Show 93 – Strategic Internal Communications – Pt. 2

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The second of two episodes recorded at PRWeek’s Strategic Internal Communications conference, where we caught up with a number of the speakers from the event.

In Part 2, we spoke with:

1/ Jane Tebbey, Head of Internal Communications, the National Physical Laboratory
2/ Dr Carla Groom, Head of Behavioural Science, Department for Work and Pensions
3/ Max Puller, Employee and Change Communications Director, Sodexo
4/ Cary Rueda, Internal Communications Advisor
5/ Zoe Vafadari, Director of Internal Communications and Engagement, TalkTalk

Produced in partnership with PRWeek UK. For more information, visit www.prweek.com/uk

Jane Tebbey

Our first guest was Jane Tebbey, Head of Internal Communications at the National Physical Laboratory (NPL), who had run a breakout session at the event on using workplace channels more effectively.

Jane Tebbey

Chatting with NPL’s Jane Tebbey

Jane explained that NPL is a government owned company, working for both the government and the private sector. Its role is as a world leading measurement science laboratory, and works across a whole range of disciplines, looking at, for example, better healthcare and access to better radiotherapy. Jane said that the organisation applies a whole range of different measurement techniques across different industries. For example, looking at earth observation, materials for transport, autonomous vehicles and sensors amongst a whole range of new technologies for the modern world.

Within her session, Jane said that there were a lot of people who agreed with the sentiment that an overload of communication, messages and channels is making us less productive in the workplace. She added that a number of the problems that people said they were facing included how to make sure that the right messages are landing as well as enabling employees to access the content that they want. The role that leaders play in engaging people with messages was also raised and there was quite a lot of agreement about the feeling of so much new communications technology being available and it being quite confusing for a communications professionals in terms of how you choose the most appropriate technology. This was summed up with the general feeling of overloading and overwhelming people with so many channels and different messages.

Jane shared some guidance on how to make that right choice of channel for the organisation saying that the most important thing is to not start by focusing on the channels, but to start with thinking about:

  • What are your messages?
  • What are you trying to get across?
  • What do you want people to understand?
  • What you want them to think, feel and do?
  • What response do you want?

She said to really be clear on what you’re trying to achieve with your communication and then think about:

  • Who are you engaging with?
  • Who is your audience?
  • What do they need from this?
  • What is their situation?
  • What are their preferences in terms of communication?
  • Are they out and about or at a desk?

Then think about how best you might be able to reach and engage them, because once you know those things, then thinking about the channels that you can use becomes a lot easier. Then you can move on to channels and look at what’s available to you and what range of channels you could use. Finally, think about how you follow up on all of that. Which includes measuring:

  • impact
  • if something landed
  • how was it landed
  • how people responded
  • if achieved the objective that you set originally

Jane said it will then enable you to think about whether you need to adjust your approach and use some different channels or take a different approach depending on the feedback that you get.

At NPL, Jane said that most of her colleagues are in one location although they do have centres around the UK and increasingly people out and about working flexibly, from home, and choosing the hours and the patterns that they work. She said that they therefore need to think about how they can reach everybody wherever they are and provide options for them so that they can access communications in a way that suits them.

Over the last year, Jane’s particular focus has been on implementing Office 365 to enable people to have up to date communications technology to use across a variety of situations. They have therefore moved from an overload of email to a much more focused use of email through implementing some controls on its use but also by introducing Microsoft Teams and Yammer to enable teams to utilise those tools more effectively. She added that they are also in the process of moving their Intranet from an old HTML style one to SharePoint.

Jane’s key takeaways from her session were:

  1. Come back to what are you trying to achieve with the communication – that should drive everything. Your choice of channels should be driven by what you’re communicating and who you are communicating with.
  2. Less is more – she explained that as well as adding in some new platforms this year, NPL has also taken some things away. So her recommendation is not to just keep introducing more and more because that becomes overwhelming.
  3. Focus on your leaders – she has spent time supporting NPL’s leaders to be better communicators,
  4. Make changes in an incrementally evolutionary fashion. You can have a step by step approach and it can be achieved on a limited budget.
  5. Be bold, try some new things. It doesn’t matter if they fail, try it out. If it doesn’t land well, if employees feedback indicates it didn’t quite work for them, that’s fine. You’ve tried it. You can move on, try something different, but don’t be afraid to try something new.

Dr Carla Groom

Our second guest was Dr Carla Groom, Head of Behavioural Science at the Department for Work and Pensions, who was speaking at the event about using behavioural science to communicate strategically.

Carla Groom

Chatting with Carla Groom

Carla said that in their experience in the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP), having someone with as deep an understanding of behavioural science as she does, available to their internal communications team, brings some extra tools that can help solve problems that seem to be a bit thorny or a bit uncrackable that colleagues are struggling with. She added that internal comms in particular sometimes comes to her team with ad hoc projects where messages don’t seem to be getting through or perhaps where they’re having to change a message or get people to recognise something’s different.  Her team then therefore helps think through what the behaviour it is that the internal comms team are trying to change – bringing the target behaviour into higher resolution, greater focus.  They then look at what kinds of evidence could they go and gather to help narrow in their audience insight work so that they are gathering the right information they need to make decisions about how the best way is to communicate.  However, Carla’s team are also strategic partners with internal comms and other elements of the business in designing massive organisational changes in ways that put the employee at the centre of it.

Carla’s talk was billed as showing ‘how using a behavioural lens allows you to better link your communications with organisational objectives’. She explained that her talk was based around work that her team had carried out with Government Communications Service (GCS), which can be read in more detail in their document ‘Strategic Communications, A behavioural approach’.

Strategic Communications, A behavioural approach'.

Carla shared an example of how this had been used in DWP, where they helped encourage people to follow security processes. She referred to COM-B tool, which work out all the behaviours you want and then works out the reasons why people might not be engaging that behaviour under three headings: capability, motivation, opportunity.

COM-B Slide

Therefore, in the case of people not following security rules, Carla said that you can make sure that they’ve got the knowledge of what the rules are and that people know what the consequences are for them personally and for the department, if you’re not following them. However, what you can’t do is deal with some of the physical barriers. So, if people don’t have somewhere to lock away their secure materials, you need to work with other parts of the business to address that physical design issue. She said that what her approach does is both helps communicators to get their messages across, but also helps them to have productive conversations with the rest of the business to say this can’t be just done through comms and is not just a campaign issue. They need to come together with other elements of intervention, like a physical redesign of the building.

Carla went on to say that they had to look at a change to people performance where they had been asked to help redesign the performance appraisal system, but in working with internal communications and running focus groups, they realised that the goals of the department actually needed themselves to be changed. It wasn’t that they needed a new people performance system. They needed to get rid of it altogether.

Carla said that one of the challenges is getting people to realise that there are opportunity barriers to behaviour, and that it isn’t all about people not being too lazy to do what they are supposed to do or not having the information. In fact, there’s a good reason why people tend to forget that there could be opportunity barriers to behaviour that people not having the time or the money or the social support or lots of other reasons. She said that it’s something that psychologists call the ‘fundamental attribution error’ – when you see somebody do something, you think that the reason they’re doing it, for example in the case of tripping on a cracked paving stone, is because they are clumsy. However, what they see is a cracked pavement stone. So Carla’s technique, by just simply asking people to map out the behaviour and the capability, opportunity and motivational factors does, helps to overcome that bias so that you can work out what you need to do to make that behaviour shift. Therefore, in the security issue, if you wanted to get to overcome what was a pretty bad record that one part of the department had as a result of a security sweep, checking how well everybody had been clearing away their documents at the end of the day may result in a conclusion that the problem was laziness and information, but what may have been missed was that a full third of the breaches in that case were key management problems, and that was a physical design issue. A lot of people put their keys into a single key cabinet. The last person to leave, left it open. Therefore, if you have a key cabinet, that’s a risk you run, so you might want to think about it.

Carla said that their whole approach is to say that the problem isn’t the individual’s behaviour. People behave the way they need to behave as a product of the structures, incentives, experiences that they’ve had. What you can change are the decisions that the organisation makes based on assumptions about behaviour. If those are faulty, if those are decisions made on assumptions that aren’t true, you’re not going to get the outcomes that you want. And those decisions are well within your control. So, trying to force people to go through a performance management system and essentially pitting line managers and individuals against each other was always going to be in tension with them having productive conversations about the individual’s development. Therefore, they had to have a really radical rethink of what it meant to run an organisation’s performance system, get rid of that, focus internal comms on producing support for those conversations to be productive and focused on what that person really needed to thrive.

Carla’s message, therefore, is that if a person’s behaviour isn’t changing, you’re probably doing something wrong.

Carla’s key thinks to keep in mind for internal comms:

  • Step back a moment and think about what values you’re bringing to the work and if you think about empathy, curiosity and openness, they found that that’s a really simple recipe for really radically looking at your employees and the ways they’re behaving in a different way.
  • Ask why they’re not behaving the way that you think they ought to.
  • Be open to very different ways of running of organisation, if that’s what it needs to achieve its goals and be empathetic when you see people doing things that seem a bit counterproductive.

For more information, read the blog post about organisational transformation: ‘transforming together behavioural science’.

Max Puller

Our third guest was Max Puller, Employee and Change Communications Director at Sodexo, who had shared the stage with Stuart Williamson of Nationwide Building Society and Adam Clatworthy of SAP, who we heard from on our previous episode when they were talking about getting senior leadership buy in.

Chatting with Max Puller of Sodexo

Max explained that Sodexo is a global food services and facilities management company with over 400,000 employees around the world, serving 100 million customers each and every day. Within the UK and Ireland, Sodexo has 36,000 employees, serving around 1 million customers each and every day. He said that the breadth of services that they provide is really quite expansive from fine dining and events at Ascot and scores of sports and leisure venues, managing university student halls and government buildings to serving up school meals, fuelling the UK forces and running five UK, prisons from governor to groundsmen.

The case study that Max shared was about a leadership conference that he had organised at Sodexo.  He has only been at the company since March 2019 and started planning the conference around May/June so only had a short time to learn about the business.

Sodexo’s financial year runs September to August. They are a French company listed on the French Stock Exchange, and a new strategic agenda had been launched the previous year.

Max had noticed that from a communications perspective, the organisation was very reliant on digital and traditional channels and there wasn’t all that much face to face communications, with little leadership engagement. He therefore felt that the time was absolutely right and so pitched to the board to get their top 120 senior leaders in the UK and Ireland region together for a leadership conference that would build and nurture that team and deliver on some really crucial objectives at a really crucial time.  This started with an evidence-based proposal to the board after which, Max worked closely with them to make sure that he had their buy in, that they agreed with the principle of the event, that they agreed with the objectives that he was proposing of looking back on the year that had been, looking forward to the year that was to come and having clarity and ownership of that strategic agenda for the following financial year, but also to build and nurture that leadership team. He said that he didn’t go to them every time he needed that but only to update them, to build their confidence to ensure he had that ongoing buy in for the project. He added that you’ve got to work closely with the board to get this sort of project over the line.

Max deliberately chose two of their own venues, one for the daytime conference and one for the evening networking dinner, because he wanted to have the opportunity to almost remind the senior leadership team of what they do, why they do it, and actually see their teams in action serving great food and providing great service – it meant they would experience the exact same service and food they provide to their clients and so could be proud of that.  He said they were really energised after the event. They had come up with a much more inclusive collaborative event format that wasn’t ‘death by PowerPoint’ or keynote after keynote, but instead was around empowering those senior leaders to choose what they wanted to attend based on what was important and interesting to them, but also on what they needed to do to do their jobs, which was generally around change programs, leadership upskilling, softer skills, technology and innovation, and making sure that they understood the big trends that are going into the future.  They also wanted to make sure that those internal networking and social opportunities were baked into the event as well.

Max said that the real impact of the event would be seeing senior leaders take forward the messaging and actually delivering it to their teams or, for instance, seeing a particular change in behaviours based on one of the sessions with one of the groups. They therefore ran a survey to assess their progress and impact against their original objectives – was it effective for reflecting on the performance in the last year, did they leave clear or very clear about their role in delivering the strategy and did they value the team building and networking opportunities? And the scores were in the high 90s, which Max said was encouraging. However, he thinks it’s the changes that they see that will truly articulate the impact of the event in the year ahead. The big win for him though, was seeing other senior leaders at other conferences replicating the content, tailoring it for their business areas and holding their own teams accountable and empowering them to deliver the strategic agenda in whatever way they needed to.

Max’s final tip for listeners was around knowing your best friends or knowing your allies or invest in your network – it’s about knowing who you can work with, knowing what makes them tick, positioning yourself as a value creator or value adder, someone that people trust and go to and also demonstrate that you’ve invested the time to get to know that person and what makes them tick, because ultimately, it’s that which gives you the currency to move forward and influence them. He added that it gives you an idea of who you might need to work a bit harder with.

Cary Rueda

Our next guest was Cary Rueda, who has held internal communications roles at companies such as Kier, Petrofac and Transport for London (TFL), and is soon to start a new row in the oil and gas sector.

Cary spoke at the conference on the topic of ‘Catered communications: Shaping your communications to your audience’.

Cary Rueda

Chatting with Cary Rueda

Given the industries Cary has worked in, it’s meant that he has had to reach very diverse workforces spread across numerous locations, with not everyone in an office. Therefore, he has relied on his marketing and advertising background to understand how an internal audience wants to be communicated to and what tools to use.

Cary was a creative director in Young & Rubicam Asia-Pacific before he moved to the client side as Head of Brand and Marketing Communications at Lotus Cars and then to TFL. But he enjoyed internal communications more because he felt that there was so much opportunity there.  He said that you get immediate feedback, can change things and that employees will tell you straight away if it is not working or if it’s it and is good. But also, one thing that really struck him was that he can actually apply the principles of marketing in internal communications. Cary said that it’s all about customer segmentation and robust planning. It’s about looking at your clear objectives and outcomes – brutal simplicity, if possible, single mindedness in your messaging – and that sometimes all of these are not quite easy or practical in internal communications. So, he therefore tries to apply this much of time and of course, creativity and innovation, the principle of cutting through.

Cary said that people are already very busy externally – even more so in the workplace as they have a job to do. So, the principle of cutting through intrusion and disruption is actually quite important and he has been quite passionate about that in his internal communications role.

One example Cary shared was in measuring effectiveness, which he said is about having a clear objective.  So, start with a very tight, solid brief.  Know exactly who you’re talking to, what your objectives are and what kind of outcomes you want, i.e. is it to get volunteers, to increase usage of something, to get advocates in a specific campaign? Then you can measure that accordingly.

In terms of tailoring communications for different workforces, Cary shared an example from the oil and gas sector, where he was launching a health and safety campaign in the Middle East, where he said there were some challenges as people are so busy. Most of the workers were from India, Bangladesh and Pakistan, so they looked at what their passions were and what could work for and resonate with them.  They then used some gamification in terms of introducing their health and safety rules through a cricket-based computer game, which he said worked really well.

Cary left us with three don’ts in terms of how you can shape or tailor your internal communications, assuming that having a tight brief is a given!

  1. Don’t overlook what your employees are passionate about outside work. It’s good that you know if they like email or they like Microsoft Teams, but what are they interested outside work? What kind of sport that they’re into? What films? What books do they read? What newspapers do they read? Because then you can use that and capitalise that.
  2. Don’t blend in. People in the workplace are much busier and there’s so much clutter internally as well. So, if your very important message, you need to have that element of intrusion.
  3. Don’t be afraid of emotion. Make that emotional connection. Try to make people smile or make them laugh or make them even think and ponder and be a bit more provocative.

Cary’s favourite mantra in internal comms is don’t talk to employees as employees talk to them as people. Then you can avoid the dry corporate stuff that the image of internal communications sometimes suffers unfairly from.

Zoe Vafadari

Our final guest was Zoe Vafadari, Director of Internal Communications and Engagement at TalkTalk who spoke at the conference on innovating employee engagement on any budget.

Zoe Vafadari

Chatting with Zoe Vafadari

Zoe’s main message was that her company had been able to have an impact on colleague engagement in the right direction because they had agreed a really clear framework for what they want to stand for as an employer.  She explained that Talk Talk’s employer brand has four key pillars and so, once they had agreed that, then they were able be quite creative in terms of making sure that colleagues understood what they were:

  1. “We’re for everyone and are a highly inclusive employer”.
  2. “We’re fast and focused” in terms of ways of working, i.e., can fail fast and learn quickly.
  3. “We create opportunities” – making sure colleagues really grab hold of some of the offerings that they’ve got and that if they’re ambitious, that they build a network and go out and get those changes.
  4. “We stand for something” – which is about being proud to be a valued brand and the difference that it makes for their customers.

Zoe said that all engagement initiatives were able to be agreed off the back of these pillars and then shared some examples.  So, against the ‘we’re for everyone”, Talk Talk’s inclusion pillar, they invited guest speakers and ran a lot of online competitions and events. Speakers included former athlete Colin Jackson who spoke talk about resilience, sharing a lot personal stories.  Zoe said they had about 300-400 colleagues come and listen to Colin’s talk, which was just an hour out of the day. She thinks that it was really exciting for them to see an Olympian come into their offices and talk about some things that were quite personal to him.  Another guest speaker was Fearne Cotton, who spoke about well-being.

Zoe said that there were also more strategic things happening, where they brought in some of the third parties that they worked closely with, so that all colleagues, new and old, realised what was on offer for them. Two examples were the British Disability Forum, and Working Families. Both organisations were invited to a road show to tell colleagues what services are available to them and if they want to talk to them more deeply, how they can do that. They also invited their own internal networks to the roadshow, which include wellbeing community, women in technology community and a new neurodiversity community. Zoe described it as a bit like a Freshers Fair style event – everyone had a stand where colleagues could come and just find out more. They also shared personal stories on their Internet, for example, their Chief people officer talked about how he and his husband have adopted a little boy and so he was able to talk very openly about the experience of getting married, going through the adoption process with his husband and what that means now on his extended adoption leave.

Zoe thinks that for colleagues to understand that actually their own senior team are going through all these personal life changes and choices is just a brilliant way to open up that conversation internally, and that their Chief People Officer has therefore been a great role model.

The stories are shared through SharePoint, so mostly in text format with some video.

In terms of measurement, Zoe said that they are doing monthly engagement surveys, which have been the biggest barometer of success.  However, they are also having lots of conversations with colleagues, plus, they are looking at channels where colleagues are starting to talk about the fact that they work for TalkTalk and that they’re proud of it. For example, there are increasing numbers of comments posted on LinkedIn and Talk Talk’s Glassdoor rating has gone up. They also measure colleague attrition and she said that they are increasingly keeping the good talent that they’ve recruited as well, which they are also using as a barometer for success.

One of the things that Zoe talked about in her presentation was the company’s move to Salford. She said that the they announced the move in November 2018 and gave colleagues about 11 months’ notice that they were planning the transition.  They also gave them a huge amount of information and support so that they could make a decision about whether they wanted to move to Salford with TalkTalk or whether they wanted to take an enhanced redundancy package.  For those who wanted to make an educated decision, the company organised tours in Salford and talked about great communities where they could live. They had local schools to come in and talk to them and they showcased the offices themselves. They also made sure that there was a lot of external support available too. So, they worked with LHH Penna who provided support from an off-boarding point of view for colleagues to really understand that if they are going to be leaving, what the implications were for that. LinkedIn also came in to talk to Talk Talk colleagues who might be looking for a new role and how the company could help them boost their profile if they decided not to move north with them. Zoe therefore thinks that they tried to make sure they looked after people, whether they were going to stay with the company and move to the North or whether they were actually going to look for another role within London.  Their aim was to try to make sure that that was as sensitively handled as possible.  In fact, Zoe said their monthly engagement scores went up so they are proud of how sensitively they handled it, but also how professional their colleagues were as they were making their decisions.

She also thinks they are starting to see the benefits of being in one main campus, which was a prime reason for the move.  Collaboration in one space has become a lot easier, really getting work done quickly and obviously there’s been some cost savings of leaving London as well. But Zoe added that they have been able to do contribute to the local community, which has started to really make a difference. For example, they sponsor Salford Football Club, and also sponsored Salford Pride in summer 2019.  They are also working increasingly with some of the schools in the area in terms of work placements. So, there’s a lot of activity that they are trying to do to establish themselves as a North West based employer.

All this activity of course costs money, but Zoe said that in terms of where they have tried to be creative, by, for example, having the speakers talk on their own site, therefore avoiding paying for venues. Their compères have been from their leadership team, plus they have tried to make sure that colleagues can get involved without it being highly disruptive to their work. So, guest speakers were an hour a day where you could come and listen whilst eating your packed lunch!  Also, whilst they had had to pay for some of the speakers, Zoe worked closely with her marketing teams and some of the relationships that their brand had meant they could invite some of those guest speakers in at no or reduced cost. For example, Talk Talk sponsors Heart Radio and so Heart breakfast came in and ran a big quiz for all colleagues.

Zoe’s final message therefore is that everything gets a bit easier when you’ve agreed a framework up front. Having those four pillars made it so much clearer for them to be able to decide which guests they wanted to book and what competitions and what activities they want to do. This helped their narrative to keep it really tight, plus it helped having a team who were up for the challenge.


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