FavouritesPodcasts

Season 2 Episode 9: Jennifer Sproul

By September 30, 2020 No Comments

Episode 9: The Business Case for World-Class Internal Comms

With Jennifer Sproul, CEO of The IOIC

Episode Summary:

Jennifer Sproul, the Chief Exec of the Institute of Internal Communication (IOIC), is the guest for this episode of Remote Control.

Jennifer delves into the latest report from the IOIC, in partnership with Working the Future, to discuss the business case for world-class internal communications. Read the full report, here.

Listen now to hear:

  • How Internal Comms has evolved, and where it’s heading next.
  • The steps Internal Comms teams can take to support their business Leaders in the new world of employee communication.
  • Jennifer’s thought on the next stage of digital transformation for internal communications.

Listen & Subscribe On...

Apple Podcasts

Spotify

Google Podcasts

Episode Transcript

Jack Ford:

Hi, Jennifer. Thanks for joining us for season two of Remote Control. As the chief executive of The Institute of Internal Communications, you’re pretty much our dream guest. Welcome.

Jennifer Sproul:

Well, thank you. I like the title of dream guest. I’ll take that today.

Jack Ford:

Yeah, no, it’s a pretty good one. Don’t dish those out willy-nilly, so that’s good. So the main focus of our chat today is the new report that the IoIC published with Working the Future, the business case for world-class internal communication. Before we delve into that though, I was just hoping we could talk a little bit about what you’ve been hearing maybe from the members of the Institute of Internal Comms about how the past crazy six months have been, challenges, progress. Yeah, anything like that really.

Jennifer Sproul:

No, absolutely. I think crazy is the right word to describe the last six months. In terms of what I’m hearing and talking to a lot of practitioners and some of the survey work that we did at the beginning of the crisis, I think challenges-wise has certainly been pace, it’s been a really, really difficult one. Because internal comms we are typically quite lean machines, we’re not big teams. Some organizations are where you’re very lucky. But when you’re a team of one or two with the volume and pace of communication that needed to happen at the outbreak, it was just an awful lot. So, I think there’s been a lot of challenges in taking care of ourselves as a profession and dealing with that.

Jennifer Sproul:

But I think then on the actual impact side there’s been some great things for internal communication. We’ve certainly seen a rise in the increased engagement for employees with internal communication. We’ve certainly seen better impact with leaders and things like that.

Jennifer Sproul:

And I think there are other challenges around is the rapid use of technology. I mean at the beginning of the outbreak internal communicators were implementing projects that were supposed to take six months, in two days. So, I think that that has been a real challenge but it’s been a real reward, and we have got to know our technology better than ever before. We’ve always had a lot of this stuff at our fingertips but we’ve never really understood it in a new way. So, I think that’s been a wonderful… it’s been a challenge but also an opportunity to really shift forward some of those projects that were perhaps a little bit more kicked into the long grass. And I think that obviously from a positive point of view we’ve certainly felt more included and more out there in real pivotal conversations, and being able to really get closer to our leaders, and then seen a real impact with trust with employees.

Jennifer Sproul:

Going forward right now where we are with challenges, I think there is certainly trying to understand and plan what 2021 should look like is really difficult. We’ve been through a lot, our emotions are changing as employees daily. So, understanding that one size fits all, because some people have loved working from home, some people have hated it, some people want offices, some people don’t, some people like virtual, some people want face-to-face. So, figuring out how to make a longterm internal communication strategy that meets the needs of everybody I think will be really difficult with still I think a very uncertain environment.

Jack Ford:

Yeah. No, small feat that really.

Jennifer Sproul:

Not really.

Jack Ford:

Thinking about the changes that have happened this year, we all hope they don’t happen to the same degree next year I guess.

Jennifer Sproul:

Yeah, absolutely.

Jack Ford:

Okay. So, let’s talk about the report a bit more, and it does cover some things, some challenges and some of the issues that you’ve mentioned there from the past six months. And the first part I wanted to talk about was there’s a really… I actually loved this page near the start of the report that highlights the evolution of internal comms. And I took from it that it’s a huge shift away, and this isn’t probably new news for a lot of people, but there’s been a huge shift away from broadcast comms like newsletters and maybe even noticeboards in some workplaces. I’d love to hear more about what the report identified as a future. There’s things like trust and transparency, emotionally intelligent comms, it would be great just to talk around the future aspect of that.

Jennifer Sproul:

Yeah. No, absolutely. In terms of where we’ve come from, that newsletter desk and that management, there’s still an element of that. But the future is now no longer necessarily about being a disseminator, it’s about being a facilitator. I’m not saying that we’re going to suddenly stop sending out emails and being seen like the postbox, there is always going to be an element of that in the role of the internal communicator.

Jennifer Sproul:

But in terms of the future and where we’re going, it’s much more thinking about it as this relationship role and how we connect the dots in an organization. Which is it’s far more led by behavioral understanding, understanding people, how we behave, what we want to behave, as opposed to just thinking, “There’s an announcement, let’s send it out.” So, we’re looking at the future, we’re talking about the social CEO. So, it’s that CEO that’s out there, that’s available, that says I have an open door, but truly has an open door policy. And is perhaps stripping some of that traditional corporate armor to be more emotive in the style of language that we see. We’ve certainly seen the impact of language through this pandemic and how… and we perhaps looked at it with more of a critical eye than ever, in terms of how we’re conveying our message.

Jennifer Sproul:

And then I think there’s this other role around then making sure we’re being that facilitator between two. And also trust and transparency as first principles. I mean, trust has been a linchpin for organizational survival for many years. I mean, we all look out for the Edelman Trust Barometer that comes out every year which looks across the key institutions of government, media and business. And it always shows what opportunity there is for businesses to build trust where perhaps other institutions aren’t doing the best job, I shall say in the most polite way possible. And I think that if you get trust right it really does have a massive impact. And loyalty, and motivation, and to truly engage.

Jennifer Sproul:

And it just shows how important trust is built internally. And trust is built on a basis of transparency, it’s built on a basis of, “I’m being kept informed authentically and honestly.” And communication plays the role in building that trust. And if the organization gets this right it will improve wellbeing, productivity, how people talk about their brand, therefore then sales and profitability. But to do that has to be based on emotional intelligence. And emotionally-centered communication, as I said, is a real, real trend, and change that we’ve seen brought about by the pandemic. So, organizations that have led with more kind and emotional language, as opposed to jargon and tone which is cold and perhaps a little bit of corporate stiffness, have seen a real impact of how their employees then feel about their organization, then consequently how they work.

Jack Ford:

That’s really interesting actually. So, even down to the words, the copy that are being used, that kind of has a real impact on how the employees are engaging and feeling about their situation. And I guess it’s that out of the office thought of it as well. Instead of being surrounded, well not 24/7, but while you’re at work with the maybe internal comms messages, people are at home in their spare rooms or in their kitchen and it’s just a different setting to receive those internal comms. So yeah, I guess the words do mean even more maybe.

Jennifer Sproul:

Absolutely. And like you say, the context is different. And context and communication, yes it’s verbal, it’s spoken, but it’s also feeling, it’s emotion, it’s the physical environment. So that whole context is different. And plus as well there’s what’s going on in our personal lives and what we’re seeing in our external communication that’s impacting us as well. So, it’s really thinking about that context of the receiver in a very, very different way.

Jack Ford:

Yeah. Just one actual thing on this one, and it was something I saw, it was almost like a case study on BBC News. It was around trust actually that made me think of it. And there was a company that had installed a bit of software on its remote workers’ computer that took photos every few seconds of their screen, and then their boss, their manager, would then have the opportunity to review what people had been spending their time on. And that just struck me as something that was not at all trusting. And personally, if that was applied to my role, that would be a real turn-off from the company. I was really surprised that those type of things even exist at this time really.

Jennifer Sproul:

Yeah, I agree. It’s a worry that people feel that they need to do that, because that doesn’t engender a great working environment. For me personally, I think that would go the opposite direction. I think that work of the future is based on choice and trust. And I think that one of the greatest feelings that’s come out of this pandemic, we’ve heard it a lot through many channels and in the public media as well, is that what people have really enjoyed is they’ve been saying for a while, “I know what I’m doing, trust me on my output not on the hours that I work. Give me flexibility and I will do more for you, and that will make me feel liberated.” And we have seen that pay-off in spades.

Jennifer Sproul:

But implementing technology that I guess creates that monitoring sense, I mean that personally would not appeal to me. I want to be judged by what I do and how I make an impact, not necessarily on how many hours I’m available or typing on a keyboard. And that’s how we need to look at productivity is about output, it’s not about time spent.

Jack Ford:

Yes, totally. I was really surprised that this type of thing had been implemented. And yeah, just did not seem in keeping with some of the success stories and things that you hear in the mainstream media about people working remotely and from home, and the care that the organizations are showing them. So yeah, it’s a big surprise.

Jennifer Sproul:

Yeah.

Jack Ford:

So, one of the highlighted quotes from the report is, “In terms of crisis and tumultuous change, it’s imperative that we feel as connected and cohesive as we can. Human beings crave structure and connectedness above all else.” So I was thinking, given the current change events, obviously COVID-19, is pretty high-up on the tumultuous scale, if there was such a thing, and it’s kind of scattered workforces far and wide. It seems even more crucial for organizations to prioritize internal comms. I thought that quote really spoke really clearly to the current situation.

Jennifer Sproul:

Yeah, absolutely. I mean I think we’ve seen nothing if not how important and how impactful internal communication is. Yes, we all accept the virtual way that we’re living, and some of us like it, and some of us, as I said at the beginning, it can be quite divisive. And our job as internal communicators is to bring that back to a connected whole and to consider all of that. And actually how we do that and bring people back together, it is communication. It is how we facilitate that connected world and how we do all things. And if we don’t get that right, we won’t work well with our colleagues, we won’t understand what it means to us, we won’t feel in the loop, we won’t feel like we know what we’re doing has purpose and has meaning and has impact. So, it’s really, really important to consider that. And I think this word of change is just the thing we need to really think about. We know that change goes wrong largely because of poor communication. I think what we’ve seen through this situation is internal communicators are being brought in much, much earlier to the process, so they’re being involved in those taskforce looking at the impact of COVID and how we make those changes. And I hope that that will show the need to bring in internal communicators at the very, very beginning of a change program rather than at the end of a change program. Because change is behavioral, it isn’t instructional, it has to be considered in that sense. And so, you have to think about the environment that you’re creating, how the flow of information is happening within organizations that’s driving that behavior change to make it really, really have impact.

Jennifer Sproul:

So, we need to make sure there is a level of human connection. And I understand that can’t necessarily be physical at the current time, but there needs to be a way of virtual human connection. We need it. It’s in our DNA. It’s how we’re built. So, our challenge as internal communicators is thinking how do we create that in a very, dare I say the word, hybrid world that we’re potentially going to be living in?

Jack Ford:

Yeah. And I guess it’s different for each individual as well in terms of how comfortable people are with the technology, how comfortable maybe different regions even within the UK and different countries globally are allowed or able to return to workplaces. It’ll vary massively I guess for internal comms teams on potentially person by person, and certainly team by team.

Jennifer Sproul:

Yeah, absolutely. And that’s why perhaps this trend of really thinking about our audiences and profiling them perhaps through a new lens will help us think about that. We can be… often with audience segmentation we can think of it by role or department, or we can sometimes wrongly or rightly make assumptions based on age and that they have a certain preference for certain things. I think that perhaps through this we should look at our segmentation through a new lens as opposed to, “Well, you work remotely, you’re in the office, you’re here, you’re there.” So, think about it in perhaps a different way so we really start to bring in that sense of audience understanding. And that’s where listening plays a really, really big role.

Jack Ford:

Yeah. No, that’s really interesting. The report outlines eight areas as part of the business case for internal comms. It would be great to talk about a few of them. The first one is a bit of a carry on from what we were just talking about actually. It’s digital transformation is driving continuous change. And I saw a quote, it actually came up in a previous podcast recording from the Microsoft CEO, that said that, “We saw two years’ worth of digital transformation in two months.” And you’ve just said yourself about projects that were going to take months were getting implemented within two days. The report talks obviously about, without effective comms change programs fails. You’ve just talked about bringing internal comms people on board at the beginning rather than at the end. Change is happening so fast at the minute and can really go awry if comms is going wrong. I’m just wondering if you had some tips maybe for us and internal comms teams who maybe feel a bit overwhelmed by the scale or the pace, or both, of their company’s digital transformation?

Jennifer Sproul:

Absolutely. I think feeling overwhelmed is a really good place to put all of us right now. I mean I certainly feel some days very overwhelmed when looking at the future of the institute and how we operate in this new world. And I guess my advice with that is always to try and break it down a little bit. Often it is to look at all those changed programs that are going on, and try and put them into groups and into buckets, and then stitch them back together. It’s to step back from it all.

Jennifer Sproul:

And I think that that’s important to carve out that time in our diaries to give us the moment to think through, rather than just react. Because often we’re just going at such a pace, and I know that sometimes is easier said than done, but it’s really, really important to take a step back and actually really review where we’re at, what’s gone well, what’s not gone well. “Right, now let me engage with all of my senior stakeholders, all the ones that are in charge of putting together their change programs.” Whether that’s looking at how they are perhaps transforming the way work is done within their organizations because they’ve made digital improvements. Not necessarily about how we use technology to communication but how we use it to do our actual work. Any other changes going on in the business, and get close to them and really understand them, and build that relationship so that perhaps when you’re…

Jennifer Sproul:

Your job is to look at all the change that’s going on in the organization and to think, “Well, if that’s 10 change measures going out in a yer, how is that going to make the receiver or the employee who is having to respond to that change think, feel and do?” And therefore almost to go back to some degree going, “That is too much and it’s too fast.” Because change isn’t a Gantt chart. It is, but it’s not just a Gantt chart. And it’s not like, “We go through these processes, we send out these communications, we do all these things, we turn on the system, we go live on this date, job done.” There’s the change that goes after that. Change is not… it’s emotional, it’s circular, it’s wavy, it’s all other shapes that perhaps a linear Gantt chart doesn’t give.

Jennifer Sproul:

So, it’s then to almost I think look at all of that context and then go back to your stakeholders and go, “Well actually, if you did that change alongside that change, that is not going to go down well.” And maybe almost recommend to do less, or to consider it with a new lens, or to pace things out differently. Because that’s obviously our job, is to see everything that’s going on, and then maybe influence internally so that they’re not trying to do too much change too quickly, because change takes time.

Jack Ford:

Yeah. And your point around change isn’t a Gantt chart, I think that makes total sense when you consider that the change is affecting… it always affects people, and people don’t come along on a journey at the same pace. Even in a classroom situation people learn at different speeds, learn in different ways, and it’s totally the same at work as well. I can just think about the team I work with, there’s lots of different working styles, learning behaviors. And yeah, I think just that little phrase really struck a chord with me about change not being a Gantt chart.

Jennifer Sproul:

We mustn’t look at it like that. That’s not how we operate, that’s not how we are as humans.

Jack Ford:

So, we talk a little about change, and I’m just wondering, and this is a question that I was just wondering as a whole really, and I don’t know if you’ve had any insight from the members or as part of the report. But there was obviously a huge shift, as you’ve spoken about, and digital transformation, digital products being put in place and implemented quickly. And some companies were just going from quite traditional methods to these Microsoft Teams, virtual conversations, meetings. And I’m just wondering if the wholesale change will perhaps slow down and new systems implementations will slow down, and it’s actually the optimization, ironing out any wrinkles, maybe that would be some of the main focus for internal comms and change programs?

Jennifer Sproul:

Oh, yeah. I would agree. I think that looking at how we’ve used technology through the lens of internal communication, I mean I’ve never seen myself on a camera so much in the last six months, and I certainly learned more about my own personal mannerisms which I’m trying to work on but it’s very difficult. But it certainly has been a lot more paced, perhaps to some degree less polished, which has been a good thing. But I think that we have learned how to use whatever you’re using, whether that’s Teams or Zooms or Yammers or Slacks or all the technology that is available, we’re certainly understanding the tools that are in front of us in a new way.

Jennifer Sproul:

And I think that absolutely there will be less perhaps time to add more, but to stand back from it going… and I’m going back to that point, “What has worked well, what’s not going well? Let’s really think about how we use them differently.” So, it’s more about understanding how they’ve been used, as opposed to let’s add more on. So I do agree. I think that over the next few months with the technology from an internal communication perspective will be less about perhaps new, but more about reviewing, adapting, and really leveraging what we’ve done so it really works with what the needs of our audience are in the future.

Jennifer Sproul:

Technology or change transformation in terms of the business or our organizations and how we work and what we do, whether that’s the use of more automation or changing a task or looking at new process and systems in the way that we do our everyday job, I think that some of that change is going to continue. Transformation has been big on the agenda for a while, so we need to make sure we understand that those transformation projects that are happening alongside how we’re asking people to use the technology that we are implementing as communicators, because that’s a lot for one person to look at. But I certainly agree that it’s going to be more about understanding what we’ve got rather than keep adding new stuff in the coming months from an internal comms perspective.

Jack Ford:

Yeah, I guess there’s only so many tools people can use. And being available all the time via the instant messages or maybe sometimes even video calls can be a bit, like you said before, overwhelming. So yeah, getting the teams to understand how they get the message across in the best way makes total sense.

Jack Ford:

I found… the next question I wanted to talk about was the section that covers the changing workforce demographics. And it covered areas that I didn’t really even consider to be demographics. It talks about the mix of new technology, different communication tools, the focus on inclusion, which is not just related to business but everything really at the moment, can present some challenges but also lots of opportunity when it comes to effective internal communications. And I was wondering if you could maybe highlight some of those opportunities that it gives.

Jennifer Sproul:

Yeah, absolutely. I mean, obviously there’s been a lot that’s happened in the last six months, but also the inclusive nature has also been a big part of that agenda. And we talk about it for many time, but I do feel that there’s a real swift towards improved action in this area. And I talked about a little bit earlier when I talked about audience segmentation and looking through that through a new lens.

Jennifer Sproul:

As internal communicators the one area that I think we have really stand out from a crowd as a real differentiator in terms of our skills and the way that we’re really building our knowledge, is in our ability to understand human behavior, it’s the utilizing of behavioral insights and technologies. And I think that gives a better informed picture. So, there are more demographics and more types of people in the work, but we need to really start to think about it from the inclusive nature. So, there’s a real opportunity there.

Jennifer Sproul:

So let me just take an actual example. So, we’ve always talked about remote workers, that they’re a real challenging audience. Those that are perhaps based in our manufacturing sites, in our factories or those that are field-based, or some where they have computers, some where they don’t, or things like that. I mean, they’ve always been a challenging audience, and they’re an audience that we’ve had for decades perhaps. So, it’s something that we keep, keep talking about. Is well, “How do we make them feel part of something? How do we make them feel a sense of inclusion and belonging to the organization?”

Jennifer Sproul:

And perhaps now with the advent of technology and we’re finally looking at things with a fresh lens and a fresh perspective, we can finally get over that challenge to look at everything as a homogenous all, and think about our strategies and our tactics to make everybody feeling included in the organization irrelevant of their location, their role, their ethnicity, their age. All those things. So, it really starts to do all of that. And we’re using our behavioral understanding to do that better. So for me, that perhaps could be one of the opportunities, is to really start to look at that with a new lens and finally perhaps get over some of those longterm hurdles we’ve talked about.

Jack Ford:

Yeah. So, perhaps some of the changes that we’ve been forced to make this year will actually help tackle those longstanding changes that we have to make but are still struggling to do. That’s really interesting, I hadn’t thought about that progress that’s been made this year applying to other situations. That’s really interesting.

Jennifer Sproul:

Yeah, I think so. And I think as well we’ve seen more people engaged, because people now have to engage with technology who perhaps didn’t have to before because it wasn’t a requirement of their job, they didn’t need to know anything, they’re starting to engage more because of what’s going on in the world. So there’s a real I think opportunity to think about how those behaviors have changed and how we can make that feel more inclusive.

Jack Ford:

Yeah. It seems like everyone has been on a Zoom call or a Facebook video chat, WhatsApp video chat, with members of their family. So, taking that back into the workplace will potentially be less of a culture shock potentially, or technology shock to people. That’s interesting to see how the external factors and people’s external lives will maybe benefit some of the internal comms projects.

Jack Ford:

The report also talks about a pre-coronavirus, if you can remember such a time, crisis of mental health. And it’s really hard to see how this could have been made better during 2020. I was wondering if there’s some advice, some steps for internal comms teams on how to approach this aspect? And also, do you think it’s harder for a remote workforce, a workforce that’s mainly remote these days?

Jennifer Sproul:

Yeah. I mean there’s no doubt that we had a mental health crisis pre-COVID and this is going to even deepen that crisis even further, which is a real worry for us as the society as well. And therefore we have to take, as organizations, we have to take our role seriously in terms of what we do to support and create that dialog for those individuals.

Jennifer Sproul:

I think that remote working, like I say, some people have really enjoyed it, some haven’t. But I think it certainly leads to more isolation. And isolation is a worrying thing when people are dealing with issues that you perhaps don’t know about. So, we have to be really, really conscious of that. And so, we have to think about going back to that point earlier about how we create better community and better connectedness in our internal communication strategies to help combat perhaps some of that isolation.

Jennifer Sproul:

My advice is to really I guess listen to all employees, and developed an improved approach to those who are perhaps silent as well as those who are vocal. And we say it a lot, but sometimes there’s things to be learned from what isn’t said, from just as much from what is said. So, I think we need to really think about that.

Jennifer Sproul:

We have to be able to then create an environment where we create that comfortable sense of conversation. It’s meaningful art of conversation. Making sure there’s rapport, and all those things, so it’s the importance of, “How are you? How are things going?” Rather than we’re seeing, we come on a call, we’re connecting with our people, it’s just all about task stuff. So, we really need to really invest in perhaps training up our people to think more so about having meaningful conversations, so there is that sense of creating a more open and honest and comfortable place for people to really share.

Jennifer Sproul:

Additionally, we need to also make sure organizations have systems and processes in place to support people with mental health challenges. From whether that’s a Mental Health First Aiders program, whether that’s making sure you have the right resources or the right charities or the right places for people to go, I think is really, really important. And there’s a policy to that.

Jennifer Sproul:

I think going back to my point as well, one of the things that we really need to work on, and we’ve talked about it again, this is perhaps another opportunity that’s come out of this pandemic. We’ve talked about it for many, many years in terms of line managers being a real, real challenge for internal communicators. Perhaps now is the time to really, really get that investment or get that support to help train them.

Jennifer Sproul:

Because often, if you’re struggling as a person, your context or that person you have that conversation with is either your colleague or perhaps more than most likely your line manager. Are we giving our line managers the support to have meaningful conversations? Are we giving our line managers support, so if they notice something that isn’t quite right what are they supposed to do with that? Where are they supposed to go with that? What’s the support that we’re giving them in those situations?

Jennifer Sproul:

And then the other thing as well is making sure that… uncertainty is going to be the continued theme I think for a year or so to come, so it is that importance of keeping people feel informed. What creates further stress, further anxiety is when you feel there’s secrets, or when you feel that no one’s being honest with you, or “I reckon there’s something going on but no one’s telling me.” If you have continuous every day, open, honest dialog, that will help combat some of that. So, I think there’s a number of things that we need to be doing. But I hope that’s some practical tips to think about.

Jack Ford:

Yeah. And that last point you made around the open, continuous engagement conversations that really harks back to how we started the recording, which was talking about the social… it was social CEO, but a social leader, a line manager being more open and approachable via these video channels and instant messages. I guess that ties in well with that.

Jennifer Sproul:

Absolutely.

Jack Ford:

That actually is a nice segue into the next part about the changing face of leadership. And it talked really interestingly about how leaders are needing to change the events of this year have made this even more clear, and we’ve mentioned that as well. I’d love to hear a bit more about the changes leaders need to make, and how internal comms can maybe help with this as opposed to seeing it as a blocker?

Jennifer Sproul:

Yeah, absolutely. I mean I’ve spoken to many internal communicators, and it really does depend on your leader in your organization. There’s some leaders that have a natural real value of internal comms, and a natural warmth in the way that they do things. There are some where they’re really scared and nervous about putting themselves out there. So, as internal communicators we really, really have to help them and coach them with that.

Jennifer Sproul:

But one of the better outcomes and another opportunity that’s come out of this pandemic for internal communicators is how actually our leaders have had to get more onboard with being open and honest, and being vulnerable. And that’s another thing, it’s allowing that vulnerability to shine through. So, one of the things that’s been really great is to see leaders in their own homes, not with so many ties, ditching some of that armor going, “I don’t know the answers, I’m struggling too, but I’m here for you. Talk to me, I’m available to answer any question, even if I don’t know the answers.” I mean we have seen the importance of leadership communication is so prevalent throughout the last six months.

Jennifer Sproul:

So for me, I think that this is hopefully a shift that’s here to come. And our job as internal communicators is to show back to them..Because we’re asking our leaders to go out there, sometimes in a place that they’re not comfortable, to be that level of vulnerability, and to be more rough and not be… go off script. Often we’ve had to write scripts for them. And now we’re saying, “We’re not going to write you a script, we’ll give you some bullet points. Just talk.” And that can be a very, very vulnerable and scary place for leaders.

Jennifer Sproul:

So, our job is to really coach them through that. But also show them at the end of it the impact that that has had, because then that will give them the confidence to continue. That will make them see, “Actually by doing this, this is having a real impact on the wellbeing and my employees, but also on how we’re operating as a business.” Looking at that productivity, looking at that output and how people feel about my organization. How my employee’s talking about us externally.

Jennifer Sproul:

If we can as internal communicators give them back that evidence to show by being this type of leader, by being that social CEO, by being that vulnerable person, by being approachable and answering all those questions, this is having a huge, positive impact on our organization and the way that we’re working and the way that our employees are feeling. So, I think that it’s a job to continue to coach them, take away, make them feel uncomfortable, take away their scripts, but show them by doing it how impactful that is.

Jack Ford:

Yeah. That’s really interesting. And the theme of the impact, that was something that came up in an episode from season one of this podcast, which was about measurement and ROI and how that came up throughout the series to be fair. And one of the episodes spoke in more detail about it, but how that is often a challenge for internal comms teams to really get the measurements right to show the ROI or the impact, which is potentially a more accurate word or can cover off more areas. And it just seems that it really is a bit of a two-way deal with that in terms of working with the senior leaders to work out what the impact, or what the message or what the change is, and what should be measuring on the outcome of it. It doesn’t seem like it’s an easy one to do, to measure the impact, but very vital.

Jennifer Sproul:

Yeah. I mean, obviously you’ve had a podcast and we won’t go too… we could get down a whole nother topic of conversation about measuring as well couldn’t we? But in all of this it is vital, we do need to get more comfortable with it, we need to find more creative ways. And sometimes don’t worry about it being always perfect, and sometimes it’s getting that sense of sentiment. But that also comes down to how we’re working with our other stakeholders and those other people that capture data and information so we can show a timeline of things, get more comfortable with our spreadsheets, get over that thing. And then it does help us.

Jennifer Sproul:

And I know what’s been really difficult this year is we haven’t been able to plan. And often when you plan that’s when you can define the objective that is… hopefully it’s a smart objective that’s measurable in that way. So, to some degree we haven’t been able to do that. But I think that if we turn to our metrics and our data and our sentiment analysis, and we look at perhaps sickness records or complaints or other data that’s in the organization. Perhaps speak to our external comms colleagues, find out how brand messaging is going, what’s going on in the external world. If we can stitch together a picture to show how we have done through this and what impact that has had, there is ways of doing that, and not necessarily be always as polished perhaps as we would have liked it to have been.

Jennifer Sproul:

But there is listening as well, what’s people talking about in our social channels? Rather than is there being great conversation? Has everyone been responded to? Is there great thanks? Can we see that happening? That information is in the fabric of our organizations, we just need to find a way to put it together and present what is going to be the most compelling elements to our leaders.

Jack Ford:

Yeah, that’s really interesting talking about the other business metrics. And I was just thinking there around how interesting it would be to almost review the change potentially in stuff like Glassdoor reviews, how companies might have been doing really well or not so well before the pandemic. And then based on the reviews during that timeframe could get a really good, clear picture of companies that have done really well for their employees. That would be quite an interesting piece to take a look at.

Jennifer Sproul:

Absolutely. Absolutely.

Jack Ford:

We use something at streamGo internally, which is a High5 system, it’s called High5, it’s kind of internal peer recognition. And it’s nothing more than quite a fun way to say thank you, leave a little message, you’re encouraged to use a GIF or a meme just to put some lightheartedness into it. But it’s a really nice way to just say thank you and potentially a more recognizable way than just on a chat message. Be interesting to see how those type of systems have been used while you’re not sitting next to someone and you can’t maybe just go, “Ah, do you want a coffee from the machine?” Or something like that type of thing. Would be interesting to see how the use of those has increased or changed.

Jennifer Sproul:

And we put all these systems in place, that exists in all that organization. And also, how has the chat happened in Yammer, what have people commented on? Or when you’ve had a virtual town hall, what type of questions did you get? What type of comments did you get? How were they answered? How did that then impact the chat afterwards? Are we looking at perhaps looking at our ops leaders and how they’re feeling about their outputs and the productivity of the organization? Are we meeting the needs of our customers? There’s a way of stitching some kind of total picture together.

Jack Ford:

Yeah, totally. That makes total sense. And talking about the virtual town hall, one thing that one of our clients did, they take the questions that get submitted online from people watching from wherever, and some people do some key word analysis on it, it’s quite sophisticated. Other people just throw it into a word cloud generator, and that’s really helpful straightaway to see some of the main themes that are coming out. And it’s like, “Okay, if all the questions were about overtime or about childcare, they’re some things. Okay, well we thought we’d done a lot about that last month, obviously that’s still really top of mind and maybe we haven’t sorted that out, so there’s something.” Almost like, not a plan, but there’s an indicator of what we should be focusing some comms on, or. Yeah, it was an interesting way of using that data I thought.

Jennifer Sproul:

I love word clouds. And using a visual tool to present that is a really good way to think about it.

Jack Ford:

Yeah. Awesome. Okay, well I don’t want to give away the entire report on the podcast, I think we could be here for days. So, the next question isn’t to do with the report but it’s just as important, especially as everyone has been watching tele. And I didn’t think I could do a podcast that was called Remote Control without really asking what have you been watching, and would you recommend it?

Jennifer Sproul:

That’s a very good question. I’m sure like many people listening I have had a few Netflix binges. But with the lack of perhaps potential new programs coming forward I’ve had to go back over some old ones. I love crime and thriller dramas, they are my thing, they grip me and it’s a whole… luckily it’s nothing like my day job. It’s a whole other place. So, I have been watching The Fall, Line of Duty. I love a good ITV drama as well, I’ve watched all the things about Des and serial killers. And it’s almost a little bit worrying how much I do love a thriller or a series about serial killers. But I think maybe it’s because it’s so very, very different to what I do. But I would certainly recommend anyone to go for anything that’s a real bit of escapism. And then sometimes I do watch a little bit of Friday Night Dinners when I need a little bit of a giggle as well.

Jack Ford:

Oh, yeah. Oh, that’s quite a stark contrast between the two. I’ve just seen something actually, just started watching on Netflix, Unsolved Mysteries, which are true mysteries.

Jack Ford:

I don’t know if you’ve seen it, but that is really good.

Jennifer Sproul:

Yeah, if you name any sort of unsolved murder mystery or documentary on Netflix I probably would have watched it, which is a little bit of a worry.

Jack Ford:

I’m talking to a pro here, I’m not going to be able to give you a recommendation I don’t think. Okay, well I really appreciate you coming on the podcast Jennifer, it’s been really great. And we could carry on for ages, well I certainly could carry on for ages talking about the report and internal comms as a whole, but we have to stop. I just wonder, where can people get a copy of the report from if they want to read it?

Jennifer Sproul:

Sure. It’s publicly available on the IoIC website which is ioic.org.uk. And if you go to our knowledge hub and then thought leadership section you can download a copy of the report there.

Jack Ford:

Ah, perfect, okay. Well, I’ll make sure I include a link in the episode notes as well, so wherever people are listening to this there should be a link to read that. So yeah, just left me to say thank you very much for joining the podcast today.

Jennifer Sproul:

Lovely, thank you so much for having me too, Jack.

Get Each Episode Delivered To Your Inbox

To get each episode delivered direct to your inbox as soon as they come out, subscribe with your business email address below.

Run Better Online Events

With our team of Event Producers providing first-class support throughout your online events, engaging your audience is just one click away...

Adam Gillin

Author Adam Gillin

More posts by Adam Gillin