Today, I had two specific conference highlights: The first, hearing from a spritely pair of internal communications professionals from a company called SAS, a privately-owned global business analytics company, with a head office in North Carolina, and approximately 11,000 employees across the globe.
They spoke about how effective internal communication has helped them succeed. They were credible from the outset as they’re currently ranked No 1. on Fortune magazine’s Best Companies to Work For list – http://money.cnn.com/magazines/fortune/bestcompanies/2010/snapshots/1.html.
They spoke about how they’ve built an extremely impressive culture of trust, one based on open communication between executives and employees (importantly two-way, not top down). They’ve ensured their people have a strong voice in the organisation, no matter how remote they may be. The architect of this rare corporate culture? CEO and founder (and one with a delightful name), Dr Jim Goodnight. Goodnight had previously worked for the tightly governed NASA and decided early in his career, if he ever was to own a company, he’d do something about the work place to ensure it drove productivity.
To further support the business benefits, the people turnover was less than 2% in 2009. Put simply, people do not leave this extremely successful business, which also bucked the trend during the last year’s turbulent economic times.
More impressively, SAS has been one of the few companies at this year’s conference which has really embraced internal web 2.0 strategies and can tell the tale of reaping the business benefits. With the help of an energised and active team around the world, its Global Communications Council have not only utilised traditional internal communications channels, but have really made online channels work.
An impressive and tailored intranet, RSS feeds, polls, quizzes, competitions and one of the best blogging communities I’ve seen. It has built camaraderie, a strong sense of trust and a united force across a disparate business. Most importantly, the company executes with a sense of fun wherever they can – a strong lesson to those organisations choosing a more serious tone to engage.
My second highlight today was listening to the very engaging Bill Quirke – a UK consultant and author of Making the Connections: Using Internal Communication To Turn Strategy into Action. Quirke echoed much that was delivered on day one around trust and the serious focus leaders need to place on rebuilding this going forward.
He reinforced that leaders, as we know, are THE most influential channel in an organisation, and that they’re most influential when they think they’re not communicating (i.e. when they’re outside the town hall meetings or in the corridor). He highlighted the critical need to ensure they know they are ‘on’ 24/7.
Amusingly he highlighted one challenge common to many businesses: Leaders know communication is important. They get it. They say it is fundamental to business success. And they truly believe that. They know they set the tone and the agenda. However, when asked how much time they really spend on talking to their people, the answer is usually none or very little. This is totally disproportionate to the need and to their belief in its importance. Again, something as communicators we need to address with leaders, knowing we are the facilitators, but they have to execute.
Today, however, was really topped by a young Canadian called Craig Kielburger, who I think probably put many of our own personal social responsibility efforts to shame. He spoke about he and his brother’s ‘Me to We’ philosophy, developed after more than a decade of humanitarian work www.metowe.com. Their work has driven real social change. Very very impressive.
As internal communicators, we know the important role CSR programs can play in engaging a workforce in a company’s ‘higher intent’ and I think many of us left conference day two wondering how we too can find ways to inspire employees amongst the mundane.
There Craig stood in front of us today and what we saw was real authenticity…