Tools and services, Uncategorized

Six “term-changers” for internal communication


termchangersAs I have said often, it’s not the easiest of times to be a strategically-oriented internal communicator.

At a time when clients want “snazzy-snappy-happy” tactics, a number of brave practitioners and firms have developed real tools and methodologies that seek to change the game, or even “change the terms” for their clients.

These six are particularly interesting to me, in that they are focused on driving alignment, to reduce the noise, friction and even the conflicts that keep organizations from moving in a common direction.

The Influencer Scan

I start with a shameless plug for my own tool, the Influencer Scan, which uses snowball sampling to work with employees to surface the most influential employees in their organizations.  Noting that the top three percent of  employees who are most influential in each company drive conversations with 90% of their colleagues, the Influencer Scan builds on trusted relationships to build a lean, fast and credible internal communication process that can either supplement or replace more expensive and intrusive approaches.

Pulse Tracker

My friends at Innovisor in Copenhagen use a different methodology for finding internal influencers than I do, but are equally strong proponents of the 3-90 rule. Innovisor’s Pulse Tracker is a user-friendly software used by IC, HR and change professionals to track perceptions and engagement of the most influential 3% – and only that top 3%. This not only makes the INNOVISOR Pulse Tracker much more resource efficient than any other organization-wide survey, it also provides an early – and fast – indicator of changes in the direction of organizational perceptions and engagement. It only takes five days from question to results.


Meanwhile, in the UK, the fine folks at Woodread are focusing on improving content, and improving the ability of practitioners to deliver it.  Their product, Muse, offers access to a uniquely bundled set of services and resources to address the internal communication challenges HR, engagement and internal communications practitioners face. Muse combines the tactical: a service which gives internal communicators access to consumer quality comms written in their own corporate style, along with a package consisting of exclusive training, ‘how to’ guides and access to a community of Muse users to share ideas and best practice.  A comment from an HR practitioner is indicative: “You think you’ve ‘nailed it’ until you see how with a few subtle changes by Muse it reads even better.  This has really helped not only to improve our communications but also to coach our team in what is needed to really achieve our Tone of Voice.”  Nicola-Jayne Thomas Head of Reward, Relations and Development, Peugeot Citroën


Eli is an award-winning platform that’s unique in that it enables communication between incoming employees and their new organizations during the onboarding process. Eli is a highly flexible and versatile tool, which can support communication with specific audiences at any stage of the employee lifecycle, allowing for a seamless, brand-aligned experience from the moment candidates apply to the moment they move on as former employees.

Communication Climate

Marc Do Amaral, one of the more innovative practitioners in the Netherlands and an IC Kollectif internal com thought leader, has developed an approach for assessing and improving the communication climate inside an organization. The Communication Climate inventory addresses  perceptions of fairness, autonomy, certainty and relatedness, and how they impact employee attitudes towards top managers, supervisors and colleagues–usually more strongly than expected. Even so, they are seldom explicitly discussed, remaining largely invisible in the undercurrent. The inventory surfaces these perceptions through a survey, followed by a process where the findings are broadly shared and discussed. This provides the basis for the design phase which builds toward a shared vision of the desired communication climate and the key behaviors and interventions needed to cultivate it.

Mirror Mirror

Focusing both on on-boarding and team communication and appraisal, Lindsay Uittenbogaard’s “Mirror Mirror” tool provides a structured but rapid approach for driving team alignment.  Mirror Mirror allows teams to develop a shared picture of ‘where they are now’ so they have the clarity, alignment, and momentum needed to progress to ‘where they want to go next’. Think detailed team employee survey with immediacy. Think psychometrics and teamwork insights with applicability. Think engagement on a plan with doability.

So these are six tools.  Six battle-tested, real-world products and services that make a tangible difference in addressing actual business challenges.

They are here for the taking.  And they need your support.

Quality tools need quality practitioners to buy them and use them.  Are you interested? Do you want to Change The Terms?

Please fill out the short form below.

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Internal influencers: now actionable, no longer optional

Ever wonder why your internal communication isn’t getting any traction?  Or why your engagement scores are slipping despite your steady diet of snappy intranet articles and C-suiter videos?

Recent studies from Edelman, the American Press Institute, and Innovisor in Copenhagen identify a crucial and often-omitted factor: the peer influencer, or, as they are often called within organizations, “internal influencers.”

Influencers drive trust

Although corporations and other organizations have relied heavily on C-suite leaders as authoritative voices, a significant gap has opened in the extent to which people respond to senior leaders versus their own peers.  According to the Edelman Trust Barometer for 2017, peer credibility is above 60% across the board, while trust in CEOs averages below 38% across the 28 countries surveyed.

In a world where the sharing of articles is an increasingly pivotal internally as well as externally, a recent American Press Institute survey shows that peer credibility can be decisive in whether messages get noticed or believed.  Receiving an article from a trusted influencer drives positive attitudes towards messages, and higher degrees of engagement, than receiving from an unknown or less-well-trusted source.

Forget the 80-20 rule.  Think 3-90

Now, recognizing the value of peer influence does an organization little good if it can’t successfully harness, or indeed, influence it.  But the identification and mobilization of influencers is an emerging practice within internal communication and organizational change, and, when done properly, it’s relatively quick and cost-effective.  The most important thing to remember is that 3% of employees (the “key influencers”) drive organizational conversations with 90% of the other employees, according to Innovisor, the Copenhagen-based market leader in organizational network analysis and social mapping (

Finding the 3%

There are two main methodologies for finding the 3%.  My approach involves a small-scale survey approach involving a relatively small number of respondents, and engaging those who are most frequently identified as influential by their peers. A similar approach was explained in this piece by McKinsey:

A second, which Innovisor ( focuses on, performs a comprehensive social network analysis which not only identifies influencers but maps their connections across the entire enterprise, and produces a “real” organizational chart, one which can vary from C-suite perceptions of “the way things are.”

Two other methodologies that are often substituted for these – having managers select who they perceive as influencers, and having HR and communications staff brainstorm names in workshops – tend to miss the target.

Jeppe Vilstrup Hansgaard, Innovisor’s CEO says: “HR and Communications staff tend to pick the people they see the most of, and managers tend to pick the employees who are most cooperative.  When they are asked to pick the influencers, the overlap between what they pick and what the employees pick is usually limited and often non-existent.”

Communicating through influencers

Regardless of the method chosen to identify influencers, it is most crucial that efforts to engage them reflect the respect and status that they have earned from other employees.

Identifying influencers without offering them enhanced news flows, detailed explanations and rationales for major decisions, and preferential access to senior management makes no sense.  They need to be able to tell your story credibly, and even if they disagree, they will have to account for facts and realities they won’t be able to ignore.

This reflects that there are always two main tracks of organizational information: the baseline news (the snappy intranet stories and videos mentioned above) and the informal conversation where, if a coherent, cohesive narrative isn’t being conveyed by credible sources, rumor and “fake news” will fill the void.

This does not mean that you must turn your informal influencers into formal “ambassadors.”

Early in the process, though, the organization needs make a choice.  It can choose simply to make sure that its side of the story is moving into the organizational conversation, or whether it needs to actively mobilize influencers to support specific initiatives or narratives.

Making it happen

If you recognize that peer credibility is something you can’t ignore, the key is to make an authentic effort to tap into it, by doing the research to find the people your employees trust, rather than doubling down on the people you trust (your line managers and departmental favorites) and hoping that no one will notice the difference.  Then, make sure these people are prepared to tell your side of the story or at least to acknowledge its legitimacy.

This is not a complicated process. It’s nowhere near as complicated as what it takes to produce highly visual communications and ambitious live engagement events.   But it requires discipline, a willingness to operate strategically, and a recognition that peer credibility is no longer optional.

Want to talk about internal influencers and how to quickly find and mobilize them?  Call me at +31-6-2417-9475, or send me a note at

This piece was published previously as a submission to IC Kollectif.


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.


The State of the Sector: are internal communicators missing something big?

Not long ago, London-based internal communication consultancy Gatehouse published its eighth annual “State of the Sector” survey looking at how internal comms practitioners are experiencing their roles and how they use their time, money and energy.

Having spent the last four years in an in-house comms role, none of the conclusions particularly surprised me. Practitioners these days are focused on “digital,” channel management and event management, in pursuit of informing people about corporate strategy and, to a lesser extent, supporting the ongoing push for “employee engagement,” whatever that might exactly be.

They are worried about their budget levels and dabbling with a range of measurement tools in order to have some facts that can justify sustaining at least part of those budgets. But what the Gatehouse survey does not touch is any effort to sharpen the impact of internal communication by identifying and focusing on high-value and high-impact individuals and audiences within their organizations.

Whether this is a simple omission in the Gatehouse methodology or a major gap in current practice is a question I will leave open for now. But when at 28% of survey respondents anticipate taking a budget hit this year, the question of whether one can drive more impact with fewer dollars, euros or pounds is one that ought to be on most communicators’ radar screens.

Now, to answer that question, a few other questions are worth asking:

  • Does the 80-20 rule have an equivalent in internal communication?

According to Innovisor, a Copenhagen-based niche consultancy specializing in identifying and mapping the relationships between formal and informal leaders in organizations, the internal comms equivalent actually reflects a 3%-90% rule, where three percent of a company’s population has the ability to drive and influence conversations reaching 90% of employees.

These three percent are not merely senior leaders at the top of the pyramid, but the internal experts, role models and social networkers who combine high connectivity with high credibility to move and validate messages, official and otherwise.

  • Isn’t it more difficult or expensive to find the right people than to just focus on everyone?

The process of identifying an organization’s most influential employees and, if desired, mapping out their connections and their spheres of influence, is a task that requires actual work, either through a survey where employees identify their key personal and professional contacts in the workplace, or, less precisely, through a combination of interviews, desk research and management input.

Once found, the list of influencers and their maps of connections and influence have to be updated in a manner reflecting the level of change, turnover and organizational momentum. But even factoring the degree of work involved in developing definitive lists and maps, the opportunity for saving money, reducing noise and increasing impact is immense.

  • Isn’t this a function of management and not internal communication?

A sharpened focus on high impact employees and audiences isn’t the same thing as a focus on high-status employees. Top-down communication may remain the gold standard for delivering authoritative pronouncements, but employees look to select peers and experts to define, sanity check and contextualize those messages. This is an approach that combines management with management in a powerful, integrated way.

  • Has anyone actually done this successfully?

Selective engagement, which focuses on identifying, connecting and mobilizing key individuals, whether through Innovisor’s approach to social mapping, or Leandro Herrero’s Viral Change approach, is an increasingly popular and efficient way of making things happen in organizations and communities.

In doing such an excellent job of identifying what internal comms leaders and practitioners are doing and focusing on, Gatehouse does a massive service to the IC community.

And in highlighting such a gap in the arena of audience focus, Gatehouse, perhaps inadvertently, has created an opportunity for internal comms pros – and those who employ us – to look at how they can engage more selectively, and in so doing, increase their impact while making better use of money and organizational bandwidth.


Cover Story: IABC’s Communication World

Am delighted and excited to announce the publication of my article, “Focus Your Engagement Where it Matters Most,” as the cover story of IABC‘s revamped Communication World magazine.

It is my first-ever full article for CW. Its publication on the eve of IABC’s World Conference in Toronto next week marks a nice opportunity to sharpen the conversation about “employee engagement”, its relationship with internal communication, and the extent to which strategic internal communication can make the energy and expenditure dedicated to “employee engagement” more effective.

The article can be found here:

Many thanks to IABC’s Natasha Nicholson, and also to my sources Dan Gray, Jeppe Vilstrup Hansgaard, Jim Shaffer, Muriel Pineau, Darryl Mead, Gunther Mittmann-Gano, Joy Niemerg and Kellie Cummings for their input.


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”