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.

CIPR President Elect – what is your view on internal comms?

Last week I approached the three candidates standing as President Elect to find out a bit more about what they think of internal comms. All three replied instantly so here are the answers from Emma Leech, Gary Taylor and Sarah Hall:

1. What do you think the role of internal comms is inside organisations  today?

Emma: Internal communications plays a critical role within organisations. We work in ever more competitive and rapidly changing environments and ensuring we attract and retain the best talent, unlock potential and ideas, and differentiate on excellent and authentic customer service are obvious wins. Less obvious is the tremendous impact that loyalty, engagement, great change management and advocacy can have across the organisation and – very pragmatically – on the bottom line.

I’m also a Fellow of the Institute of Internal Communications and as someone who has worked in the field and now manages a team in this area, I clearly identify with the importance of working with professionals who can listen to the organisation’s heartbeat and respond to it. From using local intelligence to feed into crisis communications and planning, to identifying and helping to tackle strategic business issues, or simply developing messages and campaign opportunities, internal communications has a key role to play.

Gary: The way organisations are changing, it’s more important than ever to communicate – especially change – with staff members. Your staff are the best people to explain, promote and celebrate the good work you’re doing  – they need to feel informed and part of the decision-making process. An effective internal communications strategy can help achieve this. Sadly, it’s often shunted to one side, seen as less important that the external  communications function or just as the trickle-down of information from the Management Team, at a pace and in a form that suits them, not the staff.

Sarah: Internal comms (IC) is critical for two reasons: there’s an increasing expectation for organisations to be open and transparent; and organisations are striving to become social. The shift to social organisations is a huge opportunity for IC. Figuring out how to move from command and control management, to a more open, networked organisation is a big job and requires a specialist skillset. It’s an issue that will continue play out for IC over the next generation. Although there is much being said about employee advocacy, the notion of employees as advocates won’t sit comfortably with me until the relationship between the organisation and employee is equitable. While this plays out however, the opportunity to use modern platforms such as Facebook at Work, Slack and Yammer as a means of engagement, is a huge opportunity for anyone working within this area.

2. Where do you think CIPR can improve how it supports internal comms  people?

Emma: I think we could start by responding proactively to the Inside Group’s agenda. I’ve been amazed at how vibrant and collegiate the Group is and the support of the recent #thebigyak event is a great example of the energy and fresh thinking the Group has to offer. We could learn a lot from that as an Institute. I would want your ideas on how we could provide better training, develop the Diploma, and support professionals in the field. I think there’s a job to be done in actively promoting the very real and financial benefits of great internal communications that will help raise the profile and value of practitioners. I think it’s also important for the CIPR to help support members better as part of their career journey to ensure that internal communications colleagues don’t hit roadblocks in terms of progression which can be a real issue.

Gary: By creating, encouraging and acting as a platform for greater engagement between internal communications practitioners /specialists. There’s a huge body of untapped knowledge that events such as #thebigyak help to release. But too many practitioners – in all areas, not just internal – are left to work on their own, at the mercy of what  non-practitioners think is ‘right’. We should be there for them with something they can point to, a source of good practice and latest thinking.

Sarah: Internal comms is an important public relations discipline and it rightly continues to grow in stature as understanding grows of what it can achieve.

The CIPR has a powerful opportunity at its fingertips.

  1. To enhance its own internal comms between HQ, board, council, groups and members, using the knowledge and expertise within its membership
  2. To support the growing number of internal comms practitioners and better serve them with the knowledge and tools they need to succeed
  3. To celebrate this expanding body of knowledge and practice

As President-Elect, I’d strive to make the CIPR a best practice model for how IC can transform organisations. I’d look to help IC professionals communicate the value of their work to employers and demonstrate return on investment.

Finally I’d make this burgeoning area of the industry a key aspect of the 70th anniversary celebrations in 2018. It’s an important area of public relations and there are some excellent people within the membership pioneering the way.

3. With all your experience what is your key advice to those working in  internal comms?

Emma: My advice to colleagues is to engage, enjoy, learn and make change happen. When you’re closest to an organisation’s issues, you’re often closest to the solutions. Listening is everything. Using that insight to deliver real strategic value is a major strength. Some of the best campaigns I’ve ever been involved with have been internal communications led – a simple conversation that sparked a big idea, change project, recruitment or fundraising idea. We often make the mistake in PR of believing our own hype – great internal communicators bring challenge to that and a truly authentic organisational perspective. That kind of insight is gold dust in business today – sprinkle it wisely!

Gary: You are the communications professional. You do this every day. Depending on your relative position within the organisation it can feel daunting to have to say to the higher-ups “you’re wrong on this” – but your organisation’s reputation (as well as your own) relies on good, professional communications.

Sarah: Internal comms practitioners have an incredibly exciting opportunity. As the C-Suite looks to public relations professionals to make sense of the changing world around them and manage reputation, the value placed on practitioners is growing. I’d urge all IC practitioners to focus on their continuous professional development (CPD). It’s critical to demonstrating your worth in organisational terms. Finally, collaborate to share best practice (as already happens through fantastic initiatives like The Big Yak) and lobby your industry bodies for support in educating employers and the business community about the incredible work you do.

Collaboration, data and how being vague is a great way to start!

Yesterday I had the honour of presenting at the IBM Smarter Workforce Summit (#swf2015) at the Kia Oval in London. Sadly I missed the morning but as I popped in to talk to them about the journey of collaboration I have been on for the past few years it was clear the day had been good.

A very engaged audience welcomed me to the event and so began a frank and open discussion about delivering collaboration channels and how engaging the workforce in them is tough.

What followed my session blew me away. Professor Brian Cox took to the stage to discuss the theory of the universe and everything we understand about our existence – not too heavy for 4pm on a Thursday!

His ability to translate seriously complex data into things we could understand is amazing. I have never felt more like Penny in Big Bang theory but I was starting to understand more than I ever thought I would.

While he covered a vast amount of theory there were two things I really took away that I could relate to the day job:

Data vs opinion
Everything he talked about was backed up by data; data to prove or disprove a theory. It made me realise just how much we accept opinion in the world of communication.

Employee engagement and the correlation to productivity is proven in data. Yet if the opinion of leadership is the opposite we just back down. How can we overcome this huddle when opinion is overruling what the facts are telling us? What do we need to do differently to get engagement on the agenda of the board?

Vague but interesting
This was the comment from Tim Berners-Lee’s manager on his first paper about information and the theory of the World Wide Web. I’m pretty sure this is how my manager thinks about some of the stuff I come up with, and no I’m not comparing my ideas to the introduction of the World Wide Web, but it makes you think about how we approach change.

The concept and theory about what you are trying to do can be vague. We then have to go and find out a way to prove we can do it or that it needs to be done. It doesn’t matter where it starts… Vague but interesting is a great foundation.

For me, attending events like this not only helps to contribute to your CPD but they also gives you that head space away from the day job which we all need.

I’m about to take three weeks off to get married and have my honeymoon and my brain has been horribly full of everything I need to do before I go. Now, with some space yesterday I’m clearer about what I need to get done before I go and I have some great ideas about how I want to influence our strategy going forwards.

I got all of that in 2 hours so I can’t even imagine what other delegates took away from being there all day!

Using communication to change behaviour for better business

In September I asked the question, on LinkedIn, what is internal communication? I gave you my top three and you took up the challenge to let me know what your top three were and if I missed anything. What really pleased me about the comments was how we all agreed that internal communication should link to better business and changing behaviours.

I have taken the comments and listed the key points below so you can see what others had to say and if you want to find our the CIPR Inside conference tackled this issue back in October, visit the CIPR Inside website.

Here are the extra things that you all said should be added when talking about internal communication…

  • Help organisations ‘know what they know’ – ensuring knowledge and opinion is shared and used effectively
  • Guide and inspire others when it comes to the way people communicate – spark and sustain conversations
  • Be commercially aware and understand what is happening across the business to help develop the strategic narrative and key messages as well as challenge decisions and priorities.
  • It’s about asking what is it we need people to think, feel and believe in order for them to do whatever it is we need then to do: be nicer to customers, sell more, stay with the company, produce more, be safer etc
  • To create and maintain the right environment for knowledge sharing
  • Helping employees understand their role in delivering the promises made by the company’s advertising
  • Helping everyone learn to find their own voices
  • The IC team’s mission should be based on two main pillars: engagement and efficiency
  • Achieving synergies between disparate elements of an organisation
  • Developing a compelling employee comms strategy aligned to the business strategy, and the right structure and skills to deliver these
  • Equipping leaders and managers to shape employee behaviours and attitudes, and drive business results
  • Choosing channels and messages that educate and inspire each employee to deliver on organizational goals
  • Measuring the effectiveness of Internal Communication to demonstrate ROI, secure and sustain investment, and inform strategic planning
  • Acting as the conscience of the organisation, challenging constructively and pushing back
  • Act as reminder to other communications colleagues not to forget employees (in organisations where employees don’t always have a voice) so that all communications activity (both disciplines and channels) is joined up e.g internal + external
  • It’s about managers being well informed and involved in the business
  • We should be involving employees in improving the business
  • IC should be part of the fabric of an organisation
  • Get people to listen to each other, to empathise
  • Helping people behave like people – even when they are ‘in the workplace’
  • To build a culture that will drive success
  • Change communication should be a stand along area for IC

Why good leaders make you feel safe

When it comes to leadership there is no one I enjoy listening to more than Simon Sinek. After discovering some of his work a few years ago I have followed him since and this recent post on TED has once again sparked thoughts and ideas in my mind.

Talking about leadership and providing examples from the military he asks the question about whether certain roles attract certain types of leaders. He asks the question about where leaders that have an emotional connection with their teams comes from.

Is it about the people? The individuals? No, it is the environment they work in.

Why risk everything to save someone else? Because that person would do the same for me – it’s about trust and cooperation. But trust and cooperation are a feeling – I cannot tell you to trust me and you will.

To keep that organisation alive and safe from the ‘dangers’ outside a leader that creates an environment of trust is a leader that will create a great organisation. If an employee follows the rules because they fear for their job, it doesn’t make for a great worker and it won’t make for a successful company.

He goes on to compare leaders to parents. “We want the same for our children as we do for our employees: Opportunity, education, we discipline them when necessary all so they can grow up and achieve more than we could ourselves.”

I’d suggest anyone takes 12 minutes to watch this video. Not only to hear about the manufacturing company that had to save $10million and ended up saving $20million without making anyone redundant but also to clearly understand what leadership is. There is a big difference between being an authority and having authority over people, and being a leader and having people follow you…

 

If you don’t care about me then I don’t care about you

Is employee engagement this simple? If an employee feels that their employer doesn’t care then do they stop caring about what they’re doing?

2013 saw a huge surge in conversations around employee engagement; conferences, podcasts, toolkits from the government but have we actually made any difference. With papers coming out about CEOs thinking it’s a load of rubbish you have to question how much is actually making a difference. Yes budgets come into it but do we really understand what disengages people in the workforce and how to tackle it?

Do we use our HR teams and exit interviews to the best of our ability so that we understand why people leave, what makes them feel valued… We know that a survey can tell us a percentage of people that like working somewhere or feel that they trust their manager or that they are listened to but what does that really tell us? How does that help us really change how we engage with our teams. And while the work the government are doing is great, how much of that is hitting businesses outside the group? And can one toolkit really be fit for every business and every culture? Surely we have to start from the inside and then draw on these tools if they fit.

I also think we should look at the role individuals do and see how that correlates. In a frontline role where you have to serve customers there is no escaping your job. So engaged or not, if you turn up you have to work. You might not go out of your way to deliver great service or a great product but you have to do the job. In other roles, more office based or project roles, the tasks completed are not always because they have to be. Yes we have to recruit, do the accounts and the legal stuff but some of these roles add value based on the department doing things because they should or because they can, not because they have to… Disengage those people and you’re in trouble. They can turn up and hide behind the tasks they have to do, adding no extra value to the business, engage them and they will
Do whatever they can for the good of the business. But how?

So if we look at role and then we look at why they feel they way do (hopefully before they leave) then maybe we can start to measure and understand the psychology behind employee engagement and what we need to do to make sure we have a culture to be proud of. We could also look at the impact if disengagement by role so we can see what impact it has on the bottom line. That would serve to prove whether CEOs should have this on their agenda or not. I have heard all to often that people will work whether they’re engaged or not but I would love to see if this is linked to what they do.

With this in mind I’m going to think about how I could bring this to life inside the organisation I work for, and if there is any research out there for this please show me where!

What did I learn in 2013?

2013 was one of the busiest years of my life! Having returned to work after a three week holiday and Christmas break it’s easy to look back and realise what was achieved in just 12 months…

Never underestimate the power of learning

I started and have yet to complete my CIPR Inside Internal Communications Diploma. I totally underestimated the amount of time this would take with a workload like mine! Even though it has been tough, it is still one of the best things I have done in my career. The value of going through the theoretical side of internal comms cannot be explained so if you have some budget this year I would recommend it to anyone – just don’t pick a hard topic for your paper!

Change is always going to happen

Our business went through a huge amount of change in 2013 with a new global CEO, a business shake up as a result and team changes within the internal comms department. It just never stops. Now I don’t know if that is the business I’m in or if we all feel that way, but it just has to be accepted as the way of the working world. Be patient, keep the professional hat on at all times and remember that timing is everything!

There are languages everywhere!

In September I did a charity bike ride from Brussels to London – cycling 265 miles for The Railway Children. It was an amazing experience and while the bike hasn’t managed to venture out since, I would do this again in a heartbeat. Cycling with some more professional cyclists meant I was able to learn their language. The signs, the arm movements, how you cycle in a group and what the words and signs are to make sure we all stayed together proved that there are languages everywhere. And you are always going to have to learn how different groups communicate to be part of the team. This can be said for departments, divisions and organisations – it’s all about listening, learning and adapting to make sure you are part of it.

Get perspective on what internal comms means to different people

I love what I do and I’m passionate about making a difference at work. Going back to the floor in one of our stores in 2013 really helped me understand what is important to the frontline. We are a small team so providing both strategic and tactical support in equal measure can be difficult and I think I need to reset the balance to the side of the tactical in 2014. The messages are important but what people on the ground need to know and want to know doesn’t always need to be as perfect or as polished as I think it should be. They are so busy that the information needs to be quick, easy and interesting – now there’s a challenge for the year ahead!

Networking is still number one

Now I would say this as a co-founder of The IC Crowd but I still think this plays such a big role in and out of work. I didn’t get to as many events as I could in 2013 and I’m really keen to get to more in 2014, mainly to keep up to date with how companies are engaging with the frontline who are offline – a constant challenge for the internal communicator.

You aren’t the only communicator

We turned a corned in 2013 and our people started to take ownership of communication themselves. I nearly cried with joy when a director posted a blog up welcoming people to the company who had tuped over on the day it all happened! I have a CEO and a COO who blog regularly and an understanding that we cannot be the only people who care about the messaging. How have we done it? Through nearly four years of coaching, educating and after taking control of everything we have now really let go. It’s amazing to watch as people take on their own blog challenges and where we have the power of crowd sourcing, people are really seeing the benefit. There is a long way to go but we started a great journey in 2013.

Know when to listen to feedback and when to act

At our annual conference this year I took on the biggest challenge of my career; 15 sessions in one day with 7 running in parallel in the morning and 5 different sessions on rotation in the afternoon. In 2012 we had amazing feedback on our conference so I listened to the constructive comments and adapted the day accordingly. The result? Not as good as I hoped. What I learnt? Have one clear message and stick to it! Sometimes you have to listen to the feedback and interpret it a bit differently. If we get the chance to do another one in 2014 it will be different again but now the team is back to full strength and with a new focus with a new global strategy we will get it right. You have to accept that you can’t please everyone and that the conference is still just a channel in the toolkit.

Write a strategy, have a plan and know your channels

It’s easy to get precious about magazines, conferences, briefings etc. but I have really learnt to step back, be objective and give impartial advice where I can. I might bet a bit passionate about what is right but that’s not because it’s the most expensive or the cheapest – it’s because experience tells you a lot. As new channels appear and budgets are reviewed now is the time for measurement more than ever. Having a good strategy with a plan is the foundation of any department and having a channel matrix that outlines purpose, frequency and method has been a real help – I would recommend that everyone has a few documents that outlines exactly how the department operates.

So as we look to 2014 what’s on the agenda? Bringing more of our strategy to life through fun and engaging events, reviewing all our channels and making sure they are fit for purpose, supporting a business that is fast paced and going through change and developing the team to make sure we are doing the best we can to support our colleagues on the frontline.

What did you learn last year and what’s on the agenda for 2014 for your department?