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.

ABOUT CHANGING THE TERMS

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

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.

Featured, The Profession

IABC turnaround turns outward – members now hold the key to visibility and impact

“We’ve righted our ship and gotten our house in order, and now we’re ready to help drive the larger conversation about what our profession can offer.”

That was the overriding message following interviews with IABC Chair Ginger Homan and Executive Director Stephanie Doute.

In a conversation following the 2019 IABC Leadership Institute, and marking the halfway point in IABC’s 2017-2020 strategy, Ginger declared the Association’s restructuring and stabilization efforts a success. She said that they place IABC in a position to carry its message outward, and that it will do so in a much different way than IABC has done in the past:

“It’s time for our members to own our agenda”

“The key will be for members to take ownership –not only to be advocates for IABC membership, but to be active and visible as IABC members on the issues we care about in our industry. We need members to step out front to promote professional standards and champion the value communicators offer to our enterprises and communities.”

Ginger noted that this approach represented a break from its historical approach to outreach.

“Rather than IABC wanting to be the leader and for staff to own the agenda, as we have done in the past, we want to provide the platform to help our members be thought leaders. We in turn will help amplify those members who want to take stands and be visible in the conversations around the agenda we are promoting together.”

Accelerating the Global Standard

One front which IABC wants its members to take the advocacy lead is in the promotion of the Global Standard – which, while developed under IABC’s leadership, is intended to provide a common framework for promoting professionalism in communication, and for enabling the spread of a world-wide certification program for senior and mid-level communication professionals.

“There’s a lot we need to be saying about the Global Standard, and IABC can’t do this on its own. We need members and particularly those who have already been certified to tell the story of the Global Standard and make the case. We need to explain what it is, how we arrived at it, and why it is of relevance to a much broader constituency than just IABC members.”

Stephanie added: “There is a real demand for standards in the world of professional communication and the Global Standard is a great platform for embedding consistent standards into our day-to-day practices and even the software we use. Indeed, as the Global Standard provides the context and content for Certification and the rubric for our Gold Quill awards program, a broader conversation about the Global Standard will make our CMP and SCMP certifications more relevant and drive acceptance beyond IABC’s membership.”

The interviews followed the 2019 Leadership Institute in Long Beach, California, which combined the event’s traditional focus on chapter growth and cohesion with added emphasis on encouraging IABC activists to mobilize members as thought leaders and peer influencers to promote the value of professional communication, above and beyond the promotion of IABC membership.

Transforming IABC’s Infrastructure

The moves follow intense effort to stabilize IABC’s finances, update its infrastructure, and develop more robust offerings for members and the broader communication professions.

Stephanie added: “We’ve been modernizing what we do and the way we do it. We are in the midst of a digital transformation that will allow us both to better engage members and to make IABC more inviting and relevant to non-members. We have a new and expanded content program coming to life this year. We launched The Hub as a private social network to give our members a safe and vibrant space to share their needs, problems and ideas with the broader IABC community. These programs add to the continuing strength of World Conference as a truly best-in-class conference, where top-tier speakers, forward-thinking breakouts, launches of new research deliver special experiences delegates are unlikely to forget.”

Getting ahead of the trends

One criticism of IABC that has resonated with its leadership has been that the Association is slow to acknowledge, much less shape, trends in the industry – trends such as internal-external convergence and employee experience – which are well within the interests of its membership.

“We’re launching two exciting task forces to get ahead of the trends,” said Stephanie, “looking at the big ideas shaping the profession on the one hand, creating tangible tools and templates for delivery and execution for members on the other. We want members to be aware, awake and confident as we move into a time of even faster change and instability in the business world. These will be in addition to the research studies we have partnered on and the Business Acumen module in the IABC Academy. The latter was developed by a firm comprised of Wharton Business School alumni that will give our members a tangible command of business basics and prepare them for more effective conversations with their business peers.”

Creating Connection

In 2017-2020, IABC has been pursuing a three-pronged strategy: to develop strategic communicators, advance the profession and “create connection.” Midway through the strategy period, the bulk of the association’s global efforts have been devoted to getting the platform and infrastructure set for growth and accelerating member influence in the profession. “Create Connection,” the third pillar, builds on IABC’s historic strengths as a community and support network for its active members.

“Sometimes, people don’t realize how fun it can be to be in IABC,” Ginger explains. “IABC is ultimately about inclusion, fun and giving back – which is what we mean by ‘create connection’. It’s not about telling people to ‘join IABC because it’s fun’ but to create experiences that are enlivening and enriching, especially at the local level where it’s easiest for people to connect face-to-face. We are seeing newer and younger members coming in at the local level, generationally transforming IABC from the outside in.”

Why it’s time to join – or re-join

As the only global membership association covering the full scope of business communication, IABC occupies a unique space alongside national communication associations, specialist associations and more informal on-line groups which have absorbed many lapsed IABC members over the last decade. IABC intends to combine its improved infrastructure and an increasingly visible membership to drive growth and, importantly, regain the trust and activism of former members.

Concludes Ginger, “It’s about being more relevant, and about being more collaborative, cooperative and inspiring. Combine that with the connections we create, and we are set to deliver a compelling proposition.  We’re at an inflection point. The sky is the limit and we’d like you to join us.”