Put top Internal Communicators together in a room and you get very interesting results

I was lucky enough to be in Zurich at Poppulo’s strategic communication forum recently and had the pleasure of working with some of Europe’s leading practitioners in the internal communication space.

I was asked to do the keynote speech at the end of the morning.  I wanted to do something different so figured a better use of time would be to use the talent, expertise, and experience in the room to work together on the most important question:

What are the biggest challenges facing communicators today?

If you have time to spare a few seconds, think about how you would answer that question? You will get more from this blog if before reading further you highlight what is special to you.:

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During the morning we had heard from a wide variety of people from great businesses:  Sian Cargan, Internal Communication Director at CDK Global; Dan McLoughlin from Nestlé Purina; Philip Atkinson, Global Head of Scientific Communications at Roche; Tim Ferguson, CEO, and Jeff Bateman, Global Group Business Director at Audience Inc; and Eoin Cotter from Poppulo.

We heard great stories and valuable lessons from experience from each. Issues like ensuring relevance, effective measurement, defining the employee experience and clarifying purpose had all come up more than once.

But what would emerge if everyone had their chance to think about what their biggest challenges were? So, we asked everyone to answer the question posed above and gave them two minutes to work alone and in silence, thinking about their current role and experience, and what is coming for them in the next 12 months.   

Then through a process of paired working, and small group-working, we asked everyone to share their thoughts and to agree three top priorities.  With just a few minutes for these micro-discussions, people had to work hard to think through the priorities they use to evaluate different challenges.  

They found common ground with strangers who share similar challenges and rapidly established a hierarchy of issues. They agreed and disagreed and emerged with some consensus around critical challenges.

Then we asked small groups to share their number one challenge.  The larger group of 50 began to find patterns in their data. It seems that every group had something to say about engagement and the use of technology to build relevant messaging targeted to the needs of different audiences.

 Another theme concerned change and different groups began to connect across the room as they shared insights about the need for change and added their ideas to colleagues from other industries and businesses.

We ended with a summary of four major themes that communicators face today.  

Now is your chance to compare your answer to the wisdom of the Zurich cohort and see if and how your challenges fit in these larger themes, or whether you have another angle on the question that helps round and develop the picture.

  1. Change:  Innovate in response to the pace of change and act as a partner in change adaptation
  2. Connect: Develop the skills of leaders to communicate purpose and connect with people to increase engagement.  Measure the impact and outcome of internal communication on the business to prove the value and increase internal communicators seat at the table
  3. Collaborate: Reduce silos and create a sense of purpose and one company
  4. Cut through: Analyse and understand more about stakeholder needs to target more relevant messaging and decrease noise.  Increase impact and make internal communication stand out

Lessons from Zurich

The experience at Zurich shows us two things.  

First, it highlights some of the key issues that internal communicators face today.  Wherever you are in your career, focus on learning or developing solutions and approaches in any of the areas above and you will be of value to your company or your clients as you navigate change in the immediate future.

Second, it highlights how, without artificial devices, a great conversation can rapidly generate great outcomes and identify common ground even though people start with different perspectives and backgrounds.  The approach can be applied to any of the great questions we face today. All that needs to change is the focus question that drives the conversation. The process uses the wisdom of people who work in or with organizations.  

For example, a focus question could address any one of the issues that were raised during the morning in Zurich:

  • How can we measure the outcome of our communication?
  • How do we successfully merge our businesses?
  • How can we increase interaction between leaders and people?
  • How do we create a great employee experience?
  • How do we define our purpose?
  • How do we create advocates for our brand?
  • How do we make our conferences more impactful?
  • How do we make our communication relevant for a large group?
  • How can we reach offline workers?
  • How do we improve the measurement of our communication work?
  • How can we ensure we are using the right channels for our communication?  

The experience at Zurich not only identified some of the important issues that we face as communicators but also showed how the talent of large diverse groups can be rapidly focused and applied to the real change and communication issues we all face.


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