By Gloria Lombardi

I have to confess I really like studies on creativity so I became excited when I heard that Alive With Ideas had conducted a survey “Exploring Creativity in The Glorious World of Internal Communications.

They did the study in the period of August and September 2014 with approximately 170 professionals in Internal Communications and HR. Respondents were from the UK, wider Europe, the US, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, South America and Canada. Industries ranged from government agencies, financial services, retail, food and drink, travel, marketing and charities.

Alive With Ideas collected the responses in a very pittoresque report made of beautifully designed gothic punk images. The findings are told through a narrative – Dr. Sylvester Strangelove who “delved deep into the minds of Internal Comms and HR pros” tells us what he found out and prescribes the ‘treatment’.

Indeed, the fun of the design and the inventiveness of the copy make it an entertaining read! Yet, behind the enjoyment of pleasure it is a valuable and practical document exploring the state of creativity at work.

The findings

The highlights from the survey are interesting, and could constitute the basis for valuable discussions:

  • 93% of respondents acknowledge the importance of creativity in internal communications
  • 81% say that this is reflected in the way they approach a communication/engagement strategy
  • 90% feel that collaborative working across the organisation would support creative thinking
  • 20% are using gamification. Half of them plan to incorporate further usage into communications strategies
  • Only 10% of respondents link creativity to business goals
  • Only 6% felt that environment was being used to its full potential in terms of communications and engagement
  • Common barriers to creative working practices include opposition from leadership, time constraints, culture and budgetary issues. Also, ‘skills shortage’ in terms of a lack of individuals with sufficient knowledge of creativity tools and methodologies.

Based on those results, the Doctor likes to remind us that:

“We are in unanimous agreement that a proactive perspective on creativity and an acceptance of new methodologies would be highly advantageous for ourselves and our organisations. However, the anomalies begin to appear, as one in five respondents struggle to develop creative communication strategies, nearly half link creativity with business goals to only a minimal degree and a high proportion cite a whole range of hurdles impeding the progress of a creative approach to comms and engagement.

“Stop and consider your own organisation, your employees and your environment. Think about your unique set of key priorities, challenges, constraints and areas where you lack support. What is important to your internal audience? What are the business objectives? How do you plan to achieve them? How could a more creative approach help you?”

Enterprise social networks

The paper also explores the “curious beast” of enterprise social networks (ESN). After face-to-face, respondents chose ESN as the channel offering the highest opportunity for a creative approach, presenting the least constraints.

However, “of those who have incorporated ESN, only 7% feel it is being used to its full potential. Many reported the platform is not taking off, there’s a lack of understanding, leaders are failing to lead by example and it has, at times resembled a ‘lunatic asylum’ with a sole purpose of venting frustrations.”

In his ‘prescription notes’ Dr Strangelove shares some thoughts and tips around cultural challenges that have been around for a long time, yet are worth repeating. For example:

  • Ensure that you define and share the objective. What is the purpose of introducing your ESN and what are you hoping to achieve as a result? Demonstrate that you value people’s time and input. If the goal is clear, employees are more likely to get on board and participate.
  • Focus on the influential ‘believers’ (green dots) from across the business and those that can be swayed (yellow dots). Initially, forget the nonbelievers (red dots).
  • Share stories from other organisations, make them relevant and highlight how the approach can benefit your business.
  • Encourage ideas and creativity from others, reward and celebrate top suggestions. Implement the ideas – it’ll help to build trust and encourage more independent thinking.
  • Promote togetherness. When teams are more remote, develop a culture of belonging and introduce core themes that apply, regardless of location or environment.
  • Think beyond communications and create topics that will be of interest to a broader audience within the business.
  • Have a hackathon. A full day of intensive collaboration to innovate as a team and explore opportunities to push existing boundaries. Why not invite people from other teams along?

The paper also acknowledges the growing trend of working out loud (WOL) as a powerful tool to cultivate openness within the business and make it easier for people to get involved and take better decisions.

Collaboration

I particularly liked the section on collaboration, which describes what it has to do with creativity. It reminds us the biological reason for this.

“…The brain becomes very comfortable with repeating processes and when you’are trying to generate new ideas, a battle begins. Collaboration can be the key to overcoming this…

“When you work with someone else on the problem, their knowledge (or lack of!) and experience, and the differing perspective that they have on the issue as a result leads to assumptions being challenged, inconsistencies being worked through and seeds of ideas being taken to the next level. This often works in escalating fashion as each contribution from each party creates new creative pathways in the other and this is simply not possible to do on your own.”

Introverts vs. extroverts

There is also a page focused on unleashing creativity in introverts as well as sparking inspiration in extroverts.

Unleashing creativity in introverts:

  • Respect their need for privacy and space to reflect
  • Let them stand back and observe new situations, without diving in
  • Give them time to mull things over without demanding instant answers
  • Don’t interrupt them, something enchanting may be brewing
  • Teach them new skills privately and independently
  • Respect their introversion and never try to turn them into extroverts

Sparking inspiration in your extroverts:

  • Accept and applaud their enthusiasm
  • Compliment them in the company of others
  • Allow them time and space to explore
  • Thoughtfully surprise them
  • Offer them options and alternatives
  • Encourage them to dive right in and let them shine

Conclusions

Alive With Ideas have created a fun and light read for anyone who is interested in employee communications and creativity at work.

The paper is full of pointers that communicators can use as a sort of inspiration for challenging the creative working methods used inside their organisations. As pointers they of course tend to the general and may miss to explore in depth the nuances of working in a real complex business.

If there is something else missing is the area of enterprise mobile applications and how they relate to innovation and ideation. Plus, the changing role of internal communications within a collaborative environment.

Nonetheless, hat off to Alive With Ideas for “Exploring Creativity in The Glorious World of Internal Communications.” Their work is a good start. Let’s keep the conversation open.