Internal Communication Strategy, Tools and services

Insights and Updates

The latest from Changing The Terms:


My latest research project, The Present and Future of Internal Communication, finished earlier this month with the publication of its 12 key conclusions and my summary article on IC Kollectif. 

But naturally, when one is working on matters of the future, conclusions are not an end, but a beginning.

The conclusions point in exciting directions:

●     IC is moving away from a focus on engagement and towards a focus on alignment as leaders seek sharper prioritization and higher agility 

●     Employees are increasingly recognized as communicators and contributors, instead of being mere recipients of communications. 

●     One-way and two-way approaches are giving way to multidirectional communications, based on a growing appreciation of today’s whole systems landscape and the role of internal influence within it.

●     Measurement and value assessment are becoming more tangible and, therefore, much more powerful.

●     In a world where products and services are converging and commoditizing rapidly, Internal Communication is increasingly seen both as a source and driver of strategic differentiation.

I say more about the report and its conclusions in my piece for sponsor Happeo on IC Kollectif.


To put this research into practice, I’m looking for communicators and leaders interested in taking this thinking into their organizations – to drive sharper alignment, more actionable measurement, and ultimately, clearer differentiation.  

If you’d like a research-based approach to internal communication that can reduce noise while increasing impact, let’s talk.  

Send me an email at and we’ll put a conversation in the schedule. Or, if you prefer, book a consultation here.


I’ll be on the road quite a bit in the coming weeks, speaking in Oslo, London, and Toronto, and appearing on webinars hosted by sponsors Smarp and Bananatag. 

It will be great if you can join me at any of these live or online events.

Live Events

OSLO: Will be joint keynote for “What’s the next Big Thing in Internal Communication”, co-sponsored by the European Association of Communication Directors and the Norwegian Communication Association on 15 October.

LONDON: Will be delivering a set of two workshops for CIPRInside on Measurement and Noise Reduction/Internal Influence on 29 October. Please email me at so I can provide you with a 20%-off discount code.

TORONTO: My Measurement and Noise Reduction/Internal Influence workshops are also part of the offering for the Inner Strength Strategic Internal Communication Conference in Canada’s largest city on 27 November.


SMARP’s “Great Debate”: IC people are rarely disagreeable, but we often disagree. And sponsor Smarp is seeking to stimulate some spirited conversation between myself, Canada’s Priya Bates and America’s Jason Anthoine. I think a bit of my “heresy” around “employee engagement” is likely to come through during our conversation on 22 October.

BANANATAG: International communication will be on the menu as I join Jenni Field, Chuck Gose, and Sony’s Tracy Chambers in a webinar that will touch on subjects like the appropriate use of jargon and the impact of multidirectional communication on employee-line manager relationships on 30 October.


Changing The Terms now has guides available on differentiation, internal influence and employee activism. Order your copies here.

Thank you for your continued interest and support – and for your help in “changing the game.”

Insights, Internal Communication Strategy

Employee Activism: New Guide from Changing The Terms

There’s a lot of talk about employee activism these days. Are you vulnerable?

This summer, I prepared a “Guide to Employee Activism” which looks at potential causes of internal unrest – particularly inconsistencies between stated values and principles and the actual values, principles and practices that guide an organization’s operational and commercial behavior.

The guide also addresses potential crises and minefields that can arise when organizations choose to engage in corporate activism – especially when their own house isn’t in order.

To find out whether you are vulnerable – and learn more about what you can do about it, order your FREE copy at .

Insights, Internal Communication Strategy, The Profession

Six things IC professionals can do to raise our game

It’s hard to be ambitious when you are trying to survive. That’s not only true of individuals. It’s also true of fields and professions when they face the pressure of micromanagement and penny-pinching.  

That’s our historical baggage as internal communicators. 

But it doesn’t have to be our current reality, much less our future.

Indeed, the C-Suite decision-makers and Chief Communicators I spoke with for Happeo’s research into The Present and Future of Internal Communication want IC to be more confident and proactive

The question is how quickly we can raise our game, and what moving in that direction actually looks like.

From my perspective, there are two main issues: how do we as IC professionals engage with leaders, and how do we change the way we do things, so we can operate more effectively and credibly.

How can we get our house in order? Three tasks

  • We need to seize control of the measurement agenda – particularly in terms of measuring impact.  Click rates, views and the such like isn’t enough. We need to measure changes in the words people use, the actions people take and the attitudes they incubate. Most importantly, we need to be able to measure and demonstrate the lack of impact of activities that cost unnecessary time and money so we can free up resources.
  • We need to make a documented case for investment in the right tools. Employees are used to consumer-grade tools and have limited tolerance for improvised and cumbersome substitutes.
  • We need to bring the “3-90 rule” to life: to demonstrate that 3% of employees drive 90% of conversations, so we can get support for Organizational Network Analysis and shift significant communication burdens away from the hierarchy.

How can we get leaders on board in a meaningful way? Three opportunities:

  • Ask leaders what a communication intervention is worth to them in real financial terms. Use those money figures to drive prioritization.
  • Involve leaders in communication planning and in sharing ownership of processes and outcomes
  • Don’t seek an invitation. If you bring a chair and bring the data to justify your place, you can elbow your way to a spot at “the table.”

The IC of the future is not a simple continuation of today’s tactics, priorities and practices. New skills, mindsets and confidence will be required as we go forward.

Recognize that the right help is available – don’t be afraid to look beyond your organizational bubble for help.  Consultants and vendors have a lot of experience and insights, and can save you from spending a lot of time and money on heartache and reinvention.

Most importantly, recognize that the future of IC is in your hands.

Managers and leaders have changing demands, but only we can reshape their expectations by clearly defining the benefits of a strategic, tech-savvy and incisive approach.  

We can do this.


Changing The Terms is a communication consulting practice focused on helping organizations improve alignment, differentiation and performance.


Listening: A business burden, or a potential spark and catalyst?

One of the most prevalent themes in my conversations with professionals about internal communication these days is about “listening.” 

Indeed, every conversation I have about organizational listening involves some sort of complaint – that “we don’t listen enough”, “we don’t listen well”, or “we don’t follow up on the feedback we get and people are sick of it,”  

A recent conversation I had with Dr. Kevin Ruck, who demurred when I referred to him as “The King of Employee Voice,” had a somewhat different tone.  Kevin has been following listening and feedback issues for years. And we stumbled onto a topic that’s gotten little focus  – how to surface high quality feedback that adds value both to organizations and employees when it is acted upon.

“It’s all about employees believing the processes are authentic, and that leaders will act when appropriate,” Kevin says.

That’s easy when it’s face-to-face, Kevin adds.  “They can see it in the mannerisms and in the tone of voice when it’s in a conversation, but it can be much more difficult in an online process.”

In many cases, the process of surfacing, collecting, harvesting, evaluating and acting on feedback has tended to be a  slow process that generates huge amounts of “terrestrial” input.

“The process generates a lot of low-level issues and concerns.  Partially because a lot of that stuff is what’s nagging – showers that don’t work, crap food in the canteen, for instance.  But it’s also part of a trust-building process.In some cultures, people aren’t likely to open up about the real issues until they start to see good will and action on the basics.  People want to start small and appear non-threatening,” continues Kevin.

If organizations want better feedback and input, it’s not enough simply to ask for it.  It’s also not enough to act on it. It requires an approach where processes are clear and credible. Expectations are also decisive – if companies expect employees to aim higher with their contributions, they need to respond with speed, seriousness and an appropriate level of sensitivity.

“The maturity of the process drives the value of the input,” explains Kevin. “Smart organizations won’t just be mature and adult and forthcoming about responding to feedback, they will also be shrewd and strategic about how they analyze it. They will look for trends – assess demographics, and look for the impact of how resolving problems in certain ways affect the trends.”

“People need to realize that listening isn’t about casework. It’s about understanding the fundamentals of what is going on in the business. By being smart about collecting, acting on, and addressing feedback, listening can go from a seeming burden to a spark and catalyst.” 

Kevin will be exploring this further with Howard Krais and Michael Pounsford – with a full report and suggestions for good listening practice coming out later in 2019.

Mike Klein is Principal of Changing The Terms and an experienced internal communication strategist, writer and advocate. To schedule a free consultation, please click here.

Insights, Internal Communication Strategy

The “Comms Factor” – turning the tables to share the responsibility of defining internal communication value

Having been an internal communicator for the last twenty years, one of the eternal questions our tribe has faced has been to define a relationship between IC activity and business performance.  

For the most part, the effort to find this relationship has been largely forensic, namely attempting to define correlations between communication activities and business changes after the fact.

While some business numbers clearly show correlations with increases in related internal communication activities, such as, improved employee behaviors around cybersecurity in office settings or use of sanitary facilities in health care settings, no standard figure has emerged as a way of demonstrating IC impact on a larger scale.

To their credit, the internal communicators with whom I’ve been speaking have been working hard to identify the numbers – and the words – to bring the story of their impact to life in the various organizations where and with whom they work.  But indeed, it was the mention of â€œassigning the appropriate amount of credit” to internal communication activities that prompted me to look at measurement from another angle – to propose calculating a “communication factor” that would assign an amount of credit to communication before specific performance, or specific changes in behavior, actually get measured.

Using an example cited by a participant, a hospital starts making alcohol wipes available to its employees, and then communicates their availability.  A percentage of the change in the amount of alcohol wipe consumption could be attributed to the communication activity, and that percentage of change could then be applied to other business outcomes that require some degree of active employee participation.  

Whether based on an easy-to-measure case, or by agreement between communicators and other business stakeholders on a value to assign to communication based on less tangible or more intuitive elements, the comms factor would essentially be an estimate or an extrapolation – and as communicators often have confidence issues with business numbers, the idea makes some hesitant.

But commercial and finance people are not hesitant about assigning value to their extrapolations or estimates – indeed, these are the figures that make business forecasting an important part of business life.  

Having attended business school with classmates who went on to become CEOs and CFOs of multi-billion dollar companies, our numbers are not intrinsically worse or less grounded than many of the other extrapolations or estimates flying around the business. We simply either resist sharing them because we are afraid they aren’t perfect, or because we don’t feel we know how to apply the situational discipline and rigor to present them in terms the business understands.

Quantification and valuation of “soft” numbers and metrics is not unknown in the business world. Whether it is directly valuing them in financial terms so they can be considered in investment calculations, or allocating their contribution to “balanced scorecards” that address financial and non-financial measures of business health, these become hard measures that drive real decisions.

For years, internal communicators have complained that we don’t get proper credit for the impact we have on business outcomes.  We need to consider that by not coming up with a way for getting that credit built in to the analysis before the outcomes occur, we’ve made ourselves bystanders to our own devaluation. In looking at injecting a “comms factor” to be assessed as part of outcome performance, we may finally be able to change the terms of the measurement game.

Click here to download Report 3 – How to Measure What Matters – of the Happeo series on The Present and Future of Internal Communication

Mike Klein is Principal of Changing The Terms, a Netherlands-based internal communication consultancy focused on research, messaging and measurement. He is an MBA graduate of London Business School and the regional chair of IABC for Europe – Middle East – North Africa.

Featured, Insights

Why is it so damn hard to get companies to spend money on internal communication?

Having worked for twenty-plus years in internal communication (IC), there’s a big factor of life that never computed for me, that never made sense.

Why do internal communicators have such a hard time getting even the most basic initiatives funded?

Is it simply because it’s hard to demonstrate a concrete return on investment (ROI) case for many expenditures? Or is it because IC expenditures are held to an entirely different standard, assessed in an entirely different way?

I’ve been interviewing business communicators and leaders for the last six months on behalf of digital workplace vendor Happeo, with budgets and measurements a key focus. And what I found is that IC investments are far more likely to be measured against “CWE” than they are against ROI.

What is “CWE”?

It means “communicating well enough” or, alternatively and more brutally, “communicating without expenditure.” 

Indeed, when internal communicators propose expenditures, whether on campaigns, technology, new staff or consultancy, they are frequently pushed back with the questions: “How much of this can we do on our own?” “How can we make better use of our existing resources to cover part of this?” Or, more bluntly, “Isn’t this supposed to be YOUR job?”

This pursuit of false economy is not unknown in other corners of the corporate world. But it’s prevalent in internal comms because there’s an intrinsic focus on using internal resources to reach internal people, and because employee populations are relatively small compared to customer bases in B2C or citizen numbers in a government context, for instance. Those relatively small numbers lead to pressure to keep cost-per-employee figures apparently reasonable.

Said one corporate communicator:

“IC is the cheapest comms function to run, we can operate creatively and effectively without much (running) cost, like running a global webcast for EUR 500 for 20,000 employees.”

CWE isn’t a problem everywhere, particularly since most IC expenditures are peanuts in the scheme of things for billion-dollar enterprises.

One participant in my latest research for Happeo, in a very large company, actually said: â€œSpend is not a major issue. Cost has never been a showstopper.”

But such flexibility can be deeply dependent on the sense of urgency pervading a given business. Another large-company participant in the Happeo research injected:

“In a crisis, no one questions the need for investment in tools. Outside of a crisis everyone asks for the ROI.”

An insight into this paradox can be found in the continuing reliance of some companies on email as a primary Internal Communication channel.

“Companies rely on email because they don’t invest in the toolset.”

So, what should one do when confronted with comparing a preferred option with a CWE request:

  • Assess the business urgency – both from the stakeholders involved and the extent to which an initiative can be seen to help the company strategy (or mitigate risks)
  • Look at the overall context of team capacity and priorities. Some initiatives can be executed “for free” – but with the hidden cost of deprioritizing other initiatives or adding pressure to a “maxed-out” team. Revealing those hidden costs may make your preferred initiative look more attractive.
  • Re-baseline expectations of current infrastructure – if you are trying to secure investment in new tools or infrastructure, an inventory of current infrastructure weaknesses, liabilities and vulnerabilities (as in “we can try doing this through our current intranet but only .5% of our employees will see it) could strengthen the case for action
  • Highlight the hidden cost of one-size-fits-all – if you want to undertake an effort to identify internal influencers and engage them better as a filter for corporate noise, come up with a calculation for the amount of time you ask employees to spend consuming unneeded or irrelevant corporate communication.

CWE is all about false economy – combined with a persistent belief that internal comms should essentially be “free” as a matter of principle. But it can be overcome when false economies are exposed as real risks, liabilities and costs. And in identifying “CWE” openly as an actual financial benchmark for internal comms, I sense it will be far easier to challenge it and push for better initiatives and solutions.

To register for a download of the latest research into the Present and Future of Internal Communication from Happeo, click here

MIKE KLEIN is Principal of Changing The Terms, a communication consultancy based in the Netherlands. Mike’s international practice includes work with Fortune 500, start-up and specialist clients across borders and sectors in Europe, the UK and the US. Mike holds an MBA from London Business School and is the 2018-2019 EMENA Chair of the International Association of Business Communicators (IABC). To schedule a free consultation, please click here.


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.


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?


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.

Featured, The Profession

Internal communicators: Deliver for organizations, not just employees

At last week’s Institute of Internal Communication Live conference in the UK, a slide was shown with a picture of someone who had been brutalized, covered by the text “Stop saying yes to your leaders – you are betraying your employees.”

This sentiment might be understandable to some, but embracing it presents a big backward step for internal communicators.

Our focus must continue to be on organizational success

For the last 20+ years, internal communicators have made a concerted effort to convince organizations and leaders that we can be their effective partners. Partners who can help them transform their companies, improve performance, accelerate alignment and develop sustainable, regenerative cultures.

Increasingly, we’ve been winning.

My current research for Happeo, for whom I am currently interviewing C-Level decision makers around the world, unambiguously shows appreciation for the value and potential IC can offer forward-thinking companies, to help them engage with their employees to achieve common purposes and deliver positive outcomes together, and to deal with difficult changes in a constructive and honest atmosphere.

But such results can only be delivered when internal communicators are committed to delivering for organizations.

When images like this slide pop up at a major IC event, in this case the UK’s Institute of Internal Communication’s IOICLive conference last week, they raise questions about that commitment.

Certainly, we can and must challenge leaders when their views may be counterproductive or miss out on vital perspectives.

But the moment we become perceived as “employee advocates” is the moment we get walked out of the building, and with good reason.

I can’t demand that everyone agrees with me.

But I can challenge my fellow practitioners to assess the impact that the opposite – making a virtue out of saying no to leaders, or claiming our ultimate role is to somehow honor or protect employees – has on our collective credibility.

Even if one’s sympathies might be with employees, our collective and individual loyalties must be to the organizations that employ us. Indeed, our very value comes from helping organizations succeed by involving employees more constructively and productively in the pursuit of that success.  

If we are to continue to make a difference to organizations, they need to know we are on their side. And IC practitioners need to be willing to challenge their peers and associations when they even hint at alternative agendas. Failing to do so may well undermine our collective credibility.  

Mike Klein is Principal of Changing The Terms and an experienced internal communication strategist, writer and advocate. To schedule a free consultation, please click here.


Black, white and gray: A 16-year-old holds up a mirror to business communicators

“I see the world kind of black-and-white”

So says Greta Thunberg, the sixteen-year-old climate change activist. Thunberg has become a global media sensation by sharing a direct if alarming message with politicians, business leaders and the media about what will be required to meet the climate change challenge.

Whether one agrees with the conclusions Greta is pushing or finds them acceptable from a social and economic perspective, Greta’s rapid emergence on the global scene highlights a trend of high relevance to communicators – a desire for clarity and specificity that has largely become absent from business communication in recent years. 

Part of this, from my experience, is that business communicators largely find ourselves trading in “gray”: in ambiguity.

Organizations take months or years to finalize changes even when the direction of travel is obvious to employees and other stakeholders. Leaders seek not to alarm, and employees often demand certainty when little can be offered before the required facts are blessed by the lawyers, shareholders and, where applicable, governments, are in place.

To a certain extent, business communicators add value to organizations by helping them and their people navigate through ambiguity. Ironically, we actually generate a fair amount of that ambiguity in an effort to avoid alarming stakeholders about decisions that some may expect but which have not yet been taken. Moreover, much of the difference between communication disciplines like internal comms, public relations and public affairs comes down to the distinct ways each positions ambiguous issues with its core stakeholders.

Greta’s rapid and precocious emergence on the scene speaks to an appetite for “straight talk” from a public that is tired of ambiguous, nuanced conversation from its business and political leaders. It also derives from her deeply held convictions about where things are headed if her pleas are unheeded. 

Do I believe business communicators should “be like Greta”? No. I think the worlds we operate in are too nuanced and ambiguous themselves, and we can’t provide definitive answers all the time. But I do think we should “be more like Greta” and not nurture ambiguity for ambiguity’s sake.

People want clarity and specificity from their leaders. They want leaders to speak with conviction. When it becomes possible for them to do so, they can benefit from being as direct, forthright and above all, as speedy as possible.

Are you vulnerable to employee activism? To find our more, email me at for my new Changing The Terms Guide to Employee and Corporate Activism.


From best practice to next practice: join us for the Gorilla Games Webinar

On 30 April, I’ll have the distinct pleasure of moderating a webinar about a unique internal communication competition – a competition which, rather than seeking approval for “best practice,” aims instead to break new ground – The Gorilla Games.

Working with Contact Monkey, the innovative Toronto-based email analytics company, we put out the call for entries that weren’t out to rewrite the record book but rewrite the rule book. By focusing not on what they’ve been allowed to do, but what they would do with the brakes off and the gloves thrown on the floor, entrants came up with strong, bold ideas that offer new insights into how internal comms pros can raise our collective game.

In addressing a scenario where internal communicators were facing a 25% across-the-board budget cut, but in turn were offered complete control over the remaining budget, Stephen Welch’s Gold-winning entry focused on developing an IC approach that employees, quite literally, would need to be willing to pay for themselves.

“Yes that’s right, we’re going to start charging employees to receive their internal communication” was indeed the “money quote” from Stephen’s entry, which took the form of a memo from the head of IC to his team at “BigCo.”

Of course, the idea of making employees pay money for IC is ridiculous.  But we all have been in the business of trying to get employees to pay attention to it for decades. Stephen’s approach doesn’t simply focus on getting employees to put their money where their minds are, it also signals an approach to measurement that’s based on how much content is valued as opposed to whether or not it is clicked or viewed.

Along with discussing the Silver and Bronze winning entries with contest participants (which are included in this White Paper from Contact Monkey along with Stephen’s), the 30th April Webcast will involve members of a judging panel which included industry all-stars Jason Anthoine, Priya Bates, Silke Brittain, Ashli Davis and Neil Jenkins and discuss prospects for growing the competition.

Award competitions are great for recognizing good work after the fact. In the Gorilla Games, we now have a mechanism for rewarding great thinking and innovation before the fact.   

To register for the Gorilla Games Webinar, click here. The Gorilla Games are a joint initiative of Contact Monkey and Changing The Terms.