Uncategorized

Your hope is my nightmare: which way for business communication?

Two of my favorite people in the internal comms world are Lise Michaud and Stephen Welch.

Lise—I have massive appreciation for her launch of IC Kollectif, the emerging Center of Excellence in the internal communication field, and I eagerly await the often-outstanding content that comes from “ICK’s” various channels.

For the holiday season, Lise asked the question of “What is your greatest hope for the Internal Comms profession in 2017” to a variety of IC pros and thought leaders.  Stephen, whose answer appeared this morning, is a fellow North American-turned-Brit who shares my passion for Tottenham Hotspur Football Club, so I am generally inclined to give him the benefit of the doubt.  But reading this sentence in his answer after my morning Starbucks, I had to strap on the gloves:

Internal Communication professionals should become more coaches and strategic advisers to senior management, not people who actually “do” communication. Every time an internal communications person actually ‘does’ a communication, a leader somewhere is not doing his or her job”

I get this may be Stephen’s hope.  Indeed, I have been hearing this complaint/advice since my time starting in IC in the late ‘90s.  I reject it – and actually find it nightmarish –  for two main reasons:

  • We often have better and clearer vision of the big picture and what resonates about it than do many of the people we work for, and generally a better way of articulating it than they can.
  • We should not despise our own skills and talents: as communicators our strategic, empathetic and craft skills are all interconnected, and are reflected in the “communications we ‘do’”.  We should not tie one or both of our arms behind our backs as a matter of principle, or withhold helpful contributions to make some kind of point.

Indeed, while some think that leaders taking full ownership of communication delivery is some kind of a dream outcome, I prefer to dream of a more dynamic relationship between leader and communicator—one of dialogue and discussion which empowers communication professionals to deliver the most resonant, best-targeted and highest impact communications we can deliver.

Leadership positioning, Uncategorized

Leadership Positioning: amplifying the impact of the ambitious leader

When people hear about “business communication,” they often think it’s about “the business”: numbers, institutional announcements and soulless statements.

In my experience, it’s stories by and about individuals that get the attention, shape ideas and accelerate the flow of influence. I’ve found this to be true in organizations and even in communities and markets.

The business world is not monolithic. It is populated with individual leaders at all levels with objectives, visions and ambitions. These leaders have unique perspectives, personalities, interests and future plans which, when shared appropriately, can help provide traction – for their business initiatives, their desires to move onto new career tracks, and for efforts to rejuvenate relationships with internal influencers.

Leadership positioning has been a big part of my years of internal communication experience.. Indeed, through profile articles, opinion pieces, social media posts, and rich feature articles putting initiatives and future plans into context and amplifying the role of leaders, it’s where I’ve had the most impact in the companies where I have worked.

It’s also increasingly interesting from an external communication perspective – particularly to support senior execs in making making their cases for taking on new challenges, and establishing their credibility as experts and advocates beyond their current networks.

As we move into a period of likely economic uncertainty, leadership positioning also has the potential to give individual leaders in transition the opportunity to differentiate themselves in what could become a crowded market.

From an internal communication perspective, a strong approach to leadership profiling delivers three additional benefits. Two are fairly obvious. It can humanize senior management, it can surface and showcase emerging leaders and initiatives.

The third is pure ninja: it’s one of the best ways a communicator – and a communication team – can get a senior leader to see the power and value of a serious communication approach.

The main thing – writing and communication strategy are not core competencies of most C-suiters or senior managers, who are otherwise very strong and powerful in other disciplines.

So when these leaders are willing to seek and accept help, we can elevate their storytelling and messaging to the level of their own core competencies.

When we do that for them, we don’t have to be as defensive about ROI (Return On Investment). They start to believe in our LOI (Level of Impact). And when we succeed on that front, we literally change the terms.

Uncategorized

The Pravda Principle

The Pravda Principle: is clarifying and formalizing the “official truth” the true purpose of Internal Communication?

Back in the old days in Russia, in many cities and neighborhoods, at metro stops and bus stops, there used to be glass cases housing copies of the current issue of Pravda.

Pravda, which meant “truth” in Russian, was often mocked in the West by those who claimed that its name belied a lack of actual factual content. Yet, Pravda remained the country’s biggest newspaper, avidly read by purchasers and those souls who gathered around those glass cases.

Because for those readers, Pravda was the truth—the daily, official version of the truth, to be specific. Encyclopedia Britannica described Pravda’s mission as “seeking to encourage unity of thought on the part of its readers by stressing and interpreting the party line.” Or, more to the point, the official version of the truth.

While a whole industry has emerged to push a role for internal communicators as corporate cheerleaders, employee-wellbeing advocates and large-scale event planners in recent years, the role of working with stakeholders to analyze ambiguous issues, helping resolve them by framing coherent stories and defensible rationales, and integrating these stories into the “official truth” is the most valuable role we play, in my view.

Of course, this turns the current thinking about internal comms on its head. It focuses on the role of the content itself rather than the needs of the reader, especially when it emphasizes bits of the official truth which have high impact on relatively small groups of people. But why shouldn’t helping small groups of people align common approaches to high-value problems be as important as stimulating high readership among large numbers of employees with low decision-making authority or influence?

Large organizations are often chaotic, with lots of agendas, leaders, priorities and initiatives, relatively few with a mass audience of their own. But when internal communicators have the license to work with stakeholders and create stories that address and clarify ambiguities, we have the ability to continually create and reinforce that corporate story, and in so doing, accelerate the resolution of business problems.

Ironically internal communicators and internal communication channels are often mocked for being “Pravda-like.”

But these taunts criticize internal comms for excessive cheerleading and misplaced positivity rather than for taking on the serious business of helping stakeholders define the “official truth” and clarifying where employees stand and what they need to do.

In my view, our role should be much more Pravda-like. By focusing on clarifying “official truth,” we help leaders and employees know where they stand and what is expected of them, and provide a clear starting point for further conversation. If that isn’t the proper focus of internal communication, what is?

[MK1]