PR Wars Podcast: Internal communication skills

Internal communications is a specialty of corporate comms. If you have an agency background, you might not have a lot of exposure here. Maybe, you never want to pick up a phone and call a reporter again. So you’re thinking, hey, maybe internal comms is right for me. Well, let’s find out. On today’s PR Wars podcast, we talk with Senior Director of Communications at Syneos Health, Khaner Walker.

A.I. generated show transcript: “We want the truth.” “We want the truth.” “We want the truth.” “I have news for everybody. Get over it.”

Announcer
It’s time. Welcome to PR Wars coming at you live from Atlanta, Georgia. Now, here is your host… Chris Shigas.

Chris Shigas
Welcome to PR Wars. I’m Chris Shigas. Internal communications. It’s a specialty of corporate comms. And if you have an agency background, you might not have a lot of exposure here. Well, maybe you never want to pick up a phone and call a reporter again. So you’re thinking, hey, maybe internal comms is right for me. Well, let’s find out. Today co-host and fellow communications shaman, Brad Grantham, and I learned what it takes to move from external to internal communications. Now, you may have heard today’s guests on a PR Wars Episode, tip of the spear. He’s the former Director of Global Internal Communications at Lenovo. And he’s now Senior Director of Communications at Syneos Health. And he is a friend of the program. Khaner Walker. Hey Khaner, thanks for joining us. And welcome back.

Khaner Walker
Thank you, Chris. Thank you, Brad, glad to be here.

Chris Shigas
Today, we’re talking about internal communications, one of the things that’s so interesting about internal is a lot of people in public relations don’t really understand it very well, because, you know, if you start off in an agency background, you probably have a lot of external experience, you have Media Relations experience, and then you come on to the corporate side. And it’s kind of like a new world, isn’t it?

Khaner Walker
Now, it’s very, it’s so so true, Chris, and even just as someone who left your team, you know, working at the agency together, it and I would say it was wholly you know, 100% immersed in external relations to going 200% internally focused for several years. It was it was a shift, it’s a huge shift. And it was the rules were still the same, right. But the the venue, the steps in the processes were entirely different.

Chris Shigas
So when you look at communicating to an employee, versus what you were used to at the agency, whether it was communicating with media or external stakeholders, consumers, how do you begin, how do you start your approach? their approach really doesn’t?

Khaner Walker
It’s still the same, right? It still is, we’re still building the context. And we’re still going somewhere with our overall communication strategy, right? The goals are just entirely different, right? So the methods and the mechanisms, saying where we’re going might be new, as opposed to you know, going left with external comms, we might go right with internal right. And, and some of some of those are just built around. What are the goals of the organization is its agility is it’s simple. Retention matters is its transformation, right? All these things are things that companies think about, on some level, we’re gonna have to digest them all into a coherent communications campaign. And these are much more different than talking about, you know, company stock price, the number of units, we’re going to sell public affairs referendum, and all those sorts of things. Right.

Brad Grantham
You had mentioned previously, it’s something that I thought was very interesting. And that was being able to put a human face or touch on internal communications, which we can’t externally always do. But it’s important and critical for internal communications. Walk us through that thought process and what has worked for you and your teams utilizing that mindset?

Khaner Walker
Sure. I think what I always thought of, you know, if we were to embody our team, what would what would that persona be? And our our approach was a little bit quirky, but really helpful. Right? And, and, you know, because we wanted to embody a little bit of playfulness, a little bit of engagement, right? We didn’t want to be just kind of straightforward. q2, earnings were announced today. ptti was up 7% year over, you know, that sort of thing. You know, we want it to like, We’re not saying that those types of communications don’t have a purpose or, or even that they discontinued, right? They still took place, but it was okay. What are other ways that we can humanize that same piece of information in a way that really relates to employees, and so it was as simple as coming up with the two minute we call them coffee breaks. It was you know, either myself or team member, you know, drinking coffee inside our cafeteria lounge, and having a two minute video conversation to employees with What does PGI mean? What does 51% of share of a joint venture with Fujitsu? What does that mean? Right? Really kind of breaking some of the things down? And just having kind of a common approach to them? It repeated. That’s just one. That’s one tactic. That’s one example. Right? It’s repeating that mindset throughout. So really, how do we humanize?

Chris Shigas
How do we engage? How do we can take and contextualize all this? for employees all over the world, you probably have a lot of goals and objectives with internal comms and education’s one of them. But I think, perhaps as a key message, you really want them to feel like they’re part of the company. They’re part of the strategy, right? One of the difficult things is you have a lot of audiences, even if they’re employees, right? You have executives, and especially working for a global, large global company like Lenovo, you have people with email addresses, and then you have maybe factory workers who do not have email addresses. How do you handle your internal comms to make all these different audiences feel like they’re part of one company?

Khaner Walker
That’s a great question, Chris. And maybe it’s something we can touch on later, too. But really, it sounds commonplace. And but it is digital transformation. It is thinking about how what are some new platforms that we can use, right? Nowadays, everyone has, you know, a smartphone, how can we build an app, and not only just build an app, but one that employees on the assembly line can’t really readily read a story, right? So how do we get to them another way by what we’re doing right? Now? Let’s have a five minute you know, 1525 minute podcast, it’s daily, it’s weekly, it’s whatever, right? But how do we enable the businesses and the groups and the teams to really be able to reach those different types of employees. And so it was really thinking about the types of content, the types of platform and the programs that would reinforce each of these pieces of content, because it’s one thing to have an app, it’s one thing to have the ability to do podcasts, but we really need to help the comms teams that were within our supply chain team, build their podcast strategy strategies, right? Because as you guys know, there, there are lots of types of podcasts. There’s some Daily News podcasts, there are evergreen podcasts that go into a topic, you know, dot dot, dot, what’s right for you guys? How do we build those and, you know, repeat those different types of things throughout the company?

Brad Grantham
In any type of communications plan that you have, you’ve got to get buy in. So, you know, I think with internal comms, obviously, the employees are your number one priority, but you’ve got to get buy in from the business unit heads to make sure you know, you’re effectively communicating what needs to be communicated downstream to the employees. But what do you go back to those business unit leads as your metrics that you have to achieve? For that bu is, what are the what are those metrics look like in theory?

Khaner Walker
Sure. So one of the things I spent a while working on at Lenovo was an employee engagement score, right? What’s a real time 24 seven metric that you could see on a dashboard that basically was the true up what we thought of our efforts, and some of it was, it was never apples to oranges, but it might have been red apple to green apple to gold apple, right? So we’re at least kind of comparing everything that was the same, and that that sameness was an average of employee engagement. So if we know 1500, people are reading an internet article, that’s a certain percentage of the company right? Now, where that number starts doesn’t really matter. We want the upwards arrow, right? That’s what we’re really focused on. Same thing with app, right? If we know that 20,000 people have downloaded the app, and half of those are engaging with podcasts videos, what have you on the app, that gives us another engagement number. So we’re able to really kind of do an average of averages here. And looking at Okay, over time, what’s the average engagement with the internet? And not just the internet, but are the parts of the internet that we control? What’s our gauge, with email, big, big shift, moving from Microsoft Outlook to an email, CRM provider, huge shift, a lot of work, it’s expensive to half a penny to unemploy ie, it adds up when it’s 60,000 employees times, you know, 12 emails a week, right? You know, that sort of mentality. So it has to be something that we’re committed to and again, there’s a strategy behind it. Well, we what I did in the team, we basically looked at Okay, what are the columns platforms that we control that we can get an average engagement score out of writes of 60% here 30% there, you know, dot dot dot. And then let’s merge these together with other kind of qualitative scores. What are what’s our x score that the HR, you know, surveys telling us? What is our what our Glassdoor scores, and you know, kind of let’s put these all together into a score. You can see the parts in blue over here are the columns owned ones, the parts and you know, gold over here, hrs, and this is socials and whatever, right? But this one figure here in the middle is kind of the true up of all of them.

Chris Shigas
For someone who’s in an agency, and they think they might want to work in internal comms. I think sometimes I can spot them, you know, they’re the ones who care about the agency culture. They’re the ones who love creating the events and and, and things like that for the employees and really care about the spirit of the employees. What do you see as an essential skill working in media relations, and but thinks they want to make that transition over to internal comms?

Khaner Walker
Well, Chris, I’m gonna flip it here for a little bit, I’ll come back and answer you. But as you know, as Darth Vader once told Obi Wan, now I’m the master. So, so that makes you my Obi Wan, though, which is good. But your nickname for me was Connor big hit Walker.

Chris Shigas
Right? That’s right, because of big hits and media relations.

Khaner Walker
That’s right. That’s right. We had we had all the tier ones at my speed dial, you know, you name it. I was there. So what what did you think when you learned that I was going to internal comms? Did you think that this made it whether this was a fit,

Chris Shigas
I do think that it was a good fit for you. Now you weren’t necessarily the agency, rah, rah guy, right? Because you were engaged in your clients, you were engaged in your work, but I knew that your approach to communications was very pragmatic. It was very process oriented. And I did feel like you would be able to succeed, probably more in a leadership role, rather than a junior role. Not perhaps you weren’t organizing the agency Christmas parties.

Khaner Walker
So to answer your question, to me, it was enthusiasm, right? If you’re enthusiastic about your clients, that’s going to carry over right, because inside internal communications, there are a lot of different types of clients. There are clients within HR, there are clients within finance there and clients within the business groups, right. And I think that the agency model actually replicates I always viewed my team at Lenovo as an agency. Right? Right, we were an agency that supported a ton of corporate functions. And within those corporate functions, there were other larger team, the cybersecurity team was one of the more important teams that were really focused on, for reasons we’ve talked about in the previous episode. So I think it was just having that enthusiasm for communications really translated well, because I was always enthusiastic and passionate about my clients in the agency days. And even the ones where I really disagreed with their point of view. I was always enthusiastic about the work. Right. and and the the work itself, really, that challenge it. That’s what drove my enthusiasm. And, and I think that that is a key trait that I look for, right when hiring people is are you enthusiastic for communications? Or is this just kind of not just a job? But you know, is this? Is this something that you’re not? For

Chris Shigas
one common thread, there was a desire to push boundaries, you did want to push the envelope with your clients at work. And I guess that would translate over to internal comms where it would seems like it would be so easy just to fall back on doing things the way we’ve always done them. Or let’s try something new

Khaner Walker
100%. And I think that’s a bit that’s been a big part of the digital push as well. Nobody said to build a metric, nobody said to kind of do all these things. But it was, you know, that was just a drive just to do something new and and show more value because I think even call it a problem, right? But you know, showing value that an agency drives from a PR point of view is just too big of a problem, you know, internally as well,

Brad Grantham
right? As as you go to hire people in the future. So let’s say you do take over at some point, global internal external comes somewhere else or that’s added to your current role at sitios. What are the three things that you’re looking for? And that hire specifically for internal comms, whether it’s junior senior that crosses both lines? What are those three things?

Khaner Walker
I will bring it back to the enthusiasm I think you have to be enthusiastic about internal communications. anonomys asking about the practice but about communicating to the employees. Right. And I think that that if that comes through, then that that energy is going to drive other people’s energy, right. And so I think that that, and that translate direct, that translates directly into the second thing that I’m looking for, which is digital first mindset. This is gonna sound trite, but I want that energy to go from the comms piece that you’re reading, to Instagram to LinkedIn, to.dot.to, Glassdoor, all those things, I think internal communication is just going to be viewed as the owner of a lot of these things that might, you know, currently sit under social might sit under, even external at some places. So I think having that digital first mindset is, you know, how do we start from email and wind up on a positive review at Glassdoor?

Brad Grantham
What’s the third?

Khaner Walker
What is the third? Um, it’s this might be just Twitter has taking over the world. And, and also with Chris, looking at me still with the Greek god, look, it is communicating concisely. It really is, you know, 140 characters or less. I mean, I know, that’s no longer the tweet counts of don’t add me. But it is that it is that mindset, and I always hate when people say don’t add me, but I just said it. He just didn’t. Yeah, so you can’t add me it’s con underscore 81. So hashtag,

Brad Grantham
hashtag Come at me, bro.

Khaner Walker
Yeah, exactly. So But no, it really is. I think it because, and the reason I say that is, I think this is something that you guys spotted. Well, before I did, which was people are cutting through the fluff. And you see that in our politics nowadays, too. And in everything, right, so I think I think you really have to be not just a to b in the writing, but explaining quickly, why a to b, right. And I in a way that’s that’s authentic.

Brad Grantham
Last question for you. What is your biggest pet peeve with internal comms?

Chris Shigas
How you gonna end this on your biggest pet peeve? Hey, man, he

Brad Grantham
gave us he gave us can we

Chris Shigas
be hopeful that Wait, wait, what internal comms looks like for the future. Okay, how it’s gonna save the world.

Brad Grantham
Okay, I’m so sorry. Let me rephrase that question. Zeus looks down upon us.

Chris Shigas
So Connor, as we look forward to the future of internal communications, how do you feel the role of internal communicators will evolve and advance with digitalization?

Khaner Walker
I think they’re gonna have to be digital evangelist inside of a company, right? I think they’re going to have to have a much more nuanced understanding of things happening within PeopleSoft slash workday, whatever, people management systems, right? how those things happening over there, how things happening, what’s, what is your company’s view on it, and information security? And then how do we navigate that needle, right? Because we need to thread you know, all these things and kind of really tie them together. And then obviously, just continuing to be the be the evangelist. It’s a model where I think we’re all familiar with, but workplace reputation is a core driver of company’s reputations nowadays, and I think that’s going to, if it’s not already, it’s going to sit squarely underneath internal comms departments, right? Because that story, the workplace reputation story has to start internally, first among employees, and then it has to be brought out externally. So so the internal comms teams that are really going to survive and thrive, are going to understand how to take it from inside, bring it externally, and, and programs and strategies that really make sense. You know, I agree,

Chris Shigas
as, as an external communicator, I believe your employees are brand ambassadors for your company, and what do they say about your company can be just as important as what the media says about your company?

Khaner Walker
Yes. And and it’s, it’s one of those things where you have to be willing just to say, look, we can’t help you with that org announcement, we have to go shoot a video with 20 employees, that’s about their story at this company, right? Because we want to build an evergreen campaign that does XYZ, right. And that’s just has to be more and more of the focus of internal slash employee engagement teams everywhere, which is, you know, let’s, let’s have us figure out how to put the systems in place that makes some of these other tasks a little bit more routine makes it easier for them to do that. And then let’s go let’s do the big content programs that we want to do. And they’re they’re just the same as external comms. They’re just at a different scale. That’s great insight. Hey, on behalf of the entire PR wars team, whoo.

Chris Shigas
I appreciate joining us

Khaner Walker
This has been a delight. So thank you so much, guys. Welcome. I’m happy to come back anytime.

Chris Shigas
Thanks. You can listen to a new episode a PR wars every Sunday night at 8pm eastern. Be sure to talk to Brad and me on PR wars Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn and do me a favor. Are you still enthusiastic about communication? Don’t let the naysayers bring your plans to a crawl. Push new boundaries and make comms fun again. Now go get ’em.

PR Wars was selected as a Top PR Podcast You Must Follow in 2020 by Feedspot.

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