During the 2019 IABC World Conference in Vancouver, BC, Bananatag had the opportunity to get face time with some of the industry's brightest minds for our second annual Chuck Chats LIVE series!
In this interview, our host Chuck Gose picks the brain of internal communications expert Jenni Field, CIPR President-Elect, Founder and Director of Redefining Communications, and Co-founder of The IC Crowd. Jenni and Chuck chatted about communicating remotely, internal networking, and most importantly, great advice on how communicators can advance in their careers.
Watch the video, listen to the audio interview, or read the transcript below!
Chuck Gose: Well, we're back again with this episode of Chuck Chats the video series, here with Jenni Field.
Jenni, welcome to Chuck Chats.
Jenni Field: Thank you, nice to be here.
Chuck: So for those who may not be familiar with you, why don't you give us a quick introduction to who Jenni is.
Jenni: So I'm Jenni Field. I've worked in communications for about 14 years now and I have specialized in internal communications for probably about the last 10 of those. I've worked in all different industries, defense, pharma, retail, and I volunteer a lot for the Chartered Institute of Public Relations. Have done since 2012 and I'm a Board Director for them.
And I am the President elect this year. So from January I will be their President which is quite exciting.
Jenni: Thank you.
Chuck: Talk about some of the different sectors or industries that you've been in. What was the one you think you enjoyed the most?
Jenni: Retail and hospitality.
Chuck: Okay, why was that?
Jenni: Just the challenge.
I had the UK part of the business, 10000 employees, 8000 completely offline. I think when you're working in internal comms trying to communicate with an audience that are completely offline it is really challenging.
I would dream of having a financial role where I had everyone at desks where you could easily reach them. So I think when you've got that challenge, just makes it really difficult to think about how you can do things creatively.
Chuck: And I would imagine too, in that particular sector, there's not... Some people might spend their entire careers in there, but some people were only in that sector for six months, a year, or whatever it might be.
Jenni: Yeah, it's quite a small sector so people do tend to stay in it and move around.
But it's so fast paced that for a lot of people that can get very wary and the challenge and what you're trying to achieve can get a little bit cyclical. But it's very fast paced and that 24/7 operation makes it very difficult to just keep going all the time.
Chuck: How is that as a communicator in that 24/7 operation? Obviously you are not working 24/7, but the business is running 24/7. How does a communicator begin to balance that?
Jenni: That's hard. So we put things in place.
We introduced a crisis line that was more automated so that we could make sure that we could manage stuff by bringing in some systems that would help do that, but you just, I mean communications is always on, isn't it really?
So you are sort of always going to be available, but it's just making sure that you've got enough processes in place to make sure that things don't really completely fall flat without you.
Chuck: Now very recently you were part of a research project around remote workers. So talk to us a little bit about what that project was and what the results were?
Jenni: So this was a project born from lots of research that already exists and seeing that lots of communicators have this barrier of communicating with a remote workforce. And I've seen that on the list of barriers for about 10 years. So I thought there's enough now.
Chuck: And it's only growing.
Jenni: Yes, yeah, it isn't going to change.
The remote workers, there's just going to be more and more of them, and it can't stay a barrier anymore.
So that was the reason for doing the research. Let's have a look and really find out why that's a challenge and how to overcome that. So I partnered with Social Optic and they're my data partners, if you like. So they've got a system where we can do the surveys and the analysis and stuff, and we went out and spoke to the workers themselves.
So we sat in mess rooms and cafes and talked to people to understand what their challenges were. They completed a survey and we talked to them at the same time and then we pulled all that together into the report, which was called, Remotely Interested.
That was fascinating because we can now understand some of the real detail behind what this challenge is and how to overcome it, and it's not technology. It's not that silver bullet that we think it is.
It's really coming back to people and making people the important part of your communication strategy.
Chuck: Some of that I think is interesting and I'm seeing it more and more. I will say, I'm surprised that I'm seeing them more and more is the number of internal communicators who are a part of the remote workforce.
I always thought they sort of needed to be at the hub. They needed to be in house, but I'm seeing organizations now where that's not the case anymore. So I'm clearly proven wrong in this. How do you think that changes the role of the communicator when they aren't onsite?
Jenni: Yeah, I think that does change it and I think for me, being onsite and being with the team is really important. So I would always work in head office mainly, but I try and be out and about in the business as much as I could and I'd walk the floor as much as I could because you have to network.
Some of us are really good networkers outside of the business and in our industry, but to be a really successful internal communicator, you have to know who your influencers are in the business and if you're completely remote, that makes it very challenging to do because we are social animals.
So we need to build those connections and I think you can step away and be more remote once you've built them, but you've really got to be in there to get those connections with people to be able to get stuff done.
Chuck: What are some ways, because there's this belief, I don't know if it's true or not, that internal communicators are more introverted say than their external counterparts. I don't know if that's true, but that's kind of this old belief. If I am that introverted internal communicator, how do I begin to build that network inside a company?
Jenni: I think you have to, I mean it's difficult for me. I'm not an introvert. Anybody that knows me would tell you, but it's trying to find the spaces where you're really comfortable.
I work with a lot of introverts. They just want to take their time. They may listen more and that's a skill that us extroverts could do with learning more of, but it's finding your space in that.
There's always people that you can have a coffee with, have a conversation with. It doesn't have to be lots of big group staff, and putting yourself out there, but just, get to know people's routine.
If you know that Mark always goes to get a sandwich over the road, then just time it so that you can be there and join him on that walk and just have a quick chat (and don't be a stalker). That would be weird, but just find the ways where you can interact with them that's more natural for you and where you feel comfortable.
Chuck: You mentioned the word listening. Let's talk a little bit about that. I think communicators do see themselves as a bit of a broadcast mechanism, but how should they be better listeners and what can they do to be better listeners?
Jenni: I think so much of it comes back to having a plan and having insight, and starting with listening.
I think when you look at the data that says something like 62% of internal communicators don't have a long term plan, that for me signals that we're not doing much of that insight and listening up front to build the strategy and the long term planning.
So if you start with that data point, then you're naturally going to be listening anyway, but I think we get so much pressure to get straight in and do the tactical and get going that we're on that wheel and then we forget to go back and do that listening piece.
I think if you can start with that then that helps you bring that as part of what you do in the everyday, and it really is listening to understand. It's really taking the time to listen and if you can almost forensically analyze the words that people use, because so often leaders will say stuff and you go, "What are you actually trying to say? Because I'm pretty sure what you're saying isn't necessarily what you mean."
So really trying to understand more about the words people use, what people really want, and how to change that to what's right for them, not just based on what you think is the right solution.
Chuck: And again, we've talked about we're both very extroverted. We share. Our brands or digital presences are known out there.
What's some advice for, whether it be a younger communicator, a more seasoned communicator who thinks they need to elevate their own personal brand. What are some things that you think they should be doing even at the bare minimum level?
Jenni: Yeah, I think you have to go where you're comfortable.
So there's lots of social media channels out there and for some people, blogging is their preference. For some people doing videos is their preference.
Don't conform to what other people do. Think about where you're really comfortable and go there.
I started on Twitter in 2007, so a long time ago, and I remember my first tweets because I remember watching a documentary and writing notes and then going to my computer. I'm typing them as as tweets because I was trying to find my voice. I was trying to find what I wanted to say and how that would work and that's just got more and more natural the more I've done it.
So the more you do it, the easier it becomes, but just think about what's right for you. Don't get into the, "Oh, I must be blogging because so and so is blogging," or "I must do videos because Chuck Chat, so I must do that."
That might not be right for you, but start small. There's a lovely group out there, a guy from staff base there, he's just joined Twitter and he's blown away by the amount of people that are there to help him, where he's asking for research and insights and all things like that and I think that's what's nice about it is if you step into that space and just say hello, you're going to be greeted with a lot of warmth and a lot of people that are ready to help you and that's only a good thing.
Chuck: And I think that surprises people because when I talk to internal communicators about the value of social media to them, they think of it as an external comms tool, which in some ways it is, but it really is about the community building.
It's pretty remarkable what, whether it's LinkedIn, Twitter, Instagram, wherever it might be, there are internal communities that exist, internal comms communities that exist in all those niche markets.
Jenni: Yeah. and, and that's what I love about it. I mean that's why Rachel Miller and Dana Leeson and I started the IC Crowd. A lot of that was because we just wanted somewhere where people could go that was safe to ask questions. That's obviously grown into being a great space online.
We do the Big Yak events now every other year and that's just built by people. That's just built by people talking, wanting to get together and facilitating that. We've done nothing else.
So there is, you're right, that huge community there where people who just want to come together and wherever that is. I don't think it's on Snapchat, but it's definitely on LinkedIn. It's definitely on Twitter.
Chuck: Yeah, absolutely.
Now the things I see you getting involved in, there's an intention, there's a reason that you're investing that time.
How do you think that someone, again, whether they've been in the comms world for a couple of years or they've been in there a couple of decades, some things that they can do to be more intentional about their career?
Not the stuff they do like everyday tactically, but as a comms career, what are some things they could do to be more intentional with building that?
Jenni: I think I'm really lucky.
So my career has enabled me to specialize in lots of different elements of comms. So I started, I've got a degree in marketing. I then went on and did a generic comms role in the public sector. I loved the media side of that. So I went and did a media relations role. Really enjoyed that, but it was in the defense sector, which is great, but I realized that I didn't have as much of a passion for radars and combat management systems as maybe you need to do lot of trade press in that environment.
So I then moved into more of kind of an advertising space and specialized in internal comms because I wanted to do something where I could really see the output and the outcome of what I was doing and I felt internal comms would give me that.
So I did that for awhile. Then I went to an internal comms agency doing marketing and business development for them and then I went and kind of really set up my function. That's where I really grew in retail and hospitality, and then went back to doing a mixture of the two.
The reason I go through all of that is because my career went completely sideways. I didn't go up, up, up, up, up which I think a lot of people do. So I think if you're looking at how can I make sure that I'm being intentional with my career and where I'm going, don't always look up. You look sideways.
Chuck: That's great advice.
Jenni: Because having done two years in media relations, having done internal comms, having done mixture of the two, having done public sector, all of those skills I still draw on today and I wouldn't have been able to get to director level in my opinion without having had some of those specialists experiences along the way.
So my whole career was sideways and I think that's really important to think about. What's the other skill I can bring in to enable me to best serve my customers? Whether that's your internal customers, whether your agency, or whatever that might be.
Chuck: Now I see a lot of former journalists going into internal comms, which I think is great because they bring the storytelling and how to build a story and how to bring people into a story. When you said you had a marketing degree, what from that have you brought into internal communications?
Jenni: Definitely the consumer behavior side of things.
So I really enjoyed understanding people when I was doing the marketing. My dissertation was written on why people would choose one pub over another on the same street.
So it's good research, but I was really interested in what drives that behavior, what would make me go to this place rather than this place, why would I prefer that? And I think that natural interest in that and having the time to understand it has helped me in internal comms because it's all about people.
So understanding some of the neuroscience around change and just developing that skill has been really, really helpful. So that piece was really good and I don't know that I would've got that doing another degree or another qualification at that time.
Chuck: Given your visibility in the industry, probably a lot of people reach out to you for assistance or guidance or what if this or do you have examples of this?
Do you see a lot of common questions that people are asking you and are these areas where communicators should be kind of stepping up their own game?
Jenni: I do.
So the lot of conversations I have are about starting the function. I think because I've set up three, three or four communications functions from scratch, there's a lot of unknowns about that for people. "Am I going to make the right decision? How do I make the right choice with who I hire? What should I be focusing on? My director's asking me to do this, but my gut feel says this."
There's a lot of questions around that and I have those conversations a lot and it's the same advice every time. I should probably like write a blog about it, but it is having the courage of your own belief and taking the time to have those conversations.
So I spoke to someone just a couple of weeks ago and she'd read loads of things and done all the research she could do, but it got to that point of "I just need to talk to somebody because I've read everything and there's so much noise now. So where do I, what do I do with this? How do I make this sort of make sense?"
So I think there probably is a space for that kind of mentor coaching of people that are starting out to get some of that advice and don't be afraid to ask. I think that's the joy of the community that there's people out there that will have those conversations.
The other one that that comes up a lot is measurement. So I ran a session last week in the UK on practical measurement and taking the noise out of that as a challenge because I just think we've made that so complicated. It's a big word, but actually if you really make it narrow, it makes it much easier to understand and I was surprised how many people are still interested in measurement and how much that's sort of a challenge for a lot of people.
Chuck: Oh, I think it's still very much a huge challenge and my, I don't want to say my complaint about it, is people will say, "We'll just start with measuring what matters."
Well sometimes you don't know what matters until you measure it.
So I think even the advice out there can be sometimes confusing to communicators because they know that they do need to measure, but I think they get hung up on they're not sure what counts as a measurement or what is good measurement.
Jenni: Yeah, and that's not helped I think to some degree by the technology and the amount of measurement you can get.
So again, I was talking to a lady that I mentored the other day and she must've spoken for five minutes going through all the different measures that she's got on platform and I was like, "You've just got too much. Just what is it? What is the objective of this platform?" If your objective is measurable, even if it is: I would like to have 35% of employees with a login or a password or whatever the platform is, then that's your measure and that's fine because you can tweak that over time. It might be that it grows to 50% in six months and then you can tweak it and measure it, but what is it that you're really trying to achieve?
And then take all the noise out from what the analytics are saying, just have three really good measurable objectives, then find the data to do that and it might be the fact that data doesn't exist.
Chuck: Do you have any advice for a communicator who feels stuck?
Maybe they feel stuck in their role at the company, maybe they feel stuck in that company itself. Do they need to leave or what can they do to get unstuck?
Jenni: I think you've got to look at why you're stuck. So I've left roles where I have felt that my purpose and values are not aligned to that organization and I may have tried to work through that and then said, "You know what? This is now time to move on."
I've had times where I have felt really stuck and/or I don't know, I don't know where to go here. I've tried this and I've tried this and actually I just don't think this is the right fit for me. So I think it's time to go.
I think as long as you've tried different ways around something, then you know in your heart of hearts whether it's time to go. I knew after about four months and I did a year.
Chuck: And I think that's scary for people though because then they feel like they're quitting or people are going to look down on them because they were only at a place for four months or six months where I see it as that, that shows the intelligence and you know this was not a fit. It's like dating. You don't stick with somebody just because other people might judge you based on the success or fail date.
Jenni: It's never going to work out.
Chuck: But if you've got to leave, you've got to leave.
Jenni: And actually you can tell that story. There's, even when you're looking at CVs, and I look at CVs quite a lot, even if someone's got a lot of interim and then they're going for a permanent, you sort of want to understand why, why that is? Why that change, where if they've moved around a lot, well let's understand why that's happened.
Use that space to tell your story and don't be afraid of that. I think it takes a lot more courage to be able to say, "Do you know what? This isn't right for me," and-
Chuck: It's not you, it's me.
Jenni: Yeah, quite a mixture of the two. So, I'm going to go. I don't have to go immediately. You help them find the right fit because you know maybe what that should be or whatever that is. So I think it's, to me it's just more courageous to recognize that and know that.
If you're stuck because you think, "I really love it here, but I'm not getting the voice that I want to have at senior levels. I'm not being brought into the conversations and I don't know how to get through that." That's where you need to look at your professional development, getting a coach, getting a mentor, looking at qualifications or attending conferences or whatever it is. You need to look at how you can develop that because that's doable. It's just learning the language to talk to get you into those conversations.
Chuck: One last question I have for you and this is going to sound adversarial, but I don't intend it to. US versus UK in the internal comms world. It seems like when I do a comparison between the two that even when you count the size and population differences between the two, there's a lot of very powerful voices, present company included, out of the UK compared to other countries, either US size or larger.
Why do you think that is? Why has so much development happened in the UK? Maybe when it's even seems to be centered a bit on London and that can be pro and con on that. Why do you think, do you have an idea as to why that's happened?
Jenni: I don't know. I do feel that there is a slight bubble of social media that we are in. So what I find very interesting is if I'm being announced as a speaker at conference, like some people will go, "Oh gosh, you know. We hearing Jenni Field again," but I mean I'm a joy. I know.
But for a lot of people, I teach on a diploma for internal comms. So I meet 30, 40 people a couple of times a year going through that. I have never met any of those people in my life and 90% of them have never heard of me, have no idea who I am.
So because they're not on social media or they're not seeing some of that, they've got no idea.
Chuck: They're not tapped into that scene.
Jenni: Yeah, so they just haven't kind of found that space. So it's easy for us to say there's just these big voices coming from the UK because we're on those social channels and talking about them. I'm sure there are really big voices in the US. We just don't know that they are there because they're talking in a different space to where we are, but again, I also do think that in the UK there is such a huge passion in the UK for doing what's right for people and people in organizations and that passion to make sure that organizations are doing the right thing and ethics and we're probably the most vocal we've ever been as a nation at the moment for all sorts of political reasons, but there is a-
Chuck: We are too, but for different political reasons.
Jenni: This is true. So I think there's just, it's just there and I do think it's where we talk, I wonder where these other people are and maybe there's a whole other social platform we don't know about and they're all over there, but yeah.
Chuck: I don't know.
Jenni: I don't know. I don't know, but I'm really excited about trying to learn more about the challenges in the US and where those voices are and how to help things move along there.
Are they, do you see a difference in the UK, in the US in terms of where we are from a maturity level in communications or do you see it as quite similar?
Chuck: I take a little bit of the underdog approach when I look at it and I think that, I think that's on the same playing field.
I think that when you look at the scales of geography, there isn't a natural hub in the US where I think in the UK, London acts as a hub and I said that could be both for very good reasons and it could be for some maybe some negative reasons that people rail against. Why is London the central hub of everything?
In the US, there isn't that natural hub. Everything is so much more scattered across thousands of miles, multiple times zones and there's not that natural geographic community where everybody can get together as easily. It just doesn't, it doesn't happen. So I'm wondering how much of a role that is to play? I also do joke with people from the UK that you guys did get a couple of hundred years head start. As a company, or as a country and we separate ourselves, so we're still catching up too.
Jenni: Yeah, I know that. So we'll see maybe a couple of hundred years.
Chuck: Maybe in 2150 or something, we'll be caught up to where you guys are. Well, thank you so much for being on Chuck Chats, absolutely.
Jenni: Absolutely, thank you. It's been great.