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Podcast: Internal Comms' key takeaways of 2020


Podcast: Internal Comms' key takeaways of 2020

Jonathan Davies


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57 mins read

Thu, Dec 3, '20  

2020’s almost over. (Phew!) This was the year of the wind of organizational change:

Internal Comms – “the slightly unsexy, younger brother of marketing” grew up to be the wise sage on top of the mountain, whose advice was needed by everyone. Black Lives Matter influenced another movement – one of Diversity and Inclusion, and while the global pandemic was happening, people were trying to figure out if their house was a home or an office.

To reflect on those and many more events from 2020, we’re tuning in with Lindsay Kohler and Russell Norton – a dynamic duo from scarlettabbott. Russell spots trends at the workplace, while Lindsay gets to the bottom of it. It’s time to wrap up this crazy year!

You can watch or listen to the podcast, or scroll down to read the full transcript. 

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Jonathan Davies: Welcome back everybody to another episode of the Internal Communications podcast. This time I have a bigger guest final onboard, we've got two guests, both hailing from scarlettabbott in the UK, and they've joined me here today because we wanted to have a lookback at the crazy year, known as 2020. We have so many insane curve balls to discuss, that's I'm just going to quickly shut up and instead of doing a further introduction, I'm going to let Lindsay and Russell take it from here, so please, Lindsay, Russell, introduce yourselves to the audience. Who are you? 

Lindsay Kohler: Thanks, Jonathan. Hi everyone, I'm Lindsay Kohler. I'm the lead behavioral scientist at scarlettabbott, which is basically just a fancy way of saying it's my job to figure out why we do what we do. Especially when it comes to employee engagement and the workplace. Things like figuring out what emotions are people feeling? Probably some pretty bit strong ones this year. Then how does that manifest in the behaviors that we might see and using all of that insight to help our clients with creating more effective solutions for what they see in their organization. Russ?

Russel Norton: Thanks, Lindsay. Hi everyone, I'm Russ Norton. I'm officially head of Client Experience at scarlettabbott, which means that it's my job to stay very, very closely connected to the teams and the projects, and the clients that we do here. That's across now 41 people and hundreds of projects throughout the year.

The idea is to spot trends as they're emerging – What can we harness from those trends? What can we help other clients, other projects learn from those trends? The other role that I play at scholar Abbott is the lead Diversity and Inclusion consultant. I do a lot of work combining Internal Comms’ best practices with Diversity and Inclusion projects. That obviously has really come to the forefront this year. That's hopefully something that we can cover today. 

How did Internal Comms handle the pandemic?

Jonathan Davies: Absolutely. Diversity and Inclusion is one of the two biggest things that I see moving into the next year on the big list of priorities by now, but hopefully number one on it. We will definitely be discussing that. We have a behavioral scientist onboard today, and we've got a person who basically has an overview of everything that happens within the space of employee engagement among all of the clients they treat. We've got a trend spotter and a behavioral scientist. This is going to be quite good. I say “quite good” hesitantly because that's not exactly how I would describe the year 2020, been a little bit of a ruckus. I guess the first thing that we could start off with is the pandemic, which hit most countries when it came to the lockdown around March.

We’ve discussed this quite a lot already on our podcast, but obviously now have the benefit of looking back at it and saying, “Maybe some things shouldn't have been done the way they did” or any of the other ways around. I'm very curious. How do you look back at what happened during those initial lockdowns?

How Internal Comms handled the effects that it's had on companies, employee morale, all of that stuff? 

Lindsay Kohler: That's a great question. As Russ said, it's really his job to spot trends. It's my job to stay close to him, to figure out what the trends are. There's a few things that we saw and Jonathan, you can ask us what you want us to dive deeper into. We saw mental health take a spotlight that it's never had before because of the loneliness and the stress that the pandemic caused. We saw huge hits to motivation and morale, and companies trying to figure out how to keep both of those up and they are different, but try to keep both of those up.

As the pandemic went forward, we saw huge issues of fairness and inequality exposed. Right? You've got people that got to work from their couch and people that had to go in every day and face the pandemic, and figure out what that did to overall morale, we saw organizational trust issues. I could just keep going and going.

I'll stop there for a moment, but I would say in short, we've seen what normally would take 10 years to develop and expose over time happen in 10 weeks.

Russel Norton: I think the thing that I would add onto that from an Internal Comms perspective is just a massive reprioritization of what people were working on, what organizations were working on.

What was fascinating was things like digital transformation, the launch of enterprise social networks, for example. All of a sudden those decision-making processes could happen that much faster because there was a really urgent need for a decent communication platform that combined everyone in an organization.

Whereas some of the kind of longer term content space projects, maybe the shutters came down on those because they just weren't driving value. What I think almost every single Internal Communicator that we work with learned from that period was to ask that question of “What's the what's the ultimate need? What's the value that this project is driving? And if it's driving a ton of value, let's work our socks off until we can get it launched, and let's not worry about the other stuff.” It was fascinating to see what was achievable in a really short timescale. People did some incredible stuff and stuff to really, really be proud of.

I hope a lot of teams are at this point in the year, looking back on some amazing achievements that were made in March to really care for those people first. I think that's not sustainable. I'm also hoping that those people are ready to take a break because this year has been an onslaught and a half for everyone in the Internal Comms industry.

Jonathan Davies: I think the part about value is really interesting and I think that one of the things that I've noticed there is, first off, the decision-making process in companies has sped up exponentially. I've seen the most traditional companies are realizing that they need to change. They need to adapt to digitization.

They need to allow for asynchronous communication because it's just not a viable way to try and do everything synchronously anymore. I think that one of the reasons why that works is that for the first time in a very long time organizations and Internal Communicators have been able to agree on what is value right now at this moment in time.

Do you both agree? 

Lindsay Kohler: I do agree. We've said that we've seen Internal Comms, they always have their pulse on the people and we've seen them finally have a place at the table that they've been asking for ages. I think there is a huge alignment in between what those values are.

I also think there's something around throwing out the rule book a bit. Before I think one of the reasons we moved slowly was that both groups were like, “Oh, well this is the way it's always been done. I need eight levels of approval.” When the game changed, that meant all the rules changed and it's really fascinating to see. How we create new rules and new ways of working. 

Russel Norton: The deletion has been a bit longer for Internal Communicators. I don't know yet, it's been a frustration of mine that for so long Internal Comms has kind of been the slightly unsexy, younger brother of marketing – the elder sexy sister, and it's finally kind of flipped in our lives and all the marketing channels just weren't viable. They didn't work anymore because no one was leaving the house and all anyone cared about was the news. No one was watching up there. All of a sudden, any available budget went into looking after people and protecting the business.

Then some Internal Comms were just given this incredible spotlight to go. You're up folks, show us what you can do. Look after our people, get his business operating, help us survive this insane situation. What I think that came with, was a bit more of that rather than begging and saying “Oh, please, can we have some of marketing's budget to do something for our people?”

It was like “Cool. We will do whatever it takes to look after our folks. We will keep the doors open. We will keep the lights on. We will keep working, getting it done and keep our customers getting served. In whatever way they need to get done. I think that just kind of showed what we as an industry, as a team of practitioners were capable of.

That certainly is one. I see a huge amount of respect and a huge amount of a longer leash in terms of that sign off process, that decision-making process. 

Throwing the layers of approval out the window

Jonathan Davies: Now I'm curious because essentially, like Lindsay said, we have eight layers of approval to go through before in order to get something done. That rule book got thrown out of the window, because it had to, there was no choice. Businesses needed to move faster than before arbitrarily. Approval layers gone. Great. 

Have you seen anything because you've both helped a lot of clients through this time? In retrospect, have you seen anything go wrong because those approval layers were thrown out the window?

Russel Norton: I wish I could say that I had. I'd love to say that because we partner so closely with our clients, we've helped them not make any of those mistakes, but that would be incredibly cheesy with me. I haven't seen it go wrong. I think I've seen instances where people could have done more.

People could have pushed it a bit harder and a bit faster. There's been some natural tensions that have arisen. I think it's come more as we've come out of crisis mode and settled into our new reality. There are some teams that are still operating with a slight crisis mindset that need to free up some of those team meetings, some of those sign off processes or ways of working, where they shifted to new virtual ways of collaborating in response to the crisis, and maybe they're still in that. It's taking people time and effort to navigate this new world, and maybe they haven't invested that energy and that brain space into 

“How do we work now? How on earth do we get things done in a way that allows people to still protect that wellbeing that we know has become so important and such a new priority?”, but also, not mean that people are working all hours of the day and constantly waiting on a one-on-one in order to get some feedback or move a project forward.

I think it's more about investing in what's next or lack of investment in what's next, rather than something that they got actively wrong. 

Lindsay Kohler: I wholeheartedly agree with that. I think the biggest risk is not taking the headspace and the time to define the new rule book that you want now that the old one is gone. Again, when you're running so fast in crisis mode, there's a chance that you'll step on your shoelace and trip. I don't think that we've really seen active tripping or falling into a restless point with our firsthand experiences with our clients. Of course they didn't trip.

We were there helping them along, but I think it will be interesting. As we emerge from this, which teams take the time to really define how they want this new world of work and a lot of cases might be remote first. Those that just keep limping along they're so tired from the race. It'll be interesting to see who is strategic in that way and how that manifests in policies, morale, engagement, recruiting, all of those metrics that HR and IC care about. 

How Black Lives Matter led to the Diversity and Inclusion movement?

Jonathan Davies: I think that's a really interesting point because I've always been of the opinion that that rule book needs to be thrown out of the window entirely. I haven't heard any horror stories myself. Removing layers of approval has not led to any massive issues from what I have heard. I think that the interesting part is that pre-pandemic, Internal Comms was one of the most neglected disciplines in the business.

However, it gets one of the biggest layers of approval in the business. If everybody wants to be so involved in it, why does nobody actually care to give them the budget? Anyway, I don't want to turn into a rant about that because I’ll just get mad, but I think that now with the momentum that we have, hopefully, it's something that we can finally step out of. I'd say before we move, we should look into what that future will be in the positive things from 2020, that we will be able to take with us there, cause there are a few surprisingly enough. 

I think that Lindsay, you touched upon the subject that came up during a pandemic a lot that I definitely want to explore further. Russel, that also very much ties into your expertise because fairness and equality was a big issue during the pandemic where some people got to work from home. Some people didn't, some people saw it as a luxury, others saw it as incredibly difficult to manage when it came to kids life, private life, mental health, those things. Then later on, the Black Lives Matter protests or the protest around the killing of George Floyd happened, which spread a massive trend towards improving the Diversity and Inclusion in business today. 

Those two were very, very big subjects that happened this year. How do you look back at what happened around those two subjects? 

Lindsay Kohler: Russ, do you wanna talk about Black Lives Matter and then I can talk a little bit more about fairness. What do you think? 

Russel Norton: Absolutely. I think the real trend that emerged for me this year, was the true understanding of privilege. That linked to everything else that happened in my opinion, because at the very beginning of the pandemic, people described it as the great leveler that no one was vulnerable, that we were all in the same boat, but really quite quickly it became fundamentally obvious that we weren't in the same boat. If you are a senior leader in your second home or palatial mansion with perfect Wi-Fi and nice soundproof walls, you're entirely different to a quite junior member of staff crunched into a four bed apartment in London with a shared dining room, with four laptops around it, all trying to get work done.

That real divide in the haves and have nots is what was emerging. People were starting to understand in terms of what really is their level of privilege. What is their home like? What is their Wi-Fi like? What is their setup like? Have they got kids up there? Do they care for someone? All of those questions became really clear and the impact on your ability to get work done really well was also really evident. When then the Black Lives Matter movement came to the forefront. Were people going “We've had enough of this unfairness”? This unfairness became so fundamentally obvious.

Again, in the weeks prior to the killing of George Floyd, the data even in the UK was starting to show us that people of color were dying faster than white people. People were starting to ask what is going on here? Why is it so unfair? The different communities are being impacted in different ways.

It again, came back to privilege. It just came back to where you live, the postcode you grew up at, the kind of school you go to, the kind of access to care that you've got, the kind of jobs that you do and the kind of jobs that you're able to do. I think at the outset then of the Black Lives Matter movement Internal Comms teams were either going “Okay, this is part of our strategy. We're used to talking about Diversity and Inclusion. We're going to really put the spotlight on race because now that's authentic to us, and here's what we're doing to really genuinely tackle this topic.” Other teams that weren't quite on top of the D&I agenda and were perhaps going too heavy on a single issue like LGBTQ rights or gender equality, which are both perfectly valid things to go for.

Then realizing that they'd kind of unintentionally excluded the race issue and we’re going “This has caught us by surprise. We don't have a voice on this. We don't have an authentic voice on this. We want to say something and being silent, saying nothing is worse than saying something that's wrong maybe, but actually we're really afraid to say something and it fires back in our faces.”

Those are the organizations that haven't really questioned that privilege yet, that haven't really looked at their own systems and said, “What's really going on here? What's preventing black employees from doing well here? What's preventing black employees from even joining this brand? What's going on here?” Now there's an awful lot of retrospective work to really go, how is privileged showing up in our organization and perhaps intentionally or unintentionally excluding minority communities. There's a huge amount of behind the scenes work, that’s long overdue. It needed doing a long, long time ago.

This has been the catalyst for it. The interesting thing for Internal Communicators then is to say something like “Communicate it, get people onboard.” That's really, really hard when you don't have that authentic voice. When you haven't done the groundwork. If you have done the groundwork, if you are doing the groundwork, if you are humble enough to say where you got it wrong and humble enough to recognize your own privilege, you're in a better position, but certainly that now, post-pandemic and post-Black Lives Matter it has really shown the difference between the haves and the have-nots when it comes to a really solid D&I strategy and a really solid action plan for tackling this topic. 

A look into fairness and inequality

Lindsay Kohler: There's not really much I could add to that breakdown of fairness and equality that Russ just gave us because I think you beautifully described all of the nuances that were suddenly exposed. Then we had a day of reckoning. One point I would make to that, which I think is helpful when considering your path forward and your policies forward, is that we use fairness and inequality pretty interchangeably, but they're actually not.

In general, we're sort of okay with inequality. I'm just going to let that sit there for a moment. I know that's a weird thing to say. We're sort of okay with inequality, if we all have the same starting place and advantages. It's that lack of fairness and the starting point, and the advantages, and all the things that we have to overcome that make people angry. Because with inequality, if we all started from the same point and the literal difference was just that some people worked harder or smarter, or different than others, and so they got to a higher place – we're okay with that. Our societies reward that.

It's just that lack of fairness that often is underpinning the differences in equality, where we get really hung up. Jonathan, because I think Russ just beautifully covered it off on that so well, we could highlight another issue from 2020 that's near and dear to my heart, which is wellbeing and loneliness. We could also move toward a brighter picture for the future. What would you like? 

How Internal Comms managed to keep remote employees engaged?

Jonathan Davies: I think that a lot of people still struggle to keep their people engaged and feeling like they're part of a larger whole, not that everybody's essentially remote. I think that it's great to look back at things and say, “This is what we should have done. I believe that this will be a massive issue still going into the first six months of next year at the very least. I’m really curious to hear both of you. What have your observations been? Because we know that this was a big issue.

We know that this was one of the first things that Internal Comms, on average, prioritized doing something about. What's happening with it now? There are still a lot of Internal Communicators that say, “Oh my Gosh, this is still a problem. People are now getting tired of all of our digital communications efforts. They've gotten annoyed with our pub quizzes and everything else. So what do we do? Where do we go next?”

Russel Norton: I mean, that's the $50,000 question for a lot of organizations right now. Information overload was a thing for the last decade, but this year people are so bombarded day in, day out, with the phones, with their inboxes, with the news, with their colleagues, with their mum, sending them random links of some website that she's seen about the latest hoax conspiracy.

People are not only information overload, but information mistrust. They no longer really believe what they're saying. Add into that this kind of needs to keep people connected and together, and allow people to form those social bonds, particularly people who are new. There's hundreds of people who've started new jobs in the last six months who were trying to get to know a team of people that only exist as a face in a square.

I think the trend that we're starting to see is, again, less come out of crisis mode, do a bit less, give people some time back. The big currency in people's lives right now is time. That's certainly something that people have noticed this year that they're no longer commuting. They've maybe got half an hour, 45 minutes to an hour more than they had in the morning and afternoon, they might be spending more time with their kids. I'm certainly spending more time with my dog. He's loving having four walks a day. If I ever go back to work, he's going to have some serious separation anxiety, but time is such a precious commodity and such a valuable resource. Actually giving people some time back is incredibly powerful. Those quizzes are great for the extroverts who are really missing the social connection and want to spend some time with people and get energy by hearing and seeing and interacting with other people. But don't forget all your introverts or your other styles that are out there.

They might just want some quiet time. Actually, what we're starting to see is people booking drawalongs. You hire an artist to do it like a sketching masterclass and it's quiet time. It's reflective time. It's time that you're sharing with people. You're having a shared experience, but you're not necessarily having to participate.

You don't have to put that mental effort into putting on a face and pretending to be sociable, and pretending to have a personality, and all that stuff. That's exhausting for a lot of people. It's just a chance to share an experience and do something. Same with things like bakealongs and cookalongs. Just a chance to participate for half an hour to an hour quietly, but it's then something to talk about on your next interaction.

That's certainly the kind of the flip that we're seeing from these “Everyone dress up and do karaoke and zoom, pop quizzes!” and stuff. It's just let the noise out quiet a bit. 

Lindsay Kohler: I think to add to that, that we don't have to tell ourselves that it's only remote all the time. There are certain weeks and lockdown where that is the case, but going forward, that's not going to be the case. You can supplement with in-person events. I think the way forward is just being smart about it. What things should be in person? In what ways can you come together in person?

Because I'll just come out and say it, there is no replacement for in-person interaction. We've gotten really creative. We've done really good. The types of interventions rest was describing are absolutely the right ones to be duty because they're around shared interests has helped you get to know people better and it doesn't feel like forced interaction.

It's fun, but I'd say let's broaden our ideas of what those interactions could be like going forward. It could be walks, it could be all sorts of stuff. I think we just need to get out of the headspace that it's all virtual all the time, forevermore, because it's not going to be the case.

Russel Norton: The latest Norwegian trend word, I'm not gonna be able to say these right, and it's going to annoy me, but like “Fika” and “Hooga”. I'm going to really annoy some people out there in the world. The idea basically is spending time outdoors, whatever the weather.

Lindsay Kohler: You're really going for it with the pronunciation!

Russel Norton: The idea is that time outdoors is good for you and healing for you. Often it's the weather that puts us off. This is a word for putting on the appropriate clothes for the weather that's outside and spending time outside. Actually, if you can do a social distance walk with your team, in some Woodland at the beach, whatever, as Lindsay’s saying, there are ways to have face-to-face time that don't involve all sitting around a table in a meeting room and sanitizing your hands, and keeping two meters away from each other at all times, you can do that outside.  

What can we expect for 2021 in terms of Internal Comms?

Jonathan Davies: Then Lindsay, I guess from especially the behavior science aspect, have you seen that there's an increased craving now when people, maybe even introverted people, have a bit more actual time together, how has that been affecting people over this duration? And what can we expect for 2021? 

Lindsay Kohler: Yes, even the introverts get lonely. That was a direct quote from a focus group that was running the other day. I think what has been the positive spotlight is we've realized how much connection actually means to us. We realize how much we value our colleagues, more than we realized before.

I remember at the beginning of the lockdown one of my colleagues rode her bike over to see me in person. It was like Christmas morning to see a colleague in person when I hadn't for a month. I didn't realize we took that for granted. I think even the introverts, we've all realized that we're lonely.

We've realized that we value our colleagues, we miss them. I think that going forward, we're going to be much more proactive about protecting those relationships and maintaining relationships than we might've been before. I think that that's going to have a spillover effect, which is very positive.

I think it's going to help us deal with the motivation and morale issue that everyone has identified as top of mind, as we go into this. Second wave and the days get darker. We've got lots of tips to boost both of those organizations. I think we're going to really fall back on social connection as the key way to keep spirits up, when times are low. 

Jonathan Davies: I guess then here's also the thing to come back to. Russell, one of your biggest conclusions on the D&I side of things, how will privilege play into this? Because when everybody is in the office, you're in much more equal space, theoretically, because you've all got the same Wi-Fi connection, you're all more or less in the same space. Yes, some people will have corner offices and others won't. Lindsey said we can be okay with inequality. 

Are you worried that privileged checking essentially will maybe slip off the radar as we start to return to the office a little? 

Russel Norton: There's two schools thought here, and one of them is about a bias, the proximity bias that I think Lindsay will be better qualified to talk to. I think when it comes to checking that privilege, the next kind of diversity 2.0, which is once you've done the hygiene factors and remove those barriers, and really put some hard yards into making sure that you're not unintentionally excluding people, is then to go “What are the systems and processes through which you can gather diverse feedback, and you can challenge the privilege of status?”, for example. 

Often the highest paid person in the room is the one who ultimately has the decision, but actually if you're really operating in a diverse and inclusive organization, you will have farmed for descent. You will have sought out multiple different viewpoints to bust the blind spots. By the time you present upwards, it will be wholesome enough that you've seen a leader should just be able to sign it off, rather than necessarily giving their opinion and contributing to it. I think it's the “how” when everyone is, a face in a square, on a screen, what are the ways and the systems, and the methodologies through which we can access as many different diverse viewpoints as possible on the road to developing a product or a service, or a policy, or a comms campaign. 

That means it's been through that sense check of as many different diverse viewpoints as possible. One final point on this, I just think that’s so interesting. I did some research recently, with a Comms team. They're quite a diverse bunch. There's some black employees, there's a Muslim employee, some gay employees, and all across Europe, a pan European team. Actually, what was really interesting was that the kind of the trend among them was that they were quite similar in terms of educational background, in terms of where they live, in terms of what they do on a weekend, it's really their kind of social status or their class was making them quite homogenous, even though they might look different or have different family setups.

Then the question is then if you've got a visible difference, a visible diversity, and you're being past work until you have it put through the diversity lens, but you're not actually different. It's just your skin color that makes you look different. An important question for everyone to ask is that when they are working in the world of Diversity and Inclusion, to what end are they doing that? 

Like I said, that hygiene factor that is, we are unintentionally blocking people because of characteristics that they've got no choice about – that's not fair, but when we're applying to vest in inclusion for growth for pushing our business forward, for making our deliverables as robust as they possibly can be, then actually we need to look at broader characteristics.

We need to look at what really makes us different because then you do have those challenge points, those sense checks that mean that whatever you're working on is that much stronger as a result. 

Lindsay Kohler: I would add to that. I think that the ultimate measure is what gets done. If we're finding these new ways of working, we're finding ways to collaborate differently that include both people onsite and offsite. If we are soliciting more ideas for more diverse viewpoints. If we're doing that all in an inclusive environment where people feel like they can speak up, that's going to result in some teams performing higher than others.

I think that we are also moving to performance measures that are really going to be more output and quality-based versus to your point, Russ, being in the office, proximity bias, “Oh, well, if I see you, your bum in the seat from 9:00 AM to 6:00 PM, you're working hard and you're adding value. 

That's one of those roles that I think is great that it’s been thrown out. I think those problems will sort themselves out because people will need to find ways to work that get the job done well. That rises to the top that gets rewarded. We are incredibly creative when money and recognition is on the line, so not too worried about that actually. 

Internal Comms' relationship with leaders

Jonathan Davies: Speaking of money and recognition, another massive thing that has happened this year, and in fact happened extremely recently, are the presidential elections in the United States, which, even though we're not going to dive into the political side of that, obviously one of the things that this always spurs, is a big discussion on what's leadership like in our business? What are they doing now?

What could they be doing better? Especially given the state of Communications around everything that happened around the election, leadership communication has also become a very big topic and definitely one that I see flying into 2021, at least for the first quarter, high on the list of priorities.

What have you both noticed when it comes to Internal Comms and the relationship between leaders, executive leadership line managers? What are your observations? 

Russel Norton: I think the big trend that I've noticed is authenticity, leaders really having to stand for something, because the way that they show up in this new world, through virtual channels, through blogs and vlogs, and town halls. 

If anything has increased their visibility, it has increased the number of times and the number of different ways that we get to see them. They can't really hide behind a carefully crafted Comms message that they drafted for them. They have to speak for themselves. One of the jobs that we've been doing with a lot of leaders is really redefining what they exist to do. Especially in a global organization, they're no longer necessarily the ultimate decision-maker or the direction we're heading in. A lot of them are now acting more as champions. I'm seeing great practice over there and planting over here and challenging people to say “Oh, you're doing it like this. That's interesting that teams over there are doing it like this. Why don't you work together and see what can happen?”

That kind of inspirational cross-pollination role, but ultimately they all need something kind of authentic. They need a drum that they can beat consistently because they're no longer the board. They are kind of twelve individuals who are all fulfilling a really specific role in the organization. If their voice isn't authentic, they quickly lose trust and people don't get that motivation. 

Lindsay Kohler: I think what we're also going to see, which can't wait for it to shake out, is we're going to see a difference in the type of leaders that emerge.

I think traditional status hierarchies – being in an office with other people that looked like you a.k.a white, white men, was sort of the way to the top. The leadership style that worked was me getting all my charisma and running into a room, and giving an inspiring speech or walking around on the shop floor. Those were the ways that in some cases, a lot of leaders emerged. I just think that that's not gone, but it's disappearing. I think we're going to have an opportunity for more quiet leaders to emerge. If your style is softer and more driven on expertise and relationship building, you can do that in this online world.

It would have been harder for you in a world where you had to be the loudest person in the room. That I think is going to open up new types of leadership for those of us that are helping leadership Comms, we need to adapt our style to make this new leadership style shine. 

Jonathan Davies: I think that's really interesting because one of the biggest practical challenges that I know Internal Communicators often have in working with leaders is they will take the leaders that are already a little bit visible and they will help them communicate the message a little bit more clear because quite often that can go off the rails and that that alignment issue has become a big thing in 2020. The thing with that is that you're essentially helping somebody who's very charming and was a great communicator when it comes to body language, tone of voice, etc., but maybe it's a little bit lacking in the substance.

Whereas now it might be flipping around. We're taking people that are all about the substance. They're literally only about the content, about the message, but now we have to help them. Bring that forth in maybe a little bit more of a charming way. Which of the two has been made maybe more emerging, which one would you say? Obviously they both have different challenges, but this is kind of a new thing to help that invisible leader

Well, I see the Internal Comm struggles a little bit more with the quiet leaders or the loud leaders. What would you say? 

Lindsay Kohler: This is backed on literally no data, Jonathan, just my opinion: I think in the short term, IC will struggle more with seeing the quiet leaders out of their shells, but as we get better doing that, it'll ultimately be easier to communicate their messages.

Communicating the message of someone that really knows what they're talking about, is really passionate about it, which is oftentimes how quiet leaders get to that leadership space. Actually, I think that's a much easier job than perhaps a loud leader is covering up the fact that he doesn't have much to say. Short term, I think we'll struggle more with getting the quiet leaders out. Once we figure that out, that's going to make our jobs a lot easier.

Russel Norton: I completely agree. One of the catchphrases that you'll hear a lot at scarlettabbott is “don't tell me, you're funny, make me laugh” I think this new world has shown that the people that deliver value, the people that make a difference, the people that stand for something and then deliver that are the ones that people end up admiring, and respecting, and considering as role models.

That's ultimately what being a leader is. I think that they leaders that add very little will soon be exposed over the next couple of months and years. We'll start to see them as the next generation of people that drive value and have a passion and have intrinsically motivated goals that they want to achieve within their organization. I think it's those people that will rise to the top as Inspirational leaders. They might not even be at senior level leader level, but they will be considered leaders within the organization because they're the ones who are driving the future of their organization. 

What will Internal Comms take into 2021?

Jonathan Davies: Now you're actually making me hopeful about 2021 and beyond. Thank you for that, I think that was very necessary. I think that you're both spot on with what you're saying. I think there are positive things that came out of his very difficult year that are going to change Internal Comms, but also change business. That's better for everyone in general. 

On that note, I'd like to ask you both a final question, which is: if you look back, which thing that happened in 2020, do you want to bury in a hole so deep, nobody will ever find it again and which thing from 2020, do you think was maybe a little hidden pearl that you want to take into 2021 and just help it blossom into something beautiful?

Lindsay Kohler: I am never having another Zoom happy hour in my life. Even if it's just a different platform, I'm over Zoom happy hours. And such a great question, Jonathan. The second half of your question, which is what do you want to carry forward? I'm going to think about that more. Russ, what do you think?

Russel Norton: On your behalf, Lindsay, can I just bury that Trump man in a hole and fill it with concrete and just forget that he ever existed? That would just be utterly delightful to leave behind in 2020. Perhaps I can just block that word on all of my Google accounts.

It's no longer in my sphere of influence. I think it was the care that emerged and one of those other trends that emerged recently is this customer connection. There's a purpose driven organization, where the customer is everything. We meet the needs of our customers. We solve our customer's problems, all of that stuff. This was the year that the word customer was replaced with the employee, and we care about our customers as we care about our employees, as our number one priority is to care for our employees. We cannot do what we do for our customers without our employees.

Just that priority shift became talked about and obvious, and authentic because people put their money where their mouths were. If we can keep that care for employees, by which I mean, if we look after your wellbeing, we understand what motivates you. We're going to give you the tools and the information you need to do as good a job as you possibly can do without burning yourselves out in the knowledge that those two things like wellbeing and productivity, they eventually start butting up against each other.

There's a trend of that if we care about that, and we carry on caring, then I think 2021 world will see us right.

Lindsay Kohler: I think my reflection works hand in hand with yours. My thing that I want to take forward is conversation. I think this is the year that we've really started talking to each other and we really started listening to each other. We started talking at work about previously taboo or stigmatized topics.

We started talking to our managers, and I don't mean like employers. Let's say managers, because you're not talking to the company, you're talking to the person that ultimately likes holding your bonus in their hands. We told them in no uncertain terms when we were feeling like crap and couldn't come in. We weren't sick. We were like “You know what? I can't do it today.” Crushing anxiety. Can't do it today. We talked to them about what support we needed. We talked to them about when we weren't motivated and what we wanted from them. I think that that two way conversation and feeling like we've sort of stripped away formality and a barrier – I hope that that continues.

Jonathan Davies: I agree with you both. I think that it's been a very challenging year. I think that I've seen some beautiful things happen when it comes to people connecting to each other. That needs to be there, care for each other and the idea that we are going to talk to our colleagues about things that aren't always work-related.

I want to understand the people that I work with a lot better than I did before, because it's much harder to connect with them. I hope that as 2021 progresses and we'll gain this little bit of hybrid, office and home workforce that we don't forget the good things that came out of it, but indeed, please speak those bad things behind and be done with them forever.

Lindsay, Russell, I want to thank you both so much for your time and all of your input. That was incredibly insightful. I would love to have you both back on our podcast sometime in 2021, before we have to do another look back at the year. Somewhere halfway through, we'll plan that later. Lastly, just before we go and say bye to everyone, how can our audience, you just get in touch with either of you, should they have any more questions after listening to this podcast? 

Lindsay Kohler: LinkedIn is usually a pretty good Avenue for me. So just look me up there and drop me a line. 

Russel Norton: I'm on Twitter most days, posting silly, random thoughts. I'm @commsruss on Twitter, if you want the slightly lighter side and then on LinkedIn, if you want my professional demeanor.

Jonathan Davies: Fantastic. Thank you both so much! It was a pleasure having you and see you again in the future.