Chuck: One of the aspects of Chuck Chats I like most is when I get to chat with people I haven’t met but want to learn more about. And that’s what we get to do today.
Saskia: Sounds great!
Chuck: I find it fascinating to find out what motivates people. What lights a fire in their belly.
What’s that for you, Saskia?
Saskia: I love language and communication.
I’m also fascinated by the role of internal communications in business and how it can help organisations achieve results.
But what I enjoy the most is working 1-on-1 with leaders and internal comms pros to deliver results.
Chuck: Let’s go back to the first sentence about your love of language and communication, but specifically language. Mind digging deeper on that?
Saskia: From a young age, I’ve always loved writing and reading. My grandad was a professor of Linguistics, and it used to fascinate me that he had travelled the world and written books on communication.
I studied English Language and Linguistics at University, and particularly focused on sociolinguistics—ending up writing my dissertation on the language of female football teams.
Language and communication has shaped my career.
Chuck: Do you think that we take language for granted, that we are too lazy with it? Or is that the very nature of language?
Saskia: I definitely don’t see myself as the language police—I think it is best for people to speak in their own style and from the heart. As long as they are clear about their opinions.
It’s so important to use words that others understand—and not to use them to sound impressive.
Chuck: That’s a nice way to think about it. I’m fascinated by the words people choose when they talk and write. Some use words that come very natural to them.
Some claim they “have the best words”. . . That’ a Trump quote…
And then others use words that they may not understand but they think it will impress someone.
Saskia: Hahaha love it—that’s so true.
My husband runs a marina, so he works in a very different world to me.
He used to joke when I came home and say ‘Have you been doing any blue sky thinking today? Taken a helicopter view?’
He used to use all the management jargon he could think of, as it is so different from the practical, matter-of-fact words used in his workplace. It’s so important to use words that others understand—and not to use them to sound impressive.
Chuck: So running a marina, I’m guessing he doesn’t want to “boil the ocean?”
Chuck: There are a lot of words that corporate leaders choose to use that I kind of wish they could see my expression when I read them but also probably glad they don’t.
One of my new least favorite words is “transformation.” Being a kid of the 80s, I immediately think of Transformers when I hear that word.
Saskia: I agree! I think the more you work closely 1-on-1 with leaders, the more you can gently encourage them to stop using corporate jargon, and speak in a way that all their employees will understand.
I agree that the word ‘transformation’ is so overused and it reminds me of that too!
Chuck: It’s the new “authenticity.” People say they want it but they probably don’t.
When a lot of people use the word “authentic” I assume they really mean “honest,” which is a great word on its own but also implies that if you’re not being honest, then you’re lying.
Saskia: Very true.
I think social media is a fantastic way to elevate people, amplify their content, and show them how much you value them.
Chuck: Mind if I get something else off my chest that I hope you can help with?
Chuck: You’re in the UK so I’m not sure if this story made it across the Atlantic but did you see the viral video of the guy on the NYC train shaving?
Saskia: I haven’t seen it but I’m very intrigued now...
Chuck: OK, so a passenger on a train took a video of another passenger shaving.
I assume the passenger took the video because they thought it was odd and perhaps it was. But they also then shared it on social and then this mob mentality kicked in, criticizing the guy for shaving. Then later this guy found out about the video and told the rest of the story. He had spent a few days in a homeless shelter and was on his way to spend a few days with his brother.
It bothered me now because we are so quick to judge and get so many likes/comments on our content that we don’t give a shit about the WHO.
Okay, that felt better.
Saskia: I totally agree.
On the flip side, I think social media is a fantastic way to elevate people, amplify their content and show them how much you value them. I love following people and organisations, learning from them, and sharing it further.
And it lights me up when someone has appreciated something I’ve done. I think people say negative things on social media that they wouldn’t say in person, such as the example you’ve given, which is so sad and cowardly.
Chuck: I wonder what happened to compassion and curiosity. Or did we ever have it?
Saskia: I agree it’s frustrating—I think there is still a lot of compassion and curiosity out there though.
Think about viral charity selfies like the no makeup selfie, or ice bucket challenge, people are doing that out of compassion and fun, to help others.
Chuck: What do you think internal communicators can do to employ compassion and curiosity more?
Really think about how we can support people... and not just share the message of how the business needs to change to survive.
Saskia: On the compassion front—I think all of us as internal communicators should step into the shoes of our audiences.
We should think about who they are, where they are, and how they might be feeling. It is from this perspective that we should be advising leaders on their communications to employees.
This becomes so vitally important when there is any kind of change process—to really think about how we can support people through it, and not just share the message of how the business needs to change to survive.
Chuck: I’m glad you used the word “change” there because that’s what I think most people mean when they say things like “transformation.”
Have you worked with any leaders that you would describe as “stubborn” or resistant to change?
Saskia: When people are losing their jobs or their colleagues, ‘transformation’ becomes the sort of word that will become even more frustrating and impersonal.
I’ve worked on a lot of change projects rebrands, cost cutting programmes, large restructures and more. But I have advised leaders on communications when they are spearheading the change, rather than being resistant.
However, I’ve certainly worked with colleagues who are very resistant to change. I’m always curious to try new things to connect with employees, and be creative about how I go about it.
I’ve worked with colleagues that have said ‘that’s not how we do things around here. We’ve always done it this way for the last 20 years…’
Chuck: Oh yes, because doing things over and over again like machines makes so much sense.
Saskia: Exactly. I’ve always found a way to stay creative and listen to these people, yet try things anyway—even if it means piloting something with a smaller team before rolling it out further.
Chuck: Let’s talk about creativity. Are you familiar with Alan Oram and the Alive With Ideas team?
Chuck: Alan and I have spent a lot of time talking about creativity and what it really means. That to a lot of people, for some reason, it means they need to spend money.
But like J.Lo said “Love don’t cost a thing,” creativity doesn’t either.
Saskia: Creativity is a way of thinking. It’s about having a creative approach to everything you do.
I’ve worked in many charities, and despite their size and influence, we had to achieve results without big budgets. With less money it can make you even more creative, because you have to think about different ways of achieving things.
Chuck: With the communicators and leaders you work with, whether they have big budgets or not, how do you encourage them to be more creative?
Saskia: I like to learn from what other organisations are doing, both in the world of external and internal communications. When I present to the Exec Boards, I show them what has worked elsewhere, and how I’ve taken my inspiration from that and applied it to our objectives, audience and context.
Less money can make you even more creative because you have to think about different ways of achieving things.
Chuck: When the Alive With Ideas team and I did “The Very Hungry Communicator,” we took one idea that were familiar with and spun it to make it our own.
It’s something I would like to see more communicators do because the ideas are already there, let them have some fun with it.
Saskia: Love it. I did something similar at Oxfam.
Our employee survey results showed that employees wanted a greater connection with our Exec Board leaders. I wanted to do something that was informal and fun, and that allowed employees from all over the world to connect.
So I took the idea of ‘Ask Me Anything’ from Reddit and I created an ‘Ask Me Anything’ online site, where employees asked leaders anything they wanted. And they did.
It was unscripted and fun (a bit like our chat now!). Questions ranged from ‘Can you tell me about the reasons for our latest brand refresh?’ to ‘Do you have a lucky pair of underpants?’
Staff loved it.
Chuck: Did leaders love it?
Saskia: Yes! They were a bit apprehensive, but mainly because they can’t type fast enough to keep up with the questions flying in.
Chuck: That’s a great example of something simple and fun to do that becomes a learning opportunity for both leaders and employees. Well done.
What is the one project that you’re most proud of?
Saskia: My favourite projects have been when I’ve seen staff connecting from all over the world, having a conversation when they wouldn’t otherwise ever have the opportunity to meet.
Chuck: Dialogue, not monologue. I like that.
Saskia, thanks for being on Chuck Chats. But before you go, we’ll end this the way we end every chat. Share your thoughts and/or emotions about the world of internal communications using only emojis.
😃 – to signal engagement, what we want to spread at work.
📅 – to represent the importance of strategy and planning.
🌎 – to represent reaching out to remote employees and encouraging connection and collaboration.
💡 – to signal the importance of creativity, no matter what your budget is.
🎤– not to help us shout the loudest – but to represent how we can amplify employee voices – both internally, and externally as advocates for the brand.
🌡️– to show the importance of taking a regular ‘temperature check’ on engagement.
That is, to know what employees are thinking and feeling, and use this to inform our decisions about how we communicate.