I recently attended VOICES 2023, a prominent internal communications conference in New York City organized by Staffbase, a technology enterprise that offers communication channels for employee engagement. It was refreshing to be in a room full of communicators, listening and learning about the latest trends and best practices for reaching and engaging your most important audience: internal leaders and employees.
With expert communicators from J.Crew to John Deere in the crowd, VOICES had a palpable energy from the start, an air of excitement, and an immediate sense of community.
VOICES opened with an inspiring tone: “Communications move people, people move companies,” a message that perfectly resonates with thinkPARALLAX’s perspective on sustainability communications: effectively distributing information and telling compelling, substantive stories is essential to connect with people, and those people are the key to achieving progress.
During a session led by Staffbase Co-founder Frank Wolf, he highlighted a key finding from Edelman’s 2023 trust barometer: 40% of CEOs think their companies won’t be relevant 10 years from now. Change is all around us. If companies want to stay relevant, they need to be willing and ready to evolve both their business and their communications in order to rally the talent and stakeholders they will need along the way. Here are four key takeaways from VOICES to keep in mind amid a dynamic communications environment:
1. Get to know ChatGPT and AI—regardless of whether you’re excited by it or skeptical of it
Our feeds are flooded with constant benefits and risks of AI. Content teams may value never having to start from a blank page (everyone I spoke to agreed copy will always need a human touch), while IT teams are preparing for a ‘tsunami of fraudulence’. It may be pushing boundaries and comfort zones, but don’t delay learning everything you can about this technology and the pros and cons it will bring to your role as a communicator. It’s not going to slow down. The way our world interacts with the content is completely changing because of it.
Remember, honesty and authenticity are essential when communicating to your key audiences. Think about the opportunities this environment provides to build trusted communications channels. Tactics such as a public company commitment statement that establishes your stance [ie: “we pledge to never produce artificial images, videos, etc.”] will clarify where the company stands and what people can expect from the communications they receive.
2. Expand the role of your communications—it’s time to showcase your superpowers
The most effective communication teams position themselves as champions of the brand, encouraging colleagues to bring their message to their teams, rather than chasing down off-brand content after it’s been created or distributed.
While that’s easier said than done with thousands of front-line employees or a highly segmented audience, think about ways to build products or solutions and show people the impact they can have with it (hint: do you have an internal brand comms toolkit?). Also consider tools like a bank of customer personas for your sales team so they can speak in consistent tones. And if they don’t already exist, establish communications champions within each of your company’s departments/divisions. Employees will benefit from the leadership opportunity while you can have added communications touchpoints across the organization.
3. Take a pulse check of your company’s values—and leverage them to achieve your business objectives
All too often we see companies list “environment”’ or “diversity” as values. Values should express your unique character and beliefs, not topics your business focuses on. Just because “integrity” isn’t listed as your company value doesn’t mean your company operates without it. Forty-nine percent of employees in the U.S. would leave a job or their organization if their employer’s values did not align with their own1. Your values matter. Current and prospective employees are looking at them—and they want to feel something when they read them.
Take a look at these two different sets of values: A— “Fairness, integrity, honesty, respect, and responsibility” or B—”customer obsession rather than competitor focus, passion for invention, commitment to operational excellence, and long-term thinking.” Which one makes you want to be part of the team?
Values are a powerful communications tool. Externally, they are an opportunity to showcase your company’s ethos. Internally, they give you a platform to guide, engage, and inspire employees, and ultimately help move your people towards collective business objectives. Leverage them in ways such as framing quarterly performance reviews and laddering change management language up to your company’s larger purpose.
4. Spend the time to listen to your people with purpose—communicators who want to be thoughtful need to spend the time to understand
Take this as a friendly reminder about the importance of active listening. But in today’s environment, don’t do it for the goal of gaining details to craft your message; do it to let people know you’re human, and give them the space to tell you the little things that can have a great impact. Every day we see DEI programs and communications that strive to provide minority groups with a voice at the table—but once they join, how are the people around them listening to what they have to say? As VOICES closing speaker and award-winning journalist and entrepreneur, Soledad O’Brien, shared “it’s not that they don’t have a voice—they absolutely have a voice—it’s that people don’t want to listen.”
Next time you’re stuck, take Soledad’s advice. Here are two prompts for your back pocket that are sure to garner valuable perspective organically: “that’s interesting—why do you feel that way” or “is there anything i forgot to ask you.” Whether speaking to someone with totally opposite interests or a loyal stakeholder, try these out and let us know what you learn.
To learn more about amplifying your sustainability communications, read our ESG Field Manual part III: From action to amplification.