Are internal communications functions influencing technology?

I haven’t blogged for a while and it’s for a few reasons…

  1. I have done a few on LinkedIn to test out that platform – I quite liked it but I think i prefer my own space. I have just published a blog from September here
  2. I have a new role and was struggling with having an opinion with this blog while my role is more external comms
  3. It’s been a while since something has inspired me to write… Until last week.

When it comes to internal social media we turn to technology experts to help us meet the needs of our business. But just last week, in a discussion with our technology partners, I realised that the people designing these tools don’t necessarily have the experience of working in internal comms for a big organisation and therefore don’t build it with all the functionality we need.

The example here was about files stored on the online platform. These files are owned by one person and can only ever be owned by one person. When they leave, they still own the file, their name is just greyed out with ‘inactive’ written next to it. Can this be changed? No. Why not? Because the legacy of that person should remain visible. Sure, that’s exactly what I need, a load of inactive people owning content all over the site. So when someone needs that document or has a query and they comment on it, that comment isn’t highlighted to anyone, and if someone else replaces that person they will never own that file, they can upload a new version but the owner will always be the inactive one. How demotivatong to see all these inactive people that inevitably you come across when a system has been in place for over 4 years.

Quite honestly I think this is a bit rubbish and it made me think that these people, designing these platforms don’t seem to consider the real businesses they are going into, nor do they think about the internal comms function.

This could just be an issue on the tool we have but as it is built by a huge global technology company I hope that others have the same issue so I know I’m not alone!

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

 

Social Intranet or Enterprise Social Network? Is there a difference?

It has always been in my head. Ever since the move from traditional push based intranet systems to the introduction of tools like Sharepoint.

I have worked in communications for 10 years and have been involved in four intranet projects in various companies. I have learnt a lot but I have also learnt that the language we use to talk about these tools seems to change and mean different things to different people so I wanted to get mine out of my head to see if I was alone in this thinking…

I don’t believe we should separate an intranet from an enterprise social network or a blog or anything else that we have internally. For me, there is just an online channel. It should be integrated with a clear content strategy and it should allow for two way conversations.

I do believe that there are different levels of social though.

I talk a lot about social intranets. For me, these are platforms that allow some people to publish news and information and for the users to comment and like that news. The information could also be personalised to the user.

For me, a social intranet is different to an enterprise social network (ESN). For me, an enterprise social network is an online tool that is designed for collaboration. That is about communities and file sharing and creating a space for anyone to add news and information. Content can be liked and commented on and people are able to add their own status updates and more personal details to a profile.

For me these are very different things. Creating a community online and having a social intranet serve different purposes and also foster different cultures. From experience, I like to use channels that add value to the business and the audience.

I have created social intranets and I have implemented enterprise social networks and for me, they need to meet the purpose and work together.

I have sat at conferences and listened to case studies about the use of yammer and other similar platforms to support conferences or to sit outside the other online channels and for me, I think we need to really understand what we want to achieve before we just go head first into adding digital into the mix. For some an ESN is perfect, for others a social intranet will do. It is not one size fits all and I would like us to be clear about what the challenge is and what the reality that we are looking for really is. While some companies will thrive with an ESN in place, others don’t need them and social intranets will work just fine to bring people together.

Would be great to hear what terms you use for the online channels in your business and how they work together!

We’re all in the same boat… well ark!

logoI attended my first SMiLE London event yesterday hosted by the lovely team at Simply Communicate. In the summer of 2012 we launched an online tool to allow collaboration, de-centralised comms and people directories. It wouldn’t be a lie to say we have struggled with adoption ever since. It is our only online platform and while it has many benefits, when it comes to cutting through the noise and being able to see what you need to see to do your job it is not so good. So here I was, keen to understand whether my challenges were different or whether we are all in the same boat….

State of the nation

It was no surprise to learn that those attending the event were mainly using Sharepoint and Yammer as social tools – this was mirrored by the presentations throughout the day – and it was encouraging to see that the thing we are all most worried about is engagement and adoption. One of the main reasons people cited as being their reason for implementing a social tool was to allow people to find other people to share skills.

I’m not alone in the challenge around people tagging and categorising their content as well as making sure that content is kept up to date when people leave. While all that is not shared is lost, having out of date content on a site that can’t be removed or updated is a huge risk for the business. One of the biggest benefits to the social tool is when you on board new people into the organisation. It makes it quicker and easier for them to understand the business and what they need to know to succeed.

Time to play a game

The use of gamification was high with Pearson working with Bunchball to deliver a programme that rewarded behaviour linked to content and how the community responded to what was being shared. I loved this concept as so often we put gamification in place to reward what people do which, for me, doesn’t drive adoption. There were some general assumptions made about ganification and the fact that people like a ‘digital trophy cabinet’ but for me, we have to remember that when it comes to gamifying our content, there are very different gamer profiles that should be considered.

Getting real

When it comes to the senior leaders and getting them engaged it was great to hear we are starting to accept that social isn’t for everyone. If the CEO isn’t keen on comms then they aren’t going to be blogging every week – and that’s ok. Social shouldn’t be a chore, it should be part of how you work or socialise.

I learnt about red, yellow and green dots as ways to categorise people – the greens are totally engaged and the reds are completely disengaged. Don’t spend time on the reds – not adopting the channel becomes part of who they are and it will take you too long and cost too much to try and change their minds. You will never get 100% adoption.

Current trends and where next

The use of mobile came up a few times. Interesting results from one speaker that showed Iphone as the most used handset with Blackberry nowhere to be seen. What was really clear was that people don’t’ contribute content from their mobile – it’s where they receive it. This is an interesting point given all the user generated content we are starting to filter through the comms space.

Middle managers got a real bashing about their involvement in the adoption of these channels – in fact some suggest that middle managers are the biggest blocker when it comes to communication in general. It was suggested that last year we worried about business risk and trust, this year it is the middle managers that we are looking at.

Build it and they will come only works for arks – to quote Dana Leeson. This is something to truly consider when driving adoption. We are all still using email and this is unlikely to change in the foreseeable future so there was talk of integrating the social tools with email – something I’m pleased is already on our radar.

Making sure the content is relevant was another trend in the day. For me this is the same for any channel. Visibility of that content was the real challenge with some social tools –cutting through that noise can be a real challenge.

Ideas for engagement and adoption

As the arc comment suggests – thinking they will just come on board doesn’t work for social tools. There were some great ideas to engage teams and get real adoption. The badges mentioned earlier was one and the ‘Collaboration in Action Awards’ cited by one presenter certainly generated a small murmur in the room.

Moving away from ‘no email day’ to ‘beyond email day’ that allows you to show off other tools available was another idea that got heads down and scribbling/tweeting. A lovely idea to get people learning about the options available – if they don’t know what it can do, how do they know it can make a difference.

Engaging the mobile worker

Mobile workers can, apparently, be categorised into four different types: information, task, wannabe, mavericks. We rely on them using their own devices to access the content and this links us to Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) – something I think we are all still unsure about. The reliance on middle managers and the traditional cascade is still very much here. We still have no way of knowing what our mobile workers have been told, and when they were told. Do social tools give us the ability to change that?

As always, some key phrases from the day that I enjoyed:

  • Communities and content should as open as possible and restricted as necessary
  • Are we trying to communicate to or engage with those no desk based?
  • This is not an ark – they won’t just come when we build it
  • Think about audience first and channel second
  • Whatever you provide to a mobile workforce will be appreciated. You are starting with nothing
  • Collaborative knowledge
  • The vision for sharing is to save time

Final thoughts

If you bring social tools into the business you have to consider what they deliver for the audience. I loved the idea of using Chatter or something similar to support a leadership event but when someone asked what this adds to those there it did make me wonder.

For adoption and engagement to truly work you need communications, training and the business owner to be completely aligned. I often feel that our training team are left out of things when they could add so much value!

I was surprised at what appeared to be a lack of consideration for content. There were lots of tools used but this often left the content all over the place – how does that help the user when , for me, they should have one place to go for everything.

Sorry for the long post – lots to cover from the day! Needless to say I’m already signing up as a subscriber to the SMiLE portfolio and will definitely be back for the next event!

What comes first… The trust in the top or the bottom?

I was having a conversation at work the other day and the topic of command and control and trust came up. We were discussing how control can imply a lack of trust in those around you and it made me wonder if the two do go hand in hand.

If I am a control freak (and some say I am!) does this mean that I don’t trust you? Does it mean that I always think you will get it wrong or just that I know how I want it?

Does the person on the end of the control feel like they are being controlled or do they feel untrusted? Is that the same thing?

Looking into this further and with the Edelman trust barometer published this week we focus a lot on the trust in those above us, those who lead us and those who govern us. But what about their trust in us?

I started reading throwing sheep in the boardroom this week (that’s another blog post) and the foreword really struck a cord….

If you were asked to open a restaurant how would you do it? You’re looking after the menu, the design, the building, everything. Now say you plan to open a steak restaurant…. You’re going to need steak knives. Your mind doesn’t then say, ah but people could use these knives to stab other customers so when I design my restaurant I’m going to put all the tables in cages.

That would be madness.

Yet this is how we have come to think about people and employees in business. If we always think they will do the worst we will design business structures, social channels and organisations around the very worst situation, not the reality. And if we do that, it shows a lack of trust in our people. So if the leaders don’t trust the people then why should the people trust the leaders?

And if everyone is thinking about the worst case scenario then they are going to want to control it and do it themselves to make sure that the bad stuff doesn’t happen…

What we need to consider is spreading that load. No one can control everything and if you show some trust then they will show it back… I just wonder who is going to make the first move….

 

PR and Internal Comms; the debate goes on…

At yesterday’s PR Academy summer drinks, CIPR president elect Stephen Waddington took to the stage to talk about social, digital and all things comms.

Unsurprisingly the debate about whether PR and Internal Comms are the same thing came up again. This debate has been running for a long time and as the lines between the two continue to blur it is no surprise it is a question that is being asked more at the moment.

Editorial management, listening and stakeholder understanding are all things that give PR a USP, according to the discussions last night. And I would have to say that I think is exactly what internal comms is about as well.

Our biggest issue with this debate is that the role of internal communications is so varied across industries and countries that it is impossible to compare the two. PR has a much longer history and therefore has evolved further… Until we can operate to the same level across more companies we will never be able to confirm or deny if it is the same.

Should it be more joined up? Absolutely! More so now than ever before. As social becomes more embedded in our culture people publicly talk about their company and what is happening, they are more informed and informed quicker than ever before. Just last week colleagues, including me, found out about a big change in senior leadership through the press! So let’s be more joined up but let’s also respect each others disciplines.

The essence of what we do is the same and the skills required to do the jobs are also very similar. But I am here to take everyone on the same journey. To make sure that people understand why we do what we do and help them be part of it.

I have always believed we communicate to inform and/or to change behaviour and this probably is the same for PR. I don’t think one is more important than the other but the subtle differences in audience needs and business objectives has to be respected on both sides… Internal Comms should not be the poor relation to PR nor should it be seen as not as important… All stakeholders require our attention, and those working to put money in the till and drive growth deserve the same, if not more attention than those people you want to sell too.

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!

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