Who’s listening? From Measurement to Meaning. An Update on the Report

Howard Krais, Mike Pounsford, and Dr Kevin Ruck
Spring 2021

The Listening Project, and this third ‘Who’s Listening?’ report, is about how organisations listen to their employees. It is not about listening as an interpersonal communication skill. We are not suggesting this is not important, it is just that our focus is on helping organisations to get the maximum benefits from listening to their people. Individual listening skills play a part in this, but we are concerned with the practices, processes and outcomes that distinguish great listening within organisations.

Our previous reports explored a number of issues about why and how organisations listen to their people, and we highlighted practices from businesses with a track record of listening excellence. We identified core themes around listening processes, psychological safety and social justice, and principles that underpin good listening.

Now, we have extended our research to gather input from organisations across the world delving deeper not just into how organisations listen but also to the outcomes they achieve as a result of the way they listen.

This report explores the findings and the implications. Our thanks go to more than 500 participants who mostly work in or with large organisations. They represent every region with a majority in the UK. Their responses provided hard data and extensive written comments that provide the backbone to support the insights reported here. (See the appendix for a breakdown of the respondents.)

We conducted this work during the COVID pandemic. Organisations were forced into rapidly adopting new working practices during this period of great uncertainty. It meant businesses needed to provide regular information on progress, and it also increased the need to listen to how people were coping. While this has flavoured the feedback, we think the insights are timeless. The data provides some hard-hitting conclusions about the need for many organisations to rethink how they listen if they want to improve the way they manage change and develop new working practices.

 

Download the report here:

Listening Report 3

Autism Aware Communication

World Autism Awareness Day is a good time to review your communication plans and to consider whether they meet the needs of colleagues and clients with disabilities and neurodiverse conditions, such as autism.

The events of the last year have affected how we all communicate. Lockdown and social distancing measures have limited face to face communication and made us more reliant on online forms of communication.

For some, communicating more online will have brought benefits. For others, it will have presented challenges. For people with conditions, such as autism, being offered only limited communication options will have been a particular challenge.

Understanding autism

1 in 100 people in the UK have autism. This means that you may work with or know someone who has autism, and it is very likely that your organisation has clients or customers with autism.

Autism is a spectrum condition. This means that it affects each person differently, but it often impacts how a person understands and processes information about their surroundings. It can also affect how a person communicates and their social interactions.

Many people with autism have learnt ways to adapt to the world around them. This may include developing standard responses to questions that they may find confusing. This includes open-ended pleasantries, such as ‘how are you?’ Or they may simply put up with stressful interruptions in their workday, which could be avoided if colleagues just understood their preference for email communication rather than an unplanned phone call.

Why it is important

But having your communication preferences ignored does not make for effective communication, nor should it be up to the person with autism to adapt to the communication preferences of non-autistic people. Under the Equality Act (2010), there is a duty on all organisations to make reasonable adjustments for disabled people. This includes adjustments around communication and information.

But the legal duty aside, accessible, and inclusive communication simply makes good sense, resulting in greater productivity and better engagement with customers and colleagues.

In 2020, Business Disability Forum launched two toolkits on neurodiversity and on inclusive communication. The toolkits are aimed at helping businesses, which are Business Disability Forum Members, meet the needs of disabled and neurodiverse employees and customers, including people with autism. There has been a lot of interest in the topic and Business Disability Forum has since launched a dedicated network for communication professionals to share best practice and to encourage debate around accessible and inclusive communication.

Developing autism aware communication

Where to start is a question that is often asked. So, here are some points to consider when reviewing your own communications. These have been adapted from Business Disability Forum’s toolkits.

  • Never assume

We all have preferred ways that we like to communicate. For some people, having a disability or a neurodiverse condition may affect the way that they communicate, receive and process information. It is always best to ask, if you are unsure about a customer or colleague’s particular communication needs. Remember that the responsibility is on you to make sure the information you provide can be understood. Thinking about the diverse ways people communicate, receive and process information, early on, will save you time and resources later.

  • Communication channels

Make sure that you always offer people a choice in how they receive information and communicate with you and your organisation. Written information can be useful as it allows people to digest and respond at their own pace. But blocks of dense text can be overwhelming for people with communication disabilities and neurodiverse conditions. Think about how you can use visuals to support your message and offer information in other formats, such as video.

  • Language

Metaphorical or idiomatic phrases, such as ‘piece of cake’ or ‘the ship has sailed’ can be confusing for people with autism who may interpret them literally. If you are communicating with an international audience then these sort of phrases present additional language and cultural barriers.

Ambiguity should also be avoided. If you are non-autistic person, communicating in a direct way may seem rude. It is tempting to add in extra words to appear polite. I have a habit of using ‘perhaps’, for example, when I want to suggest something but don’t want to come across as pushy. My use of ‘perhaps’, however, creates a sense of uncertainty, which can be confusing for colleagues with autism. Removing vague terms like ‘perhaps’, ‘maybe’, or ‘sometime’ makes your communication easier to understand and more effective.

  • Verbal communication

Some people with autism find verbal communication, whether face-to-face or over the telephone, stressful. Meetings, where several people are talking, can be particularly difficult for people to follow and to participate in.

Make sure you offer different ways for people to communicate information and to express their opinion. If it is an online meeting, for example, someone may prefer to participate with their camera off or to post their views via a chat function, rather than verbally.

Having a clear agenda will help participants to know what to expect. But it is important that you stick to the timings in the agenda and schedule in breaks if it is a longer meeting. Asking people to contribute in turn allows everyone to take part and will help people know when they are expected to speak. But never force someone to participate.

Send out the agenda and any supporting documents in advance to allow everyone time to prepare. Offer other ways for people to feedback. Some people may prefer to listen to a recording of the meeting and send in their comments via email, after the meeting, for example.

  • Social ‘rules’

People with autism can find social situations confusing. They may find it difficult to pick up on non-verbal social cues or to maintain eye contact during a conversation. In a work situation, a person may not be aware of unwritten workplace ‘rules’ such as offering your co-workers a cup of tea when going to the kitchen or saying goodbye at the end of the day. People can be made to feel rude or unwelcome if they don’t adhere to such ‘rules’, even though this was never their intention.

It some situations it may be appropriate to explain certain social constructs if it is causing the person concern. But often it is better to consider adapting your own response rather than insisting that someone else adapts theirs.

Finding out more

Sarah Bartlett is a freelance media and communication specialist. She recently worked with Business Disability Forum to research and write their Inclusive Communication Toolkit. She has worked in the disability sector for over 15 years.

One year on – Ann-Marie Blake reflects on Women in Communications

Back in April 2020, IABC UK&I hosted our successful “Women in Communications” event, with five incredible speakers and over 50 guests discussing tips and practical advice on how to navigate a career in comms, with a particular focus on the challenges faced by women.

One year on, our speakers share their takeaways from the event, reflect on what has changed since then, and share an update on their work.

 

Ann-Marie Blake 

@ACHOOGIRL

 

IABC UK & Ireland Board Member

Ann-Marie is a business communicator with over 20 years’ experience and IABC International Executive Board Member. She has worked across various disciplines including marketing, corporate affairs, media relations, change and internal communications. A keen mentor and executive coach she’s passionate about helping others to build their confidence so they can reach their full potential.

 

Ann-Marie’s Book recommendations

  • Who Moved my Cheese, by Spencer Johnson
  • Year of Yes, by Shonda Rhimes
  • Emotional Intelligence: Why it can Matter more than IQ, by Daniel Goleman

 

Key takeaways from 2020 Women in Communications event:

 

1) Performance is ‘table stakes’. You need to do more than a good job to succeed.

2) Be proactive about managing your image – if you’re not doing this someone else is doing it for you.  Don’t be shy about sharing things you’ve done well.

3) Network network network.

 

One Year on – and what a year it’s been!

 

Over the past year  I’ve been keeping busy trying to effect real change in the industry. The PRCA census shows that we still have much to do in the space of diversity so I joined with like-minded professionals and co-founded the PRCA Race, Ethnicity & Equity Board. Our aim is  to achieve both immediate and long-term proportional racial equity in the communications industry. 

An early delivery has been the  Ethnicity Pay Gap guide. It’s  packed with practical tips for employers on how to track and act on ethnicity pay gaps. Being in lockdown hasn’t stopped me, and networking at the IABC UK & I monthly virtual drinks has helped me keep in touch with my friends from the association. 

I’m also trying out Clubhouse, the audio-only social network. I’ve met some wonderful people and am part of a Female Marketers group who are really generous about sharing insights and experiences about running an agency.   

 

In terms of book recommendations, Greenlights by Matthew McConaughey was one of my 2020 highlights. It’s an autobiography, but full of exceptional insights about life. One of my favourites “Be less impressed, get more involved”.

 

Our event Women in Communication – Pathways to Success was held in April 2020 and was free  for IABC UK & Ireland members. Interested in becoming a member to join more events like this? Visit our website at www.iabc.com to join today. Use the code IABC20 at checkout when you join or renew through 18 April 2021 and you’ll receive a 20% discount on international dues.

One year on – Crystle Pearce reflects on Women in Communications

Back in April 2020, IABC UK&I hosted our successful “Women in Communications” event, with five incredible speakers and over 50 guests discussing tips and practical advice on how to navigate a career in comms, with a particular focus on the challenges faced by women.

One year on, our speakers share their takeaways from the event, reflect on what has changed since then, and share an update on their work.

 

Crystle Pearce 

@crystlepearce1

Volunteer of IABC UK & Ireland

Crystle is a specialist internal communications recruitment consultant at VMAGroup. With 7+ years recruitment experience across a number of different sectors, she will partner with you on your career journey. Crystle offers support from CV-formatting to answering those dreaded interview questions. 

 

 Book recommendations

  • Extreme You, by Sarah Robb-Ohagen 
  • Becoming, by Michelle Obama 
  • Squiggly Career, by Helen Tupper 
  • Year of yes, by Shonda Rhimes
  • Atomic Habits, by James Clear

 

Key takeaways from IABC UK&I Women in Communications 2020 event

  1. Be authentic. You do your best work by being yourself and not trying to do what you think you need to be great at. It’s what you know how to do that is important. 
  2. Network. It’s true – good people know good people, and people will always reach out to their existing network when they need something. This is still something I recommend when speaking to my network, as last year proved to me that an answer to an important question is only a tweet or LinkedIn post away. 
  3. Find a mentor. They offer invaluable insight, guidance and they are there as a sounding board when you need a sense check.
  4. Work on your story/CV. If you regularly update your CV with your latest achievements, it’s easier to apply for that dream role when it appears out of the blue. You remember your achievements more clearly when they are fresh in your mind. It also boosts your confidence when you have a look at your CV several weeks later, as it reminds you of how far you have come. 
  5. It’s ok to pivot. My one key learning from 2020 is to find a company, role and career that matters to you and then pivot to make it happen, because the end result will be worth it. 

Our event Women in Communication – Pathways to Success was held in April 2020 and was free  for IABC UK & Ireland members. Interested in becoming a member to join more events like this? Visit our website at www.iabc.com to join today. Use the code IABC20 at checkout when you join or renew through 18 April 2021 and you’ll receive a 20% discount on international dues.

 

One year on – Naomi Goodman reflects on Women in Communications

Back in April 2020, IABC UK&I hosted our successful “Women in Communications” event, with five incredible speakers and over 50 guests discussing tips and practical advice on how to navigate a career in comms, with a particular focus on the challenges faced by women.

One year on, our speakers share their takeaways from the event, reflect on what has changed since then, and share an update on their work.

 

Naomi Goodman

Founder, the-thread (www.the-thread.com Twitter: @the_threadcomms Email: [email protected])

Naomi is co-founder of the-thread, an employee engagement and communications consultancy dedicated to making change happen by connecting your people. Naomi has led large-scale organisational and culture change programmes for both the public and private sector. She blends her breadth and depth of experience with each client’s unique challenge to help identify and activate solutions that truly deliver business value.​ Naomi is passionate about connecting people to the potential that comes with change. She’s a certified Prosci ADKAR change management practitioner and is currently training as a teacher with Deepak Chopra and The Chopra Center to learn techniques that build employees’ inner resilience and increase their potential for change.

 

Naomi’s Book recommendations
  • The Mind of the Leader, by Rasmus Hougaard and Jacqueline Carter
  • The 5am Club, by Robin Sharma
  • Becoming, by Michelle Obama

 

Key takeaways from IABC UK&I Women in Communications 2020 event

  1. Be more than simply excellent at your job. Lots of people are excellent. You need to do more, you need to show more, you need to stand out…. whilst building your network along the way.
  2. Be clear on the values that define your personal brand; and live them. For me it’s leading with compassion, empowering others, delivering brilliance and being bold in voice.
  3. Be a good person. Be someone that people want to work with. Be someone that you want to work with.

One year on…

 

When we first talked in 2020 about what it takes to be a successful woman working in communications; I shared three personal principles that had guided me well in my career. Firstly, to be more than simply excellent at your job; secondly, to be clear on the values that define your personal brand… and genuinely live them; and lastly, to be a good person, to be someone that you would want to work with. One year later and our working world has been picked up, shaken around and dropped back down ready for us to piece together a new working order. Laura at the IABC asked me whether these principles still stand true in today’s working world and although a lot has changed for me in the last 12 months, personally and professionally, my answer is yes. These principles ground me. They help my stakeholders to know who I am and how I will consistently show up everyday in every situation – pandemic or no pandemic. I still believe that they’re principles we can all take value from.

 

If you take my principle, ‘be more than simply excellent at your job’, for example, then this still stands true. I was bold enough to launch the-thread mid-pandemic, my own employee engagement and communications consultancy, with co-founder Laura House. We launched in a tough market and with the recession it’ll only get tougher. Every day we remind ourselves that lots of consultancies are excellent. If we want to be a success in today’s world then now, more than ever, we need to do more, we need to show more, we need to find new ways to stand out and demonstrate our value. The same can be said for anyone climbing the career ladder in today’s climate… it’s a great way to stay current and creative.

 

That said, given the past 12 months there’s a fourth principle I’d now add, especially to help balance the ‘be more than excellent’ value. It’s to be kinder to yourself. Many of us women give ourselves a hard time trying to be everything to everyone at the same time. A career hungry employee, a parent that’s present, a partner that’s loving, a friend that’s available. Just writing it down is giving me the sweats! In part it’s because of the expectation business and society puts on us and in part it’s because of the expectation we put on ourselves. I’m currently on maternity with new born twins and doing that well is about as much as I can manage at the moment! Lockdown life has added a new layer to the term ‘juggling’. Rid yourself of guilt and give yourself a pat on the back – wherever you’re focusing your energy right now, know that you are doing well.

 

Our event Women in Communication – Pathways to Success was held in April 2020 and was free  for IABC UK & Ireland members. Interested in becoming a member to join more events like this? Visit our website at www.iabc.com to join today. Use the code IABC20 at checkout when you join or renew through 18 April 2021 and you’ll receive a 20% discount on international dues.