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?

Yakkety Yak!

Picture1Yesterday The IC Crowd hosted The Big Yak in Richmond. Over 130 internal comms people came together on a Saturday for debate, discussion and idea generation on all things internal comms. As one of the founders of The IC Crowd it was a great experience to organise the day and something we are all very proud of! So while it is still fresh in my mind – here are a few thoughts from me….

 Thanks to expert facilitation from Benjamin Ellis the crowd were soon put at ease about what to expect from an unconference; It is about sharing ideas with like minded people, using your two feet to move between sessions that interest you and having a voice to set the agenda. After a few ice breakers to get people talking the post it notes were flying in and the board of topics complete.

The Big Yak Agenda

So what was on the agenda?

Session one

  • Social media KPIs
  • Intranets
  • Measurement – from hits to habits
  • Creating creative strategy

Session two

  • Sneakily social/social for leaders
  • Blurring the lines between internal and external communication
  • How do we evaluate and use feedback
  • Changing role of internal comms

Session three

  • How do you define employee engagement
  • How to communicate with hard to reach employees
  • Importance of editorial
  • Virtual collaboration

Session four

  • Hard to reach can do digital too
  • Traditional tactics using social approach
  • Engaging the senior team to be trusted advisors
  • Overcoming cultural differences

Session five

  • Video
  • Internal comms in redundancies/economic downturn
  • Improving morale quickly
  • How IC leaders can improve their comms

Session six

  • How to win more budget
  • Pension Auto-enrollment
  • Gamification
  • Internal social/digital/weight around our necks

As you can see not everyone can be in every session so it relies on everyone talking to each other and sharing news and updates through Twitter and other social platforms. You can see all the tweets here but having had a look through and attended a couple of sessions, here are my highlights:

Social media and intranets came up throughout the day with a lot of sessions ending on a digital note. The session on KPIs was great as people talked about really drilling into the need for social as the starting point. KPIs should include reduction in email and idea generation and content will be weighted differently – CEO blog Vs one about where to go on holiday. But with so much talk about the hard to reach audience you have to ask; does everyone need to be using the channel?

As a channel, social continues to get a debate going and one controversial comment of the day was that websites are for users and intranets are for organisations to tell employees stuff. I wasn’t in this session but apparently there was an audible gasp! How we structure our intranets or social platforms needs to reflect the way users think about the company, not the other way around.

The Big Yak

Designing and building a social platform for the business is great, if the culture is ready. Sometimes we forget that if the culture is wrong then trying to introduce technology internally is more likely to fail. Social media is not for everyone/business – if you’re going to use it make sure you’re not just making noise in an empty room and don’t force leaders onto the platform. In the age of transparency and honesty people will know it isn’t really them.

It wasn’t all about channels though. Lots of discussion about the role of internal comms in the organisation as well – does your comms answer the question: “why would I care about this?”

The internal comms role should be creating, nurturing and refreshing the conditions for employee engagement. Blurring the lines between internal and external is a huge theme for us at the moment and it’s no surprise with comments like: “Employees are our primary external communications channel” leading to the conclusion that internal comms enables external comms.

And where is our value? Someone said to me after the event “One of the main things I heard today is that people don’t feel valued in internal comms.” I really do believe that we have to fight to add value and it can be hard but if you want to make an impact you have to have a voice. You have to be able to talk the language of the business. Are IC pros commercially aware? Are we good enough at selling the commercial benefits of what we do? Can we articulate ROI?

Telling a story has never been more powerful. Our employees need to be at the heart of our stories. When it comes to measurement we have to be able to make the data tell a story – it’s not always about words; we have to know about numbers too.

It was great to see an agenda that had such variety – sessions on channels and on skills. We often get so caught up in the channel that we forget the message. Line manager communication was also a hot topic. At the IOIC conference earlier this year we talked about the art of communication. For me, this is something we need to train and educate our managers and leaders in and given the choice, I think money will be better spent on our people than on a shiny tool!

As always, a few tweets comments that just made me think:

  • From content creators to content curators
  • The fixed line between investor relations and internalcomms is the real barrier between converging internal and external comms
  • You have to say something 7 times for people to remember it. Now to think of 7 ways to say the same thing
  • Learnt something new – the concept of “Working out loud” = Narrating your work + Observable work
  • Speak clearly, speak plainly and remember to keep the messages simple
  • Cultural barriers aren’t always international

As the day came to a close I had a few minutes to wonder through the building and there was something lovely about seeing conversations happening everywhere. People in sessions, people having smaller chats round tables… the conversations continued anywhere and that was the whole point. It was a truly inspiring day that wouldn’t have been possible without our sponsors and everyone taking part. An unconference is what you make it and based on the feedback, it seems like everyone made it a great day!

TBY sponsors

Twitter, Brands and Employees: Are you an ambassador online?

url-1-300x212Tonight I tuned into #swchat on Twitter where the topic of employees, brands and social media was the discussion point. The debate opened with the question: Are employees on social media ambassadors for their brand even if their role is not a customer facing one? It was a timely debate given the article I read this morning called Why Twitter Disclaimers Like ‘Views Are My Own’ Won’t Save Your Job. It also nicely follows a theme already bubbling in my mind about doing a Digital Learning Week for our company following the case study from the FT heard at various conferences this year.

So what followed in the debate? The 9-5 working day has gone and people are online all the time. Our digital profiles are all over the web and there is always a way to find out who someone works for – suggesting the link to the company is always there. My question is should the employees be ambassadors and engage with customers and what happens when the brand or the company don’t want employees to take that role. Do you educate and train but discourage participation or encourage discussions with customers?

The social era is one that requires a change in lifestyle and working relationships. Training and educating your teams gives them the chance to have a voice but it shouldn’t be expected; many employees are happy to do their job and stay away from the hype. So is a social media policy the answer and does this extend to the line between personal and professional?

The conversation continued to flow and the question about whether companies should encourage or prevent their employees from being brand ambassadors was raised. I think the overall answer was yes but the issue of common sense on social media came to the front. What is common sense and has it gone from the Gen Z population? It also depends on the company you work for. If you’re trying to create a social business inside this needs to bleed outside and this really leads us back to the issue of trust. Surely when you employe someone you are trusting them to be an ambassador of your brand. Giving your employees the brand to promote will give you an army of people marketing your product or service and this will beat any competitor with a marketing department any day!

Handing over your brand is not an easy task and with the lack of control that social brings it is easy to understand why companies fear the channel. Control is the default setting for so many companies and moving away from this to motivate teams with autonomy and giving them some of that control is always going to be hard. This brings us back to the question of that social media policy as well.

So is it possible to separate work and personal social media presence or are you always an ambassador for your brand? Personally I tweet as me and talk about the industry and what I’m doing. I don’t talk about what the business is doing unless it is a new opening or something that our customers might be interested in. I’m aware that I can be linked to the company, but as an employee that loves my job and believes in the integrity of the brand this isn’t difficult. So if you’re not an ambassador of the brand when you’re down the pub then don’t associate yourself with it online.

The last question asked what top tips can be shared to help employees on social media become better ambassadors for their brand?

  • BE FORGIVING with employees when mistakes are made. Send the right message of empowerment and trust
  • Think before you leap
  • Listen and really pay attention, create a space for open communication and build the Community! Don’t just push stuff
  • difficult to sense tone online so you should NEVER assume a tone in case you are wrong
  • Live your company values and the rest will follow, how can you then not be an excellent brand ambassador
  • Become social” – Influence not control

The general consensus was that everyone should have a social media policy, educate employees in the tools and decide whether to encourage participation. It all comes down to you and what your common sense and the culture in your organisation. A great debate and one that will continue in my brain for a while and no doubt in the industry for many more years to come!

The game of gamification

JoystickLast week I supported and attended my first IOIC Conference in Bristol. The three days were brilliant and one of my highlights was the session on gamification. Hosted by Tim Hall from Cognify the room listened intently to his overview of how gamification can be used in business, properly. Then we played a little game ourselves and I asked Tim to pull together his findings to share with you here.

Over to you Tim:

The game of gamification

I had the pleasure of presenting some of the theory behind gamification at 2013 IOIC conference last week and was very fortunate to have a room full of friendly and professional communicators (especially for my first public speaking gig!). Also included for first time was an exercise that I created to demonstrate the effects that game mechanics have on audiences. So, a newly created gamification workshop and a hundred strangers, what could go wrong?

Well nothing….In fact, the exercise gave some startling results and insight into how people behave using even the simplest of game mechanics.

The exercise was in two parts – the first was an individual achievement activity that used a simple objective and a sprinkling of completive spirit to obtain an initial benchmark result.

The second part is where it got very interesting. In the second part, I introduced team achievement using the same activity, but this time thickly laid on the competitive spirit. In this half, each of teams could influence the outcome of the game through a team colour scoring mechanism.

My first observation was how eerily quiet the room was during the second activity; it seemed that the opportunity of influencing the whole game gave everyone so much focus and determination they had little room for conversation.

I then noticed the team on the table directly in front of me collectively agreeing to hide their results so they wouldn’t draw attention from other teams, and in turn protect their score. According to Bartle gamer psychology, these individuals displayed the classic ‘killer’ gamer trait, individuals who thrive on competing with others and bending the rules of play to ensure their success – it couldn’t have been anymore enlightening.

While I find my observations interesting, they are nowhere near as compelling as the cold hard numbers. The total room results showed a marked increase of over 61% in the second part of the exercise. Even taking a little poetic licence from self-scoring into the equation, it’s still a huge uplift in productivity. Time for gamification workshop mark II, I think!

User Generated Video – letting the genie out of its bottle

With only a few weeks to go until the annual IOIC Conference Mark Smith, Founder and Owner of ipadio (sponsors at the event) took some time to tell me (and you) a bit more about where the video trend is going and what you can expect to see from them at the event. Check out this video to see Mark in action showing you what he is talking about below…

It’s generally recognised that great quality corporate videos can do more to enhance a brand than most other media put together. The mix of moving picture, fat beats, smart dialogue and the inevitable voice over by Alexander Armstrong can move the most stubbornly cynical colleague to positive action.

But it’s a wee bit expensive. I first commissioned a 30 minute training video when I worked as an Environmental Manager in a large engineering company back in the 1990’s, I was told the rule of thumb was a grand a minute. Extensive research today (okay so I rang a few pals still doing that kind of work) suggests that’s not far off true today.

But in that time two fundamental things have changed: smartphones popped up and bandwidth increased. So most of us now carry in our pockets a device with a many mega pixel movie camera and a connection that means video can be popped online in a matter of seconds.

That doesn’t of course mean we’ve all just become Martin Scorsese, if your lighting is poor, your hands as wobbly as a 1970’s TV celebrity when there’s a knock at the door and your thumbs over the mic – you will not be winning any awards any time soon.

However with the right kit and a tiny bit of training the costs for corporates to get video in and out of their teams is incredibly cheap. So it was with great pleasure that we’re launching a new way of collecting and distributing UGV content at the IoIC Bristol Conference – where, on the opening evening, I get to share with a willing audience (I will be providing the most free drinks by the way!) our experiences as official suppliers at the London2012 Games where we supplied 50 athletes with apps that allowed them to record little video vignettes of their ‘behind the scenes’ experiences at the greatest show on earth. 700 videos and 500,000 views later we reckoned we’d cracked it!

What’s special about the IoIC event is that we will be launching our new IOS apps specifically tailored to Internal Communicators – which allows you to collect audio, phone casts, video, photos and even submit articles on pads, pods, phablets, tablets, phones and pretty much anything with a keyboard.

I’m also bringing a full on studio with lights and backdrop to capture those precious behind the scenes conference moments.

I will of course be doing that whilst dressed as a genie 😉

Dr Mark K. Smith, CEO ipadio.com
Founder, owner and free drink provider from ipadio.com – who help people reach their hard to reach.

Time to future-proof your internal comms

This year I have been working with the IOIC to pull together the content for their annual conference in May. There are so many conferences out there these days that claim to look at the future of internal comms but I am really proud of the work we have done to get this agenda together. Led by Suzanne Peck, the team have been working with industry and agencies across the UK to find the best case studies and the best people to talk about the future of internal comms. I am passionate about the fact that this should not be communicators talking, but business leaders and function heads who we all work with every day.

More details of the programme are here but a bulleted overview is also below – anything take your fancy?!

Wednesday 22 May (evening)

  • Masterclasses: three ‘speed’ sessions to bring you up to date with the future outlook
  • Panel debate: how do we futureproof IC? Hear from Directors for Change and Transformation, and HR directors and colleagues from Marketing and Brand about the skills they expect from their IC partners in the future and how they see our, and their, roles being mutually beneficial.

Thursday 23 May

  • Brooke Kinsella, MBE, talking about engaging an audience in the dangers of knife crime. How she targeted this audience on a subject that is both personal and on the agenda of the Government
  • How the FT is adapting internal communications for a digital age. I cannot wait to hear about this as I have already some information about what they did and I already want to do it in my organisation
  • Engaging the London 2012 Games makers with Linda Moir. Hear about engaging a volunteer workforce with probably more messages than we could dream of!
  • Digital a la carte. Hear from three people who implemented different digital solutions into their organisations; Jive in Deutsche Bank, Yammer for UK Trade and Invesment, Sharepoint at Coca-Cola
  • Framing the future with Deborah Hume who will be exploring the strategic role internal communications needs to play in business
  • The psychology of gamification. As a key trend for 2013 we all need to find out a bit more about this ‘buzz word’ and what it can really mean for our businesses
  • Cisco engaging with Gen Y – as a millenial I am always fascinated by what we are ‘branded’ and how we will lead our organisations in the future
  • A bit of learning: how to use the voice to influence. We are all very good at commenting on other people’s communication style so any opportunity to learn and develop ourselves is something I will be grabbing with both hands

Friday 24 May

  • Ethics and Severn Trent Water. Andrew Gardner, Head of Employee Engagement, will be joined by Isabel Collins from Radley
    Yeldar to talk about how Severn Trent faced up to the contravention and the steps they took to make things better
  • How AstraZeneca developed and empowered its people managers to thrive in a world of unprecedented change
  • Engaging through low-cost digital solutions. With budgets always being squeezed and costs of digital solutions sounding high facing the challenge of new tools with no money is always tough
  • Leading a disparate workforce – NHS Employers. As an internal communicator with an audience of offline teams this is an area of industry we always seem to forget at conferences
  • Information sharing in a connected world with Euan Semple – having heard him speak a #thefuturestory yesterday I am already looking forward to hearing from him again

The conference closes at 1330 on the Friday and is being held in Bristol. If this is enough to make you sign up, find out more here