I attended the Arthur W. Page Society Spring Seminar in New York a couple weeks ago, as well as the Learning Community event just before the seminar. Wow, so much great content and conversations, where do I begin?

Peter Thonis, EVP & CCO for Verizon, set the bar for the event high with the keynote at the Learning Community. In his down-to-earth and authentic style, Peter shared wisdom and key learnings he has acquired over his extensive career:

  • The best way to deal with a crisis is to end it! If you can reverse whatever caused the crisis, do it. It’s better to look like you backtracked and “adjusted your strategy based on input” than to “stick to your guns” and let the crisis and controversy continue. The worst crisis is one that has no definitive end – like the BP oil spill.
  • Have zero tolerance for reporters who are inaccurate. “Go after these guys! If they know you won’t put up with inaccuracy, they will be more careful.”
  • Change energizes us! If you don’t like change, you’re in the wrong business. We are change agents.
  • Love a good crisis and love pressure! You must be able to work under pressure.
  • Announce executive transitions well in advance. Make them a non-event. And be aggressive about the CEO communicating with employees, but take your time giving a new CEO exposure externally. Let her or him settle in first.

Employees are king

Both during the Learning Community session and the Seminar, the theme of the increasing importance of employees was evident:

  • “We are leading change from the inside out, building our reputation from the inside out.” “Internal communication is the most important thing we do right now.” “The area where we can make a big difference fast is employee engagement.” – Kelli Parsons, Fannie Mae
  • “Culture is the only competitive advantage.” – Jim Stengel, author of “Grow”
  • “The character of an organization is in the employees.” “We tell the world to thrive; we have to make sure Kaiser employees are thriving too.” – Bernard Tyson, President, Kaiser Permanente
  • “More companies should be focused on social media in relation to employee engagement.” – Justine Thody, Economist Intelligence Unit
  • “We need to spend more on employee social media competence.” – Wendi Strong, USAA

Some companies are leading the pack in terms of social business and helping employees be positive advocates for the company externally:

  • Kelly McGinnis of Dell told us about their successful Social Media University. Ten percent of the workforce has already gone through it.
  • Sue Kwon of Gap Inc. shared how they are empowering employee evangelists through the use of video – “our story told by employees.” She also gave all attendees a copy of their hip employee guidelines for social media.
  • Corey duBrowa of Starbucks told us they are moving towards delivering content to employees through their cell phones.

As a professional focused on employee communication and engagement, I am excited! Because employees now have the power to impact a company’s reputation in an instant, it is now an even more urgent business imperative to engage employees. Not only do engaged employees help the bottom line through improved productivity and collaboration, having engaged employees can prevent a major PR breakdown. A recent powerful example of this was the disgruntled and clearly disengaged former executive from Goldman Sachs whose Op-Ed in the NY Times knocked two billion off of the company’s market value, overnight.

What this all comes down to is the importance of integrity and authenticity in the business world. I would be remiss if I did not mention the unveiling of the new model for activating corporate character & authentic advocacy by the Arthur W. Page Society. If you haven’t read it yet, you should. The Page Society is not only adapting to the changes that transparency is forcing on the corporate world, it is leading the way and showing us how to do it right!

By Barbara Fagan-Smith
ROI Communication