5 easy ways we can become more inclusive internal communicators

inclusionDiversity and inclusion (D&I) is one of the hottest topics in business at the moment, thanks in part to recent high-profile initiatives such as gender pay gap reporting, #BlackLivesMatter and the #MeToo movement.

And with increased diversity in the workplace being linked to enhanced financial performance, team problem-solving power and employee engagement, it’s no wonder companies are keen to create environments where employees’ differences are respected and celebrated.

For many of us internal communicators, this shift has led to us doing more D&I comms. But does internal communications, as an industry, have a diversity problem?

The Diversity & Inclusion problem

A lack of D&I research focusing specifically on IC means we must look to PR for insight. According to the PRCA’s 2016 PR Census, men hold 64% of Board-level positions but women outnumber men 3:1 in more junior roles. Things look even worse when you consider other key D&I categories. A recent CIPR report suggests the UK PR industry is overwhelmingly white (93% on average), heterosexual (85%) and without any disabilities (93% without any physical disabilities/conditions; 80% without any mental-health conditions).

IC may not have any D&I data, but the importance of an inclusive mindset in IC is clear. We play a vital role in helping to create and convey company culture through internal messaging and activities. We listen to and elevate the voices of employees and help them understand how what they do contributes to their company’s strategy and future. To do this well, we need to reflect, or, at the very least, understand our employees.

Here are 5 ways we can become more inclusive internal communicators:

1. Listen to employees

Sounds simple enough, but when battling a #busybusyverybusy in-house role, employee research is often the first task to get dropped from the to-do-list. Try not to let it. After all, employees are often our key audience. If we don’t know who they are or understand their communication needs and preferences, how can we produce IC outputs that drive behavioural and emotional change?

The benefits far outweigh any time and financial costs, and with so many employee feedback channels now available – engagement surveys, focus groups, IC audits or champion networks – there’s really no excuse. Informal chats with colleagues before or after meetings, or in the kitchen area, can also provide invaluable insights if you’re low on budget or time.

2. Confront our biases

Tackling cognitive biases, especially unconscious biases, in the workplace is becoming a top business priority, and for good reason. A 2017 US study found that employees who feel negatively judged by their managers are more likely to withhold their ideas and solutions, talk negatively about their employers on social media, and quit their jobs within a year.

It’s important that we’re aware of and challenge our biases if we’re to be effective corporate storytellers, internal connectors and strategic advisors. One way to do this is to take our time when making key decisions – from the employees we choose to feature in our stories to the people we recruit into our teams – and ensure our choices are based on sound evidence and reasoning. I find it helpful to note my rationale for significant decisions when I write and update communication plans, in case I’m asked to explain my choices in the future.

There’s a wealth of learning resources available online, including some inspiring TED talks. You could also commit to spending time with colleagues you wouldn’t usually interact with (think Coffee Roulette). Not only will it help you gain a better understanding of different types of people in your organisation; you’ll also be expanding your internal network.

3. Don’t be afraid to challenge our stakeholders

I’ve heard a few internal comms pros refer to IC as the ‘corporate conscience’, and I couldn’t agree more. IC has evolved from exclusively serving as the managerial mouthpiece to a valuable strategic function capable of driving positive business outcomes. With this elevated position comes great responsibility, including challenging managers on behaviour, policies and practices which could alienate employees.

This can be a tough and thankless task, especially when you have to balance the needs and values of your employers with that of employees, including yourself. It’s the ultimate ethical dilemma but one that can be resolved, in part, through developing positive relationships with people in all layers of the business and having the confidence and mandate to challenge stakeholders when necessary.

4. Follow the news and public debate

We often hear the phrase “what’s internal is external” but the opposite is also true. Internal communication does not take place in a vacuum – political, economic, social, technological and legal factors external to an organisation can influence if and how employees process and respond to communication within it.

Take the #MeToo movement. The revelation of widespread sexual harassment and abuse in Hollywood last October – and the resulting public outrage – forced many organisations to review their internal culture and reiterate their approach to sexual discrimination and gender equality. It’s likely that news stories such as these will be front-of-mind for many employees, so it’s worth keeping an eye on news and public opinion on popular topics (particularly around D&I issues) to prevent your internal communications from seeming out-of-touch.

5. Aim to represent and inspire

IC’s influence on D&I strategy is partly limited by the fact that it sits outside the function. One way we can really have impact is by ensuring our content and activities represent the majority and the minority groups within the employee base (however this is defined). It’s worth reviewing your teams’ outputs through a D&I lens when measuring the message or campaign impact. If you spot an unintentional trend (eg. senior leaders being over-represented in an around-the-company opinion article), challenge yourself or your team to include different people next time.

This won’t always be possible – sometimes content relates to specific people, or it may seem disingenuous to feature someone from a particular (often under-represented) social group. However, being open-minded about whose voices you elevate through your outputs can, at best, help employees to better identify with and feel supported by the organisation or, at worst, reflect D&I issues back to senior leaders spurring them into action.

Read more: 7 essential internal comms best practices every internal communicator needs to know

Recognising and catering for a diverse workforce is no easy feat, especially for internal communicators. Workplace D&I is a moral maze – no one has all the answers and we’ll all make mistakes along the way. The key is to keep talking, challenge your own thinking and be brave. And remember that despite our differences, we all want to be treated with kindness and respect.

This blog post was first published on H & H Agency’s website (5 September 2018) – https://handhcomms.co.uk/5-easy-ways-we-can-become-more-inclusive-internal-communicators/

 

The Big Yak 2018: what I learned connecting with other internal communicators

Like Charlie Bucket in Roald Dahl’s Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, I was one of 160 internal communication (IC) professionals lucky enough to bag a ticket to this year’s .

Run by comms veterans Rachel Miller, Jenni Field and Dana Leeson, the unconference brings together IC pros from different orgs, sectors and geographies to share best practices, views on the profession and, occasionally, war tales.

Having thoroughly enjoyed my first Big Yak in 2016, I had high hopes for this year’s edition – and I wasn’t disappointed.

Here’s my key takeaways from the breakout sessions I attended:

IC crowd intro

“There’s over 1,000 years of communications experience in the room today. Make the most of it.” – opening speech by Benjamin Ellis, tech expert and Big Yak advocate.

IC measurement

“Be kind to yourself – we can only pull some of the levers for action and change. The rest is up to employees.”

(Tip: some people suggested the AMEC Framework as a good way to help track how well you’re pulling said levers)

Getting ahead in your IC career

“Your career is distinct from your role or the company you work for. Don’t let your frustrations with the latter drain your passion for the former.”

Here’s some of my go-to resources for my IC questions and professional development:

How to cultivate champions

Comms champions: “It’s not just about the evangelists – you can learn from the naysayers, too.”

Employee advocates: “Let employees know they can share corporate news as they see fit, and trust they’ll do good.”

Working smarter in IC

“It’s about being more corporate connector and less corporate news hound.”

Managing an Enterprise Social Network (ESN) community

“Don’t be thirsty (for users) and ignore the haters.”

IC and diversity

“We’re all learning and that’s OK.”

“IC may not own D&I but it is responsible for creating inclusive comms strategies and content.”

“How can orgs balance between the drive to create a ‘one-company’ culture and encouraging employees to ‘bring their whole selves to work’.”

I suggested this session (hence the multiple quotes), as I wanted to stimulate discussion on:

  • diversity in the IC profession and how this affects our IC approach and content
  • how different organisations are communicating their D&I strategy internally

It was an insightful session with honest debate which I’d love to continue online (and in person). What do you think about diversity in internal communications? I’d love to hear your views.

Big thanks to The IC Crowd (Rachel, Jenni and Dana) for organising such an inspiring and engaging event. The IC community are a great bunch and I had a blast catching up with old friends and making new ones. A special thanks go to the authors of the tweets I’ve borrowed – re-purposing is a truly a comms bods best friend!

Until next time!

For more information about the event and to catch up on all the Big Yak goss:

 

 

 

 

Five lessons I’ve learnt as a communications assistant

After 10 months as a communications assistant in an NHS hospital trust, I’m leaving to take up an internal communications (IC) executive role at a large professional services firm. To mark this special occasion (and my first blog post!), here’s five important lessons I’ve learnt as an assistant:

1. Comms is much more than writing – one of the reasons I switched to a career in comms is because it seemed the closest job to journalism – one of my lifelong dream jobs. Thankfully, comms is so much more than just drafting online articles. As a comms assistant, I got to take corporate photos; help organise staff events; analyse social media statistics; create videos for YouTube and commission print design work. And I’ve enjoyed every bit of it. I also got to write numerous articles for the trust’s intranet and website which was fun too. That’s the beauty of comms – there are so many tactical and strategic skills to learn and use. Yes, writing is an important piece of the comms puzzle, but it is by no means the only one. I look forward to learning and using more comms skills as my career develops.

2. Internal and external comms benefit from working closely together – as an assistant, I supported the internal and external comms teams which gave me a detailed and helicopter view of the comms team’s activities. I used this position to share updates between the teams and to ensure that both teams considered the trust’s internal and external comms channels and key messages when planning projects and campaigns. Both teams have said that they found my dual perspective useful and I can see how our team outputs were enriched by internal and external comms being closely linked. You only have to look at the recent controversies at United Airlines and British Airways to see what can happen when internal and external messages do not align. Digital technology is steadily closing the gap between internal and external comms, so teams working in these spaces need to align if their organisations want to be trusted.

3. Comms teams are bad at internal self-promotion – as a business function, communications – especially the internal kind – still remains a mystery to many. Try telling an old school friend or a distant relative what you do for a living and watch their reaction (I’m guessing blank stares and excessive nodding). Colleagues can be just as oblivious, believing you have the power to extend their email recipient limit or resolve their pay issues (genuine queries I’ve received). But can we really blame them? The central purpose of comms is to share information with different audiences, yet too often comms teams seem reticent to tell their colleagues who they are and what they can (or can’t/won’t) do. My team received more relevant requests for support (compared to irrelevant requests) after we launched a team intranet page (with photo) and went out and talked to key staff groups about the work that we do. Who’d a thunk!

4. Networking is everything – Before I moved into internal comms, I’d never really experienced the benefits of networking. I’m pleased to say that I’ve now seen the light. That I’ve secured a more senior IC role after 10 months as an assistant is partly due to the contacts I’ve made through attending and helping organise IC events and taking part in IC debates on social media. My IC network has also given me some handy comms tips and career advice, and has shared job vacancies with me – including my new role. My enthusiasm for IC – as evidenced by my networking – was one of the main reasons I was nominated for a 2017 CIPR #InsideStory award. In some ways, I’m fortunate because IC folk are some of the warmest and helpful professionals that I’ve met. However, had I not been brave and thrown myself into the world of IC, I would never have known.

5. Comms can help improve people’s lives – Over the years, certain sections of the UK media have accused NHS communicators of being a ‘pointless’ drain on an already cash-strapped system (See The Sun and The Telegraph). This could not be further from the truth. I won’t go too much into the vital role that communication teams play in the NHS – Amanda Nash, head of comms at Plymouth Hospitals NHS Trust, covers this brilliantly in her recent blog post. My personal experience is that effective communications complements the amazing work carried out by NHS staff every day. For example, my team created promotional material and online content for an eye drop awareness event run by the trust’s Pharmacy team which helped raise the event’s profile and increase patient attendance. It is hoped that the campaign will help improve patient health outcomes and satisfaction ratings and the available data looks promising so far. So there you have it; comms can indeed improve lives.

Ultimately, I’ve learnt over the past 10 months that a) I love working in internal communications; and b) I’m actually quite good at it! This is partly due to the wonderful people who have supported me on my journey so far – thank you! I look forward to starting my new role and the next chapter of my IC career.

What were the most important lessons you learnt when you started out in communications? 

Let me know by leaving a comment below or connecting with me on Twitter or LinkedIn.

CIPR Inside AGM: my thoughts

First published on LinkedIn on 14 March 2017.

Chartered Institute of Public Relations Internal Communications group banner

Yesterday I attended the annual general meeting (AGM) for CIPR Inside, the CIPR sectoral group for internal communicators and employee engagers.

The AGM is a great opportunity to discuss the current state of the sector, chat to fellow internal communication (IC) bods from across different industries and learn more about the fantastic work that CIPR Inside does for its 800-so members.

Here’s a rundown of/some of my thoughts about last night’s meeting:

  1. The group’s conference in October was a resounding success. A whopping 180 people attended the event – entitled ‘Closing the Gap’ – and explored how IC can help connect people and departments within their organisation. I’m gutted I didn’t go, not least because the panel of non-comms bods sharing their experiences and thoughts on IC sounded like my kind of session!
  2. Last month’s #InsideStory awards was another jewel in the CIPR Inside’s crown. The team received a record-breaking 100 award entries this year from a variety of brands, big and small. I feel very honoured to have been nominated and highly commended in the Future Leader award category. Well done to all the other nominees, winners and CIPR Inside for organising a brilliant event that even Storm Doris couldn’t beat!
  3. Four new executive committee members were selected in a short and uncontroversial election (a seemingly rare phenomenon these days!). See the CIPR Inside website for more details.
  4. The new committee chair outlined some of their priorities for 2017/18, which included developing resources to help members do their best work, including case studies and toolkits, and participating in more Task and Finish Groups for CIPR projects which impact IC professionals
  5. IC professionals are some of the most passionate, resilient, funny and friendly people I’ve met. I find networking within the IC pool easy – everyone is always up for a chat and willing to share their own experiences in order to help you develop professionally and personally.

I look forward to writing for the CIPR Inside blog, joining a Task and Finish Group (my #insidestory award prize – yay!) and attending more of the committee events in the coming months.

If you’re planning to go to any events but aren’t sure about whether it’s for you, I’d be happy to have a chat about it. I’m not a CIPR member so my opinion will be based purely on my own – very positive – experience.

SOPPY MOMENT ALERT: Yesterday’s AGM was extra special for me, as it was a year ago at the last AGM that I fell in love with IC and decided to pursue it as a career. It’s been a fun and eventful 12 months and I look forward to seeing where this journey will take me!