For this week’s blog we can’t go past Danni William’s speech from the Rewrite book launch last Thursday. Thank you Danni! Your story says it all.
Kia ora, hello my name is Danni Williams.
I’m an HR practitioner in the public sector and I have a passion for people and keeping things simple.
I feel privileged to be here with Lynda and her team this evening celebrating this important milestone in their own journey for simplicity and clarity.
I am also honoured that I have the opportunity to speak tonight. I’m here on behalf of many others. I will keep my words brief this evening and share a story with you.
In 2008 an HR practitioner took a role within the public sector with an organisation that produced information to help New Zealanders, their businesses and government make informed decisions.
One day they read a media release that the organisation had produced. The HR practitioner read the first sentence. And then read it again. And again. At which point they disconnected.
The HR practitioner was an educated professional. The release was aimed at New Zealanders. It was difficult to understand what the release was about, and why it was important. They simply could not get past the five commas and technical jargon in the first sentence to read on.
It was hard for the HR practitioner to engage as a customer of the very organisation that they worked for and cared about. If they couldn’t connect, how could other customers?
Things had to change.
The HR practitioner was me, and the organisation was Statistics NZ.
In 2009, Statistics NZ was nominated as a finalist for the WriteMark awards … for the Brainstrain category. Thankfully we did not win. But it was close.
In 2011, the same organisation won the WriteMark award for Best Plain English Organisation.
Here’s what happened in those 2 short years to change our writing culture…
- We started with no money and a small handful of people. You don’t need money to change a culture.
- We asked our people to join us on the journey. We asked them to tell us what they thought and felt.
They told us that they knew how to write, and supported the idea of writing in a way that helped our customers access the information we produced.
They also told us it wasn’t easy to write about technical concepts and data in a plain English way.
They also asked us for our help and support to help them change.
So we acted on it.
We demystified plain language — clarified what it looked like and what it did not. We made it less scary and started to remove the barriers to change.
We rallied all of the passionate and not just the experts. We asked passionate people to champion our culture change because passion creates energy, and this draws other people in. We involved everyone and anyone, top to bottom.
We set clear expectations and standards that reinforced the importance of the words we placed around our data so that our products become stories — stories that were accessible, relevant, and useful to our customers.
We also made our journey fun and we made it ours. Our people were involved in the movement to make our words count from start to finish.
We then reviewed, measured, and celebrated our achievements and progress — no matter how big or small. We talked about plain language until people were listening.
I admit that the journey was a hard one at times and we all put in a lot of effort. But it was worth it. Rewrite, Lynda’s book, provides you with a model that enables you to know now what we discovered along the way.
It’s as simple as this. Businesses need customers to exist. If they don’t have customers, they cease to be relevant and go out of business. No connection; no customers. No customers; no business.
This is true for the private sector, not for profits, and public sector organisations alike.
Now there is a wonderful end to my story earlier … I’m pleased to tell you that these days I am a very satisfied and connected customer of Statistics NZ. And I hope you are too.
A big thank you to my colleagues and champions and to the team at Write.
Danni Williams speaking at Unity Books 4 June 2015. Photo credit to Unity Books.