An interview with Mike Klein, a 20 year internal communications veteran and principal and founder of Changing The Terms.
Mike Klein is an internal and social communications strategist, consultant, and founder. With over 20 years of industry experience he is developing leadership in the communications field though his #WeLeadComms initiative. Mike is based in Iceland and currently serves as the principal and founder of the research-based business consulting and services company Changing The Terms.
Mike, you’re an internal communications expert who is constantly challenging traditional industry practice and thinking to demonstrate how the field is a differentiator and driver of alignment and performance. How did you get to where you are today?
I spent the first 10 years of my career running political campaigns in the USA, went to business school in England, and then I found internal communications.
In internal communications I looked forward to applying what I learned in politics combined with what I learned in business school, and over the last 20 years I’ve worked on a transatlantic scale with North American companies and European companies.
My heart and soul are in internal communications and much of my time is spent being an internal communications influencer.
What do you believe the biggest challenges will be in the internal communications field in this year?
The biggest opportunity internal communications professionals have in 2022 is to get ahead of the whole conversation about remote work.
We need to stop talking about hybrid work. It’s a distraction at best. It has been used to describe everything in the space between fully remote and fully office based. There really are more work models.
Neil Miller, who is with The Digital Workplace, gets this to a level that very few other people do. He says that there are four models, and I agree with them.
- Fully remote
- Fully office based
- Office leaning
- Remote leaning
There are only two of these that really matter from an internal communications perspective at this point – fully remote and office leaning.
A company may have a strong headquarters culture and their production, distribution, and management all handled centrally, but still have people who are in the field, frontline, or dispersed. That’s what I would call an office leaning environment.
Then you have fully remote, which is an organization that doesn't exist in a physical space. In this scenario, the internal communication platform is the business.
What we need to do in our profession is determine what's working in the fully remote, and office-leaning model.
In office-leaning models:
- What are the things that you do as an office-based organization to include dispersed staff?
- How can you have some dispersed staff without losing the natural advantages that you get from having common physical space?
Those are the challenges we need to be looking at right now.
Fully remote models get rid of tactics and practices requiring the use of common physical space. If you can't be in-person, how do you overcompensate? That's the fully remote conversation right now.
Everybody who's going remote is making this up as they go along. There is no central research that says exactly what to do and if we can get the answers to those questions in the next six months, not only will we help a lot of companies out, but we will guarantee the future of fully remote as a viable way of organizing a business.
Looking ahead five years, what do you believe internal communications will look like?
Internal communications should look like two parallel markets based on company type:
- a remote-first version where internal communications is the business
- an office-leaning version where internal communications supports the business.
Internal communications practitioners will be able to move from one to the other, but we'll need to reorient as they do it.
Office-leaning organizations are not going away. They're better at onboarding people, integrating young talent, delivering services within a physical region, as well as monitoring and managing physical activities.
Remote-based organizations will emerge in intangible spaces where talent, and access to talent takes precedence over the efficiency of production. They'll be popular in businesses where English is the main language.
By and large, it's going to be two different games. The big question is going to be, whether the current suite of tools will be able to penetrate either or both worlds.
Any final thoughts to share with internal commutations professionals?
Yes. Noise is the biggest issue today. In remote-first organizations, my suspicion is the overarching organizational question should be: How do we reduce the noise?
Figuring out the answer to that question is going to be our job as internal communications professionals. And if we don't do it, somebody else will.
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