Open up your communications
If we accept that the best communications are heard and understood, then it follows that as internal communication practitioners we should create opportunities for staff to be heard and to better understand what’s...
if we accept that the best communications are heard and understood, then it follows that as internal communication practitioners we should create opportunities for staff to be heard and to better understand what’s been said to them. why then, is there still such a resistance to opening up two-way communication channels?
as part of the internal engagement work we do, i talk to many companies about their intranet and its role in their communication programme. for most, it’s about one-way communication, letting staff know the rules, procedures, policies and other fact-based information; a repository of history and knowledge to help people do their job better, or at least in the right way. many have a ‘news’ element, allowing the latest achievements to be shared with staff. its function is to reinforce the right messages, stories and behaviours that support the desired culture.
unfortunately, there’s still not many companies that have an open forum where staff can just say what’s on their mind, ask questions, seek clarity and share ideas. word of mouth has always been the most effective communication tool and social media has found a way to utilise its power. why then are internal communicators so scared of applying social chat approaches to their craft? is it a fear of the tough questions? being open to criticism? inappropriate behaviour? or is it just being exposed for not knowing?
questions, comments and views are already being expressed by staff around the water-cooler, in the lunch room and right round the business. because we can’t hear them doesn’t make them any less legitimate. in fact, going uncorrected and unchallenged allows them to grow from an isolated opinion to the accepted company-wide grass roots position. why not then bring them out into the light where you can hear them and make them part of your communication programme?
i’ve heard many reasons why and my response is always the same ‘what rubbish!” if you’ve got an intranet, add blog and comments functionality and invite staff to share whatever’s on their mind. at first staff may be nervous of the consequences but they’ll quickly catch on when they see that they can say anything. go one step further and implement social-style platforms, like yammer or facebook for business, specifically designed to encourage collaboration and sharing of thoughts, ideas and answers.
word of mouth has always been the most effective communication tool
as communication managers our primary function moves from creators of content to facilitators of discussion. our key goal is to listen and provide information on what’s important to our staff and to address any areas of confusion. this may go against our instinct where, rather than creating more communications, we encourage the discussion to take its natural course. you do have to get involved, however, when the facts are wrong or the opinions are detrimental to the company or individuals.
encourage senior leadership to participate in the discussion on an equal basis to staff, sharing thoughts and opinions. they also have a role to play in facilitating discussion by liking, commenting and encouraging what others are saying. often it means acknowledging that they don’t know all the answers and asking staff to tell them what they think they should do.
i’ve heard many reasons why and my response is always the same "what rubbish!”
as we see from social media, most people know what’s acceptable discussion etiquette and play by the rules. forums and discussions are self-governing, with groups quickly letting individuals know when their language, opinion or behaviour isn’t acceptable. trust that this works and avoid introducing vetting, censorship or controls, as this discourages open sharing.
the beauty of this open communication environment is that staff are heard, know what’s happening around the business, have a place to get clarity and feel more engaged with the wider business. they participate in the communication process on an equal basis with leadership, leading to more open and honest dialogue. for the company, it means a much better handle on what really matters to their people and what the gaps in knowledge and understanding are.
i’ve focused on the intranet here, but you should open up your communications across the business. add feedback loops and discussion options to all communications when you can, favouring two-way discussion over one-way telling every time.internal engagement, staff engagement, two way internal communication, internal communication
The Real Client Treatment
Talking to a (hopefully soon to be) client last week about growing staff advocacy for their client service experience, got me thinking about how well we apply our own service ethos to ourselves. This prospective...
talking to a (hopefully soon to be) client last week about growing staff advocacy for their client service experience, got me thinking about how well we apply our own service ethos to ourselves.
this prospective client works at one of the big banks and the discussion was about how to give staff a first-hand appreciation of the customer experience. it’s a wonderful idea and it aligns nicely with my desire for us to all see ourselves as our customers do.
client-first is one of our values. we track client satisfaction, monitor net promoter scores and actively look to engage clients in discussions about what we can we do better. these are all good actions and collectively they’ve contributed to making us exponentially more client-centric than we have ever been.
but it seems we still struggle to recognise the internal client as a real client. this manifests itself in numerous ways: from not meeting internal deadlines, not making time to address key internal matters, being late to internal meetings with no ‘heads-up’, or postponing internal meetings last minute because “i’m just too busy.” it shows in the priority given to new business proposals, marketing activities or other similar jobs, which are essential to our survival, but are the first to be put aside when external client work comes in.
mostly i see it in our business plan activities whose importance is somehow always trumped by the ‘urgent.’ it’s this work that will make the biggest difference to us and our clients but doing this work is never as high priority as even the smallest client job.
we wouldn’t dream of saying to a client “sorry, we didn’t do your job because work came in from a more important client.” effectively, that’s what we do every time we don’t deliver on our internal timeframes and promises. if we were our own client, we’d probably sack ourselves!
am i suggesting that we need to give our work priority over paying client work? yeah, maybe. mostly i’m saying that we can’t use clients as the excuse for not doing what we said we would. we must treat ourselves like a real client and manage expectations, agree realistic timeframes, communicate proactively and do everything we can to deliver what we said we would. and it starts by giving external clients realistic timeframes for delivering their work based on our full workload. never assume that we will just drop the internal work.
reality is, things happen and we need to reprioritise. and sometimes we just can’t find a way to do what we promised to do. talk to the client (internal or external) before the due date and agree a new timeframe and deliverables. most clients will be reasonable about it, if they can. and if the scope can’t change then at least they have the option to find alternative ways to achieve what they need. chances are they’ve also made promises and this allows them to manage any expectations they’ve created.
and as we all know, good service experiences are all about expectations being exceeded.
The engagement game
We regularly work with clients on internal communications projects, helping them engage their staff, drive behaviour and performance, embed change and continuous improvement programmes and align their internal...
we regularly work with clients on internal communications projects, helping them engage their staff, drive behaviour and performance, embed change and continuous improvement programmes and align their internal and external brands. as a business, we face the same challenges our clients ask for our help with. we too work hard to engage a diverse group of talented individuals to create an aligned team approach that spans multiple locations and disciplines.
i was delighted to see the results of our latest annual staff perception survey. it was the first project i instigated as ceo in order to identify the key issues staff perceive and to track our progress in addressing them. each year we’ve moved forward in leaps and bounds and this year we achieved a staff engagement score of 88.8%. there’s no doubt our team is now (mostly) happy and this comes through clearly in the many positive and constructive comments made.
so how did we do it? many clients tell us they need a campaign to drive culture change, embed value and to improve performance. my answer is always the same. staff engagement isn’t a campaign but an on-going embedding process achieved over time across multiple channels and touchpoints. it requires consistent messages and actions that move the team seamlessly through awareness, understanding, acceptance and adoption. and that’s simply what we did. here are some of the key initiatives from our own staff engagement programme:
- improved regular communications including a monthly staff newsletter (now a video blog) covering results, work-in-progress updates, people and client stories and fun competitions. this is supported by a blog-based intranet for regular cross-office discussion and managers running regular team meetings. communication, transparency and trust were areas we scored particularly well in the survey.
- line of sight – our annual strategy day allows us to walk the entire team through our vision, purpose, strategy and key plans for the year ahead. this enables them to make a direct connection between what they do and the results we need to achieve. we also use this session to review the year just passed, directly linking our performance against goals with any staff profit share.
- last year we established an internal team to develop our values from the ground up. this ensured that the values reflected what is important to both staff and the business. we made a big deal around the launch, facilitating better recall and understanding. and now we are working on embedding them further into our every day vernacular and actions. see our values launch case study.
- our staff benefits/wellbeing programme is an on-going labour of love. we regularly add new benefits such as medical check-ups, access to financial advisers, flexible working arrangements, community days and healthy living advice.
- establishing a structured performance and development framework has meant all staff are clear on what they need to do and how their performance is measured. everyone has a development plan which is executed through regular individual and group development activities.
- our new recruitment framework ensures that that we hire people that are aligned with, and add to, the culture we have created.
- the physical environment also plays a role in culture and engagement. we moved offices in auckland, creating an environment more conducive to collaboration, creativity and good communication. we’ve made progress with the wellington office too and will go further with a new fit-out.
- we do lots of fun activities together as a team (but we still need to do more). some are little things like shared lunches or morning teas to celebrate birthdays, anniversaries, project success and individual ‘gold star’ performance. others are much bigger, like getting the whole team together for a day of eating, drinking and fun at my place or our masterchef-styled christmas function. getting together regularly in a relaxed, non-work environment helps with unity and creating a sense of belonging.
for me the key to achieving our outcomes is embedding our goals, values and culture into our everyday actions. the leadership team have led this charge, modelling the sort of culture we want as well as reinforcing it with their teams. and if you’ve been in a meeting with any of us, you’ll see we all carry our designer notebooks. these house our vision, one purpose, our brand story, our strategy and business plans, values and kpis. effectively, the team engages with them every time they take notes at meetings (which for most, is every day). see our strategy book case study.
yes, but has it worked? being personally fulfilled at work is one of our goals. but our engagement programme isn’t only about soft benefits. it’s also helping us deliver the hard results shareholders need. in the last three years, our revenue has remained relatively consistent but our bottom line has moved steadily upwards. a more engaged team manifests itself in greater productivity and a willingness to find and adopt new and better ways to do what we do. what do they say? “happy staff equals happy clients and happy clients means a happy bank manager.”
could we do more? without a doubt. we’ll take a few moments to reflect on how far we’ve come and then get back to going further. we’ve got some exciting plans for the year ahead. suddenly 90% engagement doesn’t seem that impossible.internal engagement, internal communication, staff engagement
Leading a positive work culture
Ask most New Zealanders “what sort of culture does our capital city have?” or "describe our teenage drinking culture” and you’ll probably get pretty clear answers. Cafe and binge. However, ask many...
ask most new zealanders “what sort of culture does our capital city have?” or "describe our teenage drinking culture” and you’ll probably get pretty clear answers. cafe and binge. however, ask many businesses what sort of culture they have and the answers can get a bit vague, woolly and glib.
why is this? and why are we only now starting to be aware of the value of a healthy and positive working culture?
usually because of a lack of appreciation of the value of workplace culture.
in an age when companies are experiencing growing competition for both employees and customers, we’re realising that retaining and attracting the best people – and ensuring they’re focused on being the best they can be – is a key competitive advantage.
employee retention is a significant challenge facing all businesses today. as the economy continues to look up, employees, who are connected like never before with the linkedin and social media networks, have more opportunity to ‘shop’. if you’re a great place to work with a healthy culture, everyone can find that out pretty quickly - and vice versa.
and gaining a competitive advantage from a positive culture is born of clarity and congruity – having everybody rowing in the same direction with clarity of purpose; and in perfect synchronicity, everybody behaving consistently from the top down.
with so much to gain, no company can really afford to be vague and woolly about its culture.
think about what the value proposition is here: when you have a positive work culture, it follows that you have a higher performing and strongly productive, engaged team. for longer.
what to do?
recognising the value to be unlocked is key to embarking on a positive work culture journey.
organisations need to move past the ‘vague and woolly’ gut feel assessment of their culture and systematically and objectively research the groundswell of opinion on the ‘shop floor’. the immediate value to you will be an increased sense of understanding and appreciation of real perceptions. actively value this feedback. this, in itself, has to become part of your culture if you are to really move into a new gear.
but be careful not to simply paper over the cracks of what your internal study finds. authenticity is the only way to succeed in today’s environment. and don’t think of ‘culture’ as a programme, but more a way of being - your way of being. embed and amplify your genuine positive qualities, and create systems and environments that say "it’s the way we do things around here”. don’t simply put up a few words on some walls, put in a new kitchen and go back to business as usual.
culture is the sum total of the embodied behaviors, values, environments, reward systems, and rituals that make up your organisation. you can "feel” culture, through the enthusiasm that people exhibit and in a workspace itself.
we often have to say to a client “until you get this part of the organisation sorted, sure we can implement this internal fitout or leadership programme, but what has really changed?” it’s most likely going to feel like spin. we’ll only be solving part of the picture.
it’s up to the organisation to know clearly what it wants to be. yes, we can help you discover, distill and articulate that. and we can help you identify what needs to change internally. but we can’t impose a culture from the outside. if it’s not genuine and embedded in reality, it will never be believable nor effective, to your people or your customers.
leadership is key
once you’ve implemented the changes collectively agreed and that make sense to your business, leaders need to lead and this is defiantly an area where the implementation of any changes needs to be strongly led.
so, look closely at yourself as potentially someone who sets the tone. measure how strong your culture is by getting to grips with understanding how things are working or not. be consistent. lead the relevant changes. simple, right?
Inside Out Branding
The November issue of Idealog magazine features quality branding advice from our CEO, Steven Giannoulis. Some particular gems: "Making the brand rhetoric true has wide-reaching implications, requiring a review of...
the november issue of idealog magazine features quality branding advice from our ceo, steven giannoulis. some particular gems: "making the brand rhetoric true has wide-reaching implications, requiring a review of everything from organisational design, culture, sales practices, products and services and operational processes." and "in many ways, developing an appealing brand and sales story is the easy bit. making them true is how brands go to that next level in creating enduring value."
click the image to read.