From control to influence – the evolution of internal communciations (#internalcomms #IEC14)

John is a press officer in the media relations team at Blah Blah plc. Like John, most of his peers are ex-journalists. They all started their careers in local newspapers, writing about village fêtes, lawn mower thefts from back yards, court news and their local football team. One by one, they all got promoted and specialised in a particular field and covered a larger patch, before moving to regional media outlets and finally on to the nationals. John worked for ten years at a popular national tabloid newspaper.

The conversation around a piece of content which creates context and brings it to life becomes more important than the original content itselfJohn and his colleagues all progressed based on the quality of their end product – articles; broadcast media segments – essentially, a presentation of some kind. The quality of their end product depends upon things like: how good their sources are; how skilled they are at writing and crafting narrative; their research skills; and also their instinct for sniffing out as good story.

Then one day, John saw a job advert for a press officer at Blah Blah plc. It offered a better salary and benefits, more secure employment and a far less claustrophobic/nepotistic culture. So he applied, got the job and made the switch from journalist to spokesperson.

John soon found out that, while all his old journalistic skills are still very valuable in his new role, success is measured very differently. The output or end product of John’s labours shifted from being a presentation for a mass audience to his ability to influence a much smaller set of identifiable individuals. So the presentation subtly shifts from being an end in itself to a means to an end. That end being influence.

So, what’s all this got to do with internal comms? I believe the journey that John has undertaken above, is exactly the same journey that we as internal communicators must now make to remain effective in a social organisation – by which I mean an organisation with internal systems which support commenting and conversation and which are used widely by employees.

In organisations which are strongly hierarchical and where on-line, social engagement functionality is not available, employee communications is highly managed, structured and controlled. What employee comms people produce in these types of organisations is well crafted presentational material – be it a news item or a communication from the CEO or senior manager. This is akin to journalism inside.

As an organisation introduces functionality which supports connection and conversation, employee comms people need to compete with other information providers to attract attention to their content through the noise. This will never be achieved by continuing to produce corporate presentational material – however well crafted. The conversation around a piece of content, which creates context and brings it to life becomes, arguably, more important than the original content itself. Influence comes from being part of that conversation and change happens as a result of it. So the presentation subtly shifts from being an end in itself, to a means to an end. The end being influence

Being part of the conversation, explaining – sometimes defending - the company’s position to employees and trying to influence behaviours is much more akin to being a spokesperson for your organisation, inside your organisation. This means no more hiding behind a wall of content and being invisible to employees. It means stepping in to the limelight, being the most connected person in your organisation and discussing openly and honestly the messages you have been tasked with delivering and describing and exhibiting the behaviours you are trying to promote. It also means being accountable in a much more transparent way than we have ever had to be before.

Pretty scary? Certainly. Very exciting? Definitely!

The great news is that, as employee comms people, we already have a fantastic set of skills to help us flourish in this new environment. All we need to do shift our thinking. There really has never been a more exciting time to be in employee comms … and a social organisation is the perfect environment for us to flourish and grow.

Internal communications 101 #internalcomms

In the world of internal communications we seem to spend our time tumbling or lurching from one activity (aka crisis!) to another. We don’t often spend time reflecting on what we’re really contributing, or our purpose inside organisations. This is a shame. It’s also very tiring as without a clear purpose we’re not always in a position to say: “NO”

So, I decided to spend a little time thinking about the purpose and value of internal communications inside organisations to reset and recalibrate my thinking. Below are some random meanderings on the subject.

What’s the point of internal comms?

I think internal comms is an invaluable organisational asset … and here’s why. Organisations are just groups of people. Both organisations as entities and people as individuals have needs. For example, an organisation needs to produce the stuff its customers want as efficiently and cheaply as possible … and people want to feel valued, respected and heard. Internal communications blends the needs of the organisation with the needs of its people so that stuff gets produced and the people enjoy producing it. Internal communications holds the organisational space. And, when the organisational needs change to meet the demands of its customers or the markets, internal communications helps people through that change so that everyone’s needs are still being met at the end of it.

In good organisations with successful internal communications teams, every employee believes they can make a difference … and, crucially, wants to make a difference.

What does internal comms do?

A very good question. Below is a rough sketch of what I think constitutes the internal communications core process:

IC core process

In my experience, we’re not very good at the first step in this process – agreeing objectives. These need to be crystal clear and they need to be outcomes rather than outputs. As a profession, we have a bad reputation for measuring our outputs and equating the scale of these outputs with success.

What does good look like?

I think a healthy internal communications ecosystem looks something like this:

Internal comms ecosystem diagram

It should be a healthy balance of: stuff (collectively described in this diagram as ‘content’) -> getting to the right people in a timely fashion -> creating conversation -> which helps inform the next load of stuff … and so it goes on. Traditionally, we have been poor at the conversation bit of this which I think has limited the value we’ve delivered as a profession. However, with the advent of the so called social organisation, this is all changing. Once we’ve got this all ticking along nicely we can be assured that we all have a shared understanding of what is required, we feel engaged and change happens. If only it was that simple!

A bit more about value

Wow … this is really tricky! Effective internal comms is about doing some stuff (service delivery); forming relationships with stakeholders to help them solve their business problems (business partnering); and amazing the business with new and exciting thinking (leading change … aka innovating). Here’s a little diagram showing these activities which I’ve chosen to call the value triangle:

IC value triangle

A good internal comms practitioner will need to do all of these things at various times … the trick is getting the balance right. I think the right balance is illustrated by the triangular shape of the model.

Conclusion

I don’t really have one. As I said at the start, these are fairly random meanderings which have helped me think about what I should be doing and how to balance the various activities/priorities demanded of me. One day, I plan to say “NO” to something. When I do, you’ll be the first to know! :-)

Druids, pagans, chocolate and the Great Gathering (@IntraTeam) #IEC14

Augustus Gloop

Gorging on IntraTeam riches

The A303 is a road which runs from the affluent, urban, south of England to the beautiful, rural, south west of England – the latter, a region which conjures up for many English people long, hot, summer holidays by the sea. I’m sure many countries have an equivalent road. But surely, only in England, would someone actually write a book about such a road … and only English people would surely buy it in their thousands! I surprised myself by being one of them … reading it and really enjoying it.

Anyway, about halfway along the A303 – highway to the sun (<- the author’s description, not mine!) – lies a pile of prehistoric stones called Stonehenge, described as one of the ‘wonders of the world’. Frankly, it’s a pretty disappointing wonder of the world compared to some of the others littering the globe but, nonetheless, it has for hundreds of years been the meeting place at the Summer Solstice for various groups who purport to worship the sun or feel the urge to commune with their ancestors. The most famous of these groups is The Stonehenge Druids.

Every year on 21 June at sunrise, the Druids, accompanied by various pagans and occultists are drawn to Stonehenge to do their thing – they just can’t help themselves. Similarly, in the midst of winter in the dark and distant land of Denmark (<- unless you live there or near it … in which case it’s near and dark), an equally strange group of misfits gathers each year to commune with one another at the ancient ceremony (<- by conference standards at least) of IntraTeam. They just can’t help themselves!

As well as being part of the odd group of people who read books about roads, this year, I’m also one of the strange misfits gravitating to IntraTeam in Copenhagen in February. I haven’t spoken at any conferences for some time because, to be frank, in most cases there isn’t much in it for me. IntraTeam is different though. Without wishing to compromise my normally cool and calm image … I’m like Augustus Gloop in the Chocolate Factory! The riches on display are breath-taking.

I fully intend to gorge myself until I’m fit to burst … and really hope you can make it too!

In case you’re interested, I’m presenting on how to be an effective internal communicator and remain relevant in a social organisation. Between now and the conference, I hope to publish some posts giving a flavour of what I’ll present … well hope springs eternal!

The moral of my medieval fable ( #intranet #digitalworkplace )

Following my last post, several people asked me to explain further what I meant by my Medieval Fable … some even seemed a little upset (<- sorry about that) … so, here goes!

Evolution of the intranet

Simple diagram on the left

In May 2011, I published the simple diagram on the left asking the question about the relationship between the intranet as we then knew it and this new-fangled Digital Workplace thingy which people were beginning to talk about (if you have time to read through the comments on the original post, they make quite interesting reading).

You see the ‘graph’ on the right of the simple diagram on the left … er … well, that’s the moral of my fable.

WHAT, you need MORE explanation??? Seriously, what’s not to get???

OK … I’m going to go out-on-a-limb here and make some assumptions (<– I realise that this is tantamount to sticking a ‘Kick Me’ sign on my own back, but here goes …!)

Assumption 1: Any company worth its salt has an intranet of some description.

Assumption 2: An intranet is an environment/platform/whatever where content is published (<- I know the word published is a bit 1990s, but it still pretty-much covers what has to happen to stuff for it to become visible to other people on an intranet).

Assumption 3: Most – maybe all (?) – intranets have an Intranet Manager of some description.

Assumption 4: Intranet Managers are appointed because they know something about intranets (even those who don’t could pick up the basics from half-a-day’s reading of a handful of great intranet blogs). Intranet Managers know stuff like: good governance is essential; intranet strategy needs to support the business objectives; put users at the centre; business- not technology-led; blah blah; etc. etc.

Assumption 5: Given all the above, being an Intranet Manager is not rocket science (<- that doesn’t make it easy by the way!).

Assumption 7: Intranet Managers can’t count (<- just checking you’re still paying attention).

Assumption 6: As a company’s intranet matures, the list of stuff in Assumption 4 becomes business-as-usual and things start to run themselves to some extent.

Assumption 7: lots/many companies have probably got to Assumption 6 in their maturity cycle (<- OUCH … who kicked me!?).

Assumption 8: So, the more effective we are as Intranet Managers, the more invisible we are to users and, ironically, to senior management who only really take an interest when something goes wrong and they are looking for someone to blame (<- that probably came across a little more cynically than I intended but you know what I mean!).

… and then, along comes the Digital Workplace Monster. As my simple diagram on the left shows, the Digital Workplace Monster gobbles up the intranet. By gobbles up, I mean the intranet as we now know it, suddenly becomes a (small?) component of a bigger ecosystem known as the Digital Workplace.

To put it another way, the intranet becomes the utility cupboard under the sink in the Digital Workplace kitchen … the place where stuff (content) gets put so you can grab it when you need it. The stuff in the cupboard under the sink is important if you need to unblock the plug-hole, descale the kettle or clean the sink etc. … but, frankly, it’s not very exciting. It’s reliable … always there … and useful when you need it.

So, here’s the thing … six months ago you were the Intranet Manager – the go-to-guy (or guyette) guiding your organisation digitally into the twenty-second century. Today … you manage the cupboard under the kitchen sink.

It’s worth thinking about … that’s all I’m saying!

The fall of the house of intranet – a cautionary fairy tale for intranet managers

[Allergy advice: written in an office containing nuts; may contain sentiment offensive to intranet managers]

MonsterOnce upon a time, workers lived among reams of paper – newsletters; memos; phone books; and much more besides … as soon as these bits of paper were spewed out of printers, they were out of date … the cunning and ruthless Sir Lever Arch infiltrated himself into every aspect of corporate life.

Like rising damp, armies of managers emerged from under rocks and from within cracks to manage each other and all sorts of other stuff which oiled the wheels of the corporation, but which were ultimately pointless.

This was a pretty poor state of affairs so, one day, a very clever wizard – no one knows exactly who he was but his magic wand and pointy hat were very magic and pointy – decided that all this paper could be replaced by the interweb.

Not the big-wild-west-interweb-dominated-by-porn-and-gambling-since-discredited-by-Tory-MPs-who-wouldn’t-know-the-interweb-even-if-it-donated-squillions-of-pounds-to-their-evil-cause … but secret interwebs owned and managed inside companies only accessible to those in the pay of the big bosses who were the direct reports of King Arthur himself – for it is he …

And so the intranet was born.

Soon after, it became clear that these secret interwebs needed a firm hand and a stout heart to keep them in order and make sure they delivered shareholder value, met the needs of users and supported business objectives … and lo-and-behold White Knights, or intranet managers, strode confidently from the magic forest to pick up the gauntlet.

These White Knights rode on stallions named Governance, vanquishing unofficial servers … ruthlessly slaughtering poor user experience. For a while, the White Knights ruled supreme – proclaiming the word of the intranet … ‘governance; cost savings; user testing; cost savings; usability; cost savings; business requirements; cost savings; and many more black-magic-type-cost-savings which were lapped up by the men-in-suits who pandered to King Arthur himself’.

All-the-while, in a dark cave high in the mountains of IT-shire, a strange and unknown creature was emerging called the Digital Workplace. At first, the intranet managers hailed the Digital Workplace as their saviour … they saw it as a way to ingratiate and elevate themselves to the Great Round Table at which King Arthur himself sat. Fortified by PowerPoint and buoyed up by free trips to exotic lands in which they supped at the famous and unlimited Fountains of Conference, they enjoyed the good times and grew complacent – talking up the great Digital Workplace and their perceived control over it.

However, the unwitting intranet managers, in feeding the Digital Workplace, were unleashing a power beyond their wildest dreams … a power so strong it would one day turn on them and swallow them up … coughing up their semi-digested remains in a tangled furball of BYOD, tablets, real-estate, smart phones, work-styles, collaboration, network access and slimy social media …

However hard the White Knights fought to untangle themselves from within this furball of complexity, they could never free themselves … and their power and influence was lost forever.

[The End]

Dear Senior Manager – please play nicely in our social channels #internalcomms #intranet #socialmedia

If I had to give a senior manager a bit of advice about how to be successful in using social channels on our intranet, it would be something like this:

——————————————————–

The critical success factor for engaging in a social channel as a senior manager is getting the tone of your engagement right. You need to ensure that you maintain the right balance between being authoritative as a senior manager and being an individual engaging in a conversation with another individual. Influence in social channels is something you earn over time by engaging in the right way and not something automatically conferred upon you because of your role in the organisation.

 Influence comes from being part of the conversation, not part of the establishment.

 It is also important to accept that your people need to collaborate in social channels to be effective in their jobs – they need to trust that you endorse this activity and that they are not being judged negatively for being active participants. Your early interactions, as a senior manager, will be critical to the health of social collaboration by your people going forward. 

The following points should help you find the right tone in your responses. When responding to an individual in a social channel, you should never

  • preach at them or talk down to them
  • hide behind quotes from company literature or use management speak as a surrogate for authentic engagement
  • use jargon, abbreviations and marketing/business language
  • throw your weight around and act in a heavy handed manner because of your position in the company.

You should always:

  •  listen first
  • be honest, open and authentic in all your responses – which includes owning up to mistakes as quickly as possible
  • deal with negative sentiment head on – ignoring negative sentiment inevitably results in it spiralling out of control – remember … negative sentiment almost always comes from an un-met need which you can probably meet
  • stick around and follow-up on comments you might make in a given conversation – making a comment and then leaving is not engaging in a conversation.

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