A few weeks ago, I traveled to Boston for what is truly one of my favorite events of the year – ALI’s Strategic Internal Communications Conference. I’ve joked that it’s sort of like summer camp for internal communicators, but it’s not far from the truth! It’s an opportunity to reunite with colleagues, friends and partners for three days of workshops, presentations, networking, and even some karaoke.
This was my 4th year attending, and year after year, I leave with outstanding takeaways and a clear picture of the latest challenges, trends, and new technologies in the world of IC. Here are a few highlights from this year’s conference:
The importance and power of storytelling was a recurring theme throughout the conference. As my friend and former colleague Edward Ford of Medidata wisely said, “Our job as communicators is first and foremost to be storytellers.” Sabrina Stoffregen of Cisco reiterated that point as well, emphasizing that stories are the most powerful way to make an emotional connection, but cautioning that mindset plays a huge role in how people process stories. As she explained, it’s critical for communicators to understand employees’ current mindset, and meet them where they are, rather than where we want them to be. (Bonus: Check out this great summaryof the science behind why storytelling is so important and effective!)
Organizational change has long been a topic at communications conferences – but there has been a shift. Where communications was previously discussed as a way to INFORM employees about change, it’s now being discussed as a way to ENABLE change inside an organization. As McDonalds’ Jason Greenspan explained, communicators must avoid thinking of change efforts as a “project” but rather as a full experience that is constantly anchored in the broader vision of the organization. Similarly, Kristin Taylor of HP explained that as her team began work on its company’s massive merger with Samsung, they took the time to map out exactly how they wanted employees to FEEL once the transition was complete. That desired future state was a guidepost for all efforts to bring employees along the change journey. (And I MUST give a shout-out to Ashley Morgan of G6 Hospitality for her awesome talk that associated each of the typical employee responses to change with a character from Friends!)
Even though many communicators at the conference are responsible for communicating with ALL employees, several speakers reinforced the importance of making employees FEEL that communications were created with them specifically in mind. Jennie Bledsoe of St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital explained how the HR team avoids a one-size-fits-all approach, and instead shapes communications in a way that makes employees feel like an individual rather than just a part of the masses. For instance, tools to support career conversations are tailored based on different employee life stages and needs. Similarly, any time a leader comes to Edward with a communications challenge, he asks them about their target audience, and refuses to accept “all employees” as an answer – reinforcing the notion that if you do not communicate with a specific someone in mind, you run the risk of resonating with no one. And of course, I need to give a shameless plug for the session that Jackie Berg and I led all about how to develop and use employee personas to ensure more personalized communications. (Check out our white paper on the topic!)
Finally, I picked up a number of new resources at the conference that I’m happy to pass along! First, there are some great newsletter round-ups of internal communications and HR insights out there, including both People Geekly from Culture Amp, and the HR Dive (shout out to Carolyn Clark for sharing these!). And I learned a tremendous amount about Sharepoint and other Microsoft digital collaboration tools, thanks to brilliant insights from Laurel Dzneladze of Microsoft and Michelle Bolda of Rogue Services. (And don’t forget to check out our wide away of Brilliant Ink resources to help you solve some of your biggest engagement challenges.)
Hope to see you next year at summer camp!