Archive for category Work
A few weeks ago I posted about giving employees their due. Time to move up the food chain a bit. Let’s go to middle management, alternately seen as bottlenecks, conduits, or a*#holes depending on your position beside, below or above them.
Since Wikipedia is rapidly becoming the end all for defining what we don’t want to ourselves, let’s see what they have to say.
“Middle management is a layer of management in an organization whose primary job responsibility is to monitor activities of subordinates while reporting to upper management.”
Wow, that doesn’t sound like something you’d study at Harvard! Sounds more like something the secret police would have been doing in any Middle Eastern dictatorship currently in the throes of being overthrown.
Lest you doubt, it only takes a few word substitutions to make my point:
“The Secret Police is a layer of control in a government whose primary job responsibility is to monitor activities of its citizens while reporting to the king/president for life.”
It’s hard to believe no one from middle management has caught this “big-bro-like” wiki entry so far. Maybe it’s because they’re too busy monitoring subordinates and reporting on their activities. Or maybe it’s because they’re busting their chops and other parts of their body trying to motivate staff, oversee budgets, and communicate increasingly complex information with fewer people, less money and time, and often incomplete or even incoherent data. Yet, US companies have been hedging much of their success on the ability of this mid-level to do it all, while the people they manage are wondering why they can’t.
Over the past year, I’ve managed communication effectiveness projects for some of the best known companies in the US and two themes have been most prevalent:
- middle management is seen as being ineffective communicators, and
- employees want to get more information from their middle managers.
This is quite a dilemma – it’s almost like saying my elected officials are doing a crappy job, but I want them to be better at telling me that. Oh wait…
About twenty some odd years ago, upper management decided computers and automated business decision software would make middle management obsolete. Then the economic downturn of the late 80s became a well-timed trigger for massive lay-offs of middle managers. What upper management failed to realize is that while computers are good at managing data, they’re really bad at managing people. Guess what, they still are. But it’s as if no one above the equivalent of a staff sergeant pay grade in the Army remembers that. Just look at how many mid-level managers lost their jobs in this last go round!
So what’s the solution? Match the tools with the expectation. If you want mid-level managers to be good to great mid-level managers, give them the management, communication and financial tools to do that. Reward them for using them, instead of punishing them for not having the time to ask where to find them.
More importantly, change up that definition to something more compelling and less “big bro-like.” How about this: “Middle managers are role models to their employees.”
Anything more than that and you might as well head to the Middle East.
I’ve been at this business of communications longer than I sometime care to consider. Longer if you count the first mono-syllabic utterance that escaped from my infant lips that was in no way tied to the gaseous expulsion resulting from lactose intolerance. (That would come later in life, but I digress.)
Consequently, what has struck me the most often is the chasm that exists between external and internal communications or the utter lack of integration between what gets communicated externally with what gets communicated internally. When it comes to big news and even bigger campaigns, employees are often “brought up to speed,” then forced to sit on the sidelines as they hear the news after the fact.
While the irony of missing the boat with the company’s “greatest asset” has often seemed evident, it often also didn’t seem to matter. That chasm between external and internal comms was too great and most likely would never be crossed without some incredible stretching super powers like those of Mr. Fantastic of the Fantastic Four…or real collaboration between the heads of employee communications and marketing.
The sad part is that the chasm appears to show no signs of closing except in the halls of the companies that sit somewhere in that nirvana of management otherwise known as enlightenment. The economy continues to give many organizations an excuse to do really stupid things.
What’s the problem here? It’s not as if the situation has gone without a considerable amount of attention. Management gurus have been making hefty consulting fees trying to solve the problem for decades. MBA programs at prestigious universities have raised millions over the years to study it. And enough trees have been cut and ink run to publish a library of reading material large enough to fill the state of Delaware. The best that seems to have come out of this predicament is a somewhat heightened recognition that employees want to know what’s going on with their place of employment before their 14 year- old nephew sees it on YouTube and creates an anti-authoritarian themed mash-up.
Lest you think I jest, look at the intranet of any major company(although doing so would mean you’d have to either be an employee, a consultant or a university professor in a prestigious MBA program writing about it.) They’re often poorly organized, lacking in design and the search function was better on the internet in 1994! Yet that same company could very well have the latest in interactive gizmos and whatchacallits on its corporate internet site, along with Twitter feeds, Facebook pages, and yammer. And the search works!
Is most of corporate America clueless when it comes to the potential power of integrating an internal employee communication program with that of an external branding campaign? Is it too hard to consider that employees want to be an advocate and will be if you give them the tools and rewards for doing so? It shouldn’t be that difficult. Even airlines still treat their frequent fliers better!
While in an era of high unemployment and economic uncertainty, the easy route for the less enlightened might be to not give this a thought, a quick look back at history proves that nothing lasts forever. The economy will start to drift up again, more companies will start hiring, and employees who’ve not been engaged will more than likely pick up and leave. There goes the corporate gene pool.
You have to ask yourself…is it really worth it to risk keeping your employees on the sideline with a lack of information and inclination, or do you want them out there more informed than your best customer and more enthusiastic than your best salesman? Give them their due and they’ll more than likely give you their all.
I know there are examples out there of companies who “get it” – Nike and FedEx come to mind. But I could probably stop counting the number of big corporations that “get it” in full measure by the time I reach the middle finger of my second hand. And that’s not the finger you want to see when your employees leave to work for a company that “gets” the idea of integration.
-Aaron Heinrich, Communications Consultant
If my George Foreman grill could order meat, it would be as important to kitchen appliances as the Kindle is to the book and e-commerce industries. In June, this ZDNet blogger said he felt the Kindle’s days were numbered because of the iPad. But just this month ZDNet posted a story that outlines wall street analyst projections that Amazon sold 4 million Kindles in the fourth quarter alone — and is projected to sell 10 million more in 2011. I just got my Kindle this past Christmas and love it like the year 1987 and the 2002 World Series. (That’s a hyperbole.)
Since getting the Kindle, I’ve spent $475 on Amazon.com (about double what the typical Amazon customer spends per year) — only $20 for e-books. Obviously, the Kindle is my personal gateway drug back to Amazon.com. And it’s far easier to clean than my George Foreman grill. See smashed left thumb.
Dear Jeff Bezos, You now have 121 122 million customers. I’m back.
Everyone wants to talk iPad vs. Kindle. Not so fast. The Kindle is different than my iPad. It replaces paper books while my iPad seems to replace part of my laptop, TV, MP3 player and portable DVD player that I never did buy. The beauty of the Kindle is that it doesn’t pretend to be something it’s not. Like the Cadillac CTS-V Coupe that tries to be a BMW 6 Series and a Corvette at the same time.
The book is dead. Long live the Kindle.
- Jose Mallabo