Changing the trajectory
Why IC needs to seize the initiative now to lead the communication of the future
By Mike Klein
One of the biggest surprises of my work on the Happeo Research Series on the Present and Future of Internal Communication was that some IC professionals seem to be falling behind the ambitions of senior leaders for what it is possible for IC to do.
Even as leaders were seeking IC to help drive differentiation or to enable more targeted mobilization of people and resources, many participants were finding themselves driven by a never-ending cadence of content, events and channels. Said one participant: “no one can see past the next task coming from management.”
But even as that drumbeat continues to boom, IC professionals can ill afford to focus simply on running in place. With the trends we are seeing among employees, leaders and in the technology world, IC professionals have a very limited window to turn things around.
One trend is that employees are increasingly seen as communicators - and not just as advocates to be mobilized for brand ambassadorship campaigns.
Instead, employees need to be seen more as always-on, always-transmitting communicators: actively driving internal communication with peers, and external communication with recruits, political leaders, community stakeholders, customers and consumers rather than a passive, unitary channel to be fed inoffensive messages for peaceful absorption.
A second trend is that employees have decreasing patience for tools and experiences that aren’t “consumer-grade” - that don’t offer the seamlessness, immediacy, visual appeal or emotional resonance of the apps, tools, news services and even the games they use “outside the firewall.”
A third trend is that while leaders see the need for “noise reduction”, they don’t necessarily see their internal communication functions as being prepared to or capable of taking effective steps to reduce noise in their organizations.
These three trends indicate that the status quo in internal communication is likely to face a fairly rapid end. The question is whether today’s internal communicators can come up with a new approach to IC.
The research highlights a path to a new direction - a path that will be challenging for IC professionals but with potentially more powerful rewards.
First, IC professionals will have to put themselves into a position to drive and support the prioritization of messages and initiatives in a way that sets them apart from the other messages that constitute “noise.”
Second, IC professionals will have to meet requests with a challenge to the business to estimate the value of the communication effort that they seek. Rather than trying to count some peripheral financial impacts as a fake “ROI” calculation, they need to shift the onus onto the business to assign value to communications support, and then allocate some of that value to ensure proper resources are available for future interventions. As for low-value initiatives, they need to develop the discipline and backbone to deprioritize them.
Third, it is time to get much smarter about data - not just to use “the data we have,” the easy-to-harvest data about opens and click rates, but to start extracting the “the data we need”:tracking the words people use, the behaviors they see, the extent to which they buy the messages they are being shared, and the people who are most and least active in the most relevant parts of the organization. Approaches like qualitative research, organizational network analysis and enterprise search will need to get at least as much focus as employee engagement surveys.
Internal communication won’t disappear if we don’t get our act together in time. But it might not be us doing it. If there isn’t the will to improve the strategic value we add, we’ll be competing with alternative sources of tactical resource - be it outsourcing, artificial intelligence, or communicators from other functional orientations who see nothing unique about the internal dynamic.
But it’s also ours to play for. We know that communications flow more intensively inside the organization. We know that people care more. We know how we can magnify the power of small innovations and differentiations to drive massive cultural and bottom-line impact.
Much of our talent has been buried under excessive execution. But it’s time for us to change the trajectory. It’s time for us to change the game.
The 12 conclusions of Happeo’s research into the Present and Future of Internal Communication present a radical - but grounded - approach for IC pros to change the trajectory. To reduce noise. Increase impact. Demonstrate value. Embrace the potential of technology. And engage employees in a way that respects their real power.
Mike Klein of Changing The Terms is a communication consultant based in Holland. A London Business School MBA and former political strategist, he has focused on internal communication planning, research and writing for twenty-plus years.
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