Monday, 25 September 2023

Speak to me someone

In the last fortnight, I have heard about two organisations that, in the midst of major issues, have clammed up rather than communicated with their people. This is self-defeating and I’m really surprised it still happens.

Silence is far from golden in these circumstances. It makes people nervous that the company lacks control (or even has something to hide). It can lead them to fear the implications of what is taking place, for the company and/or for them personally. And it can affect commitment and focus at a time when the company may need them more than ever.

Employees may also be pressed for information or answers by customers, suppliers, stakeholders and friends or family. If there has been a wall of silence, they won’t be able to defend the company, even if they are inclined to. And without any information, they may end up making something up themselves…

So I urge any organisation in the eye of a storm to communicate with their people – sharing what information they can, when they can – to help protect trust and confidence. And to enhance their usual communication cadence for as long as it’s needed. Silence only breeds concern; possibly even contempt.

Tuesday, 12 September 2023

The value of values

Someone I was speaking to the other day questioned the relevance of organisational values. The gist of their argument was that teams, dynamics and working practices have changed so much that trying to invent one set of values relevant to all is both irrelevant and impossible.

I found it hard to express quite how much I disagreed with this sentiment. Firstly, due to the verb “invent”, given that I believe truly effective values come from within. Our job is not to “invent” or create new concepts, but to crystallise core beliefs and associated behaviours in ways that resonate with employees and inspire them to align their own approach and activities.

Secondly, because I feel there has never been a more important time to articulate common values. Many of us are working in different ways and in different places, which exacerbates the challenge of connecting and building trust with and between teams. Clear and compelling values can help to nurture unity when we’re at risk of fragmentation.

I hope the view I heard is not becoming commonplace, because I still believe values form a powerful and practical tool for any organisation. If anything, changes in our working world only strengthen my conviction.

Thursday, 13 July 2023

The more things change, the more they stay the same

There has been quite a bit of commentary following the publication of IC Index 2023 this month. The Institute of Internal Communication and Ipsos Karian and Box have delivered a comprehensive and rigorous report, which contains real insights - but also some reminders of persistent concerns.

Take trust in CEO communication, for example. Worryingly, the report shows that only 54% of employees trust what their CEO communicates. It’s a concern that has echoed through the years. Many leaders and internal communicators are still seeking to resolve it.

Another example: more than half of employees do not see their organisations listening to and acting on feedback. Again, a long-standing issue, on which the dial does not seem to be moving - despite all the options available. This is more about culture than capability: if organisations aren’t really committed to fostering genuine dialogue, no technology can fix it.

The report also shows that many employees want to hear more from managers, yet one in three of those managers feels ill-equipped to lead conversations. Managers clearly need support - but it is a familiar cry for help. It’s frustrating to see such issues persist, nearly 15 years after the MacLeod Review highlighted ‘engaging managers’ as a crucial enabler of employee engagement. Of course, that Review also identified a strong strategic narrative and employee voice as two other drivers...

There is much in this report for communicators to consider in the context of their own organisation. There are important insights, such as the 15 minutes we have to connect with employees each day. There are also some nuggets that challenge received wisdom (for example, the fact that email remains the preferred method for employees to receive news may put a dent in ‘shiny new toy syndrome’). However, it’s disappointing that so many long-standing issues remain unresolved and to see the impact these have on employees.

Surely, now is the time to take action.

Tuesday, 4 July 2023

Gaining or losing the thread?

The news that Meta will be launching a Twitter rival  this  week will no doubt send sections of the population into a frenzy of excitement and anticipation. While others barely bat an eyelid.

It is rumoured that Threads, as the service will be known, will be free and have none of the restrictions on tweets recently announced by Elon Musk. It will be linked to Instagram, creating another step in the evolution of Meta’s ecosystem.

Another new tool, another potential opportunity (leaving aside concerns over access to personal data, which could fill a book rather than a blog). Organisations of all types and sizes will be busy exploring how best they can use Threads and align it with their current channels. There is plenty of potential upside, but also risks involved. “Shiny new toy” syndrome, anyone?

The same issues are seen within organisations, where Microsoft seems to be accelerating its own version of the Metaverse. Lots of tools being integrated into one environment – and increasingly one user interface (with varying levels of success, in my humble opinion). New tools and apps are available, and changing all the time, but are they right for the company and/or for its people? Has there been a ‘bells and whistles’ launch but less attention paid to embedding use and addressing issues? And, in the rush to embrace what digital tools make possible, has enough thought been given to those who simply don’t want to or can’t engage with them?  

In the coming days, plenty of people will be downloading Threads and preparing for its launch. Many others will be left cold by the whole thing. We should never forget that this also applies when we’re introducing anything internally: “one size does not fit all”.

Wednesday, 7 June 2023

I asked ChatGPT…

 I was visiting a new place last week. I was curious, so I  asked ChatGPT about it.   

 I got lots of information, a very detailed history and a whole series of facts. I could have written an essay on it. Which, in effect, is what the system had turned out.

However, I had to wade through the detail to pick out the interesting nuggets. I received information, but I had to make it meaningful. And I couldn’t clarity anything. Check my understanding. Ask questions or raise concerns.

I was given raw material, but I still had quite a lot to do. Which is why I am more sanguine than some about the implications of AI.  

At the moment, platforms like LinkedIn are awash with predictions that AI will decimate communications, that automation will replace current approaches in every working environment.

Of course, there will be changes. AI will no doubt bring benefits to effectiveness and efficiency, as it has done in different forms for some time. But the scale of impact – and relevance – will vary from workplace to workplace, and from culture to culture. And communication is so much more than the limited and linear Q&A interaction I experienced last week.

There is a long way to go before technology is more than a tool to help us make the right connections and build meaningful relationships with our people. To nurture a culture of two-way communication. To build common purpose across disparate groups.

ChatGPT and complementary AI tools can help us, not hinder or replace us. Let’s embrace them and explore the opportunities they may offer.  

Thursday, 4 May 2023

The company walk

 A few years ago, my client Renishaw introduced me to their  ‘company walk’:  not a Monty Python-esque affectation, but an informal practice that has become part of that organisation’s HQ culture. It struck me as a simple step to aid physical and mental wellbeing.

The HQ site contains a range of offices, labs and manufacturing facilities. It takes 10-15 minutes to walk around the perimeter path (depending on your pace!). During my visits, I would often see people following that path, particularly at lunchtime: in groups, in pairs or on their own.

This, I was told, is the company walk. People use it to exercise, to hold walking meetings or simply to disconnect from their desk or lab bench. I tried it myself on a few occasions with my clients. Not only did we develop a few ideas as we strolled around the site, we also returned to the office refreshed and re-focused for the rest of the day. 

Although this HQ is a self-contained site, I can see the idea working just as well in a city, with a route embracing some quiet streets and/or local landmarks.

Sometimes, simple and effective solutions are right in front of us.

Thursday, 20 April 2023

The power of trojan horse questions

Unable to  leave my desk to attend Attune 23 this week, as I had planned, I sated my  thirst for knowledge by revisiting some of the presentations in FirstUp’s on-demand library (which is worth checking out if you haven’t already done so). One of these was from the author Jon Acuff, who introduced an interesting concept during his talk: ‘trojan horse questions’.

His keynote tackled a much broader topic; this was simply a concept he referenced along the way. However, it really resonated with me. He positioned ‘trojan horse’ questions as phrases that are clear, simple and don’t seem that challenging, but which should make us think much more deeply than the words themselves suggest. I won’t spoil the context, for anyone who has yet to watch Jon’s speech, but one example was “Is it true?” – the idea being that we need to challenge whether what we are telling ourselves about a situation, and which guides our actions, is really valid.

The best question I have ever been asked was ‘What is your ideal day?’. This simple but deceptively powerful question had a profound impact on me as I considered whether to start Sweet Comms, nearly 10 years ago. I now recognise it as a ‘trojan horse’ question, because on the surface it’s fairly innocuous. It could spark a bland or throwaway response in the course of conversation. Yet, in the circumstances, it prompted me to do a lot of soul searching and steered me on to the path I took then, and for which I am still grateful on a daily basis, even now.

I can only share my own experience, but engaging with that simple question, really engaging with it, was incredibly effective. I’ve posed the same question to others in similar situations and I know they have found it useful. Maybe more engagement with ‘trojan horse’ questions could help us all.