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Working from the inside out – musings from IoIC Live

Updated: Sep 21

Last week I attended the sell-out Institute of Internal Communications (IoIC) Live Conference at the lovely Hyatt Regency in Birmingham. This annual conference, which brings together both in-house and agency internal communications professionals, is the IoIC’s flagship event and this year the theme was transforming reputation from the inside out. In other words, how employees behaviour can impact external reputation, and the role IC plays in helping to ensure that perception is a positive one.

It all starts from the inside

This is obviously a subject very close to my heart. InsideOut Communications was founded on the belief that getting communications right internally is the key to great performance, a positive reputation, and exceptional customer experience. My own experience has shown me that internal and external are inextricably linked, two sides of the same coin. It is pretty much impossible to achieve the outcomes you want in one without considering the actions and effect of the other. Often internal communications has been overlooked in favour of focus on external disciplines, such as PR, marketing and branding, but at the conference it was acknowledged there has been a definite sea change in recent years. Internal communications is increasingly rising to prominence as a strategic function, with the skills and expertise it offers seen as a critical enablers for achieving organisational goals. Could this be the beginning of the end of internal communications as an information processing unit and the start of a bright, strategically focused future?

The business case

From what was presented at the conference, this would certainly appear to be the case. The keynote speaker, Bill Quirke, of Synopsis Consulting and author of Making the Connections (considered by many to be an IC bible), reflected on the progress of IC over the past decade since the book was first released. One of his key points was how communication should not become an end in itself (a box to be ticked) but should be about delivering demonstrable business value. To do this internal communicators need to become advisers not servants, which means competencies need to develop and organisations need to adapt to enable IC to operate at a more strategic level. IC needs to assert itself by moving away from low level activity such as channel distribution to focus more on messaging definition and articulation if it is to start having a real impact.

As Bill mentioned the common scenario of a leader focusing on what they want rather than consulting on what should be done to achieve their desired outcome, it was clear from the murmurs of recognition in the room that this remains a common problem. As he explained, the business case has created itself as the line between internal and external breaks up – internal stories can become global news in hours – and employees play a bigger role as advocates (or detractors) for an organisation now. Ed Coke of Repute Associates shared his knowledge of the effect of behaviour on reputation to highlight why this is a strategic priority for any organisation, and as such it should be planned for, managed and measured. The key here is to show alignment to the external but also to work within the existing strategic agenda and make reputation part of your risk register.

Christine Crofts, currently at Diageo and formerly at Aviva, shared her experience of how identifying and connecting people to an organisation’s purpose can really change the whole culture and performance. This resonated strongly with me, as I have experienced first-hand how a well-defined and communicated vision/purpose can create real change in an organisation as part of a compelling strategic narrative. This was something that Christine also expressed, as purpose needs to have a natural fit with the organisation’s wider narrative, and that means ensuring that strategy, brand, identity and values were all in support of the central driver.

Rachel Miller, independent consultant for All Things IC, also talked about the importance of values and identifying where there may be integrity gaps between what an organisation says about itself and what its employees might say, in order to ensure the authenticity of the brand. Internal communications clearly has an important role to play here, not only in monitoring for the gaps but also to help ensure there is greater alignment internally and that all parts of the organisation join up.

Putting strategy into action

What was most inspiring to see was the way in which so many organisations are already putting their strategies into action. Helen Schick of the Alzheimer’s Society shared how their people have been instrumental in establishing their new brand and growing awareness. Sue Palfrey of the National Trust demonstrated how communicating in a matrix rather than top down model had brought together employees from a range of backgrounds and generational perspectives and allowed valuable conversations to take place. Rachel Royall from NHS Digital explained how they were unlocking the power of the people and their real-life stories to build trust in the NHS externally. Emma Leech of Loughborough University spoke about creating a big impact with a small budget with far-reaching and longer term effects on the strategic CSR agenda. Sheila Parry spoke about the importance of pride in building reputation and attracting and retaining the workforce of the future. Jim Connor, now at Lloyds Banking Group but previously at TFL, talked about how an intensive campaign engaged the TFL workforce to deliver a successful performance providing transport for the 2012 Olympic Games.

Unfortunately I had to leave a little before the end, but the conference certainly gave me plenty of confidence that the IC profession is maturing and that, as change becomes more of a constant, it is a function that will move from becoming a chorus member to a principle player. To get there, IC professionals need to make sure they are value-led in their decisions and deliverables, aligning with the business agenda and taking a longer term strategic approach in their planning. Leaders also need to recognise the expertise and insight that IC can offer them and be open to building consultative and advisory relationships in order to ensure they can leverage these advantages.

Did you go to IoIC Live? If so, I would love to hear your thoughts on it. If you didn't attend, what do you think of IC's role in managing reputation? To receive alerts for when new blog posts are released, please provide your details below, or follow us on Twitter or LinkedIn.

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