Jennifer Sproul-min

Internal Communications Conference Chair Report

Jennifer Sproul, Chief Executive, Institute of Internal Communication

I was thrilled to be invited to chair the 2018 Internal Communications Conference on Thursday 20th September in London.  It is so important for me to spend time listening to and engaging with the IC profession, and it was great to see such a packed room of people wanting to hear from the fantastic line-up of speakers, looking for some inspiration or that golden nugget to implement back in the office.  It was a full agenda with such a variety of speakers and topics, so I was keen to keep the day on time!

We kicked off the day focusing on ‘Internal Communications – The New HR Case’ with a great session from Sam Bleazard, Head of Internal Comms for Laing O’Rourke, who talked about the journey they have been on to empower and engage employees to share their stories, and its powerful impact on external engagement and attracting a new wave of talent.  It was a fantastic case study of how working in partnership with HR and leadership to change behaviours can unlock not only improved employee engagement, but positive brand reputation.

The theme of engagement continued in the next session from Sukh Ryatt, CEO of Oak Intranet, who certainly kept us entertained through the use of kebab and chips analogies to give us a fresh perspective of getting to the root cause of creating successful intranets. In essence, to be engaging, an intranet needs to mirror the culture and create a space to interact. It’s about progress, removing the barriers for people using the system, making sure they want but not need you, remaining nimble, creating content champions and taking risks – be brave and launch it like you love it!

We finished our first round of sessions with an insightful case study from Heather Mustafa, Senior Project Manager at Nationwide, who shared that, by listening to and understanding our audience, we can transform the way we communicate.  Heather has been with Nationwide for over 23 years and this session really reminded us of the importance to look at the team and listen to new ideas to improve communication channels. It’s important in communications to gain fresh perspectives from team members, not to be afraid of trial and error, and to try new methods but not feel that we have to use them all.

After a short break and trip to the Expo Hall, we were back to explore the links between ‘Internal Communications, Colleagues and Customers’.  We started with a session from Alison Bennett, Director of HR for Sense. Sense is a charity which supports people who are deaf/blind and those who have sensory impairments or complex needs.  Alison talked  us through the work they are doing to enable people to feel connected to the work of the charity across their employees, volunteers and customers. Through their campaign ‘When I’m Gone’ Sense have showcased the importance of injecting pride and recognition across all stakeholders groups with initiatives to include apprenticeships, coaching & mentoring, skills development, employer referral schemes and quality champions. This enabled them to not only raise their profile, but for everyone to feel engaged and motivated to work hard and give their support.

For our next session we focussed on demonstrating our value with  our next speaker, Ghasson Karian, Founder and Managing Director of Karian and Box, who showcased how to demonstrate our impact through evidence – by focussing on our outputs and integrating data from multiple sources, we can unearth those valuable insights.  To achieve this, we need to focus on the ‘think, feel and do’, measuring the connections and relationships in our organisations and the behaviours we need to display to achieve our objectives.  We need to ask better questions, integrate data from across the organisation, to include the employee surveys, sickness levels, sentiment analysis and many more, and then tell story in the first person and humanise the numbers to make our impact known to senior leadership.

We finished the stream with a session from Eoin Cotter, Internal Communication & Employee Engagement Advisor at Poppulo, who talked us through the 7 deadly sins of internal communications.  The tips to take away: combine  push and pull communications, use storytelling techniques to build impact, move towards conversational comms, IC should own the employee data to map more personalised communication and always measure from consumption to action.

From this, we moved on to ‘How Technology is Changing Internal Communication’, kicking off with a case study presented by Patrica Mestre, Head of Internal Comms and Change Management at Montepio Bank.  Patricia talked  us through their digital transformation, which aimed to bring in a new way of working, more collaboration and productivity. Their formula for success was to take it step by step, find your ambassadors of ‘kwan’ to become the go to advocates of change by developing peer-to-peer training and using video as the key IC tool. Remembering it’s important to celebrate the small victories and build in feedback loops to digital transformation.

This was followed with a session from Dan Coles, Global Head of Internal Communication at Travelex, who shared how the effective use of technology can build community.  Through building communities, you can crowdsource ideas from those that service customers to drive innovation. It was all about dialling up the employee voice, creating a new platform space which they called ‘The Lounge’ to act as the central place to share their views and give recognition. The success factors around this project were building those advocates and creating a safe space for collaboration and, where possible, building economies of scales in your technology platforms and benefitting from third party applications as API’s become more open and easier to implement.

We finished this stream with Robert Porter, Head of Customer Success in EMEA for Workplace by Facebook, interviewing Marcos Eleftheriou, Head of Culture & Internal Communications for Ennismore.  Robert shared current trends as we see increased usage of messaging (64% of people would choose this over making a phone call or sending an email). So what does this mean for the future of IC?  Marcos talked about how Workplace has enabled Ennismore, a fast growing hospitality brand, to utilise the tool to enable employees (who don’t have an email or desk) to talk and connect  through the app and messaging function, enabling them to communicate efficiently and break down barriers.

After a well-earned lunch, we returned to explore ‘Communicating to a Changing/Global Workforce’, which has both practical and cultural challenges for the internal communicator.  We kicked off with a session from Alissa Clarke, Senior Manager Brand and Communications for Tate & Lyle Plc. Alissa got the audience involved with a quick poll asking what they thought the organisation did. The results were clear as the audience voted for ‘the sugar company’, however the brand has evolved to making ingredients and creating extraordinary solutions.  Alissa shared how  people were central in their journey to transition to a new brand promise to ‘Make Food Extraordinary’, and howcreating employee experiences to showcase this was a vital part of their transition. To achieve this,Tate & Lyle required leadership to live and drive culture and create brand ambassadors.  Key to this success was ensuring they focused internally first for six months before any external launch. It was a ‘recipe for success’.

Next up was Chris Seth, Managing Director for Dynamic Signal, who interviewed Martha McKenzie-Minifie, Head of Corporate Communications at ING, on how they used technology to develop a “share it programme”.  It was important to ING to engage with millennials and utilise the rise in the use of smartphones to build a more conversational format,so they set upon a programme to educate employees on what is safe to share, deploying ambassadors and empowering people to tell their stories. The results were clear as, through empowering employees to share, they built a new audience of followers for the brand across social media channels, with LinkedIn in particular. Through this they were able to utilise the internal voice to drive positive external reputation as both a brand and potential employer.

We then finished this stream with a session from Keren MCarron, Head of Corporate Affairs and Communications for KP Snacks, and Alan Oram, Creative Director for Alive with Ideas, who talked us through how they improved their IC channels to a largely non-desktop-based workforce.  After spending time understanding employee views on the current channels, which felt overwhelming and too corporate, it was clear they needed a sense of personality which better represented the brand and culture of the organisation. This wasn’t just about look & feel but also an initiative to get everyone to become a better communicator, so combined with a new visually engaging format, they introduced toolkits and training sessions to give employees (who really are the most powerful communication tool) the skills and capabilities to communicate. This was a bottom up approach focussing on what the employees really needed to make them feel part of the organisation and what makes KP different both inside and outside the organisation.

After a short break and injection of coffee we moved on to the final stream of the day, looking at ‘360 Degree Comms in a Fragmenting Workplace’. We started with a really honest presentation from Alenka Daniel, Internal Comms Manager, and Megan Skinner, Deputy Director of Communications for NHS Barts Health Trust.  The NHS is a service which touches us all and engagement and morale are vital to provide a high level of care for patients. In this presentation we heard how, after regulators gave a damning inspection, action to rebuild was imperative as this report affected not only their external reputation but also led to difficulties in recruiting. With staff morale at an all-time low, internal communication was messy and the butt of all jokes, with no strategic direction or audience segmentation and supplemented with an intranet which had become a dumping ground, overcrowded with white noise. So the challenge was big but a start was made by bringing together a community of 16,000 diverse staff across 5 hospitals.  With no budget and a frosty reception, they embarked on a new comms plan and key to this was opening the door to social media giving employees the voice to share their stories and ensure the CEO was visible to drive the chain of congratulations. To support the change in dialog, the intranet was rebuilt (ditching the 12,000 pages) with a new tone of voice, vision, values and behaviours, adding discussion boards to inject a new sense of honesty but also pride in achievements.  It was about giving staff their voice back alongside visible leadership to drive the culture change to create a more approachable environment for staff and patients. The results were clear, going from 45% to 66% of staff recommending the Trust as a place to work and the launchpad for a new employer brand.  The tips; senior buy-in from the exec team, get by with a little help from your friends, look outside the box, be brave, loosen the reins and above all be patient – as change of this nature takes time and consistency.

Next up was Tomas Maunier, Sales and Marketing Director for City District Ltd, who talked us through how, through the use of a single platform, they connected their disparate workforce of 400 staff across 7 restaurants to ensure they felt informed and connected to the organisation.  The platform needed to be simple, user friendly, inclusive, organised, assignable, traceable and integrated. Their chosen solution was Zoohom. Through this single platform they ensured staff were informed, aligned to the daily work, and connected to information across all their sites – sharing what they needed to know to not feel overwhelmed whilst injecting a sense of belonging.

We finished the day with a session from Sophie Theen, Head of HR and Talent for 11FS, who shared the internal communication challenges for start-up and fast growing businesses.  Start-ups are chaotic because you have freedom and every opinion is welcome but as you grow fast this can mean the culture becomes more broken.  This creates clear challenges for internal communication as employees are often remote and relying on IC channels to connect. In 11FS’s case, they used Slack as the portal to share ideas and have conversations which quickly became overloaded, leading to confusion in business need and not connecting the right dots and people.   To address this, it was important to create communities on Slack which linked to what people needed to talk about –  a forum for open feedback and a learning platform to accommodate new starters through the use of ‘guild chapters’. The guild chapters are based around  craft and passion of skills across the business to link together employees and give them the right to support and contribute to the business whilst feeling inspired. Creating clearly structured IC channels to help employees navigate conversations and create clarity was vital alongside building =a shared community of skills and passions.

So we reached the end of a full on day packed with fantastic examples of amazing internal communication work, giving the audience practical tips and inspiration to take back the office, and it was left to me to round up the day.

We know the world around us is changing from how we consume and interact with content through advances in technology but also how we are influenced and form our opinions as we look to our colleagues and friends as a key source of trusted information. This creates an opportunity for organisations to utilise internal communication to amplify the reputation of their organisation, to improve experience and attract talent.

We heard some fantastic examples of exactly that, so what are the top tips that I took away?:

  • Leadership is key to driving culture through their behaviours and interactions
  • We must choose the right communications for the right audience
  • Ask the right questions to drive valuable insights
  • Simplicity and clarity of communication is key
  • Exploit technology to synchronise and optimise platforms across forums, updates, projects and recognition to name a few.

But overriding this, it was clear from the day that our people are our opportunity; we need to connect them, empower their voice as advocates and storytellers whilst engaging managers & employees to be better communicators.

The sentiment of IoIC’s tagline, The Power Within, has never been more true and the internal communication profession has the power to transform businesses and improve working lives. So let’s be brave, bold and take risks to unlock their power to benefit everyone.  But the message throughout the day is to remember this is a journey and it’s not over yet!