What do 100 global communicators at the London College of Communication and one of the most celebrated documents in history such as the Magna Carta have in common?
The answer is Eurocomm 2015. Split over two days, the conference by the International Association of Business Communicators (IABC) EMENA Region dived into Power to the People – a topic inspired by the 800th anniversary of the Magna Carta, the foundation of freedom for the individual.
The event was an investigation of some of most challenging aspects of communication today – from people’s opportunity to be heard, to encouraging ideas, innovation and best practice, as well as creating practical action.
Listening was a recurring theme of the event. AB’s Katie Macaulay was firm in saying that broadcasting to employees has never worked to promote engagement and sustainable business performance. Yet, many internal communicators are still used to pushing messages to their workforce.
Macaulay argues that this is not the way to go. Not anymore. Today, with all the means of communications that people have at hands, “employees no longer passively receive the message, but look to share and shape it. They have both the desire and ability to converse across time and space.”
Indeed, investing in new social tools is not enough – technology does not manage itself. The way an organisation adopts it is reflective of the culture:
“Social is a behaviour not a tool. Meaningful social exchanges that add value to the company will not spontaneously erupt across a workforce unless the conditions are right.”
Companies should start from having open and authentic conversations. This requires trust and the ability to listen from either side.
Ultimately, it pays dividends: “Genuine dialogue makes for more resilient, more innovative organisations that are less prone to failure. It makes change easier, collaboration more likely and turns thousands of individual workers into a true workforce.” ”
Questions of Difference
One of the most entertaining and thought provoking sessions came from Charlie Irvine of Questions of Difference. He told a lively story about some work he had recently done with a global Medtech company that resulted in a plan to deliver certain levels of growth and income. The organisation instinctively knew that it was possible. Yet until recently they had been unable to make a reality.
The journey the organisation went on, facilitated and supported by Irvine, was an incredible combination of innovation, mind-set shift, employee engagement, courageous leadership, fun and business results.
It came as no surprise that Questions of Difference were passionate when talking about the power of questions.Irvine described how he used questions to encourage a ‘Taskforce’ of employees to help find solutions to the business challenge. We learned that “people and organisations go in the direction you question them and that every interaction is an opportunity to take people in a direction. A powerful question can lead to powerful actions and emotions.”
Irvine also explained that it’s not just about the question itself. The power of the question also lies in the intent and authenticity behind it. A genuine question that comes from a position of curiosity and fascination can create long-lasting relationships. And once the question is asked, truly listening to the response will cement the bond.
Authentic leadership communication
Many in the room related to the session by Domna Lazidou, who centred on the link between intercultural communications and authentic leadership. Her talk was based on a piece of research that she recently conducted at Omilia Hirst.
“To communicate effectively across borders, international leaders must balance understanding and adapting to different cultural expectations and norms while preserving their authentic voice. Both are essential in generating understanding, engagement and trust among diverse groups of employees.”
Indeed, this presents leaders and those who support them with a number of challenges, particularly as, to date, there has been no attempt to address these two, potentially contradictory, capabilities together, either in theory or practice.
To address this challenge, Lazidou did a series of in-depth interviews with senior leaders operating in cross-cultural business contexts and perceived as authentic. She also spoke to their colleagues, including direct reports.
The findings were particularly fascinating. For example, leader authenticity was perceived in similar ways across different countries by people of different cultural backgrounds. At the same time, leaders of very different styles and background were seen as equally authentic.
Another interesting result was that when they communicated in practice, authentic leaders showed evidence of three core behaviours – connectedness, mindfulness and consistency – that they consciously worked to develop and maintain, although this was not always easy.
Indeeed, Lazidou believes that communicators are in the best position to help leaders sustain those behaviours. “Practitioners should provide leaders with a number of insights: culture in general; how it affects communication and how differences, similarities and stereotypes can impact interaction; their own cultural influences and how they affect their communication behaviours and choices; others’ backgrounds, concerns, perspectives and responses. Plus, new environments and contexts.”
She also highlighted the need for coaching leaders to help them “develop self- and other-awareness” as well as creating “opportunities to connect via real and virtual events in which leaders can ‘touch’ others in the organisation.”
Her final piece of advice for communicators was to consider how they can best use the skills and media at their disposal to amplify leader authenticity across borders over and above the leader’s personal presence.
Indeed, “this is a difficult but significant challenge for the profession.”
Which tools? The choice is yours
“What are companies? I’m not alone in putting forward that companies are basically their people. Throughout history the best innovations that really change the world come from free thinkers, the outliers. Think of Galileo or Picasso. These people grab the headlines. But, for everyone of those people we have hundreds more that just need help to get the basics done – well.”
Sequel Group‘s Digital Director Charles Fenoughty took an interesting approach by taking the audience through an honest look at the complex situation in which many employees find themselves today – on the one hand, there is a recognised need and demand for increased efficiency, improved performance and constant innovation. On the other hand, there are challenges such us working in world of a complicated technology or no unified processes that are not making life easy. Plus, “so many ways to achieve the same thing. Everyone and every company seem to reinvent the cliché.”
In line with the conference’s theme Power to the People, Fenoughty suggested bringing more democracy inside the organisation. “Give people freedom. Give them the support, technology and permission to shape their own personal digital workplace.”
Indeed, he didn’t preach a revolution. “Revolutions always carry with them a bloody mess.” But an evolution: “small changes. It’s about striking the right balance between freedom and productivity with culture process and security.” It also requires blending information, communication, transaction and collaboration – what Fenoughty called “the four content needs of a user” – with a mix of tools that employees themselves can choose from depending on their own necessity. That way technology can become an enabler rather a barrier for a more enjoyable and productive workplace experience.
As Fenoughty put it, “it’s not just your choice – it’s everyone’s.”
At the end of EuroComm, President Michael Nord announced that this biennial event was moving to an annual one with the reveal of EuroComm 2016, which will be held in the Netherlands.
This is the first time in the event’s history and the shift recognises an improvement in the popularity and importance of the role of senior communications professionals.
This article originally appeared on simply-communicate