Our thoughts from SmileExpo17

On Tuesday I attended the Simply Communicate Smile Expo in London. It was a day of learning for me in some areas and a day that left me wondering how many more years it will take for us to move forward with the digital workplace agenda we have been talking about for years already…

50% of the workforce will be millennials by 2020

So what? As Jakkii Musgrave @slybeer pointed out on twitter – they are already in the workplace and already using emails. The argument that we all need to stop using emails because of millennials is bonkers. Yes email isn’t the right tool for everything and yes people use it wrongly, but it equally has a place. I constantly hear people using email as an excuse not to do anything “email doesn’t work for me, I need to see you or talk to you” well that’s all lovely but if we had to do that for everything, we would be living in meetings which many of us are already!

Having heard Simon Sinek discuss the world of millennials just the other week the topic remains top of mind, but after researching and writing about them for my CIPR Diploma a few years ago there is little to suggest we need to rapidly change the use of email inside organisations.

The intranet is a place for static content and the collaboration platforms should sit alongside it

I could not disagree more with this statement and I think it’s time to redefine an intranet. In a previous role, I was lucky enough to have a relationship with IT that meant we were able to work together to try and change how our business communicated. Working with IBM we launched channels that were integrated, talked to each other, with an end goal of having one platform that could launch you to anything seamlessly – no it isn’t finished and yes user adoption was incredibly challenging.

The thought that everyone is picking up shiny new collaboration tools to sit alongside other intranet platforms, getting users to go to lots of different places and then only measuring the click rates or the likes or the number of people with profile pictures is not where we should be – where is the conversation about the content and engagement?

How do you define a digital workplace?

The session on digital workplace – hype vs reality was run by the team at Simply Communicate and was probably the best session of the day for me. It was interactive, prompted discussion and debate and was the most honest about where we are now. You can see the 6 definitions we were exploring on the day below but for me, it has to be number 6 with a little edit so my definition of a digital workplace is:

The digital workplace is the experience of work delivered through the collective use of connected devices, software and interfaces to drive efficiencies and engagement through the organisation.

What was equally good about this session was the discussion about moving from a personalised intranet, to a social intranet to the digital workplace and I really do think we are still far away from all being comfortable with a social intranet let alone a digital workplace.

Is the answer something like Workplace by Facebook because the majority of users will know the functionality? Maybe. But the fundamental challenge of connecting people at work who serve customers, without mobile phones to hand and an expectation to use their own device in their own time is not something a new channel can fix overnight.

Chatbots and ducks

I cannot thank Sharon O’Dea enough for her session on chatbots. This is an area still quite unknown so I was grateful for the chance to hear more and understand how they could be applied internally and throughout the exercises it became clear we can naturally complicate scenarios that should be simple. As an internal communicator interested in driving efficiencies through digital communication, this sort of advancement is fascinating for our industry.

The power of the duck has been chatted about since Alive with Ideas hosted their Ask the Guru event with CIPR Inside earlier in May and it’s an interesting concept. What I loved about this session was that it was more about the broader internal comms arena than just social and gave us all ideas on how to creatively create an adoption campaign inside an organisation using some new techniques.

Getting the basics right and the importance of adoption

The final session was a reminder about the importance of project planning and I’m thankful again for my IT project manager for teaching me some of these skills already. Adrienne took us all through some good principles around project management and while it seems really heavy – taking the time to do this will make the project much easier.

As I left the event on Tuesday I felt motivated and a little saddened that our journey to create a digital workplace still seems far away. The investment from organisations to do this and do it well is still minimal and the adoption piece is always the bit that gets left behind. To be an internal communicator today your drive and tenacity must be excellent to drive through the business case, the budget requirements, the resource and the ongoing development. Do we really need it? Yes…go and spend a day working in an organisation where there is no collaboration platform in place and you will easily see how difficult it is to work efficiently across multiple sites and countries in today’s business world.

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.

Smile London – let’s stop feeling bad about our internal social media

Today I attended my second, albeit not consecutively, simply communicate SMiLE event in London. The format was much the same as before but my reasons for attending very different. Now four months into the new role I need to learn more about Office 365 so I was on the hunt to learn more.

There were some great sessions throughout the day that prompted some food for thought and some great research shared from both Lecko and People Lab about using Enterprise Social Networks (ESNs) inside our businesses. Thank you to Wedge for the table session on news and the intranet – the most valuable part of my day.

The biggest thing I left with today was a sense of the need to stop. There are new tools entering this marketplace every year, if not every month. The current new tool is Facebook Workplace and while it was great to hear more about it – I’m already on my journey with Microsoft so for me, the session was interesting but not practical for application. And now I feel bad. Now I feel like I am letting my business down by not having the latest and greatest tool out there – and this isn’t the case.

With the constant new tools entering the space we are bombarded with messages about why one is better than the other and how you should have this or that technology because it is more in line with how we communicate today – but the truth is, it is a big investment. It is a big investment of time and money to launch and community manage an ESN. The companies that built them years ago – IBM, Microsoft – are constantly evolving them and if we have bought them, we need to nurture that relationship and learn together to adapt to how people change in the way they communicate.

Throwing out one tool for another won’t solve our problems. Yes we probably need to be quicker at adapting to change and integrating these platforms with others, and we also need to make sure our comms teams have the skills to evolve with the needs of the people and the functionality the tools can bring. But we can do all this if we work together.

I had some brilliant conversations today, learnt a vast amount about what I need to do for success in my organisation and got myself back into reality in knowing that I’m on the right track. But my ask for the future of any event about social media inside organisations is this:

  • Tell us how others have adapted and grown something they invested in years ago
  • Tell us how the strategy for collaboration has been a long-term wow – to quote intranetizen – and not a big bang launch
  • Understand where the audience is on the journey – some having nothing and others have had office 365 for the last few years and need to improve it
  • Tell us how to drive adoption, measure success and work with what we have to make it amazing

Everyone’s journey is different but we are all on one. I don’t want to feel like I’m behind the curve because I don’t have the latest and greatest – I want to feel proud of the tool I have, how it has grown, developed and adapted to the needs of my internal customers and I want my peers to celebrate (and when needed commiserate) with me. There was an audible laugh in the room when IBM Connections came up – I wonder how many people in the room have ever used it or know that it has been voted the number 1 platform for 5 years, ahead of SharePoint, for functionality. I know because I used it for years and while adoption remains a challenge – when people can see what it can do, they are blown away.

Let’s stop being trendy and get back to being functional – helping our colleagues collaborate and our businesses be more efficient – that is, after all, the goal (for me anyway).

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.

The Big Yak the 3rd

2016 sees the IC Crowd turn 4 and the big yak turn 3. After a year off it was great to be back with over 120 communicators thrashing out the trends in our industry.

With 30 sessions running throughout the day it was great to step away from the day job and take a deep dive into the issues affecting our industry and talk about the challenges keeping us awake at night.

It was great to see the conversation has moved on from the world of digital and surprising to see some of the traditional topics coming up – leadership comms, measurement, team structures and employee engagement surveys were a few of the sessions that I managed to either attend or hear about.

The big yak is an unconference and for those that haven’t been to one before – this means the attendees set the agenda and if you’re in a session that you aren’t benefitting from you can move on to another.

It was wonderful to see so many new faces and thank you everyone for bringing ideas and topics to the day that meant the conversation and discussion flowed. A big thanks to Luke Mepham for running a session on Office 365 – I now understand so much more about what Microsoft are trying to do and I feel armed with the right questions for IT as well knowing my gut instinct on the approach is right.

Here are a few of my highlights:

  • Pecha Kucha – the art of concise presentations (20 seconds per slide – image only – and 20 slides). One organisation does these for all new employees and links it to their intranet profile page. So every person in the organisation has a video about them – including the CEO
  • Professional membership is really important to our profession – finding the right place for us to learn and grow is paramount to our success. Making sure we continue to look outside London is equally important
  • Creating a brand for leadership style – one example was of a CEO who created a presentation with a drawing style – this then became his style moving forwards so everyone knew it was from him and that it was an authentic piece of comms
  • Who is your leader? For many inside the organisation the leader is not the CEO or the board. There are middle managers that are just as important to those on the frontline and that they see as their leadership. Leaders don’t have to be the CEO of the organisation – remember that for many their leader is very local
  • Not all Execs want to be famous – and that’s ok. Keep the authenticity and find their voice inside the organisation
  • Collaboration at every level – If you have some of the Exec out and about then make sure they are sharing that with their own team within the Exec
  • CAVE employees – Constantly Against Virtually Everything – loved this phrase which I have seen across Twitter since the event
  • The importance of storytelling – the thing that makes us human is our ability to tell stories and recount them. But what does it really mean and how do we embrace this inside our businesses
  • Grappling with the speed of comms from different departments is something many talking about – the scatter gun approach of information coming out to the internal audience can be terrifying – how can we help?

I have about four other blog posts in my head to deep dive on some of these topics which I will post in the coming weeks as well. As one of the organisers it’s easy to get lost in the organisation of the day but I’m so pleased I was able to attend sessions and that both Rachel and Dana were too – we set up the Crowd after meeting up regularly and thinking it would be great for other people to share ideas and challenges – being able to be part of the Crowd on days like Saturday make the whole thing so much more meaningful.

Why I will continue to support CIPR – if elected!

I have been part of the CIPR team for a number of years, supporting Council and the Inside group as they continue to strive for greatness in our profession. I believe in the power of communication and I believe in the integrity of PR.

I have worked in communication for over 10 years and have spent most of my career in-house. I have covered advertising, defence, retail and more recently pharmaceutical industries focussing on both internal and external communication. I believe the two are intrinsically linked but are fundamentally different. I see my role in CIPR as being a voice of the in-house comms professional – ensuring the professional development is right for everyone and that internal communications is recognised as a standalone communications skill.

I believe the members of CIPR deserve to be kept informed, updated and engaged in the work that we do and that they should be connected to each other in a way that fosters collaboration and development. As professionals it is our duty to make sure we are delivering world-class communications and PR for the organisations we serve and we can only do this through using the power of the network we have. As a collective group we will be able to raise the profile of communications and PR and what it can do for business, and we can raise the standards that we operate in. I want us to build a great and respected membership organisation that brings ethics, integrity, respect, diversity and engagement to the fore.

I want to continue to serve our members by sitting on Council, sitting on the Professional Development and Membership Committee (PDMC) and working with the Inside group so that I can be the bridge between those working in house and those setting the standards. I will listen, I will support and I will make the time to ensure that CIPR is serving all our members in what they need to become the best communications and PR professional they can be.