Public Relations Tactics

Breaking Old Leadership Habits With AmyK Hutchens

September 5, 2017

According to business strategist and leadership development expert AmyK Hutchens, a positive company culture isn’t cultivated through occasional employee-bonding activities — it takes strong corporate communications and a commitment to aligning behaviors with organizational values. “Your culture is never putt-putt, bowling and summer barbecues,” she says. “These are byproducts of your culture.”

Prior to Hutchens’ keynote speech on Oct. 9 at the PRSA 2017 International Conference in Boston, she discussed inspiring millennial employees, the importance of patience and why many leaders today suffer from a “competency addiction.”

What are some recurring communication roadblocks you’ve noticed when working with high-profile companies?

Big companies lose their culture in rapid growth, and it’s hard to turn around a culture once you’ve lost it. When you get to large-sized companies, you’ll find that they spend a lot of time defining their values, but not necessarily the behaviors behind them. They’re good at spending thousands of dollars [defining] their mission statement and core values, and then you walk in and it’s a total disconnect. We help a lot of companies figure out the behaviors behind the values that they want driving their culture.

What are the unique, modern challenges of being a business leader today?

The modern challenge is dealing with reality versus media spin, and that’s everything from what’s going on in your industry to what’s going on down the hallway in the next cubicle.

I’ll give you the classic example: We love to give millennials a bad rap. Yet, the irony of it is that if we stop reading all of these millennial-bashing articles, we can sit down and go, “Oh, every generation brings new challenges and new solutions. Let me leverage the talent and creative energy of the millennials.”

How should business leaders approach communicating with millennials?

People claim, “Millennials bad-mouth you and then expect to be running the company in six months.” That’s not true. They want to feel like the company finds their contributions meaningful.
Millennials love seeing a strategic vision for how they’re being developed. People should approach millennials concretely: “We’re going to invest in you, and here’s how.” You don’t have to give them a promotion as long as they know that you’re still paying attention to them and investing in them.

What frequent trends or problems have you noticed among business leaders?

A lot of leaders suffer from what I call a competency addiction, where they wonder, “Hey, I’ve had all these successes, why is it not working now?” Just because you solved this problem beautifully last week doesn’t mean it’s going to work [today].

Leaders need to realize that there are new solutions to new challenges. When a millennial employee asks for a promotion, don’t say, “This is ridiculous. Nobody ever asks for a promotion in their third month on the job.” Stop being judgmental. Stop the monologue and say, “We won’t give you a promotion, but here’s what we will do: We’re going to invest in you so that you will be totally promotable in 18 months.”

How has technology changed the way leaders communicate with employees?

I think technology has made communication more rapid, and made the sharing of information more informal and accessible. The days of the ivory-tower senior management team holding on to all the privileged information are disappearing, which means more transparency.

The flip side of it is: You can send out messages a little too quickly, and then you might have to go, “Oh, I could’ve worded that better. I didn’t realize that was offensive.” You lose some of the thoughtfulness. 

Dean Essner

Dean Essner is the editorial assistant for PRSA’s publications. A former resident of Washington, D.C., he holds a bachelor’s degree in journalism and English from the University of Maryland. Email:


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