Webinar report: Internal Comms @ fast growing companies

Fri, Sep 4, '20 •

Webinar report: Internal Comms @ fast growing companies

Uberflip's Amanda Steel joined us in an online fireside chat to discuss the challenges to Internal Comms, HR, and company culture at fast growing companies in dynamic environments. The session was 90% Q&A, with a massive amount of audience-interaction. We've noted three key takeaways that you'll need to "hack" Internal Comms:

1. Measuring success goes beyond measuring output. Those likes, reads and comments aren’t enough to indicate which topics really live among your employees. Take that annual survey, split it up and send it out quarterly - potentially to a smaller but representative sample size - to get the story behind your analytics.

2. Your culture will change as you scale up or down. It’s inevitable. Rather than trying to clamp on to it like Gollum holding “my precious”, it’s better to be adaptable and be open to change. Start with leadership, define which cultural aspects absolutely need to stay and work from there.

3. Let’s make Internal Comms less floaty. Define who gets input on your internal comms, but also who is end-responsible. Second, create a clear communications policy around the channels you have. Use this article to help you on your way.

Press play to watch the webinar or scroll down to read the full transcript!

 

I hope everybody has a drink ready? Cause this promises to be a pretty good session. Amanda and I have been chatting before, because while we both come from a tech background, so it was just so much fun to talk about “Oh my gosh, when you scale, you have to go through these challenges and how do we deal with that?” And then Amanda also brings in that HR perspective very much, not just the comp side of things, so I think there's a lot to learn here for everyone.

Amanda Steel: Yeah. So it's a tricky balance for sure. But it's definitely unbalanced. 

Jonathan Davies: Oh yeah. Oh yeah. I think HR these days anyway, relies much more on communication than it ever did before. It's not about just documents and processes anymore. It's really about getting people involved and up in happiness levels and stuff that you hear about more often. Right? 

Amanda Steel: Absolutely. We can write all the policies in the world, but if the people aren't engaged in them or a part of the process of  getting to there, or if they're not aligned with values, they're not communicated. They don't really mean a lot. 

Jonathan Davies: Yeah. Yeah, absolutely. Absolutely. I see that Ben is already in total agreement here. Awesome. Haver, nice, thank you for asking the first question. I will pop that one out right after I'm done. People, please do remember, the chat is open at all times, so if you want to share knowledge, if you want to interact with everybody that's here or with us, I will consistently be popping things out.

So, yeah, please do that. Questions go to the Q & A section, chat goes in the chat section, and for the rest, we're just going to have fun on this first day. So that's basically about it. I think it's about time that we start. So, Amanda, first off formally, I get to say welcome. We've been promoting this webinar, we've been saying that we're really honored to have the manager of people and culture at Uberflip, but now I'm happy to say that it's “director”, so congratulations on your promotion. I know that it's been a really busy time for Uberflip, which is really, great to see, and we're super, super thankful to have you here.

Amanda Steel: Thank you so much. I'm so excited to get to chat with you.

Jonathan Davies: Awesome. Awesome. All right. So, more household modus and then I promise I won't repeat this anymore, but this session is not a scripted thing. We are not going to give you a death by slideshow, we’re fully reliant on your interaction, dear audience, so please do ask your questions in the Q & A section on zoom or chat around in chats.

If you want to ask your question there also, that's fine. It's just a little bit easier for us when it's in the Q & A section, but that's about that. Now, fortunately, as the host, it's my prerogative to get to ask the first question, so I'm just going to do that. And this is a question actually, that I see come up very often when we talk about Internal Comms within the industry that we're active in, and we're talking about change and scaling, but then what do you do with your culture? So, Amanda, basically what I want to ask you first and foremost, is that scaling doesn't exactly come without change, so what does Uberflip do to keep its culture healthy while it goes through changes in both size and circumstance?

Amanda Steel: So it's a great question. It goes, I think the root of it has to be that right there in the change piece, like if you're trying to hold onto the same culture that you have at 10 people, when you're looking to go to a hundred. You're going to have a bad time, but it doesn't mean that you shouldn't retain the same values and be seeking out the right behaviors that reflect the culture you want to have. But, to get to that next step, to go from a good, starting company to a great scaling company, you need to embrace the idea of not just changing your processes, but your culture a little bit with it. And it doesn't mean that you throw out all the good things or again, your value system, it just means you have to be open to the fact that you're going to be bringing in different perspectives. You're going to be bringing in people with different needs. You're going to be bringing in people with different backgrounds. You have to figure out the right structure and supporting systems that are going to make sure that everyone feels welcome at the table to make sure that everybody has the opportunity to succeed in their role, to make sure that everybody knows what comes next and they're not just in that reactive moment. So as that goes into communications, that means being a little bit more diligent, being a little bit more intelligent with what you're putting out there, not, over gatekeeping by any stretch, but making sure that you're not risking, just an absence of communication by waiting for the perfect communication.

Jonathan Davies: And then when you do that, parts of your culture change as the company size changes or, as you acquire other companies, it's also a common practice for change, I suppose. Are there certain aspects that you kind of pick and choose, or as you know, the person in charge of people and culture, do you already keep tabs on, “Ooh, is this part of our culture might not scale with our growth, but this part is something final that we retained. So we're going to fight to keep it up there. How do you maintain that kind of overview? Is that like leadership committee education, talking to people? What do you do to keep that going? 

Amanda Steel: It's a balance. A culture by no means should be owned by, just the leadership.

It shouldn't be owned by HR. It should be something that everyone within the organization is responsible for regardless of tenure, regardless of the seniority they come in with. That being said, it is very much up to the foundational team, to the leadership team, to make sure that you're setting the right standards for communication, to be setting the right standards for how we manage and look at our culture as it changes.

A good example is, especially as we're going into a more co-located at work setup, or a lot of offices are, your culture can't be built around  Thirsty Thursdays or drinks after work with your peers. It can't be, just based in ping pong tables as much fun as those are. It has to be looking for the more substantial things that are going to not just make the team feel connected, but make the team feel productive and ready. So when you start to see those things about “Oh, somebody we just hired from the management team, just thought of this new way or brought this new way of interviewing or, or to evolve our interviewing to be more aware of internal biases, let's hang on to that.” To me, it really comes down to the mindset around values, first behaviors that back it up, and then the culture forms around that. 

Jonathan Davies: Yeah, and I think that's a good point. I once wrote an article about it called “If your employer brand doesn't scale, it will fail.”, and I think that you're basically touching upon all the same things that you take those foundations that have been set by leadership. You let them set the standard, but you do let it grow kind of organically. I love what you just pointed out about culture. It isn't defined by people that have been there from the start. It's also new people that come in that can change things. Which could be a brilliant thing, right? How have you noticed that a lot? New people come in and then they're not just the cultural fits, but they are a cultural addition?

Amanda Steel: Absolutely. It's looking for that culture ads rather than culture fit. I've had the pleasure of seeing both foundational team members evolve to find new ways to add value, but I've also seen teams, not necessarily just in people or in culture, but when, for example at a previous company where someone new joined, she just elevated the energy of the team, elevated the level of diligence we brought to our talent management, elevated the level of process we had internally, even though she didn't match what our culture was before necessarily. It was an absolutely winning hire. And when you're open to those things that aren't just carbon copies of yourself, but complimentary, skill sets, that's where the magic really happens. 

Jonathan Davies: Yeah, I totally agree. I've had an entire podcast episode about this before, where we discussed the dangers of hiring cultural fits instead of cultural additions. It's nice to see that you're kind of open to that and that you’re willing to let that evolve, by the new people that join.

Amanda Steel: Absolutely. You have to be. 

Jonathan Davies: Yeah. And you don't have a choice when you grow as fast as a company like Uberflip. Speaking of fast growth, Heather, I'm going to address your questions. Thank you so much for opening up the first question and, to everyone in the audience, once more, please do ask all of your questions here because that's exactly what this session is for, but Heather first, so I'm going to read it out. Heather says I'm the chief people experience officer for a very fast growth startup and I don't have a dedicated comms person, so resources are limited. What are the top three things I should be doing that have the greatest ROI from your perspective? 

Amanda Steel: There's no dedicated comms person at Uberflip. Very rarely have I seen that be a position that's incredibly valuable, but it's not something as that as you're scaling, it necessarily generates the most buy in from a hiring perspective. In lieu of that, the best thing you can do is just build up ambassadors around you. As a chief people officer or chief experience person, you can't take that burden to wear all that weight you have to generate buy in from your own team, assuming you've got other complementary skill sets around you in your own department, but also outside of your department. You might have the sales leader. Who's incredibly passionate about travel policies, leverage that don't necessarily take everything they want because you know, You've got a budget to maintain, but make sure that you're leveraging the interest throughout the organization.

People have multifaceted talents and the best thing you can do in a people related role is just find ways to amplify those things. I know you asked for three, but that's the biggest one. 

Jonathan Davies: I absolutely agree. I'm going to pile into that, to the top three that I've seen as a former internal communicator in tech companies, myself as well.

The number one thing that I feel has the most ROI is creating a very clear communication policy for your people. And that should not be something that really limits people. So it shouldn't be “you need to do this”, it's about empowering them, so that they understand which channels to use for what.

EG, we use email for external communication, and we expect that you check this every two days. We use Slack for very quick one-on-one or once a small group communication. We expect you to keep updated with it about every three to four hours. But if you're communicating with people across time zones, don't use that as your main means. Then, your enterprise social network or internet plays into a different way.

It all depends on your company's unique ecosystem. And I think that a lot of people and Amanda have certainly spoken of this before. Some people will come in and it will be their first sort of second job. When that happens they're also confronted with a whole bunch of new technology. Within the industry of technology and fast growth startups, generally speaking, our Internal Communications tool stack, if I can call it that way. It’s generally a little bit bigger, a little bit more modern. Make sure that you help people make the most out of that. That would be number one. Number two is start looking at your campaign initiatives and correlate them to business outcomes. So if you run an initiative around, like reinforcing your company values, make sure that beforehand you have an idea of what kind of business effect this can have on your company. For example, let's say you're looking at upping the productivity of people, and you've already spotted that if you communicate more clearly your strategy and your company's values, that that's a quick win to create an increase in productivity - launch your campaign, set a baseline for what your productivity was and at the end of your campaign check how to productivity is going up, and then you'll be able to report to management much more clear what it is that you're doing. Productivity is a very big win for Internal Comms and something that's very often overlooked and can seem to be done by increasing alignment. And a secondly or lastly, I should say, I think that this is probably Amanda's favorite topic - employee turnover. Employee engagement initiatives have a very big, positive effect on turnover. Even if the people that are engaged are not necessarily voicing very positive opinions. If they're voice and critical opinions, that's also great for your company, because it means that they're involved.

They're voicing it for a reason. If they didn’t care, they wouldn’t say it. Foster that, make sure to pay attention to that because you will see that if your engagement spikes up, whether that's in your digital platforms or in an office, once this pandemic is over. You will be able to see if you keep a close eye on your turnover that will decrease as you increase happiness through more communication. Those would be my top three things, very long convoluted answers. However, I hope that helped a little bit. 

Amanda Steel: The only thing I'd add to that would be around just setting up the cadence for how you can manage this and making sure it's not just something okay. You've got the buy in at one stage. It's something you check in at the end of the year. It has to be something that you're watching, over time and in a schedule that you can manage and commit to.

Jonathan Davies: Absolutely. Monitor that with measurable ways. Please, make it measurable because, I think that as companies evolve, that's becoming a much more important thing and certainly something that we've spoken at length about before. Awesome, we've received a couple of more questions in the meantime. So I'm just going to address that. We have another one, on the topic of high growth, which comes from Megan. Megan asks “I have a question about  new roles and teams in a rapidly growing company. We are 11 years old, but have just received an influx of funds. And so now we are trying to marry new and old.” What kind of advice would you have for Megan? 

Amanda Steel: I'm just going to repeat the question, so I know that I understand it. It's about introducing new roles and new shifts in the company culture that start with “ What you were responsible for at one point now somebody else might be”, or “There's a new level of responsibilities that kind of overlap in a different area”. Am I understanding that right? 

Jonathan Davies: Exactly. New roles and new teams coming into existence. How do we communicate this? People's responsibilities changed, some things got added. 

Amanda Steel: I think there's a couple of different tiers of communication to manage this through. One, you want to be making sure that no one is surprised at this on the very ground level of the direct people impacted. There should be a conversation that's happening with their manager.

This should be happening with the leadership within the company to make sure that if this is someone, who you want to be, scaling up in different ways. They still understand the value that they're bringing. The second piece is around an organizational level, of why this is important to change. That should be done through systems like Happeo that are great for documenting the stages of growth that you're out at and why these roles now will fall into place. The biggest one though comes at again, an organizational level, again, with the individuals directly impacted, but also as far as your brand goes externally is the reason you're doing this. It's not just about adding headcount. It's not just about “Hey, we want to, hit that next race”, or “we want to hit that next level of prestige”. It's because you want to be doing the best you can as an organization, and sharing the why you're making these changes, publicly as well as internally, goes a long way so people can understand what you represent. What you represent for your customers and what you represent for future hires, for your team as well.

Jonathan Davies: I completely agree. Communicating the “why” behind those changes is key. I'd add a really small and maybe overused thing that I always bring up, but that's also what's in it for them.

There's definitely something in it for growth within teams. When new departments come into existence, that means that maybe other departments get rid of resource issues or maybe they can do things that they didn't or couldn't do before. And that can also be really good for rolls.

Amanda Steel: A hundred percent. There's a great article. It's a couple of years old now, but I go back to it every once in a while. It’s called “How to give away your Legos” and it's about how to get people comfortable with the fact that their rules are going to change over time and the mindset that goes into it. It really compliments what you just said there. 

Jonathan Davies: Awesome. Ben has a really cool question. One that I've actually experienced before, so I'm very curious to hear your opinion on this. Ben says “I'm responsible for employee engagement recognition, employer branding, and people communications, much of our communications get slowed down with corporate marketing, wanting to review. Is this something worth pushing back against, or should this be considered an asset?”

Amanda Steel: It's a good question. You want the alignment? Because if you're pushing ahead just without it, if you don't have the buy in from the corporate marketing, there's only going to be more roadblocks put up over time. So it's worth taking a little bit of a slow approach to, “if you're finding, you're getting a lot of resistance, embrace that slowness and figure out how you can get on the same page to speed things up”. Because they've got their own work to do, you've got your own work to do. How do you make sure you're eliminating roadblocks together?

Do they have a brand guideline that they can give you from the start, so it's just a once over that they're checking, just a once over that they're giving your final documents before it goes out, and then establishing what are the nice to haves in terms of the branding that you applied to Internal Communications versus what are the must haves?

Regardless of whether in the same department, a different department, you're all on the same team and you don't want to have that. Adversarial feels like too strong a word here, but you don't want your roadblocks to be other people that you're trying to build up, as a company. 

Jonathan Davies: I think that one of the things that I've done before that really worked well, is to clearly write down who's accountable for what and who has any responsibility for what. I mean, you've probably seen this in Uberflip before, right? If you give people total ownership over something, they become a little bit more empowered by it.

They become a little bit more assertive by it. It just clarifies a lot of things. Corporate marketing, wanting to check in can definitely be an asset. I don't know the exact situation, but I'm going to assume the positive and see that they just want to make sure that everything is done right, which is totally fine. But that doesn't mean that that should slow everything to a crawl, because that's also an issue. I'd say figure out a way to clearly line out who's accountable for what, and who's responsible for what, and who gets to make a goal that this goes out. And then there you go.

Amanda Steel: Absolutely. To your point about assuming misunderstanding over malice, a hundred percent, that will save you so much heartache, because you go to try and resolve those issues when you're feeling slowed down. And to the same comments, I think Heather was addressing earlier. It's about generating those relationships internally, that are going to compliment what you're doing. It doesn't mean that you won't hit snags. It doesn't mean you won't hit roadblocks, and timing issues. But it does help, especially when you know who owns what. Establishing a bit more trust to get things going faster.

Jonathan Davies: Totally agree. I think I have a question here from Spencer, which I believe will tie into the kind of top three things that will bring back a ROI. I think Spencer wanted to add there to say, “I'd also embrace asynchronous communications. People need to change how to partition their day closely linked to that.”

Us ensuring that managers and creators have an understanding that both see and use time differently. Within Uberflip, you have people that are in different locations, not everybody is just in Canada itself. I'm assuming that asynchronous communication is a massive way of communicating within the company, especially now that everybody's remote.

Amanda Steel: A hundred percent. It has to be. Most of us are in the same time zone, although there's a couple of exceptions to that. But given the pandemic all of us are still working remotely. Although we just opened up our office again for optional attendance up to 10 people right now.

People's lifestyles have changed dramatically. We've got working parents, we've got people balancing, sick relatives. We got people balancing different schedules as they embrace, I hate the jargon of it, but the new normal. It has to be understood that if you send a Slack message at 10:00 AM or at 9:00 AM, somebody might not see it until later in the day.

It's about marking what’s urgent, about communicating what your schedule is, either with Slack statuses or even in Happeo what your overall team structure would be for the times you're available. It's always a good idea to risk over communicating on that front and being understanding of different realities at this point.

Jonathan Davies: Spencer, I'm going to completely agree with your comments about embracing the synchronous communication in general. I think that to me, as a former internal communicator, and now somebody who works for a place that helps you deliver asynchronous communication, the more I see this rolled up properly, the more I'm convinced that this is the future of Internal Communications, simply because the way that we work has changed completely, right? We're no longer in a factory or we're no longer in an office necessarily even before the pandemic, we're in a technological revolution, which means people can work from everywhere. That's a massive advantage for companies. Because they can hire talent from all over the world. That has really helped. But that also means that you need to communicate in a different way. 

We've seen that there are too many meetings happening in companies. There is not always a need for that synchronous communication at the same time. A lot of it can be taken care of by just messaging each other and reacting when you have to time.

So the more we help people embrace that the more efficient. I'm visible and transparent our communication will become. Don't forget that asynchronous communication is generally a lot more visible, right? It's not limited to that conversation at the water cooler. So what happens is that communication doesn't just stay a conversation.

It adds to that collective knowledge archive from within your company. So if you have a platform in which you can search for topics by keywords, then all that conversation will pop up. If I had a great conversation with a sales guy or a girl that I know, a lot of people can learn from – Amazing. Then why is that not something visible to the rest in my company? That's a really great way to add value as an internal communicator. 

Amanda Steel: The addition I'd have for that is that it's, you know, embracing the ability to just put that information out there is fantastic. Just communication, where we're still seeing some room for evolution.

I know at Uberflip and, and I'm sure this isn't just a challenge for us as around the follow-ups to it. you know, Slack or, or Happeo. These domains can get filled up pretty quickly. How do you make sure that people are still seeing the information that they need to catch? How do you make sure that it's clear who's responsible for reviewing and who's responsible for following up, whether it's specific one-to-one information, or broadly across the company?

Jonathan Davies: Yeah, definitely. And I guess that's also where that comment that I made before comes in. Basically, that communication policy. Helping people understand when to communicate what and where it goes, because that also prevents clogging channels, which is a nightmare when that happens.

Yeah. I mean, I don't know if you've heard or experienced this, Amanda, but I've certainly seen this before in tech companies, where for example, you use a tool like confluence, which is an amazing tool for kind of the tech departments of the company. But if you start to also run your Internal Communications through it, which it's not really meant to do, you create a kind of clogged pipeline of communications.

I'm imagining being a plumber right now, but yeah, it's really key that we help people understand what and which communication goes where.  

Amanda Steel: A hundred percent, you need to have that strong foundation right from the get go. it doesn't mean that you need to start from scratch. If things go wrong or if you've inherited a situation, when it's like, “Ooh this is messy”, but start with why. Start with what you're trying to accomplish and rebuild around that. It gets sticky, but you can get through it.

Jonathan Davies: Absolutely. And to anyone who's struggling to kind of categorize all of those channels and figure out “how do I start executing according to it”? I've just thrown an article into the chat that you can check out, which has a really simple model on categorizing all of your asynchronous communication channels and also helping your leadership understand that a little bit better – cause that can be an issue. 

Amanda Steel: Sometimes as well. Yup. You need buy-in at all levels. 

Jonathan Davies: Absolutely. and we have another question that came in from Meaghan, which is something that's very dear to my heart because I've heard this question very often and I love getting it. I'm really curious to hear your thoughts on this, Amanda.

So Meaghan says “as the only Internal Comms person, do you have any advice for supporting others and getting my own projects completed? Internal Comms can become very reactive instead of proactive.” 

Amanda Steel: Yeah, you're spot on how, you know, managing your own schedule can become incredibly challenging.

When you're, you're getting that message at like 3:00 PM saying, “Hey, can you update everyone on, this new board edition or, this change to our policy?” And can you do it by five o'clock and you still want to hold tight to that brand's voice. You still want to make sure that you're addressing this in a way that people are going to be excited about and feel informed. It’s about finding the right balance of inspired versus informed.

The advice I'd pass along is: set up, an Internal Comms “purpose and assess” guide. That'll make it really easy for your leadership to know how to support you and folks to know when they can come to you with things and when they can't.

It doesn't mean you're setting the rules and the structure, and just saying, you have to do it my way or else, but you’re proposing it. “This is how I think I'm going to be able to support you best”. And that'll give you the freedom to push back when you need to, as well as define your schedule a little bit better.

This is, just from my own experience, but it leads to you being pulled into more conversations earlier. It leads to you being updated sooner. If people really understand the value you can bring to your role when you're informed early, the issue you'll run up against no matter how tight this process is though.

People will still break things all the time. It's what we do. We're really, really good at it. So finding a way for you to manage, you know, proactively like synching. “Hey, didn't hear from you about this today”, or “I haven't chatted with you in a couple of weeks, can we catch up?” And just making those 15-minute windows in your day, or even like five to ten minute windows, folks will start to use you more or reach out to you directly for those. 

Jonathan Davies: Yeah, that's really great advice. I think helping people to understand what you do so that they understand better how you can help them. That's exactly what it is that you need to do. One thing that really helped me, in my last company, we would always set OKRs.

We can also substitute this term by saying quarterly goals. Doesn't really matter. Every department would have their own goals, but nobody knew what each other's goals were. So the first thing that we did was make sure that this is public.

Everybody can see which OKRs are there and which projects relate to those. Ours are quarterly goals, whatever it is you want to call them now. Meaghan to come to your question that helps you. If as an internal communicator, you can set your own quarterly goals that helps you as a stick in the door.

When people come and ask you for help, you can say, yes, I will help you, but I cannot do that right now because my quarterly goals are this. And that absolutely needs to happen because, and this is what you also need to make sure, because this is what leadership wants to get done. What gets done from the Internal Comms perspective.

Amanda Steel: Yep. Spot on. Cool. 

Jonathan Davies: Now we have a very cool question from Waylon, which I'm so excited to hear you talk about this. So Waylon says “we move incredibly fast we've company news and announcements, sometimes being made by the CEO via social media before we even have a chance to announce it internally. How would you deal with that?”

“Is it a problem? And am I perhaps panicking for nothing?”

Amanda Steel: I can feel my own heart beating, accelerating a bit at the thought of managing that. That's you know, when you put your passion and your work revolves around Internal Communication, you don't want to be surprised by communication.

The best, like starting ground advice I can give you, is look at this as a yes and moment, rather than like going to, to your boss or to the CEO directly to say “how am I supposed to do this?” Reaching out to say “Hey, loved this update” or “this was, this is really cool to, inform our clients because of X, Y, Z in this way.”

I think we can add more value on the other side internally, if we inform them first and finding ways to say like, Hey, how can I make sure these aligned, like, ask how you can solve for an opportunity that you're seeing to grow things rather than calling out “this is an issue it needs to stop.”

It's one of those things that'll help you generate buy-in a little bit quicker rather than making someone who's really excited about something feel like they gave you a problem. 

Jonathan Davies: Yeah, I think Amanda, by the sound of it, you would be much better in dealing with a situation like this than I would be.

Please take Amanda's advice because that is the way to go. I would say not on an approach, but I would say first and foremost, yes, that is a big problem.This is a very cliche saying, but employees are your biggest assets and that's not because of some fluff – that's because business today is entirely dependent on talent.

And if that talent feels like they need to get updates on what's going on in the company from your CEO’s social media feed, then there's a big issue with essentially the communication within your company and also literally slightly a part of its culture. I would say, make it very clear to your CEO that your employees are actually your biggest evangelists.

And it's great that you communicate something on social media, and it's amazing that your CEO is communicating something on social media. Let's not forget that! Because there are also CEOs out there that don't do anything like that. But, there’s  also a little bit of the “what's in it for the CEO factor.”

If your employees hear about this first and get to share his post or her posts, because they know that your CEO is communicating something, then that post’s reach also increases and the reactions for your CEO will go up. So it's actually in the CEO's best interest to communicate internally first, before communicating, you know, externally.

So yeah, definitely please take Amanda’s more subtle and more human approach than I would, but it's definitely a problem. It's good that you're spotting that. 

Amanda Steel: Yeah, that is a really tough one. I find things can go a little bit smoother if you start with a diplomatic approach, but I definitely don't want to downplay that that is a serious issue.

And it might not be, it's very likely not malicious or, or, something iincredibly toxic intentionally, by any stretch, but it is something that you're not leveraging the full trust of the organization if you don't inform people first. However, you can present that as an opportunity to resonate with, the CEO, whether it's through, just what the optics will look like and what externally to have more and more visibility into that post, or elevating the company, company culture internally, there's a lot of opportunities or a lot of different paths you can take to get there.

Jonathan Davies: Yep, absolutely agree. awesome. Thanks. I definitely learned something from you about this. I'm going to use that next time I run into this situation. Ben has a really cool question. And Ben, I'm going to say that my answer will depend on the size of your company. So if you could just type to quickly say what the size of the company is that you're dealing with, it would help, but Ben is saying leaders or executives often think they have the answers for employee engagements.

But for me, I believe in asking the employees what they want, or what is lacking. Are there ways in which you can ask or feel this information to be able to create meaningful initiatives beyond sending a seemingly cold-old employee email? We already have an annual survey, but that doesn't always give us granular data.

Amanda Steel: Yea, it's really important to understand the size of the organization to be able to answer this because if you're 25 people, a survey is great. If it's complimented, you know, by the chance to have coffees with everybody. At 650 employees, you're not going to get that opportunity. What you can do is establish what themes that you want to like, based on your engagement survey, based on, You know, the data you're already pulling in finds three themes that you want to tackle throughout the year.

Whether it's, you know, learning and development or, building up Internal Communication or something else entirely different. If you can choose three themes that you want to see the company elevated on, you can create different coffee groups or focus groups throughout the organization. It’s kind of like spot check things to get larger amounts of people involved and feel listened to beyond just a survey, without having to go to such a granular level where you're not getting a full view or the people you're pulling in tend to have the loudest voices anyways – You're getting people that want to invest, but might want to do this on their own terms or do this a little bit more quietly.

So part of it would be setting up different focus groups, or listening groups, based on volunteers, but you'd also want to engage your leadership team to be like, “Hey, we're talking about this.” It seems like in your department was a bit of an issue. Who would you love to see champion this within your department?

This will build up engagement in a very different way as well. 

Jonathan Davies: Absolutely. and Ben, to your point, I'm a big, big hater of annual surveys. I don't think that that's enough at all. Something that people use, which is very popular, is Gallup’s Q12, which for some reason, people think judges the level of employee engagement within a company. It doesn’t. Answers like “I have a best friend at work” –  it's not something that you can really affect from within the realm of communications. Also, annual surveys don’t recur often enough to gather any data. So you can see what kind of trends are evolving, which topics live, which topics died, which things people really care about. I would say to her two ways to, to bring this in, surveying will always be a part of what we do because we're dealing with people.

Also, if you look at, for example, Amanda knows much more about this than I do. People analytics specialists within HR rely on survey tools. Generally speaking to gather data, I believe that Internal Communicators need to be a little bit better or about doing that as well. So cut that annual survey up and send it out every quarter.

If you have 12 questions, send out, I don't know, three every quarter. Instead of 12 once a year, I make sure that some of those cases repeat. So you can actually kind of see trendlines. Second way to gather some data comes from those digital platforms that you have. You should be able to see which topics are my people talking about. Which topics are reacted on when leadership communicates with you. Searches, are they performing searches that aren’t delivering any results, which searches are delivering a lot of results, any and all of those things. So collect passive data. So stuff that you can track simply from behavior and measure that with a little bit more in depth surveys.

And then definitely also fully agreeing here with Amanda before you're going to roll out an initiative. See if you can get kind of a small focus group of some influencers or ambassadors, assembled people that are willing to help to kind of test your approach a little bit and doing those, doing those things together will get you a long way.

Jennifer has a problem: Jennifer says “with all company communications, are you collecting any analytics? Opens, clicks, et cetera. If so, what are you tracking? Why and how are you using Marketo, MailChimp, or some other email campaign tool?”

Amanda Steel: That’s a great question. And it has a very different answer in different areas of our organization for sales and marketing. Internal tracking is definitely done through Happeo. It was very, very new to us. And so we're starting to explore that analytic side of things.

it's not something we've done before, beyond just product and marketing updates internally, but that's a big opportunity for us to better define and mature our communication strategy. So, externally we're leveraging both Marketo and MailChimp. There's an opportunity for us to start looking for ways to read data internally as well on this.

I'm not quite there yet, but hoping to, I definitely advocate for it. 

Jonathan Davies: Yeah. I mean, this has been a massive part of my research over the past year. What I would say is in order to research that I've found is that Internal Communicators affect three aspects majorly. Number one, which is essentially your hygiene factor, is alignment.

Which means “how well do I understand the business, my place in it, and how well can I make decisions that are aligned with the business strategy?” That's your hygiene factor. That's your top-down communication from leadership to the company, that type of stuff. Second is engagement. That's bottom-up interaction that benefits the business.

Meaning we want to use our people smart, educated opinions, and evolve those business initiatives to make our company healthier. The last part is activation, which means how many people have we been able to help reach their full potential and how willing are they to help others reach their full potential as well.

Now, those three things are completely measurable, but you need to start with that hygiene factor, which is alignment. Everybody in your business needs to be aligned, else you're doing a lot of wasted work. My recommendation is this: set a baseline of “this is our productivity”. You could use goal-tracking tools for this.

So if you have a project management tool like a Asana, Basecamp, or any of those things, great, if you don't, survey and ask people what your productivity is indirectly, obviously set a baseline launch or communications initiative and measure behavior that you start seeing in your communications platforms, which are absolutely necessary.

Measure how much your engagement is going up and then survey people to ask about it’s effect. How do you, how well, or how much better do you understand the business, the direction it's taking and your place in it? So in other words, how much is your alignment at the end? You should be able to say, well, because of that, now we're launching another productivity survey.

Hopefully you will be able to see that the productivity benchmark went up. Great way of simply measuring those things, same would happen for engagement. Same would happen for activation. If you're interested in learning more about that, please connect with me on LinkedIn and I can walk you through a full model that I've created on this.

Measuring this stuff is becoming a pretty exciting part of the evolution of Internal Communications. Now, moving on to a question from Diana, Diana says, “do you have any ideas on how to make startup or scale up owners aware of the benefits of Internal Communications? They often wait with hiring someone to handle Internal Comms until they have problems that are then hard to fix?” 

Amanda Steel: It's a tough challenge because you're going up not just against what you need for your department, or what you see as the biggest need for the organization’s productivity level.

If you can't show the value of that beyond just productivity or engagement, sometimes that takes a backseat. Not to say it should, but it'll take a back seat to “Okay, we just need to sell our stuff first”,  “we just need to build a bit more of an audience first” or “we're just not big enough for it yet.”

And it comes from a lack of understanding around the value it adds, which I don't need to tell you, I'm sure you already know that. In my experience, because we're not at a stage personally where we can bring someone on to just manage Internal Communications. It's about building that into a vital part of somebody's existing role or building that into a new hire that would potentially take on one or two other things. Give them the freedom to push that, make that one of their objectives so they can show the results around it.

Again, definitely measure it, but as they start to get really successful with that, you know, folks higher up or business leaders will see this role as adding value with XYZ. That's what they're taking on. Potentially that'll give them the insight they need to say that this should be its own specialized role, or there should be a role or a team within the organization, depending on what size you are.

I know for my own team, we don't have an Internal Communication specialist, but we do have an amazing executive assistant who, in lieu of having to manage a lot of calendars and schedules, has been able to really upscale the coordination of different communications internally through Happeo – making sure that department information is shared readily and looking for other gaps to close internally, but also making sure that communications are going in the right places at the right time. The value that's proving to have, even though that might not be in our budget for the next couple of quarters, has really given us a lot of leverage to say “this has to be an important part of our team.” 

Jonathan Davies: Yeah, that's exactly the approach I take. I think another, maybe it's a little bit of a cop-out me saying this, so forgive me for that, but I think one of the things that I would say is, well, how would you deal with a pandemic without somebody in charge of Internal Comms? And, even though Uberflip doesn't formally have somebody who takes care of Internal Comms, there are a lot of people responsible and have ownership over certain aspects of their communication within the business.

And that's fine when you work at the size of the company that Uberflip is, but there is also a tipping point. What do you think that tipping point would be? When  do you feel that you would need somebody to take care of internal comms as one dedicated person? 

Amanda Steel: I don't think it's just a “how many bodies do you have in the office or in the virtual office” answer. I think it depends on the complexity of the organization to a certain point. I'd say that the tipping point is when either in your engagement survey or into a different sort of pulse check, you're getting the feedback consistently, or not necessarily even consistently, but often enough enough that there are silos within the organization.

Folks don't know what's happening somewhere else. And you're starting to see a drop in trust or company messaging of any sort. If you're starting to see those gaps internally they're definitely there externally as well. If you're having a hard time really establishing your brand, or your brand externally isn't aligning internally anymore.

You're starting to see the need for somebody to specialize in communication. If you're starting to see that policies that fit when you were 50 people just no longer apply, or are creating too much confusion, you need someone to take the reins on Internal Communication. Maybe it's a dedicated person, immediately, maybe that's just somebody who's passionate about the space.

Jonathan Davies: Yeah, absolutely. And I think that. That's actually the best approach to take. Sometimes we've seen this discussion in the Internal Comms community before, and the general consensus there seems to be in terms of bodies, as you put it. So around 150 people, it really becomes necessary to have at least one dedicated Internal Communicator.

I'm a firm believer in the same approach that you've just pointed out of. How complex is this business and how much has that changed? And I love that you brought up that you should actually check, and pulse. So I'm a big believer in the rule of threes. If I see that a particular issue pops up three times in a row, then I know it's time for an Internal Communicator to come.

Yeah. And that's when it's not yet too late, something can be done about it. And that's also actual data that you can confront leadership with. So don't approach leadership and say, “we need an Internal Communicator because we have an issue” without data. No ,approach leadership, and say, “we need an internal communicator because we have a structural issue that is shown from those and those data points and we expect to be able to solve this within X amount of months. We need somebody with X years of experience,” which is a logical assumption that they can solve that. That's the approach I would take when arguing for resources, essentially, which is always a very difficult thing when you're doing Internal Comms.

Amanda Steel: Yes, absolutely. 

Jonathan Davies: Katiriina, I love the comment that you just said in chat. She says  “I've heard someone say that you should have a comms person per 100 people. and she says I'm the only comms person in a 400 people organization. So you should have three colleagues or three more colleagues for that logic.

Amanda Steel: Yeah, it's a, it's one of those things where there’s a bunch of evolved roles in the technical space right now around communications, around privacy and security, around even just a different approach to, to your HR headcount. I've always hated the term cost-center roles. It's harder for the immediate buy-in, and the shifts that we need to be making as organizers. Whether from a communication space or from an HR space, we are looking at these things as strategic opportunities, rather than just problem solvers, which we are for sure.

But looking at this as a, how can we close that gap sooner? If there is an issue that could pop up as you scale. 

Jonathan Davies: Amanda, HR as a field has very much evolved also in the last year, right? Or last years even.

So I should be saying, Peter Capelli's book came out on talent management, which made everything much more measurable and kind of logical innovation came in that industry. Now people are looking at founding entire people analytics teams. I mean, you must recognize this challenge as well, right? 

Amanda Steel: Yeah.

Yeah. Thankfully HR has had a bit of a tipping point that it's not just somebody you hire after you've got some sort of incident, something about building up the structure of the team. And, you know, you'll start to see that communication gets pulled into that bubble. The more we start leveraging data, to get to that point, It has to be about building data.

It has to be not just about the, this is the task we can accomplish for our own departments, but this is the value we add across the organization and for our brand overall, it has to be something that's really, really agile and can jump in where needed. Of course, you're going to want your own structures, sooner than later to really let you keep running.

But I know from my own experience, you know, you have to prove that you can meet the business where the business is, not force the business to come to you. So it's messy for a little bit. It's definitely a messy process. I'm just seeing the comment about Shopify there.

We're still at that stage where communication is just something that random people can take on. my best advice is yes, meet the business there while they're there. Start to prove the value to show that you need to specialize. 

Jonathan Davies: Yeah, amen to that. And Meaghan, actually, if we're looking at Shopify’s situation of having five people out of four or 5,000 people take care of the Internal Comms team, that would actually put you above the average that's defined in the Gatehouse state of the sector reports.

I believe they say there's about one to two people for every 5,000 people, which is a pretty big difference. So I'd say based on that, you're already in a good situation. Now, we have time for one more question, cause we're almost at the end of this fireside chat! I love this question, which I'm going to take on right now:  Kateriina asks, “where do you guys believe Internal Comms roles should sit in the organization, who are the key stakeholders?”

Amanda Steel: I think it has to start with what the purpose of the role is to you. Like my immediate thought for Uberflip is Internal Comms should sit with People and Culture, because our values are rooted in an open and transparency. and the People and Culture team are responsible for safeguarding the values, not owning them in a black box, but, making sure that those are lived up to.

it might be that marketing has a good reason for internal and all communications to, to own the, the, marketing to own the Internal Communications, because, you don't have it large people in culture team or the priority is to make sure that there's brands alignment over values alignment.

So the answer could vary depending on the purpose for the role that you see. Does that make sense? 

Jonathan Davies: Yeah. And I'm going to completely agree with that. I think that that's the best thing. Where does it, who in the business benefits most from having an Internal Communicator to help them realize their goals.

That's the best way to look at it. I've seen cases, recently in a podcast episode that we released about two weeks ago with Emily Scammell of Improbable, she sits in the strategy and operations for the first time in her Internal Comms career. And that worked perfectly for her, which is great.

I've also heard of Internal Communicators who said in the HR departments, and that's always been my preference when I did Internal Comms, mainly because our Internal Comms results were evaluated towards. Happiness, employee turnover, understanding of the business, things that are within the onboarding spectrum, right?

So things that are very much traditionally in their remit. I wasn't part of Internal Comms, but sat in the marketing team, which makes sense because they just went through a big rebrand. So they had to communicate those values and that's an amazing, massive, massive project for an internal communicator.

So  it makes complete sense that the internal communicator then sits there. And Kaitriina now just says that she's part of the strategy team, with a dotted line to the people team, tightly working for the leadership team. I have to say that puts you in an ideal position, in my opinion. And it's definitely good that you want to work on tighter links to marketing and product marketing, because they can really help you execute your tasks even better when it comes to sending information.

But when it comes to understanding where the business is going, you're already at that part. You get that information very soon, which is really great. So Amanda, I just want to thank you again for taking the time to join us for this fireside chats. 

Amanda Steel: It's been an absolute pleasure. Love talking communications, love talking people. So this was fantastic. 



 

Author:

Jonathan Davies

Date:

Fri, Sep 4, '20

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