The importance of authenticity

Last month at the big yak, we talked about leadership comms. This sparked so many thoughts and ideas and you can read my top takeaways here.

What continues to play on my mind is the role of authenticity. We had a good discussion about the role of the leader and how leaders can sometimes struggle to grasp the benefit of engaging with employees at every level. So how do you overcome it? And why is it important?

I strongly believe that we shouldn’t make all leaders use channels they aren’t comfortable with. I remember being told years ago from my global colleagues that every board member needed to have a blog and start using it. I knew straight away that one of my board members would never do that – he was face to face all the way and I would end up writing stuff for him just to meet the measurement criteria set by the global comms team – not authentic at all.

So why do we struggle to find the right channels for our leaders and what can we do to help them?

A great discussion at the big yak highlighted the need to understand the world of the leader. Who do they really care about? And it’s the same for all of us – their boss. And for many in leadership this is the board and shareholders. So we need to make sure what whatever we are asking them to do – they can explain the benefit to this audience.

I remember working with a CFO who, after a painful session at the company conference, couldn’t understand why he should care about the feedback? ‘I don’t care what they think, I don’t see why I need to do it anyway.’ We spent some time talking about why getting the message right in that form is important, that we need the people in the room to buy into the goals and understand what they need to do to help us all achieve success – both on a company level and on a personal bonus level. Come the next conference we did a lot more coaching on style and delivery – tell a story like you would do with your children before bed – and while it will never be his comfortable space he now totally gets it and spends time preparing and getting it right.

I really believe the days of writing comms for the company are coming to an end. I spend most of my time editing content rather than starting from scratch and if I am starting from scratch it is in collaboration with the real author and we go backwards and forwards. I am not the corporate mouth piece but I will enable the board and all employees to communicate effectively, in the right way culturally and in a way that engages the audience with the message. We can only adapt and move forward if we all agree that being authentic is at the heart of good communication.

CIPR President Elect – what is your view on internal comms?

Last week I approached the three candidates standing as President Elect to find out a bit more about what they think of internal comms. All three replied instantly so here are the answers from Emma Leech, Gary Taylor and Sarah Hall:

1. What do you think the role of internal comms is inside organisations  today?

Emma: Internal communications plays a critical role within organisations. We work in ever more competitive and rapidly changing environments and ensuring we attract and retain the best talent, unlock potential and ideas, and differentiate on excellent and authentic customer service are obvious wins. Less obvious is the tremendous impact that loyalty, engagement, great change management and advocacy can have across the organisation and – very pragmatically – on the bottom line.

I’m also a Fellow of the Institute of Internal Communications and as someone who has worked in the field and now manages a team in this area, I clearly identify with the importance of working with professionals who can listen to the organisation’s heartbeat and respond to it. From using local intelligence to feed into crisis communications and planning, to identifying and helping to tackle strategic business issues, or simply developing messages and campaign opportunities, internal communications has a key role to play.

Gary: The way organisations are changing, it’s more important than ever to communicate – especially change – with staff members. Your staff are the best people to explain, promote and celebrate the good work you’re doing  – they need to feel informed and part of the decision-making process. An effective internal communications strategy can help achieve this. Sadly, it’s often shunted to one side, seen as less important that the external  communications function or just as the trickle-down of information from the Management Team, at a pace and in a form that suits them, not the staff.

Sarah: Internal comms (IC) is critical for two reasons: there’s an increasing expectation for organisations to be open and transparent; and organisations are striving to become social. The shift to social organisations is a huge opportunity for IC. Figuring out how to move from command and control management, to a more open, networked organisation is a big job and requires a specialist skillset. It’s an issue that will continue play out for IC over the next generation. Although there is much being said about employee advocacy, the notion of employees as advocates won’t sit comfortably with me until the relationship between the organisation and employee is equitable. While this plays out however, the opportunity to use modern platforms such as Facebook at Work, Slack and Yammer as a means of engagement, is a huge opportunity for anyone working within this area.

2. Where do you think CIPR can improve how it supports internal comms  people?

Emma: I think we could start by responding proactively to the Inside Group’s agenda. I’ve been amazed at how vibrant and collegiate the Group is and the support of the recent #thebigyak event is a great example of the energy and fresh thinking the Group has to offer. We could learn a lot from that as an Institute. I would want your ideas on how we could provide better training, develop the Diploma, and support professionals in the field. I think there’s a job to be done in actively promoting the very real and financial benefits of great internal communications that will help raise the profile and value of practitioners. I think it’s also important for the CIPR to help support members better as part of their career journey to ensure that internal communications colleagues don’t hit roadblocks in terms of progression which can be a real issue.

Gary: By creating, encouraging and acting as a platform for greater engagement between internal communications practitioners /specialists. There’s a huge body of untapped knowledge that events such as #thebigyak help to release. But too many practitioners – in all areas, not just internal – are left to work on their own, at the mercy of what  non-practitioners think is ‘right’. We should be there for them with something they can point to, a source of good practice and latest thinking.

Sarah: Internal comms is an important public relations discipline and it rightly continues to grow in stature as understanding grows of what it can achieve.

The CIPR has a powerful opportunity at its fingertips.

  1. To enhance its own internal comms between HQ, board, council, groups and members, using the knowledge and expertise within its membership
  2. To support the growing number of internal comms practitioners and better serve them with the knowledge and tools they need to succeed
  3. To celebrate this expanding body of knowledge and practice

As President-Elect, I’d strive to make the CIPR a best practice model for how IC can transform organisations. I’d look to help IC professionals communicate the value of their work to employers and demonstrate return on investment.

Finally I’d make this burgeoning area of the industry a key aspect of the 70th anniversary celebrations in 2018. It’s an important area of public relations and there are some excellent people within the membership pioneering the way.

3. With all your experience what is your key advice to those working in  internal comms?

Emma: My advice to colleagues is to engage, enjoy, learn and make change happen. When you’re closest to an organisation’s issues, you’re often closest to the solutions. Listening is everything. Using that insight to deliver real strategic value is a major strength. Some of the best campaigns I’ve ever been involved with have been internal communications led – a simple conversation that sparked a big idea, change project, recruitment or fundraising idea. We often make the mistake in PR of believing our own hype – great internal communicators bring challenge to that and a truly authentic organisational perspective. That kind of insight is gold dust in business today – sprinkle it wisely!

Gary: You are the communications professional. You do this every day. Depending on your relative position within the organisation it can feel daunting to have to say to the higher-ups “you’re wrong on this” – but your organisation’s reputation (as well as your own) relies on good, professional communications.

Sarah: Internal comms practitioners have an incredibly exciting opportunity. As the C-Suite looks to public relations professionals to make sense of the changing world around them and manage reputation, the value placed on practitioners is growing. I’d urge all IC practitioners to focus on their continuous professional development (CPD). It’s critical to demonstrating your worth in organisational terms. Finally, collaborate to share best practice (as already happens through fantastic initiatives like The Big Yak) and lobby your industry bodies for support in educating employers and the business community about the incredible work you do.

The Big Yak the 3rd

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

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

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

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

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

Here are a few of my highlights:

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

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

Why I will continue to support CIPR – if elected!

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

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

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

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

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

Time to choose salad instead of a pie

Attending the Edelman trust research breakfast launch earlier this week got me thinking. Trust in organisations and leadership is something I feel incredibly passionate about. This is in part because it is something we all have the power to change and while it isn’t simple, it should not be difficult to be open and honest with employees. 

There was nothing that shocked me in the research. It was just sad.

Less than half of front line employees trust the leadership. And only 57% of all employees in the UK trust their organisation. Why is it all so broken? 

The bit that made me the saddest was the gap between thinking it is important and actually doing it. I asked the question of why and we don’t really have an answer; on average there is a 20% difference between people thinking we should do it and actually doing it. On the way back to the office this went round and round in my head as I just couldn’t understand it… But putting it in a context we can all relate to I wondered if it was like having the intention of ordering salad but actually having a pie. We all know how important it is to exercise and eat right but how many of us do it? Which then leads me to think about the deeper psychology of human behaviour and why we do what we do and in many cases don’t do what we should. 

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It’s unsurprising that societal issues have moved up the agenda and the talk about financial results has moved down. I think we all know that the business needs to make money and we need to keep costs low to achieve that, but if that is your only message to employees I don’t think they will remain inspired for very long. 

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Someone at the event asked the question of whether there is a difference between listed and private companies. This is something I would love to see, because I still think that until shareholders and the city hold CEOs to account on how they engage with the workforce and they appreciate the impact it has on the bottom line we are still climbing a very steep hill. 

While it may sound I left feeling deflated I actually left with some comfort in the knowledge that data is supporting opinion. Knowing that there are organisations that are putting this on their agenda and making sure we do something to restore faith in the organisations we work for or we buy from. 

I’m now off to order a salad and run round the block…. 

Align, drive or engage – can all three come together?

Everything I am reading about what 2016 will bring to internal communications is about employee engagement. And at a time when I’m putting pen to paper on my own communications strategy it got me thinking about what it does in my organisation – and I’m not sure employee engagement is on the list. Writing that down/saying it out loud has been filling me with guilt about whether I’m doing something wrong, or whether the function is not doing what it should. So I took to Twitter with the thought “Is internal communications just about employee engagement?”… And I’m not alone.

In the past week I have had various conversations about internal communication. Some outside my organisation where they have talked about how good an organisation can be on alignment of message rather than engagement and another internal discussion was all about how we drive the message through the business.

Neither talk about doing this in a way that is engaging. So when I read all these articles about engagement being the main focus for 2016 I’m not surprised, but I’m also not sure where it really fits.

I have been in an organisation on a cultural journey. And at the moment all we want to do is get the message out through the business and get everyone on the same page. This isn’t about engaging them in the strategy, it’s about getting some basics right to help us achieve the strategy. And getting them engaged in it, for some, is not my job, but the job of the line manager and the leadership. My job is to show them the right channels to deliver the message to see success. And success, is a change in a behaviour.

So can you change behaviour through internal communication without considering engagement? Is an alignment to the strategy considered engagement? Only time will tell.

Is employee engagement the only thing internal communication should focus on? If you work in my team the answer is no.