We have moved!

Since starting my blog many years ago I have now integrated it into my new website. I set up Redefining Communications in the summer of 2017 and last year we rebranded to reflect the way the business was changing. As a result, we can now embed the blog into the website so I won’t be posting any new content on here.

If you’d like to keep up to date with the latest blogs then please check them out over here

Redefining Communications is a collective communications consultancy specialising in internal communication. We support our clients with all aspects of Marketing, Corporate Communications as well as coaching and mentoring.

Our definition of internal communication includes everything that gets said and shared inside an organisation. As a function internal communication’s role is to curate, enable and advise on best practice for organisations to communicate effectively, efficiently and in an engaging way.

We work with businesses of all sizes and often where there is no internal communication team in place. As a collective consultancy we can bring in extra resource for your business – this includes marketing specialists, data scientists and more.

What’s the rush?

I have a passion for understanding organisations. Getting underneath the strategy, financial goals and organisational charts to really understand how it works is probably the main reason I became an expert in internal communication.

I have spent most of my career in-house and working with an employee base that is predominately remote. Remote meaning they work in a shop, on a train, on a factory line or are out on the road all day.

In January the Gatehouse State of the Sector survey told us that remote workers were one of our biggest challenges yet we seem to do nothing to explore why. It’s the reason I’m doing a research project with SocialOptic to understand what we really need to do to make a significant change in how we engage and communicate with this group of employees.

But how did we get things so wrong? I’m speaking to the business leaders out there. The CEO’s, the CFO’s, the management consultants, the investors and the analysts. How have we created cultures in organisations where all we focus on is the money? And we focus on it so much, it is to the detriment of people’s well-being, motivation and engagement. Why?

We are talking with people who are working 12 hour shifts, often working to serve the general public and help them eat, get from a to b, clean up after them – the list goes on. Why do we think it is ok to focus so much on the money that we stop talking to these people, we stop listening to their point of view and we stop working together to make the organisation a success?

I can only think it’s because we believe we don’t have the time. We don’t have the time to find out what people really want or need and then we don’t have the time to analyse that and work through what it means and how we can change.

It’s all a lie. We do have the time, we just choose to prioritise focussing on cutting labour, driving efficiencies and adding in processes to protect loss or waste.

What would happen if we took that focus and pointed it towards conversation, coordination and collaboration? If we decided to work with management consultants who are specialists in communication (like me and others I know well) and spend 3-6 months understanding an organisation to make it better through more open dialogue and listening to understand (not to tick a box) we might, might, actually make a difference. A difference to the bottom line and those thousands of people, those human beings who strive for social connection. They want to be motivated through autonomy, mastery and purpose and they want you to remember that relationships at work are important – it doesn’t matter where you are on the org chart – we are all human.

When I shared this post with Benjamin Ellis from SocialOptic he commented: “Leaders seem to forget that profit comes from people – for a services business, the people determine the quality of the product, just as they do in a product business. People think profitability comes from process or systems, and forget that people are a critical part of the “people, processes and systems” mix.

The trick is talking in ‘hard/quantitative’ language to get them to fix the ‘soft/qualitative’ problems. These people think in numbers, because they don’t have the skills to think any other way.”

If you are reading this and you are leading one of our FTSE businesses think about where you’re allocating your budget and why. Because I guarantee there are answers to all the problems you think you have across your organisation and I’m sure you believe that everyone has the right to be listened to. To unlock the potential, consider how you motivate your teams and how you equip your line managers to have conversations that enable them to listen and take action.

The importance of communication in your organisation

Earlier this month I hosted a workshop with Neil Tomalin to discuss the importance of communication inside organisations. As a roundtable discussion we wanted to speak to those who don’t work in a communications function to help them explore their own communication style, understand a bit more about internal communication and its significance in the workplace and draw on some of Neil’s research into authenticity.

What makes someone a good communicator?

We kicked off the breakfast session exploring the traits of a good or bad communicator. Worryingly, it was hard for anyone to give an example of someone who is the best in their business – which just reaffirmed the need for the workshop! 

The list from the group was:

  • Thought about the audience
  • Limits emails so that they have purpose
  • Responds timely
  • Uses a mix of methods (phone, face to face etc)
  • Brings a human element to it – not afraid to not be perfect
  • Influencing skills
  • Authentic without spin – honest even in uncertainty

It was clear that there are some leaders or people in teams who are naturally good communicators, but because this isn’t consistent across the business it can make others look even worse. This part of the discussion cements my view that all leaders and line managers should have a communications coach and/or communication training.

Language is more important than ever

When it comes to the worst communicators, the use of jargon was a big factor. People don’t want to say they don’t understand something and the language of the business can often be riddled with acronyms or phrases. We know that theory suggests only 7% of total communication is language, 38% is tone and 55% is body language. Today, we use digital communication over most other forms and as a result, the words we use are becoming more and more important – don’t get sucked into the acronyms and the jargon in the workplace – remember there are new people starting all the time who would be lost without clear, plain English.

We are all responsible for communicating effectively

We based the conversation around my definition of internal communication which is: Everything that gets said and shared inside an organisation. As a function, its role is to curate, enable and advise on best practise for organisations to communicate effectively, efficiently and in an engaging way.

What can often happen is an assumption that someone is responsible when in fact, no one is. We all need to take responsibility as individuals and/or leaders to look at how we communicate. We need to explore how we ensure what we say is received in the way we intended – how often do we check that what has been said has been understood?

Being authentic will build trust – be adaptable but own your style

Neil’s research into authenticity is a great insight into how we behave in meetings. Many in the room shared examples of how they adapt depending on the nature of the meeting or the people involved. This is very common and no bad thing, but my counsel would be to ensure that your consistent with some elements. People need to know ‘who’ is coming to the meeting – if you’re always different, people won’t get a sense of who you are and your ability to influence and gain trust will be lost.

Our five next steps

  1. No organisation recognised good communication with an annual award. What would be the impact if a simple measure like this was introduced into your organisation? Would it mean you could identify positive role models more easily?
  2. Create your own definition or share the one we discussed and explore what this means for your team.
  3. Create an open conversation by asking your boss, peers and team this question: what type of working relationship would you like to have with me?
  4. Create your own ‘feedback loop’ to assess the effectiveness of your communication style. Do this simply by asking work colleagues about the timeliness, clarity and appropriate nature of the messages you send.
  5. Use the 5-character card to improve your observation skills at meetings. Are you a mouse, cat, dog, owl or shark? What roles are your colleagues assuming? To an impartial observer, what messages do the way you run meetings deliver about your company culture?

This was the first in what we hope will turn into a series of conversations about the importance of communication in the workplace. With many organisations not investing in an internal communications function (although the trend is that this is improving) we are keen to help operations directors, finance directors, managing directors and others understand how important their communication style is and how it can impact business performance.

If you’d like us to run a dedicated workshop in your office just get in touch and we can create something bespoke for your team: info@redefiningcomms.com

Why the new labour policy won’t help the employee voice

This week the Labour party announced plans to bring the employee voice into the Boardroom. Under Labour’s plans, all companies with a workforce of 250 or more, whether public or private, would be required by law to reserve at least one third of places at the boardroom table for employee representatives.

While the theory is spot on, this policy won’t solve the problem – here are my five reasons why:

1. Sitting at the table doesn’t mean your voice will be heard
For years, communicators have been asking for a seat at the table and my argument has always been this: earn your seat by adding value and influence those that are sitting there so you don’t have to. Board meetings need to have the employee voice in them but through the leaders who are running it. Having an employee rep in the room won’t mean they will be listened to – it’s just a plaster over the problem but the problem will still exist.

2. Everyone at the table is an employee
We forget that leaders are also employees. They need to facilitate the conversation and engage with their teams to ensure voices are heard across the organisation. Yes they are running the company, but they are also employed and making the stand that employee representatives should sit on the board suggests that they aren’t. We ask a lot of leaders and line managers and use them as the conduit inside organisations but they are employees as well.

3. It’s a confidential environment and those at the Board level should be qualified/chartered
I’m not sure that an employee representative at Board level needs to hear all the conversations. Now this will raise an eyebrow because you will say that all the conversations should be transparent etc. but HR/Marketing/Communications will be in there – and I’d hope those individuals are qualified/chartered etc. and therefore bound by codes of conducts for their respective professions. The conversations at this level could include a potential sale of the business, a merger etc. some of these conversations are highly confidential and there is a possibility that shifting the dynamic of the team/boardroom will hinder real discussions taking place.

4. Invest in your internal communications team

How many of these organisations have a dedicated internal communications team? I bet it is a few. If these organisations recognise the power that internal communications can bring to an organisation; hiring professionals equipped with the skills to coach leaders on ethics, strategy and leadership then it would help us move things forward. This team should be the glue for the organisation and the mechanism to help ideas, conversations and suggestions flow through teams. They should be the ones ensuring the employee voice is in the boardroom and helping influence decisions and plans across all teams.

5, Invest in the leadership and line managers
All the research into internal communications will point to the need to invest in line manager and leaders. We promote people because they are excellent at what they do, we don’t know whether they can coach, manage, advise people in their team. This is a skill that in most organisations is ignored and then leaders and line managers aren’t equipped to have difficult conversations, honest and open discussions about the company strategy etc. We don’t expect a manager to be able to mange a budget and forecast for the year without training so why do we think they can manage people and communicate effectively without it?

The idea behind this policy is solid. The culture in some workplaces is poor and unethical decisions are sometimes made to benefit those at the top. Putting an employee from the frontline into that environment won’t help us. Investing in educating leaders and line managers into the importance of ethical and strategic communication will. Helping them build trust with their teams by listening to them and sharing their voice up through the hierarchy will. Helping them understand how people work with a knowledge of neuroscience will and giving people the opportunities to talk and be listened to will.

It is time to change but let’s work with the professionals in this field to make that happen.

Book Review: Get Social by Michelle Carvill: Social media strategy and tactics for leaders

When this book arrived, and I started to read a bit about who it was aimed at I wasn’t too sure why Kogan Page sent it to me to review. The book is aimed at leaders to help them understand the world of social media and how to use it for the benefit of their organisations and their own brand.

After reading the first chapter, I wanted to tell every person working in communications to grab a copy, read it and use it to help influence senior people in their organisations. The practical tips coupled with the research and theory help make this a book grounded in facts and helpful advice. Having already recommended it to a few clients, I thought I would share some of the main themes I took from it:

In a VUCA world social media can help you navigate
The military phrase VUCA has featured a lot in this book and others this year. Meaning Volatile, Uncertain, Complex and Ambiguous – it is a very good description of both the world and the workplace. To operate in a VUCA world, the positives of social media can’t be ignored and Carvill lists the clear benefits; enables you to listen in real time, share your viewpoint, defend or speak up and also share your values or your brand’s values.

In a VUCA world, which is fast paced, opinionated and transparent, the role of social media has never been more important. Just because you’re not there, doesn’t mean people aren’t talking about you, your brand or your organisation.

The importance of listening is cemented throughout the book and in my previous roles I have often be surprised at the lack of listening that takes place – internally and externally. As a leader in an organisation, listening should never be under-utilised.

Trust and authenticity
Social media is a place for you to have conversations linked to your values. It is a space to share views and interact with a variety of stakeholders (employees, shareholders, analysts, customers – the list goes on). The research cited from BrandFog 2016 tells us that 82% of respondents were more likely to trust a company whose leadership team engages in social media and 85% believe that CEOs can use social media channels to improve engagement with employees.

Linking this to other research in the book, it is easy to draw the conclusion that using social media engenders trust, builds brand engagement, builds employee engagement, keeps you tuned in to current sentiment and safeguards reputation management.

The importance of content and getting past the fear
A series of tables and models will help you have conversations around the purpose of social media for the individual. Exploring the balance between curation, repurposed, created and spontaneous content and keeping your goal to engage a reader top of mind will help you map out the content strategy for the channels.
Mapping this with a clear view on whether you want to entertain, educate, inspire or promote will help you plan your activity linked to the goals and objectives of the business.

Fear seems to be the main reason for people to avoid social. But if the purpose for using the channel and the content is strategically thought through, then the fear can easily disappear. The more authentic you are, the less you will struggle. The examples from the interviews with CEO’s from a variety of organisations will help provide real examples of individuals who have removed the fear and seen the benefits.

Carvill includes paragraphs from interviews conducted with CEOs, models to help theorise some of the concepts to work from and a clear focus on the importance of content. All of this, makes for an easy read, backed up by data and with practical easy-to-use pieces of advice for leaders.

If you’re working in communications, in any specialism, pick up a copy of the book. It will help you gain clarity around how to engage your leaders in the topic and help you help them understand it doesn’t need to be feared – and should be embraced.

Grab your copy here: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Get-Social-Strategy-Tactics-Leaders/dp/0749482559

Getting Chartered – why I did it and what I will takeaway

On 10 September I finally got my Chartered Practitioner status. I set myself a goal at the start of 2018 to do it but I knew that September would be the best time for me. As someone who is heavily involved with CIPR I kept my involvement in the day quiet – for me becoming Chartered is a huge stamp of validation and much like a driving test, I didn’t want to have to tell everyone if I had failed.

When the Chartered process changed a few years ago I was still one of those members saying they couldn’t see the benefit against the cost. So why did I decide to do it this year and what did I learn?

I believe in professionalism
When people ask me what I do I tell them I’m a professional communicator – which sounds odd. But when you’re talking to people who aren’t in our industry it is the only way to describe the work that I do. I help people have better conversations to make businesses succeed and I can do this because of my experience. Becoming Chartered is the highest achievement for what I do. It is grounded in ethics, strategy and leadership which are all things I’m doing everyday so having the validation with my peers is hugely rewarding.

I want to be the best I can be
And I want others to do the same. If you’re working as a communications assistant, an internal communications manager or a public affairs director I want all of us to be the best at it. For me, being the best is about working with peers to explore and learn. It’s about reading books that help you advise and coach leaders. It’s about investing in yourself to make sure you are aware of the latest trends and issues facing communicators and businesses.

Know your own learning style
Sometimes I worry. I worry that I should be doing more, spending more time reading, writing, investigating and then I panic. It’s times like this that I’m grateful to my network – and a huge thanks to Trudy Lewis, Katie Marlow and Advita Patel for their support over the last week. I know how I learn and I have to remember that just because my style is different to others it doesn’t make it wrong.

It’s a humbling experience
Spending a day with people who have the same goals as you is always a good day. But spending it with people who are trying to better themselves, seek a validation and in turn gain confidence in their ability made the experience all the more humbling. We were lucky and 100% passed – there were cheers, hugs and tears and it was an absolute privilege to share that moment with everyone.

If you’re thinking about it – speak to someone who is Chartered. I am proud that on our Inside committee we have a number of people who have been through the process so please do reach out as I’m sure Katie, Trudy, Martin and Jane can also share their experiences (in fact many have blogged already!)

The art of science and engagement in internal communication

We know that internal communicators are struggling to influence at the top, finding digital adoption hard across organisations and working with limited budgets. Some of the conversation we need to have are increasingly challenging and opinion or experience might not be enough to win your case. Last week, at the CIPR Northern Conference in Newcastle, I hosted a workshop talking about neuroscience and how the world of work might have evolved, but our brains have not.

The basics
Our brains have one core purpose – to survive. To survive they need two key things; to seek out rewards and to avoid threats. The rewards will be things like food and shelter and the threats will be the sabre-tooth tiger coming to kill you. The threat response in our brains is much stronger than rewards so we will always lean to that response – you can survive without food/shelter/water for a while, but you can’t survive the tiger killing you!

Our brains are constantly trying to predict to keep us out of harms way and when it comes to making decisions, 86% of them are based on feelings. This is important to understand because clarification and ambiguity play a big role in how we feel and are often some of our biggest challenges as communicators.

Dealing with ambiguity and the pace of change
We continually try to predict so when we don’t understand something, or we are left in the dark, our threat response is heightened. Our brains cannot deal with the speed and quantity of change we see today. The level of ambiguity that comes with this means we worry and we think about the adverse possibilities – our threat response.

Our reward state is not only triggered by those basic elements, it can also be triggered by information. Research shows that we are more comfortable with information that provides certainty regardless of whether that is good or bad. Think about waiting for test results – the unknown is much worse than when you have the answer.

The generational divide
I’m a big Simon Sinek fan and during the session I referenced both his golden circle TED talk and his interview about millennials. On researching this topic again, I came across articles challenging his thinking on millennials and while I struggle with generational theory (my diploma paper was on Gen Z and their communication styles) his insights can all play back to the basics of neuroscience.

He suggests that parenting, technology, impatience and environment all play a role in why millennials struggle in the workplace:

  • The failed parenting strategies that have devalued reward (last place medal, taking part medal)
  • The use of social media and the release of dopamine that happens when someone ‘likes’ a post alongside the danger of technology replacing meaningful social connections
  • Impatience and the immediacy of today – remember Blockbuster when you use to have to wait for something to come out and then post it back through the door – not anymore. You can get it all immediately from your sofa.
  • The work environment is so numbers focussed that we don’t consider people. We don’t consider relationships and culture over or even in line with the commercial elements of success and this is damaging trust.

When you revisit the key points from this interview they link back to neuroscience and how our brains work. The need for social connections, making time for each other, rewards – they all come through when you consider why millennials are struggling in the workplace today.

Data and ambiguity
We know that the brain doesn’t like ambiguity and since the research in 2017 with CIPR Inside I have talked a lot about alignment between the internal communication function and leadership. So how ambiguous are we as internal communicators? Does everyone have a definition of what internal communication is inside their organisation? Does everyone have a plan or a strategy? Research from Gatehouse tells us that only 50% have a plan and only 33% have a strategy. So, without these basics in place, are we allowing ambiguity to rule and therefore debilitating conversations with leaders?

Social connections and the struggle with digital tools
After The Big Yak I blogged about the main themes and how we are forgetting we are human. Our social brain impacts our ability to think and perform and people need to stay focussed and positive to work at their best. Neuroscience shows people have a strong need for social connections – so strong that without them we are in a state of threat. I don’t believe we think about this at work in terms of the culture or relationships that we encourage, or even in the content strategies that we create – how many are focussed on the operational aspect of the organisation?
We believed that digital tools would solve our problems. And while they solve some, they aren’t working quite how we hoped. Gatehouse data tells us that only 35% have an adoption rate of good or excellent and 86% say use is non-existent, embryonic or limited. We are forgetting that people are at the heart and from experience, I can tell you that the investment in digital tools will be completely wasted if you don’t invest in the people and the relationships/culture.

Remember that communication is conversation. Give people a voice, collaborate on the things that matter (not everything, but that’s another blog post) and take away the threat and ambiguity of business today. I hope you can use some of the points in this post/from the workshop to help you have conversations to make a difference in your organisation.


These are links to the books that I have read over the last six months that all contributed to the session at the conference:

Neuroscience for organisational change

Busy: How to thrive in a world of busy

Deep work: Rules for focussed success in a distracted world

Team of Teams: New Rules of Engagement for a Complex World