The riches of the SimplyEXP conference

22 November 2022

You never think the phrase ‘the Rumpelstiltskin of Internal Comms’ will apply to you, but as I unravel the golden threads that wove their way across the SimplyEXP conference this past week I can’t resist taking on the moniker.


It’s hard to describe the feeling at the SimplyEXP conference last week, but as a comms professional I’m obliged to give it a go. The atmosphere was one of rich insight buoyed by the joy of coming together. Hundreds of internal communications professionals descended on London bringing with them their unique experiences and creative solutions. Across the two days certain golden threads wove their way across the jam-packed agenda, and I’m going to unpick them for you now.


Golden thread #1: Hybrid is hip, let’s keep it that way


Bruce Daisley, former VP of Twitter, articulated the shift to hybrid and flexibility with the perfect analogy; we’re going from a school model to a university model. At school the hours are prescriptive, you’re always in the same location, there are extremely tight knit groups of friends. At university you are trusted with your time – as long as work is submitted no one cares when you do it – and your friends aren’t necessarily the people on your course. Everyone has to go to school up to a certain age, but people at university are there because they have a strong, individual ‘why’.


Beyond offering a handy lens, Bruce also brought to the conference the Jewish concept of ‘simcha’. Simcha is shared joy, celebration, and an expression of culture unshackled from land or temple. Bringing shared experiences for colleagues that live outside of daily operations is so important for bringing culture to life, especially in a hybrid world. Research shows that for Hybrid to be successful, 20-25% of colleagues time needs to be spent together. Although articulated differently, the power of simcha came through in all the cultural case studies on the agenda. Curating those opportunities for simcha and fill the cracks between operations with shared joy and purpose is crucial.


Finally, Brian opened the conference with the idea of experimentation. Covid disrupted normal modes of behaviour and this disruption posed an opportunity for new and better behaviours into the future.  Dubai Airport reported that casual content from the senior leadership, a radical departure from the pre-covid formality, endures through to today and the Crescenzos – Chicago’s top comms consultants – showed how a construction company demolished its rigid walls in favour of open plan content coming direct from the CEO.


A golden nugget from Bruce Daisley: Hybrid is largely only applicable to desk workers, but we can work to help the frontline benefit from new ways of working too. Enable flexibility within their context, for example facilitate easy shift swapping.


Golden thread #2: People > machines


There was plenty of talk about digital tools and automation, but the reality of iRobot will never eventuate if that room of communicators have anything to do with it. Kim England from Pearson told us how they created a fictional employee ‘Sarah’ to be the figurehead of their employees. Sarah had many job changes and the fastest rise from graduate to SLT ever, as she flexed to be the crash dummy for their employee strategy. She also helped the co-creators of the strategy to have those tricky conversations as in the midst of disagreement the Pearson’s team kept asking the age old question: What Would Sarah Want?


Focus on employee experience is especially important when talking about change. As the Crescenzos said, don’t mistake distribution for communication. You can have the best digital platform in the world but if you aren’t putting people at the heart of comms then the mail will just pile up leaving colleagues alienated. In change comms, telling people what is happening to them is disempowering. If you bring people on the journey, help them to understand why the changes are happening and give them agency in how it manifests locally then the message won’t just be delivered but embraced (thanks Larraine Solomon for that particular gem!).


A golden nugget from Chuck Gose at FirstUp: ‘Imposter syndrome’ is not a helpful term laden as it is with negative baggage and sense of ‘lacking’. Where possible, reframe the thought to ‘we’re all students’. As students, we continue to grow and learn and ask questions.


Golden thread #3: Leadership – can’t live without ‘em


Ditch the cascade. Say what!? DITCH THE CASCADE. This is a contentious thread but it comes straight from the mouth of a panel of pros. Employees want to hear daily operational communications relevant to their work at hand from their managers and believe corporate communications should be coming directly from senior leadership. And, where possible, that SLT communication should be delivered face-to-face. To be fair, we have all experienced a cascade that doesn’t land where it should or dries up before it meets the pool, so maybe accepting that and garnering engagement from on high is the answer.


A golden nugget from the Crescenzos: advise senior leaders to ‘use their weekend words’ when delivering messages or content – corporate jargon obscures a human centre.


Golden thread #4: Measurement is all around us


IC professionals need data to test ideas and demonstrate the value of their work. So, as you can imagine there was a lot of talk about measurement – so much so that we have dot pointed the top tips for you:


  • Townhall pitfall: don’t let leadership fall into the trap of extrapolating opinion of one loud voice as representative (Dr Kevin Ruck’s roundtable)
  • Survey danger: research shows the majority of employees don’t believe surveys are anonymous, this often results in issues being obscured by dishonestly positive feedback (Dr Kevin Ruck’s roundtable)
  • Start somewhere: you don’t have to measure everything, begin with just one channel and once you have that under control expand to another (Nicolas Saliba, Tryane)
  • Clicks are a vanity metric, consider instead: (Rob Addy, Oak Engage)
    • Dwell time
    • Scroll depth
    • Actions after reading
  • Reinforce your campaign: (Rob Addy, Oak Engage)
    • Develop a slow burn strategy
    • Reinforce the message for more than a month
  • New joiners for benchmarking: new joiners offer a great opportunity to measure messaging and delivery; benchmark their experience and involvement at onboarding, finetune, compare with the next cohort (Kim England, Pearson)


The SimplyEXP conference was a treasure trove of inspiration, insight and connection.  There is so much more we couldn’t cover, but hopefully this fired a neuron for you! 106 Communications has been nominated in the Best Campaigns category for our work on a hybrid treasure hunt with Bird & Bird at the inaugural Simplys awards this week. So stay tuned! More great things come…

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