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.

Can business leaders make U-turns?

I live in a world where transparency, honesty and truth are the pillars of my profession. I spend time with leaders crafting messages to ensure they are clear, factual and honest and we discuss and debate the best way to deliver messages that are difficult. More so now than ever the conversations are linked to change; we need to refocus on x, we are going to merge with y, we need to review our organisational structure and chance how we operate etc. The change programmes we manage are part of our day to day roles now.

Managing this amount of change isn’t easy but our integrity as a profession ensures that our role to be honest and truthful with employees, giving them a voice throughout it all, remains core.

I say all this after reading article after article about the Government U-turn on increasing National Insurance contributions for some self-employed workers. After a week of criticism for going against the election pledge Philip Hammond changed his stance and apparently, this isn’t ok either. This blog is not about whether the political decision is right or wrong, it’s about our reaction to change, our reaction to leaders saying ‘we got it wrong’ and what this says for businesses out there trying to manage so much uncertainty. It’s no wonder we have leaders worried about being honest when the public example is so shaming.

As an internal communication professional, I’m constantly reassuring leadership teams that being honest is not only ok, it is a must – people respect the honesty and just want to know the truth. I don’t believe it makes you weak as a leader and I don’t believe it suggests that the entire leadership team is in chaos. We are in uncertain times and some decisions aren’t going to be the right ones but we should be able to say ‘ok, we have listened, we go this one wrong and we won’t move forward in this direction’ without fear.

Inside organisations leaders as individuals and leadership teams are making decisions that affect the future stability and growth of the organisation with a responsibility to sometimes hundreds or thousands of people. These are big decisions, not taken lightly and thought through. That doesn’t mean they are always right, they are human beings after all, and we should be happy that our voices are heard. We have strived for employee voice to have a real role inside businesses and as we watch the public voice play out in politics, it doesn’t give me hope that businesses will be encouraged by current outcome.

The importance of authenticity

Last month at the big yak, we talked about leadership comms. This sparked so many thoughts and ideas and you can read my top takeaways here.

What continues to play on my mind is the role of authenticity. We had a good discussion about the role of the leader and how leaders can sometimes struggle to grasp the benefit of engaging with employees at every level. So how do you overcome it? And why is it important?

I strongly believe that we shouldn’t make all leaders use channels they aren’t comfortable with. I remember being told years ago from my global colleagues that every board member needed to have a blog and start using it. I knew straight away that one of my board members would never do that – he was face to face all the way and I would end up writing stuff for him just to meet the measurement criteria set by the global comms team – not authentic at all.

So why do we struggle to find the right channels for our leaders and what can we do to help them?

A great discussion at the big yak highlighted the need to understand the world of the leader. Who do they really care about? And it’s the same for all of us – their boss. And for many in leadership this is the board and shareholders. So we need to make sure what whatever we are asking them to do – they can explain the benefit to this audience.

I remember working with a CFO who, after a painful session at the company conference, couldn’t understand why he should care about the feedback? ‘I don’t care what they think, I don’t see why I need to do it anyway.’ We spent some time talking about why getting the message right in that form is important, that we need the people in the room to buy into the goals and understand what they need to do to help us all achieve success – both on a company level and on a personal bonus level. Come the next conference we did a lot more coaching on style and delivery – tell a story like you would do with your children before bed – and while it will never be his comfortable space he now totally gets it and spends time preparing and getting it right.

I really believe the days of writing comms for the company are coming to an end. I spend most of my time editing content rather than starting from scratch and if I am starting from scratch it is in collaboration with the real author and we go backwards and forwards. I am not the corporate mouth piece but I will enable the board and all employees to communicate effectively, in the right way culturally and in a way that engages the audience with the message. We can only adapt and move forward if we all agree that being authentic is at the heart of good communication.