Reflecting back on The Big Yak

Reflecting back on The Big Yak

There’s a special feeling that comes from sitting in a room full of people that really love their work. People that will happily give up a Saturday for an all-day ‘Unconference’ in the middle of summer.

Find me another event where the organisers have to send an email to attendees the day before requesting that they ‘please do not arrive too early!’.

Yep, you’ve guessed it, that’s The Big Yak.

This year, I joined discussions on purpose, measurement & ROI, coaching senior leaders and values & behaviours. As always, it’s the format of this event that makes it so worthwhile. Small groups, informal discussion and participants who want to help each other, connect, learn and share.

Here are three of my top takeaways that I’ve been reflecting on this week:

On measurement & ROI…..

  • Measurement must start with objectives; one of the main reasons we end up scratching our heads and counting open rates is our failure to establish objectives at the start.
  • Setting objectives means pushing the business on what success looks like. And that can involve challenging conversations.
  • There’s no silver bullet. Again, as so often with The Big Yak, it’s a relief to know you’re not alone with your challenge. In a circle some 30-strong, it was clear that we’re all still grappling with how to measure effectively and demonstrate our value. We’re doing what we can!

On coaching senior leaders…..

  • It starts with trust and trust starts with relationships.
  • Building trust enables us to challenge & coach.
  • Trust allows leaders to be vulnerable – accepting that they need help to be a better communicator.

On purpose….

  • Do you have a defined organisational purpose? Is it really a purpose, or is it a mission, a vision or your values? I love it when your thinking is challenged: I walked into this session ready to learn about how we can connect people to purpose. It ended up a lively (and much more valuable) discussion about the different types of purpose – organisational and individual, and purpose vs mission vs vision.
  • That said, I also valued a sensible reflection at the end of this session – let’s not get too caught up on the academics of it. Do our leaders really care too much if it’s a mission or a vision or a purpose. The point is that you embed something that everyone can rally around.

And a final point…..

Four years ago, at the last Big Yak I attended, I wrote about five key reflections from the day:

  • The importance of digital literacy for IC
  • How the role & skillset of IC is expanding
  • Working with senior leaders
  • Organisational culture & how that frames IC strategy
  • Shared experiences – the common ‘battle scars’ IC professionals share

As you can see, what’s interesting is that there were definitely some common themes for me four years later, perhaps with the exception of digital literacy, which really is a given now for anyone in IC.

My final takeaway is therefore a quote I heard on the day: ‘to be kind to ourselves’. The challenges we face are common to us all, they aren’t going away, and that’s ok! It’s these challenges which create the need for IC in the first place and where we can add the most value. By accepting this we can be more confident in what we do, continue to push forward and enjoy it!

 

Advertisements

What can we learn about the future of Internal Communication?

 

stateofsector photo

The Gatehouse State of the Sector report for 2018 was published today.

This ‘definitive survey of the Employee Engagement and Internal Communication landscape’ is a great way to get a sense of how IC works in other companies, to learn about trends and discover ideas for future priorities.

I attended an early briefing on the report with Gatehouse a few weeks ago, and I have been through the report again in detail this week.

There’s so much useful insight in the report, it’s really worth taking a look.

In particular, I think there’s a strong story emerging from the data about the future of IC.

So, here’s my top four takeaways on what this data is telling us….

  1. IC teams plan to provide more communication training to their organisations.

62% of respondents declared themselves very or usually involved in providing communication training this year – up from 38% in 2017. That’s a huge increase!

This is a really important stat and I think it’s a key indicator to how IC is evolving for the future. More and more of us are recognising that communication is part of everyone’s job – and our role must increasingly place focus on building capability within the organisations we work in. Less of us ‘doing’ the communications, more helping others to communicate more effectively.

The benefits are enormous, but I don’t think we’ve really cracked how we get there. (This is a great case study of one organisation that has started the journey.)

My hope for next year is that Gatehouse builds in more questions around this topic into the survey itself.

  1. We still need to get better at articulating the role and purpose of IC

Shockingly, more than a third of us say our own leaders don’t really understand what we do and why we do it. [38% of respondents declared that leadership and IC disagree or strongly disagree on the role and purpose of communications]

IC isn’t such a new profession anymore, so why is this still the case?

A couple of the report stats could help explain why:

  • Just 50% of us say we have an annual comms plan of key IC activities
  • Only 33% say we have a written IC strategy
  • Just 29% of us have a written value proposition for internal communication.
  • And, it’s really disappointing to see that 12% of respondents say they don’t measure their communication activities in any way.

Wow!

But, I do have hope for this area – I know that IC is still relatively new in some organisations which could explain the stats above. I also think we’re fast evolving and our role and purpose is changing. As the industry matures and we move from ‘senders’ of messages to ‘enablers’ then that’s a huge education piece and we can’t expect leaders to understand that shift overnight.

  1. We need to spend more time improving our channels

‘Improving digital channels’ has seen a significant increase since last year in terms of a focus area for internal comms.

I think this is linked to my first key takeaway as mentioned above, in that, as we empower more employees to communicate themselves, and build capability within our organisations to communicate, our channels become even more important. Our role will shift increasingly to providing the platforms for others to use to communicate – aka the channels.

We’ll spend more time on governing, maintaining and improving those channels and training others how to use them effectively.

  1. It’s still a great time to work in Internal Comms

I’ve worked in IC for nearly 11 years now (whether in a dedicated IC role, or as part of integrated comms role). I’ve spent time in large global companies, smaller companies, in the public & private sector, in industries including education, financial services, transport and FMCG and I’ve worked in both the UK and Australia. No role has been the same and the challenges and opportunities have been really broad.

What’s exciting about this latest State of the Sector 2018 report is that it really reflects the variety of my own experiences in Internal Comms and highlights the fact that there is a real range of roles and opportunities out there.

For example, in the Gatehouse report, 14% of respondents say their use of social channels within their organisation is advanced, while 16% say social channels are non-existent. And the rest fall somewhere in between.

I’ve worked in organisations with and without social channels and know how the presence of these types of channels can have a big impact on how internal communication flows through the organisation and the culture of the organisation. That requires Internal Comms teams to take really different approaches when it comes to developing an IC strategy, use very different skills and adapt to different ways of working too.
Find out more:
You can download the full report from Gatehouse here. (There’s a sign-up form first)

How a ping pong table might just help your business to grow

employee benefits and office perks such as the ping pong table

Does your workplace encourage you to take regular breaks and rest? Or are you tied to your desk from the moment you walk through the door, with lunch ‘al desko’, until it’s time for you to head home?

Gimmicky employee perks such as ping pong tables, beer fridges and Playstations in the office have come in for a bit of a bashing recently.

And I agree, that when sold as an employee benefit these sorts of things are superficial and only good for their novelty value.

But – let’s look at them another way.

The ping pong table could be seen as a clear sign from the boss that employees are encouraged to take regular breaks, switch off and spend time with each other.

That beer fridge says, hey, we want you to hang out with your colleagues here and not be working yourself to the bone.

And the spaces in the office those items are placed in encourage employees to get together, talk and get to know each other.

So, why is this important?

I’ve been thinking about these ‘workplace signals’ and how they relate to a fantastic talk I heard from Bruce Daisley on happiness in the workplace and the importance of taking a break.

EatSleepWorkRepeat Bruce Daisley with me and my colleague
A cheeky selfie with EatSleepWorkRepeat’s Bruce Daisley and my colleague Kim

Bruce Daisley is the man behind the #1 podcast EatSleepWorkRepeat and a VP at Twitter.

Here’s some of what Bruce shared, extracted from his ‘New Work Manifesto’ that got me thinking:

  • 40 hours of work is enough – the best thing you can do to improve productivity is to work less. By preserving energy, you get more done.
  • Stress destroys creativity.
  • Office chatter about last night’s TV (for example) leads to work discussion. As a result, the most creative organisations are the ones with the most office chatter.
  • The most productive teams are those with the strongest bonds.

The big takeaway for me is that rest and relaxation, as well as time spent socialising with colleagues, could be a real contributor to business growth.

And as I thought through how we actually facilitate that and use it to our advantage, I realised that this is a joint responsibility.

Firstly, for all of us, as individual employees, who need to be more mindful of our work/life balance.

And secondly, for the employer, who needs to plan how they will send an intentional and clear message – both literally and physically through the workplace surroundings, that they value and encourage this balance.

Only then will we see more creative, more productive and happier employees who’ll deliver greater benefits for the organisations in which they work.

I think it’s time to bring on the ping pong!

 

4 employee questions every leader should answer this January

Four employee questions your internal communications must answer this January (1)

After the slumber of the holiday season, January is the perfect opportunity for leaders to fire the business equivalent of a starting pistol for the year ahead.

Get it right and you’ll set a great pace for your people for the next 12 months’ organisational journey.

Misfire this month though, and you could send your employees in different directions, lose momentum later in the year, or worse still not even get them out of the starting blocks.

So to avoid that, here’s four employee questions I think leadership communication should answer this January:

1. What’s our strategy, again?

Even if your business strategy remains broadly the same as 2017, don’t assume your employees will know that. Take the chance to share a recap, point back to previously published resources for further detail and share reminders on information to bookmark for reference.

Maybe it’s also time to reassess your approach to ensure your most important information is communicated clearly, with context, to employees.

2. What’s different this year?

When you communicate your strategy, be clear about what’s the same, and also what is different. Often a list of the things that you aren’t doing any more / aren’t prioritising, is just as valuable for employees to know as the list of the things that you will be doing.

3. What are our specific goals for 2018?

Get clear on what needs to be achieved this particular year. While your strategy may work towards a vision that’s two, three or even more years ahead, get specific about the here and now.

4. What do you need from me?

Ok, while you may not be able to make it personal at an organisational-wide level, answering questions 1-3 above should set the scene. At the very least, your company-wide leadership communications should provide a steer – particularly around the behaviours, skills, mindset and attitude that leaders will need from all employees in the year ahead.

Managers need to be equipped to support their teams to understand how their role connects to the bigger picture. Guidance in the form of talking points / team meeting templates etc will help them to do this more effectively at the local level.

 

Does your internal communication need a diet this New Year?

Does your internal communication need a diet this New Year?

Remember when all internal communications were akin to ‘three square meals a day’?

In the ‘kitchen’, comms teams planned out the hearty and filling news, with enough nutritious information to sustain employees throughout the working week.

A couple of daily news stories on an intranet, a monthly CEO message and a printed employee magazine.

The regular sustenance meant employees could anticipate corporate information, build an appetite and know what they were getting.

Moving past broadcast

Okay, so not everything was so great. This broadcast, one-way communications approach was like serving up a dish and then running back to the kitchen. We forced everyone to eat alone and we rarely asked anyone what they wanted to eat.

Slowly, we adapted and we’ve come a long way since then.

We started to sit down with our employees and we started conversation over dinner.

Most importantly we even got employees cooking and serving up meals themselves.

Employee voice, employee-generated content and the shift in comms teams from content creators to content curators has no doubt benefited the organisations in which we work.

But then, somehow, I think we’ve lost our way.

A 24/7 drive thru of information

We were so happy to see our people cooking for themselves, we started to forget that this snackable content might lack the nutrition of more strategic content. And with so much of it being produced, it would be easy for people to fill up quickly, skip main meals and spend time constantly eating.

In business terms it means we’re seeing information overload, confusion about strategic direction and a lack of understanding about organisational goals.

Putting a communications on a diet

More than ever before, in 2018, our comms kitchens need professional chefs, menus and a weekly meal plan.

We need to give people the time to digest the important stuff and not get overwhelmed by the never-ending supply of snacks on offer.

And so, as many of us try to shed those unwanted xmas pounds this January, maybe it’s time to put our comms on a diet too?

Why not..

  • Take a good look at your existing diet: What are you sharing too much of? Where are the gaps – which ‘vitamins’ aren’t present that will help employees really connect the dots and understand where your organisation is headed? Plan wholesome content for a stronger story.
  • Publish your menu: Create a strategic anchor point by publishing your organisational strategy and throughout the year show how individual ‘dishes’ of content form part of this overarching menu.
  • Label your food groups: Signal to employees that content is ‘need to know’ versus ‘nice to know’ helping them to better self-select what they consume.
  • Move the chocolates away from the till: Curate the best employee stories that support strategic clarity and put these ones front and centre instead. This isn’t about putting a stop to employee voice, it’s about helping people navigate through the noise and making sure we don’t confuse people with too much information.
  • And finally, pass on your expertise with cookery classes and cookbooks: Provide even more training, guidance and toolkits to employees to help build the capability within your organisation for ‘healthier’ communications.

What do you think? Does your internal communication need a diet?

This post is also available on LinkedIn here.

Why a great workplace won’t stop your employees leaving (and that’s ok)

 

Facebook and Google are both rated in the top 10 best places to work in 2018, according to a new Glassdoor list.

Counterintuitively, earlier this year, a Business Insider report found that employees stay just 2.02 years on average at Facebook and 1.90 years at Google.

So why are all these employees leaving so quickly? Shouldn’t a great place to work encourage people to stay? Does that ‘great place to work’ accolade really mean anything at all?

Determining a ‘great place to work’

First, let’s look at some of the factors which contribute to a ‘great place to work’. According to Glassdoor, the winning companies have four things in common:

A mission to believe in:

  • Employees have a sense of purpose and understanding of how they make an impact
  • A motivating mission that inspires quality work

Strong culture:

  • Clearly defined and shared set of values that fosters community
  • Engaged leaders that view positive culture as part of a good business strategy

People focus:

  • Employees are engaged and empowered to do their best work
  • Emphasis on employee growth and development

Transparency:

  • Open and clear communication, from the top down
  • Honest feedback is valued and encouraged

Sounds great right? So, why would anyone want to leave somewhere like this.

Your employees are in demand

What if your employees leave because you provide a great place to work?

What if your mission, culture, focus on people and transparency create the conditions needed for your employees to thrive?

Take a look at the list again. You enable your people to excel, deliver quality work, develop and grow.

Chances are, by doing that you help them become more in demand from other companies just like you.

And that’s also ok, because now that you’re such a great place to work, you’ll continue to attract the best and the brightest. They will in turn help your company to progress and succeed even moreso, with their new ideas and expertise.

Great places to work help create great employees

I think we need to change our attitude towards job tenure and retention. The best employees may not stay for long, but that’s ok.

Instead, we need to help people to reach their greatest potential, during their time that they are with us, in order for them to make the greatest contribution.

A focus on mission, culture, people and transparency isn’t just the right thing to do by your people – it makes business sense too. And that’s a great place to work in anyone’s book.

 

3 quotes on brand purpose from PR Moment’s PR pros event

Last week’s PR Moment ‘brand purpose’ event brought together speakers from M&S, BMW, Lexis Agency and Ladbrokes Coral to share how and why brands develop their purpose and how this impacts communications.

So, what did the PR pros have to say on this topic? Here’s my top three quotes from the evening:

  1. Purpose helps you ‘say no more’ ~ Tania Littlehales, M&S (@tanialmns)

Brand purpose defines why you do what you do and what you stand for.

It allows you to be more strategic by providing a framework for business decision-making.

It will help you to put the customer at heart of everything you do, be more selective about what you do, and confidently say no to initiatives that don’t fit your purpose.

Case in point, this one from M&S, when CEO Steve Rowe felt the brand was losing clarity on what it stood for:

image-e1498508473474.png

 

2. ‘Our brand purpose doesn’t mention cars’ ~ Graham Biggs, BMW @biggs3008

BMW’s purpose doesn’t mention cars. Starbucks’ purpose doesn’t mention coffee.

Why? Because it’s not about what you do or what you make, it’s about how you make the world a better place (credit for this quote: @chonners) 

And in a highly-competitive world that purpose is your differentiator. It’s what sets you apart and influences customer and investor loyalty.

‘The power of purpose’ will also be a key driver for employee engagement. It’s much more inspirational and motivational than any of your products and services.

3. Brand purpose ‘is not a comms thing’ ~ Toby Conlon, Lexis Agency @chonners

It’s no good having a purpose that simply sits on a some documents within the comms team. Brand purpose must be backed up by action.

That means helping employees demonstrate the right values and behaviours, recruiting the right people for your purpose and ensuring leaders demonstrate integrity that’s consistent with the purpose too.

At the sharp end, leaders must be willing to ‘take the hit’ on revenue if opportunities come along which don’t align with the organisation’s purpose.

Take outdoor clothing company Patagonia – its Black Friday promotion told people ‘Don’t buy this jacket’. Why? Because Patagonia believes in sustainability and the company wanted its customers to think twice before they bought new items.

____________________________

Thanks to all the speakers and also everyone at PR Moment for an interesting and useful evening; I really enjoyed hearing about how brand purpose has impacted all of these companies.