FREE WEBINAR FOR INTERNAL COMMS PROS
By Julie Ford on October 25, 2022

Working with the C-Suite is considered one of the biggest challenges facing communication pros in general, and internal communication leaders in particular.

In this webinar, our highly-regarded speakers explored how internal communications professionals can work with C-Suite.

What To Expect:

  • Understand how successful communication pros engage effectively with C-level Leaders
  • Give pros tangible ideas on how to initiate and sustain positive relationships
  • Raise practitioner confidence in working with leaders from different backgrounds and cultural mindsets
  • ...And much, much more!

 


Event Details

Date: Tuesday, October 25th
Time: 11:30 am EDT/8:30 am PDT/4:30 pm BST
Length: 45 minutes + Q&A
Host: Julie Ford, Head of Content, Sparrow Connected

Sparrow Connected October 2022 Webinar copy 2

 

Sparrow Connected October 2022 Webinar

 

Sparrow Connected October 2022 Webinar copy

 

Mike Klein
Founder of #WeLeadComms
📍 Iceland
Thomas Grøndorf
Head of Internal, Strategy and Financial Communication at the International Engineering Consultancy #COWI
📍 Denmark
Aleka Bhutiani

Director of Strategic Communications at Golub Capital, a Leading Private Credit Firm
📍 USA

 

Transcript

Julie Ford  00:13 

Hi, everyone. Thank you for joining us today. We're going to wait two more minutes for a couple more people to join. All right. Welcome, everyone. Thank you for joining us today for the webinar on how to work with the C-suite. My name is Julie Ford, and I lead the content team here at Sparrow Connected. Sparrow Connected is the internal comms platform that is accelerating business performance and elevating the world's communication leaders. This webinar is the third webinar in our series with #WeLeadComms.  

 

Today, you're in for an insightful conversation with our panel of internal comms leaders, followed by a live Q&A session. Just a few housekeeping items before we get started. Your microphones and cameras will remain disabled for the duration of the webinar. We will be recording this webinar, and we'll send it to you by email a couple days after the event. Please go ahead and submit your questions in the Q&A box at any time during the webinar. Now without further ado, I'd like to introduce today's speakers.  

 

First, we have Mike Klein joining us from Iceland. Mike is the founder and principal of changing the terms, a consultancy focused on internal communications, change, and social communication. For more than 20 years, Mike has worked with organizations in the United States and Europe on pressing strategic communication challenges. Mike is also the founder of #WeLeadComms, a global initiative to recognize initiative, courage, and leadership across the communication profession. He is also a senior strategic advisor for Sparrow Connected. Mike will be leading today's conversation. Thank you for joining us today, Mike. 

 

Mike  02:01 

Thank you very much. 

 

Julie Ford  02:04 

Next, we have Aleka Bhutiani. Aleka is a New York-based Brit and a global strategic communications leader. She is currently the Director of Strategic Communications at Golub Capital in New York, where she oversees the firm's external and internal communications. She has experienced a number of sectors, including financial services, technology, real estate, and professional services. Aleka is also a member at Level39, one of Europe's largest technology accelerators based in London. On the agency side, during her time at FTI, she played a key role in establishing the firm's professional services practice. Welcome, Aleka. And thank you for joining us from New York today. 

 

Aleka  02:45 

Thank you, Julie. Happy to be here. 

 

Julie Ford  02:46 

Finally, I'd like to introduce Thomas Grøndorf of Denmark. Thomas has over 20 years experience working with all aspects of communication across various industries, such as financial services, shipping, energy, and consultancy. The common thread in his career has been internal communication and change communication. In his current role, Thomas is head of internal Strategy and Financial communication at the International Engineering consultancy #COWI. Welcome, Thomas and thank you for joining us as well. Thank you. Now for the moment you've all been waiting for, it's time to kick off the discussion about working with the C-suite. Over to you, Mike. 

 

Mike 03:25 

Thank you very much, Julie. And it's really a pleasure to have Aleka and especially Thomas here, because this session really grew out of a conversation that's been serialized by Sparrow Connected over the last few weeks, where it's Thomas and I just simply gotten to a Google document for an hour and just had a thorough thrash about what working with the C-suite is about. And, Thomas used to be my boss about 10 plus years ago. And the thing that I remembered most about working with Thomas was just simply marveling at the way he worked with leaders, particularly the way he got into their worlds the way they accepted him, you know, he was on the corporate plane and an organization where very few people had that level of access.  

 

And I thought, coming into this conversation and coming into this weekly comms webinars series, what better way than to actually transmit some of those learnings to people, many of whom are struggling with the issue of how to deal with their C-suites. And I also discovered a leakage through #WeLeadComms. And I also became very impressed with how she presented the way she described her role and the level of engagement she had with the leaders with her organization. And so we're gonna go now into the actual conversation here. And I'll start the first question with a question. And then as what is the first question Each of you was asked by a C-suite leader. And why do you remember that question? We'll start with Thomas. 

 

Thomas 05:08 

Well, I was just fresh from university working in a bank in Denmark and I had to be standing at a photo session with the CEO. And I came from a ski holiday. So, I was totally sunburned in my face. And I actually just had to sit and look at him. And what I remember was that I told him, well, you actually inspired me to my master thesis. I was writing about web usability back then. And his comment was, what grade did you get? And instantly you, you get a feeling of what's on their mind. And yeah, so that was the first question I got  

 

Mike 05:49 

Aleka 

Aleka 05:51 

So, my first question, maybe because I look a little younger than my years, was actually a strategy session. And I got asked the very simple question that often still comes up of why I should care about communications? Why does this matter? Why should you care? Why I should be paying you guys? So that was my first question. 

 

Mike 06:13 

So given the rent there, I get to say it is auspicious, but certainly, the rather skeptical reaction both of you received from those initial C-suite questions. How did your journeys evolve from that point? To where you wanted to work closely with senior leaders to having the close working relationships you have now? A WEEK OF HONOR to kick that one off? 

 

Aleka 06:37 

Yeah, I mean, it's a great question, Mike. I think it's recognizing the communications is, firstly, an art, not a science. So, I think part of the challenge is there's not always a tangible output. It's a sense and instinct of what is the right thing to do and how you can kind of change perception over time, particularly with working with the C-suite; it's bringing them along in that process. So, no matter what the type of organization, big or small, companies are, inevitably, in a different phase of that communications journey; they may be more reactive, they may be more proactive but not in the right way, or not getting the impact and results that they need to see on the bottom line.  

 

So, I think it's very important to be an educator as well as a helpful adviser along that journey with them. Building the trust and rapport so that they actually instill more courage and faith in what you're doing. And I think for me, one of the things I really enjoyed about working with the C-suite was that difficult challenge, you kind of go over those hurdles, and you have those healthy debates. And when you come out the other side, and you can see the progress that has been made, you really have a very different dynamic with your C-suite executives than what you had at the beginning. 

 

Mike 07:57 

Thomas, Did your journey mirror that kind of level? Or was it a bit bumpy, or rocky? Or did it have any loop de loops? 

 

Thomas 08:11 

I think the access card to the C-suite is that you're a really good professional. So, you need to be really good at doing internal comms, for instance, what we're talking about here, or external comms, Employer Branding, whatever you're talking about. I think that's the access character. If you then also want to have their attention, I think there's a trait that many of us have to learn. And that's business acumen, we need to really understand the business; what is driving value in the business? What is eroding value? You need to be able to talk about numbers because that's often the language of the C-suite.  

 

And when you understand how the business is running, you can also better come in with the communication solutions that you will actually propose making a difference. And I think the last ingredient for me is that you also have to be good company for the C-suite. I mean, they are in meetings all day long. And they talk about budgets and strategic decisions and all that. And most of the meetings, people are looking at them expecting some, you know, great wording coming out of the mouth. And sometimes, they just need to relax a little bit, and sometimes that can be you as a communicator. Being the good company asking them about how the day was the football team, how did they play or, the vacation or if the kid's birthday went well and all that small stuff. I think that's also the secret ingredient to being, a C-suite kind of go-to person. 

 

Mike 09:55 

So, Thomas you talk about secret ingredients, I was using the term secret sauce and looking particularly at the area of skill and what you nailed down were business acumen and quote, being good company Aleka. Does that line up with your experience? Or do you have another perspective on this? 

 

Aleka 10:13 

Yeah, I mean, I think Thomas raised very kind of key critical areas for long-term success with the C-suite. The one I would kind of throw in there as well. And one that served me very well in my career is candor. I think, you know, folks often forget, and communicators can sometimes default to being comfortable being the Yes, man. So, what the exact once they say yes, and they go off, and they do it.  

 

And it's having the candor in your response in your counsel and based on your experience, but I think it's also being comfortable and prepared to have the difficult conversations because particularly from an internal comms perspective, and now, increasingly, from an external comms perspective, there's a lot of tough conversations to have, be it around diversity, be it around business growth. There's the broader economic environment, there's a lot of very different challenges. And it really doesn't matter what sector you're sitting in; all of those challenges are still facing the same kind of C-suite body. So, being comfortable with difficult conversations and having that rapport that they know you're not going to just say yes. I think it actually puts you in a very strong advisory position to the C-suite. 

 

Thomas 11:31 

I think if I can add here, Mike, the language of the C-suite is also open to talking scenarios, saying, You know what, I understand that you just want to know the story on the portal, but what kind of outcome you're actually looking for. Because if you're looking for that kind of outcome, maybe we should also consider doing this with the leadership communication on this with the ambassador communication. So, it's a bit back to what at least started saying it's about also educating them and talking the language that they talk and maybe painting various pictures so they can choose what they want. 

 

Mike 12:07 

I mean, all of this stuff is great advice. I want to jump back to a weakest comment about candor. Because it kind of actually comes back to the initial skepticism question that we came to was like, what was the point where you felt safe enough to tell these people what they needed to hear instead of what they wanted to hear? Was there a moment? Or did you just naturally start from that stance? Or? When did when did you cross that threshold? 

 

Aleka 12:45 

Yes, nice. 

 

Thomas 12:47 

Yeah. I think it's a bit about your personality into this. Because some are more risk takers. Some are more confident; some don't need to have all the answers in place to be candor. And so, I think that's part of the answer to that. But of course, you also build experience. I mean, you don't do it at the first meeting. First, you need to absorb and listen and understand that's quite important. But with age and experience, you also get the ammunition for actually saying, well, I understand that you would like to have that, but you won't achieve what you're asking for. And one of the things that is really hard for leaders to accept is that if you look at the Edelman Trust Barometer, trust in them is way lower than trust in, you know, influential employees that at work. And that can be a hard nut to crack, so to speak, that they're not so influential as they think. 

 

Mike 13:51 

Aleka, anything? 

 

Aleka 13:52 

I think the tipping point can be different. So, I've had situations where, you know, over my years of experience, it's been a crisis has arisen, and therefore you've been in a crunch period with the C-suite, protecting the brand, and they've seen the value of what communications can offer in a higher pressure, higher stakes environment. And that's been the tipping point for them to then see the value and see what you can bring to the table. I've been in situations and environments where great communicators have instinct, and I think, to Thomas's point, time and experience and scars frankly, help get you to that point. So I think having the right instinct and conviction in your instinct, and then I also think managing expectations. Communicate, and this kind of goes to the YES MAN situation I was describing. I think the trap that communicators can fall into is wanting to deliver on the result. And you almost overpromise. I always think it's much better to under promise and overdeliver and having a very measured approach in what is realistic and what is out of your control because it is not always in the communicators control. And I think those often end up being sometimes, and I'm sure there's a multitude of others, but they're certainly the tipping points that I found where they start to see that real value. 

 

Thomas 15:22 

But I think, Mike, it also kind of back to what, what is the currency of communication? That's trust? And how do you build trust? It's about being credible. So that's about being professional, you know, being the pro hearing the conversation that you can trust, what I'm saying, and it's with the best professional is that I'm actually doing this, it's not my own agenda. It's about being reliable. So, when you promise something, you also deliver on that deadline with that quality, and probably also within that budget, and then it's about being intimate. I mean, people should experience that they can actually talk confidential with you without that information going further in the organization. And then you divide all this with a very low self-orientation; you are not in the center; when we're working with the C-suite, you need to be in the background; you are the kind of the verbal buddy God that are just helping them with the words coming out. And when you work this way, in a strategic way, you build the trust. And that's where you get access to more information about the company more information about the strategic decisions. You are actually asked for your opinion for your service. So, I think that's kind of the tipping point. 

 

Mike 16:46 

The issue of being asked for your opinion definitely is relevant to the next question, which has to look at it from the opposite perspective. And this is really for the benefit of the internal comms people, particularly kind of the junior to mid level internal comms people coming up. How have you helped your leaders evolve their understanding of employees and of internal communication?  

 

Thomas 17:17 

Take it away. 

 

Aleka 17:18 

Okay. Thank you. That was a bit of a soundwave. So, I would say for junior, mid-level folks, I think it's really understanding and knowing the landscape, and Thomas built on this initially in his first response but having the business acumen is very critical. That's not really something that just comes once you are a little bit more seasoned, I think you can be early on in your career and really have done your homework to understand the challenges and issues facing the sector your client is operating in, understanding the challenges that the C-suite are most concerned about at the moment. And that can be from wider research, as well as what you're hearing in conversations, or things that you're gathering from external discussions that you may be having beer with reporters for external programs, or colleagues in your agency, or within your organization.  

 

So, I think really being a sponge and absorbing all of that information makes you a very powerful practitioner and being able to find the right moment to bring that knowledge to the foreground. So, I think, you know, one of the things that I always strive to do in my career was certainly in my kind of younger years in my career was to actually be quiet and only speak when I really had something that I thought was a value. And that actually ended up putting me in some ways in a more powerful position because when I did open my mouth, the C-suite executives knew that it was something that had been thought through and not just saying things to fill air in the room. So that actually helped me position myself as someone not only who was just strategic and thoughtful in my approach but someone that really considered what everyone was saying. And reading the room is such a critical component of that.  

So, knowing when you're in, particularly when you're having tough conversations, reading the room, and knowing when it's time to push a little bit more or that probably as far as the organization is willing to go at this stage in their journey, and that's where you end up having long term success. The other point I would just add to this, and I think where you're on this journey with executives, is remembering that they're human too; it is an incredibly hard position as a C-suite executive to be given. Talking Points to be presenting in front of whether it is the employee body or externally on stages. I think sometimes it's easy to forget that they are human, they have their own stress and for many of them, whether it's their company will not if they're in a C-suite position, they cared deeply about what is said about their business, be it employees or externally. So there is a lot of emotion there to balance out. And I think recognizing that they're human and that they care and trying to take them on the right journey so that they can be comfortable with what they're saying is also critical for success. 

 

Thomas 20:23 

To build on what you're saying, I think it also takes a bit of courage to actually be asked the right questions at the right time. And it's a bit the connected to the business acumen. Because you should not just ask any questions, there needs to be a little bit of foundation in what you're asking about. But sometimes the obvious, curious question is, why are we doing this? Why is this the right? decision for the company? And, I mean, how should we explain this to our colleagues? Stuff like that is often generating a deeper conversation about internal comms and what needs to be done. Yeah! 

 

Mike 21:16 

Well, it's interesting how you both attack the question, which was really around the confidence and trust that you're able to build with the C-suite in terms of their perception of you as somebody who understands their side of the business. But what about really presenting the employee reality, the extent to which the employee population actually is a lever, for them being able to get the results on the performance that they want? And where does data fall into that picture? 

 

Thomas 21:54 

But I think every C-suite understands that. Like, that's not the problem. The problem is, as an ego says, people are human. And some C-suite members are maybe not feeling totally comfortable standing in front of all the colleagues and giving a town hall speech; maybe they're better at the ones who want. So, one of the things that you can also do to connect with the C-suite is to understand what are their communication strengths and build that into whatever communication they are doing. And, yeah, play to their strengths. I think it's two areas C-suite understand that they need to take communication seriously. And they also understand that they have extended responsibility to be visible. And in the organization engaging with employees, our job is to help them do that the best way. 

 

Aleka 22:50 

Yeah, I completely agree. I think preparing and knowing how best to prepare your executive is winning half the battle; every person absorbs information differently. For some, they want a lot of information for others, they want it distilled for some, they just want to know what are the three messages that I really need to land for others, they don't want you involved in their messaging, they just want you there to be the sounding board and the point of discussion, and they will go off and think about what they actually want to say, based on that discussion. So, I think recognizing, almost like the chameleon-like role that you need to play for each executive, in ensuring that they're prepared and feeling the most comfortable, actually helps with that output, you know, being authentic to them, but also being reflective of what they want to say to the business and having the impact that they're looking for. 

 

Mike 23:47 

No, I mean, I think that's pretty clear. I mean, particularly in terms of the communication role of leaders in the business, being able to engage them appropriately, maturely, informedly, for lack of a better term, is definitely a key element of the piece, but a huge piece of the internal communication role moves away from the direct engagement of leadership and towards the mobilization of other activities, resources, channels, avenues, what have you. And when it comes down to engaging leaders around things like budgets and technology, what are the smartest things that we can do that are that our folks out in the audience can do to engage with leaders to make the business case for the investments that they need? 

 

Thomas 24:46 

Well, that is to make the business case. You have to bring communication down to a business case. And that means that you need to have some KPIs that are measurable, not just output but also outcome because it's the outcome that is of most interest in the C-suite. I mean, we can all see that maybe we can increase the readership on the internet with a few percentages, but what is it that we really want? Do we want people to be more engaged or better understand or act on behalf of the new strategy? What is the outcome we want to see? And then, you have a more informed dialogue with the C-suite about what is it that you really want to achieve. And in where I work, we have made an influencer survey. So, we know who are the colleagues who are more influential than others. And we use that to understand how we can drive change faster through, implement new strategies and so on. We also use them as a sounding board to understand what are the hot topics. And how can we improve the communication? We also know that when we work with these influences, they have a lot to say when it comes to increasing the partivity. It has a lot to say when it comes to if they stay in the company that will improve retention. And right now, everybody's fighting for talent. So suddenly, we have different conversations; instead of looking at increasing the readership on the internet, we're talking about how can we strengthen retention. How can we increase productivity? And that's a whole different conversation with the C-suite than what we used to have. 

 

Aleka 26:33 

Yeah, I completely agree, Thomas; I think recognizing the shifts that are happening, you know, external dynamics that are putting different pressures and how your conversation and also, messaging needs to adapt to that is very important. You mentioned like technology. I mean, I think technology isn't always the answer. I agree with Thomas that there's KPIs that any good communications program needs to have in place to show, success and impact at the end of the day. But I think also recognizing that those KPIs can come in different ways, sometimes it is the qualitative feedback that you get from a survey that actually can be more important than the number of people that have clicked through to an email that gives you a better scale of how sentiment is shifting in your organization if people feel like they are ambassadors for the brand, that they are long with the journey, versus what you would get from someone clicking and engaging on that numerical basis, I do think one of the traps that communicators can sometimes fall into is leaning too much on too many different technologies. And the challenge that it can pose is creating unnecessary noise. So particularly when you have, I think, Thomas alluded to this very nicely but recognizing what the bottom line is, what is the goal that they actually want to achieve. And then mapping from that, what are the most effective KPIs and tools that are gonna allow you to demonstrate that you're meeting that goal, and it can just be one, it doesn't have to be a multitude, it could be one platform that you really squeeze all value out of, versus introducing multiple different vectors that can give you a more confusing picture. 

 

Thomas 28:23 

And one little thing there is, you know, they are still looking at the what's the business outcome we can do with one investment. But they're still humans. And they also have their own babies and darlings that they really care for. Right now, I'm sitting in our TV studio. And that's a combination of a business case and one of their darlings. We probably wouldn't have all the care in the studio if they didn't have a really love for doing a TV in our company. So, it's also about understanding what's on the agenda. What do they really like? Are they into gadgets? Are they into something else? And then maybe you can include in your business proposal? 

 

Mike 29:03 

Well, it's interesting that you talk about traps and pet projects and, you know, some of the kinds of behavioral and human elements that get drawn into the budget-setting process and the agenda-setting process. And I want to shift the conversation slightly towards another returnal topic, to this community, the topic of the levers and functions that get this the best rather than the best to report to or the best to work with or perhaps the best under tap synergy between communication and what they do. Do you guys do either of you have any particular thoughts on this? 

 

Thomas 29:49 

I think the crucial part is that you have easy access to the information you need to do your job. And the other one is that you have influence at the right stakeholder level; then, in my company, we're reporting into a head of people and communication. And then that person is reporting into the CEO. Other places, you're reporting directly into the CEO. But I think it's more about do you have the right mandate. And do you have the right influence? 

 

Aleka 30:22 

Yeah, I would add to that, you know, the, if the message could be sent to C-suite. And I think where you see the greatest success is where your communications function has been empowered, both with knowledge and foresight of what is coming up. So, Thomas mentioned, trust is so critical, having a sense of what is coming up, be it announcements that are actually going to be shifts in the direction of the business or something that could be potentially a reputational challenge to the firm, through to, senior hires that are going to be very critical to take as an external message, but also for empowering folks internally. There's a fine balance, and I think comms professionals that are not empowered by the C-suite, it is a losing game, you're really not going to be able to have the impact that you could have, if you have that strategic position at the right table. I also think being the person to deliver the message.  

 

So, with many functions that are kind of involved in any business, you can educate a particular function. But really, the conversation with the C-suite needs to happen directly between the communicator and the C-suite. Because there is a nuance to why you're saying something there is experienced back into why you're saying something the way that you're, you know, recommending it or putting it forward. And I think where it can fall down is when those questions come back as to why. And it's not the communicator answering, again, it ends up having a more detrimental effect. So, I think being empowered is very, very critical. I agree with Thomas, having the right seat at the right table at the right time is very important. And knowledge is power for a communicator, you can only be as effective as the information you have. So, it's a combination of not just 

 

Mike 32:20 

Having a conceptual seat at the table. It's actually being involved in specific conversations and decisions before they become public before they become final. And the extent to which you're allowed to weigh in. And the extent to which your opinion carries weight with the ultimate decision-makers in their process. And that's really about decision-making around communicating. To what extent do leaders currently, have a challenge around communicating in a disciplined and efficient manner? Keeping in mind leadership time availability, organizational noise, and proliferation of technology? 

 

Aleka 33:12 

Yeah, I mean, it's very hard. I think. I see Thomas smiling as well because I'm sure you see that as well. Like, I think it's very, very hard. We're in an era where your employee base has a voice in a way that we really have never seen before. And with the proliferation of different platforms, whether it's the likes of Glassdoor, how people are using their LinkedIn, how Twitter has kind of evolved in real-time updates. Everyone kind of is that Ambassador to the to the brand in so many other channels beyond your internal ones. It is very, very hard.  

 

And I think a lot of C-suite executives are facing the challenge of figuring out what they should lean in on and what is noise, not noise because it doesn't matter, but noise because the impact to the business doesn't really warrant them having a seat at the table. So, you know, figuring out what matters to your business, what matters to your employees, as well as the kind of softer side of your employees are also human. We're in a time of immense challenge and strain to any individual in an organization as well. Recognizing where you have to lean in because it's an emotional response or lean in because it's a business response. And I think it's a very hard balance. 

 

Thomas 34:46 

I think I agree what you're saying. I am just seeing some new trends that are worth having in mind when it comes to advising the C-suite. Our communication is becoming way more visual due to Hybrid work due to businesses expanding to all continents, and you can't be there. So visual communication is kind of the default for a lot of the things that we're doing right now. I think it's also becoming more evident that as a leader, you need to be authentic in the way you communicate; it cannot be too polished; it's way better just to do a selfie video from one of your trips or something like that. So, it's about getting the C-suite to relax a little bit more, just having a conversation, like we were sitting in the canteen, talking about how the business is doing. So, and that's new skills for them because they have been trained in doing a lot of written communication and maybe standing on a podium giving a presentation, which is not the same as doing a video. So, we are also upskilling the C-suite in the communication competencies. These years and they seem to like some of it, but it's also a bit more frightening, suddenly, you can talk to all the colleagues at once, right? Normally, you will be in like a big and doing a town hall meeting for the office there. And then you could go to New York and doing. So suddenly, everybody can watch you, and they can all comment. And that's also something that you need to adjust to suddenly because you can't, what C-suite really like they really like to control things, right? They like to control the outcome. And the way they can do it is if I do a pre-interview, here in the studio with them, we have kind of agreed on the questions that will come. Suddenly, when we do live webinars for all 7000 employees, you don't know which questions are coming in. So, they also need to be more comfortable with their own communication capabilities. So, there's also a lot of training coming in going forward to the C-suite. 

 

Mike 36:55 

So, you cited a number of interesting trends at the corporate level, the ability of more people to gather in the same place at the same time. It's increasing the intimacy, increasing the authenticity, reducing the perceived power distance to a certain extent. And also putting executives on the spot a lot more and then settle larger organization. I know, Aleka. You do a lot of work with smaller organizations. You do a lot of work with companies in the startup space. Where do you see the tipping point as needed for needing serious communication support in the smaller types of enterprises? 

 

Aleka 37:43 

Yeah, I think it depends. And this is part of the education piece, Mike. So often, startups are looking at communications at the wrong time. And the challenge is figuring out when the right moment is to engage in calm, so it is effective for them. It's about, on the internal side, generating momentum, making the built feel part of the hyper-growth that they would be going through, and finding the right talent so that they can keep growing and adding to the business. But they also have other audiences, they have investor audiences, if they're talking early-stage funding. They're also talking to the business community, and they're trying to build credibility. And I don't think that changes no matter what size of the organization, you have a multitude of different audiences and your employees, while their employees and an internal focused audience, the minute they leave your doors and your office space, they are ambassadors for your brand, externally with all those other external audiences.  

 

So, I think recognizing the power of internal communications and the impact that it can have on external is just as strong as the other way around, external to internal. And I think with the startup community, and you know, small companies, it's not mistaking communications for a sales function. Communication can only enhance what your sales team is doing. It cannot replace it. And the value that comes can bring is that when you get that first meeting that potential new business opportunity, there is a level of knowledge and understanding about what your business does. That's what comms can do. It makes that first meeting a more productive one. Because there is a baseline of understanding, it is not going to close the deal for you. That's where your sales team needs to be effective. 

 

Mike 39:42 

So, communication isn't the new sales. But is it fair to say that internal is the new external 

 

Aleka 39:52 

Blurring, but I don't think it's blurring. It's not the same. There is still a clear distinction between the two. And I think to the degree that has to be there because you're dealing with different audiences, you know, the emotion that you can show to an internal audience, you can't show that to an external business audience. It's just not appropriate. But finding those right issues where there is a connection between what you're doing internally ESG DEI if you're rolling out a new initiative if you've reached a milestone as an organization that has value to external audiences. So I think the lines do need to be blurred; I also think, you know, much of the point I was making before, anything internal can end up external. And while it might be appropriate for an internal arena, it could actually cause a reputational issue externally. So, understanding the sensitivity around what you're doing. And I think Thomas and I both use this word, but being authentic to your organization is very critical and managing that fine balance. 

 

Thomas 41:08 

Mike, I said no, because I think it's the other way around. I think external could be the new internal in the meaning that some of the things that we're producing for Sony for press releases so that we could easily use that internally. And why do I think that I would like to free up resources that we are spending on internal communication on producing content and instead using that resource to train and educate leaders to become even better communicators? I think that's a way better investment for internal communications that just producing a lot of content that is hardly, you know, read or making any difference in the organization. So, I think it's the other way around. 

 

Mike 41:51 

That's a really good point. I mean, I think there, you know, you've presented two distinct perspectives on this blurring of lines, if you will, that, there's a need to maintain the distinction between the dynamics of the internal audience and the nature of the contact that shared with that audience. And certainly, from a strategic perspective, being able to discuss it in that way. I think it opened up a lot of conversations for, particularly internal comms folks at the organizational level that people haven't really been having yet. So I think this has been an extremely valuable discussion within the discussion. For both of you, all right, so funnily enough, this was actually on my list. Do any of you have any additional thoughts before we open this up to Q&A? 

 

Thomas 42:57 

When it comes to become a really good internal communicator and have access to the C-suite? Well, I think it's still, you know, to be a real pro, you need to be really good at what you're doing. Because that's your access card, you need to understand the business. That's the business acumen. And then I think you need to be fun to be with, I think it's not that complicated, but maybe it's a bit complicated to execute. But I think; basically, that's the traits that you need to have. 

 

Aleka 43:29 

And I would say, I think, recognizing the pace of the organization. So it doesn't really matter if you're large or small, that place that you are on your communications journey. As a communicator, we like to push as hard as we can. And it's also recognizing where the business is at, what is appropriate for the business, what can the business handle so that you can be the most effective and keep getting buy-in to do more in the future. 

 

Mike 44:01 

That's excellent. Just simply want to mention one other thing here, just out of this conversation, I've always looked at two real, two basic dimensions in terms of figuring out what kind of internal communication you need an organization, things like size and spread, how many people you have the dispersion of people, between locations, whether you're remote, whether you're hybrid, whether you're office based, what have you, but I think that dimension of pace, is actually transcendent. You know, even more electrifying the other two, because when you've got an issue of pace, it has given me idiocy the extent to which people need to be on their toes that you spent to which they need to be looking for Information, acting on Information speaking on behalf of any organization responding, what have you.  

 

That's actually something you need to build into it structurally. And it's not something that a lot of people talk about. So I think that's a really huge insight from this conversation that certainly I haven't seen anybody talk about an internal comms contest this year. So I really want to thank you both for bringing some really unique insights into a conversation that could certainly use some. So thank you. Julie, shall we open the floor? 

 

Julie Ford 45:35 

Yep, sounds good. So, we're gonna move on to the Q&A portion of the webinar. To everyone in the audience, this is your chance to have your questions answered live by our speakers. So go ahead and enter them into the chat box if you haven't already. All right looks like we have a couple of questions here. So, the first question is, one thing we haven't looked at is if there's any difference across sectors. Have you seen any differences in C-suite comms behavior that is specific to certain sectors that you've worked in? 

 

Thomas 46:13 

Um, well, no. But I think it's more like an organizational thing. Because some organizations are more mature when it comes to communication, and others are less mature. I don't see it in sectors as such because it really depends on that working person who's the CEO, if that person really wants to drive communication forward or the whole organization. If, for instance? Is it an organization that are used to giving feedback to each other? That's a good indicator if there's a high maturity of communication in the organization. So, I haven't seen it. 

 

Aleka 46:50 

I would say the pace comment I made is something I've seen across sectors. I think when you look in the professional services, industry, financial services, there is a slower pace, there's also regulatory considerations that slow the pace, even if the organization wants to move faster. The tech industry, I think, can be a lot faster than other sectors. But I do I do think there's not. There's no right way of doing it. And I think just because you're the first to do something doesn't mean it's going to be successful, I think, across all C-suites, where there's a great success, no matter what sector it is, it's really thinking about the bottom line, the goal, and doing a few things really well particularly when you're dealing with an employee base, bombarding them with initiative after initiative doesn't always have as much impact as if you really focus in on a handful that matter, both from feedback you have from them, but also what you know, the C-suite really deeply care about, and have a connection with, I think you can then find greater impact. So, I agree with Thomas. I think there's an element of the organizational structure. But I think some industries are just naturally a little bit faster because they don't maybe have as many of the other external restrictions that some do. 

 

Julie Ford 48:19 

Awesome. Well, thank you for your answer on that one. Let's move on to the next question. Are we moving towards having just one communication team that manages content for both internal and external audiences? 

 

Aleka 48:35 

So good question. I would say no, and I also hope not. I think there is a fine nuance. I spent a lot of my time doing a mix of both external and internal, but I would say I'm more heavily weighted to external and then doing, you know, issues management for clients in my agency years. And then, over the years of where I've been since, I do think there is value to those two functions being more closely connected. I don't think they have been as closely connected as we're starting to see. But I think understanding nuance and the very different perspectives they can bring can actually make both of those types of communication more powerful. 

 

Thomas 49:23 

Yeah, I would agree. I think for smaller companies, yes, I see there is an efficiency gain and probably also cost gain by merging the two functions. But I think there is also two distinct professional areas that we need also to recognize as such, but that doesn't mean that we couldn't work together and. I do still a lot of external communication, even though I'm mostly working on the internal, so I think it's a mix. 

 

Aleka 49:55 

I mean, I would say just to what Thomas has said is just sparked another thought, but I think when you're leading the comms function, so, head of comms director of comms CCO, whatever the title ends up being, but if you're leading the overall comms function, having experience in both areas, is very critical to help bring those nuances. So I would always encourage if someone was in, you know, diehard internal communicator, do try and get yourself exposure in your kind of early to mid-years of growth on the external side, because it will bring you another perspective and vice versa for external communicators understanding and being a bit more exposed to the internal comms, and how they think and approach actually makes you very powerful once you start moving into those overall function roles. 

 

Thomas 50:43 

I can see we also got a question in the chat who's Carolyn? She's asking tips for working with the C-suite leaders who are extremely comfortable with talking to staff but sometimes lag and needed a filter in recognizing that some opinions may not be well received by the majority of staff members. I have one tip for that, film them and show them the film afterward. I mean, videos are extremely powerful. And sometimes they don't intend to do it this way. They just don't hear what they are saying. So that would be my, my advice.  

 

Aleka 51:21 

Yeah, I mean, I think that's a great tip; I think also, really understanding what's driving them to say that often it can be nerves, it goes back to the point of being a human being, it's kind of scary when you're talking to 100 200 to 600. People that can, you know, it doesn't matter how many folks are in front of you. So, I think recognizing what their nervous triggers are and really focusing them in. So, when you're giving them sound bites, if they are actually talking to a larger portion of the population, condensing those sound bites, so they only really have a call sentence to remember or two call sentences to remember, I think you'll find it helps keep them a little bit more on track. Sometimes when you give executives too much. There's only so much with the stress of that environment that a brain can kind of figure out what's kind of coming at them in terms of reactions and other responses. So, I think helping to simplify their message and giving them those sound bites that they can learn and land makes them probably a little bit more controlled. 

 

Thomas 52:24 

Carolyn's question popped up. One thing in my mind, at least, and that is feedback is extremely important to give that to the C-suite. They actually want it most of the time, even though it might be some tough advice sometimes or some tough feedback. Because they also they're humans, they want to do better. And if we don't give them proper feedback, they will do the same mistake again and again. So feedback is an important capability as well. 

 

Julie Ford 52:54 

That's great advice. Thank you both. We only have one minute left. So, I think we're going to wrap things up. So, thank you so much to the three of you for such an engaging conversation today. And thank you to all the attendees who took the time to join us today. We really appreciate you being here. As was mentioned during the webinar, communication leaders need to get more comfortable with collecting, analyzing, and presenting data to the C-suite and other leaders. To help, our own Mike Klein is leading a special masterclass in November called putting measurement on rails. This masterclass will address these exact needs. We'll invite you to register when we follow up by email after today's session.  

 

Now, here's how you can get involved with our speakers; Sparrow Connected, and #WeLeadComms first on LinkedIn. Follow Sparrow Connected, and #WeLeadComms and connect with Mike, Aleka, and Thomas. Second, please share the recorded webinar and blog series that will send to you by email with your peers and your leadership team. Third, keep an eye out for an invite to our next #WeLeadComms and Sparrow Connected webinar coming up in a couple of months and forth. Visit sparrowconnected.com to book a demo of our leading internal comms platform. Thanks again for attending. We hope to see you next time.  

 

Thomas 54:09 

Thank you.  

 

Aleka 54:10 

Thanks.  

 

Mike 54:10 

Thank you very much.  

WEBINAR TAGS: webinar Internal Comms

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