The importance of communication in your organisation

Earlier this month I hosted a workshop with Neil Tomalin to discuss the importance of communication inside organisations. As a roundtable discussion we wanted to speak to those who don’t work in a communications function to help them explore their own communication style, understand a bit more about internal communication and its significance in the workplace and draw on some of Neil’s research into authenticity.

What makes someone a good communicator?

We kicked off the breakfast session exploring the traits of a good or bad communicator. Worryingly, it was hard for anyone to give an example of someone who is the best in their business – which just reaffirmed the need for the workshop! 

The list from the group was:

  • Thought about the audience
  • Limits emails so that they have purpose
  • Responds timely
  • Uses a mix of methods (phone, face to face etc)
  • Brings a human element to it – not afraid to not be perfect
  • Influencing skills
  • Authentic without spin – honest even in uncertainty

It was clear that there are some leaders or people in teams who are naturally good communicators, but because this isn’t consistent across the business it can make others look even worse. This part of the discussion cements my view that all leaders and line managers should have a communications coach and/or communication training.

Language is more important than ever

When it comes to the worst communicators, the use of jargon was a big factor. People don’t want to say they don’t understand something and the language of the business can often be riddled with acronyms or phrases. We know that theory suggests only 7% of total communication is language, 38% is tone and 55% is body language. Today, we use digital communication over most other forms and as a result, the words we use are becoming more and more important – don’t get sucked into the acronyms and the jargon in the workplace – remember there are new people starting all the time who would be lost without clear, plain English.

We are all responsible for communicating effectively

We based the conversation around my definition of internal communication which is: Everything that gets said and shared inside an organisation. As a function, its role is to curate, enable and advise on best practise for organisations to communicate effectively, efficiently and in an engaging way.

What can often happen is an assumption that someone is responsible when in fact, no one is. We all need to take responsibility as individuals and/or leaders to look at how we communicate. We need to explore how we ensure what we say is received in the way we intended – how often do we check that what has been said has been understood?

Being authentic will build trust – be adaptable but own your style

Neil’s research into authenticity is a great insight into how we behave in meetings. Many in the room shared examples of how they adapt depending on the nature of the meeting or the people involved. This is very common and no bad thing, but my counsel would be to ensure that your consistent with some elements. People need to know ‘who’ is coming to the meeting – if you’re always different, people won’t get a sense of who you are and your ability to influence and gain trust will be lost.

Our five next steps

  1. No organisation recognised good communication with an annual award. What would be the impact if a simple measure like this was introduced into your organisation? Would it mean you could identify positive role models more easily?
  2. Create your own definition or share the one we discussed and explore what this means for your team.
  3. Create an open conversation by asking your boss, peers and team this question: what type of working relationship would you like to have with me?
  4. Create your own ‘feedback loop’ to assess the effectiveness of your communication style. Do this simply by asking work colleagues about the timeliness, clarity and appropriate nature of the messages you send.
  5. Use the 5-character card to improve your observation skills at meetings. Are you a mouse, cat, dog, owl or shark? What roles are your colleagues assuming? To an impartial observer, what messages do the way you run meetings deliver about your company culture?

This was the first in what we hope will turn into a series of conversations about the importance of communication in the workplace. With many organisations not investing in an internal communications function (although the trend is that this is improving) we are keen to help operations directors, finance directors, managing directors and others understand how important their communication style is and how it can impact business performance.

If you’d like us to run a dedicated workshop in your office just get in touch and we can create something bespoke for your team:

Mapping our careers is no easy task

Last week I co-hosted an event for CIPR Inside with Angela Gostling to discuss the career pathway model for internal communicators. There was representation from IOIC, Melcrum, in-house practitioners and recruitment agencies all interested in discussing how we can understand more about the skills needed to be an internal comms professional.

Our objectives were to:

  • Stimulate professionalism amongst practitioners
  • Help internal communications practitioners plot a career path to their ultimate career goal
  • Closer alignment to other professions – such as law, engineering, HR, marketing
  • Link to a CIPR-wide professional development project to create an online career planning model.

This set the scene for some conversations around competencies and skills, exploring what we do and how we do it. We explored how qualifications fit into the industry and had some debate around whether you can map the career model for internal comms in isolation.

What is interesting is that many people came into the profession through various roles. Some worked in journalism, others in the industry or the business and ‘fell’ into internal comms and some of us have been in comms since leaving university/college. But where does a qualification come into the career? And where is our industry? Is it even a profession yet?

I noted some key points made during the 90 minute conversation:

There are different levels of IC everywhere

Every company and industry is different. I heard once that for every 1,000 people in the organisation there should be 1 person in the internal comms team; by that logic I should have a team of 10! My biggest challenge in the industry is that it seems anyone can be given the task of internal comms. It can be someone who is experienced, with qualifications and internal comms knowledge or it can be an add-on role for a PA or HR professional. How can you map a career pathway when there is no fixed understanding of where and what internal comms really is. There are so many varying degrees of what the function does; some produce magazines or company wide emails and others are strategic partners to the business – the scales is huge.

We did agree that the business needs to take ownership of internal comms and at the same time we need to do what is expected, but also surprise our CEOs and stakeholders. We shouldn’t be asking what do you need, we should be finding out what their challenges are and then we can find the solution. I have said this before and will continue to say it; we need to be the experts in our field and own the communications.

Being the glue

We need to understand the business and how people are connected across it. We need to be able to speak in the language of our business, knowing what is important to different people and different departments. I was told just last week; “I need you to be the glue” and this is something we also discussed. It is our role to bring people together and make connections across the business. This became quite a passionate debate and something some felt should be a key focus for the career model of internal comms.

GP Vs Consultant

We referenced the T model during the presentation and had a great medical analogy from one of the delegates. He described the internal communicator as a GP and that sometimes the problem needs to be referred to a consultant or an expert. I loved this. The GP role seemed very close to reality and certainly in my role there is always a need to bring in the experts for projects that involve video or design work. So what would make up the skills of the consultants? And should every ‘GP’ have some understanding of these?

What we do and how we do it

We showed the chart below to the delegates and after some debate around what those skills and competencies are we also agreed that this list explains quite nicely what internal comms is all about:

What and how we do it

As always, a few statement takeaways

  • You cannot take IC expertise and apply it across all industries and business – it is not text book
  • Hybrid roles are needed more in current climate
  • Specialist roles are needed to manage change and transformation programmes at the moment
  • Leaders are not always where they are because they are good communicators
  • Balance between learning and application – you don’t always get the chance to manage a crisis even though you learn the text book approach

The debate and discussion continues so please take part!

Melcrum’s Strategic Communication Management Summit: Day One

For those that did attend or could not make it – here are some of the highlights from Day One at this years Melcrum SCM. If you want to keep up to speed throughout tomorrow check out #melcrumscm on Twitter!

Cascade Vs Dialogue
A main topic for the day – how do you get people talking in your organisation?

  • PricewaterhouseCooper talked about their leadership communities and the conference or forums they have behind closed doors. Their most recent event saw a change and they launched a microsite/blog called ‘One Conversation’ alongside the event – ever the sceptic they anticipated a few hundred subscribers, but in reality they got over 2,500. Proving that many people inside a business, no matter what level, have a thirst for information about who they work for and where the business is going
  • HSBC talked about moving employees from engaged to mobilised – challenging that you can have a very engaged workforce but if they are not mobilised in the right way then they could be doing more harm than good
  • Engagement isn’t good enough anymore. As demonstrated by Involve, you need involvement in the strategy and an emotional connection for it to encourage you to go over and above what you need to do in your job
  • Blurring the lines between internal and external communication – information can be used across both platforms and often external news can be used internally to reinforce the importance of a message

5 golden rules when preparing managers to lead or facilitate dialogue

  • This is a business challenge, not a communications challenge
  • Identify key stakeholders, get them in early and keep them close
  • One size does not fit all (another big theme for the day) especially if this is a global project. Flexibility is essential on content, technology and distribution
  • Focus on the process and culture first. Technology comes later
  • Measurement is critical for effectiveness and credibility.

Employee Surveys
This came up early on in the day with PricewaterhouseCooper commenting on doing them twice a year in the Keynote session. Another speaker later mentioned it was every six months and it made me wonder just how often other companies do this? I’m sure it is on the agenda of every internal communicator – or does it sit more with HR?

This also begged the question about ‘survey fatigue’ and how you avoid that when you constantly seek feedback. Answers from the panel included making sure your audience know you will do something with the feedback and further responses from Twitter were:

  • Restrict your survey to a single question and do it more often (via J0N1)
  • Value return, give a little to get a little (ellisa31)

How to calculate ROI on employee engagement
(Pearson Education)

Now I never profess to be one with numbers, and this was a hard one to get your head around but the overview was quite simple and there were five key points to take away from it:

  1. Establish levels of engagement through a survey
  2. Find out the business KPIs such as sickness, turnover, performance
  3. Look at the correlation between them. In almost all cases you will see a direct link between engagement, performance, sickness absence and employee turnover
  4. Identify upper quartile KPI – the gap is the saving you can make through effective comms
  5. Introduce ‘engagement interventions’: aligning people to the organisation’s vision, reward and recognition, health and wellbeing, recruitment and retention, internal communications, leadership, combined approach strategy.

 CIPD were quoted throughout and apparently have a collection of case studies to support the correlation point.

Some good thoughts throughout the day…

  • Smiling people is not an effective return for the CEO or MD when it comes to internal comms and ROI
  • Measuring your online system using hits? Suggestion that HITS is actually an acronym for How Idiots Track Success
  • Engaging frontline employees is the hardest part when it comes to change communication
  • Which communication channel engages people in change? Over two-thirds selected leadership (Towers Perrin research)
  • Ask the board how they prefer to communicate and help them use the platform. Some may want to blog, others tweet and some face to face. Use their style with them and find a way to get them talking
  • Getting employees to do video diaries during change can provide a credible way of communicating. At MAERSK people watched their peers go through the curve and made it real for everyone.

So after a day immersed in internal comms this all made me think about what is really feasible and how you get the walls to fall down…

  • Would the CEO of your business take part in a ‘brown paper bag lunch’ and take notes from what his colleagues talk about? Would they have the time to engage in dialogue and is cascade the easiest answer?
  • Does dialogue still have the same issues as cascade or will it open the door to peer-to-peer communication and therefore encourage a more online approach where appropriate?
  • MAERSK did a fantastic presentation about engaging a workforce during change, but they discount a huge 6,000 employees at sea in their employee figures and the Head of Comms admitted it is a challenge they haven’t yet overcome
  • How much can internal communicators take credit for when it comes to ROI – what about the other functions and how many of us would go into an FD’s office and say “I will save you half a million pounds with effective communication”?

I welcome your thoughts and comments…

Day two overview

Internal Comms Surveys for those offline

Having blogged for the past year with theblueballroom and recently featuring on Melcrum’s blog i’m hoping my own blog will help continue looking into the role of internal comms and how it develops in the business i am in now.

I wanted my first blog on here to cover a recent discussion i started on LinkedIn about a month ago. For those that followed the blog with Melcrum you’ll know that i am starting the internal comms function from scratch and that i have been looking at ways to survey all 10,000 employees in the business. This is a challenge as 80% don’t have access to a computer.

So, after putting the question out there, and after many people said the thread was helpful, for those not on linked in here are the top tips:

  • Take a sample – If your workforce has at least 2,000 employees, you only need to hear from 500 respondents for a very good margin of error of +/- 4%.
  • You might get more responses if you use a FREEPOST mechanism
  • Send it out with payslips
  • Spend time communicating that the survey is coming
  • Keep the survey short and simple
  • Consider telephone or SMS
  • Make sure you have business support to help and your senior exec / leadership understand why you’re doing it and they back it
  • Employees respond to direct managers better so engage them early on
  • Consider confidentiality to encourage responses
  • Keep telling people what you will do with the responses so they know it is worth completing

The full discussion can be found here and i would like to thank everyone who responded- it has helped me decide who to survey and how to do it!