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

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.

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.


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.


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.

Insights, Internal Communication Strategy

Ambassadors and influencers

As businesses slowly come to recognize the importance of informal communication, we are starting to hear the words “ambassadors” and “influencers” more and more.

This is a bit of a good news and bad news story, which goes like this:

Good news: “We need to recognize that there’s informal communication actually going on in our companies.”

Bad news: “We’d really, really like to control it as much as possible.”

What does that have to do with “ambassadors” and “influencers?”

Because, at the moment, most of the energy companies are putting into “informal” communication is being focused on “ambassadors” programs, where employees are formally nominated by managers, HR, or other functions to push endorsed agendas and behaviors.

Ambassadors programs are not necessarily bad. But they get problematic when companies and managers call them “influencer” programs and calling program members “the influencers.”


Influencers are the people in organizations that their peers turn to for support, knowledge or sense-making. They aren’t nominated by anyone. They become influential by generating respect, sharing knowledge and putting things into context for peers who ask them to do so.

Managers and HR usually have little idea about who is actually influential.

Innovisor, which surveys thousands of employees on these questions annually, said there is nearly no overlap between the people managers nominate as “ambassadors” or “influencers” and those who employees find to be genuinely influential.


In an argument with a traditionally-minded London-based engagement pro, the two of us discussed our preferred approaches to accelerating internal messaging. “Why would you want to bypass the line manager?” he said. “Why would you want to bypass the real conversations that actually make a difference to employees?” I replied.

The problem with ambassadors programs and fake “influencers” programs comes when companies try to replace or step over the real informal communication in their ranks, especially with no knowledge of how that real informal communication actually works.

Rather than “taking back control,” companies can intensify cynicism and degrade their own credibility by inserting nominees into the informal communication process who lack the reputation, skills and track record to be genuinely influential, and, in doing so, suppress the real influence that is critical to sustaining the organizational conversation. It’s like taking the old-school cascade and painting a friendly face on it.


At the same time, organizations that make the effort to identify their real influencers can be confronted by the question of what to do afterward. Do they simply try to “influence the influencers,” and upgrade the quality of their interactions with the business, or do they out them and attempt to make them act as visible ambassadors – putting them all in the “yellow shirt”?

Outing your influencers has significant risks—once known publicly, they may become seen as “company agents,” and lose a chunk of the credibility and influence that make them worth identifying in the first place.


Can ambassadors programs coexist effectively with an identified influencer group? Yes. When ambassadors programs don’t pretend to be representative of “the real organization” but are positioned to champion limited agendas, they can be highly effective at moving the needle on those agendas. One program that took place in my previous company, a high-visibility values ambassador program in Italy which purposely nominated young, ambitious and tech-savvy employees, was very effective at sharing an understanding of values definitions.

Indeed, even though there has been little research done to date, I sense that the effectiveness of ambassadors programs can be improved by connecting them real influencers and seeking their informal guidance, and if absolutely necessary, their overt support.

Precisely because the nominated ambassadors lack the networks, content, and context that make influencers influential, being able to tap into the organization’s reservoir of influence without damaging it offers ambassadors a chance to better achieve their own objectives, and perhaps become more influential themselves.

This article was previously published by IC Kollectif.


Do-Know-Feel: Relevance Trumps Awareness

Having built my communication career mainly on the learnings I have obtained on the job, first as a political consultant and then as an internal communicator,  I have largely been spared a lot of the models and paradigms delivered through formal communication training. 

So, about 11 years ago,  while I was managing the internal communication for an airline merger,  I was a bit taken aback when my client, having recently completed some internal comms ninja-training course, cited a long-standing model and wanted me to apply it in my work.

“It’s about ‘know, feel, do’, Mike,” she said.  “What people should know, how they should feel, and then, what they should do.”

For some reason, that never sat well with me.  It still doesn’t, and when I heard someone say “it’s not ‘know, feel, do,’ but ‘do, know, feel,'”* it made perfect sense to me.

(* I apologize for forgetting the individual who shared this insight–please feel free to claim credit if you are reading this)

Do-know-feel is actually the basis for selective engagement and the kind of internal communication based on social analysis–where messaging and message volumes are channelled on the basis of driving relevance, action and performance rather than increasing awareness and approval for the sake of awareness and approval.


The first step is to determine what the various individuals in the audience or organization actually need to do: what tasks they need to accomplish, what roles they need to fulfill.  

Such roles can range from:


Change Leader

Project Manager

Someone whose day job will incorporate related activities

Someone who will not be directly involved but will need to accommodate related activities

Someone who will be affected by a change but will otherwise not participate in its implementation

Total bystander


The next step:  assess the factual content required to allow these individuals to fulfill their roles.

Having already assessed the “do” for each individual, it becomes much easier to ensure that the right people get the right level of detailed information, and that people who are less involved don’t get inundated with information that they are likely to find excessive, irrelevant and, often, irritating.  

While that may sound obvious,  such an approach often faces opposition from senior managers who insist that everyone must know everything about their “top priority” initiative because it is their  top priority, even when it clearly is not each employee’s top priority.  

While I once successfully challenged a CEO when he demanded a specified frequency of articles on his top project when the content relevance and ripeness did not warrant it, documenting that communication approach is based on relevance rather than awareness makes such a challenge easier to deliver.


Aside from the general inability of internal communicators to successfully and sustainably dictate employee emotions,  another reason for making emotion the third level of the do-know-feel approach is that the desired emotional response is different for people with different tasks.

It may be sufficient for a total bystander to get a robust sense of the context and rationale for change,  but people who are more directly involved with specfic responsibilities and impacts will face a broader range of triggers for their emotional reactions.  

For instance,  where there are personnel changes, the senior managers deciding the scope of the changes, the managers and HR staff implementing the changes, the employees whose roles would disappear and those whose roles would face reconfiguration will all have different emotional needs and require highly distinct messaging and support. 


Some may look at do-know-feel and just see an alternative approach to audience segmentation.  But I would argue that there is more to it.  Do-know-feel is also a clear basis for driving more selective, efficient and effective approaches to internal communication, employee engagement, and change communication, based on relevance rather than driving awareness.  It not only offers a means for driving communication focus on those who can have the most impact, but also on reducing the sense of overload and over-prioritization felt by employees who actually have better things to do.  By doing so, do-know-feel changes the terms.


Time for a “War” on “Employee Engagement”

In one of Leandro Herrero’s Daily Messages he sends to his readers and fans, he said in reference to the “War on Talent” that “If it is time for a war, let it be a war on Employee Engagement.”

Indeed. It is about time.

And let this be both a war of words, and a war on words.

Employee Engagement has dozens of definitions.

Many of them directly conflict with each other.

Some spark unreasonable expectations of benefit in the minds of stakeholders. Many create undue burdens on the employees, leaders, managers and consultants who are expected to deliver to them within vague or overly restrictive parameters.

And when anyone attempts to drive Employee Engagement while operating to inconsistent definitions, it’s hard to calculate positive odds for success.

Indeed, there are so many definitions of Employee Engagement that there are multiple categories of them. These include:


Shared meaning that is valuable to the future of the organization:

* More cohesive community / internal cooperation

* Increased feedback

* More employee attentiveness to customer concerns or other issues

* Improved design of work plans through co-creation

* Improved retention


* A more participative approach to negotiations, processes or innovation


* Improved employee morale and satisfaction

* Raised levels of commitment to company values and objectives or to a specific project

* Increased motivation and feeling of belonging


* Increased attendance and participation levels for events / meetings / online platforms

* Co-created plans

* Employee feedback


* Involving employees in strategic decision-making


* Listening to employees and taking their suggestions on board

* Recognition

*Conducting employee surveys


* Any measurement measuring any one of more of the above items

The Most Egregious Practice

The most egregious practice in the of the Employee Engagement definition mess is the extent to which many of their authors treat their own definition as “the answer,” and then cite survey research about Employee Engagement which aligns with completely different definitions and methodologies.

This approach makes, inadvertently, naively or cynically, a claim that adopting the author’s approach will address the researcher’s question, when there may be no direct connection between the two. At best, that muddies the waters. At worst, that’s bait and switch.

Winning the war on Employee Engagement

If there is going to be a war on Employee Engagement the first step to victory would be to establish some linguistic integrity in this space.

When an author talks about “increasing discretionary effort” and calls it Employee Engagement, practitioners need to say, “NO, you are talking about increasing discretionary effort.”

When a respected consultant says the answer is to selectively involve employees in governance and strategic decisions and calls it Employee Engagement, we need to say “NO, you are talking about selectively involving employees in governance and strategic decision making.”

When a manager talks about organising a town hall meeting and calls it an Employee Engagement, one needs to say politely “No, this is better described as a town hall meeting because nearly everything these days is called Employee Engagement.

The Fruits of Victory

This is not to say these activities are without benefit, or that they won’t improve Employee Engagement by the standard of one or more definitions.

But one thing that could really improve employee engagement is a more robust vocabulary that would allow us to compare different approaches and their impact on improving specific attitudes, behaviours and bottom-line financials.

Doing so would give organisations more powerful choices in how to assess their needs, select appropriate, efficient and outcome-specific approaches, and execute them effectively.

It is much easier to compare the impact of democratic governance with free employee lunches with amped-up employer branding activities than it is to compare Employee Engagement with Employee Engagement with Employee Engagement.

It is time for a war on Employee Engagement. And that war, ultimately, will be won by changing the terms.