Tag Archives: ic gurus

Guest blog: the importance of understanding the user

I’ve stopped attending internal communications or employee engagement events.

I actually stopped a few years ago.

To me, the content always seemed to be the same.

And the questions posed were identical to when I first found myself in internal communications, nearly a decade ago, and the case studies seemed to be a tad dull.

Almost everything seemed to be on a loop and marginal success seemed to be over celebrated.

Around this time, I started working with some of the UK’s leading digital thinkers and quickly found myself emerged in ways of thinking that were totally alien to me as an ‘expert’ in internal digital communications.

Their user-centric approach to building products with a focus purely on delighting the user was a substantial shift from merely keeping stakeholders holders happy with little true knowledge of the project.

It was joy to work with the actual end users of the products and engage with stakeholders using data and research to drive decisions rather than mere opinion.

This approach led to the creation of some of the best digital projects out there, according to the IoIC.

And these all began with a sole focus on the end user at the formative stages.

They did not have a project manager.

Instead, they had a product manager running the show, supported by a handful of business analysts – something I have not seen too much of in the IC industry.

There is method in the madness. At the messy start of each project, we set out to discover what type of product should be built or what type of channel should be developed.

The amount of interviews and sessions with users is mind-boggling compared to the early days of delivering internal channels.

There is a landscape designer in the US who lives with her clients for nine months before she designs the landscape.

Yes, you’ve read that correctly.

I’m not suggesting taking nine months to understand your audience but a deep sense of understanding is essential before even thinking about the product.

This experience changed the way I approach IC.

Nowadays I always start with deep dive into Persons (and non-personas) and the Employee Journey: the two underlying pillars that enable the building blocks of employee experience.

This is followed by several sessions called Assumption Consumption, which takes all of the assumption towards an audience, a channel or a product and rips apart them if the evidence is there.

This takes away the painful conversations that may come in the design/build phases of a product.

I don’t go into the complete methodology here, but wanted to use this opportunity to nudge you not to ‘lean in’.

Turn around. Take a moment.

Spend time taking a long look at what is happening outside the world of IC.

Kevin McDougall

It may just help you create the some of the best products and services you can.

** Kevin McDougall is an Employee Experience Consultant helping businesses understand its people’s needs and requirements.

Kevin has worked with the BBC, Unilever, Transport for London and Hiscox Insurance.

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.