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What a difference 1,826 days make

Today my husband and I have been married five years. I’ve done my research, and it’s genuinely true that you can get less for murder.

We’re celebrating in true Mr and Mrs Buckingham style… with alcohol.

I’m not one for being soppy. Quite the opposite. But it got me thinking about time, and for once not about how quickly it flies, but about how much changes in a relatively short timeframe. When we walked down the aisle 1,826 days ago, we were leading lives that are barely recognisable from the ones we live today.

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The biggest change is that two became four.

It took 81 weeks of pregnancy and 23 months of maternity leave to get there.

I never ‘glowed’ – I was a grumpy blob that waddled around eating crisps and chocolate. I ached everywhere, I had horrendous heartburn, I suffered from SPD (savage pain that feels like someone’s repeatedly kicked you in the pelvis with steel capped boots on) and low platelets. I was angry at even the thought of someone daring to drink wine or eat good cheese near me. I was a barrel of laughs.

But those long 81 weeks led to two healthy, happy, beautiful babies, so they were worth every second.

Not that I’d be tempted to do it again.

Both pregnancies led to c-sections – one emergency, one planned – and a total of eight days in hospital. Two trying to coax a baby out, one in labour, one in theatre, one holding our baby’s hand as she recovered in intensive care in the neonatal unit, and the rest recovering from surgery.  Without the unfaltering care of the NHS and the quick thinking of our midwives, I honestly don’t know if I’d be sat here saying we have two daughters. We can’t thank them enough. They’re amazing.

Cornwall

We’ve had four cars. Unadventurously, all Mazda’s. We’ve moved house and postcode. We’ve been on eight holidays to Mexico, Sussex, Devon and Cornwall. Guess which one was pre-children!

I’ve been employed by three companies. Four if you count my own. My husband has been employed by two. We’ve both been through TUPE following the sale of the companies we worked for, and I was made redundant. If someone told us back in 2013 that my husband would work full-time from home, and I’d be self-employed and splitting my time between working in a client’s office in London, working from home freelancing, and looking after our children, we’d have thought they were mad.

In those five years we’ve been given the titles of brother and sister in-law, Auntie and Uncle, and Godmother. We’ve celebrated ten of our family and friends tying the knot, my parents reaching their ruby wedding anniversary, and lots of our loved ones hitting milestone birthdays.

Having children has shifted our lives immeasurably, but the thing that brings it home most is when I look at our wedding photos and see four faces staring back at me who are no longer with us. It’s so hard to believe that four of the people we shared love, laughter, and raised a glass with that day, aren’t here anymore. A heart-breaking statistic.

Looking back at the last 1,826 days has shown me that I genuinely have no idea what life might look like in five years’ time.

Our first dance was a Noel Gallagher song, so it feels apt to sum it up using a line from The Masterplan by Oasis: “It’s up to us to make the best of all the things that come our way.”

I’ll raise a glass to that.

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Five tips for writing change communications

When employees are going through change, their emotional and information needs can change too. Here are five tips that have helped me as an internal communicator over the years – from understanding your audience to telling the company’s story, while keeping things clear, honest and authentic.

if_number-one_1288813Hello Bob

  • If you’re not yet acquainted with Bob, now’s the time to get to know him. Bob’s the “typical employee” you discover from researching the demographics of your audience.
  • To get great demographic research, you’ll need a good relationship with your HR team, and time and resource to dedicate to it. It’s not a five-minute job, but you’ll get great return on your investment.
  • Take time to find out everything there is to know about Bob. After all, he’s hanging on your every word. Learn where he’s come from, what he’s been through, and what he thinks of the company and its communications. You won’t get him on side if you forget about the change he’s already been through, what his biggest gripes with the company are, and how he likes to be communicated with.

if_number-two_1288820Honesty rocks.

  • But in the spirit of honesty, let’s be honest… sometimes you can’t be.
  • Occasionally there’s something huge bubbling away that’s too commercially sensitive to say, especially in a written communication that could leak to the media or your competition.
  • When you can’t be as honest as you’d like, then be open. Tell people something’s brewing, and give them a timeline for when you can say more.
  • If your hands are really tied and you can’t even be open, then just don’t lie. Never say everything’s ok if it might not be. It’ll come back to bite you.

if_number-three_1288812Once upon a time…

  • Without understanding the company’s strategy and purpose, and the narrative of where it’s been and where it’s going, explaining the rationale for change is going to be an uphill struggle.
  • The marketing ‘rule of seven’ claims that people need to engage with your message at least seven times before they’ll take action. So once you’ve got the story, keep telling it.
  • You don’t need to replay it chapter and verse every time. Key messages can be woven regularly through communications, and you can keep linking back to handy documents that support the story. That can be things like slides from employee briefings, copies of announcements, FAQs, the company strategy documents, financial results and annual reports etc.

if_number-four_1288819Keep clear.

  • During change it’s vital that employees understand all the information they’re given – even the most complex. Don’t bamboozle them with jargon, wordy sentences, and corporate spiel. Keep it simple.
  • The Flesch Kincaid reading ease test determines how simple text is to understand. It looks at factors like the number of words in a sentence and the number of syllables per word. It’s tested on a 100-point scale. The higher the score, the easier it is to understand. For most communications you’d probably want the score to be between 60 and 70. You can check a communication’s Flesch Kincaid score in Word. Find out how to do it here. As an example, this blog scored 66.8.
  • Steer clear of ‘death by PowerPoint’. If you want people to really take the message in during a briefing, apply the 10/20/30 rule. That’s no more than 10 slides, no longer than 20 minutes, and a font no smaller than 30 points.
  • With a lot of stakeholders involved, it can be tricky to keep control of your clear, concise copy during an approval loop. Sometimes it can come back looking rather more complex than it did when it left. It can be a tough one for a communicator to manage.

if_number-five_1288821Picking your person.

  • Using an authentic and trustworthy spokesperson to front your communications and events can make or break how people react to change.
  • People want to hear from those they trust and like.
  • So don’t put your poor CIO up on the stage to deliver a redundancy message if he’s public enemy number one, and has the presenting skills of a jellyfish. It’ll end horribly, and it’s hard to come back from that.

 

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Communicating change: The five things I’ve learnt about employees’ emotions

After a decade communicating change to employees, I’ve learnt a lot about how they emotionally react, and how that’s shaped my internal communications plans and strategies. Here are my top five – I’d love to hear yours too.

Solidarity

When the going gets tough, employees stick together. I’ve witnessed it during different types of change, but during redundancy or TUPE (that’s where someone’s employment is transferred to another company due to acquisition, outsourcing etc) I’ve seen it at its greatest. The feeling of family and protectiveness towards each other deepens. People form a united front.

When you’re in that family unit it’s a really powerful feeling. In my experience, it’s important for internal communicators to embrace it and be an integral part of that family. Work out who your stakeholders are, form a network, find out how they feel and what they’re missing, and then look at how your internal communications plan can support them.

It’s ok to cry

Me included in this one. I’m not ashamed to say that I cried on more than one occasion during my redundancy. It’s the only time in my career that I’ve witnessed employees cry in the office, and walk out of announcement briefings in tears.

I think that sometimes it’s the shock, sometimes it’s because they care so deeply about their job and where they work, and sometimes it’s the realisation of what the change could mean for their family.

When you’re working on a change communications strategy, working closely with HR will help you to clearly communicate what emotional support is out there for people, like employee assistance programmes, when they need it the most.

Sensitivity reigns

When people’s futures are uncertain and they’re desperate for information and news, I’ve found that even the most carefully crafted message can land wrong; be it timing, targeting or content.

As an example, I once issued a communication offering free CV workshops to employees. To the part of the audience at risk of redundancy, it was snapped up. To the part of the audience who were still waiting to see what their futures held, they read between the lines and thought it meant they would be leaving too.

It’s hard for busy internal communicators to consider everyone’s reactions, especially when comms are backing up and you’re under pressure to get messages out of the door, but once you realise how sensitive people are, you’ll make the time to check you’ve got it right.

They sweat the small stuff

But it’s not small to them.

It’s easy for a project team to overlook what’s getting employees worked up, as they’re focused on the big milestones, so that’s where advice from internal communicators can add real value. You’re the voice of the people. You know how they feel and what matters to them.

In my experience, people’s working environment is the thing that provokes the most heated reaction. I’ve seen Q&A inboxes drowning with employees’ questions worrying about their parking spaces, asking if they’re moving desk, are the restaurant prices increasing, can they continue to use the on-site gym, are the vending machines being removed, are they still getting a Christmas party?

Help them get the answers. Or at least get their voice heard by the right people.

The barriers are down

During times of change, I’ve noticed that people let their guard down. Even the most senior.

You may hear your CEO speak openly about their family for the first time. You might discover more about your colleagues’ home lives, and what their income means to them. And you’ll probably find employees readily offering up how they really feel about the company they work for… both good and bad.

As internal communicators you have the chance to match how they feel, and respond with open and honest communications with personality.

Uncategorized

Communicating change: The five things I’ve learnt about employees’ emotions

After a decade communicating change to employees, I’ve learnt a lot about how they emotionally react, and how that’s shaped my internal communications plans and strategies. Here are my top five – I’d love to hear yours too.

Solidarity

When the going gets tough, employees stick together. I’ve witnessed it during different types of change, but during redundancy or TUPE (that’s where someone’s employment is transferred to another company due to acquisition, outsourcing etc) I’ve seen it at its greatest. The feeling of family and protectiveness towards each other deepens. People form a united front.

When you’re in that family unit it’s a really powerful feeling. In my experience, it’s important for internal communicators to embrace it and be an integral part of that family. Work out who your stakeholders are, form a network, find out how they feel and what they’re missing, and then look at how your internal communications plan can support them.

It’s ok to cry

Me included in this one. I’m not ashamed to say that I cried on more than one occasion during my redundancy. It’s the only time in my career that I’ve witnessed employees cry in the office, and walk out of announcement briefings in tears.

I think that sometimes it’s the shock, sometimes it’s because they care so deeply about their job and where they work, and sometimes it’s the realisation of what the change could mean for their family.

When you’re working on a change communications strategy, working closely with HR will help you to clearly communicate what emotional support is out there for people, like employee assistance programmes, when they need it the most.

Sensitivity reigns

When people’s futures are uncertain and they’re desperate for information and news, I’ve found that even the most carefully crafted message can land wrong; be it timing, targeting or content.

As an example, I once issued a communication offering free CV workshops to employees. To the part of the audience at risk of redundancy, it was snapped up. To the part of the audience who were still waiting to see what their futures held, they read between the lines and thought it meant they would be leaving too.

It’s hard for busy internal communicators to consider everyone’s reactions, especially when comms are backing up and you’re under pressure to get messages out of the door, but once you realise how sensitive people are, you’ll make the time to check you’ve got it right.

They sweat the small stuff

But it’s not small to them.

It’s easy for a project team to overlook what’s getting employees worked up, as they’re focused on the big milestones, so that’s where advice from internal communicators can add real value. You’re the voice of the people. You know how they feel and what matters to them.

In my experience, people’s working environment is the thing that provokes the most heated reaction. I’ve seen Q&A inboxes drowning with employees’ questions worrying about their parking spaces, asking if they’re moving desk, are the restaurant prices increasing, can they continue to use the on-site gym, are the vending machines being removed, are they still getting a Christmas party?

Help them get the answers. Or at least get their voice heard by the right people.

The barriers are down

During times of change, I’ve noticed that people let their guard down. Even the most senior.

You may hear your CEO speak openly about their family for the first time. You might discover more about your colleagues’ home lives, and what their income means to them. And you’ll probably find employees readily offering up how they really feel about the company they work for… both good and bad.

As internal communicators you have the chance to match how they feel, and respond with open and honest communications with personality.