AB Thinks  →  22nd July 2022

The Internal Comms Podcast: Soundbites from Season 7

Well, that’s a wrap on Season 7 of The Internal Comms Podcast. The mics are stashed away, the mixing board has gone off to its second job recording pop music, and we’re lying in wait, ears to the ground for more expert voices to pack into Season 8.

And what a season it has been! AB’s Katie Macaulay sat down with some of the brightest and best voices in the comms sector to explore the current state of IC, the difficulty of reaching and engaging colleagues in the modern world and more. We heard the inside scoop from industry stalwarts on what gets them out of bed in the morning, and just where comms is heading next.

There’s way too much wisdom to capture everything here, so we’ve been ruthless and picked just one standout soundbite from each episode. Let’s dive in:

IC at the sharp end w. Jim Shaffer
Katie’s conversation with an internationally recognized business adviser, leadership coach, author and speaker, Jim Shaffer, kicks off with some interesting learnings from his time in politics. As press secretary to the governor of Kansas, Jim found he was always simply “sending stuff out”.

“At a point in time, then we started to look at not only the second term that he was in at the time, but the third term, and then hopefully the fourth term. As a result of that, I kind of changed what I did, and the way I thought,” Jim shared.

“And so, I started thinking in terms of this isn’t about getting information out, this is about getting the governor re-elected. This is about a result that we’re trying to create. And that’s when I started to appreciate the fact that communication is not there just to talk, communication should be managed in such a way that it improves the performance of your organisation.”

Unboxing internal comms at IKEA
Joined by IKEA’s Daniela Rogosic, CEO communication leader, and Guy Britt, Global Head of co-worker communication, Katie takes a look ‘inside the box’ at the challenge of communicating to a 170,000-strong workforce in 35 markets.

Meeting the needs of such a diverse portfolio of colleagues worldwide needs a truly global approach executed on a local level. Guy tells Katie about how IKEA uses local comms champions to reach even the most distant colleagues:

“As you can appreciate, in some markets – you think of countries that are the size of the US or China or Russia, huge markets, geographical challenges and all the rest – they have enough on their plate, just dealing with what’s happening on their home turf, you know, without having to be inundated all the time with us.

“So it’s critical that they’re able to also establish their own communication channels within their countries, we shouldn’t be forcing people onto certain channels and say, ‘No, this is where it all is, come and get it’, you know, we need to make sure that they’re utilising the channels that work best for them and work best for their culture, and that we’re doing our best to make sure that it’s received in the most easy and time responsive way possible.”

The State of IC: What’s behind the numbers?
In this episode, Katie met with Siobhan Hammond, Head of Communications and Change at Gallagher. This conversation took a deep dive into Gallagher’s The State of the Sector report, which the company calls ‘the definitive global survey of the internal communication and employee engagement landscape’. Right up our street!

The number one priority was found to be ‘engaging teams around purpose, vision and strategy’. But the survey found not all respondents really know what that purpose, vision or strategy is.

“We asked respondents how well they think their people understand their organisation’s purpose and vision. And 63% of respondents rated this as either excellent or good. But there was a significant drop when it came to the actual business strategy,” Siobhan explained. “So more than half of respondents (53%) told us that understanding is either average or poor in these areas. So, there’s a bit of a disconnect.

“Only 41% of the respondents think employees are actually really understanding what the purpose and strategy means for them, which is absolutely critical. There’s no point in really communicating if people don’t understand what how it impacts them, and what it means for them.”

Strategy & IC: A masterclass in collaboration
The relationship between strategy and internal comms is one that has the potential to drive business strategy forward, galvanise teams behind missions and purpose, and accelerate transformation. This episode saw Katie sit down (in person!) with Canada Life UK’s Nick Harding, Chief People Officer, and Alana Renner, Head of Communications, to explore how their partnership has enabled huge scale transformation over the past two years alone.

Like all partnerships, there’ll be times where strategy and comms don’t see eye to eye. How can the two functions see past their differences to create magic?

Nick says this: “The beauty of the relationship is I can, I’m sure at times, sit in a strategic bubble and Alana will bring me back to reality of how we should be thinking and executing. So, I think it’s really important that we come at it from both angles, right? There is a strategic ambition that is fundamental. And there is also what we have said to the organisation, how the organisation is feeling about how we do that.”

Balancing priorities is clearly key for both Alana and Nick. Alana shared: “Because what I’m really keen on is that we are measuring how we are doing. And we’re measuring the right things to either be able to chart progress or spot when we’ve got an issue.”

How to have better conversations
All communications are rooted in our ability to successfully have meaningful, direct conversations. The language we use has impact and as Katie opens this episode with saying, “work can feel like one long conversation.” In this episode, Katie connected with Jackie Stavros and Cheri Torres, co-authors of Conversations Worth Having, Using Appreciative Inquiry to Fuel Productive and Meaningful Engagement.

In this fascination conversation-about-conversation (meta!), Cheri and Jackie share advice on how to frame and flip a problem, how to ask a generative question that reveals fresh information and insight, and how our conversations can even affect brain function, our ability to reason, our imagination and problem-solving skills. Here’s just one gem from their chat:

“If you’re listening, I invite you right now just to take 20 seconds and recall either a negative conversation or a conversation that you’ve been in, where you were really focused on the problem or the negative,” Cheri challenges.

“Bring that to mind. And then check in with your body. Notice what’s happening. And if you were like most people, when you check into that conversation, your muscles get tense, you might feel a pit in your stomach, your breathing will get more shallow. If you’re wearing a smartwatch, you might look down and notice your blood pressure went up, your heart rate went up.

Our conversations actually have a neurophysiological effect on us. They impact our nervous system. And anytime even a modest threat to our system, it changes our biochemistry. And the more threatened we feel, like if we are the person who is being criticised, our brains don’t really know the difference between a sabre-toothed tiger and a threat to the ego. And, so, we immediately go into a fight or flight response.”

Embracing the messiness of being human
Heading into the second half of Season 7, Katie sat down with Victoria Dew, founder and CEO of human-first employee engagement agency, Dewpoint Communications. Following a career in TV and film in Hollywood, Victoria has evolved to become a leading voice in the world of employee engagement and a champion of the very human beings in the workplace.

Being human-led is nothing new for Victoria: “I would say that part of my mission is proving that human-centric businesses do better.

“I believe that if you are relying on actual human beings to run your business, right, which is to say, you have a business that is not 100% run by machines, or robots, or AI or non-human things, right? If you have actual human beings, messy, human beings with lives and feelings, and dreams and goals, if you’re counting on those creatures to run your business, then it behoves you to enable and be able to access all of their human-ness, right?

What I hear a lot of is companies want to hire the best and smartest people. The best and smartest people don’t just innovate, create, collaborate, lead nine-to-five, and then go back into their little boxes, like a robot until you go get them the next day.”

Textbook IC: Rewriting comms for a new era
It’s rare to get insight from the people who quite literally wrote the book on your sector. But that’s just what happened when Katie sat down for the second time on The Internal Comms Podcast to catch up with Sue Dewhurst and Liam Fitzpatrick, co-authors of Successful Employee Communications: A Practitioner’s Guide to Tools, Models and Best Practice for Internal Communication. The book is now in its second edition.

So just how is internal comms evolving? “Our experience over the years is we are old enough to have been through several revolutions in the world of employee communications,” said Liam. “And yes, I think progressively people are finally working out that communications is important. And it can be done well. And if done well, professionally, it can make a difference. And there are more senior leaders out there who now have experienced good communication, yes. The one warning we have is that we’ve also both experienced how things backslide very quickly.”

“So, as we said (in the book), nobody sane doubts the importance of internal communication, and then we sit here what, a few days after P&O Ferries have just treated people absolutely appallingly,” added Sue. “And you think ‘Well, communication isn’t just about doing a three-minute zoom script thing. It’s about the actions of the organisation and having some compassion.’ So to me, that’s a big wakeup call that says nobody can be complacent.”

Lessons in leadership
Episode 63 of The Internal Comms Podcast saw Katie meet Mike Roe, CEO of Tensense, a data insights company. Mike spent almost three decades in the police force and credits his passion for authentic listening to his tenure in blue.

Asking powerful questions and listening authentically to the response is something that Mike says revolutionised his approach to management, coaching and mentoring.

“For example,” he shared. “What I learned was if somebody knocks on my door now and came in and said, ‘Have you got 10 minutes?’ instead of just starting, I go, ‘Yes I have, and what would you like to get out of this 10 minutes? What’s the goal of the conversation for you?’ And then really listening to what it is they are saying to you. And then as they’re speaking, you are listening for those cues that tell you this isn’t really what they want to talk about.”

Releasing your inner sceptic
Katie has a fascinating conversation with Martin Flegg, also known as The IC Citizen, who is founder and co-owner of the international communications consultancy by the same name. Martin has over 20 years’ PR and internal communications experience, and a list of accreditations as long as this blog post, which makes for a really enlightening, informed conversation that encourages a fresh point of view.

Katie asks Martin to elaborate on why one of his pet peeves is the phrase “just comms it up”.

He asks: “Why is it okay to come up to a comms person and say, ‘can you just comms it up for me?’ Or ‘sprinkle whistling glitter’, or ‘wave a magic wand’, or something like that?

“It’s what I describe as ‘the litany of unintentional disrespect’, where people say those things without really understanding how hurtful that could be. Because, guess what, I’m a professional too. You know, I’ve trained for a long time in this profession, I’ve got all the qualifications and the post-nominals to prove it. Why on earth would you disrespect that, and come and ask me to ‘comms it up’?

“I think it goes back to that journey that we’re on towards being a truly strategic management function, is that we still in some places, don’t have the respect that we need. You know, however hard we tried to earn that there are some places where it’s still not recognised that comms is a true profession.”

Remote but not unreachable
The season finale of The Internal Comms Podcast is not an episode to be missed. Katie met with Lily Goodman D’Amato, Delivery Trainer at US-based digital pharmacy Medly. This is a unique episode, as its Lily’s unique insight into how comms professionals can connect with their most remote, frontline colleagues that intrigued Katie. Lily spent a decade in the hospitality industry herself, as a restaurant server. It’s this first-hand experience that guides Lily’s comms career and her ethos in life.

Interestingly, Lily likens the disconnect between corporate leadership and the boots on the ground like a parent and child relationship:

“I’m not relating entry-level team members to children, but you’ve got adults and parents who forget what it’s like to be children. So that when your three-year-old is throwing a fit, they don’t understand why because they’re putting their adult perspective on their emotions […]

“If you forget what it’s like to have that be your point of view, you’re not going to connect; you’re not going to get that; you’re not going to be able to efficiently communicate, because there will be that barrier.”

Catch up with all episodes from The Internal Comms Podcast here. We’ll be back in September!