One of the challenges of business communication is that the objectives can get a bit murky from time to time.
The longstanding pursuit of â€œengagement,â€ for instance, is the result of a term being exalted beyond its operational or actionable meaning â€“ engagement is often being sought for its own sake without a direct connection to specific objectives.
The pursuit of â€œawareness,â€ another mainstay of business communication, also is often seen as a goal in and of itself, without any direct connection to the achievement of any outcomes.
A lot of energy is being expended at the moment on the measurement side of our profession to try to justify the value of activities designed to drive â€œawarenessâ€ and â€œengagementâ€ â€“ but it strikes me that there is a term that better describes what we are really trying to drive, something more tangible, practical, measurable and impactful:
The consensus definition, of participation is â€œto take part.â€
Participation means conscious behavior â€“ not mere awareness but the willingness and action required to do something, or, equally important, to not do something.
When I floated the question of â€œhow would you define participationâ€ on a number of my social channels, I got a mixed response. Most said participation had to be â€œpositiveâ€ in tone. But in viewing participation as a matter of being conscious rather than of being constructive, there is far more scope to make an impact.
Organizations are doing tons of things at any given time. To invoke the memory of departed actor and US Senator Fred Thompson, â€œsometimes you have got to lead, follow or get out of the way.â€
All of these roles â€“ leading, following, or getting out of the way â€“ require some conscious intention and action. They also reflect a basic inequality in each of our roles in the organization. Not everyone needs to do the same thing, not everyone needs to be informed to the same level of detail, and not everyone needs to be equally involved in everything. Participation is not an on-or-off condition, there are roles, degrees and levels of initiative involved.
Participation is at the core of democracy, but it is no less central to the functioning and success of businesses. Yet the vocabulary of internal and change comms has still to really hone in on participation as the real focus of organizational communication.
The push for measurement of organizational communication activity can be most easily met by shifting its focus onto what people actively do, and what people actively say, and perhaps tracking progress between these trends and success at achieving desired organizational outcomes over time.
Beyond measurement and measurability, a focus on participation â€“ and especially the need for differentiated participation on organizational issues and challenges â€“ will bring business communication closer to the center of strategy execution than we have seen so far. Rather than simply informing people in the hopes of â€œengagingâ€ them, supporting optimal participation is fundamentally aligned with delivering organizational objectives and the strategy for achieving them.
Which brings us to EuroComm in Copenhagen
As some of you may know, Iâ€™m a lead organizer for EuroComm18, the IABC regional communication conference for Europe â€“ Middle East - North Africa. It is no accident that the conference theme is â€œCommunication, Technology, Participationâ€ and that the conference will take place in Copenhagen on 9-10 April.
Participation is a respected concept in the Nordics. It pervades not only the political world, but also communities and large business enterprises. Nordic leaders and thinkers see employees as citizens to a large extent, and expect conscious alignment as opposed to mere compliance. Local technologists are in the forefront of developing technologies and platforms for smart cities and social, health and business applications that harness participation at individual and communal levels.
In short, Copenhagen and the Nordics are pretty much at the intersection of â€œcommunication, technology and participationâ€ and EuroComm18 is intended to offer opportunities to explore how we can integrate and elevate these levers to create better outcomes.