The Gatehouse Blog

5 questions to Frank Dias

Frank Dias recently joined AXA XL as its Internal Communication Director. Having held multiple internal communication roles across multiple industries, he reflects on what he’s learnt over the past decade.

You’ve worked in internal communications (IC) for around 15 years now. How do you elevate the conversation around IC during a job interview? Do you think companies are looking for different IC skill sets these days?

I always talk about IC as an enabler of business success. I think it’s important to focus your answers on how IC can help the business achieve its vision and strategy through the medium of stories, projects and campaigns. And give really great examples where you’ve helped change people’s behaviours, so that the business can be more productive and more successful.

In comparison to when I first started out, companies these days are looking for professionals with the skills and experience to work with the C-suite. There’s definitely a demand in terms of helping leaders become better communicators.

Also, because of all the focus on culture, values, wellbeing and mental health, the people agenda is becoming more and more important. Communications and engagement really have an opportunity to be unique in that space.

There’s definitely a demand in terms of helping leaders become better communicators.

The ‘people agenda’ is an interesting one. It’s a bit of a buzzword at the moment. What do you think it means to a business? And what’s the impact on internal communications (IC)?

It comes back to that one word: relationships. And, for me, there needs to be a great relationship with HR.

For most businesses, employee ‘ownership’ mostly falls in the HR space, and a lot of their focus will be on the tactical and theory aspects. IC can help them get a hold on engagement levels, bringing value to HR by humanising their communications.

We can help ensure that it’s not just focused on the legal side of communicating with employees, but really picks up on the human side, to show that we care. In turn, this helps the business improve engagement, increase productivity and make people happier in their workplace.

Change has become the new norm, but most companies don’t do a very good job of communicating change. What represents the absolute must-dos in your opinion?

As communicators, we have such an important role to really flag the people aspect to those who are managing that change: to ask the difficult questions, particularly at project manager level, so that everyone understands the fact that change isn’t always good from an employee’s perspective. Change can often bring about an ill feeling rather than a positive feeling.

Whatever the change programme is, you need to look at it through the lens of your people based on what you want them to think, feel and do. Forward planning is crucial. As is ensuring you have good employee and line manager representatives in place: a communication champion network. Getting their feedback before the communications go out is vital. This can help highlight the good points and the bad. It allows for the tailoring of messages. And helps you get the tone right according to how employees are feeling at the time.

I’ve learnt various lessons along the way. For example, in my last job, there was a change programme that led to redundancies. Leaders were owning their role in having those tough conversations on a face-to-face basis with the employees impacted. It wasn’t until after this period that some of the leaders then spoke honestly, openly and really authentically with me and others about how they felt. They said the whole process had been really difficult for them and they hadn’t been sleeping properly because of the negative news they were having to give to employees.

That really highlighted to me that, as much as the employee is at risk, the leaders who are delivering those messages need to be encouraged to be honest and open about how they’re feeling about, it too; ideally, well before they have those face-to-face conversations, so that appropriate support and guidance around the messaging can be provided.

Getting their feedback before the communications go out is vital. This can help highlight the good points and the bad.

Faced with multiple channels, spraying out high-level themes at employees from all angles, how do you sort out the mess? How do you balance the need to keep things simple while offering personalisation and fit-for- purpose channels?

Again, it’s about relationships. Communicators need to work hard to ensure they have fantastic relationships, particularly with HR and IT. Understand the roadmap that your IT department is trying to deliver, pinpoint the things that will make engagement happen. Then you can better plan with IT around what products to use and when; when to turn things on and when not to.

Aim for a single point of truth so that employees know where to go for the information that matters, as opposed to diluting the message across too many channels.

I find this is a particular problem with Microsoft. A lot of businesses are tied into their products and, in my opinion, they roll out too many apps and channels.

Do you have any top tips for getting line managers on side? How do you leverage them as a communications channel?

Line managers are such an important group of people within businesses. Helping them understand and appreciate what engagement looks like is key. The only way you can do this effectively is to give them good material to help them have better conversations confidently.

I did a whole engagement programme with line managers last year. I hosted quarterly people manager meetings and I also introduced a monthly newsletter called Talking Points. Both communication mediums were designed to coach line managers to become better communicators because they were better informed about the business.

At the meetings, as well as looking at what we needed line managers to do and tell people, we spent time listening to their feedback on what’s missing — from a communications perspective — to help them do a better job.

The newsletter reinforced this with talking points for team meetings or one-to-one: coaching on communication skills and stories to illustrate what being an active communicator looks like.

We measured the success of this activity via feedback from the line managers. We also used employee engagement surveys, where we specifically asked employees about the relationship with their line manager and the communication element. We got some great feedback that because of the manager engagement I had introduced, employees felt better informed by their managers.

The only thing I’d change would be to perhaps make the newsletter bi-monthly because, as a monthly thing, by the time you’ve done one, you’re starting the next. Also, getting the line managers to support with content is a must.

 

Biography: Frank Dias

Frank Dias is the Internal Communication Director at AXA XL. He’s helped businesses communicate their strategy and purpose to engage better with their employees for over a decade. His previous roles include Lloyd’s of London, Grant Thornton International Ltd and Cancer Research UK.

    Tweet him: @letmebefrnk