Changing the direction of your company’s content and communications strategy is never an easy thing — especially when people have become used to operating one way for a long time. In this article, you’ll find out how one very large, well-known brand was able to shift its mindset and culture to ensure the messaging and content was more meaningful, and began to resonate with its target audiences.
What happens when one of the world’s most famous CEOs calls you and tells you their enterprise content strategy needs to be reimagined, and you’re the person for the job?
You accept that job from Larry Ellison of Oracle and get to work. But an organizational shift of the way an international company communicates is no easy task — to do a complete 180 culturally and organizationally takes work.
Bob Evans knew that going in.
After leaving his position as Chief Communications Office at Oracle, Bob is now founder and principal at Evans Strategic Communications. Before starting his own company, he was recruited and hired by Larry Ellison to transform how Oracle Corp. communicated its vision and business value to the world. Bob has given keynote talks all over the world, and published thousands of bylined articles on business strategy, innovation, competitive positioning, business transformation, customer intimacy, leadership, culture, and more.
In this conversation between Bob and me, we talk about changing the enterprise-level content strategy from within, starting with the messaging, the organizational structure, the culture, and more.
Changing the Messaging
Chris: So you get a call from Larry Ellison himself one day to discuss the direction of their communications and content … that seems like it would be a pretty surprising call.
Bob: I think I was the most shocked person of all … About 10 months into my time at another company I was at, I got a call from Larry Ellison and he said for 35 years, Oracle has sold very technical stuff to very technical people using very technical language.
Larry said they were going to go in a different direction and sell to business people instead, and they needed Oracle to articulate who they were and why the stuff they made matters to business people.
The Cultural Shift
Chris: What are some of the takeaways for a person who needs to change the culture around content?
Bob: There were certain people in the organization who were very resistant to this sort of change. Everybody was out to protect it because they wanted to keep things the way they were. This is very common in a lot of companies.
I spent the first year just going around and trying to get to know people in the company. There’s a line from the Zen world that says to be understood, you must first understand. So I spent a lot of time going around and talking to people around the company.
I wanted to find out what was working, what wasn’t working. How were the customers changing? What were they looking for today that they weren’t before? How do you talk to the world? What are the big messages you want to get across?
We had to look [at] what’s the bigger Oracle story here because the product marketing people would still do a lot of communicating on a product basis. I had to find out what Oracle’s overarching value was that was there, but we were making it too hard for customers to understand.
The other thing I tried to do in those early days is [to] get out of Oracle and go talk to customers, talk to partners, talk to analysts. What did they think about the company?
What I was trying to do is identify how we pull some of these different threads together; how we give a clear, compelling, exciting, and customer-centric view of what Oracle does, and that was totally against how the company could work and how it had behaved for more than 30 years.
There’s a lot of cultural landmines you had to go through, but with the backing of the top guy, Larry, we’re able to do some of that.
It was as much of job of a psychiatrist or an anthropologist as it was being a content leader the first number of months there. I really had to get to know the company.
We had to get that 360-view to be able to then say, okay, I understand the situation. Here’s how we’re going to fix it. Here’s how we’re going to move into it and change things.
And then you got to win advocates. I can’t convince all 125,000 employees at once. Get a win. Go replicate that, and then the word of mouth starts coming.
Chris: Obviously there’s going to need to be a cultural shift. So, how do you make a structural change in an organization to change the management by objectives for people or to get people onboard under different views?
Bob: There was a significant amount of upper-level turnover and this was just people who said: you don’t understand, you don’t know how things work here. You don’t get it. The people that said no, can’t do it, won’t do it, shouldn’t do, not sure why we’re doing it, they had to go.
Those were easy choices, and what I told everybody over and over: corporate politics, never let that get involved.
The only question we ever ask is: Is this good for Oracle? Is this good for the company? Will this help us increase our revenue? Will this help us delight our customers?
Any other questions were totally irrelevant. So for me, it was easy to make those choices on people who weren’t on board for that. They were on board for maintaining the status quo.
I think the biggest thing that I tried to do was understand what’s the most valuable stuff we can do for Oracle, and then get the right leaders in place to inspire, drive, focus, and channel all that enthusiasm and energy, and then get the hell out people’s way. Let them go do this great stuff.
Let them be evangelists all around the company so that people in the product and engineering and sales organizations would come to us and say: Every time I work with you, good things happen. I want to be part of that. I want to have more of that magic.
Chris: Once you got everyone on board, how did you empower them to create better content and communications?
Bob: It was really one of the most interesting parts of the time at Oracle because the corporate communications scene we put together had about 250 people.
Within that, there were three magazines. There was a big, high-traffic website. There was a big creative team. There was a big video team. There was a social team. There was a media relations team. There was the analyst relations team. There was the regional communications team. All these different teams worked very separately. They worked in silos.
The mindset was we would like to change, but we don’t know how to change because we want to become sources of value and innovation rather than sitting back and waiting to be told what to do. We’re not quite sure how to do that.
So the rallying cry that we had there was to go around and find the repetitive low-level junk work that builds up over months or years and get rid of it.
A lot of this silly little grunt work we did for some internal constituents, we just said we’re not going to do it anymore. Just drop it, let it go.
Then we kind of take the power of the social team and the video team and the content team, and the magazines and the website, and what we’re doing with media and analyst relations and share those ideas from all over the world.
It just took off because people felt like I was giving them autonomy, and the responsibility to go do good things. Do good things that are helping Oracle instead of sitting around and twiddling thumbs, and doing a lot of junk work that nobody really understands where it came from or what its purpose is.
You get that flywheel going and then you get another person behind it and another person behind it, and suddenly, what seemed impossible to move starts to go — and then it starts to rumble and then it starts to fly.
People are drawn to that. Nobody wants to do average work, boring work. It pays a salary, but it’s not really interesting. They just had to have somebody trust them and believe in them and clear some of the junk out of the way.
We found seven or eight formally siloed, fragmented teams started to work together. The guys in the magazine said they learned some stuff from working with the social team that they never knew before and that’s really going to help them.
And the social team said they had no idea that there was all this incredible content the magazines were doing. And the website team was saying that they could help showcase more of that content.
You put all these teams together and you create this stuff called lightning.
All of a sudden, you can do stuff that you never could’ve even dreamed of on your own. That can be self-fulfilling. It’s the way people think and you sort of change it at the DNA level.
Chris: What are some key takeaways to changing an enterprise’s content strategy?
Bob: We need to go about our work fearlessly and joyfully.
Don’t be afraid to change things. Don’t be afraid to question things. Don’t be afraid to get rid of things. Don’t be afraid to jump into new stuff. Don’t be afraid to make some mistakes.
You Can Get Your Groove Back, Too
If a giant like Oracle can change its course and reset its content strategy, that’s great news for businesses of all sizes. Using some of the same principles Bob and others applied internally to Oracle can be applied to small and medium brands to help anyone get their content groove back.
USING AI CAN HAVE UNINTENDED CONSEQUENCES
Artificial intelligence protects us from known and unknown threats, helps us connect to one another, and provides better answers faster and cheaper than humans do. But what about the unintended consequences that come with its use?
A new Insight from Bain & Company provides a list of risks to beware of when considering leveraging AI, among them:
- Unlike traditional rules-based programming, AI models are statistical representations of the world. They provide answers based on their learning, but they are imperfect. Consider autonomous vehicles—their training data is growing exponentially and the models based on it are improving, but errors in those algorithms continue to be discovered, sometimes only after loss of life.
- Overreliance on AI can lead to loss of skills, critical thinking, and understanding of the fundamentals of your business and what’s truly driving demand.
- The lack of transparency in algorithms raises concerns about bias, since any algorithm trained on historical data will make conclusions that reflect the bias present in that data. As these algorithms take on broader roles—setting a price on an e-commerce site, determining car insurance rates, making hiring decisions—a very real risk is simply repeating how things have always been done.
How can these risks be addressed?
Bain & Co. advises that top executives be involved in establishing the goals and limits around the AI used by their businesses. Every materially important algorithm should also have a product manager to review and test the algorithm, audit its outcomes, and assess and improve its performance.
See the full Bain & Co. article: “Tackling AI’s Unintended Conseque
Source: Carrier Management
Is Your Career Affected By the Clothes You Wear?
Years ago I worked on the shop floor of a manufacturing plant. I had worked my way through college at another plant, so I definitely identified more with the hourly workers than the “suits.” (Even though most of the guys referred to me as “college boy.”)
One day the department manager stopped by. He asked about my background. He asked about my education. He asked about my career aspirations.
“I’d like to be a supervisor,” I answered, “and then someday I’d like your job.”
He smiled and said, “Good for you. I like a guy with dreams.” Then he paused.
“But if that’s what you really want,” he said, looking me in the eyes, “first you need to start looking the part.”
I knew what he was saying but decided to play dumb. “What do you mean?” I asked.
“Look around,” he said. “How do supervisors dress? How does their hair look? How do they act? No one will think of you as supervisor material until they can actually see you as a supervisor — and right now you look nothing like a supervisor.”
He was right. I was wearing ratty jeans with a couple of holes. (Why wouldn’t I? I worked around oil and grease all day.) I was wearing a cut-off t-shirt. (Why wouldn’t I? It was the middle of the summer and the air wheezing through the overhead vents was far from conditioned.) And my hair was pretty long, even for the day.
“But shouldn’t how well I do my job matter more than how I look?” I asked.
“In a perfect world your performance is all that would matter,” he said. “But we don’t live in a perfect world. Take my advice: if you want to be promoted into a certain position… make sure you look like the people in that position.“
I’ve thought about that conversation a lot over the years.
I’ve hired and promoted people who looked the part… and they turned out to be all show and no go. I’ve hired and promoted people who didn’t look the part at all… and they turned out to be superstars. I’m convinced that how you look and, at least to a large degree how you act, has nothing to do with your skill and talent and fit for a job.
Still, he’s right: the world isn’t perfect. People still make assumptions about us based on irrelevant things like clothing and mannerisms… and height and weight and age and gender and ethnicity and tons of other qualities and attributes that have absolutely no bearing on a person’s performance.
So are you better off trying to conform?
Unfortunately, probably so. The people doing the hiring and promoting are people — and people tend to be biased towards the comfortable and the familiar. People tend to hire and promote people who are much like themselves. (If you remind me of me… then you must be awesome, right?)
Besides, highly diverse teams are like unicorns — we all know what one should look like, but unless you’re NPH you rarely encounter one in the wild.
And don’t forget that hiring or promoting someone who conforms, even if only in dress and deportment, makes a high percentage of the people making those decisions feel like they’re taking a little bit less of a risk. I know I was viewed — admittedly with good reason — as a wild card, and I’m sure that impacted my promotability.
But still: are you better off being yourself and trusting that people will value your skills, experience, talent… and uniqueness?
Sadly I think that’s a move fraught with professional peril. If your goal is to get hired or promoted then expressing your individuality could make that goal much harder to accomplish. (Of course if being yourself in all ways is what is most important to you, by all means let your freak flag fly. Seriously.)
I have no way of knowing for sure, but changing how I dressed — and in a larger sense, tempering some of the attitude I displayed — would likely have helped me get promoted sooner. For a long time I didn’t look the part, didn’t act the part… and I’m sure that made me a less attractive candidate.
But that’s just what I think; what’s more interesting is what you think about fitting in and conforming. How has the way you look or dress affected your career?
Secret to Finding Inner Peace at a Toxic Job
I was recently chatting with someone about the United Nations’ Day of Peace project and was asked, “How can someone find inner peace at a toxic job?”
That’s a tough question. Not because the answer is complex. The answer is actually quite simple. However, it’s not the answer most people want to hear.
It Starts With You
Finding inner peace at a toxic job starts inside your head. You must stop the NST (negative self talk) that’s producing your anxiety and frustration. Most people say, “I can’t help it. Things happen at work that cause me to feel the way I do.” However, that’s not technically true. We all have the freedom to choose how we react to things that happen to us. If you see yourself as the victim, powerless against what’s happening, then you will react with feelings of anxiety and frustration. But, if you choose to take ownership of the situation, you can break free of the golden handcuffs at work and feel empowered instead. I realize that’s easier said than done. But, it can be done. And here’s how to do it:
Step 1: Acknowledge you do have options.
You can either A) decide to leave the company and start focusing on a new job search. Or, B) step back and try to understand why you are so upset by these actions and what you could do differently so you don’t feel held hostage by the situation. For example, if you have a boss who yells all the time, you can either decide it’s time to find a boss that doesn’t yell, or learn to ignore your boss and condition your body not to react to the yelling. The choice is yours.
Step 2: Take action.
This is where most people give up. To change what’s happening means you will need to make an extra effort. You have to build a gameplan, find resources, and invest time and mental energy into fixing the situation. Sadly, most people don’t want to do the work necessary. They’re hoping things will magically change or get better. Or, they procrastinate and say, “I’ll focus on it next week.” Meanwhile, they stay miserable and let the effects deteriorate their ability to do good work. Which can actually make things worse…
FYI – Doing Nothing Could Hurt Your Career Even More
As a career coach, I’ve worked with lots of people who didn’t address a toxic work environment, got depressed, become disengaged at work, and suddenly found themselves getting fired for poor performance. Now, they’re stuck trying to explain what went wrong to potential employers. Guess what? The employers blame the candidates for not taking ownership of a bad situation Employers don’t respect employees that aren’t accountable for their own professional happiness. Employers want to hire proactive, positive people. Not people who act helpless.
This Is What Taking Action Looks Like…
That being said, using the yelling boss example from above, let’s look at the actions you’d need to take:
- To find a new job, you’d have to figure out what kind of job you want next, build your marketing materials (resume, cover letter, LinkedIn profile, interview prep, networking, etc.), and then use your free time outside the office to connect with employers and try to get hired.
- To stay at the current job, you’d need to find some resources (books, videos, coaches, etc.), who could help you build your coping strategies and then invest time into practicing them in hopes you can reach a place where the yelling doesn’t bother you.
Either way, you’ve got work to do.
Tip: Your Chances Of Success Are Higher If…
Over the years, I’ve worked with thousands of people in bad career situations. Some find new jobs. Others fix the situation they are in. In both cases, one factor predicts how quickly they get results and how successful they are overall with finding inner peace. What is it? Their view of the future.
When you wake up each day and think your best days, weeks, months and years are ahead of you, it’s proven you will be more successful. So, if you are in a bad situation and you think it will never get better, then I guarantee that’s what will happen. You must, I repeat, you MUST, visualize a better, brighter future. That’s what will motivate you to do the work required to fix your situation. Nobody is going to do it for you. The sooner you realize it’s up to you, the better.
PS – Remember, you’re the sum of the five people you spend the most time with.
A final thought around your ability to find inner peace. We’re the career company we keep. If you aren’t surrounding yourself with positive people focused on the future and determined to find inner peace at work, then you will find it infinitely more challenging to reach your goal. It may be time to do an assessment of who you hang out with. Are you spending time with people who can encourage you and support you? Or, are the people you are hanging out with negative, hopeless and miserable? See how important career company is? If you don’t have the right career company, consider getting involved in a group or platform that can provide you with the right community of positive like-minded experts and peers. Don’t let the negative forces of those around you hold you back from the career happiness you want and deserve!