Category Archives: Comms

David MacLeod speaking at the recent Engage for success event on culture and values in the workplace.

Developing culture and values in the workplace

Innovation is changing the way businesses think. The pressure to perform no longer comes only from competitors, but the idea that a new concept could change the nature of an entire industry. Much like how Uber swept across the world, making traditional taxi ranks redundant in many cases, this kind of foundational change threatens the futures of many companies.

However, a strategic solution, although tempting, isn’t the way forward when ensuring you have a workforce that is ready to deal with sudden change. “Culture eats strategy for breakfast,” David MacLeod said, “we must look at the bigger picture as external pressures bear down on an organisation.”

The strains felt by a workplace are too often harsh management and command and control, which lead to work intensification. These contrast greatly to what employees typically want from work, which is inclusion, empowerment, fairness and trust, and meaning and purpose. This causes a culture collision, the outcome of which is low trust between a workforce and senior leadership.

David said: “Seven out of ten employees are neutral or do not trust their bosses. Therefore they are already mentally out of the door.

“A disengaged workforce leads to low confidence, low ownership of tasks, less efficiency, low agility, and less innovation.”

As employers, we have the choice to squeeze, control and monitor our workforces, or to inspire, respect and trust them. Creating a culture where people are the solution, not the problem, makes employees more invested in a business when it goes through times of change or when things get tough.

According to David, there are four key enablers that help a workforce to feel valued.

  • Organisational integrity – a company’s values are reflected in day-to-day behaviour. Behaviours are explicit and are bought into by staff, so be genuine as people see through a corporate spin.
  • Enable employee voice – the job of the senior leadership team is not to command and control an organisation but to ensure that the right conversations are happening between the right people.
  • Engaging managers – great managers will focus staff and enable the job to get done. Positively reinforce good work but don’t turn a blind eye to dysfunctional behaviour as this undermines your authority and gives everyone permission to act that way.
  • Strategic narrative – strong leadership provides a strong strategic narrative about the organisation. Employees need to understand the context of the work they are doing and the journey they are part of.

To find out more about culture and values in the workplace and Engage for Success, visit

To find out more about the Milton Keynes Engage for Success group or to join the mailing list for future events, email Sue Kiddy.

Do you love where you work?

Loving where you work isn’t only good for you, it’s good for your employer, too – as it improves your productivity and performance.

That’s why Milton Keynes employee communications agency Headlines is backing a new Engage for Success group helping local business to foster a culture of #lovewhereyouwork.

Launched in May, the group is one of a number being established around the country through Engage for Success (EFS), a voluntary organisation backed by Government and major corporations, that aims to grow awareness about the power and potential of employee engagement.

Research by EFS points to staff turnover being reduced by 40%, absenteeism by 25% and productivity increased by 59% in companies with high levels of employee engagement.

Headlines’ Managing Editor Sue Kiddy has been involved with the national EFS movement since its inauguration at 10 Downing Street in 2011 and is one of the founder members of EFS MK. She said: “Employee engagement truly does have the power to change lives and working communities, and more and more organisations are recognising the benefits. EFS MK is about local people and organisations coming together to promote and share this in and around Milton Keynes.”

At the first EFS MK meeting in May, Engage for Success Executive Director Cathy Brown talked about the four enablers of engagement that apply in any scenario – wherever you are, whatever you do and whoever you’re engaging with. You can read more about these in this article written by Headlines’ Matt Johnson.

The next meeting is on 21 September, and if you’re interested in coming along or finding out more about the group, please contact Sue Kiddy.

Now in its 23rd year, Headlines is a specialist internal communications agency based in Milton Keynes. With clients that include some of the world’s best-known companies, the agency creates internal publications and other tools to help build a higher-performing culture through improved employee communication and engagement.

Find out more on the Headlines website.

Get the word out first – communication during change is crucial to engagement

An IC faux pas by French car manufacturer PSA Group led to a communications backlash following their £1.9 billion purchase of General Motors’ European unit, which includes Vauxhall.

News of the deal broke in the press before it was officially announced to thousands of employees at Vauxhall’s factories in Luton and Ellesmere Port, raising questions over job security and pensions. In the confusion and worry that followed, some people even vented to the media.

“Everybody is in the dark at the moment. We just don’t know what will happen,” one worker told the BBC. “Is the pension we’ve all been paying into for years going to be protected?” asked another.

Et violà – Vauxhall (and PSA) found itself with a significant PR issue and a major blow to employee engagement, all because it had not communicated news of a major change to its workforce early enough.

So how could this situation have been prevented?

Research by the CIPD – the professional body for HR and people development – has identified some techniques common to organisations that successfully land transformational change.

These include:

• Mass engagement events – Events involving every person in the organisation are costly, challenging to organise and require senior managers to front them. However, staff participating in the CIPD research commented on the effectiveness of such events.

• Achieving clarity through brevity and translation through detail – Much is written about how change visions must be simple and memorable. However, it is increasingly recognised that the most important part of a vision statement is a shared understanding of what the words mean for the organisation, and that they translate into something tangible.

• Repeated consistent communication from the top – Consistent and continued endorsement from the top during programmes of change helps maintain momentum.

In Vauxhall’s case, many of these techniques were used (including a live presentation by senior leaders to employees in Luton), but only after the story broke. Whether things would have played out differently had they been used earlier is open for debate. Every situation is different, after all.

Nevertheless, it’s clear that an absence of communication during a period of change allows anxiety and speculation to take hold, which can harm engagement and cause resistance.

A spokesperson for Vauxhall told Headlines: “Like most organisations, telling employees first, before they read it in the media, is a key strategic objective. However, in this case, the talks were at an advanced stage when the story broke and so we had a rapid period of ‘catching up’ to do.

“We will continue to provide written information to employees and use our internal social networking site, a forthcoming webchat and face-to-face employee meetings to provide opportunities for two-way dialogue, to ensure employees feel as informed as possible and confident about the future.”

Meet Silke and Simon – the latest additions to the Headlines leadership team

In January, Headlines welcomed former Homebase Brand Design Manager Simon Dowsing as Director of Media Operations and experienced Marketing Strategist and Engagement Specialist Silke Brittain as Commercial Director.

Now that they’ve had a chance to settle in, we thought it was time to grill them on their first impressions and plans for Headlines.

What does your role involve?

Simon: I lead the teams within Media Operations – Content, Creative, Video and Digital – to ensure the best possible work for our clients, on time and to budget.

Silke: I lead the Client Services and business development teams and help them and our clients achieve the best results from the internal communications strategies we develop and implement.

How will your role impact Headlines’ clients?

Simon: I work with the delivery teams to develop new, exciting ideas and to ensure everything we do is best-in-class.

Silke: I work with the team to develop innovative solutions and communications strategies for our clients, improving their communications and engagement with employees and channel partners.

How do your roles complement each other?

Simon: Silke is more outwardly focused towards clients. My focus is internal, towards supplying the best possible work for the Client Services team. In many ways, my team is a customer of Silke’s team.

Silke: The Client Services team sets the strategy and targets for what we want to achieve for a client and works hand-in-hand with the Media Operations team to implement the communications to achieve the clients’ goals.

What are your thoughts on the future of the IC industry?

Simon: I see it going from strength to strength. I haven’t been brought in for my experience in IC; my background is brand and corporate communications, which brings a different dimension to Headlines. But right now, IC is an industry ready to embrace the digital step-change, and that opens up a realm of possibilities.

Silke: It’s evolved tremendously and has almost seen a merger between Marketing and HR departments. The focus is not only on communications but on enabling engagement and helping employees to understand and live by their company’s vision and values.

What are your first impressions of Headlines?

Simon: It’s an exciting, dynamic and growing business with some very motivated and engaged people.

Silke: Everyone is extremely friendly, helpful and you feel a buzz and warmth between all the team members.

What’s your greatest career achievement?

Simon: Joining Headlines. It’s going in the right trajectory.

Silke: Working with a research client to build a global team and achieve fantastic results by applying best practice from across the world. We had huge cultural challenges and different working procedures to contend with, and it was a particular challenge to get the US team on board.

What are your interests outside of work?

Simon: I’m a family man – my partner and I have seven kids between us. Other than that, I spend too much money on photography equipment, because I love it! I enjoy being out in the elements taking photos. I also love rummaging around antique and vintage shops, looking for a bargain and restoring antiques.

Silke: I’m a big skier; I’ve been doing it since I was four. Even when I was nine months pregnant I was keen to ski, but my mother stopped me – so I went tobogganing instead! I love spending time with my family and two children, enjoying their sporting successes in rowing, hockey and gymnastics.

Tell us a random fact about yourself.

Simon: Given the beard, it’s quite ironic that I have quite a large collection of very old razors and shaving memorabilia, like adverts and razor packets, all stored in a glass cabinet at home.

Silke: I speak four languages – German, English, French and Spanish. And the first single I ever bought was ACDC’s Back in Black, not that I was a rock chick in any way!

Get talking on the walk

Internal communication is on the move.

It is going mobile and there’s no point in trying to stop it. The fact is that for a third of the world’s population, a smartphone is the channel of choice. And in the developed west, that figure is two thirds.

Global TV viewing is falling at a rate of two per cent each year. Time spent reading the world’s newspapers has tumbled 26 per cent in four years.

But video consumption on mobile devices is growing by 35-45 per cent every year.

For all of us in IC, the challenge is to comprehend and embrace not just this unstoppable trend in choice of channel – but also the impact it is having on the culture that defines our attitude to communication.

Because the day the smartphone was invented, a big window opened and any suggestion that communication could be centrally controlled started to disappear out of it.

Right now, there are well over two billion people in the world, living under a spectrum of regimes and ideologies, who are able to say whatever they want to whoever they want, whenever they want . . . thanks to their mobile.

And their number is set to double in the next four years.

In business, we face a similar scenario, which presents us with two options: be afraid; or be excited.

At Headlines, we opt for the latter. The transition to mobile is under way, but in reality, it is a done deal. Regardless of current workforce demographic or accessibility, there is no going back.

And it is exciting. It offers the potential to take engagement, empowerment, collaboration, innovation and productivity into a new era.

For many in IC, this means a rethink – a move from managing internal communication, to facilitating and contributing.

Working in close collaboration with our clients, we have developed groundbreaking new app-based channels that are transforming the way organisations communicate while reducing complexity and saving on traditional IC spending. If you are interested in finding out more, please see our video produced with help from Premier Inn.

The fact is few dispute that good communication is a conversation and not a monologue; or that ‘top down’ is definitely not good.

Most recognise the value of collaboration. Many organisations, and their employees, are struggling to keep pace with a blossoming myriad of channels; and in almost all there is pressure to justify and demonstrate maximum value from IC spending.

Mobile is a great leveller and a brilliant opportunity. Now is the time to start walking the talk – or talking on the walk.