Internal communicators are losing the monopoly on internal communication management. The absolute governance we had on the preparation, spreading and permanence of the messages that are circulated within organizations is coming to an end.
A few months ago, we worked with a client from Argentina who was worried about the fact that the main internal communication channels used by his employees had not been created by his company and, therefore, he did not have governance over them. Can you guess what those communication channels were? Yes. A Whatsapp Group and a Facebook Group.
Basically, employees were spending more time on these two informal groups than on the internal social network developed by the company itself. Thus, an employee, without investing a single penny, had created two internal communication groups everyone could reach, and which had more impact and participation than a medium which had cost thousands of dollars.
This example shows us that we are going towards a redistribution of internal communication power; someone’s power to raise an issue, to set an agenda, to send messages, and to make them circulate and last. This may be seen as a threat; however, I consider it an opportunity for organizations to own internal communication and for their members to help feed and improve that communication.
I have always thought that the best thing that could ever happen to Internal Communication is “to be removed” from the internal communication area so as to be significantly owned by all of the company. I know it is hard because informal communication is usually associated with rumor, and rumor is usually associated with something negative, chaotic and destructive. However, today it is impossible to fight against the “informal media” that show up all the time.
To face these trends, I believe that we, internal communicators, should strengthen our skills:
- We should know how to take advantage of the conversations that circulate outside the formal network.
- We should learn how to join these conversations without imposing messages. We are not hosting the party: we are just guests to that party.
- We should be able to detect, enrich, highlight and improve the significant conversations the company members are already having. We should be able to develop the skill of “curating contents.”
- We should become “dialogue facilitators” instead of just being “multimedia message broadcasters.” We should be better listeners and deliver fewer messages.
- We should know how to generate co-created, shared and collaborative internal communications, which enrich the conversational dynamics in a company. And very importantly: we should know that the change is not technological but cultural.
- We should show that all the members of the company are internal communicators. That all employees (particularly leaders) are communicators, and that their actions have a stronger impact than the messages we deliver.
- We should be focused on communication at the strategic level. Instead of centering our attention on managing multiple media channels, we should spend a larger percentage of our time focusing on meaning and significance. Office space, cleanliness of a place, salary, leadership style, and the car the CEO uses to get to work, are some examples of important aspects that need to be considered.
- We should be able to know how to coordinate, train and encourage leaders and employees to be excellent internal communicators. And in that sense, it might even be convenient for us to change our job position and stop being seen as “IC Directors” to become “IC Articulators”.
To sum up, from now on, apart from being able to produce, spread and circulate contents, internal communicators should learn to manage communications generated without their intervention. The same thing happened to brands. They have learnt to coexist with (and take advantage of) people who have more firepower (more followers, visits, likes, subscribers or retweets) than they have.
Leaders are the most important players in internal communication
Ninety percent of internal communications received by an employee are neither delivered by the internal communication area nor circulated through internal communication media; they are produced by leaders, employees and directors. Within this “ecosystem of internal communicators,” leaders are the most important players because their messages reach more people, have more impact and are better remembered than anyone else’s messages.
That is the reason why I believe that internal communicators have to become better prepared to manage internal communication by transcending the classic media universe. By transcending I do not mean getting rid of media. The idea is not to stop creating media but to enrich our practice.
But how can we do that? In our agency, for example, we do not create internal communication media. We diagnose, plan and strengthen internal communications by working with leaders in particular.
This is a radical change because in most companies they go on thinking that creating “internal communication” means creating “internal communication media.” However, it is essential to show them that creating media is necessary but not enough.
There are two main actions we, communicators, should take to make progress on this change:
- To make all the people in an organization (particularly leaders) understand that they are the main “internal communication media” and that their actions are the most powerful messages. In fact, I always say that nobody quits their job because they did not like an article in their company newsletter or because the internal social network takes too long to load or because the pictures used in notice boards are pixelated. What makes you choose a company is not “what you read in a medium” but “what you see in a leader.”
- To make organizations not see the internal communication area as an “Internal News Agency” or an “Internal Media Editor,” but as a “Crossover Communication Strengthener.”
To sum up, our goal is not to do internal communication but to achieve things through internal communication. Internal communication is not an end in itself. That is why, to go on “achieving things,” we should be ready to generate co-created, decentralized communication models where the people (and not the media) become the heart of our practice again.
This article was originally published in Disrupting the Function of IC – A Global Perspective, an eBook produced by IC Kollectif.
Alejandro Formanchuk is the Director of Formanchuk & Asociados, an agency which has developed +1000 projects for +250 organizations in 16 countries [www.formanchuk.com.ar]. He is the President of the Argentinian Internal Communication Association and the Director of the Ibero-American Internal Communication Federation. Follow him on Twitter @formanchuk.