I was fortunate and thrilled that my employer, a Finnish communications agency Tekir, sent me to participate in the 6th Strategic Internal Communications seminar organized by the Advanced Learning Institute in Boston in July 2019. It was fascinating to notice that the communications challenges seem to be very similar in Europe and in the United States.
In this blog post I compiled ideas on how to tackle the challenges of a work community with the help of goal-directed, systematic, and insightful communications co-operating closely with the leadership and HR teams.
Challenge 1: Communications and HR are not speaking the same language
In the beginning of a workshop held by Carolyn Clark from After Ever Communications on the relationship between Internal Communications and HR, everyone was allowed to tell how much they actually hate working with HR. One participant pointed out that even the name of the Human Resources department says it all: they treat employees as a resource, not as an asset. Another one thought that the HR uses too complicated language or just takes care of laying people off.
Solution: ”People people people are just people people people and you should treat them as people people people”
The turning point of the workshop was when we started to look for similarities. Both functions aim at creating an excellent employee experience, diminishing chaos, enabling business development and emphasizing the human factors in the organization. You should treat HR professionals not as your enemy, but as your friend. And most importantly – as people. Because they are. Next time, instead of sending that email, perhaps you could walk over to their desk and ask friendlily: How can I help you?
As communicators we can also support the HR department in phrasing their professional jargon into simple sentences. Keep asking ”why” so many times that you will help the whole organization understand what they should know and what they should do differently in the future. You can ask any professional to explain their complex facts as if they were talking to their mother or their 10-year-old child.
Challenge 2: People don’t read and they rarely seek out information
So many of us have spent countless hours in fine-tuning those intranet news that no one actually reads. The message never gets through as planned, no matter how hard we try. In a workshop organized by Michelle Bolda from Rogue Services and Solutions we wrote a ”Dear John” letter to the intranet and tried more modern ways of communicating, such as vlogging.
Solution: ”Know your audiences – one message does NOT fit all”
Several presentations of the seminar pointed out that our audiences have different ways to absorb and consume information. One likes to listen, another wants to discuss, while a visual person learns best by watching. And yes, some of us still read books and even the intranet or emails – as long as they have enough white space, colors and bullet points.
Ann Melinger and Jackie Berg from Brilliant Ink held a brilliant interactive session on building personas as they introduced us to ”Bubba” and the succesful ”Don’t mess with Texas” campaign against littering from the 1980’s. Knowing your internal audiences and segmenting them based on selected data and criteria can make a huge difference in how targeted your messages and channels are. Maybe the sales people who spend majority of their time travelling really love podcasts. But the frontline employees in a factory might actually appreciate a postcard or a poster on a toilet wall a lot more.
Challenge 3: Employees don’t trust the leadership and they are not engaged
Culture has always eaten strategy for breakfast. Kristin Taylor shared not only her own personal story on her ”Year of Yes” but also the lessons learned from the Samsung acquisition. One of the acquired Korean employees told that ”it feels like my heart is turning into ash” and HP had a tough job in turning 8000 ashy hearts into blue. Smaller organizations that are not operating globally face similar challenges and trust issues especially if the leadership team has changed recently, or if they are going through other major changes.
Solution: Show those middle managers some extra love
To be able to see the workplace as an Experience, Sherrel Watson from BSNF Logistics advised us to put some extra effort into the communications skills and wellbeing of the middle managers. She pointed out that more important than what the CEO says or does is often how the employee’s own manager behaves. HP’s communications team reached the same conclusion after putting a lot effort into gathering all the needed information and Q&A’s into intranet – without success.
Bonus: Reflection from social media:
I posted some remarks from my personal and my employer’s Twitter accounts and into Instagram Stories during my stay in Boston. The topics sparked a lot of questions and lively discussion with my Finnish peers. While I flew from Boston to London overnight, my Twitter account had nearly exploded over the topic what they didn’t teach you in college about internal communications.
To summarize, it seems that my Twitter network agrees that the most important role of internal communications is to support the strategy execution and to strengthen the desired culture. The control of all other internal communications could be given over to the employees, those who are the real experts of their subject matters. In some organizations this has already been done, and everyone is allowed to publish news into intranet. Others are more than ready to write that ”Dear John” letter and try something new, like a morning assembly on an internal radio channel. Half joking – perhaps – but maybe we should dig into that a little deeper.