What I heard at the National Housing Federation Comms Event 2018

Yesterday I was invited to speak at the National Housing Federation Comms Event in London to talk about how you can demonstrate impact and value in internal communications. I hadn’t attended a specific housing event before and it was great to see over 250 people together to learn, discuss and network about challenges and share successes.

Interestingly all the speakers were from outside the housing sector so I was lucky enough to hear how behavioural insights can impact bottom line, what Macmillan Cancer Support is doing to engage a workforce spread across the office and the road and some truly inspiring case studies highlighting what to do in a crisis.

These were my highlights:

EAST Framework: Four simple ways to apply behavioural insights

I have always believed in the power of personalisation so I loved listening to Ed Fitzhugh talking about how it made a measurable impact in changing behaviour. We don’t do much of this internally but the best social intranet I built was personalised as people could subscribe to content relevant to them – it made cutting through the noise much easier!

The framework he covered can be found here. EAST stands for Easy, Attractive, Social and Timely.

The examples shared included simple changes like directing people to the form online rather than a website – removing a click to make it easier for people to get to the information we want them to get to.  Using personalised content that is more attractive by referencing details about your car or your registration to pay tax in time. I enjoyed the reference to nudge theory (especially as the #icbookclub choice for this month is Inside the Nudge Unit) and how using social norms can drive change – using phrases like nine out of ten people pay on time. Using texts with a combination of the personalisation and social norms at times that will generate the best responses was a good reminder of the importance of different mediums.

Pledge to Polly and Yambassadors!

The campaign examples from Macmillan Cancer Research were a good reminder of the use of creativity and humour in the workplace. The pledge to Polly campaign was all about encouraging people to read and follow policies – with a video, poster campaigns and a bit of humour they engaged employees across the business.

Having introduced O365 in the business they embarked on an engagement and adoption campaign around Yammer – there were some great examples shared about how they did this and some top tips to get the basics right (remove technical barriers, integrate, tailor training and support, recruit yambassadors and have a strong internal comms presence).

When it’s a crisis, it’s always about people

This whistle-stop tour of crisis comms included Amanda Coleman from Greater Manchester Police, Alicia Custis from Stockport NHS Foundation Trust and Nicola King from Teneo Blue Rubicon. I would have loved to have spent more time on these sessions as what they had to share was incredibly helpful and relevant for every comms professional.

There were so many takeaways from this session but here the list I captured from the sessions:

  • Put people, victims and families at the heart and ensure they remain the priority
  • There were five elements to reputation management: Media, Social Media, Stakeholders, Police, Victims and Families
  • Be prepared
  • Ensure people are media trained – I know a great trainer for this if you’re looking!
  • Have good relationships with the media
  • The communications strategy needs to be integrated across social media, digital and your channels
  • Credibility is key

Be strategic with the tactical

During my session on internal communication I shared my model for internal communication – a model I always used when in-house – and I shared five top tips to help you demonstrate value and create impact:

  1. Have data to support your business case and to measure success
  2. Invest in yourself – your opinion is not good enough in the boardroom
  3. Have a conversation – don’t be afraid to ask what value looks like to them
  4. Be strategic with the tactical
  5. Solve business problems with better communication

Thank you to the National Housing Federation communications team for organising a great day with some fantastic speakers. You can follow all the updates on Twitter under #nfhcomms18

Four things I heard at the Employee Engagement Awards Conference

Last week I attended my first Employee Engagement Awards Conference – hosted by Ruth Dance and organised by Matt Manners and the team behind the global employee engagement awards.

I was excited to attend a conference dedicated to employee engagement as it’s been a while since I attended something that wasn’t focussed purely on communication.

There were some great case studies and as I was only there for the morning, it gave me time to reflect on some of the themes in the case studies:

1. Employee experience is the new employee engagement
Although the two are different, we seem to be talking more about the whole employee experience than ever before. I have always talked about the difference between employee engagement and internal communication and I believe that the employee experience is the term that could join us together to support organisations empower the workforce.

2. Leadership style makes all the difference
It was brilliant to hear some fantastic case studies from Southampton FC and HomeServe and as I listened to the campaigns and the leadership styles that engaged the workforce it struck me that not everyone is that lucky. Not all leaders feel the same about internal communication or the employee experience – I have been lucky enough to work with both but I think the most rewarding work has been when you are challenged to really demonstrate how what you do can add value and make an impact.

3. Customer service and the employee experience need to have the same focus
Save the shoes! I loved the story from Temkin Group about how a focus on loss prevention can make the job for the employee incredibly difficult which in turn can lead to a bad customer experience. The other day I was discussing exactly this in a workshop where we talked about creating policies for the few rather than the many – sadly it does seem to be the norm, often going against the purpose of the organisation.

Hearing from M&S about their campaign to engage sector managers from their head of customer experience just reinforced the point that what goes on on the inside shows up on the outside (a phrase I heard first at the CIPR Inside conference in November and something I know Rachel Miller is presenting on at the IOIC conference in May).

4. Think strategically about your communication model
It’s easy to find a communication fix to one business problem – it’s harder to review it alongside others and create a strategy and plan that joins the dots. I heard some great case studies and great examples of campaigns to engage managers but worryingly some were in isolation to the broader communication strategy. In my experience this has a good quick win but without the thinking behind it and the overarching strategy it is unlikely to succeed long term. We know from the latest research from Gatehouse that there are still few internal comms teams with a strategy in place and I think a lot of this is down to the immediacy we live in today. Always take the time to think about how you’re going to engage and communicate with your workforce, manage stakeholders and align the timescales and it will create lasting change rather than a quick fix.

Thank you to Matt and the team – I left the morning with some great ideas for clients and a reinforcement that data and customer engagement go hand in hand with internal communications .

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

Collaboration, data and how being vague is a great way to start!

Yesterday I had the honour of presenting at the IBM Smarter Workforce Summit (#swf2015) at the Kia Oval in London. Sadly I missed the morning but as I popped in to talk to them about the journey of collaboration I have been on for the past few years it was clear the day had been good.

A very engaged audience welcomed me to the event and so began a frank and open discussion about delivering collaboration channels and how engaging the workforce in them is tough.

What followed my session blew me away. Professor Brian Cox took to the stage to discuss the theory of the universe and everything we understand about our existence – not too heavy for 4pm on a Thursday!

His ability to translate seriously complex data into things we could understand is amazing. I have never felt more like Penny in Big Bang theory but I was starting to understand more than I ever thought I would.

While he covered a vast amount of theory there were two things I really took away that I could relate to the day job:

Data vs opinion
Everything he talked about was backed up by data; data to prove or disprove a theory. It made me realise just how much we accept opinion in the world of communication.

Employee engagement and the correlation to productivity is proven in data. Yet if the opinion of leadership is the opposite we just back down. How can we overcome this huddle when opinion is overruling what the facts are telling us? What do we need to do differently to get engagement on the agenda of the board?

Vague but interesting
This was the comment from Tim Berners-Lee’s manager on his first paper about information and the theory of the World Wide Web. I’m pretty sure this is how my manager thinks about some of the stuff I come up with, and no I’m not comparing my ideas to the introduction of the World Wide Web, but it makes you think about how we approach change.

The concept and theory about what you are trying to do can be vague. We then have to go and find out a way to prove we can do it or that it needs to be done. It doesn’t matter where it starts… Vague but interesting is a great foundation.

For me, attending events like this not only helps to contribute to your CPD but they also gives you that head space away from the day job which we all need.

I’m about to take three weeks off to get married and have my honeymoon and my brain has been horribly full of everything I need to do before I go. Now, with some space yesterday I’m clearer about what I need to get done before I go and I have some great ideas about how I want to influence our strategy going forwards.

I got all of that in 2 hours so I can’t even imagine what other delegates took away from being there all day!

Using communication to change behaviour for better business

In September I asked the question, on LinkedIn, what is internal communication? I gave you my top three and you took up the challenge to let me know what your top three were and if I missed anything. What really pleased me about the comments was how we all agreed that internal communication should link to better business and changing behaviours.

I have taken the comments and listed the key points below so you can see what others had to say and if you want to find our the CIPR Inside conference tackled this issue back in October, visit the CIPR Inside website.

Here are the extra things that you all said should be added when talking about internal communication…

  • Help organisations ‘know what they know’ – ensuring knowledge and opinion is shared and used effectively
  • Guide and inspire others when it comes to the way people communicate – spark and sustain conversations
  • Be commercially aware and understand what is happening across the business to help develop the strategic narrative and key messages as well as challenge decisions and priorities.
  • It’s about asking what is it we need people to think, feel and believe in order for them to do whatever it is we need then to do: be nicer to customers, sell more, stay with the company, produce more, be safer etc
  • To create and maintain the right environment for knowledge sharing
  • Helping employees understand their role in delivering the promises made by the company’s advertising
  • Helping everyone learn to find their own voices
  • The IC team’s mission should be based on two main pillars: engagement and efficiency
  • Achieving synergies between disparate elements of an organisation
  • Developing a compelling employee comms strategy aligned to the business strategy, and the right structure and skills to deliver these
  • Equipping leaders and managers to shape employee behaviours and attitudes, and drive business results
  • Choosing channels and messages that educate and inspire each employee to deliver on organizational goals
  • Measuring the effectiveness of Internal Communication to demonstrate ROI, secure and sustain investment, and inform strategic planning
  • Acting as the conscience of the organisation, challenging constructively and pushing back
  • Act as reminder to other communications colleagues not to forget employees (in organisations where employees don’t always have a voice) so that all communications activity (both disciplines and channels) is joined up e.g internal + external
  • It’s about managers being well informed and involved in the business
  • We should be involving employees in improving the business
  • IC should be part of the fabric of an organisation
  • Get people to listen to each other, to empathise
  • Helping people behave like people – even when they are ‘in the workplace’
  • To build a culture that will drive success
  • Change communication should be a stand along area for IC

Why internal communicators need a voice with CIPR

Next week the CIPR opens the elections for Council. As Chair of CIPR Inside I currently sit on the Council but things are changing and this now needs to be a position that is voted in. So I need your help, if you’re a CIPR member then please get voting – to help, here is a little bit about why I think you should vote for me!

Who am I and why should you vote for me?

  • I’m an experienced internal communicator championing the role that internal communication plays in adding value to organisations
  • I believe internal communicators should have their voices heard
  • I want to continue to raise the standards of professional development across all disciplines. CPD must be relevant to members, employers and clients
  • I want to make information from CIPR Inside easier to find, trusted and valued
  • I want us to work together to define how we measure and link to business performance. CIPR has already delivered guidance through its work with AMEC and I want to see more work like this, aligned to the internal communications profession, which will support it becoming a reality
  • I want to inspire a generation into the profession

Who I am

I’m Chair of CIPR Inside and have been involved with the group for a number of years as a committee member and Treasurer. I work in London as Head of Internal Communication but have held both Internal Communication and PR roles, both in-house and agency with a mixture of public and private sector.

I’m passionate about internal communication and what it can help businesses achieve, which is why I co-founded The IC Crowd 18 months ago. I value professional development, recently completing the CIPR Internal Communication Diploma.
My link to the CIPR

CIPR Inside is the voice of internal communication within CIPR, a group that makes an impact on our industry and the professionals within it. With a voice on the Council, we can make sure internal communications is part of the conversation about professionalism, development and ethics. We will be there when decisions are made about the future of CIPR and how it adapts to meet our members’ needs.

I’ve been involved with CIPR Inside for a number of years, before becoming Chair in March. We’ve focussed the Committee on specialist subjects and events, and at our conference in October I’m planning to launch a three-year strategy.
What I can do for the industry

I believe there’s a fundamental difference between PR and internal communication, but that doesn’t mean that the two aren’t intrinsically linked. CIPR is the professional body to champion this link. Working together, we can make sure that internal communication stays at the top of the agenda for our senior teams and they understand the power of getting it right.

I want to inspire people to work in communications and engage members to help them navigate their careers. I want to make sure that organisations understand that value, and use CIPR as a mark to find a professional who can deliver what they need.

The voting process

Following a period of nomination, a list of candidates has been released, and between 1 September and 22 September, voting on these seats gets underway. Every member has two votes, a first and second vote.

Changing behaviour for better business

This year the CIPR inside conference is all about changing behaviours. When I took over the role of Chair back in March I knew that being in house gave a me a different view on things from my agency predecessors and I wanted to bring some of my challenges forward.

Over the years my role has changed, not just in the role I’m in now but ever since I started in the world of communications 10 years ago.

When I consider the challenges I face today they include:

– Leadership buy in

– Making sure the communication has an impact and does what the business needs it to do

– Managing culture change

But these challenges change as the business changes so while the second point is a big one for me at the moment I wasn’t sure if it would be for everyone. That’s where having a great committee comes in and as we thrashed out the skeleton of the conference I realised I wasn’t alone. It really dawned on me when I met with an agency who showed me a great campaign. Their measurement was the number of people who understood the message and felt engaged with it. I found myself asking so what? There must have been business drivers behind the campaign so let’s get that in as the measurement.

And so my thinking and my plan for CIPR inside started to evolve.

As a committee we decided to shake up the traditional format. We want to bring the case studies in but we also want to bring in elements of an unconference and give people a chance to share and talk about their stories.

This year our conference hinges around this. We have a keynote speaker to get our minds working and then four lightning talks from various people across the business. Talking about digital, measurement and more all aligned to how it changes behaviours. The plan is to use this content to spark discussion and give all delegates the chance to go and talk in groups about these topics before lunch.

After plenty of discussion, lunch networking with peers and our sponsors we then go into a few great case studies, some leading research and a panel discussion.

I want this day to be fun, informal and informative. We all face challenges that change from time to time but none that others haven’t faced before. Spending a day out of the office and with people who do the same as you is one of my favourite ways to learn and benchmark my activities.

So will you be joining us on 2 October?