Archives for posts with tag: internal communication

In recent blogs I have touched on internal communication and its importance in getting employee engagement. Today I’m about to start work on a big change programme looking after both those things, so I felt it appropriate to have a think about communication and change.
The most fun I’ve had in a job has been when I’ve been tasked with engaging people with change. I’m not a keep things the way they are kind of guy. My motto is: “If it ain’t broke, break it. The worst that could happen is that it makes a nice tinkly noise as it shatters into a thousand tiny pieces.”
Change is all around us, friends, life is, in fact, a process of ceaseless change peculiar to organic matter (as I once said in a philosophy essay, much to the bemusement of my tutor). Change is what makes us people and without change we would still be a set of single-cell organisms lolling in a pool of brackish water.
(Apologies, at this point, to any creationists or intelligent design fans reading who are upset at this evocation of evolution, but you aren’t really my core demographic).
Anyway, change is necessary, and, although it is not always good, it isn’t going anywhere unless I’m completely misreading the second law of thermodynamics. In business, as in life and closed systems, change is always necessary; markets change, products change, customer needs and wants and expectations all change, and anyone looking to meet those needs, wants and expectations better change to be able to meet them, or the business side of things isn’t going to last too long.
So businesses must change, and that means people working in those organisations are going to have to change as well. At the very least, they will have to do things differently, or do different things.
That said, change is undertaken in order to deliver benefits to the business, and those benefits are likely to be achieved in a more sustainable way if people not only change what they do, but how they do it, that is change their behaviours. This takes a bit of doing.
There’s a bit more to it than issuing a new flow chart on how to do a new process or just installing some new software in everyone’s PC. To change behaviours you need really effective communication, and that means sharing information with people and then having a conversation with them to ensure that they have understood the information you have shared, and that they are willing and able to play their part in the change you are asking them to undertake.
Communication is always a change activity. After communication happens things are different. At the very minimum, levels of knowledge have increased, but it can and should be a lot more profound than that. So what should you share? The usual – what, when, where, how and, most importantly, why. What is changing? When is it happening? Where about in the organisation? How will things change? Why are they changing?
This last one is the key to get buy-in from people in change, as you need to make the why a reason for them, as an individual, to change. I remember one big change programme I worked on and they key kick-off comms was a video of the CEO telling everyone in the business what the programme was all about – a big modernisation programme, affecting everyone in the business, over the next couple of years.
Why? Because the business wouldn’t last the next couple of years unless something was done to turn it around. The classic burning platform “why”. Amusingly, the first time we showed the video to the wider senior leadership team (top 100 or so people in the business) the sound went off half way through.
The CEO went on speaking, silently for what seemed like hours while I ran around frantically back stage trying to get the sound back on. I did, eventually, just as the CEO was intoning the words “job losses”. You couldn’t have timed it better.
I digress, but the heart of the message was “it’s this or oblivion”; however, “we’re doomed” isn’t the most engaging message and very quickly we reframed the message around building a new business, constructive, forward-looking and forward-thinking and far more engaging for people.
They why became “because I want to be part of this new business”, a message that ran through every single piece of communication ever issued by anyone in the programme. Building a new business was through it all like letters in Blackpool rock.
You see, once you have your why you need to ensure that all communication of it is consistent and authentic; if you say you are building a new business then you better damn well build one. And build one we did, a leaner, fitter, more engaged organisation, better set to meet the needs, wants and expectations of modern customers, with a more effective culture and new behavioural norms across the piece. Then we merged it with another bit of the business and had to start all over again.
Change, see. It doesn’t stop, not ever. So the key thing from this is having that core message – why we are doing this, framing it in a positive and forward-looking way and then delivering that message consistently and authentically in every piece of communication you undertake. Simple.
So have a think. Change is almost inevitably happening somewhere in your business. Are you communicating about it? What are you communicating about it? And do your people. Really and truly understand why these changes are happening? Have a think.

***

In this blog I have written, not for the first time, about the vital importance of authenticity. This was also a key facet of the 20th Century school of philosophy known as existentialism, about which I have blogged before.
Albert Camus, born 100 years ago last week, was very close to Jean-Paul Sartre, the godfather of existentialism, but wasn’t himself an existentialist. He was an absurdist, a world view he expounded magnificently in his novels, notably The Outsider, The Plague and The Fall. He also wrote a couple of philosophical essays, The Rebel and The Myth of Sisyphus.
This latter work I would commend eagerly and heartily to anyone engaged in trying to make change happen in a large organisation. I have returned to it frequently when things were getting tough in the many change programmes I’ve worked on over the years, and find the closing thoughts a great comfort.
In Greek legend, Sisyphus was condemned to push a boulder up a hill all day, only for it to fall back down again every night. I can’t imagine many project and programme managers who cannot empathise. But think, then, on the final words of Camus: “The struggle itself… is enough to fill a man’s heart. We must imagine Sisyphus happy.”
Happy birthday, Albert.

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In my last blog I expounded some of my thoughts on the links between internal communication and employee engagement – and how they were indeed linked but were in no way synonymous. 

This time I have some further thoughts on these two subjects – and the dangers posed to the latter by the former not being done properly.

Some time ago I was working with local management in a big department on their engagement levels. The engagement levels weren’t where they could or should have been, and we were mining the data to make sense of things.

One area which caused the leadership team much consternation were the feelings of people in the department about communications. “We do communicate,” they said. “We do it all the time.”

Well the data didn’t agree, with scores on the employee survey on the quality, frequency etc of communication being pretty poor. I had a look at this, and at the verbatim comments on this area, and also reviewed what had happened in the months leading up to the survey.

To be fair, there had been activity of a communicational nature. Blogs had been published. Headlines had been loaded onto intranets. Briefing documents had been issued to managers and these, in turn, had been passed onto the people in the department. Information, in short, had been given to people.

What had not happened, however, was any communication. There had been a one-way, top-down attempt to send information, but there had not been any attempt to test understanding of the information. 

No matter how well crafted a blog, no matter how expertly drafted an intranet article, there is no guarantee that when it is read it will be understood in the way that was originally intended.

An example – no names, no pack drill. I recall reading a blog by a chief exec which told that a member of the senior management team was recovering after a serious illness and had managed a few holes of golf. In the context he intended, this was a good news story about a generally popular member of the organisation getting better. 

I spoke to a member of staff about the blog who said something along the lines of “I can just imagine what my boss would say if I played golf when I was on sick leave…”

In other words, what was intended in terms of understanding wasn’t what landed – there had been a failure to communicate.

Going back to our local management team: I spoke to staff in the area, to try and get a deeper understanding of the issues. Briefings, which were intended by the internal comms team to be shared at a team meeting with a Q&A session at the end tended to be emailed out to teams. Further investigation showed a real lack of confidence among line managers to deliver the briefings, so they just weren’t delivering what they were intended to do.

Likewise, whenever staff had responded to issues raised in the blogs or intranet headlines, there had been no acknowledgement, let alone response, and people pretty quickly gave up trying to give feedback.

The solution? Some training sessions for line managers on leading discussions, some high-visibility responses to questions raised on the intranet, and kicking off some sessions with senior managers where they sat down with people and had a discussion about the business, how they were contributing to the success and what issues people had on the shop floor.

Nothing too demanding or too difficult, but ultimately transformational in terms of how communication was perceived in this part of the business, and this, in turn, contributed toward improved levels of engagement.

To sum up:

  • Top-down information transmission is not communication
  • Communication is always two-way
  • Once you’ve given information out, you need to check understanding
  • Don’t assume what you mean is what people will get

So, have a think about how you communicate in your business. How do you make it two-way? What feedback loops have you put in place? How do receivers of information become transmitters? How do you help leaders listen? Have a think.

 

This week I have been mostly thinking about communication, and specifically the business of internal communication in a business, and what it means to employee engagement.

Now you may say to me “really? You need to get a life” and I would find it hard to argue with you, but things like this are my stock in trade, my business, and so I do tend to dwell on them.

What prompted this was a few things; I am wont to peruse LInkedIn, that fine resource for all professionals and have noticed quite a lot of jobs advertised as “employee engagement manager”, had a look and seen what they are after is an internal comms manager. I have also seen a few discussions along the lines of “are employee engagement and internal communications the same thing?”. Stuff like that gets me thinking. (To be honest, pretty much anything gets me thinking, I’ve one of those minds; I spend hours trying to find ways of stopping it, and have just passed level 125 on Candy Crush. I even watch ITV unironically sometimes).

Anyway, I have thought and I will now foist the general burblings out onto th’internet, by way of this blog.

Firstly, I will address the s. When I first got a job as an internal communications manager, that was my job title: internal communications manager. With an s. I had a conversation with the boss, went along these lines.

Me: “I want to change my job title.”

Boss: “You can’t do that, you need to go through HR and I’ll have to fill out forms and stuff.”

Me: “I only want to drop the s”

Boss: <makes Scooby Doo noise>

Me: “Communications (with an s) is about channels and mechanisms and tech. It’s not even the medium, it’s the stuff that makes the medium work. We should be about communication.”

Boss: “What the badgery flip are you on about, Lewis?”

Me: “Communication is a process of emotional and psychological change enabled by and exchange of information; it’s not merely the transmission of information from one source to an audience, for which the use of the word ‘communications’ (with an s) in my job title is but a semiotic tag.”

Boss: “Fair enough. Do I have to fill in any forms?”

He didn’t, we just changed it on the structure charts.

Anyway, the minutes it took me to find that sound clip will not have been in vain if my point has been made: communications is about technology and making the media work; communication is a two-way exchange which creates something new. Yes? Yes.

And so, is it the same as employee engagement? Well, in my personal opinion, no. Engagement is psychological state on the part of employees, which evidences itself in behavioural outcomes; if people are engaged those outcomes will be positive ones for both employer and employee – greater productivity, creativity, absorption in work, better customer service, less absenteeism, loyalty and exemplifying the brand, etc etc etc.

If the state is negative you get negative outcomes – absenteeism (or, even worse, its beguiling but mindless cousin presenteeism), low levels of energy, lack of ownership, etc etc etc

As such, communication (no s) is an input – it is something that needs to be done, and done well, in order to create the positive state of mind required to get those positive behaviours, but it is not, in and of itself, engagement.

And here is the crux: communication needs to be effective and two-way in order for that positive state to be achieved. Leaders need to communicate effectively; this means that issuing a memo won’t cut it. 

I recall in my early days in the world of work internal communication from senior management came in the form of the “Chief General Manager’s Briefing”. This was a printed piece of paper stuck on noticeboards and usually contained the latest regulation issued by the regulatory body. People tended not to engage with it. It wasn’t communication.

The move to intranets and social media won’t change things, though, if the things posted there are effectively just the Chief General Manager’s Briefing in digital form. 

What is needed is for leaders to speak, and to listen, and to show they have listened – not just by giving an answer but by changing things in response to what they have heard and then communicating what has changed and why. The last step is hugely important, I call it closing the loop, and it is often forgotten.

Without it, you don’t create that positive state, because the point of communication is not just to inform, but to give the employee the chance to listen and be listened to; people need to feel they are listened to, that they matter, and when they feel this, they feel good. Hence, engagement.

So, have a think about your communication. Is it communications, or communication? Is it a memo (albeit a tweet or a blog or a speech or a town hall meeting) or is it a conversation?

I’ll be rambling on about communication, the channels, the medium v the message and all that in the next few blogs. Book now to avoid disappointment.

By the way, anyone know why I chose the header I chose? Fans of Paul Newman (and, quite possibly, Guns and Roses) send me a virtual postcard…

 

SPOILER ALERT: In this blog I will bang on about Breaking Bad, which is a television show. If you haven’t seen it, go away and watch it, all of it, and then come back and read this. Off you go.

Right. Last week the best TV show ever in the history of all television came to an end, when the final episode of Breaking Bad was broadcast, to the delight of myself and fans across the world.

A week on, and I can assume that those of you who want to have watched it have now done so, and I can safely give away the ending, and also share some of the lessons that I feel Breaking Bad can offer to those of us in this crazy world of work and business and that.

Now Breaking Bad is about Walter White, a chemistry teacher who is diagnosed with terminal lung cancer. Stuck on a teacher’s pay and having to moonlight in a car wash, he decides to build up a little nest egg for his family to live off once he’s gone by cooking and selling crystal meth.

Before we go on, I must emphasise that I in no way condone the manufacture or selling of illegal drugs, but I do feel Walter’s various adventures, and those of his family and co-workers can give us valuable insight that we can take back to the workplace.

Firstly, Walt is a man with a vision, a vision that he pursues, well, really quite ruthlessly, what with all the murder and bombing. And again, can I emphasise very strongly that I do not advocate in any way murdering or bombing in the world of work. It is very rarely called for, and really not the done thing. Even when dealing with the finance department.

So Walt is a man with a vision, and that vision is summed up by his credo: “Respect the chemistry”. During the series we find out that Walt was a star student, a genius at crystalology (or whatever, I did an arts degree, I can’t be expected to know the technical terms). He even started a company called Gray Matter (sic, it’s American, you see) which is now a multi-billion dollar business, although Walt left early on under mysterious circumstances. He uses this genius to develop an incredibly pure product, which proves incredibly popular.

So lesson one: keep true to your vision. Respect the chemistry, or whatever it is that you and your organisation do that you are great at, hold to that vision. For a prime example check out Season 3 episode 10 – “Fly”- which, apart from being as about as perfect a piece of television drama as you could possibly hope to see, will give you some insight into the lengths which Walt will go to in order to respect the chemistry.

Now, when Walt starts out he obviously knows a lot about chemistry, but less so about the world of drug dealing. He is out with his brother-in-law, Hank Schrader, a Drug Enforcement Agency agent, on a bust when he sees a former pupil, Jesse Pinkman, legging it from the scene. Jesse is a small-time meth cook, but producing an inferior product, and Walt uses Jesse’s contacts to get himself into the demi-monde of the drug scene.

Walt and Jesse’s relationship has its ups and downs, and for me is an excellent case study on what can go wrong in a line manager relationship. Fairly early on in their relationship, Walt asks Jesse to get hold of some plastic containers so they can dissolve the bodies of some drug dealers they have gassed in the caravanette they were using as a meth lab. Like you do.

Jesse fails to follow the instructions, and uses the bath instead, with hilarious and extremely unpleasant consequences. What happened here was a failure on Walt’s part to understand Jesse and deal with him accordingly. He issues clear instructions, but doesn’t set out the scenario clearly. He doesn’t provide the motivation, i.e. “get the right plastic otherwise the bath will melt through the floor and we will end up mopping up dissolved drug dealer off your kitchen floor” is a more compelling reason for Jesse to get the right container than just the bald instruction.

In the same way, many managers in a work setting can issue instructions – “do this” without providing the context and reason for it – “do this because…” – and try and link this to your vision and purpose. So next time a manager in your business tells someone to do something, make sure they have provided the context – what is the dissolved drug dealer on the kitchen floor in your workplace?

Over time Walt develops a far more mentoring relationship with Jesse, and they become a far more effective team, and Jesse becomes a more effective meth cook, being able to replicate the recipe. There are ups and downs – Walt allows Jesse’s girlfriend to die, Jesse turns Walt in to his brother-in-law the DEA agent, and all the unpleasantness with the Aryan Nation gangsters, but, with all mentor/mentee relationships you have to expect ups and downs.

The lesson for me is that if you help someone develop, bring themselves on, you will be a more effective manager.

Over time Walt’s business grows, firstly by accessing the distribution network of Gus Fring, who uses a chain of chicken restaurants. Los Pollos Hermanos, as cover for his smuggling operation. Gus himself has some great lessons for leadership. He epitomises the leader as servant, coming across, initially, as humble and gentle and wanting to serve, with an admirable customer focus.

But Gus gives us another important lesson for those of us in business. He starts out a young immigrant from Chile, with his own protege, a young chemist who has developed a new method to cook meth. He goes to a Mexican drug cartel to get support, and they do it (although they do, to be fair, shoot his protege in cold blood, which is unlikely to be the outcome of a meeting with your average high street bank’s business manager, in my experience).

However, when it is time for Gus to move on from the cartel in order for him to take his business in the direction he needs, he cuts his ties and won’t allow sentimentality or false loyalty to hold him back. A bold and decisive move, and one that enables Gus to take his business forward. Admittedly his tactic of serving tequila laced with poison to the cartel’s bosses may be a tad more extreme than many in business will go, but again, it is a great example of taking the steps you need to move your business forward.

Walt, too, can make bold decisions and make a successful move into new markets. Now you would be best advised to go down the route of market research, testing, piloting and then launching, rather than the blowing up your enemy in an old people’s home and using a ruthless corporate ice-maiden to flog your drugs in the Czech republic route that Walt took, but the lesson is the same – understand what’s right for your business and take action to move it forward.

I could go on, so rich is the seam to be mined here, but I will end with three classic pieces of branding which Breaking Bad can, once again, teach us all.

First up is Walt’s ever so slightly dubious lawyer, Saul Goodman. Here is a marketing genius, with his landmark office (above a shopping mall) and his motto – “better call Saul”. Take a look here at the genius in action. And what this man doesn’t know about branding? Well, his real name is McGill but he changed it because he thought people would be more ready to trust a Jewish lawyer than an Irish one. Like I said, genius.

Secondly we have Los Pollos Hermanos – the Chicken Brothers – Gus Fring’s successful chain of fried chicken restaurants. They have a special recipe which appeals to their target demographic (research, you see) and a great brand which is re-enforced by their advertising, and a great little logo. But most of all it is the customer-centric ethic, driven from the top by Gus himself, which sets them apart. Gus works from his restaurants and works behind the counter, he really understands what life is like for the people on the front line and he knows all about the importance of delivering on your brand though your people. And how to distribute drugs.

Finally there is Walt himself, Walt knows that in the cut and thrust of the business world, a mild-mannered and unsuccessful red-haired moustachioed chemistry teacher called Walter just isn’t going to embody his vision and his product. Enter, instead, bald, goatee-bearded badass-hat-and-sunglasses-wearing Heisenberg, a man so bad that his picture appears in Mexican shrines to be prayed to by assassins. The lesson is never be afraid to reinvent, to align your brand to your vision and your product, and deliver against it relentlessly.

In the end, Walt can look back on pride on what he has achieved, and leaves the business a genuinely happy man. He has rebuilt his relationship with his protege, and ensured his vision and product remained his – he even manages to deliver on his initial purpose – to provide for his family after he has gone. Who amongst us would not wish to leave our respective businesses feeling the same way?

Although, admittedly, probably without a bullet in your abdomen.