Our Unite 23 insights: connecting your people

Chris Andrew, Head of Caburn Hope, was invited to speak at Unily's Unite 23 conference last week. On Wednesday, 13th September, Chris got up onto the stage that Stephen Fry had just given a clever, engaging, and witty speech a mere 15 minutes earlier (yikes, no pressure) to share his thoughts on all things internal communications. 

But (and at no surprise to us), Chris' Ask an Internal Comms Expert panel session was equally as exciting and gave the audience a lot to take home. Overall, the two days were packed with compelling learnings, insights, and takeaways, so we thought we'd share some with you now. 

Listening, authenticity & trust are the future of work 

A big theme at the event was creating and nurturing healthy workplace cultures. The first keynote speech was led by Stephen Fry, who plainly stated, "you don't have to read books written by MBAs to understand how to treat people well. It's deep in our brains. We instinctively know how to treat humans well". 

We're all aware of how quickly the world is changing, and it isn't about to slow down anytime soon. As we compete with more and more (technology, competitors, talent, economic and political unrest), the importance of supporting our teams so they can do their best work becomes a real advantage. One of the most crucial aspects of this transformation is how well we listen to and engage with our employees.

So, how do you enable a trusting environment that allows for high levels of engagement? It starts with listening to your people

This might come as a shock, but your traditional annual employee survey isn't enough. Despite concerns about 'survey fatigue,' Chris raised on the panel that the problem isn't the surveys themselves; it's the organisation's environment and trust within it. Employees will naturally want to share their opinions regularly when a workplace fosters a culture of collaboration, trust, and authentic communication. 

It's essential to establish clear objectives. Figure out what you're trying to achieve, what you seek to gain, and most importantly, commit to making meaningful changes based on the feedback received. If the latter is done, you won't need to create a "you said, we did" campaign. The evidence will be clear, and behaviour change will already be underway. 

How can you listen and respond in real-time when employees are stretched?  

We know what you're thinking – your employees are busy, building a trusting culture takes a lot of time, and you need your insights now. You need to increase participation with a well-defined listening strategy that resonates with your workforce. It should be straightforward, easily digestible, and frequent.  

Simplicity is critical to an effective listening strategy, as it enables your people to comprehend and engage with your messaging more effectively on an individual level. Steven Bartlett was also at the event, and one line stood out – "trust decays when people don't have clarity and things are ambiguous". If you simplify your strategy and make it easy for people to follow and understand, you have much more chance of changing people's behaviour. 

'Connect the dots through a strong network' 

Chris adds, "you don't need to send out your messaging to everyone." Whilst it may seem counterproductive, the absolute priority is connecting the dots rather than sending your messages through one centralised area. 

Specifically, it's about creating, embedding and collaborating with your support networks to amplify your message to different areas of your organisation. For example, focusing on communicating effectively with people managers, resource groups, or champions with a voice allows them to understand and disseminate your information. 

This is much more meaningful for employees. Not only does it give trust to the networks in your organisation to be the ones in control of the messaging, but also to the receiving employees as their interpersonal relationships strengthen. This collaboration enables your messaging to be spread more effectively through channels, connecting the dots rather than one centralised area of information that may or may not be received. 

Lead with trust 

Everyone at the event did seem to agree that it’s hard for any of this to happen effectively without clear, strong leadership. To quote Steven Bartlett, "the people at the top of the organisation should be the people that most embody the right values. Their behaviours are contagious." This couldn't be truer. Your leaders set the tone for your employees. The actions and messaging made from the top filter down through all levels of your employees. 

Getting it right means not ruling with an iron fist but understanding your people and listening. "As a leader, you don't want compliance – you want people to come with you." Making sure you involve your people through your journey, and being open and honest with your messaging will bring trust and encourage a collaborative working environment. 

That being said, transparency can cause friction. Again, Steven Bartlett (he has a lot to say on leadership doesn’t he!) claimed that "authenticity should be disruptive, you need to put off 80% of people to be able to reach the 20% that matters to you".  In other words, being open and transparent with your leadership messages will ultimately improve your culture, allowing the people who truly align with the company’s purpose and values to be retained and do their best work. 

So, in summary…

Unite 23 provided valuable insights into the future of work and the importance of nurturing healthy workplace cultures. Key takeaways emphasised the significance of listening, authenticity, and trust in today's rapidly changing world. From employee listening, to leadership communications, it gave us a clear understanding of what’s important in employee engagement today. 

However, this is really just the start! Ai was a part of almost every conversation we witnessed there and are having ourselves at the moment. We’ve already started talking about how we can get the most out of Ai today in Internal Communications, but we’ll share more on this topic again very soon – stay tuned!