Category Archives: Internal Communications

Why internal communicators should emulate the envoys

Internal communicators often take on many guises – planner, writer, editor, director, negotiator, policeman and magician (!) to name a few.

Diplomat is another – and maybe it’s our most important trait. I certainly think so after reading Sir Ivan Rogers’ letter to civil servants at UKREP, the government department representing the UK in negotiations that take place in the European Union, following his resignation as the UK’s ambassador to the EU yesterday.

Putting the politics of his resignation and the reaction to it to one side, Sir Ivan’s letter is a striking piece of leadership communication. While it may well have been intended for external consumption as much as for his staff, it’s transparent, credible and authentic to the outside eye. Above all, it conveys the principles and values he cherishes, which appear at odds with others’ expectations of the EU ambassador’s role in Britain’s Brexit negotiations.

“Never be afraid to speak the truth to those in power…”

“Support each other in those difficult moments where you have to deliver messages that are disagreeable to those who need to hear them…”

“Continue to be interested in the views of others, even where you disagree with them, and in understanding why others act and think in the way that they do…”

“Always provide the best advice and counsel you can…”

These are professional parallels we should envy and emulate if we aspire to be trusted advisors. It means getting under the skin of our organisations, understanding how and why people are reacting to change and playing that back to leaders “unvarnished”, as Sir Ivan puts it, so subsequent decisions and actions are supported with a complete and correct picture.

Diplomacy is the skill of managing relations in the best interests of a country or organisation. I think it’s at the top of the list for internal communications development in 2017.

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When internal communications is the greatest

Last year, to mark 100 years of the iconic Coca-Cola bottle, we asked our employees to share their best memories of working for us and put them in a special edition of our magazine.

We got dozens – enough to write 100 stories in each of our six country editions of the magazine.

The one I’ve reproduced here is my favourite by far. I share it now not just because of who it’s about, but as a reminder of the main reason I love working in internal communications: talk to people about a subject in a way that connects with them, and you’ll be amazed what you get back.

“Muhammad Ali was the headliner at a Coke event for employees in Atlanta in the early 2000s – his wife spoke for him as Parkinson’s disease had taken its toll. The interaction was truly inspiring and emotional for everyone.

When it was over, I ran around the stage to about 20 yards away and shouted at him: “Champ, champ… you’ll always be the champ!” Ali looked around to see who was yelling and we locked eyes. Instead of getting in his limousine, he made his way slowly over to me – clearly against his entourage’s wishes.

He walked right up to me and whispered in my ear: “I think I can take you…”

He put up his hands and I put up mine and for the next few seconds, me and the greatest boxing champion of all time – maybe the greatest sports figure of all time – shadow boxed, nose to nose. It was a moment I’ll never forget.”

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Credit:  Pakpoom Silaphan

Corporate jargon – brave enough to ban it?

It seems reactions to corporate jargon are rising.

Forbes lists 25 ridiculous phrases to stop saying at work, there’s a Wimbledon-style draw to vote for the worst jargon of all time and a helpful flow diagram is doing the rounds to check whether you’re a member of the Four Tops if you ‘reach out’ at work.

Is revolution in the air? Have communicators finally had enough, or is this just silly season stuff that sinks at the start of September?

I’ve blogged before about the courage communicators need to confront jargon. It can be tough to convince colleagues that simpler really is better and we can all be guilty of slip-ups. Also, every organisation and industry has abbreviations and acronyms that are unavoidable to include in our communications.

What’s encouraging, though, is how some organisations have taken steps to ban jargon outright. The best I’ve seen by far is by the Government Digital Service in the UK, which has an excellent writing and style guide for civil servants and a list of words to avoid. Here’s an example of one:

Deliver (pizzas, post and services are delivered – not abstract concepts like ‘improvements’ or ‘priorities’)

It seems to me that a formal style guide like this gives direction to communication teams and power to their elbow when they’re up against someone who’s brimming with buzzwords.

Does your organisation have a style guide with an emphasis on plain language – and has it helped stem the flow of ‘synergies’, ‘leverage’ and ‘sweat equity’? (That last one is my personal ‘favourite’ right now.) I’m interested to hear from anyone who’s been brave enough to introduce one and see the benefits.

Internal communications – art or science?

Some posts I’ve been reading in recent days have got me thinking about an age-old question for internal communicators – is what we do art or science?

At the risk of getting splinters in an uncomfortable place, I’m going to say both – but not necessarily in equal measure.

The ‘science’ is important. I strongly believe that what we do has to be grounded in various degrees of process and theory. The models vary, but it’s vital to understand what your organisation is trying to achieve and how internal communications can support that. Who needs to know what, when and how, with a clear sense of why that’s important and the desired outcomes you’re looking for.

Measurement continues to be an essential element of the science side of our world. It’s gained weight with the wealth of metrics relating to digital data and that’s a good thing. But in all truth, any and all measurement is good and this is where theory and established practice helps, be it a particular engagement model, a sound way to structure a survey, or simply taking time to visit and talk to people in a factory, office, call centre or out in the field. You can’t beat front-line feedback.

Best of all, measurement is often how you can influence business leaders, many of whom think in numbers – be that financials, products sold and produced, or customer service levels. Connecting what you do to their metrics, and showing them the difference you make in language they understand, is critical for the credibility of communicators.

So what about the ‘art’ side of our profession? Ignore it at your peril. If your strategies and plans stay in your head or on a page, or have no life or energy, you’re not going to move off first base. I passionately believe that internal communications makes a real difference, and is at its best, when it creates an emotional connection with people.

Recently, I was leading a training session for our commercial teams and it closed with a video that my team had produced to summarise the course content. It made one participant cry and five or six more applauded when it ended. That meant more than the comments and scores on the feedback forms at the end of the course.

Creativity is key – be that ideas, campaigns, words or pictures. The art of internal communications is about making what you want or need to achieve compelling and engaging for the people you need to reach. With that, your theory becomes practice and your measurement will have meaning. The art brings the science to life. Without it, internal communications is, well, lifeless. There, I’ve jumped off the fence…

In truth, the best internal communications leaders, teams and people appreciate why the art and the science are important – and have the skills to deliver both for their organisations. That’s what makes our profession attractive, interesting and effective.

So are you more artist or scientist? Let me know what you think…

The power of plaudits

The Coca-Cola Enterprises team were out in force last night at the CIPR Inside Story Awards, and we were thrilled to go home with a win and a few highly commended gongs to our name.

It was a wonderful occasion – hats off to the CIPR organisers for putting on a night to remember. As someone who turns 40 today, there are few better places to spend the last day of your 30s than at the top of the Gherkin, with London twinkling below and good company and conversation all around.

It’s great that we now have several high-calibre awards dedicated to internal communications. You cannot underestimate the power of recognition for your efforts by your peers. All of us work hard and we’re often our most vocal critic. We want to do better. We know we can do better.

But sometimes, in the break-neck world we work in, it’s good to pause and take stock of the work we do and what others think of it. Award nights give us that chance. Internal communications often works in the wings but deserves its moment on centre stage. Grab it when it comes along.

So congratulations to everyone whose name was up in lights at the Gherkin last night, or on previous awards occasions. You rock. Be proud.

“Make me care” – the start of storytelling

Last Friday our team spent valuable time out of the office, away from the day-to-day, to talk about storytelling.

I’ll freely admit that come the end of most weeks, I feel knackered more than anything else. But on Friday I felt inspired – to see what we’d planned for a few weeks come to life, and the appetite our people have for using storytelling more in our communications, internal and external.

We talked a lot about the principles of storytelling – and you can read chapter and verse about them elsewhere. The line that will stay with me the longest from our work on Friday is this: “Make me care.” It’s from Andrew Stanton’s excellent TED talk on storytelling – and if you haven’t seen it, I recommend you take 20 minutes of your time, because it’s worth every second. (But maybe not if you’re Scottish and your name’s McGregor…)

How much do your employees care about what they read or watch at work? Internal communications has to fight tooth and nail for their attention – so when you catch it, are you doing enough to keep it? I’ve long believed that the internal materials we produce compete most with what people read or watch in the outside world. So what can we learn from the papers, books and magazines on the news stand, the films we watch or the writing on the web? What is it that they do well, better or best?

I believe good storytelling is part of the answer. And there are opportunities in every organisation to find good stories. Inspirational leaders, great managers, passionate people on the front line, things that go right, things that go wrong. The challenge for communicators is to find the best way and moment to tell them. And in our organisation, there’s no doubt we can do more of it.

The other thing that will stay with me from Friday’s session is this: it isn’t easy. In a lot of cases, it requires courage and a cultural shift for some people to open up in the way you want. It’s one thing to say it’s time to take a different approach but another to actually do it. But when trust in organisations, industries and leaders is under more scrutiny, surely now’s the time to act.

We’ve set ourselves a few simple goals. We’re going to keep sharing great examples of storytelling as inspiration. We started our away day with these and it really set the tone. And we’re going to start, without fanfare, applying what we learned to what we can control – like using less jargon and reviewing our work against some simple guidelines that we’ll build from our discussion. It’s important to turn words into deeds.

So lots more to do, but the best thing is that we’re under way – and no-one needs to make our team care. They do. The prologue’s written and chapter one’s about to begin.

Digital communications – some secret ingredients

I was chatting to some fellow internal communicators recently about our digital work at Coca-Cola Enterprises, and it wasn’t until afterwards that I realised what a frantic – and fantastic – few years it’s been.

In that time we’ve launched an internal social network now used by 70 per cent of our employees, re-launched our intranet (front end once, back end twice), introduced a mobile version of it and revamped our digital signage system. We’ve won a few awards along the way, learned from other organisations who’ve been interested in what we’ve done and shared our story at conferences and seminars across Europe.

The journey never ends – we have more ambitious plans for the year ahead – but it feels like the right time to reflect on how we’ve achieved what’s happened so far. And believe it or not, it’s not down to bundles of budget. So here are some of our secret ingredients…

Have a clear purpose and goals
Almost everything we’ve done is with the main aim of improving employee productivity – which supports business goals about efficiency and effectiveness. We’ve set out to make things easier, faster and better for people to read, find or do. Everything we’ve delivered gets marked against that mantra. Better communications is a healthy by-product, but it wasn’t what we’d chiefly set out to achieve. As with all good strategies and plans, know what it is you need to achieve – and stick to it.

Governance is golden
Building on the earlier point, you can have the best-looking intranet in the world but it’s not much use if it’s not doing what your organisation wants. So who’s holding the experts and enthusiasts to account? Each quarter, commercial and operational leaders meet with the communications, IT and HR teams who manage our digital tools and channels. They act as challenger and champion, ensuring there’s a common understanding around the table of what’s needed and what’s being delivered, and then sharing that story back in the business. Without them, we wouldn’t have made so much progress – not least because this governance group has C-suite sponsors. Three of our CEO’s team, including our CIO, attend almost every meeting and the top man himself joins at least once a year. If you have leaders who you know will recognise the value that digital can add to your organisation, get them together to support and drive your agenda.

Listen to your employees
It’s a no-brainer, right? You’re clear on your goals, you know what your organisation needs, you have the support of its leaders – but what about the people on the receiving end? Ask, listen, respond, repeat. Survey, quick poll, show of hands, focus group – it all counts. Clock up the road, rail and air miles to go and hear what they have to say, and feed it into your decision-making. What’s slowing their job down? What’s stopping them from spending more time with customers, or going home on time? How can digital communications make that better? It’s worth the effort, because I guarantee you’ll be enlightened every time, you’ll be even clearer on your purpose – and you’ll be appreciated for taking the time to listen.

Have your eyes on the horizon
Technology moves fast – so do you know enough about what’s ahead to anticipate how it may help or hinder your organisation? One of things I like most about digital communications is the pace of change. But that means you need to be on your toes. So absorb as much as you can from your colleagues, peers and other organisations. Get out there, physically or virtually, and understand new ideas, ways of working and how things are done elsewhere. There have never been so many ways to learn from others, so take advantage. It will add value to your organisation by the bucket-load.

So that’s our story – what’s yours? Anything missing? Really interested to hear how you’ve made digital communications work in your organisation, or the challenges you face.