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From “Centralization” to “Centrality” – a transformation making internal communication more relevant and scalable

Increase impact. Reduce noise. Become more relevant. Integrate platforms. Create more connectedness.

These are some of the demands that internal communicators are hearing most loudly these days.

In my 30+ interviews with global internal comms practitioners for Happeo’s research into The Present and Future of Internal Communication, there is an overriding trend emerging as they tackle these combined challenges.

I’m calling it the move from “centralization” to “centrality” – a move from communicators being tasked with delivering and managing an overly broad range of controlled communication channels, to overseeing a leaner, more authoritative, and increasingly interactive portfolio built around a common platform.

To learn more about the trend from “centralization” to “centrality,” download the second Happeo Report on the Present and Future of Internal Communication.

Recognizing external channels and unleashing internal platforms

The core idea behind this transformation is that employees have the choice of using external channels to communicate with each other, and to monitor the organization’s communication with the outside world.  

While some organizations bristle at this “loss of control,” internal communicators are increasingly taking it as a cue to relent from having to take end-to-end responsibility for communicating with employees. Rather than trying to suppress access to external channels or diminish their credibility, they are taking the initiative to make their own channels more authoritative, easier to use, and better integrated with the day-to-day work and interactions that make up the flow of organizational life.

One practitioner described the philosophy behind this approach:

“Every time we give employees a communication, we give them a problem, a decision they need to make.  We need to reduce the number of non-essential decisions they have to make.”

Centrality, as it is emerging in internal communication, combines a simplified approach to content and interactions with the use of one or very few authoritative channels and a messaging style that drives prioritization. As unofficial messages and platforms proliferate around the business, the leaner and sharper internal channels aim to cut through the noise, and help clarify expectations for employees.

Centrality drives scalability – in both directions

Internal communication has historically been a function seen mainly in companies with more than 1000 employees. The proliferation of channels and activities has been particularly pronounced in large organizations, and the movement towards centrality will likely make IC more scalable and efficient in large companies.  

But the move towards centrality also enables a more compelling case for formal internal communication for smaller organizations engaging employees in multiple locations.

They too can consider internal communication as a means of driving focus on prioritization and clarifying expectations. They can even consider IC as an alternative to moving to common physical headquarters or investing as heavily in new layers of management as they grow.  The use of a common communication platform, with news, enterprise social networks, common calendars and document sharing, can be used to create a “sense of place” and help clarify ambiguities in small dispersed workforces as they do in larger organizations.

The main barrier is the current lack of a business model to get sufficient IC expertise into smaller organizations. Few small organizations have communication staff in general, much less any with deep IC expertise.  But the ability of certain technology platforms to automate many IC implementation tasks could make it possible for organizations to acquire IC expertise through other means to make the best use of those platforms – either by upskilling their own staff in line with the spread of global standards, obtaining it on a consulting basis through platform vendors, or even by hiring dedicated full or part-time resource.

If smaller firms begin to see IC as a viable alternative to over-reliance on line management, or to physically gathering employees in common locations, it is also likely that the IC practitioners who are hired by smaller firms will play a much more central leadership role in those firms. This could prove the clearest – and least expected – route to the “seat at the table” that IC pros have historically sought.  

A huge shift

Whether it drives the streamlining of channels in large companies, or enables greater coherence and velocity in smaller ones, the trend from “centralization” to “centrality” has huge implications for practitioners, vendors and enterprises alike.  Reducing noise, increasing impact and creating clarity are clear ways for IC practitioners to add value. Embracing centrality will give them much wider opportunities to do so.

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