Virtual Sign Off

In today’s hyper-connected world, social media is omnipresent. Recent research revealed that 25% of smartphone owners ages 18–44 can’t recall the last time their smartphone wasn’t next to them and that a new person joins LinkedIn every two seconds.

Constance Ward of Thought Leader ZoneMy own email auto-signature offers a list of about a dozen channels for reaching the virtual me. I invite respondents to contact or even cyberstalk me through any of these channels that allow round-the-clock, on-demand access. That made sense for a consultant working globally, where the sun never set on my clients.

Now, however, I have taken a full-time position in Switzerland; so I will no longer be updating the articles on my website. You can still reach out to me through this channel –or any of the others — but I won’t be accepting new clients.

In closing, I want to thank all of you for your support over the last couple of years. I sincerely hope that you continue to “ask, assess, then act” even though we won’t be here to help in the future!

For more information, download the Media Release:
Lonza Appoints Former Journalist to Head External Communications

Endings and Beginnings

nobody can go back and start a new beginning but anyone can start today and make a new endingAs 2013 draws to a close, it’s time to reflect on newsworthy events of the year.

The media in 2013 frequently focused on endings and beginnings. Nelson Mandela’s passing this month inspired a large number of articles about the leadership and brand lessons Mandela can teach us. However, by Googling “Prince George” and “leadership lessons,” I came up with no relevant hits; so at least in this respect, the future monarch has had humble beginnings.

This time of year is one of endings and beginnings for me, too. I’m closing my communications consultancy and taking on a full-time professional role here in Switzerland. That means the next article posted here will be my last.

In the meantime, do you have any lessons as a thought leader that you’d like to share with readers? Ask, assess, then act. We’re here to help!

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Silver Lining Playbook for a Crisis

lake meade with quote from silver linings playbookAt the recent GWI American Water Summit in Washington, D.C., Pat Mulroy, general manager of the Southern Nevada Water Authority, made a comment that brought spontaneous and knowing laughter from the normally staid audience.

Ms. Mulroy was talking about how drought conditions in the Seven States made it easier to sell the message of mutual cooperation and declared: “A crisis is a terrible thing to waste!” She said she used the opportunity to raise awareness of conservation issues and to change the public’s mindset about water.

Crisis communications is a frequent topic on this site (read a few relevant posts here, here and here), and the focus is usually on reacting to a crisis and minimizing its negative impact on a business. But if handled well, a crisis can also have a positive impact.

That, however, takes planning and forethought about the types of benefits that might arise from a particular type of crisis.

Have you already outlined some positive, “silver lining” messages in your crisis playbook? Ask, assess, then act. We’re here to help!

See related posts:
Global Water Thought Leaders Meet in Washington, DC
Top Tweets from American Water Summit 2013 in Washington, DC

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Global Water Thought Leaders Meet in Washington, D.C.

speakers at american water summit 2013Thought leadership in the water industry was on full display at the fourth annual American Water Summit, organized by Global Water Intelligence (GWI), from 5-6 November 2013 in Washington, D.C.

Several hundred global water leaders attended sessions with US mayors and other elected leaders, Environmental Protection Agency and US Army leaders, trade association leaders, industry specialists, venture capitalists, private equity analysts, etc.

Highlights of the full water conference can be found in this “Top Tweets” list from the Twitter feed #aws13.

On the night before the conference, a CEO-level roundtable dinner was sponsored by GWI. Christopher Gasson, publisher of GWI, welcomed about three dozen members of the Global Water Leaders Group (GWLG).

William Muhairwe, head of the GWLG and former director of the Uganda water utility, opened with a comparison of operational performance of utilities with that of an airline. Both try for perfect performance and public safety depends on that success.

Among the goals of this particular roundtable dinner were the following:

*to provide a networking opportunity for thought leaders in the industry *to create a body of influence for promoting and communicating the value of water *to debate ways to improve operational performance among utilities

For further information about the Global Water Leaders Group and the findings from its qualitative research, click here.

Are you as a thought leader concerned about communicating positive messages about your operational performance? Ask, assess, then act. We’re here to help!


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Top Tweets from American Water Summit 2013 in Washington, DC

Continue Reading…

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Seeing Opaque Things More Clearly: Avoiding Business Blindspots

illustration chain of people with blindfoldsWith a husband who is legally blind, it’s perhaps not surprising that my attention is often drawn to metaphors that deal with vision.

For example, some say that hindsight is 20/20 vision; others say that there are none so blind as those who will not see. Seeing is believing, especially if that person comes from the ‘Show Me State’ of Missouri. You’ve probably heard about people who dwell in the past and drive looking in their rearview mirrors or those who hurry too fast and tend to outdrive their headlights. As I see it, all these sayings also apply to the business world and to thought leaders.

A good friend of mine, Ben Gilad, has a thriving strategic consultancy based on his book Business Blindspots, which outlines an effective strategic early-warning process model. Blindspots refer to those gaps in business knowledge that we just don’t see, that can blindside us as we adapt to a dynamic environment. Sometimes we just don’t know what we don’t know … we’re unable or, even worse, we’re unwilling to see what is clear to others, particularly our competitors.

Blindspots refer to those gaps in business knowledge that we just don’t see, that can blindside us as we adapt to a dynamic environment.
That type of business blindness can have far-reaching negative consequences for a thought leader, a company or an industry. One simple solution is to keep your eyes wide open, constantly scanning the competitive horizon for signals that might easily be overlooked.

Are you wearing metaphorical business blinders that just keep you focused in one forward direction? Are you eyeing all of the competitive opportunities available to you as a thought leader and then taking full advantage of them or do you have business blindspots? Ask, assess, then act. We’re here to help!

Illustration credit: via Flickr

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TEDx Zurich 2013 Highlights and Lowlights

Tedx Zurich logoIt was once again time for my annual “intellectual play day” at the 2 October TEDx Zurich conference. Like past TEDx Zurich events I’ve covered in this blog over the years, the day offered a series of talks and performances that aimed to reveal “what’s new” and “what’s next.” But this year it seemed to be more about “what’s now.” Rather than new, it focused on different.

For example, the technologies seemed less like breakthrough ideas and more like different applications or extensions of now-established technologies. The stories told by speakers of overcoming circumstances in life and achieving their dreams, such as hanging on a silk scarf-like rope over a gorge near Bern, were less archetypal and inspiring than they were the non-photo equivalent of “selfies.”

This year it seemed to be more about ‘what’s now.’ Rather than new, it focused on different.
I realize that my comments will preclude my ever being invited back to the event, but I don’ t think I would apply again as the online TED talks website offers the “best of” without having to sit through the “rest of” such talks.

All that being said, I did glean a few tidbits during my intellectual snooze…I mean play…day that could apply to thought leaders in any industry.

Nicolas Perony, who studied animal behavior and made comparisons to human behavior, talked about the principle of simplifying complexity, a key skill for any thought leader. Also he presented a study about South African meercats that may speak to the gender issue in the workplace.

Female meercats are dominant in their so-called “cryptic social units.” They may lead other meercats up to a road; but when they’re ready to cross the road, the female leaders give way and let subordinates cross the road first. Perony said this isn’t done out of courtesy but as a risk-avoidance approach because if she dies, the entire meercat tribe is put at risk.

Risk behaviors were also the focus of Gerd Gigerenzer’s talk about relative risk vs. absolute risk and how the public is often confused or misled about the difference between those types of risk. As an example, he cited a study where people were asked to explain what exactly was meant by a 30% chance of rain and answers varied widely and in some cases hilariously.

Gigerenzer also pointed out examples of deliberate massaging of statistics by the media, such as the report talking about a 100% increase in the risk of thrombosis somewhere in the UK. However, the absolute risk was minute, with a change from 1/7000 to 2/7000.

Risk literacy, he claimed, needs to be a focus of the education system today. It’s important that your own employees are risk literate, too. Similar to the topic discussed on this site in a recent two-part blog (The Risks and Rewards of Full Disclosure Part 1 and Lies, Damn Lies Part 2) there are risks to your brand when stats and risk are wrongly stated or exaggerated, even if unintentionally.

Are you and your team risk literate? Are you aware of all risks to your – and your company’s – brand as a thought leader? Ask, assess, then act. We’re here to help!

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Does the ROI of Internal Communications in Business Differ from Academia?

statistic high cost of communication barriers in organizations

As a business leader, how do you measure the impact of your internal communications? Does it differ from the way an educational leader measures the impact of internal communications in schools? I was asked to address this question in a presentation to a progressive international school in Germany earlier this year, so I’d appreciate your insights on the comparisons.

On the business side, a group called People Driven Performance conducted research on the costs of poor internal communications in 2009 that still has applicability today. They report that good internal communications has a positive impact and poor internal communications has a negative impact on five elements of a company’s ROI:

  1. Engagement
    Every employee that crosses over from being disengaged to engaged adds an incremental $13,000 to the bottom line each year
  2. Direct Cost of Miscommunication
    $26,041 is the cumulative cost per worker per year due to productivity losses resulting from communications barriers
  3. Opportunity Cost
    A business with 100 employees spends an average downtime of 17 hours a week clarifying communication, which translates to an annual cost of $528,443
  4. Safety
    The average cost of a safety incident for an engaged employee is $63, compared with $392 average cost of a safety incident for an unengaged employee
  5. Turnover
    Employees with the highest level of commitment perform 20% better & are 87% less likely to leave the organization

If you’re in education or academia, what is your impression? Does poor internal communication in schools have a similarly negative impact?

Whether you’re an educator or business leader, contact us if you’re interested in improving your internal communications impact and your organization’s ROI along with it. Ask, assess then act. We’re here to help!

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Plan for a Graceful Executive Exit…or Face a Disaster CEO Departure.

fireworks over an office building

Smart “on the shelf” strategies can help you disaster-proof high-level departures and avoid a firestorm of negative publicity. (Photo Credit)

Over the last couple of weeks, we’ve seen the departure of two very different CEOs in two very different ways with two very different results.

Daniel Vasella, long-time leader of global pharmaceuticals powerhouse Novartis, was the first departure, announced on 23 January.

Then on 28 January, Michael Clarke, head of the UK-based Premier Foods, announced his departure in a way reminiscent of former President Bush’s declaration of ”Mission Accomplished” a month after the banner flew behind him on the USS Abraham Lincoln aircraft carrier in 2003. Continue Reading…

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Global Thought Leaders Tackle Tough Water Issues

Global Water Leaders Group LogoOn the eve of the American Water Summit, about 40 global water leaders met in Chicago on 13 November 2012 to discuss how best to communicate the value of water to the public. The CEO-level roundtable dinner was sponsored by the renowned trade publication Global Water Intelligence and its sister publication American Water Intelligence.

Among the goals of the roundtable dinner were the following:

  • to provide a networking opportunity for thought leaders in the industry
  • to create a body of influence for promoting and communicating the value of water
  • to determine the best path forward for the group

One additional question posed at my table yielded some interesting answers: What makes a water leader a leader?

Water leaders, according to participants, are or should be conservative, compelling and clear ambassadors for the value of water. 

This question prompted a discussion of the specific skill set needed for water leaders, but the description applied equally to all thought leaders.

Water leaders, according to participants, are or should be conservative, compelling and clear ambassadors for the value of water (or their own value proposition.) They need courage and confidence as they champion the cause of water (or their company’s cause), and they should do so with an authentic voice (as all thought leaders should).

Collaboration and alignment of interests will help build a stronger sense of community as water leaders (or any other thought leader). A partnering mindset will help break down silos, which will be necessary to move the water industry (and any industry) forward with one voice.

Highlights of the full water conference can be found in this ”Top Tweets” post from the Twitter feed #aws2012.

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