Tag Archives: peter doherty

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.

Post-truth IC needs to become more fun

There are few things in life as pointless and as miserable as folk music.

I was reminded of this at an open mic night at Boris Johnson’s Oxfordshire local, writes Headlines’ CEO Peter Doherty.

Sandwiched between a cheerful guitar duo and an immersive Pink Floyd tribute experience were three worthies with sandals and socks and Corbyn beards.

Faces contorted with torment, they punished our patience with an excruciating dirge about suffering and being northern and poor.

As someone who’s spent a working life trying to create things that audiences find pleasing, I can’t imagine the twisted sense of entitlement that compels these dreary folkistas to inflict their gloom on pub-goers who leave their homes for an evening of entertainment.

By comparison, the pensionable prog rockers paying homage to Pink Floyd were positively euphoric. Scintillating guitar solos, memorable riffs and joyous melodies that swept us away on a tide of acoustic ecstasy.

It was old and unoriginal and certainly not worthy. But even “hanging on in quiet desperation” struck an inspirational chord that elevated the mood of the sweaty backroom.


Now that we have apparently entered an era known as “post-truth”, what does all this mean for internal communication?

Wikipedia describes post-truth as “a political culture in which debate is framed largely by appeals to emotion disconnected from the details of policy”.

It suggests that politicians have identified that these days we aren’t inclined to take too much interest in whether something is important, or viable, or even true.

But if it offers us the thinnest veneer of mental gratification, the chances are we’ll respond positively.

As a result, they no longer trouble us with the truth or bore us with the detail. They simply tell us what we want to hear.

This fresh new approach to the way we are communicated with is born partly of our digital age.

We have succumbed to a world where the boundaries between reality and entertainment are now, at best, nebulous.

We exist on a diet of trivia peppered with small bites of fact.

Our appetite for knowledge is satiated by superficial grazing.

Many of us have conceded to letting our views be shaped by celebrity opinions or pleasing themes rather than careful scrutiny.

In politics, taking advantage of this convergence of fact and fantasy has delivered remarkable success. But does it also have implications for business and therefore internal communication?

The answer is yes.

We should not be so sanctimonious as to believe we can buck the trend. Instead we should understand and learn from it.

I’m not advocating we peddle falsehoods.

Nor that we avoid confronting critical issues or communicating essential information. That, after all, is what we are here for.

But if we’re to do a good job, we’d be foolish to ignore the post-truth truth: it is all about simplicity and resonance and positioning to appeal. And for many people the devil is the detail.

While folk songs may be deep and meaningful, they are also miserable and tedious and not remotely entertaining. They fall on deaf ears.

But carefully crafted lyrics, memorable riffs and joyous melodies lift our mood and inspire us.

What I’m advocating is that we consider IC as a form of entertainment.

Keep it simple, make it fun.

Because as politicians have discovered, whether the audience is made up of rocket scientists or road sweepers, communication works far more effectively when people find it an uplifting joy and not a worthy dirge.

Devil’s advocate: clickbait won’t help your Aston run smoothly

If you’ve made enough success of your life to own a £210,000-plus Aston Martin V12 Vanquish, it is unlikely you’d trust a bloke with an iPhone and a diploma in logistics to service it.

Unless, of course, the bloke had also graduated from a three-year Aston Martin dealer technician apprenticeship.

If he had, you could be confident he knew his stuff.

He would have been through months of formal technical training at the company’s Gaydon headquarters, followed by many more months of working alongside case-hardened experts, gaining real-world experience in the workshop at a dealership.

And when the 48 valves – capping the big V that is the engine of your pride and joy – stop tapping in harmony to deliver its full 586 horse power performance, you’d know you had a safe pair of hands to sort it out.

So what is the role of journalism in IC today?

Some say not much. In a digital age, where content creation is democratised, speed and impact counts more than depth. Everyone is a citizen journalist – who needs the real thing?

But last week Helen Boaden stepped down as Head of BBC Radio and made an interesting point.

Without the opinion, analysis and depth that comes with proper journalism, she said, the world is becoming increasingly shallow, ill informed, unthinking, frustrated and dissatisfied.

Boaden is a hardy professional who graduated in journalism before starting her career 30 years ago, knocking on doors and chasing fire engines as a news reporter on Radio Leeds.

Her observation on the impact of the current trend towards click-bait media was this: “When we slice time into ever smaller fragments and feel pressurised by this, our creativity drops.

“Our ability to perform complex thinking tasks drops and we tend to enter an unsatisfying psychological state of anxiety named by psychologists as ‘psychic entropy’.”

The answer, she said, is to balance speed with the depth, commentary and analysis that are the components of professional journalism.

“My message is: human judgment matters. Should we apply it more?

“We are unconstrained in our speed of coverage, unmatched in our fleetness of foot – but do we lack the depth that we might achieve if we took our foot off the accelerator, or put the handbrake on, and stopped to observe more closely the world on which we are reporting?

“If we do not as journalists take time occasionally to catch our breath, to pause, and slow down, and make greater efforts to explain, we may find that we are left with nothing much in our hands at all, except the indifference of an audience and a vacuous, unblinking, screen.”

Those who care passionately about the role of IC in shaping happier, healthier, more productive communities will take her parting comments very seriously.

Our adoption of digital is inexorable – and good. It has the potential to be transformational. It opens the way for free expression, networking, collaboration, empowerment and engagement like nothing has ever done before. And by its very nature, it embraces all-comers for the generation of its content.

But it is not the end of the story.

Every organisation has more complex tales to tell, more detailed explanations to offer and insights and perspectives to bring to life. Every healthy organisation wants its people to understand, to think – to be challenged, stimulated and where possible, considered, creative and innovative.

This is where journalism comes in. And, for that matter, print.

Journalism is not just a technical skill that comes from three years of classroom training and shop-floor experience. It is an outlook and an insight that comes from witnessing, reporting, understanding and commenting on the many threads that make up life’s rich tapestry.

The role of a professional journalist is to help people to understand and see things in context – a context that is relevant to them – and to offer an insight capable of prompting thoughts and actions.

The job of internal communication is a delicate and complex one, which calls for different treatments and skills at different levels. There is no room for compromise: our people are, after all, our most precious asset.

Journalism is one of those skills. Do it properly and, like the certified Aston Martin technician, you’ll work the magic that gets the engine turning in harmony and performing at its optimum.

But with the best will in the world, we seriously underestimate its value if we trust it to someone equipped with little more than an iPhone and a media studies degree.