Bigger, better and more yakking than ever! #thebigyak

After last year’s fantastic event, I was never going to miss this year’s and I’m glad I didn’t! Below are a few of my top quotes and thoughts from an amazing day of Internal Comms networking and unconferencing!

  • You can’t put lipstick on a pig, but if you have enough time you can turn it into bacon

This was without doubt my favourite quote of the day, from @benjaminellis! Not only does it mention bacon, but it also perfectly explains what we need to do as communicators. Too often we’re brought in too late and just asked to communicate a message. If the topic we’re being asked to communicate isn’t positive then we don’t have to time to create anything to help the message (the pig) land beter (lipstick). However, if we’re brought in earlier we can take this mesage and create something which employees will respond to (bacon)!

  • Leave an empty chair in all meetings, to represent the rest of the organisation who aren’t in the room

Another input from @benjaminellis (can you see a theme here). He mentioned how a company he has worked with keeps an empty chair in every meeting so they can always focus on all other employees. This company also often turn to the chair and reference it in terms of what this means for the wider organisation. This is a great idea and something I’m going to try to do more often

  • You should treat your employees at least as well, or hopefully much better than you do your customers

For too long customers have been the main focus of businesses and making sure they have a good experience! Employees are often forgotten about and just expected to give great customer service. However, if you treat your employees amazingly well then they will do that to customers. I read a fantastic book about this by Vineet Nayer, well worth a read!

  • Just because no one asks for the measurement report doesn’t mean we shouldn’t be doing it

In the space of 12 months, measurement looks to have gone from something we thought about and sometimes did…to something we all see as vital and consider for every project. I liked this point because it shows that we’re proactively thinking about measurement and not just using it because we think senior managers want it.

  • Chronopsychology – Leaders talk about the future, managers about the present and frontline staff about the past…results in confusing messaging!

Another great point from @benjaminellis (seriously, follow him if you don’t already!) For me this point is vital when you consider change communication and how we deliver messages to all levels of the business. Just talking about the future will mean frontline employees struggle to join you on the journey!

  • Talk about the why, not just the what and how

This is something I talk about a lot and originally came from a Simon Sinek TED talk I saw (below). It’s a great thing to think about when you’re looking at difficult comms and making sure the message you’re delivering will have the biggest impact.

  • If you only ever use top down recognition, no wonder your senior execs are moody

While this wasn’t a Culturevist or Responsive Org event, there were some discussions about culture and how IC can impact on that. This was a point I made about how if everything comes from top down level then the people at the top often get forgotten. Two-way recognition and communication benefits everyone!

  • All problems/disasters are an Internal Comms issue

Rather fittingly, my final point is another one from @benjaminellis. Everything comes back to communication and whether it’s good or bad. If you’re trying to persuade people around the importance of comms then pick a disaster and show how good communications would have fixed the problem before it began!

If you missed out this year, make sure you don’t miss out next year by subscribing to @theiccrowd mailing list

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Am I at work or a fashion show?

Is it just me, or is work dress the new big topic everyone seems to be talking about. I’ve seen a number of blogs on LinkedIn about it and they all seem to come from two camps:

  1. Everyone should wear suits at all times – it’s more professional and makes people more productive
  2. Suits are fuddy duddy, everyone should wear ‘dress down’…it makes you more comfortable and creates a culture of fun

Now while I’m probably closer to camp two then camp one, I still think both of them are too prescriptive. In reality what does it matter what I wear to the office as long as I’m fit for the company I work for and feel comfortable?

I work for TfL, a very corporate public sector company, yet I dress more relaxed now than I did when I worked at an agency, and guess what…the world hasn’t ended!

While I do stand out from everyone else as I’m not wearing a tie or suit, my work is the only thing I want to be judged by. If someone wants to comment on the shirt I’m wearing or the colour of my chinos then they can…I genuinely couldn’t care less!

I once received feedback from a job interview that wearing blue chinos meant I wasn’t taking it seriously…a clear sign that the company valued style of substance!

At the end of the day, as long as people are doing a good job, what they wear shouldn’t matter. If you employ the right people, then you don’t need to tell them how to dress…they’ll be clever enough to work out what is right and wrong on their own!

Maybe we should stop employing people by the colour of their tie and maybe employ them by the quality of their work and the passion they have to succeed?

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48:13 of brilliance

Love this section of lyrics from the latest Kasabian album, the song is called glass. Do you have any songs lyrics you think explain comms/culture well?

A wise man told me that we are born with wings
But never taught to fly
Doesn’t that make you wonder why
Is it to prevent us from falling out of the sky
Or is it to stop us from soaring too high
So let me ask you this
Are you running around in a circle, going nowhere fast?
‘Cause when you look at the man in the mirror
He’s made of nothing but glass
You’re never aware that mountains don’t move themselves
Tectonic plates make them shift
That all it took was a staff to part the Red Sea
All it took was a bus to Montgomery
A single woman who refused to give up her seat
We fought an entire army with a bouquet of flowers back in the ’70’s
But now you’re taught to remain without will until you run out of energy
Afraid that if you strive for an ideal you end up like a Kennedy
It’s like being on a treadmill every day but never losing any weight
‘Cause to see success the food before you digest has to change
We’re stressed and high, get depressed and die
But still afraid to question why
One of the biggest criminals I ever met wore a suit and tie
When did we stop believing? When did we stop marching?
When did we stop chanting?

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So, while adding my dad’s eulogy to the blog was very cathartic and I got some very lovely comments of support…it did make writing a blog after it quite difficult. Where do you go after piece talking about your dad passing away. It’s taken me a year, but I finally think I’m ready to move on and start blogging again.

In the last year, lots has happened…I now live in London, work for Transport for London and have started to get involved in a movement to change the way the business world looks at culture and treats it employees. Both Culturevist and ResponsiveOrg have given me some great ideas and things to think about…if you’re not involved and you have an interest in culture then get involved today!

One of the things I often talk about at these events is my belief around inverting the pyramid. This is basically taking the standard hierarchical structures most people just accept and flipping them so the most important person are your frontline staff and the least important your CEO…this is a broad definition of what I think…but generally correct!

I want to use this blog to talk about that and some of the ideas around it. I know this is a big idea and something a lot of people disagree with, so hopefully it will spark discussion. This is in no way me saying I’m right and everyone should listen to me…this is me sharing some thoughts and looking to provoke debate and if I’m honest disagreement…I love talking to people to disagree with what I say!

So hopefully while the blog posts may be shorter in length they’ll be more often and hopefully more controversial, which is fun for everyone!

Speak soon, #invertthepyramid

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One month on…

As some of you may know, a month ago today my Dad passed away after a two year battle with cancer. At his funeral I wrote and then read a eulogy, since then I’ve been thinking about posting it here but never did it.

As it’s a full month, I thought this might be a good time to do it. It’s not really a communication thing, although I suppose you could class it as one, it’s more just a cathartic experience for me. Don’t feel like you have to leave a message, this isn’t a sympathy exercise either:

Hi everyone, I’d like to thank you all for coming today. This isn’t going to last very long for three main reasons:

  1. My dad would hate being centre of attention,
  2. I don’t want to be reduced into a blubbering mess too early in the day, and
  3. I’m almost certain that if my Dad was here now he would be telling me that I’m doing this wrong
However there’s one very big reason why I wanted to do this. In my 27 years of life I never once got the last word in with my dad…today feels like a great time to finally do that!

This isn’t isn’t going to be a usual Eulogy, most talk about heartwarming stories and actions which live long in the memory. However as most of you know, my Dad didn’t really do heartwarming…he was more focused on bluntness, honesty and always being right. Every story I thought about had some element of those three and more often than not ended with him being right, or at least thinking he was!

However, the one thing my dad always was…was my inspiration. Whether that was inspiring me to prove him wrong or make him proud I certainly wouldn’t be the person I am today without him. I remember telling him I was going to take a year off between college and uni…he replied with the very considered and conversational response of…No! However, one term into Uni and having started smoking for a week and quit, drunk more alcohol than most people would in a year and been witness to a gangland abduction I realised how much fun I was having and apologised to my Dad and agreed he was right.

Annoyingly that’s how most conversations with my Dad ended, with people admitting he was right…although that was sometimes to just end the argument earlier! But, even though he was incredibly opinionated and wouldn’t take a backwards step in an argument he would also do anything for his friends. He always said to me that ‘you can’t put a price on friendship’. Although considering the amount of money he lent people, he gave it a good go!

Not having my Dad here is going to be tough for me and my Mum, we’ll now be able to watch TV and understand what’s going on rather than having my Dad’s commentary over the top. We’ll be able to cook food we actually want to eat rather than what my Dad wants and cooks for us as well.  But most of all we won’t have him anymore, and that’s the hardest thing of all. 

I’m going to wrap up now before I get too serious, I didn’t want this eulogy to be too sad or sombre…that wasn’t the type of person my Dad was. I want him to remembered how he lived…annoyingly, with no apology and most importantly always right!



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#thebigyak – Yakking the day away

We’re now well into conference season in the Internal Communications world and with that comes a multitude of options to ‘meet, collaborate and learn’ from other communicators.

While each conference bills themselves as the biggest and the best, they can often flatter to deceive and you leave unsure what the benefit of attending was.

On Saturday I experienced what it’s like to attend a conference that fully lives up to all the hype. Dana Leeson, Rachel Miller and Jenni Wheller (collectively know as @theICcrowd) held the first ever #thebigyak at eBay’s offices in Richmond. For an idea of how the day worked, you can read the blog I did for Words&Pictures

I was attending anyway, but was then given the opportunity to become a sponsor of the event through the company I work for, Words&Pictures, which we gladly accepted. This meant I could bring two colleagues down with me, Nicola Cadman and James O’Shaughnessy were the lucky two.

Once we’d got to know each other, there was plenty for all communicators to get there teeth into and we certainly did. The full agenda for the day is below:

Session one

  • Social media KPIs
  • Intranets
  • Measurement – from hits to habits
  • Creating creative strategy

Session two

  • Sneakily social/social for leaders
  • Blurring the lines between internal and external communication
  • How do we evaluate and use feedback
  • Changing role of internal comms

Session three

  • How do you define employee engagement
  • How to communicate with hard to reach employees
  • Importance of editorial
  • Virtual collaboration

Session four

  • Hard to reach can do digital too
  • Traditional tactics using social approach
  • Engaging the senior team to be trusted advisors
  • Overcoming cultural differences

Session five

  • Video
  • Internal comms in redundancies/economic downturn
  • Improving morale quickly
  • How IC leaders can improve their comms

Session six

  • How to win more budget
  • Pension Auto-enrollment
  • Gamification
  • Internal social/digital/weight around our necks

There was lots of spirited debate and discussion and everyone seemed extremely engaged. For me there seemed to be three topics that came up on more than one occasion in different sessions and mentioned by different people:

The rise and rise and rise of Social

Without doubt social is growing exponentially within businesses and it’s simply not good enough to say “we’re looking into it!”

As more and more employees expect to be able to give their opinion back to the business you need to be able to give them the ability to do this. I heard so many people say over the course of the day that employees are going to say these things anyway so wouldn’t you rather have them do it internally…personally I’m not too keen on that idea because it still suggests a level of secrecy.

For me, the most important reason you have social elements in your business is so you can very quickly judge how your employees feel, see if there’s a specific issue affecting more than one of them and also respond, openly and honestly, to anything they say.

This isn’t an issue which is going to disappear anytime soon and there’s no right or wrong answer to it…but quite simply if you’re not offering your employees some element of collaboration then you need to look into that before they go somewhere that does!

The need for IC to be more confident in themselves

Confidence has always been an issue of IC people I believe. IT employees have the best knowledge of the systems so they own them, HR people have the best knowledge of recruitment/reward/training processes so own them, IC people have the best knowledge of how to communicate and make sure a message is fully understood so we get to check the text and send it out. How does that make sense? It doesn’t!

However, this has resulted in the belief that IC people have to do what they’re told or we’ll be cut out of the loop…I propose the opposite that if we don’t say no then eventually we’ll get cut out of the loop. If IT never said no to downloading software then eventually you’d just download it…the same is the case with comms, if you only ever agree then eventually you’ll be cut out of the process.

The two most important words in a Comms person’s arsenal are No and Why…until we start using those words more then we’ll never be taken seriously at a senior level.

In one session I mentioned how if a senior manager tells you that they’re too busy to write something and says you should, respond with “I’m too busy to write for you”…the audible gasp in the room when I said it suggested this was something that most people would never consider…but until you do that and suggested a way to do it which doesn’t take up too much time for the senior person and doesn’t take up too much time for you then nothing will ever change!

Are we focusing on the tools too much, rather than the culture?

Through out the course of the day there were plenty of discussions that started with someone saying they launched Yammer/insert other tool in their business and it’s not suddenly made everyone social. In the second session I attended about the changing role of IC, you would have been forgiven for thinking we were at an IT conference, all people were talking about was tools or technology.

I made the point that if you start at the beginning and create a culture in your business which promotes a collaborative element and employees feel comfortable to give their opinions without the worry that they’ll be reprimanded for it then no matter what tool you introduce it will work.

Social Media doesn’t force people to become social, the culture they experience does!


In the final session of the day I facilitated one about gamification, after being worried that no one would turn up I was pleasantly surprised to see the room was very busy and we had a great discussion about what gamification is, who’s doing it at the moment and what that means for businesses. Hopefully if you attended that session and you’re reading this you enjoyed it and I facilitated well :)!

Overall it was a truly amazing day, a few hours later in the pub and we were still solving all the problems in the comms world, while also networking and having a good laugh. It was a great chance to put some names to twitter profiles (Helen Deverell, Padraic Knox, Tony Stewart and many more!) and get to know some new people as well.

The #thebigyak14 should be bigger and better than this year, if that’s possible, and I can’t wait to see the continued great work @theICcrowd do everyday on Twitter.

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Groundbreaking Innovations from Melcrum

I’ve always thought my obsessive tweeting at Melcrum events would one day pay off, and on Friday morning it certainly did.

I got an email from Robin Crumby, Exec Director and Co-Founder of Melcrum, asking me for a ‘favour’. It’s not often the co-founder of one of the biggest IC organisations in the world asks you for a favour, so I was automatically intrigued. It turned out Melcrum we’re releasing a new insight paper around ‘Groundbreaking Innovations for a New Future’ and were allowing a few ‘select’ people to preview it and give feedback.

Now, I’ve been a fan of Melcrum ever since I started in comms, back in my Asda days, and the chance to preview something they’re releasing was very exciting. I immediately printed it out and sat down to read.

As expected, I found it really interesting, since moving to agency side I’ve been putting a lot more thought into innovation and the way we work, rather than specific channels and technologies.

It felt like Melcrum had been reading my mind, which reassured me that my thoughts are along the right track. Obviously I’d recommend reading it in full, but briefly they break down what IC people need to look at into five areas:

  • Agile processes for improved planning
  • Driving dialogue to enhance employee advocacy
  • Systematic collaboration to unlock better business results
  • Shifting the social media focus for improved ROI
  • Redefined competencies for a new world

Agility, advocacy, collaboration, ROI, competencies…I think these 5 areas, in one way or another, will be on the radar of most IC people. If they’re not then I think it’s certainly worth having a look at whether your company would gain anything by improving/introducing them.

Once again, in my view, Melcrum have shown that they’re very much at the forefront of thought leadership within the IC community. The time of IC practitioner simply being writers/delivers of information is long gone and it’s vital they become business, strategy and innovation leaders. The five areas Melcrum have highlighted will help you do that.

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Completely off-topic

This has nothing to do with Internal Comms or Social Media, but it’s a song with my name in and I like it…

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The customer isn’t always right and it’s ok to tell them!

On Wednesday a customer tweeted the @cineworld account complaining about the price of their tickets and asking them to justify it while also accusing them of deleting his previous tweet.

If you haven’t heard what happened next then you’re in for a shock. Most corporate accounts would send some sort of generic response saying how they were sorry blah blah blah. However Cineworld didn’t, they challenged him on how they might be able to delete his tweet (they can’t) and what sort of justification he was looking for as the ticket price is the ticket price! This then escalated into a full debate between the customer and Cineworld, with the Cineworld account more than holding it’s own and at times pushing the boundaries (but never going to far for me).

The customer clearly wasn’t expecting this and moved to the usual demeaning of the account and accusing them of being a child. You can read the full conversation here and I’d recommend it as it’s pretty funny and very interesting.

Twitter has been pretty active on the topic today, with lots of different opinions. Many of them saying it was wrong. I’ve felt like a Cineworld employee as I’ve been going round defending them. I think this is a great example of how the customer isn’t always right and brands don’t always need to apologise.

We live in a culture where the person who is most offended is the one that is seen as having the moral high ground. It’s almost become the norm that if you’re offended then you’re right. It’s ok to be offended, it’s your opinion…just like it’s my opinion that I’m not offended. Read Ricky Gervais’ tweets on any day and you’ll see examples of people offended by his views expecting him to ‘repent’. (Granted, Gervais plays up to it and looks for trouble!)

A lot of the negative feedback has been that the tone is wrong, but this is coming from people who have no idea what the agreed tone for the twitter account is. Until they have seen what the guidelines are for the person in charge of the account then it’s difficult to know if the tone was wrong. If you look at the O2 account or the Tesco customer service account then you might think the tone is wrong…but they’re clearly aiming for that type of chatty and fun content.

In reality, there’s no right way of conversing on Twitter (however there are wrong ways!) and it’s up to each company/person to create a tone that works for them. The important thing, is that once you make that decision you stick to it. If the next time someone complains, Cineworld send out a generic blank response then that will be the bigger crisis!

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Turns out, the grass may well be greener!

So, after 3 1/2 weeks off work, I’ve finally started my new job at Words&Pictures and after two days I have to say I’m really enjoying it.

I have to say that the 3 1/2 weeks couldn’t have ended any sooner, it might sound sad but I was throughly bored of not working. It turns out there’s only so much TV you can watch and Playstation you can play.

My first day started slowly, I had no idea how to turn my Mac on and had to wait for someone to come in and show me…good start. My emails then stopped working which was ok because no one knew what my email address was…so I wasn’t missing any.

I’ve spent the first couple of days getting to know some of the other areas of the business and getting used to using a Mac rather than a PC. I can already see some things I’d like to introduce to the business and I’m looking forward to getting fully settled in and start ‘getting my hands dirty’.

We’re off out for lunch tomorrow to welcome me to the team, I’ve been told the new guy pays…better bring some money!

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