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Are internal comms roles “dead”… or is IC heading for a renaissance?

In the nearly 20 years I have been an internal comms pro, Internal Communication has been prematurely pronounced dead on a number of occasions, to be subsumed into “sexier” or more exalted specialties.

In his blog post earlier this week, London’s Dillan Shikotra makes a similar prediction:

“My prediction is that Internal Communication will evolve into ‘employee experience’. It will look more holistically at all the touch points an employee has with the organisation, starting from offer, onboarding, training, right through to offboarding & beyond. Job titles such as Internal Communications Advisor/Manager/Director will be replaced by Head of Employee Experience, Employee Engagement Manager and Employee Experience Executive. And we are seeing this already, with companies like Sky, Vodafone and Airbnb appointing their very own ‘Head of Employee Experience’. “

Dillan adds:

“What does this mean for us IC practitioners? It means we must evolve like Pokemon Go characters. It will require us to have a deeper understanding of employee needs, be subject matter experts on digital/social media channels, challenge the leadership team more and stay current on new ways of working. We will need to move from a channel based approach to an employee experience approach. It’s not going to be easy, but then change never is. We’ll also need to start working more closely with our HR, L&D and IT colleagues to ensure the first interaction with the company is positive (strong employer brand), that everyone has a positive onboarding experience, that 2-way communication channels are in place from day one and that the employee’s voice will always be heard.

Those who embrace this change will be the ones who will drive & shape the next phase of this evolutionary journey of internal communications.”

What made me take notice of the piece was that it received a large number of likes and positive comments—somewhat more than the usual for an opinion piece about internal comms.

But the enthusiasm for having the adoption of sexy nomenclature by trendy companies portend “the new future” for internal comms needs to be tempered by a few realities:

  • The “Head of Employee Experience” and related job titles themselves, with their focus on employee touchpoints with tangible processes as well as communication moments, sounds much more like an IC-savvy HR roles rather than a defining evolution of internal comms, because IC serves other key purposes and stakeholders than HR departments and their current pressing need to keep millennial (and other) employees happy.
  • Political upheaval, especially in the West, will create unprecedented demand for internal communication to drive and sustain perceptions of organizational stability and resilience in the face of what is happening in the larger context.
  • If the political upheaval leads to economic turmoil, and internal communication has been able to demonstrate its value to a given organization, IC may play a key role in helping the organization retain and connect key people even it shrinks or merges.
  • Even if the impact on business of the current political crises is relatively painless, organizations are unlikely to subsume the change communication, employee advocacy, operational support and leadership comms that IC professionals currently lead into a function with an unrelated or even a conflicting purpose.

I bring these points out not to scold Dillan – whose piece raises valid points and who has opened up a potentially critical conversation about the future of the profession. But I encourage IC practitioners to consider an alternative view, that rather than being on our deathbed as a profession, Internal Communication’s best days may soon be to come.

Already, we add value across a variety of crucial organizational activities.  And as our world looks turmoil in the eye, we may find ourselves playing many crucial roles in enabling our organizations to survive and even thrive.  We may need to adapt, but there is no need to surrender.

 

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Big questions for business communicators from 2016’s political shifts

This year’s election of Donald J. Trump as President of the United States, and the similarly seismic decision of Britain to leave the European Union, are mainly being assessed in terms of their political implications.

But, looking at these changes from a business communication perspective, four questions jump out:

  • Will there be enforced shifts in terms of key agenda items, like sustainability and diversity?

Diversity and sustainability initiatives often have prominent places in internal and external communication, and in the case of diversity, organizations often seek to highlight leaders and heroes of diverse backgrounds to reinforce their diversity commitment.  But the arrival (in the US case at least) of an unenthusiastic administration could signal a need to tone things down, or perhaps the mandating of an alternative approach?

  • Will organizations stick to their stated values, or try to play it safe?

“Honesty,” “Transparency,” and “Participation” are some of the more inclusive values that organizations around the world have adopted of late. But to what extent will organizations be willing to promote and defend these values – and those who practice them – in an aggressive and hostile political environment?

  • How will organizations handle tensions between favored and unfavored groups?

Even if organizations maintain their diversity commitments as best they can, how will they need to proceed if there are tensions between groups of employees, say at a production facility or even at HQ?  What are the potential short term and long term opportunities for reputational risk and operational dysfunction in such situations?

  • Will we have the same access to tools to connect with our peers and communities, and get our side of the story out?

Very little in the post-US election press that I have seen has mentioned the possibility of online censorship, but the possibility of overturning net neutrality and  perhaps even attempts to copy China’s success at blocking Facebook indicate that tightened internet access ocould be possible in some places in 2017.

It’s true that not much is being said about these possibilities now.

But given the tone of what we are hearing from Washington and other affected capitals, these are questions which business communicators need to look at – even if they don’t live in a country that is currently experiencing upheaval. Global standards might be adjusted, and tools, messages and approaches that were once taken for granted may well go up for grabs.

Communicators will be in a unique position to notice – and question – any changes that emerge.

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The subject of “Creating and Communicating the World in 2017” – preparing for the coming year and drawing a line under 2016 – will be on the agenda in Brussels on 3 December at a one-day conference hosted by Changing The Terms, sponsored by IABC EMENA and co-hosted by Femflection: to register: https://www.eventbrite.ca/e/creating-and-communicating-the-world-in-2017-an-open-space-conference-tickets-28470935334

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Why internal communicators are beating ourselves (as illustrated by Beyonce and Breitbart)

One of the most prominent features of Hillary Clinton’s US presidential campaign was her reliance on celebrity surrogates to take her message to like-minded audiences around the country.  Whether it was politicians like her husband Bill and President Obama, or performers like singer Beyoncé or controversial rapper JayZ, the surrogate force allowed the campaign to cover a lot of ground with programming to energize live and supportive audiences.

At least that was the theory.

Indeed, if one looks at Abraham Lincoln’s timeless laws of running political campaigns, the idea of having people who have high credibility speak to targeted audiences is one of the most sensible campaign tactics imaginable. (Law number 2: “For those who are undecided, send someone in whom they trust to persuade them)

But then this happens:

breitbart

The inflammatory portrayal of the event on Breitbart, a news service targeting Clinton’s most hostile opponents, brings Lincoln’s law number four to the surface: the imperative to “turn out the ‘Good Whigs’” on “Election Day.”  This means “don’t turn out anyone else!”

It does little good for a political campaign to make great effort to mobilize their supporters…if they also end up mobilizing their opponents.   But Hillary Clinton is hardly unique.

Indeed, nearly all internal communicators beat ourselves with the same blunder every day.

Internal communicators are spectacularly good at mobilizing, antagonizing and agitating the opponents of the initiatives and activities they are paid to promote.

To a large extent, this is the fault of a number flawed strategic demands over which they have little influence:

  • “Engage everyone”: the standard view that internal communicators should try to spread messages to all employees and maximize awareness as a matter of principle
  • Maximize visibility: the desire of sponsors to see banners and desk drops and other all-pervasive visuals, even if moving them into the space of skeptics and resisters produces unnecessary friction
  • Measure eyeballs: the measurement philosophy that focuses on the number of readers and viewers rather than their social relevance or positional importance
  • Present initiatives as a done deal: the idea of positioning support as mandatory, or enen claiming success as having been achieved before the facts line up—which fuels cynicism and perhaps even outright sabotage

As the world moves into potentially a more contentious business communication culture reflecting the current political tone, an internal communication approach that does not deliver clear strategic benefit to businesses will become increasingly unsustainable.

Influencer identification and mobilization can help internal communicators focus on their target objectives more effectively, reducing friction, opposition and cost

Influencer identification and mobilization also communicators to understand their populations better.

Through the use of one of a number of survey methods, communicators can identify the most influential peer communicators (informal leaders) and get some useable insights about how those informal leaders perceive and prioritize the main items on the organizational agenda. Then, they can shift a key portion of internal communication away from broadcast channels and towards those leaders—who actually drive most of the main internal conversations anyways—thus reducing the excess visibility and noise that is harmful to initiative success.

Some organizations start with pilot programs, others focus on shifting part of their organizations, and other develop full-blown social maps covering the entire enterprise.

To learn how to do this in your organization—start with “Lessons From Lincoln” – the Changing The Terms Influencers Guide.

Shifting from the indiscriminate “engage everyone” approach to one that focuses on the real informal leaders doesn’t just make internal communication more efficient and effective…it also changes the terms.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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It’s time to talk about 2017

 

If 2016 was unprecedented, so too will 2017 be.  

Dealing with the aftermath of 2016’s changes alone is a challenging question–and what is there to do if 2017 inevitably brings its own complications to the table?  

We know some things will change.  

Transition in Washington, decisions on Brexit, the likely dissolution or degradation of current international agreements and coalitions.  The tone of political leadership will undoubtedly be more combative and less conciliatory in many parts of the world.  

Many things are left to be determined–like how leaders in companies, organizations and communities define and communicate their agendas and empower their people in forming and delivering them.  And how communicators balance the needs of their leaders with the realities of connecting and mobilizing action from skeptical or even shaken constituencies is a serious and challenging question.

Is this a time of choices and opportunity?

Despite my own disappointment and misgivings about the US election result (and about the Brexit result earlier this year), the one post-election quote that moved me unusually has been this gem  from Dave Logan, author of Tribal Leadership, a must-read primer for real organizational transformation:  

“America said “hell no!” to the default future last night…the most powerful words leaders can ever say. It’s now up to all of us to construct the invented future and make it happen. No matter how you feel about the results last night, this moment is a call to leadership.”

My core thoughts about what we need to do in 2017 have been the same throughout the year,–that  leaders at all levels can connect, mobilize and inspire only to the extent that we take ownership of our skills and approaches as communicators, and that communicators can only have impact at  scale if we start to see ourselves as leaders and act accordingly.

Now, we have a lot of choices to make: about how we lead and communicate, and to what ends.

Do we try to affect change on either side of the political process?  Or do we seek opportunities for impact outside of politics, in real – and virtual – communities?  

Will the business world become a refuge and breeding ground for leadership like never before?  Will communicators be emboldened to operate more strategically, potently and transparently inside and outside the business world?

The Chinese character for crisis contains the symbols for “danger” and “opportunity.” Like Dave Logan, I see both.  

Your thoughts?

 

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After Tuesday…

 

As the world awaits the election of a US President, it’s important to consider what awaits us more broadly in the coming year.

Even before the election result is known, 2016 has so far been remarkable for its many seismic events, be they literal earthquakes, political shifts, storms, and technological changes. Citizen patience has been stretched, and organizational resilience has often reached or exceeded its limits, testing the skills and tenacity of leaders and communicators alike.

No one knows what 2017 will bring.  

But we know it is coming.

And we know that there can be some advantage to be gained by preparing for it–especially for the leaders and communicators who will be called on to help make sense of it all, inject some confidence into the situation, and help guide people to move forward in the face of whatever comes.

That is why you are invited to join us in Brussels on 3 December

With the sponsorship of IABC EMENA, Changing The Terms is hosting a one-day “open space“ conference looking at the topic “Creating and Communicating the World in 2017.” The event will use the “open space” format, meaning that all in attendance can participate, and any participant can choose to speak or lead a breakout session.  

In adopting this format, we are attempting to “change the terms” of conferences–by shifting the role of someone in attendance from “consumer” to “participant,” to make the best use of the content that is already in the room, and encourage and accelerate the formation of active connections between participants.  

Participants from Belgium, Denmark, France, Holland and the UK are already registered. The event takes place from 11AM to 6PM to allow participants from Europe to travel, participate and return home on the same day. We are aiming for 40-60 participants and some seats are still available.

We won’t come up with all the answers.  But we will raise some questions. And by bringing leaders and communicators together in the heart of Europe, we will stimulate some new conversations and new connections.  

To register, click here.