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Tom “Commakazi” Keefe

Anyone who has ever worked in an organization knows about the “grapevine”—the informal rumor-mill where fact and speculation mix together to breed various strains of truth, half-truths and outright misconceptions.

Strategic, open communications can reduce the grapevine’s activity and influence. This is even more apparent, and important, as companies and their stakeholders (including employees) engage more in the range of communication channels powered by social media tools and platforms such as blogs, Twitter, LinkedIn and Facebook.

Companies today are looking to join in the conversations occurring within and outside of the company walls. Those conversations can change and move rapidly, which makes it more difficult for company “spokespersons” (either formally designated or ad hoc) to be a trusted participant if they haven’t spent time engaging with others.

Some of the bigger challenges occur in times of change, when information may be less available or less readily shared, and the unknown can seem more apparent and more ominous. Does that describe the situation at Hewlett-Packard, following the sudden resignation on Friday of Mark Hurd, HP’s chairman, chief executive officer and president? (Read more in my previous post.)

A few HP executives have been quoted in articles appearing online. For example, in the U.K., a Guardian newspaper’s online article quoted HP’s general counsel Michael Holston as stating that Hurd engaged in a “systematic pattern” of submitting falsified financial reports to hide a “close personal relationship” with a former HP contractor.

The official HP blog, Data Central, on Saturday offered scant information other than a retread of the corporate statement published on Friday. It stated that “Comments are closed for this post and will not be published.”

Let’s hope that the communications internally at HP were much more transparent. After all, Hurd was not universally loved within HP for his tough business decisions that led to thousands of job cuts over the years. How will HP’s communications staff manage this time of change?

That was exactly the topic of a session led by HP communicators Robin Andrews and Desiree Sylvester in 2005. It was titled, “Keeping employees focused and engaged in times of change,” and it was delivered on the day before Hurd accepted the IABC EXCEL Award at the IABC International Conference in Washington, D.C.

Much of what Robin and Desiree shared in that presentation could hold true today, such as the “communication challenges”:

  • Balance focus on delivering day-to-day business vs. change
  • Manage leaks in the media
  • Everything said internally was expected to be shared externally – very difficult to give employees additional or advance information

Check out the presentation and then let’s see what surfaces from HP’s employees. Will they feel like their feelings and opinions have been heard?

Another more minor observation. I had noticed that on Friday, the day of the Hurd resignation announcement, the HP site was not completely updated. Although the press release was posted under HP’s News Releases section, the company leader page still indicated that Hurd was in charge. [caption id="attachment_583" align="aligncenter" width="300" caption="From the HP website on 8-6-2010, the day Hurd\'s resignation was announced."]From the HP website on 8-6-2010, the day Hurd's resignation was announced.[/caption]

On Saturday, the site was updated to indicate that Cathie Lesjak
was named interim chief executive officer and would remain chief financial officer.

[caption id=”attachment_581″ align=”alignright” width=”200″ caption=”Mark Hurd photo courtesy of HP”]Mark Hurd photo courtesy of HP[/caption]I first met Mark Hurd at the 2005 IABC International Conference in Washington, D.C. He had just joined Hewlett-Packard as its CEO and president, after a successful stint in a similar role at NCR. In fact, Hurd was being honored as the recipient of IABC’s EXCEL Award for his support, encouragement and practice of exemplary communication.

It saddened me to read the news article on Friday under the headline, “HP CEO Hurd resigns after sexual-harassment probe.” To be clear, an investigation by HP’s outside legal counsel and its General Counsel’s Office, overseen by the HP Board determined that no violation of HP’s sexual harassment policy occurred. However, it did find that Hurd violated HP’s Standards of Business Conduct. Read the official statement on the HP website.

As I reviewed some notes I took during Hurd’s address at the 2005 conference, the irony of some of his comments and statements jumped out.

  • He had begun his remarks, following a warm applause by the audience, with the comment, “As CEO, you aren’t used to hearing people say nice things about you.”
  • Hurd later told the audience that the term “fired” originated from an incident that involved two early leaders at NCR. Quick summary: NCR head John Patterson allegedly punctuated the termination of Thomas John Watson, Sr. by having Watson’s desk taken outside and set ablaze. Hence, the phrase “fired.”
  • I’ve since found many references to the origin of the phrase, “fired,” that don’t point to NCR. It may be another example of Hurd’s misunderstanding of information—like HP’s Standards of Business Conduct.

    Two other Hurd comments from his 2005 EXCEL Award address stood out to me today:

    • The CEO can’t replace the relationship of front-line employees with their immediate supervisors, he said. “The CEO can provide a context [to] try to bring clarity.”
    • Hurd later said that as he would “promote, demote, recognize and reward people, I tell 30,000 people what I value.”

    As a highly visible CEO, Hurd has sent a message to his employees with his misconduct, and I hope that it doesn’t erase the good that he did for HP. I also hope he uses this as a lesson in what to value most as a business leader and champion of communication excellence.

    What context and clarity can Hurd’s interim successor, Cathie Lesjak, bring to company employees? In my next post, I’ll look back at a presentation on employee communications made at that same 2005 IABC International Conference by HP communicators, and then compare that with what has been communicated in the past couple of days following Hurd’s resignation.

I know several people who share Aug. 6 as a birthday. Happy birthday. If you are ready to relive the ’80s, watch this video of Altered Images performing, “Happy Birthday.”

You wouldn’t know it by my lack of recent posts, but I have been actively engaged lately in communication activities. A lot of the activity has surrounded my transition into the role of IABC/Chicago chapter president for the 2010-2011 board year (beginning July 1).

Before things get rolling, I’m going to spend next week as a volunteer youth leader and take a trip to “Never the Same Camp“. Early mornings, late nights, a lot of running in-between lots of prayers. Not sure how that will be different than the past few weeks.

Anyway, I’ll be off the grid. Be good.

Today is Father’s Day in the U.S., and I’m sending a greeting to all fathers. What son hasn’t had conflicting thoughts about their dad at some point? My dad used to drive me crazy at times. Now I see myself driving my kids crazy at times too.

I woke up earlier than anyone else, because our dog, Clue, came by to remind me that he needs to get to his morning pee and breakfast. The dog doesn’t know that this is my “special day.”

I saw a brown paper bag sitting at my place at the family table, with a handwritten note from my son. “Sorry about the wrap job. The women weren’t available.” Obviously put there last night after I went to bed.

I’ll wait for the rest of the family to wake up before opening it. Then off to church, where I’m scheduled to deliver the children’s message at both services.

Father’s Day to me means time with my kids and my wife, with whom I started the Keefe family nearly two decades ago. [caption id=”attachment_569″ align=”aligncenter” width=”300″ caption=”Nice wrap job, Kevin”]Nice wrap job, Kevin[/caption]

blagojevich--old-and-new1I may have to update my speech, “To Beard Or Not To Beard,” to include the just-released mug-shot of Rod Blagojevich.

Thank you Freedom of Information Act and WGN-Ch. 9!

UPDATE 5/14/2010: Follow the Twitter conversation with the hashtag #braudtalk

I’m hosting Gerard Braud’s Friday Free Media Training Teleseminar. The fun begins at 11 a.m. CDT. Sign up here

This series of teleseminars is helping to raise awareness of his new book, Don’t Talk to the Media.
Braud’s tour and communication “lessons learned” about Hurricane Katrina were one of the highlights for me when I attended the 2007 IABC International (now World) Conference in New Orleans. He is savvy, experienced and very entertaining.

Join us and bring your questions!

I happened to see on Yahoo! that today is World Press Freedom Day.

According to Yahoo!:

World Press Freedom Day (May 3) was created in 1997 to “promote the free flow of information and its activities in the interest of press freedom, media independence, and pluralism” and to raise awareness of the dangers faced by journalists who are harassed, imprisoned, and even killed for telling the truth. Unesco hosts an annual event which serves to remind governments of their duty to respect and uphold the right to freedom of expression—print or the Internet.

Bloggers are included in the list of journalists being celebrated on the Yahoo! site, including:

  • Wael Abbas - Egypt–Blogger and human rights activist who blogs at Misr Digital
  • Amira Al Hussaini - Bahrain–Journalist, editor, and blogger
  • Yoani Sánchez - Cuba–Philologist and blogger known for her critical portrayal of life under the Cuban government

I thought it was interesting and slightly amusing that Wael Abbas was the first journalist listed by Yahoo! under the heading, “Celebrating Journalists.” Yahoo! had shut down two of his Yahoo! email accounts, calling him a “spammer.”

To all of my friends in journalism, today is your day. Write on!

A few times in recent weeks, I’ve been unable to watch video news items promoted on Yahoo!. I click the link to watch…

yahoo story about bank robber 1
…and get a “not available” message:

yahoo story about bank robber 2

Has anyone else had this experience? Is the video source pulling the videos because of a surge in traffic, is this a conspiracy to make Yahoo! look bad, or something else?