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CIO podcast: How to communicate a major transformation programme


Written by Mark Chillingworth

A transformation programme will “not stick without proper communications,” says Adel Du Toit, Digital Transformation Lead with global professional services organisation Boston Consulting Group.  Du Toit joined the Horizon Business Innovation editor Mark Chillingworth and Emma Sinden of business change communications consultancy Bright Innovation to discuss the role of communicating during a transformation project.  

Du Toit has been a business technology leader with Boston Consulting Group (BCG) since 2015 and before held a senior role at network technology specialists Cisco. Bright Innovation Director Emma Sinden has been involved in corporate communications throughout her career at leading agencies such as M3, Ruder Finn and Golin Harris. Horizon Business Innovation podcast editor Mark Chillingworth has been writing about CIOs and CTOs since 2008 and has been writing about business technology leadership since 1998 with titles such as the Financial Times, Sky TV, Information World and as Editor in Chief of CIO UK created the CIO Summit and CIO 100 as a power list of CIOs that lead major transformations.

“To communicate to your employees and your end users is the more complex area and you may have to divide your audience into personas and then communicate differently to those personas. So if it is an organisation that is predominantly office based then they may want a different type of communications versus people who are out on the road, so think about something that is very quick and fast to deliver as they do not have the time to read something long,”

The trio discussed the importance of communications in business change projects as an acting CIO using communications, a specialist agency and a writer and industry observer.

Sinden doesn’t see enough CIOs using strong communications. “There are three that come to mind. Alison Fitzgerald at London City Airport who is now on the board as COO and that tells you how successful she has been at communicating the change in that business,” Sinden says of Fitzgerald who joined the London Docklands airport in January 2014 as CIO and became COO last October. “Secondly Richard Cross, CDO at Atkins, he sits behind the screen himself, but he does a huge amount of empowerment to do a great deal of change communications. And a third one would be Robbert Kuppens at BCG, a hugely complex organisation and he’s not someone who stands on the stage so much himself but is someone else who empowers his team to go out into the business and communicate change.”

“Richard Corbridge who is a CIO and CEO in the HSE in Ireland, Sarah Flannigan was CIO at the National Trust and is now with energy firm EDF and James Robbins who has recently joined the Drax Energy Group and lastly Christina Scott who has been CIO with the Financial Times and is now CTO with News UK,” Chillingworth adds to the list of CIOs with a strong track record in communications.

How to be a communicative CIO

Du Toit says the first thing CIOs need to do is understand your audience.  “The first is getting the whole IT organisation behind you. Unless you have the whole organisation behind you to help with the change you will not be successful, so you need to be sure that you have the whole IT organisation behind you because if you don’t you will not be effective and you need them to help with the communication,” she says.  

“To communicate to your employees and your end users is the more complex area and you may have to divide your audience into personas and then communicate differently to those personas. So if it is an organisation that is predominantly office based then they may want a different type of communications versus people who are out on the road, so think about something that is very quick and fast to deliver as they do not have the time to read something long,” Du Toit says.

Sinden gives a word of warning to CIOs about communicating to the wider business. “Language is absolutely critical and one of the mistakes that CIOs, and many make in the technical landscape, is that they revert to technical language and their audience is a business audience, so getting the messaging right is absolutely critical,” Sinden says. The communications expert says second to language is understanding that communication has to be at the beginning of a transformation programme.

“All too often communications is an after thought, so the piece at the beginning that identifies the audience and the language is not done. And then there is a panic and a sudden desire to rush out communications and it is done badly and can end up doing more harm than good,” Sinden adds.

“What I saw CIOs Anna Barsby and Sarah Flannigan do well was put communications at the forefront and make sure that communications to the team was done well and they delivered significant change programmes,” Chillingworth says.

Talking tech

Technology does fail, a CIO with a high profile communications channel across the business does face increased challenges when there are systems problems.

“Sometimes things do go wrong and with the best intentions you want to put a great technology out there, but your organisation is just not ready for it,” Du Toit says, she adds that “you never know how your organisation and employees will accept new technologies,” so the CIO advises her peers to tie communications and change management together.

“I think what is really is important to understand the audience and tailor the message to that audience, so it is a question of horses for courses,” Sinden responds. “Generally CIOs are used to being behind the scenes and therefore there is a tendency to hide behind email and I think where I have seen communications be most effective is where they have used video and also channels to express their personal passion for what they do. Robbert Kuppens has his own blog where he talks about what he is really passionate about so it puts a human face on it all, and that is important in an organisation the size of Boston Consulting Group,” Sinden says.

 

“I think you need to understand your audience and who you are communicating too and if there are different communities, do different communication types on different vehicles for different types of content for those different areas, if you understand what they want to hear and how they want to hear it, then the chance of it sticking in their heads is a lot higher,” Du Toit says.

“The level of personalisation that is required, the best way to do it is to show how it is important to them. One-to-many communication works, but it has to be layered with personalised content too,” Sinden says.

“Francesco de Marchis led a hackathon, it was amazing how many people in that organisation were empowered to communicate,” Chillingworth adds.

“Also there is a tendency to rush towards using toolsets, CIOs are technologists and therefore they run into using collaborative tools, which have their place, but unless you understand where your audience is then the message can fall on deaf-ears.”

“I have seen Richard Corbridge write a fantastic blog” Chillingworth agrees. “You are lucky if you are a CIO that is happy to be out in the open and I have worked with Jac Travel CTO Francesco de Marchis and James Robbins who have hosted major hackathons and events and how they use those to bring themselves out and then as a result the whole IT team is amazing,” he adds.

“Part of the value we bring is help CIOs develop those skills and often when we get involved the CIO is the face of change and over time they become more and more confident and they move from being quiet reticent to end up being happy in front of large town halls of employees,” Sinden says.  

“I like to combine humour with video,” Du Toit says of being human on the communications. “Everyone likes looking at an amusing video of a cat or a dog on YouTube, but if you bring that into the senior business you can deliver a very strong message and if you combine that with technology so people will remember it and that has been effective for me in the past.”  

“You build value in being humourous and I have seen CIOs use choirs and one CIO built a band of the entire IT team in one day, Chillingworth adds.

Beyond transformation

“I think there is a tendency also to finish communications once a programme has finished, but often when you have a big IT roll-out the implementation phase is just stage one and I think sometimes the desire to rush to completion means you can do a fantastic job of communication during the implementation and then you find you have a problem afterwards, so you have to think about how you keep momentum,” Sinden adds.  

“What I see many people fail to do is show your audience that you care for them and what I saw Anna Barsby do at Halfords was show the IT team that they do care about them. It was a much unloved company that became a much loved company that has continued to thrive whereas it may not have continued down that direction,” Chillingworth says.  

Boston Consulting Group’s Du Toit says that is not only the case when communicating with employees. “One of the challenges I am faced with daily is when I communicate with my steering committee, which is made up of senior partners and the challenge with them is that they think very differently to the way I do. I come from a very traditional IT background, they come from a very business centric strategic background and when I can show them that I do care about them and care about what they need and make them feel loved the chances are I will be a lot more successful in a steering committee, one to one or even in an email.”  

“It is as much about listening as it is about communicating and many of the communications plans that we see are all about outbound communication and there is no mechanism in there for stopping and pausing and taking stock of feedback. People can go a long way before they realise that the communications are not hitting home,” Sinden observes.  

“There are three things to do at the beginning, the first thing is to be very clear about what your objectives are. You need communications objectives as much as you need project or programme objectives, because you need to know what good looks like. The second thing is to identify what it is you want to communicate and there are different layers of that, but there is no point starting to talk unless you know what it is you want to say.

“The really interesting point was that piece was so effective as it was not too polished, some people want something that is real and it can be lost if something is too polished,” Sinden adds.

“Third thing is to think about who needs to be doing that communication. Sometimes there is a tendency for the CIO to take that burden on themselves and they don’t need to be the one who says everything. There are people in every organisation who are passionate about things and can communicate that well, so as a CIO you need to empower them,” Sinden says.  

“Francesco de Marchis led a hackathon, it was amazing how many people in that organisation were empowered to communicate,” Chillingworth adds.

“At my previous organisation I had a great leader who was very good at storytelling so they mentored me to do that. It is very hard to do storytelling as the story changes all the time, so you need to update your stories all the time and the best way is to be really connected to who you are telling that story too,” Du Toit adds to being connected and through empowering your organisation.  

“Because a lot of CIOs have a technical background the value of in-person communication is forgotten and the over reliance on tools and on digital communications; digital is valuable and adds a whole new set of tools to what we can do, but some of the old fashioned methods are the best. Sit down with the people who are important to you. If you want to engage the employees in your teams stand up in front of them and explain why what you are doing is important thing you are doing is and why,” Sinden says of combining your approach.

“We used a very wide range of communications vehicles from face-to-face to group communications. Email is the obvious one, also blogs, video is a very strong one for us, a couple of times a year we get all our partners together, we did a bit of a storytelling exercise, we did a video cartoon of how you could deliver proposals in the future and it was one of the best communication methods we have used,” Du Toit says.

“The really interesting point was that piece was so effective as it was not too polished, some people want something that is real and it can be lost if something is too polished,” Sinden adds.

“The power of digital is that it increases the ability to do face-to-face,” Chillingworth adds.

Top tips

To close this week’s CIO podcast on communications, Editor Chillingworth asked Adel Du Toit and Emma Sinden for some top tips for listening CIOs.

“Think about how you are perceived as a communicator today and then think about how you would like to be perceived as a communicator. How can you improve what you are doing,” Du Toit says.  

“Listen and do that before you do anything else and don’t be afraid to make mistakes, you will learn and you will appear more human,” Sinden says.

Disclosure: Icon Business Media, publishers of the Horizon Business Innovation podcast provides CIO communications in association with Bright Innovation.

Show notes contacts:

Bright Innovation https://www.brightinnovation.co.uk
Boston Consulting Group: https://www.bcg.com/
Icon Business Media: http://www.iconbusinessmedia.co.uk/

 


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