AB Thinks  →  21st May 2020

Wine, cheese and wisdom

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Last week, we welcomed some of the UK’s top IC professionals to our first virtual wine and cheese evening. It was a great chance for us to let off steam, sense-check our thinking and share our learnings after what was, for many of us, another busy day of video calls.

It’s difficult to distil the wisdom into a single blog post, however we’ve done our best to summarise some of the key themes below.

From zero to hero in record time
While most organisations had the ambition to develop their remote working opportunities, many were expecting this to be a long journey and didn’t have all the necessary processes in place. We heard from professionals who had been responsible for turning a 5% work-from-home rate to getting 100% of the workforce working from home, within a matter of weeks. In many cases, the crisis has sped up digital transformation at an incredible rate.

IC in the spotlight
Many remarked COVID-19 has helped colleagues, friends and even family members truly understand what it means to work in internal communication. There’s now real recognition of how essential effective communication is to the running of a successful business, as well as the wellbeing of its workforce.

There is a palpable desire to make the most of this new awareness and consideration of IC. Many are making plans to ensure they are able to maintain their positions as strategic advisors as our ‘new normal’ takes hold.

Making the unthinkable, ‘thinkable’
Some industries moved from exceptionally healthy profit margins to a total loss of revenues, within weeks. This is something none of us could expect and, in many ways, was impossible to plan for. With announcements about the Job Retention Scheme being watched or listened to, in real-time, by a huge proportion of the workforce, organisations have had to work extremely hard and extremely quickly to map scenarios, make decisions, and communicate with colleagues in need of answers.

We heard from organisations that have tackled these new challenges in partnership with their employees. By being honest about the financial situation, developing effective communication channels and offering guidance and advice, some organisations have actually managed to increase positive sentiment towards the business and its leadership, even amongst furloughed staff. Honesty, understanding and a sense of community have been key to providing colleagues with the support they need during difficult times.

Behind the curtain
Long before the crisis, IC practitioners were advising leadership to drop the corporate speak and let colleagues get a glimpse ‘behind the curtain’. Some were naturals, bringing their true selves to communications and demonstrating humanity and empathy. For others, this represented more of a challenge. The increased visibility brought about by new technologies and channels represented a new kind of pressure for natural introverts. Attempts to connect more informally with colleagues felt a little forced.

Fast-forward a few months, and we’re all seeing into each other’s homes. We’re meeting pets, kids and partners. We’re sharing more of ourselves with each other. Some leaders have transformed their communication style for the better. They’ve answered questions honestly and shared their personal thoughts, feelings, fears and aspirations.

While we know some leaders will always struggle more than others, and corporate speak will never truly be abolished, there are clear signs this crisis marks the beginning of a more empathetic leadership style.

A more commercial mindset
Before the crisis, most organisations would share their quarterly results. Some colleagues would show a natural interest in the commercials of the business, others would make note of the headlines. Today, businesses are sharing more detailed financial information with employees, more frequently. There is a greater sense of everyone working together towards a shared commercial goal.

IC teams themselves have also become closer to the numbers. They have been given more exposure and have developed a greater understanding of business strategy, while learning to communicate complex and changing financial information to their diverse workforces.

Raising the bar
There’s no longer a line between internal and external communication. We’ve seen frontline employees become the stars of TV campaigns and the press providing daily commentary about the way organisations are treating and communicating with colleagues.

We’ve also seen some fantastic examples of leadership communication. From this honest and emotional video from Arne Sorenson, CEO of Marriott Hotels, to Airbnb’s refreshing approach to redundancy, we’ve seen leaders stepping up and bringing their brand’s purpose to life under the most challenging circumstances. The bar has well and truly been raised.

Above and beyond
Above all else, those we spoke to were filled with pride. They were proud of those frontline staff working hard to not only keep their organisations on their feet, but also help those in need, deliver essential services, serve their communities and spread a little cheer.

They were also immensely proud of their IC teams, who had been working around the clock to inform, equip and empower these workforces to keep delivering, serving and saving.

We closed by raising our glasses to all that we’ve achieved over the past few months. IC teams have been forced to meet new challenges head-on, work quicker than ever and grapple with new demands and levels of visibility. They’ve truly gone above and beyond.

The IC community has never been stronger and we, at AB, are proud to be part of it

Thank you to everyone who contributed to this fascinating conversation.

We hope to hold another event soon. If you’re interested in attending, please contact Katie.

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