Principal & Founder, Ingenium Communications
"Over the last 5 years, I see a real shift in internal communications being seen for its critical role and strategic value. Leaders are recognizing that running an organization with weak employee communication and engagement is like driving a car with a foot on the break. Internal communications is now being called upon to help solve business problems, such as contributing to transformation, innovation and performance."
How would you describe the evolution of the practice of internal communication in the last 5 years?
I think that internal communications has really gone through a renaissance period over the last few years. It used to be a function that was often the poor cousin to external communications, suffering from chronic under-resourcing and weak integration with organizational strategy.
Over the last 5 years, I see a real shift in internal communications being seen for its critical role and strategic value. Leaders are recognizing that running an organization with weak employee communication and engagement is like driving a car with a foot on the break. Internal communications is now being called upon to help solve business problems, such as contributing to transformation, innovation and performance.
What do you see as the greatest challenges in internal communication?
From our client work, we see three main challenges.
The first is the problem of the “attention economy” – employees are overwhelmed with information, and it’s becoming increasingly difficult to pierce through the noise.
Secondly is that employees have a heightened expectation to be meaningfully engaged and consulted, and this often bumps up against more traditional cultures of command and control.
Thirdly, the lines between internal and external communications are blurring, which often leads to confusion, mixed messages or misfires. This is particularly challenging given the ubiquity and speed of social media, which often becomes the first source of news for employees.
What do you see as the greatest opportunities for internal communication professionals?
My sense is that the biggest opportunity for practitioners is to go beyond just solving communications problems, and start solving business problems through communications. Internal communication professionals have the opportunity to enable priority organizational goals, helping to set and drive the agenda rather than being relegated to a more passive order-taker role.
There is tremendous opportunity – but it also means that we have to have the consultative skills and strategic know-how to play at that level. We also need to be able to manage the risks inherent in contributing at this more strategic level, and redefining the scope of our value and work.
How is change communication different from internal communication?
What makes change communications unique is that it tends to focus on a more emotional, rather than an intellectual plane. There is a focus on meaningful involvement and co-creation, which is quite different from some forms of internal communications which are more planned or one-way. Functionally, a practitioner working in change communications will spend a lot of time coaching and equipping an executive or sponsor rather than working directly from the communications shop.
Would you say that communication professionals are well equipped to deal with organizational change, and why?
My observation has been that communications professionals generally are poorly equipped to help advance organizational change. There are a few reasons for this. Firstly, change communications is typically not included as part of academic or professional development programs – it’s a relatively new discipline, as is the field of change management. I also think that culturally, communicators have not traditionally been tapped to help contribute to change. This kind of work is not historically part of our DNA. Consequently, communications practitioners have typically not been positioned to effectively work as change agents – they are often not at the right tables at the right time to really advance transformation through strategic communications.
What are the 3 most important aspects to consider when developing a strategic communication plan for an organizational change?
I would say that the 3 most important aspects are:
Messaging: There has to be a clear and compelling “why” behind the change
Shared Meaning: Communications tactics have to focus on opportunities for employees to develop shared meaning about the change. This happens through dialogue and conversation
Evaluation: It’s vital to have a mechanism to evaluate communications and change success in real-time in order to make course corrections and respond to feedback
How do you ensure this plan will remain relevant?
I think that the change communications plan remains relevant to the extent that it is solving business problems. It should be integrated into the project management and governance for the change.
Should communication professionals be change makers? If so, why and how can they achieve this?
Absolutely. Being a change maker is one of the most significant ways a communicator can become an invaluable strategic contributor. It takes preparation, knowledge and guts.
I would suggest a first step is to get curious about change communications and learn about this specialization. It’s a fascinating field, and one that is constantly evolving.
Earlier this year, Ingenium and the University of Ottawa Centre for Continuing Education launched the Institute for Strategic Communications & Change. What is the focus of the program?
Yes, we are really excited about this new Institute, which is to my knowledge the only program of its kind that focuses on the point of intersection between strategic communications and change management.
It is a certificate-based leadership program that provides a unique opportunity for peer learning and exploration of strategic communications, change management and change communications.
Why did you think there was a need for this?
Organizations are increasingly calling upon communication practitioners to become change agents, and contribute to transformation. We need to be equipped with the skills, knowledge and savvy to respond to these requirements effectively.
I’ve observed that communicators are often really squeezed in a time of change – we are at once targets of change, and we’re also asked to help spearhead transformation. That is a significant challenge, and one that requires specialized abilities. We often have to also adjust our mindset about what it is to be a strategic contributor in a change landscape.
ABOUT Caroline Kealey
Caroline Kealey is an internationally recognized communications strategist, change facilitator, trainer and author with over 20 years of experience in her field.
Fluently bilingual, she is known as a pioneer in exploring the intersection between strategic communications and change, and has recently been named Director and Lead Instructor of the new Institute for Strategic Communications & Change at the University of Ottawa’s Centre for Continuing Education.
As Principal and Founder of Ingenium Communications Caroline is committed to making a difference and building lasting, meaningful partnerships with her clients. Leveraging her commitment to collaboration and unparalleled ability to turn information into insight, she has worked with organizations such as the Government of the Northwest Territories, Export Development Corporation, the University of Ottawa, the Bank of Canada, and the United Nations to achieve and surpass their business objectives.
Caroline is an International Association for Business Communicators (IABC) All Star presenter and winner of a 2016 Gold Quill and Best of the Best Award in Change Communications. A graduate of the Wharton School of Business executive program in Leading Organizational Change, Caroline is a Certified Change Management Professional (CMP) with training in lean and agile transformation. She holds a B.A. with Highest Honours in Communications and an M.A. in Political Science.
You created "The Results Map Handbook" a few years ago. Can you tell us more about it and how it can help communication professionals?
The Results Map is a step-by-step methodology for strategic communications and change planning. The Handbook presents the process and also provides advice on how communicators can be strategic, add value and do more with less.
The Handbook includes access to our proprietary database of tools, templates, worksheets and samples spanning the full spectrum of strategic communications planning. It also includes specialized tools in change management and change communications.
We offer the Results Map process through the Handbook, online database, training workshops and consulting. The methodology is used by thousands of communicators world-wide.