Thinking twice about “what’s in it for me”

In a post on her company blog, Alison Davis, who is generally known as one of the top internal communication consultants in the United States, mounted a defense of the idea of “what’s in it for me (WIIFM)” – that a communication must convey a personal benefit or intensely direct relevance for readers, because they are otherwise disinterested in what their organizations have to say.

I’ve always had a lot of discomfort with the view that communications should be built exclusively around WIIFM messages. I actually once worked once in a US government agency which had a WIIFM fetish, and the insistence that we only publish content that had direct personal relevance for every employee made us leave a lot of content out that was important to specific, often critical people.

It also led to dumbing down–to stripping down all but the most commonly relevant bits at the expense of an even basic level of color and depth.  

I can understand the attractiveness of a “WIIFM is king” approach when an IC function is being measured on the increase in the number of intranet subscribers and click rates.  

But in organizations which lack the ability to target specific subgroups with focused messages integrating relevant context and meaning, doing so requires a willingness to not have every employee read every word of every article, whatever the measurement consequences may be.  

For me, the main goal of internal articles is that they give people who are relevant to a specific outcome sufficient understanding, content and context to impact that outcome.  

Sure, it would be great to be able to narrowcast such messages to those who have genuine interest and/or influence, such as by identifying them through social mapping, or by allowing them to self-select content through team or group membership.  But organizations which don’t yet have those abilities need to think about “what’s in it for them” before bowing to the altar of “what’s in it for me.”


The rise of the angry voter: observations and questions for business (UPDATED)

2016 continues to shape up as a year of the “angry voter” in the West, as evidenced by such phenomena as Donald Trump’s unexpectedly high poll numbers at this late stage of the U.S presidential campaign, the narrow victory of the “Brexit” referendum to take the United Kingdom out of the European Union, and strong electoral showings and polling numbers for anti-establishment political parties elsewhere in Europe.

With very little academic or practitioner research on the current situation, it’s difficult to tell directly what the current trend towards voter anger means for businesses and for business communicators.  But it’s worth looking at the question – to what extent does a person’s political anger spill into his or her behavior as an employee or customer?

Here are some observations:

  • Angry voters are angry because they are insecure

Fears and dissatisfaction about economic standing and social status have long been recognized as drivers of voter anger, and that insecurity will almost certainly manifest itself in customer and employee behavior.

  • Not every voter is an angry voter

Even with the surge in popularity for anti-establishment and anti-immigrant parties and candidates in the West, they are not the majority.  Even support for Brexit was barely over 50%.  So voter anger is a strong trend but not the whole picture. It’s something to account for, but not something that is yet overwhelming .

Some practical questions:

1)   Should you adjust your tone?

Brand voice and internal leadership tone often reflect a one-way flow of power in the relationship, but employees and customers who are challenging the establishment at the voting booth may well bristle at being talked at, or in the case of the use of the “corporate We,” spoken for without their explicit consent.

2)    Is there any shared dissatisfaction that can be used to build common ground?

Although angry voters have been presented as being driven by such factors as racism and xenophobia, there may be issues of common dissatisfaction where businesses can tap into and get ahead of voter and employee anger and be seen as making a tangible contribution to address matters of common interest

3) Is this a time for organizations to be brave and challenge misconceptions?

The idea of diversity in societies and organizations is implicitly being challenged by the tone of the current political climate.  But studies show that diversity benefits organizations even when feared by some employees. Could this be the right time to make that case in a fact-based and emotionally resonant way?

4) Is it time to change the messengers?

At a time when mainstream corporate leaders as well as political leaders are being viewed with increasing suspicion, could this be a good time to think about making better use of mid-level employees and trusted peers as advocates of organizational messages? This year’s version of the Edelman Trust survey has some interesting insights in this regard (see slide 21).


Recognizing that the dissatisfaction among voters has the potential to color their relationships as customers and employees is a step that can help safeguard organizational credibility in volatile times. At the same time, the current political climate presents an opportunity for organizations to address pressing issues that could strengthen their relationships, and draw more heavily on the credibility of line employees as channels and advocates. Organizations should not ignore the changes in the political environment, and there may be opportunities to seize by looking at the broader picture.


Dethroning managers, demystifying movements: two great pieces via LinkedIn

As an internal communicator who has been working on building a constituency to challenge traditional thinking in our profession, the flow of articles through LinkedIn has often been interesting but rarely essential.

So I was very surprised last week to see two posts that weren’t just great but really important: a piece challenging the centrality of line managers to internal communication, and an article providing a methodical approach to turning an idea-based business into a full-blown movement.

In their post titled “Do Women Have Fewer Teeth Than Men?, my friends at Innovisor in Copenhagen first challenge the idea of revealed truth (the idea that women had fewer teeth than men was first raised by Aristotle and then not formally questioned for many years).  They then take dead aim at the idea that managers have a central role in employee engagement and internal communication, and fire away at Gallup’s popular but controversial Q12 survey for having 11 of its 12 questions subject to the direct control of these line managers.  Then, comparing these surveys with social analytic research on the real world influence of peers on engagement, Innovisor claims that peers are actually four times more important in terms of providing support, guidance and inspiration to employees than managers actually were.

Whether Innovisor’s social analytic data is really applicable globally, it nonetheless represents the first real data-based challenge to the idea of line manager supremacy as it comes to internal communication, an idea hardwired into many of the metrics communication pros have to live with, as well as the (often flawed) strategic assumptions they are expected to fulfill.  As these findings are epic, this article is important.

Another important LinkedIn article is Sharon Savariego’s “Seven Habits of Highly Effective Movement Leaders,” which aims to help organizations make the leap from being merely commercial businesses to purpose-fuelled “movements” combining employees, customers, advocates and activists onto a single platform. Even thought Savariego’s piece aligns well with her current product, an organizational communication platform called mobilize, its collection of considered, methodical steps and its ability to get readers to think beyond the traditional notion of the organizational firewall makes her piece a worthy read that changes the terms when if comes to defining an organization.

Seen anything great about internal communication, organizational software, or power and politics in the workplace? Please share your ideas in the space below.


From collecting to connecting: Lin McDevitt-Pugh changes the terms of “networking”


Few activities and skills are more critical to the communication professional than networking.

On an individual level, networking skills are not simply critical to improving one’s career prospects, they are a fundamental part of any communication role itself—the collection and validation of information, the socialization and approval of messages and images, and the way in which those messages and images are distributed and amplified.

On a collective level, our approach towards networking among ourselves and with our business colleagues determines what integrates us as a “tribe” and potentially accelerates the extent to which our contribution is seen as strategic and value-adding by the people who employ us.

Most books I’ve encountered about networking address individual networking, focused mainly on job seekers and entrepreneurs, and emphasize the collection of new contacts.  Lin McDevitt-Pugh, in her short but brilliant “So You Think You Can’t Network” shifts the focus away from “collection” into the realm of “connection” – building a spread of two-way relationships based in conversation and mutual interest, and then facilitating their integration a dynamic and multi-dimensional network.

Indeed, by inverting a traditional approach where a first encounter is seen mainly as an opportunity for a one-way sales pitch into one where it yields a short but intimate discussion of each person’s needs, ambitions, current activities and core values—a conversation not only enables both people arrive at a sense of whether they want to help each other, but also to think about whom else in their networks can be of support and assistance.

In moving networking conversations from the transactional to the transformational, Lin’s approach has the potential to change the terms of the whole networking experience.

Lin, who is a long-time friend and co-conspirator of mine, an Australian expat in the Netherlands with a long record in international social activism, does not mince words when criticizing the “networking industry” and its most common bits of advice, like focusing on starting conversations with people you don’t know at “networking” events like receptions and conference breaks.  Indeed, she basically says that the point of the “networking industry” is to increase the level of frustration with networking to stimulate a steady demand for additional events and support materials.

Lin asserts that the focus of traditional networking on individual transactional encounters also obscures the vast majority of the power that becomes available when individual networks connect into something broader.  Indeed, she provides a lean but comprehensive discussion of how networks actually work in the broader sense when they become integrated, especially how they enable access to far greater pools of knowledge and arenas of opportunity.

She explores the “strength of weak ties”. This idea, popularized by Malcolm Gladwell in the Tipping Point, explains how much of the power of networking comes from being able to ask people one knows, but not particularly well, for support or assistance with a particular task, like job hunting or finding resources for a project.  These “weak ties” are often able to provide connections with resources, Lin explains, because they know enough to be supportive of you, and because they will inevitably know people who are potentially interested who you don’t know.  Indeed, it is the weak ties that enable the connecting of core individual networks into something bigger, richer and more dynamic.

Ultimately, Lin says, networking, when done well has real power because it is what enables us to do what we cannot do alone, and the extent to which people are willing to see this as their starting point for engaging people in their network is a key factor both in the value they gain and the contribution they make.  In turn, their willingness to ask for what they need and to ask for what their partners need, also becomes the engine which drives speed, results and opportunities for the benefit of all.

Which is why I recommend this book—not just because I see it as being helpful to individual readers, but because it would be great to have Lin’s revolutionary approach to networking become commonly practiced by business communicators within our companies and within our overall community—ideally, to become our common operating system for engaging each other and our connections in the broader world, accelerating the flow of ideas and opportunities between us.

It’s available on Amazon—and if you’d like to get in touch with Lin directly, ping me at mike.klein@changingtheterms.com and I will be happy to introduce you.





Taking aim at conventional “employee engagement” thinking on ICology podcast

My “six forms*” of engagement approach, challenging traditional employee engagement thinking, takes center stage with my first ever podcast interview.  The interview, part of the popular ICology podcast interview series hosted by Chuck Gose, can be found on the Podbean service here. It is also available via iTunes and other popular download points.

*Nominations have come in for two additional engagement forms–employees who focus on being part of a workplace community, and those focus on creating community in the workplace.  Others may surface – but in the meantime, the willingness to challenge the idea of employee engagement as a linear, one-size-fits-all and numeric concept is highly appreciated.






Can #internalcomms become a “weapon of mass disruption”?

For the last two years, the most prevalent words I have seen in the communication world have been “digital” and “disruption.”  For the most part, the talk about each involved extolling the virtues of “digitalization” and “disruptiveness,” with much less tangible said about how to bring these qualities to life in a way that adds meaning or value.

Having recently set out on my own as a consultant focusing mainly on internal communication, my primary aim has been to disrupt commonplace notions about “how to do” #internalcomms.  But in a short but memorable moment, my thoughts drifted towards how internal comms could itself become a force for disruption, holding the key to scaling, driving and delivering disruptive interventions on an enterprise-wide scale.

The key to seeing internal communication as a “weapon of mass disruption” is really to look at the nature of both of these terms, “mass” and “disruption.”  


Internal comms embodies “mass” from an enterprise perspective in a number of crucial and complementary ways.  The first, the way leaders commonly see internal communication, involves “mass delivery” of messages to all employees.  The ability to “seize the radio stations,” harmonize the telescreens, and instantly distribute centrally-initiated messages in text, video, and/or audio formats remains one of an organization’s core tools to set, reinforce, or introduce changes in tone and direction.  

But traditional “mass delivery” is not the only “mass” capability that internal communication can offer an organization with some appetite for disruptive interventions.  Today, “mass selectivity” and “mass connectivity” can both amplify and target the power of interventions and new ideas.  And “mass standardization” can make interventions and the wording of their definitions clear and consistently understood.

“Mass standardization” accelerates mass delivery by applying consistent terminology (and, in some cases, narrative and imagery) to specify and shape a favored idea and frame its intended impact.

“Mass selectivity” involves the ability to identify, connect and mobilize the “right” people to enable a particular disruption to spread.  Whether using social mapping, influencer research, or ad hoc analysis to form a core group that connects the hierarchy with the important informal “tribes” and connective functions in an organization, the ability to select and build a core group allows a disruptive idea to incubate and generate emotional power and commitment among those who are responsible for its initial spread.

The contagion of this emotional commitment can often be accelerated by means of “mass connectivity.”  Mass connectivity combines natural word of mouth as it spreads orally within teams, organizations and communities, and the networked power of external social networks and, where functioning, enterprise social networks inside the company firewall.


Internal communication’s ability to reach organizational populations through mass distribution, orchestrated influence and active agitation and connectivity is matched, if not exceeded, by what #internalcomms can do to shape, and even create, disruption itself.

What is disruption? Let’s look at what American dictionary Merriam Webster has to say. The verb “to disrupt” means “to cause (something) to be unable to continue in the normal way: to interrupt the normal progress or activity of (something).”

So, what does that mean for internal communications? Webster’s definition underscores the importance of internal communication in spreading disruption, so that disruptive changes stick and processes and practices are “unable to continue in the normal way.”  Our understanding of our enterprises, markets and communities with our fluency in unleashing the mass dynamics of what make disruptions accelerate and stick makes us a formidable, perhaps even indispensable asset.

But our involvement isn’t simply limited to spreading disruption.  We are also in a position to initiate it, to cause it.  Rather than simply act as a vehicle for leaders who have disruptive agendas and need their ideas spread, we can identify, shape and even invent disruptive ideas on our own, and work with stakeholders to  accelerate the flow of these disruptive ideas to the net benefit of our organizations.

New ideas, new practices, new promises, new words, new rules.  We can spread them, and we can create them (and then spread them).  We have the capability to commit mass disruption.

And mass disruption offers us a massive opportunity to change the terms.

Changing The Terms is a communication consulting practice focused on helping organizations improve alignment, differentiation and performance.

* For insights into how internal communication can address internal influence, differentiation and employee activism, sign up for a free guide at https://changingtheterms.com/internal-communication-guides/

* To download my book, “From Lincoln to LinkedIn – the 55 Minute Guide to Social Communication” visit https://changingtheterms.com/book/

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