IC AROUND THE WORLD

 Views on internal communication from

Nigeria

 

Interview with

Toni Anne Uwaifo

Internal Communications and Employee Engagement Manager at Diageo

 

IC Around The World is a series of interviews with communication professionals from around the globe working in the field of internal communication. 

 

They share their views on the practice of internal communication in their countries, and tell us who and what they are paying attention to in the world of IC. 

How has internal communication developed in your country in recent years?

 

‘So what exactly does an internal communicator do?’

 

In 2007, when I started out as an internal communication specialist, this was the question I was asked every single time without fail when I introduced myself at industry events. The question came from professionals with varying work experience from the C-suite level to the internship. In ensuing conversations, I would later discover that this inquiry was not really to understand better the role of an internal communication personnel but more along the lines of  ‘Why do we need internal communication?’ Some would even go further to say ‘but you are not really different from human resource personnel...’  That was in 2007. I am pleased that these days, when I introduce myself as an internal communication and employee engagement manager, I do not get asked a direct or veiled ‘why? But instead, I get smiles and nods, and questions like ‘so what are some of the channels you think are most effective to reach employees, how often do you carry out surveys? How can I communicate and engage with my team better?’

While attitudes towards internal communication in Nigeria have changed in the last 10 years, a lot still needs to be done. The industry has evolved from just sending emails and memos to digital engagement; to employees generating content via storytelling. I am excited to have been a part of it.

 

 

What do you currently see as the greatest challenges for internal communication in your world?

 

One of the biggest challenges facing internal communication in my world is authenticity.  Communicators are often seen as purveyors of ‘company propaganda’ or spin doctors. You cannot effectively engage employees who view your message with cynicism. Senior leaders often want to gloss over unpleasant news, because they are afraid this will affect employee productivity. Others prefer to hide negative information using less popular/non-engaging communication channels. It is the role of the internal communicator to help senior leaders see that the road less travelled is the best for the company. The reward for being authentic? An engaged and productive workforce which will lead to increased revenue. I have worked in an organisation where the head of HR (human resources) preferred sending emails from a group account instead over using an engaging forum like Yammer as a way to 'discourage real-time feedback'. Conversations or information passed via emails will definitely not see the same level of engagement as when shared on Yammer or Slack. 

Perhaps the most familiar challenge in the terrain of IC is measuring the effectiveness of internal communication. Because of the fluidity and interdependence of the role of the internal communicator, it becomes challenging to isolate the different impact(s) of internal communication on the business. This makes it difficult to justify and defend budgets.

Information overload is another challenge within the IC function. It is typical to hear of employees complaining about ‘too many emails clogging their inbox’. This is a real and ever-present danger for internal communicators. The best way I have dealt with this is to be innovative. For example, I like to convert the goals, performance ambitions and target of the companies I have worked for into eye catching table top or laptop stickers. That way, employees are visually reminded daily of their commitment to the company’s goals. Where possible, it might also be helpful to use bulk text messages to convey important critical information. Because of the tendency for employee text messages to be abused or become intrusive, I typically recommend it be used only in critical situations.

Other challenges facing internal communicators in my world include creating a communication channel that will have wider reach across diverse roles, and managing the expectations of companies also expect an internal communicator to be a ‘jack of all trades and master of all’. In addition to the working as a communicator, you are also expected to know how to undertake technical tasks like managing websites and portals, possessing advanced knowledge of the graphic arts, digital designing and so much more. These somewhat unrealistic expectations put undue pressure on the internal communicator.

 

 

 

What do you see as the biggest opportunities for internal communication to make a difference in the next year or two?

I would say digital/social media is the biggest opportunity for internal communication in the next year and subsequently, because of its real-time nature.  These days it is fast and cheap to ask: What do employees think of the new company logo? Or our biggest competition beat us at the Industry games, what can we do to improve our performance next year? Digital/social media gives you instant feedback.

Internal communicators can help determine the culture of the company where they work. As the frontline storytellers of the company, they are also in a unique position to shape the company’s brand and legacy.

It is the role of the internal communicator to help senior leaders see that the road less travelled is the best for the company.

Fluidity & interdependence of the role of the IC pro makes it challenging to isolate impact(s) of IC on the business.

Internal communicators can help determine the culture of the company where they work. As the frontline storytellers of the company, they are also in a unique position to shape the company’s brand and legacy.

ABOUT Toni Anne Uwaifo

Toni Anne Uwaifo is Internal Communications and Employee Engagement Manager at Diageo. She has 10 years experience in internal and external communication, employee engagement and sustainable development. She is a voracious reader, editor and dreamer. A semi-retired foodie and travel enthusiast.

What internal communication resources (website, conferences, associations) do you make the most use of?

  • IC Kollectif

  • CEB Communications Network (formerly known as Melcrum)

  • IABC

  • Corporate Communications & Reputation

Who are the internal comms experts and personalities you pay attention to the most?

Ruth Kirkup a digital internal channels and strategy manager at Diageo HQ. She is a very astute internal communication personnel and Mike Klein, Principal at Changing The Terms, a veteran internal communicator with extensive experience.

Though they are not internal comms people, I also pay attention to certain leaders and influencers like Sheryl Sandberg, the COO of Facebook, Laszlo Bock, the former HR director at Google and a handful of others in order to gain insights into successful companies and their company culture, anticipate trends and see other employee related best practices.  For instance, Sheryl Sandberg, Facebook’s COO, was influential in crafting the new bereavement policy which offers employees up to 20 days of paid leave to mourn a loved one. For employers, the clear benefit of this policy is employee retention – a key objective of internal communication.

 

Have you came across a piece of data - a study/report/research/case study/article - that proves your bosses/clients the value of IC investment generally, or to support a particular tactic or initiative?

Over the years, I have come across countless studies, reports, articles and researches that have helped me persuade my bosses/clients on the effectiveness of a healthy IC team, so it will be difficult to cite one such material that has singularly helped. However, I think this article by Chuck Cohn published in Forbes is a good conversation starter on internal comms.