Her passion for the internal communications and employee engagement industry is huge; her energy and tenacity even bigger. Jenni Wheller (pictured below), is Head of Internal Comms at SSP UK and Ireland, Co-founder of The IC Crowd and the new Chair of the CIPR Inside, Charted Institute of Public Relations specialist group for Internal Communications.
In this interview, she reflects on the current state and challenges of communications in the workplace, including social media and leadership buy-in.
GL: At SMiLE London, I saw you being actively engaged in the conversations around enterprise social networks (ESN). Is this a sign that the social business journey at SSP is taking off?
JW: Yes. At SSP we are currently going through a big change. We moved away from the old Word Press-based social intranet into an IBM-Connections enterprise social network (ESN). They are very different tools, which serve distinct purposes. The social intranet is where we publish news. With a social element added to it, employees can comment and subscribe to content relevant to them. Instead, the ESN is completely collaborative. In that sense, it allows you to share files, and work on projects with the whole community.
GL: With internal social media coming to the workplace, it seems to be an interesting, yet challenging time for internal communicators. What’s your view on this?
JW: I have mixed feelings. In my view, we have got too caught up in things like social media at work, when actually sometimes getting the foundations right is the biggest challenge for our profession. I have quite a strong opinion on not doing social for the sake of it. I don’t think that it’s right for every business.
As internal communicators, our primary responsibility is to understand our audiences and make sure they have the information they need to do their work. This entails using channels that are right for them. If internal social media is not the right channel, then we should not use it. Plus, it’s important to understand the differences between the various social tools as well as the need for our organisation to use them.
GL: Based on your job today, what do you think are the key competences that internal communicators need to bring to the workplace?
JW: They need to understand business and be able to talk in terms of budget and company performance. Commerciality is hugely important! They still need the basic skills such as grammar, language, the tone of voice and employee segmentation. Also, having lots of tenacity; every day they are fighting for something, which can be quite challenging. They have to have the ability to really drive through all of that.
GL: As the new Chair of the CIPR Inside, what’s your vision and objectives for the group? What should internal communicators expect from you this year?
JW: We have a duty to be the voice of our members in the wider communications industry, help them develop a network, and bring their career and skills forward. Since the profession develops quickly, we want to put in place new activities, events and resources to strategically support their ever-evolving roles and needs. A full calendar will be published by the end of June. In the coming weeks we will carry out research with our members and non-members to understand what the group is doing well and where it is lacking. That will constitute a strong foundation for what our strategy is going to be this year.
For now, we can announce the CIPR Inside annual conference, which will be on 2nd October at the Kia Oval in London. Some elements of it will be around measurement, focusing on key trends within the whole spectrum of internal communications.
GL: What do you think is the biggest challenge for internal communications today? How can the CIPR Inside help in that respect?
JW: The biggest challenges we still have in our profession is having senior leadership buy-in. This is not just in terms of supporting internal digital tools, but supporting the general role of internal communications. The function is still undervalued in many businesses. Internal communication can still be a brand new role in some organisations and start from scratch. At CIPR Inside, we want to do specialist research, and provide our members with all the necessary resources, content and case studies to prove the value of their profession for their organisations.
GL: There is plenty of research and anecdotal evidence around the value of internal communications and engagement at work. Yet, as you have just mentioned, not many companies have put it on top of their agenda. What are your final thoughts on that?
JW: Being quite cynical about it, there is a fundamental element: businesses have a duty to show their shareholders that they have been making money. As internal communicators and engagement specialists, we talk about ‘why we do what we do’. A lot of that talking is not about making money; yet, the CEO wants to see the ROI.
I think part of the responsibility holds to shareholders too. Do they care how the company they are investing on is making money and engaging their workforce? If they did, then they should start saying: “I am going to invest that amount of money and want to see the level of engagement inside this company increasing.” This is not talked about, at least not in the same way as they talk about shareholder return.