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


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.
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.

An alternative definition for IC

My uni days are a distant memory now (image:
My uni days are a distant memory now (image:

Back in 2004 I was elected Education Officer for my Student Union in Sheffield. It was a full-time job and the purpose of my role was to listen to, and represent the views of students back to the University and the Student Union.

I’ve been thinking a lot recently about the parallels between student representation and the purpose of my role now in internal comms. I think there’s a lot of great tactics I used back then that can be used in IC to give us the edge when it comes to carrying out our role effectively and adding value to the business.

1) Listening

This was always the core of my role as a Student Rep.

I went out and spoke with students to understand their issues. I held regular meetings with small groups to discuss something in detail. I had an ‘open door’ policy whereby students could drop in anytime to talk about something affecting them.

Or they could easily contact me via email or phone – particularly as I handed out postcards with these details on and wore a ‘Education Officer’ t-shirt or jumper around campus.

Parallels to internal comms: So, how many of us can truly say that listening to employees is at the core of our role now? Not just something carried out seasonally: the annual staff survey and various ‘soft’ invites for feedback (in the staff magazine for example). How can we expect to know where the gaps in understanding of the business strategy are (and thus what to communicate), unless we are making listening to employees part of our everyday work.

We need to make listening core to the IC function.

2) Representing back to the business

My role at Sheffield Students’ Union was to be the voice of more than 20,000 students back to the University. I was the one with the seat at the table in high-level Committee meetings or Councils; the one with the privilege of having the ear of those who made the decisions. It was a big responsibility and I made sure I prioritised the key issues facing students and spoke out about them when I could. I helped bring about change, made things better for students and spoke up when management were planning things that I didn’t think would work.

Parallels for internal communications: Increasingly IC has a seat at the table too. We have regular meetings with senior leadership. We’re privy to decisions being made and strategic planning. And because we have the advantage of having our finger on the pulse of employee life, we can represent employees to senior leadership and bring about change too.

We need to focus on being the voice of the employee.

Summary and tips for the role of IC:

Traditionally, the role of IC has been to facilitate better communication.

But for real value, we now also need to be conduits for information – play our part in listening, analysing and filtering. A bridge between employees and management.

In other words – Employee Representation Pros. How’s that sound?

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.

Dealing with stakeholders: how to keep your internal comms schedule on track

Achieving this magic word, on time, every time

My previous post discussed the challenges of keeping internal comms top of mind for your senior stakeholders.

The five examples I outlined are points I raise with my stakeholders when a deadline is about to be missed, to help bring the schedule back onto track.

But, there’s much more you can do, especially from the very beginning of a project, to ensure this never happens in the first place.

Here’s my top ways to keep your internal comms projects and messaging schedule on track:

  • Share your schedule with those involved: Create a schedule and issue this to your stakeholders in advance of the project. Clearly highlight the dates the stakeholders need to provide and sign-off information. Show the relationship between the stakeholder input and the next stage of the project progressing. For example, if your poster cannot go to agency for design work until the copy has been signed-off, then show this. Explain the impact if work is delayed.
  • Look at your sign-off procedure. The bane of every person’s life working in comms – the sign-off process. When it feels like every senior manager and his or her friends wants to sign-off the document or article before it goes out. Look at your process and identify stakeholders that you can safely omit. Target those who are routinely slow with conversations around how to keep to deadline – and then plan in more time to give yourself a stretch.
  • Timeliness versus quality. I’m a big believer that employees need timely, relevant, consistent communication. The content might be word-perfect but unless it reaches people on time, it will lose impact. This means delivering to agreed deadlines. And sometimes this means saying ‘no’ to change requests. It’s having the difficult conversations with your stakeholders that the communication is ready to go out and no further changes can be made once a deadline has passed. I’d rather get a communication out to employees that they need and face an angry stakeholder, than not deliver timely communication. But that leads on to…..
  • Pick your battles. Know the difference when a short delay will not significantly impact employees and when timeliness is crucial. If you’re going to say no to a stakeholder change, make sure it’s nothing too important in the wider picture of what you’re aiming to achieve. Understand the business you are in too – I’ve worked in organisations where a news story had to be live on the intranet by 9.00am every morning. In others, the nature of the business meant keeping to a deadline to the minute wasn’t necessary.

And finally….

  • Understand what’s going on in the rest of the business. Success in working in internal comms is about the relationships you have with the rest of the business. I try to catch-up face-to-face with all the key business areas at least twice a week. This can just be a simple door knock on the office, a chat over the water cooler, or a more formal meeting. By understanding what’s going on in the business at any given time I can better plan my schedule and pre-empt any upcoming hurdles in meeting deadlines.

Do you have any other tips for keeping your schedule on track? What works well in your organisation?

Five reasons why internal deadlines matter

Meeting internal deadlines matters

Whether it’s the monthly CEO message, staff newsletter or promised roll-out of an employee engagement campaign, we’ve all failed to meet our own deadlines because of the difficulty of working with our internal stakeholders.

Not providing information on time, wanting to make last minute changes or failing to sign-off within the agreed time-frame. These delays all add up to failure to meet deadlines.

But how do you convince your key stakeholders of the importance of meeting internal comms deadlines against the competing priorities of the business? When there’s no obvious and immediate penalties to the business, how do you explain that it’s more than just your schedule that is affected?

Here’s my top five examples I’ve used to explain to my stakeholders why internal deadlines matter:

1) You risk the communication losing credibility: Failing to meet deadlines for internal communications devalues the importance of the role you (as the comms team) were put in place to fulfill – that of equipping employees with the information they need to do their jobs and engaging employees in the vision of the organisation.

By missing a deadline, there is a signal that internal communication is de-prioritised, it’s not as important as other business, it lacks support from the top. And, if that is so, then why should employees bother to read / watch / listen to the message? Ultimately, does the business value good communication and employee engagement or is it just paying lip service?

2) News ages: If you’re tasked with delivering an important message or update to employees then a key component of its effectiveness is the timeliness. Sending out a message way after the issue has become known to employees loses impact and relevance. You lose the crucial first opportunity to shape and build understanding and minimise negativity and confusion.

If employees continually find out about important issues on the grapevine rather than through official internal communication, then they will switch off from what you are saying and they won’t come back.

3) Consistency and routine: At a previous organisation our comms team introduced a CEO blog to the intranet. This was only publicised via a panel on the homepage of the intranet, never via email or other means. BUT, our commitment was that the blog itself would be updated every Thursday afternoon. This approach was a huge success because it built a routine for employees to visit the intranet at that time of the week to read the latest blog. It built a trust between the CEO and employees that he was a consistent leader and he could be relied upon to deliver.

Not only that it also helped improve our general communications approach because our team knew we could launch other news stories on Thursday afternoons, confident that we could expect a high number of visitors to the intranet.

4) Leading by example: if employees can’t rely on timely communication from the top, they might they feel justified to deliver the same in return in their day-to-day work. Keeping to a schedule gives no greater indication to employees that ‘everything is under control’ at the top. This sense of order, consistency and routine will filter down through the ranks and will be returned in employee behaviour.

5) It’ll cost the business more money: Late or inconsistent internal communication leads to a number of direct and indirect costs to the business. Perhaps this is the most persuasive argument to put to your senior stakeholders. This can range from poor customer service being delivered because staff do not have a crucial product update, or extra charges levied by external design agencies for the extra work created.

Ultimately though, late and inconsistent internal communication causes lower employee engagement. And disengagement leads to the biggest cost to the business of all – less money on the bottom line. The correlation might not be there for the business to see straight away, but it will happen.


Remember, internal communication is just as important as any other part of the business. Our role is about empowering and engaging employees and that directly correlates to the success of a business. Stand your ground when it comes to getting your comms out on time – an IC deadline should by no less important than any other deadline.