After a number of months of mentoring me on a role where I was driving communication for the launch of Digital Cable TV in the United Kingdom, Johnny Harben, an esteemed colleague of mine at the old London internal comms consultancy, Smythe Dorward Lambert, said “you aren’t just editing copy here. You are editing the organization.”
It was the best compliment I have ever received, before or since. And the idea of “editing the organization” is one that I have held to as both an ambition and as an approach. But as I noticed a gap between the amount of praise and support I have received from my key stakeholders in my current editorial role and the relatively low readership figures our Group Intranet receives, that I asked myself: “What would the contribution I make be even if no one (or nearly no one) were to read my stuff?”
What I found is that the very acts of developing and publishing organizational stories produces four key benefits above and beyond what is produced by people reading and acting on the stories. These benefits involve Formalizing, Exposing, Elucidating and Defining, which conveniently arrive at the acronym of FEED.
Although corporate governance itself is highly formal, most decisions made in organizations take place in the course of normal work flows and are rarely recorded centrally—agreements on working practices and principles between teams, setting of program priorities, and facilitation of the flow and processes involved in the delivery of projects.
A key contribution of pro-active corporate editing is to find those who are working successfully and explain why they are succeeding—and in particular, to discuss the decisions, practices and processes that lead to their success. In so doing, the editing process makes those processes explicit. It even blesses them as “official,” even without executive decisions to mandate their use. Such formalization and blessing makes the processes and practices replicable and upgradable.
In a company with thousands of people and multiple locations, there is generally a hell of a lot going on at one time. For the most part, the people “doing the doing” think what they are doing is commonplace. But the selection of an activity or a team and exposing their work through a feature article not only provides the team recognition, it also gives the team insights into their own practices and how they execute them. It also gives the members a story to tell to tell their colleagues and even to the folks at home.
Even in a big company operating in a single business language, sectarian terminology and excessive modesty make it difficult for managers and employees to make their initiatives understood. Barriers of terminology are a leading cause of reinvention—as different teams with the same idea lack the ability to recognize when peers elsewhere are pursuing the same objectives at the same time.
In seeking out and exposing interesting developments, a large amount of the value created comes from working with the initiators to explain their rationale, objectives and approaches in accessible, coherent language, Beyond the value of the published story, the Corporate Editor empowers the team member to be able to discuss what they are doing in a more compelling way as they further pursues their agenda and interact with peers and colleagues.
Much of corporate life is ambiguous. But by virtue of having both a business-wide perspective and the ability to publish, the corporate editor is in a position to reduce this ambiguity by defining the meaning of terms and illustrating their desired behavioral and commercial interpretations.
The Organizational Record
Of course, when one is FEEDing the organization with effective, pro-active corporate editorial content, greater readership can magnify impact.
But having articles which formalize, expose, elucidate or define specific initiatives, principles, processes and practices (items) as part of the organization’s record allows them to be used by the owners of those items in a targeted and effective way nonetheless. In essence, having them in the organizational record allows the item owners to circulate and republish them to their own stakeholders, and use them to influence the future working relationships and prospects for success.
And, even when a process, practice, or principle elucidated by a corporate editor and placed in the organizational record proves controversial, its exposure can serve as the catalyst for senior leadership to address the related issues through the formal corporate governance process, either validating the approach or consciously choosing an alternative.
So, not only does FEEDing nourish the organization through the injection of content that makes things more explicitly and less ambiguous, it can also fuel momentum for change and sharpen organizational direction.