The Big Yak is a unique event – to be surrounded by so many committed, enthusiastic, and passionate internal comms pros was truly energising. I was buzzing all day (despite the ridiculously early wake up call to get from Wales to London on time), and my head is crammed full of new ideas, approaches, and tips for tackling internal communications and engagement challenges.
Here are some of the things I learnt from the Yak:
1. Culture can be tricky
To begin with, how do you define an organisation’s culture? How does culture differ from values and purpose? (This is something I’m going to return to in a future post.) Our discussions demonstrated how culture is simultaneously vital to how our employees engage with the organisation, and how intangible a thing it is.
A really interesting take away for me was around the role of internal communications professionals as educators – particularly for senior management. It can be difficult for senior leaders to see business decisions and business operations in terms of human outcomes. It’s our job to champion this perspective, to encourage senior leaders to see the human side of the organisation, and to help shape a narrative that tells the right stories about our organisation.
Internal communications is a really inclusive career in that there’s no one career trajectory and we’ve all arrived here a different way. So, why not continue that approach to your career? Be ambitious and forge your own route. Think about your skills objectively (or ask a friendly colleague for their input). It seems I’m not alone in sometimes feeling a real sense of imposter syndrome, which stops us from effectively ‘selling’ our skills, experience, and what we can bring to our organisations.
I’ve found that holding a professional qualification has definitely helped in viewing my skills and internal communications knowledge as vital to my organisation – I completed the CIPR internal communications diploma a few years ago. It was a lot of hard work, but a great way for me to assess my skills, learn with and from other professionals, and take a more academic approach to internal communications.
We need to network, to improve our confidence as a profession, and promote our impact on our businesses.
3. Link measurement to business strategy and outcomes
There are two main areas that we want to measure: communications (so gauging the success of a campaign), and the impact of what we do on the business. So, readership of a newsletter is going to be a good metric for me to follow and will help improve our communications, but it’s not likely to be of interest to a senior management team focussing on the bottom line.
We need to be providing senior teams with our return on investment. How does having more engaged employees improve our business outcomes? How does this impact on performance? We need to align our measurement with organisational strategy and bridge the gap between senior leaders and employees.
4. The newsletter (probably) isn’t dead
We need to be clear about the purpose of our newsletters, to make sure they align with our organisation’s strategy, and review regularly to ensure they’re still meeting a defined communications need, but newsletters still play an important role in engaging our people.
Lots of us seemed to use newsletters to present the human element of our organisations, to show our people and personalities with a sense of humour, and importantly to reinforce strategic messages with a personal touch.
One example that was given – which I’m interested to explore further – is to split the newsletter content into must know / nice to know / and finally. This is a really interesting way to signpost the most important messages to our people and to ensure that, even if they don’t read the newsletter in its entirety, employees understand the most important messages they need to take away.
5. Unconferences are brilliant!
I’d never been to an unconference before so was unsure what to expect. In an unconference, the agenda is set on the day. Break-out sessions are organic and collaborative, with one person (usually the person who suggested the session) kicking off the discussion. I think the unconference approach made it more collaborative and active – you’re not sat there just listening to one person’s views – and means that you hear from lots of other professionals. I found it really respectful and inclusive and met some great fellow internal communicators.
And the most popular question as the event was finishing? When’s the next one going to be? I’ll certainly be waiting with baited breath…