Question Everything

Conscience of the company – or skeptic-in-chief?

Conscience of the company – or skeptic-in-chief? Which is the ultimate role for the communication professional?

It was several weeks ago when I saw yet another piece where the writer said that the role of a corporate communication professional is to be “the conscience of the company.” 

I’ve always despised this point of view.  

It’s not because I think that organizations shouldn’t have a conscience. But this stance both encourages communication pros to approach the inconsistencies of corporate behavior from their own moral standpoint rather than from an aligned commitment to the organization’s well being.

This is not to say that communicators shouldn’t challenge, or more precisely, question their leaders and clients. But the stance, or perspective from which you do so, is all-important. My vote is for being a “good skeptic.”

Ask, don’t tell

Even the most committed communication professional needs to retain the ability to question all of the things they are committed to pursuing. And, where needed, to voice those questions to those who can bring clarity and decisiveness when things don’t fully make sense. 

At the extreme, it’s worth remembering F. Scott Fitzgerald’s quote: “The test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposing ideas in mind at the same time and still retain the ability to function. One should, for example, be able to see that things are hopeless yet be determined to make them otherwise.”

More commonly, and perhaps more fundamentally, it means having an ability and willingness to question small as well as big assumptions. 

One client was surprised, after my colleague, Joanne Henry, and I worked with them on a media statement over a couple of days and then, we, recommended that it be held back rather than sent proactively to media. We decided the news as it was was something procedural rather than substantive and might detract from larger announcements to come.. 

In their world, any news release is typically sent to the media releases were always sent to the media – but we questioned whether the message would add to or potentially detract from ongoing and upcoming events. In the end, we couldn’t find where it would add anything to that mix.

For the most part, such guidance best takes the form of questions – particularly if one is lower on the organization or project food chain than the person making the request or the assumption.  

Not a cynic, a skeptic

It’s also important to remember that there’s a big difference between a cynic, who actively disbelieves and a skeptic, who wants to believe but wants to confirm whether that belief makes sense.  In a corporate comms context, the “good skeptic” is one who questions whether or not the behavior, action or assumption is one that genuinely moves the agenda forward rather than detracting or distracting as the case may be.

In so doing, a communication pro contributes to success either by getting clarity on what the organization finds important, or by clearing away actions or attitudes that don’t move things forward.  

Want to add value as a communication pro? Start by being a good skeptic.


MIKE KLEIN is Principal of Changing The Terms, a practice focusing on internal and social communication based in Reykjavik. An MBA graduate of London Business School, Mike has 20 years experience as as an internal communicator, working with companies like Shell, Cargill, Avery Dennison, Maersk and easyJet. Mike authored “From Lincoln to LinkedIn – the 55 Minute Guide to Social Communication” and has co-authored numerous books and ebooks including “Disrupting the Profession of IC” with IC Kollectif, a 2019 Gold Quill Excellence winner. He recently launched the #WeLeadComms initiative to recognize communications professionals and organizations that make genuine contributions to the broader communication profession.


Four steps for avoiding the “Internal Communication measurement trap”

Measurement.  For many years, measurement has been a source of frustration when it comes to internal communication and organizational alignment.

Now, internal communication platforms and email tools offer a variety of embedded analytics and the ability to measure certain predetermined activities: clicks, open rates and adoption being the most obvious.

Embedded analytics can be helpful in adding numbers to the internal communication story. But using them without strategic intent and thought makes them a potential trap for internal communication pros.

It’s a trap that can actually limit the power and impact of internal communication measurement activity by emphasizing what’s easier to measure over what’s meaningful to measure. 

To avoid this trap, here are four measurement tips that will help your objectives and ambitions drive the process, rather than have it be driven by what’s easier to measure.

• Drive the measurement agenda – choose what gets measured.

• Don’t benchmark, baseline. • There’s another trap that a lot of organizations fall into – the desire to benchmark performance and attitudes relative to “similar” companies – sector competitors, other large companies based in the same country being popular targets. A real pitfall of benchmarking is the need to use common questions (or, even acommon research vendor) rather than to ask questions that are specific to an organization’s own reality and context. • Baselining is far more important – asking a given question before the organization or its communicators starts take action to address the issue being examined.  Good baselining and tracking allows the ability to measure the impact of your involvement over time – and also the impact of specific one-off interventions.

• Use different types of questions and measures • There are a lot of different data sources available to an enterprising communicator.  Aside from embedded analytics, one can use surveys to address different types of questions: open-ended questions (where participants are given limited guidance about answers), open-ended lists (where participants are asked to supply several different answers), closed-ended questions where participants select the “right” answer, and ranked lists which test alignment in direct way. 

• One approach not to use: don’t ask people what they think they know • Earlier in my career, when I was working on organizational change programs with certain (nameless) large consultancies, I was stunned by the surveys they used.  They would ask questions like “Have you heard about the change?” and my personal favorite: “Do you understand the change?: • Aside from being non-specific about what “change” they were asking about, these questions asked participants to out themselves as ignorant, stupid or both. Don’t do this. Better to ask another type of question and see how close people are to the official explanation of what they are being asked about.

Measurement is an activity that has tremendous potential to support internal communicators in delivering more effectively, and help them prove their value more convincingly to senior leadership and management. 

But to do that successfully, communication pros need to avoid the “measurement trap” that easily accessed data with limited relevance can set.   By following these four steps, IC pros can raise their game – and have the words and numbers at hand that demonstrate their impact.

If you want to navigate and find opportunities in the worlds of measurement, strategy, content or messaging in internal communication, let’s talk.  Schedule a conversation with Mike Klein.


WINTER IS COMING: Views from Reykjavik #2

Seasonality is a bit subjective here in Reykjavik. It’s more a function of the number of hours of daylight than the air or particularly the water temperature. 

Indeed, 66 North, the country’s prestige sportswear brand (think “Izod for Icelanders”), has the longstanding slogan “Waiting for Summer since 1926.” 

But the calendar and the cold are beginning to converge.  Winter is coming – and not just to the places here which were sets for Game of Thrones.  


Moving to a city 1500 km from the nearest capital is certainly an all-in bet on the future of remote working.  Having noted the difference between working with old clients and new clients remotely over recent months, I teamed up with Canada’s Andrea Greenhous to produce this piece on Remote Onboarding for the collective at IC Beyond.  


I’m sure I’m not the only person these days who says this, but I generally don’t believe Donald Trump.  And I particularly don’t believe him when he says that a COVID-19 vaccine is coming imminently.

My sense, and my advice for internal communication pros, is to plan for a long haul. That means working with your organizations to develop communication and cultural principles that will embed the kind of resilience both to survive the pandemic and seize the opportunities it may bring.

I wrote a piece on the latest wave of COVID and its implications with Jill Leake, a UK-based comms and change consultant.  The main advice – organizations need to show much more consistency between their “talk” and their “walk” as the pandemic continues.

(The piece was written as a “Podtext” – a written online dialogue. Here is my article from last week on Podtexting.)


Reykjavik sunset
Reykjavik at sunset

As an internal communications professional who has mainly worked with large companies, I must admit it is different to be in a place where, on the one hand, “large” companies are those with more than 500 employees. More interesting: communication in the entire country often looks to me like “internal communication” does in 100,000 employee-enterprises.  (I wrote a piece on this before the pandemic.)

I’ve only started making the rounds of communication and change professionals here in Iceland, but a few things stand out:

  • They’ve been genuinely happy to meet
  • They’ve been equally willing to share their insights both about local issues and about professional issues more globally
  • They ask excellent questions

If anyone is looking for an Icelandic angle for your podcasts and panel discussions, let me know. I have some great guests for you. For example, Vidir Ragnarsson is a global leader in the pay equity and diversity & inclusion arenas.  


One of the things about the way I approach my work and my network is that there is much that I like doing as an independent. But I also think I can accomplish as part of larger teams and communities.  So while I continue to pursue new projects and opportunities on my own, I’m also working with a number of specialist firms and with a top-rated internal communication platform, Smarp.

Smarp is my most ambitious partnership – where I’ve teamed up with longtime internal communications leader and IABC Fellow/legend Brad Whitworth as Senior Advisors to deliver strategic services (think planning, research and training) for Smarp’s growing base of clients.

The commercial side of this is in its early stages, but our marketing and thought leadership efforts are in full swing.  Brad and I each have at least one five-or-so minute “Comms Shift” podcast per week, and Smarp recently published my guide to “What a CEO should know about Internal Communication.”


In addition to Smarp, my other active partners include:

Mirror Mirror: an innovative set of tools and processes looking at organizational alignment at the team or enterprise level.  Mirror Mirror founder Lindsay Uittenbogaard is a long-time “partner in crime” of mine, having worked together in varying capacities since 2007.  What I like about Mirror Mirror is that it takes a lot of the personalization (ok, a lot of the “BS”) out of the analysis of organizational gaps and, by doing so, put teams and organizations on the track to alignment.

Corporate Diplomat: created as “an end-to-end” M&A communication team, Corporate Diplomat is a firm that takes a holistic approach to advisory in an M&A market where the rational and numerical tend to overwhelm the pivotal human side of the equation. I’m a Senior Advisor with a focus on internal communication, building on my experience working with M&A in the telecoms, airline, packaging and materials industries. 

Open: a leading change communication and transformation agency offering a unique mix of strategic advisory and creative execution skills, including a wide range of digital capabilities.

ReputationInc: an international management consultancy with a strong record of integrating internal communication and change within the larger corporate picture.

Innovisor: the world leader in organizational network analysis for business. 

As all of my partners are Europe-based, I’m particularly interested in finding strong and interesting US and Asia/Pac partners to work with and cross-promote.  


I’m passionate about my network – not only about what it can do for me, but also about how I can help people in my network. 

It’s not just been true in times like these, but it’s been a big part of my practice since I started in 2016.  

Each year, I set out with a goal of connecting a minimum of people with new connections, based on the calendar year (17 in ‘17, 20 in ‘20). I’ve also given numerous sessions with NL-based networking expert Lin McDevitt-Pugh to embolden participants to proactively introduce people within their communities.  

This week, network expert Valdis Krebs took the practice to a new level with a post he called “Network Weaving 101” – putting a name to this practice of proactive connection, and illustrating how it is both easy and impactful.  


With the holiday season soon approaching, I’d like to offer the first two in my series of free self-assessment tools: Grapevine Communication and Remote Onboarding.

Each assessment tool involves a look at the issue through a short set of questions, a self-assessed rating, and the identification of key challenges in the way of moving each issue forward.

The tools can either be used to focus your own thinking on a key issue, or as the basis of a conversation with me about your challenges.

To order the guides, please email me at

Thank you for reading – and I look forward to hearing from you. To schedule a conversation, visit


Will defeat in Australia finally light a fire under IABC’s “Advancing the Profession” talk?

Earlier this year, while attending the IABC Leadership Institute in Austin, Texas, and taking my last pre-COVID transoceanic trips, I had a sense that the coming months would present IABC with unprecedented challenges.

2020 has not been particularly kind to IABC.  

Job losses and corporate cuts in contribution to employee membership dues have hit IABC’s long-stretched finances hard and set the stage for a significant fall in membership. So did the need to convert the Association’s annual World Conference into a virtual online gathering, further roiling the finances and taking away an event that is a major annual highlight.

Add in an extended transition to a new management team, and you have an association that is looking inward at the time of the biggest external crisis that it has faced in its 50-year history.

But while COVID is a direct challenge to IABC’s financial stability, a crisis on the other end of the world from IABC’s new Chicago headquarters exposes vulnerabilities that speak to the association’s raison d’etre – the passage this month of discriminatory legislation in Australia that will require seekers of communication and PR degrees in the country’s public universities to pay more than double the price for their studies than students seeking more “job-friendly” degrees in the favored Science-Technology-Engineering-Math categories known as STEM.

IABC’s chapters in the region fought bravely on the issue once the legislation was moving, and created unprecedented partnerships with “rival” associations to establish a joint Australian Communications Advocacy Group.  

Yet, despite IABC HQ’s insistence that this is a local issue and its long record of hesitation to get involved tangibly in its stated priority of “advancing the profession”,the precedent – the treatment of communication and PR degrees as “luxury items” – has potentially corrosive implications for the profession that IABC and other comms professional bodies can no longer ignore.

First, this legislation is easily copied – largely as written – in countries that have similarly subsidized university systems, such as European countries and Canada.  

Second, the legislation reinforces the running commentary about communication as a second-tier science and indeed a second-tier profession, commentary implicit in the arguments in favor of the legislation.

It is this second implication that should be most sobering for IABC. For 50 years, IABC has put itself out as the global representative of the communication profession. Setting aside its degree of cooperation with other players in the field, the most significant example being its withdrawal from the inter-association Global Alliance in 2017, its own record of industry and professional advocacy appears to be a bare cupboard. 

Partly, this is due to a longstanding argument (dating back to the 2007 IABC Advocacy Task Force) within the Association about whether “Advocacy” in IABC terms meant IABC advocating on behalf of the communication profession – or advocating on behalf of IABC. 

October 2020 did not find IABC making a case for the value its members provide to the economy – a case whose absence is contributing to massive job (and dues) loss throughout its membership. It wasn’t preparing members with great examples of value created by communication professionals, or of methodologies to help members justify their contributions to their employers and enterprises.

It found IABC running yet another Member Month, its semi-annual effort to encourage members to try to sell their peers on the benefits of IABC.

These benefits are not inconsiderable for some.  But is focusing solely on them and on selling memberships leaves a gap between how IABC sells itself to members and prospects and where its actual priorities lie. selling members and our profession shosed that IABC needs to raise its game in advocacy, and potentially even change its focus to drive advocacy for the profession. Indeed, – and that the visibility generated by the success of such efforts would embolden communicators and attract a new and potentially large set of passionate members. Rejoining the Global Alliance would also be seen as a sign of seriousness and a message that IABC is willing again to play well with others.  

Advocacy does not have to be cumbersome or expensive. Members are aware of online advocacy programs like AVAAZ and Change worldwide and MoveOn in the States, and platforms like Nation Builder can be used for pennies a day.  

IABC’s declining membership and missed opportunities like the Australia case raise this as a legitimate question.  After nearly 13 years since the last Advocacy Task Force, why does IABC continue to talk the talk of “Advancing The Profession” without serious tangible steps in the right direction?

The biggest challenge by far is cultural. Will IABC be finally willing to look outward to make a difference for the larger profession, or will it double down on its current, inward, uber-deliberative approach as the global recession and pandemic continue to rage.

Mike Klein

Mike is the Principal of Changing The Terms and a nineteen-year member of IABC.  The former chair of IABC’s Europe – Middle East – North Africa region. Based in Reykjavik, Iceland, Mike is a specialist in internal communication, strategy and content, having worked for and with major organizations like Shell, Cargill, Barclays, easyJet and the US Federal Government. Mike is an MBA graduate of London Business School and previously managed political campaigns throughout the United States.

The Profession

The Price of Everything, the Value of Nothing: getting out from under the ROI rock

One of the most frustrating things about the pandemic is that a ridiculous number of top-shelf comms people are sidelined, either from having lost jobs or finding their projects descoped or cancelled.

While most believe this is “a natural function of the recession,” it also reinforces what’s bothered me for years: communication professionals and the profession as a whole have done a lousy job of demonstrating the strategic and financial value we add to our organizations and society.

Simply put, we measure the wrong stuff. Most popular measurements are linear, like ROI (return on investment), but most comms work focuses on outcomes, which are binary.

As in:

Whether we achieved the objective or hit the target.
Whether we closed the sale.
Whether we integrated the acquisition successfully or opened the new train line on schedule.

We help businesses win a lot of all-or-nothing bets. But since there’s rarely a linear way to measure them, our contribution gets discounted. We get pressurized to focus on outputs instead of outcomes solely because outputs are more easily measured in a linear way, like clicks and open rates, even though they offer little demonstrable value.

We’re not alone in this. Other disciplines face similar pressures, like my previous game of political campaign management. US political pollster Mark Mellman (whom I worked with 30 years ago) reviewed a study claiming that the ROI of individual communication pieces was basically zero and concluded that campaign expenditures were essentially worthless. Mellman countered that all of these pieces have a cumulative effect, and after all, an election is a binary outcome.

ROI has its use; online analytics have their uses. But what we do as communication professionals ultimately involves having cumulative impact on a lot of binary outcomes. Our future as professionals may well depend on us getting far better at documenting the dollar value and impact of those outcomes so that we are seen as essential as the recovery unfolds.

Developing and honing business strategy is a pivotal aspect of a communicator’s role. Its essential elements include leading clients through message development, analyzing intended impact on desired outcomes and competitive dynamics, and ultimately developing a coherent strategy for the initiative in question. All of these are binary – did it or didn’t do it – activities, and they generally build up to binary outcomes. Trying to elicit the value of three hours spent doing the middle third of an analysis makes no sense.

Communicators are skilled thought leaders. When we identify areas requiring change or improvement, we begin planting seeds of change with key influencers – some of whom may be outside the intended target audience but whose support may have even more impact on the outcome.

This is not to say ROI is worthless. Where there is a genuine proportional relationship between investment and impact, ROI can be a simple, satisfying answer, and can buy time (and budget) for a team, function or project to continue on.

But more often than not, it tends to chronically understate our impact and systemically undersells our value. In today’s cutthroat cash-conservation climate, we need to find a better way to make a case for ourselves, and we need to do it soon.

MIKE KLEIN is Principal of Changing The Terms, a business communication consultancy focusing on internal and change communication and is senior advisor on Smarp’s Strategic Services team. Author of “From Lincoln to LinkedIn,” Mike is an MBA graduate of London Business School and has worked with companies including easyJet, Barclays, Avery Dennison, Shell, and Cargill. Mike writes this from Reykjavik, Iceland – and acknowledges the editorial help of Michael Deas and Susan Martin with this piece.

Reykjavik Skyline

AUTUMN IS COMING: A view from Reykjavik

PR legend Stephen Waddington put it succinctly in his latest blog when he said “the next four months are likely to be as chaotic as the previous eight.”

I say “succinctly” in that while I agree with him about the Autumn to come, I also am fully respectful of the tumult, disruption, dislocation and opportunity that has already arisen this year. Still, I recognize that the US Elections, final-stage Brexit negotiations, hurricanes, tropical storms, the potential for cancellation of highly anticipated sports seasons and a much-anticipated spate of M&A activity can produce their own brands of mighty havoc.

It’s been one hell of a ride so far. In my world, COVID-19 did what I thought would be impossible at this stage of my life – create the circumstances where “I could work from anywhere.” At the same time, it also created the circumstances where that “anywhere” would end up being my wife’s home town of Reykjavik, Iceland.

Reykjavik is indeed a bit of a “physically distant” place – with a metro population around 200,000, and where the nearest capital city is Dublin, Ireland – 1400 km/900mi away.

In today’s world, there are a number of things that can give physical proximity a run for its money.  Having cultivated a substantial, global professional network over the last years, the time has come for me to combine a practice built around customized strategy, research and content with a commitment to connect my peers with people and firms which I believe offer exceptional support and insights for their 2020-and-beyond situations.

I’m delighted to be working with Smarp, a leading internal communication technology vendor; Corporate Diplomat, a specialist communication consultancy with strong ambitions in the M&A space; Mirror Mirror, which has some excellent software and processes for addressing enterprise and team alignment issues, Open, an enlightened internal communication agency with deep insights into the digital and physical spaces, and Reputation Inc, one of Europe’s leading reputation and communication strategy firms.

I’ll also continue blogging and writing – about internal communication and the overall scene, and about what it’s like to land in Reykjavik as a Chicago boy who has lived in five other European countries. Perhaps, more interestingly, about what the world’s comms folk can learn from a country that, with 350,000 people, is at the same kind of size as a top global corporation – and has a very advanced way of integrating internal and external communication.

For now, I am happy to be here – thanks in no small part to my ability to connect and communicate with my friends, peers, colleagues and fellow combatants around the world.  Things are cool, pleasant, well organized and as safe here as anywhere on the planet.  The people have been nothing but lovely so far, and it’s quite convenient to be situated between North America and Western Europe when it comes to work day overlap and humanely organizing Zoom calls.

While there are times when I’d prefer to be somewhere where the drinks are colder than the beach, I know there are no barriers here for me to make a difference and continue to have an impact in the worlds of internal and strategic communication.

More to come.


New Normal or New Ballgame?

I’m sure it won’t surprise you that I spend quite a bit of time on LinkedIn. 

And on the pages of LinkedIn, I see a powerful discussion brewing among communication professionals: is our role to facilitate the journey to “the new normal” of organizational life – or – to lead the charge into “a new ballgame” where communication emerges at the core of the organization’s renewed experience.

Given the structural nature of the COVID world: social distancing, remote working, tight economics, restricted travel and sharp changes in the workforce, the “New Normal” and the “New Ballgame” might look similar in practice.

But the contexts are sharply and fundamentally different.

At the core is whether we are having to try to make “the best of a bad situation” or if we seeking to make “the most of an historic opportunity.” 

Bubbling below the core is the question of our fundamental role.

Are communicators a support function existing to deliver the preferences of management while minimizing disruption?

Or are communication professionals finally becoming critical players – at a time when  platforms and practices are becoming differentiators internally and externally? 

Are we simple orchestrators of activities and suppliers of content?

Or do we have a fundamental role in shaping the organizational context and environment?

All of the answers to these questions are correct – to a certain degree. But which should we choose to be?

I’m all-in for the New Ballgame. 

I see this as our moment to seize the initiative in an environment where strategic communication can shape organizations, offerings and experiences – indeed, to shape enterprises themselves.

I also know that we have the tools and resources in our community to deliver the required level of excellence if we win the argument and have to immediately execute. Either by selecting the best possible tools for the challenge at hand – or, if we have to – by making the most of the tools that are made available to us.

Does that mean we have to die on the hill if we lose the argument or are blocked from the conversation in the first place?

No. We just need to rise to a slightly different challenge – to meet the client/boss’s short term requirements in a way that doesn’t slam the door on their best mid and long term outcomes. 

We only win when our clients win.

We are not a self-sufficient tribe of artists and advocates. 

But neither are we mere support staff.

Moving up the value chain will require us to be more ambitious than conscientious – but conscientiousness might be the ticket that gets us into the New Ballgame.

The New Ballgame will also require much better scorekeeping – we need to make sure that what gets measured lines up with what organizations want and need to achieve, as opposed to what makes them feel comfortable (h/t to those pushing â€œalignment” over “engagement.”)

At any rate, I’m putting my money where my mouth is – doubling down on building a remote consulting practice by moving with my family to my wife’s home town of Reykjavik, Iceland. 

This is a time of great difficulty in the world.

We can either try to adjust to it, or we can overcome it. 

Take orders? Or lead the charge.

It’s time for ambition. It’s time for a New Ballgame.

Mike Klein is Principal of Changing The Terms,  an internal communication consultancy based in Northern Europe.  Mike is concurrently Senior Advisor for Strategic Services with Smarp and is a Past Chair of IABC’s Europe-Middle East North Africa.  An MBA graduate of London Business School, Mike was an occasional goalkeeper for the School’s Handball team in his school days.


Internal Influence: Why ONA makes sense in times like these

by Mike Klein and Dr. Anita Zbieg, PhD

Following nine months of all-remote working across their business, Head of Comms Owen Newell Anderson met with Chief H.R. Officer Hayley Rodriguez to discuss one of his major agenda items – his desire to conduct an Organizational Network Analysis of the entire enterprise to better understand the way internal influence works in a time of major change.. 

Let’s listen in.

ONA: Thank you for inviting me today.

HR: You’re very welcome, Owen. Believe it or not, I’ve always thought Organizational Network Analysis was interesting. Under these circumstances, where cost-reduction and remote working have obviously changed a lot of our internal dynamics, I think it is now worth a serious look.

ONA: I’m glad we’re on the same page. Working outside of our physical structures, new social structures have undoubtedly formed, and it would be very interesting to know more about them, and about who is driving them.

HR: Agreed. As you can imagine, even though we have social distancing until the vaccine comes out, we will be taking some steps to get us ready to grow again.

ONA: New hires? Perhaps an acquisition?

HR: Both in the realm of possibility

ONA: Well, the most valuable things ONA can do in those cases is give us a better sense not only of the assets we still have on board and where they fit together, but how we can accelerate the effectiveness of new hires and how to best start the integration process for a new acquisition.

HR: Remote onboarding is tough, and the toughest part I’ve seen is that it’s very difficult to connect new remote hires socially with the right people who have the right knowledge about how things actually work. I see ONA as a potential precision tool for getting the understanding we need.

ONA: The main thing that ONA does, as you say, is map out all of the relationships in the enterprise. Knowing about how people actually work and actually communicate won’t just help us with onboarding, but can help us take out a lot of the noise in the organization.  

HR: Communication has improved since the crisis began in the sense that employees are happier about it, but the quantity seems to have ballooned. I’d be interested in seeing how ONA could help.

ONA: ONA exercises tend to be seen and presented, rightly, as exercises to improve communication, and that’s something most employees tend to want. 

HR: There may be some resistance, but there also seems the opportunity for a potential payoff.

ONA: I think it has the potential to be transformative, both from a communication perspective and from having genuinely deep organizational knowledge. The main thing is that we will know who really drives communication in the business: not me and not the theory of a line manager cascade, but the actual 3% of the people who drive 90% of the conversations.

HR: That’s the “three percent rule” you’ve told me about a few times

ONA: Precisely, Hayley.. But it’s more than just the knowledge, it’s what that knowledge would allow us to do. It would help us reduce the noise and irrelevance that hits people in this business. It would get rid of the constant pressure to dumb things down so that people who have nothing fo with content won’t be bewildered by it. We will be able to target better. We’ll also be able to listen better.

HR: Better listening? Tell me more.

ONA: We’ll have a better idea of whom to listen to. The influencers for sure, but also the people who are less connected, particularly if they are new arrivals. We need to know what moves them, and why certain things don’t move them. The insights about individual intensity of connection will add immeasurably to the way we collect feedback and listen.

ONA: But it’s not only that. ONA can make our organization more resilient. 

HR: How is that possible? 

ONA: Resilience demands “distributed control with centralized coordination,” not “centralized control with distributed execution” and that’s exactly how a real-time Organizational Network Analysis can have you covered. Knowing how the work is done will help your company become more resilient by providing employees with high quality real-time collaboration data & visualizations. 

HR: Does it mean that ONA can help guide me through the continuous process of change? 

ONA: Yes, by showing real-time how people and teams work in your company. Day-to-day company-wide change may bring chaos. Every single team and employee is having to learn how to get work done in a new way. What if they knew how actual collaboration looks like? Know the actual and proven work practices? 

HR: Tell me more about ONA’s ability to enable company-wide change.

ONA: With ONA, it becomes possible to:

– learn quickly about where to act and who should be involved,  

– know which people are driving value in your company, 

– set up new processes, roles, and practices based on actual work practices and relationships,

– support your managers by knowing what’s going on – and using that knowledge to make them more confident and effective

– develop insights into key individual relationships

HR: You told me that collaboration can be measured real-time. How is that possible? 

ONA: Along with surveys, ONA tools can bring data about digital traces of interactions from tools your company uses (e.g. MS Office, G-suite, GitHub, Asana). 

HR: Insights about “key individual relationships”? Are you sure we wouldn’t be too intrusive?

ONA: This isn’t a “search and destroy” mission. It’s more of an x-ray to get a picture of our organizational reality and be able to work within it consciously, for the first time. I sense a question about “what do we do with negative influencers.” You have to remember that we only give privileged information to managers, and everyone else is either informed by their managers or gets a common set of corporate internal messages. So, what that means is that there are a lot of influential people getting very limited information. These people either put one and one together and share their conclusions, or they outright make up rumors and fake news.

HR: Rumors and fake news?

ONA: Yes, And many don’t realize that’s what they are doing. Employees go to them to close the gaps in what we provide them, and they close the gaps with the limited information and insight they can add.

HR: So, by identifying influencers, we can make sure they are better informed?

ONA: Absolutely, Even the biggest rumor monger can’t overcome a set of actual facts. Having well informed influencers will by definition reduce the scope for rumor and misinformation.

HR: I think it’s time to do this. We’re at an important juncture, and we owe it to ourselves to learn as much as we can about where we are now, to set the stage for our next bout of growth.

Mike Klein is Principal of Changing The Terms and has been a longtime advocate for the use of Organizational Network Analysis as a key communication strategy tool.To order his guide to Internal Influence, email him at

Anita is co-founder of Network Perspective, software that brings collaboration to the company org chart, to improve organizational culture. She holds a PhD from Uniwersytet Ekonomiczny we WrocÅ‚awiu and her latest article on ONA can he be found here.


What will be the COVID-19 game-changer for Internal Communication? Social Distancing

Most of the time, it’s difficult to predict the future, especially when you are in the middle of a crisis of epic and unprecedented proportions.

But one differentiator sticks out in the case of the COVID-19 coronavirus situation: the social distancing required to minimize infection rates..

Social distancing will likely stay around in some form until a vaccine is found and takes hold. And that will have massive impact on the workplace as well as on the lives and lifestyles of citizens throughout the world – impact that could last well beyond the vaccine’s arrival.

I write on this in greater detail for Smarp. 

I also will discuss this with leading IC personalities Steve Crescenzo and Jennifer Sproul on Smarp’s latest Webinar on Thursday 2 April.

To be sure, the economic and emotional toll of COVID-19 is increasingly wrenching, and that’s what most people are rightly focusing on today. However, we’ve had wars and economic crashes, and they didn’t change the fundamental nature of work and business. 

Social distancing, however, changes everything.

It changes much more than how we situate ourselves. It changes how we interact. How we transact. How we speak with each other, listen to each other, and how we make and implement decisions.

It moves organizational stories from physical space to the connections that exist between organization members in virtual space. 

It reconfigures the economics of whole industries and communities.

And it radically alters the way relationships form and continue within organizations – and between organizations and customers.

If you are interested in the implications of social distancing on your organization or practice, let’s talk.  Book a free half hour conversation here.


Changing The Terms….with Smarp

Technology is changing the face of internal communication (IC), particularly so in times like these. As technology has progressed in IC, it’s also been obvious that many fundamentals remain the same – the demands for credibility, relevance and interactivity.  Technology alone can’t meet those needs – doing so requires strategy.

In that vein, I am delighted to announce my new association with Smarp to develop strategic services for its customers, and particularly, to work with its customers on the most effective ways to drive impact through its platform.

For me, this is really where IC technology is headed.

There are a lot of great platforms and vendors out there.  There are platforms who have been investing in moving the IC profession forward.  But technology functionalities are converging. What I like most about Smarp is that they see creativity and strategy in how their tool is used as being similarly important to what functionalities a tool can deliver.  And I’m thrilled that they’ve picked me to help drive them forward.

I am also excited about working with the Smarp Team.  Those of us in IABC talk a lot about “Finding Our Tribe.”  Well, in the world of IC technology, and after spending some hours in Helsinki and Stockholm speaking with members at all levels of Smarp’s team, I emerged with a sense that I’ve truly found my tribe.

My normal practice with Changing The Terms continues, and I see my work with Smarp as expanding the diversity of what I do while scaling its impact upward.  

If you want to navigate and find opportunities where communication technology and strategy connect, let’s talk.


Convergence in Iceland – and why it’s interesting to internal and external communicators

As waterfalls converge in Iceland, so too do internal and external communication

Iceland has been getting a lot of attention lately – partly because of its increasing popularity as a travel destination and also because of recent tumultuous economic, political and geological events (remember the eruption that grounded European air travel for a week?).

But is there anything else going on beneath the surface that can give insights to internal and external communication pros?

I travel here frequently because of my wife’s Icelandic family and her travel business, Iceland Unwrapped. But this trip, I was particularly interested in seeing what Iceland can offer in terms of insights into IC.


Iceland is something of an insular country, in a similar way as many big companies with entrenched cultures and long-serving staff can also be insular. More to the point, it’s an island with a hard border but no physical neighbours. It also has a unique language that it invests considerable effort to protect from outside influence, while, at the same time, its school system produces a level of English fluency and literacy higher than some parts of the US or UK.

Iceland is a highly and tightly networked society. Family ties and school ties are close and interconnecting. Nearly two thirds of the population lives in the sophisticated but tiny capital of Reykjavik (metro area 200,000). Some sectors of the economy are monopolistic; others have two or three competitors. Top roles are filled through a merry-go-round of senior appointments with very few top roles filled by foreigners.

The similarity of this dynamic to what is seen in a lot of large organizations yields some specific insights:

· The power of the boundary – as a national border defines the territory where one is “in” or “out”, the organizational firewall  serves the same function. Inside the boundary context becomes sharper, internal content more relevant, and emotion more intense. Shorthand and jargon allow messages to flow more leanly and rapidly.

A great Icelandic example was an off-color conversation at a Reykjavik bar called the Klaustur, where a number of politicians left work early for a drinking session that ended up being recorded and shared by another bar customer. It was not simply that the conversation was seen as outrageous by many Icelanders – it was the speed at which it spread through society. More pertinently, it’s because the single term “the Klaustur” has become shorthand for the conversation and its aftermath. Outside the boundary, “Klaustur” means nothing to billions.  Inside, “Klaustur” means a deep, divisive controversy at the heart of an intense and close-knit society.

· De facto bilingualism – in organizations, there are generally at least two languages. One is spoken to  the outside world, and one to insiders. The internal language is necessary to retain cohesion and drive specificity, the external to allow interaction and flow with the uninitiated.

Just as Iceland mandates English fluency while keeping English words out of Icelandic, organizations use jargon to drive cohesion and specificity while keeping its use largely within the firewall. It’s no accident, therefore, that internal audiences rarely respond well to the simple redistribution of external messages internally. It’s also why Icelandic remains the main internal business language despite the country’s small size, though local multinationals are making increasing use of English internally.

• Synergy between internal and external: far more than a “convergence” or “blurring of lines” between internal and external communication, Iceland sees active use of external channels to drive internal messaging and confidence, and internal channels to spread messages to external audiences.

It’s important to bear in mind that a large enterprise by local standards has about 1000 employees, which would amount to about 1% of the working population of greater Reykjavik. It is also worth noting that Iceland, despite its size, boasts state and private TV networks, along with four national newspapers on a constant lookout for content and for coveted “scoops” at the expense of visible business and political targets.

This means that traditional external media and internal channels live in much closer proximity to each other than they do in larger countries. Reporters and C-suiters are often contemporaries, occasionally friends. Transparency is not always the goal, but the lack of it is difficult to defend and sustain. In an environment where word travels fast, protocol becomes critical. When employees don’t hear something first, they know they come second very quickly. Gaps in official stories face instant exposure and speculation.

One Icelandic business decided the best defense was a good offense. Domestic comms received the bulk of the budget even though most customers were abroad. Internal letters from leaders replaced press releases, with leaks anticipated. And much communication inside and outside the firewall was delivered by employees engaging informally with their families and communities.

Lessons learned

Is Iceland an internal comms case study in and of itself? No. It’s a democratic society with a largely independent press, which is a clear distinction from comparably sized companies which own their formal communication channels.

But with its size, and insularity, Iceland surfaces lessons about how the changes moving through the world of IC are taking place with heightened speed and intensity, while at the same time, the boundary between internal and external sharpens as it becomes more frequently crossed

A version of this piece was previously published in Communication Director Online.


Two-way internal communication is dead

Two-way internal communication is dead. That may sound like a radical and provocative statement, and it is.  

But it addresses a gap in the thinking that implies that interactivity and dialogue can somehow be confined to a closed loop, even in the face of always-on smartphones and social platforms. It challenges the still-grudging recognition of the role of informal influence networks and word of mouth in organizations. And, above all, it reflects the generational recognition by millennial internal communicators that we no longer operate in a two-directional but a multi-directional world.

Two-way internal communication was born with the best of intent. At a time when nearly all internal comms were top-down and one-way, the desire to make things “more two-way” represented a desire to humanize, to engage and to drive a degree of collaboration. The belief that such interaction and engagement could take place in a ‘sealed’ environment was often necessary to get management to cooperate. 

Of course, it’s a myth that it’s ever been possible to fully “seal” an internal communication environment at all.  

Even before online platforms, the offline platforms of “community” and  “word-of-mouth” have always been rife with conversations about the inner workings of companies and their implications for individuals and their families.  But until online platforms made some of these conversations visible and accelerated their spread, it was easy not to see them, or at least to ignore them,

Many organizations are still slow to recognize multi-directionality as the nature of today’s organizational playing field. 

Some still talk about becoming “more two-way.” Others may recognize multi-directionality in principle, but actively resist doing organizational network analysis  (ONA) or looking consciously at the impact of internal communication on external audiences. Still others seek more to focus on controlling and suppressing messages, instead of having IC provide a lighthouse to help employees navigate through messages and demands coming from multiple directions. 

Organizations that choose to recognize multidirectionality will be able to differentiate themselves as more open, dynamic, and responsive relative to their competion.  They will also have greater ability to target messages more precisely and support faster and sharper alignment than more traditional organizations. Yet many of those traditional organizations will try to get by by being “more two-way,” at least until they are forced to give way.

If you want to navigate and find opportunities in the multidirectional communication world, let’s talk.  Schedule a conversation with Mike Klein.