Internal Communications ‘Fight Club’ IV

IC Fight Club, the antidote to boring networking events was back in town last night for the fourth time. We discussed all things communication but particularly focussed on the role that a CEO should play in communications. Our panellists provided thought provoking examples and opinions about the subject and it took a staggering 43 minutes before anyone mentioned Trump and post truth – (where emotion and personal belief are more influential than facts.)

the panel

  • Justine Stevenson, Head of IC, SAB Miller – change comms around the InBev merger and previously Deutsche Bank
  • Angela Smith, Head of Communication and Engagement, London Market Modernisation, Lloyds – change and change comms and previously HSBC and RBS
  • Oliver Uitenbroek, Head of Communications at CLS Group

the takeaways

We kicked off with the results from Question & Retain’s Pulse Check™.

Is your CEO a natural when it comes to internal communications?

29% of respondents (who were Head of IC or Senior IC professionals) said that their CEO is a natural when it comes to internal communications and if they aren’t it was generally agreed that with some coaching and encouragement CEOs can become good communicators. Working to their strengths is key – if they are charismatic get them out in front of people, if they’re not very good with lots of people arrange for them to be in a room with smaller groups and to write a blog perhaps. Keep feeding back what people are saying to establish your role of being the eyes and ears of the organisation, which can help shape your communications strategy.


When communicating internally, how authentic and compelling is your CEO’s voice?

57% of respondents said that their CEO is authentic and compelling and that a CEO comes across best when unscripted. The topic of ghost writing came up, which prompted a sea of Red cards as the majority agreed that people want authenticity, passion and compassion. Employees want a leader who will set the vision and purpose, lead the way and talk in a way that’s compelling, straight from the heart and develops a connection with people. Employees need a connection with their leaders, they need to trust them in order to get on board. I once heard that the three key tenets of being perceived as trustworthy are:

  1. Ability
  2. Compassion
  3. Integrity

From my own experiences this is right – I’ve known leaders with huge amounts of ability, great charisma, a bit of integrity but not compassion and their trust scores were LOW. We’ve all been there when a leader doesn’t have the ability either, this can be just downright demoralizing (you know who you are…)

This theory also lends itself to Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs – that people will always need the basics to be right, (have the tools to do the job, get paid a fair amount, etc.) before they can even start engaging. A leader with compassion who changes the basics for the better will gain phenomenal amounts of trust, often very quickly. We discussed how once trust is established, this can then be used to change behaviour and a change in behaviour results in culture change. Once a culture has started to change in a company and gain momentum towards one that helps the business function better and meet objectives quicker, business success is imminent.

Compassion and integrity can also come from listening and responding to employees. Standing by your word and having integrity will go far. However do not over promise and under deliver as once you lose that trust it takes a long time to get it back. As Warren Buffet said: “It takes 20 years to build a reputation and five minutes to ruin it.”

Simon Sinek suggests leaders who make their employees feel secure and draw employees into a circle of trust make great leaders.


How good is your CEO at communicating across the generations of staff you have e.g. X, Y, Z, etc.?

There were debates about generational needs but in the end agreement was reached around not pigeon holing ages and that you can’t just assume what employees want. Not ALL millennials want to do everything on social media (in and outside of work). Your organisation is not made up of one homogenous group of people. You have to find out what your employees want and how they want to hear about things. There is never a one-size fits all and there was a discussion about internal communications using more marketing tools to segment audiences better. This led us onto the fact that CONTENT is STILL KING. You can have all the fancy channels in the world but if your content isn’t right, you are not going to develop a connection and get the behaviour change that you want. There is also an argument against having too many channels and for employees to feel overwhelmed with information. This will generally result in them ignoring everything unless it’s a face to face conversation with their manager.

We discussed Return on Investment (ROI) and how it can sometimes be tricky and how some organisations are now talking about Return on Involvement: what important changes are you looking for – increased productivity? Lower absenteeism? Living the values?

A big thank you to all who came and made it a brilliant, informative, fun evening. Not least all our panellists – Justine Stevenson, Angela Smith and our winner – Oli Uitenbroek!


Thank you

Thank you to Liam Fitzpatrick, Author of Internal Communications: A manual for Practitioners and managing partner of Working Communications Strategies, for being our referee for the evenings and of course Question & Retain for their insights from Pulse Check™.

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