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Developing tonal values for Parliament

Posted by: , Posted on: - Categories: Collaboration culture, Content design, Continuous iteration

One of the challenges of developing the editorial direction of a large, sprawling organisation is working out how to get people to care about it. Content in one form or another is everyone's concern (reports, videos, tweets, news stories, press releases ... the list goes on) but the editorial side of things isn't necessarily something people worry about.

As Jørgen Vig Knudstorp, the CEO of LEGO says:

You don't think your way into new ways of acting; you act your way into new ways of thinking

So spending loads of time developing tone of voice guidance, for example, could be a waste of time. If people don't care about the editorial direction however, they are likely to care about completing a task and producing the necessary content. Less so worrying about how it fits as part of a single, unified 'voice'.

And that's okay. I get it. That doesn't mean this unified voice isn't possible, we just need to approach it a bit differently.

Starting simple

To make things easier, I decided to stop doing any tone of voice stuff for the time being. Instead I want people to agree on a set of tonal values that represent Parliament as a whole.

There's debate and argument about whether Parliament is a 'thing' in its own right. In my mind, there's the building, the process, and the people. My focus is on the people in Parliament.

Even though Parliament is full of individuals like any other organisation, we should be able to agree on our values and uphold them as the people of Parliament. This makes tonal values a very sensible place to start.

Deciding who we want to be

The nice thing about developing tonal values first is that it starts conversations. When you begin mapping out who we want to be (and what we don't want to be), it becomes easier to talk about why we chose one attribute over another. For example, if we aspire to be a critical friend, this means that we're not going to be a pompous know-it-all. We might feel comfortable agreeing that we're history enthusiasts but not history lecturers. It's about finding a balance.

Baby steps

As this process progresses, it starts to spread into our editorial approach as well as attributes.

If we agree that our approach should be clear and focused, we must be prepared to challenge anything vague or rambling. If our approach is confident and friendly then we shouldn't be overly familiar or too casual. We might want to be quick to respond but that shouldn't mean we're impulsive.

Getting people on board

This kind of work is easy to share if there's 10 of you in a single building. It's reasonably simple if there's 100 of you working in a single department or organisation. When there are hundreds and hundreds of people, all doing different things in different ways, in different places and with different objectives, it gets a bit tougher.

I'm writing blog posts like this to share these ideas with colleagues in meetings. I'm bringing up these concepts at board presentations and heads of profession meetings.

I'm just starting to get the backing of influencers and senior staff. If I tell one person about the ideas and they tell two - well it doesn't take a mathematician to work out that ideas start to spread.

Once the concept is familiar, I want to offer an opportunity for different teams around Parliament to feed their own ideas, objectives and aspirations into the work. Much like the work on the I AM Parliament concept, and the work on cultural values, this work is about collective ownership and shared responsibility.

Realistic expectations

I know this cultural development won't happen overnight. Things like this take time. And I don't think there's anything wrong with that. For people to feel this set of values represents them, they need the opportunity to discover what it means for them in their own way. As a central content team, we can support, consult, encourage and discuss. But we absolutely can't force it. Forcing a concept on people is a fail-safe way to fail.

Our tonal values will, I hope, blossom, grow, change and develop over time.

Read more about the work of the content team

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  1. Comment by Sarah McIlwaine posted on

    Hi! I enjoy reading about the content team - I work in In-House Services as an internal communications officer and find this stuff interesting. However I was wondering - do these 'tonal values' relate to internal communications in Parliament as well? Or just our output? My initial thought on the term 'unified voice' was "wow, sounds a bit Orwellian!"

    I'd be interested to see how we can balance unity of voice without becoming robotic! (Especially true for IC, and linking everything to our House's strategies...)

    • Replies to Sarah McIlwaine>

      Comment by Carrie Barclay posted on

      Hi Sarah. Thanks for your comments. I think it's worth distinguishing between 'unified' and 'uniform'; one of the digital strategy principles is 'unity without uniformity' - it's about agreeing on the values we uphold as an organisation, and as the individuals within it and using those to develop a tone of vice that is both authoritative and authentic. Almost all large organisation will strive to develop a unified tone of voice; that's not to say that everyone is the same, rather that everyone stands for the same things. Always happy to chat if you'd like to discuss it further.