Bring on the Meaning Makers!

OK, one last Olympic-related posting, then I’ll move on.   What most struck me about spending some time at the Games last week was the enthusiasm of the volunteers, or Games Makers as they were called.   These purple-shirted members of the public were from all walks of life, giving up their time for two weeks to be part of something special, something they could tell their grandchildren.   Some were assigned to queue control, some were posted around London to provide help and information, and some were given duties at events.    At the volleyball, for instance, they even had volunteers whose job it was to wipe the sweat off the courts between points!   So it got me thinking about how far people will go, and how enjoyable it is for them and others, when they are truly engaged.   Engagement is about having an emotional connection to a cause, a theme, an idea, a purpose.    The Olympic volunteers had this engagement in spades but it can be replicated in any organisation if the sense of purpose and level of involvement is strong enough.   Games Makers reminds me of the term Meaning Makers, referred to by Dan Pink in his book A Whole New Mind about the rise of the right-brained worker.    Meaning Makers are people in the organisation who ‘get it’ and have the skills to make sense of the world to those around them.   And it is a skill.   Meaning Makers don’t read out briefings and deliver PowerPoints.   They interpret and convey messages in a way that connects because they are truly engaged with the subject matter themselves.  They communicate with passion, clarity and credibility.    One of the problems we have in internal communications is that we allocate communication responsibilities based on job title and status rather than on ability and character.   Of course, some communications need to be delivered by leaders, but many don’t.    Meaning Makers can be those subject experts who just have a flair about the way they communicate, like those scientists who can explain the laws of physics and astronomy to schoolchildren.    I’d love to see organisations identify and appoint Meaning Makers who can take on some communication and education responsibilities in addition to their ‘day job’, like the London Games Makers.    Let’s have people with a passion for communication and an ability to engage others be recognised as official Meaning Makers on a particular topic, so that anyone in the organisation can go to them to learn and gain clarity on whatever topic they specialise in.   For instance, who is the Finance Meaning Maker who can explain transactional finance and SAP in a way that engages and makes sense?    Who is the Operating Model Meaning Maker that can bring structure and processes to life?    I’m not saying Meaning Makers should all wear coloured shirts but I would like to see them recognised formally – maybe they have a sign over their desk or a badge so people know who they are and that they are there to help colleagues make sense of the world.    London Games Makers were selected not on their occupation or role in society but purely on their enthusiasm, personality and their ability to connect with people.    So should Meaning Makers.   Creative internal communication is not about doing it all yourself, it’s about using the talents and skills of those colleagues with great communication skills in the organisation.   So bring on the Meaning Makers!

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