Can’t Touch This

I heard a little bit about the kerfuffle last week when First Lady Michelle Obama “touched” the Queen – which, according to reports, is a horrendous break in protocol. It slipped my mind for a few days, until I sat down to write today’s blog post and thought about what news events happened last week that are relevant to our Bridging Two Worlds blog.

Time ran a piece on it, as did countless other media outlets. I haven’t even checked the blogs yet. It seems to me that this is a perfect example of the old paradigm (respect because I said so, do what I say or you will be in trouble, etc.) and the new world colliding.

Michelle Obama reached out and touched the Queen in a gesture of affection or warmth. I certainly don’t know her motives, but Michelle Obama seems like a pretty touchy, hands-on kind of person – and the Obama Whitehouse is one that we aren’t used to. They blog, they’re on Twitter, they’re being as transparent as possible, they are doing their best to touch the people and—oh my goodness—encourage them to touch back, all from that big powerful place in Washington, DC. Who would have thought it could happen; human beings in powerful positions acting…well, human.

Times are changing—and as much as I appreciate the tradition and history of the monarchy—why is the rule still in place? Why is the Queen untouchable unless she extends her hand first? Who says she gets to go first? Why does she want to be removed from real people? What is the point of this piece of oh-so-serious protocol?

The world is changing and this style of “you should know your place and mine (which is better than yours) because I live and breathe rarified air above the commoner” status isn’t acceptable anymore. The same thing is going on with the brand reputation of your organization. If your organization stands back, aloof and out of touch, it is going to hurt you in the long run.

People want leaders and organizations to interact with them on an equal footing. We “commoners” are tired of being told what’s available to us and what isn’t. We want to work for and with organizations that become a part of our community, not ones that believe they are “untouchable” or “unreachable.” Control belongs to the consumer and good organizations will benefit greatly from this. It provides an opportunity to authentically connect with stakeholders, to hear the good and the bad, and to learn from both. Not so good organizations can use this as an opportunity to improve. As for the organizations that still believe that they will tell us what to do, how to do it and when to do it instead of engaging us in a conversation…well, let’s see where they sit in a year or two.

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