Story spotting: listening for stories in your organisation

Everyone is a storyteller. Because we are human. We tell our friends and families what happened at work. We tell our colleagues what happened on the way to work. We tell stories.

And we make sense through stories. We are hardwired for it.

But not everyone is a natural Storyteller.

Here are three resources that start to help identify and shape the stories you encounter in organisations.

Once. Then. Then. The story spine.

A couple of years ago, Pixar’s 22 rules for storytelling

The story spine, Kenn Adams’ definition has been used by Pixar and Disney.

 

The Moth’s 8 Tips

The Moth is a not-for-profit foundation committed to the development of art and craft of storytelling. Amongst their many resources for improving oral storytelling, including videos and podcasts, they have a simple list of 8 tips.  These include:

  • No essays
  • Start in the action
  • Have some stakes

Stakes are essential in live storytelling.  What do you stand to gain or lose? Why is what happens in the story important to you? If you can’t answer this, then think of a different story. A story without stakes is an essay and is best experienced on the page, not the stage.

Anecdote’s Spotting Oral Stories Infographic

The clever folk at Anecdote have created a useful guide to recognising stories within an organisation.

The following graphic has been created by http://www.anecdote.com

Spotting Oral Stories

 

Cutting through with simple communication plans

 

Competition for attention

In the scramble to produce interesting content and to ‘cut through’ the noise, organisations are constantly searching for more ways to create colourful tactics, to have brands that shine, and to amplify their message.

The ‘creativity’ side of communication is booming. But with such a fierce battle for audience attention, even the most carefully crafted message or clever visual can fail to connect.

The result is that scarce, hard-won resources are spent on communication that looks or sounds great, but that doesn’t achieve the outcomes required.

One of the many strengths of the Gold Quill process (and a point of difference between GQ and some other award programs) is that it evaluates the end to end communication process: not only the tactics produced, but also the degree they are suited to the situation; and it requires that results can be demonstrated.

Essential components for a communication plan that delivers results

Communication plans can take many forms, but having reviewed hundreds, those that stand out always:

  • Identify the right problem before thinking about tactics.
  • Demonstrate deep understanding of stakeholders and audiences based on research.
  • Set goals and objectives that are SMART.
  • Ensure outcome measures are clear and don’t overly rely on measuring outputs.
  • Create solutions – combinations of tactics and execution – that take into account the context, the need and the audience.
  • Deliver in partnership with the owner of the business need.
  • Measure as they go.

The danger with “Here’s one that we prepared earlier”

As a communication advisor, I’m often asked for a template or example of a communication plan or tactic that can be re-used in a new environment. While models, canvases and templates are helpful, the value they provide is in the adaptation to the current situation and context.

When I developed the shorter COMMS Plan, the focus was on a process for communication planning that helped communicators consider the specifics of the current situation – regardless of the type of organisation. The first step in the process is CONTEXT for a reason.

One of the exciting developments in communication planning is an increased use of design thinking. Using a clear process to ensure communication meets the need can lead to better tactics, often created in consultation or partnership with the intended audiences.

The basics of good communication remain universal: right message, right audience, right method.

That doesn’t mean shouting louder, it means working smarter.

By considering context, outcomes, messages, methods and support before jumping in to solutions and cool tactics, communication can have the substance to support the shine.

A version of this article first appeared on LinkedIn Pulse.

Rethinking strategy for changing times

Strap yourself in, it’s going to get fast

If a week is a long time in politics, three years is an eternity in business. The speed of technological, social, political and economic change is rapid, and as is illustrated by global events such as Brexit, sometimes unpredictable. Decisions made by global leaders can impact whole industries with little notice and less consultation.

Traditional strategic plans for corporations are blueprints for development over a three- to five-year time frame. Let’s do a tiny experiment in time travel. If you got into a room with your colleagues at the start of 2013 to work on a three- to five-year strategy for your business, you did so making assumptions about the trends that would shape your markets, your access to labor, your competition.

Now, look around at the business environment. How many of those priorities, drivers and forces remain in place today? Disruption and seismic shifts are the new normal. The forces that require a strategic response today are, for many industries or sectors, already significantly different to what had been anticipated even three years ago.

How can communicators establish a strategic response to changing times?

  • Become part of the planning team
  • Treat strategy as a process, not a product
  • No more set and forget
  • Understand the relationship between strategy and bottom line

Organizations exist for a purpose, and for the majority, that purpose is financial return. The process of strategic planning provides direction for all parts of an organization to align to deliver on the purpose, through building capability, responding to external factors, mitigating issues and risks and focusing effort. The opportunity for communication is to contribute to the business outcome through the tools and capabilities of our profession.

This is an extract from my article for Communication World, Rethinking Strategic Communication for Changing Times – Communication World in the February edition of Communication World.

What will 2017 bring for internal communication?

Internal Communication blog and movement IC Kollectif closed out 2016 by asking a number of experts around the world the following question:

What would be your greatest hope for the internal communication profession for the year 2017? 

jonathan_ty

This year, I have had the fortune to work with some excellent communication practitioners. Through IABC and CEB I have also met IC leaders from a range of industries. Common to many of the conversations have been two opposing ideas: we need to manage new challenges facing the world of work, and we still need to improve our core practice.

I thought about how the past year has presented new challenges for communication.

Life in organisations requires us to continue to adapt. At the intersection of the technological, social, and geopolitical shifts of 2016 is a revolution in work. The World Economic Forum describe this as the Fourth Industrial Revolution. In the face of these factors, how do communicators look forward, when so much time is spent in the trenches where the battles of value creation, tactical execution, and the push for strategic influence are fought.

My hope for our profession in 2017 is that we develop our practices in ways that contribute: creating connections, cutting through complexity, and growing empathy.

The breadth of responses from communicators including Shel Holtz, Claire Watson, Jim Shaffer, Liam Fitzpatrick and Rachel Miller provides an optimistic take on how we tackle the big picture and the detail of our practice in the new year.

Read my full response, along with 25 others at ICKollectif.com

Story matters. Choose wisely.

Stories are how we sense-make our world.

 

 

#commsbingo – Conference Edition

It’s comms conference season, and that means the internet will be abuzz with 140 character insights from a range of events.

There are exciting – and challenging – emerging trends and new insights. We will see that in abundance at the excellent #IABC16 this week as the worlds leading communication membership association gathers around the theme of innovating global communication.

When you have been fortunate to have attended, chaired, co-curated and presented at a fair range of communication conferences and events*, you do start to see patterns in terms of insights and learnings. These recurring insights form a kind of communicators BINGO!

commsbingo600

#commsbingo

If we are to judge the progress of our profession by the wisdom shared on twitter from many comms events, then it seems we are caught in a loop. Yes, communication events do attract emerging practitioners. But seeing foundation knowledge shared as revelations does raise some questions about how effectively we are preparing communicators for professional practice.

If we are to continue to develop, to grow our collective commons and body of knowledge, we need to keep pushing for deeper insights, evolve our discussions and move beyond the foundations through research, education and creating connection.

Oh, and if you have any other #commsbingo insights, please tweet them so we can collate the common knowledge.

Share well!

*I have been a past chair and co-curator of Melcrum Strategic Communication & Digital Communication Summits in Asia Pacific, presented at the 2014 IABC WC in Toronto, and have been involved in communication professional development since before twitter was invented. Learn more about the Shorter COMMS Plan in this free webinar.

Making CSR Communication Pop

Cutting through the noise and getting people to engage in your CSR program can be a challenge. Here’s six tips in two minutes for making your message have greater impact.

These tips and more form part of the next Shorter COMMS Plan workshop being held on 22 June. If you work in community engagement, at an NGO or charity, or simply want to improve your communication results, the workshop will provide you practical tools and tips.

 

Engage employees with better communication choice

Technology has changed the way we consume information outside organisations, and it is natural that we want the same choices within. Companies that incorporate channel choice in their communication mix will win the war for engagement.

Find out the seven ways you can improve the choices for employee communication channels in this presentation.

For more information, see the article Changing channels: why employees demand freedom of information choice on LinkedIn Pulse.

Three strategies for embedding CSR through better communication and design

A simpler CSR

A simpler CSR approach.

One of the greatest challenges for employee communication in any organisation is information overload. A consistent theme from communication research is that often in organisations there is too much of the wrong information.

Line managers and employees in many organisations struggle with complexity.

They have a single consistent, valid request

make it easier for me

What has led to this situation?

Change. Changes to processes, products and procedures. Changes to the markets that companies operate in. Changes to regulations. Customer expectations. Social and political change. Technology. Technology. Technology.

Against this background, asking employees to focus on ‘another thing’ can be a challenge.

In addition to the number one rule for employee communication* there are three things organisations can do to ensure the CSR&S initiatives achieve the outcomes they need to for the company and its stakeholders (including employees).

*The number one rule is ‘make it relevant, make it simple’.

1. Have a few clear strategic messages that are reinforced all the time

Provide the ‘why’ for your whole CSR program in a consistent way.

Many CSR&S strategies are comprehensive documents that run to many pages, are produced, launched and then fall stagnant until the next reporting period. For CSR&S to come to life, a clear narrative is required that is reinforced consistently through leadership communication, as well as in other channels.

If CSR&S is not a key strategic focus for a company, it is essential for leaders to find ways to incorporate it.

Example

A mid size professional services firm develop a comprehensive CSR three year plan. The strategy recommendations include:

  • policy changes for procurement
  • changes to energy supply for regional offices
  • a customer charter that addresses client groups with specific CSR challenges
  • a scorecard for governance
  • plans for corporate relocation to sustainable headquarters
  • new approaches to succession planning for the partner group and
  • support for leading practice labour and OHS programs.

Individually, not all employees will be impacted in the same way by these initiatives. Expecting the whole of firm to be across every aspect when it is not their core business has a potential to feed the information overload and reduce engagement.

However, the key message for the strategy and for all leaders to continue to reinforce is:

Our business strategy recognises the benefits of a comprehensive approach to CSR. The outcomes of this strategic approach will include financial benefits, reputational benefits with clients and opportunities for employee development.

Individual projects or changes can be communicated in the most effective way according to the type of change outcomes, the audiences, and the available channels.

These subsequent changes are then congruent with the message from the CEO through to every line manager that ‘We treat CSR as an important part of our business.’

2. Be clear about what ‘engagement’ with CSR programs looks like.

Define ‘what’ people need to do differently.

Traditionally, employee communication has focused on the hearts and minds of employees, getting people to ‘buy in’ to changes or initiatives. An increasing body of research shows that getting people to take an action is more powerful at shaping their perceptions. Instead of ‘think, feel, do’, it is more effective to get people to ‘do, feel, think’.

In order for employees to engage with CSR&S initiatives, it is essential to be clear about what that engagement looks like. What will people be doing? How is that different to today?

As a result of the program do you need employees to:

  • Start following a new process
  • Reduce waste through using workplace procurement and cleaning vendors
  • Stop acquiring clients from unsustainable industries
  • Share or record information for reporting

Many ‘communication problems’ are actually process issues. With smart process design, sometimes communication is barely necessary. Make it easier for employees to take the actions required.

3. Use good design to enable action

Make the ‘how’ intuitive and simple to do.

Well-designed processes, procedures, systems and tools reduce the volume of communication needed.

There is no training manual for how we use a social media tool such as Facebook, or our smart phones or the motor registry queue. In the best cases, taking the necessary action ‘just makes sense’.

Originally focused on online channels, increasingly, user experience (UX) or customer experience (CX) design methods are being used as part other kinds of change.

  • Instructions tend to be build into processes
  • The online component is seamless
  • Visual communication provides clear clues to action
  • Operational instructions are just in time, rather than relying on people knowing how to do something just in case.

Better communication comes with better strategy

Unless CSR is treated strategically, there is a risk that communication about initiatives, processes and programs will get lost in the competition for a share of employee attention.

Addressing some types of CSR&S efforts require organisations to rethink their operations at a broader scale.

  • Communication can go part of the way. Without visible, sleeves-rolled-up leadership, the best communication program cannot sustainably embed CSR into everyday activities.
  • Being clear about what people will do differently by adopting new CSR programs and processes helps communication be clear, targeted, and enable action.
  • Better process design will make it easier for employees to take action with CSR programs, allowing for a focus on the big picture messages about the benefits of better CSR.

 

Three blogs on the Back to the Future thing that are worth your travel time #bttfd

Topical, light-hearted and listicle friendly. That is why Back to the Future Day has given the whole content marketing tribe a little shot of Pepsi and a jolt of lightning.

Aside from the ‘what they got right and wrong about the future’ trope that has even the scientist-communicators on board, it is an opportunity for reflection on what has changed in culture – and in specific industries – since then.

Communicators and marketers are no exception. Here are three #bttfd pieces that are worth your travel time.

All Things IC

An early contender, Rachel Miller came out strong with a piece on timeless advice for communication professionals.

The future may not be here as it was imagined in the films, but I think it’s an exciting time to be working in the field of communication and be interested in all things technology related.

I agree with much of Rachel’s list of timeless principles for Internal Communication, including

  • Trust is the currency of communication.
  • There’s no such thing as purely ‘internal’ communication.
  • Don’t view communication as something you do to employees, but for and with them.
  • The role of professional communicators has shifted from content creatorsto content curators.
  • Work is a thing you do, not a place you go.

See her full article for more advice.

B and T

B and T have taken the opportunity to look at the marketing efforts around the date, including the emphasis on digital, and the need to develop marketer’s skills in a changing world, through a guest post from ADMA CEO, Jodie Sangster.

It is striking in the number of available and cross-channel consumer touch points the campaign will to reach today versus the number that existed when the movies was released in 1989. Digital, social, video and mobile were, in some cases, decades away (CEO of Snapchat Evan Spiegel was yet to be born) and the idea brands would have access to terabytes of data, most of which has been generated in the last few years alone, would be as fanciful as Marty’s hover-board.

Read the full piece at B&T.

The Conversation

And rather than looking back, The Conversation has invited some of the brightest future focussed researchers, thinkers and academics to consider what will things look like in 30 years time.

Digital everpresence will disturb existing political systems enabling individuals to transcend territorial boundaries and wield digital influence outside of the nation state. Everpresent personas will disrupt domestic political orders transforming the Earth. Thas Nirmalathas, Professor of Electrical and Electronic Engineering, University of Melbourne

A thought-provoking read at the intersection of speculation and technological progress.