Top 10 Resolutions for Internal Communicators in 2011

 

By William Trout, Director of Internal Communications, BBVA Compass

It’s a new year and there’s no time like the present to demonstrate your value to senior management and stakeholders across the organization. In that spirit, here is a list of 10 “must do’s” to help you and your company move forward next year.

1. Harness your senior leadership. No one’s voice speaks as loudly as that of your CEO. Get her and other top leaders in front of your people at Town Hall meetings or the like. At BBVA Compass, we’ve had success with our “Coffee Talk” chat sessions (where selected groups of front-line staff meet over coffee with the CEO), which we leverage by podcasting out to all employees.

2. Adopt the employee voice. The internal communications of many companies read like corporate memos. Abandon the proverbial “Voice of God” on your Intranet and other channels and let your workers’ stories shine through. At BBVA Compass, employee testimonials (video and printed) consistently rank among the most visited content.

3. Commit to two-way communication. Giving employees a voice means letting them comment on content, directly or via community platforms. You may need to be resourceful: At BBVA Compass, our 10-year old Intranet platform did not allow for two-way dialogue. But when we launched a separate, externally hosted video platform, we made sure to include a “comments” function.

4. Beef up your “Employee Value Proposition.” The EVP is the “deal” between company and employees, and it needs to be a lot more compelling than just pay, benefits and working conditions. It should embrace how employees view their company (e.g. a soon-to-be industry pacesetter vs. a train wreck in the works) and their personal stake in its success. At BBVA Compass, recent employee survey results (90% of employees say they understand how their roles fit within the bank’s overall strategic direction) suggest that we’ve been able to articulate a robust EVP that emphasizes each employee’s personal and professional development.

5. Work to embed a communications culture in your company. At BBVA Compass, we like to say that ‘communication’ does not belong to the Communications department. Rather, everyone is a communicator. To reinforce this concept, we established the “Network of Communicators,” a resource group of mid-to-senior level staff from across the bank. These communications enthusiasts meet monthly and help eliminate black holes within the organization, clue in Internal Communications to projects as they reach the pipeline, and support line managers in their cascade communications efforts.

6. Build out your brand internally. Employees are your best ambassadors, and internal perceptions should mirror what you are telling the world. At BBVA Compass, we deployed our “Solutions Built Around You” brand promise with great effect inside the organization. While we highlighted our flexible benefits programs and employee-friendly policies, we worked especially hard to explain the concept and strategic positioning behind the new brand to employees “live.” We even positioned individual communications channels (such as segmented VOiP telephone blasts) as based around the needs of specific employee populations. The result: countless examples of employees “living the brand.”

7. Measure, measure, measure. Hit rates and time spent on sites and other digital channels are only part of the picture. Work with your market research team to create a quarterly employee survey that captures indicators such as recall and credibility of messaging, employees’ sense of connection, etc. You’ll know if you are making a difference if you track these trends over time. Share these trends with your peers and superiors and they’ll know it too.

8. Engage the managerial cadre. Managers can be a bottleneck of information or a source of inspiration for their teams. Start by taking the pulse of these managers; you may be surprised by the degree to which they may be disaffected, cynical or just plain uncomfortable communicating. Give these managers message points and other tools to help give them the confidence to truly engage employees.

9. Re-invent the tried and true. An employee survey or (even anecdotal information) can give help you gauge which of your channels are most effective. Recast those that are lagging. If you are using a cascade structure for key communications, adapt it to the 21st century. A hybrid cascade incorporating face-to-face meetings, video and email communications can be very effective. And consider the effect that new technology can bring to older channels. We have had great response to segmented VoIP telephone blasts. More than one employee has fallen off his chair in surprise after picking up the phone and hearing the “live” voice of the CEO.

10. Sell yourself. Positioning yourself as a change agent within your organization is one of the most important things you can do as an internal communications leader. Get out into the field and share what you and your department can do. You’ll get a sense for how people perceive you (if they think your job is to “send memos,” then you know you’ve got a lot of room for improvement) and you’ll increase and strengthen your sources in the field.

As the Houston-based director of internal communications for BBVA Compass, a top 15 U.S. bank, William seeks to inform, energize and empower employees in support of the bank’s business goals and vision. Prior to joining Compass in 2002, William worked for a boutique financial advisory firm focusing on investments in Latin America as well as a consultant on government-sponsored development projects in Eastern Europe and Russia. His professional interests range from marketing communications to employee engagement to stakeholder outreach.

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7 Comments

  1. Alice Brink on December 29, 2010 at 1:54 pm

    All good resolutions that can lead to a highly involved workforce. VoIP and similar tactics are good partial solutions when not every employee has full-time computer access. It is amazing how many communication strategies leave out the “undesked” employees.



  2. Mike Klein on December 29, 2010 at 9:11 pm

    With New Years practically upon us, here are my five resolutions for the coming year:

    1) Get better at using small sample, closed-end surveys: while doing big sample, open-ended surveys can yield massive insights, concerns about survey (and analysis) fatigue require greater sharpness in the research department. Gaining that is a top goal for me.

    2) Blog more regularly – and make better use of other publications and public forums. I’ve always gotten good responses to links on my blog to stuff I’ve published elsewhere. More focus on getting out one or two good pieces out a month, and getting them to where actual readers are would be a good accomplishment.

    3) Generate more private client work – I have a good relationship with my employer which allows a limited amount of private client work, and I have one private client I love that doesn’t take too much time. There’s room for one or two more…

    4) Continue challenging conventional wisdom – some of the best internal communication approaches are counterintuitive and non-linear (such as focusing on reaching fewer, more influential employees with richer content streams rather than reducing everything to four-bullet powerpoint slides) even against the wailings of senior executives

    5) Find more opportunities to present and teach. I would love to teach through retirement, and to start getting good teaching and conference experience in my remaining professional years (I’m 46, believe it or not).

    If I nail 4 out of 5, I’ll have had a phenomenal 2011. But I’m going for it all…any help would be appreciated.



    • admin on December 29, 2010 at 10:16 pm

      Mike,

      Wow .. this is one considerable “comment.” It’s almost an article unto itself 🙂 To that, I’m always open to words/thought leadership from practitioners to run right here–in the “Features” forum. If you’re interested in fleshing this out as a longer piece for post-New Year placement, I’m here: (brianp at commpro dot biz).

      Brian



  3. Georg Kolb on December 30, 2010 at 11:35 am

    Thanks for pulling these together, Will.

    While I can agree with all of them, I’d like to add this one: learn and leverage the diversity of your internal constituencies.

    We need to recognize much more that employees are not one “audience”. They are centered around many communities of interest we need to know and work with, if we want to be successful “change agents”. Actually, Mike Klein has a lot of great insights on that!

    These communities of interest can be formal or informal. An informal one might be a group of new joiners who are ready for change, a formal one might be a team that is responsible for a strategic project. The former might be critical to make change happen, the latter might be the ideal platform to “sell yourself” as an internal consultant. Strategic projects need the whole communications portfolio and they’ve got budget. Why is it that they usually don’t have a communicator on their team?

    In both cases, it’s not about pushing out general company messages but working with constituencies within their context.



    • William Trout on December 31, 2010 at 10:34 pm

      Great comment, Georg. I completely agree that engaging employees as change agents, either in general terms or for strategic projects, is key. This is one of the reasons we at BBVA Compass created a “Network of
      Communicators”, a bank-wide group of communication ‘enthusiasts’ from across our lines of business. This group, which operates under the rubric of “‘Communication’ is not owned by the Communications department,” helps our Internal Communications team learn about important projects (often when they are still in the pipeline) while
      eliminating “black holes” within the organization. It also supports the important function, which you describe very well here, of getting employees behind and involved (active, not passive) in the change process.



  4. Rachel Berry on January 19, 2011 at 4:35 am

    Room for a couple more resolutions?

    1. Turn off the Waterfall.
    Let’s face it, ‘cascading’ communications is over and done with. We did it back in the day when we didn’t have many ways to get ideas spread throughout big, dispersed organizations. Cascading often didn’t work as we wanted it to. Managers adapted, ignored, and even ridiculed our carefully crafted messages. So let’s lower the curtain on cascades. Those big organizations have lots and lots of tribes we can work with, and plenty of tribal leaders with whom we should be collaborating to get the word out, instead of expecting managers to regurgitate something the CEO fed them.
    2. Get back to tactics.
    My vote for the most over-used word in internal communications is ‘strategic.’ Yes, we all know it’s really important to be strategic and to have a strategy and to work at a strategic level. Frankly, strategy is usually not the hard part. Good internal comms pros can scribble out a strategy on the back of an envelope and get it mostly right the first time. What’s changed hugely in our field is the range of tactics available to us as we execute those strategies. Now that we can use all the cool stuff in the social media playbook, I think it’s time to take a step back and look at tactics in general. The tendency is to use the shiniest, newest toy we’ve got. Sometimes, though, a newsletter stuck to the inside of the bathroom door is still the best tactic. The most elegant strategy in the world is worth diddly-squat if you can’t pull it off. So, let’s spend more time considering tactics and less on showing the executive suite what a bunch of high-level thinkers we are.



    • admin on January 19, 2011 at 8:40 pm

      Rachel … nice resolutions. I’ll ping you a separate email to see if you’d like to flesh them out for our Features section 🙂
      –brian