Category Archives: Gurus

Why your employee magazine should be better than GQ

Okay maybe not exactly like GQ. But bear with me – there is some logic here!

When you wander into WH Smith’s and spend £5 on a magazine, you are buying it because you get something out of it; enjoyment, laughter, information, ideas on what to buy or what to listen or what to go see at the cinema.

Whatever the subject, you read it because there is something in it for you, it makes you feel good – otherwise why would you bother?

You could argue that employee magazines have a harder challenge than commercial magazines, because they are constantly trying to entice what we would describe as an unwilling audience to pick up and read them.

And when we are putting together an employee magazine, we must constantly ask ourselves: what’s in it for the readers?

There are lots of things that inform the content of employee magazines, the need to share company news, important announcements on policy changes, explaining strategy and company direction, recognising people or teams that have done great things in the business, but when we include this content in a magazine we need to be honest with ourselves and ask – what the readers motivation for actually looking at this?

Reading a employee mag isn’t mandatory, so what makes it killer content above all the other things jostling for attention in the lives of your employees?

Picture the scene – you are late waking up in the morning, you rush around getting yourselves fed and ready for school or nursery, when you arrive at work you spend 8-10 hours working your socks off.

You may not even get the time to have a full lunch break. When you get home it is (hopefully) quality time for yourself or your family and then, in theory, bedtime.

In this context can we honestly say that we think people will take the time to sit down and read their employers magazine if there is nothing in it for them?

Of course you can argue that employees do get something from corporate magazines – information that helps them be better at their jobs, updates on pensions and benefits schemes that will help them outside of work and later in life.

But in order to get them to read this we need to provide more killer content – the stuff they will really tune in for.

When you read a copy of GQ, most of it is advertising. Before you have even got to the main contents list you’ve had 10 to 15 pages of Burberry, Tom Ford and other fashion designers.

This is not why you buy the magazine; you buy it for Matt Damon on the front, or Prince Andrew or Cara Delevinge.

At first, the advertising is an annoyance, a distraction you flick through to the get the good stuff, but you still absorb it and, over time once you have read the main features, you might find yourself looking at it more for inspiration.

And maybe even making a purchase off the back of something you subconsciously flicked past in the magazine on your way to somewhere else.

I often think of the more corporate content in the same way as advertising – it is important, the magazine wouldn’t exist without it, but it isn’t going to be the thing on the cover that entices you to pick it up and read it.

It’s the people stories, the culture of your business, that people will buy into.

Then, once they have cherry-picked their favourite things to read first, they will find themselves coming back to that important content, and they will be prepared to look at it in good will because so much content in there was entertaining and relevant.

There was something in it for them, so they were prepared to give something back.

If you are only putting an employee magazine out every three months, and you are (presumably) spending a lot of money on it, then we must make sure it is something that your people will enjoy reading and look forward to.

So it’s important to get that balance of entertainment versus information and corporate content right.

Too much one way and it is frivolous, too much the other and no one will bother to even pick it up.

So while I don’t imagine that many IC mags will start looking like GQ any time soon, there is a lot we can learn from commercial magazines, and the tactics they use to get people to buy them, that we can employ to make employees more likely to pick our magazines up and engage with the content.

Putting strategy back into internal comms: the time has come

Ever since I did my first piece of corporate communication work, an audit of UK external and internal communication for pharmaceutical giant Eli Lilly in 1997, I saw the massive strategic potential of internal communication.

Yet, in the last twenty years, I have seen internal comms used less and less as a strategic tool, and more and more to drive the easier-to-measure but more nebulous objectives of “awareness” and “employee engagement”.

It wasn’t supposed to be this way.

At the turn of the century in London, there were actually large internal comms strategy firms who were looking at ways to use communication to identify specific groups of people, and mobilise them to help organisations achieve specific objectives.

Rather than driving awareness with infotainment indiscriminately broadcast to all employees, internal communication strategists focused on developing, delivering and facilitating complete messaging for people who needed to act on it, or those who needed to be aware so they could lead, follow, or get out of the way.

The strategic approach to internal comms was never repudiated. But in the early 2000s, it was overwhelmed by the drive for employee engagement.

Employee engagement is not explicitly anti-strategic.

The quest to measure it, and the corresponding push among corporate leaders to drive and demonstrate ever-increasing employee engagement scores, has had the effect of subordinating any other business purposes for internal communication to the two-fold purpose of raising employee engagement scores, and increasing the percentage of employees participating in employee engagement surveys.

Why does that conflict with the strategic use of internal comms?

When your job as an internal comms function is to make sure 100% of employees submit their engagement surveys and feel sufficiently happy to deliver an 80% to 100% engagement score, there is little tolerance for emphasising the selective delivery of hard messages to the minimum number of people necessary.

Some stakeholders squeal that such selective engagement is “discriminatory,” and other express concern for the potential impact on engagement scores.

It has also become a resourcing and sponsorship issue.

Some years back, when “precious” IC resource was being focused on “engagemen-tainment,” comms departments responded to urgent requests from senior stakeholders for change communication support with “toolkits” – essentially giving these stakeholders uncustomised instructions in “how to communicate” and telling them to take a hike.

This approach not only further diminished the active practice of strategic internal communication, it also had the perverse impact of distancing internal comms from potentially supportive senior stakeholders.

Now, as more and more businesses and practitioners are actively questioning the value of all-employee engagement and “engagemen-tainment,” a window is reopening for internal comms to become a strategic function again.

Moreover, if it doesn’t, how will IC otherwise be able to retain any perception of value, if it is neither driving engagement nor driving alignment and action?

Some ways to make IC more strategic in this transitional period:

1. Start proactively helping your business stakeholders, not just your engagement stakeholders
2. Conduct interviews and learn more about the business’s priorities, and then look more at how you can support and accelerate them
3. Kill off eyeball and awareness measurements.
4. Develop measurements that track the flows of messages and attitudes in different parts of your business
5. Invest in influencer research and/or social mapping to find the three percent of people who are driving 90% of your conversations
6. Develop a two-tier communication platform: a brief and snappy infotainment approach for all employees, supplemented with a more adult and comprehensive approach for influencers, leaders and managers
7. Don’t be afraid to use the same vehicles for delivering lightweight and heavyweight content, but do make sure they are effectively signposted

Embracing a strategic approach to internal communication offers massive advantages. For organisations, it offers the possibility of greater alignment and faster results.

For communicators, a clearer path to making a difference and a more tangible set of tasks and tools, and a greater opportunity to be seen as strategic assets and even, leaders.

Why not start now?


Mike Klein is an internal communication strategist, writer and blogger, based in Delft in the Netherlands.

His blog, Changing The Terms, has been recognised by Communication Director Magazine as one of Europe’s top communication blogs.

He is also currently Vice Chair of IABC’s Europe-Middle East-North Africa region.

Learning from change – lessons for internal communications professionals and the business as a whole

Matt Phillipson, Internal Communications Manager for Sport England, shares his thoughts on how IC professionals can help make change successful, and even deliver a positive experience for people.

Internal communications professionals, arguably more so than colleagues in other communication disciplines, are increasingly focusing on change management and organisational change as part of their comms mix.

But what makes the difference to a great change programme, and how can IC professionals leverage their influence to ensure staff get the best experience when going through change?

Here are a few pointers to help business leaders and IC professionals ensure change goes to plan:

Define success and plan your comms around it

  1. Having a clear idea of what success will look like at the outset of any change programme and a well-defined set of communications objectives should be the foundation for your communications approach.

  3. Ensure your plan aligns HR processes, staff engagement, leadership and communications. Change doesn’t happen in a vacuum – it’s going to take place alongside business-as-usual communications activities – but your change comms plan is a fundamental component of getting it right.

  5. Following a set of communications principles or guidelines can help acceptance of the change process (especially if these are developed with staff). These could include: being open and transparent, being insightful and being inspiring – but any principles should be a good fit for your organisational culture and followed rigorously to be credible.

Be aware of the psychology of change

  1. Going through change is an emotional process. If you can encourage leaders to acknowledge the psychological aspects of the change process and model their behaviours accordingly, this can mean more to people than any of the structural ramifications of change.

  3. Understanding the emotional brain and shaping communications to connect with people on an emotional level can impact staff motivation, performance and willingness to embrace transition to something new.

Prioritise listening over broadcasting

  1. Sharing timely information is a given, but the results of actively listening and measuring how well comms is doing with staff can pay dividends and help shape the substance, messaging, tone and frequency of change communications. Harnessing this valuable insight can ensure that staff embrace, rather than reject, your organisation’s transition. If done well, the information gained from listening to staff can inform the whole approach to implementing change and mean that leaders are delivering more of what staff want.

Overpromise at your peril

  1. One of the worst things leaders can do is promise more than they deliver during change or set unrealistic expectations because of bumps in the road. It’s important that IC pros need to keep it real, whether that’s sticking to timelines on sharing information, being consistent with messaging or sharing insight with leaders to ensure comms isn’t only top-down or broadcast heavy.

  3. Holding leaders accountable for their commitments isn’t without its challenges, but it’s vitally important to the integrity of our communications during change and the organisation as a whole.

These points may not be rocket science, but it’s amazing how easily good practice can be overlooked when change is taking place and the business environment is even more of a pressure cooker than normal.

Keeping the basics in mind will support your leaders in retaining trust during uncertain times and will definitely help make your organisational change more likely to succeed.

The psychology of workplace change

Stephanie Davies, Laughology Founder and CEO, takes the hot seat, blogging about the psychology of change at work.

Change is a word that can cause all kinds of emotional responses. Some people view change as negative, while others see it as positive. But now, even the way change happens is changing, which means there’s a lot to get our heads around.

These days, many modern businesses treat change as a continuum, rather than a finite process. The fast pace of the world means that many organisations position transformation as continuous improvement, especially those that are constantly evolving to stay ahead of the game and future-proof themselves.

Ways of working, lifestyles and services are developing all the time, forcing organisations to evolve with them. For example, office spaces and set working hours will be a thing of the past before we know it and communicating at work will be more about social media platforms and instant messaging.

We will all need to become learning ninjas, constantly updating our skills to match new systems and beat the competition.

By helping employees to grasp this concept and improving their resilience, adaptive thinking, flexibility and growth mindset, you can ensure they are future fit. Businesses need people who can think and adapt quickly and effortlessly and who will and feel positive about doing so.

As Chinese philosopher Lao Tzu said: “Life is a series of natural and spontaneous changes. Don’t resist them; that only creates sorrow. Let reality be reality. Let things flow naturally forward in whatever way they like.”

At Laughology we would advise you to:

1. Support your workforce in becoming future fit.
– Be clear about why continuous development is important – what does it mean for the organisation, why is it important for the business and how will it help in future?
– Share ideas, inspire with vision and engage people with their own development
– Lead the way. You should make sure managers have the knowledge, people skills and coaching skills to successfully evolve their teams
– Create the right culture. A culture of continual learning and trust built through honest positive, open communication will impact how people adapt to new ideas
– Help employees to understand where you are now and what needs to happen to get you to the next stage; this will make change easier to stomach. Small, manageable and well-communicated steps
will help people feel more in control and happy about development.

2. Become a growth mindset business.
Organisations that welcome new ideas and experience are the best performers. Too often, businesses can stifle experimentation due to fear of failure and because it’s easier to stay in their comfort zone. But it’s a changing world. Invite new ideas and ensure that resources and encouragement are available for your people to continuously learn and develop.

3. Pause, assess and celebrate.
Encouraging your team to take a deep dive into the process behind its own successes and failures will maximise learning and improve performance by instigating employee-driven change . We work in such fast-paced environments that it’s easy to finish one project and move straight onto the next without pausing to ask what worked well and what could be done differently next time.

4. Reinforce growth mindset practices through communications.
To have a true growth mindset, an organisation needs to constantly highlight and reinforce growth mindset practices. Try encouraging your people to share their favourite recent examples of their growth mindset with their teams, and share growth mindset success stories through your channels at every opportunity, across the whole organisation.

Blog: Why IC doesn’t work

Internal communication isn’t working. At least, the evidence suggests it isn’t making much of a difference where it really counts.

The UK is up with the best when it comes to investment in IC, says Headlines’ CEO Peter Doherty.

In the past decade, and on the back of helpful stuff like David MacLeod’s report and the development of the Engage for Success movement, we’ve seen IC teams getting larger, gaining greater influence at senior level – and projects and channels getting ever more innovative and adventurous.

But please take a look at our national KPIs.

Our productivity is pretty much the worst among the G7 nations. It has hardly improved in the past ten years and, relative to our economic rivals, is actually getting worse.

And the 2016 CIPD Employee Outlook survey paints a sorry picture of the state of engagement in Britain, with a worrying drop in job satisfaction and an increase in the number of employees looking for a new job.

So against this backdrop what, exactly, has ten years of IC done for Britain?

Can anyone really demonstrate we are better off for having it? Where is the return on investment?

Protagonists could argue that the stats would be even worse without us. And that much of the malaise is beyond our control.

I think it’s a bit of both – but that there’s still much more we can do to make a difference.

Peter Doherty

We must open our minds to the aspirations of our audiences … because they are way ahead of us.

IC is, in part, about making people’s working lives easier: giving them the tools, ideas and information they need to do their job. To an extent we get that right.

But it is also about making those lives happier, more enjoyable, more worthwhile, more fun. That’s where we are missing the trick. And why they are demotivated, uninspired, unproductive and looking for other jobs.

My proposition is this: right now our audience is better equipped, more aspirational, more determined to succeed than ever before.

But with aspiration comes expectation. Expectation of freedom to network and collaborate, to have a voice – and an emotional stake in the community you choose to belong to.

Think of the audience as a tiger. It has vast energy and knows where it wants to go. But it is pacing, frustrated, in its cage.

There is so much we can do – and we have the tools to do it.

But it needs a fresh attitude from IC teams, and from the top.

IC can, and must, make a difference. But it needs to understand and trust its audience.

It must become brave, push the boundaries, and start acting as an inspirer and enabler for a vibrant community.

Get it right and we unleash the tiger. Don’t be afraid – we’ll measure our success where it matters: finding the holy grail of improved engagement and productivity.