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

One thought on “Big questions for business communicators from 2016’s political shifts

  1. Hi Mike,

    Some good, provocative, thoughts here. I’d like to offer a few comments, if I may?

    Q. Will there be enforced shifts in terms of key agenda items, like sustainability and diversity? A. Yes! But not the way you might think… Diversity and sustainability will rise higher on the corporate agenda as companies with ever greater access to competitive information through the internet / social media look for competitive advantage. Boards are (and will be) paying far more attention to culture as regulators and shareholders oblige them to go far beyond the flailings of command and control for competitive advantage.

    Q. Will organizations stick to their stated values, or try to play it safe? A. Wrong question – too loaded. Organisations that focus on building trust and jealously guard their reputations will thrive. Those that focus on abstract values (either to validate or negate) them will fail. Behaving honestly and delivering great customer service does not require stated values.

    Q. How will organizations handle tensions between favored and unfavored groups? Depends on who’s doing the favouriting. Senior managers and executives need to lead by example, highlighting great behaviour and demonstrating the impact of poor behaviour. Employees will ultimately vote with their feet or withdraw their goodwill if poor ethical behaviour is ignored.

    Q. Will we have the same access to tools to connect with our peers and communities, and get our side of the story out? In the main, yes. If not, new tools will arise to facilitate connection. The genie is out of the bottle!

    Here are some further thoughts for you – what do you think?

    1/ In a ‘post-truth’world, people on the right and left of politics are fundamentally questioning the power and legitimacy of established hierarchies. There is a public vacuum where the the centre ground of social democracy should be.

    2/ More than ever, public opinion is crowd sourced through social media. Enterprise-related social media will reflect this change (nb. NOT enterprise social media). Organisations should pay more attention to influencing the influencers, rather than traditional broadcast media and advertising.

    3/ Like the trend from mass broadcast media (newspapers, established terrestrial TV stations) to niche social and niche broadcast, business communications (internal and external) will migrate to communities of interest.

    4/ Command and control in organisations is dead (or dying). Knowledge is power. Control over the channels of distribution of knowledge is power. That control is gone. Therefore that power is gone. Organisations need to shift their communications thinking to ‘adding value’, ‘building trust’ and ‘enabling stakeholders (employees, customers, shareholders – in that order)’.

    Consistency, trust and reputation. These are the solid foundations on which corporate and employee communications need to rest. Anything else can and will be found out.

    Rob

    Like

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