IABC turns the page


WASHINGTON – As a sixteen-year member of the International Association of Business Communicators, I have always found my involvement worthwhile, but often became frustrated with a culture that has leaned towards taking itself too seriously.

Now, advancing the cause of business communication and those who practice in an often-hostile marketplace is a genuinely worthy matter, and IABC has often done a great job.

But the Association has had a historical and cultural tendency to emphasize IABC for IABC’s sake, and particularly, to see other communications organizations as competitive or even hostile.

Indeed, IABC had the following passage enshrined in its Bylaws, that its mission was to:

“unite the communication profession worldwide in one diverse, multifaceted organization under the banner of the International Association of Business Communicators.”

Today. IABC at its Annual General Meeting here overwhelmingly voted to delete this passage.

In its stead is simple new language:

  • Vision: Professional communicators at the heart of every organization.
  • Purpose: To advance the profession, create connection and develop strategic communicators.
  • Philosophy: IABC pledges to:
    • Represent the global profession.
    • Foster a diverse community.
    • Focus on insights and results.
    • Honor our Code of Ethics.
    • We will achieve this by being open, contemporary and professional.

The new language is more inclusive and respectful in tone. It illustrates a focus on members and other communicators.

Most importantly, it comprehensively abandons the ill-fated and toxic goal of shaping the communications world so that IABC is at its center.

The great American Mark Twain once said “the two most important days in one’s life are the day you are born and the day you find out why.”

Has IABC finally figured it out? Its new vision, purpose and philosophy give reason for optimism.

One thing is certain.  I’m in.

I’ve agreed to take on the role of Vice Chair of IABC’s Europe Middle East North Africa region.

It’s a significant, three-year commitment, on top of continuing to drive my influencer research and strategic messaging business.  And it’s a commitment I am taking because I would like to see IABC build community and partnership with people and organizations considered “rivals” and “competitors.”

Over the last few years IABC has turned a corner.  Today, as it starts its 2017 World Conference, it turns the page.




Dethroning managers, demystifying movements: two great pieces via LinkedIn

As an internal communicator who has been working on building a constituency to challenge traditional thinking in our profession, the flow of articles through LinkedIn has often been interesting but rarely essential.

So I was very surprised last week to see two posts that weren’t just great but really important: a piece challenging the centrality of line managers to internal communication, and an article providing a methodical approach to turning an idea-based business into a full-blown movement.

In their post titled “Do Women Have Fewer Teeth Than Men?, my friends at Innovisor in Copenhagen first challenge the idea of revealed truth (the idea that women had fewer teeth than men was first raised by Aristotle and then not formally questioned for many years).  They then take dead aim at the idea that managers have a central role in employee engagement and internal communication, and fire away at Gallup’s popular but controversial Q12 survey for having 11 of its 12 questions subject to the direct control of these line managers.  Then, comparing these surveys with social analytic research on the real world influence of peers on engagement, Innovisor claims that peers are actually four times more important in terms of providing support, guidance and inspiration to employees than managers actually were.

Whether Innovisor’s social analytic data is really applicable globally, it nonetheless represents the first real data-based challenge to the idea of line manager supremacy as it comes to internal communication, an idea hardwired into many of the metrics communication pros have to live with, as well as the (often flawed) strategic assumptions they are expected to fulfill.  As these findings are epic, this article is important.

Another important LinkedIn article is Sharon Savariego’s “Seven Habits of Highly Effective Movement Leaders,” which aims to help organizations make the leap from being merely commercial businesses to purpose-fuelled “movements” combining employees, customers, advocates and activists onto a single platform. Even thought Savariego’s piece aligns well with her current product, an organizational communication platform called mobilize, its collection of considered, methodical steps and its ability to get readers to think beyond the traditional notion of the organizational firewall makes her piece a worthy read that changes the terms when if comes to defining an organization.

Seen anything great about internal communication, organizational software, or power and politics in the workplace? Please share your ideas in the space below.


Can #internalcomms become a “weapon of mass disruption”?

For the last two years, the most prevalent words I have seen in the communication world have been “digital” and “disruption.”  For the most part, the talk about each involved extolling the virtues of “digitalization” and “disruptiveness,” with much less tangible said about how to bring these qualities to life in a way that adds meaning or value.

Having recently set out on my own as a consultant focusing mainly on internal communication, my primary aim has been to disrupt commonplace notions about “how to do” #internalcomms.  But in a short but memorable moment, my thoughts drifted towards how internal comms could itself become a force for disruption, holding the key to scaling, driving and delivering disruptive interventions on an enterprise-wide scale.

The key to seeing internal communication as a “weapon of mass disruption” is really to look at the nature of both of these terms, “mass” and “disruption.”  


Internal comms embodies “mass” from an enterprise perspective in a number of crucial and complementary ways.  The first, the way leaders commonly see internal communication, involves “mass delivery” of messages to all employees.  The ability to “seize the radio stations,” harmonize the telescreens, and instantly distribute centrally-initiated messages in text, video, and/or audio formats remains one of an organization’s core tools to set, reinforce, or introduce changes in tone and direction.  

But traditional “mass delivery” is not the only “mass” capability that internal communication can offer an organization with some appetite for disruptive interventions.  Today, “mass selectivity” and “mass connectivity” can both amplify and target the power of interventions and new ideas.  And “mass standardization” can make interventions and the wording of their definitions clear and consistently understood.

“Mass standardization” accelerates mass delivery by applying consistent terminology (and, in some cases, narrative and imagery) to specify and shape a favored idea and frame its intended impact.

“Mass selectivity” involves the ability to identify, connect and mobilize the “right” people to enable a particular disruption to spread.  Whether using social mapping, influencer research, or ad hoc analysis to form a core group that connects the hierarchy with the important informal “tribes” and connective functions in an organization, the ability to select and build a core group allows a disruptive idea to incubate and generate emotional power and commitment among those who are responsible for its initial spread.

The contagion of this emotional commitment can often be accelerated by means of “mass connectivity.”  Mass connectivity combines natural word of mouth as it spreads orally within teams, organizations and communities, and the networked power of external social networks and, where functioning, enterprise social networks inside the company firewall.


Internal communication’s ability to reach organizational populations through mass distribution, orchestrated influence and active agitation and connectivity is matched, if not exceeded, by what #internalcomms can do to shape, and even create, disruption itself.

What is disruption? Let’s look at what American dictionary Merriam Webster has to say. The verb “to disrupt” means “to cause (something) to be unable to continue in the normal way: to interrupt the normal progress or activity of (something).”

So, what does that mean for internal communications? Webster’s definition underscores the importance of internal communication in spreading disruption, so that disruptive changes stick and processes and practices are “unable to continue in the normal way.”  Our understanding of our enterprises, markets and communities with our fluency in unleashing the mass dynamics of what make disruptions accelerate and stick makes us a formidable, perhaps even indispensable asset.

But our involvement isn’t simply limited to spreading disruption.  We are also in a position to initiate it, to cause it.  Rather than simply act as a vehicle for leaders who have disruptive agendas and need their ideas spread, we can identify, shape and even invent disruptive ideas on our own, and work with stakeholders to  accelerate the flow of these disruptive ideas to the net benefit of our organizations.

New ideas, new practices, new promises, new words, new rules.  We can spread them, and we can create them (and then spread them).  We have the capability to commit mass disruption.

And mass disruption offers us a massive opportunity to change the terms.

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

* For insights into how internal communication can address internal influence, differentiation and employee activism, sign up for a free guide at https://changingtheterms.com/internal-communication-guides/

* To download my book, “From Lincoln to LinkedIn – the 55 Minute Guide to Social Communication” visit https://changingtheterms.com/book/

* To schedule a free 30 minute consultation, visit https://calendly.com/changingtheterms/30min


#CreateConnection: IABC wins with high touch over high tech

I have been an IABC member since 2001. And, for much of the last 15 years, I have been both a member and a critic.

I am a critic no longer. #CreateConnection is the reason why.

A number of years ago, IABC was in a bit of turmoil. As an internal communicator, I naturally found the turmoil interesting and used my membership as an entrance ticket to participate in it. Much of the turmoil was around personality issues at play at the time, but a thread of it was around IABC’s alternatives for future growth.

A few of us supported a virtual and digital approach, seeing IABC’s traditional focus on face to face events and local chapters to be too high-maintenance and difficult to sustain. But IABC instead doubled down on high-touch over high-tech, and embarked on an approach (hashtagged #createconnection) that emphasized the strengthening of its core offering with secondary emphasis on the virtual and digital side.

I was skeptical. But following my recent flight of blog postings and all of the sharing and retweeting I’ve seen in the last few weeks, I came to realize that IABC has nailed it with #createconnection.

There may be 100,000 or more business communications pros in the world. Most of us are already connected digitally on Twitter and LinkedIn and other online forums. Indeed, there are more than twice as many members of IABC’s LinkedIn group as there are members of IABC. But in large part, the people who’ve actually been connecting with me have been IABC members around the world—sharing, retweeting and asking questions.

More remarkable was that most of these members are not people I’ve met at conferences or other events. Even with a seemingly analog strategy focusing on local face-to-face activity, IABC members are rapidly connecting globally into a potent digital force. As for those I have met, the involvement has been particularly strong—ranging from challenging but respectful input from Jim Shaffer, one of IABC’s (and the world’s) most respected authorities on business communication, and an article encouraging members of IABC Montreal to read one of my recent blog posts.

Indeed, even if you can’t commit to attending IABC’s many excellent global and regional events, the global community that is IABC is increasingly relevant and accessible, wherever you are. If you want to learn from your peers, or if you have some thoughts about the future of our profession and want to move them forward, there has never been a better time to join IABC.

It’s time to #createconnection. It’s time for IABC.


From “engagement” to performance: KPMG decision gives a historic break to business communicators

For the last ten-plus years, the God called “employee engagement” has reigned supreme over all of the so-called “people fields” and, for the most part, swept up internal communication in its wake.

This week’s news that KPMG has not only abandoned its employee survey but repudiated the notion of “employee engagement” as having any causal relationship with performance, represents a historical opening for practitioners and businesses alike.  It is a golden chance to shift the focus away from driving “engagement” numbers and towards how effective business communication can directly improve performance.

The logic is obvious

At a basic level the logic is obvious. Effective, strategic internal communication can reduce ambiguity and increase clarity.

Good internal comms can align definitions of processes and objectives, and illustrate examples of good and bad practice. It can inject external perspectives while driving internal consistency. It can help identify people who have added impact as informal leaders and institutional lynchpins. Less obviously, it can be a vehicle for catalyzing consensus and even for the development of projects and products that are easier to execute or sell because of communicator involvement.  These are things that can move the needle in a business, even if they don’t line up with some “engagement” survey.

KPMG’s decision represents a historic opportunity, to begin the long-overdue uncoupling of the business communication profession from the engagement industry. Seizing that opportunity will change the terms.


Unpacking the Pravda Principle, looking beyond “engagement”

Last week, I published my first internal communications blog post in quite a while, The Pravda Principle.

It was a kind of shoot-from-the-hip exercise, based on an idea that had been rolling around my head for years—the paradox of why Pravda, long mocked and despised by Westerners as the epitome of propaganda and falsehood was, in essence, a highly successful internal communication channel and one from which today’s practitioners can learn.

Part of my reason for invoking Pravda as a positive example is that I see internal comms as being a stuck discipline, focused excessively on the nebulous goal of “increasing employee engagement (however it may be defined),” and seeing “the answer” in the adoption of increasingly visual and technically intricate channels.

But is the production of infotainment to drive employee happiness numbers really the only viable or legitimate use of a set of skills, thinking and tactics which are capable of driving other, more tangible organizational objectives? Or are we off track?

Some questions to ponder:

  • Is it all about attractiveness?

The pressure on communicators today is to produce stuff that is attractive and digestible to the least committed stakeholder. But Pravda wasn’t attractive, visual or digital.  It’s appeal was that it was authoritative: it reliably provided useful information.  Is there space left for internal comms vehicles that are authoritative in style and tone, helping stakeholders who need real information to get and understand the information they need? Are “all employees” really equally important?

  • Are “all employees” really equally important?

In large organizations, there may be certain things, particularly like brand promises, that have to be internalized by all employees.  But the extent to which individual employees can influence the definition of strategy and the leverage each has to impact its success varies profoundly. Given the relatively limited sums corporations spend on internal comms, shouldn’t its priorities lean towards helping smaller numbers of higher-value employees have more quantifiable impact, rather than try to move engagement survey numbers?

  • Isn’t sender-focused communication useful sometimes?

In today’s internal comms, there’s an assumption that the only purpose of publishing content is to entertain or “engage” large numbers of readers and that the needs of the “sender” must be secondary.  But if one can get three massive stakeholders to agree a cohesive story about how they will align their objectives and how they intend to work together, and publish it to the organization; the value of reduced friction, ambiguity and delay could more than justify a communicator’s salary even if no one outside the stakeholder teams reads the story.

While there is nothing wrong, in my opinion, with the idea of “engaged,” happy employees, I sense that the pursuit of “engagement über alles” has dominated the field to such an extent that other approaches and objectives are seen as secondary – or in some cases, even as not being worth offering to otherwise deserving stakeholders.

Recognizing and championing alternative approaches and objectives could profoundly change the terms.



IABC and EACD: Looking At Them Side By Side

One of the funny aspects of life as a long-term contractor in a big company is that I am on the hook for paying my own conference fees.  So, the decisions to attend both the IABC World Conference in Toronto and the EACD’s European Communications Summit required a bit of consideration.

Although some consider IABC and EACD to be “rival” associations, in that they compete for an increasingly scarce dues-paying capacity among target members, I am a proud and satisfied member of both.  They have two very different cultures, structures and styles, and I think they complement each other quite well.  (And, in all fairness, I have been treated very well by the editorial arms of both organisations).

That much being said, IABC is my professional family.  It’s a non-profit, member-led organisation, with all of the baggage and joys that entails.  Association politics was, until recently, very much a contact sport, although following its Toronto conference, IABC is emerging with newfound confidence and a new philosophy that is looking at the broader welfare of professional communicators and laying the groundwork for an overhaul of its business and educational models that should drive rapid growth in the coming years. 

Most importantly, IABC is inclusive.  While the home of many internal communicators, IABC covers the range of PR pros, Corporate Comms folks, Digital dynamos and Corporate Responsibility types, and, is well balanced between in-house professionals, consultants and independents.  Indeed, it is the ongoing conversations between those seeking opportunities and those seeking support that gives IABC much of its enduring value.

EACD, on the other hand, is a different type of resource. Connected with for-profit Helios Media, EACD focuses exclusively on the needs of Europe’s in-house communicators, with independents and consultants offered associate status and limited access to events and resources, which tend to feature strong  corporate professionals and a limited number of top-shelf consultants and experts.

Lavish Brunch vs. Formal Banquet

The difference between the two conferences could best be described as a difference between a lavish but informal Sunday brunch (IABC) and a formal but very well catered banquet (EACD).  Both are worth the money, time and travel.  IABC has a stronger sense of community coming from intense volunteer input; EACD is a thoroughly professional operation offering access to a fairly elite group of in-house pros.   

Maximising Complementarity

In terms of membership, IABC has struggled in Europe as the EACD has grown.  But that does not make them competitors.  They offer two fundamentally different experiences, and I benefit massively from both. 

From EACD I am learning better how in-house colleagues think, and what their priorities and standards are. From IABC, I get access to a global network of friends that crosses geographical, philosophical and commercial lines. 

Rather than trying to compete with EACD in Europe,  IABC should strengthen its appeal to the consultants and independents outside EACD’s remit, while encouraging its in-house members to show the IABC flag as part of their EACD involvement.  And, EACD’s success in Europe could offer interesting lessons as IABC prepares its own global plans for growth in the coming years. 


#IABC14 Putting the Future First


TORONTO-The International Association of Business Communicators, with whom I have had a stormy but enriching  13-year relationship as a member, chapter board member, regional board member, critic and advocate, is having its annual World Conference here in Canada’s biggest city this week.

Unlike more sectarian gatherings, like the European Association of Communication Directors’ in-house-pros event in Brussels, or the conferences of national PR and Journalists associations, the IABC’s event is the only one which fully embraces communication practitioners across geographies, practice areas and business models.

One criticism of previous gatherings was that they were “all about IABC” – focusing on showcasing member-experts, and celebrating the value of IABC as an institution.

This year, there is a subtle but very important shift—a change in tone towards bringing in new and more diverse ideas and promoting a more outward focus on advancing the skills and confidence of the communication profession.

The shift is particularly subtle against the backdrop of Toronto, one of the worlds most magically eclectic cities.

But the choice of a fiery futurist, Mike Walsh, as the kickoff keynote of the event sent an unambiguous message: IABC is putting the future first.

More to come from #IABC14 in Toronto.


Selected Publications

Changing The Terms is a new site where I am mainly focused on sharing new thinking, but I am also keen to share some of my other items which I have published in recent years, mainly on external sites.

Lessons from Lincoln

This 2013 article on how following some principles Abraham Lincoln outlined in 1840 to drive social and lateral communication in 2014 and beyond was published in the EACD’s Communication Director Magazine


Social Networks without Digital Social Machinery

A look at how to understand and leverage informal social networks in organisations regardless of whether the organisation is willing to invest in online social network tools is incorporated in this piece for the US-based Ragan Report.


Internal Comms:  Moving the debate forward

A piece on my old blog engaging leading internal communication advocates like Shel Holtz and David Murray with my own thoughts about the future direction of the internal communication profession


IABC:  A new mission, a new model

I have been a member of the International Association of Business Communicators since 2012.  I have often been critical of its leadership and direction, I believe it remains a massive resource and the best vehicle for creating a better professional environment for the world’s communication professionals.  This piece raised challenges to the Association’s business model and mission, challenges which Association leaders are beginning to address.


Staying inside the tent:  Supporting My Associations

An earlier piece about IABC and the other associations I’ve been a participant in.


Social Media to drive convergence of internal, external and social media?

A 2010 piece on the potential for social media to catalyse the convergence of internal and external communication.


Internal Communications 3.0:  Workforce Citizenship

An approach to employee engagement which recognises the employee as more of a “citizen” of an organisation rather than a “customer” or a “supplier”