The Big Yak 2018 – what internal communicators are talking about

Last week I hosted The Big Yak with my fellow IC Crowd co-founders Rachel Miller and Dana Leeson.

It was our fourth event and our biggest one yet with 160 internal communication professionals gathered together on a Saturday to set the agenda for the day ahead. These were the topics they chose to discuss and you can see that remote workers, leadership coaching and developing our own skills were all high on the agenda.

I managed to sit in a few of the conversations so here are my thoughts from the event:

We are forgetting we are human beings
Every conversation I have at the moment seems to be about this. About our need to feel connected to each other or the organisation we work for. The rise of digital channels means our investment has been in the technology not the people and there is growing recognition that this needs to change. We know that the investment in internal communication is often minimal but there was strong agreement in the discussions about remote workers (either physically remote or completely remote without access to technology etc.) and the need to invest in face-to-face.

Remote workers remain a huge challenge
With two sessions talking about remote workers it was no wonder that the conversations were lively and encouraging. Lessons were shared about launching apps, creating culture and purpose and also the role of the line managers. There was no one in the room who had totally ‘solved’ this challenge but the need to learn from each other here is huge. It’s the reason I’m doing research into this space this year and it’s clear to see why the hard to reach employee is on the top five barriers list from the Gatehouse research earlier this year.

Content is not just about the operation
We seem to have forgotten that content doesn’t always have to be about the work that needs to be done. There was a general consensus that fun was missing. The need for content that supports the culture, the social aspect of work and the relationships we try and cultivate was clear and it made me think about how many of us have a content strategy that sits alongside our channel strategy.

Neuroscience, psychology and digital
This is a big theme and it was apparent in several sessions I attended. Work is not somewhere we go, it’s something we do and our fulfilment of the work has never been higher on our personal agendas. Digital tools are unfulfilling, they don’t support the messages being communicated and they aren’t fit for purpose. We are all being asked to do more with less – what can that look like if the solution isn’t more digital channels?

Being a co-founder of the IC Crowd is so rewarding. We set it up to help internal communication professionals connect and The Big Yak was born out of the Crowd asking to get together. It is a day full of energy, discussion and insight and it would be nothing without passionate individuals willing to give up their Saturday to talk about how they can make work a better place. It is something I’m so incredibly proud of and it’s given me the chance to work with two fantastic ladies for over 10 years!  You can find out more about The Big Yak and read other write ups from the event here.

Yakkety Yak!

Picture1Yesterday The IC Crowd hosted The Big Yak in Richmond. Over 130 internal comms people came together on a Saturday for debate, discussion and idea generation on all things internal comms. As one of the founders of The IC Crowd it was a great experience to organise the day and something we are all very proud of! So while it is still fresh in my mind – here are a few thoughts from me….

 Thanks to expert facilitation from Benjamin Ellis the crowd were soon put at ease about what to expect from an unconference; It is about sharing ideas with like minded people, using your two feet to move between sessions that interest you and having a voice to set the agenda. After a few ice breakers to get people talking the post it notes were flying in and the board of topics complete.

The Big Yak Agenda

So what was on the agenda?

Session one

  • Social media KPIs
  • Intranets
  • Measurement – from hits to habits
  • Creating creative strategy

Session two

  • Sneakily social/social for leaders
  • Blurring the lines between internal and external communication
  • How do we evaluate and use feedback
  • Changing role of internal comms

Session three

  • How do you define employee engagement
  • How to communicate with hard to reach employees
  • Importance of editorial
  • Virtual collaboration

Session four

  • Hard to reach can do digital too
  • Traditional tactics using social approach
  • Engaging the senior team to be trusted advisors
  • Overcoming cultural differences

Session five

  • Video
  • Internal comms in redundancies/economic downturn
  • Improving morale quickly
  • How IC leaders can improve their comms

Session six

  • How to win more budget
  • Pension Auto-enrollment
  • Gamification
  • Internal social/digital/weight around our necks

As you can see not everyone can be in every session so it relies on everyone talking to each other and sharing news and updates through Twitter and other social platforms. You can see all the tweets here but having had a look through and attended a couple of sessions, here are my highlights:

Social media and intranets came up throughout the day with a lot of sessions ending on a digital note. The session on KPIs was great as people talked about really drilling into the need for social as the starting point. KPIs should include reduction in email and idea generation and content will be weighted differently – CEO blog Vs one about where to go on holiday. But with so much talk about the hard to reach audience you have to ask; does everyone need to be using the channel?

As a channel, social continues to get a debate going and one controversial comment of the day was that websites are for users and intranets are for organisations to tell employees stuff. I wasn’t in this session but apparently there was an audible gasp! How we structure our intranets or social platforms needs to reflect the way users think about the company, not the other way around.

The Big Yak

Designing and building a social platform for the business is great, if the culture is ready. Sometimes we forget that if the culture is wrong then trying to introduce technology internally is more likely to fail. Social media is not for everyone/business – if you’re going to use it make sure you’re not just making noise in an empty room and don’t force leaders onto the platform. In the age of transparency and honesty people will know it isn’t really them.

It wasn’t all about channels though. Lots of discussion about the role of internal comms in the organisation as well – does your comms answer the question: “why would I care about this?”

The internal comms role should be creating, nurturing and refreshing the conditions for employee engagement. Blurring the lines between internal and external is a huge theme for us at the moment and it’s no surprise with comments like: “Employees are our primary external communications channel” leading to the conclusion that internal comms enables external comms.

And where is our value? Someone said to me after the event “One of the main things I heard today is that people don’t feel valued in internal comms.” I really do believe that we have to fight to add value and it can be hard but if you want to make an impact you have to have a voice. You have to be able to talk the language of the business. Are IC pros commercially aware? Are we good enough at selling the commercial benefits of what we do? Can we articulate ROI?

Telling a story has never been more powerful. Our employees need to be at the heart of our stories. When it comes to measurement we have to be able to make the data tell a story – it’s not always about words; we have to know about numbers too.

It was great to see an agenda that had such variety – sessions on channels and on skills. We often get so caught up in the channel that we forget the message. Line manager communication was also a hot topic. At the IOIC conference earlier this year we talked about the art of communication. For me, this is something we need to train and educate our managers and leaders in and given the choice, I think money will be better spent on our people than on a shiny tool!

As always, a few tweets comments that just made me think:

  • From content creators to content curators
  • The fixed line between investor relations and internalcomms is the real barrier between converging internal and external comms
  • You have to say something 7 times for people to remember it. Now to think of 7 ways to say the same thing
  • Learnt something new – the concept of “Working out loud” = Narrating your work + Observable work
  • Speak clearly, speak plainly and remember to keep the messages simple
  • Cultural barriers aren’t always international

As the day came to a close I had a few minutes to wonder through the building and there was something lovely about seeing conversations happening everywhere. People in sessions, people having smaller chats round tables… the conversations continued anywhere and that was the whole point. It was a truly inspiring day that wouldn’t have been possible without our sponsors and everyone taking part. An unconference is what you make it and based on the feedback, it seems like everyone made it a great day!

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