Thursday, 13 October 2022

Communicating strategy – the how as well as the what

Without wishing to delve too deeply into the kerfuffle within the UK government over the past fortnight, there is an obvious lesson from the presentation of the so-called ‘mini-Budget’.

If you are going to communicate a strategy, fiscal or otherwise, at least give some indication of how you are going to achieve it.

Much of the debate following the Chancellor’s statement has focused on the lack of explanation of how the tax cuts it contained will be funded. Two weeks on, we’re none the wiser. We’re all awaiting a further statement later in the month – brought forward from November as a result of the furore.

This demonstrates how uneasy people feel when any kind of lofty ambition is unveiled without information on how that ambition will be achieved. On their own, headlines achieve nothing: we all need to understand what they mean and any role we have to play in delivering the plan in practice.

This is highly relevant to strategy communications, with which some organisations still struggle. They either provide too little information, so that the strategy feels nebulous and somewhat empty, or they drown people in detail. Either approach undermines the need to connect and communicate with the people on whom the organisation relies to lift plans ‘off the paper’.

Understanding audience needs – and planning your communications accordingly – is vital to striking the right balance. It appears the UK government failed to appreciate what audiences such as the financial markets might require to engage with and feel confident in the plans it announced. Let’s hope they find a way to resolve this in the coming weeks.

Tuesday, 3 May 2022

No heart-warming Cinderella story

 In more than 25 years in this field, so much has changed. Unfortunately, some things have not.

It amazes me that when change is being announced – whatever the scale – some companies still do not prioritise communication with the people affected. We used to talk about the risk of employees reading the news while eating their cornflakes, now we highlight the risk of leaks through social media. The context has changed, but the principle remains the same: reach the people affected first.

This simple, enduring principle does not appear to have been followed yesterday, when the musical Cinderella was cancelled. Some cast members found out through social media. People who were due to take up new roles in a few weeks, when there was due to be a cast change, started to hear they were being let down from others, not from their prospective employer. Much uproar and anger have followed, garnering national headlines that focus on the way the news was announced rather than the closure of the show.

What any company in this position should do is have a rapid and robust contact programme that prioritises those affected and plans practical ways of reaching them in a very short timeframe. Perhaps The Really Useful group will reflect that announcing the closure on a Bank Holiday Sunday, and sending emails to agents when they are not going to be in the office, might not have been the best course of action.

Whatever the reasons for the closure – and perhaps there was a pressing commercial reason why it had to be announced yesterday - better planning and execution were required. Instead of understanding the rationale for the closure, but reflecting on the company’s responsible approach to those affected, we are now talking and hearing about the callous and uncaring way in which the news was communicated.

The announcement has become the story – and that is never a good look for any company.

Tuesday, 22 March 2022

Companies must keep talking in uncertain times

 We’ve had a rough couple of years, haven’t we? So many people have been impacted in so many ways, with the boundaries between work and home lives blurring more than ever before. And as the shocks keep coming, employers might start thinking “what can we say to our people that we haven’t said before?”.

The answer, of course, is everything. Keep communicating regarding the company’s purpose, their work, their well-being and the support available. Acknowledge the impact of world events and how employees are feeling. Show genuine empathy and share information that is of practical help. Reassure people over the purpose and progress of the company they work for.

There is a temptation for any company to clam up in uncertain times, to feel they can’t give any more direction to colleagues. But silence leads to speculation and all the dangers this brings with it. People worry about the company’s commitment, its strength and their own job security.

So companies must keep talking. Show that you are doing all you can to connect with and support employees, even in challenging circumstances. Give employees the chance to share and seek support as well, so they know they’re not alone.

Failing to communicate about the present can severely undermine confidence in the future. This is the time to redouble your efforts, not withdraw from them.

Wednesday, 5 January 2022

It does not matter where Internal Comms sits

 I found it frustrating to be party to a recent conversation about where internal communication should “sit” within an organisation, or who should “own” it.

I should say “another conversation” on the topic, because I have heard and taken part in many similar discussions over the last 20 years. The participants have changed, and the context may be different each time, but the core debate has remained the same: should internal comms be its own department or part of something else? If it sits elsewhere, should it be part of HR? If not HR, then where? Where would position internal comms to have a seat at the table?

The mere mention of the phrase “seat at the table” leaves many of us spluttering into our morning coffee. But it’s still being used, as if internal communicators have some immutable right to be heard, and it is only pesky structures and boundaries that hold us back.

I’ll just say, as I have interjected many times over the years, that focusing on the right position or reporting line really misses the point. No matter where we sit within our organisations, we should be seeking to connect employees across the world with the company and each other. We may report to one area, but our agenda must be much broader and unrestrained by that team’s particular focus.

We should view any structure as a starting point, not a boundary. We must be committed to pursuing a wider remit. That’s the way we will add more value and, dare I say it, gain a seat…

No, I can’t bring myself to say it. You know what I mean.

Friday, 18 December 2020

Predictions become possibilities

For many years, at this point in proceedings, we at Sweet Comms drew up a list of ever-so-insightful predictions for the year ahead. Last year, we stepped back from this and reviewed the many differing statements made by mystics in our industry.  

This year, it’s hard to imagine anyone making any assertions with the same level of confidence. 

None of us could have predicted how 2020 would unfold, nor the changes it would bring to our lives. As we look ahead, it is clear we will still be living in the circumstances created by COVID-19 for some time to come. It will therefore take someone braver than me to forecast how the world of work will look in another 12, no doubt challenging, months.

Predictions are, at best, becoming possibilities laced with context and caveats.

However, one thing I will state with some conviction is that internal communication will play an even stronger role in our workplaces during 2021.

This year has brought out the best in our industry, as practitioners have helped our organisations keep inspiring and supporting colleagues despite all the challenges involved. Sharing clear and crucial information, building open dialogue with diverse audiences, helping teams adjust to new ways of working, enabling individuals to find and access support: communicators have played a crucial role in every area. All while working through rapidly-changing events and keeping people aligned and contributing to common purpose and goals.

As a result, internal communication has played a major role in effective employee engagement and helped the wheels of our organisations keep turning, despite all the obstacles in the way.

So that, I suppose, it’s a prediction for 2021. It’s not earth-shattering in its insight, because internal communication has proved its worth throughout this crisis. But I think we’ll see our industry take another step forward and make even more of a difference for the organisations and people we serve.

Thursday, 7 May 2020

The Small Business Revival Guide

We're very happy to have supported an initiative to help the UK's entrepreneurs and small businesses settle, revive and thrive in the current circumstances. Internal comms, external, acting with purpose…lots of great advice in the guide here.

Please do share to anyone you may think would benefit – and as a live document, contributions are very welcome! Please email to submit.

It was really great to partner with some fantastic people on this:
Blurred LondonBLAFemale NarrativesHappy YolkThe Brand Shrink (Tom Newton), VP Comms and Tin Man.

Monday, 3 February 2020

Talking tech: information is not engagement

At an event last week, I heard some worrying words about the role of tech in employee engagement.

Ostensibly, the event was celebrating the difference that tech can make to engaging a dispersed workforce. A premise that I absolutely agree with: within a planned and co-ordinated channel mix, and with a clear role in a wider plan, digital tools and tactics are incredibly helpful.  

However, there were a few statements during this event to the effect that using tech helps you reach more employees, and once they have more information as a result, they will be engaged. That’s it, nothing more needed.

Not the exact words used, but that was the gist of the point being expressed.

This worried and surprised me: it was a throwback to the non-digital days in which a senior external comms colleague once suggested my job essentially involved the use of kitchen posters and mouse mats to share “stuff”. In other words, just put info out there and the job is done.

We’ve moved a long way since then, as a communication profession and a business world. Wave after wave of studies, surveys and case studies have demonstrated the difference that building strong connections, based on two-way communication, makes to employers and employees alike. The explosion of new technology offers many opportunities to take that further.

However, digital tools can only help us achieve that if they are used in the right way. To share information, yes, but also to build dialogue that helps individuals and teams discuss, interpret and respond to the company’s ‘direction of travel’. To nurture the commitment and common purpose that every organisation needs to thrive. As part of wider efforts to align the way the organisation works with the drivers of engagement.

That requires more than posting “stuff”, no matter what the channel. Suggesting anything otherwise risks going back to those dark days and the modern-day equivalent of a mouse mat.

Let’s not risk reviving misconceptions about what employee engagement is and involves. Let’s talk about the role tech plays in a wider context. It will be much more beneficial for everyone involved.