An Interview with Mike Klein on how far IC has come & how far it still has to go.
Six months into the Sparrow Connected alliance with Mike Klein, a communications leader with 30+ years of experience, and sponsorship of his growing #WeLeadComms movement, Mike discusses the state of the internal communication industry with Julie Ford, Sparrow Connected’s Head of Content.
Julie: Thanks for speaking with me today, Mike! It’s been six months since you joined Sparrow Connected’s Advisory Board. I thought this would be a good time for us to look back and reflect on what’s been happening in the world of internal communication and discuss what’s on your radar for the next six months. Let’s jump right in.
Mike: Sounds good Julie. Let’s do this.
Julie: Ok, first question: What are the most encouraging things you are seeing?
Mike: I think the quality of the conversation has gotten more interesting and inspiring.
People have an appetite for new and sharp ideas, the IC technology keeps getting better, and there’s a move back towards comms leaders wanting to be part of comms communities and conversations - like with the excellent global turnout for IABC World Conference and the strengthening I’m seeing with associations and online groups across the board.
Julie: That’s all very encouraging. I’d say the great turnout at our Sparrow Connected x #WeLeadComms Webinars are a strong testament to the openness to new ideas and desire to engage in conversations and communities. On the flipside, are there any big things you’re concerned about? What are they?
Mike: I think the euphoria in some quarters about “IC finally getting its seat at the table during COVID” is giving way to a colder realization that we’re not super-prepared for a coming recession or for resolving of a lot of the future-of-work issues. These are the issues which will likely shape the future of our industry.
Yes, many in-house pros did amazing work during the beginning and middle of the pandemic. At the same time, as I’ve said before, a lot of that work was the traditional top-down, command-and-control stuff that, while we are good at it, isn’t the most strategic stuff in the world.
As we move into a world of multiple simultaneous crises, like Ukraine, supply chain dramas, the “war for talent” and the threat of recession, I’m not seeing a lot of evidence that IC folk are being invited to contribute to the thinking around them. At the same time, IC folk have considerable opportunities to influence through the work we already do - we need to think more in terms of a “hand on the wheel” at least as much as a “seat at the table.”
Julie: Are the players in our space better positioned to drive priorities and budgets?
IT increasingly plays “the security card” and HR continually makes the claim that “IC should be a ‘people’ activity.” IT and HR people also have access to lots of data and numbers that reinforce their cases for budget and control.
This is not to say we should necessarily see IT and HR as “the enemy.” In many organizations, there are great partnerships between IC and each function. But we need to be prepared to challenge when it will make a difference in terms of supporting the business in the best way we can.
Julie: I see these concerns as opportunities for internal comms to strive to become more strategic, which is a good lead into my next question. Internal comms has been positioned as “the discipline of the future” for years. What do you think will push it over the line?
Mike: There’s an old line about Brazil that I think applies to IC in my less optimistic moments.
“Brazil is the country of the future…and always will be.”
I’ve been a fan of sports teams that always think “this year will be our year” - and rarely is, and this mentality is not unknown among IC folk. (OK, two of my teams are Tottenham and the Chicago Cubs. Our mottoes are “Wait until next year!”)
But something needs to happen that will change the script and COVID itself wasn’t it. Otherwise our drama stays on repeat.
Julie: What will change the script?
Mike: Short term? It’s got to be measurement.
If we can move our data narrative from being about click rates and open rates to demonstrate how leaders and managers and employees are driving different, even conflicting, priorities, then we have a shot at getting into the game at a strategic level.
I’m talking a lot with comms leaders about alternative approaches - focusing first on the words employees are using to describe what’s important at work, and turning those words into numbers and stories that will have an impact on managers and leaders.
It’s actually not that hard to execute or particularly expensive, and this approach can also work in the clicks and open rates once the larger narrative is set.
Long term? It’s really about where IC fits into the future of work.
As companies become more dispersed and less office-centric, internal comms platforms are becoming the actual corporate HQ’s.
The real question is whether those platforms will have leaders who are getting the most out of them to drive coherence and cohesion in the business and hold it together, or by people who see IC platforms simply as technical infrastructure and let the rest of the business fight it out for themselves.
IC leaders - and Chief Communication Officers - need to make the case that they already have a hand on the wheel and that it makes sense for us to also have a seat at the table.
Julie: Isn’t this one of the reasons you started the #WeLeadComms initiative in the first place? What do you think you’ve accomplished so far with #WeLeadComms?
Mike: Eighteen months in, I’m very pleased with the progress we’ve made.
We’re very close to hitting 4000 followers, and so far 350 people, organizations and events have been recognized.
It’s turned out to be a simple idea that’s ticked a lot of boxes.
It’s turned the idea of recognition on its head - from being about being judged for awards to being celebrated for bringing themselves to their jobs.
It’s brought leaders of all of the world’s major comms associations and organizations together under a single banner, and is looking to eventually include leaders from every national association.
It’s taken a stand for racial, ethnic, cultural and professional diversity and has been delivering on that stand.
And at the same time, #WeLeadComms has given special emphasis to internal communication leaders, given that there is no more essential external communication channel than one’s own employees, contractors and internal stakeholders.
Julie: Wow, what you’ve accomplished with #WeLeadComms in less than two years is absolutely incredible. I’m interested to see how it continues to grow and evolve in the future. Can you give me a snapshot of what you’re looking to do over the next six months as #WeLeadComms move towards its second anniversary?
Mike: For me, the process of soliciting and collecting leader profiles has become fairly easy (most #WeLeadComms honorees have first been #WeLeadComms followers). To take things up a level, we will do more of the following in the next six months:
- Stimulate more cooperation and collaboration between members of the #WeLeadComms community
- Increase the participation and visibility of in-house communication leaders
- Support initiatives to strengthen the profession, like the GCCC certification programs through our #WeAreSCMP joint initiative
We’re also going to be conducting another Communication Leader Survey in September to see what the community wants and is prepared to support.
Julie: You mention an added focus on in-house communication leaders. Can you elaborate on that?
Mike: Yes. In-house comms leaders remain underrepresented in industry conversations, and it’s important to address that. In-house leaders drive a lot of the comms agenda. They also have experiences and insights that are valuable to the rest of us in the industry.
Having them be more visible to each other can add value, and #WeLeadComms can make that happen in a way the associations have more difficulty doing.
Julie: Ok, thanks for expanding on that point and congrats on the success of #WeLeadComms so far!
Mike: Thanks Julie! It’s been great to have Sparrow Connected supporting the initiative and on this mission with me to elevate the profession.
Julie: That’s a good segue into my next question about the profession. What has surprised you most about the profession over the past year?
That there are a lot of comms leaders who are nervous or scared.
They’re scared about saying the wrong thing, about taking risks, about losing their discretion and budgets they currently have. The talk of recession doesn’t help matters.
A number of people I ask about #WeLeadComms decline to participate because they don’t want exposure. Some of the people I talk about measurement with are resisting because they are concerned about confronting leaders with actual data.
These are real issues. We don’t have a magic wand that will raise each communication pro’s confidence. And I sometimes have to remind myself that there’s no obligation to be courageous.
Julie: That’s interesting and unfortunate at the same time. How can #WeLeadComms help inspire confidence and courage among communications leaders?
Mike: The first part is to let people know they aren’t alone. Every day, every profile reinforces that fact.
The second, which combines with what I’m doing in my consulting practice, involves letting comms leaders know there are new ways to tackle old problems, things that don’t require disturbing every employee and spending millions of dollars or euros.
The third is to support Sparrow Connected in making its case for communication leaders to have access to appropriate technology to help them deliver for their business.
Sparrow Connected isn’t alone in this mission - though I particularly like their focus on elevating communication leaders by empowering them with the right technology.
Finally, it’s to give credit where credit is due. #WeLeadComms does not own this space. Some other great folks are in the trenches. Folks who are making a big difference outside traditional circles include my fellow consultants Leandro Herrero, Alejandro Formanchuk, Tara McDonagh, Carsten Rossi, Jonathan Tetsill, Jason Anthoine and Advita Patel, I’d also add ICology’s Kristin Hancock, and Michael Lantzy and Jonathan Davies from the vendor community.
Julie: You also focus your consulting practice on building courage and confidence among internal comms leaders. Can you share more about your approach?
Mike: In my consulting practice, I’m focusing on helping communication leaders make a sharper case to leaders with better data and stronger narratives. I’m also working on helping them increase connectedness in their businesses by taking concrete and actionable steps to identify the people who can help drive integration, onboarding and noise reduction.
Julie: Thanks Mike. I can see how better data and stronger narratives could really help internal communications teams gain a stronger voice in their organizations.
Julie: If someone is interested in speaking with you about your consulting services, how can they reach you?
Mike: I’m actually launching a new masterclass on Measurement on the 22nd of September, and I also offer an initial free half hour consultation for organizations that want to explore how to sharpen their IC impact. Anyone who is interested can email me at email@example.com, get in touch with me through LinkedIn or submit the form below.
Julie: Thank you Mike. I really appreciate your time today. Thank you so much for this update on #WeLeadComms and your incredible insights. You truly are an inspiration to the internal communications community and a valuable advisor to Sparrow Connected.
Mike: Thank you Julie!
Join Mike Klein’s Masterclass - Measurement: Putting it on Rails
This Masterclass is designed to empower #internalcomms pros to initiate data-driven conversations with senior leaders, and to take the initiative in getting the resources and remit to position IC to make maximum contribution to the business.
It builds on Mike’s “Two Question Survey” that recenters the IC strategy conversation on two foundations: how people see the organization’s priorities, and what they actually focus on as their own job priorities.
Mike will be hosting two sessions on Thursday, 22 September.
Email Mike at firstname.lastname@example.org for more details.