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.
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How important is technology to employee engagement?

Can the latest technologies increase employee engagement?
Can the latest technologies increase employee engagement?

I’m lucky enough to have a workplace-provided iPhone, iPad and latest model laptop. I can BYO my own iPhone or iPad to the office if I choose. I can work flexibly on wi-fi around the building and my manager supports me to work from home if I need to. Collaboration through technology is easy – via video conference or on our award-winning social intranet.

Does this all add up to making me more engaged as an employee?

Well, a new(ish) report suggests that it might.

Google recently commissioned Deloitte to prepare a report on the workplace impacts of digital technologies.

Issued late last year in Australia, the report – entitled ‘The Connected Workplace’ – suggests that increasing the availability of digital technologies in the workplace could help to improve employee satisfaction.

It states:

“This report is founded on the hypothesis that greater access to digital technologies would increase productivity and build employee engagement and improve satisfaction. In turn, this should reduce employee turnover and help businesses retain the best talent at a time when human resources managers need more ammunition to win the war for talent in the digital economy.”

The sorts of things the survey found important to employees were:

  • Fast internet speed
  • Flexible policies (social media, BYOD, telework)
  • Comparative home and workplace technology
  • Adequate help from the IT department
  • Access to online collaborative tools

What strikes me is that these aren’t the sorts of findings that are likely to be discovered in the typical staff satisfaction survey. When do we ever ask if people like using the laptop they’ve been allocated by IT? Or check if they are satisfied with the speed of the internet? More importantly – do we ask how the technology we offer in the workplace makes them feel about the company they work for?

No. Instead, our staff satisfaction surveys tend to focus on traditional workplace culture and management. So how can we discover these findings for ourselves and act on them?

The Deloitte report is well worth reading and also worth considering some of the findings for your own business. Look around – is there open access to facebook? Can employees work from home? Is the internet fast? If you answered yes to all three, then great, there may not be a problem. But if it’s a no, you might find that underpar technology and technology policies are damaging your employee engagement. Does your business have a digital strategy to improve this?

Maybe it’s time to revamp your staff survey this year to find out how technology is impacting engagement and productivity.

A final word from the report:

“Handing out tablets to employees will not necessarily increase their engagement and productivity at work. However, a clearly planned and strategic approach to rolling out digital technologies is likely to make employees feel more involved, inspired and ultimately more engaged with the business.”

 Read the full report here.

Please let me know your thoughts in the comments below!

Do our internal comms need a diet?

two%20people%20eating%20burgerJust a few years ago an internal comms strategy was akin to the ‘three square meals a day’ approach.

It was designed to be hearty and filling, with enough nutritious energy to sustain employees throughout the working week. Sure, there were gaps between meals, but when a meal came along, you knew that you’d find something satisfying. A chunky monthly CEO message, a filling employee magazine for dinner. What’s more, employees could sit at the table in anticipation, build an appetite and know when and what they were getting.

Okay, so not everything was that great. For one thing, we used to serve up breakfast, lunch and dinner on the table and run back to the kitchen. Everyone ate alone and we never asked anyone what they wanted to eat.

But slowly, we adapted. We sat down with our employees and ate at the table too – great! We started conversation over dinner – excellent! And we even got employees cooking meals too and serving them up themselves – even better!

But then, somehow, we lost our way.breakfast lunch dinner

Nowadays, employees never know when the next big feed will be because as well as the three square meals, we’ve allowed an array of snacks and junk food to be available on demand. Everything has become too messy, available without much thought into why it’s being served, and lacking nutrition.

So when did we comms teams become feeders? When did we allow our employees to binge on our comms?

For one, we allowed everyone to start cooking. We gave some training, and we opened up lots of places for the dishes to be served. We were so happy to see our people cooking, that somewhere along the way we forget that the kitchen still needs a head chef, a menu and a weekly meal plan.

Maybe we were just reflecting the (digital) world we live in? We were so keen to replicate the 24/7 drive-thru that is social media, that we unintentionally overfed our employees. We’ve lost track of what we’ve put on the table and we need to remember to give people the time to digest the important stuff.

And, sometimes I think we’ve lost sight of what’s important – those three square meals a day serve a real purpose. They help our people become stronger, with more energy and an appreciation of what they’re eating and why. In contrast, the junk lacks nutritional content, and worse, it means noone is hungry for the next meal. They lose an appetite for the good stuff and noone knows where they are because everyone’s just constantly eating.

diet picAs comms teams we need to take back control of the meal planning, bring back some routine and ensure our people get enough of the good stuff as well as the snacks. It’s a new year, and as most of us try to shed those unwanted xmas pounds, maybe it’s time to put our comms on a detox too?

Let’s ditch the junk and keep snacking to a minimum. Help our employees to understand the nutritional value of our comms by keeping our strategies focused on those three square meals a day.

What do you think? Do our internal comms need a diet?

Look who’s talking: how social media brought our meeting room etiquette reminders to life

1look who's talking

It’s a typical day in the office. A colleague visits your desk. People are continually running overtime in meetings, he says, and it’s impacting meetings that follow. He says he’d like to make people aware that they need to keep to set meeting times.

On auto-pilot, you suggest an email to the PA network, a reminder message on the intranet  and perhaps some notices on meeting room doors. Job done.

But how about trying something different? How often do we look at a common comms situation – something as seemingly mundane as meeting room etiquette – and think of ways to actively engage our audiences, involve them in the issue and encourage positive action?

Here’s an example of how I took the challenge above and tried something new……

Case study: ineffective meetings campaign

  • The objective of this campaign was to change behaviour, so the approach needed to involve employees and prompt action. With a colleague I created the idea of a designated day when we would encourage employees to ‘take the pledge’ to finish their meetings on time.
  • Rather than launching the campaign through a news article or email, we looked first to social media.
  • We used the collaboration area of the intranet (ours is combined, yours might be yammer, chatter etc) to start a conversation, creating a hashtag #itakethepledge to ensure the conversation was searchable and collected in one place. The post went something like this: “Fed up of meetings not finishing on time? Why not do something about it this Friday by taking a pledge to finish all your meetings on time? Show your support by commenting on this post and include #itakethepledge.”
  • We emailed a network of supporters asking them to comment on the post, ensuring it got off to a good start. (This was VITAL to the success of the campaign).
  • Momentum then took over – before long dozens of people were posting #itakethepledge to show their support and ‘liking’ the post. The more people who commented, the longer the post stayed as the top post on the activity feed – meaning more people were likely to see it.
  • By now, we’d got ourselves something newsworthy. Now it was time for the news story. I created an intranet news article about all the employees who had signed up for the day of action. I linked back to the activity post, encouraging even more people to take the pledge.
  • Finally, we took the campaign offline, displaying some posters around the office too.
  • On the day of action – ‘pledge day’ – we continued the conversation on the intranet, reminding all participants of the pledge and asking them to spread the word about the campaign.

It’s worth mentioning that the entirety of the above campaign comprised no more than a few hours work. Yet it generated more conversation, more interest and more genuine engagement than any standalone news article could have ever hoped to do. While it started off as an experiment, with little planning, it’s given us so many ideas for future comms challenges. We plan to repeat the campaign in the new year.

Top tips for how you can use an enterprise social network campaign in your business:

  • make it an issue people care about (late running meetings frustrate everyone).
  • make use of your networks: you need a network of people to help join the conversation to get the momentum going. So pre-existing relationships across the business are a must.
  • monitor what’s happening: keep a close eye on the conversation, if you start to see signs it’s fizzling out, then spice it up with a new angle or ask a few co-workers to write a post.
  • use the traditional channels too: once the conversation went crazy, we knew we were onto something exciting and followed it up with a news story on the intranet and slides on the plasma screens in the common areas of the building.

Have you tried anything like this campaign? Please let me know in the comments field!

What new skills did you learn as a comms pro in 2013?

As December rolls into place on my iPhone calendar, I started to reflect on my year at work.

I’ve worked in various roles in internal and external communications, PR and journalism since 2000, but never before has my skillset needed to widen, deepen and adapt moreso than in the last 12 months.

Here’s just a few of the skills I’ve needed this year to do my job, represented in a word cloud. Many are new skills, some build on existing skills I had previously….

(wordcloud created using www.tagul.com)
(wordcloud created using http://www.tagul.com)

I think it’s a great showcase of what’s so exciting about the role of a communications professional. The increase in digital skills is a key theme and while writing is still a core strength for the role, so much more is required in today’s workplace. I can’t wait to see how our industry continues to evolve in 2014…..

What do you think? What skills did you learn in 2013?

Speaking then blogging – what’s wrong with that?

Tesco PLC Group CEO Philip Clarke delivered an inspiring speech at the FT Innovate event in London yesterday.

His theme was around innovation in the workplace and you can read the full transcript of his speech here.

Shortly afterwards, Mr Clarke posted this blog article about his experiences at the event.

The opening to the post begins: “This morning I spoke at the FT Innovate 2012 conference…..”

Clearly, by using the past tense, Mr Clarke has indicated that the blog was written after his speech.

It is portrayed as a reflection on the morning’s events.

The problem is, the blog was posted literally minutes after Mr Clarke completed his speech at the conference. Unless I am missing something it is nigh on impossible that he would have been able to write, edit and post such a blog in that timeframe.

So now there is some ambiguity. Now we’re thinking – well, was he trying to make it look like it was written afterwards? Did he actually write it at all? What does this say about his other blog posts?

I really don’t think Mr Clarke was being intentionally misleading with his opening line. He doesn’t actually refer to anything more from the event in the blog. All he does is talk further about some of the themes of innovation.

I think what happened is the wrong choice of opening wording. Clearly the article was written before the speech, with every intention that it would be posted shortly after the speech. (I also like to think that Mr Clarke writes his own blog posts, whether or not it is later edited and posted by the comms team on his behalf).

Simply changing the wording would have given the clarity needed to the post to explain this. Something like: “This morning I will be speaking at…” or “As you read this I will have just finished speaking at…”

Now, let’s go back 12 months to another example of an article that was written before an event had taken place and that was also misleading. On an entirely different level, we will all remember what happened when journalists from the Daily Mail mistakenly published the wrong verdict from the trial of Amanada Knox.

In this case, in trying to be the first to break the news, the Daily Mail made up most of the story, including details about the supposed ‘reaction’ of Knox to the result. This was completely unacceptable because of the creation of entirely fictitious elements and because the newspaper really did portray itself as reporting on the event after it had happened.

In this case, the article does undermine the rest of the news published by the Mail Online – it’s easy to believe that the newspaper would regular pre-write news stories with fabricated content.

As different as they are, what both the examples show is the need to tread carefully when we are writing in advance for the web.

It’s fine to prepare materials in advance, as long as it’s clear that this is the case and as long as information isn’t pre-empted or presumed.

What do you think? Should we ever write blog posts in advance? Is the post from Philip Clarke discredited because of the opening line? Does it make you think differently of his blog as a whole?

Why your marketing team should not be controlling social media

Over the last few days Aussie clothing retailer Target has been the latest in a long line of brands to suffer the backlash from a foray into social media.

Marketers from the company pushed Target’s latest product line – girl’s clothing – via its facebook pages with the presumable aim of reaching an audience of highly-engaged mothers.

But it backfired. The mums saw the clothing as too adult-like for their seven year olds. Criticism picked up pace until the issue made headline news in the morning papers.

What Target planned as a simple product advertisement on a free channel, has now turned into an exercise in crisis media management with the comms team picking up the pieces. (On a side note, I don’t believe in the long-term the Target brand will be damage badly – there’s been as much positive feedback on the lines as negative anyway.)

And, what’s happened to Target is a great example of just where social media management is going wrong in companies at the moment.

As Social Media Consultant Thomas Tudehope commented to the Sydney Morning Herald:

”Historically, it’s been all about their [the brand’s] own content – namely ‘What are we going to post on our page?’ Now it will be the other way around – what are users going to say on our page,” he said.

Yes, what’s gone wrong is that fact that on the whole, the strategy, execution and day-to-day management of social media sits with marketing teams.

And the battle goes like this: CEO/management team decides the company needs to be on facebook. CEO/management team thinks hey, this could get us more sales / hits to our website etc. So CEO/ management team surveys current departments and thinks well, that’s just what our marketing team currently does.

But, whilst this may seem like a common sense approach, the reality is vastly different.  Because what marketing teams don’t do is have conversations with their audiences, deal with positive/negative feedback or manage reputation and sentiment.  They very skilfully promote products and services to drive business, but not the company’s corporate image and profile to drive reputation – nor have to prepare responses when promotion is not well received. Marketeers buy coverage, they don’t earn it.

I read an interesting report on Trends and Issues in Corporate Affairs 2012 from recruiters Salt& Shein earlier this year which has stuck in my mind for a while now.

This extract from page 16 is part of a dedicated section on the battle over social media in companies in Australia right now:

‘THE EXPERIENCE OF ONE HEAD OF FUNCTION IN THE RESOURCES SECTOR SUMMED UP THE CONUNDRUM FACING SOME COMPANIES:

“We have an ongoing debate about who owns social media, and you do get knee-jerk turf wars developing. The corporate affairs department argues it should sit with them because it’s about managing the message, but the marketing department sees it quite differently. For them it’s about corporate brand. But in reality social media runs across the organisation and it is just as important to customer service and the help desk as it is to the guardians of corporate reputation.”’

I think the point is that to achieve success in social media, it needs to be everyone’s business. If social media currently sits solely with your marketing team you NEED to start asking questions. Start asking what will happen when it goes wrong. Are we getting the results we need. What value could other areas of the business add and can we get champions from across the business involved in the strategy. At the very least, a joint approach is needed to every strategy and campaign. Marketing and Comms working together for shared goals.