Light at the end of the tunnel - or oncoming trains at high speed?
Practitioners highlight current IC challenges in Happeo’s new qualitative research report
By Mike Klein
In my conversations with a dozen IC practitioners around the world, I get a sense of a profession that is trying to dig itself out of a hole - while at the same time, it faces a combination of technological, organizational and economic dynamics that could either allow them to leapfrog to the next level, or leave them as stunned bystanders.
IC professionals continue to want to position themselves as strategic partners to senior management, but find their organizational credibility and their ability to remain in their roles dependent on meeting increasingly pressurized tactical demands from senior leaders.
The result is a vicious circle: IC professionals are seen as doers, event planners and writers rather than strategists. They often have limited influence over the content or proliferation of channels, which employees often see as irrelevant, inconsistent or inauthentic, This leaves managers and leaders further doubting their credibility.
Said a consultant working internationally: “We face continued lack of understanding - or unwillingness to understand - on the part of organizations and senior management about what IC is and how it contributes to organizational success.” Whether the cause is shortsighted leadership, or a “victim mentality” among practitioners, is open to question.
Even as listening tools become more prevalent and accurate, IC practitioners continue to face management resistance to adopting more dynamic approaches to collecting input, and leaders often resist action when confronted by feedback. The annual employee engagement survey continues to reign supreme.
Meanwhile, the changes in the business environment accelerate.
Most of the in-house IC practitioners I spoke with are in stand-alone IC functions or specialist IC roles. But two trends - Employee Experience and Digital Workplace - point to a future where IC will rapidly need to shift from being a function to becoming a discipline that injects its unique skills and perspectives to support the success of specific initiatives. Employee Experience incorporates IC, HR, Brand and IT. At a minimum, Digital Workplace incorporates IC, and IT with substantial side orders of operations and administration.
Interestingly, the only mentions of Employee Experience and Digital Workplace came from consultants directly involved with each - neither was directly mentioned by the in-house participants. This is not to say they are unaware - but it speaks to a head-down, try-to-survive mentality where in-house pros are unable to look past the next annual report or management conference.
Bill Thomas, a US congressman I once worked for, said: “If you are not in the room when the decision is made, the decision is made without you.” Two massive trends are emerging in our field, and practitioners seem to be absent from the process of defining them. If we don’t define them, they will be defined for us.
The defensive, tactical orientation of today’s practitioners is also reflected in a perceived gap in the talent coming into the field and of weak commitment of practitioners and their organizations to training and development.
One international consultant summarized the situation sharply: “Talent is a huge issue. There are some brilliant people in internal communication, and a lot of idiots. No one is training the idiots.”
Some practitioners cite “microscopic” budgets for training, conferences and association memberships. More frequently, they cite pressures of current workloads and the skepticism of senior managers as obstacles to keeping themselves skilled and up to date.
Which brings us to technology.
Practitioners in all groups: US and International, in-house and consultants - believe that the introduction of better technologies will give them more time and resources to be able to better develop themselves strategically.
But technology - and hope - are not alone the answer. As was seen with the failed introductions of Yammer and Jive and other last-generation tools into numerous organizations in recent years, IC needs to be able to seize the initiative to own communication platforms and drive adoption and integration. But the research showed no evidence that today’s practitioners are preparing themselves to do this.
Most telling - aside from Poppulo and last-generation tools like Sharepoint and Yammer - no participant cited any other app, email, or social intranet platforms when discussing IC technology.
To be true, we have only had 12 conversations so far. But they have been with leading in-house and consulting practitioners in Europe, Asia and North America, with active professional profiles and a willingness to share strong opinions. And while what each said was interesting, what wasn’t said was even more powerful.
In the weeks to come, we will look at how IC practitioners see the future, and how they would like to be able to make their case to senior leaders if they had the tools and wherewithal to do so. But for now, the picture I am left with is that the IC profession needs to emerge from its bunker, and take the coming trends and development gaps very seriously.
The clock is ticking.
And the “trains”, er “trends,” are heading straight towards us.
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Lise Michaud is the only party authorized to represent, negotiate and accept any agreements, contracts, partnerships, or any other forms of association, lucrative or non-lucrative, on behalf of IC Kollectif and/or involving the IC Kollectif's brand.
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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