Chuck Gose: Have you ever had any luck making coffee any in a hotel room?
Victoria Dew: Yes. I am a highly skilled hotel room coffee-maker. But I always worry about the cleanliness of those machines...
CG: Well, that’s been my failed adventure this morning. But now I’m also worried about that too.
It was great seeing you at the IABC Heritage Region Conference. You put in a lot of hours volunteering for IABC, locally, regionally and internationally. I don’t mean this question to sound skeptical, but it just does. Why do you dedicate so much time giving back to the profession?
VD: I like to keep busy.
That’s a great question—I’ve been an IABC member and volunteer for 10 years or so.
Being a leader has given wayyyy more back to me than I have given to it. I think that if you’re someone who is passionate about this work and thinks about it a lot, it’s just a natural fit. My IABC involvement has taken me around the world, opened a million of doors, and has given me an incredible network of friends and colleagues. It makes sense to repay the source.
CG: I find that a lot of volunteers for IABC, PRSA and other groups are also the ones who want to help shape or improve the experience for others. And I think it’s great that organizations get the benefit of voices and actions from people like you.
"Being a leader has given way more back to me than I have given to it."
After a while, it just becomes like brushing your teeth.
One of the things I enjoy most in my IABC leadership roles these days is coaching and mentoring incoming leaders. They have new ideas that I might not have thought of, and that makes me a stronger professional.
I actually think that the service that you provide to the profession through ICology is one of the greatest offerings out there. I get so much out of the podcast, and I know others do too.
CG: That’s very kind of you to say Victoria.
You introduced Rocky Walls and I in Pittsburgh at our session on trust. And based on your interest in the topic, which I learned later, it sounds like you should have joined us. It’s a topic that clearly fascinates both of us. Where does your interest sit on trust?
"As internal communicators, we know that strong, healthy culture and communication produce better business results. End of story. We all have the stats and metrics."
VD: As internal communicators, we know that strong, healthy culture and communication produce better business results. End of story. We all have the stats and metrics.
But what’s the secret sauce?
I think, and you and Rocky talked about this in your presentation, that a lot of it comes down to trust, and that’s really about psychological safety.
When an employee can say ‘I trust my manager/leader and the people around me, and I feel that they trust me,’ then it gives them the psychological space to do better work; to innovate, to ask questions, to challenge, to collaborate, to go above and beyond. All of those activities contribute to high performing companies and outcomes.
So, I like to say, culture is the silver bullet for business, and trust is the silver bullet for culture.
CG: I’ve mentioned to Edelman a few times that I’d love to see their Trust Barometer brought to companies internally. What leaders and employees discover would be hugely beneficial to even understanding what their culture is about.
But what happens if a manager or leader gets feedback that says “your employees don’t trust you.” What do they do next?
VD: We know that one of the qualities that makes a strong leader is trustworthiness.
We also know that leadership—people leadership specifically, can be taught. Strong leadership requires self-awareness and an understanding of the impact you’re having on the people around you. Self-awareness, in turn, lends itself to better self-management.
I heard an interview on a podcast recently with a leader who was having this problem, especially the effect he had on his team’s willingness to speak up and ask questions around him.
He started leaving meetings for 30 minutes or so to give them time to work together on solutions without him being in the room, and would then come back in, and validate their process. After a while, they didn’t need him to leave the room anymore because they had learned to trust him—to trust that when he said he wanted them to question and innovate, he meant it.
"Culture is the silver bullet for business, and trust is the silver bullet for culture."
CG: I love that story because it echoes what I talk about. If you want to be trusted, you have to start trusting. And that’s very simple for a leader to do, whether or not there even is a trust problem.
VD: I heard an HR professional say once that dealing with employees wasn’t something that a CEO should be concerned about, that it wasn’t their job. My jaw dropped.
One of the things I love to see in very small businesses that are just starting to grow is this moment when a CEO realizes that they are about to have a team, a culture, a tribe, and they say to me ‘I just want to get this right.’ I call it the ‘Expectant Parent’ moment because it’s where they start the journey from CEO to Leader.
CG: I heard something very similar from a communicator recently.
They said, “We can’t have people contact our CEO directly.”
My reply was, “Why not?”
VD: Great call-out.
CG: I learned that you now have a focus on helping small business with their comms activities.
What are the simple or common mistakes you see small or growing businesses making with internal comms?
VD: Not doing it! Or not doing it consistently, strategically, and deliberately.
Those of us who come from a corporate communications environment assume a certain level of structure and process in how we communicate with employees—even if we’re not entirely happy with it!
But in smaller businesses, this communication tends to be more ad hoc, and that can lead to problems. There’s no in-house internal or executive communications person when you’ve only got 10, 25, 50, or 100 people. And yet, we know that companies that proactively manage their employee communications have better, stronger cultures, and this leads to improved business results.
The same ROI for comms is present in smaller businesses, but the functional expertise isn’t necessarily there to support growth. As soon as your business has any kind of scale or complexity, you need a way to consistently help employees understand how their role contributes to the big picture, and how to activate them to help the business succeed.
"I heard an HR professional say once that dealing with employees wasn’t something that a CEO should be concerned about, that it wasn’t their job. My jaw dropped."
CG: Company founders start out with just themselves. Then a few more employees. Then a few more. And then all of a sudden they have dozens and dozens. The company keeps growing, but they keep running it as if it was just them and I think this is what creates communication problems.
That’s why I love working with small businesses at that ‘expectant parent’ moment because you have an amazing opportunity to lay a great foundation for that growth.
It’s kind of like building a house; if you try to make a house wheelchair accessible after it’s built, it’s really hard and expensive. But if you put a ramp on the blueprint right from the beginning, it’s pretty easy.
It’s important to hardwire in culture and communication from the very early days.
CG: That’s a great way to think about it—hardwiring in culture and communication. Those are words that I think founders understand.
"Companies that proactively manage their employee communications have better, stronger cultures, and this leads to improved business results."
VD: It’s both easier and harder for smaller companies to develop culture and communication, but I believe the ROI is a real game changer for them.
What small business doesn’t need better productivity, retention, innovation, work quality, revenue, and safety?
If a small business isn’t taking culture and communication seriously, they’re either putting themselves at risk, leaving a lot of money on the table, or both.
CG: Do you have any simple suggestions for leaders of small businesses on assessing their communication effectiveness?
VD: First, I do want to say that I meet a lot of awesome small business owners/founders/CEOs who just get this stuff intuitively, and have a real knack for leading their people, building and maintaining awesome cultures, and communicating effectively.
However, I think assessment is the same in companies of any size—look for where your business is suffering or falling behind.
Recruitment and retention are great places to check first because they’re so visible. If you’re having trouble hiring and keeping the people you need to help your business grow, it’s time to look at your culture and communication. Culture and communication are key all the way along your talent pipeline, from your employer brand, through the hiring process, through retaining employees.
"If a small business isn’t taking culture and communication seriously they’re either putting themselves at risk, leaving a lot of money on the table, or both."
CG: That is why I like seeing when founders of companies don’t take the role of CEO once the company gets to a certain size. Perhaps they are self-aware and know that their strength isn’t in leading.
VD: It really depends on the leader, and I agree. Sometimes they’re the right person for that job, sometimes they’re not.
CG: I imagine that the impact of hiring the right person for a small business is exponentially more important than that of a large business. The right person can enhance or enrich a culture. But the wrong one could destroy it.
VD: Totally agree, and again that’s where a strong values-driven culture is SO important to smaller businesses. Recruiting for values fit helps to ensure that you are building a high-performing team.
Values are like a social contract—this is what we’re about, this is how we’ve agreed we want to do our work, and how we want to work together. When you hire people who fit inside that ‘objective’ frame, you’re also able to create a more diverse team, because you open yourself up to candidates who may have a different background or experiences, but who are a clear values fit. This also contributes to greater innovation and performance, and counteracts groupthink.
Hiring for culture fit has gotten a bad rap because it’s equated with ‘bro-culture,’ but I think, when done right, it’s exactly the opposite.
"If you’re having trouble hiring and keeping the people you need to help your business grow, it’s time to look at your culture and communication."
CG: Let’s wrap this up the way we do all of the Chuck Chats. Describe your feelings about internal communication through emojis.
VD: 🌱 🙋🗺️🚄🚀💰👍
CG: Thanks for being on Chuck Chats!
VD: Thanks so much for having me!