Sonia Speaks: Adapting to Turbulence: “Changes and Challenges in Internal Communication”

 In Comms Hacks

Since it came out this summer, the new ebook 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 one: “Changes and Challenges in Internal Communication.”

It seems like every year the pace of change in the business world gets faster and faster, requiring companies to adapt more often and more drastically.

The first chapter of the new ebook by IC Kollectif examines the biggest changes and challenges that internal communications professionals are facing and how they can deal with them. The contributors unanimously agree on one thing: the world economy is turbulent, and it’s going to stay that way. Only those who can remain flexible in this ever-changing landscape are going to survive, and you can’t stay flexible without robust internal communications.

The thought leaders and experienced practitioners who contributed to this chapter come from Europe, the United States, and the Middle East, and they offer up their distinctive perspectives on the international and local challenges facing the industry—and with those challenges, strategies for adaptation and growth:

  • The number one job of the communication professional is to deliver meaning. When a company is facing big changes, it’s not enough for communicators to simply inform employees of those changes. Roger D’Aprix argues that they need to go further and explain why those changes are happening. That means successfully communicating the context the company is in while also helping employees answer the question “What does this mean for me?” To do that well, communicators need to understand their company’s big-picture marketplace realities as well as the smaller-picture details of how they will affect internal issues. Bringing these two contexts together gives meaning to workplace changes and ensures that leadership and employees are on the same page.
  • An organization’s ability to engage in authentic dialogue will determine its agility and resilience. Well-framed emails are not authentic dialogue. Top-down, hierarchical decision making is not authentic dialogue. For Marc B. Do Amaral, authentic dialogue is built on trust, and internal communicators build that trust by making sure that everyone has a chance to be heard. This means building an infrastructure that enables people to share information and provide feedback. While strategy used to descend from above, today companies are accelerating innovation and coming to better decisions by inviting their employees to participate in well-designed, organization-wide conversations.
  • A tough economy is an opportunity for emerging markets to invest in effective employee communication. In the Gulf region, Alex Malouf sees communication professionals facing two challenges: 1) many communicators are not specialists in employee communications, and 2) organizations tend not to understand internal communications in general. In times of change, it is up to the communication staff to advocate to senior management about the importance of employee engagement. This is a delicate tightrope to walk, as many organizations in the Middle East still view communication as hierarchical and top-down. Successfully walking that tightrope means communicators need to know who the influencers and gatekeepers are in their organization. And once they’ve reached those influencers, they need to be able to balance the expectations of management with the needs of employees. Education and advocacy are key.
  • Strive to be a communication business partner to senior management. This should go without saying for any communicator who wants to earn a seat at the table. Leaders have the biggest impact on organizational culture, and Per Zetterquist argues that the communication professional’s ability to impact culture depends upon her ability to build trust between leaders and team members. This includes finding the balance between posting content online and hosting face-to-face meetings: leadership needs to know their message is getting out quickly and clearly, and employees need to feel that they have a valued voice in the larger conversation. The right balance here can build trust between leaders and the team, driving change. And to prove to senior management that internal communication drives change, communication business partners need prove their value by educating senior leadership and by setting KPIs to demonstrate measurable worth.

Ultimately, an organization’s success depends upon its flexibility, and strong internal communication is how complex organizations come together to adapt and stay flexible. By delivering meaning, facilitating authentic dialogue, using challenges as opportunities, and establishing a partnership with senior management, internal communicators can become strategic, value-generating partners in their organizations’ adaptation to the unique challenges of the 21st century.

Stay tuned for the next post in my series, exploring chapter two of Disrupting the Function of IC, “Skills and Knowledge of Internal Communication Professionals.”

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