Benefited vs benefitted

If you work in communications, you’ll be well versed in your duty to keep everyone in your organisation on brand – but setting the standard for spelling and grammar is up there on your list of responsibilities, too. It’s no mean feat, especially if you struggle a bit on this front.
To help you along, I’ll feature some tips on common grammar and spelling mistakes from time to time, starting in this post with a tricky one: ‘benefited’ vs ‘benefitted’.

Do you need to worry about spelling and grammar?

Before we dive in, perhaps you’re asking yourself whether it’s really all that important in these digital days of Twitter speak and snappy chats. Does anyone even notice poor spelling and grammar any more?

The answer, in my experience, is yes. It’s just as important as ever and people do notice. Sending out communications that are full of mistakes will damage your credibility as a professional communicator, whether it’s an email to a colleague, a news article on your intranet or a printed leaflet. It calls your expertise and skills into question and chips away at all that hard work you’ve done to build your reputation and gain people’s trust, so that they’ll respect your recommendations.

I’ve worked with some really gifted communications managers who had buckets of marketing know-how and amazing instincts, but who couldn’t spell or put a hyphen in the right place to save their lives. If you fall into that camp, do what they did and make sure you get colleagues to proof read your work, but you can improve slowly but surely.

Right & wrong vs stylistic decisions

If your organisation has a style guide, follow it for points of usage, such as hyphenation and capitalisation. Sometimes, the rules in style guides differ from what might be considered strictly ‘correct’ in terms of grammar or spelling. The important thing is to be consistent.

Back to ‘benefited’ vs ‘benefitted’

Knowing when to double the consonants in verbs can be quite tricky, but it all becomes clearer once you know the rules. This guidance comes from Oxford Dictionaries online, which should be a bookmark on every communicator’s browser! I always default to the Oxford dictionary and style Manual unless there’s an organisational style guide in place.

So, the question here is: When you have a verb like ‘to benefit’ or ‘to travel’, do you double the ‘t’ or the ‘l’ when you add -ed or -ing? Here are the rules to follow…

Do the double when:

1. the verb ends in one vowel and a consonant, with the stress at the end
Example: admit, admitted, admitting

2. the verb ends in a vowel and ‘l’
Example: travel, travelling, travelled

3. the verb has only one syllable and ends with one vowel and a consonant
Example: stop, stopped, stopping

Stay single when:

1. the verb ends with a vowel and a consonant and the stress is not at the end of the word
Example: benefit, benefited, benefiting

2. the verb ends with two vowels and a consonant
Example: wheel, wheeled, wheeling

Simple! (Now, I hope I haven’t made any mistakes in this post!)

Mission leak… how internal comms can improve your bottom line

I needed some bath taps recently, but my quest soon ground to a halt and I fear that poor internal communications might have been to blame. (You’ll have to bear with me on this one… I promise there’s an internal comms lesson in here!)

Mission leak - how internal comms can improve your bottom line - Eden LighthouseSo, I found some taps very close to what I wanted on a national plumbing supplier’s website. But I had a simple question that needed an answer before I could take the plunge and buy. So I phoned up and the sales rep called the tap manufacturer to try to get the answer, but it was Friday afternoon and he concluded the customer service team had all gone home. He advised me to email my question via their website and his team would look into it.

I duly submitted my question and waited for the answer to come. And waited. And waited. Days turned to weeks. Radio silence.

Now, as far as I know, that company probably has a fairly straightforward mission. It really only exists for one purpose, and that’s surely to sell as much stuff as possible. It got me thinking about how something has gone badly wrong with this firm’s mission.

Cogs in the chain

Let’s think about a few of the cogs in the process leading to making a sale. The product buyers went out and did a good job, sourcing a product that’s pretty much what I want. The marketing and website people have equally excelled themselves, making sure I found my way to their site when I did a Google search and was able to easily browse around and find what I wanted.

All those cogs were whirring away in the company’s machine to get us to this crucial point. But then, it all fell apart. That final cog in the process, the sales and customer relations department, lost sight of the mission. Assuming that my message reached them, there’s only one conclusion: they prioritised something else other than helping me buy these taps, which, as we’ve already established, is pretty much the whole raison d’etre of the company. What is it, I wonder, that’s been occupying them all this time? What could be so important that it overrides the entire company mission? Staff meetings, training on using the new photocopier, moving offices?

Mission impossible?

Herein lies the absolute essence of internal communications: to make sure that everyone up, down and across the organisation knows exactly what you’re all collectively there to achieve, and the part they must play to make it happen. And, crucially, giving people a way to raise any issues preventing them from playing their part, so that they can be resolved.

Let’s think of this company (or your company) as a car for a moment. The main purpose of a car is to go places, to take its inhabitants to where they want to be. Each component must play its part to the best of its ability and no single component can do it on its own.

Take the engine, for example. It knows that its role is to provide the power that will ultimately turn the wheels as effectively and efficiently as possible. We’ll say that the engine represents the product buyers at the plumbing supplier. Let’s not forget that the engine’s only able to do its job well because of components like the fuel and starter motor (the HR, finance and IT teams, for example).

So, we’ve got power. The clutch and gearbox know that their role is to harness that power and send it to the wheels. Let’s say they’re the website and marketing teams. Great. All that power has been transferred to the wheels (the sales/customer relations team). It’s the moment when the mission becomes a reality – we can go places. Imagine that instead of taking all that hard work and effort and using it to fulfil the final mission, the wheels come off. Every other component in the car has done its job but without the wheels none of it matters.

Something clearly went wrong with internal communications to and within the sales team about what the company’s mission is and their critical part in it. You may rightly point out that perhaps the problem isn’t directly about their communications – perhaps their processes are poor or they’re understaffed.

But these are signs that the mission has gone out the window. If the sales team’s managers were clear on their mission, the cogs within their team that are critical to the sales process would get prioritised. The cog that channels sales enquiries from the website would feed seamlessly to the ‘answering questions and communicating with customers’ cog. Decision-makers in the company would make sure there are enough staff and other resources to enable the sales team to complete their mission.

To conclude…

I read today on the Institute of Internal Communication (IoIC) website that “the United Kingdom would be up to £50 billion a year better off if organisations made a greater effort to communicate with their employees”. I think my experience with the plumbing supplier illustrates the point. I wanted to hit ‘buy’ and they effectively said ‘bye’.

It can be hard sometimes to explain to a non-believer at the head of a company why really good internal communications can make all the difference to their bottom line. My tap quest unexpectedly illustrated why it’s mission critical to ensure that everyone in your organisation knows exactly what your mission is and how their cog contributes to making it happen. Quite simply, it empowers them to see how they can get their cog working as well as it can.

If you do nothing else with your employee communications, then do that. It’s a huge step towards helping people focus for themselves on what’s important and cut out what isn’t.

If you find you have some mission leak in your organisation and would like a chat about how it could be plugged, I’ll be very happy to fit in a chat around my ongoing tap quest!

What to do if your CEO struggles on the comms front

Lessons on internal communications often pop up in the most unexpected places. I was watching the BBC’s excellent War and Peace series the other week, when I was treated to a fascinating example of great leadership communication by Napoleon. (I’ll come back to that in a minute!)

It got me thinking about some of the leaders I’ve worked with in the past, and how not all were as gifted as Napoleon when it comes to rousing the troops. In this post, I’ll share a few of my experiences and pass on some tactics you can try if your leader is more likely to annoy the battalions than inspire them!

I’m also happy to be able to pass on some tips from guest contributor Liam FitzPatrick, director of Working Communication and co-author of the excellent CIPR book Internal Communications: A Manual for Practitioners.

Back to Napoleon…

So, there he was, about to go into battle with the Russians. Readying himself in his tent, he dictated a rousing speech that was swiftly printed onto sheets on a press right there in his encampment and dispatched to the heads of his various battalions, to be read out to the troops.

Whether this kind of thing actually went on I’ve no idea. (If there are any experts on the history of internal communication, perhaps you could let us know in the comments below!) With all the logistics involved in heading off to war, how interesting that our televised Napoleon made sure to pack a printing press. It tells you all you need to know about the importance he attached to reinforcing the mission for his troops at the critical point of heading into the fray.

But what do you do if your leader isn’t quite Napoleonic in his or her ability to engage with the troops? Whatever type of organisation you’re in, your people need to hear from the leader about the most important things affecting you all, and the direction you need to go in. I once worked with the head of an organisation who was well respected for his executive capabilities, intellect and fantastic, dry sense of humour. Unfortunately, he lacked the ‘common touch’ and made employees feel like they were in front of the headmaster.

If you’re involved in communications inside your organisation and you’ve a CEO who turns staff conferences into school assemblies, what do you do? Firstly, let’s be honest… it’s difficult. Very few people will be comfortable passing on advice to the boss about something so personal as how they communicate. Giving your professional opinion about the strategy for selling Widget X is one thing, but touching on his or her personality and style is a whole different matter.

The first question to ask is whether you should do it at all. If you’ve got a leader like the one I’ve mentioned, there’s no doubt that something needs to be done, but should it be you? That really depends on your role in the organisation and, importantly, your standing.

If you work in internal communications and you’ve gained the trust of the CEO, then perhaps you are well placed. If you’ve got the role but not the standing, then you’ll need to work through others who are in a position of trust. (I’ll touch on offering advice to a senior leader shortly.)

Here are a few tactics you can try:

1. Play to strengths – for now

Identify the types of communication the CEO does well and focus on those – until you can start to address weaker areas. If, for example, your CEO isn’t great at meeting the masses, how about these options:

  • video interviews
  • less formal engagement with smaller groups (some advice from Liam on this, below)
  • online Q&A sessions (The CEO I’ve mentioned was extremely good at these – a quick, clear thinker.)
  • written updates, such as an all-staff email, blog and articles in the staff magazine on important issues

Liam explains how he’s managed this with the many CEOs he’s worked with throughout his career:

“I’ve always tried to have a range of tactics up my sleeve for different people or different scenarios. I had one CEO who needed to answer questions about his outrageous bonus structure so we developed a “back to the floor” programme, where he would do a day of purposeful work.

“Over the course of a day he’d get into conversation and his real personality would come out, with positive results. Word soon got around about what he was saying on these days. We never did loads of internal publicity about them. The word of mouth element added to the authenticity of the exercise. Best of all, he got valuable feedback about the challenges of doing the job on the front line and it raised questions about quality among other things.”

Sometimes it’s not just communication skills that will make you choose one type of comms over another for your leader. Liam recalls working with one senior director whose health issues preventing him from doing anything too physical.

“We developed a focus group session, when a member of the comms team facilitated a conversation about a business problem and ensured suggestions got followed up. We also came up with a coffee break session, when people were invited in small groups to come for cake with a member of the executive team.”

I think there is a danger that senior leaders assume that they have to be good at doing big events and so keep doing them. You don’t need to speak to lots of people at once. Just a few gets the message out. – Liam FitzPatrick

2. Prepare ye well

Notwithstanding the points made above, employee conferences are part of the internal comms mix in most organisations. Done well, there’s no doubt they can offer a large number of employees the chance for real face-to-face discussions on the big stuff. You can help your CEO with some advance preparation:

  • If your CEO isn’t a great speaker, try to influence their presentation. Can you help them produce interesting slides with lots of photos and short quotations rather than bullet points, for example? How about including a short video? Maybe their speech could include a few minutes from guest speakers – members of staff who are experts on a particular point the CEO’s addressing.
  • Prepare the CEO well for the questions they’re likely to get from employees. If you’re involved in internal communications, you should know the workforce better than anyone. You should know what’s troubling people and topics that employees are particularly interested in talking about. Share your workforce intelligence with the CEO, so that he/she has an opportunity to think in advance about the answers they’ll give, rather than being caught on the hop.

3. Gather and pass on feedback

Some CEOs I’ve worked with eagerly awaited the results of evaluation after events like employee conferences. It makes life a lot easier for an internal communicator if your leader actively wants to know how their performance was viewed and is keen to work with you to improve aspects of it.

“The big challenge,” Liam says, “is that comms people don’t always feel that they have the ability to provide advice.”

It’s a topic he addresses in his book, noting that providing the CEO with data such as audience feedback after an employee event could lead them to ask for your opinion, giving you an opportunity to make suggestions. He also points out that if the boss has asked for your advice, they are more likely to listen to it. That’s certainly been true in my experience. While building up a working relationship with the CEO, passing on quantitative stats like this has helped open the door to a wider discussion.

If you’ve arranged for the CEO to visit a team or you’ve held an employee conference, ask employees for feedback afterwards. I gave out feedback forms at employee events, asking them to rate each speaker (including the CEO) as well as other aspects of the session. Phone up or drop in with teams the CEO has visited, to ask how it went.

If the CEO asks you for suggestions, make sure you’ve got your thoughts ready. To quote Liam’s book again: “One of the first rules of giving advice is to be invited to do so. When you are about to touch on someone’s performance as a communicator, it is a sensitive area that should be handled carefully.”

Offering advice to a leader is a discipline in itself. Liam recommends the book Consiglieri: Leading from the Shadows by Richard Hytner, which explores what it takes to be trusted advisor.

4. Initiate coaching

Lots of leaders have coaching to help them improve their presentation and engagement skills. In my experience, it’s rare for this to come from within the organisation, despite the fact you might have an in-house learning and development team with very skilled trainers. Some CEOs might appreciate you supplying a selection of coaches in your area to use as a starting point.

5. Cast the net wider

If you don’t think your CEO will be receptive to private coaching, consider whether development for the management team as a whole could be a possibility. I’ve seen this type of group development work well in one organisation that was introducing a new employee engagement methodology.
The chosen approach to improving engagement focused heavily on management style and began with the top team. An outside consultant led a programme of peer review followed by private feedback to help the directors understand how they were perceived and to identify their strengths and weaknesses.

In conclusion…

CEOs (like everyone) come with their individual strengths and weaknesses in engaging with employees. Get to know your CEO and you’ll soon get a sense of what they’re best at and what they struggle with on the comms front. This isn’t about trying to change their personality – your job is to make sound judgements on the best forms of communications for them, and finding ways to help them develop over time.

Remember what you’re trying to achieve with leadership communications… it’s about giving your CEO ways to inspire employees to want to come to work and do the best job they can, and giving the leader a means of understanding what’s happening at the coal face by hearing from employees.

A few helpful resources

You’ll find lots of books and online resources on leadership communications, but I’ll just highlight two here for now:

Liam FitzPatrick and Klavs Valskov’s CIPR book, Internal Communications: A Manual for Practitioners, includes an excellent chapter on working with senior leaders, with very helpful, practical advice.

Rachel Miller of All Things IC recently published a great blog post with lots of tips on CEO comms in general:

Last, but not least…

A very big thank you to Liam FitzPatrick for sharing his insights. You can reach Liam through Working Communication.


5 signs of poor communication inside an organisation

Last weekend, I was chatting to a friend about his work. The conversation came around to internal communications (OK, I admit I’m always fascinated to hear employees’ experiences in different organisations), and unfortunately it sounded like his company had quite a few of the signs that communications aren’t quite what they should be.

So, I decided to share 5 symptoms of poor internal communication in an organisation – see if you recognise any of these in your workplace.

5 signs of poor internal commsBut first, back to my friend Ady…

“So do you get a newsletter or something at work then, Ady, or how do you find out what’s going on in your company?” I asked him.

“We get nothing,” he said, somewhat glumly. “My company never tells you what’s going on.”

He told me about arriving into work one morning to find a new employee on the factory floor. Despite Ady being a relatively senior member of his team, no one had told him a new apprentice was starting.

“It’s the same when people leave,” he went on. “One day you come in and they’re not there. You ask around and you finally find out they left but nobody thinks to let other people know.”

It doesn’t exactly make Ady feel like a trusted member of the company – someone in the know, clued up and abreast of all the facts he needs to do the best job he possibly can. He is, in fact, doing his very best while the company keeps him on crutches.

If I got chatting to someone in your organisation one evening over a glass of wine, what would they say about the way you communicate with them? If you want to get a sense of how your organisation measures up, here are five signs that things aren’t what they should be in the employee comms department.

1. Your staff find out more about what’s happening in your organisation from the local paper than they do from you

So, you’ve launched a new product or service, picked up a big contract or won an award. Great! You waste no time in getting that press release out there… what a great opportunity to raise your profile. Then, one of your employees is down the pub on Saturday night and a mate says:

“I see your place got a big contract the other day, Harry. You’ll be keeping busy!”

Harry has no idea what his friend’s talking about. That’s because you forgot to tell your most important group of people first: your staff. It might be fantastic news, but for Harry some of the shine has gone off it by hearing about it second hand. Maybe he feels a bit stupid that his mates knew before he did. Maybe he starts to worry because he doesn’t know what impact it’ll have on him. Whatever the case, it’s unlikely to have him bouncing into work raring to go on Monday morning.

2. Your staff aren’t too positive about you in the pub

Like Ady, who didn’t paint a very positive picture of his company when we were chatting over a glass of wine, if your staff don’t feel informed about what’s happening in your organisation, they’re unable to be good ambassadors for you. Your employees have the potential to be one of your best sources of good publicity – people who help shape opinion about your company in their community. Word of mouth, and all that.

Imagine you’ve had a bad headline after a complaint against your organisation. If you inform your staff and give them the facts, they’ll be able to sit on the bar stool and tell the real story.

“Yes, it’s true that the company was in court, but here’s what really happened…”

Gold dust. Don’t miss out on it.

3. Your staff don’t know what your organisation’s trying to achieve

If you asked 10 members of staff how well the organisation did last year against its goals, what would they say? If they tell you they don’t know what the organisation’s goals are let alone how you collectively did in delivering on them, you have a huge disconnect between the top of your organisation and the people on the front line.

Why does it matter whether your staff know? Let’s pretend you’re selling the same products as a lot of other people, at roughly the same price. You’ve concluded that giving amazing service is your main strategy to win customers over to you. If you help your staff understand that your mission is to offer widgets with service that knocks customers’ socks off, then they’ll know how critical it is to make sure every customer has a great experience. You won’t find them stacking shelves when there’s a long queue at the tills.

4. Staff have been doing things the same way for years – yet there must be more efficient ways

If you tell people to do a very specific job and don’t share the bigger picture, it’s very difficult for them to bring any innovation to the table. You might have a very clear vision for where you want the company to get to, but do the staff know? Your vision might be to be the best pie restaurant in your town by the middle of next year, and you might feel your staff are constantly pulling against you by increasing the range of sausage rolls instead.

No manager has all the answers and if you don’t ask your staff, you’ll never harness their experience, knowledge and skills. You go to all the trouble of recruiting the best people, the thoroughbreds, and you pay top dollar. But then you stop them from running to their full potential because they’re starved – of information.

Let’s pretend you want to get a certain task done, like moving from one corner of a room to the one diagonally opposite. You think you know the best route, and you shuffle your staff round the walls, step by step, micromanaging and issuing specific instructions. Finally, you reach your destination. It’s taken several days, but you’re happy. You celebrate and congratulate your staff. They look at each other puzzled.

“But if that’s what you wanted, why didn’t you just say? I’ve done this before and I know a quicker way, straight through the centre of the room.”

Your staff are frustrated because they’re kept in the dark and their skills aren’t used to their fullest. They’re not being as productive as they could be because you’re not sharing the bigger picture.

5. Your staff turnover is very high

OK, there can be lots of reasons for people leaving and some industries are more prone to it than others. But check that poor communication isn’t playing a role. One of the reasons why the world’s most successful companies invest in internal communication is they understand the role it plays in retaining their best people. And they want to do that because recruiting and training people costs money and decreases productivity. You want to get people to the point of working at their full potential and then keep them there.

Who wouldn’t want to work in an organisation where you really understand what the firm’s trying to achieve, you know your part in it, you know how the firm’s doing and what you can do to keep things going in the right direction. When there are changes coming, you know about them and how they’ll affect you, and you have the chance to talk to managers and leaders in the organisation about the things that matter. A place where people don’t work in silos but ferociously share experience and best practice around the organisation, rather than duplicating effort. Wow! Who’d leave a place like that? Is that your workplace?

In conclusion, these are just a few of the symptoms of poor internal communication, and many of the things that go wrong in organisations can be traced back to it. Of course, there are lots of factors at play in the workplace and they can all affect the golden ideal of ‘engaged’ workforce – things like reward, recognition, development opportunities and management style. Internal communication may be just one of those factors, but it’s a hugely important one.

If you’ve got some sore spots in your organisation that might be symptoms of poor communication and would like an informal chat, feel free to contact me or browse my services that could help.