Have the courage to be creative and empathetic in business

“Because it enables business to make money” claim Urszula Radzińska and Monika Sońta. We talk with the authors of ”Communication Playbook. Creating Culture Of Innovation Through Communication” about the internal communication needs during the pandemic, the use of TikTok at work, and about looking for eligible creativity when you are out of ideas.
Katarzyna Kubiak

Katarzyna Kubiak

A copywriter who prefers to write for humans than for Googlebots. HR expert with experience in internal communication. More of a listener than a talker, most likely to leave her introvert shell when she hears the word ‘chocolate’. Always a beginner yogi, looking for inner peace in breathing, traveling, and photography.

★ 12 minutes czytania

Kasia Kubiak: Congratulations on publishing your book. The first thing I noticed was its design, but of course it is an enormous dose of knowledge and inspiration. But before we talk about the book itself, I wanted to ask you how it all began?

Monika Sońta: We met at PepsiCo. Back then, I perceived internal communication as a tool. As an expert on internal communication, I was only beginning to learn the world of business. My understanding of my role at that time was that we need to publish a newsletter once a week, we should have strategy-related key messages, and my job was to tell employees about it, using the tools available at the organization.

And then, there comes Ula, an external consultant who changes my way of looking at communication. She encourages me to go beyond the tools and to think in communication space categories. People do not want to be recipients of information they can’t do anything about. They want to build a discussion about things important to them. The role of a person responsible for internal communication within an organization is to create space for dialogue.

Urszula Radzińska: It’s been long since Monika worked at PepsiCo. She gave birth to wonderful Marcelina, and decided to get a doctoral degree in internal communication. We no longer are in the customer–agency relation, and we started to cooperate on a different level. For instance, we co-created workshops and space for dialogue. Less than a year ago we decided to write a book.

Did the pandemic have an impact on the decision?

M.S.: This book and the fact we wrote it is mainly the outcome of our market observation. Ula was one of my business partners before the pandemic broke out. We co-created creative methods workshops, such as projective techniques, LEGO® SERIOUS PLAY®, playmobil.pro, but for many companies it was risky to organize such workshops. Not all were able to allow this conversation style with employees, communication play, creative explorations or building future scenarios.

And all of a sudden, the pandemic deconstructed the communication reality. We found ourselves in a world of completely different tools. It turns out we are no longer able to talk without intuition, creativity, play, because there is no physical space for it that would be a link and would provide a sense of control.

How did the pandemic change internal communication?

U.R.: It did change a lot. We were suddenly in a situation where there was so much work that we lacked time to set priorities, to think about what is important. That overstimulation and overworking of people dealing with internal communication was the best proof that some things did no longer work. It seems to me some of my customers were working 24/7 at that time.

All the micro pathologies that we were able to swallow earlier on, now are visible in full light.

Beside that, the pandemic has taught us to let loose. It was very difficult, because we thought the manager always needs to know what the employees are doing. We had to learn new rules and frames that are still being shaped. For many companies, there is no going back to the “old order”. Nobody wants to resign from the time saved, from being at home. It is time that has become a valuable currency.

M.S.: I would say there were three waves of changes. The first wave was turning the entire organization to working remotely (# suddenlyremote). We were in crisis communication: we were building communication tools anew, as they became more digital. Simultaneously, our communication became far more measurable, expanding the area of data driven communication.

The second wave was the wave of belonging, when we started to function in a new reality. Hence the team strength and the role of a manager, helping to build the message “we are still part of the company.” We are now talking about engaging employees anew, or the digital employee experience and all the wellness trends.

And finally, we are in the third communication wave, when we know that we can focus on redesigning.

Ula and I call it rewiring or redesigning your business. It’s about having the courage to create these areas anew. To avoid what we didn’t like and what was a burden in the communication structure. To emphasize things that have the potential. To create a sense of wellbeing in employees that will influence their engagement in the new conditions.

How are communication departments doing in the new situation? Are they prepared and what do they need most?

U.R.: They are doing well, because they work. It is mostly a matter of recalibrating certain things. In our attitude, we don’t suggest throwing everything old away, but instead checking what is working and what isn’t. Are the old solutions still as meaningful to us? Do they make sense at all?

M.S.: If we take companies that since the beginning were investing in making the manager an embodiment of empowerment and not of control, then yes, such organizations are ready.

The companies we cooperated with were so mature that even before the pandemic they were providing employees with space and tested unexpected scenarios, in order to gain agility.

There are also companies that are not prepared for this, and try to build everything in the real time. But they have no more time to experiment. If a company wasn’t prepared for this before the pandemic, and is still not ready to change the patterns, it is going to be a painful lesson.

The pandemic has shown that it’s not worth sticking to one perspective. That it’s worth looking at what the world looks like from various perspectives. And this is what we emphasize in our book – in the division into the engineer and creative mind. We don’t claim to have answers to all the questions. But we are in a special moment when it’s worth thinking about where the source of the problem is and analyzing the entire situation from both points of view: quantitative and qualitative. This way, our actions are not automatic but we try out a different way of thinking instead.

What should we follow when building internal communication in an organization?

M.S.: We build on trends and observe the reality. If TikTok and Instagram are getting more and more popular, and we are living in a picture culture, then maybe it’s worth translating this into a visual culture in internal communication? I recommend all the solutions that encourage employees to draw, take pictures, to share experience by creating visual content. One of the exercises from the book is taking inspirational pictures. Creating this kind of experience stream expressed with images encourages the sense of being within the same communication space. Even when we are not sitting in one office, we can share pictures and we know how the rest of us are doing.

U.R.: When writing this book, we were using our everyday experience. For instance, we are used to a given way of using the media, and we want to communicate in the company in the same way.

We need short forms, images. If we find something boring when reading the news, why wouldn’t we find the same things boring at work?

M.S.: We simply transfer the private life habits onto the communication pattern we want to promote in our organizational story.

What was the starting point for writing this book?

M.S.: We discuss innovation as a way to find a practical solution for a given business situation. First, this has to be a practical solution. Second, it must be embedded in a business context. The context has changed recently due to the digital transformation. On the one hand, we cannot ignore it, and on the other, we want to generate practical ideas. That magic of creativity, of being curious about the world, or the courage to be one-of-a-kind appears when we try to find an innovative solution. We need to have a lot of such ideas to be able to choose the ones that can actually solve the problem in a given business context.

In the third chapter, our starting point was the list of key future competences published by the World Economic Forum. Among the skills that were ranked very high was problem solving, systemic thinking, creativity, curiosity, or originality of thought. We believe everyone is capable of developing originality, resourcefulness, and creativity. Our book encourages readers to be brave to think using different patterns.

How do we find space in organizations for originality and curiosity? Where should we take the first step?

M.S.: Try in a small area where you can afford a failure. For instance, you can test pilot programs of a new tool prior to the final decision to see if it works in your organization. Test, observe, and read the data. If you know which posts or articles are popular and ranked high, collect data, experiment, do a pilot project, and draw conclusions.

U.R.: You can also start from yourself. It’s best to check various ideas that we proposed in the book. See if something works for you, if you feel something awakening. Creativity comes when we are relaxed and bored, which are moments of inefficiency from the business point of view.

It’s good to start with something very simple, like a 10-minute daily workout in line with our suggestions. And eventually, there may appear courage to talk other team members into it.

M.S.: You can bring your toys along! Ula mentioned that when we are bored, we become creative. We know that from developmental psychology. When companies were no longer able to bribe their employees with a banana, great coffee, or ten kinds of tea in the kitchen, boredom and expectation of authenticity appeared. Authenticity means that we can create something together, e.g. a space where that coffee and fruity Tuesdays are not essential to answer the question: “Do I want to be part of this organization?”

It seems to me that during the pandemic some organizations simply got stripped of widgets; things that were building company image and provided short-term impulses. Now, other things became important because certain areas simply became boring. And that boredom has to be filled in. We hope it will be with trustworthy, good, and caring communication.

What toys do you offer to the readers in ”Communication Playbook”?

U.R.: Our attitude is not revolutionary. It is a small steps method. We are aware that we don’t have the comfort of inventing corporate communication anew. It is like working in a speeding train.

The book is composed of three parts. The first – theoretical – part discusses issues that for years have been justified by scientific and research trends. In the second part, we offer a very useful tool – a canvas. It is based on the assumption that everyone has an attitude to problem solving. Our attitude is creative, soft, which is why we suggest another perspective – engineer’s. Only by introducing that diversity, inclusiveness and empathy can you choose a solution that meets the budget or business goals. The third part offers ways for awakening creativity. Creativity is simply the ease of searching for new solutions.

Why is the canvas practical?

U.R.: It is a pattern, an attitude to solving problems. You can print it out and reach for it whenever you want. You use it to describe a given situation, a problem, you do research on the subject, collect data, and then search for a solution in an unusual way, because you suggest two perspectives. You make a list of the solutions suggested by creative people, and on the opposite side you list the solutions that are obvious to those with an engineer’s mindset. It is brainstorming and every solution is OK. And then, looking at the problem from the point of view of the business, its goals and resources, we choose the best solution for the organization. The best part is that we open up for a different way of thinking. We talk a lot in the book about empathy that helps look at a situation from somebody else’s perspective in order to understand it better.

M.S.: We are in the business context all the time. We try to talk about a culture in which employees are the source of innovative ideas. First, they want to share them and to share their life energy. Second, they have the frames and the space to express their ideas. And that’s the definition of empowerment – I can express my opinion and it matters, because the company is going to do something with it, my ideas are effective and both sides feel comfortable with the solution. And why do we need empathy? We need it to understand what is going on around us: who we are talking to, how others are feeling in a given business situation.

So we need empathy to navigate through a situation and to generate an effective business solution.

After all, the goal of creating a culture of innovation through communication is to generate many quality ideas to solve our business problems and to make money.

And we can note down the ideas… in the book?

M.S.: I hope the readers will take notes in it and fill in empty spaces with ideas. There are various inspiration in the beginning of the book, e.g. a chapter discussing communication space – what are its dimensions. And all of a sudden, there is an exercise – self-reflection, space for personalizing the book. We want the readers to use the book the way they need, so that it’s not just theory, but an opportunity for self-reflection.

Urszula RadzińskaUrszula Radzińska

Ula started to create corporate media while still studying journalism at the Warsaw University. Today, she is a consultant and creates communication strategies, and with the AUDE team of creative graphic designers and experienced editors, she supports large organizations in building engaging communication with employees, business partners, and customers. At work she follows the mindful leadership principles. She believes every change begins from within. Her way to be the best version of herself is everyday meditation.

Monika Sońta, PhD

Organizational development consultant (COMM.on communication boutique), who believes in “Innovating through empowering people.” Organization researcher at Leon Kozminski University, Network Society Management. Her scientific interests include internal communication, organizational creativity, employee engagement, and employer branding.

Kategorie: school of contentic, B2E

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