John is a press officer in the media relations team at Blah Blah plc. Like John, most of his peers are ex-journalists. They all started their careers in local newspapers, writing about village fêtes, lawn mower thefts from back yards, court news and their local football team. One by one, they all got promoted and specialised in a particular field and covered a larger patch, before moving to regional media outlets and finally on to the nationals. John worked for ten years at a popular national tabloid newspaper.
John and his colleagues all progressed based on the quality of their end product – articles; broadcast media segments – essentially, a presentation of some kind. The quality of their end product depends upon things like: how good their sources are; how skilled they are at writing and crafting narrative; their research skills; and also their instinct for sniffing out as good story.
Then one day, John saw a job advert for a press officer at Blah Blah plc. It offered a better salary and benefits, more secure employment and a far less claustrophobic/nepotistic culture. So he applied, got the job and made the switch from journalist to spokesperson.
John soon found out that, while all his old journalistic skills are still very valuable in his new role, success is measured very differently. The output or end product of John’s labours shifted from being a presentation for a mass audience to his ability to influence a much smaller set of identifiable individuals. So the presentation subtly shifts from being an end in itself to a means to an end. That end being influence.
So, what’s all this got to do with internal comms? I believe the journey that John has undertaken above, is exactly the same journey that we as internal communicators must now make to remain effective in a social organisation – by which I mean an organisation with internal systems which support commenting and conversation and which are used widely by employees.
In organisations which are strongly hierarchical and where on-line, social engagement functionality is not available, employee communications is highly managed, structured and controlled. What employee comms people produce in these types of organisations is well crafted presentational material – be it a news item or a communication from the CEO or senior manager. This is akin to journalism inside.
As an organisation introduces functionality which supports connection and conversation, employee comms people need to compete with other information providers to attract attention to their content through the noise. This will never be achieved by continuing to produce corporate presentational material – however well crafted. The conversation around a piece of content, which creates context and brings it to life becomes, arguably, more important than the original content itself. Influence comes from being part of that conversation and change happens as a result of it.
Being part of the conversation, explaining – sometimes defending – the company’s position to employees and trying to influence behaviours is much more akin to being a spokesperson for your organisation, inside your organisation. This means no more hiding behind a wall of content and being invisible to employees. It means stepping in to the limelight, being the most connected person in your organisation and discussing openly and honestly the messages you have been tasked with delivering and describing and exhibiting the behaviours you are trying to promote. It also means being accountable in a much more transparent way than we have ever had to be before.
Pretty scary? Certainly. Very exciting? Definitely!
The great news is that, as employee comms people, we already have a fantastic set of skills to help us flourish in this new environment. All we need to do shift our thinking. There really has never been a more exciting time to be in employee comms … and a social organisation is the perfect environment for us to flourish and grow.