Digital landscape is just the landscape.

I’m often asked about the competitive landscape for Grant Thornton when it comes to digital and social communications and my response is usually along these lines.

There are a lot of smart people out there doing some really smart, but relatively isolated things across many online channels in professional services, but is anyone really taking a lead?

This week a lot of us will have read the ‘memo to staff’ sent by Lionel Barber to staff of the FT, outlining next steps in their “digital first” strategy. This will be widely read as the last significant step that the FT needs to take to becoming a “digital only” publication and for me, points much more closely to where organisations such as the one I work for should be looking to get their inspiration from.

http://aboutus.ft.com/2013/10/09/lionel-barber-memo-to-staff-on-reshaping-the-newspaper-for-the-digital-age/

Clearly we’re a different type of organisation altogether, but the bulk of his memo talks about changes to working practices, how articles and thought leadership pieces will be planned, less reactive – more focus on the landscape and trends. Most strikingly there is a very bold, if you’re not ‘in’ then perhaps it’s time you started to think about your career at the FT message which almost had me fist pumping!

It’s a mind shift before it’s a habit shift and this sort of message from senior leadership will focus minds and attention on a potential prize that can no longer be ignored.

As Lionel says, “This is no time to stand still.” You may not see a reason to change your habits yet, but you’d better understand that big organisations are changing the landscape even if your closest competitors aren’t just yet.

The changing role of the internal communicator

The last seven days have been hectic. An unconference, a forum meeting, a networking dinner, an interview in The Times, an amazing gig and….oh yeah, sign off on the huge Enterprise Social Network project me and the team have been working on for the whole of our lives. So in the calm before the implementation storm, some thoughts on the week’s major theme; the changing role of the internal communicator.

Communications? PR? Marketing? – we need to be able to wear all three hats, or at least be able to walk in all three pairs of shoes.

Comfortable behind our desks – we can’t continue to expect people to come to us. We need to be out there making change happen, visible and essential. In our rush for a seat at the table, we have to leave our own seat behind once in a while.

Embrace your marketing colleagues – there was a recurring theme at ‘The big Yak’ of marketing being the competition. “They have the biggest budget”, “They have more sway”. Marketing people are people too – talk to them, learn from them, work with them not against them. There’s an immediacy to marketing because they understand the link between what they do and the bottom line. Maybe that’s not as tangible to some of us in Comms.

Making comms ‘sexy’ again – Marketing is ‘sexy’ because they make it so. Networking, dinners, awards, events, clients. We have those things too people!

Socialising the workplace – the emergent role of the social business manager. Doing this right means the marrying together of all the above and understanding that ‘social’ and ‘digital’ are just words. Communicate the business benefit of an ESN (Enterprise Social Network) or a simple Twitter feed, show people what’s in it for them, and don’t expect it to be easy!

Community – two elements to this. 1) Community Management – understand what this means to your business and to you. The tools we now have at our disposal are changing this from a little bit of what we all do, to the be all and end all. 2) You’re not alone. There’s a growing, engaged community of practitioners out there to learn from and who want to learn from you. Follow @theICcrowd for a start and switch on to a whole bunch of people walking in your shoes.

Finally, and this may be just me, but having been the quiet ones (all things are relative…) in the corner, suddenly the ‘digital’ part of Grant Thornton’s Comms team is going to be awfully noisy from now on. ESN signed off and social business hats pulled tightly on, call it what you want but the ‘digi’ boys and girls are coming!!!

What changes do you see coming over the horizon for communicators?

The importance of a comfortable chair

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Sometimes the hardest thing about my job is the chair that I sit in.

It’s a good chair, in fact, it’s a super duper fancy chair for tall people with dodgy backs. It tips, it spins, swivels, supports. It even has an amusing hand pump that looks like a lemon.

The problem is that more often than not, it needs little adjustments or seems to be in the wrong place. It’s not always quite close enough to the marketing team, or HR, or IS. It can usually be found within the Comms team, but has been known to tilt and bend towards social media, digital, PR, intranet, KM, coaching and consultancy. Sometimes I wonder if it’s not suffering from a bit of an identity crisis!

So it’s a good job that no matter where it sits, it is usually comfortable and if not, can be tweaked until it is.

It’s also a good job that it has wheels.

Selling cultural change one paper at a time

Well this has been a long seven days. It’s always tough returning from holiday but I’ve found it particularly difficult this time out.

For me, it’s the momentum. I always build up to such a crescendo of controlled panic before annual leave that it feels impossible to slow down. Then I do. To a complete stop!

So anyway, a period of adjustment, the clearing of emails, finding importance in the unimportant…and I’m back!

To what? Well to version 5 of what feels like my life’s work, a document called ‘Changing the game: brand promise, cultural change and social media’. (A version change in my mind is scrapping at least 50% of the previous version. Of small changes…there have been many!)

I spent all day Wednesday on the Executive Summary, making sure I leave no room for anyone to say no.

No to investment in technology. We want to bring Jive into Grant Thornton. We think it will be a good fit and frankly,in terms of social collaboration platforms, it’s the best we’ve seen.

But more importantly, we can’t leave room for our board to say no to the investment (in time, understanding and advocacy, not always monetary) we’re making in social communication, in supporting deep cultural change and ultimately in challenging the way we do business at Grant Thornton.

In investing heavily in our brand and our people’s understanding of it, they’ve endorsed everything I ever thought social media could bring to our business; individual responsibility and action, connected knowledge, true thought leadership, speed to market, the absolute importance of dialogue.

But that’s all direction and intent. What we have the ability to do now is show Grant Thornton people a way to get involved in that direction, led from the top. We already had three members of our board on Twitter before this week and on Tuesday I helped our CEO set up his account (more on that to come).

And that is what I think every business needs as it thinks more about social communication and external social media. A real understanding at the top of why it’s important, why we should be there and the ability to demonstrate it through authentic use of it themselves.

So, version 5 it may well be, but it’s closer than ever. Wish me luck.

Putting my neck on the line

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I’m not the world’s most organised person. Being a father of two, holding down a full time job, maintaining my interests, finding downtime – all these things contribute to a life that can sometimes feel a little too full. It can sometimes feel like the world is moving at great pace and all you want to do is get off for a while

So how do you ensure that you’re consistently at your best for your family, colleagues and friends? Easy, you slip a disc in your neck!

Clearly I’m not suggesting this as a preferred way of achieving the perfect work/life balance, but for me it has fundamentally changed the way I’ve done things for near on 3 months.

1st change – laptop stays home. Can’t/shouldn’t carry it so don’t.

2nd change – bunch my meetings together and work from home when not in meetings.

3rd change – keep moving. Sitting, standing, desk working all take their toll. As soon as I feel that familiar ache and the pins and needles hit, it’s up and off. Laps of my floor, out for a coffee, a desk side chat or now the weather’s changed, a stretch on the grass outslde Euston.

Again, I’m not suggesting universal laptop mutiny, but simply that each and everyone of us thinks about the amount of time spent static or welded to our inboxes, hunched over tiny screens, lunches at desks….we all recognise at least one of these, no?

You could also argue that it’s fine for me. My role is all about the use of digital communication and social media. Surely I can afford to do things a little differently?

Baby steps people! Just offering to do the tea round may be enough? Running to the shops. Whatever…don’t wait until your neck snaps before you take up my advice.

On the basis of this BBC article, (Office workers, bankers, IT experts and couch potatoes beware. Doctors are warning sitting down for too long can shorten lives. So how can the chair be countered?) I’m suggesting Grant Thornton buys a funky coffee machine, I train as a Barista and turn out coffees for Euston House between 9 and 10.30 each morning. I’ll be on my feet, colleagues will be on their feet and you can be sure that by 10.30 each day I’d have all the water cooler gossip and conversation. I’d feel the pulse of Grant Thornton House!

Surely that’s the essence of social communication and what we’re trying to achieve? 😉