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What I like in the world of internal communications and employee engagement.

Archive for the category “Internal communication tips”

Why Hamilton the musical is all about communication

Photo showing the Hamilton lyric Who lives, who dies, who tells your story?

It’s my Hamilversary! My what? Well, as my team will tell you (sorry teamies!), I have been obsessed with the musical Hamilton since first seeing it in May 2018.

Hamilton tells the story of American founding father Alexander Hamilton; his rise and subsequent fall. Presidents Washington, Jefferson, Madison and other key figures from the 17 and 1800s all feature alongside Hamilton – some friends, some enemies; some who support his vision for the newly-independent America; some who want to stop his progress.

So far, so dull… but what makes this show shine is its format – it’s completely sung-through with no dialogue and the music is rap, gospel, ragtime – and its diversity. The writer, Puerto Rican Lin Manuel Miranda, could not see himself represented on the stage so took a story of ‘America then’ and re-played it to reflect ‘America today’. All the main characters are played by black and brown actors and, in London’s West End at least, the cast is mainly young with many actors making their debuts after graduating only recently.

I saw the show knowing nothing about it and bought my ticket on a whim when staying overnight in London. Three hours later I knew I’d found something I’d return to. I also found that I couldn’t shake the themes of the story. I’ve recently done some work to explore my values with Jackie Le Fevre (follow her on Twitter @MagmaEffect) and the things that are important to me were right up there on that stage: initiating action, sharing my talents to serve others, and achieving a vision.

Not only does the Hamilton story speak to my values, it contains many ‘a-ha’ moments for communicators.

‘Legacy – what is a legacy?’

A recurring theme of Hamilton is the notion of creating something new – thoughts of death and legacy form repeated lyrics for several characters. Two of my values are about accomplishing something noteworthy in my work and committing to a cause. Even my boss has used the phrase ‘leave a legacy’ when we’ve been discussing what drives me at work.

And on a related theme…

‘Who tells your story?’

Where do I start with this one? It’s the flame that must be passed on to be kept alive. It’s the tales they will tell about you when you’re gone. It’s your achievements that stand long after you. For communicators, three points:

  • The best CEOs I’ve worked with have a sense that they are only curators, here for a limited time. As leaders they are both proud and humble, recognising that they will pass their leadership on but the organisation will continue. They want to guide the company on its path as best they can for a much longer term future.
  • What stories – whose stories? – do we tell in our channels? Hopefully the days of top-down management mouthpieces are long gone and have been replaced with more voices, more experiences of the colleagues who are really where our brands are built and who make things happen every day.
  • What are you known for in your organisation? A personal brand is ‘what people say about you when you’re not in the room’. Does that match with what you want people to know about you?

‘Do not throw away your shot’

The story of Hamilton is the story of a man who made his own way in a world that was changing around him. An immigrant of illegitimate birth (‘a bastard, orphan, son of a whore’ to boot) he didn’t spend time wondering why he didn’t have a seat at the table. He found his own table, got alongside the right people, and shaped the country and culture he wanted to see.

See also ‘The Room Where It Happens’, a number that shows how decisions are made and the frustration of not being part of them. Sound familiar? Pull up your own chair!

‘Include women in the sequel’

The 1700s and therefore the musical are not a place where women have equality. But Angelica Schuyler, while knowing her place and the limits of her sex in that time, nonetheless manages to influence as a confidante and ally. Quoting the Declaration of Independence, she sings ‘We hold these truths to be self-evident / That all men are created equal / And when I meet Thomas Jefferson / Imma compel him to include women in the sequel #work’.

Fast forward to 2019 and inclusion and diversity are high on the agenda. As communicators, we have to make sure that everything we produce is accessible. We also sit alongside HR in leading our organisation’s work to improve the range of people within the workforce. The links between diversity, innovation, productivity and performance are well documented and who better than IC pros to make sure all those different voices are heard.

Grammar matters…

‘In a letter I received from you two weeks ago

I noticed a comma in the middle of a phrase

It changed the meaning; did you intend this?

One stroke and you’ve consumed my waking days

It says ‘My dearest Angelica’

With a comma after dearest

You’ve written ‘My dearest, Angelica.’

Cue tears, both for unrequited love and the importance of grammar.

‘Life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness’

AKA find your happy – and make time for it. Not only a line from the show, but something it reminded me. I realised I’d lost balance in my life and my (very enjoyable) job had become my only focus. I needed to get back to something that was distracting, fun and out of the routine. My monthly trips to Hamilton have given me that. And an excuse to cry in the dark with a load of strangers. Don’t knock it ‘til you’ve tried it!

With thanks to Kerry Sheehan for inviting me to the show with her; Annique Simpson for joining me on the front row when I won the daily ticket lottery; and my team for putting up with my ability to talk about Hamilton in any given situation. Can’t wait to share it with some of the team in June. Bring tissues.

Hamilton is at the Victoria Palace theatre and currently booking to September 2019.

 Photo of the blog author Kate Jones with a Tarmac tipper in the background.

When worlds collide!
Photo of the blog author Kate Jones with the Hamilton actor Ash Hunter.

My Hamilton, Ash Hunter

Photo of fingernails painted gold with black stars


Photo of notebook with the slogan Party like it’s 1776

Hamilton stationery is 100% office-appropriate

Photo of Hamilton style gold trainers with stars


Photo linked to a quiz to find out which Hamilton character you areWhich Hamilton character are you?

Photo of keyring with the text Who tells your story?

My personalised keyring

The obligatory new year, new job post

‘New year, new job’ may be a tired recruitment cliché but on the first working day of 2016, it will be a reality for me. It’s been great to meet up with my new boss ahead of my first day and my brain is already whirring with ideas for the first priorities we discussed over lunch. (Lunch on the new boss is a very civilised way to start a new job and I heartily recommend it to anyone!)

I know at least one of my Twitter network is also off to a new role so it struck me that today is a good day to share tips and ideas for surviving, delivering and, of course, enjoying the first 100 days.

These are extended thoughts from the points I contributed to a hand little guide produced by Gatehouse Group. The full version includes tips from other comms pros and you can download it here.

1. Don’t neglect your LAST 100 days in the old job. How you leave is as important as how you arrive.

2. Go on tour: get out and about to the frontline – call listening, the shop floor, the factory canteen – and drink a lot of coffee with people doing real jobs in the real world.

3. Listen, absorb, digest: learn what recent sources of insight are saying, from the satisfaction survey to channel metrics.

4. Beware red deckchairs: just because something worked well at your old place doesn’t mean it’s right for the new one. Strike the words “When I was at…” from your vocabulary.

5. Look for quick wins: where can you get involved with a project and deliver results? And there’s nothing wrong with keeping a list of your achievements in your first three months. You’ll soon forget them as the days begin to fly by and you get down in the detail.

6. Mind the gap: talk to the CEO, the Board, your senior stakeholders and your team to see what they think your role is there to do.

7. Start close to home: The most useful question I asked my virtual team was “What do you want from my role – and what’s the WORST thing I could do?”

8.  Find a compass: someone who can help you navigate the structure and counsel you on how things will land. In my past that has sometimes been my boss, but it’s also been a switched-on HR Business Partner and a team leader in a customer contact centre who I met in my second week.

9.  Get to know the real power-holders: the directors’ PAs, the Facilities teams, all important to have on side as you’ll be calling on their support. Ditto if you work somewhere with in-house design or printing facilities. Take them a tin of biscuits and go and learn how their set-up works and what they can offer.

10.  Wear an awesome frock. Never underestimate the power of sartorial armour / confidence trickery.

Best of luck if you’re starting or seeking your next internal comms role in 2016! And if you’re looking for ways to be extra awesome in your existing job, take a look back at my New Year’s Resolutions for comms folk.

Coming next week: Budget cuts – when the axeman cometh

Does your new financial year bring a cut to your internal comms budget? Don’t panic! Check my blog next week for tips on how to stay effective when the April axeman cometh.

If you’ve got questions or tips to share with fellow comms pros, tweet me @how_IC_it and I’ll include them in next week’s blog post.

Time to get serious on skills

I’ve long been a firm believer in the importance of recognised skills to building credibility for internal comms, as a profession and to us as practitioners. So I’m really proud to be entering 2015 as an IoIC Professional Practitioner

IoIC CPD logoThe Institute of Internal Communication already offers four levels of Accreditation and launched its continuous professional development programme – Excellence – under the ‘Love your career’  banner, appropriately enough on Valentine’s Day 2014.


What do you have to do to get CPD certification?  Your job!  I’ve always found the IoIC to be grounded in the real world of the IC practitioner and its CPD scheme is no different.

Pretty much everything you’re already doing as part of your current IC role (or preparing for your next one) will earn you a few points. If you’ve got a personal development plan in place at work, you’re already on the way.

Participants plan their path through CPD and, by gaining 40 points each year, receive annual certification and the right to use the designation ‘IoIC Professional Practitioner’ after their name.

Points are awarded for activities like attending training courses and seminars, involvement with IoIC or other recognised events, mentoring or being mentored, reading and reflecting on comms books, or even taking part in online debates.

So just before Christmas I sat down and logged my activity into the IoIC’s CPD system. As well as uploading pdfs or other links to provide evidence, I had to enter a short description of how the activity supported one of my learning aims. No, stay with me, it really wasn’t that onerous. In a couple of days, stopping and starting, I’d racked up more than my 40 points and hit submit. Off went my workbook to be reviewed. This week I received an email congratulating me on reaching the required standard.

The recognition runs for 12 months so I’ll be doing the same this year; keeping a record of the books I read, events I attend and articles I contribute to be sure that I renew my certificate next year.

Inspired? Hit the books

If you’re interested in recording your own development and becoming an IoIC Professional Practitioner, here are a few books I’m currently enjoying:

From Cascade To Conversation by Katie Macaulay

Employee Engagement by Emma Bridger

IC Trends for 2015 – a free ebook from the IoIC.

Ebola – addressing the internal comms challenge

Is your phone ringing yet? The call might have come from Health & Safety, HR, or even a concerned employee. But soon, somebody will be in touch with Internal Comms about doing something about Ebola.

The current outbreak of the Ebola virus in Africa is making headlines including this slightly misleading one about Birmingham airport.

I led internal comms during the 2009 swine flu pandemic. At times I felt that my role was not simply my comms skills but actually to be a voice of calm and balance when many stakeholders were running into something resembling panic.

And balance is the key principle here. Your efforts will need to reflect the level of risk, so clearly if your business operates in west Africa, you’ll already be into crisis mode. For the rest of us in Swansea, Sterling, Southampton or Sheffield, our job at this stage of the outbreak is careful considered comms.

So here is my guide to managing comms during a national or worldwide health scare. Download my outline comms plan which I hope gives you a framework to tailor for your own business and for any concern, from the current Ebola outbreak to swine flu, bird flu, or foot and mouth.

In the plan you’ll find:

  • Communications principles to make sure your activity is in line with actual risk levels, and ‘leaves you somewhere to go’ when risk and media coverage ramp up.
  • Outline key messages by priority audiences and at increasing risk levels.
  • Sample FAQs to get you started.

Download the plan here: Ebola comms plan

Want more?


My dad doesn’t understand me! How comms pros broke line managers

Soon before he died in 2008, my dad and I were talking about how he’d loved watching us girls grow up into jobs we enjoyed and were doing well at. It’s a chat I’ll treasure but he also said something that stopped me in my tracks.

“I know what you do, love, these staff magazines and things,” he said, “What I don’t get is WHY you need to do it.”

After I’d pouted – way to make a girl feel special, pops – I started to understand where he was coming from.

In 1964 my dad was 20 and working in the defence industry, packing parachutes at a rural Worcestershire airbase. Soon after, he stepped onto the factory floor at Rolls-Royce and spent more than 25 years grinding gears. At no time during his 40 working years did he come across the lesser-spotted internal comms manager. If you’d asked him what a business partner was, he’d have told you not to talk daft. But he was a loyal, proud worker who bought shares, knew exactly what was going on and felt responsible for how the factory was doing.

And here’s the reason he didn’t get why I existed. “When we needed to know something, the foreman just called us in a corner and we talked about it. So how come these places need you these days?”

Get a group of internal comms pros together and it won’t be long before the conversation turns to line managers. We acknowledge their vital role in engagement and we agree most of them aren’t very good at it.

But here’s the rub: we did it to them.

As we worked hard for our value, our profession, to be recognised within our businesses from the boardroom down, we took on a lot. We do that; own that; deliver that, we said. In the great editorial era of internal comms, we bypassed the hierarchy with newsstand-quality company magazines.  We crafted and drafted podium-worthy speeches for our leaders. And we equipped line managers with highly detailed briefing-by-numbers scripts.

Come on, you know we did. I sure know I did! But where does equipping stop and emasculating start?

Coming out of the editorial era and into the era of engagement, we rediscovered what my dad and his foreman knew in 1964. Employees want to hear from their manager. So now we’re making up for lost time and the lost art of manager-led comms with toolkits and training and an uphill struggle to get leaders to agree that they signed up for engagement when they got the job title.

I daresay my dad’s information was top-down and heavily filtered. And he was certainly as likely to believe what he read in the papers as anything on the noticeboard. But at least their manager talked about it when they clocked in for the night shift.

I think about my dad now whenever I’m writing. He’s my audience – whether I’m prepping bullets for a line manager to use when talking about change, or when I was writing for magazines for factory and frontline audiences.

Just one of the many things I have to thank him for.

Looking for a great line manager comms toolkit? Try these for size:

The line manager mixtape – by Daniel Grafton via CIPR

Why managers are the key to poor signal strength – by Lee Smith via IoIC

Six steps to get manager communication right – from Headlines


Ted Jones 1944 – 2008


Vive la resolution: what IC can learn from January’s good intentions

The road to hell is paved with unused exercise bikes, low-fat recipe books and nicotine patches. I’ve decided to forego the annual round of personal resolutions and apply some of the most popular ones to my IC career, instead.

1. Shed the flab

Are you carrying a bit of extra weight? A channel that nobody reads? A process that’s slowing you down? Take a cold hard look in the mirror of colleague feedback to see if the audience is telling you “it’s not you, it’s me…” Ask your team and your regular stakeholders what feels smooth and efficient and what’s the sluggish equivalent of a ‘Quality Street baby’ hiding under a Rudolph sweater. How about using your January team meeting to make your own New Year Resolutions that will mean you work smarter?

2. Would like to meet…

If you’re looking for a meaningful relationship in 2014, get networking. Perhaps you want a long-term partnership with a mentor, or you’re after a quick fling on what video can do for IC. Whatever challenge you’re battling with, someone’s been there, done it and will probably be happy to share their story. Follow @theICcrowd on Twitter for an instant pool of potential ‘dates’. And no need to pre-arrange an emergency ‘get me out of here’ call from a friend.

3. Get out more

There’s so much fantastic stuff online for IC pros but nothing beats getting together in the real world. The first half of 2014 has some great events coming up, from full-on conferences to informal coffee mornings. I blogged about the ones that caught my eye here.

4. A better me

New year is an ideal time to think about a bit of self-improvement. You’ve had your annual review with your manager and you’ve got some ideas on which areas to focus on. If getting a formal qualification is one of the things on your PDP, you’ve got a few options. For me, the most suitable was the IoIC’s Advanced Diploma, which I took in 2012. Other qualifications are out there. I link to some on my blog here.

5. Make new friends

As well as networking outside work, think about your relationships within the workplace. Are you and team known to the right people? Do they know you? Buy a few coffees and get to know the people who can help drive engagement. HR, the health and safety guys, Learning & Development, and external comms are obvious ones, and you probably have great links there already. But when was the last time you sat down with someone from Business Development? The people who come up with new products and services? The team responsible for the new starter ‘onboarding’ process? See where there may be new places for people to contribute or to tell their stories. Then matchmake.

What are some of your goals for 2014?

The seven deadly sins of measurement

I’ve been judging awards recently and measurement seems still to be the holy grail, with some teams really hot on measurement and evaluation of their efforts and others either not measuring at all or looking through only a limited lens. Got me thinking about the perils and pitfalls of this hot topic, so here are my Seven Deadly Sins of Measurement.  How many are you guilty of?

1. Not measuring at all

Let’s start with the obvious. You’re busy. Your team are busy. Look at us! We’re so in demand! We’re in that meeting… working up that campaign… writing that email… Why? What for? Who’s reading it? If you don’t measure your activity, you’re a busy fool. You don’t know the right place to spend your blood, sweat and tears – and busy does not a business case make or protect you when the restructure axe comes swinging.

2. Measuring the wrong thing

All measurement is equal, right? Not so. Have you agreed with your stakeholder the outcomes of the project you’re supporting? That’s what you should be measuring. I use an ‘engagement curve’ to plot agreed outcomes along the comms journey – from awareness and understanding through to buy-in, commitment and ownership (where people start to take action). It shows me what I should be measuring at each stage of a comms plan. It’s no good showing that 1,500 people have read your beautifully-crafted intranet article if nobody is actually following the new way of claiming expenses.

3. Hits or hearts?

Your vital statistics – hit rates, viewing figures and downloads of documents – are a good indication of your awareness waistline. And for some projects, getting people to awareness or understanding is plenty. For others, though, your business is looking for a change of behaviour. That requires hearts as well as minds, habits rather than hit rates.

4. Keeping your successes to yourself

It’s tempting to put all the comms planning effort into the early stages. We build a detailed comms plan and map out every step of delivery. We burn the midnight oil over the campaign materials. The project doesn’t end when the posters come down. A project closedown report is as vital as the start-up plan. Make sure you present back to your stakeholders at every step of the way and certainly at the end of the campaign to show how your comms have met their objectives. It can hardly be a bad thing if you can include some of your impressive achievements in your own performance review… Oh stop, you’re making us blush.

5. Doing what you’ve always done

The great advantage of measuring at every step is that you’ll soon pick up if things aren’t taking you where you need to be. Listen to the jungle drums and be prepared to adapt or bolster your comms approach. Chances are your messages aren’t getting through if the HR mailbox is bursting with questions about the new policy, the programme office is taking calls from directors about the impact on customers, or line managers are beseiged by worried colleagues who have heard a rumour. Don’t stick unswervingly to ‘Plan A’ when the insight tells you a detour is needed.

6. Beware data distrust

I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve presented the results of the satisfaction survey to senior managers who have dismissed the findings because we didn’t ask enough people… or because Site X has a negative culture… or Team B have just had a change of manager. Agree upfront what a credible representative sample will be. Work with your stakeholders in the early days to explain what they can expect from the findings. After all, once you hit a certain response rate, you’ve captured all views and anything else is duplicating.

7. Treating IC as a nice to have, not a risk management tool

This comes down to the ‘why are we here?’ question. Done well, internal communication is a risk management tool. It’s not a nice to have, soft business activity. If you believe anything less, then you’re holding yourself and your business back.

So, confession time – are you a saint or a sinner?

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