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Keeping the Lid on Corporate Communication

March 28, 2012

Gordon is a typical sales guy who works in the safety industry where he supplies everything from work gloves to hazard signs to respirators.  His customers are primarily the petrochemical plants and industrial sites that dot the landscape up-and-down the Mississippi River.  He generally hits the road at dawn and returns home well after dusk after spending his day visiting his existing customers, calling on potential new customers, and servicing his accounts.  His is not a glamorous job; it’s sweaty and dirty and sticky and steamy.  Gordon’s industry is not one in which customers are wined-and-dined at chi-chi restaurants nor do they make business deals on the lush greens of the local golf course.  Quite often, Gordon considers it a spectacular day if he has the time to sit down at McDonalds and eat his lunch rather than merely pull up at the drive thru window.

Gordon works out of his car and only visits his office once a week.  His trunk is filled with what he calls his ‘portable filing cabinets’ and he regularly battles with the bits and pieces of paper, order pads, legal pads and catalogs.  His is an industry that still uses what some might consider old-fashioned technology methods, but that sure hasn’t impacted the company’s revenue growth.

But naturally, information is vital to keep the wheels of commerce turning, and for Gordon, in his sales role, information can be power.  His customers anticipate that he will know what’s going on in his (and their) industry and that he’ll be tuned in when items hit the news that could/may/possibly affect their day-to-day.  So he tries to keep up – he subscribes to industry RSS feeds, tackles his email inbox before his 6 AM breakfast and after his 7 PM dinner, and reads industry periodicals each night before he crawls into bed, exhausted.   He relies on his corporate office staff to provide him with relevant information  – updates on new products, company-related items that hit the newspapers, and information on big wins.  After all, items that may be of interest to his customers, are certainly of interest to Gordon.

But one day, Gordon shows up for a scheduled visit with Blake, a Plant General Manager with one of his most loyal customers.  Gordon walks in to Blake’s office to find him reading that morning’s paper, a luxury Gordon seldom has time for.  Blake raises his eyebrows and feigns surprise “Well well Gord-o; I didn’t expect to see you here today.  Not with this story on page 1, above the fold, announcing a governmental inquiry into your Qualcot product line.  Compete with quotes from your senior management team.”

Gordon wants to collapse into the floor.

************

So where does the blame lie?  Does it lie with the overextended road warrior with limited access to technology who still tries to stay up with overflow of information?  Is it his responsibility to extend his day even further and get up at 4:30 AM rather than 5 AM in order to read all the local periodicals in addition to checking his email and other sources?

Does the blame lie with Gordon’s manager for not sharing this news with her team?  Do we even know if Gordon’s manager is herself aware of this news story?  What about the senior leadership team?  The corporate communications group? 

Who knew what – and when?  How was it decided when to share?

And was it the plan, all along, that Gordon and his 84-fellow-road-warriors would learn when they read the news in the morning paper?  Or was it possible that no one even thought of Gordon?

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Sometimes, especially in large multi-layered organizations, systemic ways of disseminating information have developed over time.  A small group of people develop, write, and refine the message.  The message is reviewed, vetted, blessed and eventually shared.   This can take hours, days or even weeks.  And it’s important, obviously, to be professional and on point in corporate communications. But why do some organizations insist on controlling themessage to their internal audience to such a degree?   They keep a lid on it to the detriment of their employees – in essence sending them into the big old world without the information they need to do their job.

They forget about Gordon.

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