Listening

This working group is chaired by Associate Professor and GA board member Gregor Halff, Singapore; and Noel Turnbull, Fellow PRIA, Former CEO Turnbull Porter Novelli, Australia.

Creating a culture of listening and engagementCreating a culture of listening and engagement

Public Relations and communication management are today widely acknowledged to be the guardians of an organisation’s reputation: Practitioners have the mandate to manage all messages directed at the environment and the responsibility for most relationships with external stakeholders.

On top of that, the profession has long aspired to be the ‘ear to the ground’ for organisations and corporations. PR aims not just to communicate, but also to listen to stakeholders and to be their voice within organisations. It is here that public relations seems to underperform. A wide majority of organisations around the world still demonstrate next to no ability to effectively listen. They firstly lack an awareness of their stakeholders’ dynamic expectations and secondly the capacity to integrate those expectations into the organisation’s decision making processes or to justify why these expectations can’t be integrated. This leads to the regular waves of moral outrage, ethical debate and public protests by audiences who are most often not even directly affected by the (alleged) misdemeanor they lament.

Organisations are lagging behind their audiences, who today – after the technical, economical and socio-political evolutions of the past 20 years – were never in history so free to make themselves heard, read and seen. These audiences’ trust in corporations and bureaucracies has also never been lower. With the Melbourne Mandate, we want organisations to catch up with history and develop a listening culture.

In Melbourne, we will firstly need to admit that PR can’t become the exclusive ‘ear to the ground’ of organisations. Instead, entire organisations need to be sensitized to their environment. In the Melbourne Mandate we want to list the ten decisions that leaders need to take to instill a listening structure and culture within their organisations. These decisions could be anything from technical, organisational, physical, operational, etc. We therefore ask:

• What are examples of exceptionally engaging and listening organisations?

• What structural and cultural conditions are in place in these organisations, e.g. in terms of technology, transparency, hierarchy, operations, governance, etc. etc.?

• How can they be measured or assessed?

• How can the PR function create, or help create, those conditions?

With the Melbourne Mandate and its 10 ‘listening decisions’ in hand, the Global Alliance hopes to bi-annually publish a list of the world’s best listening organisations and to thus inspire as many organisations as possible.

41 Responses to Listening

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  2. Graeme Domm says:

    This is starting to work very well, from my point of view. Difficult to distill and reconcile the various points made – but I think this draft is doing that. My congratulations.

  3. Julie freeman says:

    I must congratulate Gregor and Noel for pulling together the varied thoughts and contributions of this group. I am very satisfied with the current draft of this document. The obvious idea of the importance of listening is strengthened by the points that communicators must encourage senior leadership to support and exemplify listening, that they must understand their organization’s strategy, and that at times they must explain why stakeholders’ expectations cannot be met.

    I also think that even though this section of the Mandate does not offer specific examples of organizations that are listening well-for good reason-its principles offer practical guidelines that can form the basis for a successful listening strategy.

  4. PR Refresh says:

    I agree with Hazel on the importance of organisations responding to what audiences have told them but there are also other benefits of listening. In my consultation work with local government, I have seen many examples of programmes designed to elicit response from communities with elected members wondering why the response rate is so low. One of the reasons, it seems to me, is that they don’t often show those same communities what they have done with the information that they collected from them. They haven’t closed the loop for the stakeholders by going back to them and saying, “thanks for your comments, here’s how we’ve incorporated (or not used) them in our plans for moving forward.”

    Listening is also useful for the PR practitioner to gather information, views, hot topics and trends within stakeholder groups that will help inform the development of communication programmes. A kind of primary research often collected anecdotally.

  5. Gregor Halff says:

    Thanks for your valuable input so far. Below is a redraft of our document based on the recent conversations. We invite you to expand where necessary, but would particularly welcome suggestions (or references to existing tools) for point 8, i.e. the appropriate measurement tools.
    —————————————————————————————————————————
    Two years after the Stockholm Accords, one of the main challenges of the PR profession remains establishing a balance: between achieving overall societal legitimacy on the one hand and value for the specific organisations in whose name it operates on the other. Communication managers remain committed to fostering dialogues with stakeholder groups and – where necessary – prompting the necessary cultural and organisational changes to better meet stakeholders’ expectations. Nonetheless, the profession’s value is most frequently derived from its contribution to an organisation’s licence to operate.
    In Melbourne, the public relations profession acknowledges that a listening policy is pivotal for any communication that ultimately serves both organisations and society.
    The Melbourne Mandate encourages public relations practitioners to enable and sustain their organisations’ listening policy by
    1. Encouraging organisational leaders to actively support and exemplify a culture of listening within their organisations


    2. Striving to build trust through enduring and respectful relationships with stakeholders and the wider community.


    3. Pursuing policies and practices based on internationally recognised standards for corporate social responsibility, sustainability, financial and governance reporting and performance transparency

    The Melbourne Mandate encourages public relations practitioners to generate and implement their organisations’ listening policy by
    1. At all times understanding the organisation’s overall strategy and licence to operate
    2. identifying all stakeholder groups who are – currently and in future- affected by the pursuit of an organisation’s strategy
    3. identifying all stakeholders groups who – currently or in future – affect the pursuit of the organisation’s strategy
    4. identifying these stakeholder groups’ expectations and encouraging their inclusion into an organisation’s strategy
    5. identifying all stakeholder groups who are affected by an organisation’s current or future actions and enabling their expectations to be considered before organisational action is taken
    6. providing legitimate reasons in cases where stakeholders’ expectations can’t be considered in an organisation’s strategy or action
    7. demonstrating at any time during the pursuit of strategy and during organisational action that the organisation is genuinely listening
    8. developing appropriate methodologies that provide a metric to measure an organisation’s capacity to listen; applying these metrics before and after the pursuit of an organisation’s strategy as well as during any of its major actions.

    • Hazel says:

      I wish to, rather belatedly, add my voice to this interesting debate that i have been following in the shadows. At the very onset, it is imperative that organizations and especially their leaders understand WHY they are listening. From here on, the work of the PR/ Communicator is to ensure that ‘listening’ is done and some action comes out of it.

      From listening, there shall be feedback positive or negative and I wish to reiterate here what Pamela pointed out; organizations need to act on feedback, this will be the only way the stakeholder relationships are sustained. if nothing comes out of the feedback, its likely that the stakeholders shall stop ‘talking’.

      It is important to separate stakeholders as highlighted in sections 2,3,5,6 and 7 these distinctions shall determine mode of listening, channels of communication, the message and frequency of communication. As to whether or not an organization is listening to its stakeholders, several methods have to be employed to know this.
      What we must first ask ourselves as the Communications professionals is what are we measuring; is it how we ‘listened’ to a particular issue or is it how we listen in general.

      I like to simplify things as much as possible and in this case three methods of measuring how well an organization listens come to mind (these three methods can be employed before and after);
      -First is carrying out the traditional survey before and after. This shall provide insights into what the stakeholders perceive of the organization and its ability to respond to its needs. Online surveys are now a very popular tool of measurement that can be easily employed by communication professionals.
      -Second is use of social media to listen to what stakeholders are saying. The challenge here will be distinguishing the stakeholders, it could be that the most irrelevant make the most noise.
      -Thirdly is through observation of the the stakeholders; their actions, utterances and so forth.

  6. Julie Freeman, ABC, APR says:

    This has been a lively and thought-provoking discussion, but I am wondering whether we are answering Gregor and Noel’s questions. The July post that opened this discussion asked for examples of listening and engaging organizations, what conditions are in place to create that kind of organization, how can listening be measureed and how can PR help create those conditiions. In the September 24 post, they supplied some principles which would answer the last question and asked us for some guidelines and best practices. Rene has supplied some best practices, Toni has talked about pre and post-listening research, and Pamela has mentioned the use of social media as a listening tool.

    I confess that I am a practical person, not much of a theorist. I have accepted the need for listening and would be interested in hearing about specific practices and organizations that listen well.

    I spent some time last spring reviewing “Talk, Inc, How Trusted Leaders Use Conversation to Power Their Organizations.” I see the conclusions in that book as relevant to this discussion as conversations require listening and imply equal exchange of ideas as opposed to top down messages. The authors, Dr. Boris Groysberg and Michael Slind, have developed a four part model that captures the elements leading to successful conversations within an organization–intimacy, interactivity, inclusion, and intention. The book is packed full of organizations successfully implementing that model.

    I would hope the Mandate would contain actionable ideas, but I am not sure how specific the Melbourne Mandate supposed to be.

    • toni muzi falconi says:

      Julie, I have many examples of global and national corporations who have structured listening mechanisms, but probably the best shot is to read the ga’s paper for enel that is being presented in melbourne and that someone from the ga should have made available to the three working groups.
      If Gregor and Noel wish for me to bein to enumerate the many cases i have available I will do this.

  7. Bruce Fraser says:

    For me, one of the roles of the PR practitioner has been to be the organisation’s eyes and ears in his / her environmental scanning function. This means building strong relationships with key stakeholders and listening carefully through various channels to what those people are saying, what their issues and concerns are and how widespread those views are. Armed with this information, the PR person will advocate those views within the business or organisation

  8. Pamela Mounter says:

    One of the principles of listening – with particular regard to internal communication, I suggest – is that the organisation commits to acting on feedback. That’s not to say it will do what people want, but it will recognise the feedback, act on it where it can and explain where and why it cannot.

    To add to the listening/metrics discussion, could we say (not sure if this is a principle or requirement) that metrics should be agreed at the same time as objectives/goals are being defined, ie right at the start of any communication process. These metrics should be appropriate to the organisation. Social media is not a relevant channel for all organisations.

    Pamela

  9. toni muzi falconi says:

    Sachsa, there is clearly a misunderstanding on the part of the GA. In fact the melbourne mandate is a follow up of the accords, and that is it’s stated intention, but the message has not passed. Our fault.
    I also have difficulties in conceptually separating internal from external stakeholders, and this is the reason why the stockholm accords process introduced the concept of aligning internal and external communication as an afterthought following the very first draft.
    I also see the contradiction, or at least a step backwards as you say, in the present draft concerning applying receptive -as opposed to goal-oriented listening, and had hoped to clarify that in a preceding comment (can’t find it as the comments area of this conversation is so muddled..).
    The issue of there being or not a public interest is very relevant, I disagree but you will certainly be interested in this spirited debate of some time ago on prconversations here (http://www.prconversations.com/index.php/2011/06/public-relations-and-the-public-interest-a-matter-of-opinion/).
    Do not understand the political issue. Of course a political party needs to develop substantive relationships with the voters of another party, for at least two connected reasons: a) to attract them to vote for their party; b) to listen to their expectations and adapt one’s own policies, otherwise the political market would be perennally frozen.
    Finally, and this addresses a matter raised also by other commenters: personally I always separate active stakeholders from potential stakeholders on any specific or generic organizational issue. The first are those who are aware and have an interest in whatever the issues is. These decide themselves to be stakeholders. The second are those who would be active where they aware of the objective being pursued by the organization and therefore I need to decide who they are. My first effort for both ensures that they become involved (putting at their easy access all the relevant information related to the issue and faciliting their reactions), then it is I who decide which are to be engaged (a step before marriage, by the way) and for the active I use pull channels while for the second I use push channels in order to reduce the investment as well as the communication pollution. It has always worked very well.

    • Toni,

      sorry, I have been off a few days, but not without reading the truly spirited debate on prconversations.

      To clarify my point, the following example: Take mining/oil-companies and defense industry. While mobility and security are almost unequivocally regarded as in the public interest. However, those companies are under scrutiny of pressure groups, NGOs, etc. (rightly so), and I can hardly see, how those organizations shall be able to create “mutually beneficial” relations to “the public” eg. all stakeholders.

      But how does that help to answer Gregors questions? Or, to put it differently, must we not assume that successful companies by definition already have a listening culture in place, even if this culture is not be easily accessible? So, if we are asked to name companies, which we think have a best practice listening culture, I would argue, this must be biased, and can not or hardly be conceptualized. Even more, companies which pride themselves of having such a listening culture, are doing PR for their PR efforts. This means, we are almost where we started: Grunigs Excellence Theory.

      • toni muzi falconi says:

        David Johnson, an excellent post graduate student from Ghana recently wrote an excellent thesis for his masters degree excatly on the licence to operate of extractive industries. I will send it to you if you are interested. what comes out very clear is that companies who do consider the public interest have much more licence to operate than those who don’t. Steve Coll’s great book on ExxonMobil has tens of pages illustrating the drawbacks of that company’s pr policies Of course pressures and activist campaigns are often undavoidable in most industries and organizations. But one thing is to listen carefully and take notice in one’s decision making process and the other thing is not to listen.
        As for the last point you make, the decision seems to me between deciding that listening policies are nice to have or necessary for any effective communication with (or even communication to). The stockholm accords indicated two years ago that they are an essential component of any effective communication. If so, then it is (should?) be our role to profile this listening competency in a professional methodology. I attempted to do this here, but received no reaction….

  10. Pamela Mounter says:

    Toni thank you for this helpful reminder of what was actually agreed at the Stockholm Accords. It is wonderfully clear and as Gregor has asked, this clarity is what would help people with the next steps towards listening.

    For me, what’s now needed to build on the Stockholm Accords is measurement to replace AVEs, again something Gregor and others have raised as an issue. We know that with social media the platforms are constantly moving – people move from one to another throughout the day. But at some stage this is a nettle we shall need to grasp, if only in outline, because what helps us with management is showing that we have proof of the benefits of our listening programmes. Many managements still cling to AVEs because they believe they can understand them and it is an actual figure. ‘Likes’ on Facebook won’t do it – you can buy those! Maybe some simple links to free programmes that can help people measure?

    Pamela

    • akismet-8f06ae4b2d85e38358c72a7f209e4045 says:

      Entirely agree Pamela. In most organised and structured listening processes I include a ‘before and after’ quantilative test with a representative sample of the specific stakeholder group I am dealing with. On one side I test, before and after, the quality of relationships (committment, trust, power balance and satisfaction) and when resources allow I also add a co-orientation approach. On the other side I test, before and after, the quality of the contents (trust in source, credibility of contents and their familiarity). This combined exercise allows one not only to explain to management the value of what we do, but also before rolling out the program, to set specific numeric objectives based on the before/results agreed with management. AVE’s are prehistoric. Toni
      TIM: la tua mail in mobilità con il BlackBerry®

    • toni muzi falconi says:

      Entirely agree Pamela.
      In most organised and structured listening processes, I include a ‘before and after’ quantilative test with a representative sample of the specific stakeholder group I am dealing with.
      On one side I test – before and after – the quality of relationships (committment, trust, power balance and satisfaction) and, when resources allow, I also add a co-orientation approach.
      On the other side I test – before and after- the quality of the contents (trust in source, credibility of contents and their familiarity).
      This combined exercise allows one not only to explain to management the value of what we do, but also -before rolling out the program- to set specific numeric objectives based on the before/results agreed with management.
      AVE’s are prehistoric as one shot answer. Toni

      • Pamela Mounter says:

        Toni that’s really helpful and thank you! I shall steal this for some stuff I’m doing on internal comms. I learned the hard way the importance of listening to the organisation before charging ahead with what I thought was the right thing to do. They after all were paying me. When I had earned their trust through listening, it became a grown up dialogue on ways forward.

        Pamela

  11. toni muzi falconi says:

    Sascha, I am afraid I have the same problem in ensuring that this comment follow yours.
    I suggest you take a look at th stockholm accords of 2010 (www.stockholmaccords.org) that is a hihly successful program the GA has been implementing in various parts of the world in these last two years (by the way, if you plan to be, as I hope,in Melbourne, on monday I will be facilitating a session on how the accords have been implemented in different countries and continents with significant results). The accords, similarly to this melbourne mandate effort we are conducting together now, is a collanorative effort between professionals and academics from all over the world (and with a much stronger participation: more than one thousand participated to the drafting and the approval of the accords). As you may see it first of all stems from the network society, the value networks and how the value we bring to organizations is the value of relationships and how they may be evaluated and measured. Also it makes specific reference to the organization’s listening culture. Of course our global professional community is immense (more than 4 ml) and it will take years before these concepts, their rationalization and operational imlementation become common practice. However, as I will try to demonstrate in Melbourne, we have made some giantic steps forward. thank you for your attention

    • Toni,

      thanks you so much for bringing The Stockholm Accords to my attention. Besides the “fact”, that I as a systems theorist am having difficulties to discriminate between external and internal stakeholders, I am very much in line with them. The question now is, how can we use this basis to answer Gregors questions, or to question them, as to me, the task is not only to provide the insertions?

      E.g.
      “Public relations practitioners acknowledge that they are caught in a double-bind. On the one hand, communication managers remain committed to fostering dialogues with stakeholder groups and – where necessary – prompting the necessary cultural and organizational changes within organisations to better meet stakeholders’ expectations. On the other hand, the reality is that that practitioners are most frequently, and primarily, expected to serve the goals of the organisation, making their interactions with stakeholders far more often persuasive than dialogic.
      The public relations profession acknowledges that this is a structural dilemma which cannot be solved for the all the profession everywhere in the world. Rather, a situational approach is required in which practitioners need guidelines to apply receptive – as opposed to goal-oriented – listening when interacting with stakeholders.”

      Is it only me who sees that as a contradiction to or at least a step backwards from the Stockholm Accords? My take on this would be, that PR serves an organization best, when it facilitates the two-way-exchange, however this does not necessarily mean to abstain from persuasive communications, as these are a legitimate part of a two-way-PROCESS!

      “The Melbourne Mandate encourages public relations practitioners to contribute to their organisations’ listening culture by:
      1. Encouraging organisational leaders to actively support and exemplify a culture of listening within their organisations
      2. Striving to ensure organisations align their strategy, values and operations with the public interest.
      –> Once more: I question that there is something as a “public interest”
      3. Striving to build trust through mutually beneficial, enduring and respectful relationships with stakeholders and the wider community.

      –> “mutually beneficial” is rather persuasive PR for PR, than an operable concept in a competitive environment. And for politic: How can a political organisation as a party be able to create “mutually beneficial” relationships between itself and voters of another party?
      4. Pursuing policies and practices based on internationally recognised standards for corporate social responsibility, sustainability, financial and governance reporting and performance transparency
      5. Establishing evaluation methodologies which measure the quality and range of key stakeholder relationships.

      To help put the principles into practice organisations need to develop better receptive listening when interacting with any stakeholders, but particularly with:
      a) stakeholders without direct or indirect influence over the organization; and,
      b) stakeholders who consider themselves adversaries of the organization

      –> Not clear, why those to groups need to be treated seperately as long as there is so much to do when engaging direct stakeholders? At least a reference to the Stockholm Accords should be inserted here.

      Best regards

  12. Graeme Domm says:

    Having been “off line” and moving between countries of late, I am only just starting to catch up on a lot of this discussion. My apologies for that. But as a general comment, I’m really pleased to see that we ARE having such a discussion now. How to build the capacity for greater listening (and also understanding and interpreting what’s been heard), rather than just pumping out our own messages, is such an important part of our work now – more important than ever when so many voices can so easily enter visible public debates. I’m inclined to agree with Noel that a set of clear PRINCIPLES may offer more flexibility and be able to stand up in more circumstances, as long as (and this is where I may be having a bet each way!) they are principles of a nature that can be seen to be clearly actionable in the real world. Otherwise, yes, there IS a risk of just generating more hot air and ‘motherhood’ statements. Perhaps that is a principle in itself: “Demonstrate, at all times, that the organisation is really listening” – eg. by being willing to paraphrase back what we have been told, in clear, direct speech rather than slippery “weasel words” that look like issues are simply being avoided or diverted. I’m looking forward to further discussion on all this!

  13. Pamela Mounter says:

    Nice ideas from Rene.

    I suggest that social media is a particularly useful tool for listening to adversarial people, and the advice here would be as we keep saying – listen! The important corollary of that is don’t join! Twitter, Facebook, YouTube etc are all brilliant at conveying what people are thinking and you can’t sort the wheat (what really matters) from the chaff (one-off disaffected people) until you’ve done some listening. But don’t join in until you are absolutely sure of your ground and how to go about it. So don’t reply to tweets etc, don’t do likes on Facebook, until you are really comfortable that you are ready.

    Now for something you may think completely wrong: do we really need to spend time and resources on listening to people who don’t really matter, ie those with indirect influence? As comms professionals we should be crystal clear about our objectives, which will include defining target audiences. For me they would be a nice to have option, not essential. But as I was not able to join your conference call I recognise this may be completely out of line!

    Pamela

    • Pamela,
      if there was a dead sure methodology to identify “people who don´t really matter”, I am interested to learn about that. I´d rather argue that everybody matters – at least potentially (strength of weak ties, weak signals for crises etc.), and that the concept of target audiences becomes obsolete the very moment audiences start “broadcasting” themself. An interesting question would be, to investigate what happens, when an organization becomes the target (audience) of pressure groups. My hypothesis: The better an organization has listened to adversary before, the better it is capeable to maintain its integrity.

    • toni muzi falconi says:

      I cannot imagine that even a goal oriented communicating to (persuasive) stakeholders policy today can be in any way effective if the public relations team of the organization that is aiming to persuade (rather than con-vince) has not gone through a careful listening process of its actual or potential interlocutors.
      As with any other ‘generic principle’ it is also to me a given that the specific implementation of an organization’s listening culture needs to be interrelated to the ‘specific application’ of both the specific character of the organization and the specific public relations infrastructure of the territory.
      I do fully agree with all of Rene Benecke’s suggestions of September 24, and I wonder if they could not fit into the overall listening framework steps that I tried to outline in a preceding comment: i.e.
      °understanding the organization’s overall strategy (the path from mission to vision in a specific time frame)
      °identifying core and active stakeholder groups who either are affected or affect the implementation of that strategy;
      °listening to those active stakeholder groups to understand and interpret their expectations and report to top management so that it may revise the strategy appropriately (desk research, focus groups, active observation, opinion and behavior research, dialogue and involvement are all specific listening tools that must be mastered)
      °identifying specific operational objectives that allow the strategy to be effectively implemented
      °for each of these specific objectives, before they are decided upon, identity and listen to potential stakeholder groups who may affect or be affected by the actions leading to the achievement of that specific objective and listen to their expectations before the decision is taken. This implies often using more sophisticated listening techniques as not always may one directly request specific info from potential stakeholder groups who are not necessarily aware of that specific decision being taken or considered by the organization.

      • Toni, do I understand that correctly, that you suggest to start the listening process even one step further, or expand it? So, for the Public Relations Team that would mean, that they are in a middleground position, equally listening to the organization they serve as well as the environment in which the organization operates and thus adding unique value to the organization.

      • toni muzi falconi says:

        Sascha, yes I imply that the public relations team has always had, since the profession exists, a boundary spanning role that includes listening carefully and attentively to the external environment (friends and foes, economic, political, organizational, social trends that affect the organization etc…).
        In recent years, this role has greatly expanded also to the inside of the organization and not only to its top management.
        What is lacking in our body of knowledge is the full understanding of the competencies, skills and operative steps that are needed to make effective sense out of the listening process…. that, in my view, represents more than 50% of any communication activity.
        The issues management school of the late seventies and early eighties (howard chase in the us, ibm and philip morris in europe, jan dauman, jeffrey morris and john stopford in the uk through matrix ltd) and still very much in use today, is probably the practice that has come closer.

      • Toni, as I can not reply to your reply, I´ll do it here: I fully support that stance, but how can we introduce this knowledge into the PR discourse? And furthermore: How can we introduce other very relevant academic and practical discourses into our profession, e.g. modern network theory, which no longer has a focus neither on individuals nor on organizations but on their (sic!) relations?

        My feeling is, we tend to put too much main emphasis on legitimizing PR towards the boardroom (eg budget holder) instead formulating a unique value proposition.

  14. Gregor Halff says:

    Below you’ll find our latest draft for inclusion into the Melbourne Mandate that’s based on the phone conferences held last week. We’d like to invite participants of this debate to focus on the blanks in the text: What are the specific guidelines that you think should be inserted there? And what best practices should the Melbourne Mandate refer to.
    We’re looking forward to your insertions!
    Noel & Gregor
    ———————————————————————————————————-

    Public relations practitioners acknowledge that they are caught in a double-bind. On the one hand, communication managers remain committed to fostering dialogues with stakeholder groups and – where necessary – prompting the necessary cultural and organizational changes within organisations to better meet stakeholders’ expectations. On the other hand, the reality is that that practitioners are most frequently, and primarily, expected to serve the goals of the organisation, making their interactions with stakeholders far more often persuasive than dialogic.
    The public relations profession acknowledges that this is a structural dilemma which cannot be solved for the all the profession everywhere in the world. Rather, a situational approach is required in which practitioners need guidelines to apply receptive – as opposed to goal-oriented – listening when interacting with stakeholders.
    The Melbourne Mandate Working Group on a Culture of Listening suggests those efforts can be based on a series of principles, guidelines derived from those principles and best practices provided by outstanding organisations.

    The Melbourne Mandate encourages public relations practitioners to contribute to their organisations’ listening culture by:
    1. Encouraging organisational leaders to actively support and exemplify a culture of listening within their organisations
    2. Striving to ensure organisations align their strategy, values and operations with the public interest.
    3. Striving to build trust through mutually beneficial, enduring and respectful relationships with stakeholders and the wider community.

    4. Pursuing policies and practices based on internationally recognised standards for corporate social responsibility, sustainability, financial and governance reporting and performance transparency
    5. Establishing evaluation methodologies which measure the quality and range of key stakeholder relationships.

    To help put the principles into practice organisations need to develop better receptive listening when interacting with any stakeholders, but particularly with:
    a) stakeholders without direct or indirect influence over the organization; and,
    b) stakeholders who consider themselves adversaries of the organization

    The Melbourne Mandate urges public relations practitioners to apply the following guidelines when listening to stakeholders without direct or indirect influence over the organization:
    [WE INVITE SUGGESTIONS FOR GUIDELINES]
    Best practices of applying these guidelines are: [WE INVITE SUGGESTIONS FOR BEST PRACTICES]
    The Melbourne Mandate urges public relations practitioners to apply the following guidelines when listening to adversarial stakeholders
    [WE INVITE SUGGESTIONS FOR GUIDELINES]
    Best practices of applying these guidelines are: [WE INVITE SUGGESTIONS FOR BEST PRACTICES]
    Conclusion
    The Melbourne Mandate on creating a culture of listening cannot be a definitive body of knowledge. Instead it provides a starting point from which practitioners around the world can study, evolve, innovate, share and promote principles and practices which enhance the effectiveness of the profession and the success of organisations.

    • Rene Benecke says:

      Best practice on less influential stakeholders: Research profile and their frame of reference, their involvement in matters of general interest, ask for feedback through various platforms without objectives to influence behaviour (fact finding mission), open minded approach, observational skills must be well developed, contextual knowledge developed through personal experience (engage with them).

      Best practice on adversarial stakeholders: ask “why” they are negative (previous experience?); observe non-verbal behaviour and be sensitive to comments made; diffuse tense situation; move to neutral ground (general interest), constantly reflect and state your understanding of the matter; ask for solutions or suggestions to improve situation; follow through with proposed actions and give regular feedback.

  15. Gregor Halff says:

    It would seem that a listening culture is put to a litmus test whenever an organization is faced with public adversity and/or internal whistle blowing. This isn’t identical to crisis management (about which everything has been said and written, I believe). Most organizations are stunningly inept at listening to their adversaries, even if they’re good at the dialogue with other stakeholders. This in turn, affects their license to operate disproportionately.

    Without pre-empting the decisions I encouraged us to take earlier, I wonder: Could the Melbourne Mandate contain a list of principles (?) that organizations stick to when dealing with public adversaries and whistleblowers? This list would fit well with the integrity index currently being developed by the ‘character’ working group.

  16. Gregor Halff says:

    Thanks, Noel for raising the important issue of principles vs. requirements. I’m bringing the discussion from the landing page back into our working group. It seems that before this group moves ahead, we need to agree again on our direction (and possibly change it in the process). The question of principles vs. requirements is ultimately about 3 decisions we need to make
    1) Do we produce a list of things that organizations can’t do without OR of things that they should be doing?
    2) Will the list contain mainly resolutions OR actionable items?
    3) Is the list targeted at society (macro), organizations (meso) OR persons (micro)?

    These categories aren’t mutually exclusive, but require prioritization, nonetheless.

    Conferences are in permanent danger of being shrugged off for producing hot air. The same counts for the PR profession as a whole. So we’re operating in a double danger zone.

    I’d like to encourage us to decide on the three issues above. I’m sure we can produce a list that’s neither repetitive, nor trivial, nor one that gives the answers to questions that were never asked.

    • Roanne Argyle says:

      Perhaps resolutions supported by a series of actionable items to provide direction. And I don’t think we should try to be all things to all people. So the question you raise about our target audience is critical. I don’t think we should try to shape society’s actions here – too macro. Perhaps we target organizations with a special nod to those persons operating within them?

    • Sorry for jumping in late, but I hope I can still contribute to the discussion. In Noels post, there is a central term, which might help here: Methodology. I would like to put forward the question in the first place, which methodology could help us, to answers the questions raised above? Currently much of the discussion is still, in what I would call collectors mode. And rightfully so, as if we are to formulate principles, which are of value, we first need to COLLECT best practices as asked in the initial post.

      I would suspect, a systematic problem here is, that most PR/Comms cases studies are often times rather a means of PR itself, than of fostering enlightening about the successes and failures of our profession. So what could help as an initial step, is a collection of best/worst practices, not as provided by organizations themselves, but from a public POV. Nonetheless the undertaking might be worth it.

      This however would be a only the first step. The second step would be to PROCESS those practices and thus develop a framework of methodologies and principles in the sense of Noels proposal. Methodologies meaning, which tools and techniques might be employed, while principles could describe how (and when) those tools and techniques are employed best – of course depending on the cultural environment. Ideally those methodologies and principles could then form an “open source framework” which could be used and developed further by comms professionals worldwide. The adequate target audience for this could be communication professionals in their professional/organizational role.

  17. toni muzi falconi says:

    pamela’s comment implies a strong linkage between the three groups that are working on the mandate and integrates perfectly with what we agreed upon in the Stockholm Accords more than two years ago.
    Briefly: it seems to me, at this point, banale to reiterate that corporate behaviour is paramount to any form of communication, rather than stating that it is the most visible, forceful and inpactful communication.
    Also it seems to me banale to reiterate that effective communication with stakeholders is a produce of the quality of relationships, rather than forcefully stating that governance of relationships with stakeholders is the most effective process for public relations to ensure added value to the organization.
    Finally it seems to me also banale to reiterate the professions ‘lip service’ committment to ethical behavior and transparency, rather than forcefully stating that individual,professional, organizational and societal responsibility is the prime focus of effective public relations.

  18. Pamela Mounter says:

    Would it be helpful to have a Skype conference about this? Anthony Hilton, a well respected commentator in the British press, noted that external comms was a minor part of the director of comms of a financial company. He said the overwhelming emphasis was internal, spotting where the company is behaving badly, forcing the matter to the attention of the board and getting it stopped before it causes real damage.

    This can’t be achieved unless there is a true culture of listening and engagement. And of course we need to measure it in a way that is acceptable to the board

  19. Pamela Mounter says:

    I agree with Julie – we should not claim that we are the guardians of reputation – we should however support the organisation in delivering it.

    I suggest we should start at the top by coaching those who lead an organisation. That means listening to and understanding them and what they are trying to achieve. Some are confused and resort to corporate-speak to hide their confusion – we need to unravel that!

  20. Julie Freeman says:

    I confess that I don’t agree that public relations and communication management are the guardians of an organization’s reputation. I believe that reputation is built on actions, not messages. Of course, if messages are not consistent with an organization’s actions, then reputation suffers.

    It is undeniably true that an organization must listen to its employees, customers, community members, all of its publics. Communicators play a vital role in setting up the vehicles that allow an organization’s leaders to listen and participate in conversations with its stakeholders. Listening creates engagement and as Toni suggests, should give leaders input as it makes decisions.

    A challenge that I see when organizations say that they are listening is that it may set up false expectations about changing an organization’s decisions. Many people define listening as “doing what I want you to do.” So, if an organization does not act on someone’s input, that person says, “It wasn’t listening.” In reality, there may be conflicting priorities and issues that are not well understood, so it is not possible to implement every suggestion.

    That creates an additional responsibilities for communicators. First, they need to manage expectations about how input may be used. And once decisions are made, they must explain to the stakeholders why leadership has chosen that particular course of action. Otherwise, the well-intention efforts at listening could backfire.

  21. Bruce Fraser says:

    It’s simply great to read these comments and see the emphasis on listening when so much of what passes as PR focuses on the delivery of the message. I look forward to reading other contributions

  22. toni muzi falconi says:

    I will take it from Roanna’s comment and build the argument into the framework provided by the coordinators of this group.
    The quality of organizational decisions today very much relies on the timeliness of their implementation. In other words, most decisions do not work because by the time they are implemented they are outdated or sometime even counterproductive. This is true in all sectors of society (public, private, social). Clearly globalization, interconnectedness and competition have driven this acceleration. No manager would disagree. So the issue is how to improve the quality of decision making processes by speeding up their time of implementation. Public relations professionals do this by competently listening to stakeholder expectations before a specific decision is taken so that its process either considers those expectations, in part or in all (it’s management’s job to take the decision) in order to reduce unnecessary obstacles to the implementation, or prepares adequately for the various resiliances and obstacles stakeholders are likely to express when the implementation is in process. From this perspective it is clear that listening becomes a core and highly valued competency of the accomplished public relations professional. After all, listening to and interpreting stakeholder expectations should be more relevant than expressing ourselves. Unfortunately, while most of us have two ears and only one voice, we traditionally put greater professional effort in speaking rather than in listening. And this what’s wrong with most of our consolidated professional learning processes. If we are communicators by profession we should know that communication implies both listening and speaking.
    So the next step, accepting Roanne’s point that the pr function must help create but everyone in the organization must truly own a listening culture, here are some possible steps that might lead to an adequate policy for any organization:
    °understanding the organization’s overall strategy (the path from mission to vision in a specific time frame)
    °identifying core and active stakeholder groups who either are affected or affect the implementation of that strategy;
    °listening to those active stakeholder groups to understand and intepret their expectations and report to top management so that it may revise the strategy appropriately (desk research, focus groups, active observation, opinion and behavior research, dialogue and involvement are all specific listening tools that must be mastered)
    °identifying specific operational objectives that allow the strategy to be effectively implemented
    °for each of these specific objectives, before they are decided upon, identity and listen to potential stakeholder groups who may affect or be affected by the actions leading to the achievement of that specific obejctive and listen to their expectations before the decision is taken. This implies often using more sopisticated listening techniques as not always may one directly request specific info from potential stakeholder groups who are not necessarily aware of that specific decision being tken by the organization.
    These are only some initial thoughts. Once the process begins effectively in the pr function, all functions and managers should be made aware and learn to do it themselves….

  23. jeanvalin1 says:

    This is a great preamble Noel and Gregor.
    I agree with Roanne. The case for listening needs to be framed in those terms. We can craft something in the final statements that makes that clear. I love the idea of the ten listening decisions and a good goal for GA could be to find the world’s best listening organisations. That fits very well with GA’s mid term plans for global awards !

  24. Roanne says:

    How can a culture of listening and engagement help advance an organization’s goals and objectives? I think communicators need to answer that quesiton before proceeding on a transformational path. The most engaged organizations are those who understand “what’s in it for them.” So, it comes down to making a solid business case – and then working with senior leaders to shape a plan of action. This plan is somethign that the PR function /department can help create, but that everyone must truly own.

  25. Pingback: The Melbourne Mandate for Global Communication | The Melbourne Mandate

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