Why employers need to make sure we take pride in our work

Employee engagement is an important topic for companies. But do they truly listen to what is important to their employees and furthermore, do they act on it? And what can individuals do to manage their own successful working life?


These were the questions discussed by a panel of experts at the recent IABC event, How to Make Work Work, held at the VMA Group.


At the heart of the discussion was a new book by communications consultant and IABC member, Sheila Parry, “Take Pride: How to Build Organisational Success through People”. The book calls on business leaders to consider not only their organisation’s goals, but also what makes their people tick.


Parry’s research shows that companies often think about how employees can become company ambassadors. But they don’t give the same consideration to their employees’ own values. The book argues that corporate and personal values and agendas need to be aligned in order for employees to take pride in their work and throw their weight behind the organisation.


Panellist Joss Mathieson, until recently global head of internal communications at GSK, agreed that corporate reputation has to be built from within the organisation. He highlighted that, with our working lives extending into our 70s, it is more important than ever to make work a place we feel proud of and involved in. This is particularly true of younger generations who are looking for experiences that enrich their lives − including at work. They want to work for organisations that have a purpose they can identify with and contribute to.


Christina Fee, internal communications manager at DS Smith, emphasised the power of enabling employees to develop their own sense of purpose alongside that of the company. When it comes to achieving this alignment, she said, business communicators have a key role to play in ensuring that every single person is pulling in the same direction, and knows how they fit into the bigger picture.


For Howard Krais, communications manager at Johnson Matthey and IABC president, energy is a critical factor in the relationship between an organisation and its employees. People draw energy from the work they do, he said, and the more they are passionate about their work, the more energy the employer can tap into. It’s important for organisations to ensure that employees maintain their energy levels. And while companies pay lip service to wellbeing and mental health, Krais said that many had yet to fully grasp what it means to care for their employees on an emotional level.


The panellists agreed that an employee’s success also comes down to their taking greater control of their working lives. Rather than just accepting what is being handed down to them, employees need to take a much more active role in shaping how they work. This, above all, requires courage on the part of the individual − and listening on the part of the employer.


By Andrea Willige

Listening – a strategic communication capability


“Good communication is not just data transfer. You need to show people something that addresses their anxieties, that accepts their anger, that is credible in a very gut-level sense, and that evokes faith in the vision.” John P. Kotter


I have just been listening to Thomas Bjørn the captain of the victorious European Ryder Cup team.  He said a similar thing to John Kotter when talking about the secret of his team’s success.  He emphasised that success lay in really understanding the motivations and desires of members of the team.  I’m paraphrasing, but he said of his team that: “They are all professionals at the top of their game so winning is not about telling them what to do but listening to understand what matters to them.”

It strikes me that these examples from John Kotter (a change leadership guru) and Thomas Bjørn (a contemporary leader in a highly competitive field) are relevant in this age of rapid digital transformation.

We need leadership communication that inspires, provides clarity of mission and purpose, and that enables people to operate with autonomy.  This is a style of leadership communication that is less about transmission and broadcasting and more about listening, and which places a premium on understanding the perspectives of others and building empathy.


The listening leader

Right at the heart of this discussion about change, Kotter’s quote above conveys the essential need to communicate at a personal, emotive level in order to stand a chance of getting people to buy-into new directions and ways of working.  It also captures the insight that inspiring people begins not with broadcasting but with listening.  To “address anxieties” and to “accept anger” requires an ability to be sensitive to, empathise with and tune into the concerns and emotions of the group leaders aim to influence.


This implies that the inspirational leader is not the stereotype of the extreme personality or the ego-centric CEO leading the charge.  Rather, the inspirational leader begins not with talking but with listening to what people think and feel.


Reflecting on personal experience

Bringing this down to the personal level, consider when you last felt completely engaged and committed to the goals of an organisation that you worked for, or with.  Take a minute to reflect on what drove that engagement.

Based on numerous conversations over the years I have found that a number of themes recur which emphasise how important “local” conversations and empathetic listening are compared to “inspirational” communications from a remote leader.


The role of listening and empathy in communicating strategy

In reflecting therefore on the need to develop more conversational approaches to change, and the 10 characteristics of effective strategic conversations, it strikes me that listening and empathy run through all the things that leaders need to do to communicate their strategy.   But how do you make this happen?


  1. Provide clarity of purpose and vision
    This is focused on making meaning for people. Leaders need to give people clarity about what the organisation stands for, who it aims to serve and what things should look like in the future when it is successful. The purpose piece requires a deep commitment to understand what connects customers, stakeholders and employees to an organisation, listening to the difference that it makes to others and what value that difference delivers to them.
  2. Develop shared goals at top
    Ironically often the piece that is missing and that is obvious if it is absent to others. The CEO or leader needs to get the top team to listen to each other and sets the example by ensuing he or she can advocate others points of view as well as his or her own on the way to defining shared goals
  3. Encourage a focus on strengths and celebrate what you do well
    Great leaders are sensitive to the things that matter to their employees and will recognise the talismanic quality of old brands or legacy organisations. Rather than dismiss these as outdated they will honour heritage and recognise the skills that went into building these. This is a true test of empathy as one of the common problems is that new CEOs, merged organisations or leadership teams building new brands often discount history and miss the emotional impact old symbols, brands and companies have for people.
  4. Build conversational skills and curiosity
    Genuine conversations involve being present and paying attention to the views of others. If we are waiting to talk we are not really listening and others will spot that lack of authenticity quickly. Effective strategic communication today needs to be cantered around high-quality conversations that allow people to explore the implications of strategy for them. Leaders at all levels need to pay close attention and be curious about the needs of others to earn their right to explain their vision and strategy
  5. Focus on the future
    Strategic conversations focus on how teams can influence events and take more control of their environment. Given the pace of change teams need to be responsive and fast which can only be achieved with leaders who are willing to listen to their teams and empower colleagues to take decisions
  6. Adopt an external perspective
    Strategy and its implementation do not occur in a vacuum. Listening to the needs of customers, suppliers and other stakeholders and paying attention to the actions of competitors and new market entrants ensures relevance and responsiveness
  7. Tolerate ambiguity and build resilience
    We live in uncertain times, yet we all crave more certainty and knowledge of what may happen in future. Great leaders can invite their people to discuss the implications of future uncertain events and lead conversations on what we can control and what we cannot control. Their ability to listen, empathise and focus on what we can influence helps build capacity for change.
  8. Be clear on outcomes and share responsibility
    Effective communication and implementation of strategy involves distributing intelligence around a business so that at each point there is a degree of clarity about our role in supporting the bigger picture. By understanding the essentials, we know what to do when we make local decisions, allocate resources or serve customers. This degree of flexibility and responsiveness is achieved not by telling people what to do but by listening, planning and working together to share responsibility
  9. Encourage discovery and emergent thinking
    The leader in the modern day is not an expert orator but an expert facilitator. He or she is good at asking questions and exploring options to help people figure new ways of delivering – letting go but in the context of a clear framework
  10. Build relationships
    People want to connect with colleagues. Leaders and managers need to help people feel part of their “in-group” and help their teams build great relationships by listening and empathising with each other.


In summary, empathetic listening is critical to effective strategic communication.  It is the skill that must come first, and it is a skill that needs to permeate throughout the organisation to support engagement at all levels.

It may sound counter-intuitive to start with listening but the evidence from leadership researchers, neuroscientists, behavioural economists – and our own experience – tells us it holds the key to engagement.


By Mike Pounsford

Founder, Couravel

[email protected]

Mike works with leadership and with specialists in communication to clarify and communicate purpose, vision and strategy.   He founded his own business, Couravel, in 2001 and works to help define and share common meaning.  Clients have included global and smaller UK based businesses and organisations in the private, public and third sectors.

Mike is currently the Past President of IABC UK.

10 ways to be a better listener

Communication is not a one-way street. While speaking is a crucial part of effective leadership, its counterpart – listening – is often overlooked.

As many as one in four corporate leaders find out they could be better listeners in 360-degree feedback, according to the Harvard Business Review. Listening is a skill which can have a major impact on a company’s fortunes.

One thing I’m still learning in my career is the power of silence. When I was younger, I always believed that unless my lips were moving, I wasn’t contributing.

I just hoped that whoever was at the receiving end of my verbal bombardment was able to pick out the useful bits.

I’m by no means an expert at listening or being silent, but I hope these ideas on how to be an effective listener are helpful.

  1. Choose the right place

Finding the right environment is key – a café, a sofa or a quiet corner are all better than a formal office, boardroom, or meeting room. Create a situation where they feel comfortable to open up. Likewise, sitting next to them will create a more intimate situation without being face-to-face, which can appear separated and confrontational. I find kitty-corner (two sides of a corner of a table) the most effective layout.

  1. Ask questions, but don’t interrupt

Ask lots of short questions, which are designed to give long answers. Such as, ‘Tell me more…’, ‘Why?’ and, ‘What prompted that approach?’ Then let them answer fully before you ask another question. I know lots of people who think they are good listeners because they ask questions – but then blow it by asking a follow-up question before the previous one has been answered fully.

  1. Look at them

Watch their body language. Look them in the eye. Give the other person your undivided attention: make them feel that there is nothing more important in the world to you at that moment.

  1. Show empathy

Understand their perspective without taking over the conversation. Saying, ‘Yeah, the same thing happened to me’ and then launching into your own personal story is not listening. It’s taking over the conversation and making them listen to you.

  1. Don’t problem-solve immediately

You don’t need to jump in and try to ‘solve’ the situation, nor do you need to necessarily resolve every comment. At the end of the conversation, it may be useful to wrap up with some actions, but jumping into solution mode immediately isn’t good listening.

  1. Take notes

Taking notes is a great way to shut yourself up. It’s hard to talk and write at the same time, writing things down makes the other person feel they are important, and often while you are writing – and the room is silent – they will say more than they originally intended. Let them fill the silence.

  1. Stay on-topic

Stick to the topic they want to discuss. This is about them and their topics of interest, not you and yours.

  1. Keep it secret

Remind the person that – if appropriate – your conversation is confidential and you won’t betray that trust. A good listener talks little. Loose lips sink ships.

  1. Give them time

Find the right moment and allow enough time for the conversation. You can’t give someone a good listening to in five minutes. It takes time.

  1. Ditch the tech

When your phone starts flashing, it becomes the centre of attention – not the other person. So keep your tech out of the room.


By Stephen Welch

Former IABC President

World Conference call for speakers deadline is 12 October – Apply to speak, recommend keynotes and spread the word to your network


The call for speakers for the 2019 IABC World Conference closes 12 October, so now is the time to submit a proposal or encourage those in your network to apply.

The theme of this year’s conference, happening 9–12 June in Vancouver, British Columbia, is “Think Forward.” Are you an expert in an area on the cusp of blowing up, or do you know someone who is? Do you have experiences or perspectives that will help the communication leaders of today and tomorrow? Then we want you to apply to be a presenter. You can also recommend a keynote speaker or pass the information along to others who might make great speakers.

Spread the word and get applications in by 12 October.

The IABC EMENA Leadership Institute – Unorthodox Approaches to Communication


Sitting quietly in the Baltic region of north-east Europe is Lithuania, stamped by its astounding capital city, Vilnius. Widely known for its beautiful, historical architecture and status as a thriving, up-and-coming tourist destination, Vilnius was the perfect site for great minds to gather for the IABC EMENA Leadership Institute 2018.

As attendees flew from cities in Europe, the Middle East and North Africa, the event’s hosts excitedly welcomed communications professionals for a two-day affair of talks, workshops and collaborative learning. Here’s my key take-aways.

The Principals of Persuasion

Inspired by the work of Robert Cialdini, Alex Malouf asked how we can redefine the concept of influence. According to the theory, understanding key shortcuts – reciprocity, scarcity, authority, consistency, liking and consensus – can increase success.

Alex Malouf discussing unorthodox approaches to communication.

Chatting with Chat Bots

Jasna Suhadolc of Virtua PR brought attention to the successes of web chat bots. In customer service there is a noticeable spectrum of sophistication when it comes to chat bots, but they are here to stay and have the potential to shorten the duration of the sales cycle and can qualify leads.

The Demons of Deprofessionalisation

As marketing and internal communication industries begin to integrate and tap into one another’s successes, Mike Klein reminded the audience how important it is to retain a specialism. During the panel discussion, Mike’s stance was that blurred lines between one discipline and another are becoming a commonplace which may become the detriment of specialism in communications.

The Certainties of Certification

IABC director Michael Nord highlighted the necessity of recognition in the field of communication. In particular, how we need certification to ensure constant learning opportunities and the maintenance of industry standards.

The G-Spot of Europe

As part of a campaign to increase the visibility of Vilnius and reposition the destination as a millennial hotspot, Inga Romanovskienė used sex to sell, so to speak. “Once you find it, it’s amazing,” the campaign declares. Within just a few weeks in the public eye, Inga’s alternative approach to tourism marketing was one of the Leadership Institute’s most popular attractions.

Inga Romanovskienė, creator of the G-Spot of Europe campaign.

The Lure of Lore

Andrius Grigorjevas delivered an enlightening presentation on how to hook your audience using their natural intrigue. Like gamers collecting breadcrumbs to piece a story together, internal communication specialists must collaborate with their audience to effectively engage with them. In addition, the UX of gaming – such as menu design and interface – can be used as inspiration for the structure of ecommerce sites.

On Reflection

The IABC EMENA Leadership Institute was a complete eye-opener. It was expertly executed by the wonderful Vija Valentukonyte, IABC EMENA Board Member and allowed for an open forum for discussion on various issues we’re all facing.

It’s through listening to the unique perspectives of our peers that we can develop our practices further and refine our relationships with our audiences.