I discovered this Hindi saying the other day and it struck me as relevant to internal communicators. Literally it means thunderclouds don’t produce rain. In English we would say something like “the bark is worse than the bite.”
For years now, IC professionals have been barking and thundering that they should play a greater role in companies. This is probably true but the trick is to turn bark into bite and thunder into rain. Otherwise all those plaintive cries about the value of IC is all full of sound and fury signifying nothing.
Now is the time for internal communicators to take ownership of their role as leaders and acquire more bite.
I think there are two main reasons.
First, the changing world of work. This changing world (gig economy, work 2.0, multiple careers; longer careers) means that people like you need to be entrepreneurs of your own talent. No one else will do it for you. IC professionals --- like many in business – can’t expect fortune to arrive by magic. Fortune (and success) only arises when talent meets opportunity, as Seneca said.
You have talent, of course. But do you create your own opportunities? Just having talent is not enough. Yes, it will help, but we all know of talented people who have not achieved success, and untalented people who have reached the top their profession. (Insert name here.) You need to work out what your passions are and take charge and step up. If that is what you want to do, of course.
Second, the changing world of geopolitics and media culture. At a global level, we are seeing the decline of expertise; and a reduction in the use of the logical influencing style in politics, the media and business. “Science” and “statistics” are no longer the all-powerful. Opinion, ‘alternative facts’ and post-truth are influencing behavior like never before. This has implications for our profession: where the extreme beats the expert, the one with the vocal chords beats the one with the vocation, and instincts triumphs against investigation.
To be clear, I am not recommending that IC professions become purveyors of alternative facts. But what I am saying is that if you are an IC expert, relying on only your expertise and logical data, you risk being drowned in the rising tide of effluent. You can rage against the dying of the light, if you like as Dylan Thomas would have put it, but as we know barking dogs don’t bite and thunder doesn’t always lead to rain.
The “rules” of engagement are starting to shift, an in order to compete against this shift, you need to step outside your comfort zone and use other tools in your armoury to compete: your communication and influencing skills, your wider perspective, your organizational awareness, your storytelling skills, copywriting, etc. Relying on logic alone is no longer enough.
Oh, and surprise surprise, these are also the behaviours and traits of many leaders in business. So by stepping up and adopting new leadership behaviours, it will not only help you make a positive impact in your organization, but also make a positive impact on your own career.
But here is how you can turn words into action, and marry your expertise with leadership skills. And get some real B-I-T-E.
Be someone who doesn’t just sit; get off the pot. Travel around the business, visit your internal customers, ask questions, roam, build relationships. Act like a leader; and people will see you as one. If you talk like a leader, act like a leader, and look like a leader, people will assume you are one. Hint: find a leader you admire and ask her to mentor you.
Invent reasons to roam. A true business leader knows not only their corporate silo or functional area, but can add value across the rest of the business. As a leader think about how you can apply your skills in adjacent areas. Coaching and advising? Event Organizing? Marketing? Annual Report? Hint: volunteer for a project not 100% in your area to make an impact and work with different people.
Talk about and demonstrate value. You aren’t just delivering internal communications, you are delivering some kind of business outcome. Work out what that business outcome and define your solution in those terms. And the more you can connect that outcome to strategy, or shareholder or analyst concerns, the better. Hint: find out the key KPIs your business measures or listen to the next earnings call.
Examine the job the customer requires? Too many communicators act like corporate pharmacists and supinely supply whatever the customer wants. This is a good way to get taken advantage of. If you want to be a leader, be sure to ask questions. Hint: it is OK to say ‘no’.
In my career I have met not only a lot of IC professionals but also a lot of people from other functional roles in organizations. Leaders, or potential leaders are not hard to spot. There’s more to it than those four points, of course. And reading this article isn’t going to automatically get you a promotion. But if you believe that those four things can help then this is your chance to find an opportunity that can meet your talent, and create that fortune.
Stephen Welch is a communication and HR professional, working in the UK. He splits his time between working at a semiconductor company (60%), and freelance opportunities and projects (40%), such as business partner training and leadership coaching. Previously, he was a global partner of Hay Group, a leading HR consultancy. He worked there from 2002-2013, helping clients improve their HR, and ensuring a strong connection between HR and business. He’s a Certified member of the Market Research Society and the Chartered Institute of Public Relations, and Fellow of the Royal Society of the Arts. He can be reached via Linkedin or Twitter at @StephenWelch11