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.

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“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.