Will Internal Comms Win in 2023? Five Key Firefights
A recession is looming. The invasion of Ukraine continues. And as the climate deteriorates, it becomes increasingly clear that the impetus for action will need to come more and more from private industry and private citizens if we are to win the climate battle.
Against this backdrop, I don’t think it’s overdramatic to characterize five key challenges that internal communicators face globally as “firefights”.
Winning on each of these fronts will not happen by default or because management suddenly “gets it” on their own.
This isn’t an exhaustive list- but this is a list of issues that #IC leaders can turn into opportunities if they dig in and go for it. Each of these firefights is winnable.
1. Fight For The “Right To Ask”
Internal comms hasn’t historically been much of a data-driven field. Partly, that’s because many IC pros lack confidence and fluency with data - and more broadly, most of the data that’s been made available to internal comms pros has been inappropriate. Businesses are generally measured on the actions they take (what people do)- operationally and commercially - yet for the most part, internal comms data is largely based on employee engagement surveys, which measure how people feel.
But it’s not impossible to measure direct links between internal communication and organizational action, and particularly, action aligned with organizational priorities.
It only takes two questions to find out what individuals see as organizational priorities, and what they see as their own workplace priorities.
Identifying the gap between organizational and individual priorities can form the basis of an internal comms strategy that tangibly and measurably impacts performance. But in many organizations, #IC pros don’t have the remit to do this research - even if they have the skills or resources to do it.
Getting the remit and/or resources is firefight number one. We need to win the “right to ask” uncomfortable questions.
Want to learn more and put your measurement on rails?
2. Shift The Remote-Hybrid-Office Conversation From Internal Preferences To Industry Realities
For the last two years, there’s been an obsession about the debate over remote-hybrid-office workplace strategies. More often than not, it’s been a debate between managers who want to keep their visibility with and of employees, and employees who believe they have realized they can do more and better work in less time and with less hassle.
Both sides may have their point, but they’ve both taken their eye off the ball. The real battle will be between business models that can optimize the advantages of the chosen workplace strategy and minimize the downsides.
These business models will be going head-to-head in 2023. And I think it’s going to be like a wrestling cage match with a lot of unpredictable moves and equally surprising outcomes.
Will the insurance company with 10,000 staff beavering away at expensive center-city offices get its clock cleaned by an upstart with 100 employees working from their homes in 10 different time zones?
Will companies gamble on using improved internal communication as a supplement - or even a replacement - for the information-sharing element of the line manager role? And will their rivals double down on the sanctity of the line manager’s importance?
Will internal communication tech platforms be seen less as distribution tools and more as the de facto corporate headquarters?
The answers will likely vary by industry - and the firefight is for #internalcomms pros to find the remit and bandwidth to look beyond their own internal politics to see the impact industry developments will have on their workforce strategies.
3. Fight The Climate Battle - By Embracing It
One of the biggest problems internal communication faces is that it’s always been focused on internal company challenges. That’s made it fit-for-purpose, but it’s also made it difficult to build out common metrics and real interoperability for practitioners moving between companies and cultures.
Companies will compete in terms of how they address and operationalize their climate mitigation challenges. But uniquely, at a certain level, climate offers four game-changing opportunities
*A common playing field - the science of climate is the same, and there will be certain common tasks and challenges that will play out in broad swaths of the corporate world., These will allow for common vocabularies, tactics and metrics to emerge.
*A common goal - we may be competing with each other, but we’re playing the same game. Having common rules and sharing our innovations may help all of us win this game
An uncommon opportunity - huge parts of the climate battle depend on behavior change and operational efficiencies, and no profession is better equipped to support and deliver these - at scale - than can the communication profession. When we look at the billions of dollars being spent on just one climate change technology - carbon capture and storage to extract CO2 from the atmosphere - demonstrating our potential to prevent that CO2 from getting there in the first place can merit some serious millions at least.
Winnable issues: not all aspects of the climate battle are matters of high technology and hard science. Some are entirely within the scope of human influence and advocacy - be it social, political or commercial. We comms pros are THE key to scalable action to address and win on these issues.
4. Spend On Expertise, Save On Noise
This is no time for amateurs and no time for false economies.
In a time of unprecedented ease of communication and message distribution, taking the "everyone's a communicator' attitude or trying to economize on expertise by hiring inexperienced but multiskilled juniors is an invitation to chaos and noise.
Even though technology changes, strategy - the ability to strip out irrelevant context to understand and navigate through the dynamics of uncertain situations - remains constant and fundamental. Those who are experienced at strategy can work more quickly, efficiently and perceptively than those who are inexperienced, and they can also train less experienced folks to operate more strategically.
If you want strategic expertise, it doesn't mean you have to hire it full time. Comms departments and agencies need to look more seriously at fractional working as an alternative to permanent salaries or hourly rates that are equally unpredictable and unsustainable for staff and organizations alike.
5. Don't Just Send, Superconnect
A crucial area of missed opportunity in internal comms has been its focus on messaging (and sending leadership messages) over social connectivity within their organizations. Indeed, many communication leaders don't see social connectivity as their responsibility - especially when it comes to onboarding.
"Oh, that's HR's job!"
"Don't want to step on HR's toes"
But internal comms pros are much better suited to drive accelerated social connectivity - superconnection - for three basic reasons:
- they know and work with people across the business
- they have incentive to widen and deepen their own networks
- they have the ability to initiate connections between people and support them over time.
A fourth 'ninja' reason also comes into play - they lack the investment in the formal hierarchical org chart that is HR's business to own in many organizations.
Unlike most internal comms initiatives that are highly specific, superconnection relies on simple, replicable and measurable processes that can be tailored to any organization. As a discipline, it can be practiced by anyone - and it can be done at a team level or on an organization-wide basis. More can be found here.
Time To Gear Up
The main things to remember about these "firefights" is that they are winnable - and winning requires us to change the attitudes - and maybe even the policies - of the people we work for.
- getting the freedom to ask the right questions
- carving out the time and bandwidth to think beyond what's in front of our noses
- turning the climate battle into a human conversation about solving problems instead of just fearing them
- finding ways to supplement or circumvent rigid job specification requirements or agency preferences
- taking the initiative to connect people to make them better integrated and to strengthen the overall network
We won't win every time. But as hockey great Wayne Gretzky once said, you miss 100% of the shots you don't take.
Want To Take On And Win Any Of These Firefights?
- Schedule a free 30-minute consultation with Mike Klein by emailing Mike.Klein@changingtheterms.com
- See how having the right internal comms tool can help. Book a demo of Sparrow Connected.