Chuck: Welcome to Chuck Chats Jason. What’s on your mind this morning?
Jason: Morning! Rainy day in Nashville.
But I had some inspiring conversation at the ALI Internal Comms measurement conference.
Thank you @JasonAnthoine, the ALI “old timer” - first presentation in 2000 on “What is Facebook?” - Now talking about keeping the employee in employee communications thru storytelling. #ALI_IC pic.twitter.com/SPdTKSxRH1— Lisa McClear (@LisaMcClear_ALI) September 26, 2018
Chuck: Measurement, inspiring?!
Jason: Normally those two words don’t really go together.
Chuck: Give me an example.
Jason: Sean had a great point that doing measurement isn’t just to prove but to improve.
Yes, you want to measure to prove the success of your communications outputs. But ultimately you want to use that insight to improve the success of your business outcomes. To drive employee behavior change and attitudes to improve business success.
Doing measurement isn’t just to prove, but to improve.
Chuck: And I assume you’re speaking there or just hitting the karaoke bars on Broadway at night?
Jason: You know me...a little of both!
I did a workshop on the first day about how to tie your comms work to business strategy. Then I had the chance yesterday to talk with the attendees about improving your content and keeping the “employee” in employee communications.
In the age of transparency and employee-generated content, we need to get out of the old habit of doing “corporate” communication: comms from the company’s perspective. They all nodded in agreement when I said, ala Game of Thrones, that “winter is coming for ‘corporate’ communication.”
Chuck: A solid GoT reference is almost as good as a Seinfeld one. . . Almost.
Let’s talk more about employee-generated content.
In my opinion, this is an underappreciated and often unrecognized shift that hugely impacts, in a good way, internal communication. Because now, for the first time for many employees, they can now participate in communication and not just receive it.
Jason: That’s so true, Chuck.
And the interesting thing to me is our friends in Marketing have been doing this for years on the external side. Seeking out key influencers, great bloggers, and other voices to help drive their marketing and advertising efforts. We should be taking the same approach with internal comms.
Just as the brand is defined by what customers say it is, corporate culture is defined by what employees say it is. So let’s let them say it and share it and show their pride and enthusiasm.
We need to get out of the old habit of doing “corporate” communication: comms from the company’s perspective.
Chuck: Why do you think internal communicators cringe when they hear “marketing” when there are so many lessons IC can learn from them?
Jason: I think it’s an interesting behavior.
I think it’s partly wrapped up in a little bit of envy that Marketing gets the big budgets and gets to do all the cool stuff and we internal comms folks are left scrounging around with the leftover scraps of budget.
But the truth is Marketing earns their position and influence with data and measurement. Traditionally, we have not done that. But now there’s no reason why we can’t tie what we are doing to business outcomes and showing the influence our efforts are having.
That seat at the table that we all want is earned with data.
Chuck: Marketing likes big budgets and that they do not lie about. But I also see communicators not trusting the data the way marketers do.
Just as the brand is defined by what customers say it is, corporate culture is defined by what employees say it is.
Jason: Nice Sir Mix-a-Lot reference there. But it’s true.
I think Marketers have grown up knowing their numbers and how to track their efforts. That’s a relatively new thing for us in internal comms, primarily because we’ve never really had the tools or platforms or analytics to backup all the stuff we all know in our hearts to be true.
But now we do.
With all the tools we have at our disposal, and with all the employee data we can create and get from HR, there’s no reason why we can’t effectively run internal comms like a marketing function. It’s absolutely the same approach just with different audience. And that includes being as creative as the most creative folks in marketing are.
Chuck: Creativity is free.
Communicators like to throw out the budget excuse all the time.
I was at a client in Calgary recently and they were excited about their new mobile app because it was the first time they’ve been able to measure IC. . . period. This is a well-established company with a solid communications team and they’re just now measuring? It sort of blew my mind BUT they were so enthusiastic about it.
That seat at the table that we all want is earned with data.
Jason: That sounds so familiar to me. Many internal comms functions are just now getting into measurement. Partly because we haven’t always had the best tools to help us do that. But also partly because we never were trained to think about measurement like that.
We’ve come a long way in the past couple of years and that is changing. Which to me helps to reposition the internal comms function as a true strategic business partner and not just the arts and crafts department.
Chuck: And I would hope that conferences and events like the one you’re attending and speaking at will only inspire those who want to not just show off their work, but show their work is making a difference in the business.
From your experience as a communicator, do you have any great stories or anecdotes of when measurement helped you prove a project’s or communication’s worth?
Jason: Yes. We all get requests from across the business to run this article or send out this email or post this PowerPoint deck on the intranet.
And we look at this stuff and our hearts just sink. It’s terrible stuff. And we know it.
But this is a senior leader asking us to do something and we feel obligated to do it. In the past, we’d just hold our noses and do it.
But now we can say to that leader, our numbers show that videos less than 2 minutes or PowerPoint decks fewer than 10 slides with more words than numbers are most effective. So if you want your work to actually have an impact, then we need to change that work to fit what employees are saying is working.
So now we help that leader understand how to be a better communicator using data to back us up and not just our own feelings about what is “good” or not.
I’ve had that particular example happen to me about 735 times in my career. And now I have a great way to make sure both our employees and our leaders are happy about the work that’s being communicated.
There’s no reason why we can’t run internal comms like a marketing function. It’s the same approach, just with a different audience.
Chuck: What's some of the worst advice you’ve heard regarding IC?
Jason: I’ll do my best to make it juicy without embarrassing the offenders! I was doing work for a manufacturing company.
The majority of their employees were frontline, working on the lines. In a focus group at a plant to talk about how supervisors can be better communicators for their employees, I had a supervisor say, “why do we even need to communicate with these folks? We just need them to do their jobs. The less talk the better.”
And I thought, wow. Here’s a frontline supervisor who probably got promoted into that role because he was good at his job but he’s never been trained on how to be a leader.
And it was incredibly surprising that now that he was a supervisor, he seemed to have forgotten what it was like to be on the frontline and totally in the dark about what the company was doing and why, and what he should be doing to make things better.
So I took two lessons away from that experience:
- Every employee matters. Especially in manufacturing, as those folks are the ones keeping all the promises that the non-manufacturing employees are making.
- Whether employees are engaged or happy or satisfied or even want to be at work is largely dependent on their relationship with their manager. Most wouldn’t know the CEO if he or she walked in the door. But everyone knows their manager. And internal comms works best when it’s happening as close to the employee and the actual work as possible. And that’s typically through their manager.
It was a very helpful lesson.
Chuck: You make a really great point about it working best when comms is as close to the employee as possible.
On a recent ICology episode, I talked with Simon Wright from Gatehouse and their 2018 State of the Sector report for North America. It’s the third or fourth time he’s been on and every single time we talk about one key point: Communicators know that managers and supervisors are critical communication figures to success BUT have little plans to remedy those who are not good communicators.
But in your example, it sounds like the company and the supervisor doesn’t care about whether communications isn’t good or bad, but if it even happens.
Now we help that leader understand how to be a better communicator using data to back us up and not just our own feelings about what is “good” or not.
Jason: I think they truly cared about whether it was good or not.
But I think the attitude about “why should we be communicating with them and they should just do their jobs” was actually a backhanded admission that this supervisor doesn’t know how to communicate with or lead his employees.
So to me, rather than showing a crack in their system it showed a real need for giving these managers some support so that they can be better communicators. And what I’ve found is that you can’t just give them a set of talking points and expect that to be enough. Yes, you have to give them some content sometimes. But more importantly, you have to give them the confidence to use that content. Which means training and coaching and helping them be better leaders.
And when they are more comfortable being better leaders, then they’ll naturally see a great need for communicating and will truly appreciate any content you can provide them to help them do that.
Until then, though, it’s just another corporate initiative that intrudes into their day-to-day job of getting the next batch of widgets out the door.
Chuck: I want to move on to another key point I’ve heard you talk about at events. The one that has stuck with me is your “moments of micro-boredom.” Explain this to the readers.
Jason: Ha! Yes, that one seems to get the most attention every time I utter those words!
A moment of micro-boredom is a little snippet of time while you’re transitioning to the next thing. So, it’s standing in line at the grocery store. Or waiting on elevator or a subway. Or at the end of lunch before you have to walk back to your desk.
Three to five minutes of “dead” time that most people fill with mindless scrolling on their mobile device.
That’s an opportunity for internal comms folks to capture some attention and communicate some things in small bites as we try to break through all the noise our employees encounter all day long.
My theory is that if you get inside those moments of micro-boredom -- two minutes at a time, 2-3 times a week -- you’ll be making great strides in helping employees to keep up with key corporate initiatives without asking too much of them. Mobile apps are great at that vs. trying to do it on an intranet.
Going to the intranet feels like binging on Netflix. But checking something out on a mobile app feels like watching a fun YouTube video. Which is something your employees are already doing anyway.
So give them your content where and how they are already consuming it.
If we want to get their attention, whether during moments of micro-boredom or at the quarterly Town Hall, then we have to earn it!
Chuck: It’s such great advice but I’m curious about one thing. Where do you stand on the boredom scale? Are you ever bored? Like being bored? Annoyed by it?
Jason: When I’m bored, I find that I’m also frustrated because I’m bored.
From an internal comms perspective, if we want to get their attention, whether during moments of micro-boredom or at the quarterly Town Hall, then we have to earn it. We have to earn it!
Which means stop creating boring stuff. No one wants to look at it. It’s our jobs to earn their engagement, not expect it. We need to make our content as interesting and relevant as ANY OTHER OPTION they have to look at.
Chuck: Unfortunately, a lot of communicators produce boring content. And that goes back to what we were talking about earlier with creativity.
But personally, I love being bored. Because when I’m bored, my mind is free to ramble and create.
I’d love to see communicators set aside time every day or every week and do nothing. Just let their mind wander. And yes, I know everyone is “busy” - I hear it all the time. But you’re never too busy to spend time with yourself.
That’s my Oprah moment for this Chuck Chat.
It’s our jobs to earn their engagement, not expect it. We need to make our content as interesting and relevant as ANY OTHER OPTION they have to look at.
When I run corporate comms functions or when I have a big team I’m leading, I schedule two team meetings a week.
One team meeting is all about what is: projects, deadlines, next steps, hurdles, accomplishments...all that stuff.
But that other meeting is about what if: the team comes prepared to think about “what if we did this” or “what if we tried that.” More than just a brainstorm, it’s really a chance to think about our business and try to get ahead of all the day-to-day stuff. Which, ultimately, is what we’ve been hired to do.
Our job is to take the company places it can’t go on its own and to think about it in ways that others can’t.
And if we aren't making our leaders a little bit nervous with our great ideas and our great creativity, then we are not doing it well enough. The best ideas are always the ones that are the least obvious.
If we aren't making our leaders a little bit nervous with our great ideas and creativity, then we are not doing it well enough.
Chuck: Confession: I like making people a little nervous with my ideas. Before we wrap this up Jason, anything else on your mind?
Jason: Yes. I think this point is an important one for all of us to remember: we know more about what we know than they do. Which is to say, even if we’ve only been doing internal comms for a week, that’s a week longer than anyone in the c-suite.
We should be confident in ourselves and our experience and our ability to counsel our leaders.
We know more about what we know than they do. Which is an opportunity to coach and lead and counsel them so that they see us as partners in their success. That’s when we are giving our best work: when we are helping leaders lead so that both the business and our employees can grow and succeed.
Chuck: Confidence, coach and counsel. All great c-words to throw in as key reminders for communication.
Chuck: Thank you Jason for this chat. And let’s wrap it up the way we do every Chuck Chat. Share your thoughts on the future of IC using only emojis.
Jason: 👑Kings and Queens of All We Survey!