Ford's new commitment to comms is a start, but it won't work if staffers will not buy into it

Bill Ford issued an ultimatum to employees of the automaker last week that they either climb on board the innovation bandwagon or find new jobs elsewhere.

Bill Ford issued an ultimatum to employees of the automaker last week that they either climb on board the innovation bandwagon or find new jobs elsewhere.

But according to The Detroit News, it wasn't just the message, but the way it was delivered that showed a commitment to innovation. The audio message that was delivered via e-mail was, said the paper, the first in a series of "less formal communications [Bill Ford] has dubbed 'Ford on Ford.'"

Fostering innovation requires more than platitudes and encouragement from the C-suite, and these new communications initiatives aim to dismantle some of the bureaucratic impediments to change.

On Monday, the News reported, Ford announced a new web-based system that lets "employees submit ideas directly to his senior management team." The system apparently also requires employees to classify their ideas and rate them according to how they might impact the company and help it meet its objectives.

By basically forcing employees to not only think creatively, but to consider the impact of change on the business, the program has the potential to motivate staff in a truly meaningful way.

In some ways, the idea is reminiscent of SBC Communications' 2002-2003 campaign, with Fleishman-Hillard, aimed at mobilizing staff to become advocates for the company's new services and products, and to improve customer service across the company.

One of the reasons for the campaign's success was the blunt approach to the very real competitive threat - we change or we die, was the message. But more important was how the company succeeded in turning its employees not just into more effective service providers, but brand advocates who told their company's story to families and friends. Thus, while it met the stated objectives, the very act of motivating employees in this way became part of the story.

Ford faces formidable challenges as it mounts its latest effort, but there is a similar opportunity there, as well. But its biggest critics will be those very employees they are endeavoring to galvanize.

Reciprocity introduces PR to a new audience

At the behest of Lou Capozzi of Publicis and Kathy Cripps of the Council of PR Firms, I recently met a great woman with a compelling mission. Taz Tagore is executive director of the Reciprocity Foundation and its sister organization, The Appreciate Network.

The foundation's goal is to match homeless youths with internships and mentors in creative industries, such as design, fashion, media, and marketing. Capozzi is on the foundation's board.

Funding for the program comes from products like gift baskets that are created and marketed by the kids themselves - offering practical experience that supports the organization.

A big part of Tagore's job is identifying internship opportunities and mentors for the youths, who are screened by the shelters in which they live, and the organization. Tagore believes that PR provides a unique opportunity to kids who have few advantages or resources. "They have been so marginalized," she explains. "To have an opportunity to participate in the voice of the country, that's really powerful."

For more on internship/mentoring opportunities, e-mail taz@reciprocityfoundation.org. For details of items for sale, visit www.appreciate.org.

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