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Podcast: How to communicate in a manufacturing environment

What do internal communicators need to think about when communicating in a manufacturing environment?

Alexandra Bîrlădianu is Head of Corporate Communication at Guardian Industries.

She joins me from Luxembourg to talk about the challenges and opportunities of working in a glass and automotive focused organisation.

This is the final Candid Comms podcast episode of season three. We discussed:

  • Communicating change in a manufacturing environment.
  • Why the role of the supervisor is so critical.
  • How to reach shop floor/frontline workers
  • Why you need to translate into local languages
  • Why measurement matters
  • Creating a successful IC strategy
  • What being candid means to her.

Thank you for joining me Alexandra, I enjoyed our conversation immensely.

Candid Comms episode 10, season three, featuring Alexandra Bîrlădianu

Do let me know what you think of this episode and don’t forget to rate, review and follow, so other Comms pros can benefit too.

The episode is available to listen to now. You can find the Candid Comms podcast on your favourite player including Apple PodcastsGoogle PodcastsSpotify and Podbean. Or you can listen below.

Happy birthday Candid Comms!

Candid Comms has just celebrated its first birthday. Thank you to everyone for tuning in over the past year. To mark the occasion, a brand new range of Candid Comms podcast notebooks are available to purchase now via Amazon. They’ve been designed to help you capture your show notes in one place.

They contain sections called one thing to know, one thing to do and one thing to think about.

Further reading: What internal communicators are listening to.

Transcript of this week’s episode

Rachel Miller:

You’re listening to the Candid Comms podcast with Rachel Miller. Join me every week for practical advice and inspirational ideas to help you focus on all things internal communication related. Hello, and welcome to the show. On today’s episode, I am joined by a very special guest who’s here to help us delve into the world of manufacturing environments and what it’s like to communicate in that sort of environment. So welcome to the show, Alexandra.

Alexandra Bîrlădianu:

Thank you very much, Rachel. Thank you for having me.

Rachel Miller:

You’re so welcome. Could you introduce yourself and tell us where you work and how long you’ve been working in internal comms for?

Alexandra Bîrlădianu:

So, hi everyone. My name is Alexandra Bîrlădianu. I work for Guardian Industries, which is a manufacturing company with operations in the glass industry and the automotive sector. And I’ve been working in internal communication since 2010. So that’s 12 years.

Rachel Miller:

Yeah it’s 12 years. Has it flown by?

Alexandra Bîrlădianu:

Indeed they have.

Rachel Miller:

Marvellous. Thank you. And Alexandra, I’ve invited you on because I’ve had the pleasure of working with you over the years since 2016 in particular. And in the wonderful world of internal communication, we always come up against different conundrums and we find ourselves in different situations, in different organisations where perhaps we have hard to reach employees, or we are communicating in multiple languages.

Rachel Miller:

And I know from the work that I’ve seen you do, and I’ve had the pleasure of advising you on, that you face multiple challenges with your wonderful workforce. So I would love to know from your perspective, what is it like to lead internal communication in a manufacturing environment?

Alexandra Bîrlădianu:

I think working in internal communication in any environment is exciting, right? There is a lot of trust put upon us and we have a huge responsibility. But when I think at manufacturing, it’s exciting because our audience doesn’t fit in one box. It’s not a standard approach that we can employ. We can’t just say, “Hey, I’m going to do A, B, C” and it’s going to work and everything is going to be perfect. Probably it’s not like that in any environment, but even more so in manufacturing.

Alexandra Bîrlădianu:

So as I said when I introduced myself, we are a company with 14,000 employees, and we serve to slightly different industries I would glass and automotive and we have both office based employees. Right. And they are email connected because I don’t want to say that they’re connected because our shop floor employees, they are connected as well just not through email. Just the fact that they don’t have a corporate email address it doesn’t make them less connected to the day to day and to the business.

Alexandra Bîrlădianu:

So we have office based email connected employees, and the advantage with them or for them, is that they can proactively go on our internal platform, which is called the Hub and search for information themselves. And that’s quite privileged in my opinion, having that freedom to just go somewhere like you go on Google and you look for the information that you need. And then our shop floor employees, they don’t have an email address, or they do not depend on one for their day to day work.

And most of the time they rely on their supervisor, they rely on plant leadership, plan meetings, notice boards, et cetera, to learn what is happening in the company. And as you mentioned, we have colleagues also speaking multiple languages. And I think most of them they speak good to great English, but that’s not certainty. So how do we ensure that we have that shared understanding when we talk about something?

So that’s another challenge. Then you have a truly global footprint that adds to the mix of challenges, right? Because we go from United States to Mexico, to Brazil, then you go Europe or Russia, Africa, Middle East, India, all the way to Thailand, to Australia, China, Japan, while we have one organisational culture, we also have different cultures and different ways in which people interact.

Rachel Miller:

That’s huge, isn’t it? That’s absolutely enormous. I mean, there’s never a one size fits all approach to internal communication, but my goodness, all those multiple markets and multiple languages and time zones and never a dull moment. I think it’s probably fair to say within the world of internal comms, when you are operating in that source of environment, when you are truly global and diverse organisation with all of those cultures and all of those different needs, I guess in terms of, from an internal comms perspective it’s not going to be a one size fits all.

Alexandra Bîrlădianu:

And the thing is as you just said, they have various needs or various challenges. And what we need to do is to experiment with different approaches and try to create tactics because if not all the type of contents we produce in and share with them, if not all of them work, maybe at least one or two or three is going to be helpful for them and is going to help them in their daily work. So hopefully what we’re doing is helping them stay informed and do better in their roles.

Rachel Miller:

I love the fact, you snuck a little bit of that, the purpose of internal comms in your answer about having a shared meaning, that shared understanding and shared meaning which listeners of this podcast will know. I talk a lot about the purpose of internal communication isn’t telling people what to do, it’s to create a shared understanding and a shared meaning.

The purpose of internal communication isn't telling people what to do, it's to create a shared understanding and a shared meaning, so our employees can align their efforts with the company's goals and purpose.

And that’s certainly drives how I work and looking for opportunities to given everything we know about our workforce, given all the differences and given all the similarities, how do you create a shared understanding and meaning with taking in all of that into account?

Alexandra Bîrlădianu:

I want to add something else here that I think is important, right? Something that I really want to say is that we do you not want to create content or communication tactics that are not helpful for our colleagues. We don’t believe in communication for the sake of communication. We don’t believe that more is better. And we constantly as a team, we challenge ourselves.

And we ask ourselves, is this piece of content helpful for our audience in their specific roles, in advancing the company vision, in understanding the business priorities and aligning their work to our vision and to the business priorities. Because if internal communication does not help the business achieve its purpose, then what are we doing here?

Rachel Miller:

I hear you. Absolutely. I’m silently cheering it. We can see each other on video. Yes. I’m going to raise my arms go, yes, totally that, you’re right. More is not more in the world of internal communication. You’re absolutely right. How important is that for you in terms of being aware of? We talk a lot in internal comms about the noise and being aware of having helicopter view to use Bill, I’ll include this in the show notes, Bill Quirke’s work from his book, Making the Connections, we’re having that overarching view of how the company’s communicating and being mindful of the noise and being mindful of all the conversations and connections and things that are going on.

Further reading: Making the Connections by Bill Quirke.

So I love the fact you said that you and your team challenge yourselves to keep an eye on that and be aware of that and be mindful of how noisy it is in the organisation. What impact does that have if you can be aware of the noise that’s going on, what difference does that make?

Alexandra Bîrlădianu:

I think for us it helps us push back a little bit when people come with various requests and the first question is, how is this request aligned, right? What business priority does this support? How is this aligned with our vision? How is this help advance our vision? And that helps a lot people prioritise what they want to do or what they want to ask from us. And it’s helpful for us to be realistic about the impact that we’re having for the business.

But it also helps others ask themselves, am I really acting in support of the vision or I’m just creating more work for myself and for others. And I think that helps, sometimes we get endorsement requests, right? Hey, I want to do a little endorsement. But what I’m trying to say here is that asking people, how is this request aligned to our vision and business priorities, it just stops us from working on a request that’s not going to bring value.

Rachel Miller:

I think that’s the constant challenge isn’t it? For internal communicators is how do we push back and say, no. For me talking my language in terms of the lens that we are looking through is what we are trying to do creating that shared understanding and shared meaning to help people align themselves to the company’s purpose, goals, mission. And if it’s not, you are not going to get as bigger space on the internet or as bigger response from the corporate communication team.

Because actually what we are here to do is to join the dots between the work that’s being done and the business priorities. So I think you’re absolutely spot on. I think the closer we can be in terms of how we in take work and how we are challenging, how we are guiding, she says nicely, how we’re guiding stakeholders to help them understand that it’s a project that’s important to them.

That actually is only applicable to one region, one country, one team, is not going to get a lot of air time across our channels because we’re not here to serve the vanity projects. We’re here to help people join the dots in terms of how their work is impacting us as an organisation overall. So I think you’re right.

The closer you are to knowing the business priorities, the better informed we can be as internal communicators, the more confident we can be in pushing back, because we’re able to explain I’m saying no because it doesn’t align with the vision. I’m saying, gosh, that’s hard when you first start doing that, that feels really difficult, but it definitely gets easier over time.

Alexandra Bîrlădianu:

But also when you explain why you’re saying no, people understand.

Rachel Miller:

They may not like it though, but they understand.

Alexandra Bîrlădianu:

Exactly. They may not like it, but they understand and that’s the beauty of it. Right?

Rachel Miller:

Absolutely. So that’s a challenge that lots of people encounter in the world of internal comms. Let me ask you about key challenges for you. What have you encountered and what have you overcome through your work?

Alexandra Bîrlădianu:

So something that I really want to make clear, I guess it’s overcome is a really big word, right? While we’ve made significant improvements, I think each challenge we take and each challenge we have takes us on a journey of experimentation and measurements, right. You get a challenge, you experiment then you measure and you look at the metrics you set for yourself and then that knowledge inspires more experimentation and so on. It’s almost like going in circles, but in a positive way I would say.

And definitely a journey, every everything we’re doing, because experimentation and measurements should never stop in any function and in any organisation. So considering the fact that I’m referring to this journey, I think I want to talk about how we’re reaching colleagues on the shop floor in a meaningful and in a helpful way. And we do this in several ways, right? So first of all, it’s through supervisors because in our company, in our culture, the supervisor plays a very important role.

Alexandra Bîrlădianu:

So if someone in our company has direct reports, regardless of their title or their position in the company, they are a supervisor. And they are responsible for helping each and every employee in their team understand and apply market based management, which is our culture, leverage their gifts and continually grow, develop, and self-actualise. And no matter how well our companies or colleagues have been performing, we all must continually improve. We must grow, right?

Rachel Miller:

And these are phrases you use a lot, aren’t they? So self-actualisation, and these are phrases that we normally try and avoid in the world of internal comms, but from the work that we’ve done together, I know that’s so in built into your culture, and it’s just part of the way that you talk as an organisation, because people understand what it means. You spend time helping them understand what all of these key phrases are.

I just wanted to pick up on that because to me looking from the outside in you’ve spent so much time helping people understand and explaining what these things are, but when you talk about it people understand what they are and that’s tough. And that takes hard work. It takes hard graph. There’s a lot there to be proud of from the work that you’ve done. So apologies I interrupted you. Go ahead.

Alexandra Bîrlădianu:

Thank you. No, but it’s true, right? Because this is all connected to our culture and what we want is people to understand our culture. Once they understand and apply, it’s just easier for everyone, right? We’re all aligned. We’re all one team on the field going in the same direction hopefully. But going back to the responsibilities of each supervisor and why they have such an important role in internal communication as well. And there’s something that you used to say? When we were meeting, how communication or internal communication is not just the job of corporate communication or the business of corporate communication, it’s everyone’s.

Rachel Miller:

I do say that. I say internal communication is too important to left down to one team, one department or one person, it’s everyone’s responsibility. As you say that a lot, I believe that, I can’t stress that enough.

Internal communication is too important to be left to one person, team or department. It is everyone's responsibility

Alexandra Bîrlădianu:

Exactly. So in our case, supervisors they need to ensure that their teams are connected to our transformative business vision. And that each of their direct report is continually learning, improving, and is connected to how their efforts, how their everyday work, how their everyday contribution affects the results of our company and how we create value for our constituency.

And we recently had our kickoff meeting and one of our executive vice presidents, he really talked about how, if the resources we use don’t create value for our constituency then those resources should be used in a different way, or by someone else. Being mindful of the way we’re using resources. And we have this in our culture, right? Using the least possible resources. When you work on a project how do you do that?

Because you want to make sure that we’re not wasting. So it’s important that our supervisor connect their team members with how their contribution is creating value for the company. So we try to create helpful internal communications for supervisors, right? We do business updates, but with some of the business updates we create discussion guides that can be accessed by supervisors, or they can be accessed including by their direct reports.

And this guides they have top provoking questions that help them connect, hey, connect that update, or that specific thing that is happening in the company with the vision, with the culture, with our guiding principles. When we announce something or where there is a new transformation we try to provide them with talking points and frequently ask questions and communication workshops where we talk, hey, this is what’s going to happen, let’s prepare you a little bit. These are the resources that are available for you to go and speak with your team about a specific project and so on.

Alexandra Bîrlădianu:

Because we believe that mass communication can only be so effective. It creates awareness, right? We put something on our internal platform on the Hub, but if people might see it, might read it or they might not, and to reach understanding. So I understand I get what is happening to reach belief. I believe in this, I buy it. And to reach commitment I really want to make it happen. I’m emotionally attached to this project I want to see it succeed.

We need supervisors to have these meaningful conversations with their team members. We need supervisors to guide their team members to change, to answer their questions, to offer support. Because at the end of the day, we want to create ownership of the outcome. We want our employees to give us feedback. We want them to ask questions, to share the knowledge that they have, to share it with other people, we want more experimentation, we want more innovation.

And that happens when people are committed to the outcome, they want to make it happen. And an update on internal communication platform is not going to get us there. It’s going to create awareness, but it’s not going to get us the commitment. So that’s why supervisors are. So one of the reasons why supervisors are so important and internal communication, our function, engaging with them and trying to help them be prepared for such conversations is so important. So that’s the first way.

Rachel Miller:

So just to pick up what you said there about moving from awareness to the belief and the commitment, I think that’s so important because very often if you just have something on an internet, something goes on the Hub, it’s not enough. It’s just not enough. I think I can hear the passion in that as you’re talking about how important your supervisors are and how critical it is that you move beyond just awareness. Awareness it’s the first step, or it’s just not enough. It doesn’t go deep enough.

So it’s really lovely to hear you describe that in very practical terms. In terms of there’s a logic there, there’s a robustness, there’s a rigour there that if we apply this thinking into our work, then we’re going to move employees in the right direction. We can create excitement, we can create a deeper understanding of something, a deeper knowledge of something, hopefully a deeper commitment and belief. I love that. I love how you describe that mindset and ethos behind how you’re working.

Alexandra Bîrlădianu:

Thank you. So the second way we’re trying to tackle the challenge is through a knowledge network we created for our internal platform for the Hub. So it’s called the Hub Knowledge Network and we have Hub ambassadors, right?

Rachel Miller:

Mm-hmm (affirmative). This is your intranet, right? Your intranet is your Hub.

Alexandra Bîrlădianu:

Yes. So it’s our internal communication platform and it’s built on SharePoint.

Rachel Miller:

People either cheered or not according to that point. There’s a love, hate relationship with SharePoint but we’re cheering today, right?

Alexandra Bîrlădianu:

Honestly, no. I mean, it does the job for us. I think we would like more from a measurement point of view and-

Rachel Miller:

That’s a whole other episode, right?

Alexandra Bîrlădianu:

Yeah. That’s a whole other episode. But we set our Hub as a communication side on SharePoint and it’s great. Anyway, I can’t tell you all about it, but I digress. So why we created this knowledge network is we wanted to tap into the diverse knowledge all around us, right? So we decided to launch a network of ambassadors for the Hub who would help us identify local and regional communication opportunities, but also take the Hub to the next level.

Alexandra Bîrlădianu:

And take the Hub to our colleagues on the shop floor and give us feedback on how we are doing, right. Is what we’re doing working, is the content valuable. Is it helping them? Right. And we go to them to also, for them to make suggestions for improvement. It’s an open space where everybody can share their thoughts and feedback in a helpful way. So it’s cross regional and we have it across the business.

So different people from different parts of the business, they’re dedicated to developing interesting and relevant content to engage employees with our vision and priorities and of course promote our culture, which is very, very important. And the purpose is we didn’t want to be the ivory tower that just shouts messages, right? We didn’t want to communicate to employees.

We wanted to communicate with them. And to go from regional to local, but also to go from local to regional to global. And the goals of the network are basically to share better stories in a better way for effective two way engagement, but also at the right place and the right time. Because I am based in Luxembourg, my team Page and Jeremiah they’re based in the U.S., but we have many, many facilities, right.

Alexandra Bîrlădianu:

And we can’t easily go to our facilities. We can’t just pop in and out and talk with people. So we have the knowledge network who is helping us, who’s giving us feedback. And we have regional coordinators. So we have a coordinator in each of the region, and then we have local ambassadors and we have almost in each of our locations. And we meet with them once every two months, and if the situation requires even monthly. And then another thing that we’re doing, right? So that’s the knowledge network, what we do, some smaller stuff as well, even though the Hub is not accessible to our shop floor colleagues, what we’re doing for each.

So every time we publish a story or an article on the right side, we have this prompt, right. We create a print friendly version, and we literally ask our colleagues, please print this story and share it to an employee on the shop floor who does not have an email address or access to the Hub. And it’s a simple way to make sure that, hey, have you thought about your colleague that maybe you’re having coffee today? Maybe he doesn’t have access to the Hub, or hasn’t seen this, it’s two step to just easily print this and give it to them.

Rachel Miller:

Do they do it? How successful is that? I can see that, that’s a problem and I can see that, that’s a good solution. What, your experience of people actually doing it? What’s the take up like?

Alexandra Bîrlădianu:

So we discovered that, for example, things that are more visual, get more downloads like when you do an infographic. We recently did an infographic for one of our transformations around the value mobile technology. And it got a lot of downloads because it had little icons, it had information. So we try to make these things visual.

And we also try to translate them, if we do a story about one location, let’s say in Poland, Spain or Mexico, we try to provide the language version of that story as well. So the issue with SharePoint is that, that doesn’t give us a lot of data for analytics. So it’s hard to say, sometimes we say, hey, this thing has been downloaded 200 times. It’s huge, but what do we benchmark it with?

Rachel Miller:

Sure. It’s the perennial problem, isn’t it of measurement. It sounds great. But what was the potential there and what was the cause of action? And what was the outcome? Measurement is we’ve had many conversations about measurement haven’t we, over the years. It’s important. It’s super important. Two questions for me there.

So number one is, where does it go? So where they print it off, does it go on a notice board or does it get handed to people? And then I want to pick up on your point there about languages and ask you about how many languages you’re communicating in. So let me ask you where that information goes. So people are printing stories of from the Hub, are they physically handing it to each other?

Alexandra Bîrlădianu:

So ideally yes, a supervisor would physically hand it to his team or a colleague would physically hand it. We also do PowerPoint presentations for the screens in the facilities in the canteens and so on, with a summary of the stories hoping that they will go in and ask their supervisor for more information. And literally anybody can take it and put it on a notice board. So we have a four formats and we do eight, three formats for certain stories just to facilitate that, to put them on the notice board.

Rachel Miller:

To make it massive. So you can see it.

Alexandra Bîrlădianu:

Yes.

Rachel Miller:

So can I ask you about languages, and how many languages are you communicating in and how do you plan for translation?

Alexandra Bîrlădianu:

So it’s case by case, right? It’s tailored. It’s not one approach fits all. And it depends on the project. Sometimes I think the most we translated to was up to 13 languages. And I think relevant to our discussion was to go a little bit into the operations vision, right? So the operations vision were for our operations floor, for our operators. So we translated that in Arabic, French, German, many, many languages.

But also with the Spanish, for example, we had European Spanish, we had Spanish of Mexico and we had Spanish for Latin America because each has various nuances that it’s important that we captured. We were talking about that shared understanding and making sure that we get it right, because it’s not like a Google translate that we’re just going to copy paste in a document.

Rachel Miller:

So from an internal comms perspective that has to be planned for, right? That kind of an investment.

Alexandra Bîrlădianu:

Yes. So if we consider translation for a project, we add two to three weeks and what we’re doing, we have internal proofreaders. So these are colleagues of ours who are incredibly helpful. This is not part of their role. We’re just, we are reaching out to them asking them, hey, do you think you have time to look at this translation for us, it’s for this project.

Rachel Miller:

We love people like that.

Alexandra Bîrlădianu:

Yeah. And we have some really great colleagues and it depends, right. Because for example, for let’s say internal talking points about an investment, we would go to someone working in sales and we would ask them to dedicate time to review that, if we’re doing something for our operations team we would ask someone in operations to review. So it’s not like the same person can proofread multiple documents. And we also look at measurement results.

Alexandra Bîrlădianu:

So for example, we look, because on the Hub, we can create pages in multiple languages and we look, hey, how many people have read this story compared to the English version? If the number is significant, then new next time we will translate that story. And we try to, right. We’re not going translate every story in every language, but if we do a story about our employees in Brazil, we would want to have a version in Portuguese for people to be able to share or read in their native language. So it’s multiple factors that inform a final decision.

Rachel Miller:

I love how thoughtful, and I can see in adding two or three weeks onto a project, you need to be aware up front. You need to be mindful of this information is so important and so critical for our people at a local level, in a language that is perhaps their native tongue, then you have to plan for that, don’t you?

So I know that you’ve had changes to deal with in your organisation as many organisations have. Can I shift our conversations just to think about change and particular, what have you had to deal with and how have you planned your change communication? Given everything told us about the environment and context and languages and roles of supervisors.

Alexandra Bîrlădianu:

So it started in 2019 where we were invited to help with communication on a very big transformation project at that time. And I developed a playbook, let’s call it a playbook, right. And it had kind of seven elements. We looked at mapping the stakeholders in our target audience, how we want to communicate the vision, explaining key concepts. Right? Because for example, if I take something random like automation, automation can mean one thing for me, it can mean a completely different thing for you.

So explaining what we mean by specific concept, preparing supervisors to talk about it was another important step. One thing for making sure that we update on milestones, right? Because this transformation sometimes can take a really long time. Keeping people engaged and keeping people motivated to continue to engage with what is happening can be tough. So making sure that we celebrate success and then constant updates on milestones were part of the playbook. And then we envision measurement all throughout. So it’s not you measure at the end, you have to measure throughout to see how you’re doing.

Rachel Miller:

I am nodding vigorously here, listeners. Yes, totally do not wait until the end. Then we find out the word transformation didn’t make sense at first reference in six months down the line. Guess what? It still doesn’t make sense. We need to check right up front. I could not agree with you more.

Alexandra Bîrlădianu:

Yeah. I mean, there should not be any discussion about internal communication without measurement. I think that’s very important. So as I was saying about our playbook, right? It evolved, this was our very, very first step. I remember at that time, I think I did a workshop with the Institute of Internal Communication. I think I participated in one of their Masterclasses. So because suddenly there was a need in the company and I was like, “Okay, I need more information. I want to support, but we need more information as a team.”

So I did that. And gathering that information, learning more, but also experimenting and getting feedback from our teams, our approach evolved and became a little bit more consistent. So we continue to consider as a first step the stakeholder mapping and the target audience mapping who are stakeholders are. And then communicating vision. This is super important. Once you know who your stakeholders, you need to align with leadership, what’s the vision of the future state, how that’s going to look like, what’s our change story.

Alexandra Bîrlădianu:

We call it change stories where are we putting ourselves in the shoes of our audience and we’re asking ourselves, what are the questions that our audience are going to have and explaining that in an article that makes sense and anticipates these questions. And of course inviting for more questions. So aligning with leadership, developing the change story, looking at risks, actions, basically starting building the communication plan because the communication plan is going to keep evolving throughout the transformation.

We kept explain key concepts because again, shared understanding very, very important, but then we added up reviewing our communication channels. Does what we have is enough or do we need additional communication channels? Do they do the work that we need them to do for this specific purpose or not? So this is how we started launching resource centres on the Hub. So we have the one stop shop for people to know, hey, I need to know something about this transformation about this change.

There’s a resource centre I know that I’m going to get the most updated information there I’ll go there. And we started setting up knowledge networks, again, having ambassadors who can on one hand influence adoption, but on the other hand, really taking the time to answer questions from the organisation, taking the time to speak with people and be available to those people for if they have questions.

So setting up the network, preparing supervisors to talk about it, engaging opinion leaders. This is very, very important when it comes to change, because most of the time opinion leaders, people look up to them, right? People go to them to ask for information, making sure that they are informed, I think it’s really important in the process of change. Then updating on milestones. And as I said, celebrating success, but also measurement all throughout.

So instead of seven step playbook, it evolved a little bit. And of course there’s no such thing as one size fits all. We’re not going to apply this change communication approach to all our transformations. We’re going to look at each project, we’re going to discuss with the team and we’re going to see, hey, does this make sense to you? If it does make sense? Yes, if it doesn’t, we adapt.

Rachel Miller:

I like the fact you’re not starting from scratch every time. I think that’s super important, particularly for change. Let’s hope that we’ve woken early with plenty of time to plan when change is happening or transformation’s happening. But if you’re not, I can see the value there of having, this is what we do, this is what we know, this is our approach, this is what works, this is what doesn’t.

And then when change happens, as it inevitably does, I feel like you are on the front foot there, that you can just get cracking and actually get started and really helping influence the change that’s going on and plan I imagine in a really thorough way. We are going to take a short break. And when we come back, Alexandra and I are going to talk about internal communication strategy. See you in a moment.

Book your place on an IC Masterclass. Photo of Strategic IC Masterclass 2021

Rachel Miller:

Welcome back. In the final part of today’s episode, Alexandra and I are going to be diving into the world of internal communication strategy and also that hot topic of measurement. So Alexandra, tell me about your internal communication strategy, because I know that you’ve done some amazing work on it. Could you share some insights into the work that you’ve done.

Alexandra Bîrlădianu:

I don’t think we can talk about strategy without talking about internal communication audit. And actually this reminds me of how we met, because when I joined the company in 2016, I was tasked or I was asked to do the internal communication strategy for Europe and Russia. And I remember I started doing some online research and I found your article on how to write an internal communication strategy, which had the same infographic with a person with lots of hands, and it was kind of explaining what to include in your strategy.

Further reading: How to write an IC strategy.

And this took me to participating in your strategic communication Masterclassesss in 2016 and introduced me to the CIPR inside communication measurement metrics, right? Because I think you covered that. If I remember correctly, you covered that in the Masterclassesss. So I did our audit and we looked at channels, content conversations, voice sentiment, and behaviour and based on the results I developed the very first strategy back in 2017. And the vision was to have an informed, engaged and connected workshop.

Alexandra Bîrlădianu:

And I presented to our leadership team four steps. One was advocating for internal communication having a year or sit at the table. So being brought in early and often so we can engage and consult. The second was developing the IC function that I suggested. And I think that was the very first seat of a knowledge network that we now have for the Hub. So we wanted to have collaborators in each facility that could inform us, hey, this is what’s important for our teams over here. And the third step was defining messaging in a timely manner and keeping supervisors informed.

And the fourth leg of that strategy was training for communication skills, providing information packages and being a trusted advisor to supervisors as well. So that was the very first strategy. In 2019, I repeated the audit. We tried to do it kind of every three years so we tried to do it periodically. And I was pleased to see that it worked that there was significant growth across all the indicators, which was fantastic.

In 2019, our team in the current format was formed and we revisited the vision for corporate communication and for internal communication and the strategy. And I think the words we selected for our vision were very, very careful, right? We looked at innovatingly use the communication channels to create and maintain meaningful and mutually beneficial relationship with our audiences. So it’s a relationship and it needs to be mutually beneficial by providing them with content that is relevant and easily accessible.

Alexandra Bîrlădianu:

Our vision is to create a dialogue and through this dialogue, we will establish our position as a preferred partner, create measurable values or measurement for the business and learn what our audience is value to further enhance our offering. So we set up expectation for the team in terms of strategic leadership, by providing clear direction and facilitating contribute to our partners, thinking effectiveness.

Rachel Miller:

You set your story out, everything there, I’m listening to that. And I’m listening and I know those words and you shared those words with me. But hearing you say that you can just see the impact. If we nail that, if we set our story out, this is who we are, what we do, how we show up, how we add value, then you can measure against it.

It’s so tangible rather than a vision has to be an aspirational statement of intent. It has to be far reaching, it has to be hopefully inspirational. And I love how the words that you’ve used are so carefully chosen. What impact did that make for you as a team having that vision in place?

Alexandra Bîrlădianu:

Well, it gave us clarity, right? We had clarity in terms of, hey, what’s going to be the value that we can create for the company. And it gave us a challenge, right? Because to have mutually beneficial relationships, to have meaning, to have content that is relevant and accessible, it’s our North Star. I mean, we’re not here for us, we’re here for the organisation. We are here to serve. We’re here to serve our colleagues, we’re here to serve this organisation. And that’s so important. We’re here to serve.

Rachel Miller:

I completely agree with you. It’s not about us as content creators, it’s about us as curators. So we’re joining people together. We’re amplifying their voices. It’s not about our bylines. It’s not about how many articles we’ve written on an internet. It’s about how many voices have we amplified to create that shared understanding and shared meaning. Yeah. Couldn’t agree more with you there.

So you mentioned measurement there. Can I pick you up on measurement and ask you, how do you measure? What do you do? So given you’ve got vision, and you’ve got strategy, and you’ve got these amazing things in place, how do you know if you’re doing a good job? How do you measure?

Alexandra Bîrlădianu:

So we have a monthly report that we do, and sometimes we’re constrained by resources and we do it every two months, but this is something that we take very seriously. And we list monthly priorities and experiments, giving an overview of various actions we took and what were the results. And we also mark the unexpected events in that month that took us away from our priorities, because that’s important as well to highlight. We have a chapter dedicated to lesson learned and overall stop start continue actions.

So looking at what we’re going to do, what we’re going to stop, what we’re going to start or continue based on what the data is telling us. We have another chapter on upcoming priorities and experiments. So what we’re going to focus on in the next month or the next two months, or the next three months, and then we go in depth. So quantitative numbers for key corporate communication and content KPI, such as the Hub Traffic, return visits, views, the amount of content we created, because we want to say, hey, when we count the content, was it too much? Was it too little?

Was it relevant? Was it overwhelming for our audience? Should we take a step back? Should we give them more time to read? And so on. Traffic flow. And then we look at live events. So how many people participated, how many questions they asked, how many questions we answered, how did people engage to that resource centres? What was the top content and as well, internal emails and leadership communication. So we draw conclusions from the numbers with overall takeaways and stop start continued suggestions for each category.

And roughly every three years, like I mentioned, we try to do an in-depth audit with surveys in multiple languages and focus groups, targeting 20% of our colleagues in terms of the response rate. So we first do the survey, we analyse that and then we do the focus group. And then we produce a report that informs what actions we’re going to take until the next audit overall or so on.

Rachel Miller:

So super comprehensive, isn’t it? I think the fact that you are not just doing the quantitative, not just doing the surveys, but you’re doing the qualitative, you’re doing the outcome focused conversations. So what’s happened as a result of all these stories on the Hub or our supervisors printing off content and putting it on the notice boards. And that the qualitative is the gold dust for internal comms for me. It’s really digging deep through focus groups, listening exercises to really, truly understand what’s going on.

And particularly in any environment, but a manufacturing environment, having those avenues in where you are actually creating opportunities for people to have their say and share back their feedback is incredibly useful for us as internal communicators, because then you can make informed decisions in terms of, we know what’s working, we know what’s not, and we know what to do differently. And I love stop, start, continue, you know that I’m a massive fan, stop start, continue.

It doesn’t have to be so wordy and complicated. It has to be whatever you’re doing to be measurable has to then be actionable and tangible. So I love the fact that you’re using stop, start, continue to really focus in on so what do we do as a result of what we know. So I’m going to bring our conversation to a close by asking you as this is the Candid Comms Podcast, what does being candid mean to you?

Alexandra Bîrlădianu:

It means being genuine, putting your heart and soul into something you believe in because you want to help, and you want to create value for our colleagues and for the company we work for. And it means striving every day to be worthy of the trust given to us by our colleagues and the leadership of our company. That’s what it means.

Rachel Miller:

I think that’s beautiful. Love it. What a lovely way to end our conversation. Alexandra, thank you so much for your candour today for being open with us and giving us a peek into the wonderful world of manufacturing and the good work that you and the team are doing at Guardian Industries. Thank you. Where can people find you online if they want to look you up?

Alexandra Bîrlădianu:

They can find me on LinkedIn.

Rachel Miller:

Marvellous. And I’ll include a link in the show notes at allthingsic.com/podcast, which will include the show notes from this episode. Thank you so much for joining me today Alexandra. I’ve really enjoyed our conversation. Thank you Comms friends for tuning in. As ever, I’d love you to connect with me. You can find me on Twitter at All Things IC, look me up on Instagram, Rachel All Things IC, you can find me on LinkedIn at Rachel Miller, and you can find all the show notes, allthingsic.com/podcast.

And happy birthday to the Candid Comms Podcast. We have just celebrated our one year birthdays. And thank you so much to everyone who tunes in. I love hearing from you, do let me know what you’re taking away from this episode. And remember as ever, what happens inside is reflected outside. See you again soon. (music)

Post author: Rachel Miller

First published on the All Things IC blog 5 February 2022.

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