Talkin’ bout a reinvention

May 7th, 2016

The communicator of the future?

The communicator of the future?

When we were planning #ioiclive16, we knew we wanted to be bold, to challenge thinking and to disrupt the status quo. And our fantastic line up of speakers didn’t disappoint. From our Thursday evening session where our expert panel facilitated the build (and redundancy in one case) of the internal communicator of the future, to our closing session with the brilliant Leandro Herrero telling a room of internal comms professionals that our function was superfluous to requirement, there was a lot of talk about reinvention.

In her session, Emma Bridger from People Lab spoke about how conversations around engagement are often disengaging as we focus on what we’re doing wrong, rather than on what we’re doing well. And that stuck out for me, as you only have to follow #ioiclive16 on Twitter to see that people left feeling inspired about the opportunity we have to reinvent, rather than the fear of what we have to let go of.

So here’s a round-up from me of some of my key takeaways…


“Do less stuff better”

Friday morning kicked off with a presentation from Tony Kay from the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. To say that he put some of my work stresses into perspective is an understatement. With a hugely diverse audience working under extreme circumstances, Tony advocated doing less stuff, better. His employees need clear and simple communication, not to be bombarded through multiple channels.

When he took on his role, Tony went and met with every team in every location to understand what made them tick and made himself available – which included being at the end of a phone and getting on a plane to be physically present, “people shouldn’t read about changes to their job, they should hear about it face to face.”

And finally, Tony spoke about the importance of mentors. He was very open about not being afraid to ask for help or support, and credited his mentors and friends for helping him through difficult times.

On the theme of reinvention, and whether we are seeing the demise of the internal communication function, it was also interesting to note that Tony isn’t an internal communicator, simply someone doing communication…


Turn corporate messages into something relatable

IoIC award winner NWG, shared how they celebrated success with no budget. Using iPads and their own employees, they created a fun video to Pharrell Williams’ Happy, with important messages. It was a good reminder that sometimes the simplest communications, can be the most effective and the importance of making your message relatable.


“Remember employees have personal lives, so you’re competing with more noise than you think you are.”

I really liked this point in Helen Schick’s presentation. Employees are often told by businesses what they should care about and why. Actually the reality is that employees won’t always care about the things you want them to care about. And remembering that if you ask people to bring their whole self to work, that means your corporate priorities are competing with their personal ones.

Helen also spoke about how “Not everyone needs to know everything about the corporate strategy.” Leadership often have an expectation that all employees should be able to recite the corporate strategy word for word. But actually, the strategy document should inform the comms around it, not be the comms.


“Conversations around employee engagement tend to focus on what isn’t working rather than what is, which is a disengaging conversation in itself.”

Emma Bridger challenged us to come up with a definition of employee engagement at our tables. It wasn’t an easy thing to do, but at my table we decided to keep it simple and went with “Do I care?”. We also discussed advocacy and if an employee was willing to advocate your business, they are likely to be engaged, however we also felt that with both caring and advocacy, there were many other factors at play – ie one person could be disengaged due to poor line management.

I mentioned earlier about how Emma spoke about how conversations around engagement can be disengaging, but she also shared how we have the formula for employee engagement the wrong way around. People often think that:

Work harder = more success – happiness/engagement

When actually it should be:

Happiness/engagement = more success = work harder

Emma also pointed out that employee engagement is distinct from internal communication but more often than not, it becoming our responsibility…there’s that reinvention theme again.


“Let’s speak to each other like humans”

Laura Storey and Sarah Warsaw from IBM spoke about how they changed their approach to communication in order to humanise it. I loved Sarah’s quote: “Let’s speak to each other like humans”. I talk about this a lot. For some reason when people walk into the office they seem to lose the ability to talk normally to each other, and strange jargon starts littering their sentences. And as communicators we can be just as guilty (I did notice a few buzz words creep into conversations on Friday!). Let’s follow Laura and Sarah’s lead and start speaking to each other as humans.


“Sometimes you need a crisis to catalyst change”

That sentence from Rachel Royall certainly resonated with a lot of people in the room. As comms director at Barking, Havering and Redbridge University NHS Trus, she faced an enormous challenge of engaging staff at a trust in special measures.

Several people I spoke to after, said that it often wasn’t until a crisis occurred that they were either empowered, or given permission by the powers that be, to be bold in their communications in order to enable change.

Rachel also touched on how people were reluctant to celebrate what they were doing well – one colleague said “it’s a bit like bragging about your kitchen when your house is falling down”.  Rachel echoed Emma’s earlier sentiments that in order to engage people you also need to focus on what you do well.


“We don’t need communications teams, we need communication – reinvent!”

I’m not sure there could have been a more perfect end to #ioiclive16. Leandro Herrero was bold, charismatic and wasn’t afraid to speak the truth. He told a room full of communicators that our function was not needed, and that we needed to reinvent ourselves. I could write a whole blog post on Leandro’s presentation alone but I couldn’t possibly do justice to the experience of hearing him speak so I’ll pick a few key points.

A drum I often beat is around the importance of measurement, so I loved his challenge that the only question we should be asking our people is “why on earth are you still here?”, if we’re to understand our people’s motivations.

He also covered how connectivity is not the same as collaboration (completely agree) and how not everything needs to be simplified using a Moses and the 10 commandments analogy (just brilliant) – I’m a big advocate of simplicity of communication, however I take on board his point that there is also a time and a place for more in-depth communication, and sometimes you just need to accept that it’s “as long as it needs to be”.


I think it’s clear that reinvention of our industry is coming and that internal communications as we know it, won’t exist in ten or even five years’ time. But if the energy, conversation and pledges to change in the room, were anything to go by, I think we’re more than up to the challenge.



As an organiser of the conference, I am a bit biased, but I am really proud of what the organising committee achieved, and I really do believe this was our best one yet. Do let us know what you thought and don’t forget, we creating a list of people that are looking for, or would like to be, mentors, so get in touch with @ioicnews if that’s you.



Categories: ConferenceHelen Deverell CommunicationsInternal communication

Tags: , , ,

2 responses to “Talkin’ bout a reinvention”

  1. Hannah Leach says:

    Great blog Helen as always, and though it can’t compensate for my not being there, it gives great insight into the themes discussed. I really hope to make it next year.

    The changing nature of Communication Technologies and the way we work is having and will have a profound effect on the way we manage cultural and strategic communication in the future. I do think though that communications professionals (whatever the formal construct of teams might be) will continue to have an important role for many years to come, especially when it comes to managing operational change which seeks to introduce and embed new roles, processes and technologies into organisations.

    Whatever happens, we’re going to be in for an interesting ride!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Previous post:
Next post:

“Helen’s passion for her profession shines through very clearly and she manages to combine her deep knowledge of internal communications with a mix of pragmatism and fresh thinking. She is a delight to work with and has a high level of integrity.”

Richard Fitzmaurice, TMF Group