Why The Best World Leaders are Communicators with Helen Deverell, MCIPR

Summary

In this episode, we had award-winning internal communications consultant Helen Deverell on the show, chatting to us about how great world leaders and communicators have won the hearts and minds of citizens of in places like New Zealand and British Columbia, in the fight against COVID-19. And we also chatted about how to keep big projects moving through all of the challenges of 2020. 

Resources

Jacinda’s communication masterclass
Building trust in an era of fake news
HelenDeverellCommunications.com
Content Planning Template

Transcript

Kyla:

Good morning and welcome. I’m Kyla Sims.

Adam:

And I’m Adam Bradford, and you’re watching the Bananatag Morning Show. It’s the number one live show for Internal Comms pros. And also the only one.

Kyla:

It’s the only one, 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. Regardless, we’re here to talk to Internal Communicators from around the world about what it’s like, communicating during 2020. Yep. All of the bells and whistles that come with that, all of the struggles, all of the wins, and hopefully connecting with you all in the chat as well.

Adam:

That’s right. And meanwhile, and get ready for a good one, because we’re joined by Helen Deverell, and stay tuned right to the end of the episode, because we’ll have a special announcement as well. On Fridays, we talk to British people, as we’ve said before, it’s not on purpose. There’s so many smart people over in the UK, and so we’re glad to be joined by Helen. Helen is an award winning consultant, helping organizations listen to their employees and understand how they can improve, internal communication through audits, strategies, workshops, change programs, content creation, amazing content, and internal campaigns. She was the vice chair of the CIP, our inside committee in 2018 to ’19, and a key contributor to two research reports, as well as a guide to ethical internal communication, very timely topic right now. Currently she sits in the Institute of Internal Communication PD advisory board, and helps to organize their annual conference. And if that’s not enough, in 2018, she was announced as a Fellow of the Institute of internal Communication, amazing. Today, she joins us from her home in Redding, near London, UK, please welcome Helen. Deverell.

Helen:

Thank you very much. Thank you for having me. I’m excited to be here.

Adam:

Well, we’re excited as well. A little birdie tells us that you’re, very pregnant, and due very soon.

Helen:

That is true, I’m squeezing you in just before, I have my baby next week, yes. Hopefully there won’t be any, incidents on the call. It’s just sore, right here.

Kyla:

I mean, it would be very exciting for us.

Helen:

It would be a first, I imagine.

Adam:

Waiting for it to [inaudible 00:02:23].

Helen:

Yeah, exactly.

Kyla:

Oh well, that’s great. We’re really grateful that you were able to, make time for us. Obviously you’ve got a lot of things going on, but before we get started, we got to know, what’s in your cup.

Helen:

Wow. Obviously being a Friday afternoon, and I’m not drinking alcohol at the minute, but I want it to be fancy. So I’ve got a raspberry lemonade, complete with [crosstalk 00:02:48] in there as well.

Kyla:

Beautiful.

Adam:

Yes, very nice.

Kyla:

Oh my goodness. I’m jealous. I’m going to get my coffee, because my hot brown doesn’t really measure up. Although Helen, today we’re going to be chatting about, leaders whose communication style has captured the hearts, and minds of citizens, fighting against COVID-19. Including one of our favorites, former communicator, turned Prime Minister, of New Zealand, Jacinda Ardern. And if that wasn’t enough, we’re also going to talk about, how to keep big projects moving during COVID-19 because, the world has not stopped. It just kept going. So before we jump into all of that, we’re going to get to know you just a little bit better.

Adam:

That’s right. It’s our favorite segment, and our guests least favorite segment where we put them on the spot, and ask them a bunch of questions, some of them silly, some of them serious to get to know them a little bit better. It’s what we call, Getting To Know You. So, it’s pretty simple. You got 30 seconds on the clock. We will pepper you with questions, Helen. And all you got to do is say the first thing that comes to mind. Sound good?

Helen:

Sounds okay.

Kyla:

[crosstalk 00:04:04] You’ll be fine. I promise.

Adam:

All right. Let’s jump in, first one, easy. Where were you born?

Helen:

England. Bedfordshire.

Kyla:

Cats or dogs?

Helen:

Oh, dogs. I have a dog. So definitely dog.

Adam:

Oh, you can still be on. What’s the last TV show you binged?

Helen:

Big Little Lies, loved it.

Kyla:

Ooh, I got to get into that one. Have you seen it Adam?

Adam:

Yeah, oh my gosh. And Meryl Streep is amazing. They all are, but she makes you just hate her. It’s so good.

Helen:

It really is.

Kyla:

Speaking of celebrities, if you could be quarantined with any celebrity, who would it be?

Helen:

I saw you’d asked other people, so I’ve been thinking about it in case you ask. I think it would have to be a comedian of some kind. You’ve got to keep laughing. So probably someone like Melissa McCarthy or Catherine Ryan. I think, women like that who are, very funny and keep your spirits up.

Adam:

I love that. What is the best dinosaur? Very serious question.

Helen:

Oh, triceratops. I’ve always liked the triceratops. [crosstalk 00:05:15].

Kyla:

It’s just the confidence the people have about their favorite dinosaurs, it’s amazing. And final question, what has been your weirdest pregnancy craving?

Helen:

Oh, I’ve not really actually had any, that’s the sad thing about it. I’ve not had to send my husband out for gherkins at midnight, or anything like that, so sorry, disappointing, but no real cravings.

Kyla:

Is that so?

Adam:

Well, thank you for being a great sport Helen, that was great. So let’s jump into our questions. Everyone is tuned in to hear you today, and based on what we’ve chatted about before today, you will not disappoint. First let’s go back in time for a quick minute. You are a consultant who, it’s before COVID, and you’ve got client work lined up for the next month, and then COVID hits what happens?

Helen:

For me, I had exactly that, I had work lined up for the next few months. I was about to start on a big program, and when the locked down in the UK got announced, it all went overnight. There was no longer either, the capacity to give to that work, or they had to, put that energy elsewhere, or again, the budgets were cut on that. So I suddenly found myself looking at nothing for the next few months. Obviously ahead of the maternity leave, so it was quite daunting. I was really lucky that I did pick up some of the work. So I did have work for the last 10 weeks, which was a nice big program of work that I got to do. But I don’t think everyone else, was necessarily that lucky. So I think for consultants, it’s been a really tricky time.

Helen:

Obviously it’s been hard for everyone and in multiple ways, but from a consultant point of view, I think so many Internal Communicators had to, look inwards, focus on their organizations. There wasn’t time to brief consultants to bring people in. Things were changing by the minute. A lot of planned programs just had to go out the window, which is completely understandable, but left a lot of people that work in the way that I do, a bit unsure of what their future was going to look like. And I think, probably there’s still a lot of uncertainty about what that future will look like, and what our role will be, going forward, and as this progresses.

Adam:

It’s such a tough spot, because it’s a time more than ever that, great Internal Comms support, and direction, and advice is needed in organizations. And yet, so many organs in these organizations seem to have been caught in a place where, they’re just trying to keep up, and have difficulty bringing people on for that work. So, I feel for everyone who’s in that position.

Helen:

Absolutely. I think that’s really true, there’s been some fantastic work going on, in organizations. And I’m sure as well, like say, consultants could certainly contribute a lot to that, but it’s just not always been possible for the various circumstances. But hopefully, that will start to change as we get towards our new normal, I suppose, if we can ever find a new normal.

Kyla:

Yeah. Right. That new normal, it’s going to look… We don’t know exactly what it’s going to look like, but it’s still, for at least a little while, it’s going to look like balancing all of these COVID crisis Comms, and then ramping up other projects that have been, sitting on the sidelines, but still need to happen. There are a lot of those projects still going on. Like you said, you were working on one the last couple of weeks. What advice do you have for communicators that are trying to balance, all of this uncertainty, but also have all of these other programs that still need to happen?

Helen:

I think it’s a really interesting point. And I blogged about it recently, for Alive With Ideas, because I think, we are at that point now where the initial, crisis bit has passed, and we are recognizing this isn’t going to go away. But as you say, there’s still a lot of projects that have to carry on that, some of them were huge projects that people were working on that can’t just go away, they’re integral to the business. And so how do you balance that? And I think that, a lot of it is around remembering that COVID will have impacted it, and we need to acknowledge that, understand how we need to adapt, and recognize that, those projects may need to change, but that doesn’t mean they can’t still go ahead. So looking at, the ways people are working, what does that mean for your project?

Helen:

How can we communicate that element of it? What does that mean? What impact will it have? People will want to understand. And in some cases, I suppose, it doesn’t even need to go ahead of it? If one of your big projects is about moving to a completely new office, and now you’re potentially going to have everyone remote working in the future, then that might not be required. So it’s really trying to understand, the impact COVID will have, and recognizing that at some point we do need to get back to, the way we were. And that actually, probably a lot of those messages will sit side by side.

Helen:

You can’t often communicate anymore about, some of these things without even mentioning COVID at all. And I think, the other thing that is worth remembering with all the COVID stuff, is that it’s actually given a really good opportunity, to remind people that they can change, and that, how well everyone has adapted. A couple of months ago, if you’d said that most of the world’s businesses would be remote working where possible, and everyone would be set up with the right tech, and they’d be, working that way for months on end, no one would have believed it, but we’ve managed it and we’ve done it in a lot of cases very successfully.

Helen:

So I think it’s also a really good story to tell your employees that “Yes, we are changing. These change programs were always going to happen, we’re going to continue. But the good news is we know we can change. We know we can adapt. We’ve done it, we’ve done it very quickly, and we’ve done it successfully. And I think that’s a real, positive to come out of it.

Adam:

If anything, can be taken, from working as a communicator through COVID-19, it’s how much we can accomplish, in a short amount of time, when we have focus. It’s that, that hopefully we can bring into, the change work that we do in our organizations. I think it’s easy to burn out, in a situation like this, but you also can accomplish a lot pretty quickly.

Helen:

Absolutely, yeah. And that is really important as well, is looking after your own mental health, as communicators, we’ve been incredibly busy the last few months, and that’s really important too. As we get back into doing some of the other projects, it is making sure that we’re still taking our holidays, even if we’re not going actually going anywhere anymore. Making sure that, we are taking care of ourselves, all that type of thing, is still just as important.

Adam:

Kyla and I just took, five, six day, at home vacations where we didn’t really do anything. I really appreciated it, it was nice to turn off my brain.

Helen:

Just sleep, probably.

Adam:

Oh my gosh, yes.

Kyla:

I think that’s mostly all I did was sleep.

Adam:

Well, speaking of mental health, our getting to know you conversation turned into some very good, recommendations in the chats. Erica recommends the amazing Canadian television show, Schitt’s Creek. We all-

Kyla:

It’s amazing. I love Schitt’s Creek so much.

Adam:

It’s amazing. Emily from our team, also recommends it. We also have Gabriel, Moira Rose, is the spirit animal, I never knew [inaudible 00:12:32]. So keep those comments coming. And if you have any questions for Helen, let us know. Okay, so we’re going to shift gears for a moment. You regularly blog on your own website, which we’re going to share in the chat, now. Thank you, Emily. But you also are a guest blogger, every month, on the Alive With Ideas blog.

Adam:

And one of the pieces that you recently wrote was, just in this communication masterclass, pointing towards the lessons we can take from New Zealand’s Prime Minister, Jacinda Ardern, who we know and love. A communicator.

Kyla:

What a dream though.

Adam:

Oh my goodness. Now, of course the Kiwis have been particularly successful in flattening their COVID-19 curve, partly because of their PM’s ability is sell the public, on pretty strict, restrictions to limit the spread of the virus. So maybe you can talk to us a little bit, based on, that blog piece, about the lessons that we can take from this former communicator gone politician.

Helen:

And I love that she’s a communicator, and that’s so rare, I think in politicians that you come from that background, and I think it’s really come across in the way she’s dealt with this, how important that is. And I think while a lot of what New Zealand have done, obviously there are, other elements that they’re a smaller country, they’ve got less people more spread out. There’s all that to take to account, but I don’t think you can take away from how fantastic her communication has been. And I think, much of that has come, from various elements of what she’s done. So the clarity of the messaging that she gave. She, very early on was very clear about a staging process that she was going to have. So people could clearly see, looking ahead, this is what will happen if this happens at this point, this is why, and this is what we’ll do.

Helen:

And it was kept very simple, very clear. There was no jargon, there was no uncertainty or ambiguity. She was just very clear, and kept that to the point and succinct. And I think she also provided examples as well, that was really important. She was able to bring it to life much more, which then also tied into, she kept showing the why. And I think that showing the why is so important. Why are we doing this now? Why are we going hard early? And a lot of countries didn’t necessarily always back that up. That why, or there was ambiguity, but she was very clear, “This is why we’re going to do this.” And then if it was very specific things, she would explain, such as closing children’s playgrounds, she would explain, why that is. That virus lingers on surfaces for longer, things like that.

Helen:

So she, wasn’t just saying, “That’s what we’re doing, that’s it.” There was always the explanation. And then I think underlying all of that, was her empathy, and her relate-ability as a leader. So she, did talk about her own situation. She likes taking her daughter to the park, and she’s disappointed as well. She put herself in that position. And she also did things like, Facebook Lives from her bedroom, after putting her daughter to bed. You don’t often see world leaders doing that. And it made her feel very relatable, very trustworthy. She took questions live on that as well, and responded to New Zealanders, questions, and none of it was scripted. I think it really created a sense of trust in her, and what her messaging was. And they didn’t get absolutely everything right, but I think in these unprecedented times, not everyone was going to. But, I think she threw that relate-ability that empathy, that clarity, she did a really good job at building trust, and helping people understand why they needed to follow those rules, and it worked.

Adam:

The vulnerability there of the Facebook Live, after putting your kids to bed, and especially in a position where, you don’t know if the actions that you’re taking are going to work. Can you even imagine the pressure, of being a world leader, especially one, who really cares, and is trying to do things right.

Kyla:

One of those [inaudible 00:16:40].

Adam:

Saying anything there, but it’s just very interesting, a lot to take from that. That’s a great, great blog. If you haven’t read it yet, we’ll share it in the chat.

Kyla:

And there’s also, more examples of leaders that we can look to, in this moment, who’ve done a really incredible job. We’re really proud here in BC, Canada of our Chief Health Officer, Dr Bonnie Henry, who’s been leading our COVID response. We were actually expected, BC is at this crux between, the US and Asia, where we were expected to really just get hit, super hard by COVID. And, our response had been very, very successful. Obviously, there were still mistakes made as well, but we definitely did flatten the curve. And in fact, she was actually featured by the New York times and CNN, for her messaging, and I know we’ve talked about it here a lot, about how she in herself is also a masterclass in communication.

Kyla:

Obviously she was a health professional first, but she does conduct herself as a communicator. And the things that she did to, actually make people feel, like they understood what was going on, she explained everything. There was no fear-mongering, there was none of that. And the way that her mantra, I think it was, “Be calm, be kind, and be safe.” And just that simple turn of phrase, just repeated over and over again, people really took it to heart. And I think it definitely is to credit to BC. And of course also where you are. Oh, sorry. Go ahead.

Helen:

It’s just that, I read up about her after you mentioned her, and I was really impressed with her. I was reading, I think that’s the New York Times that was quoting, and that she also, wasn’t afraid to be emotional when giving press conferences, and apparently she got quite teary about talking about when, the vice did get into care homes, things like that. I think, again, we’re not used to seeing leaders be vulnerable, but it’s so important that we do see that, human side of them.

Kyla:

It’s interesting, I read something about, she actually worked, on Ebola cases as well, a number of years ago. And it’s interesting, for someone, you see her, and she gives off this image of this very quiet, soft, feminine, but she’s just the biggest bad-ass ever. Just running into the fire, saving lives, getting stuff done. It’s pretty amazing. But closer to where you are, one of the issues that, the UK, and also the US and other places are facing, is getting the public to wear masks. So this, it seems to be an issue of communication on a lot of levels. Talk to us a bit about winning that public confidence through communication, in an age where, we know for a fact that people trust their employers, generally more than they trust their governments.

Helen:

And I think it’s really interesting, because this has all happened again against this backdrop of fake news. And there’s so much out there that, isn’t true. And example I spoke about with you is, I was sent recently by a friend, and I was caught by how, if you leave your hand sanitizer in your car, it can explode, which is completely untrue. But people really believe this. And it keeps getting shared, yet people won’t wear face masks, even though it was said to wear them. And it’s really interesting what people will believe, and what they won’t. And I think as we return to workplaces, it’s so important that people do follow, the guidelines we give, and a huge amount of work is going into setting our workplaces up to be safe places. But it does rely on people following the right behaviors, which relies on good communication.

Helen:

And how do you create that trust around it? And I think you’re right, the Edelman, report in March found that, people were trusting their employers more so than government. I think that there’s a lot, that could be unpicked there, about whether people are walking the walk, leadership, about some of the clarity of messaging, and trust. I think trust has to be built up over time. So I think when people are returning to their workplaces, we need to create these single sources of truth that people can trust is the right information, it’s accurate. But you can’t just create one of those, you have to have been building up trust in the lead up to this. People have to believe that what they will see from you, is going to be genuine, it’s going to be in their best interest. They need to, again, come back to the why. They need to understand why they have to do things the way they are, why these certain measures have been put in place.

Helen:

Because some of it may not be immediately obvious. Some of it may be because people have to work in certain ways to do their jobs. Therefore we’ve done that this way for these people, for these people it may be something different. But that’s not obvious to everyone. So we need to make sure that we’re always reinforcing, why we’ve made those decisions. And really make sure leaders are doing, what we’re asking everyone else to be doing as well. If we’re saying you have to do this in your office, or you have to wear a mask when you’re in a certain area, then leaders need to be seen to be doing the same thing as well. I think that’s where we’ve fallen down a little bit with some of the government guidance, lack of clarity, lack of trust, and lack of setting that example.

Adam:

Absolutely. We have a question from the audience and this may be a good one for you. If not, it’s one that we can chat about in Comms and Unity, our Slack space. So Jenna says, oh, that doesn’t show up on screen very well, does it? “Helen, have you ever consulted for any Internal Comms teams for healthcare, organizations or hospitals? Any bits of advice based on what you may have seen with common pitfalls in healthcare, or hospital communications?

Helen:

That’s a good question. I have done Internal Comms audits for, hospital trusts in the UK. I think one of the things that often, is communication between departments, and things like that, and ensuring there’s a consistency of message often. And I don’t know how that works in North America, but here, I think sometimes we can work a bit siloed, there so many trusts within the NHS, and different departments. So I think, another key part of building this trust in some of this return to work messaging, is around, making sure that we are being consistent, and that when we are communicating something from the top, that line managers, different departments, everyone is receiving that same message.

Helen:

And I think that can sometimes be a bit difficult, within some of the healthcare. And obviously it’s messages do have to be tailored. They have to be tweaked for them be suitable for their own audience, but there should be some underlying key messages that are constantly reinforced. And I’m sure in your Slack group, there’ll be plenty of other examples people can share, but I think that would be one that immediately came to mind, is the need for that consistency across, sometimes very complex setups within healthcare sectors.

Adam:

Absolutely. And Rachel Miller, a good friend of ours, has “Couldn’t agree more with Helen, having a single source of truth and ability for employees and leaders to check, for understanding, is critical.” Now we’re down to our last five minutes with you. This always happens, it goes very fast. And what that means is, Oh, can I make this happen? I can. It’s time for our tool tip of the day. Helen, why don’t you walk us through the resource that you have shared with us today.

Helen:

Okay. So my tool of the day, it’s my content planning template. I do, do a lot of content creation for companies. And I often find that planning is often the forgotten elements with content. So I created a template, which is ultimately a list of questions to help you think through, either the content you’re creating, to discuss with people in your organization, to work together on it, or to send out for other people to fill in. So it centers around a lot of the W questions, who is this for? Why are you doing it? What do you want people to think, feel, do. All those sorts of things. But it captures it all in one document, and it’s then really useful to have that record because, when you then get to the other end of your content, you’ve created it, makes your sign off process a lot easier.

Helen:

If you’ve all agreed what this needed to be, there could be no disagreement on what it’s ended up as. This is what we agreed in the brief. It also helps with the editing as well, because if you’re getting it edited by someone who hasn’t been involved, they can check it against the brief. Has it met the expectations? Have we done what we set out to do? So it helps with multiple steps throughout the content process. So yeah, that’s the template I’ve created, and very happy for you, to share that with people, if they would like a copy.

Adam:

Our team is taking a look at it, and I think we’ll be using it soon. It’s fantastic. If you can’t do, without it, let us know, give us your email on the chat. Failing that, Helen will be putting it on her website, soon. So definitely check back, to that website soon as well. Okay, so we’re down to our last few minutes, and we’ve got big news folks. Next Friday, [inaudible 00:25:34], is going to be the grand finale, of season one, of the Bananatag Morning Show, Kayla, how did we get here so fast?

Kyla:

I don’t know.

Adam:

We’ve had 31 episodes, many of the great minds in Internal Comms from around the world, including Helen today. We’ve been so lucky. You won’t want to miss this last show, tune in next Friday, we’ve got some extra special content, for you that we’ve been planning, and we’re pretty excited.

Kyla:

Yeah. And of course, if you’re a communicator who’s sending employee emails, and you want to collect some sweet, sweet data, so that you can show leadership the power of the communications that you’re sending, we’ve got a link in the description here where you can book a demo, with one of our friendly Banana fam, and they can show you, all the ways, cool communicators like you, are using Bananatag to, prove the value of Internal Comms in their organization, get realtime feedback from employees, and just create better looking, beautiful employee emails. You’ve been great, Helen, thank you so much for coming on, especially with, you’re a little busy, there’s probably, a lot on your mind. We’re really glad to catch you, before you go, do you have any final words for our audience?

Helen:

Well, firstly, thank you very much for having me on, and to the audience, I would say well done to everyone, for the last few months. I think Internal Communicators have just stepped up to the plate, and done a phenomenal job in really challenging circumstances. I’ve just been an awe, of what’s been happening. So yeah, I just would say, well done and just be really proud of ourselves really.

Kyla:

That’s great. Yes, be proud of yourself, we’ve come so far, it’s hard to believe that it’s already been, what four or five months, of all of this. And we’re still keeping on, keeping on. So, good job everybody, we’ll see you here next week. Thank you again, Helen. Thank you all for being in our chat, your comments, your questions, always a pleasure, and we’ll catch you next time. All right, bye.

Adam:

Really enjoying some of these puns before we go off. So sad to see Banana take Morning Show split. Bananatag is so, appealing, their the best bunch. Well done, well done folks, communicators.

Kyla:

Wow. Wow.

Adam:

And cut.