7 things I learned at the big yak

The Big Yak was an internal comms unconference staged by the IC Crowd who are lovely people. In this post, here's what one person learned and seven take-homes...

GUEST EDITOR by Corrinne Douglas

I set off for London and The Big Yak, an internal communications unconference with a mixture of excitement and a bit of apprehension. Over 100 comms pro’s coming together to discuss internal communications, most of them having never been to an unconference before, would we have enough to yak about?

My first unconference, localgovcamp in Birmingham in June 2011, was an amazing experience. Around 200 or so like-minded people in the one room who wanted to share, learn and collaborate. Many people already knew each other and were used to participating at unconference type events. It was a well-oiled machine (or at least it appeared to be!) and there were some fantastic discussions, challenges and new things learned. My biggest regret on the day was that I didn't have the confidence to get up and pitch a session. But any regrets I had were far outweighed by the experience I had, the friends I made and the learning I took away with me.

Two years later I knew that I had to step up and share my experience of unconferences and I went along with two or three pitches already worked out.

Which brings me neatly to my first learning point

1.         IC pro’s love to yak

Even within the narrow subject of internal communications there is LOADS to have a big yak about.  The session timetable of 24 slots filled up quickly with many more pitches than slots.  

The facilitation by @benjaminellis helped massively with this. We were split up into small groups where we talked about what we wanted to get out of the day. It made pitching a session easier and you also found out if other people were interested in it.  


2. Yakking is good.

Face to face is still one of the most effective and immediate forms of communication we have in our toolbox.

In the session on improving employee morale lots of contributors shared the benefits of holding round table discussions between leaders and employees on a regular basis. It gives the workforce a voice and their suggestions for improvement and concerns they have about the business are listened and responded to on the spot and with honesty.

3.         Be the solution, not part of the problem.

IC pro’s still feel a bit undervalued as a profession and need to make a shift from being the sticking plaster or postman to being a trusted adviser. To do this we need to show we have business acumen, that we do add value to the business and that an engaged workforce is a more productive workforce.  

Anyone in internal communications who wants to get a seat at the management table should have a read at Engage for Success as this is our reason for being at the strategic heart of the organisation.

4.         Most companies know more about their customers than they do their employees.

Not enough is done with employee survey feedback and we don't survey employees as often as we should. Contributions in this session included making feedback visible along the lines of ‘You said, We did’ style boards, either physical or digital.  

Also think more about doing some 'at the time' surveys.  One contributor shared that her organisation surveys employees two months after returning from maternity leave.

Surveys don't need to be paper based, do phone surveys, surveymonkey and consider using external research companies, they are more trusted by employees.  Yes, it costs more, but an engaged workforce is a more productive workforce.

5.         Making work fun using gaming is hard to do well

Gamification - the art of making work more fun - is a bit of a buzzword and we couldn't pull any good case studies out. What we did agree on is that really good game design and having meaning and purpose is essential to make it a success. It's mostly being used in a learning environment but a few examples were shared.  

One business has a 'Russian Roulette Lunch' game to break down barriers. You spin a wheel and the name of a lunch partner is generated. The benefit is that you extend your network and learn more about the business.

6.         Leaders need to be active and credible

It's not just enough for leaders to write a blog and stand up once a year at a conference and speak to employees.  They must be engaging on intranet forums and encouraging contributions. Back to that engaged workforce point.

7.         Some of the best innovation comes from the frontline

If you want to improve employee morale trust your staff to do what's best for the business and empower them.  

That's what Homebase do, with their Free2 internal communications programme.  Each store has a Free2 rep, elected every two years by their fellow instore experts (Homebase doesn't have 18,000 employees, they have 18,000 experts) and they are the communications hub between the store and the regional and national structure.  They encourage ownership of the store and the internal brand and they are free to make changes within the store that improve the experience for customers, while still contributing to the bottom line. Employees use yammer on their own phones to communicate.

I'd have loved to hear more from @lisajohn82 on this so me, @HelReynolds and @JBurns82 are hoping to have a yamjam or google+ hangout soon to learn more and keep yakking.

I really hope that The Big Yak does become an annual event, and well done to the IC Crowd of @AllthingsIC @danaleeson and @jenniwheeler for pulling it all together.  There’s a great Storify showing a selection of the tweets, thanks to Benjamin Ellis for pulling it together.

And if you want to have a yak about internal communications just tweet me @corrinnedouglas I’d love to hear from you.

Corrinne Douglas is senior communications advisor for Stirling Council.