TLC – Twitter, Leadership and Communication

By Annette Hill, CIPD Charted Fellow

As a seasoned HR and OD professional in the public sector, I suppose I shouldn't be surprised to find myself leading the 'HR work stream' for major structural change to my organisation. This is the second time in 3 years... sighs... and both organisations were/are heading for dissolution as required by government policy.

>We tweet regularly in addition to using more traditional and internal ways of being in touch with staff

Don't worry, I'm not going to apply change management theory to what HR and leaders need to do structurally for this blog. There are enough case studies about that already, or you can read Who Moved my Cheese or Our Iceberg is Melting. Nor am I going to summarise Annette's Guide to Change, 7 pages of my reflections and learning written the day after I left the job that involved the last change!

Recently back from the CIPD 2013 Conference, I still have loads to reflect on. I was struck by the common themes throughout most of what I heard of treating people with care and respect, seeing things from others' perspectives, building and having to earn trust, truthfulness, transparency etc. Lots of us were also tweeting like mad as well and taking every opportunity to promote (or sell) the benefits of Twitter, sharing material and views openly and communicating using social media. (As Dan Pink made very clear, we're all in sales now.)

So I thought it would be more interesting and useful to adapt and develop a blog I published recently on TLC - Twitter, Leadership and Communication leading to Trust and Loyalty at a time of Change.

Twitter. Most of our leadership team, our Board Chair and many of our managers use Twitter frequently. I was first persuaded by my Chief Executive 2 years ago, and could not have imagined fully its huge benefits for sharing information, ideas, opinions and fun. I've only recently been realising and appreciating its wider value and contribution to leadership and engagement with staff. We tweet regularly in addition to using more traditional and internal ways of being in touch with staff (as Twitter is not for everyone and is a public platform). We are timely and responsive and this has made a huge difference during a very sensitive change process. I believe, from the feedback we have received, that this has helped us to build and earn Trust. (Of course, there's still lots more to do.)

Leadership. Our Board Chair tweets regularly and links his very regular blogs where he shares every detail about the change that it is possible to put into a public domain. (These also go onto our internal intranet.) We all interact and we are highly visible as a united and transparent leadership team. When we don't know something, we say so. I think this fits well with open leadership behaviours we have reflected on over the last few days. We receive lots of feedback via Twitter and face to face on this from our staff, our managers, TU colleagues and from similarly affected staff from other sister organisations. (I do not of course mean to criticise the way they are leading and communicating as every organisation is different- my focus is on how this works for us.) I believe this approach has helped regarding the Loyalty many staff feel to the organisation and its leadership team to do its best during a time of transition.

Communication. Our workforce is geographically dispersed, so we need to use accessible and immediate communication. They are also very busy (who isn't?) So finding out what is going on in real time 'bite size pieces' is very effective. We also use Twitter to showcase widely our successful work in our community, which of course also keeps staff in other parts of our service up to date. Another point I want to make here is that the discipline of using 140 characters promotes the use of plain language that is easily understood. Longer communication is face to face, via all staff teleconferences, via blogs or staff briefings. To stray into something I said I wasn't going to do - apply change theory - I do want to make a point about communication and the need to use the language of the organisation, in other words to be culturally sensitive. I'm afraid some of the documents and plans we are being presented with have the distinct feel of being taken off a stock 'change management toolkit shelf' and only moderately amended for our use. New acronyms and dodgy metaphors abound. I think the two that have caused the loudest groans are 'swim lanes', meaning work streams (which I know is almost as bad) and a reference to 'rules of the game'. Change of such magnitude and sensitivity is most certainly not a game.

Funny how virtually everything written about change emphasises good communication; it must be because its importance over and above most other change requirements, is hard to dispute.  So please, if you are a management consultant, or an internal HR/OD partner reading this, take on the perspective of your client when anything, no matter how small it seems, need to be communicated. (Or if you have seen or heard Dan Pink speak, think about drawing that E on your forehead.)

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