Webinar report: COVID-19 is starting an Internal Comms movement

Wed, Jun 17, '20 •

Webinar report: COVID-19 is starting an Internal Comms movement

“I really think it's about starting the conversation. No statement is going to be perfect. Everybody will have an opinion on what you say and what you do. I tend to believe that that matters less than doing an action of some kind because progress over perfection wins every single time.”

Opening the conversation and committing to lay all cards on the table has never been more important. Internal Comms needs to start a fire in every conscientious organization that prioritizes human rights. We welcomed Channa Green (True)  and Janet Hitchen (formerly of Apple) to join us for a timely conversation covering an array of topics, ranging from the COVID-19 effect in Internal Comms, to the necessity to work towards a more diverse and inclusive workplace. This episode is full of insight and wisdom from many years of experience packed in just an hour. Here are the three main takeaways – consider it our executive summary! The recording and its full transcription are below.

    • Relationships are the key to success in moving back to physical workplaces. Particularly as we start to move back to the office, it’s important to realize that a lot of departments in your company are working hard to get that done. So, how close are you to your facilities team? What about your IT team? The better your relationship with them, the more in-the-loop you’ll be. Don’t get caught with your pants down!

    • We have to share resources to improve. The activity in the chat of the event was staggering! A lot of great resources were shared, including a link to Tesla’s “return to work playbook” and more. Here are a few, hope they help!
      1. Tesla’s “Return to work” playbook
      2. On the topic of diversity: being an ally/accomplice and taking action
      3. On building empathy, listening and understanding

  • Commitment to reforming should be brutally honest, and come from the top. Given the current situation in the world right now, and particularly the United States, our guest panel agreed to take in questions related to Internal Comms matters on diversity and inclusion. The key conclusion from these questions: openly saying you’re committing to improve diversity is a small-but-good first step, but only when it comes from the top (your CEO), and if actual action is taken. Companies who now just say they will, but won’t, will be held accountable by the public in the future as this debate is not going to go away. If your company, right now, is not yet doing its best on diversity and inclusion, it’s ok to admit that. But then follow up by saying “we need your help to devise an action plan so we can do better.”



Internal Comms after COVID-19

Jonathan: My prerogative is that I get the chance to ask the first question before all of your questions start piling in further. So here goes, and Channa, why don't you answer first? And then we'll let Janet give her 2 cents on the matter.

My question to our panelists is how has Internal Comms changed as a result of COVID-19? What will be the main immediate challenges as lockdown measures start to ease globally?

Channa: From my point of view, Internal Comms, unlike any time before now has clearly made a statement and it's not necessarily that we needed an unfortunate crisis to validate this role, but I do think that in the eyes of many companies and executives who previously didn't get it, they now get it. It has been amazing to connect with colleagues, many of you, and in my own experience to really see the importance of Internal Comms, permeate the organization, partnering very closely with human resources, working closely with the finance function, working closely with your tech team.

I mean, there are so many different components that have created a shift in our work world and Internal Comms really is the center of the wheel that kind of ties all of the spikes around it. So to me, this has been very sad, but the fortunate silver lining in that we can have a very positive impact and influence the way companies do business, and the way people are cared for and addressed at work.

I think the challenge, Jonathan, is to keep that going. I mean, It's just like anything else in your life. Something is new - a kid gets a new toy, they love it. They play with it 24/7 before it's in a pile long forgotten a week later. So to me, the challenge is how do you maintain this interest?

How do you maintain the momentum? How do you ensure that the voice and the power that many of us now have as Communications professionals that continues to permeate, and stick in your organization post-lockdown? 

Janet: Great answer. I agree with a lot of what Channa has just said, and I think to add on to that - everybody's been asking and demanding a seat at the table.

They've just got their seat at the table, but it's been a very reactive thing that we suddenly become known for. Actually the thing that everybody wants, or that I certainly want, because that's how I was working for a long time, is that strategic piece and it's that sort of that outer out unit, it's almost out of your grasp.

How do you get a hold of that? How do we transform that from being, yes, we're very good at reactive. We're very good at, getting channels up and getting that information to that speedy response. How do we actually start to move through re-imagining and shifting that conversation instead of it being “oh well, you’re just a reactive person”. How do we move into that strategic space? How do we move into that domain? Because I think that's where a lot of us know that that's where we can make a difference. That's where you can harness the power of the people in your organization. Right now organizations are going through tough times. We know that budgets are being reviewed. We know that things are changing. We know that people are being made redundant. We know that people are on furlough. We know that some places are just closing.

So how do we, as Internal Communicators who are perfectly positioned, get that strategic piece and remain at the table talking with people, and being able to produce those strategic communications plans, to have ideas that we can show to the C suite and the CEO, and make sure that that's listened to. We can be there advising because we're best placed to advise.

That's going to be really interesting. 

Channa: I completely agree with that reactive point. If I can share an example, I have experienced that myself, as I know we all have - things unexpectedly come up and comms get brought in. Let's try to fix it, or address, or get ahead of it.

I'm so grateful to work for a company that recognizes that and is quick to learn. We've had a couple of hair on fire sort of moments. What I've been able to do is work with my leaders to say to prevent this from happening again. This is what we now need to do for this next initiative, this next piece.

It didn't even need explaining, right? It wasn't even a battle of a conversation. It was just automatic. It was a no brainer. And so it looks strategic, but really what it was, was advocating for taking a proactive step. And here's why, and it did resonate. If you can draw on a chaotic experience and say, here's how we can work on that for next time, or make sure that we do better next time, it really should be a lot easier for you to be strategic. 

Janet: I couldn't agree more.

Piecing the new normal together 

Jonathan: Liz Carter just asked a question that relates to this very nicely. She asked: 

“How do you educate yourself on what work will look like as companies reopen and what things they need to consider”.

 How do we even find that information? 

Janet: I think it's about having great relationships. Have you got the right relationships with the right people in your organization? Are you in the right meetings? Because if you're hearing things second hand, third hand, it's too late. How can you make sure that you are in the room of those meetings? You're talking to the decision-makers, you're talking to these key stakeholders that you've invited, that you are actually able to talk to them firsthand.

Then you can actually influence upfront if you're getting the decisions that have been made, and just being asked, can you figure out how to communicate that that might be too late? That might be really challenging, really difficult. So I would advise. It's never too late to create good relationships. Have you got relationships with the facilities team? You may never have had to talk to them before, but now that people that you really need to be talking to get regular meetings, figure out what is it that they're trying to achieve, and how can you support them?

Everything comes from those solid relationships. If they understand what you're trying to do, and how you can help them be successful by doing successful communications, strategy plan deliverables, etcetera. You want to help them. So if they can bring you information upfront, if they can make sure that you're not finding things out last minute, or second hand, that supports them in their business objective.

For me, it's all about relationships. 

Channa: I just made myself a note to share with you, Jonathan. We can get to this group, perhaps, a list of resources that our HR team did a phenomenal job. Gathering globally, because we're a global business that has businesses and offices in Europe, Asia, and North America.

They did a phenomenal job just really going through all of the resources that were available, and identifying how we would implement our own phased approach of going back to the offices, in a way that compliments each geography. Unique phase reopening as well. So what we do in New Jersey, which is where I live, is very different from what California is going to do, and it is different from what Austin, Berlin, Singapore, and Stockholm. It's all very different. So, research. I agree with Janet. It is about relationships and doing your homework. I am happy to share what we've put together because it really does help.

You think about what's right for your business. There may be pieces that we have to consider, but you may not have to consider based on the industry that you're in, and vice versa. At least, it will give you a good place to start. So I'm happy to share that I made a note, so I'll be sure to give it to you.

Janet: I've just noticed someone in the chat as well has shared something from Tesla. Tesla is using a great playbook. Look to the groups on LinkedIn, look to your networks, ask questions. People right now are very happy to share things that are working for them.

And then you can, as a challenge that you have to then adapt, you have to create based on the political situation and the context. It is different every single place, but sharing great resources like the Tesla resource that Leah has shared, which is really cool, is incredibly helpful to borrow stuff. Borrow what you need and drop what you do. Nobody's going to get precious about their resources right now. I think everybody realizes particularly in Internal Comms where we might have a lot of one-man bands. You might have organizations where there's only one communicator, and he’s tired.

He has been through the wringer. He has been sprinting this marathon, and now they've got to do this as well. So, borrow, steal, take what you can and share it. If you have something that is worth sharing, share it, share it widely. As a community, I think we need to support each other. 

Communicators evolving together

Jonathan: I absolutely agree with that.

On that note, please, if anybody has more information to share, I'd love the playbook from Tesla. Channa, I love your idea, but your phased approach would look after it as well. I’d be more than happy to feature this in some sort of article on our Happeo blog, just so that we can keep pushing this information out there because I think what Internal Comms sometimes lacks is a concrete form of community. If we could start to form that here on the chats and have that grow into something amazing, we're already seeing great interaction. That's really important. That education part is incredibly important. I think the phased approach is a beautiful way of saying it.

It's very tough to look at the idea of moving back to the office. That's a big mountain to climb, but you don't climb that by doing one jump, you have to take small steps. So those phases are a very good way of looking at it. Now, I think Jake has a really nice question while we're still on the topic of education. Jake says: 

“During this crisis, I found more and more that I'm needing nontraditional communication skill sets.” 

Janet, I think that's something you're very familiar with. Is there a particular skill you would encourage comms people to be learning to adapt to for the future? For example, public speaking, video production, this type of stuff.

Janet: I think you don't need video production. Right now everyone has a phone, and it's low res, and it's cheap, and everyone has one and they can just go with it. You know, I think long gone are the days where we're going to need that. We've just been having a discussion about lighting and making sure that we're lit properly.

But you know, we're all let completely differently. That doesn't change what we're saying. I don't think it's anything like that. I've actually just written an article, it's going to be coming out in a couple of weeks, about having an agile approach to what you do, and learning how to be agile. I think that depends on the industry that you're in. Some people are already working in a very agile way. They're used to dealing with ambiguity, and they're used to that kind of relationship management piece to be able to deliver quickly, iterate, and move fast. We need to move fast.

Interestingly, it was one of the things that I was listening to during the Simply IC keynote speech by Sir Martin Sorrell. He challenged Internal Communicators that put up barriers. What he was getting at is that they aren't fast enough, and one of those things can be looking for that agile approach. The agile approach is what startups use. It's what tech uses, it's what software developers use. And that supports away Facebook sort of thing of set you to say, fail fast, fail quickly, and just move on. If you're going to fail, it's fine. But just get the failings out of the way so that you can move through to the stuff that's really good.

I think it's having that approach and that mindset that will allow you to do that. I think relationship management is also massive. It's figuring out how to make sure that you get trust. How do you make sure that some of those sign off processes aren’t too long, too onerous, and just too silly?

How can you make sure that that can get out of your way so that you can be fast, adaptive, flexible, nimble, and all of those wonderful words? A lot of that is around trust. So if you have the right relationships, and you've invested in those relationships, and people understand what you're trying to achieve for them and how they can support you, and how you can support them - how it's a team thing.

That is incredible. Relationship management is absolutely huge.

What's the new strategy? What are the new objectives for the next quarter? Have you gone from annual to quarterly? Because that actually, it needs to remain nimble. Understand all of that so that you can adapt to that. And for the business. 

Channa: Totally agree. The only thing I would add is the notion of coaching is an interesting one.

I think being the point of contact for so many different pieces of information, people will naturally come to you, even if you told them to go to somebody else. Being able to have conversations that aren't directly about Internal Comms structure or a very regimented thing about your function, but actually having a dialogue about the subject matter.

I mean, being smart in general, I really do think that it's going to become more and more important for those soft skills: listening, coaching, being able to connect with people, manage relationships. There is no doubt that that is going to be even more impactful in the work world. The extent that you can really build those skills in yourselves, you set yourself up for success.

Don’t reach out for perfection

Jonathan: Completely agree. We just did a podcast yesterday which was about creating an internal podcast. The number one question that people usually have is how difficult is it to produce this?

Do I need an audio engineer? Do I need to get this done professionally? I guess that goes also into the idea of video editing. No, you don't. It's okay if you do it. It's more important to push things out there with volume and authenticity than it is polish something up, and release something very infrequently.

Janet: It's exactly what people don't want nowadays. They don't want everything to look perfect. They know the world is not perfect right now. If suddenly you put something out that's super polished and looks amazing, it's like, oh, what's going on there? 

The authenticity is now what we're doing. I mean, this is mine. This is my house. That's tennis. That's your house. It would seem bizarre if suddenly there was something that was super duper uber polished. That's not the way it works right now. I think just to come back to what the channel was saying, the listening piece is absolutely huge, but listening doesn't mean taking orders. Listening is not me sitting there with my notepad. I don't think I've ever done this. I find it really bizarre when people say, oh, are you an order take? I've never taken orders ever. Bizarre. Why would you hire me?  It's more about listening so that you can have a point of view listening so that you can adapt to whatever it is that you need to do so that it supports the business in the best way. It’s so you can be flexible and be the partner that your business team needs you to be, that your CEO needs you to be, and that is that. That's huge. 

Everyone is an Internal Communicator

Jonathan: Awesome. moving on. I see we have two questions that came in from Christina. Christina asks:

“How can Internal Comms engage and empower managers to communicate key updates on reopening with their teams?”

It's one of my favorite subjects of all time. Who wants to take it? 

Channa: Consistency, consistency, consistency. I think every organization needs champions and other influencers who can carry important messages throughout the organization. It is not just your job. In fact, the way I think about Internal Comms is we are the ones who are supposed to advocate for discussion, right? It doesn't mean we have all the answers. It doesn't mean we have to be part of all of the discussions. It means that we make sure the discussions are happening in our business. We really make sure that if we're rolling out a new policy, there's a new initiative.

There's some sort of internal campaign that we're launching. It's making sure that we, the comms team, are brought in at the right time so that we can think about what the rollout plan really looks like. Right. So at the right time, let's make sure we are arming everybody who needs to be armed with the messages, the cue, and a document.

You have a conversation with them to make sure everybody is on the same page. If you do that once, you don't get the reaction that you'd like, you don't get the buy-in. You don't stop. You keep doing it for every single thing. Eventually, even your biggest naysayers will understand that you're just trying to help them, because inevitably, what happens is people ask managers questions. Everybody likes to feel smart, informed, and knowledgeable. And if you're a leader, it's a responsibility to have the answers. In my opinion, our responsibility is to help them look good. I've often said to some of my colleagues over the years: help me help you. I am here to make sure that you are well supported, versus making sure you say this here as a preachy top-down order. As you were saying, Janet, it’s a very different conversation. I think leaders often feel like you are there to really counsel them, going back to that strategic comment. You are there to counsel them versus push things at them and ask that they just run through the script. It's not about that. It has to be about genuinely setting them up to be leaders. I think if they understand that that's the perspective that you're coming from, it makes all the difference in the tone of the conversation. They tend to be more perceptive, but you have to do it consistently.

They may not get it. The first five times you make them, you make the offer, but I always ask and always will. And eventually, they do get it, that's my experience. 

Janet: I agree. There's a couple of things, depending on the organization, depending on the managers that you have, some managers don't realize that actually it can be part of their job.

Giving them permission to have some of those conversations sometimes because they go, well, the time will come. It's just going to put something out. I think sometimes it's about giving them permission. If they don't realize that, as

Channa said, if you're organized, you make sure that they have everything they need. They have the cue, but also give them a safe space to be able to ask questions themselves because it's a big thing that you're asking them to do. One of the things that we did in a previous life was to actually create a clinical and we would provide information or one call.

Everybody could take that information. They didn't get to ask questions. They just listened to the information. They were like, okay, we've got to download. They would then go away and think what of all the different questions that my team might ask, that I might not be able to ask at the moment in that hour, but given myself a day, I can sit there and go, okay, what are all the different things that are going to be asked? If I'm a manager of managers, maybe I'll bring them in. And they can also say here's some other things that we think might get asked, bring everybody then back and say, okay, managers, what kinds of questions do you have to allow everybody to learn from each other? That is simply about answering the questions that others may have.

That can also be really helpful because it's making sure that managers feel supported, making sure that they feel that they've not just been given a script and they're like, well, I don't know the answer to that. I didn't get to ask that question. Oh, now I need to go and deliver that. That's really hard, and it's not okay because you're putting them in a really awkward position. You're making them into a pocket and that's not cool. What you want is for them to be able to own the message, understand what that means, translate it for wherever that team is, or whatever part of the organization they're in.

Sometimes depending on if that it might not be their first language that you're talking to, it might be they're in a different time zone, and they're not thinking things there's so much context that might be different.

Honesty is the first step in diversity & inclusion

Jonathan: At the start, we agreed to also address questions around the situation that's happening right now. So we've received two questions and I would like to put those forward. The first one that came in was actually the first question that was asked. It comes from an anonymous attendee who's from  New York, and would I assume TLV would be standing for Tel-Aviv. This person would like to say:

“We sent an email from our VP of HR to New York stunning against racial injustice, and setting up a donation match was also a bit of a check-in because many of our employees are in New York City and are impacted by the police presence and chaos around it.”

He or she adds to this:

“We also only have one black employee, which is a glaring problem. Do you have tips for acknowledging and addressing this as part of this conversation outside of pointing to a renewed effort in our diversity and inclusion efforts?”

Tough subjects. 

Channa: I'm happy to start.

My first recommendation is the next email. with all due respect, does not come from the VP of HR, but it comes from a CEO or president. The tone at the top is 100% what matters first and foremost, regardless of the words, I think by showing that the highest decision-makers in the company have a position that they care about, that they are willing to make a statement of some kind, it has to come from your most senior leaders.

We can communicate on behalf of them. Other leaders can communicate with the VP of HR. I do not think that is complementary communication. It's not primary communication from my point of view. It's a really difficult conversation for a lot of people to have, which is why I think we're still having these racial injustices happening. It's a difficult conversation and people tend to shy away from it. It's uncomfortable. People don't know what to say. It feels like maybe I'm not part of the problem, or you're the exact opposite. You feel like you have every solution in the world, but maybe nobody really wants to hear it.

Maybe the workplace doesn't feel like it's an appropriate place to have those conversations. And all of those are valid if they are authentic perceptions in the minds of your employees, but I would strongly consider that you have your CEO give you an honest opinion. Where does the firm stand? Does the firm have a position that mirrors its mission, its culture, its values, because if they don't match up, you have a problem? It's one thing to say. We really care about diversity and we really believe in it, whatever the words are. But if you look at the website and you see that you have one black employee, it's going to cause attention to a glaring gap, so you really need to figure out what can we say that is credible, that has authenticity, and then be able to back it up.

Whatever you say, make sure that there is an action plan behind it. One that can actually be followed by being committed to it in terms of resources, dollars, time, power, influence, services, charitable gifts, whatever it might be - make sure that you can back it up, and make sure it comes from the top.

Those are my top three things. I really think it's about starting the conversation. No statement is going to be perfect. Everybody will have an opinion on what you say and what you do. I tend to believe that that matters less than doing an action of some kind because progress over perfection wins every single time.

Janet:  A hundred percent agree with what Channa just said.

The VP of HR, that’s lovely, but it's not that they should be doing. There needs to be a message from the CEO that needs to come from the top. If I was the CEO, and I haven't done that already, I would actually be looking at whether there is a way of opening up a dialogue? Because right now we don't have any information about the type of organization you are, and what you're saying and what you're doing is coherent. We can’t say go out and see all of this good stuff if that doesn't reflect what you're doing and what's happening in practice. I've seen that several times. I think I've seen a lot of stuff on Twitter where people have said, you know, too many companies are posting little black squares and yet, show me, show me your leadership team.

Where's your diversity. So you can't get that done?  It doesn't work. I would be looking for an open dialogue and I would be looking to ask people how they feel, what this means to them. What do they want us to do? What do they want to see? If I was a CEO and I was a part of that C-suite, I would be looking to understand what our people think so we can support that.

Channa: Janet and I were talking right before we joined, and we were talking about the concept of saying I don't know. I mean, some of the best leaders I've ever seen, there's just no hesitation in saying I don't have the answer to that. If you're in a company where diversity is hard to just see, it's okay to say we haven't done a great job. I don't know how to fix it, but I'm committed to having an answer and I want you all to be part of. Finding that solution. That is something, and it’s honest. It is so powerful. I just can't underscore, no matter what industry you're in, what corner of the world you're in, just be honest and let your communication reflect that.

You and the employees are very likely to rally around, create that groundswell, and provide the fuel to get that engine going. So I, I just, I just think authenticity is, is really important.

Janet: I actually read an email just before we came on. I follow a very small company which makes jeans.

The guy who runs it, the CEO of that company, I find him incredibly inspirational. He set up several companies before his whole concept of marketing and how he does things. I have a huge amount of time and respect for, I think he's brilliant. And his email said I don't know what to do.

I'm a man. I'm a white man. I'm a white man living in Wales. First of all, I was quiet, but I know that I can't be quiet because quiet is not right. So I don't know what to do. 

I'm reading this letter, the vulnerability that he showed and he displayed by saying, I don't know what's right, but I know I can't stay quiet. The honesty and vulnerability was really astonishing. Now, some people might say “I can't do that, that's really awkward.” We've moved through COVID where people are doing self videos to talk to their people from their homes. We've got people whose cats jumped at the screen as they're doing something.

Vulnerability is incredibly important right now. Because people can smell BS, they can smell it. Right now is not the time for that right now is the time for honesty. and I got to go back to my first point.

Talk to your people, ask your people, work with your people, collaborate with your people and together you can do this as a C suite. You don't have to be the only people with the answers. The answers can come from anywhere, probably in the most unexpected places. 

Rolling out a diversity-communications plan

Jonathan:  Great way of addressing this.

I promised that we would address the second question that came in on this. So here we go.

“We hosted a company-wide, optional, all hands around current events and let people share faults and stories. I was very nervous as to how it was going to go, but our CEO for what it was worth pushed past our fears, and be willing to let it get unwieldy if necessary was powerful for everyone that participated, but it was reactive.  Now we want to continue the discussion and give people a platform for them to continue to share any ideas, how other companies are doing this.”

Channa: We're having that conversation ourselves right now. Our CEO's are amazing. They have office hours on Slack every week and we have two co-CEOs. So one takes the morning shift for the international folks. It's very early East coast time. And then another one does it in the afternoon, for our West coast, employees.

Our level of communication has ramped up a lot. We've got emails and office hours with our CEOs,  video and Hangouts, and all of these channels. We also have an ability for people to send in anonymous questions. The question that we're now asking ourselves is, okay, do we need to facilitate some other means for people to have conversations, talk, share, and express themselves. We're building that bridge as we walk. We really are because these are just an amazing set of months that we've had this 2020. I will say that in my view, do what you can to keep the conversation going, but you really do want for it to be productive. If it turns into just a gripe Fest, it's really difficult to glean real insights from that. And then, action steps, it's so seductive to get caught up in conversation, venting and we all do it in all parts of our lives. It's just the natural thing to do. I think for many people, the hard part is to then translate those notes into an action plan and then do something. Put the budget behind it, get the team committed to building a plan, rolling it out, having it, executing it well, promoting your success, and then repeating it, doing it again.

 For us, one of the things we're going to do is leverage a platform that we have called all voices. Our HR team is actually the one that really manages this, but it is a completely anonymous way for you to submit. Anything whatsoever that you're feeling about, your work environment, if you don't feel psychologically safe, if you've experienced bullying if you have just a really difficult question about racism and you're afraid of asking it because of any potential backlash, we give you an opportunity to share your concerns and your stories, completely anonymously. The head of HR gets these every single day. They are pushed to her inbox and she immediately begins a dialogue with that person again, completely anonymously, or she forwards it to a CEO or anybody else who has access to that database and they have the conversation.

For us, that feels like the right thing to do at the moment, because it's giving people the safety to have these things, and enables us to track trends. So if we consistently see that there's an issue in a particular region or with a particular level of employee, then we know there's something to do proactively and very visibly.

What we're doing right now, and specifically with regard to that, is asking people to continue to share with us while we keep building the bridge as we walk, because it's not a sprint. This is a marathon issue. It should be, in my view, that will not go away once the news coverage dies down. You couldn't have said it better.

That's when you know the hashtags that are trending, kind of start to fade away. The little black squares you stop seeing, companies are going to be held accountable. We've got to make sure that we actually plan for something that's meaningful, but that has longevity and doesn't feel like a quick reactive solution.

Janet: I think to add to that. You don't want that to just continue and you don't want it to just become a gripe fest because it's not. It's not constructive and nothing comes out of that other than complaining, but it's okay to do it.

There's a time for that to happen. what you want to do then is also look at something constructive, and quickly what you can do. Learning from your colleagues and you might have been sitting next to someone, and have no idea what it's been like to walk in their shoes and actually being able to give people a voice so that they can explain some of the experiences that they've had.

It increases empathy within the organization. And it increases understanding in the organization of some things that people have been going through. I can’t understand. what somebody who is black has gone through because I haven't gone through that. But, I can listen and I can ask questions, and I want to learn. I want to understand because I want to change, and I want to help make a change.

I think the first thing to do is to allow for spaces and opportunities for people to learn from each other. 

Creating transparency through dialogue

Channa: That's that's such a great point. Jonathan, there was a follow up that came in that that I’d love to address very quickly if that's okay. It's about authenticity and truth incomes. The anonymous attendee says

“what do you do when you sense that your leadership is hiding something, and only giving you a piece of the information to communicate.”

Janet, I'd love your opinion on that. There's so much to say about that, but I can't emphasize enough the soft skills and the ability to listen. I think it’s so important. I don't know the stats. I forget what it is, but like, what is it? 80% of real communication is nonverbal.

I mean, it's one of the things I miss most about being in the office. It's one thing for me to get an email or to get a Slack message, or see a comment on a post on our intranet, but it's a totally different thing to have the same conversation with somebody face to face and feel their energy. Like what's the vibe?

What am I getting her body language saying to me? How are they sitting? Standing? All of those. Nonverbal cues, conscious or not, they reveal things and it's much harder to do when you're on a phone call or even on video. I think that is a huge part of getting to the truth and authenticity.

That's number one. Number two, I think to ask the hard questions, and the way they get answered often - present your cues as well. Somebody could kind of stammer their way through an answer and they're like, hmm, I don't know about that one. Then you've got to decide how you handle it based on that situation.

When you ask questions, anytime we're talking about an initiative internally that involves communication in some respect, the only thing I ever want to do is be a fly on the wall, listen to a conversation and then be able to ask questions and see how they're answered. That really helps me be in tune. I understand exactly what this is. This feels authentic. I know how to translate that or recommend the right strategy for how we need to launch this internally if it doesn't quite feel right. And I know how this sounds, it's not a scientific answer, but it works for me every time I trust my gut.

If something doesn't feel quite right, there's usually something off that you need to understand more. That means you have to ask more questions and not just have the same people. Go outside of your four walls. make sure you're really getting an understanding, and hearing the same thing throughout. If you can do that, you can take that anecdotal information and feedback, give it to your leaders who are going to speak and say I hear what you're saying, but that seems to be at odds with what this information says. So tell me how we can bridge that gap. It either makes the truth come out, or you realize you need to course correct. But I really appreciate that question to whoever asked it, because it's just an important thing to address. Janet, I'm really curious to hear what you would say. 

Janet: It would terrify me to put somebody out there who everybody can see through. The damage it could create could actually be repairable. Exactly what Channa said: you have to ask questions. This isn't about being liked, and this is about making sure that your audience is respected, and that your audience isn't being fed align. And if you think there's something not quite right, your audience will see it immediately. and that's also something that you can say. The fact that I'm coming and still asking more, you will get questions from the audience. Are you prepared to answer them?

How will those be answered? You don't want to put your CEO, your VP of whatever in a tricky situation. Do you want to destroy the reputation of the company? That's kind of not the purpose of what you're doing. So asking those difficult questions, asking all the questions I just keep asking is hugely important because if you can smell it, your audience can smell it.

And that's not a position that you want to be in. 

Open communications are effective communications

Jonathan: Funny story - I can tell you what not to do. What not to do is tell your CEO, do you not want me to do my job correctly? And the reason why I'm saying that is because when I was very new to what I was doing within Internal Comms, this is what happened to me once in a similar situation.

That is not a good question to ask because they don't really care, but that taught me something very invaluable, which is - make it about them. What's in it for them. It's the most important factor in getting somebody on your side and helping them to see the opposite of what they are thinking right now.

You can be a mirror for them. You both just gave really great reasons as to why that's so important that somebody stands there. Who is authentic and transparent people can relate to. That is the voice of what started your company. We have time for one more question.

“how to confront crisis situations as comms personnel when your company is going through a crisis that includes lay off retrenchment furlough, and these types of issues?”

Janet: You need to be open and honest. Don’t hide things and don’t be afraid to say, we can tell you this right now. We don't yet know the answer to the next phase or whatever, but here's what we know right now. We're going to tell you, so you make sure people understand when they're going to find things out. You tell them honestly what you can tell them. If somebody asks a question, you say, actually, I'm unable to respond to that right now. That's an okay answer to give because when you're looking at redundancies and furlough and things like that, there are lots of legal implications as well.

There were certain things that you can't say because there might be timing issues, or there might be things just legally things that you're not allowed to do. So it's being open with people. It's making sure that people know what you can say and what you can't say. It's also making sure that people know when you're going to tell them things, and by what channel, so you don't allow rumors to circulate. If you're going to say at 10 o'clock every morning, I'm going to tell you we're going to have a meeting and we're going to give you information. You do that, and then if there's nothing to say that day, then you have that meeting. There was nothing to say today. Does anybody have any questions? No? Okay. That's great. Thank you very much. Nobody is going to say no to the gift of time. Those are some simple steps that you can take. You make sure people know where to go, what, where they can find that information, what time? So frequency, consistency, all of that good stuff.

Then you are open with what you can and can't say. People will understand if they feel that you're hiding something from them, then you lose trust. If they feel that you're being as open and honest, as you can be with the information because of the situation they will trust you.

Channa: I agree a hundred percent with all of that, I would have said exactly the same. With one addition, allow space and freedom and time for people to follow-up. They're going to hear a message that might be difficult. They're going to need to absorb it, sit with it for a minute. They may not have all the questions at the moment. They're hearing the difficult news, initially. So you always leave them with no pressure to ask anything.

Sleep on it. Take a couple of days, take the weekend, give them an opportunity to come back and ask questions in a variety of ways. Again, whether it's anonymously, whether it's directly from the most senior leaders in the organization, whether it's just their direct manager, make sure that you have that follow-up.

Don't drop it and leave it hanging. 

 

Author:

Kevin Barrera

Date:

Wed, Jun 17, '20

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