AB Thinks  →  19th April 2021

A leader in her Field

In Episode 46 of The Internal Comms Podcast, business communications strategist, public speaker and podcast host Jenni Field shares some of the ideas and strategies laid out in her latest book, Influential Internal Communication: Streamline Your Corporate Communication to Drive Efficiency and Engagement.

This refreshing take on IC is full of the same razor-sharp thinking Jenni demonstrates in her conversation with Katie Macaulay, in a chat which covers big subjects such as chaos and change as well as some of the everyday issues faced by IC professionals.

Here are our top five takeaways from an entertaining hour with one of the best in the business.

#1 – Clarity of purpose and a strong narrative are key to employee satisfaction
I once worked for an organisation with a very strong narrative and clarity of purpose. It might not have been a grand purpose that everyone could get behind – we all knew it was shareholder return – but there was a high level of engagement and the people were very passionate. Yet, at the same time, it didn’t have a strong employee voice, nor did it have the right kind of managers in some areas. In another organisation I worked for, there wasn’t a strong strategic narrative – it was not at all clear what the organisation was doing or how it was knitted together – but it did have a very strong employee voice, and the right kind of managers. The difference in those two organisations is the one with the strong narrative had quite a low staff turnover, especially at an operational level, while the one without a robust narrative but with a strong employee voice had a revolving door of people. When you look at the two organisations, you realise those enablers can’t be of equal weight, because you’re seeing a very different outcome with those levers dialled up and dialled down. Employee voice is very important, having the right kind of managers is very important, organisation integrity is very important: but trying to tackle all of those enablers as an equal priority is very challenging. Focusing on narrative so that people understand why they’re doing what they’re doing is a much higher priority for me than the others.

#2 – Jenni’s five-step plan to achieve the perfect IC strategy
I’ve set up three or four communication functions in my career and this was the process I went through:

  • The first step is insight, which is making sure that you have data and insight into what you’re doing. This is about finding out what people like and don’t like, what they need to know and what they want to know.
  • The second is business intelligence: understanding how the business works. That comes from things like annual reports and documents, but it’s also understanding what the business does and how things work together.
  • Then you have the principles: these are the objectives of the function or the strategy, which give you the measurement.
  • Next, you have communication, which is the tactical bit in terms of the channels.
  • And then finally the measurement, which is aligned to principles, because you should have some key performance indicators that you can pull through.

Those are the steps that have helped me create IC strategies and plans to enable change, and all those good things that we try to do in organisations.

#3 – Communication is for everyone
I will never forget someone saying to me a few years ago that the finance function is there to advise and support when it’s needed, but people can go off and run their own budget. This should be the same for the communication function: you’re there to advise and support when it’s needed, but people should have the skills to go and do their own communication. Being clear about that purpose of function is really important.

#4 – It’s fine for new leaders to leave things as they are (if it ain’t broke…)
Leaders often feel that they need to change things as soon as they step into an organisation, or be in a constant state of change (which is essentially chaos) in order to lead. I don’t think that’s right, because you don’t need to change everything. I remember having a conversation with a client who was about to step into their current boss’s position, saying, “I don’t know how I will step into their shoes, because I’m really aligned to what they’re doing.” I said, “You don’t need to change it if you agree with the direction that person is taking, and that’s what you want to continue. You might do things in a different way, but if you’re fundamentally agreeing and your values are aligned, then that’s okay.” We need to stop thinking that’s what leadership is. Our brains don’t like constant change. As a leader, you’re trying to lead people in a direction, so having some stability and steadiness is really important.

#5 – Looking for a long-term solution? Follow the Field Model and deal with the root cause, not the symptom
The Field Model has three stages: understand, diagnose and fix. This is all about trying to help organisations and teams fix things for the long term. I use a medical analogy when I talk about it, because if you have a headache and you take a painkiller, you’re treating the symptom of the headache. But if the reason for your headache is that you have poor eyesight, then your treatment should be a new pair of glasses. Painkillers are not dealing with the root cause. And that’s what the Field Model is designed to do. Understand is when you can see the chaos. Diagnose is where you find the right questions to get to the root of the issue in your culture. And then the fix covers all sorts of things, from development to policy, to procedural change. It can be quite uncomfortable, because sometimes you’re finding things that people don’t want to talk about, or that they didn’t know were there. It’s designed to be applied to organisations as a whole or across particular teams, and can be used in different ways, depending on the size of the team and organisation.