AB Thinks  →  23rd May 2022

Textbook IC: rewriting comms for a new era

AB Thinks

In the 62nd episode of The Internal Comms Podcast, host Katie Macaulay sits down with the inimitable Liam FitzPatrick and Sue Dewhurst, who have (literally) written the book on internal comms – twice!

With the second edition of Successful Employee Communications: A Practitioner’s Guide to Tools, Models and Best Practice for Internal Communication hot off the press, Sue and Liam share their insights on goal-setting, message development and more in this fascinating discussion.

The pair emphasise the power and privilege of listening to people and hearing what they think, without which it’s impossible to know your audience and craft effective messages. They also talk about the lasting legacy of the pandemic on our profession, highlighting that although it’s tempting to assume that everyone has (finally) realised the power of internal comms, we must be wary of complacency.

Here are a few highlights from this broad-ranging, in-depth conversation:

#1 Purpose is the glue that holds us together
Sue and Liam explain that since they wrote the first edition of their book, the idea of who and why companies operate has shifted away from profit and stakeholder primacy. Now, businesses are expected to have a purpose and set of values that serve not just stakeholders, but employees, customers and society at large.

Sue and Liam believe that purpose and values, if done correctly, can be the glue. Compelling, thoughtfully considered purpose and values can override geographical, political and social differences, uniting your global workforce with common goals.

#2 Listening is your superpower
For Sue and Liam, one of the great privileges of being in IC is actually listening to people talk about their work, experiences, how they feel about the messaging from the executive floor, what they’re worried about and why. Listening is an absolute necessity for crafting messages and designing channels to reach employees.

This insight is also what makes IC professionals worth listening to in a room full of company stakeholders (beyond our ability to craft a video, email or newsletter) and that in turn helps us change things for the better for our colleagues.

#3 Gathering and respecting data
Gathering data to demonstrate your understanding of the audience is important, but it can be a major challenge. So, Sue and Liam suggest a model for running your own intelligence operation:

  • Gather insight by listening to people as well as looking at statistics and so on
  • Analysing what you’re hearing and what it tells you
  • Report

By spearheading this kind of approach, senior leaders can turn to us and know that

  1. We’ve been out there talking to people
  2. We’ve thought through the implications
  3. We’re presenting it in a way that helps them make communications decisions

#4 You can say no
It can be difficult to find a positive way to respond when a stakeholder comes to you with a set of prescriptive ideas about the kind of comms they want (especially if you know they won’t work). Thankfully, Sue and Liam have come up with a helpful approach that builds a bridge between what we want to talk about (the outcome) and what they want to talk about (their poster, video or other ideas).

First, acknowledge that you’ve listened to them and say something positive about their idea. For example, if somebody’s asked for a video, you might say, “Okay, so you want a video. It’s actually really helpful that you’re asking me about this at the start of the project, because it does mean that we can do a great job of the communication. So, thank you.”

By taking this tack, you get permission to ask questions and build the bridge.

Next, you say “Right, so let’s imagine that we’ve made your video. And let’s fast forward six months from now. The video’s gone really well. Everybody’s watching it. It’s brilliant.”

Then you cross the bridge: “In business terms, what do you hope is going to be different as a result?” or “What are you hoping people will be doing differently because they’ve watched it?”. This way we meet people where they are and move them gently on, rather than saying ‘no’.

#5 From ‘Know, Feel, Do’ to ‘Do, Feel, Know’
When Sue and Liam were writing the new edition of their book, they sought the help of behavioural scientists to find out whether the ‘Know, Feel, Do’ framework still has value. They discovered that because a lot of communication is about behaviour change, you should actually start with ‘Do’. Your first question is, “What is it you want to get people to do?”

Then, you look at the ‘Feel’ and the ‘Know’ to figure out what’s driving the ‘Do’. Are people doing (or not doing) something because they don’t know what they should do, or how they should do it? Or is it something to do with feeling? For example, if they’re under pressure and everyone around them is taking a shortcut, they might not feel motivated to do what they’re asked.

By switching up the model, we’re ensuring our methods are meeting the right objectives.