Changing lanes

Are IC practitioners ready for the next wave of change? Or do we need to listen to Samuel L. Jackson?

Repeat after me: Samuel L. Jackson speaking at the 2013 San Diego Comic Con International, for "RoboCop", at the San Diego Convention Center in San Diego, California. Photo: Gage Skidmore/Flickr

 

It is not news that the world of internal communication is changing.

But how is it changing? And can IC practitioners help drive that change instead of being driven into the ground by it?

That is the question I am venturing to address in my six-part research project commissioned by Happeo - looking at “The Present and Future of Internal Communication - can practitioners change the game?”

You can download the first report here.

The range of changes facing internal communication is deep, broad and massive. Economic, cultural, and technological currents are engulfing and transforming the enterprises we work in and the markets they compete in. These are macro-level changes that we can do little to influence.

Are IC practitioners prepared for these changes? Based on my first set of in-depth interviews with 12 senior IC pros around the world, the answer is: “not even close, and the clock is ticking.”

Participants see the the quality, mindset and agility of fellow IC practitioners as a major barrier to progress. Not only to getting organizations to invest in upgrading technology, but in getting leaders to see IC as a strategic partner capable of navigating an increasingly complex, changing and competitive environment.

“We need to be able to create the right conversations that lead to better business outcomes.” In-house practitioner, USA

“Talent is a huge issue. There are some brilliant people in internal communications, and a lot of idiots. No one is training the idiots.”  Consultant, International

“Training of leaders, managers, and communicators is critical.”  Consultant, International.

But:

“No one can see past the latest task coming from top management.” Consultant, International

Companies have largely gotten away with this because, to a large extent, organizational leaders have continued to push their messages through a top-down, one-size-fits-all approach. IC practitioners see themselves mostly as having limited influence on communication (much less organizational) strategy, and are being forced to derive much of their sustaining credibility through executional excellence.

But the continuous, relentless pressure to deliver tactical objectives has minimized the time, headspace and resources they feel they need to broaden their strategic outlook, deepen their business acumen, and familiarize themselves with the best technologies for their own organizations’ needs. “Microscopic” budgets for training, conferences and association memberships further discourage accelerated engagement.

Technology is only as good as the strategy and skills that drive it

While IC folks have been trying to survive, the world around them has been changing massively. The 20-year run of IC as a stand-alone competence is giving way to IC emerging as a critical-yet-integrated discipline embedded in such trends as Employee Experience (IC+HR+Brand+IT) and Digital Workplace (IC+IT [with side orders of HR+Operations]), At the same time, the flow and nature of business messaging is accelerating the development of converged internal-external communication functions, mostly with externally-focused Chief Communication Officers or Heads of PR in the driver’s seat.

Participants are enthusiastic about the potential for technology to relieve them of tactical burdens so they can “get to the good stuff.”

However, practitioners will not just need to rid themselves of as many tactical burdens as feasible, but to quickly grasp and seize the strategic opportunities the technology can present to support the IC elements of an unprecedentedly diverse and challenging set of initiatives.

They will need to do so in a more complex and dynamic political landscape.

Their status will be based on how well they integrate messages and navigate conflicts at least as much as they execute projects, though project demands are likely to remain relentless. Rather than defenders of an oft-neglected function, they will need to emerge as avatars and champions of a distinct yet integrated discipline.

Technology is not the answer in itself. The answer is strategically agile, organizationally aware practitioners enabled by technology.

The players in the IC ecosystem have a responsibility to do their part.

Vendors need to share insights and support in addition to software.

Professional associations need to make the business case.

Senior leaders need to acknowledge the gaps between the ways communication happens inside, outside, and across the firewall, and stop trying to defend them.

But, most importantly, IC practitioners need to consider these words from Samuel L. Jackson:

This article first appeared on LinkedIn.

Mike Klein

Mike Klein is Principal of Changing The Terms, an internal and social communication consultancy based in the Netherlands.  Mike is the Past Chair of the International Association of Business Communicators in Europe-Middle East-North Africa and the author of the Happeo research series on the Present and Future of Internal Communication.