Knowledge - Insights: Chair Reports

By Charlotte Dahl, Creative Planning Director, Woodreed, and Co-founder, Muse

I had the privilege of chairing Hall 2 at Engage Business Media’s Internal Communications conference 2019 at the Victoria Park Plaza in London on 17th September. The theme of the day was internal communications and the changing workplace. Hall 2 had an impressive lineup of 18 speakers from a range of organisations, all with brilliant stories to tell.

I’m a passionate about the power of internal communications to positively impact the lives of people in our workplaces. Our role even more critical as we face unprecedented change in our workplaces, change that’s both anticipated and sometimes unexpected.

I believe the internal communications is at its best when employees are treated with the same reverence as customers. When employees are communicated to with high quality, brand hearted comms based on a genuine understanding of the audience and through the right channels, the results can be amazing. Examples of this were in abundance throughout the course of the day. Here are my best bits.igh

Storytelling to engage hearts and minds

Duncan White from Liberty Global drew parallels between the moon landing of 1969 and internal communications. He emphasised the importance of organisational purpose in organisations and the strength of a compelling story well told. A brand story is meaningless unless it can be made to come alive inside and outside your organisation.

The power of stories was something reiterated by Debbie Bennett-Jackson from CITI. Employee stories were a key part of their strategy to connect employees emotionally with their values, driving deeper engagement. Plus getting their own to provide the content meant making budgets go much further – win-win!

No story was as powerfully communicated as Dr Satnam Sagoo’s emotional film setting out the purpose of The Red Cross. A humble reminder of how fortunate we all are.

Brand is as important inside your organisation as out

Employees are key to delivering your brand experience. Nicholas Wardle from One Housing reminded us of this with his focus on bringing his employee audience close to the values. Organisational values must be authentic, based on truth and woven into the fabric of an organisation by the way people behave with each other and their customers. Mike Collins from River Island’s mission to join up the brand experience inside and out was music to my ears as he took us though their new internet. Ultimate Finance’s Joe Hill was also a firm advocate in the power of authentic values which acted as the compass for all their internal activity.

Technology PLUS people is the key

There were many examples during the day of the use of technology to reach employees. Steve Haworth, CEO of 99&One talked to us about using insights and learnings from consumer platforms and behavioural economics inside. He advised to get internal comms involved right up front.

While technology is a great connector, don’t let it get in the way of the human element – make technology plus human greater than the sum of its parts. Chris Lincoln from Be At One reminded us of the fundamentals of basic human interaction. Never ever lose sight of the people. Keep talking to your people, listening to your people. This was a lesson echoed by Change, Comms Consultant Olga Klimanovich who reminded us that despite all the tech at our fingertips, nothing replaces the insights gained from the watercooler.

Everyone agreed the CEO loves a good metric. One of the many advantages of technology for communication in the workplace is how we can use the data insights to continue to convince our senior leaders about the importance of internal communications to create an engaged workforce. Use them to get a seat at the boardroom table, raise your profile and your key role in your organisation’s success. Victoria Silverman, Director of IC at Refinitiv talked more about the re strategic role of internal communication and reassured us that IC is an important strategic function.

Understanding your audience

Marketers are the masters of understanding their audiences. When we apply the same rigour inside great things happen. Emily Scammell from Onfido proved global employee campaigns can be delivered at scale while making sure there’s a level of personalisation to feel authentic to everyone, regardless of where they are in the world.

Christopher Thom from Lumapps shared an intranet case study from those pioneers of employee engagement, John Lewis. He proved how technology can help drive a values-driven culture delivering an experience that feels entirely personal to each employee.

When Heather Mustafa and her team from Nationwide relooked at front line channel communications in their drive for simpler, clearer better, they wanted to make sure they knew all they could about their audience first. It was only then they could be certain they were recommending the right way forward. Taking the time to research their employee audiences’ needs allowed them to design the right technology solution and right channels with people experience at its heart. Then when you’ve launched the new platform, then take you people with you with them the ‘why’ and the ‘what’s in it for me’.

Helen Windle, IT service and strategy manager at Walgreen Boots Alliance knows that small things often matter more to people at work. Sometimes it’s the smallest gestures, the simplest things that make the biggest difference. Internal communication is about ‘doing ordinary things extraordinary well’, a sentiment I am sure Helen shared. Joe Hill from Ultimate Finance clearly understood this as his engagement strategy included a range of reward and recognition elements he called the ‘Popsicles’, from ½ day off to go Christmas Shopping to the power of a simple thank you. Things that cost nothing in real terms but mean the world to people.

From small things to literally a matter of life and death

The last part of the day focused on health and wellbeing in the workplace and the power of internal communications to positively impact it. Ross Parker from LV= talked passionately about the impact their strategy had upon the lives of the people who worked at LV=. Martin Power from KP Snacks shared his story of how his organisation moved their employees’ health and wellbeing from an historical focus on physical to a greater focus on mental.

And finally, being the eternal optimist I am, I loved Laura Farrington from NCG’s case study which proves the old adage ‘when life give you lemons, make lemonade’. She told us how an Ofsted curve ball became a spectacular slam dunk as they united a workforce behind a new organisational purpose.

Sometimes changes comes about by design but sometimes it’s by accident. It’s how you decide to deal with it that makes all the difference. We as internal communicators should continue to lead by example, set the standards and reach for the stars, leading our organisations through change with the way we communicate. Without doubt every single one of our 18 speakers are doing just this within their own organisations.

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