Advocating for Yourself and Internal Communications with Priya Bates ABC, MC, SCMP

Summary

In this episode, Priya Bates ABC MC SCMP and IABC Fellow chatted to us about what it takes to be an internal comms pro right now and how we carry all the skills, influence and insights we’ve gained during COVID-19 into the future. She also talked to us about why this is the time to be advocating for more budget, resources, and technology for internal communications.

Resources

Debrief Template
Communication Structure Template
Communication Briefing Template
Inner Strength Communications
IABC Online Communities

Transcript

Kyla:

Good morning and welcome. I’m Kyla Sims

Adam:

I’m Adam Brayford and you’re watching the Bananatag Morning Show. It’s your number one source for communication inspiration and really the only reason we shower and look nice anymore.

Kyla:

That’s true. But depending on where you’re tuning in from, it might not be your morning, it might be your lunch hour, it might be your happy hour, by the way, happy Friday. But regardless, you’ll find us here every Wednesday and Friday at 9:00 AM Pacific, 12:00 PM Eastern. We’ll be here talking to professional communicators from around the world about what it’s like communicating during COVID-19. We’ll talk about tips, we’ll talk about tricks, we’ll talk about best practices and we’ll connect with everybody in the chat and of course have some laughs.

Adam:

Yeah, you may have noticed we had a last minute guests change and today we’re joined by a budding star in communication, just looking for her big break. We thought we’d book her on the Bananatag Morning Show. We have one of the biggest names in strategic communication Priya Bates, ABC, MC, SCMP, XYZ, IABC fellow joins us today. She has a successful history of supporting major businesses through Internal Communication during change management initiatives including mergers, acquisitions, reorganizations, workforce reductions, program changes, brand initiatives and launches and more. She’s the president of Inner Strength Communication, providing culture, engagement and Internal Communication solutions to organizations to help them successfully manage change and deliver results. And a faculty member with Challenge Factory, offering communication coaching and training to managers and leaders through their center for leadership innovation. She has an extensive history in communication including positions with Loblaw, HP compact, ATNT and more. Not to mention she’s an IABC fellow. Today she joins us from her home in Ontario, Canada. Priya, welcome to the Bananatag Morning Show.

Priya:

It’s nice to join you. I’ll be at last minute, but I know we can make this an absolutely great show.

Adam:

Absolutely. Thank you. None of us are strangers here, I’ve known you for some time now through IBC Kyla and Nanotech have collaborated with you over the years, including, I think we have a visual, we did a recent blog post with you on owning your value as a strategic communicator and that was just an awesome, awesome piece of content. There’s a video available on the Bananatag blog. We were really excited when the fates aligned to bring you to us this morning or this afternoon depending on where you are.

Priya:

I had so much fun that day with you guys in Vancouver and I was there because my daughter was looking at UBC as a potential university and she actually got in. Whenever they allow her in, she’ll be starting in the BCom program there.

Kyla:

Oh, so we’ll see lots more of you is what you’re saying?

Priya:

That’s right.

Kyla:

Excellent.

Priya:

I don’t know if she wants that, but…

Kyla:

We’re not the… There’s lots of content being created right now during COVID-19 and of course we’re creating some content. This is a piece of our content, but you’re also doing something really cool that we’d like to talk about, your coffee chat. Why don’t you tell us a little bit about that?

Priya:

The coffee chats started out as my solution to a bunch of people who’d always contact me every week to say, can I pick your brain over coffee? And when we were really, really busy, that was hard to find time to do that. I figured I’d proactively put aside a couple hours a month and do a live session, so I started that in the fall. In the new year, I was thinking of regrouping and deciding what that would look like and as soon as the crisis hit, I thought, this is what I need to do, bring it online, and it’s been a pleasant surprise. It’s meant to be a very small group session that’s supposed to create connection and conversation. Not a one way presentation, but we pick a subject, I bring in a guest and the conversation is, what is the gold? Everybody shares their experiences there, we don’t record the session because we want it to be a safe space for people to have a conversation. So far it’s been amazing, incredible guests and we’ve got a global audience. That’s been a pleasant surprise as well.

Kyla:

That’s incredible. If people want to find out more about this or maybe even join, how do they find that information?

Priya:

Follow me on LinkedIn, I publish each guest every week. There’s only a maximum of 12 that are allowed to register for the event. You can look it up under Eventbrite, Inner Strength Coffee Chats, and you should be able to find the whole list of the May lineup and then we’re in the process of creating the June lineup now.

Kyla:

Perfect. And I’m sure we can link to that in the chat as well. I’m sure everybody’s going to be super interested in that. But before we go any further, we have to ask a very important question. What do you have in your cup today?

Priya:

First of all, I want to focus on the cup. Do you see that?

Kyla:

Yeah.

Priya:

Let me show you the back.

Kyla:

Oh, that’s an original.

Priya:

An original-

Kyla:

That’s a beat peg original.

Priya:

I think Chris sent this to me years ago, early in my… I started Inner Strength in 2014 and it was around then, I guess that he had sent me this mug along with a bunch of swag. In the cup is my coffee with vanilla, milk and always a little sprinkle of cinnamon. That’s my morning coffee.

Kyla:

Perfect. That sounds great, [inaudible 00:08:03]. Today we’re going to be chatting about what it takes to be an Internal Comms Pro right now and how we can carry all of the skills and the influence and the experience that we’re having right now into the future. But before we do that, we’re going to do, my favorite segment, getting to know you.

Adam:

My favorite too. One of these days we’re going to have to sing it as a [inaudible 00:08:25] Andrews. It works if you’ve got 30 seconds on the clock to ask you as many questions as we can and all you have to do is just respond with the first thing that comes to mind. Sounds good?

Priya:

Got it. Ready?

Adam:

Let’s go. Favorite kind of pizza?

Priya:

Margarita

Kyla:

Star Wars or Star Trek?

Priya:

Star Wars for sure.

Adam:

Could you live as a vegan?

Priya:

No. I can talk as a vegan but I really do like meat and seafood.

Kyla:

Who would play you in the movie of your life?

Priya:

Priyanka Chopra.

Adam:

Wow, good. What is the best thing about working in Comms?

Priya:

Something new every single day and getting to know a lot of great people from around the world.

Kyla:

And what’s the best thing about being an IABC volunteer?

Priya:

The learning. I haven’t stopped learning from the time I started in 1994. It’s been wonderful.

Adam:

I love it. Thank you. That’s our rapid fire. Good answers, Priyanka Chopra.

Kyla:

Yeah, she’s so great.

Adam:

Now that we’re acquainted, let’s get into today’s talk. It’s going to be such a good topic.

Kyla:

Yeah. There’s been a lot of discussion around how this time for Internal Comms Pros, like it’s a big deal. It’s time for us to rise to the occasion, there’s lots of opportunity. A bit not the best circumstances, but there’s a lot of people talking about how this is a great opportunity for communicators. But is it safe to say that that’s easier said than done?

Priya:

It depends on where you are and how you’ve been functioning so far. I always say that the work we do in the planning we do and the investments that we’ve made in the good times serve us really, really well in the tough times. And so if you’re in a situation where you were able to plan, where you were part of business continuity and you already have the seat at the table, that’s been a really easy transition. That planning meant that once you were in the crisis, you went on automatic and you had the tools, you had the templates, you had the processes, you have the approvals and the governance all there. If you were thrown into it, I think it’s been a little overwhelming from communication practitioners. They see the opportunity but they’re in reaction mode. I’m seeing a lot of communication professionals who are in that reaction mode feeling a little overwhelmed right now, but also afraid to ask for help.

Adam:

In your chats that you’re having, your coffee chats, is that something that you’re seeing a lot of people who are a little stressed, people who are maybe not used to being part of the crisis response dealing with that for the first time?

Priya:

It’s a lot of pressure. It’s the pressure of first of all being thrown into the spotlight when it’s not something you’re used to, but then it’s the volume because never before have we had the situation where they’ve realized the importance of communication with people all remote. Then even as we go back, the phased approach that’s going to be required. If you’re a global company, knowing that everybody’s going to be on a different phase with a different rule depending on where you are around the world, makes it more complex than it usually is.

Adam:

Absolutely. Internal Comms Pros by nature tend to have a diverse skillset. They are strategic, they have to be empathetic and think of the needs of their audience. But maybe as generalized rule, they come short on tooting their own horn. Is that a problem? And if so, why?

Priya:

It is. I think that the one thing about Internal Communication Professionals as opposed to those who choose PR and external relations is that we like to be behind the scenes. We don’t want to be front and center where we feel that our job is supporting our organizations, supporting our leaders and not necessarily taking the spotlight for ourselves. That’s a natural image or culture or style that Internal Communication Professionals tend to fit into. But then what that also means is, if you’re not ever telling people what you did, what you plan to do and what you did for them and how you connected it to the business, it means it’s often forgotten. So we’re sitting here waiting for the recognition and the kudos and not getting it because we never told anybody what we did. We did it silently behind the scenes. And you never want people to take advantage of that. I don’t think they realize… and you don’t want them to wait until you’re gone delivering all that great work to realize what you actually did for the organization.

Adam:

[crosstalk 00:13:18] Sorry, you go on Kyla.

Kyla:

Oh, no, no go, you go.

Adam:

So Canadian of us. What are some ways that you can do that? Like if you’re not someone who is accustomed to, let’s say bragging or maybe you’re not demonstrating your value, you’re showing your value, but you’re not demonstrating it over the head. What can you do?

Priya:

I’ve got a blog that I wrote on LinkedIn called learning to brag. You can see that on my website and on LinkedIn, and we need to learn to brag. As a consultant, it’s almost following the process, being an internal consultant in your own organization. As a consultant, I have to come in and fight for the work and tell them what I’m going to do for them before they decide to sign on the dotted line. Still follow that process, what are you going to do? I have to create a plan with the several checkpoints saying, here’s how we’re delivering and here’s what we’ve accomplished when we’re coming to the table and letting them know.

Priya:

And then at the end where we’re doing a debrief and saying, this is what we delivered for you so that we can encourage them to hire us again. Think about that process and how you bring that to life inside your own organization but it’s very purposeful. It doesn’t happen by accident. And I think that’s the thing that strategic communications is. It’s not things that we just happen to do and react and run by the seat of our pants. It’s very purposeful, it’s very strategic, it’s for an end in mind. We just need to apply that same strategic process to ourselves.

Adam:

The last time we talked, you spoke about the one step you can take to become more strategic as a communicator is to ask questions. And it seems to me that idea of a debrief is along those lines too.

Priya:

Yeah. There’s a briefing at the beginning, which is ask the questions in terms of what your clients need and your partners need, and I’ve got briefing forms that are on my website that you can use, and then it’s the debrief at the end, and I’ve got created debrief specifically for this situation but it can be applied to any program that you’ve got, to actually talk about what did you do, what did you deliver and what do you need the next time so that you’re on that continuous improvement.

Kyla:

As we’re moving through this, if there’s IC Pros out there right now who are in the crux of this, maybe they didn’t do much of a debrief in the beginning because they just get thrown into it. What sort of things should they be looking for, tracking and taking note of to present at the end?

Priya:

Look at the form that… I put a debrief form on my website, which is innerstrengthcommunication.com/resources. And that has all the briefing forms. The debrief form right now is right on top. There’s three areas. There’s one thing I want people to do, write down what you did before, like three phase. What did you do before the crisis to get ready in terms of communication activity, what did you do during, to track every single piece of that, and what did you do after. Because you want to track that, you’re going to forget. If you’re not proactive about tracking what you delivered and who delivered it and who was responsible, you’re going to forget, start tracking that now. At the end of it, take some time to reflect and think about what worked, what didn’t, and what recommendations you’d make for the future.

Priya:

I think about it in terms… Whatever the change is, there’s three areas that you want to focus on. It’s people, and that means resources. Did you have the right resources? Did you have the right people involved? Who would you invite to the table next time that you hadn’t, that you wish was there next time?

Priya:

Processes, what’s the governance? What are the approval processes? Because a lot of you are going to be struggling with lack of approval processes that went wrong or approval processes that were so crazy and bureaucratic that we didn’t get things out on time. You’re going to be reflecting on that.

Priya:

Then platforms, the time to ask for technology, whether it’s Bananatag or other mobile apps, is now. Here’s the thing with the debrief, if you’re not brave enough and courageous enough to ask for it now, you’re never going to do it. This will be the time to have those conversations because people are so close, the business case is going to be there. Write it down, even if you don’t get a chance to present it to a leader, send it to them to know that you knew what you did, you actually thought it through and you had a solution. That’s going to make a big difference

Adam:

Actually. Quite an opportunity for any communicator right now who is in house with an organization or even consulting. Here’s how it went for the last several months, here’s what was the challenge for us, here’s what kept us from getting the right message out to the right people quickly and in time and here’s what would have changed that.

Priya:

And don’t forget, here’s what we did right.

Adam:

Yeah.

Priya:

Don’t forget that. That’s the learning to brag. Here’s what we delivered well considering the circumstances and here’s what we think would make it better next time. Because people will be looking at next time now and we’re starting to see companies and clients who are looking at technology solutions, who’d put it on hold. Who said, I’d like to do that now they’re all thinking, I wish I’d done it, I wish I was prepared.

Kyla:

And it’s bigger than just bragging too. By doing that debrief and making sure that your leaders are aware of what was going on, you’re actually teaching them and you’re teaching your whole organization how to move forward, you’re evolving everyone. If you want to frame it, it’s not just learning how to brag about yourself, but you have a responsibility to educate and keep people moving forward.

Priya:

Yeah. I talk about learning how to brag because that’s so out of the comfort zone, it really is, you’re trying to help. In that process, you’re demonstrating your expertise, you’re demonstrating your strategic thinking, you’re demonstrating your connection to the company and your connection to the impact and the business results that you’re really focused on.

Adam:

I love it. We have a question from Michael who I believe was at the Ovation awards and IABC [inaudible 00:19:37] with you last evening. A question for Priya. Oh, this is a doozy. What are your top three tips for communicating internally to your organization in a rapidly evolving pandemic? Pretty relevant right now.

Priya:

I love alliteration, everything I do is alliteration because I think it’s also a memorable. When we’re teaching managers or organizations, what to think of, I think of three things. Contact, how often do you want different groups connecting with your people? And that’s at the different levels. The reason you want to really be proactive about that is you’re not wanting to create too much noise, but you’re also wanting to say to managers, we expect you to connect with your people one-on-one or in a group on a regular basis. Everybody has some consistent way of delivering it.

Priya:

Second is content. We have a lot of information right now and there’s the facts and we want to be sharing that with people on a regular basis and in a timely way so that they hear the truth from you first.

Priya:

Then the last piece is context. I think we’re doing a pretty good job providing the content, the facts, what’s happening in your location. But we’re not actually telling people why we’re making the decisions we’re making. We’re so focused on telling them the stuff and checking the box and saying, we did it, we’re not providing the humanity. We’re hearing that a lot, where are we putting the context and the caring and the reasons why we’re making good decisions or tough decisions? The reason why we’re asking frontline workers to be out there during a time that it’s not as necessarily safe to do so.

Priya:

Really thinking about, why are we… and asking as Communication Professionals, why? Is going to be the difference between people who are just saying we’re delivering communication versus we’re communicating and having a conversation with our people. It’s the focus on more C words. I think that it’s no longer about campaigns, I think the campaigns are dead during the situation. It’s about managing the conversation. And that’s a regular back and forth asking people how they’re doing is really important.

Adam:

That was a tweetable quote. It’s not about campaigns, it’s about conversation.

Priya:

Yes.

Adam:

For managing the conversation, that’s great.

Kyla:

I love that. We’ve talked about how this is an opportunity for IC Pros. We’re all learning a lot regardless of your experience level. How can we take these lessons that we’ve learned from dealing with COVID-19 as Communications Professional and bring those into the future?

Priya:

Measure.

Kyla:

[inaudible 00:22:28].

Priya:

And I think I said that when we were together in Vancouver in November, I think we forget to do that. Part of doing that debrief is writing down what happened, what didn’t. For those clients of mine who I worked with to implement technology platform solutions, I had one client in particular who had 19% of their employees who went to their internet. It was really low, that’s what they said anyway during an audit that we delivered. As soon as we launched a business platform with them, that increased to 65% of their employees going to their internet and maybe 35% downloading a mobile app. When this crisis hit, the numbers went through the roof. And I think you guys saw the same thing with, maybe you’re not bringing in new clients as such, but the one clients you did have all of a sudden decided to put more seats.

Priya:

They may have purchased something for 500 of the office employees, but now they wanted to extend it out to all of their field employees as well. So that’s where… because all of a sudden the value was there and now those companies who have the tools measure what happened. Ask employees through surveys if you don’t have the measure about how they felt before, during, after, this is the time to do your research. [inaudible 00:23:49] I’d love to come in and help you do a communication audit during this situation because never before are you in a situation where, first of all, employees who are working from home probably have the time to fill out a survey depending on how busy they are. But it may be now or shortly after that you actually do a communication audit that can feed into what you need to improve going forward. So, the measurement is key.

Adam:

Yeah. My IABC friend, Phoebe day, has been on the show before and one of our local IPC board members, Julia White, both attended your IABC Canada West conference in Banff session on communication audits and said it was a game changer for them.

Priya:

I’m thinking of delivering that online, if anybody’s interested I’ll add a bit of a cost, but it will be well worth it. If there is interest in that, I’m happy to deliver a program like that online.

Kyla:

I’m sure there is.

Adam:

Tell us in the comments right now. Speaking of comments, we have a comment from Cynthia Allen. We just launched a wellness podcast for mental health awareness month. The feedback and engagement has been very positive. I’d like to consider using podcasting as a regular Comms channel. Would you recommend it as an IC channel? What type of content would you recommend for a podcast internally?

Priya:

When I worked at one of my… One of the organizations I worked with, when I was with Inner Strength is the Ontario Nurses Association. And we launched a podcast to an audience that’s not used to podcasting and it was really interesting. But, I love, I think podcasting is growing by leaps and bounds, I love the opportunity to hear it online. It’s a nice format for executives who aren’t necessarily comfortable in front of a camera and I’ve seen it used really well for like sales staff who can listen to it when they’re driving someplace and hear from their leaders. I think that really thinking about why do you want the podcast and who is the audience, will help you determine what content you’re going to provide in it.

Priya:

But I think there’s great opportunities to share information. Make it more conversational, it’s not just about the content, it’s about the context. And really create an opportunity for storytelling through that contest. With the podcast, there’s no reason that it has to be one executive that you’re interviewing. I bet you could bring in stories from the field and stories from your employees about what’s happening that you can edit into those podcasts as well. What do your employees and what are your stakeholders need to hear and want to hear, two different things. What do you want to tell them? What do they want to hear from you? And then be able to drive that content in a conversational manner that they feel that they’re listening in. I think that’s the great thing about podcasts, it’s like you’re a fly on the wall listening in on a conversation and you’re getting insights that are really important.

Adam:

That comes nicely on the heels of our last episode where we talked to another IABC fellow, Jennifer [War 00:27:11] on storytelling. Now in this session, I can’t believe it, we’re down to our last five minutes and you know what that means? It’s time for a Bananatag tool tip of the day. Why don’t you instill upon us your tool tip Priya Bates?

Priya:

The first one was the professional one. Download the debrief sheets and go to the resources section, it’s free. There’s no requirement to put in your information, it’s all available publicly. Take advantage of using that information. The other thing is, this is something that my daughter gave me for Christmas and I want to see if I can show it to you guys. Can I show it to you?

Adam:

Yeah.

Kyla:

Oh, there you go. Yeah.

Priya:

This is my bad-ass button. And so whenever… I think that we forget to give ourselves the Pat on the back and inspire ourselves, we’re waiting for other people to recognize us, but I think we need to… I do affirmations every morning, I try to meditate, I try to do those things to kind of pick myself up. Let me see if you can hear this.

Speaker 4:

You can do it. Do what you love. You create your reality. Feed fear a suck it sandwich. You are a bad ass.

Priya:

I love that.

Adam:

Mother’s day is coming up. Maybe some of us can just steal that idea. [inaudible 00:28:34] great in COVID when you’re separated to have that all the time, that’s genius. I love it. Perfect tool tip of the day. A couple of announcements and then we’ll throw it back to you Priya. Next week on the show we have an amazing lineup, we have Kim Clark. Who you may have heard from before on our diversity and inclusion for Internal Comms webinar. She works in Diversity, Equity, Inclusion Communications and calls herself, culture of belonging designer. She’s also a lecturer at San Jose State university. You don’t want to miss this, she’s absolutely fantastic.

Adam:

We also have, we’re just really keen on IABC fellows here, We just can’t get enough of them. We have John Clemens, who is a consultant, a fellow, a professor at the university of North Carolina at Charlotte. Look for those event invites. Help us grow the show, share them if you don’t mind at Bananatag and we’ll see you for those shows as well.

Kyla:

Absolutely. And if you’re not done learning yet, I know of a place where you can connect with people like the lovely Priya Bates and ask them your burning Internal Communications question. It’s Comms unity, come hang out, connect with people in Internal Communications, ask questions. We’ve got such vibrant conversations happening there with over 300 communicators strong in there now. We’ll put the link in the chat to join. Definitely come and hang out. And of course, if you’re an internal communicator who is sending lots of email right now, wouldn’t it be nice if it was just a little easier to collaborate with your teammates [inaudible 00:30:16] on that? We are now the most collaborative email designer in Internal Communications. So you can have multiple editors in there making up your emails, making them fast, getting approval and sending those out and then sending measurable emails so you can get insight and feedback on those emails and making sure that they’re resonating with your audience.

Kyla:

If you’re interested in trying out our email designer and our collaboration features, definitely check out in the chat right now. We’ll put a demo link in there so you can talk to one of our AEs about all of the awesome features that Bananatag offers, that’s all about us. Before we go, Priya, thank you so much for being here, we know that it was last minute, but you’re amazing. What a wonderful chat. So many good insights and I know that everybody in the chat definitely enjoyed it.

Kyla:

Before we go, do you have any final words for our audience for dealing with what they’re going through right now?

Priya:

Know how valuable you are. I’ve said that Internal Communication is an integral enabler of business success. You are the gap between what an organization wants to deliver and employees actually creating that experience. Know your value, know it from the inside out, build inner strength and I’d love to help whenever you want to give us a call. Whether it’s with training or mentoring or coming in and delivering the audits and consulting. Good luck, hang in there, be ready to ask for help and learn to brag.

Kyla:

Awesome. That’s great advice, I love that. Know your value, that is so important right now. You heard it everybody. Priya Bates, thank you so much. Thank you everybody in the chat for joining us today live and we’ll see you on Wednesday with Kim Clark, don’t miss it. Going to be an excellent show, she’s an absolute treat. Everybody have a great weekend, take care of yourself. Do something for you, relax, enjoy. We’ll see you next week. Bye now.

Adam:

Bye.