Sonia Speaks: A Better Mousetrap: Impacts of Technology on the Profession

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Since it came out this summer, the new book by IC Kollectif, Disrupting the Function of IC: A Global Perspective, has been a rich source of insight into the forces at work in the internal communications industry today. In this eight-part series, I’ll be taking a deep dive into each chapter of the book, bringing you key takeaways from 30 renowned contributors. Today I’m examining chapter two: “Skills and Knowledge of Internal Communication Professionals.”

Communications professionals have always harnessed technology to help management execute company strategies, but now it seems that technology has transformed itself into its own power, demanding new strategies from companies to stay on top of the game. And as Brad Whitworth, Manager of Business and Executive Communication at Hewlett Packard Enterprise, notes, “the transformation is being fueled by technology that communicators have fought for years to include in their corporate programs.” This transformation will continue to drive changes in communications, and IC professionals need to be clear-eyed in its use. In this chapter, four communications professionals share their insights on how to make sure technology remains an asset.

Sean Williams, vice president and practice lead at True Digital Communications, argues that while technology will make new demands on communicators, internal communications strategy, driven by organizational strategy, still needs to be the first step. That means that selecting new tools has to be done with knowledge of organizational learning, communication theory and practice, and measurement and evaluation.

Williams also notes that face-to-face communication is still a superior mode of information delivery, but even here, we can use technology to our advantage. Video conferencing and other streaming technologies facilitate peer-to-peer communication, as well as broad managerial communications while reaching outside the walls of traditional conference rooms.

Brad Whitworth, the HP communications lead, makes a crucial point about the technology employees have access to: “Over the past decade, an employee’s outside-of-work technology capabilities quickly matched and then surpassed what the IT department provided at his or her desk.” With employees armed with “weapons of mass communication” that outgun any IC budget, he suggests three steps communicators can take to regain the upper ground:


  • Strengthen the network. Non-formal, or peer-to-peer communication, is viewed as more trustworthy than a message from the CEO, a recent report shows. Tapping into just 3% of key influencers in the employee stratum can reach an astonishing 85% of employees. Communicators should make non-formal networks a high-priority component of their communications strategy.
  • Change your focus. Avoid a one-size-fits-all approach. Shift from sender-oriented to receiver-oriented messaging where audiences can decide what information they need most to do their jobs most effectively.
  • Reset your clock. Hierarchical organizations with centralized communications can work at a glacial speed, but employees now expect instantaneous news from external sources, and you need to meet their instant pace. It’s time to get away from artificial deadlines like a weekly newsletter and instead focus on real-time dissemination of information. Brad likens weekly newsletters to “serving a sandwich made with three-day-old fish, moldy cheese and brown lettuce on stale bread”—appetizing!


From Australia, Sia Papageorgiou shares some astonishing stats about the proliferation of smartphones worldwide and the number of times a day we look at them—which can only lead to one conclusion: “go mobile or go home.” Sia notes that this becomes even more imperative when communicating with hard-to-reach employees like those who work on the factory floor, are on the road, or work in remote areas. To engage these employees and also support our organization’s drive for productivity and efficiency, we must give them a voice and give them information when they want it, on a device they use most.

Finally, Air Canada’s Catherine St. Onge makes the important point that the advent of multiple communication platforms requires carefully matching the message to the medium to reach the broadest audience possible. She points out that “we are competing for the attention of our employees against mediums whose purpose is to entertain, as much as it is to inform.” We must adapt our style to the medium, and that often means moving to more succinct, precise messaging, even using emoticons as a means of simplifying messages. St. Onge gives the important advice that it would be a “mistake to copy and paste content from the original executive message and not devise a specific goal or tactic and language for each medium.” I couldn’t agree more — taking long format emails or 2,000-word articles from a printed employee magazine and simply dropping them on a mobile device will not translate.

St. Onge argues that as technology evolves, so too does the role of the IC professional. From evolving language choices, to understanding the employee audience, to marrying the medium with the message, the IC professional is navigating an ever-changing communications landscape. The successful IC professional will be fluent in mediums, as well as language, and drive employee engagement through careful analysis and understanding of what works best for their organization.


Stay tuned for the next post in this series, exploring chapter four of  Disrupting the Function of IC.


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