Hopeful internal communications | S3 E5

First published: 15 March, 2022

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Engaging Internal Comms Series 3
Hopeful internal communications | S3 E5

The conversation in this episode is all about how communicators can use their work to rebuild hope with their employees, after what has been a difficult few years for everyone.

Craig Smith and Richard Nugent, Managing Director and Founder of TwentyOne Leadership, discuss the impact of the pandemic and other forces on large organisations and how communicators can start bringing back hope into their communications to help motivate and inspire employees.

This podcast episode links to the ‘Are we serious about change?’ question of The Big Picture People’s Connections Framework, which looks at the six key questions communicators need to be able to answer for their employees when it comes to organisational change.

In this interview, Craig and Richard look at how organisations can show commitment to the change they are implementing and the role communicators play in this.

You can test yourself and your organisation against this framework by trying our free Pulse Check Diagnostic Tool, where you will be able to asses your communications against these questions and receive actionable feedback on what you are doing well and where you can improve.

To take the Pulse Check click here.

TwentyOne Leadership

Richard starts by explaining how TwentyOne Leadership was founded on the core belief that leadership is THE competitive advantage in business today. He says those who can coach, motivate, inspire and change will be more successful in the long run.

This is the main goal of the organisation, with Richard and his team constantly working on cultural projects with senior teams in large companies. They look to help senior leaders reach their full potential.

What we mean by hopeful communications

Accoring to Richard, leaders have a duty to give their followers hope for the future, especially given current circumstances. Internal communications play a key role in this, and it is crucial stakeholders recognise it.

“If we give out hope to people and we make them feel inspired and engaged, they are more likely to stay with us,” Richard says. “They are also more likely to do a better job and those two things in themselves ultimately allow our customers, guests, clients and visitors to have a better experience.”

Communicators need to be influencing the way people feel by what they are broadcasting, even if leaders are not doing the same. Giving employees a sense of hope is an important part of this.

Creating a shared, inspiring vision

Craig highlights how most organisations feel they currently have a vision that inspires their employees. This is something Richard feels plays a part in any organisation’s ‘cultural narrative’ which is often made up of things like vision, purpose, values, and mission.

Over the last 10 years, purpose has become more important for organisations, but this has led to a decrease in the effort that goes into creating a vision. Having a strong vision is important for employees from a psychological point of view according to Richard, as he says they want to see ‘light at the end of the tunnel’.

When this is done well, and these visions are created in an aspirational way, it helps keep employees engaged and motivated far more than things like just relying on strategic goals and purpose. Giving employees the chance to see where they fit into this vision is what gives them this sense of hope.

Craig concurs with this, adding that a vision does not always need to have tangible elements and should often be viewed as a sense of direction. He states how often these visions should be something that is always moving away from an organisation, acting as something to be constantly strived for.

Things like growth and revenue make up part of a vision that may get a board excited, but this often does not translate down to employees. Leaders need to be aware, recognising that their definition of the company’s vision should be the same as their employees. Strategy and culture should be two separate entities according to Richard.

Craig continues this saying how strategy is the roadmap to an organisation’s goals while culture is the way in which an organisation should act to get to that goal in the right way. Things like values and purpose are the ‘cultural compass’ towards this says Richard, which means relaying this information to employees is equally as important.

“Any of the information around vision and values, if it is stuck up on a wall, on a mouse mat or the only time employees hear about it is at their induction, then it is a waste of time,” Richard said. “The only thing worse than not having a vision or a set of values is having some that are dormant.”

Broadcasting values isn’t enough states Craig. Organisations need to be having conversations around them and highlighting when they are being demonstrated by employees. Storytelling is a great way to do this and shows people what to look out for and how they can take their own interpretations from this.

Richard explains how there is a sweet spot when it comes to creating values. This is where organisations listen to their employees and allows them to have a say in the process. These should reflect their own personal values whilst also showing how this connects to the organisation and its purpose, something communicators should keep in mind. 

Remind people how they contribute

This is another aspect of internal communication that Richards feels is important. It is something Richard and his organisation has been looking at for a while now. He explains to Craig how letting employees know that their work is making a difference gives them a pride in their work.

He emphasises how important this has been over the last few years, when employees have received so many communications around highlighting what they can’t do. For those in certain roles who aren’t in direct contact with customers, such as marketing and IT, it is imperative they are shown that their work is contributing to the success of the organisation.

Performance measures play a key role in this. Richard stresses how many jobs show employees how to do an acceptable job, but it is the role of managers to show them how they are doing an exceptional job that goes above and beyond.

Craig continues this using a jigsaw analogy for an organisation. He says that it is often easy for employees to see how they connect to the pieces – as in people or departments – that are close to them, but they find it harder to see the whole puzzle and how their work contributes to the bigger picture.

Richard says that leaders will often find themselves moving away from their technical expertise that got them promoted in the first place and are now required to motivate and inspire their employees. Reminding employees how they contribute is part of this which ultimately gives them hope and drives them to do a better job.

Craig explains that this transition is something which has been mirrored in the internal communications industry. He talks about how the profession has shifted from broadcasting communications towards a much more strategic role, where leaders are asking for their help to shape organisational change. Richard explains how he feels there aren’t enough outcomes-based communications in large organisations. Communicators need to show employees how change initiatives will affect them.

Catching people doing things well

The third aspect of proving hope in communications is the one that Richard feels it the most basic. He describes it as a ‘no brainer, quick win’ which very few people are doing. For him, authentically telling employees that they have done a good job can make a huge difference to an employee’s work.

Managers and leaders should be doing this regularly and it should become a habit for them. This does not have to be over-the-top praise, just simply a reminder that they have made a difference and it hasn’t gone unnoticed.

For Craig, he agrees that this is great way to motivate employees, but it needs to be done in an authentic way. He explains how he often sees employee case studies that are ‘overproduced’ and sometimes it is as simple as just having a conversation with them.

This is a great way to organically create a strong culture within an organisation and this appreciation is something both Richard and Craig agree is an essential tool for any good leader or manager.

Useful links

Richard Nugent LinkedIn – https://www.linkedin.com/in/richardnugent1/

TwentyOne Leadership – https://twentyoneleadership.com/

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