A Hard Place Between Two Rocks: A future for the Strategic Internal Communicator?
BY Mike Klein
As I pursue a positioning as a “Strategic Internal Communicator” and an advocate for “Strategic Internal Communication”, I have found two recent conversations quite challenging.
The first, with Liz Guthridge, a long-time co-conspirator and one of the endorsers of my book, “From Lincoln to LinkedIn”, who said “I think Strategic Internal Communication is too small and restrictive of a playing field. These really are leadership issues (emphasis mine, as it generally is on my own blog) that greatly affect the company’s operations and reputation. Plus, with today’s hyper-connectivity, I think it’s hard for traditional internal communication people to manage these issues.”
The second was with “Silvia”, who recruited me to come back to Europe for a contract a number of years back, and who has since developed a career coaching service.
In an hour-and-a-half analysis of my strengths and weaknesses that I signed up for while contemplating a return to permanent in-house work, she concluded: “You aren’t an Internal Comms Manager or a Head of Comms. You are a writer. You love writing. You show no evidence of any skill at organizing events or managing a team and that’s a big part of what people want. On the digital side, you don’t really have the technical piece. And why limit yourself to Internal Comms? Haven’t you heard that ‘Content is King?’”
Never mind that I have fifteen years of credentials as an activist in the internal comms profession, have written a book on the subject, and am genuinely passionate about what I do.
To put it bluntly, the Strategic Internal Communicator (me, in this case), is in a hard place between two rocks—the immovable commitment of HR folks (and the people who recruit for them) to hiring people for top IC positions on the basis of broad executional and transactional skills rather than deep strategic acumen and fluency, and the tone adopted by some people who have “graduated upwards” from IC who think these are loftier matters to be addressed by souls with mightier positions on the food chain.
But, as George Bernard Shaw once said: "The reasonable man adapts himself to the conditions that surround him... The unreasonable man adapts surrounding conditions to himself... All progress depends on the unreasonable man."
At the core, the strategic internal communicator has three main roles in an organisation that is capable of making full use of his or her talents.
The first is to take ownership of the organisation’s strategy and vision and weave it thoroughly into the fabric of conversations in the business—particularly through shaping its words and narrative.
The second is to identify those places where the organisation’s words and action contradict or fall short of its vision and narrative—and either address those gaps rhetorically or challenge the organisation’s leaders to close or transcend them.
The third is to understand where the levers of influence lay in the organisation, and provide those influential people with the information and context required for them to make a real difference.
Event producers, web masters and executive coaches don’t do that. CEOs don’t do that. Strategic Internal Communicators do that--and we do a lot of other stuff in order to get the organisational headroom to do that.
Sure, the never-ending drive for corporate efficiency will continue the drive for overspecification of top IC roles. And the never-ending drive for higher fees and status will continue entice excellent IC pros to drop their tools and migrate ever upward.
The need for organisations to maintain coherence and inspire confidence in an increasingly connected and competitive world means there will always be need for our talents as Strategic Internal Communicators.
But for us to be able to make full use of those talents, we must fight for our place. Even if it is a hard place and if it means being unreasonable.
Internal communications pro with a bent towards increasing impact while reducing noise and friction. Former US political consultant, London Business School MBA. Tribal loyalties include IABC, EACD, Tottenham Hotspur FC and the Wisconsin Badgers.