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Unpacking the Pravda Principle, looking beyond “engagement”

Last week, I published my first internal communications blog post in quite a while, The Pravda Principle.

It was a kind of shoot-from-the-hip exercise, based on an idea that had been rolling around my head for years—the paradox of why Pravda, long mocked and despised by Westerners as the epitome of propaganda and falsehood was, in essence, a highly successful internal communication channel and one from which today’s practitioners can learn.

Part of my reason for invoking Pravda as a positive example is that I see internal comms as being a stuck discipline, focused excessively on the nebulous goal of “increasing employee engagement (however it may be defined),” and seeing “the answer” in the adoption of increasingly visual and technically intricate channels.

But is the production of infotainment to drive employee happiness numbers really the only viable or legitimate use of a set of skills, thinking and tactics which are capable of driving other, more tangible organizational objectives? Or are we off track?

Some questions to ponder:

  • Is it all about attractiveness?

The pressure on communicators today is to produce stuff that is attractive and digestible to the least committed stakeholder. But Pravda wasn’t attractive, visual or digital.  It’s appeal was that it was authoritative: it reliably provided useful information.  Is there space left for internal comms vehicles that are authoritative in style and tone, helping stakeholders who need real information to get and understand the information they need? Are “all employees” really equally important?

  • Are “all employees” really equally important?

In large organizations, there may be certain things, particularly like brand promises, that have to be internalized by all employees.  But the extent to which individual employees can influence the definition of strategy and the leverage each has to impact its success varies profoundly. Given the relatively limited sums corporations spend on internal comms, shouldn’t its priorities lean towards helping smaller numbers of higher-value employees have more quantifiable impact, rather than try to move engagement survey numbers?

  • Isn’t sender-focused communication useful sometimes?

In today’s internal comms, there’s an assumption that the only purpose of publishing content is to entertain or “engage” large numbers of readers and that the needs of the “sender” must be secondary.  But if one can get three massive stakeholders to agree a cohesive story about how they will align their objectives and how they intend to work together, and publish it to the organization; the value of reduced friction, ambiguity and delay could more than justify a communicator’s salary even if no one outside the stakeholder teams reads the story.

While there is nothing wrong, in my opinion, with the idea of “engaged,” happy employees, I sense that the pursuit of “engagement über alles” has dominated the field to such an extent that other approaches and objectives are seen as secondary – or in some cases, even as not being worth offering to otherwise deserving stakeholders.

Recognizing and championing alternative approaches and objectives could profoundly change the terms.