We're Only at the Beginning of the Inevitable Reinvention of Employee Communication
The following is part of our most recent publication released online, "IC in 2017 & 2018 FROM HOPE TO REALITY How Far We've Come | The Road Ahead." Looking back at their greatest hope for the IC profession in 2017 in terms of where the discipline should be, 21 communication professionals from different countries answer two questions: How far have we actually come in 2017? What remains to be done in 2018?
Shel Holtz, Director of Internal Communications at Webcor Builders, shares his views on the progress made these past months, to what extent he believes his hope has translated into reality, and what remains to be done in 2018. To read the views of all contributors, download the free 42-page eBook here.
In 2016 we have seen more internal communication departments disbanded or absorbed into other departments such as marketing or corporate communication.
My hope for 2017 is that internal communicators expand their thinking about the department's role. The internal communication departments that are being eliminated are those that continue to see themselves as a conduit of news and information to employees. This role evolved when employees had limited access to other news and information sources. Today they have instant access to everything from the company website, including media and investor relations content, to Glassdoor.com. If all we do is share news and information, we are redundant. To thrive, internal communication must become a vital management function that reaches across all departments and functions to improve the flow of all of the company's internal communication. We must be able to measurably improve the employee experience, build employee engagement, influence the culture and ultimately affect the customer experience.
We need to be the drivers of employee advocacy while steering the organization through times of crisis and change. We must be able to monitor employee conversation to identify opportunities and risks, help mold the employer brand and employ all of the right channels for multi-lateral communication, which includes driving adoption of new channels that may not be traditional but will grease the wheels of effective internal communication.
In short, if all we do is publish email newsletters and intranet content, internal communication is toast. If, on the other hand, we are the drivers of communication between and among employees at all levels, measuring the impact on the business, we will be indispensable.
How far we've come. Next steps.
I have only casual observations to go by, but I fear the internal communication profession has not made much progress in embracing the roles that will keep it relevant – in fact make it indispensable in a post-mass media world. Mostly, I still see internal communication professionals cranking out copy and other media for one-way distribution to audiences, even as solutions to real-world challenges posed by leaders and other internal clients.
Sending content is messaging. Communication is defined as an exchange of information and ideas. Two-way communication isn't something to bolt on a process. It is not something to strive for. It is at the very heart of communication. Our role as counselors to leaders at all levels of the organization needs to become a core part of what we do, facilitating the exchange of information and ideas throughout the organization, whether it is in the form of an employee call to human resources or problem-solving on collaboration software. Our expertise can be invaluable in making everyone in the organization communicate more effectively.
We also need to study what our colleagues in marketing are up to these days and adopt the personalization that has come to characterize their industry. Look at the ads and the sponsored news feed posts you see in the social media channels you use. While we may not have the same artificial intelligence-driven software at our beck and call that marketers use to target individuals in the external market, we can still take major steps toward ensuring every employee gets and has the opportunity to engage with news and information that is relevant. One size definitely no longer fits all.
Knowing how much we are moving the right needles is also vital. Business leaders make decisions based on data. Companies are gradually undertaking digital transformations in which everyone begins using data to make decisions, ultimately reducing bureaucracy and empowering employees to take action without going through layers of approval. The alternative to going along for the ride is being left behind or thrown off the bus. We need to use data and understand the nature of digital transformation, measure the right things and know how to present our outcomes to leaders in a meaningful way.
There will always be room for craftspeople in internal communication – creators who produce memorable, compelling content to post on the intranet or share through mobile communication platforms. All of us need to be amazing storytellers who can weave vision, values, purpose and other vital elements of a company's culture into the stories we tell and inspire others to share. But that is just part of the job these days. The complete internal communication professional will be up to speed with technology, data-driven in decision-making and responsive to the all of the organization's communication needs.
We'd better get there soon or our leaders will find someone else who can fill these shoes.
Click here to download the free 42-page eBook "IC in 2017 & 2018 FROM HOPE TO REALITY How Far We've Come | The Road Ahead."
Director of Internal Communications