Breaking Down Communication Silos with Dr. Jen Frahm

Summary

In this episode, we were lucky enough to have the brilliant and hilarious Dr. Jen Frahm, Co-founder of the Agile Change Leadership Institute, on the Morning Show to walk us through why every internal comms pro needs to be well-versed in change communication and how to break down silos across your organization.

Resources

Conversations of Change: A guide to implementing workplace change
The 3 functions of change communication
The role of equanimity in busting down silos
Busting Silos training program
Conversations of Change Podcast
Lean Coffee Table for effective online meetings

Transcript

Kyla:

Good morning and welcome. I’m Kyla Sims.

Adam:

And I’m Adam Brayford and you’re watching the Bananatag Morning Show. Hi, mom.

Kyla:

But depending on where you’re tuning in from, it might not be your morning. It might be your lunch. It might be your happy hour. You might be asleep. But regardless, we’ll be here every 9:00 AM Pacific, 12:00 PM Eastern on Wednesdays and Fridays to talk to internal communicators from around the world about what it’s like navigating our new normal, sharing some tips and tricks, and hopefully having some laughs as well.

Adam:

So those of you who are tuning in, thank you. Say hi in the chat. Tell us where you’re watching from. Honestly, if you’re not tuning in live, you’re missing out. And if you’re here and you’re watching, go ahead and fill the live feed with emoji reactions so we know that you’re here. And meanwhile, get ready for a good one because we are joined by Dr. Jen Frahm. Jen is a tamer of ambiguity, speaker of truths and solver of problems. She’s the co-founder of the Agile Change Leadership Institute, that’s a tongue twister, a podcaster, a blogger and a global expert on organizational change and transformation.

Adam:

As a sought after speaker, she is known for being at the frontier of agile change practice, and she has a PhD in management which focuses on change communication and is taught in Australia’s leading universities. Jen’s first book Conversations of Change: A Guide to Implementing Workplace Change was released in July 2017. And her next, the Agile Change Playbook is out in July 2020. So exciting. Today, she joins us from her home in Melbourne, Australia. Please welcome Dr. Jen Frahm.

Jen:

Thank you so much, Adam and Kyla. It’s a real joy to be with you today. Thank you so much.

Adam:

We’re happy to have you. Now, Jen, you are our second Australian guest and that means you’re joining us from the future because of time zones. We are pre-recording this today. So that means if we swear a bunch we’re covered, we can just bleep it out later.

Jen:

Because you do know that Australians swear a bunch, right?

Adam:

That’s what we’ve being told. Yeah, so we have it on good authority. It also means that Kyla and I, once again, get to hangout live while this is showing in the chat when this airs, so say, hi, we’re here with ya. And today, while we’re prerecording, we have Bananatag employees in the chat. So you may see some of their comments pop up today.

Kyla:

Awesome. Yeah. Hi, future Kyla. Hi, future Adam. It’s exciting. So we got to know, Jen, what’s in your cup?

Jen:

What’s in my cup today is retro coffee, which for the uninitiated is the coffee we used to make in the 70s and 80s before we had fancy coffee machines. It’s instant coffee.

Kyla:

Retro. I like calling it retro. That’s good.

Jen:

Yeah. Yeah.

Adam:

You’re with friends here today. We are connoisseurs of, now that I’m going to call it, retro coffee. [inaudible 00:07:52].

Jen:

Retro coffee, yeah.

Kyla:

Yeah. Maybe people won’t give me such side-eye when I’m like, “Oh, instant coffee is fine for me.”

Jen:

No, no. It’s retro coffee. You just need to reframe it.

Kyla:

Retro.

Adam:

Good communicator.

Kyla:

I love that. So today we’re going to talk about a topic that is on everyone’s minds that we cannot get enough of, change communication. But first, before we do any of that, we’re going to get to know you just a little bit better.

Adam:

That’s right. It’s our favorite segment. Y’all know it. It’s called getting to know you. We’ve got 30 seconds on the clock and how it works is we get to ask you as many questions as we got and all you have to do is just say the first response that comes to mind. Jen, are you ready?

Jen:

Kind of. Maybe not.

Adam:

We’ll find out. And go. What is the best use of Tim Tams?

Jen:

Tim Tam Slam. So Google that if you’re not familiar with it, it’s where you suck your tea or coffee up through the end of a bit off piece of Tim Tam.

Adam:

Delicious.

Kyla:

What?

Adam:

Google it. Google it, Kyla.

Kyla:

I will. I will. Who would play you in the movie of your life?

Jen:

That one is easy. It would be Lucy Lawless from her Xena days.

Kyla:

Oh, the best. So good.

Adam:

That is a great choice. Everyone loves Xena. Okay, what is the best dinosaur?

Jen:

Let me think. I think the best dinosaur that I would think about is probably the CEO who has yet to realize that the company needs to change or it’s about to become extinct. They’re my favorites.

Kyla:

Oh, I just… I can’t. Wow.

Adam:

Show’s over, you’ve done well.

Kyla:

Oh my God. I don’t even know how to ask the next one. That was just great. What is the best morning show on LinkedIn for internal communicators?

Jen:

Jeez Louise. There’s so many. Bananatag, I think.

Kyla:

Yes, correct.

Adam:

Thank goodness. We took a risk there. What is the scariest thing to you? What’s your biggest fear?

Jen:

Vulnerability.

Kyla:

What’s your top pet peeve?

Jen:

I’ve got many. I think it’s going to be, oh yeah, In change when people talk about impacted people. If they’re impacted people, they need Metamucil and they’ve got a dietary problem. We have change impacts as a noun and we have affected people as the adjective. There you go.

Adam:

Oh, that is good and that ties into a segment we’ve got coming up in a little bit, but gosh, you’re killing it so far. Jen, thank you for being such a good sport. Now that we’re perfectly acquainted, we’re best friends, let’s get down to it, shall we? So first serious question. What happens when a communicator does not build their professional capacity in the area of change?

Jen:

That’s a really, really good question. I think for me, I feel like there’s two pathways for the communicator who hasn’t built their capability and change. And it’s, one, they do a lot of harm. Change is a tricky space to work in and if you haven’t educated yourself on the appropriate way to communicate during change, you will do harm. And that is quite problematic. The other is the personal harm. You are not staying relevant. Your job prospects are going to be diminished. So I think if you’re not keeping up with it, you’ve got an issue around relevance and then harm in your profession.

Kyla:

That’s pretty serious stuff.

Jen:

Yeah, it is. It is. I think often we can be really dismissive as a community about our professional development and there are big costs associated with that decision not to invest.

Kyla:

Absolutely. But some might say that all communication is about change in a way. How can communicators really embed themselves in the change process and what roles should they be playing, ideally?

Jen:

Yeah. Look, I flip it a bit and I say that all-

Kyla:

Oh.

Adam:

Oh.

Kyla:

Oh no.

Adam:

It was going too well. There’s too much genius in the show.

Kyla:

I know. [inaudible 00:12:33]

Adam:

It couldn’t be perfect.

Kyla:

Broke the internet.

Adam:

Well, hey, look, we’re prerecording. So this works out just fine.

Kyla:

We can just hang out right here.

Adam:

We’ll use the power of editing later to splice it all together like nothing happened.

Kyla:

Nothing happened. Don’t be suspicious, don’t be suspicious.

Adam:

Distract them with dance. Nothing’s happening. Everything’s fine.

Kyla:

There we are. Hello, hello.

Jen:

I’m so sorry. Can I tell you a story about in the future, we struggle with power cables to our computers in Australia?

Kyla:

It happens, it happens.

Adam:

Do you know what? Vulnerability is a good thing.

Jen:

Was that not the most wicked set up you could possibly do for me?

Adam:

Oh it’s very relatable content here.

Kyla:

So some might say that all communication is about change in a way, how can communicators really embed themselves in the change process and what role should they be ideally playing?

Jen:

Yeah, look, I’m going to challenge you a bit and flip it. From my perspective, it’s the opposite. That all organizational change is born of communication, right? So altering the communicated event. And this was really where I came from in my PhD studies and what I looked at was change communication in organizations that continuously change. And what I worked out in that piece of work was that there are primarily three functions of communication during change. And those three functions, we use communication to create stability. So thinking about top-down information, which is often our default for communicators in change. They think their job is to do fact sheets and communications to tell people what’s happening. And it is, but we also use communication to create further change. So initiate dialogue and discussion and employee groups.

Jen:

And then we use communication from a sense-making perspective. So we use communication to help employees and managers have conversations that make sense of what’s happening. So if we think about those three functions, change, stability, sense-making, we can then see that the communicator’s role in change is varied, right? And so we have a role of where we might be the Jiminy Cricket. So we sit on the shoulder, the conscience, of the executive or the leadership team and saying, do you want to think about this in terms of what you think you’re saying, doing that kind of stuff. We have a role to be the instigator of further change to set up the containers for further change. So to be advising and creating conditions to have further discussions and dialogue. We have a role which is to be the sense-maker and help our leaders work through, what does this actually mean for people and do people have good understanding of it?

Jen:

And then there is the more traditional default, which is how can we share information that is accurate, that is timely, that is meaningful, that is credible, because that will create a sense of stability. So, I actually think the communicator has an exceptionally important role in change and it raises this really interesting choice around it. If you’re a communicator in the field, what do you want to do to actually own that space? And the importance of stepping up into that space and taking a more directive role in change rather than the one who receives the messages and says, okay, how can I shoosh this up and send this out?

Adam:

Do you provide coaching and how can I hire you?

Jen:

Yes and easily, and I charge in Australian dollars which is very economic for you over there.

Adam:

Oh my, you just may be getting a call. This is great. Okay. So you’ve talked about aiming for equanimity as communicators in times of turbulence, which brings us to our newest segment on The Bananatag Morning Show, which is the Bananatag word of the day. That’s right. Word of the day is not just for toilet paper anymore. Starting today, watching the Bananatag Morning Show can make you smarter or at least more wordy. So equanimity…

Kyla:

All communicators need is just to be more wordy, right?

Adam:

More wordy. So equanimity describes mental calmness, composure, and even as a temper, especially in a difficult situation. Perfect for change. So Jen, can you walk us through what that looks like, to sit calmly in a time of turbulence?

Jen:

Or otherwise why use a $20 word when you could use a $2 and just say, keep calm, right? No, seriously. I think equanimity has really resonated for me. Certainly prior to COVID Australia was facing the massive bush fires across the land, which was equally disruptive forced change, existential threat. COVID, now we have the push to be anti-racist and what we’re seeing there, we’re seeing wildly disruptive, forced change on us, which is very different to what we’ve had to deal with in the past. Usually we’ve got some inkling around what’s happening and we’ve got some control over it and we don’t have it at the moment. The net result of that is our brains are on fire. Me personally, the leaders I work with, our employees and our organizations, our brands are on fire and they are in a continuous state of what’s known, in Daniel Goleman’s language, of the amygdala hijack, right?

Jen:

So the stress hormones that are inflaming our brains at the moment are doing this, we actually can’t see opportunities, we only see threats. So the challenge for communicators because remember, I really believe that the internal communicator has such incredible power in organizations, whether they want to use it or not, is how do we create a state of equanimity in the organization? How do we create a state of equanimity in ourselves? Because we can’t do that work in the organization if we’re not prepared to calm ourselves first, right? And so for me, it’s a two side thing that really, we’ve got to look at our, how do we temper all of the stress hormones that are going on at the moment, induced serotonin and dopamine and all the good stuff, the oxytocin, so that we have clear minds and that we can be thoughtful and considered in what we do that we make different choices.

Adam:

Hmm, I think we might actually have to have another episode talking specifically about that because that’s a whole topic to unpack, how can you [inaudible 00:19:35] that to your organization. That’s so interesting, but for time sake, can we jump to one of my favorite topics which is silos. You’re a co-founder and facilitator at Busting Silos, one day workshops and creating more collaborative organizations inside and out. Now most of our audience is comms and HR pros inside large complex organizations and those are the companies that really need professional internal comms tools, really. So why do you think we should care as communicators about silos?

Jen:

Yeah. Silos reinforce and promote stability. And for too long, as communications profession, our approach to dealing with silos has been to pander to them. So we will change the messaging based on that silo so that they accept what we’re going to do. And we do all of this work, accommodating multiple stakeholders in different ways, which is best practice. But effectively what we do is we’re reinforcing silos in organizations and wherever we have siloed organizations, we are duplicating, replicating, the work that we do.

Jen:

So just think about every time you have to take a key message platform and you have to turn it into 10 different versions so that it gets heard in that area, that’s a huge duplication of work. And so I think that, what we’re teaching, well it’s now an e-Course because of course we’re not doing the workshops, but what we teach in the Busting Silos is how can you find vulnerabilities in the silos, infiltrate, build relationships, build trust, and then be prepared to lean into the conflict. Because only then can you start to bust those silos. Once we have an organization where the silos have been raised to the ground, then you’re going to have such better collaboration in the organization with all the benefits that come from that better collaboration.

Kyla:

And how can communicators take what we know now about change and apply it to tying these different silos together through communication?

Jen:

Yeah. Look, I think there is a lot of overlap between what change practitioners do and internal communicators do in that they’re both exceptionally good at identifying what is important to people. So in recognizing what is important to people, that gives you the beginning of conversations where you can start to break down the silos. So if we think about communicators probably used to looking at, we talked about my pet peeve before, those people who are affected in change and identifying change impacts, that can be a really important starting conversation within a silo that will get you entry to the silo. But once you’re in there, you’ve got to bust them. You’ve got to lean into conflict.

Adam:

Good advice. Now we’re down to the last 10 minutes of the episode. I always go really fast and you know what that means. Sorry, I can’t speak, you know what that means. It’s time for Bananatag tool tip of the day. Why don’t you walk us through your tool tip?

Jen:

Sure. Okay, so this is one that I got exposed to a couple of weeks ago and I’ve started using in our webinars on the Agile Change Leadership Institute, it’s called the Lean Coffee Table and it’s the virtual version. So some of your audience might be familiar with Lean Coffee as an agile change practice, which is about democratizing meetings. So it’s not being run by the manager, it’s actually run by the team, but I also use it in change as a more democratic participatory way of doing FAQs. No longer am I trying to determine what the FAQ should be, I’m getting told what the FAQs are. This is a very cool virtual tool. It is super easy for you to use as the facilitator. It’s really effective for employees to use. And you can get on in advance, post what your questions are or topics that you want to discuss.

Jen:

You then have the opportunity to do dot voting and work out which are the ones that are most important. The platform tells you which are the highest priority. You can move them into the discussing. It gives you a lovely little timer, so you can time box the discussion, which gives you choice of ringtones for when the time is up. My favorite is the rooster. And the [inaudible 00:24:13] to continue discussion or not and move it into discuss, and then you can export all of the things that were discussed. So I don’t know if that resonates for others, but my wordy, I just think it’s one of the most useful, particularly in these days when we’re doing everything virtual. Once upon a time, I did these on white boards with post-it notes, and now it’s just too easy.

Adam:

I love that. And I love the idea of a custom tone that plays when you’re nearing the end of your meeting, that rooster would become iconic. And there’s something about having meetings about having better meetings that sounds so silly, but is so worthwhile if you can prevent yourself from falling into the same pitfalls that we all know and hate. So, that’s genius. Okay. A few announcements before we come back to you, we have an exciting lineup of guests both Friday and next week for our special additions of the Bananatag Morning Show during the IVC Virtual World Conference and we’ll be revealing those as this airs live in the chat. So take a look and we’ll introduce those folks to you.

Adam:

And we’re also very excited to let you know that, as of today, as of last week pardon me, you never have to miss a Bananatag Morning Show ever again. We have designed a page that will let you sign up to get access to transcripts from past shows, our full library of episodes, as well as show reminders. So we’ll share that in the chat as well. Make sure you sign up and you can get more amazing shows like this one with Dr. Jen Frahm, although she is one of the kind.

Kyla:

And if you are communicating change right now and wondering if anyone is reading your emails or you want to get feedback from employees without launching a huge survey, talk to Bananatag. We’ve got a demo link in the chat right now, and we can help you get set up on a demo and learn about all the cool ways that Bananatag can help you navigate change communications. And of course, if you would like to keep the conversation going, join Comms-unity, where all the cool communicators hangout. We’ve got a bunch of experts in there that are helping to support the community. And yeah. So Jen, thank you so much for being here.

Jen:

You’re very welcome.

Kyla:

It’s been fantastic. Do you have any final words for our audience?

Jen:

Oh, look, I think, final words, keep calm and be brave. Really. That’s what’s going to take us forward in your practice.

Kyla:

I love that. Keep calm, be brave. So remember everybody, we’re in this together. You got this, and we’ll see you on Friday. Thanks everybody.

Adam:

Bye.

Kyla:

Bye.

Adam:

So what would the wordy version of calm, keep calm, be? Keep Equanimitous?

Jen:

Maintain an appropriate and efficacious level of equanimity.

Kyla:

I love it. So good.

Adam:

And cut.