What is the optimum size for an internal comms function?

Project-Management-TriangleI started re-considering this question when I read a LinkedIn status update from my former CommsQuest colleague David Norton who wrote:

It is that time of year again, just had the 3rd meeting this week about Comms budgets for 2016. The good news is that we’re seeing Comms functions get bigger budgets to go with their ever-increasing scope, and interestingly many clients are also looking to recruit new IC specialists next year.

That’s good news for IC practitioners but I find it rather surprising.

It’s true that the companies who have invested in good IC professionals and have experienced first hand the valuable support the function can provide to both the business and the executive team will find ever-increasing opportunities to expand the scope of the function’s activities.  After all, where does employee engagement – a key objective of all my roles over the last several years – start and stop?!

In my view, despite the potential to get involved in a wide range of activities that are ‘urgent’ but perhaps not so ‘important’, the key role of an IC practitioner has largely switched from doing to enabling.  That should require fewer, but more senior/ more influential people in the function.

Let me explain my reasoning.

In the old days the common metric was one IC practitioner to every 1000 employees. By ‘old days’ I mean before the social media revolution forced us to question all the usual communication mores and practices. However for IC to be an effective function in today’s work environment, IC practitioners should be enabling on-going, informed and constructive conversations and knowledge-sharing via a co-ordinated programme of line manager briefings, social media platforms and senior management activities, rather than developing and delivering endless amounts of content.

I recognise that the importance I place on the f2f activities isn’t universally supported. In a recent article by SharePoint and digital consultancy Brightstarr entitled The Five Most Common Mistakes in Internal Communications, number 1 on their list was:

Don’t Be Old Fashioned. Ideas like ‘cascading’ (informing top management, who brief the next level down, etc.) and desk drops have no place in the modern office.”

The article goes on to say: “Dripped down briefings get diluted resulting in the essence of the message getting lost and who needs another piece of paper that will end up in the recycling 0.5 seconds after receiving it? Instead the center piece to a well thought out internal communications strategy should be an employee intranet which allows all employees to view it from everywhere, on any device.”

I agree that the intranet should be positioned as the go-to source for business updates and insights. In my experience, though, this is still an aspiration not a reality for most organisations. Certain groups of employees – millennials for example – are reputed to prefer online comms above any other. However, many (most?) IC campaigns support some type of change initiative that, to be successful, requires the active engagement of employees. I defy any online campaign to be effective at mobilising employees without some direct intervention by line managers to explain the impact on their team/function, plus personal sponsorship at executive team level.

Working with HR, IT and the leadership team, IC can develop a set of organisational competencies that will provide a flexible, readily accessible and trusted communication infrastructure capable of responding quickly and effectively as the occasion requires:

  1. Line manager competency
    Line managers who are capable and confident in their role as key conduits (up and down the organisation) of corporate messaging will enable all employees to understand their role in helping the company achieve its goals.
  2. Social media channels
    The deployment of effective and inclusive social media channels will both facilitate the spread of employee advocacy and engage that section of the employee population for whom this is their preferred means of receiving and sharing information.
  3. Leadership as comms champions
    A leadership team that is a committed, cohesive and trusted participant in the day-to-day communication infrastructure will be well poitioned to mobilise quickly and effectively for the more challenging events.

The Internal Communication and Technology Survey Report jointly produced by Newsweaver and Melcrum in February 2014 revealed that the majority of IC teams continue to work to a ratio of 1 per 500-1000 employees. I guess, as David Norton references, the IC function is having to fulfil its old world obligations as well as respond to the new. At this stage we’re probably all still working out what the optimum size and shape of the function might be.

Posted in Business Leadership, Change, communication channels, Culture, employee advocacy, Employee Engagement, Internal communications, Leadership Behaviours | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

I can’t get no satisfaction*

oh yes its freeI recently happened upon a repeat of a programme called The Next Greatest Generation?  broadcast by the BBC in 2013. It was part of the TED Radio Hour, a series originally on America’s NPR, which explores some of the fascinating ideas covered by a range of speakers on the TED (Technology, Entertainment, Design) stage.  In The Next Greatest Generation? reporter and radio host Guy Raz hears from the ‘Millennials’ – people born between 1981-2000 – searching to define themselves and their generation.

One of the Millennials – Charlie Hoehn – was promoting the concept of ‘free work’. He saw it as a smarter way of building your CV and developing your network than the largely menial and frequently dead-end internship route or the dispiriting cycle of endless job applications.

The premise of Hoehn’s free work concept is to:

  1. focus on the subjects, the people, the businesses that really inspire and interest you
  2. make speculative approaches offering your help, for free, to deliver an identified value-add.

Most entrepreneurs are smart enough to recognise this as a win/win opportunity and free work resulted in Hoehn receiving offers of interesting and paid project work that would otherwise never have come his way.

As Guy Raz was reviewing these TED Talks and talking to the Millennial presenters he came to the inevitable conclusion that money as a career motivator is quite a long way down the priorities list for this generation.

I was interested in Hoehn’s free work promo, particularly as I have recently been told about a rather less positive experience of pro bono work.

Being between roles, with time on his hands and a desire to get to know his local business community, a friend offered his services to a young organisation that is working to develop a specialist capability and community. He was invited to write an engagement strategy and a promotional feature for their website.  The first was quite a tough ask from a standing start but he believed his draft could be developed further by someone more informed without too much effort. The second item he turned around in 24 hours so it would have been a hot-off-the-press news story.

Apart from a grateful acknowledgement of receipt, (received only after he had sent a follow-up enquiry about next steps), he has no idea what happened to either piece.

He told me that he’d enjoyed doing the work and was not unhappy with the outputs. However, with no insight into what, if anything, happened to his work, his job satisfaction and desire to contribute any further to that organisation dwindled to zero.

It did make me think that, if you are not paying for a service or product, perhaps you, almost inevitably, place a low value on it.

In the same way that: “What gets measured, gets done”, it’s also likely that: “Only that which requires payment, is valued”.


*When considering this as a headline for this blog post, I wondered whether I could be sued by The Stones for copyright infringement.  Obviously I could be but I understand that such a suit would be unlikely to succeed.  I found the legal argument around this scenario an interesting read.

Posted in 21st century workplace, career opportunities, Employee Engagement, Millennials, TED Talks | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Understanding the challenges of “The New Workplace”

Image credit: zackography.com

Image credit: zackography.com

In my previous blog I talk about the problems faced by leaders in trying to motivate a multi-generational workforce with widely differing personal goals and career aspirations.  The generational differences were well illustrated in episode 1 of Radio 4’s new series The New Workplace. If you didn’t catch it this week, I highly recommend tracking it down on BBC iPlayer: (http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b0656f2d).

The question the series explores is: Can the relatively low paid, low skilled jobs the UK’s famously flexible labour market has generated in abundance deliver the productivity and growth needed for future prosperity?

The soundbites about the UK’s work environment at the start of the programme paints a depressing picture:

“…low productivity, well below its potential…”
“…unpaid internships; zero hours contracts…”
“…high skilled jobs shrinking; low skilled jobs increasing…”
“..a lack of key skills at all levels..”
“..the skills of our 16-24 year olds are no better than our 55-64 year olds…”

Presenter Michael Robinson looks for answers to the above question within the Whitbread business empire. It is easy to see Whitbread as a microcosm of the UK economy – their roots in manufacturing (brewing), but now exclusively in the hospitality and services industry, owning brands such as Costa Coffee, Premier Inn and Beefeater Restaurants. Whitbread, with a global workforce of 45,000 managed by a leadership team of just 60, effectively illustrates the impact that technology has had on the size and shape of large organisations, with junior employees taking on more and more responsibility, but at much lower pay than their middle management predecessors, which appears to be a dying breed.

People expect far less from their employers than they did a generation ago”, says Ewart Keep, professor of education, training and skills at Oxford University.  Older employees have learnt this from bitter experience. The younger have never known to expect more. It’s no wonder that employee engagement is such a hot topic for so many employers, and for Whitbread in particular, who are keen to reduce the 50% staff turnover that is such a drain on a business’s productivity and performance.

Listening to this programme, it’s clear that the businesses that will succeed in this challenging and fast evolving environment will need to be agile, open-minded and pragmatic. Support functions such as HR and Internal Communications have an increasingly pivotal role to play in achieving alignment between corporate and individual goals and aspirations.

Read Michael Robinson’s article about episode 1 of The New Workplace.

Posted in 21st century workplace, career opportunities, Change, Employee Engagement | Tagged , | Leave a comment

‘Tell me’ versus ‘show me’ – overcoming the limitations of the spoken word.

Image credit: Mauro Parra-Miranda

Image credit: Mauro Parra-Miranda

Sally Magnusson’s book Where Memories Go is the story of her mother’s fight to retain her grip on her articulate self. Mamie Baird Magnusson was regarded as one of the finest journalists of her generation. Her daughter’s book combines an evocative and deeply personal memoir with a manifesto and a call to arms against a disease (dementia) which is fast becoming the scourge of the 21st century.

In her book, Sally Magnusson seeks insights from a range of experts and sources to illustrate society’s response to how we treat older people, how we can face one of the greatest social, medical, economic and moral challenges of our times, and what it means to be human.

One literary reference is a description of how memory can be seen to influence all aspects of an individual’s life from Salman Rushdie’s novel Midnight’s Children: “(memory) selects, eliminates, alters, exaggerates, minimizes, glorifies and vilifies also; but in the end it creates its own reality, its heterogeneous but usually coherent version of events; and no sane human being ever trusts someone else’s version more than his own.”

This idea of memories as a lens through which current events are filtered played into another stream of thought that was preoccupying me: the seeming impossibility of a leader’s ability to inspire and motivate an entire workforce.

Without doubt, internal communications practitioners today spend a fraction of the time they used to crafting speeches, emails, newsletters to be delivered in the leadership’s name to the entire workforce.  However, Accredited Business Communicator Shel Holtz claims employees still want/need to hear from their senior leaders and a huge investment is still made by organisations in events to enable this.

As IC practitioners  work with the leadership to develop the format and messaging for these ‘events’, we are increasingly aware of the wide number of factors that will influence how people hear and respond to such communications:

  • People are motivated by their own personal values set which may differ in significant aspects to the corporate values being referenced, either overtly or subliminally.
  • Career aspirations / expectations of different generations and, indeed, of different groups within generations, vary enormously.
  • People are more or less trusting, more or less cynical depending on their own career path / experience of the organisation.

Plus this one as highlighted by Salman Rushdie:

  • People interpret based on their own contextual experience.

Consequently, it appears to me that the only realistic objectives for any widely disseminated corporate messaging should be limited to:

  • providing clarity of direction
  • instilling confidence in the organisation’s ability to achieve/progress towards a stated goal
  • creating a springboard for others across the organisation to build on

The effectiveness of a leader’s written or even spoken words is limited by external factors (attention span, ‘noisy’ environment, choice of delivery channel) as well as the internal characteristics outlined above.

However, when a leader’s behaviour continuously reflects and reinforces the messaging, (s)he can move beyond the realm of providing clarity and confidence, into the realm of motivation and inspiration. Which is, presumably, where most leaders aspire to operate.

Posted in Authentic communication, Business Leadership, communication channels, Corporate Communications, Corporate Values, Employee Engagement, Internal communications, Leadership Behaviours, People management / motivation | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Four things internal comms and marketing comms can learn from each other

The more we share, the more we haveIn my previous post The Yin and Yang of Corporate Messaging, I referenced Shel Holtz’s article that listed 11 good reasons to keep employee communications as a distinct function, separate from external communication functions.  In this follow-on post, I highlight four areas where internal comms can learn from marketing comms to gain more credibility with the C-suite, and four areas where marketing comms can and should be tapping into internal comms particular areas of expertise.

What internal comms (IC) can learn from marketing comms (MC):

  1. Data analysis and audience segmentation
    Years before IC recognised the inadequacy of a one-size-fits-all approach to employee comms, data analysis and audience segmentation were the bread and butter of marketers. Their awareness of and response to the customer insights that could be gained from the explosion of data as the world turned digital are key drivers behind organisations’ desire to get to grips with the big data phenomenon.
  2. Return on investment (ROI)/research-based measurement
    While a C-suite’s obsession with ROI can be counter-productive, this is an area where, for too long, IC assigned it to the “too difficult” box. IC’s reluctance to get to grips with the complexities and subtleties of measuring hard-to-define outcomes such as employee engagement and change readiness is understandable.  There’s no doubt, however, that the lack of hard metrics on how IC is helping the business to achieve strategic goals has impacted the function’s ability to move from the ‘nice-to-have’, into the ‘essential function’ category.
  3. The language of business
    Most of a marketing department’s activity is assessed and evaluated in terminology used every day around the C-suite – brand exposure, product sales, profitability etc. The C-suite fully understands how marketing contributes to the success of the business. For too long IC’s objectives and contribution were insufficiently linked to the strategic objectives of the business. The same argument is happening all over again as HR and IC try to quantify the value of employee engagement in terms that the C-suite will buy into.
  4. Accreditation
    None of the IC training programmes has the stature and credibility of the Chartered Institute of Marketing or Professional Certified Marketer. It’s rare that the JD of a senior marketing role will not require a relevant qualification, whereas equivalent roles in IC do not yet have any globally recognised certifications. Even fairly senior IC roles are still being recruited from non IC backgrounds. New training programmes such as the IoIC Accreditation Framework are a big step in the right direction, but it’s going to take years to gain the professional status and stature of the CIM.

What marketing comms (MC) can learn from internal comms (IC):

  1. Employee engagement
    Holtz correctly says that employees still want/need to hear from their senior leaders. IC practitioners know however that, without line managers’ support in a communication cascade, successfully aligning the workforce behind any strategic initiative is going to be almost impossible.  Engaged employees are a company’s best advocates. The converse is also true and it’s the line managers who can turn a corporate message into a relevant, persuasive dialogue that will engage team members and also inform the direction of travel for a better outcome for all.
  2. Authenticity
    Employees’ knowledge of the business and of the personalities and reputation of their leaders means that they recognise spin and subtext even before a sentence has been completed. They are the hardest audience in the world because the expectations and pressures of today’s workplace have never been higher so the least they can expect from their leaders is honesty. IC practitioners know this and need to be able to hold the leaders to account.
  3. Substance over style
    IC may be the one function where a communication that looks too ‘designed’ can work against the message. In times of headcount reductions and pressure to make savings, employees can resent any hint of time and money being spent needlessly. For IC, the message, the channel and the timing are all infinitely more important than the smart-looking design.
  4. Employees as brand advocates
    IC practitioners are both members of the workforce and a touchstone for engaging the rest of the workforce. Day in and day out, the IC function is accessing and interrogating formal and informal networks and channels across the organisation to assess attitudes and responses to latest developments. It is IC who is best placed to mobilise the workforce as brand advocates, and it is IC who will first detect if there is anything going on that is constraining employee advocacy.

These are my four crossover learning opportunities between the internal and external comms functions. What do you think?

Posted in Authentic communication, communication channels, Corporate Communications, employee advocacy, Employee Engagement, Internal communications | Tagged , | Leave a comment

Marketing and internal communications – the yin & yang of corporate messaging

Image credit: DonkeyHotey

Image credit: DonkeyHotey

In this blog I have previously written extensively about the future of internal communications and where it should sit within an organisation for maximum effectiveness.  (See The Future of Internal Comms. Is there one? and Internal comms – Poor relation no more? among others.)

I found myself revisiting this debate recently from a slightly different angle as I tried to articulate the differences between marketing communications and internal communications as technical specialisms. In Poor relation no more? I anticipated that “…there is going to be an ever greater blurring of the lines between internal and external comms…” and that the success of an organisation will increasingly depend on the advocacy of its employees so “ … it is more critical than ever to ensure that internal and external messaging is aligned and consistent…”.

Despite this blurring and need for close alignment, I am not predicting that one specialism will be subsumed by the other any time soon. In February, Accredited Business Communicator Shel Holtz explained his belief that “no organizational communication is as important as employee communication.”  Holtz’s article listed 11 good reasons to keep employee communications as a distinct function, separate from external communication functions. These were:

  1. Employees almost always become a second-class audience when PR is responsible for communicating to them
  2. Employees are an equal audience to other, with distinct communication needs
  3. The models and metrics for employee communications are different
  4. While the annual Edelman Trust Barometer consistently confirms that CEOs are among the least credible spokesperson outside the organisation, employees do actually want to hear from their business leader
  5. Employee communicators are best suited to facilitate multi-directional communication
  6. It’s usually not a good idea for employees to learn company news from secondary sources
  7. Establishing channels for employee knowledge and information sharing is not an external communicator’s strong point
  8. Most external communicators are unfamiliar with a lot of internal communication channels and tactics
  9. Companies that communicate effectively with employees are four times more likely to have higher engagement levels
  10. Strategic employee communications accounts for multiple internal networks and channels that are not even on the PR function’s radar
  11. Internal communications is the organisational central nervous system; when it works well, it makes the external communications job easier.

Holtz most convincingly articulates the case for maintaining a discrete internal comms function.  The truth is, you can always tell when an external comms specialist has written an internal comms piece and vice versa. The skill sets may be similar but the mind sets are very different and it’s one of those situations where you just can’t fake the real thing.

Obviously, close collaboration between all comms functions is essential to ensure that the messaging is aligned and consistent and that both internal and external functions are achieving optimal results. In addition to the desirable day-to-day collaboration, there are undoubtedly areas where internal comms can learn from marketing comms to gain more credibility with the C-suite. Likewise, there are other areas where marketing comms can and should be tapping into internal comms’ particular areas of expertise.  In my follow-on post I’ll be suggesting four areas where internal and marketing comms can learn from each other.

Posted in Business Leadership, communication channels, Corporate Communications, employee advocacy, Internal communications | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Everyone’s talking digital transformation, but what does that really mean?

digital-388075_1280There are those who find the digital revolution-in-the-making the most exciting opportunity to shake the world of commerce since the invention of the internet. There are others who find it scary, overwhelming and/or mystifying. And (many?) others who find it all a complete turn-off.

A better way of defining the camps might be to say that there are those that get it, and those that don’t.  And despite, or more probably because of, all the noise and focus on the subject, I would hazard that the only ones who really get it are already digital aficionados. The people who need to be convinced, converted, engaged, have largely given up even trying to understand how digital might impact them/their jobs.

There is a number of reasons for this apathy. You only have to look at the sea of recruitment ads seeking Digital Transformation leaders or subject matter experts to realize that there is no common definition of what is digital. Additionally, the job descriptions, as you would expect, all position the role of digital as the great white hope of the future. But what does that imply about the value and future of the non-digital model, in which the majority of the workforce currently operates?

It may be that the future operating model of many businesses will become increasingly driven by digital capabilities, however research conducted in late 2013 by MIT Sloan Management Review and Capgemini Consulting revealed that “a mere 7% of executives said that their company’s digital initiatives were helping them to launch new businesses. And only 15% said digital was helping them to create new business model.”  For business leaders wanting to engage their employees and customers in their digital aspirations, the moral of this story seems to be “don’t bite the hand that feeds you”.

As background to the subject of this blog, I’ve found some very good articles about the role and positioning of digital.

The article by Manchester-based consultancy Discerning Digital entitled What’s the difference between IT and Technology used a simple but effective analogy to help the layman understand the relationship between the two and provides a good, basic introduction to the whole subject.

An HBR article published in January this year entitled The Best Digital Business Models Put Evolution Before Revolution was a much less excitable, more balanced and therefore more engaging article than 90% of those written about the opportunity of digital.

I have recently moved to Jersey in the Channel Islands where I need a license before I can ply my trade as a communications practitioner. While I wait to find out if my application for a license has been successful, I’ve been reading up on the “Digital Jersey” initiative. The stated purpose of Digital Jersey is:

“….to act as an accelerator for the digital economy and as an accelerator
for a digitally enabled society. The digital economy includes the digital sector
itself and the application of technology across all sectors

As a communicator and someone who has been involved in a number of digital initiatives over the past few years, I have re-read this Purpose Statement and dipped in and out of their dedicated website but have no real understanding of the Digital Jersey vision and their route map to achieving the vision. Maybe if I get my license, I can help address this!

I’ve mentioned a couple of articles I found helpful. An article in techie e-magazine ZDNet called Everyone is ‘going digital,’ but just what does that mean? appeared to be good background reading for this blog. The best bits came at the beginning and the end. In the opening paragraph, the author references a useful acronym created by business and technology services conglomerate Cognizant as their definition of digital: SMAC – Social, Media, Analytics and Cloud. Evidently needing to add his insights rather than simply plagiarise the Cognizant definition, the author spoils it with the proposed addition of two more aspects – Consumerisation of IT and big data – big, made-up sounding word and more jargon = big turn-off. However, the bit of the article that particularly resonated with me was his conclusion:

To understand digital, you have to understand the “why.”

For anyone involved in launching, promoting or even considering a digital initiative, this is a good point to keep in mind.

Posted in business jargon, Corporate Communications, digital, digital transformation, Employee Engagement, Future trends, People management / motivation | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment