Getting Chartered – why I did it and what I will takeaway

On 10 September I finally got my Chartered Practitioner status. I set myself a goal at the start of 2018 to do it but I knew that September would be the best time for me. As someone who is heavily involved with CIPR I kept my involvement in the day quiet – for me becoming Chartered is a huge stamp of validation and much like a driving test, I didn’t want to have to tell everyone if I had failed.

When the Chartered process changed a few years ago I was still one of those members saying they couldn’t see the benefit against the cost. So why did I decide to do it this year and what did I learn?

I believe in professionalism
When people ask me what I do I tell them I’m a professional communicator – which sounds odd. But when you’re talking to people who aren’t in our industry it is the only way to describe the work that I do. I help people have better conversations to make businesses succeed and I can do this because of my experience. Becoming Chartered is the highest achievement for what I do. It is grounded in ethics, strategy and leadership which are all things I’m doing everyday so having the validation with my peers is hugely rewarding.

I want to be the best I can be
And I want others to do the same. If you’re working as a communications assistant, an internal communications manager or a public affairs director I want all of us to be the best at it. For me, being the best is about working with peers to explore and learn. It’s about reading books that help you advise and coach leaders. It’s about investing in yourself to make sure you are aware of the latest trends and issues facing communicators and businesses.

Know your own learning style
Sometimes I worry. I worry that I should be doing more, spending more time reading, writing, investigating and then I panic. It’s times like this that I’m grateful to my network – and a huge thanks to Trudy Lewis, Katie Marlow and Advita Patel for their support over the last week. I know how I learn and I have to remember that just because my style is different to others it doesn’t make it wrong.

It’s a humbling experience
Spending a day with people who have the same goals as you is always a good day. But spending it with people who are trying to better themselves, seek a validation and in turn gain confidence in their ability made the experience all the more humbling. We were lucky and 100% passed – there were cheers, hugs and tears and it was an absolute privilege to share that moment with everyone.

If you’re thinking about it – speak to someone who is Chartered. I am proud that on our Inside committee we have a number of people who have been through the process so please do reach out as I’m sure Katie, Trudy, Martin and Jane can also share their experiences (in fact many have blogged already!)

AB Thinks Live: Confidence, Content and Purpose

Last week communications agency AB hosted their fourth AB Thinks Live event in London. I was their facilitator for the day and you can read my opening comments on the future of work here. Speakers covered purpose, virtual reality, culture and technology and the panel delved into the skills internal communicators need in the future.

There were some lively debates from the panellists around the need for an internal communications strategy – but I think the blog from AB Associate Helen Deverell nicely captures some of my own thinking; you should be able to have your strategy on a page, evolve it as needed and be strategic with the tactical.

Find what is uniquely human

In a world of AI how do we find purpose? Dr Alex Stubbings took us through her belief that there is a uniqueness to humans and this can’t be replaced by robots.

After The Big Yak I blogged about my belief that we are forgetting we are human and Alex opened her session saying that we have been encouraged to think like machines – and I don’t disagree. When it comes to technology Alex suggested that robots can’t be creative (intuition), drive compliance through touch (survey completion jumped from 55% to 81% with the touch of an arm) nor do they have ethics morality and values – traits that drive us.

Democratise communication and bring it into the business operation

When it comes to a change in leadership there is often an opportunity for a change in environment. For Rooftop Housing this included a desire to change the technology that the teams were using day-t- day. John Rockley gave great insight into how the team went about implementing Workplace by Facebook. He blogged about it before the event but on the day there were two things John said that stayed with me:

  1. Workplace by Facebook has democratised our communication streams and allowed people to have conversations entirely relevant to them.
  2. The Repairs team use Workplace as part of the business process – with photos of the items needed repair and plugging this into systems they have in place already.

To embrace virtual reality, we need to be immersive and interactive

Nadine Oehmcke from game developer nDreams gave us an insight into the virtual reality industry – exploring growth trends (there has been a 117% growth in headset sales in the last 12 months), what to expect in the future with the rise of AR and VR together, a look at headsets that don’t require a PC or phone and the need to create completely immersive experiences that transport the individual into a different world. It reaffirmed my belief that our use of VR in the workplace is so much more than training or looking round an office.

Confidence, pace and strategy

The panel of experts gave their views about the skills we need for the future. With experts in digital, employer brand, corporate communication and internal communication they all gave their views on what was needed. The big takeaways for me were:

  • Confidence to manage all aspects of communication (internal and external) and to have strategic conversations with senior leaders.
  • Get better at working at pace. The world of external communication can often be driven by deadlines from the media whereas internal communicators can often have the luxury or time to craft the message to ‘perfection’.
  • Don’t’ get lost down the planning rabbit hole. It’s easy to create documents to plan out what you’re going to do, spend hours writing a strategy and then leave it in a drawer. Strategy and planning is needed, but the document should be live in your department not locked away.

You can read my full blog about the panel session here.

The Future of Content

AB’s MD Katie Macaulay ended the afternoon with her predictions into the future of content. There were six:

  1. Employees do not owe us their attention, we have to earn it and that will get harder
  2. Internal communicators will find ever more sophisticated ways of analysing their audiences
  3. Internal communication will move from interruption to permission – content that is anticipated, relevant and personal
  4. The line between internal and external will become increasingly blurred
  5. Content will become more of a craft, less of a commodity
  6. Those journalistic skills of having a nose for a good story, being able interview people, interrogate facts, and create brilliant, beautiful prose will regain their importance.

Katie has shared her full transcript here and it really is worth having a read – the analogy to Clapham junction really resonated with me and I have long been a fan of fewer, bigger, better – enjoy!

The next AB Thinks Live event is taking place in December – to find out more get in touch with the team @abthinks on Twitter or drop them an email events@abcomm.co.uk

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