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

Employee engagement isn’t about happiness, it’s about outcomes

Is employee engagement still on your agenda? A few weeks I blogged on AB thinks (for my client AB) about employee engagement and employee experience – here are my thoughts on how things have changed…

Today commentators are using a new term – employee experience – described as the next competitive frontier for organisations. The challenge is to understand and create a culture where people can perform at their best. In short, to understand what makes humans thrive.

In October the importance of good mental health in the workplace came under scrutiny. Rightly, wellbeing, self-care and societal pressures are still hot topics. Earlier this year, reports suggested the link between serotonin and depression could be false and poor mental health might have a far deeper cause.

“We all know that every human being has basic physical needs: for food, for water, for shelter, for clean air. It turns out that, in the same way, all humans have certain basic psychological needs. We need to feel we belong. We need to feel valued. We need to feel we’re good at something. We need to feel we have a secure future. And there is growing evidence that our culture isn’t meeting those psychological needs for many – perhaps most – people.” Johann Hari, Author

To explore how this translates into the workplace, we need to look at employee engagement – or the employee experience – differently. Engagement is a result. It is an output. It is the consequence of a variety of factors happening simultaneously. We therefore need to think about the entire experience our employees have, from that job advert that initially caught their eye to their final exit interview.

A recent article from Jamie Nutter, maintains: “When you measure engagement, you are documenting a state of mind among your employees that was created over a period of months or years — in the past. That means that your detailed (and depressing) picture of today’s disengaged workforce, unfortunately, gives you very little you can use to actually solve the problem.”
This is a huge step forward in understanding employee engagement. Just six years ago we were having to define the difference between happiness and engagement.

Kevin Kruse explains: “Someone can be happy at work, but not ‘engaged’. They might be happy because they are lazy and it’s a job with not much to do. They might be happy talking to all their work-friends… to have a free company car. They might just be a happy person. But! Just because they’re happy doesn’t mean they are working hard on behalf of the company. They can be happy and unproductive. When someone is engaged, it means they are emotionally committed to their company and their work goals. They care about their work. They care about results. This makes them go above and beyond—to give discretionary effort.”

So where does this leave us? Employee engagement has never been better understood. As communicators we need to use the growing body of research to help us understand the complexity of human beings, how we thrive and how our organisations can create a culture that enables everyone to perform at their best.

This piece from Denise Lee Yohen nicely outlines what employee experience is and is not. It also explains why it’s something that should be on your agenda this year