By Gloria Lombardi

At The Big Yak I experienced the wisdom of crowds – apologies to the author James Surowiecki for stealing the title of his book. The unconference run by The IC Crowd – Rachel Miller, Jenni Wheller and Dana Leeson – was run through an open space approach to meetings facilitated by Redcatco’s Benjamin Ellis.

Participants suggested discussing a number of topics including authentic leadership, communicating with a mobile workforce, moving from cascading messages to having conversations, implementing enterprise social networks (ESN), breaking down organisational silos and much more.

As the event self-organised and without official presentations, it was up to the individual, or “your own personal responsibility” as Ellis put it, to decide how much of themselves to bring into each session. The result: high levels of involvement and participation, with a large volume of ideas shared throughout the day.

Videos – an effective way to engage with employees

On a discussion around video storytelling, many saw video editing and the ability to curate organisational messages through videos as an important skill required by today’s corporate communicators.

Videos shared on the corporate intranet are becoming a popular way for increasing the engagement with employees. For example, when the CEO has something important to say, a short clip can make a big impact.

Setting an agenda helps to manage time, format, style and location – all of which if chosen effectively and creatively, can increase the chances of making a film more engaging. Plus, programming in advance can support leaders who are less confident in front of a camera: by preparing themselves and rehearsing, they can personalise a message and appear more relaxed on the screen.

Beware though – following a formal script can also depersonalise the character of an individual, and make them appear less authentic. When a leader doesn’t appear credible, trust is in danger. Being transparent and showing vulnerability can sometimes engage employees much more than a perfectly crafted message with emotions not displayed or not authentically felt.

Plus, many organisations that are investing in social media have embraced the idea of employee-generated content. For example, they invite staff to upload their own videos on the ESN. Stories can then be commented by other colleagues, managers and the CEOs themselves, leading to further discussions. By involving all the employee’s population at the same time, video storytelling becomes an enabler of engagement and unifying source inside the business. Plus, it helps reducing costs, a challenge face by many internal comms teams.

Global communications

How can global companies join staff from different countries with different languages and times zones all together? How can they ensure the alignment of messages between the HQ and the local regions?

It was no surprise that ESNs came to the fore once again due to their ability to enable global connections and empower collaboration among different audiences. Yet, the main challenge faced by communicators isn’t technological but cultural. Communicating effectively within an international workforce requires flexibility and an appreciation of differences. For example, some Asia-Pacific workers seem to prefer conversations within closed groups on an ESN. In that case, forcing openness can be a big mistake – much better instead, is to let the community grow naturally.

Making local cultural checks before communicating is another prerequisite. As someone in the room pointed out, even an ‘innocent’ picture of a pig can be taken very badly by a colleague from the Middle-East.

Also, creating global messages that try to appeal to everyone across the business often results in engaging none. Therefore, finding local allies in each region, can help to share the messages rightly. Often, these ‘champions’ are not necessarily professional communicators but advocates going above their daily job. Investing in them and recognising their contribution to the effectiveness of global communications is essential.

While making the most of internal digital networks is all good and wise, face-to-face is still essential for employee communications. Finding a balance between the two – for example by coordinating leadership town halls with travels – is a global company’s responsibility.

Creating a culture of innovation

Innovation involves change, a culture of no judgement, and empowerment of the individual. During this session participants touched upon the importance of seeing failure as a natural step in the flow of ideation rather than the reason given for a punitive sanction. Employees need to feel OK to make mistakes. Yet, if they are constantly watched their backs, staff might not be able to remove fears and challenge conventions.

Creating a culture of innovation is also about nurturing intrepreneurialism, demanding leadership in everyone, and giving people a safe space to think and experiment with their ideas.

One good example is the creation of the successful Big Knit marketing campaign by innocent. Generated from a small idea of an employee, the Big Knit has become a huge Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) initiative: the campaign encourages consumers all over Europe to send innocent a hand kitted wholly hat that the company will put on top of their smoothies. For every bottle sold, the company gives money to a charity. Last year they sold one million drinks and made their largest donation.

Yet, people emphasised the need of bringing different energy from outside. Especially, when organisations are deeply involved in their own business it can become very hard for them to see the path to innovation. Processes and systems can get stuck into habits, things taken for granted or done always the same way. In that case, having someone with different perspectives could be a good way to help generate new ideas.


If there is something that we learned at The Big Yak is that often taking into account the collective opinion of a group of professionals rather than a single expert to answer a question can pay dividends.

That is not to say that participants have found all the answers to their challenges. Nevertheless, the diversity of experiences and the opportunity to compare alternatives has given access to new learning. The internal communications profession is rapidly changing. Taking the time to step back, trying to understand it and making sense of the complexity around us, it’s our responsibility. It’s a big deal, it’s The Big Yak!


This article originally appeared on simply-communicate