Talent management and communication. Those are words that are on the minds of the vast majority of the clients we consult with. Why? Because the staff and leadership that make up an organization are the greatest communicators of its identity. An organization’s talent:
Reflects its culture and values.
Sends a message to its constituents and the wider community.
Is crucial to mission fulfillment.
Builds or diminishes operational excellence.
Internal Decisions Quickly Become Public Perception
In an age where technology has completely revolutionized the means and speed by which people communicate, an organization’s internal decisions can instantly influence public perception. Take two prime examples: PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) and Sesame Street.
PwC was caught up in a media frenzy when a London receptionist was sent home without pay for refusing to wear shoes with a two-to-four inch heel. The young woman answered back by beginning a petition to make it illegal for a company to require women to wear high heels at work. Within 48 hours of launching the petition, it had been signed by almost 110,000 people, surpassing the 100,000 signatures needed to trigger a response by the government. What has the long-term effect of this single action been on PwC’s public perception? Well, a quick Google search with the terms “PwC” and “high heels” will give you your answer.
Sesame Street, our second example, may make you do a double take, since this program has long been an icon of American early childhood experiences and equal educational opportunity. However, in July of 2016 there was massive public outcry as veteran stars of the show said that their story was being brought to you by the letter “F”—for “fired.” Bob McGrath (“Bob”) told the public that he “had been graciously let go” from the show along with Roscoe Orman (“Gordon”) and Emilio Delgado (“Luis”). Recently, the show had made the move over to HBO, so naturally people associated this personnel decision with the transition.
As a result, HBO was portrayed as the villain in this case, even though HBO does not oversee production of the series. According to Sesame Street’s twitter account, the three veteran cast members would “remain a beloved part of the Sesame family and continue to represent us at public events.” This post went on to say “As we’ve stated previously, Sesame Workshop retains sole creative control over the show. HBO does not oversee the production.” However, the damage had been done. The social media blitz had resulted in comments that ranged from “How could you fire Gordon, Luis and Bob? That’s like firing your own grandfathers.” to “HBO proves to be the worst monster Sesame Street has ever faced!” Questions about discrimination regarding age and race were also added to the mix. As many begged the show to reverse its decision, it appears that it may do just that. In early August, Sesame Workshop issued a statement that the incident was due to “misunderstandings around the changing cast roles.” They also revealed that Bob, Gordon, and Luis may return to the show.
What’s the takeaway from the cases of PwC and Sesame Street? In both cases:
Internal actions became sensational headlines.
Actions were legal, but public perception was negative.
Issues of generational differences, gender, and/or race were prominent.
Both reflected current human resource trends.
To echo Warren Buffet, CEO of Berkshire Hathaway, “It takes twenty years to build a reputation and five minutes to ruin it. If you think about that, you’ll do things differently.”
Applying These Lessons
So what does this mean for your clients and how can you help them navigate the turbulent waters of social media, technology, and internal/external communications? One of the most important steps you can take is making sure they understand a number of key influences on current HR trends:
Social media has changed the world. Social media is tool that can be difficult to control, allows for rapid public communication, and transforms internal actions into external representations.
Competition for talent is heightened. Talent today is mobile and there are fewer highly skilled people in the workforce. Career shifts are common, with the average person undertaking 4-5 careers in a lifetime.
Generational differences can cause tension. There are currently three generations coexisting in the workforce: approximately 80 million Baby Boomers are ageing out of the workforce, 46 million Generation Xers, and 76 million Millennials.
Work/Life integration is more prominent. Increasingly, people in the workforce are seeking flexible scheduling, opportunities to work at home, and are focused on balancing family and work.
Social equity is an important conversation. More than ever, there is a greater awareness of the impact of race, gender, ethnicity, cultural, and linguistic diversity. Social equity is an important lens through which the values of an organization are communicated externally.
Take Action for Immediate Impact
Based on these trends, there are actions you can advise your clients to take now to improve the workplace environment. They include:
Mindfully use social media and have clear policies. Organizational leadership can’t dictate what anyone communicates on their personal social media, but staff should be aware of the implications of posting. There should always be clear policies set around the organization’s social media activity.
Document, Document, Document. Leaders should document every conversation even if it’s just by sending an email to themselves. This can help to shape the perception of an issue in relation to its reality.
Consider your approach to addressing race and gender awareness. The following questions can help leaders take the temperature of the organization’s current workplace environment. Does the organization create a welcoming environment for the people it serves? Is there a stated policy to respect the diverse backgrounds of staff? How does the organization understand the consumers it serves and build capacity to best meet their needs? How does the organization engage diverse community partners and families?
Develop consistent protocols for handling workplace issues and complaints. Things managers can do are listen and playback during conversations with employees, conduct careful investigations, take action (rather than hoping an issue will resolve itself), and circle back with the employee to remain abreast of development.
In conclusion, the internal strength of an organization is the foundation of its external communications. Giving time and attention to talent management in a thoughtful, relevant way allows an organization to emulate its mission and communicate its values. As Henry Ford once stated, “Coming together is a beginning. Keeping together is progress. Working together is a success.”
Alison LaRocca, Engagement Manager. Alison helps clients to increase their social impact through strategy design and implementation. She manages and offers support for multiple projects that focus on strategic visioning, planning, and program evaluation. Alison is a seasoned educator that draws upon her extensive practical experience with some of Massachusetts’ most vulnerable children. Prior to joining Civitas Strategies, Alison taught at the award-winning Community Day Charter Public School (CDCPS) located in Lawrence, MA. CDCPS is known for its innovative and research-based methods that serve a student population where 74% are low-income and 83% are English Language Learners. Alison holds a Masters of Education from Merrimack College and a Bachelor of Arts in History from Williams College.
While at Williams, Alison pursued numerous research endeavors, including a unique, senior project in collaboration with the History and Dance departments. Alison also attended the prestigious Williams in Exeter Programme at Exeter College, Oxford University, during which she participated in several research and writing intensive tutorials. As a senior, Alison was awarded the Hubbard Hutchinson Memorial Fellowship in support of her continued pursuit of excellence in dance and the creative arts as a student at the Tisch School at New York University and the Martha Graham School, both in New York City. Alison is also the President of the Board of Directors with the Albany Berkshire Ballet, headquartered in Pittsfield, MA.