Internal communicators now have a much bigger role to play

Speaking at this week’s Institute of Internal Communication (IoIC) insight seminar on authentic leadership, Sheila Hurst of Omilia Hurst made the point that leaders had changed from last to first message delivery and to be credible and effective needed to work on communicating with honesty, passion, empathy and sincerity.

All sensible stuff and listening to Sheila I found myself wondering if communication skills were really something needing to be learned by deconstructing delivery by people like Hillary Clinton, Richard Branson and Boris Johnson or, was it indeed, something that leaders natural did and the problem really lies in a shortage of these.

Leaders, we were reminded, like many people, lead multi-functional lives, the analogy with mothers however is a good one; being a partner, figurehead to the family, raising children, career, pastimes, interests, socialising to name but a few. Each role demands different skills, some of which are inevitably carried out better than others, however it’s the mother’s core character that underpins everything and in business would probably be called the ‘value system’.

The problem in business leadership arises if one of these core skills, communication, is weak and does not support an established value system. I believe communications coaching is not needed around perfect delivery of a carefully crafted set piece, but around recognising leaders as individuals; how they listen and understand their people, how they can make their points relevant and in context. It’s about leaders as people effectively connecting, engaging and motivating based on a value system as part of their everyday lives as if there really was nothing more important.

Inevitably the role of internal communicators is changing as well. Moving beyond defining key messages to a coaching role based on helping leaders to understand audiences their mood, expectations and feedback. Being proactive, questioning, probing, understanding personal and corporate purpose so as to support and build natural leadership character.

 The Social Business environment I described in an earlier post is an environment that continues to remove barriers between the executive team and those on the front line. In this connected environment communication skills have never been more important. Listening 24/7, taking part and contributing are essential parts of effective leadership; internal communicators now have a much bigger role to play in enabling effectiveness within their organisation’s, building an engaging culture and enabling leaders to lead.


Together we really do make extraordinary things happen.

I just watched IBM’s Sandy Carter Vice President, Social and Evangelism responsible for setting the direction for IBM’s Social Business initiative, talking about Social Business (you also can watch it on Vimeo). She paints a compelling picture of a mobile, social and gamified future creating exciting work environments, driving workforce engagement, and turning previously spectator employees into participants. Heady stuff.

If any of us needed real examples of the value of spectators becoming participants, the fantastic level of pledges, in excess of £26.7 million, during this year’s seven-hour BBC Children in Need show, really proves that point.

When people act together, as shown with Children in Need, they invariably do extraordinary things. What I find amazing however, is how slowly, even with such cast iron proof, our business leaders are to take advantage of new socially enabled opportunities that can energise the potential of their people.

As Sandy Carter also points out ‘culture eats strategy for lunch’ and this is surely the issue. By taking a connected approach, leaders working with internal communications teams can create cultures that empower their people to work together, eliminating organisational and geographic silos, Then who knows? Extraordinary things just might happen!

We all make mistakes; the challenge is how we work together

The BBC remains in the headlines for all the wrong reasons. John Whittingdale, chair of the Commons Culture, Media and Sport Committee, said on Monday that recent events had compromised “the greatest strength of the BBC – that it can be trusted by people, people didn’t doubt that if they heard an item on the news on the BBC that it must be true.”

For me, trust is indeed at the heart of it all. It’s what enables us to create informed opinions, join leaders on uncharted journeys and when it’s all over, to sleep soundly at night. Trust is hard earned over time, yet as the BBC may have found, it can be lost in the blink of an eye. But here’s the thing – it doesn’t have to be!

It comes down to leadership. Integrity and vision are perhaps the most essential qualities of leadership and it is those very qualities that are likely to lead to trust. We all make mistakes, the challenge is how we work together, acknowledge those mistakes and, especially in business, behave. And wasn’t a failing of behaviour the real culprit at the BBC? Trust is the ‘glue’ in a relationship, as it is supported through behaviour, it informs how we communicate and this is really where it all went wrong.

For the BBC, analysis of its behaviours and the value system they support is vital. How this is communicated internally and externally will help mend a damaged reputation.

Obama and Romney – a great example of AlwaysOn communications

Even as I put this blog together the statistics are being prepared and infographics designed showing us how the candidates have used communication channels to build support in the US Presidential elections.

Even without the numbers, one trend that has caught everyone’s imagination is the rise of the meme.

Wikipedia defines a meme (meem) as “an idea, behaviour or style that spreads from person to person within a culture.” A meme acts as a unit for carrying cultural ideas, symbols or practices, which can be transmitted from one mind to another through writing, speech, gestures, rituals or other imitable phenomena. Supporters of the concept regard memes as cultural analogues to genes in that they self-replicate, mutate and respond to selective pressures.

It’s a really good example of what I’ve identified in earlier blogs as AlwaysOn communications. As reported in a Timeslive post, for the US election ‘this has consisted of constantly evolving online spoofs on common themes in the form of photos, Twitter hashtags, videos or GIFs (animated pictures).’ The meme has emerged as a fixture in the race to the White House as people react to politics on-line.

Social media facilitates many exciting communications opportunities, allowing people to get involved. When it’s good it captures the imagination, just think how memes are going to transform your internal communications, I’d love to hear about them!

Jargon crunching

 We talk a lot about being ‘jargon free’ but it’s all too easy to take short cuts and slip into industry speak rather than use everyday language, the way we might say things over the breakfast table.

Imagine talking about ‘benchmarking’ the own brand cornflakes with Kellogg’s, or providing ‘value-added’ for the kids or even ‘on-boarding’ the cleaner’! See what I mean?

So, to make up for some of our little misdemeanours, here’s a go at translating five ‘Industry-speak’ words or phrases into something our Mums might understand, or at least not think we’ve totally lost it!

Brand- Ambassadors – Sometimes referred to as ‘brand advocates’, these are not members of a trendy diplomatic core, the term describes people who act in the spirit intended for a business. Wikipedia tells us that they ‘embody corporate image in appearance, demeanour, values and ethics’. So what about our ‘best or maybe ideal people’.

Instead of – “Our brand-ambassadors set an example for how we work together”

Try – ‘Good people share experiences with others’

Benchmarking – Nothing to do with carpentry! we use benchmarking to describe the process of comparing best practice or establishing a starting point for assessing performance.

Instead of – “We establish benchmarks before starting the programme.’

Try – First we set the standards’

Blog posts – A discussion or informational published on the World Wide Web

Instead of – ‘I posted a blog last week’

Try – ‘I’ve just publish my thoughts on-line’

Employee engagement – The CIPD defines employee engagement as ‘a combination of commitment to the organisation and its values and a willingness to help out colleagues’ they go on to say ‘it’s something the employee has to offer’. Sounds like commitment to us.

Instead of – ‘Employee engagement is at the heart of our performance’

Try – ‘Our people drive our business’

Pulse checks – Nothing to do with the doctor, it’s all about checking how people feel about a subject at that time.

Instead of – ‘We need to carry out regular pulse checks’

Try – ‘People’s views are important’

It’s a start, and I’m sure there are lots more so, when you come across them, send them over and I’ll pop them through our FivebyFive People ‘Jargon-cruncher’ and feature them in future blog posts, whoops articles!


Service Design is a fundamental part of internal communications

Reading today’s Guardian blog, at HMV’s expense, that ‘The struggling retailer has ordered staff to cover up ‘body art’.’ led me to think that, the very fact this made national news, suggests staff disbelief, a breakdown in the principles of employee engagement or a serious failing in internal communications.

Someone must have blown the whistle on what is an internal matter or at the very least, refused to take part in the ‘cover up’! Unsurprisingly the overwhelming reaction of people commenting on the post was in support of employees who chose to wear body art, especially in a music and art environment.

On a more serious point, good retail is all about theatre, delight and value. At FivebyFive People we would suggest that in HMV’s case it’s time for the retailer to think through its service delivery. To work with their people on a programme to define who their customers are, their expectations and the service experience they want.

Excellent service design is all about behaviours not uniforms. Building service delivery with your people will strengthen joint understanding and if done properly, naturally resolve what is important.


Enterprise Social Networks, a balance of function and behaviour

I spent a fantastic day this week at ‘SMILE 2012’ organised by a community for internal communications professionals, launched in 2005 with over 9,000 registered users. The event was really well attended with over 40 ‘large’ organisations representing a full cross section of sectors.

An early poll showed that nearly three quarters of us (71%) where thinking of using an Enterprise Social Network (ESN) as a communications hub for our business. This is not surprising when respected organisations like McKinsey have already identified that an ESN can improve total productivity by 20-25%, improve information search activity by 30-35% and internal collaboration by an equal amount. With this in mind the day was organised so we could learn from case studies of organisations like UniCredit, Capgemini and Diageo who had successfully established an ESN.

The key insight I took away from the day was the necessary balance of function and behaviour. Technology is in place, suppliers including Yammer, Socialcast, Snapcomms and Newsgator have built sophisticated platforms and are already developing new generations of personalised capability including mobile and geolocation, trending, newsfeed and status updates. However, we heard that 70% of ‘IT driven’ ESN’s fail! Ultimately it’s about connectivity and that takes ‘behavioural change’ which is both a challenge and an opportunity for most organisations!  

Board level sponsorship and advocacy, especially by an active participant, is essential to make it happen and whilst early adoption tends to be around 10-15% of an organisation, the Holy Grail is 60% that can take several years to achieve. One surprising insight is that uptake is highest by ‘baby-boomers’, who culturally tend always to be at the forefront of change, and the slowest by graduates! presumably who see nothing new in an ESN communications concept?

Speakers discussed launch strategies with Unicredit piloting a small group (20,000) around a launch event before opening up to an organisation of 158,000. Capgemini favoured a word of mouth advocacy and has evolved users exponentially until this year becoming a central hub for the organisation, with Yammer as the ‘glue keeping it all together’, taking over from 26 internets. The new hub rationalised and personalised communication to individual user profiles and needs.

This summer Diageo have just launched Mosaic with Sharepoint and moved everyone to a single platform creating an internal communications landscape ‘owned by many’. They did this with a cross function, cross geography ‘soft’ launch followed by a global launch incorporating lessons and benefits from the ‘soft’ launch. Engagement was built through word of mouth advocacy in daily communication feeds, user personalised news feeds, ‘find an expert’ search facilities and involvement at all levels in key events including annual ‘results day’.

One encouraging development is that leading proprietary platforms now conform to what is called a ‘Safe Harbour’ protocol which deals with the security issues of data an ‘cloud computing’ and is endorsed by US and Europe. This removes many concerns previously raised and removed one of the main barriers to adoption.

Similarities with external personal platforms such as Facebook and Twitter are inevitable and simple acknowledgements concepts such as ‘like’ badges have been proven to go a long way in building participation through subliminal reward, big opportunities for any HR programme.

ESN’s have arrived and it will not be long before their presence is the norm within any organisation. Events like the one this week will, like an event to learn about the value of a telephone, soon be a thing of the past. The big challenge for all organisations is behavioural, building a cultural of openness and connectivity that engages people across the organisation for their and the businesses benefit.

AlwaysON – At home and at work?

Unveiling the latest version of its tablet, dubbed the Kindle Fire HD, Jeff Bezos, Amazon’s chief executive, told the audience this week: “People don’t want gadgets anymore. They want services that improve over time. They want services that improve every day, every week, and every month. Kindle Fire is a service.”

Coincidentally I just saw a post by Mediatel telling us that ‘Connected TV is also evolving at a rapid pace; Sky recently acknowledged that consumers were ahead of them in some areas! These consumers are engaging with media across multiple screens simultaneously. They are now Connected Consumers, not Connected TVs!

We shouldn’t be surprised, after all, ever since 3500BC when the Phoenicians developed an alphabet, our ability to adapt to communication opportunities has been phenomenal!

What I do find surprising is how typically, business seems to think in terms of hardware and applications rather than people and open connectivity. There seems to be a wall between how we communicate, are informed and entertained in everyday life and how we are at work. This is exactly what I was getting at in my earlier blog in August ‘AlwaysON – Building a connected business’; living in an AlwaysON society is a fantastic opportunity to rethink our approach to internal communications in business.

AlwaysON – Building a connected business

Everywhere we look the concept of business connectivity has changed:

  • Blogs are the most used enterprise social tool (70%) followed by ‘micro-blogs’ (58%)
  • 94% of ‘mobile’ workers have Smartphones
  • 91% of employees check their Smartphones every 6 – 12 minutes during downtime
  • This year 200,000 employees of IBM will be connected by their handheld devices to internal networks
  • Lack of leadership is the greatest impediment to connectivity.



When we’re outside of the working environment the majority of us have joined the ‘3-Screen’ society simultaneously using TV, tablet and Phone. Darwin would have been proud of the way we’ve adapted to media and interact with it irrespective of age, socio economic grouping, gender or race!

Why then has the majority of business been so slow in capitalising on the potential this represents in the working environment? We hear negative arguments about productivity, security or safety but the reality is adaptation has taken place for our people and business needs to change its ways or lose its internal connectivity. Imagine only having news delivered on a notice board in the corner of the office!

The big opportunity for Internal Communications teams is to increase engagement by adopting new concepts of connectivity, involving the audience wherever, whenever and however is best for each of them. We call this exciting communications approach AlwaysON.

AlwaysON is a communications concept that is effectively being used by major brands such as Nike to reach and engage their consumers. It uses all available channels to facilitate connectivity with parallel stories, games and engagement centred around a core binding theme, their brand values, to build consistency, interest and engagement. Imagine such a concept for Internal Communications!

A well planned AlwaysON Internal Communications strategy reaches and engages employees around core values of the Employer Brand. It uses messaging and storytelling across multiple platforms.  It is consumed, interacted with and contributed to through multiple channels depending on the employee’s personal preference.  They may prefer to access through Smartphone, by email, newsletter, team events, Apps or video downloads, all tell stories connected to the bigger picture and provide the opportunity to understand and contribute to the business, removing what we call the ‘vacuum of uncertainty’ and replacing it with a connected team.

AlwaysON strengthens the core values of the business, putting them into context and connecting its people by optimising internal communications. It links messaging across a variety of channels with multiple stories running in parallel and connected in purpose. It connects people with the business, keeping them informed and inviting contribution and participation, building opportunities to achieve measurable understanding. It’s all about building a connected business.

This post and more thoughts and insights on Internal Communications can be found at our website



Are you building your business as a ‘Social Enterprise’?

Our team at Five by Five People visited the Cloudforce event held at London Excel Centre yesterday and it looked, from what I understand was over 14,000 attendees, like the answer to this question, was a resounding yes!

We heard some great stories from our hosts, the team and some of their ‘Cloud Partners’ including Accenture and Deloitte, learnt about some fantastic products including Chatter and heard some of the experiences and value achieved from some organisations who have already grabbed hold of  this amazing business concept including RSA, Burberry and Activision. The overall message was connectivity and how this dramatically improves business performance.

Whilst we came away excited and knowing that this business concept is coming towards us all at the speed of light it asks another big question, “how are businesses going to prepare their people for this revolution in connectivity?”.

Those who are regular visitors to our website will have noticed that we are developing our own activities to help clients prepare for this revolution with a new generation of what we call ‘Sustainable Internal Communications’. At the heart of this are Social Networks, Cultural Change and Storytelling all vital in transforming any business adopting Social Enterprise.

Take a look at this video from Angela Ahrendts, CEO, Burberry once you’ve seen it give Five by Five People a call, we’d love to help you prepare your people for the future, it’s going to be very exciting!

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