Top takeaways from The Big Yak

June 12th, 2018

“There’s a 1000 years of experience in this room.”

Benjamin Ellis set the tone for this year’s Big Yak when he quantified the collective knowledge of a room of internal communications professionals. An impressive number and only seven hours to share it and soak it up – and we wasted no time in getting started.

It was great to see so many first timers and to hear the challenges they’re facing. Unsurprisingly many themes cropped up throughout the day, and feedback at the end was that people felt less alone and energised. For me there were a few key things that stood out:

Introverted leaders
I was in a session about leadership coaching and the main issue seemed to be with leaders who were introverts and not natural communicators, especially in tech or engineering industries. I found this conversation fascinating because as an introvert, I see it as a strength (the book Quiet by Susan Cain convinced me of this – and it’s also the next book in #ICBookClub taking place on 3 July).

The debate in the room centred around whether you should be coaching leaders to step out of their comfort zones or whether you focus on what they are good at and accept there are some things they won’t do (or won’t do well, such as video comms).

I think the answer is somewhere in the middle. I think the first thing to do is build a trusted relationship with your CEO, where you understand who they are as a person and are able to have honest conversations with them. Start small with things they are good at, for example, they might prefer to blog than appear in a video. Over time you can push them to try different things and also look at getting in other support – someone in the room mentioned peer to peer coaching, reverse mentoring or professional business coaches, all of which are great ideas.

I wouldn’t see an introverted CEO as a problem – it’s simply a case of finding what they’re good at and shining a light on that.

Engaging the unengaged
A key takeaway from this session was to not think of your unengaged employees as one homogenous group – instead segment them, as people will be unengaged for different reasons. It’s really important to understand these sub sets and understand what motivates them, what they want to know about and how they prefer to communicate.

This may mean that you need to not just communicate one message across multiple channels for your various audiences but personalise the message for different audiences too.

It definitely takes more time and resource, but you may reap the rewards if the result is a more engaged workforce.

Measuring return on investment (ROI)
Being able to demonstrate ROI is what will propel us from internal communicators to trusted strategic advisers. So, I was really pleased to see this topic come up, especially following the recent CIPR Inside research which found that CEOs believe there is a link between IC and financial performance but they think it’s difficult to prove.

We discussed how many people are still relying on engagement surveys and the issues around them being a snapshot, the fact they tend to only be once a year and the time it takes to analyse and feed back to the business (if it’s fed back at all).

A key point was to sit down with leadership and find out what’s important to them and understand how you could measure that. There are so many things you could measure but you need to be clear on what you should measure to demonstrate the impact you’re having.

We also talked about the reasons there can be reluctance to measure ROI including that it’s exposing and people can feel vulnerable. What if you find you’re not having an impact? I’d argue that’s even more important to know so you can make changes – burying your head in the sand won’t make the issue go away.

I recently wrote a blog for Poppulo about how to measure beyond the IC function, which included interviews with the fantastic Advita Patel and Jude Tipper.

Going solo
There were many people in the room who were a team of one with little to no budget. It was many of these people that spoke up at the end about how valuable they’d found the experience and that they’d be keen to do more networking. It struck me that many people are unaware of how many opportunities there are to be part of the wider IC community, whether that’s on Twitter, LinkedIn, through being a member of a professional body, the various events taking place, etc.

I think as a profession we need to think more broadly about how we reach people that are doing comms solo in their organisations and ensure they’re aware of all the support that’s available to them. As a member of the CIPR Inside committee, it’s certainly something I’ll be taking away to think about.

Finally, I wanted to say a big thank you to Rachel Miller, Jenni Field and Dana Leeson for organising another brilliant event (ably supported by the wonderful Advita Patel). Every time I attend a Big Yak, I’m reminded of how lucky we all are to work in such a passionate industry, full of smart and supportive people. I’m already looking forward to the next one!


Categories: #ICBookClubCoachingEventsInternal communicationIntrovertleadershiplearningMeasurementProfessional DevelopmentQuietQuiet RevolutionSusan CainThe Big YakThe IC Crowd

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2 responses to “Top takeaways from The Big Yak”

  1. […] My top takeaways from The Big Yak – by Helen Deverell @helendeverell. […]

  2. belinda gannaway says:

    Helen, I liked this read. Thanks. And I totally agree with your point about owning the change. If you’re not creating impact with what you do, why are you doing it?

    It feels like the evolution the ad / marketing industry is going through. Show me the impact, or I’ll talk to someone who can.

    Setting clear, measurable goals from the beginning is vital. Not hitting every KPI is ok. But not measuring and not learning, is not.

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“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