Are you working in a professional services firm?
How do you communicate with your employees when they are on site with your clients?
How can you help employees feel connected with your organisation?
Today’s episode of the Candid Comms podcast focuses on how to communicate in professional services.
About Candid Comms
The Candid Comms podcast launched in January 2021. It is a weekly show designed to connect internal communication professionals to the advice and guidance, to help you thrive in your role.
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.
Transcript of this week’s episode
Hello and welcome to the show. Today’s episode comes to you because of professional communicator Hanna von Wendt. Hanna is based in Paris, in France, and she responded to my call to action at the end of season three to encourage you to invite me to record an episode on a topic of your choice. Hanna’s request was to record an episode focused on how to communicate in professional services. Hanna, because of you, this is the focus of today’s episode. And as ever, you will leave with one thing to know, one thing to do, and one thing to think about. Let’s get started.
Do you have hard-to-reach audiences in your organisation?
This is the phrase that we use, comms friends, when we’re trying to describe different types of people or different employee groups. Remote workers or hard-to-reach people are normally the phrase that we give when we have colleagues who are working in non-computerised environments. They’re not sat in front of a computer throughout their shift. They may be driving a train, or maybe they’re on a hospital ward, or maybe they’re a pilot, maybe they’re working in a shop, maybe they are working in a factory. They’re not typically sat in front of a device day in, day out. Therefore, it makes the challenge of communicating a little more complex because they’re not easy to reach immediately.
That mindset for us is important as we go into this episode. Hanna’s query to me was, could we devote one podcast episode to Internal Communication in professional services? The example there that she’s given me is many employees working from client premises. Worst case scenario is where you have employees without a company computer or perhaps a company phone. This is the comms conundrum that we are going to be tackling today. The first thing for us to focus on, what we need to know is our audience. Now, I don’t like the phrase audience because I think it implies a performance.
My preference is employee groups. You need to know who we’re trying to communicate with in our organisation. Whether you’re a professional services or any other organisation, it is our business to know our business as professional internal communicators. And therefore, we need to be really clear. When you’re thinking about professional services, for example, then how many employees are we dealing with? What’s the scenario that we’re facing? We really need to know this before we can possibly plan our Internal Communication. The example Hanna gave was many employees working from client premises.
You find that in a variety of organisations where people spend majority of their work and life on site in other organisations. I had this when I was working at Novartis Pharmaceutical Company, when I was working in-house. Part of my remit was helping out employees in client situations, so our sales force, for example. These people were out and about on the road with healthcare professionals day in, day out. They weren’t sat in front of a computer. They were typically in their cars going from site to site, from hospitals and health centres and working with healthcare professionals.
From my perspective, they were hard to reach because they weren’t in one place. They weren’t in a fixed location all of the time. They were always out and about and rarely in one place with one particular device or comms mechanism to hand. Other organisations who face this type of conundrum are manufacturing environments. I encourage you to look back at season three of the Candid Comms Podcast in episode 10, which is focused on how to communicate in a manufacturing environment, if that applies to you, if you are also in a manufacturing environment with factories. In that conversation with my lovely client, Alexandra, we focused on multiple languages, multiple sites, factory floor situations.
How do you reach people there, and how do you listen to them and include them in your Internal Communication?
That’s season three episode 10, How to Communicate in a Manufacturing Environment. But for the focus today for us is being clear on who are those people.
Who is in those employee groups? One mechanism you could use is employee personas. I always hesitate when it comes to personas, because from experience, they’re rarely great if I’m really being candid with you. This is the Candid Comms Podcast, so I’m going to be candid with you. A good effective employee persona for me is where you are creating we have these types of people who are doing this type of role.
What good looks like is you have real people involved in helping to shape those personas who are able to articulate, “These are our access requirements when it comes to communication. This is the normal situation that we find ourselves in day-to-day. We are working these shift patterns, or we have these languages, or we have this opportunity to see posters perhaps or to be in one location.”
Whatever it might be, you need to make them real people. The reason I hesitated on personas is when they become too generic, when we’re making assumptions either by the demographics within our organisation, maybe by age, or length of service, or gender even sometimes.
Don’t do that. If you’re thinking about creating employee personas, then I really encourage you to do it properly and do so by finding real people who can help you bring these personas to life.
Thinking about professional services, if you were to map out your audience groups, your employee groups, and break it down in terms of who are we trying to communicate with. This is communicate with, not to, not at but with. How are we trying to have conversations inside our organisation? Who are we trying to reach? Get really, really clear with that. If you don’t know that and if every channel that you’re doing, every mechanism you’re doing is all employees, it’s not working hard enough, comms friends.
We need to be really intentional and split out an organisation via groups of employees or types of role, then we can get organised, then we can make a plan. If you know that you have colleagues who are working from client premises, who don’t have company computer or don’t have phones, for example, you need to be creative in the ways that you reach them. There are a number of things that are available to you. There’s many options available on the market when it comes to apps, for example. I feel like that could be a whole conversation in its own right, and I don’t want to go down the rabbit hole of apps.
But I found within lots of organisations that I’ve had the pleasure of working with, they’re using apps pretty well. I’m yet to find someone who I think has totally, totally got it sorted, if I’m being really candid with you. The reason why is because normally there’s a lot of time, money, and effort invested upfront where people hopefully have nailed the business problem that they’re trying to solve through using an app, and they’ve hopefully resourced it in the right way to get it to launch. And then it’s the momentum that often wanes. I find this when I audit Internal Communication and my team and I have this ongoing joke where every single episode of Candid Comms, I seem to talk about audits.
Apologies, Louise, Dan and Caroline. Here we are, I am talking about audits again. We joke about that, because every time I mention it, it creates a flurry, an influx of people who want us to audit their organisations. We’re not against that at all. We love doing that! Apologies to the team if this makes people get in touch. But what we find when we audit organisations is very often there’s a lack of consistency and momentum with apps, where they’ve been set up, but then the resourcing isn’t in place to then be able to keep the content fresh, keep it up to date, keep it useful.
The most important thing I find when you’re trying to plan Internal Communication for your hard-to-reach colleagues is how can you make sure that the content is inherently useful for them.
Part of that for me is listening to them so you know who they are. You may have a sense of a persona in mind. They’re these types of people who are doing this type of role. And then what are their needs? What are their requirements? This is where listening comes in. We can’t assume and presume to know what every single type of employee needs inside our organisation. We need to be tapped in and listen in constantly.
I spent four years working in-house in the railway and part of that for me was learning about my different types of employees, where the needs of certain office-based employees will be different to the needs of my employees who worked on the night shift, for example. Very, very different. Literally night and day. If I had a one size fits all approach to my Internal Communication, it absolutely would not have worked. Listening enabled me to make sure that I could plan effectively, and part of that is having a sense of, who do they listen to? So not just how do I create opportunities to listen, but who are the influential people within their worlds?
Thinking about the railway, I had night safety managers who oversaw gangs of our employees. They were really valuable for me as a target group, as an opportunity for me to get to know them and develop brilliant relationships with them and be actively listening to them constantly because they had incredible networks inside the organisation. They were known, liked, and trusted by our colleagues, and therefore, it was important to me that I created a really good professional working relationship with those night safety managers. Who is that within your organisation? If you are working in professional services, if you have many employees working from client premises, who are they interacting with?
It may be their supervisors. It may be their line managers. Who are the people who are their day to day contacts and are they clear about their role when it comes to Internal Communication? Internal Communication, as I am sure you’ve heard me say many times before, is too important to be left down to one team, one department, or one person. It is everybody’s responsibility. In this regard, if you’re thinking about professional services in particular and thinking about people working on sites which are not yours, then where’s their point of contact? How do they interact with the organisation?
If they’re working on a client site day in, day out, where do they feel connected to the organisation? What is that, or who is that? That is an opportunity there for me to really make sure that you get in at that level where you’re helping your people feel connected not only to their role, but to the organisation as well. I encourage you to think about that. If you’re working in professional services, where is that point of contact? Where is the opportunity? Maybe it’s a person. Maybe it’s a channel. It might be that you have an extranet, for example, which is an externally facing internal website. That sounds really complicated, but it’s really not.
I’ve got a list on my website, on a blog post about who’s using these sorts of sites. I’ll include it in the show notes. AllThingsIC.com/podcast in the show notes for this episode.
Further reading: How to communicate with offline employees – published 2016, featuring extranets.
But it might be that you have an external facing website that they can access from any device. Even if they don’t have a company computer or a company phone, you have this external website that is intended for your internal colleagues. And often I find with these sorts of sites, there’s typically an area which is hidden, if you like, and you need a password to get into it. And that’s where the commercially sensitive information is stored.
Very typically you will have a password that’s shared with your colleagues who are in that sort of environment, and then everyone else can see the external facing website, and then you give them a password where they can get into the backend, if you like, in a way where you get to see more commercially sensitive company information that wouldn’t be appropriate or applicable for anyone else to stumble across on the internet. An extranet could be an option or potentially an app, as I mentioned before. The purpose has to be really clear.
Whatever you’re using, whatever mechanism you’re using, whether you’re trying to tap into existing internal influences or networkers, or you’re using an app, or you’re using an extranet, whatever you’re using, make sure that you know the purpose of that channel and that you’re really planning effectively. What does good look like for these particular channels? What are you trying to achieve? How are you going to make sure that you are listening to your colleagues, you are aware of what their needs are, and then you are resourcing and planning effectively? That’s something we need to know is we need to know our employees.
We need to know the audience, the demographics. Something we need to do is to create the opportunity to communicate with them, to really understand by tapping into those personas and having real understanding in terms of, what are their requirements? What does their work look like day-to-day? Where are the opportunities to create content or access to the organisation that sits above and beyond their day-to-day job? I used the word useful earlier, that you need to make the content inherently useful. I can’t stress that enough.
Very often I find that resources and tools and channels are set up, but they’re not resourced effectively because the content is just not useful, where people perhaps are repurposing content that’s been written inside the organisation and they create a view of it for these channels. Maybe you’ve got say nine to five workers working at home or hybrid or office, and then your people who are on the frontline or remote workers are hard-to-reach. You give them a version of the emails that you’re sending everyone else, or you give them sanitised view, if you like, where you’re pairing it down. Actually, that’s not always a great experience for your hard-to-reach employees.
It feels like they’re getting half the story, half the picture, because they kind of are. My advice is to be really intentional around, how can we communicate well with them? What is it that they need to know to help them do their jobs? How can we make sure we’re encouraging them to feel part of our organisation to nurture that sense of belonging? You’re creating source of truth about your organisation. You’re giving them a conversation space. It’s not just useful on one day when they log in, but it’s inherently useful constantly. Why? Well, very simply, if you’re not making it easy for people to interact with the organisation, they will fall out of the habit.
If when they are deciding to fire up their personal computer or look on their personal phone and look at an app or look at an extranet that you’ve made available to them, if they log in and it doesn’t feel like it’s for them, they don’t recognise their brand or their team or their region or their department or their leaders, or it’s in a language that is different to theirs, then they won’t bother, frankly. We don’t want that. We want to avoid that situation. Keep that in mind. Keep that phrase in mind. How can we make sure that the content is inherently useful? Don’t presume to know we know what useful looks like for these different types of employees.
This is where our listening really, really comes into its own. Second, part of that for me is thinking about involving your people. If you’re trying to communicate with your colleagues in a professional services environment, you are trying to create a source of truth through your Internal Communication. You’re trying to help them feel a sense of belonging. But how can you involve them in conversations? When they are logging in to whatever it may be, or accessing whatever content it may be, or dining into a webinar, or watching a replay, whatever it might be, how does it feel local to them? How have you personalised the content?
The key consideration for me for you to consider is, how do we get your people involved? How do you make it really easy? Very often I find we don’t make it easy enough for our people to feel like they can have their views and voices heard and amplified inside the organisation. That’s something that I want you to do is spend some time considering that. How do you make it easy for your colleagues who are hard-to-reach, particularly if you’re in professional services, how do you make it easy for them to get involved in discussions? How do you make it easy for them to contribute their views? How do you make them realise that you genuinely want to hear from them?
They’re not forgotten because they’re not visible. They’re not forgotten because they’re on client sites, not on corporate sites. You haven’t forgotten about them. That’s super important. We are going to take a short break. And when we come back, I will leave you with one thing to think about. See you in a moment.
Welcome back. In the final part of today’s episode, I’m going to share something for you to think about. Now, we’ve been talking about how to communicate in professional services. If we think about that type of organisation, it could include consultants or perhaps lawyers, for example. One of the key considerations for that sort of organisation is how do we keep, motivate, and retain our top performers? And that’s really important, not least because those people will be working on client sites, but will probably be part of a matrix of the organisation. And therefore, they probably need to communicate outside of their own geographies.
You may have a lawyer in a London office, for example, here in the UK, and they may be in contact with their counterparts in Johannesburg, or Sydney, or New York, where they will be focused on the clients in the client site, but also need to communicate across the organisation. Now, this is a business conundrum. It’s not just an Internal Communication conundrum. It’s a business concern. We’re looking at how do you make sure you’re creating the right conditions inside your organisation for those people to thrive so they feel connected with the client, with the work that they’re doing, with your own organisation, and with each other.
It’s a real layered approach for Internal Communication. And in particular, when you’re trying to make sure that you are retaining and attracting and keeping your high performing individuals, that’s critically important because they are part of your brand, your reputation, and promise as an organisation. They are showing up and representing you. It’s right and proper that we give them the attention that they deserve and that they need. Importantly for us as internal communicators, it’s looking at how do we create the opportunities for our people to be able to collaborate.
It’s not just about being tuned into the company news and having your say and having a sense of what’s going on in the wider organisation, but also how can they connect with their peers. That’s something really critical that I want you to think about. If you are in this sort of organisation, how can you create opportunities for collaboration? I often find if nothing has been put in place officially and formally by the organisation, then normally employees have filled the gaps. They might have come up with their own mechanisms. It’s really important that you know the reality of how Internal Communication does or doesn’t work inside your organisation, particularly if your people are not on your own sites.
They are client side. Have they filled the gaps? If so, what have they introduced? This is important. Before you launch into we’re going to need an app to connect our people or an extranet, have they put something in place themselves already? Perhaps they’ve started to use Slack, or maybe they’ve got a closed Facebook group, or maybe they’re using Guild or WhatsApp. There are so many options available to help people communicate that it’s important that we know the reality of our organisation.
That’s something I want you to think about is if we’re trying to keep those high performers engaged, if we’re conscious of the fact that we’re in a matrix organisation, we want to create opportunities for people to collaborate because we see the benefit as an internal communicator and we see the potential, double check first, what have they got in place already? Could you tap into existing networks and existing conversation spaces that they have created? Do they already have collaboration spaces in-situ that you could be part of and you could professionalise, if you like, and take over and make into a formal channel?
You can put some effort and energy and perhaps investment into them. I hope you found this useful if you’re thinking about working in a professional services firm or if you are already. The final thought I’d love to leave you with is to ask your network for help. Have a look. See who else is working in professional services. Have a look on LinkedIn. How can you find like-minded people, peers who are working in similar organisations to you, who are facing similar challenges to you? What are they doing? Have a look at award entries. Who is winning awards within professional services firms?
What are they doing? How are they showcasing the work that they’re doing to attract, retain, engage, motivate, inspire, and infuse their employees? I’d love to know what you are doing differently as a result of listening to this episode. What is it that stood out for you? Do get in touch with me. I love hearing from you. You can find me on Twitter, @AllThingsIC. Look me up on Instagram, @RachelAllThingsIC. I’m on LinkedIn under Rachel Miller, or send a message via website, AllThingsIC.com/contact. And remember, what happens inside is reflected outside. See you again soon.
First published on the All Things IC blog 23 September 2022.
Photo credits: Becky Rui.