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How to connect and empathise with your Senior Execs 

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How to connect and empathise with your Senior Execs 

Have conversations with your Senior Execs – they’re only human.’

This was a key message that resounded with attendees at this year’s CIPR Inside annual conference.

But what should we be saying? 
How should we be saying it? 
And how do we really tap into the skulls of our senior leaders?… 

The event explored the latest research and opinions of CEOs and Senior Execs alongside thoughts from IC Pros about what we should be focusing on to demonstrate the importance and the value of internal communication.

The research highlighted how, as IC Pros, we experience a distinct disconnect between our own perception of internal communication and the opinions of our Senior Execs.

A few more conversations, some mutual understanding and an empathetic approach could help to close that gap…

Getting under the skin of your CEOs

As sponsors of the conference, we ran two consecutive workshop exploring how we can make deeper connections with our Senior Execs to strengthen relations, secure our own reputations and achieve business objectives.

The Empathy Map exercise

Attendees worked in groups to find ways to connect with Senior Execs on a personal level, to understand these humans we’re working with, to get to grips with their pressures and problems and to explore what they’re seeing, saying, doing, hearing and feeling by using an empathy map.

This was followed by a creative exercise where employees were asked to use their findings from the empathy map activity to consider…

  • If IC was a product, what would it be?
  • How would it look?
  • And what features of the design would be a hit with your senior leaders?

With a great mix of individuals in each group, all with different CEOs and Senior Leaders, the Empathy Map exercise drew out some broad and thought-provoking themes.

To the questions posed, group responses included:

What are your Senior Leaders seeing?
Externally, Senior Execs are continually exposed to competition in the marketplace, changes and challenge are everywhere, they’re seeing things like Brexit, constant digital disruption, fake news and all things Radio 4! They’re always horizon-scanning, looking at the bigger picture from a birds-eye view, forward thinking and forward planning.

But what are they NOT seeing? Frontline customers, employees on the ground and potential opportunities for improvements are often unseen.

What are they saying? 
Senior Execs are talking targets, the direction and the vision of the business, how we’re going to get there and what’s next? They’re often bogged down in detail, talking share prices and profit margins, adopting the ‘CEO voice’ and using corporate speak that not everyone understands. They’re asking for trust and transparency but often failing to sound personable and authentic.

What are they doing? 
First and foremost, they’re attending a LOT of meetings, sitting on boards and fulfilling the role of ‘leading figure’. They’re spending a lot of time outside the organisation, building networks and relationships and fronting big projects. Closer to home, they may be difficult to reach and confined to their own private spaces.

What are they hearing?
On occasion, Senior Execs are hearing a naïve interpretation of their organisation – what is being said by friends, the wider public and the media can be very frustrating. There’s a lot of noise and it’s coming from everywhere – competitors, regulators, legislative bodies, government, influencing messages from shareholders and other Senior Leaders.

Others are painting rose tinted pictures of what may be going on and talking about the extremes of the good and the bad, often forgetting what lies in the middle. And in many cases, our Senior Execs are only hearing what people think they want to know.

What are they feeling? 
The consensus was that our Senior Execs are feeling overwhelmed by having to constantly prioritise. They feel isolated, exposed and vulnerable with a lot of pressure on their shoulders and frustration about things they’d like to achieve but can’t.

They’re torn over the constant struggle with work/life balance and can feel like they’re the only people that care, operating in a ‘bubble of one’, resulting in an enormous sense of responsibility. But can they really let go and delegate?

On a positive note, some of our Senior Execs are feeling motivated to make a difference and a desire to leave a strong and positive legacy.

Putting the empathy map into practice

To bring this section to a close, attendees were asked to take this approach back to their organisations and to work through it with their own teams, using an empathy map tool to help them get to know their leaders, understand their priorities and connect more deeply with them.

If comms was a product, what would it be?

Attendees were then asked, if IC was a product that you could buy off the shelf, what would it look like? What would be the benefit of this product?

Your audience is your senior leader, and having explored their wants, feelings and concerns together, how will you address their needs, their desires, and their fears, with your super product?

In less than five minutes, attendees invented some excellent products including:

A Swiss army knife – a multifunctioning toolkit, top quality, reliable, tried and tested and can be taken anywhere – mends, fixes and inspires.

A bra – it’s adjustable, it comes in different shapes and sizes, it’s supportive, good quality, sometimes pretty, always practical, often bouncy and comes fully endorsed by happy customers.

Magic dust – magic for all occasions, offering honest and instant advice that keeps it real!

A multi vitamin – A critical, daily boost of goodness from internal comms. Your trusted advisor.

A sweet – that when consumed, saves time, makes money and keeps employees happy.

A magic wand – because we’re often expected to turn wishes into reality.

Is your relationship with your Senior Execs dead or alive?

Thank you to all those who attended and offered their thoughts, ideas and experiences.

According to one of the key findings from the research:

‘CEOs are open to dialogue with us and we need to act on this opportunity, and continue to create ways to encourage regular, direct conversations.’

Clearly, the closer the connections with our Senior Execs, the better our relationships will be and when we have a fuller, deeper understanding of how they think and feel, that is when we will truly be able to demonstrate our value to our leaders.

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Emily Stoten — Head of Marketing, Selecta

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Jo Hobbs — Communications Manager

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Sarah Crowdy — Campaign and Media Officer Communications, South East Water

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Sobha Varghese — Tata Consultancy Services

“We had the privilege to work with the Alive team. It was our first time to be involved in creating an animation for our patients within paediatrics. The team were approachable, friendly, creative and very accommodating. Your vision for what you want to create, is at all times acknowledged, appreciated and accommodated by the team. They worked effectively and with great passion towards our project and worked not only alongside health professionals but also our patients who really enjoyed the experience of working with the Alive team. It has given our team the confidence and inspiration to do further projects in the future. We highly recommend Alive and their exceptional team.”

DR ELENI ATHANASAKOS, Lead Paediatric Clinical Scientist — NHS Barts Health

“‘The short animation developed in co-production with clinicians and young people is outstanding! Informative, developmentally appropriate, vitally fun and engaging. We are really grateful for the expertise of the Alive with Ideas team for their innovative approach in building children’s health literacy.'”

Kath Evans — Director of Children’s Nursing at Barts Health

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Lianne Springer — Communications and Engagement Lead

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Louise Burnard, Head of Marketing and Communications UK — Be | Shaping the Future

“I think the team have done such a brilliant job, particularly with responding to our requests. It's one of the best mental health videos I've ever seen. Very proud to be associated with your exemplary work. Thank you so much.”

Dr Anna Batho — Clinical Psychologist – Critical Care, UCLH

“We have worked with Alan, Caroline and the wider Alive With Ideas team for many years. In that time, they have provided a dedicated service that is second to none. We appreciate their attention to detail and creative approach to bringing our brand, communications and stories to life. And would recommend them to anyone looking for creative communications support.”

Georgia Beech — Internal Communications Specialist, Ocado Group

“This is brilliant. I wanted to give my heartfelt thanks to all of the team who worked on this. You all understood exactly what we wanted to communicate and why, and then managed to do it in a way that was far better than anything I could have imagined. I’m a bit choked up to be honest!”

Sarah Wright, Head of Communications and Campaigns — NEA

“Each time I work with the team, I am always stunned at the effort and creativity that goes into each detail and am always eager for the end result. The team is extremely accommodating and always provide a fresh approach to our projects that elevates our communications materials!”

Alana Khaytin, Communications Specialist — Braskem America

“What I really appreciate about Alive is that they work with us as partners, and care as much about getting it right for our patients as we do.”

Sara Langston, Patient Engagement & Marketing Manager — italk

“Alive are unique in how much they deeply listen and invest in you and your ideas. I have not come across a company that listens as much as they do to ensure your needs are understood and met (actually - they always exceed my needs and expectations). Everyone I recommend Alive to has an equally brilliant experience. When you work with Alive, you are not only getting some genius creativity brought into your life, you are also hanging out with some of the best examples of human beings I’ve ever known.”

Steph Tranter, Hybrid Exec Coach & Psychologist —

“Alive helped us create a video of our response to the floods of winter 2019. Our Chief Officer received messages from all round the country praising us for it and was really pleased with both the video and the response to it.”

Alexander Mills, Communications Manager — South Yorkshire Fire & Rescue

“Alive were professional, friendly and great to work with. Most importantly they were creative, helping us to bring an extremely important safety campaign to life.”

Jack Grasby — South Yorkshire Fire & Rescue

“The (Alive) team were able to creatively pull together and document (in just over 2minutes) everything our service has achieved over the last few months, from thousands of prescriptions deliveries to hundreds of phone calls made to the vulnerable. The final product was so powerful and reflective of what our service has and continues to achieve. It couldn’t have been better received within the service – thanks Alive for once again helping us to communicate our vision!’”

Emma Wright — South Yorkshire & Rescue

“We worked with the team at Alive to create our staff recognition video.
At a time like this, its never been more important to share the amazing work that our staff have done and continue to do on a daily basis under very difficult circumstances. We wanted to shout about this and recognise that when the time came, South Yorkshire Fire & Rescue stepped up to the plate. We didn’t want an ordinary thank you post on social media or a basic email sent out internally, we wanted something special. Enter Alive. ”

Emma Wright — South Yorkshire Fire & Rescue

“This looks amazing - brought a smile to my face scrolling through it :-)”

Jack Ford, Head of Marketing — streamGO

“Our company is fun, we have great brands, but most importantly we’re all about our people – and I wanted an agency who would understand that and help us bring it to life through our website and other comms. Straight away I felt that Alive ‘got’ us and provided the creative inspiration exactly where we needed it, as well as the technical expertise to deliver a well-functioning website.”

Keren McCarron, Head of Corporate Affairs & Communications — KP Snacks

Thank you so much. Incredible work done at incredible speed by incredible people.
Outstanding work as ever and what a turnaround. As for the concepts – wow. These are that good it would be an insult to describe them as just good. It’s a joke, quite frankly. This is exactly the Alive effect I was after. Right now I feel like I am living in an Alive With Ideas wonderland. Thank you!”

Jack Grasby, Campaigns Manager — SYFR

“If you are looking to improve creativity and build teamwork, I highly recommend a session like this for your team. No matter where you are in your creativity journey, a workshop like this can give your team a boost of energy and ideas to invigorate their creative thinking.”

Amy Lilja, IC Manager — Hennepin Healthcare

“Alive were there to help when we were working every hour to respond to the coronavirus outbreak. They gave us the creativity, ideas and support we needed to deliver campaigns which empowered our residents in the most difficult time most of us have ever seen, personally and professionally. The team understood what we needed, worked closely with us and delivered fast without any compromise on quality. Working with Alive has been a joy in the darkest of times and I have no doubt will have helped to save lives. Thanks team x”

Julie Odams, Assistant Director of Communications & Customers — Derbyshire County Council

“We got 'Alive' involved to help us shift mindsets across our organisation and they delivered! Using simple, clear and creative ideas the team have delivered us a campaign which has seen a dramatic increase in idea sharing and development. They’ve also played a significant role in creating a culture of shared success. I wouldn’t hesitate to work with again, in fact, we already are!”

Gavin Buckle — B&Q
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