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#thebigyak – my three things

Date: Jul 02 2014

On Saturday 28 June, I joined nearly 150 internal communicators and headed off to #thebigyak organised by The IC crowd, and facilitated by Benjamin Ellis.

Yes it was the weekend and yes we all went to this event because we love what we do. You could not find a more motivated bunch of communicators than those willing to take a whole day in a weekend and go off and talk shop.

The format of the day was an ‘unconference’ which puts the agenda in the (hairy) hands of the delegates.

We kicked off with some fun ice breakers, which were appropriately designed around how we organise ourselves. As a large group we had to order ourselves by our first names in alphabet order, and then again by what time we each had to get up in the morning to be at the eBay offices in Richmond for 9.30am. Our organisation was a bit messy in places, and those completer finishers among us were squirming, but it was fun, and I joined a kuddle of Kates.

The agenda was then decided by all of us, choosing topics we wanted to discuss. There was something for everyone and we then chose which discussions to join and headed off to the different rooms. The rule of two feet was applied – if you didn’t feel that you were benefitting from the discussion you were in, get up and politely leave in search of something that suited you better. I joined four discussions: How do you make HR comms cool?; From cascade to conversation; Authenticity in internal communication and Change communication.

So my top takeaway points from the event were:

1. We should all use the unconference style more

Interestingly there seemed to be only a couple of organisations taking this approach internally and one was a housing association that was using it both internally and externally, which I applaud. It may be a scary leap of faith to give people the power, but it really pays off.

There are huge benefits to this style of event:

1. You find out what people really think, they choose the agenda, they talk about what concerns them – that’s like gold dust to any organisation.

2. Bringing people together face-to-face is never a bad thing – sharing, learning, laughing and enjoying each other’s company is great for morale.

3. The sense of being free enough to move off to another discussion when the one you’ve joined isn’t interesting is really empowering. Sitting in a traditional style conference listening to someone talk about a topic in which you have no interest is draining. The unconference style lets you walk away without being rude, without heads turning. You can just leave and find a discussion where you get value and can add value.

2. An organisation that listens more can be a better organisation

There were numerous examples of this through the day:

1. Reverse mentoring where junior employees mentor more senior colleagues about areas such as social media was a great idea.

2. One organisation has a very specific way of remembering the rest of the business during every meeting they have. They always make sure there’s an empty chair at the meeting. It represents everyone else who can’t be in the meeting, the customer services team, the front line staff and more. It prompts the people in the meeting to think about others and what they would think if they were there. An empty chair maybe a little odd for some, but it works for them, and helps them to be mindful. There may be some other symbol in different organisations which reminds people to be mindful of what others may think of their decisions.

3. Enterprise social networks (ESNs) and open employee websites are fantastic for sharing, collaborating and listening to the sentiment in a business. But they can never replace good old-fashioned face-to-face conversations. Face-to-face conversations enable us to ‘listen’ at a much deeper level and so much more effectively. We pick up on body language and other social cues that are lost through online media. ESNs do not replace other channels, they add to them and bring value in their own way.

3. Almost all business disasters link back to a failure to communicate

If you show your leaders what could happen if they don’t communicate, that’s a sure way to get your business leaders to sit up and take notice of what communication can do. There are countless examples of where a failure of communication somewhere in a business has led to problems of all shapes and sizes.

Two high-profile examples are:

  • The government’s failure to listen to people’s worries and answer their fears led to a reduction in the take up of the MMR and confusion around who to trust on the issue.
  • Regarding the shocking case of Savile and Operation Yewtree it’s cited that ‘there were a number of organisational failures which allowed him to continue unchallenged’. If victims and employees felt able to speak out and be listened to perhaps Savile would have been found out far sooner.

Of course the comms team is also there to respond and communicate in overdrive when a crisis hits. The better prepared, more open your organisation is and the stronger your internal relationships are, the better an organisation will fare during a crisis.

There are some great examples of the good, the bad and the ugly in this article.


CIPR Inside is one of my clients, and so I’m blogging about each of the four topics I joined on the CIPR Inside blog and you can read the detail of those here.

Keep on yakkin’ — How can you make HR comms cool?

Keep on yakkin’ – From cascade to conversation

Keep on yakkin’ – Authenticity in internal communication

Keep on yakkin’ – Change communication

There are loads of posts and tweets about #thebigyak event – check out this storify for more and The IC crowd list of blogs to see where it leads you.