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IC at a crossroads – in trouble, or a golden era of opportunity?

Lisa PantelliLisa Pantelli·

According to Washington University researchers, a third of companies listed on the Fortune 500 S&P Index will be dead by 2025.  

In a keynote speech in 2015, John Chambers, the then CEO of Cisco warned that organizations could not “miss a market transition or a business model” or “underestimate your competitor of the future, nor your competitor of the past.”

The rate of change we are experiencing and the level of increased competition means company strategy has had to adapt and respond significantly in their approach to business. Failing to do so means they run the risk of being left woefully behind.

This transformation is not just about producing new products and services. To succeed, organizations need to adopt an entirely different mindset. One which is more collaborative and agile in response to consumer, economic, social and of course, employee needs.

For those working in internal communications and employee engagement, I find this incredibly exciting.

My concern, though, is that there is some way to go until internal communicators are brought into the heart of this transformation and are invited to play a pivotal role that we know we can perform.

Positioning Internal communications as a Strategic Function

For organizational transformation to be successful, a report published by Strategy&, a consulting arm of PWC suggests that leaders of functional organizations – which communications is – must play a more strategic role if they are to demonstrate their worth and secure the credibility that it deserves.

In his 2008 book, author and speaker Bill Quirke presciently writes internal communications ‘may find themselves evicted unless they can demonstrate their value and clearer return on investment’.

More recently, Inside Insight 2017 by VMA Group found that 31% of internal communications teams do not have a strategy.  This is in line with the results of Poppulo’s Global IC Survey the previous year which showed that only 35% of internal communications departments had a long-term strategy.

Despite Quirke’s emphasis on the need to demonstrate value 10 years ago, there is still a significant gap (or rather, opportunity?) for us to address.

It is perhaps for these reasons that the efforts of those working within the function have yet to be given equal priority (or indeed budget!) as our corporate communications counterparts.

From my experiences of working with clients as an independent consultant, I do think we are moving in the right direction but there are some fundamentals we need to get right and fast, before we are forever relegated to the backbenches.  

So, with clear evidence for the need to position internal communications as a strategic function and increasing importance of the role that it can play for business leaders, are we now entering a time of golden opportunity for internal communications?

Moving Towards A Golden Era for Internal Communications

If we are to see the rate and scale of change we are experiencing as an opportunity, drawing on the recommendations from the Strategy& report, there are a number of ways in which teams can seek to do this.

Align internal communications priorities and activity with that of the business:

Be clear about the purpose and role of your internal communications team and align all activity to your businesses strategic mission. Drawing on crucial insight and data to help define this can play a crucial role. What’s worked before? What have you learnt from? What team structure do you need to have in place so that you can effectively manage both transactional and transformational communications priorities?

Adopt a collaborative approach:

Internal communicators shouldn’t work in silo. Responsibility for effective internal communications should not rest solely on the few who sit within the function. Collaborating with other teams such as HR, marketing and finance can encourage advocacy from other parts of the business and strengthen individual understanding of key metrics.

Design an approach with colleagues from other teams which enables you to think across the business and draw on their priorities and align your strategy with theirs.  

Invest in skills and capabilities:

Those working in internal communications have often come into the sector through other routes. With many teams so focused on tactical deployment, often there’s little opportunity to take a step back and look at the bigger picture.

Ellwood Atfield’s 2016 ‘Talent is a Challenge’ study found just 49% say they have the resources needed to develop high quality internal communications and 54% say that they have access to the training needed to do their role.

Increased investment, either by offering time to take a step back, reflect and plan, or through enabling them to invest in their own professional development through one of the many courses available, can help achieve this step change.

Measure! Focus on impact, not input:

Corporate communications has made fantastic leaps forward when it comes to being able to effectively measure the impact it has on its audiences. Marketing has been doing it for years. So why do half of internal communicators spend the least amount of time on measurement?

Having just one, strong example of a programme you have measured the impact of can play a significant part in educating others in your organization of the added value that internal communications can play.

Being able to draw on just one example of what internal communications is capable of and the  impact  can make all the difference to internal perception and understanding of what it is capable of. It can unlock many opportunities which perhaps were not previously readily available.

Although organizational life is changing at a significant rate, I find this incredibly exciting. There is no longer a gap between internal and external communications. I think for those working in internal communications,  and of course employee engagement, there is a huge opportunity for us to work closer with other functions, demonstrate our worth and come out of the shadows of those we’ve often been behind.

 


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