Paul Holmes 22 Jan 2014 // 8:08PM GMT
Twitter vp of marketing and communications Gabe Stricker got our In2 Summit off to a really strong start this morning with his rules for public relations professionals in the modern age. But one of the things Stricker mentioned during the Q&A section of his session really resonated with me. Recalling his time at Google, he recalls people interested in the company’s culture asking questions about its bold primary-colored balls. When he suggested that the should focus instead on a more open culture—perhaps setting aside time every month for the CEO to answer questions from rank-and-file employees—they recoiled, worrying that it would be a waste of the top executive’s time, or that he might be confronted with difficult questions. I had a somewhat similar experience a few years ago, when I attended a seminar hosted by Southwest Airlines, which used to—and may still do—host meetings for other companies, at which it discussed some of the things it had done to create a great workplace culture. A lot of it came down to common sense: the company treated employees with respect, listened to what they had to say, gave them a sense of purpose. At the end of the meeting, one of the attendees—who had been taking copious notes—rose to ask the first question. He wanted to know something the HR folks from Southwest had somehow forgotten to cover: did the company calls its employees “associates” or “partners” or something else? It was a jarring example of hearing the lyrics but missing the tune. It could not have been more out of place if he had stood up to ask, “Can you tell me what language I should use if I want to fake this kind of culture?” Building a transparent, authentic and credible culture is difficult. It used to be that companies could pay lip-service to the idea and get away with it. That time has passed. Perhaps the number one rule of communications in the modern era is that you can’t fake it. If it’s not—and I know this word is in danger of being overused—authentic, it is simply not going to work. In fact, it is going to backfire horribly. We are living in an age in which any discrepancy between what a company says about itself, and how customers—and other stakeholders—experience the company will become immediately apparent, and will be widely shared on social media.