Internal communicators have talked about having a seat at the table for a long time. At this year’s CIPR Inside conference on 1st November, they can move this conversation forward once and for all. ‘Making it Count’ promises to offer top tips, ideas, and inspiration that attendees can put into action with their teams to add value and help their organisations move forward.
In this interview, CIPR Inside Chair, Jenni Field (pictured right) describes what participants can expect from the event. She reveals some key results from the CIPR Inside latest study into what CEOs want from, and think of, internal communications, which will be fully shared at the conference. Field also talks about the difference between internal communications and employee engagement and what she thinks is critical to the future of internal communications.
Gloria Lombardi: ‘Making it Count’ is the theme of this year’s CIPR Inside conference. What’s the meaning behind the event’s title?
Jenni Field: We wanted the 2017 CIPR Inside conference to focus beyond ‘Making an Impact’, which was the theme we used in the past, and still is the strategy behind the group. After working with our partners we decided that ‘Making it Count’ would fit the output of the research.
During the event in November, we will explore all the topics the research has highlighted — helping the audience understand how to ‘make it count’.
Our first ever research explores what CEOs want from an internal communications function, exploring the value it brings, what good looks like, and how to make the findings ‘count’ every day. Every attendee will get a copy of the report about the study. We expect participants to leave the day with something new and some excitement about the future, including more passion for what they are doing. Their communication responsibilities can help set their business up for success.
The structure of the conference has been designed specifically to provide a good mix of learning. There will be experts with case studies, workshop sessions, and an unconference style approach in the afternoon where delegates can choose the topics, network, and share knowledge with their peers.
GL: Could you tell us more about the nature of the research?
JF: We wanted to understand how the business saw the internal communications profession.
We split the survey into two parts. We interviewed as many CEOs as possible from a variety of industries to find out what they thought about internal communications, what they felt its value was, and the importance they placed on it.
Alongside that, we did an online survey with internal communicators. We asked them the same sort of questions, so that we could map all the answers and see whether there was any gap between how internal communicators and CEOs see IC. The conference will allow us to talk about the key findings on both sides, and what we need to do to address any gaps.
GL: Could you share some preliminary, surprising findings from the study with MARGINALIA?
JF: I have been working in the industry for over 13 years; I don’t want to have the same conversation around having a seat at the table, anymore. Something that strikes me from the study’s results is around the place and value of IC in the CEO’s eyes. CEOs talk about the link between culture and internal communications. The culture piece highlighted from the research gives us an interesting angle to look at.
CEOs are starting to talk about the influence of IC on making sure that everybody inside the business knows what is going on and understands the strategy. They did acknowledge that the impact of IC is difficult to prove through any kind of metrical value. But they do also say that effective communications changes behaviours and the business. Employees are more informed and understand the priorities. Hence, they worked more effectively as a result. One CEO refers to the profession as ‘being the glue that holds the organisation together’, which is something many internal comms professionals have believed and said for years.
There has always been a debate about where IC should sit. Should it sit in HR? In Marketing? Somewhere else? From the study, it definitely appears that it needs to be everywhere, permeating throughout the whole organisation, which is a more concrete viewpoint from what we have talked about before.
It also becomes clear through the research that the use of employee engagement and internal communication is used quite interchangeably, mainly from internal communicators themselves. I find this interesting, but personally believe that the two are quite different. And now we have ‘employee experience’ being thrown in the mix as another phrase. So, there is something to talk about there during the conference as well.
GL: So, can you help clarify the distinction between internal communications and employee engagement?
JF: Creating an employee engagement culture is a by-product of a variety of factors, including very good internal communications. Internal communications can play different roles inside an organisation, and not all of them are engagement related.
For example, in the last two years of one of my roles as an internal communicator, my focus was on digital platforms. At that time, I was not focused on making sure that people were engaged in the business. My efforts were towards driving cost savings and ensuring the business was more efficient thanks to the use of digital tools to better communicate and share information.
Five years before that role, I was running various employee campaigns to ignite passion about the company’s products and strategy, so I was supporting HR with an engagement programme to encourage staff to be the best they could be.
GL: Where do CEOs and internal communicators differ the most in their answers to your study?
JF: The biggest difference is around perception: what is internal communications?
We do not have a universal definition. Finding an agreement is too hard and complex. After all, how do you define something that can be so different and broad depending on any organisation’s structure, maturity, and the actual role inside the business?
GL: As the Chair of the CIPR Inside and an experienced communicator, do you have your own definition of what internal communications is?
JF: Yes, I have crafted my personal definition:
‘Internal communications includes everything that gets said and shared inside of an organisation. As a function, its role is to curate, enable, and advise on best practice for organisations to communicate effectively, efficiently, and in an engaging way.’
My understanding, and definition, of internal communications has certainly developed over the past decade.
GL: What emerges from the study when it comes to using communications to drive performance and productivity?
JF: Because of the difficulty of measuring internal communications, it’s hard to see the link to productivity. For example, communications is critical to keep the business moving during a period of transition, but, it’s not the first thing people think about when there is a change programme going on.
Some of the CEOs we interviewed said that good internal communications created the conditions for a smoother change programme, which meant that the negative impact on business productivity was lessened. Employees were kept well informed, they could understand why the change was happening, the drivers behind it, and its impact on the business. Thanks to good communications, there was no confusion, which helped maintain performance and the efficient day-to-day running of the business.
GL: How would you like to see internal communications evolving in the future?
JF: I’d like to see us – internal communicators – listening more to where the business wants to be, rather than continuing to talk among ourselves about where we should be. Measurement and culture will become key themes for us over the next few years. For many, they are already key themes, but I feel like those conversations will start happening more.
Having the confidence in our expertise and what we are able to do is also critical.
Getting the basics right is still something that we continue to struggle with. The ‘Inside Insight 2017’ report from VMA talks about the fact that 30% of internal communicators do not have a strategy. I think it’s extraordinary that we are still saying ‘We should have a seat at the table and be on the board’ while 30% of us do not have a strategy! That does not do us any favours, and needs changing.
GL: What is critical to the future of the IC profession?
JF: I am a passionate believer in continuous professional development, which for me is critical for the future of our profession. We need investment in ourselves and our teams to ensure that we understand the latest trends.
Being plugged into the external world as an internal communicator, is extremely important too. For example, understanding the impact that GDPR (General Data Protection Regulation) is going to have on the business, Brexit, as well as the need for ethics and codes of conduct. I do not think that many internal communicators think critically about the external world and make the necessary efforts to bring that in. Yet that is an essential piece to our future success.
Full agenda details will be available through ciprinside.co.uk and shared through CIPR Inside social media channels as they are announced.
Book your tickets to ‘Making it Count’ at the early bird price today. There are group discounts and the early bird price gives CIPR Inside members and non-members up to £150 off the standard ticket price. General discounts are available for freelancers, public sector, and charity practitioners. The early bird ticket prices run until midnight on Friday 29 September. Thereafter tickets will be available at the standard price.
Photo credit: Jenni Field speaking at the Intranet Now conference