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.

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.

From informing to engaging: the role of IC in driving engaging and authentic leadership communications

This morning CIPR Inside and Luminous hosted an Ask the Guru event all about the shift from informing to engaging audiences inside organisations.

As the Chair of CIPR Inside I was there to open the event and facilitate any questions. The event was designed to explore the role of internal communication in driving engaging and authentic leadership communication. With guest speaker Graham Cox, Director of Learning and Development at Boundaries Edge and Mark Litchfield, Executive Creative Director at Luminous they took us on a journey of authenticity, decision making, perception, creativity and measurement.

Understanding how we make decisions

As we set the scene to understand the role of authenticity it was helpful to better understand how we make decisions and where the logic and emotion come in. I’m already a big fan of Simon Sinek and his golden circle theory so it was great to kick off with a reminder about the mammalian brain (feelings) and neocortex (logic) and how 86% of decisions are based on feelings.

What was equally interesting was the fact that as we evolve we should become more logical in our decision-making but with the introduction of AI the need for us to make logical decisions is diminishing.

The six rules of perception

  1. Initial impression resists change, and perception resets every 10/15 seconds
  2. We have confirmation bias, we self-validate – if there is more investment the individual is less likely to change their mind
  3. We cannot hold two precepts in the mind at one time
  4. Perception is directly related to context, so we have to remind people about context all the time. This is linked to the fact that we don’t know how to calculate value
  5. We perceive losses three times more that we do gains. It is this focus on losses and therefore fear of them that leads us to stay in jobs we don’t enjoy or relationships that don’t work
  6. People perceive the past, present and future – and different groups of people will have a tendency to focus on one element more than the other

Engage audiences through creativity and measure how you do it

  • To help with creativity look around you. Benchmark with peers and be inspired by things outside of your everyday
  • Consistency is important
  • Create a central bank of assets to support both the consistency and to help with efficiencies in the team
  • Create a two-way conversation with relevance and measurement; define the metrics upfront, be clear about the audience and who to target, and get qualitative and quantitative feedback

As we finished the morning I shared the Making it Count research with the attendees as this is all about understanding the value and effectiveness of internal communication – and if we find it difficult to calculate value and our perception is directly related to context, I hope this helps us move forwards into more engaging conversations.

Employee engagement isn’t about happiness, it’s about outcomes

Is employee engagement still on your agenda? A few weeks I blogged on AB thinks (for my client AB) about employee engagement and employee experience – here are my thoughts on how things have changed…

Today commentators are using a new term – employee experience – described as the next competitive frontier for organisations. The challenge is to understand and create a culture where people can perform at their best. In short, to understand what makes humans thrive.

In October the importance of good mental health in the workplace came under scrutiny. Rightly, wellbeing, self-care and societal pressures are still hot topics. Earlier this year, reports suggested the link between serotonin and depression could be false and poor mental health might have a far deeper cause.

“We all know that every human being has basic physical needs: for food, for water, for shelter, for clean air. It turns out that, in the same way, all humans have certain basic psychological needs. We need to feel we belong. We need to feel valued. We need to feel we’re good at something. We need to feel we have a secure future. And there is growing evidence that our culture isn’t meeting those psychological needs for many – perhaps most – people.” Johann Hari, Author

To explore how this translates into the workplace, we need to look at employee engagement – or the employee experience – differently. Engagement is a result. It is an output. It is the consequence of a variety of factors happening simultaneously. We therefore need to think about the entire experience our employees have, from that job advert that initially caught their eye to their final exit interview.

A recent article from Jamie Nutter, maintains: “When you measure engagement, you are documenting a state of mind among your employees that was created over a period of months or years — in the past. That means that your detailed (and depressing) picture of today’s disengaged workforce, unfortunately, gives you very little you can use to actually solve the problem.”
This is a huge step forward in understanding employee engagement. Just six years ago we were having to define the difference between happiness and engagement.

Kevin Kruse explains: “Someone can be happy at work, but not ‘engaged’. They might be happy because they are lazy and it’s a job with not much to do. They might be happy talking to all their work-friends… to have a free company car. They might just be a happy person. But! Just because they’re happy doesn’t mean they are working hard on behalf of the company. They can be happy and unproductive. When someone is engaged, it means they are emotionally committed to their company and their work goals. They care about their work. They care about results. This makes them go above and beyond—to give discretionary effort.”

So where does this leave us? Employee engagement has never been better understood. As communicators we need to use the growing body of research to help us understand the complexity of human beings, how we thrive and how our organisations can create a culture that enables everyone to perform at their best.

This piece from Denise Lee Yohen nicely outlines what employee experience is and is not. It also explains why it’s something that should be on your agenda this year

Tips for communicating with volunteers

Last week I was asked for some insight into volunteer communication on the back of my involvement with the Chartered Institute of Public Relations (CIPR). I have been working with CIPR for a number of years and leading the internal communications group has given me some understanding of what to consider when communicating and engaging a network of volunteers.

These were the tips I shared and I’d be interested to hear from anyone working with volunteers who can share any further tips or advice for those communicating and engaging with this stakeholder group:

  • There will be different roles for the volunteers, so understanding them and their level of engagement with the centre is important
  • Be clear about what is a must do, nice to do and completely optional. Volunteers have limited time so it is good to know what is required
  • Recognise their contribution – whether this is doing something in-kind or having an event for them – make sure they feel valued
  • Give them plenty of notice – provide key dates and minimal information and then more detail closer to the date – the more notice they have to plan things the better
  • If the volunteers work together, explore running a workshop for them to discuss their purpose/reason for volunteering and then sharing a common goal and ways to share information and ideas – either with an online platform
  • Explore a suite of channels for them – just like you would for employees – they might want a regular newsletter of information that is specific to volunteers separate from other employee comms
  • Have clear guidelines available for them when they join – what is expected in terms of time etc. and provide a clear structure of meetings/touchpoints with the centre

What would you add to the list?

Four things I heard at the Employee Engagement Awards Conference

Last week I attended my first Employee Engagement Awards Conference – hosted by Ruth Dance and organised by Matt Manners and the team behind the global employee engagement awards.

I was excited to attend a conference dedicated to employee engagement as it’s been a while since I attended something that wasn’t focussed purely on communication.

There were some great case studies and as I was only there for the morning, it gave me time to reflect on some of the themes in the case studies:

1. Employee experience is the new employee engagement
Although the two are different, we seem to be talking more about the whole employee experience than ever before. I have always talked about the difference between employee engagement and internal communication and I believe that the employee experience is the term that could join us together to support organisations empower the workforce.

2. Leadership style makes all the difference
It was brilliant to hear some fantastic case studies from Southampton FC and HomeServe and as I listened to the campaigns and the leadership styles that engaged the workforce it struck me that not everyone is that lucky. Not all leaders feel the same about internal communication or the employee experience – I have been lucky enough to work with both but I think the most rewarding work has been when you are challenged to really demonstrate how what you do can add value and make an impact.

3. Customer service and the employee experience need to have the same focus
Save the shoes! I loved the story from Temkin Group about how a focus on loss prevention can make the job for the employee incredibly difficult which in turn can lead to a bad customer experience. The other day I was discussing exactly this in a workshop where we talked about creating policies for the few rather than the many – sadly it does seem to be the norm, often going against the purpose of the organisation.

Hearing from M&S about their campaign to engage sector managers from their head of customer experience just reinforced the point that what goes on on the inside shows up on the outside (a phrase I heard first at the CIPR Inside conference in November and something I know Rachel Miller is presenting on at the IOIC conference in May).

4. Think strategically about your communication model
It’s easy to find a communication fix to one business problem – it’s harder to review it alongside others and create a strategy and plan that joins the dots. I heard some great case studies and great examples of campaigns to engage managers but worryingly some were in isolation to the broader communication strategy. In my experience this has a good quick win but without the thinking behind it and the overarching strategy it is unlikely to succeed long term. We know from the latest research from Gatehouse that there are still few internal comms teams with a strategy in place and I think a lot of this is down to the immediacy we live in today. Always take the time to think about how you’re going to engage and communicate with your workforce, manage stakeholders and align the timescales and it will create lasting change rather than a quick fix.

Thank you to Matt and the team – I left the morning with some great ideas for clients and a reinforcement that data and customer engagement go hand in hand with internal communications .

The pursuit of happiness

As I took myself off for a stroll last week I got to thinking about the pursuit of happiness, what employee engagement really is and whether companies are trying to be friends with everyone who works for them.

I don’t go to work to make friends. I might make friends along the way but I go to work because I enjoy what I do and I love making a difference in organisations in relation to their communication. I don’t need everyone there to like me and I shouldn’t need to like everyone there. But are we confusing liking people, friendship and engagement and jumbling it up into a big old mess?

We have four enablers of engagement to consider. Strategic narrative, engaging managers, employee voice and integrity.

So here is my thinking. If I take these four enablers and apply them to my friendships is there a correlation? Does a friendship need to know where it has come from and where it is going? Yes. Friendships are built on a variety of things but my close friends know why we are friends, what the foundations to that friendship are and see a future in it. Some friends I holiday with, spa with, get drunk with, all different relationships and all a ‘strong narrative’.

My friends are my coaches. When we are together we are focussed on each other, helping us all achieve what we want in life and also stretching each other to try new things that could be challenging. I include rock climbing, go karting and skiing as things I have only done because my friends have encouraged me.

We listen to each other and give everyone a voice. In a group of girlfriends if one is going through something we all listen, support and rally. And it was only a few weeks ago I was humbled by being part of a group of friends, with over 15 years of history, who rallied to support one going through an emotional time.

Integrity is our foundation. As friends we are built on the same values and morals. We have a ‘contract’ around the do-say gap and it is really, for me, what friendships are built on.

So with this match up to four enablers I realised that:

1. I’m not friends with everyone. I choose my friends based on all the above. So as a company, I don’t have to be ‘friends’ with everyone. I should choose the right people that fit the organisation and vice versa

2. If my friend upsets me. I tell them and we either work through it or we go our separate ways. This should be the same in the workplace but instead we end up doing the ‘silent veto’ being miserable and leaving a company wondering how it all went wrong

3. Not everyone has a friend for life – and that’s ok. It’s rare to stay with a company all your working career now – but moving every few years or staying a long time is. It’s not the same for everyone.

I guess what I’m thinking is that it isn’t one size fits all. As I read recently, employee engagement is not about happiness. And if you think of it like friendships, it’s clear that it is different for everyone and that you don’t have to be ‘friends’ with every organisation or indeed everyone in it.