Internal Communications Fireside Chat
How are business outcomes linked to internal communications practitioners? What is the role of internal communications in change management and communicating about new technologies?
Daren Jennings, Chief Commercial Officer at Speakap, and Tobi Anderson, Head of Customer Experience at Speakap, share their views around some of the struggles that internal communications practitioners face and how to tackle them.
So I wanted to open up our conversation around business outcomes as they relate to internal communications practitioners. I think, at least in my experience and speaking to a lot of folks in internal communications, they really struggle with communicating the value of their initiative. And I think it's a mistake, but often it's felt that internal communications is a nice to have. And I think it's important for business leaders to understand the value and how we can actually help internal communications practitioners. When you drive those business outcomes, how do they measure them and how do they communicate them to those senior leaders? I'm curious to hear your experience and thoughts on that.
Well, it's super interesting that you bring that topic up because it's exactly what I'm working on with customers right now, which is to define what business outcomes they want to focus on in 2023. Because ultimately they want to improve employee communication. Awesome. What does that mean? And how do they take that and both come up with a tactical plan to achieve it, but also set KPIs to measure progress towards that. And then one of the things I find so interesting is that internal communication practitioners are excellent communicators but rarely tell their own story. And so really specifically, I'm curious to know what are some of the business outcomes that you talk about with folks?
We talk a lot about, especially in this type of an economy, that the war for talent or retention is really top of mind. It costs a lot of money to recruit people, to train them, to get them up to full productivity. There's also a challenge of employee engagement being low, and we know that one of the great antidotes to that is opportunities for advancement within the organization.
So that's a very clear business outcome that if we can tie retention, for example, or engagement as a very definable metric to what we're working on as an internal communications team, that I think is a very compelling story. That's just one example among many. Depending on the business, it could be something like, 'can we speed up our productivity?' For example, maybe we'll work in logistics and we can reduce the amount of meetings that we're having so that people can focus more on filling orders. And that allows them to build things, from my perspective. And as someone who works in commercial leadership, I think I would be very interested to know how this investment is going to help me achieve mine and by extension the company's skills.
Right. And I think a lot of the internal communicators are focused on executing and ensuring that the employees understand the initiatives of the company, understand the goals, for instance improving productivity. But the internal communicator has to be the translator because ultimately the executives need to hear about the business outcome. But the construction worker, the manufacturing plant worker... maybe they just want to know how to do their job easier.
I think that's really interesting. You pointed out a couple of things that internal communicators are great at telling stories, but they don't tell their own story. But it occurs to me that, perhaps I didn't realize this until just now, they're really being pulled in a lot of directions and have multiple audiences. They have to craft their message differently according to those audiences.
So when you're communicating something to a frontline worker, we're not talking about 'read this so that we can improve productivity', but say, 'hey, we care about your safety, we care about your well-being. We care about you having an opportunity to advance your career'. Yes, that has an impact on the business, but two things can be true at once; it can be good for the employee and good for the organization. But I think having an internal communicator who's stuck in the middle of that tug of war, that's a challenge that I don't think I realized until just now.
So Tobi, here's another interesting topic that comes up a lot, and that is the one of change management. I think for a lot of companies embracing a new way of communicating, a new communications technology comes with a lot of concern about how it's going to be adopted, and how much bandwidth it's going to require, and who needs to be involved. Tell me a little bit about your experience, but also maybe beyond just the commercial or the technological. How do you manage change when it comes to increasing transparency for an organization that may not be as comfortable with being more open and transparent with their employees?
It's interesting. I see change management coming up more and more in different practices. Project managers need to be aware of change management, and actually having a change manager in an organization. But what every change management framework I've seen has is some form of awareness, communicating the change, understanding what people need out of a change. I think one thing I definitely see is the fear factor of 'I don't want to create this venue for people to rant about problems'. But you can be very thoughtful about how you share information with things like updates, and tracking viewership. So you know how many of those employees you've reached. Then you'll have a sense of who's getting that particular message. You might shout it out, but who's hearing it?
And then having pointed questions, so asking the question you want answered. It could be using a poll that says: We have just talked about introducing a new technology. How are you feeling about it? Great. Not so sure. Terrible. Add comment below.
Interesting. I think that the point you made earlier about having those pointed questions is really insightful, especially when you're communicating something a bit more delicate that could potentially be unpopular. It reminds me of the Mad Men episode when Don Draper says: If you don't like what's being said, change the conversation. So if you can guide the conversation towards the types of questions that you may be uncomfortable with, but at least you don't think are going to be so volatile and explosive, that's an interesting tactic I think that people can employ.
Well they say don't ask the question you don't want the answer to. Another thing is taking whatever you hear and then sharing back what you're going to do. That starts to create a culture of trust.
I completely agree. I think it's probably very challenging for organizations to embrace that continuous feedback loop, especially when it's a delicate topic. But I would have to think that if somebody did receive, 'Here's the message. Here is my feedback', then I know you followed up on my feedback. I'm going to have a lot more trust in my employer and that they're being credible and transparent with me and I'm definitely going come back and use the employee app again.
And that way, hopefully there's going to be some good news that we can all celebrate together. I think it does have an overall uplifting effect. While it may be uncomfortable and there's change management capabilities in there, if you embrace that discomfort a little bit, I think you can have some significant dividends that will pay off with your business outcomes.