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Redefining Communications with Jenni Field

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On this episode of Culture, Comms, & Cocktails, we have Jenni Field, Director at Redefining Communications.

Culture, Comms, & Cocktails is internal comms served straight up, so settle in, drink in the knowledge. Some shaken, some stirred, and maybe even some with a twist, and enjoy the top shelf guest I have lined up for you. I’m your host, Chuck Gose, Strategic Advisor at SocialChorus. On this episode of Culture, Comms, & Cocktails, we have Jenni Field, Director at Redefining Communications.

Redefining Communications is a consultancy group that specializes in helping organizations go from chaos to calm. They work in helping companies understand how to get teams to work better together, operations to work more efficiently and create events to engage individuals behind their strategy.

“Culture is all about the way things work around here. So it’s the way that we interact with each other, it’s how we run meetings, it’s just how things get done. And communication is such a fundamental part of that. It has such a core role in shaping what the culture is and how things work. And not in isolation, it has to be done in conjunction with other functions.” —Jenni Field

We feature communications leaders every second and fourth Tuesday of the month. Don’t miss an episode of Culture, Comms, & Cocktails, brought to you by SocialChorus. Subscribe now wherever you listen to podcasts (Apple, Google Play, Stitcher, etc.)

Culture, Comms, & Cocktails Episode #26 Transcript

Chuck Gose: Culture, Comms & Cocktails is internal comm served straight up. So settle in, drink in the knowledge, some shaken, some stirred and maybe even some with a twist. And enjoy the top shelf guests I have lined up for you. I’m your host, Chuck Gose. Strategic advisor at SocialChorus and on this episode of Culture, Comms & Cocktails we have Jenni Field, director at Redefining Communications. Jenni, welcome to Culture, Comms & Cocktails.

Jenni Field: Hi, nice to be here.

Chuck Gose: Well, grab a seat here at the Culture, Comms & Cocktails lounge, and let’s get started. Jenni before I get into the questions, didn’t want to throw out here, I have yet to have to label one of these episodes as explicit, but I wouldn’t be opposed to it if I had to. I’m just throwing that out there before we get in to the questions. Okay?

Jenni Field: I’m glad that my reputation somewhat precedes me.

Chuck Gose: There we go.

Jenni Field: I will keep that to a minimum. I promise.

Chuck Gose: No, no, no. I’m excited in case it happens, I’m excited for it. It gives me some better street cred in the podcast community or something. But first off, congrats on being the new president of CIPR. And for the North American listeners, explain who and what CIPR is, and also how cool it is to have someone who’s IC focused leading the efforts at CIPR.

Jenni Field: So the CIPR is the Chartered Institute of Public Relations. It’s been around for around about 70 years now and it’s the only charter body that represents PR and communication practitioners internationally. So we have members in all sorts of countries around the world, but we are predominantly in the UK. I became president in January this year. I’ve been a volunteer with them for about six years. I’ve sat on council and board and other bits and pieces like that. But it’s quite cool for me to be, we think the first internal comms specialist as the president. Because just brings a really different slant I think to the role, I think it brings a different perspective, a different focus on the role of employees. And one of my big things this year is that PR is not just about media campaigns, it covers so much more than that. About the relationship stakeholders have with the organizations, that could cover public affairs, it can cover media relations. It can cover all sorts of different elements of PR, and I think that’s really important when we think about communications and what we do.

Chuck Gose: And when you’re not the president of CIPR, you’re the director of Redefining Communications. So tell me, how are you or we as an industry, redefining communications?

Jenni Field: So Redefining Communications was set up around three years ago. And the aim really was to kind of shake things up a little bit. As an agency or a consultancy, I want to challenge people in business to be better communicators. So for me it’s about redefining communications in the sense of the role that it plays inside the organization, how important it is. But helping people that are not communicators really understand the power of it and what it can do for their organization.

Chuck Gose: And one of the things before we hit record on this, we were talking and catching up. And I had mentioned that, or we both talked about how we’re improving our health and focusing on health and wellness, which is great for anybody in any profession. One of the things I’m trying to do is also improve habits that I’ve created. And one of those habits is reading. I read online a lot. But this year I have read and completed two books, that is two more than all of 2019.

Jenni Field: Well done.

Chuck Gose: So I’m way ahead of the curve. Way ahead of the curve. The book I’m reading now though is called The Culture Code. And I’m reading it from the mindset of an internal communicator. And so I’ve been thinking through, what role does internal comms play in a company’s culture? Are we reporters, are we archivists? Are we historians, are we truth tellers when it comes to culture? So what do you think the IC profession plays in a company’s culture?

Jenni Field: So I think it has a huge role in terms of culture. And in the research that we did in CIPR back in 2017, it was called Making it Count. And it was looking at what CEOs thought of internal comms and the role that it played. And they said that they felt internal comms was somewhat responsible for the culture of the organization. And as much as that could make other functions feel uncomfortable, for me, culture is all about the way things work around here. So it’s the way that we interact with each other, it’s how we run meetings, it’s how just things get done. And communication is such a fundamental part of that. That for me, it has such a core role in shaping what the culture is and how things work. So it’s huge for me. And not in isolation, it has to be done in conjunction with other functions. But it’s a really big part.

Chuck Gose: And saying that the profession is responsible for the culture that’s a pretty big… I mean, accountable is one, responsible is another. What’s really cool about The Culture Code book is it goes into the history of how certain cultures have developed. Not even just inside companies, but inside little organizations. It talks about the Navy SEALs, an amazing culture inside the Navy SEALs. But it started because this one guy made this one decision based off of something he saw these French soldiers do. And it’s interesting to see how it develops. So I don’t know that there’s a right or wrong answer here. It’s something I see falling on the shoulders of communicators and I think sometimes they don’t know what to do with it.

Jenni Field: And I think there’s something in what you’ve just said then around the leadership playing such an important role. And I’m starting to explore the four enablers of employee engagement and look at the different elements of each four and the weighting of each four. And I’m wondering what the role of leadership plays in that and how much leadership will change that engagement, whether it’s done strategic narrative or integrity or whatever it might be. But I think the leadership does really dictate a culture quite heavily, especially if that leader is particularly strong either one way or the other.

Chuck Gose: It goes back to there’s an older, let’s say pre-Trump, pre-Brexit episode of Freakonomics that talked about, how important is the president?

Jenni Field: Okay.

Chuck Gose: But they found, honestly the president, whoever that person is, honestly isn’t really that important. I’m thinking that is going to change because of the weight that they have on the conversation, which is what I see happening inside companies. That leaders are determining the conversations that are happening, which does then impact the culture. This isn’t a vision, values, mission statement thing, but it’s a what’s the weight they’re putting on some topics versus not other topics, is having either a positive or negative impact on cultures.

Jenni Field: Yeah. And the way that they choose to communicate and all of those things, signals so many things about how that organization will run.

Chuck Gose: And I think that’s where the internal comms plays a huge role as a term is sometimes don’t always have a power over the what they’re saying. But you do have a little bit of an influence over the how. And I think that’s where that impact is.

Jenni Field: Yeah. And the authenticity piece, I think that’s where we can really play a role to help make sure that all of that communication is really genuine. I’m not a fan of the word authentic, so I’ll stick with genuine.

Chuck Gose: You know what word I… You know what? I’m kind of the same, genuine works. I like honest. It’s another
simple word.

Jenni Field: Yeah. Quite simple.

Chuck Gose: That’s good. And one of the reasons we’re talking now, not the only reason, but one of the reasons we’re talking now is that you are keynoting at FutureComms 2020. So first off, thanks for agreeing to do that and coming over to New York to be a part of that event.

Jenni Field: Thank you.

Chuck Gose: And second, what will you be talking about at FutureComms?

Jenni Field: So I’m really excited to be coming over. It will be the first time I’ll be talking about the model that I use to help take the chaos out of organizations by helping them communicate more effectively. And that’s come from all the work I’ve done over the years working in-house and as a consultant.

Jenni Field: But there’s kind of three steps to my model which are understand, diagnose and fix. And it will be talking about those three different elements, how they work together, how they link to data, leadership, and people. And just talking about all of the things that kind of go around that to help us get underneath the issues inside organizations to really transform them. And not just organizations, you can do it at a team level and you can do it as big or as small as you need to do it.

Jenni Field: But it’s about helping communicators have some of those skills to really get underneath those issues that we think are there, but we’re not sure really what’s causing them. So the example I often give is, you can understand you’ve got a headache, but if you can’t diagnose why you’ve got that headache, then you can’t really fix the problem. So if you’ve got a headache and you just treat it with a painkiller, maybe if it was stress related you could take some time off. So your fix if you like, is going to be different depending on what the diagnosis is. So that’s what I’m going to be talking about.

Chuck Gose: And funny you just told that little story at the end, because the whole time you were talking I was like, man that sounds a lot like what a doctor, like a good physician would do. They wouldn’t just look at the symptom and treat it, they’d be like, okay, what is the root cause? What can we get ahead of so that we don’t have worse symptoms and then we’re actually fixing the problem, not slapping a bandaid over the wound.

Jenni Field: Yeah, exactly. And what I’ve found is sometimes as a communicator I’ll be brought in at the right time, so we’ll catch it before it gets really bad. Other times it gets so bad that the phone’s ringing because it’s really chaotic now and something’s got to give. And that just means it takes longer to fix. Doesn’t mean that it’s not fixable, just takes longer to do it because this is about people. You can’t do that quickly.

Chuck Gose: And there’s probably even, you could even think about it this way because you’ve got my brain kind of scrambling through some different scenarios of maybe this is somewhat timely with the coronavirus. But are there cultural viruses that run through organizations where people feel a certain way, but only in that certain time because of the things that are going on? Knowing that things will get better, so how do you give them those encouraging messages? And maybe that comes back to where leadership comes into play.

Jenni Field: Yeah it does. And kind of matching your actions to what you’re saying. And there’s lots of stuff in there. I mean, I talk a lot about toxic people, that feels very loaded as a term. So sometimes I hold them blockers instead because that’s a little bit softer. But there are elements like that. You have to look at what’s going on inside the organization that’s driving certain behaviors or certain things. Because it’s hardly ever just what’s happening on the surface. That’s just a symptom of what’s going on underneath.

Chuck Gose: And in 2019, you rolled out some really great research. So I’ll let you direct people to what the research was and where to go find it and all that, which is great. What I was impressed by was one, that you did your own research. Not because I didn’t think you could do it Jenni, but most people don’t take the time and effort to do that. So I thought that was wonderful. So I want to know, you can talk about the research and where people can go get it. But I want to know, what did you learn from really digging into that project that you’d like to pass along to communicators?

Jenni Field: Sure. So thank you, for the thank you. It was a great piece of work and I think when you’re as opinionated as I am, you have to stand up and then do something. So I think that’s why the research had to happen. The research was about how to communicate with those workers who are predominantly offline, desk-less frontline, whatever term you may choose to use. And it was called Remotely Interested. So people can go and track that down. But the reason for doing it was because there just isn’t enough data out there to help us make informed decisions. So even if I think back to the model that I’ve built around that understand, diagnose, fix. You can’t really diagnose something without having the data. So a lot of stuff is based on gut feel and that’s just not good enough when you’re having conversations in the boardroom.

Jenni Field: So the reasons for doing it were to enable people to have better conversations with data. And I think that the stuff that I learnt in doing it was that it just reinforced for me things that I already knew. So I knew that line managers were really important for communicators, I didn’t know that they had an impact on every single channel and every other component part that was going on around communications in the organization. I knew that relevance was important. I didn’t know it was what was the contributing factor to noise inside organizations. So I think the learning there is about taking the time to step back and really look at what’s going on, to have the data to be able to drive the change that
you want to make.

Chuck Gose: Yeah. I will admit, and this goes back to whether it was your research, or the State of the Sector research that Gatehouse has done. And we’ve seen this topic of line managers come up in a lot of different ways from a lot of different areas. And there’s been this, I call it an echo chamber of sorts, where communicators have come to believe that employees want to hear from their managers first. That that’s where they want to hear from first. And I’ve always been like, yeah, maybe. Depending on the context and all that, but what I think your research and other research shows that even if it’s not every message, they are the trusted source. They are the ones that employees want to hear from. There was even an event that Jason Anthoine did earlier this year in Atlanta called, What Employees Want. And he had normal, I’ll be using air quotes which is bad for podcast, employees onstage. And they all said the same thing. Even as communicators, we need to figure out how we can better empower those managers to understand the message, know the message. And I don’t even think they sometimes realize how much employees look to them for information, inspiration, guidance, whatever that might be.

Jenni Field: Yeah. And I think you’re right. I think that’s the whole thing for me is helping people that don’t necessarily work in communications be better communicators. Because you can do that, we can train them as communicators, we can spend half a day with people and help them understand their communication style and how to change that. And hearing from real people at Jason’s event, I caught up with Jason just the other day and we were talking about the fact that it so often at events you hear case studies from communications teams. But when you talk to the employees that work there, they have a really different perspective of what’s going on. And I think that we have to hear from those people. We have to really be making a difference and an impact that’s really making a difference and an impact in the organization. And not just going off to the shiny tool or going after what we think is the right thing to do. And I think that’s the challenge that we have. We’re pulled in so many directions as communicators in-house that trying to juggle all of that and the budget and all the other things that go with it is really challenging.

Chuck Gose: One of the things we talk about at SocialChorus are the big C communicators and the little C communicators. The big C communicators are those that people in their title, with roles you and I had at organizations. The little C communicators are the people who are communicating all the time to various levels of the organization. So how do we empower them and trust them and give them the tools to do it? So that as communicators, it’s not that everything has to flow through us, we’re empowering them to do the right thing.

Jenni Field: Yeah. Yeah, and I think you’re right. It’s also for me, if we come back to that culture conversation we were having earlier is, you have to enable them to understand their communication style so that they know what impact they’re having if they’re sending emails or they’re doing team meetings. Or they know how to take a company announcement and change that and make it accessible for everybody. There’s lots of different component parts to the communication. It’s the difference between the stuff that they need to do their job and the stuff that they want to know about the organization. And I think being able to help them look at all of that and have the skills around that is really important.

Chuck Gose: Now, I think the last two times we’ve seen each other, I think it was Vancouver for IABC World Conference.

Jenni Field: Yeah.

Chuck Gose: And then so you came across over here, then I went over there to Birmingham for the CIPR Inside Conference. And then you’re going to be coming back over for FutureComms. So we’re doing a nice little leapfrog back and forth.

Jenni Field: It’s good.

Chuck Gose: Whether it’s FutureComms or any of these other events. How do you get the most out of events and what do you recommend communicators in attendance do to maximize the investment? Because I’ve seen communicators view events very much like a boondoggle. It’s a fun thing that’s a chance to get away and have some fun. Nothing wrong with that. I have seen some communicators who are like head in down, note-taking, maximizing that time. How do you maximize that time?

Jenni Field: So I think it’s such a good question and I think it totally depends on where you are in your career. Why you’re going to that event and all of those different things. I’m quite intentional about the events that I go to. I have the same amount of time as everybody else, but I will prioritize it in the right ways to help me do what I need to do. So I did see you IABC last year. I’m going back to IABC this year, so I’ll be in Chicago in June. And that’s because for me, that conference allowed me to switch off from everything else. Whether it was the time difference or whether it was the fact it was over a few days.

Jenni Field: I’d maximized my investment by the fact that I was completely present during that time. So, yes. We did have a really good time and there was lots of drinking and lots of socializing around it. But it was also, I did so much writing and so much thinking and so much strategizing while I was there that, that for me is how I get the most investment. Is being really present, really focusing, having a notepad where I can sort of draw and scribble in at the same time so that my brain can go off in all the different directions. And I’m connecting with people often online to then meet them while they’re there is a big thing for me.

Jenni Field: So with something like FutureComms, I don’t think I knew that many people going. I think Jason is going, so I’ll know him, I know you and you’re going. But I will be tweeting and talking about the fact I’m there so I can connect beforehand. Somehow that makes it then easier so that you’re connecting with people and you’ve sort of met them before. But I think you’ve got to think about why you’re going and what’s important to you, because there are quite a few events out there. So it’s making sure that you’re going with a purpose and then making sure that you’re getting some learning from that.

Chuck Gose: And speaking of going to events and tweeting and sharing, you and I can both be a little noisy online. Whether it be LinkedIn or Twitter.

Jenni Field: True.

Chuck Gose: And because of that we do end up interacting with a lot of different communicators from a lot of different sizes of organizations in different parts of the world. I’m obviously in North America, you’re in the UK. What do you see as a difference between communicators in North America and Europe, just from your experience? Or do you see any differences between the two?

Jenni Field: I’m seeing less and less of a difference actually. And we touched on this when we spoke in Vancouver as well. And I don’t see a huge difference at the moment. IABC, what was very interesting to me was the breadth of topics that were covered at that conference. And how busy some of the kind of basics were if you like. So where they were sort of sessions on some of the basics around internal comms, they were standing room only. But equally the sessions on Blockchain was standing room only. So there isn’t anything for me that’s necessarily saying, Oh, it’s really interesting that everybody was going to this, or everyone was interested in that. And that’s been my only real exposure to kind of that side of the world. So I don’t see there being a huge difference because I think it’s easy to be in a bubble of noise on social media. I think people are struggling with understanding people and I think that’s the same wherever you are. And the time it takes to do the stuff that people want to do. I think that we’re still trying to do things too quickly than what is actually achievable.

Chuck Gose: I used to, and I’m thinking back maybe to five years ago, get pretty frustrated with the internal comms profession in its lack of use. And not just presence but use of LinkedIn and Twitter. Mostly from my standpoint there’s a ton of free education and free resources and learning and all these things that developed that are shared on the daily. Specifically even for the niche of internal comms. But that’s improving, it’s not perfect yet. And I think that’s knocked down a lot of geographic and cultural barriers between countries and professions, is that people I see interacting and I’m thinking, how in the world do those two people even know each other? But they’ve connected because of some other reason. And we are bringing this profession closer, in a more holistic manner. It’s not just the IABC community and then the PRSA community, then the IoIC community and the CIPR community. And those seem to operate independent, now it’s the people that are the center of it. And the organizations are very much secondary to that.

Jenni Field: Yeah, totally. And it’s the reason why, Rachel Miller, Dana Leeson and I set up the IC crowd on Twitter, years ago now. And that was the whole reason was, there must be a way to connect people that can just share ideas and help each other. And I know SocialChorus are supporting The Big Yak, which is on the 6th of June in London. And we have people traveling in for that and connecting. But also connecting on the day who aren’t there because the community is on Twitter. And that’s lovely because the whole point of that is we can all help each other and that’s what we should be doing as communicators.

Chuck Gose: Now before we were talking about boondoggles and drinking and all that kind of stuff. We’ve now gotten to the drinking question. Jenni, we’ve talked about culture, we’ve talked about comms. Podcast is Culture, Comms and Cocktails. Jenni Fields, so what is your favorite cocktail? And the better the story, the better the cocktail.

Jenni Field: So I do have a favorite cocktail, but I am not notoriously awful at choosing cocktails. Because I always think they sound amazing written on the menu, and then they arrive and they look beautiful but they taste awful. So I’ve always wanted to kind of shy away from a cocktail. But if I’m going to order one and I will often order an espresso martini.

Chuck Gose: Now being in the UK, do you have a favorite spot to get that espresso martini?

Jenni Field: No. I’ll take that anywhere I am really. Most places will do them now. So they’re quite easy to come across, which is lucky because for a while they were quite hard to find. But no, they’re quite plentiful now, which is nice.

Chuck Gose: And before we started recording today, earlier on Twitter. We got into a little whiskey conversation.

Jenni Field: We did.

Chuck Gose: So I know that you are interested in trying to explore the world of whiskey. I recommended coming across and doing the bourbon trail. So maybe the next time you come to the US just a couple of hours from me, Jenni. We could go hop down, do the bourbon trail.

Jenni Field: I’m in. I’m in. I so want to like whiskey. It smells lovely. People look cool when they drink it with ice. But then I drink it and I just think it tastes terrible. So, I’ll work on it.

Chuck Gose: It’s something that’s worth working on. I had to work on it. I had to work on it as well.

Jenni Field: Okay. But how long did you have to work on it? Because I feel like I’ve been working on this for a while.

Chuck Gose: You could start with a whiskey sour. That’s a safe one that begin. And then you eventually work your way to a good old fashioned or a manhattan. And then that’s legit. Then you’re legit.

Jenni Field: Okay. Give me a few more years. I’m sure I’ll get there.

Chuck Gose: All right. Well Jenni, thanks again for coming on the podcast. Always great having conversations with you. Great connecting and I will see you in a few months at FutureComms.

Jenni Field: Awesome. Thank you very much for having me.

Chuck Gose: If you enjoyed what you heard from this episode and want to check out others, find Culture, Comms & Cocktails on Apple Podcast, Google Play, Spotify, or wherever you like to listen. And when you do, hit that subscribe button so you don’t miss any future episodes. This has been Culture, Comms & Cocktails. Internal comms served straight up. Thanks for listening.


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Chuck Gose

Chuck Gose

I am a self-proclaimed Skyline Chili connoisseur and Duran Duran fan with nearly 20 years of experience in marketing, corporate communications, and internal communications. My passion and enthusiasm for the communications profession began early in my career at General Motors and Rolls-Royce, Since then, I have focused on weaving internal communications and technology in creative ways. I'm also the co-creator of The Periodic Table of Internal Communications and The Very Hungry Communicator. But most importantly, I got to fly in a blimp once.

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