The BOC IC conference is one of my treats every year; I love the chance to listen to colleagues talk about the challenges we all face and to hear the solutions which they came up with. And this year we were lucky to have speakers who were generally willing to tell it like it was; without claiming everything was perfect!
One such speaker was Richard Donovan from Experian; the British consumer and credit data experts. He told a story about what happens after your team wins an award. He shared the journey his team had been on as it developed to the stage of winning the Institute of Internal Communications Team of the Year title in 2014 and then he talked about how they maintained momentum.
In particular, he explained about how they used data to segment their internal audiences. Interestingly, they used the Mosaic tool (produced by Experian) to identify the social demographics of their UK workforce and tie it to their media preferences. Additionally, Richard uses Newsweaver to enable him to target specific audience groups; his key message was about seeing IC as an enabling function; he asked if it doesn’t support the business strategy why are we doing it?
Next came the BBC’s Emily Kirwan who talked about change in the organisation. She talked about the challenges of communication with a very diverse workforce; a workforce of journalists who are trained to be critical and challenging. Her approach stressed the importance of person to person communications. In an environment that is rich with channels and able to offer a fantastic range of media choices, she stressed the importance of human contact in communications.
Emily was also one of the stars of our Panel discussion. Joined by Justine Stevenson of the London Stock Exchange, Sanjoy Mukherjee of consumer goods giant RB and neuroscience expert Deborah Hulme she led a really engaging conversation about skills in the digital era, coping with external crises, giving employees a voice and building engagement. Strong contributions from colleagues in the room ensured that we had a meaningful discussion and picked up some valuable insights.
Sanjoy kept the focus on working in difficult situations when he led a fascinating discussion about the impact of Brexit on IC. He was keen to stress that he didn’t have a crystal ball that enabled him to make solid prediction about what would happen over the next 30 months but he outlined some important principles for preparing for change. Perhaps most importantly he posed some challenging questions that every communicator should address about how crucial messages reach employees and whether comms teams are prepared for difficult conversations.
Justine Stevenson took us through a recent M&A case study from her time in the brewing industry. In a highly regulated financial situation there are strict limits on what can and can’t be said to employees, constraints which pose special challenges when it is important to maintain business performance. Her message stressed the importance of having clear processes for communications and strong mechanisms for capturing employee concerns. In a merger, many of your colleague, she said, would not welcome joining forces with people they had recently considered to be competitors and whose culture they do not understand; giving them an opportunity to vent their feelings is incredibly important she argued and the key to a smooth merger.
Finally, neuroscience expert Deborah Hulme talked us through some of the latest thinking in the field and made powerful links to the work of internal communicators. Her talk stressed that many of the messages we are responsible for transmitting in organisations have unintended consequences and provoke unexpected responses. People can easily perceive threats to their status, their sense of certainty, personal autonomy, relationships and sense of fairness; Deborah gave some powerful advice about ensuring that where there was a potential for sending out a threatening message a communicator should look for opportunities to provoke counterbalancing positive emotions.
Overall, the day was a great mix of entertainment and information and a great chance to hear colleagues talk about real experiences and ideas.
I hope I get asked back next year!
About the Author: Liam FitzPatrick
Liam has 25 years of experience with change, PR and internal communications comes from working in-house and in consultancy. He has worked in civil engineering, energy, manufacturing and transportation as well as telecoms. He was Global Head of Internal Communications at Marconi during its financial restructuring and has worked on change and transformation projects in a wide variety of situations. He is particularly interested in developing teams, research and planning.