Are the robots coming for us too?

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It was William Gibson who said: ‘The future is here, it’s just not evenly distributed yet.’

So, consider this about the future of jobs and the automation of the workforce:

What does this all mean? More than likely, it means that the World Economic Forum prediction that more than five million jobs could be lost to automation by 2020 will become a fast reality. And that is surely just the beginning.

As an internal communicator, predictions on the future of work fascinate me because they provide a glimpse into our how industry will need to evolve and adapt too.

We’ll need to consider:

  • The increasing demand for a change management skillset as part of the internal communicators role
  • How we engage a workforce that is rapidly moving to automation
  • How we support the ‘survivors’ of such change as they move into the new world of work
  • Whether our own roles might disappear, as teams are wholesale replaced by automation and there are minimal employees left to engage. (I think the answer to this is quite likely to be ‘yes’ for some industries)
  • And finally, is it even thinkable that the role of internal communicator could be automated? Is there an algorithm for that?!

Automation is just one of the key themes emerging from the World Economic Forum report on the future of work, released in January this year. It’s definitely worth a scan through in full if you’ve not seen it yet. Check out the full WEF report – the future of jobs.

 

 

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Making global communications work: top insights from top global communicators

It's a small world

On Wednesday night I joined 30+ comms professionals at the IABC UK event ‘The world is your oyster: making global communications work.’

We heard from Claudia d’Amaoto about her experiences working in Brazil for Anglo American; Emma Thompson, an international communications consultant who’s spent more than a decade working in global communications; and Tom Blackwell, CEO, EM Communications who has more than ten years’ communications experience based in Russia.

This session was perfectly timed for me as I start a new role at Pearson next week, as an Employee Communications Manager. This will be my first comms role in a global organisation of this size so I’m really excited about the challenge ahead.

Here I’ve summarised some of the insights that I found valuable from Claudia, Emma and Tom:

  • Research the demographics of a country: find out about the education levels and skills levels. Remember, IT industry in some emerging countries is only 10 years old – in the US it’s 30 years old. So that affects things. Some people will have never worked in another company culture. The World Economic Forum is a good for country briefings.
  • Speak to local teams and ask them: what three things should I know about your country? What three things should I be doing to make comms better?
  • Spend time in the country you’re working with if you can. Live and breathe the issues. Shared reference points are crucial. If you don’t have the luxury of travel organise virtual coffee mornings / brown bag sessions / focus groups. Work hard to get to know the teams.
  • Identify your comms sponsors who’ll be your champions on the ground. Could be the sales guy or the GM. They can be a source of info and intelligence for you too.
  • Listen. Learn. And adapt.
  • Understand the practical elements that will impact what you do. Things such as working days of the week, religious holidays and their impact.
  • Focus on the outcomes you want from your comms and work with the local teams. Be prepared for longer planning cycles – if you launch something don’t expect it to be launched locally within even 8 weeks because of local activity.
  • ‘Double up and double down’. Emma told us that her team had carried out research which showed non-english speakers must hear a message 7-8 times in order to digest it and act. That’s versus English as a first language speakers needing to hear it 3-4 times.
  • Work closely with HR and leadership. You all play a part to help employees understand why a company is run and how it’s run, no matter where they’re based.
  • Think about the plan, but think about the relationships you need to build to ensure you’ve created the right plan and to help you deliver the plan.

As the session wrapped up, it was really reassuring to hear all three speakers say that in reality there is no perfect formula for making global comms work. It’s about using your gut instinct and having the conviction to go for it. Thanks to Emma, Tom and Claudia for your valuable insights – I’ll definitely be using what I learnt and applying it in my new role next week. Wish me luck!

Image: ‘It’s a small world, isn’t it’ by Dennis Jarvis. License courtesy of Creative Commons

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Celebrating New Year’s Eve in a high-vis vest

wearing a high-vis vest in London on NYE

Me in a high-vis vest at Tottenham Court Road on NYE

As Big Ben chimed the start of 2015 I stood by a bus stop in the centre of the city, London’s skyline obscuring all but a glimpse of the fireworks.

Dressed in an oversized high-vis vest, with an assault alarm in my pocket, I got hugs and high-fives from dozens of merry revellers celebrating the New Year.

I’d volunteered to support Transport for London’s bus events team on its busiest night of the year. I was one of hundreds of employees from our head office locations who took the opportunity to support frontline operations. After a short briefing we worked in teams of three at various bus stops around the capital. Our mission: to help the public get to where they wanted to go.

Yes it was cold, yes it was a very long night, but as I made my way home at 4.30am I made my New Year resolution to find more time to get out and about in the organisation that I work.

fireworks just visible over the top of buildings in london

London fireworks just visible from Tottenham Court Road

Why? For me, the night was a reminder of some important principles for internal communications:

  • The importance of knowing your audience. Make the time to learn about the work that people in your organisation do – especially if it’s in different locations and hours of the day to what you do. It’ll help you be a more effective and authentic communicator.
  • Even if you’ve worked in a similar organisation before, every audience is different. In an effort to get to know my audiences, I’ve spent time with car rental franchise owners in the outback of Australia, with paramedics on a Friday night in London and with teams of staff at retirement homes. While all are in operational and service-based industries (and do have some commonalities), they are also very different. Only time spent with your audiences in the role you are now in will help you understand the nuances.
  • The influence held by your customer-facing employees. Every interaction between a customer and an employee can build or damage the reputation of your organisation. Know this, and work out how to use this influence.
  • ‘Purpose’ is your strongest tool for engagement. Find out why people do what they do – what’s their ‘purpose’? I’m lucky to work in an organisation that has such a strong purpose. I felt satisfied after my shift that I’d helped hundreds of people get home quickly and safely. Purpose is the most powerful motivator you have – so use it.
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In defence of the annual staff survey

CC image courtesy of Michael Coghlan on Flickr

CC image courtesy of Michael Coghlan on Flickr

Is there still a place for the traditional annual employee survey?

I think there is.

I’ve been hearing a lot of backlash recently about annual surveys: that a yearly check isn’t enough; that employers should know how their people feel without surveying them; or that senior managers just pay lip-service to the results.

All of this can be true. But it doesn’t mean that the annual staff survey in itself is flawed.

Done right, the all-staff survey should be the piece that gives you the powerful set of data about your people that you can benchmark year on year.

But if that’s all you do, then no wonder you’re not seeing the benefit.

The survey should always form part of a continual cycle of seeking employee feedback. A programme of activity that includes smaller pulse checks, focus groups and discussion about employee issues in as many of your internal channels as possible. And it shouldn’t replace regular check-ins between managers and individuals.

Most importantly, is what happens afterwards. Does feedback get actioned? Does the business improve? Do employees see a genuine intention by the business to show that their feedback matters?

Unless you take action as a result of employee feedback it really doesn’t matter if you survey your people once a year or every single day.

So. If you can’t sustain that, don’t do it.

All surveys need to start with the will of the business to improve and to be a better place to work. They need to be supported by clear processes for acting on the results, and the resources to back this up. ‘We’re too busy to look into this right now’ cannot be an option.

Better still, you develop a culture where everyone feels accountable for business improvements and where everyone is empowered to make those improvements.

It shouldn’t just be the responsibility of leadership; that just isn’t sustainable.

As internal communicators, we need to continue to press our organisations to look beyond the annual employee survey. To build continual improvement into the way we work and as something that everyone is truly responsibly for.

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The connectors get connected: Five key take-aways from Big Yak 2014

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Who needed Glasto this weekend when the internal comms industry had its very own festival…..a festival of conversation at The Big Yak 2014.

And what a conversation it was, with more than 150 new people to meet, exchange ideas with and problem-solve our challenges.

Here’s five of the biggest take-aways from my Big Yak day:

1) Digital literacy was the biggest theme of the day for me.

“Every single role I see coming through, has some element of digital in it now” ~ Michelle Morgan, VMA Group

I facilitated one of the first sessions of the day, ‘The future role and skills of IC’. During that discussion, it was quickly clear that every single person in the room has had their role impacted by digital and social. We spoke about needing to build relationships with our IT departments, understanding in detail the various ESN tools available and the race to learn the language of digital. This theme continued throughout the day, with barely a moment that passed without some reference to digital or social. It got to the point that in the last session of the day we tried so hard to talk about something other than social media!

2) The role of IC continues to grow

Our role and skill-set is expanding rapidly. When we describe what we do, we’re now ‘building relationships across our organisations’, ‘listening’, ‘managing stakeholders’ and ‘coaching our leaders’. We’re ‘acting as change ambassadors’ and ‘facilitators’. We’re ‘measuring value’, ‘increasing our analytical skills’.

Wow! The scope of our role in IC is ever increasing. But one thing we all agreed upon – it’s a really, really exciting time to be a part of this industry!

3) We all work with challenging leaders
“So, are we all just waiting for our leaders to die?!”
Leaders came up an awful lot throughout the day too. We spoke about trying to get buy-in for our ESNs with those who don’t see the point; trying to increase authenticity in leadership visibility; and trying to get our leaders to get out into the workforce and listen. We also shared the frustrations of leaders who fail to act on the feedback that we’re representing from our employees.
By way of problem-solving, there was a lot of talk about working with leaders who enjoy communicating and using them as catalysts for others to follow. We also said that we’re sure to see more and more leaders recruited into position for their communication skills, not just their technical skills.
4) Organisational culture is the context that makes each of our roles unique
I was fascinated by the range of organisations represented at the Big Yak. We shared so many ideas about success stories and challenges. But, if we all worked within the same organisational culture it would be dead easy simply to lift and replicate these ideas in our own workplace. That’s what makes the role of IC so complex – that we each work in unique organisational cultures which means we can never exactly do as others have. We’ll always have to tweak and mould to our own culture. Again, that’s what makes IC so rewarding when we do get it right!
5) Everyone has a battle scar(s) to talk about
“It’s like group therapy”
It was okay to share the battles that we’ve won (and lost). And I was reassured to find so many people had their own battle scars from the world of IC. It was like group therapy in a way – because we are all in this crazy world that we call IC together. And we’re creating the industry as we go. It is an industry that is developing, and developing fast and none of us can really know exactly where it’s headed.
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There were many, many more takeaways from The Big Yak (search #thebigyak on twitter to see just how many!) and I’m sure I’ll be mulling over the ideas that I heard for the days and weeks to come.
On a personal note, hello to everyone I was able to meet on Saturday, it really was fantastic to meet so many talented and dedicated people working in internal communications. We spend our working days connecting the employees in our organisations to each other, so it was great to get the chance to get connected ourselves.
And thank you, thank you, thank you to Jenni, Dana and Rachel of The IC Crowd and their band of volunteers and sponsors for such a fabulous day.
Posted in Employee communications, Internal communication, Leadership, Social Media, Technology | Tagged , , , , , , | 6 Comments

Life as a Brit working in Comms in Australia

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The stunning Sydney city skyline

This week I was very excited to begin a new role as a Communications Manager at Transport for London. It’s a new challenge in more ways than one because it’s my first role back in London after nearly four years living and working in Sydney, Australia.

As I adjust back to life in London, it feels like a good time to reflect on the experiences I had in Sydney and share them so that they might be useful to anyone else considering a period of time working overseas.

Back then, as a Brit arriving ‘Down Under’, I wasn’t sure what to expect from the workplace, my colleagues and what opportunities I might find along the way.

Finding a job 

I was lucky enough to secure my first contract role within a few weeks of arriving in Sydney. I was advised to seek short contract roles to begin with to quickly build my reputation and networks in the city.

  • In Australia, there’s really just one place to look online for a job in Communications. The website Seek.com.au is a great resource and one-stop-shop for opportunities, although you’ll also find more and more roles being advertised on LinkedIn too.
  • Breaking into the industry can be tough if you’re new to Australia, especially if you want to work in external communications. You’ll need to demonstrate an understanding of the media landscape from the off. As I mentioned, taking on short contract roles (perhaps at a lower level than the role you really want), is a great way to build your credibility.
  • Recruitment consultants won’t tend to engage with you until you’re in the country – it’s worth a try, but it’s best just to give them all a call as soon as you arrive to arrange meetings.
  • The industry is very small and people know each other – which is why your reputation is so important. Once you’ve proven yourself in one role, you’ll find it much easier to secure subsequent roles.

The way of working

  • Australians might speak English, but sometimes it can seem like a completely different language! I wrote about some of the differences I discovered on an earlier post ‘Why Aussies and Brits don’t speak the same language’.
  • Working patterns are different to the UK: since summer falls across  Christmas and New Year, long school holidays stretch from early December to the end of January. You might find businesses begin to wind down a few weeks before Christmas and Australia Day in late January is widely acknowledged as the date things really start to return to normal for the business year ahead.
  • Face-to-face communication can be difficult to maximise as a comms channel: Australia is a beast of a country – it’s a five hour flight from Sydney to Perth for example and 12 hours’ drive even between Sydney and Melbourne. National businesses across multi-sites do build face-to-face into communications, but it’s used sparingly and of course this can be a major challenge in engaging remote employees.
  • Major business hubs (in approximate order of prominence) are: Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane, Perth. The capital Canberra is really a centre for Government.
  • Life in Australia is so varied and diverse, it’s really like nowhere else on earth. Remote townships in the Outback lie hours and hours drive from major cities. While Sydney and Melbourne aim to compete on a global scale in terms of business, culture and leisure. Not only does this make for a very varied workforce, but also a varied population in general. One of the most valuable trips I made was to the Outback town of Broken Hill, population 22,000, to understand what life was like for one of the franchisees of the business I was working for as Communications Manager. My advice is to travel as much as you can before you settle on where to live, so that you can to try and understand the culture of this place and what makes it tick. Real Australia is not Sydney!

And finally….

Australia is a friendly and positive place to live and I enjoyed every minute of the time I spent over there. Australians were fortunate enough to have not felt the impact of the GFC as much as the UK and it really shows. There’s a real sense of optimism, creativity and innovation which is infectious. There are so many opportunities in Australia to take advantage of – good luck!

 

Posted in Careers, Employee communications, Internal communication | Tagged , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Australian Edelman Trust Barometer results revealed….how does Oz stack up?

Employees – not leaders – are now the most trusted source of information about business in Australia across four key areas: customer service, innovation, business practices and leadership information.

These are the findings of the Australian Edelman Trust Barometer 2014.

The research also shows trust in ‘regular employees’ has risen from 33 per cent in 2009 through to 53 per cent in 2014. I think the large increase should send a clear message to businesses of the importance of treating employees as the most powerful brand advocates and the value of internal communications in driving this for organisations.

Australian Edelman Trust Barometer findings

You can read the full slide deck of the Australian Edelman Trust Barometer. Some of the key takeaways I took note of for Australia include:

  • Trust in Australia has increased across the board – in NGOs, business, Government (up 13 per cent!) and in media. Trust in every institution is now at its highest point since 2009
  • Trust is six points higher than the UK and nine points higher than the US. Trust in Australia now stands at 58 points on the Trust barometer.
  • Australians are calling for more regulation from Government to protect individuals from business.
  • There is low trust in China – despite China being Australia’s main trading partner.

What are the takeaways for internal communications pros?

I covered the findings of the global Barometer results on a recent blog post here, exploring what internal comms pros could do about the findings.

So what about specifically for Australia?

I return again to the findings that focus on the high level of trust in ‘regular employees’. Slide 20 from the pack demonstrates just how staggering these figures are:

edelman trust barometer

Internal comms pros need to work hand-in-hand with external comms and marketing teams to build-up employees as the greatest asset for the company. The slide pack also lists some of the other ways business can build trust, including: treating employees well, acts responsibly in a crisis, is transparent and open.

Trust in CEOs has also increased since 2009 from 19 per cent to 39 percent. There is still more to do! Slide 23 in the pack highlights the ways leaders can take action. These are all areas internal comms can and should be supporting:

edelman trust barometer australia

 Want to find out more?

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