Internal communicators are the voice of new DEI initiatives

Is how you are communicating with your people driving meaningful DEI change?

Coronavirus has changed how many office-based people work, leading to an unexpected silver lining for internal communications professionals.

“The pandemic gave us a seat at the table,” says Lottie Bazley. “I’ve seen it so many times where the Internal Communications function is very much a ‘nice to have’ in the business. It’s often difficult to prove our worth and value, but the pandemic helped us do that.

“Businesses began to question how to speak to their people working from home or ways in which to connect with non-desk workers placed on furlough. Internal Communications was able to prove its worth during that time, and I hope that, in the future, it will continue to have a seat at the table when planning new initiatives.”

Bazley formerly managed internal communications for employees at OVO Energy. Her usual audience of 85% remote workers became 100% during the pandemic as the office-based teams worked from home. Using the Staffbase platform, she successfully bridged the communications gap between desk-based workers and engineers out in the field.

But then, like many people, the pandemic gave her pause for reflection, and she decided to join ‘the Great Resignation‘ and explore new opportunities. Although Bazley didn’t have a job to go to when handing in her notice, she was soon offered a position at Staffbase as Senior Strategic Internal Communications Adviser, a role that enabled her to help shape the future of internal communications. The company boasts more than 1,000 customers, including Adidas, Audi and Ikea.

Educate communicators on DEI

Her advice about what makes a good internal communicator is to “really know your audience”, especially when others in the organisation are setting new policies and initiatives that they expect the communications team to promote.

She argues that: “Communicators are the voice of the business and the voice of new DEI initiatives.” That’s why educating the communications team is crucial to ensuring that information is inclusive.

It’s why, last year, Bazley took part in Culture Wizard’s Global Inclusion Calculator, which scored on key topics, including inclusive behaviours, exposure to diversity and cognitive flexibility.

“I like to think of myself as an open-minded, fair, individual but taking part helped me to self-reflect,” she explains. “I realised that there is still a lot more that I can learn as a communicator.”

Her experience has taught her the importance of language to foster inclusivity. “Sometimes language created, even with the best intentions, can morph into something that becomes much more confusing or contradictory,” she recalls. “Sometimes even problematic or offensive without meaning to.

“Now I double-proof my communications, which I wasn’t doing two years ago. The first is for typos, stray apostrophes and all the other stuff you would typically proofread. Then I ask myself if what I have written is inclusive or needs to change. 

“We talk a lot about ‘appropriate types of content’ at Staffbase because we use various means to communicate with people. We also make sure that everything is accessible to anybody in the business; for example, we strive never to produce a video that can’t be watched because someone has poor bandwidth when working from home. Equally, we advise that businesses ensure newsletters can be printed in large print or Braille if that’s what people need.”

Recognising and including employees

Keeping people informed is one thing, but it is also important to engage them so that they stay with the company. Recognition is key to this. Bazley points to a study by Survey Monkey, which shows that 63% of employees who felt recognised for their work were unlikely to look for another job.

She argues that employee surveys were either “massively overused or underused”, so there was a need to strike the right balance. She also advises businesses not to do one if they can’t invest in communicating the results.

“Don’t commit to every single thing every single person says. If there are actions that you are deciding not to take now or ever, make sure people know and understand why. So, if they are thinking of leaving, this can at least help them make an informed decision.”

How do you make non-desk-based workers feel included in internal communications? The answer, according to Bazley, is to make sure that information is tailored to them. She says: “I know from experience that if I have to log into my employee app, intranet, or whatever and have to scroll through 50 different articles to find the ones that are relevant for me, I’m not going to bother next time. Ensure that when non-desk-based people go into the intranet, everything is relevant to them because they don’t have the same luxury of time as desk-based workers.”

One initiative that Bazley introduced at OVO Energy was creating a collective to bring office-based and external workers closer and more engaged with each other. She also introduced a pet channel where people could post pictures and bond over their furry friends.

Hybrid working the norm

Looking ahead, she believes a more formalised form of hybrid working will become the norm. “At the moment, we’re still reacting to when Government advice is changing. We’ll have to have a much more formal and structured way of communicating change in the future.

“I think that companies have started to see the value in Internal Communications. Hopefully, we will start to see companies investing more in their communications teams and the technology required to effectively communicate with people outside the classic office environment.”

She believes that there is growing recognition that poor internal communication comes at a cost. “My old boss once said to me that if the IT department went to the CEO to say that 20% of the laptops weren’t working, it would be a huge issue and loads of money would be invested in solving it,” Bazley recalls.

“The same logic should be applied to effectively communicating to your workforce. If your internal communication is wrong, your business will not work efficiently because you won’t have an engaged and happy workforce.

“A disengaged employee will either leave, or you’ll be paying them to put in 80% of their effort every day.”

Representation in communication

Customers often ask Bazley how often they should communicate with their employees. She responds that it depends on the nature of the topic but advises first researching to understand your audience. This could include creating focus groups and using analytics to determine when people would most like to log on to the intranet to find information. A weekly newsletter was a good way of keeping people informed.

When it comes to effective internal communications, ensuring that everyone in the organisation is represented is another important rule, especially in companies with non-desk based workers. “If they think it’s not relevant for them, or they don’t see themselves in it, it’s one way to turn them off from reading anything that you ever produced,” Bazley points out. “We see customers now doing a lot of “day in the life” of communications, which is great for the business generally because it helps build one community. But it also makes people feel special and included.”

Summing up, Bazley says the two important things to get right in internal communications are understanding your audience and DEI education. “I run workshops with customers to help them and us understand their audience so that we can come up with the best strategies. When it comes to DEI, education is key to taking that step back and having time to reflect. Admitting that you have more to learn or more places to go is not a bad thing. It’s a great thing.”

A look ahead

Bazley believes that CEOs and business leaders will play an even greater role in internal communications this year. She notes, “As organisations prioritise talent retention amid a tumultuous job market, internal communications will become even more important for keeping employees engaged. Crucially, CEOs must lead from the front for this to be successful.

“Internal communications professionals will play a key role in helping the C-Suite become more visible by developing strong leadership and CEO communications strategies, built around topics that are in line with corporate strategy. Information should be shared through interesting but appropriate content formats.”

According to Bazley, ensuring executives adopt an open, empathetic and personable communication style is key. This involves being present and not shying away from delivering hard-hitting messages. By taking these steps, they can cultivate a positive, inclusive and transparent company culture and act as role models for fostering better leadership communication throughout the whole organisation.

Ultimately, ‘the Great Resignation’ is not going away any time soon. People are more likely to stay at a company if they are inspired by and trust their managers and the leadership team.

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