The sign of a good conference is sitting on the train home sipping a can of M&S own-brand cocktail and writing up your notes before your head explodes with ideas.

This is the view of Matthew Batten, @CommsGuyMatt, Director of Communication and Engagement at the Diocese of Llandaff, which is part of the Church in Wales. He’s been in post for four months and I had the pleasure of finally meeting him in person yesterday at the CIPR Inside conference after years of Tweeting with each other.

He’s kindly written a guest post to reveal what he learnt at the conference and what you missed if you weren’t in the room. You can find the conversations online via Twitter @CIPRInside and #ChangingTheConvo.

I’m going to be blogging about my experience of the conference and share the notes from my talk, which focused on How to Change the Conversations around Internal Comms in your organisation.

But for now, I’m delighted to welcome Matt and hand you over to him…

What I learnt at yesterday’s CIPR Inside conference

#ChangingTheConvo was the annual CIPR Inside internal comms conference which took place at Birmingham Town Hall.

It turned out to be an extraordinary venue for a unique conference. The theme, Changing the Conversation, explored some of the big issues that are challenging internal comms professionals today. From imposter syndrome to personal bias via the convergence of internal and external comms – it was a meaty agenda that required only the highest calibre of speakers.

Let’s just say I wasn’t the only one fanboying over Chuck Gose, Kate Macaulay, Rachel Miller, Jo Hooper… I could go on!

There was so much good content that trying to narrow it down has been difficult. In no particular order, here are my top takeaways.

1) Stop asking questions in employee surveys that you can’t – or won’t – do anything about.

To be honest, I was ready to give Chuck Gose a standing ovation five minutes into his presentation. Not only did he strip down to his Duran Duran t-shirt (he’s a HUGE fan, in case you’re wondering) but he delivered so much useful content that my pen couldn’t keep up!

His comment about what we ask and what we measure in employee surveys resonated with the room. Why ask for feedback if you don’t listen to what your people tell you? If you’ve gone to the trouble of asking your people for their honest feedback you need to be in a position to respond, otherwise you lose their trust. That’s why people roll their eyes at surveys. Act on their feedback or stop asking the questions.

2) Certainty kills creativity

Wow, another truth-bomb from Chuck whose main theme was about recognising our own personal bias. If you have a zero-risk bias then you’ll stay in the same lane doing the same boring thing. Get comfortable being uncomfortable and try out some new ideas. It’s getting harder to keep people’s attention, so you have to think creatively in order to get your message to stick.

3) Know your stuff. Know their stuff

Need to get your leader’s attention? You need to go into that meeting knowing what your people are thinking as well as understanding the impact decisions made at the top will have on them. Meaning, get to know your quantitative and your qualitative data.

But also know the business strategy and what’s keeping your leadership team awake at night. Be the trusted adviser who helps them solve their problems. Thanks to Helen Schick, Head of OD and Engagement at Alzheimer’s Society, for this insight.

4) We all wobble

Jo Hooper, Director of the Mad and Sad Club, had a breakdown when she was head of comms. Rachel Miller of All Things IC fame had postnatal depression and has experienced imposter syndrome.

Two successful women stood up in front of IC professionals and changed the conversation about mental health by sharing their story. They wobble. We all wobble. There’s no shame and it doesn’t make us less successful. It just makes us human.

Educating – and supporting – managers needs to be part of your mental health strategy. 70% of managers do not feel comfortable talking about mental health with an employee and yet they are the people who can spot the signs when an employee is not acting themselves.

As someone who experienced anxiety and depression after having cancer this resonated so much. Turns out I’m in good company!

5) Do/say/think/feel

Let’s get intentional, said Rachel Miller. This is what we need to continually ask ourselves when we start our comms planning; what do we want people to do, say, think and feel as a result of your communication, and how do you want them to behave?

This is as close to a magic IC formula as you can get. If you’re not identifying what you expect to be different because of your communication then how do you know whether you’ve succeeded? Which leads me on to…

6) Repeat after me… outcomes not outputs

Another Rachel Miller maxim that resonated around the hall. If you want to change the conversation then start by measuring outcomes and not outputs. As IC professionals we need to ensure we’re plugging into business priorities. Ask yourself, what are the outcomes your business needs and plan your comms strategy around that.

7) The wall between internal and external comms is coming down.

Wait… what? Does that mean IC will no longer exist in ten years time?? Relax, we’ve still got jobs. What Katie Macaulay, Managing Director of AB, was saying is that internal and external comms are converging.

Employees, like customers, want to access information where they can, when they can. Why shouldn’t internal comms be the same? Some companies are taking open and transparent comms to a new level.

Organisations such as Royal Mail and the Post Office are making their intranet public. Employees at Zurich Insurance, for example, are generating their own content aligned to the brand.  Why? Because open and transparent communications wins brand loyalty and we’re more likely to believe an employee than a leader.

(For more info about websites like these, check out this blog post – Rachel).

8) You’ll never, ever escape the need to demonstrate return on investment, ROI

Ugh, measurements. How many times have you been to an IC conference and heard someone tell you that measurements matter? So why are we still hesitant to embrace measurements? According to both IoIC and CIPR Inside, it’s because:

  • We don’t know where to start.
  • We don’t feel comfortable with data.
  • We don’t know how.

If this is you then you need to read the joint IoIC and CIPR Inside research report Measurement and ROI for Internal Communication

Don’t be scared of measurements. Employee surveys are useful but so are focus groups. Start small, embrace vulnerability, ask for help from other IC professionals and recognise that you cannot fix what you don’t know about.

Suddenly, measuring ROI doesn’t seem so daunting.

And those are my eight top takeaways. A great conference should always leave you feeling inspired, exhilarated, slightly daunted (because you know you have to go back and convince your leaders to do something differently) and most of all comforted knowing that we’re all in this together.

I couldn’t feel more proud of the IC profession. We really do want to make the workplace a better place.

Post author: Matt Batten.

Thank you very much Matt, I enjoyed hearing your takeaways from yesterday’s conference.

I’m going to be blogging about my talk soon. Congratulations to the CIPR Inside committee of volunteers for yesterday’s event, it has left me with a buzzing brain and whole list of ideas for future blog posts.

Photo credits: Tynesight Photographic Services.

Did you attend the conference? What are your takeaways? As ever, you’re welcome to comment below or Tweet me @AllthingsIC.

Thoughts from the Comms community

Thank you for stopping by,

Rachel

First published on the All Things IC blog 9 October 2019.

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