Tuesday, September 06, 2005

Hiding the Vision

I wrote a book a few years ago, directly related to DoCoMo, the largest mobile phone company in the country. I remember calling their PR office to request help in getting interviews with the people who could best answer my questions. I had a publishing contract in-hand at the time, so it was a pretty-near certainty that the book was going to get written with or without their help. It turns out that it was written without their help. It was a lot more work for me to do it that way, but I didn't have any other choice: I had a book to write, and only three months to do it. I simply didn't have time for them to sort out their BS issues.
Fast forward to the present. We received an internal memo yesterday from our head of corporate communications, saying that there had been a leak to the media, and, it was strongly implied, whoever was responsible would be punished. Fine. Whatever. The irony, though, is that what was leaked was a clear, numeric, vision expressed by the president of the company, of where he thinks we should be headed. In the same way that the head of the Japan Football League set out a vision of Japan hosting the 2050 World Cup and winning it, this vision was clear, unambiguous, and, with a helluva lot of work, achievable.
The PR head's issue seems to be the leak, but that is absolutely insane: How are you supposed to have a vision if you cannot share it? The president must have known, should have known, that if people got really excited about what he was talking about, that they would share that with their spouses or talk about it with their co-workers. The news organisation that reported on this has their offices just up the street from us. In fact, on the same day that the story was reported last week, I bumped into a former colleague who now works in the IT department of this news organisation at the tonkatsu restaurant in our building. I also bumped into him on the train on the way over to the place where the president originally announced his vision. Add that proximity to people talking, like the visiting global IT chief, who mentioned the vision in a speech he gave, and to e-mails addressed to employees and non-employee (contractors) that make reference to it, and I don't see how you can keep this secret. Going on a witch hunt for the person responsible for the leak is probably a waste of energy.
But it highlights something that I really noticed about DoCoMo, too, when I was writing the book: Good communications and PR people would be wise to adopt the attitude of a very good friend, and the HR director at my last company: "Anything you write, you should do it as though everyone will read it. Maker sure that you won't be sorry when they do." That includes e-mails, blog posts, stories, and yes, even statements of vision. If you assume, correctly, that anything that is known by more than 10 people in the company is therefore public information, the trick then becomes to manage the communication of that information in the most advantageous way for the company. 'No comment,' and threats to employees simply means that you screwed up on that job.
I remember, writing my book, when the vice president of a company with close connections to DoCoMo, and who was acting as the technical editor, just about blew a fuse because of some technical information about NTT DoCoMo's network architecture that I had included. "Where did you get this information," he demanded, "this is covered by an NDA." Actually, I had gotten it off of their R&D web site, and didn't have and NDA with DoCoMo, one of the bright spots about them not giving me the time of day. This guy was so concerned that I was somehow illicitly using information, that he quit as technical editor, and I ended up with a somewhat silly French guy who didn't know much about the technical aspects, or about editing. c'est la vie. I had a book to write, and information to find.
I finished the book with my opinion of DoCoMo somewhat less than when I started, and that was reflected in the book. DoCoMo's PR department, and the paranoia that their corporate culture engendered in both their own people and their vendors hurt them. I have to be honest about that: I was under incredible pressure, internal and external, to finish the book on the schedule that we had set. I did. But when you work from 8 am to 10 pm every day, without break, through 9/11, through weekends, through everything, George Bush's phrase "if you aren't with me, you are against me," holds especially true. And DoCoMo was against me. Certainly it was passive, but by not giving even a minimal amount of help they impeded me. Having people know and admire their wonderful technology, a seemingly desirable thing to a company looking to achieve a worldwide customer base, did not happen nearly as effectively as if they had provided me the information I needed.
The reporter who wrote the story, my guess is, is a female reporter whose coverage in the past has hardly been flattering. This was actually our chance to talk about our vision, on our terms, and possibly get positive PR for a change. Instead, the vision was hidden, and when inevitably revealed, framed in someone else's words. A shame, and a missed opportunity.

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