Up periscope: Making sure your staff knows what's going on in the world

Here's a challenge for all business leaders: see how up-to-date your staff is on current events.

Photo credit: Getty Images
Photo credit: Getty Images

I recently had the chance to sit in on a series of client meetings with communications and marketing executives from across North America. In each meeting, I mentioned the news of Ogilvy’s recent restructuring, and in each case, most people looked at me with blank stares.

I can’t swear they didn’t know what I was talking about, but it sure seemed that way. It was a passing reference and not vital to my remarks, but Ogilvy’s news had been announced within the prior week, and given the firm’s prominence in our world, I thought this crowd would be in the know.

It made me wonder: how much do our people read the news, especially business news, and know what’s going on? I continue to have concerns that our news feeds only deliver us a narrow slice of news that adheres to narrow categories we check off when we download the latest news aggregating app.

For all you chief communications officers, agency CEOs, and other business leaders, here’s a challenge: below is a simple, five-question business issue survey. Get some of your staff together and, without offering them access to Google, ask these questions, and see what answers you get.

1. Starbucks announced plans to ban what common food/utensil/cutlery item?
2. A judge has cleared Lantern Capital to purchase what notorious company?
3. What product recently made Wal-Mart accidentally take a political stance?
4. What made Pfizer agree to postpone its drug price hikes?
5. The U.S. unveiled $200 billion in additional tariffs on what country?

Maybe you’ll be delighted with the awareness your staff has of what’s going on in the business world. Maybe you’ll be depressed. Maybe you’ll be somewhere in the middle. Whatever the answer, you may want to consider how to encourage your folks to do more to keep abreast of what they need to know.

How do you do that? First, speak up. Encourage more reading. Discuss business news, even world news, at your staff meetings, even if only for five minutes. Second, send links from time to time to information – articles, videos, etc. – that you think are important for your people to know, and find opportunities to see if people have followed up.

When your people propose PR strategies and tactics, probe them for context. Make sure your people understand how those strategies and their component messages will be received. For example, it’s easy to imagine a blunder if the person responsible for the messaging isn’t sufficiently aware of the tariff debate.

A critical time to build a worldly staff is during the hiring and review process. There are plenty of ways to determine whether someone is keeping abreast of developments without having to ask inappropriate questions about their politics. Ask what news sources they follow, and go beyond Twitter. You might assume that people going into a profession so closely related to the news business would be avid consumers of journalism, but you might be wrong.

Probe for both breadth and depth. In breadth, do they only follow what is directly pertinent to their work? If so, they will lack the necessary context to make sound decisions. Who are their favorite journalists? Why? What have they written, broadcast, or posted online recently that was especially noteworthy?

For depth, don’t just ask what newspapers or websites they consult. Dig deeper. Ask them to tell you about a particularly interesting topic they’ve been following. Why does it interest them? Why do they believe it’s important? Can they speak knowledgeably and confidently on the topic, or are they faking it? You’ll be able to tell quickly.

Finally, walk the talk. Make sure you’re taking enough time yourself to stay informed so that you can see the big picture. It’s easy to fall into the trap of just reading emails, memos, and the other things that cross our desks. But it’s essential to raise the periscope above the water and take a look around. It will improve your own decision making, and it will make you a more effective leader.

Bob Feldman is cofounder and partner at PulsePoint Group. He can be reached at bfeldman@pulsepointgroup.com.

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