How IC it

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

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On new beginnings

The whole ‘new year, new start’ thing has never really landed with me.  It’s dark, it’s cold, we’re all dragging a festive half-stone back to work – how does any of that feel fresh and new?

September, on the other hand, is still full of ‘back to school’ potential whatever age I am. And Easter, with its spring blossoms and long weekend break, is surely the very definition of new beginnings both spiritually and psychologically.

My organisation is heading towards the next chapter in its history, creating a new business unit. It’s a positive change but, as most communicators will have experienced, I’ve been in the position of both communicating and affected by the change. Perhaps unusually though, this is the ninth time I’ve been involved in a restructure. As one of my stakeholders quipped the other day “You are the Kate with nine lives!”

It never gets easy, but it does get more manageable. Each time I’ve grown a slightly thicker skin, been better able to consider my team before worrying about myself, and moved closer to the decision-making centre of the programme.

For the past nine years I’ve also had to deal with the sadness that this month brings, having lost my dad in late March. That’s something that still floors me and a period  I never work, because I know what I need to do to look after myself around that week. He died on Good Friday which further cements  this time as one of change for me.

But for the first time, this year I can tentatively say I’m coming through it more easily. At work, too, our team structure is settled and we’re gearing up to mark the change internally.

“Change is the only constant” is a corporate phrase that irritates me as it seems to belittle what people will go through. And we all DO go through the mill with change – we just might find it easier to manage it and ourselves at some times, more than others.

This long weekend falls perfectly for our change programme and for me personally. It’s a short but vital time to regroup, rebalance and say on Tuesday – “we go again”.

Change and leadership things I like:

The Big Yak: Generation IC

A confession: I’m an ENFP. Whether you trust the Myers Briggs personality profiler or are among those who consider it discredited, I’m still as ENFP as they come. I can’t think without speaking, I’m in my element in a room full of new people, and my passing interests become obsessions before the box set is even unwrapped. 

So give me a day full of other passionate internal comms folks sharing their ideas and challenges and it is literally “internal comms Christmas” (thanks Tony Stewart @TSDigi for that very apt description!).

Christmas for IC pros comes in the form of The Big Yak, an open space style ‘unconference’ where attendees set the agenda as the day goes on. Don’t like the topics? Add your own. Don’t enjoy a session? Get up and move. Perfect for a flexible magpie like me, although each of the five sessions I attended (of 30 available across the day) was so interesting I wanted to clone myself to experience more, rather than leave the one I was in. 

The topics covered ranged from leadership comms and successful change, choosing and using the most appropriate channels, to all aspects of measurement (engagement surveys vs other measures, ROI and metrics). We also talked about how to keep networking via professional bodies – and with both CIPR and the IoIC well represented, I’m looking forward to helping make this happen.

Basics or bling?

A common theme to the end-of-day reflections was that this third Big Yak saw a return to comms basics rather than bling. At the first Big Yak, many people were grappling with the idea of Enterpise Social Networks, apps and all things shiny. At the second, we’d moved on to making these new tools work and how to engage users. This time, although tech was part of the mix, more focus was in-person comms, whether within teams or communities or between leaders and their people. 

a screenshot of a tweet on the value of manager comms.

Are we finally falling out of love with comms bling?


It’s all about the people
What I love about The Big Yak is the people:

The passion of the people who chose to come along (did I mention it was on a Saturday? Yep.). 

The mix of those who have grown up in the IC profession and those just starting out – all with something to share and all finding plenty to learn from. We are an ageless Generation IC and in the words of one tweet “The profession is in great hands”.

And I have to mention the people who make it all happen – Rachel Miller, Dana Leeson and Jenni Field, who started The IC Crowd and turned it into a thriving IC community before soon adding the IRL Big Yak element.  You rock, ladies!
I spent the train journey home trying to process all the great ideas I want to share back with my team. Fortunately we have our monthly Lunch & Learn this week so perfect timing. I also fell victim to the other classic ENFP trait: of all the extroverts, we most need our downtime. I’m sure my husband was grateful for the quiet journey home. “All yakked out?” he asked. I was! Well, til next time…

Keep on yakking

Here are just some of the Tweeps who came along – give us all a follow and check out #thebigyak hashtag for our key takeaways. See you next time!

A photo of a flipchart showing the twitter handles of people who attended The Big Yak event.

Big Yakkers in the house!

Kids Company and the curse of the charismatic leader

Few of the writers covering the demise of Kids Company could resist veering off into a personality study of its high-profile leader. Camila Batmanghelidjh is the poster girl for visionary, charismatic leaders as Sir Alan Sugar is the shorthand for her autocratic opposite.

If personality is as important as power when it comes to building leader trust, it’s no surprise that employees and supporters of Kids Company have rallied round its flamboyant figurehead.

But what I’m picking up is a negative vibe towards Ms Batmanghelidjh’s personality and leadership style, as if it were the sole cause of the charity’s problems. There’s more than a suggestion that her supporters were under some sort of spell, an old-fashioned ‘glamour’ to which even Prime Minister David Cameron was not immune (in the words of the Independent, he was mesmerised to the extent that he overrode ministers’ concerns).

Amidst the talk of financial mismanagement and safeguarding failures is a lesson in effective leadership. The fact that not everyone is cut out for management will not be new to internal comms people – nor will the importance of a flexible leadership style.

I like the six emotional leadership styles from the 2002 book Primal Leadership by Daniel Goleman, Richard Boyatzis, and Annie McKee.  Of the six styles – Visionary, Coaching, Affiliative, Democratic, Commanding and Pacesetting – it’s obvious where Ms Batmanghelidjh’s strengths lie. (If you want to spot your CEO, read more here.)

TV presenter George Lamb, who has run camps for Kids Company, summed up the situation in The Guardian this weekend: “It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to see Camila isn’t someone who should be running a 600-strong company, but then you don’t just let her collapse because of that, you put some guys in who know how to run companies with 600 people.

“That’s not what she’s good at, she’s good at going out and raising awareness and making things happen and commits to it.”

And that’s it in a nutshell – whatever your leadership style, you need the right team around you to take care of the operational details.

What happened at Kids’ Company may be yet more proof that not everyone is suitable for management. But what it must not become is an argument for a return to the days when bosses had to be scary to be successful.

Want more on trust and leadership?

Trust in Leadership – report from Top Banana, IoIC and Westminster Business School

Trust: of dads and dragons – Kate on the traits of great leaders

Leaders and employee engagement – a fab round-up from Rachel Miller on her All Things IC blog.

Budget cuts: what to do when the axeman cometh

Does your new financial year bring a cut to your internal comms budget? Don’t panic! Here’s how your company’s graduates, your iPhone and the inside of the kitchen cupboards could be the secret to success on a shoestring.

Divide and conquer

If you’ve lost headcount, forming a comms network could help plug the gap. You may already have a formal editorial board or an informal network of ‘eyes and ears’ who you use for feedback. Why not broaden their role as the people who draft the first version of news stories?

– A template will focus their drafts for you to then finesse – quicker than starting from scratch. Provide an outline table with prompter questions like ‘How does this project fit with our strategy – which of our goals does it support?’ ‘What problem will this solve?’ or ‘Which of our behaviours was behind the teams’ success here?’

– Consider bringing your network together for a comms skills training day to help them become more confident in this new role. If you’re less comfortable delivering it yourself, ask a colleague from Learning & Development to help you structure the session and potentially run it with you.

– If you need help on measurement and you’ve lost the budget for the annual comms audit, talk to L&D about using the graduate intake. Grads are usually given a team project to work on – perhaps it could be internal comms effectiveness this year?

Choose what to lose

If you’re asked to make a certain percentage cut to your spend, the ball’s more in your court. In the ideal world, you’ll already know what works best from your regular measurement and feedback. If your insight is ancient or non-existent, buy yourself some time before giving your boss the new budget breakdown and conduct some research. For speed, you might need to use an external agency but more likely you’ll be pulling together a few focus groups, emailing a sample with a survey, and hitting the phones for some ‘mystery shopper’ feedback.

You’re in damage limitation mode now so your questions need to focus on the right things. You’re less interested in whether people “like” the magazine or think your posters are “eye-catching and well-designed”. You are looking for a link between what people know about the business objectives and where they picked that knowledge up from. You need to understand if people agree that your feedback loops are working and their points are acted on. And you want to demonstrate where people took the action required, followed the new ways of working or otherwise changed behaviour as a result of what communication.

Rachel Miller shared her short guide on conducting an internal comms audit with the Institute of Internal Communication. Read more tips on measurement on my blog or download CIPR Inside’s measurement matrix via AllThingsIC.

Channel shift or channel shove?

I love this phrase from Kate Bentham. She was talking about the tactics deployed by some local councils to move their customers to contacting them via particular (yes, cheaper) routes. You can read her full post here. I think Kate’s points apply to employee comms as well – haven’t we all heard “The print magazine’s too expensive – we should just use the intranet instead”?

Back in IC utopia, you have the measurement that tells you how effective your channels are. If not, do not pass go, read the section above on measurement. Sometimes, though, the axe swings even though you have a strong case for a particular channel. Here are some of the cuts I’ve lived through and what I’ve done about them:

  • A move from print to digital – using an agency: Going online keeps the professional look without the print and distribution costs, and with increased interactivity as a bonus. Your current print agency should be up to speed with ezines and quality online magazines. Alternatively you can self-serve with tools like SnapComms that feed content to people’s desktops and Newsweaver where you can produce great-looking online newsletters that are a cinch to add content and can be targeted to the right people using your global address book. Or move to mobile with an app.
  • A move from print to intranet – without an agency: if you’re putting all your eggs in the intranet basket and doing it all in-house, you’ll need some savvy signposting. Do a little channel-shifting of your own and push people to the intranet more. Posters can be your friend here. Deploy your newly-formed comms network to get the posters printed at their site and up on the noticeboards or in the kitchens. Top tip: the inside of the mug-cupboard door is the new place to be seen! The comms team and your network can even use their own email signature to advertise key content on the intranet.
  • Cuts to the video budget: time to make a virtue from necessity. Video is perhaps the area where you can sacrifice production values without damaging employee perception – and, much evidence shows, actually improve how viewers rate it. During a crisis or change, a video of the CEO or leader shot on your iPhone and uploaded promptly will be worth more than a slick version that took a week to appear.

Talk is cheap

Moving from top-down corporate messaging to clearer employee voice is the goal of many comms teams. Instead of creating content, we aim to curate the conversations that help people collaborate, share ideas and forge the connections that matter to them. A forced move away from more expensive channels to social platforms like Yammer or Jive will open up networks and help people form communities around the topics that matter to them. Who’s using what for social media? Rachel Miller has this great round-up which includes case studies and overviews of some of the most popular tools and platforms.

Low-cost campaigns masterclass 26 February

How do you deliver on your new shoestring budget without losing effectiveness? This is nothing new to comms pros in the public sector. If you’re quick, you can get to a masterclass on delivering low- or no-cost campaigns on 26 February in Birmingham.  It will feature winners from the Comms2point0 unawards.

Focus on the future

You’ll never be a strong position to defend against budget cuts if you can’t demonstrate what’s working best and the risks associated with removing it. So look at yourself before someone else does. That way, you can be proactive in deciding when and where to prioritise spend. And who knows – you might even unlock the budget for the big stuff. Jenni Wheller, group head of communications for SSP, told the Institute of Internal Communication all about getting the pounds to match her plans.

Dwindling budgets are a fact of life. But they’re also a chance for comms folk to show our famous creativity in delivering when you have champagne tastes but a lemonade budget. These were a few of my tips and ideas – what cuts have you faced and how did you adapt and survive?

Diary dates – internal comms events 2014

The first half of 2014 has some great internal comms events – everything from full-scale conferences to informal networking coffee mornings.

Here’s a round-up of the ones that caught my eye. Let me know if you spot more and I’ll add them!

I’ve listed events where guest speakers, case studies, and discussion form the agenda, rather than training courses. There are loads of those out there too – if that’s what you’re after, the websites of the Institute of Internal Communication, Melcrum, CIPR are three great places to start.

January 2014

22 January – Perth, Scotland – Institute of Internal Communication Scotland
They say…
Very informal – meet fellow communicators and share your experiences. It’s an opportunity to hear what other communicators are doing and to expand your network of other people in the industry. You’ll also have the opportunity to hear about next year’s IoIC Scotland awards with some tips on what makes a great entry.

23 January – London – Institute of Internal Communication “How to win gold”
They say…
Two winners of IoIC Gold Awards will be talking about what it takes to be at the top of the IC game. Speakers are Moira Throp, co-founder of the agency Like Minds, which won the special award for Best Overall Campaign for Training Tree, produced for the Spirit Pub Company. Also speaking will be Carmen Lothian, new business manager at Headlines Corporate News, which struck gold with Penguin, an online magazine aimed at a new generation of project managers.

*New!* 24 January – London – The Blurred Lines Between Internal and External Communications
They say… The lines between internal and external communications are becoming increasingly blurred – but what does this mean for the future of business communications and employee engagement? Speakers are Jenni Wheller, Internal Communications Manager for SSP, and Mairi Doyle, Director of Internal Communications for Bupa.

February 2014

3 February – Scotland – The Law of Human Attraction: how to turn IC into action
They say…
Imagine getting your team to do something because they believe in you, not because you’ve simply asked them to do it – and imagine the results you would get from a team that is truly engaged with what you’re trying to achieve! IoIC Scotland has arranged a seminar to help you do exactly that. The training is being run by the accelerated learning and development experts at Boundaries Edge, and they’ll be using police, military and intelligence operations and case studies to put on an afternoon which will put ‘urban intelligence’ and communication techniques into practice.

12 February (London) and 18 February (Manchester) – Cross-Government internal comms conference
They say…
The first cross-government internal communication conference. Practitioners will not only benefit from the experiences of strong speakers, but will also be able to exchange ideas while learning about the changes taking place across the Government Communication Service. Speakers include executive director of Government communications Alex Aiken and director of communications at the Department for Business Innovation & Skills Russell Grossman. The primary audience for the conference will be cross-departmental civil servants, but places will also be available for arm’s length bodies and the wider public sector.

28 February – Leicester – IoIC Central annual seminar and awards
They say..
. The IoIC Central’s seventh annual seminar takes place on Friday 28 February 2014, immediately before the Awards. Speakers will include some of the country’s leading communication experts, who will be sharing their opinions and expertise on today’s hot internal communication topics – ranging from coping with the digital evolution to securing top team buy-in and improving communication competencies and skills. The seminar is always attended by many of the region’s established and up and coming communicators, so there’ll be plenty of opportunity for you to network with your fellow communication practitioners, share challenges and solutions and to contribute to top class debate about the burning internal communication issues of the day.

March 2014

4 March – London – The Employee Engagement Event, Manners & Murphy
They say…
At the event you will take away clear insights and new ways of thinking to tackle the area of engagement to drive greater productivity and loyalty from your staff. We will have four expert speakers presenting case studies, top tips, key learnings and mistakes to avoid in the field of Engagement. Speakers include Christer Holloman of Glassdoor, Karin Volo, author of Engage! Early bird discounts available.

24-26 March – London – BOC Internal Communications Conference
They say…
This two-day highly interactive exchange is designed to reveal how communication executives can go about setting up a strategic ‘Centre of Communication Excellence’ to deliver internal communication tactics that produce real business benefits and impact in the organisation. Speakers include Philips, IBM, Ericsson, UK Home Office and more.

May 2014

1-2 May – Brighton – Institute of Internal Communication annual conference, IoIC Live

They say… The IoIC’s 2014 conference will focus on strategies, tools and tips to help professional communicators step up to meet the challenge. It’s a rare opportunity to step off the merry go round to re-think, re-charge, re-shape and re-connect with what’s great in internal communication right now. Speakers include Bupa, BT and Virgin Media. Early bird discounts available until 31 January.

I’ll do another round-up for the second half of the year. In the meantime are you going to an event that I should know about?

These diamond shoes are too tight: when engagement goes bad

Is there an employee engagement backlash brewing? I’ve read a few articles lately that suggest so – or at least that engagement is now so prevalent that we’re taking our complacent eyes off the ball and starting to get it wrong.

One piece, from Forbes, asks whether engagement is becoming counter productive. It’s a tempting headline for a pretty sound story on the importance of engaging on the right things. I like thinking of engagement in terms of alignment with strategy and that’s really the point of this piece.

But it got me thinking about the times in my past when my best-laid engagement plans have gone awry… screen goes wobbly… fade up to…

– The time we ran a well-being campaign about testicular cancer. The campaign scooped the journalist an Institute of Internal Communication award and brought me dozens of complaints that we hadn’t chosen breast cancer. Towers Watson may consistently find that leaders’ concern for their people’s well-being is a key driver of engagement but it sure isn’t when you limit that concern to those with the right chromosomes.

– The time we gave out chocolates to say thanks when we hit a milestone target. Everyone loves chocolate, don’t they? Well yes, especially the people who were on holiday that day and naturally complained they didn’t get any.

– And finally, the time I invited people to vote on their favourite of four potential covers for our relaunched employee magazine. A simple bit of involvement and fun which cost me many hours and no little sanity. The vote was so popular that we had thousands more votes than there were actual employees (yes, I should have set it so that people could vote only once). The most memorable of a fair few emails read “Sir: I have calculated that yourself and your team of eight have each voted once every seven seconds, without break for food or toilet, to reach that number of votes.”

All painful at the time but a useful lesson now – if you’re gonna involve people, make sure you catch everyone. Otherwise, be prepared to be measured for your ‘counter productive’ cap.

How about you – any engagement howlers to share? If not, spare a thought for these poor souls whose work screw-ups have been immortalised on Rhodri Marsden’s Storify.

Looking for an internal comms qualification in 2014?

While you’re planning for your end-of-year review, it’s also time to give some thought to 2014’s personal development plan. For me last year, that meant formalising my experience with a ‘proper piece of paper’ – it was time to get qualified.

I chose the Advanced Diploma from the Institute of Internal Communication and I’m pleased (and more than a little relieved) to have passed with distinction. The Advanced Diploma is one of four tiers of accreditation offered by the IoIC depending on where you are in your career.

I’m an IoIC board director and enthusiastic supporter of all its training but, in the interests of impartiality, other qualifications are available! There’s a great round-up here from Kevin Ruck, a founding director of PR Academy.

As well as my newly minted IoIC Advanced Diploma, I completed Melcrum’s Black Belt programme back in 2008. My team has also drawn on elements of the ‘bitesize’ learning formerly provided by Gatehouse Group and which is now neatly rolled-up into the ‘Accelerate’ package offered jointly by Gatehouse and the IoIC.

There’s no doubt that there’s plenty out there, whether you’re looking for a formal qualification or a workshop on a specific tactical issue from change to web editing.

So where do you start and how do you know what your PDP should focus on?

I’m a great fan of the competency framework developed by Sue Dewhurst and Liam Fitzpatrick via Competent Communicators and the one from the IoIC. Personally I use a hybrid of the two which I’ve tweaked to suit my own circumstances. I’ve carried a paper copy around from role to role – old skool – and admit that I take great satisfaction in highlighting things as I feel I’ve achieved them!

If you work in government comms, there’s a professional competency framework just for you from the Government Communication Network.

So go on – spend the weekend in the company of some of these resources and take your best ever development plan to that annual review.

Stop: grammar time

I read an interesting Twitter exchange of grammatical opinions on the use of apostrophes for clarity, with different views from Engage 4 Success and Mark Shanahan (both well worth a follow). In the blue corner, the idea that an apostrophe in a plural can assist the reader; in the red, the traditional view that plural apostrophes are always wrong.


The link to the ‘helpful’ point made by Engage 4 Success is here on Grammar Monster. There’s a slightly different view from Oxford Dictionaries here.

Now, I might be a multi-faceted comms pro now I’m all growed up, but in my heart I am still the schoolgirl who would cry if she got fewer than 10 correct answers in her Monday spellings (and yes, I would probably have said ‘fewer’ too; I was that sort of child). I’m a grammar geek. I give a silent cheer for a correctly placed ‘only’. I love a good pun. I can wilf away hours reading the glorious linguistic timeslips of Shakespeare Lyrics and the like.

So if I see a fellow comms pro tweet a typo, do I judge them? Well, a bit, I’m afraid. I fully appreciate that our profession has come a long way since we were the in-house editors and we have so much more to offer than our syntax. And yet I believe these skills are our ticket to the game. Only once we’ve cut our crafting chops can we expect to be listened to on the big stuff. That’s why I will (gently, I hope) point out spelling mistakes in emails from my team, and get completely out of proportion if I receive agency proofs including errors. We should be whiter than white. We should be always on. Up with this I will not put.

I’ve pondered whether semantic slippage is acceptable on social media, where ‘ran out of characters’ is a reasonable defence. But spend a few moments reading any heated exchange on Twitter and you’ll soon come across one poster criticising another’s grammar. It’s the grammatical equivalent of Godwin’s Law. So I’m not alone. Good. Pedantry loves company.

Of course, I should end this post by pointing out that I would never do such things.


Brrrrr. It’s cold up here on this high horse. Maybe I should relax a bit… Bazinga. Who am I kidding?!

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