Tag Archives: headlines – the internal communication agency

Six hour days: Can we really do more with less?

How would your boss react if you asked to work fewer hours for the same pay?

It might sound unlikely, but research is showing that – for certain types of job – shorter working days can improve employee performance, morale and even health.

Of course, these benefits will pale in comparison for most employers if output is affected. So is it possible to achieve a ‘full day’s’ work in just six hours?

I thought I’d give it a try.

The method

Our business uses a task management tool that lets users track time spent on major tasks, but doesn’t account for internal meetings, everyday admin, lunch breaks, discussing the Strictly results, or any of the other daily duties that fall into the ‘unproductive’ basket.

By dividing my ‘tracked’ time by the length of time I spent in the office, I was able to calculate the percentage of each day that was spent productively.

The results

Length of day Percentage of time spent on productive tasks
Control week 1 (Eight-hour daily average) 65 per cent (5 hours, 16 minutes)
Control week 2 (Eight-hour daily average) 70 per cent (5 hours, 39 minutes)
Control week 3 (Eight-hour daily average) 68 per cent (5 hours, 31 minutes)
Six-hour test day 92 per cent (5 hours 32 minutes)


While I’m the first to admit this experiment is far from comprehensive, the results are too striking to simply dismiss out of hand.

As the Swedish research had indicated, I found that having less time spurred me on to get things done quickly. Yes, there was time pressure, but there is on most days.

Since I finished work at 3pm I was able to go and collect my kids from school and spend some time with them at home before the usual bath and bed routine – a rare treat.

On the down side, I did opt to take a shorter lunch break and there were internal reports and updates that I chose to defer until the following day.

Can it work for you?

Working six-hour days won’t be for everyone. Jobs that involve working outside an office environment (not to mention people who are self-employed) will find it hard to break away from the eight-hour grind.

But for those working in internal communications, the idea warrants a trial period at the very least – providing you can demonstrate that productivity won’t suffer.

We asked Vanessa Kettner, Coach with productivity training specialists Personal Best, for some advice on how people can optimise productivity and achieve more with less time.

  1. Write down the things you need to and want to do; don’t keep them in your head.
  2. Stick to your list – don’t be swayed unnecessarily by latest and loudest, or by other people’s agendas (unless your role requires it).
  3. Do on a weekly basis what most people only do before they go on holiday – review all of your upcoming appointments and commitments. Getting all your ducks in a row will help you feel in control and more relaxed.
  4. Don’t ‘live’ in your email inbox. Visit at regular intervals that are appropriate to your role.
  5. Employ the two-minute rule: if you can do something in less than two minutes, do it now.
  6. Be selective about which meetings you choose to attend. Is going to a particular meeting the absolute best use of your time?
  7. Make sure you have all the tools you need in order to work productively and that your workspace is attractive to you.
  8. Take breaks. Moving around and getting away from your desk will allow you to focus better when you’re back in your seat.

You’ve done your channel audit — now what?

A channel audit is just the first step on the way to a streamlined, totally effective suite of communications channels.

Once you’ve established what channels are useful and which aren’t, you need to retire the ones that are no longer serving a purpose or have been superseded by newer, better channels.

There is a lot of risk here because it is easy to upset or annoy colleagues who may rely on the channels you are removing plus you may inadvertently remove a channel that is serving a specific purpose that is not covered by the others.

So here’s a seven-point plan to get you started:

1. Was your audit good enough?

Before you refine your channels, take another look at your audit. Are you confident that the methods used were robust? Was your measurement accurate? Did you speak to the right stakeholders? It helps to have an honest sense check before you take anything away.

2. Don’t just delete channels!

Once you are happy with your audit, it is really tempting just to start getting rid of the channels that don’t work. This is the worst thing you can do. If an email newsletter suddenly stops arriving or a magazine ceases publication, all this will do is alienate your audience and cause confusion.

3. Work out what is going where

Look at the content for the channels you are going to retire and work out where that content will now live (should it still be needed). This will ensure you don’t lose anything important in the process.

4. Create a timetable for removing channels

Don’t take on too much by trying to deal with all the channels simultaneously. Create a timetable and make sure all interested parties and stakeholders have bought into the process and plan.

5. Communicate what is happening and why

Once you’ve done all of the above, tell your audience about it. There will always be people who use channels you are about to get rid of (even if it’s only a couple of them!) so make sure you communicate what you are going to do and let people know where they can find the content in future.

6. It’s not a science, so be prepared to make changes

You might retire a channel, then realise you still need it. This is ok. The perfect channel mix takes time and trial and error to get right, so don’t be frustrated if you don’t get it right straight away. Just remember to keep your audience updated on what is happening.

7. Now you are in a good place, measure to stay there

Once your channel mix is looking better, keep it that way by making sure you measure the success of each one and do regular temperature checks. If you don’t stay on top of this, you will end up needing to do a big audit again in a couple of years time.

It goes without saying that the team at Headlines can help with any/all of the activities discussed in this blog. So, if you don’t have the in-house expertise, resources or time to do it yourself, just give us a call.


Company narrative: get your story straight

Your company narrative is the most fundamental building block when creating effective internal communications and a positive workplace culture. Here’s why.

There’s no denying that terms such as ‘storytelling’ and ‘narrative’ are industry buzzwords at the moment, and they are often misappropriated to label existing (and usually dull) communications in the hope of making them feel fresh and relevant.

But if you can get through the noise, the company narrative can be a game changer for your communications approach.

When developing your communications strategy, it is critical that the narrative is developed at the same time, because – if it is done properly – the narrative becomes the bedrock from which all other comms and key messages are developed.

What is a company narrative?

At it’s simplest – a two to three page document that covers aspects of your company’s history, values, ambitions and hopes for the future.

Mark Bonchek is founder and Chief Epiphany Officer of Shift Thinking. He helps organisations achieve growth and change by adopting new thinking to engage customers and empower employees.

Mark Bonchek
Mark Bonchek

He states that a narrative: “says who you are as a company; where you’ve been, where you are, and where you are going; how you believe value is created and what you value in relationships. It explains why you exist and what makes you unique.”

The key aspect to make clear in the narrative is what Mark calls the ‘shared purpose’ – the outcome that the organisation and the customer are working towards together. It is the foundation of the relationship that the company has with its customers and its employees.

Mark adds that: “Most people think of purpose as what your employees do FOR your customer.  But in a social age, the real power is creating a shared purpose WITH your customer.”

This shared purpose creates the opportunity for a different kind of relationship with the customer.  One that is more collaborative and reciprocal than the typical “producer/consumer” relationship to which we are accustomed.

Mark took us through some examples of companies with powerful narratives built around a shared purpose, an authentic Brand DNA, and a relationship beyond the transaction:


“With a shared purpose to ‘inspire the athlete in all of us,’ Nike’s relationship with its customers is not just a producer/consumer relationship, it’s more like coach/athlete, and it comes from the fact that Nike was co-founded by a coach, Bill Bowerman” says Mark.

Virgin America

Rather than the ‘airline-passenger’ model, Virgin America’s narrative (and therefore marketing and advertising) is, Mark argues: “more like they are the host of the party and we are the party guests.” It also connects back to the Brand DNA established by Richard Branson, known for throwing a great party.


“Typically, the relationship in the hospitality industry has been one of lodger/guest, based on the a transaction.  What Airbnb has done is shift that relationship to neighbour/neighbour, based on a shared purpose of ‘Belong Anywhere.’” says Mark.

Shared purpose for employees

What is interesting about the Airbnb example is that the shared purpose of belonging and the neighbour/neighbour relationship is reflected in how the company engages with its own employees. Meeting rooms are inspired by active Airbnb listings, free lunches are themed around the 191 countries where it hosts, and there is a $2,000 (£1,360) annual travel budget given to each employee to use outside of work; all geared towards immersing their employees in the brand and making them effective ambassadors.

Airbnb is just one example of how a strong narrative can help to take employees on the journey with you, and this is particularly important when dealing with subjects that – at least on the surface – are not what employees will take a huge interest in.

Using narrative for specific campaigns

Kate Shaw, Internal Communications Manager at Nationwide, recently won a raft of awards for her work on a campaign to get colleagues more interested in, and signing up to, additional contributions to their pensions.

Not the most engaging subject, you might argue, but one that nonetheless is very important to Nationwide’s colleagues, as Kate explains: “The organisation was very keen to engage people on the importance of pensions. There were important changes happening so if we had communicated these in the wrong way, all they would have heard was ‘you’re taking more of my salary every month, and I don’t get why’. So getting our narrative right up front was really important”.

The resulting campaign, one of the highlights of which is a witty and accessible pensions video, has seen the number of employees signed up to make additional contributions rise from 10 per cent to 83 per cent.

A huge achievement, and one that Kate puts down to planning, and having their narrative established from the beginning.

She said: “We had a story written down about how we wanted employees to feel and what we wanted that end experience to be. We wanted to articulate from the employee point of view how it feels to work for Nationwide, how the organisation cares and looks after them, and then go into the pension details.

“The narrative itself is the most unglamorous document! But that’s on purpose so stakeholders don’t get distracted from the story. Having it signed off along with the strategy then meant sign off on subsequent materials was dramatically easier because you have agreed the narrative content upfront, everything you write reflects that original document.”

And Kate is clear that the narrative must come early in the comms planning process, saying: “Before we even went near the video or any of the methods for delivering the campaign, we sat with Ian Baines, Head of Pensions, and went through with him what we were trying to achieve from a business perspective, and how we could achieve this through narrative and storytelling. We had to understand where we were going first and agree that with Ian, so we made sure we could deliver what the business wanted.”

Humans + stories = communication

Kate’s success proves that knowing where you want to get to and having your narrative straight from the beginning gives you a huge advantage in creating a successful communications campaign.  Whether you are writing a narrative for your whole business or a specific time-fixed campaign, the benefits cannot be underestimated.

A good story is the most powerful way to communicate an idea, a concept or important information. So it makes absolute sense that, when planning our communications, the narrative or story elements are not an afterthought or something bolted on to make our messages easier to digest, but instead at the very heart of everything we do.

Narrative versus story

It is important to make the distinction between narrative and story because they are not the same thing, especially in the context of a company narrative.

Story is a structured narrative; it has a beginning, middle and an end (although not necessarily in that order) and, most importantly, has some sort of conclusion. Story is something that we witness or experience, but we do not play a part in.

Narrative, on the other hand, is open. More like an unfinished story that doesn’t need to have a distinct beginning or end. The narrative creates a story world in which we can get involved, a place for us to create our own stories.

A good parallel is the difference between movies and a video game like Minecraft. In a movie, we witness the linear progression of the story, hopefully enjoy it, and then the plot is all wrapped up at the end. In Minecraft, all of the elements of a story are there — the world, characters, the stakes — but it is left to the player to then take part, to build, to make the world their own, to create their own stories. And, crucially, the world of Minecraft never really ends either.

In the context of IC, the company narrative should usually contain at least the beginning of the story – the history of the company, their values, what they are trying to achieve (shared purpose) and then leave it open so that employees can play their own part in the success of the business and create their own stories within the world that the narrative has created.


Why Zappos’ onboarding programme gives new starters the chance to bail

If you had been offered $4,000 to leave your company at the end of your fourth week, would you have gone?

Las Vegas-based shoe and clothing retailer Zappos makes ‘The Offer’ to all employees at the end of its robust, four-week new hire training programme.

Designed to be enough money that leavers could cope financially until they find something more suitable, it ensures that those who aren’t a good culture fit don’t stay with the company for the wrong reasons.

“The wrong fit negatively affects the team, department, and ultimately, the company – not to mention that it’s a waste of time and money training someone who isn’t going to move the company forward,” says Megan Petrini, Head New Hire Trainer at Zappos.

“This is why we use new hire as an extension of the interview process, to make sure that everyone in class is the right fit for the company. We also ask the trainees to use this time to make sure Zappos is the right fit for them.

“You’ve heard the expression ‘you never get a second chance to make a first impression’? It’s true, and amazingly important to start off on the right foot. Setting the right expectations from the very beginning sets the tone for their entire experience.”

The continually updated new starter training programme introduces colleagues to Zappos’ history, conflict resolution, self-management, holacracy, culture, core values, teambuilding, backend systems, the Zappos Experience, a final exam and phones time.

Zappos – famous for its culture books – says that culture fit is so high up on its list of priorities that it hires, fires and makes all business decisions based on its core values.

“For this reason, it’s important to us that the right people are coming in and have a great foundation in understanding the culture, core values, history of the company and why we do what we do,” adds Megan.

New starters begin their training programme on their first day. But when this isn’t possible, they complete a two-day ‘quickstart’ programme and jump into their new role with the promise that they’ll be on the next available new hire training programme.

“New hires come out of training with a greater understanding of emotional intelligence, time management, a cursory knowledge of both self-organisation and holacracy as it applies to them and the company, conflict resolution, history and the importance of team building,” Megan explains.

“Plus, they have met almost every other department in the company, and have had a Q&A session with our CEO, Tony Hsieh.

“Part of the expectation of everyone who works here is to provide the Zappos Experience with every interaction, make business decisions using the core values, and to move the company forward.

“New hire training provides the foundation for these expectations to all new hires.”

And – after all this – less than one per cent of new hires take up ‘The Offer’ and the company has an employee retention rate of around 20 per cent, including department transfers.

“We get feedback from all new hires regarding the entire onboarding experience. The feedback is consistently positive,” Megan says.

Congratulations, Zappos, on getting it mutually spot on for new employees and your business.


Six Headliners shortlisted for ICon Awards


The ICon Awards shortlist has been announced – and six Headliners are in the running.

The awards, run by the Institute of Internal Communications (IoIC), celebrate the most talented professionals in the IC industry.

Editor Peter Bennett has been shortlisted in the Best Editor category, while journalist Holly Whitecross and senior journalist Katie Nertney are both up for the Rising Talent – Best Young Communicator award.

Designers Brian Amey and Chris Keller have both been shortlisted for the Best Designer award, won by Headlines’ Duncan Boddy in 2015. Head of Video Sara Wilmot is in the running for Best Visual Creator.

The winners will be announced at the ICon Awards lunch on 10 November at London’s Radisson Blu Edwardian Hotel.

According to the IoIC, the ICon Awards recognise “the people who consistently turn theory into great internal communication practice”.

Simon Dowsing, Head of Media Operations at Headlines, said: “It is fantastic news that we have six people from our creative teams shortlisted for these prestigious awards.

“They are all thoroughly deserving and do an excellent job for our clients and our business.”

The news comes after multiple other award wins in the last five weeks including Best Mobile/App in the industry at the IoIC Awards 2016, three Awards of Excellence at the same event and a Silver Award for Best Mobile App at the MK Digital Awards.