Why your annual employee conference is the most important internal communication channel you have

Fresh back from a two-day employee conference I’ve been thinking about how important these events are as part of an annual internal comms calendar.

I think most businesses have moved on from conferences that are simply departmental update followed by departmental update. What we are seeing now is really creative events that give opportunities to engage, inspire, collaborate and align people with business strategy.

Actually, I’ve come to the opinion that your employee conference is the most important internal communication channel available. Here’s why:

– Bring the business strategy to life

If the purpose of internal communications is to engage your people in business strategy and vision, there is no greater opportunity than in a face-to-face interactive environment.

A visionary opener delivered by the CEO will set the scene, create engagement and build the enthusiasm for the goals of the company. Follow this up with sessions aligned closely to the business strategy that create a narrative for the year.

Then mix this up with interactive sessions and workshops to embed the strategy by allowing everyone to create their own reflection on the goals and their own plan for how to contribute.

Get this right early on and you’ll set yourself on the right track for achieving great engagement for the rest of the year.

– Crucial cascade opportunity

Once you’ve got the people in the room on board with the strategy, then conference is an opportunity to leverage this for the whole business. Managers will need to be equipped with the tools to take back what they’ve learnt to their own area of the business. Your conference gives you the crucial opportunity to ask for this commitment, hand out toolkits and set expectations. We issued ‘talking points with your teams’ sheets at conference for managers to take back to their teams to ensure key messages were cascaded down the business. Follow this up with a reminder a week or so after conference with those managers, plus survey frontline staff to check the information got through.
If managers have never been relied upon for this kind of formal cascade approach before, your conference is an even more important opportunity to get this ball rolling.

– A launch-pad for your digital channels

This year at our conference we trialled the use of the enterprise collaboration tool Yammer. Although Yammer had already been established in the wider business (with approximately 30% take-up), setting up a private network for delegates at conference created a closed environment in which this group could experiment with the tool if they hadn’t done so already. With someone on hand (i.e me) to trouble-shoot and help explain how it all works face-to-face, conference gave this targeted group an opportunity to really get comfortable with the tool.  This paid dividends post-conference as the delegates became more active in the general yammer community and championed its use upon returning to their own business area.

Drive traffic to your other channels

Conference provides you number one opportunity to promote your other internal comms channels to the key influencers in the room. Promise to upload photos from conference to your intranet. Promote the use of Yammer. Say that you’ll be writing about the conference in your next internal newsletter or blog.

Even better, take the chance to gather some informal feedback on your channels too.

Content, content, content

Finally, squeeze the most out of every lead you come across for ideas and content. This will see you through the weeks post-conference, but also throughout the year. Take photos of your delegates – you’ll never know when they’ll come in handy through the year; do some face-to-face interviews; and above all, network, network, network, even with those you already know – who knows what you’ll discover.

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Book review: Groundswell…winning in a world transformed by social technologies

Groundswell
Groundswell – winning in a world transformed by social technologies

‘Groundswell’ is the first book I’ve read about social media.

With the digital world moving so fast, it’s hard to imagine a book that would not be outdated by the time it hit the shelves. Besides, when it comes to social media, it’s so easy to build knowledge online. There’s so many great resources available through blogs, thought-leaders and the social media platforms themselves, that you can find everything you need at the touch of a button.

But Groundswell is different. It’s central premise is to ask the reader to stop thinking about the technology platform and to instead focus on the relationships being created through the technology. It reminds us that social media isn’t about ‘facebook’ or ‘twitter’, it’s about people connecting, people collaborating, people organising content, sharing content and generating content.

So by focusing on the relationships, the ideas in the book, and the examples and tools for building your own relationships read as fresh and current as anything that can be found online.

The authors of Groundswell, Charlene Li and Josh Bernoff, pose the reader four key questions:

1) PEOPLE: what are the people you want to engage with ready for? How will they engage?

2) OBJECTIVES: What are your goals? Listening (to understand), Talking (as an interaction), Energizing (driving word of mouth, i.e for sales), Supporting (helping each other) or Embracing.

3) STRATEGY: How do you want relationships with your people to change? How will you measure this.

4) Finally, the TECHNOLOGY: Only at this point do you decide on the right technology for your business.

It seems such a simple concept, but think how many times you’ve heard the ‘oh, we have to set up Facebook’, or ‘everyone’s on Facebook or twitter’.

The most valuable take-out from the book is that for someone who works across both internal and external audiences (i,e me!), this book explores application into engaging employees as well as the public. Amazingly too, this book was published the same year Yammer was launched (2008), yet the ideas about sharing knowledge, connecting and crowdsourcing ideas pre-empt what Yammer has realised for hundreds of businesses.

Li and Bernoff’s key message throughout the book is that we shouldn’t be overwhelmed by the Groundswell. Too many of us are daunted by the prospect of the social media revolution. We’re feeling further and further behind every time another ‘next-big-thing’ – Pinterest or Instagram for example – becomes something new we feel we have to learn about. Li and Bernoff are asking us to take a step back, stop focusing on the technology, and learn about what’s happening within the technology. They say the Groundswell is here to stay, so we need to ride the wave:

“Conversation will evolve continously. Even as the technologies change, the basic conversational nature of those technologies will remain central. If you learn to talk, listen and respond, you’ll master [it].”

And what’s so scary about that?

Groundswell: Winning in a world transformed by social technologies
Charlene Li and Josh Bernoff
Published by Harvard Business Press 

To Yammer or not to Yammer – can we guarantee success with enterprise social tools?

I’m very keen on the idea of the enterprise social network Yammer and what it could mean for internal business communication.

I visualise a time when our interstate frontline staff are discussing the pros and cons of a new business initiative with our senior managers at Head Office. When the CEO spots a game-changing idea from a new employee during his daily check of the site. When our sales teams are reporting back from the field, creating excitement about wins as they happen.

But enterprise social tools like Yammer are not like our traditional internal communication tools:

– We don’t control the message.

– We can’t force people to get involved – and success relies on interaction.

– We can’t guarantee success.

It’s actually pretty scary. I know of plenty of organisations that have experimented with Yammer and it failed. People didn’t see the value, they didn’t find the time and it fizzled out.

At this moment in time, the success of Yammer within my own organisation is at make or break point. Over one-sixth of our workforce signed up within the first few weeks of my soft launch, simply via word of mouth. I invited those people I could rely on to join first. That worked well. A key group of about half a dozen people from across the business were very keen and began posting updates, asking questions, replying to threads and creating groups.

Next, with a good proportion of staff onboard I sent an email to our Senior Management Team, outlining the benefits and asking for their commitment to the network – just five minutes a day, twice a week to begin with.

I also spoke face-to-face with a number of staff: if they were working on an interesting project I suggested a Yammer post. If I was writing an intranet news story on behalf of a business unit, I suggested that they could also promote their work in a status update.

I’ve nudged conversations along, introduced talking points, asked questions and tried to encourage the lurkers.

Now, we’re six weeks in. The initial excitement has died off. There are other business priorities. Less people are joining. Those who signed-up haven’t revisited the site. The goodwill of our Senior Managers is there, but they just haven’t found the time.

So, I’m asking myself some key questions and I’d be interested to hear your thoughts:

– do we just ‘experiment’ with enterprise social tools such as Yammer, or do we strategise the roll-out as we do with all other internal comms channels?

– by creating a strategy for success, can we ever guarantee a social tool like Yammer is a success?

– what does success look like on these tools anyway?

– finally, what can we learn about our employee engagement if there is low interaction through Yammer. How can we use this to influence the rest of our internal communications strategy?

These are the questions I’ll be working through over the coming months…..I’ll keep you updated.