There is so much “baloney” – pick your noun – in corporate communications that honest talk can serve as a brand-building exercise.
That’s what we saw from Google last week when it publicly shared the diversity numbers behind its workforce in a blog post that starts:
We’ve always been reluctant to publish numbers about the diversity of our workforce at Google. We now realize we were wrong, and that it’s time to be candid about the issues. Put simply, Google is not where we want to be when it comes to diversity, and it’s hard to address these kinds of challenges if you’re not prepared to discuss them openly, and with the facts. So, here are our numbers:
When was the last time you heard a company utter the words, “We were wrong”?
Not your conventional corporate storytelling.
The conversational language also caught my attention. Somehow, they kept the attorneys out of the review process.
Characterizing candid and open communications as “cutting-edge” obviously doesn’t reflect well on our profession. Still, this shouldn’t take away from Google actions that showed guts (and I suspect someone on the internal communications team championing the cause with an industrial strength of conviction).
Check out the closing line:
“But we’re the first to admit that Google is miles from where we want to be – and that being totally clear about the extent of the problem is a really important part of the solution.”
In the typical corporate scenario, the phrase “the first to admit that Google is miles from where we want to be” would go through a grinder like this:
Why do we have to be the “first” to admit?
Also, “admit” makes it sound like we’re guilty. How about using the word “acknowledge”?
And “miles from where we want to be” sounds so negative. Why not soften it with “we’ve got work to do.”
Most companies experience this type of back-and-forth haggling, which ends up watering down the line to the point that it loses meaning.
To Google’s credit, language gamesmanship doesn’t intrude on the diversity narrative.
It’s also worth noting that the company’s owned media served as the distribution channel for the diversity storytelling. I’ve noticed that Google often depends on its corporate blog for major announcements that have a strong emotional bent. This goes back to 2010 and Google sharing the decision to pull out of the search market in China on its corporate blog. Talk about an understated headline, “A New Approach to China.”
Certainly, the clout of the Google brand comes into play in the attention paid to its corporate blog.
But any company – regardless of size – can be cutting-edge in its communication.
Just be honest about the things that don’t go according to plan.
Side note: I last touched on this topic over four years ago, “The Power of Saying We Blew It.” While an apples-to-oranges comparison, I still find the Google narrative the more impressive of the two.