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By Kelly Kass
When Howard Krais became Head of Communications at Ernst & Young Global Services in December 2009, he had the opportunity to build some different ways of communicating to a globally spread audience of 7,000 employees experiencing global transformations of their respective functions.
Now, 18 months later, he’s still doing it; in fact, when I interviewed him he was in the middle of a busy weeklong trip, running an internal conference at EYs New Jersey offices.
“When I came onboard, the first thing we needed to accomplish was around messaging – to come up with a clear and compelling vision and message framework that describes how and why Global Services are a key part of Ernst and Young. Once we have the messages in place we then needed to start providing regular evidence to show EY leadership what our IT, Procurement, Shared Services and other Global Services teams were doing to make the vision work,” Krais explains.
Tell me a story
Rather than rely on a more traditional, dry newsletter approach to get messages out, Krais has opted for a more focused and specific approach to written communications.
“Over the years so much of the corporate communication I’ve seen can be described as ‘wallpaper’ – articles that don’t really take the reader anywhere. People often just glance at newsletters, if they pick them up at all. What I tell my team is ‘If we are going to create something, it needs to be something that has traction and can make a difference to our audience.”
How to make an impact in this case? By using an approach that has grown quite popular at organizations: storytelling. But not storytelling via a more traditional newsletter; at EY Global Services, Krais has helped to develop what he calls ‘a Leadership Digest’.
Getting it write
“The need was to provide our leaders with the evidence of how we were delivering on our vision so they can mention appropriate stories in conversation with stakeholders and customers from across EY.” To achieve this aim, this meant the Digest had to offer a compelling writing style. Rather than the typical 5 W’s that many corporate publications follow Krais and his team adopted a more challenging style that follows a framework of: “someone…wanted to…but/and…so they…and as a result…”
What they wanted to do is to start showing, not telling, using active language to share learning, knowledge and changed behaviors. Most importantly, perhaps, stories are now being written from the perspective of one individual, demonstrating how the subject (or contributor) took action as a result of a particular situation. This often means challenging the usual practice of name checking every individual in the team involved with a particular story.
This new style, especially with the move to write from an individual’s perspective has been challenging for management to get used to. Krais says it’s important to remember that you need to bring leaders and managers with you when you seek to introduce a new approach but you need to be resolute in not backtracking to those used to other styles.
To ensure his team is grasping and developing this new writing style, Krais (aided by SAS Associate Dan Gray) designed a Storytelling Toolkit which provides:
• Tips on the process;
• Work examples;
• Information on why the new style was adapted;
• How it works.
Digests are monthly and are distributed via email as a PDF. So far since launch there have been three digests (March, April and May 2011) and in just three months over 50 stories have been covered.
Krais explains, “We have so much going on across our various transformation projects that I need my team to take a step back and consider how the project they are working on relates to our vision and message framework, and then write the story.”
With the Leadership Digest, writers are encouraged to write creatively, as demonstrated by a contributor working in EY’s Brisbane office who wanted to show how the show still went on in spite of major flooding in the Australian city.
“He started the article using a great line ‘it was a dark and stormy night’ (which you might not tend to see in a more traditional publication). With an opening line like that people were hooked in; it really worked,” Krais remembers.
So how successful is this new writing style?
While it’s too soon to officially begin measuring the new channel, according to Krais, his staff have told him that the digests are “more fun to write” as the format and style allow for more creativity. There is also evidence of the embedded learning working with some leaders seeing stories from other parts of Global Services and taking the lessons back into their own functions.
Krais recently attended a meeting in the States where 50 leaders viewed video vignettes of some of the stories that had been covered previously in the Leadership Digest and Krais sees this continuing as he hopes to integrate more multimedia into the monthly Leadership Digests, including use of photos, audio and video. “What we need to keep focusing on for this channel is ensuring our leaders have compelling evidence to prove we continue to deliver on our promises and making sure we write articles which not only share the learnings but are also a great read.”
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