Click logo to go to website

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

The ComRes Survey. MPs don’t seem to think that communication skills amongst their staff are that important.

The results of a recent survey of MPs have just been released by ComRes, the London-based polling and research consultancy. The findings are a revelation. In April 2011, 154 members were asked for their top three desired traits when appointing Parliamentary staff.

Academic record, discretion, enthusiasm, organisational skills, personal presentation, political nous, political views and punctuality made up the menu. Inevitably, the data showed differences between party, gender and length of service – but the overall picture fascinates.

Organisational skills ( mentioned by 77% of respondents ), political nous ( 56%) and enthusiasm (57%) headed the pack. Not surprising perhaps, when these are support and backroom roles. And yet these staffers and interns are going to be dealing with constituents, pressure groups and stakeholders, as well as being a sounding board for their employers and potential speech-writers.

The eye-opener came when one looked for the status of communication skills. It was not highlighted as a distinct category in its own right. The nearest one came to it was “personal presentation”. This came a distant last and mentioned by a mere 8% - just 13 of the sampled MPs. Even punctuality rated 17%! One might assume this meant sartorial elegance and not having soup stains down the shirt. Contact with ComRes at Millbank for clarification, elicited the response that it was a category to be interpreted as the MP wanted.

Assuming that “personal presentation” did include verbal and vocal dexterity, then the figures are still horrendous. At a time when Parliament is still toxified by the expenses debacle, one would have thought that professional communication with the electorate would have been accorded higher status by our representatives. After all, whilst you are in the chamber, how your staffers connect to the electorate may have a major impact on your re-election prospects.

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Cheryl Cole and her accent. Does how we speak have any relevance to success in business?

The recent controversy at the X Factor and Fox TV over Cheryl Cole, Simon Cowell and Accentgate, gives visibility to a topic which rarely tops the headlines. Rather surprising in the age of mass communication, celebrity and the mediafest.

In 2011, we are obsessed with lifestyle, perception and image, but somehow this stops when it comes to our vocal dexterity. Perhaps it’s the equivalent of not looking after our teeth.

At school, we get qualifications in reading and writing and later we add business, professional and technical skills. The poor relation is our elocution for which we receive no qualification or training. It is a skill acquired on the hoof, if at all. A couple of hours with a voice coach might be a no-brainer.

How often have we seen a snazzy PowerPoint delivery brought to its knees by poor speaking skills? Makes one realise how good the voice-over artists are on the television documentary.

The debate can be held as to whether Ms Cole should modify her accent – the downside is that she may lose character and become contrived – something out of Pygmalion perhaps.

The casualty of using certain accents is a lack of clarity and diction, and if this goes alongside other deficiencies such as variability, phrasing and volume, then the communication cycle is broken. The punchline is to make oneself understood.

The cut-glass accents of the aristocracy with their emphasis on consonants have largely gone, but the broader vowels of the regions stay in place. People from abroad seem to like an accent which is a downplayed version of received pronunciation (RP), delivered thoughtfully, confidently and with character.

A strength of British culture is the variety to be found amongst its component accents. Whether it be Cornish, Scouse, Estuary, Geordie, Midland or whatever, we have our own views of what is easy on the ear. Irrespective of accent, a criticism of many people is that they talk through their teeth, don’t open the jaws and ignore breathing.

As we record our personalised voicemail salutations or listen to our voices elsewhere, we know what we like. If the answer is a no, then we must spare a thought for our customers and do something about it. Networking, tendering and negotiating count for little if what you say grinds on the ear. Clients will just go elsewhere because they tend to buy from people they like. Accent may be one of the most obvious barriers to business and yet one so easy to rectify.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Perhaps the game is not so beautiful after all. Communication skills in the sacking of Avram Grant and Carlo Ancelotti at West Ham and Chelsea.

Sir Alan Sugar’s recent BBC documentary on the plight of soccer’s premier league, highlighted its precarious financial position. This is a business where normal commercial criteria do not seem to apply. Here is an industry seeking quick fixes rather than more evolutionary, sustained and organic routes to success. We can’t wait for the youth teams to come through – success has to be imported. Results, sponsorship and media income are what it is all about. This is spectacle for Match of the Day.

Not surprising then, that there are some casualties and top of the list are human relationships. With failure on the pitch comes the search for scapegoats – this is a blame culture.

Such can be seen this week with the allegedly rather unedifying spectacle of the sacking of the West Ham and Chelsea managers. In the roundabout world of football management, these guys will soon find another slot and the compensation packages deaden the sense of hurt.

True leadership is exemplified by the way bad news is communicated. We are talking of timing, venue and style. These seem to be lacking as the season closed. Avram Grant was given his marching orders in the tunnel at Wigan and Carlo Ancelotti was dismissed as he left the post-match media fest at Everton. Why the haste? Is it a clumsy way of diverting attention? For sure, the people at the top did not look statesmen-like. Decisions are not of the best when the adrenaline is running high.

Reactive decision-making and curt manners seem the order of the day. One can only wonder as to what other poor communication processes lie elsewhere in a club. Relationships between owners, chief execs and managers are copied by others further down the pecking order.

It will be a remarkable manager who does not translate the way he has been treated to how he works with those below. He may take those very practices and apply them to training, loaning, selection and his communication style. How does the wider pool of players stay motivated when not chosen for the game? Many a player must be asking: “What’s in it for me?” It’s a culture thing. No wonder there is such a high churn rate in the industry and the agents look on.

The mainstream commercial world cannot look on with any sense of superiority. Witness the manner in which those flagged for redundancy, may hear the news with little warning and, without returning to their desk, be escorted to reception.

How we communicate bad news tells us volumes about the health of an organisation. Sadly there are too many that are hospital cases. Perhaps the game is not so beautiful after all. This goes on in the media spotlight and, unsurprisingly, the rest of society watches and imitates.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Does the blogozine mean that the blogosphere has joined the establishment?

The blogosphere is an entity with a micromillimetre of history and yet it is rapidly mutating. Such is the case with the announcement by the blog guru:Iain Dale, of his new vehicle “The Daley: Iain Dale and Friends” – a new online magazine fed by 60 “retired bloggers”. Shall we call it a blogozine?

The rationale being that a blog needs a portfolio of contributors to sustain it and to produce sufficient copy. The solitary blogger not having time or energy to do it alone.

This begs the question as to whether a group blog loses its identity, energy and rationale when the fingerprints of many are over it. The emergence of internet-driven blog author-publishers is a welcome 2011 manifestation of an earlier age of pamphleteers. Widespread printing confronted the monasteries and constitutional institutions of the time and the edgy blog carries that on.

Will the new corporate blogs be just a new manifestation of the quality press with its teams of columnists? It was significant that in the recent long-listing of blogs for the George Orwell Prize that of 22 chosen, 11 came from bloggers who worked within the shell of a broader blog entity, either a national media outlet or a corporate political grouping. Was mainstream journalism already taking over the preserve of amateur bloggers with its idiosyncratic views of the world and choice of subject?

The rationale of the blogosphere was to get under the skin of the great and good. The Daley and its ilk may become part of that establishment and gone native. If that is the case, then the scope for the individual blogger is once more opened up to be the grit of sand in the oyster.

The strength of the blogosphere lies in its anarchic content and often questionable prose but we return to the sites to see what happened next. I am not sure that the new blogozine will offer us anything that the 4th Estate is not offering us already.

Monday, May 9, 2011

"Calm down, dear" are three words David Cameron will hear much more of as future Coalition politics are played out.

A maxim in football is that one plays the ball and not the player and to do otherwise risks a penalty. Professional politicians are usually adept at avoiding this trap, and it was revealing to see David Cameron recently falling in. Not only was his “calm down dear “ exchange in Parliament with Angela Eagle patronising, but it revealed just one of the many examples of flawed thinking that pervade our lives.

When tackled the culprit usually evades responsibility by suggesting one does not have a sense of humour or one was taken out of context. That just compounds the felony through passing the blame on to the victim. The fact that it is a borrowed strap line from a Michael Winner advert, does not lessen the offence.

The “ad hominem” cannon – may have been the result of tiredness, carelessness and exasperation. It is usually when you have run out of lines of rationale argument and logical thinking. Whatever the reason – the result was unedifying to watch as were the reactions of neighbouring colleagues. Unfortunately, it pervades a great of daily life and just watch how a spat in the family or in customer-care goes down that line.

When political practitioners with their PR minders are exposed, it makes one realise that they are not as skilled in the communication arts as one imagines. As Coalition politics are played out in the years ahead, those three words are bound to be picked up by some creative copywriter. Watch this space. One thing is for sure, the advertising agency responsible for the original advert, must be relishing the fact that their product has suddenly found more legs.