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.

Resources

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

AB Thinks Live: Confidence, Content and Purpose

Last week communications agency AB hosted their fourth AB Thinks Live event in London. I was their facilitator for the day and you can read my opening comments on the future of work here. Speakers covered purpose, virtual reality, culture and technology and the panel delved into the skills internal communicators need in the future.

There were some lively debates from the panellists around the need for an internal communications strategy – but I think the blog from AB Associate Helen Deverell nicely captures some of my own thinking; you should be able to have your strategy on a page, evolve it as needed and be strategic with the tactical.

Find what is uniquely human

In a world of AI how do we find purpose? Dr Alex Stubbings took us through her belief that there is a uniqueness to humans and this can’t be replaced by robots.

After The Big Yak I blogged about my belief that we are forgetting we are human and Alex opened her session saying that we have been encouraged to think like machines – and I don’t disagree. When it comes to technology Alex suggested that robots can’t be creative (intuition), drive compliance through touch (survey completion jumped from 55% to 81% with the touch of an arm) nor do they have ethics morality and values – traits that drive us.

Democratise communication and bring it into the business operation

When it comes to a change in leadership there is often an opportunity for a change in environment. For Rooftop Housing this included a desire to change the technology that the teams were using day-t- day. John Rockley gave great insight into how the team went about implementing Workplace by Facebook. He blogged about it before the event but on the day there were two things John said that stayed with me:

  1. Workplace by Facebook has democratised our communication streams and allowed people to have conversations entirely relevant to them.
  2. The Repairs team use Workplace as part of the business process – with photos of the items needed repair and plugging this into systems they have in place already.

To embrace virtual reality, we need to be immersive and interactive

Nadine Oehmcke from game developer nDreams gave us an insight into the virtual reality industry – exploring growth trends (there has been a 117% growth in headset sales in the last 12 months), what to expect in the future with the rise of AR and VR together, a look at headsets that don’t require a PC or phone and the need to create completely immersive experiences that transport the individual into a different world. It reaffirmed my belief that our use of VR in the workplace is so much more than training or looking round an office.

Confidence, pace and strategy

The panel of experts gave their views about the skills we need for the future. With experts in digital, employer brand, corporate communication and internal communication they all gave their views on what was needed. The big takeaways for me were:

  • Confidence to manage all aspects of communication (internal and external) and to have strategic conversations with senior leaders.
  • Get better at working at pace. The world of external communication can often be driven by deadlines from the media whereas internal communicators can often have the luxury or time to craft the message to ‘perfection’.
  • Don’t’ get lost down the planning rabbit hole. It’s easy to create documents to plan out what you’re going to do, spend hours writing a strategy and then leave it in a drawer. Strategy and planning is needed, but the document should be live in your department not locked away.

You can read my full blog about the panel session here.

The Future of Content

AB’s MD Katie Macaulay ended the afternoon with her predictions into the future of content. There were six:

  1. Employees do not owe us their attention, we have to earn it and that will get harder
  2. Internal communicators will find ever more sophisticated ways of analysing their audiences
  3. Internal communication will move from interruption to permission – content that is anticipated, relevant and personal
  4. The line between internal and external will become increasingly blurred
  5. Content will become more of a craft, less of a commodity
  6. Those journalistic skills of having a nose for a good story, being able interview people, interrogate facts, and create brilliant, beautiful prose will regain their importance.

Katie has shared her full transcript here and it really is worth having a read – the analogy to Clapham junction really resonated with me and I have long been a fan of fewer, bigger, better – enjoy!

The next AB Thinks Live event is taking place in December – to find out more get in touch with the team @abthinks on Twitter or drop them an email events@abcomm.co.uk

The Big Yak 2018 – what internal communicators are talking about

Last week I hosted The Big Yak with my fellow IC Crowd co-founders Rachel Miller and Dana Leeson.

It was our fourth event and our biggest one yet with 160 internal communication professionals gathered together on a Saturday to set the agenda for the day ahead. These were the topics they chose to discuss and you can see that remote workers, leadership coaching and developing our own skills were all high on the agenda.

I managed to sit in a few of the conversations so here are my thoughts from the event:

We are forgetting we are human beings
Every conversation I have at the moment seems to be about this. About our need to feel connected to each other or the organisation we work for. The rise of digital channels means our investment has been in the technology not the people and there is growing recognition that this needs to change. We know that the investment in internal communication is often minimal but there was strong agreement in the discussions about remote workers (either physically remote or completely remote without access to technology etc.) and the need to invest in face-to-face.

Remote workers remain a huge challenge
With two sessions talking about remote workers it was no wonder that the conversations were lively and encouraging. Lessons were shared about launching apps, creating culture and purpose and also the role of the line managers. There was no one in the room who had totally ‘solved’ this challenge but the need to learn from each other here is huge. It’s the reason I’m doing research into this space this year and it’s clear to see why the hard to reach employee is on the top five barriers list from the Gatehouse research earlier this year.

Content is not just about the operation
We seem to have forgotten that content doesn’t always have to be about the work that needs to be done. There was a general consensus that fun was missing. The need for content that supports the culture, the social aspect of work and the relationships we try and cultivate was clear and it made me think about how many of us have a content strategy that sits alongside our channel strategy.

Neuroscience, psychology and digital
This is a big theme and it was apparent in several sessions I attended. Work is not somewhere we go, it’s something we do and our fulfilment of the work has never been higher on our personal agendas. Digital tools are unfulfilling, they don’t support the messages being communicated and they aren’t fit for purpose. We are all being asked to do more with less – what can that look like if the solution isn’t more digital channels?

Being a co-founder of the IC Crowd is so rewarding. We set it up to help internal communication professionals connect and The Big Yak was born out of the Crowd asking to get together. It is a day full of energy, discussion and insight and it would be nothing without passionate individuals willing to give up their Saturday to talk about how they can make work a better place. It is something I’m so incredibly proud of and it’s given me the chance to work with two fantastic ladies for over 10 years!  You can find out more about The Big Yak and read other write ups from the event here.