The importance of communication in your organisation

Earlier this month I hosted a workshop with Neil Tomalin to discuss the importance of communication inside organisations. As a roundtable discussion we wanted to speak to those who don’t work in a communications function to help them explore their own communication style, understand a bit more about internal communication and its significance in the workplace and draw on some of Neil’s research into authenticity.

What makes someone a good communicator?

We kicked off the breakfast session exploring the traits of a good or bad communicator. Worryingly, it was hard for anyone to give an example of someone who is the best in their business – which just reaffirmed the need for the workshop! 

The list from the group was:

  • Thought about the audience
  • Limits emails so that they have purpose
  • Responds timely
  • Uses a mix of methods (phone, face to face etc)
  • Brings a human element to it – not afraid to not be perfect
  • Influencing skills
  • Authentic without spin – honest even in uncertainty

It was clear that there are some leaders or people in teams who are naturally good communicators, but because this isn’t consistent across the business it can make others look even worse. This part of the discussion cements my view that all leaders and line managers should have a communications coach and/or communication training.

Language is more important than ever

When it comes to the worst communicators, the use of jargon was a big factor. People don’t want to say they don’t understand something and the language of the business can often be riddled with acronyms or phrases. We know that theory suggests only 7% of total communication is language, 38% is tone and 55% is body language. Today, we use digital communication over most other forms and as a result, the words we use are becoming more and more important – don’t get sucked into the acronyms and the jargon in the workplace – remember there are new people starting all the time who would be lost without clear, plain English.

We are all responsible for communicating effectively

We based the conversation around my definition of internal communication which is: Everything that gets said and shared inside an organisation. As a function, its role is to curate, enable and advise on best practise for organisations to communicate effectively, efficiently and in an engaging way.

What can often happen is an assumption that someone is responsible when in fact, no one is. We all need to take responsibility as individuals and/or leaders to look at how we communicate. We need to explore how we ensure what we say is received in the way we intended – how often do we check that what has been said has been understood?

Being authentic will build trust – be adaptable but own your style

Neil’s research into authenticity is a great insight into how we behave in meetings. Many in the room shared examples of how they adapt depending on the nature of the meeting or the people involved. This is very common and no bad thing, but my counsel would be to ensure that your consistent with some elements. People need to know ‘who’ is coming to the meeting – if you’re always different, people won’t get a sense of who you are and your ability to influence and gain trust will be lost.

Our five next steps

  1. No organisation recognised good communication with an annual award. What would be the impact if a simple measure like this was introduced into your organisation? Would it mean you could identify positive role models more easily?
  2. Create your own definition or share the one we discussed and explore what this means for your team.
  3. Create an open conversation by asking your boss, peers and team this question: what type of working relationship would you like to have with me?
  4. Create your own ‘feedback loop’ to assess the effectiveness of your communication style. Do this simply by asking work colleagues about the timeliness, clarity and appropriate nature of the messages you send.
  5. Use the 5-character card to improve your observation skills at meetings. Are you a mouse, cat, dog, owl or shark? What roles are your colleagues assuming? To an impartial observer, what messages do the way you run meetings deliver about your company culture?

This was the first in what we hope will turn into a series of conversations about the importance of communication in the workplace. With many organisations not investing in an internal communications function (although the trend is that this is improving) we are keen to help operations directors, finance directors, managing directors and others understand how important their communication style is and how it can impact business performance.

If you’d like us to run a dedicated workshop in your office just get in touch and we can create something bespoke for your team:

From informing to engaging: the role of IC in driving engaging and authentic leadership communications

This morning CIPR Inside and Luminous hosted an Ask the Guru event all about the shift from informing to engaging audiences inside organisations.

As the Chair of CIPR Inside I was there to open the event and facilitate any questions. The event was designed to explore the role of internal communication in driving engaging and authentic leadership communication. With guest speaker Graham Cox, Director of Learning and Development at Boundaries Edge and Mark Litchfield, Executive Creative Director at Luminous they took us on a journey of authenticity, decision making, perception, creativity and measurement.

Understanding how we make decisions

As we set the scene to understand the role of authenticity it was helpful to better understand how we make decisions and where the logic and emotion come in. I’m already a big fan of Simon Sinek and his golden circle theory so it was great to kick off with a reminder about the mammalian brain (feelings) and neocortex (logic) and how 86% of decisions are based on feelings.

What was equally interesting was the fact that as we evolve we should become more logical in our decision-making but with the introduction of AI the need for us to make logical decisions is diminishing.

The six rules of perception

  1. Initial impression resists change, and perception resets every 10/15 seconds
  2. We have confirmation bias, we self-validate – if there is more investment the individual is less likely to change their mind
  3. We cannot hold two precepts in the mind at one time
  4. Perception is directly related to context, so we have to remind people about context all the time. This is linked to the fact that we don’t know how to calculate value
  5. We perceive losses three times more that we do gains. It is this focus on losses and therefore fear of them that leads us to stay in jobs we don’t enjoy or relationships that don’t work
  6. People perceive the past, present and future – and different groups of people will have a tendency to focus on one element more than the other

Engage audiences through creativity and measure how you do it

  • To help with creativity look around you. Benchmark with peers and be inspired by things outside of your everyday
  • Consistency is important
  • Create a central bank of assets to support both the consistency and to help with efficiencies in the team
  • Create a two-way conversation with relevance and measurement; define the metrics upfront, be clear about the audience and who to target, and get qualitative and quantitative feedback

As we finished the morning I shared the Making it Count research with the attendees as this is all about understanding the value and effectiveness of internal communication – and if we find it difficult to calculate value and our perception is directly related to context, I hope this helps us move forwards into more engaging conversations.

Why internal communication is the key to brand authenticity

This morning I attended a breakfast event hosted by VMA Group on the topic of authenticity. The session was led by Matt Hampshire from MK and he was supported by Ed Austin from Wagamama and together they took us through five rules for authenticity.

During the hour they took us through examples from Wagamama as well as some from other organisations – some who get it right and some who get it wrong. As someone who has spent most of their internal communications career working with employees who are predominantly offline it was great to hear a clear message about customer service and organisational purpose – so here are the five rules and how internal communicators can play a role in brand authenticity:

  1. Know who you are
    Looking back to a 1971 Coca-Cola advert and comparing it to a 2017 Pepsi advert reminds us all to stay true to who we are and not jump on a bandwagon. The backlash to Pepsi was huge with an estimated loss of $40m and an advert pulled after huge criticism all over the world.  The identity of the organisation can come from iconic leaders – Steve Jobs and Anita Roddick were just two examples shared – but having a strong purpose and a clear understanding of what your organisation is about will allow you to demonstrate who you are through good communication.
  2. Embrace the truth (even when it is uncomfortable)
    Last year someone shared a photo of a poster in a Wagamama restaurant that clearly told employees they would be disciplined if they called in sick. The first thing Wagamama’s did was talk to their employees – using all their channels they quickly communicated to all employees that this was in fact not the case. It was important for them to keep the conversation going and explain the truth behind the headlines.
  3. What you do is more important than what you say
    Quite often the conversations we have inside organisations will be around values and how we can put a poster on a wall to share them so that people know what they are. Sadly, this rarely works simply because what you do is more important than what you say. If one of your values is respect but it is accepted that people are late for meetings or on their phone during meetings then this doesn’t match. For many, the focus is on the profit and company results and this can lead to behaviour that might go against how we want to be perceived – as Ed said, “If you focus too much on the numbers, you lose focus on the service. Sales will follow if the service is there.”
  4. Start with the right people
    If 72% of people are judged on their CV alone then how can we be sure we are hiring the right people? When we think about employee engagement and employee experience, we need to start at the beginning. The whole employee journey needs to be considered to make sure that the people we train and invest in are committed to the organisation. The example about Zappos giving people £2,000 to not take a job was an interesting example to show how some companies ensure they only hire people who really want to be there.
  5. It’s not about you, it’s about them
    I have spent many meetings discussing this with leadership teams – explaining that they aren’t the audience for some of these messages. The example from Wagamama about the introduction of their Vegan menu was founded on co-creation. Inviting employees who choose a vegan diet to meet with the Executive Chef and discuss the menu, taste it and get involved in what good service looks like for them was fundamental to the roll out of the new dishes. As he said “it’s not about jumping on a bandwagon, it’s about embracing it”

At the end of the session there were some questions about corporate reputation, downloading apps to phones and how to engage cynical employees – all these questions were from different industries and they highlighted the different challenges we can all face in the different cultures we work in. The solution? Come back to these five rules and think about how to apply them in your business, they are core  principles and as a guide, they should work for everyone.