Monday, September 8, 2008
Change Management In The Land Of Double-Truth: Relating To Carat In The News
By Kendall Allen Most people agree that the recent, arguably sensational conveyance of Carat's planned layoffs spurs uncomfortable conversation. No matter your circle, the range of discomforts is remarkable: the fragility of email communications at every level; managing client-based growth within a public company, with the intense interplay of interests; journalistic responsibility vs. media sensationalism; schadenfreude. It's a lot. So, for me, even while the media at large whirred with sensation, it was interesting that many associate circles paused or were relatively quiet for a few days. People I know seemed very focused on taking an honest look and moving on.
As I have read recaps, piggy-back coverage, insights out of the blogosphere, points of view from seasoned executives and managers I respect, and the banter within several of my media communities - there are some facts, principles and flashbacks that present themselves to me. Just a few prevailing thoughts.
The Double-Truth of Agency + Public Life
First of all, several facts of life as we know it conspire in this scenario. This is the agency world, where we staff our disciplines and practices as the market develops live; where we staff client engagements with varying degrees of skill and foresight; where we must tend to a complex web of relationships, every day, as madness reigns. Running an agency operation and nurturing the internal and external relationships that fuel it, in such a dynamic marketplace, call on more muscles that I can name here. But, fact one is that restructuring will come with this territory. Then add what it is like to manage within a public corporate environment -- and all the communications dependencies and limits that this implies ---and you can see the perils.
In this world, where restructuring is a given - communication management and positioning are implied and constant. So, it's excruciating and broadly, deeply affecting when mistakes happen when handling those aspects. But, they do. That's the second fact that comes to mind: Communication governance is inherently fallible.
Can Email Standards and Practices Really be Governed?
Many have made this recent episode a conversation about corporate email conventions. Administrative controls, vaulting of certain parcels of information, chains of command on communication - all kinds of process speak has been pontificated. True, there are shades of gray, but, in its most dogmatic version, this always sounds incredibly idealistic to me. I recall last year's publication by Shipley and Schwalbe of a book called "Send,"purportedly intended to be the Strunk and White of corporate email. It was dubbed the essential guide to all things email. The authors and I have a mutual friend who lent me a pre-release edition, over which I salivated. I could not wait to see how the authors went about distilling anything close to law and order. I remember thinking, how in the world can you write a convention for a world potentially impossible to govern? With executive tenures so varied; with management team DNA's that are a mix of background and biases; with the unstoppable influence of individuals' own communications savvy and dysfunction?
So, I read and thoroughly enjoyed the book Its examples were perfectly illustrated, and all lessons painfully resonated. But, while I certainly do not believe that email is lawless - I feel deeply that we have a very long way to go, given that human communication and technology coming together to drive and kind of universal ethos is an equation fraught with fallibility, subjectivity, bias, and holes. Even if corporate culture can align around a clean code on communications and email - mistakes still will be made. Of course things get handled, but the human factor guarantees blunders.
Ultimately, this is not as neat a lesson as it is one about business acumen or shoddy email and communications practices. It's a living lesson in realities. And it should not be sensationalized. Anyone could find themselves in similar clusters of interests and events.
Empathy and Ethics
I recalled last week, as I do every once in a while, being part of an eerily similar scenario some years ago, as a young executive managing a sequence of restructurings within a public agency environment. This occurred while the industry was taking some hard knocks and showing some blood. There were so many interests and people affected by an errant communication of similar nature. For a number of reasons, I won't get into the details. But, suffice it to say, those were probably the worst 48 hours of my professional life - and I was not alone. Though at 3 a.m., when I saw this slipped email, and drove to the office to begin the day, I certainly felt so. Those hours remain my own personal operating case-in-point on how many interests converge in these settings; how humans + technology can spawn and ignite a situation like no other combination; and how we all must remain humble, vigilant, open to learning - and, with resilience that frankly does not always seem possible, keep moving.
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Kendall Allen is currently advising clients and partners on digital marketing and convergence media. Previously she was managing director of Incognito Digital, LLC, a boutique digital media agency and creative studio. She also held top posts at iCrossing and Fathom Online.
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