I just moved into a new house over the weekend. About the only thing that went our way during the two days of heavy labor and maneuvering very large objects out of tight spaces (yeah, I’m talking about you awkward, heavy washing machine!) was the cable guy transferring our cable to the new digs! Have you ever moved before? If so, what are the chances that the cable is the only thing that goes right? It was that kind of weekend.

Our POD gets picked up at 7:30 am sharp on Saturday before we have had a chance to secure the items inside it or fill it up for that matter. I cut my finger on the serrated edge of the tape gun. We decide to move the heaviest item (tv cabinet) we own to the den on the second floor and risk the lives of my brother and brother-in-law in the process, just so we can hook up the tv and play the Nintendo Wii — only to find that we were all too tired to play. And as the 2 hour window for the cable guy to appear winds down, I think, of course! There’s no way the cable guy shows up on time. So, at 2:30 (half hour late), I am starting to wonder if I got the appointment wrong. Then, enters Rudy. In no more than 45 minutes, he seamlessly had the cable hooked up, the internet running and gave me a $20.00 discount for the installation because he was late — all adding up to me being able to watch this very funny Hillary ‘08 spoof video this morning on the series of tubes we call the internet!

In the video, a faux campaign manager, Sean shakes up the staff a bit with some new ideas and perspectives on the candidate. I couldn’t help but think back to the Corporate Communicators Conference I was at last week. The unofficial mantra of the event seemed to be, “Give ‘em what they want!” If campaigns actually gave voters what they wanted, we might actually be able to get this country moving behind a united vision again. But instead, these campaigns consistently take the safe route — just like our executives do. And we let them! We let them get away with corporate-speak. We let them tell us that employees can’t be given the freedom to use social networking tools because it will be a time-waster. We let them tell us that employees can’t be trusted to blog about critical business issues, because of the risk of breaking confidentiality. All the while, employees are dying for a richer exchange about the business with their leaders and colleagues.

Now, I was never a John McCain fan, but remember when he used to be the engineer of the “Straight Talk Express”? Who got to that guy — the campaign gurus of the Republican party? Don’t give in to the party operative when it comes to coaching your executives on how to engage employees. Give ‘em the “Straight Talk Express.” Give ‘em what they want!

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The wrong KISSNo, I am not referring to the silver-panted, platform-shoed tongue waggers that want to “Rock and Roll All Night.” Instead, I am referring to that oft-abused, but ever-relevant adage: Keep It Simple Stupid! Or Keep it Simple Silly as I have often seen corporate trainers use in trembling fear of offending someone. I always found that when someone used the word “stupid” and directed it at me, I listened, but maybe that has more to do with self-deprecation than the validity of the word itself. And”silly” just sounds condescending — offend me, but please never be condescending.

Peat and I just closed up shop today at the Corporate Communicator’s Conference. Yesterday morning, I had been panicked. The conference started at 8:00 and it was 8:15 and no one had approached our booth yet. I started telling Peat how I wasn’t cut out for this and asking him if he would edit my resume right there at the booth! Peat, of course, being far more cool and collected simply pretended he didn’t hear me. Of course, it never occurred to me that I don’t like talking to people at 8:00 in the morning, so why would it surprise me that other people would want to get their chocolate filled croissant, collect their thoughts and hear Steve Crescenzo sing before coming over to our booth? I know that’s a lot more like what I like to do in the mornings, except my preference is that all days would start after 9:00 am and end by 12:00 in time to go to a day game at Wrigley. (Today was close to that except it started with a 7:00 mimosa brunch…you can get me up early for champagne drinks any day of the week…too bad the Cubbies couldn’t pull it off in the 9th.)

So, people did finally start coming over to chat with us once they got the bearings and we had great conversations about what their challenges are in their different industries — health care, banking, automotive, airlines, etc. And I got to share with them what I was able to accomplish at adidas and now what I am trying to do with Chatter Mill — give employees a voice to management in a safe way. One of the core values of our platform is to keep it simple. Communicators have a ton of different channels to provide information to employees, so we don’t want to reinvent the wheel. Chatter Mill is a question and answer tool with a rating system that provides simple reports. Nothing more, nothing less.

The best gift from this conference was learning that we were right when we KISSed Chatter Mill. When it’s simpler to understand, it’s more likely people will get on-board — and this is true for any communication tool.

Pimpin' Chatter MillPeat and I have landed, if only a bit woozy from a red-eye flight from Portland. The Chatter Mill booth is ready to go and looking good. For people looking for more information about implementing Chatter Mill, we have our sexy Chatter Mill Toolkits in Blue Hill colors to hand out. Also, we are raffling off an iPod Shuffle to anyone who drops off a business card and tells us a bit about their company and communication challenges. We are excited to meet as many of the over 400 people who are here at the conference to learn new ways to rock Corporate Communications. Thanks to the folks at Ragan for putting this 3-day communication extravaganza together. Pictures soon!

On Friday, I received an invite from Eileen Burmeister (Ragan Report writer extraordinaire) to join MyRagan.com — a “facebook for the PR and Communications industry” started by the genius folks at Ragan. If you have tried any of the social networking sites like Friendster, MySpace or even the professional networking site, Linkedin, you will find MyRagan easy to use. What I like about it is that it provides a place for communicators to go to find other communicators and share great ideas, ask for advice/help or get a restaurant recommendation while attending a conference in a different city. Polish restaurant in Chicago, anyone?

What I also like, though, is that it reinforces what I have been thinking lately. Large corporations are like small countries — often their sales eclipse the GDPs of small countries, but that’s another story. Inside these small countries are many different provinces (locations around the world, departments, business units) — there are so many different ways to slice large corporate structures, they are a pain to navigate. In doing focus groups with my former company, the number one expressed communication need was, “How do I find the right person to direct an issue to?” Many employees thought organization charts were the answer, but it was not company policy to post organization charts on the intranet and so we settled on a “beefed-up” searchable employee database, which only partly addressed the problem.

Which gets me back to social networking. Many large companies have offices in over 30 countries and employees who are team members on projects working across multiple time zones and regions. Many of these people will never meet each other in person, but they are expected to work with each other to success on these cross-ocean and cross-continent projects. I think social networking could be the answer to creating close, effective employee communities around topics that help people problem-solve inside these large organizations.

If MyRagan can do it for dispersed communicators in many different companies, why can’t companies do this for their 10, 20, 30, 100 thousand plus employee populations? If the next generation of employees are the “me” generation — why not embrace this mindset and give them tools that start with “My” and help them own solutions to business issues? Maybe this is the way to employee engagement in the 21st century?

So, Peat and I will be in Chicago in early May and if I adhere to one rule my whole life, it’s this one — never visit a Major League Baseball town and miss a ballgame. In fact, it’s such a strict rule that I often have a hard time visiting a Major League Baseball town when baseball is not in season — it doesn’t seem right to be in the same city as a dormant stadium.

In my most orthodox ways, I will be getting tickets to go to the Cubs game on May 10th and yes, it is a day game. Isn’t it kind of a crime to see the Cubs in the dark? Forgive me for being old school, but I still can’t accept the Designated Hitter, which is why I refer to myself as a National League girl. So, Peat and I will hopefully be somewhere at Wrigley (the best place to watch a game on earth — new stadiums got nothing on this place) on May 10th cheering for the Cubbies!

So how does communication play into all this? Well, we are attending the game with none other than Steve Crescenzo, Chief Hallucinator of Crescenzo Communications. He and his wife Cindy already have tickets to the game and Peat and I have already devised some Social Media tactics to have a networking meeting from our side of the stadium to where they are sitting. Twitter anyone? I could see the conversation on my chat program now:

TwitterIM: Nova: Just spilled beer on one of the bleacher bums. Told them I loved the Cubs — all was good.

TwitterIM: Steve: Writing notes on hot dog napkins for my next blog…will the Old Style beer make these illegible and incoherent tomorrow?

TwitterIM: Peat: I could build some software using algorithms to calculate the amount of hot dogs purchased when the Cubs are down versus when they are up.

TwitterIM: Steve: Trying to find a way to explain to Peat that Cubs fans are enthusiastic regardless of the score. Note on napkin — write to MLB and explain that it would be historic and symbolic for the Cubs to win in 2008 (100 years after the last World Series win) and can’t they make something happen?

Okay, so maybe Twitter wouldn’t be the most efficient way to interact during a baseball game or to interact in general (is the jury still out on this one?), but sometimes when you are navigating the corporate world, it feels like you are sitting in the bleachers, while everyone else is sitting behind the dugout. When you are behind the dugout, you get to hear all the action — the crack of the bat, the ball hitting the glove. Out in the bleachers, you have to keep one eye on the beer stand line and you have to scream and wave like a madman in hopes that one of the fielders might throw you the ball. When talking to employees, does it ever seem like they are waiting for someone to throw them the ball? Lots of motivated people who get lost in the crowd. It’s up to us communicators to get employees in on the action — convince our management teams to throw them the ball — they shouldn’t have to act like madmen to get it.

Oh! And never fear — we’ll be catching up with Cindy and Steve before or after the game…remember when face-to-face meetings were all the rage?

Rob Abramovitz of Skutt left some great questions in the comments section of my Web 2.0 workspace entry, but I wanted to make sure that everyone had access to my response. In his comments, he mentions some work issues that he struggles with (scheduling meetings with colleagues with opposite schedules, tracking projects and tasks and linking those to good tools and then finally, he asks how to keep track of the strategic plan and how Chatter Mill can contribute to achieving the goals of this plan. My thoughts on his last two points are below:

Regarding your final two questions about strategic goals and how Chatter Mill plays a part — I think these are linked. It’s all about communicating strategy to employees and then making sure they have a way to funnel information back to you. It’s about the two-way conversation. Have you made it easy for employees to know how the company is doing on the #1 priority? A dashboard with performance metrics that is posted online or on a bulletin board is the best way to make sure employees can stay focused on the goal. Make sure it’s not too many measurements or a thick report. It’s about priorities — no one can prioritize successfully if everything in a 20-page report is a “#1 priority”.

Finally, Chatter Mill provides the channel for employees to dialogue with management about the business. First and foremost, it is a communication tool. The rating system, though, allows you to get a Snapshot read of the pulse of the organization. The reports can then help you drill down into the problem areas or even help get people past a particular area of pain so they can get focused back on strategic goals. Or even better, Chatter Mill helps illuminate employee ideas on how to meet these goals.

I return to the age-old adage that employees truly are a company’s greatest asset — if that’s true, how come we don’t listen more to what they have to say? When you do, you will see employee engagement increase, retention improve and if linked with a clearly communicated strategic plan, Chatter Mill helps employees tell you immediately and directly when something hasn’t gone according to plan (not weeks later as it makes its way slowly from the water cooler to your office). Chatter Mill isn’t a silver bullet — think of it more as a silver tongue…for your organization.

Corporate Communicators ConferenceBlue Hill Solutions is a featured exhibitor at the Corporate Communicators Conference in Chicago in early May. This is the 16th year of this event hosted by Ragan Communications. The conference offers a wide variety of internal communcation tracks covering print, online, social media, senior communication and more. Sessions will be led by communication experts like Steve Crescenzo and Shel Holtz and from practitioners from leading companies such as AAA, Siemens and Southwest Airlines to name just a few.

We will be there talking with internal communicators about how Chatter Mill can help their senior leaders start a healthy business dialogue with employees and measure it! If you are going, stop by our table to hear more about what Chatter Mill can do for your communication strategy. We will be there May 8th, 9th and the morning of the 10th. See you in Chicago!