An Interview with Di Burton

This week I had a fascinating discussion with Di Burton, a leading voice within communications and particularly internal communications. It is clear to me that no one is more ahead of the game in terms of understanding the behavioural science behind employee engagement and comms. I was lucky enough to interview her for my blog on the changing role of internal communications in the digital/future workplace.
Di Burton
Q. Did you always want to go into communications and is your background in comms?
A. I started in television production in South Africa and then completed a PR Diploma. I then set up Cicada Communications in Yorkshire and did very well.
She now specialises in Strategic internal comms from board level to line management and right through to the employee voice; turning cynics into advocates.
Q. As a communications expert, how has the role of internal communications changed? Has it become more important over time or do you think it has been a process of realisation of its importance?
A. Internal comms is the fastest growing area of communications. There is a realisation that communications is about getting people to change their behaviour. The role has changed over time, before it may have revolved around building components of an employee newsletter but now it has expanded into a strategic discipline. Behaviour is the key.
Q. Does management really understand the importance of communications?
A. With the rise of Social Media, they have had to. We live in a world where everyone has a voice that they can broadcast, and that includes employees. They have to realise that what people want from work has changed and we no longer live in a world where people will do what their manager tells them. The workforce are flexible and there is no loyalty any more so it has to be about emotion.  As Rosabeth Moss Kanter explains; management is about the three Ms — mastery, membership, and meaning.
Q. Is employee advocacy bridging a gap between internal and external communications?
A. Yes, it is inside out. Employees are the primary stakeholders – if they are walking out then you don’t have a business. If the boss is awful and it is a horrible place to work then I won’t buy from you, it’s about reputation.
Q. What do you think is the biggest communications challenge faced today?
A. Management don’t understand the strategic importance of managing communications or they don’t know how to go about communicating effectively. This starts at board level where communication has to be but also filtering through to line managers – employees have more contact with their line managers so they need to be just as effective.
Q. What role does technology have to play in internal communications? Enterprise Social Networks? As John Smythe once said to me – you cant bolt social onto the Kremlin.
A. It’s important to tell the same narrative same way and with the same tone on every platform. Technology and social media can build this sense of belonging and the ‘M’ for membership that is crucial for successful management. When working with the ambulance service we found that they weren’t checking their emails but had access to smart phones and went on Facebook; so the answer was to build an internal Facebook. Social has to make sense, have meaning and be easy for people; as Charles Handy says, you can’t put IT before people. Social cannot be a bolt on, it has to start with behavioural change and it has to be a feature of an already engaging environment.
Q. What is your view on Intranets? Do you think they will still be used?
A. When they were first introduced, the thinking was that intranets were a ‘magic wand’ for communication. This is certainly not the case; intranets now are more of an HR manual in the sky. They have generally become a traffic jam and dumping ground and it is often outdated and not a trusted source of information.
Q. What is your view on the role of video?
A. Images, video and mobile – there is no question of the importance those three.
Q. What is the changing role of mobile with the new Ofcom research and smartphones overtaking laptops? Do the board recognise this?
A. Businesses have been slower in recognising the importance of using mobile technology to engage. The board are starting to recognise the need for mobile, now it is not just young people with smartphones on Facebook, it is for everyone of all ages. They do seem to have an understanding those principles and are starting to recognise the power of technology and what it can do in this area.