Tag Archives: leadership


It’s election season in the UK, and the climaxing cavalcade of ‘Election Debates’ has given us the last opportunity to watch various grasping bastards simultaneously begging for our favour. I’m sorry but watching politicians trying to get their message across is particularly sickening for communications professionals, because the cynicism is even easier for us to detect. It’s a bit like marketing people and their ability not to fall for brands. Brands are for people who DON’T completely appreciate what’s really, insidiously, going on to take your money in exchange for guff.

But anyway – back to the politics. Before I go any further, I am not advocating any political party. I just wanted to point out the PR machinations surrounding one political leader, Nick Clegg. Let me also state that I did not vote Liberal Democrat in the last Election and see no reason to change this time around.

Clegg’s biggest communications mistake was not to contradict his previously ardent position on tuition fees by being part of a government who trebled them when he promised to abolish them. His mistake was to misjudge the press and public’s wilful ignorance of how a coalition government is supposed to work.

A poll in today’s Independent shows that 50% of undergraduate students will never vote LibDem because of Clegg’s infamous U-Turn. Only 6% intend to support Clegg’s party next month, compared to 23% who said they would before 2010’s General Election. The collapse in support is being egged on by the National Union of Students, which represents 7 million students, and recently unveiled a billboard campaign branding the LibDems ‘liars’ and ‘pledge breakers’.

Even the laziest student of political history would agree that coalition governments are very unusual in the UK, with the last few being necessary for the purposes of our total war against national annihilation. Following the 2010 Election, with neither Labour nor Conservatives willing to proceed with a weak minority government, the LibDems entered into a Coalition Agreement with the objective of assailing the nation’s imminent bankruptcy.

Coalitions are far more common in other democratic countries, where a broad spectrum of opinion and vested interests inevitably ends up being more or less fairly represented by a governing executive. It goes a bit like this: no one party gets to implement 100% of its manifesto commitments. Indeed, if a small party like Plaid Cymru (likely to return three or perhaps four MPs in the Election; 0.5% of the House of Commons) were to join a coalition government this year, they’d count themselves fortunate to have a single unique policy implemented.

It’s easy to forget just how much the public warmed to Nick Clegg during the 2010 Election. An honest, business-like antidote to Cameron’s “Little Lord Fauntleroy” and Brown’s awkward cheesiness, the big catchphrase was “I agree with Nick”. Indeed, if the LibDems had made “I agree with Nick” their campaign slogan, they might have returned more than 57 seats.

With the Conservatives represented by 47% of the House, and the Liberal Democrats by a little under 9%, the gruesome twosome could rely on a majority to implement an agreed policy programme.

Imagine you had voted Liberal Democrat in that General Election. In the vast majority of cases, your vote would have been unlikely to make a difference in your local constituency because of jealously guarded constituency boundaries and our arcane ‘first-past-the-post’ system. Despite the LibDems’ 6.8m votes putting them in third place behind Labour’s 8.6m votes, Labour won nearly five times as many seats.

And yet you could say that your horse won (sort of). Even if your vote had carried a local LibDem to Westminister, without the Coalition Government in place your voice would have been entirely incidental to change. Frankly, that number of MPs may as well have stood outside protesting in the rain for all the good their measly voting block would have done them.

A revised estimate for the yellow-coloured (i.e. LibDem) proportion of the Coalition Agreement put into action between 2010-2015 is 40%. In other words, despite making up less than 9% of the House, 16% of the Coalition Government, and 23% of the popular vote, the Liberal Democrats ended up managing to control around 40% of the government’s actions. By any standards, anyone voting Liberal Democrat in 2010 enjoyed an outrageous return on their support.

Having achieved an unprecedented political coup, Nick Clegg is likely to preside over a complete obliteration of his party’s fortunes in next month’s Election. Despite his obvious communications skills, and his clever PR spins in recent weeks about “Salmond, Farage or me” and the threat of “Blukip”, Clegg’s problem continues to be an inability to get his message across.

No newspaper or TV network supports the Liberal Democrats. Aside from the few impartial ones, each strongly favours Labour, the Conservatives or (in the case of the Daily Express) UKIP. This isn’t helping Clegg’s message succeed.

I don’t like the idea of £9,000 a year tuition fees, and neither do students. But the biggest pity of all this is that the brightest young minds of our generation can’t seem to understand the simple truth behind coalitions. The message is coming through far too faintly, and – regardless – they just aren’t listening.


“Do as I do, not as I say.” (Or something like that anyway…)

I’ve realised just how much I used to be driven by email. Now I get a relatively manageable 50 or so per day, but it used to be more like 300 and it meant I couldn’t do my actual job. Email became my oracle; feeding my workflow while also demanding to be fed, and containing every audit trail of every piece of work I’d ever done.

I truly believe that there is an art to constructing an email, which takes its lead from the more ancient and dying practice of writing letters. My first summer job was working at an investment company writing letters to customers who wanted an account balance (this was last century folks!) or who had changed address. We had templates, but more often than not you needed to extemporise. I graduated to answering complex enquiries and communicating good/bad news (e.g. “we found a £5,000 trust you didn’t know about”/“we haven’t found the £5,000 policy you swear you took out”) which, looking back, really helped my skill-set.

But email stops being a communications mechanism in the presence of extreme volume. Then it’s just processing. You don’t write them well, and you don’t read them well either.

Yammer: Making it stick

A great way to kill email is by using an enterprise social collaboration platform like Yammer. An easy quick win with Yammer is to railroad certain types of email into this Facebook-like social network that only your colleagues can see. Cakes in the Kitchen, Lottery Money Please, I’m WFH Today, Running Late, LOL Cat Being Sick – all that crap stops showing up in your email overnight.

I recently gave a training session to a national housing group about how to successfully implement Yammer for better internal communications and collaboration. I’ve used Yammer since the beginning and it’s a great tool for saving time as you work together on defined projects and general work stuff alike. The objective wasn’t to show them how to use the platform, but how to get it adopted consensually and make sure it ‘stuck’.

(Incidentally, my timing couldn’t have been more ominous. I’d unwittingly picked the launch day of Facebook at Work for the training session. If anything is going to end up knocking Yammer off its perch, it’ll be FB@W)

We covered everything from email offload and basic document management, to brainstorms, version control and team empowerment. But the thing that will make the difference to that organisation – any organisation – won’t be the training they receive or the platform structure they adopt. No; it’ll be the leadership they demonstrate.

Leadership levels

Leadership needs to happen at two levels to change communications behaviour: (a) the very top, and (b) in and amongst the user community.

So we appointed Yammer Champions to go forth and spread the benefits of the new system and offer support to colleagues. We equipped them with stick and carrot and urged them to be part careworker and part vigilante militia (AKA “The Yammer Police”). This will ensure that the majority who haven’t been converted to the faith slowly and incrementally become the minority.

But people look to their leader in times of change. They have to hear that they’ve bought in to the strategy, but they have to see that they’ve bought in too. We remember the great leader-orators like Lincoln and Churchill; but words are nothing in leadership without deed.

If you’re a CEO or Managing Director who wants to kill email overload, ensure the success of an expensive software implementation or change communications behaviour, you can’t just want it to happen. You have to take the lead; you have to BE the change. Do that and the hard work of others will pay off.