The Big Yak 2018 – what internal communicators are talking about

Last week I hosted The Big Yak with my fellow IC Crowd co-founders Rachel Miller and Dana Leeson.

It was our fourth event and our biggest one yet with 160 internal communication professionals gathered together on a Saturday to set the agenda for the day ahead. These were the topics they chose to discuss and you can see that remote workers, leadership coaching and developing our own skills were all high on the agenda.

I managed to sit in a few of the conversations so here are my thoughts from the event:

We are forgetting we are human beings
Every conversation I have at the moment seems to be about this. About our need to feel connected to each other or the organisation we work for. The rise of digital channels means our investment has been in the technology not the people and there is growing recognition that this needs to change. We know that the investment in internal communication is often minimal but there was strong agreement in the discussions about remote workers (either physically remote or completely remote without access to technology etc.) and the need to invest in face-to-face.

Remote workers remain a huge challenge
With two sessions talking about remote workers it was no wonder that the conversations were lively and encouraging. Lessons were shared about launching apps, creating culture and purpose and also the role of the line managers. There was no one in the room who had totally ‘solved’ this challenge but the need to learn from each other here is huge. It’s the reason I’m doing research into this space this year and it’s clear to see why the hard to reach employee is on the top five barriers list from the Gatehouse research earlier this year.

Content is not just about the operation
We seem to have forgotten that content doesn’t always have to be about the work that needs to be done. There was a general consensus that fun was missing. The need for content that supports the culture, the social aspect of work and the relationships we try and cultivate was clear and it made me think about how many of us have a content strategy that sits alongside our channel strategy.

Neuroscience, psychology and digital
This is a big theme and it was apparent in several sessions I attended. Work is not somewhere we go, it’s something we do and our fulfilment of the work has never been higher on our personal agendas. Digital tools are unfulfilling, they don’t support the messages being communicated and they aren’t fit for purpose. We are all being asked to do more with less – what can that look like if the solution isn’t more digital channels?

Being a co-founder of the IC Crowd is so rewarding. We set it up to help internal communication professionals connect and The Big Yak was born out of the Crowd asking to get together. It is a day full of energy, discussion and insight and it would be nothing without passionate individuals willing to give up their Saturday to talk about how they can make work a better place. It is something I’m so incredibly proud of and it’s given me the chance to work with two fantastic ladies for over 10 years!  You can find out more about The Big Yak and read other write ups from the event here.

Who is the best communicator in your business?

Communication – the key component to getting relationships right – is often taken for granted, yet frequently trips up organisations when it goes wrong. Given the evidence that it is the root cause of so much trouble (large and small), you might assume that most reasonably sized organisations would have an internal communications strategy in place, but if research from CIPR, Gatehouse and VMA Group is to be believed, less than 50% of firms with an internal communications function have developed an active strategic plan.

This article was written in partnership with Neil Tomalin, as we plan to explore the themes below in a workshop on 21 June in London – book your ticket to secure your place!

Getting the basics right
What strikes you as you begin an investigation of this subject is the informality that surrounds it and yet how vital it is in order to be productive. One of the issues is just how you get started and the degree of support that businesses currently provide in deciding, for instance how to communicate internally and by what means? This sounds pretty simple, but what are the rules between using email, one-to-one communications, or meetings to convey a message and get things done? Just one example illustrates the point. It is, according to the latest research, 24 times more likely that you will get a ‘yes’ from a face-to-face meeting, rather than relying on an email or other forms of communication. Is this the root cause of why our diaries are so full?

Here’s one other question – can you name the best communicator in your business and to what extent do their communication skills get recognised and rewarded?

Relationship mapping
It is a funny old word ‘relationships’. It carries with it all sorts of connotations and yet is the lifeblood of how to get things done within a business. Forming effective business relationships is about communicating well. So when it comes to your organisation, think about the relationships that exist between departments, between the leadership team or between groups that need to work together. Explore how they operate and help them understand how to get the most out of their time. Understand when meetings happen, whether any are linked, the process for the meeting and help employees become the gatekeeper of their time.

Get the relationships between your employees right and the efficiencies will follow. But to get there, you have got to talk about it and can you honestly remember the last time you called a meeting or discussed how ‘relationships’ within your business were working? Very often this only happens when things have gone spectacularly wrong – that project has overrun again, or there is an issue with a major supplier. Frequently, a breakdown in communication lies at the heart of the problem.

Yet one source of help is normally very close at hand, borrowing an approach that for many years has been adopted by the sales division – relationship mapping. This process almost always focuses upon external customers by identifying key relationships and then putting together an action plan for winning new business. However, it is as relevant for a more systematic approach focusing upon internal relationships in order to achieve greater business efficiencies and reduce, amongst other things, silo mentality.

It is also about helping to tackle stress and maintaining good mental health. Research commissioned by Mind in 2013 found that work was the most stressful factor in people’s lives with one in three people saying their work life was either very or quite stressful.

Assessing your own style
This can be a very revealing exercise particularly in relation to the number of meetings in your diary. It is best done over a number of weeks to establish trends. The key questions to address are:-
1. How would you describe your own communication style?
2. Who is the gatekeeper of your time?
3. Do you have a sense of how much time you are spending in meetings each week?
4. How effective are the meetings you attend?
5. What is your preferred method of communication?
6. How might this be improved?

Learning through observation
To a large extent there is very little formal training around how you communicate in the workplace. New employees very quickly pick up upon hierarchy and the ‘norms’ that exist. They will observe if there is a casual meeting environment, or if it is more formal and will adapt their working style from what they see.

Attending your first meeting as a new employee provides a wealth of information. How does it feel? Do you get the sense that everyone is relaxed and happy to speak up? Are questions welcomed and clear answers given? In his latest research Neil Tomalin argues that this is not always the case. That attendees, rather than ‘being themselves’, adopt various different personas that can undermine the purpose of meetings and frustrate their effectiveness. Partly this role playing is influenced by the way in which the organisation does business, the degree of hierarchy etc. But, it is also impacted by the sheer volume of meetings that some people attend – put frankly – they simply have meeting fatigue!

Meetings aside, the point is that in every organisation there will be an optimum way of communicating and whilst in many organisations this will evolve organically and work well, this does not apply in every case, or enable individual employees to appreciate what works best for their own personal style.

Internal Communications – perfectly placed
If the organisation you work for has the resource to have an internal communications function, there is evidence to suggest that these internal resources are not being fully utilised (CIPR). When it comes to internal communication, business leaders are still unsure about the role it can play inside an organisation, but professional communicators exist and they are able to help other professionals, leaders and line managers form superior relationships, thus enabling the entire organisation to function better.

This is all the more surprising when you consider what, according to Jenni Field, the definition of internal communication includes:- ‘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.’

So ‘professional communicators’ do exist. How would you measure up if you met one?
Jenni Field and Neil Tomalin will be jointly hosting a communications workshop exploring the themes in this article on Thursday 21st June. To secure a place please contact either of us.

What is the state of the sector?

Last week I attended the Gatehouse (Gallagher Communications) State of the Sector research*. It was an insightful morning with some good debate in the room and a clear desire to further understand some of the data points.

The research shows the results from over 650 communication professionals representing more than 400 organisations and based all over the world. 57% said their remit was purely internal communications.

Our focus for the next 12 months:

  1. Communicating strategy, values and purpose
  2. Improving digital channels
  3. Enhancing leadership communications
  4. Supporting a change and/or transformation programme
  5. Developing/refreshing an internal comms strategy

How has this changed to previous years? Interestingly the top one has seen a drop by 5% taking it back to the level in 2016, although still top of the list, and the fourth point about supporting a change/transformation programme has seen a significant drop – 8% – the lowest it has been for several years.

The barriers to success:

  1. Poor line manager communication skills
  2. Internal technology not fit for purpose /legacy systems
  3. Hard to reach employees
  4. Volume of communication too high/lack of time for employees to read communications
  5. Lack of resource/budget/investment

The issue of technology and the hard to reach employees have both seen a significant rise in 2018 at 6% for both. Interestingly in the table you can see that the barrier of the hard to reach employee has risen up the list and in 2017 would have been at the bottom of the top five.

What I find interesting about these two points is the lack of correlation between the barriers and the focus for the next 12 months. The barrier of line manager communication has been on the list for a number of years, yet it never seems to make it into the focus list – what’s stopping us from investing the time and resource into getting this right?

The channel mix is shifting, and we aren’t seeing much change in the use of social channels

We still use email the most and regardless of effectiveness it comes out as the main channel for most audiences – leaders, line managers.  There is a rise in printed newsletters – and it’s not a small rise either with a 40% gap between the 2017 and 2018 data. I would suggest that we need to define a newsletter as to how it differs from a magazine, but I wonder if the rise is due to the difficulty in communicating with hard to reach employees.

The social channels piece was startling. Since 2014 our use of social channels is at best limited, followed by embryonic, non-existent and then advanced. At every event I have been to social media inside organisations comes up and yet we are still seeing little movement to the advanced stages. Is there an average time for the changes to take place? Is it a five-year journey and next year we will see some of these numbers really shift? I’m not sure. 

The research also shows that in 2017 75% of respondents were planning to invest in their digital channels and this year this has dropped by 5%. Is this because we are tired of trying to invest in systems that aren’t fit for purpose? Or because we need to focus on other things? Either way, improving digital channels was in the list for the focus for the next 12 months so I’m intrigued to know what this looks like, if it isn’t investment in either the platform, the training or the engagement.

There is an alignment issue

There is an 11% drop on the point that leaders and the internal communications team agree on the role and purpose of internal communications. There is a 6% drop in the internal comms function having a clearly articulated purpose and there is a 5% increase in the lack of clarity around the organisational strategy.

The research published by CIPR Inside in November 2017 highlighted the importance of aligning the function’s role with leadership – without it, success will be hard to reach. We know that defining internal communication is difficult given the broadness of the role and alignment inside your organisation is paramount to success. Seeing such a shift in these numbers is still a surprise and a trend I hope we can reverse in 2018.

Overall, I left the session thinking we have yet to drill into the content side of communications. We don’t talk about the messages or what we are talking about – it’s just the channels, leadership and team information. I wrote the word content down about six times during the 70-minute session because for me, all the points above suggest a need to take a look at the content strategy, alongside the channel strategy and ensuring all of it is working behind a common strategy and purpose.

* Caveat from the team: The results are a little different from previous years as they had many more responses from the US than they usually do

Five rooms of internal communication

This week I was invited to present at an event in London called The Five Rooms of Internal Communication – this was an afternoon event giving internal communicators the chance to discuss the different elements of a communications model created by Masgroves and hosted by Engage International.

As an introduction to the event I combined some of my thinking that has been bubbling away for a while thanks to Simon Sinek, VMA Group research and the first #ICBookClub…

We know that the CEO does not always think about internal comms when they think about their communications function. In fact, for many it only comes up when they are going through any sort of change. But what they do think about is corporate reputation and risk. This was my topic at the IOIC summer party when I got on my ‘soap box’ about internal communicators thinking like their counterparts in external comms when it comes to reputation.

The reputation of your organisation should be included in your internal comms strategy. If you’re still having trouble getting your voice heard at a senior level read the research and then leave a copy on your CEOs desk! if you don’t have a copy of the VMA Group report then let me know and I’ll get one in the post to you.

What I find fascinating is that in the world of social media, employees discussing the organisation online is not on the mind of the leadership. With websites like Glassdoor opening the internal world up to the outside world, the importance of the employee experience has never been more so.

And from social media I turn to the rise of the millennials. I blogged about seeing Simon Sinek earlier this year but one of the main themes in his discussion is how we use technology, how technology makes us feel and how dangerous it can be for society. I wonder what this means for the rise of social media as an internal communications platform (that’s another blog for another time).

And as social media use rises, our connection with technology becomes ever more present every hour and every minute. The phone buzzes with notification after notification and now watches mean you are physically attached to it all. This makes our lives increasingly noisy and ‘busy’. But what are we busy actually doing? I can waste a good hour or so scrolling social media feeds and enjoying a game of candy crush – but that’s not busy. We are consumed by data with companies fighting for our attention every hour, every day. Our brains simply cannot cope and when it comes to internal communication, it gives us a lot of noise to cut through.

How can you break through the noise to make sure employees know what they need to know, that they really hear you and you are making an impact? The brain remembers the obscure, the unusual, the thought provoking.

The event this week provided attendees with a model of communications but this wasn’t the core message. It was an experiential session where the delegates worked their way through the five rooms – Orange And Chocolate Waffle Meal. If you want to know more speak to the team at Masgroves but for me, my ‘five rooms’ were CEO, Corporate reputation, Social media, Millennials and Busy and I’ve only just started exploring them all as one.

Thanks again to the team for hosting such a different event and for Ellwood Atfield for hosting it all.

 

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.

Horsing around

It’s week six in the new job and last week I spent the day taking part in an Equine Assisted Development day with my new colleagues to establish how we will work as a team. After years of attending workshops, development days and leadership coaching I would trade them all in for just one day like this – I had no expectations yet I left the day feeling slightly revolutionised.

Working with the horses as a tool to help us identify where we fit in the team, how we manage people, influence others and support each other is simply genius. But why should you do it?

You will learn more about your colleagues than you expect
How we behave with the horses and in front of each other in a situation like this is very telling. People I had interpreted as very confident showed signs of fear and anxiety and for others who are often quiet and shy their true determination to overcome obstacles shone through. Watching each other, understanding body language and how it affects the horses is a great way to draw parallels for your work life.
I found out where I fit
Being an ESTJ I know most people see me as the life and soul of a team and I have often thought of myself as someone who is very happy to lead people. What I learnt from the session was that I actually prefer being at the back of pack, keeping everyone together and supporting the leader who is out front. Understanding the herd mentality and linking that to the team – working with the horses as that team, in the physical place that you fit, demonstrated the importance of working together, communicating and for me, knowing that it didn’t matter who was in what role – what is important is that all the roles are taking an active part.
Understanding the important of your behaviours
It’s very easy to think about your own world when going through change. Change effects everyone differently but when you’re leading a team of people or in a position of leadership you need to consider how your behaviour impacts them. Working with the horses as a team and then changing formation you’re incredibly aware how sudden changes make an impact and how you need to work together as a team to make that change smooth.
The importance of personality
Working with two horses who had very different personalities meant we were able to really understand how you have to adapt your behaviour to get the right results. This isn’t anything new but actually seeing it, watching your colleagues influencing through body language alone, gives you more depth to what is often a very throw away comment. Understanding personality delved into trust, pace and confidence more than I could have imagined.
The physicality of seeing the impact of body language and learning from your colleagues while unearthing some real insight into how we individually work is invaluable. Some people might be sceptical about the parallels you can draw from such an experience but take the leap, go out of your comfort zone to find out more about yourself, but also to benefit those around you.
If you want to find out more just get in touch or you can speak to Charlotte Dennis

Return of the Yak

 

Another year, another yak. Yesterday we, The IC Crowd, hosted The Big Yak for a second year. About 130 internal comms pros descended on Richmond, London for day of discussion, debate and networking.

Following our unconference format from 2013 and with the support of our facilitator Benjamin Ellis, the delegates made their way through the rain, grabbed coffee and croissants and started debating the things on their agenda at the moment.

Last year the topics were very broad with a lot of people attending their first ever unconference, where as this year we got into the detail and people took to the post it notes immediately!

The topics covered included:

  • Are internal comms pros the worst communicators in their own teams?
  • How do we make HR communications cool?
  • The changing roles and skills for IC
  • Video storytelling
  • Brand and engaging teams in it
  • Leadership – sometimes leaders get to the top without being great communicators, how do we support/work with them
  • Moving from cascade to conversation
  • Are IC qualifications worth it?
  • How to engage with a mobile workforce
  • Global communications
  • Breaking down divisional silos
  • Joining up internal and external comms
  • How important is authenticity for internal communicators
  • Making content relevant
  • What comes next after ESNs?
  • Channel effectiveness
  • How to plan and implement ESN
  • What fund stuff can you do in briefings and at work to engage people more
  • Connecting to an offline audience

This year I managed to attend a lot more sessions which was great because I got to meet so many new people, confirm I’m not alone in the challenges I face everyday and it gave me some great ideas for CIPR Inside as well.

So what did I take away from yesterday? Here are my main highlights….

ESNs, social media and digital tools
In a year we have shifted from talking about it to doing it. And from doing it, to learning how not do it. It seemed most people had some sort of social platform in place but the difference was how it was implemented and how it works with a traditional push based news intranet. Majority of people seem to link their collaboration platform with a push based news platform but there were equally some startling ideas about driving adoption.

  • What is our role with collaboration platforms? Are we now facilitators and curators?
  • Speed of responses to queries and comments on social platforms is key to success
  • People have to go through training on the system. If they don’t then they don’t get paid
  • Most organisations need a collaboration platform and a news platform combined
  • Remember to create a tool for the users, not for the comms team

Engaging with a mobile or remote workforce
This still remains on our agenda and I don’t think it will ever go away. Categorising mobile and remote workers in one pool is not easy. We must remember that there are very different levels of remote and mobile. Working in a mine is very different to working in a care home and the channels and messages will be very different. Understanding this means that a blanket approach to this group of workers is not going to work. This is still a challenge for me and some of the ideas in the room were great to take away and others continue to make me question the use of social:

  • A monthly news bulletin called “Top of the ops” that is sent out for people to print and put on the noticeboard – love the name!
  • Everyone is connected on their mobiles so we don’t truly have remote workers any more – maybe, but do they want work messages on their mobiles and tablets away from work?
  • Going back to basics with print media isn’t a bad thing when it comes to engaging with remote workers

Internal comms qualifications – do they really add value?
There were a few people in the room that wanted to explore the role qualifications plays in personal development. I recently completed the CIPR Inside Internal Communications Post Graduate Diploma – it was hard work but was worth every penny. I blogged about day one, day two and day three and I would recommend to anyone.

Kate Jones was also in the room and facilitated this session to find out more about what IOIC can do as she sits on the Board for them.

It was a great discussion and it gave me more focus to develop how we support our members at CIPR Inside with development. We need to be clearer about CPD (Continuing Professional Development) – what it is and why people should be doing it. We also need to make sure we have a good mix of learning available for people and that it is easy for our members to find out what is on offer.

Make events more interesting
I missed this session but thanks to Twitter there were some great ideas about how to move away from the dull and the norm:

  • Have different directors speaking about other departments will likely speak in plain English/shows cross dept working
  • Illustrate stats by cutting up cakes
  • Directors serving lunch at a staff conference to highlight service culture
  • Let’s be more creative with venues

So what’s on my agenda after yesterday?

  • Getting the conference agenda for the CIPR Inside conference on 2 October outlined and I will use a lot of the content from today to help steer that conversation.
  • Reviewing our ESN and how we can make it easier and better for people
  • Deliver our Portal project internally that will be an online tool for offline teams and think about how we can learn from the experiences I heard yesterday
  • Review the training and CPD offer from CIPR Inside to make it easier and work with IOIC to help all internal comms people get the most out of their careers

There so many tweets and photos from the day yesterday that can all be found together thanks to Buzz Tale.

With so many sessions, it’s a good job everyone tweeted all day! Here is my collection of favourite tweets, ideas and comments from the day.

Thank you again to all our sponsors and to everyone that came along – it was another great day. See you on Twitter @theiccrowd