New podcast episode announcement for the New State of Work podcast with guest, Mike Klein, Founder of Changing the Terms and WeLeadComms.
The New State of Work podcast is hosted by Intactic CEO, Preston Lewis and dives deep into our evolving world of work with CEOs, authors, and thought leaders from HR, Communications, Technology, Brand, and Change Management.
This episode covers many topics including:
- How to position the business case for internal communications
- How AI is impacting the modern employee experience
- What mistakes Communication teams are making with prioritizing the evolution of work
New State of Work with Preston Lewis, Guest: Mike Klein
Hello and welcome Mike Klein. He is somebody I’ve had a chance to know for over a decade now, and I’ve had the pleasure of inviting him into some of the first few New State of Work podcasts that we’re recording.
It’s my pleasure to introduce Mike Klein, not only the author of From Lincoln to LinkedIn but also the founder of Changing the Terms, a global communications consultancy.
Also, the founder of We Lead Comms. Welcome. Thank you very much for having me today. Can you say a little bit more about WeLeadComms, please? Yeah. WeLeadComms is an effort to recognize initiative and courage across the communication disciplines and in so doing, highlight the diversity, breadth, depth, and range of experience that people have.
The idea is that if you’re a communication professional, you are somebody who actively intervenes in the trajectory of the organizations and communities in which we operate at. So, the amount of impact that we have is often underrated and the contributions that we make are often undervalued.
And I think the key thing at, a certain level is by giving. People in the profession aim window on who’s doing this, what they do, and what they aim to do. It can provide some inspiration and a sense of being part of a larger community that transcends a lot of the traditional boundaries that we have, whether it’s.
Being involved in a specific organization or a specific discipline or working in a specific geography, I celebrate those differences through WeLeadComms, at the same time, try to create a more connected profession overall. We all thank you very much for doing it as a connector, and a facilitator.
It’s one of the many things that you’ve always done and continues to do to elevate our craft. So, if I may thank you for that. all the other things that you do.
Tell us a little bit more about what your world looks like. What’s keeping you most busy today in your work as a communicator working with other global organizations?
I think I’m in a very interesting place now. I’ve got a very eclectic portfolio and I’m an eclectic guy, so it makes a lot of sense. So, I’m working with a couple of initiatives outside of internal comms at the moment. I’m working with a large flood protection project in North Dakota, Minnesota.
Working with them on their strategic communication, their positioning, and how to tell the story of their project in a community that desperately wants permanent flood protection, but at the same time also has, some really interesting elements of their political culture that also require a bit of strategy and a bit of.
I’m also working on an international fisheries campaign called Accountability.fish, which is about making the process for managing marine resources on the high seas, more open, transparent, and accountable to citizen conservation, consumer and labor input, and also from, other players other than those who are actually doing the.
And in those areas, I’m also learning quite a bit about online campaigning, online communication, and how technology is being used by communicators outside of the internal comms world to see whether we can get some better ideas going on. And also perhaps leverage some of the strengths of our own technologies in some of these larger playing fields.
Really fun client work. Real fun client projects.
I forgot to mention that not only are you continue to lead real interesting communications programs and campaigns and just overall initiatives. You are also doing it from out of the country.
That’s right. I’ve, I’m based in Mighty Iceland.
I live in Reykjavik Iceland. I’ve been here for the last two and a half years. It’s really a halfway house between Nordic culture and American culture in a lot of ways. Very few people know this, but Iceland was the only country in Europe that was occupied by the British and ultimately the Americans at the beginning of World War ii, and that’s had a dramatic impact on how their culture is different and reflected, more Anglo-Saxon norms than what you’d expect to say from the Scandinavian countries, for instance.
And, it’s a really great location to work with US clients and European clients. And, I even have a client based in Australia right now. Is one of the places I have not been in the world. It’s on the list and hopefully, you’re still there. When I do, my wife has an Iceland travel business called Iceland Unwrapped, and she does customized itineraries.
And that’s one of the nice things about being here is really being able to support that. So we’re not going anywhere for the foreseeable future. Sounds like a plan.
You mentioned a few of the projects you’re working on. Tell us a little bit more about webinars, what else have you got going on to share all of your experiences and insights with the world?
In parallel with my client’s work, one of the things is the WeLeadComms initiative, I’ve launched two courses and a webinar. The webinar will take place on April 27th, and it focuses on business case basics. So it’s about giving. Communication professionals and the ability to quantify the impact of their interventions and compare it to the cost of their interventions.
So, one of the benefits that we have as communication pros is that the interventions that we make are not very expensive in corporate terms. In a company that makes millions or billions of dollars. The 10,000 bucks to run a campaign, the 50,000 bucks to B bring in a basic internal comms platform.
That’s pocket change compared to organizations that are dealing with million, a hundred million, billion-dollar problems. The issue is how you align that purchase with the resolution of those high-dollar problems that businesses have. And to a certain extent, it’s just figuring out, okay, what percentage of a difference will you make if you can fix it.
If you can cause a 5% improvement in a hundred million problem, that’s a 5 million bonus on the bottom line. For a $50,000 technology investment, you’re talking about a four-figure ROI. At that point, very few corporate departments can deliver that kind of bang for the buck, and we for too long have not been talking in those terms.
And also I’m offering two masterclasses one on internal communication measurements so that you can actually look at the leverage that your interventions have on organizational challenges and outcomes, and also an internal influence masterclass so you can find the small minority of people who are driving the big majority of conversations.
Let’s stay on this just for one, one more minute. Cause this is just such a priority conversation for not just communicators, but leaders, then, that are responsible in part, for creating better places for people to work, or enabling environments where people, human beings can do their best work. At Intactic, we spend most of our time these days, particularly in the last few years, partnering with leaders and communicators to build the roadmap build the strategy for how to evolve and modernize the experience for people both in the context of human resources as well as communications, technology, and of course we delivered the people side of implementing or activating those.
When thinking about beginning to build that business case, and I imagine this is part of what you’ll dive into in your webinar. Where do you start, what are the first one or two things that you suggest people do when they come to the realization that, now is the time to do the right work whether it’s acquiring new technology or even just, getting the basics right to build the foundation for that business case to eventually present to leadership for resources?
I think the key thing is not to focus on whether it’s a chicken or the egg, because the reality is we’re going to have ideas about interventions because we’ve acquired skills, we’ve acquired experience, we’ve listened to other people’s best practice, and we’re thinking, can we try this at home? And sometimes the idea’s going to come from that.
And then you look at the problems that those activities can address, solve, or at least mitigate. On the other hand, you may have stakeholders coming to you with not just order requests, but ideally with problems to solve. And then you can look at, okay sometimes you look at it from the problem and you figure how much of that problem can you fix and how would you fix it?
Other times we’ve got a solution. We’d like to test it on your problem. We think it can have some degree of impact. So, I wouldn’t worry about where you start. Simon Sinek says to start with why. Sometimes it’s nice to do that. Other times it’s nice to start. With how, you’ve got a new idea and you’ve got a good feeling about it because there’s some common threads in the internal comms world that are problem agnostic.
There’s a belief that there’s too much noise, and people are too inundated with emails and with extraneous messages. On the one hand, you also have stakeholders who, often have informal employee KPI I and don’t really care about your editorial calendar or your need to manage information flows.
They need their box ticked. And that’ll be interesting with AI; if people can come up with their own distribution list, we’re going to have a problem of having those rogue stakeholders. Basically, setting up their own rogue internal communications functions without the need for you to even look at their content.
So that’s another tech end. Something you’re thinking about for sure.
Yeah, that’s another episode, if you will. We’re going to be diving a lot more into the influence of AI on internal communications for sure. If we could let’s transition to what we sometimes even label as a controversial topic or subject matter of employee experience.
And I know for those of us that have been doing this work for quite a long time, this is nothing new. Having said. It is a priority that’s showing up in 2023, what leaders and HR leaders as well as other leaders care most about, and I always find that interesting because, that’s, it’s an answer to a question that we all know companies continue to wrestle with.
More specifically, how should an organization be thinking about employee experience as a concept? However, even before diving into what that work should look like, please share with us your perspective on the evolving world of this concept of employee experience.
Again, knowing it’s nothing new and how might you suggest that organizations begin to think about not only that concept but doing that work, which is the right work, I think the key thing is to start with the actual work because a lot of what I’m hearing from the employee experience base is around consistency.
And consistency is a nice idea, and you want to have it be seamless and you want to have it be light and fun at a minimum, non-irritating and non-functional. But you look at. Say a large manufacturing company, like one of my intermittent clients, is a large materials company based in the US that has global operations.
And in this company, you have an immense diversity of different job roles. So, you may have people making materials. Half a dozen plants in Europe. You may have an R and D lab in a nice office building in an Amsterdam suburb. You may have people at headquarters back in the US. You may have field salespeople.
And some of these people are all connected in varying degrees or not to the internal, influence in infrastructure and the internal systems. And so, trying to come up with a consistent employee experience that doesn’t take these fundamental differences in the way people work into account is a recipe for yet more friction, yet more noise, yet more irritation, yet more of a sense that particularly HR and to a lesser extent when it’s in influenced by HR, internal comms, is completely out of sync with the rest of the business.
The concern that I have is that we’ll have something like employee engagement, where it comes down all homogenized to a single score or a single norm when that norm isn’t appropriate to people in different cultures, and in different work styles.
One of my favorite definitions of experience is a collection of touchpoints. We all know that different people in different roles, wherever they are in the world, have a very diverse set of touchpoints that influence that experience. What can we do as communicators and as leaders really understand those touchpoints or moments and the channels that can influence those moments and begin to be more strategic in terms of how we do that?
It’s a constant. I wouldn’t even call it a program, it’s not an initiative. It’s a constant mindset, that we deploy in our work, really paying attention to, what matters most within those moments or touchpoints today. Because that also changes.
I didn’t want to skip over the interesting point you were making on the concept of friction. In terms of how it relates to employee experience and technology. We often think about the simplification of the employee experience if we can have fewer systems more connected and more integrated and more purposeful digital workplaces, we can reduce friction and increase simplification.
Friction matters. Friction is important. We think about, that, that creative tension that really supports great relationships. Again, aside from technology, we need to create those opportunities for diverse points of view and perspectives, and in some ways kind of friction.
Do you agree? And how might we think about friction as a concept?
There’s an ongoing conversation about top-down, dumb-down organizational initiatives that are one size fits all, and certainly. A lot of what I’m hearing about in the employee experience case tread very dangerously in that direction.
Unless there are some very explicit thoughts and actions taking place to mitigate that or counter that because as you said, there are lots of different touchpoints. And the d touchpoints that occur in a works council-run factory in continental Europe are going to be very different from those in a call center in the Philippines or a corporate headquarters in, somewhere in a pleasant suburb of California.
And the more you try to make those consistent may be where you’re creating. Not just friction, like creative friction. Something that requires, active effort to wrestle with, to improve, to connect. But something that just simply undermines the credibility of the organization.
And so, particularly when you’re looking at inter the international direction dimension as well as the diversity of work itself. Seeing employee experience as a mindset rather than as a product, maybe the way around all this stuff, having a, does this make the employee more creative, more irritated, more engaged, more enrolled?
Those are questions worth asking, and they may want to even devolve this away from an employee experience team towards people with, Broader and deeper decision-making authority in the organization. I don’t see anybody doing that at this point. I see a lot of effort to really try to simplify and make, employee interactions with HR systems seamless.
But that’s not the whole employee experience by a long shot.
Bringing it back to narrow the conversation a bit to not be quite as broad as the employee experience but narrowing it to how technology is impacting or influencing, or enabling more effective communications at work.
What do you think is different today than even five years ago in terms of how organizations, whether you’re sitting in IT or in HR, or Comms or another part of a business?
Technology gets better and better. To a certain extent, it’s getting less and less expensive per, and to a certain extent, it’s getting less and less intricate to work with. And to a b to a larger extent, it’s getting easier to target to get the right messages to the right people. So that’s the plus side.
On the more challenging side. And e there’s a bewildering amount of choice out there. There’s a question of what takes priority, whether it’s, the IT department’s a bit, desire to minimize variations in the ecosystem, or whether it’s the Internal Communication Leaders’ need to, get the maximum impact from, minimal expenditure, or whether it’s, the manager or the influencer’s need to have the most correct, complete picture of what’s going on so that they can maintain their credibility with other employees.
There are lots of different angles on this. I’d say in terms of choosing a vendor or a platform, I think the key, there are four thing key things to look at. One is what is the actual work that most of the people in the organization are doing, and what is their ongoing access to technology in the course of this work?
Second is, what specific things do people need that would improve their ability to be productive by reducing the number of steps in the number of locations you need to go to be able to complete these tasks? There’s a lot of talk in the industry right now about deathless workers, but dustless workers in retail have almost completely different needs.
Then say, field salespeople. Deskless workers in retail have a lot of stuff to do with scheduling, a lot of stuff to do with, getting briefed appropriately because they’re not looking at their systems all the time. Field salespeople have a lot more opportunity to interact with audio as they drive.
Then they do with visual content, for instance. And then, somebody at a desk can deal with, three, four emails an hour without it being an undoing position. The workflow in the, and the other thing you got to look at an organization is to do the information needs of a small group of people.
Outweigh the breadth of a large group of people. So, it’s do you want to have a system that’s designed for a shopkeeper for retail employees when the value in your organization is being driven by a few hundred people in headquarters? Aside from making sure that the execution of retail transactions is as seamless, friendly, and consistent as possible.
Or do you really need to focus on making life easy for the mass of your employees, even if it means your headquarters folks must deal with some added inconvenience? Yeah. If you want to keep everybody on the same platform. And just the point I was making earlier around simplification and duplicative systems and the complexity that tends to unfold if you will, with more and more systems and more and more.
Because there’s such a diverse need for the audience. It’s hard to get right because we also are looking at cost savings and other really important factors that leaders need to care about when thinking about, what technology, to bring in or to get rid of our sunset if you will.
One of my favorite words in the context of tech at work is, what do you feel? Some organizations are getting right, when we think about some of the known challenges, some of the common challenges that organizations and leaders have. And this is a tough question because I’m trying to stay on an optimistic and positive note, the concepts of tech at work and we see a lot of things that, that aren’t getting that, that isn’t right.
A lot of things are getting more complex and heading in the wrong direction. Do you have any examples or even some perspective on what some companies are getting right in the context of evolving tech to support a more modern employee experience?
I think a lot of it has to do with workforce and workplace strategy and, if you’re dealing with.
An increasingly remote workforce, moving towards more up-to-date tools. Zoom is fine for a lot of things. Teams are fine for a lot of things. Some organizations are going with tools that natively integrate with Microsoft, with teams on the one hand, or with G-Suite on the other.
Certainly, Sparrow Connected has done some great work integrating with Microsoft. Hailo has, Hailo has done some great work within inter integrating with G-Suite. On the other hand, you also have some great vendors. Who are platform agnostic? Like Halo for instance. They do, they’ve got a great interface and it doesn’t really matter which platform you’re using.
It’s also a question of what’s appropriate for an organization. The challenge is when. Somebody sees a platform as a bright shiny object, or even worse as a solution to organizational communication and organizational challenges, and then invests totally in the platform and doesn’t invest anything in consultancy strategy or even training.
To get somebody who’s in charge of the platform to be completely comfortable with being able to look at it as a strategic organism rather than just simply as a series of tools that do various transactions and transmit or. Exchange various messages. You just started answering kind of my next question, which isn’t, which is helpful.
For those that are listening in and wrestling with some of these questions, it’s important to not duplicate some of the mistakes or not to spend too much time on some areas that aren’t going to have the type of impact that we all know we need to make. What is it that you want to make sure companies don’t do?
What have you seen organizations get wrong? What mistakes have you seen?
I think the biggest mistake is to buy a platform and then not resource any of the people side support the tools and strategy. Yeah. Because that’s not just a short-term mistake.
That’s a long-term mistake because A, people blame the system. B they say, let’s not mess with this stuff for a while. C, they figure, oh, let’s fire the comms person too, cause you messed this up. And then and then, things go backward for a while. And in an or, in a competitive landscape where organization, organizational competence, and confidence in communication technology is increasingly a differentiator.
Taking these backward steps because you don’t want to spend five or six figures on getting it right. Is shortsighted and stupid for organizations, that trade at much higher volumes than that. Just to be even more specific, what are those few things? Where would that money be spent?
When you think of it, I think of it as the people’s side of it. That’s what is often missed. Too much is spent on licenses, too much even on technology integration implementation. But the people side I wouldn’t necessarily say the experience, the really knowing what matters in terms of behavior change.
And ongoing support and just to sustain some of these platforms to potentially realize that return on investment that was promised during the sales process. Can you give more specifics, about what we need to get right? I think there was something telling in what you said about sustaining platforms.
The moment we start thinking about sustaining a platform is the moment that we’re really starting to move in the exact opposite direction of where we need to go. We need platforms to sustain us. We need platforms to help mobilize us, help connect us, and help drive us toward common objectives.
But the platforms aren’t where any of that stuff lives. Those platforms live in the conversation of the organization. Context, objectives, priorities, and these platforms can be great along with things like, a more creative approach to measurement, a more rigorous approach to measurement, and taking the initiative to understand.
The internal influence landscape, finding the 300 or 500 people who drive the conversations. In an organization of 10,000, once you do some of these things off the platform, you can then use the platform far more effectively to drive alignment, to drive prioritization, and drive the connection of your influence structure.
Yeah. But you can’t do that if you’ve just bought a platform and are leaving people to fend for themselves. Exactly. Exactly. The. This evolving world of tech that we’re touching on. Sometimes it’s framed as play experience technology. More often we’re seeing the category of work tech to be a bit broader.
That may include things like HR technology and communications or comms technology. How might you suggest, where does it even matter? That, when thinking about the variety of technology that’s available to organizations, is there a distinction that’s appropriate? Does it matter to label something as HR tech versus CommsTech?
And what’s your general perspective on how to categorize all these solutions? There, you got to look at. On a country-by-country basis. First, what are your HR requirements? Your HR requirements in Germany Works. Council Country, which has national health insurance, are going to be very different from in the US where benefit shopping is one of the key employee experience and engagement activities to try to impose a US-based system in Germany. Would completely undermine your organizational credibility. It would basically label you as tone-deaf. And it would give people a bunch of features that they’re never going to need to use, and that they may waste time trying to figure out how to use.
It, you got to figure out, okay, what’s the role here? What’s the job here? And at the same time, you can’t allow getting a perfect decision. To have you lose two, or three years relative to organizations that are doing stuff that accelerates performance. The key thing to look at is whether this going to accelerate prioritization, alignment, and ultimately performance.
Is it going to make people, is it going to make it easier for people to do the things that they need to do? Is it going to be desirable enough? People do the things that they would want to do and make it more enjoyable for them to do that. And it really depends on how the business is organized, what people do, and where you’re located.
For example, I don’t recommend a single platform for every solution. I work with about a half dozen companies that have different angles on this and different perspectives. You might need a, an email tool trying to. Convince somebody that they need an omnichannel tool when they need an email tool is completely unproductive.
If you need an omnichannel tool, trying to get yourself to go get by with the email tool for another couple of years also doesn’t make any sense. So there’s, the reality is that you’ve got to have you. Workable solutions or a workable solution that covers most of your interests and then has, APIs for country-specific HR tools, for instance. Yeah. We’re learning more every day about the options that are available. Another way to look at that same question I just asked in terms of the, define the distinctions. The other question is, does it really? I think where we started this conversation is we need to understand the issues and what the work is and what the priorities are for a specific organization based on their level of pain in specific areas.
Because it’s different for any company. So how we label these things I don’t think is as important as what solutions are we looking at that will solve these problems. But also, we need to look at how things are evolving in the broader world as well. And without being paralyzed by it.
The reality is that what we’ve seen with chat GPT over the last three months has been a massive breakthrough in the world of AI on a popular scale. That’s not been anything that we’ve seen before and organizations and particularly communicators who think of AI in terms of how is this going to affect my job?
Or actually missing out on the big issue, which is how is AI going to affect everybody’s job? And how many, we have huge digital transformation programs going on in organizations with GANT charts and governance and, militant project management we’re going to be dealing with.
Multi-dimensional change management with zero governance happening within the next six months. Now, we shouldn’t use that as a barrier to making the decisions we need to make now, even if things are going to change a bit six months from now, because we can’t get stuck in this analysis paralysis that many organizations are still stuck at.
Yeah. But at the same time, we have to recognize that, we have a multi-dimensional firestorm of organizational change that we’re not going to be able to control. This is to the benefit of the communication professional. Because we can put these things into context in a way that we can’t control them, but we can guide their general direction.
Absolutely. Yeah. It’s a question of not, are we going to lose our jobs. It’s how is this technology going to help? When in the minds of our employees and our customers, how is this going to contribute to the success of our business strategy? Or how might they impact or evolve our business strategy?
All good open questions that I know many of us are wrestling with and we do have to end at some point. I know we could talk for hours, but I’d always love to bring it to a close with one of my favorite questions. A lot of why people, human beings listen to podcasts or, consume information from a variety of different sources is like to say, to get their juice, to get some level of inspiration or information.
The question is, how do you define your juice and where do you go to get that? Where do you go to be inspired?
One area in which I’ve gotten a lot of juice is really learning about, how we create distinctions around certain things. How do we create a definition that allows us to discuss a concept and be able to move that concept forward? And that’s really one of the cornerstones of my practices as a communication pro. And I picked that up in a very unusual place. I did a personal development course about 20 years ago called The Landmark Forum, and I’ve taken courses with Landmark, intermittently over the last few years, and I’m doing a course now called the Being Extraordinary Seminar.
Really what I’m doing is being able to identify the areas where my own behavior is inconsistent with my ambitions, and being able to put a name on it and say, what, am I doing X or am I not doing X? Am I being my word around something? And then I can correct it and then I can turn off the background noise.
And just being able to have that clarity, but at the same time, being able to communicate effectively about and around and through these issues is something that gives me velocity.
Awesome. Thank you for being here with us. Thank you for making the time. Thank you for sharing all your insights, experience, and knowledge.
I’m sure we’ll have more conversations about a lot of the things that we discussed, and I appreciate you. So please continue to do the great work that you do, and we’ll look forward to connecting with him. Thank you very much. It’s been a pleasure.