Welcome to Brilliance@Work, a series of profiles about stellar communication professionals and their best practices at work.
Veteran communicator Paul Barton, ABC, of Paul Barton Communications, LLC, specializes in internal communication and has helped organizations communicate effectively with employees for over 20 years. Read on as Paul shares his insights on strategic internal communication planning and best practices for boosting employee engagement.
Peggy L. Bieniek: What is most important for people to know about you?
Paul Barton: I’m an eternal learner and very passionate about internal communication.
PLB: What makes you stand out in a crowd of professional communicators?
PB: My ability to take high-level philosophies, find all their nuances and then see ways to apply them to the world communication challenges makes me stand out, along with my depth and breadth in communication. I grew up in the back shop of my father’s weekly newspaper, so I learned writing, photography, layout and design at an early age. I’ve helped usher in a lot of technological changes. I helped four different companies launch their very first intranets, and I helped two companies begin their first-ever forays into social media. A lot has changed, but the basics of communication remain the same, and writing is still the fundamental skill. Clear writing is still a reflection of clear thinking.
PLB: What are you most interested in and speak most enthusiastically about?
PB: The things we do as communicators that not only help organizations be more successful, but also enrich the lives of employees and their families. What we do is a noble profession, and I am very proud of that.
PLB: How do you help organizations inspire and inform employees?
PB: The first step is usually to put out the immediate fire. Often that’s a credibility gap between the organization’s leadership and its employees. You have to ensure your leadership has credibility before you can attempt to reach employees. Without credibility, a message is worthless. You begin to inspire employees when they see what they personally do is vital to the overall success of the organization, and then you help them to not only understand but to become part of the organization’s vision. Employees want to know that what they are doing has meaning. They are seeking clarity and purpose. If we are communicating just to inform, then we aren’t really communicating at all. We need to approach communication as an ongoing process. That process seeks to influence, is inclusive and listens to employees.
PLB: What inspired you to create your blog “Employee Communication Nirvana” and what types of information and ideas do you share with your readers?
PB: I wanted to share a vision for what the nirvana state of employee communication would look like. What would an organization look like if its internal communication function was as good as it could possibly be? What is our ultimate goal? I share philosophies and best practices that I hope inspire internal communication professionals to strive higher. I really like the feedback I get from my industry peers and the ongoing dialog.
PLB: What communication projects are you most proud of?
PB: The ones that really moved the needle for companies and at the same time made a real difference in the lives of employees – the wellness, 401(k) and safety campaigns, and the culture change and performance initiatives. I’m also proud that I was able to take struggling internal communication functions and turn them into high-performing teams. I believe I inspired a lot of young professionals who were new to internal communication. I still get calls from people who worked for me asking for advice and that’s a great feeling.
PLB: What are some communication best practices you’ve developed and/or helped to implement?
PB: I’ve developed a lot of tools, templates and processes over the years that have helped me get out in front of my work, think strategically and act as an executive counselor. You have to plan the work or it will plan you. It’s easy to get overwhelmed. Having the right “tools and rules” in place sets you free to do higher levels of thinking. For instance, my colleagues and I developed a strategic communication planning template that we improved upon continuously over a 15-year period in four different industries. It gives us the structure to make sure we are on time, on budget and on brand, and the process itself has been the springboard for some real breakthrough thinking.
PLB: How do you incorporate strategic storytelling into your communication programs?
PB: Storytelling is a powerful way to communicate because it gets to our emotions. Logic makes us think, but it is our emotions that get us up out of our chairs and willing to take action. I’ve seen a CEO tell a story to a group of managers that had them pumping their fists into the air and yelling in support, and I’ve seen a safety video that had a widow telling a story about the husband who was no longer with her and her children that made the audience openly weep. A lot of front line managers think they can’t communicate company messages because they aren’t great presenters, but get them telling a few stories, and they turn into very effective communicators. The most successful employee communications appeal to heads and hearts, and storytelling is one of the most powerful ways to do that.
PLB: What are your current projects as you continue to develop your professional skills and knowledge?
PB: I’m just about to go to press with a book called Maximizing Internal Communication. It will be available in a couple of months on my website at http://paulbartonabc.com and on http://www.amazon.com. It’s full of all the tips, tricks, templates and techniques that I’ve learned and developed over my career. I’m also developing workshops about strategic communication planning, communicating change, crisis communication, employee benefits communication, and how to be an effective internal communication consultant.
PLB: What are some of your favorite resources that inspire your work?
PB: I’ve been fortunate to have worked with some great corporate communicators over the years and learned so much from them. I’ve also learned a lot from workshops and reading from the greats like the godfather of internal communication Roger D’Aprix; communication consultants Tom Lee and Bill Hiniker; writing coach Ann Wylie; measurement experts Angela Sinickas, ABC and Wilma Mathews, ABC; and technology guru Shel Holtz, ABC. I stay current by reading and participating in the LinkedIn groups dealing with internal communication and by following the #internalcomms hashtag on Twitter. There are a lot of great ideas out there!
PLB: What is your contact information for questions, comments and ideas?
PB: You can connect with me in a variety of ways. My blog is http://www.paulbartonabc.com, my business Facebook page is http://www.facebook.com/PaulBartonCommunicationsLLC, my Twitter handle is @PaulBartonABC, my LinkedIn profile is http://www.linkedin.com/in/paulbartonabc and my Google Plus profile is https://plus.google.com/+PaulBartonABC/posts. I look forward to talking internal comms with you!
What best practices in communication would you like to share in future Brilliance@Work profiles? What are your ideas for topics or people to be featured in upcoming profiles?