Pam Middleton is a strategic and creative resource known for translating complexity into clarity and delivering the best quality services for her clients—from marketing and communications managers to CEOs. She combines innovative thinking with strong execution to achieve high-impact results in key areas of focus:
Complex communications challenges make business knowledge, broad experience, and tested judgment more critical.
Economic pressure on budgets requires responsiveness, flexibility, and reliable service.
Quality work and value-added approaches are no longer "nice-to-haves," they are essential.
I fear that I sometimes drive my clients crazy with my emphasis on the importance of key message repetition. But, I can’t help it. It works!
The executive director of a non-profit called me recently to see if I’d look through some remarks she was planning to make at an upcoming fundraiser. The fundamentals were good, but, as I told her later, she had worked very hard not to be repetitious, when doing so a little more often might actually work to the advantage of her messaging. When you aim to motivate people to action (whether supporting a cause or goal, selling a service, working harder or smarter, etc.), your mission is often to paint them a picture of where you want to go. If they can “see” it, hear it, and remember it, your chances of putting it across effectively have greatly improved.
When we think of great messages, especially great speeches, one of the best that always comes to mind has to be Dr. Martin Luther King’s “I Have A Dream.” In speechwriting circles, it lives on as an instructive tool for motivating people with effective messaging. Dr. King focused on establishing a theme, painting a picture of future vision, and repetition of key words. He told us eight times that he had a dream and he told us 20 times that the dream was linked to freedom. Another eight times each he told us that the dream centered around justice and “you.” In fact, if you were to read a list of the individual words that were repeated four or more times in the speech you would get the whole point without any other narrative around it. Powerful, effective, memorable.
After Google was named for the second year running to the number one spot on Fortune’s list of “Best Places to Work,” a writer for Slate Magazine did a little digging to see what kept them on top. The article concluded that it all comes down to actually listening to their employees. Apparently, Google management takes listening and acting on what they hear very seriously…maybe we should have guessed this already since they’re always asking us what we’re interested in learning more about. Right?
Most organizations can’t duplicate the extraordinary “data mining” techniques employed by a search engine leader, but every organization (and incremental divisions within that organization) can check in with employees more often than most do. Intranet and internal social networking sites are a great place to start. Want to know what motivates them? Ask. Want to know what they consider valued rewards? Raise the issue. Want to know what makes your organization a standout among competitors? Pose the question. I can’t say enough about the power of asking your own people for their opinions, but I also always warn, don’t do it if you don’t intend to take the answers seriously.
I recently worked with a C-suite officer at a client organization with a matrix structure. The company blends some hierarchy, some functional teaming, and often deploys a variety of teams and individuals with specific areas of focused expertise. Being relatively new to his role, this tuned-in leader wanted to ensure that he and the senior management members reporting to him were easing, rather than complicating, the path to clear communications for the hundreds of people reporting to them under this complex structure.
This is a common concern among savvy leaders in a matrix organizational structure, because most employees are subject to multiple reporting relationships. Professional firms of all types often use this structure, because it is a great way to maintain flexibility in meeting client needs, both in skill-set applications and in deploying resources when and where needed. I happen to think it is an effective and forward-leaning management approach, but it does present internal communications challenges that must be addressed if everyone is to succeed–manager, employee, client/customer. And employees have to take an appropriate level of accountability for their own success under a matrix scenario. After all, this type of structure does have the potential for maximizing their opportunities for career exposure and growth, so they have to do their part to make sure two-way communications are well-oiled at all of their reporting levels–functional, team, assignment task.
I shared with this executive that, in my professional experience, there are three key areas where quality communications break down in a matrix (there are more than three “pitfalls,” but three occur more often than others): lack of clarity and documentation around individual roles and responsibilities; lack of effective project leadership and information sharing among teams and for individuals performing specified tasks; and failure to provide adequate training and information about how the individual fits into and self-manages within the organization’s mission and objectives.
In the plan I developed for this executive and his management team, I emphasized 1) the importance of well-defined and effectively communicated mission, goals, and objectives 2) having a project information support process that ensures everyone has the tools and feedback they need to achieve the goal and 3) making clear the big-picture point of a matrix structure in the first place–talented, engaged employees and teams who bring multidisciplinary capability and flexibility to a business challenge, and, importantly, who can cope very well with constant change and some level of ongoing ambiguity. When a manager or employee requires total clarity, a virtual lack of any conflict, and highly detailed directions, chances are he or she is not the right person for performing and succeeding in a matrix structure.
A recent LinkedIn study of job applicant word usage points up a sure sign that the job market is on the way up. The word “creative” dominated social media resumes, replacing last year’s more practical adjectives, “results oriented” and “team player.” One social psychologist quoted in The Wall Street Journal surmised that the shift to “softer” skill emphasis is probably more attributable to what we want to do than it is indicative of current experience. Other aspirational terms topping the latest list: “dynamic” (the type of positions we seek) and “decision-making power” (the influence we wish to exert). Headhunters noting the trend suggest job seekers carry through on the word play by citing specific examples of capabilities, experiences, and patterns of achievements that support our terms of engagement.
There seems to be a great deal of optimism about economic turnaround these days: slightly improved employment numbers; a bottoming of the housing market; somewhat flush corporate investment coffers; and increased demand for manufacturing materials, among other signs. This year could present huge opportunities for growth and profitability–is your organization ready?
My work on an interesting project over the past year has kept me mindful of the importance of building things–whether its messages, services, marketing plans, products, or people skills–that make a difference and last.
This was a major writing project, producing a full-color, commemorative book to celebrate the 75th anniversary of a distinguished engineering and construction association. The organization is called The Moles, a moniker derived from early members who were mainly engaged in building huge tunnels financed by 1930s public works projects.
Moles make things–really big things like dams, transportation tunnels, bridges, foundations for skyscrapers, and highways. You’ve probably never heard of them simply because they don’t tend to focus on public relations as a way to promote their affiliated-firm brands. And, why should they when they have so many tangible examples of what they do dotting the entire landscape–and underscore–of this country. Other names get assigned to their creations, but when they drive through, over, or on something they’ve made, they tell me they still get a buzz every single time.
This fraternal group was started by a band of brothers who were born in the late 1800s or early 1900s, had lived through WWI and the Great Depression. So in 1937, when the economy was showing signs of a turnaround, there was a renewed sense of optimism. For construction, this brightened outlook was fostered by public works projects that motivated a can-do spirit, improved quality of life, and boosted national pride. Their handiwork greases the wheels of modern life and is made to last lifetimes, even many generations of lifetimes. Working with The Moles over the past year has taught me a lot about the importance of careful attention to details, patience, commitment to a vision, and sustainability. By necessity, given the size and scope of their work, they must always take the long view about what constitutes success.
I am happy to have had the chance of working on this project in 2011–perhaps the last year of our long period of economic discontent. In the stories of Moles’ history and the insights of current members I have had an opportunity to focus on lessons about what now will be required of all of us in a time of turnaround. The key is to envision where we want to go, what we want to build, and then equip those ideas and intentions with robust execution and sustainable quality. For my part, I am inspired to bring my strategic thinking, creativity, and project management skills to the act of “building and producing” things of lasting quality and high impact. Making a difference and adding value for my clients in a time of opportunity.