear that your "Why" would need to be perceived as the most suitable route for your 'desired good'.



In this sense you cannot, or rather should not, compare oranges to tangerines, despite the two obvious links:  both fruits having a similar appearance/taste and both belonging to the citrus family.



For example, your company may have recorded some success in increasing individual sales targets of its executives in its Johannesburg branch in South Africa, by explaining the need for the competitive edge in the sector and by seeking to retain the branch's reputation for being the most profitable in sub-Saharan Africa. Perhaps the justifications for the 'desired good', (the increased sales targets), were effective because they benefitted from: a) the collective pride of the sales unit and b) the ownership of certain innovative initiatives which galvanised sales in that location.



However, giving similar justifications in the Lagos branch in Nigeria may backfire, even if it does seem like the obvious thing to do - transferring a 'tried and tested' formula to another sub-Saharan location. And this is the mistake multinationals tend to make. Cultural differences, (ranging from the prevailing corporate culture of the land to social dynamics), are often overlooked, or wrongly assumed, to be identical in African countries sharing certain socio-political similarities or experiencing specific macro-economic trends.



Unless justifications which are given to the employees in the Lagos unit take into account its operating environment, special circumstances and culture, there would be no effective 'buy-ins' for the initiative and thus no appreciable success recorded. This development would have been prompted by the resentful, ever-present and  uncompromising 'this-is-not-how-we-do-things-around-here' stance.




Conclusion


One of the most crucial reasons for the lack of continuity in change programmes is the absence of the appropriate "Why". Unless people really believe in a cause or feel responsible for its success, due to a combination of reasons, among which is their level of commitment, it would not be sustained. 



Once the right justification is identified, the "Who" should then be chosen after careful consideration as this individual's actions would have a direct effect on the process of evolution/renewal/change that the organisation is seeking to address.



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N.B- Image courtesy of freedigitalphotos.net. Animation courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.