Turning ‘Gods’ into ‘Guides’

Last night I went to a Chartered Institute of Public Relations (CIPR) Inside event to hear John Smythe talking about his book “The CEO, Chief Engagement Officer, Turning Hierarchy Upside Down to Drive Performance” and his upcoming book on employee engagement.

It was the first time I’d been to a CIPR Inside evening and I was glad to be among 20 comms professionals gathered in Piccadilly to hear John speak. He gave a whistle-stop tour through his current book and pulled out key learning points, which led to discussions on employee engagement in action and what exactly everyone means by the term. What stood out for me was the idea of CEOs no longer being ‘Gods’ but ‘Guides’ and how communication and engagement shouldn’t be ‘egotainment’ for senior leaders, but a sense of shared power and decision making.

What does it mean?
John said that in his opinion engagement means: “A culture of distributed leadership which enables people at work to liberate their creativity to deliver surprisingly good results for their institution and themselves.” I’ve been thinking about that statement and I wonder how it plays out in reality. Do you know of any organisations which can say hand on heart they have reached that goal? He also described a healthy culture as being “one where you tell people when things are s***.” Can’t quite imagine that word making it through corporate IT systems, but you get the meaning.

I was particularly interested by the myths around communicating change and engagement strategies as John said there is a false perception that “frontline employees won’t understand strategy as they are so focused on operational matters”. This then led to a discussion about this myth and how to make connections with people across organisations and involve them in what is happening. What do you think? What’s your experience?

Who owns engagement?
In the questions and answers session following his talk the topic of who ‘owns’ employee engagement was raised. This included thoughts about whether it is an HR or Communications issue, whether engagement is a ‘function’ or should in fact be business as usual, embedded into strategy and part of the core business thinking. It was good to meet new people and share stories about how theories actually translate in real life and what does and doesn’t appear to work.

Work-wise, I’m currently into the third week of our annual employee survey and am looking forward to seeing what the results are. Yesterday I met up with Jenni Wheller from The Blue Ballroom who filmed me talking about communicating with remote workforces and I also wrote an article for a magazine PR students at Greenwich University are putting together. If you want to help them out see www.twitter.com/greenwichprnews

One of my course tutors at Kingston Uni/Capita Internal Communications Management course, Jenny Davenport from People in Business got in touch this week and asked me to talk with the current students in April during their teaching sessions. I remember hearing from a past pupil during my studying and found it helpful to be able to ask questions about the dissertation so I’m hoping my session will be helpful for them. Following my chat with Jenny we decided to set up an alumni group on LinkedIn for past students to have another way of keeping in touch with other, so we made that live.

Thank you to everyone who has emailed me via my blog over the past few weeks asking questions about certain topics, my advice on issues and to be put in touch with some of the people I’ve met. I’m always interested to hear what people think when they read what I’ve written, so do keep in touch, Rachel.


  1. Karl Roche says:

    Think we have done quite a lot on our Transformation Program over the last year. We use a variety of media and always give opportunity to discuss openly what people feel. We are working up to a UK & Ireland Transformation Jam in March at the moment. Next week we will be opening registration for ALL our employees, including contractors – plus some external VIPs.

    As I’m sure I’ve said before, it’s all well and good communicating these things from up high but the company is one of many voices out there. Getting influential people to be advocates for what you are trying to achieve outside the management team, and hear it from people that you trust is becoming key – but not easy to do.

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