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After Vancouver – What Next for IABC?

Sold-out attendance. A-list speakers, And an exhibition hall filled with vendors and buzzing with activity throughout the session. These will be some of the enduring memories of an IABC World Conference in Vancouver that was a success by all of the event’s traditional measures.

The success of World Conference follows considerable effort to consolidate the IABC’s finances and stabilize its membership base. Still, as it begins its every-three-years strategy rethink, the Association faces crucial challenges and questions as it looks to the future.

Competitive pressure

National, regional and specialist associations are competitive with IABC in its North American and Australasian core, and are thoroughly outgunning IABC outside the English-speaking world. And even in the core, the laments about the difficulty in generating and retaining members are increasingly loud and long.

At US $300 in most countries, IABC dues are not insignificant. One very hopeful sign is that they represent a decreasing share of IABC’s overall revenues. Still, at these prices, there is a perceived pull in the Association to deliver value for money on an individual basis, placing substantial demands on both its headquarters and its volunteer leaders.

But this pull for “member value” runs counter to what is really going on in the larger world.

Marches, movements and megachurches

“People aren’t joining things anymore”

That was an oft-heard lament from a number of attendees in Vancouver. Underneath that concern was a fear that the Association’s tightly-knit community of leaders and advocates would prematurely fade away.

People are still joining things. Indeed, they are joining more than ever before.

But they, and particularly younger professionals, are joining movements, marches and megachurches.

This kind of joining isn’t about getting value from one’s dues money.

It’s about being part of something bigger. It’s about being part of a cause, making a difference and connecting with a community of fellow believers.

Indeed, there is one cause that nearly everyone in IABC already believes in.

That is:

“We are a profession. We are a profession that is simultaneously facing explosive demand for our talents and pressure to justify our value and impact. Our cause is to grow our professionalism and to demonstrate our value to a world that needs us.”

As a cross-disciplinary and international association knit together with passionate personal as well as professional ties, IABC is uniquely positioned to champion this cause on a global basis. To lead the movement.

Moving from “association” to “movement” requires significant changes in membership, governance, operational and organizational structure.

At this key point, IABC needs to look seriously at  the implications of a radical shift in strategy – whether it would drive growth and scale its impact, and how it would impact the quality of the relationships that drive the passion of many IABC leaders and members.

A world to win

But IABC, and particularly it’s leadership “family”, has a world to win.

IABC has knowledge assets that are the envy of nearly every national and regional association, and can potentially use them to galvanize and connect the comms organizational world in service of a broader movement.

And in broadening its reach to communication professionals worldwide to the cause of the worth and value of professional communication, IABC’s tight-knit community of leaders would be staring at a double-decked prize: generational sustainability combined with global scalability, creating connection with other like-minded folks who lead IABC in every corner of the world.

A formidable journey

IABC cannot morph into the global movement for professional communication overnight.

Moving in this direction would require deft and sensitive management.

Most importantly, adjustments to the value proposition could require considerable forebearance – particularly if new-style “members” come in at lower dues levels to boost numbers and geographic spread.

Additionally, IABC needs to look deeply at its approach to collaboration with national associations and international groupings (ideally by returning to the Global Alliance), and embrace its members who are industry advocates more closely.  

Most importantly, in my view, it needs to robustly challenge the assumptions at the root of its own dues structure, and find ways to broaden and share ownership of the GCCC certification program so that it can still take advantage of its significant global potential.

Indeed, IABC’s global leadership is starting to show a willingness to do so.

Some may think it’s not worth the risk. But it is certainly worth a conscious discussion.

The prize is substantial: A global profession of sustained professionalism and unquestioned worth.

Is IABC willing to take the leap?  My hunch is that IABC members and leaders will find it a worthy challenge once an open and wide ranging discussion begins.

Let it begin now.

Insights

Employees as Citizens – moving beyond a transactional approach to workplace relations

One of the major challenges at the heart of organizational communication involves how best to define the relationship between employers and employees.

To a large extent, organizations have come to treat their employee relationships as transactional. This is not only true in North America where the hire-and-fire culture and reliance on workplace-provided benefits can lead to an undercurrent of expendability in the relationship, but outside the US where organizations often speak of employees as “internal customers.”

While it may be prevalent to treat workforce relationships as transactional, doing so belies some basic realities of what being in the workforce involves:

  • Agency

Within the framework of established rules, priorities and processes, members of the workforce have the right and opportunity to make their own decisions, particularly when they are working away from detailed supervision

  • Commitment

Employees with long-term ambitions within an organization generally are committed to its long-term success, and have often staked their own personal commitments on the pursuit of a mutually beneficial relationship. Even contract and temporary employees tend to have a desire to perform well, leave a good impression, and perhaps be invited back.

  • Connection

The workplace isn’t simply a place where most of its members go, perform individual transactional tasks, and leave. For many participants, work is where many of the most significant activities and conversations in one’s life take place and where many fundamental relationships form

  • Visibility

Where companies have high visibility, either through wide public brand awareness or because of prominence as a local employer, employees willingly or unwillingly act as representatives of the organization and its brand in the larger community. In that capacity, they engage in conversations about product and service quality, organizational values and the extent to which positions in the organization would be desirable to potential job-seekers.

Given that people in the workforce have considerable discretion over the extent to which they invest their agency, commitment, connection and visibility on the company’s behalf, a one-dimensional transactional model does not neatly apply.

But what is there to replace it?

Citizenship.

The role of an employee within an organization bears much greater resemblance to citizenship than customership because it accounts for agency, commitment, connection and visibility.

Workforce “citizenship” also accounts for the level of “skin-in-the-game” for employees who bet their careers, familial stability and personal reputations on their choice of employer, and because it is sufficiently two-way to balance those factors against organizational objectives, rules, values and governance processes.

A workforce citizenship model doesn’t need to devolve all decision-making to employees.

But it can benefit from acknowledging and addressing the discretion employees do have in executing organizational decisions. Ideally, it can also incorporate the expertise, experience and aspirations of employees as key decisions get formulated.

When I first wrote on this subject nearly ten years ago, both internal and external social media were in their infancy and employee advocacy was anticipated but not yet widely embraced. Indeed, the slower-than-anticipated spread of internal social media and employee advocacy appears to align with organizations’ hesitancy to move beyond traditional and transactional thinking about the broader organizational and social roles of their employees.

At the same time, a shift in thinking combined with access to appropriate communication platforms and tools – tools which allow employees to share ideas, content and opinions appropriately in an organizational context – has the potential to help align internal communication with the lived employee experience, and create platforms where employees can be effective citizens inside and outside workplace walls.

MIKE KLEIN is Principal of Changing The Terms, a Netherlands-based communication consultancy focused on internal and change communication. The 2018-2019 Chair of IABC’s Europe-Middle East-North Africa region, Mike is the author of the research series on the Present and Future of Internal Communication for Happeo.

The Profession

The Best Thing You Can Do at IABC World Conference

What’s the best thing you can do at IABC World Conference?

The Grande Dame of conferences covering the the worlds of business and internal communication, IABC World Conference offers often-remarkable keynotes, a plethora of diverse breakout sessions, and perennially enjoyable socializing occasions like the Canada Party (which is always extra-special when it’s actually in Canada.)

But for me, the most valuable part of the conference are the conversations with IC vendors in The Hub, #IABC19’s vendor exhibition center.

Full disclosure – I do some consulting and research for Happeo (which is helping sponsor my attendance and whose swag I highlight in the picture above) and have established the #GorillaGames with ContactMonkey. And I’ve been very appreciative of the support that IABC EMENA has received from Poppulo during my year as Regional Chair.

But that support is indicative of why the vendor section adds so much value to World Conference.

Someone presenting a case study at a breakout session has the ability to present one real world situation to a room full of people.   A conversation with a vendor can expose you to dozens, along with the opportunity to see how each is particularly interesting and relevant, in a one-on-one discussion. And a few meters away, there are different vendors with different tools and a different spread of real world experiences.

Simply put, I think the best thing to do at World Conference is to purposely skip one or two breakout sessions and head for the vendor area. And apply the same interest and give the same respect to the vendors presenting as you would to anyone else presenting at World Conference.

The end result will be a broader and deeper understanding of business communication challenges and opportunities, along with, as expected, a better sense of the solutions capable of dealing with them.