Lindsay Uittenbogaard – Commscrummer based in The Netherlands
To hold up a mirror, we Internal Communicators are human. We like our comfort zones, we have strengths and weaknesses – and more to the point, we have egos. I speculate that Internal Communicators who trumpet that the core of their discipline is about channels, or employees, or change, or influencing audiences, or leaders, or line managers, or knowledge… (as so deftly identified by Kevin in the previous Commscrum posting) …are simply pushing areas in which they feel the most interested or experienced.
Surely our discipline has potentially any of those aspects at its core, depending on the needs of the contexts within which we work at a given point in time. We don’t need to keep defining Internal Communication, we just need to be informed about the full range of its scope and possibilities, then make choices about which activities we will pursue. A model I put together outlining those spaces is linked below (along with a few example activities). I use this a lot to explain that my current role sits mainly in spaces above the pink line:
But making the best choices about which activities to pursue requires a good look in the mirror. With such a broad discipline, I speculate that all-rounders are a rare breed. What does your organization / client need and truly, what are your shortcomings? We need to hold up the mirror to our working contexts as well. We all know that perfect organizations don’t exist: what are the limitations of your organization / clients? For example, if your audience are a bunch of IT nerds and really don’t want to know what is outside of their own objectives and targets – don’t waste your time trying to change them by pushing news of developments from other teams. Similarly, if you’ve never pioneered a Conversation Café between teams to stimulate innovation – but think that’s what your sponsors need – then get the support to find someone who can help. If you have positioned the scope of internal communication and your ‘specialist areas’ within it, then getting that support will be much easier.
This all sounds like Communication 101 but still, are we really taking a good look in the mirror?
Kevin Keohane – CommScum London
The mirror analogy is good (so I will stretch it to breaking point. Is that 7 years’ bad luck?), since I also think there are often things in the mirror besides the person gazing into it — what’s in the background?
There is a direct link to situational leadership theory. In other words, great leaders (and thus great communicators) know that there are different models for different moments and situations. The trick is being able to identify when to use what, and of course to have the competence to do so.
The tension is between the need to specialise (which makes you valuable in an ever decreasing space) and the need to see the bigger picture (which, again arguably, makes you valuable in perhaps a more limited number of relatively senior roles)?
One thing seems clear: the game is changing, more than ever before in my 20 years’ experience. From the “professional environment” perspective, the frontier/horizon is getting ever closer, ever faster, and it’s all about joining things up.
I wholeheartedly believe that the days of nicheguru holed up in their inch-wide, mile-deep towers are coming to an end. The nicheguru will always have their place, but will find themselves drifting (probably quite happily, since I don’t think their compensation will be negatively affected) downstream, simply because they will become instruments of those capable of taking the more strategic, systemic, broad business perspective.
Maybe natural self-selection will take place?
Dan Gray – CommScrum London
You’re a bugger, Keohane! The link to situational leadership was the first thing that sprang to my mind too, but you’ve beaten me to the punch!
What’s particularly interesting about that observation – as you’ve both alluded to – is that it forms a brilliant bridge to both previous posts on the CommScrum. (A strong theme emerging?)
Not only does the central tenet of situational leadership (that there is no “one best way”) tie in perfectly with Kevin’s IC taxonomy from the previous post, but its emphasis on leaders’ (and similarly communicators’) ability to diagnose and understand context goes right to the heart of what I was saying in my first post too. In an increasingly complex world, that (strategic) understanding is becoming infinitely more relevant and important to the outcome than the (tactical) craft of communicating.
I’d add, also, that situational leadership is something of a misnomer, insofar as it’s more about understanding the dynamics of followership. To that extent, I think it also ties in very neatly with Sam Berrisford’s excellent observations on self-selecting audiences.
Mike Klein–Commscrum Brussels/Brussel/Bruxelles
My overweening thought when looking first at Lindsay’s piece was that it was simple and perhaps even “nice”. And for the most part, it maps onto executional reality in an undoubted majority of cases.
But what is missing from this approach is any accounting for philosophy, or for the communicator’s role as a leader in the organisation as a whole.
Sure, it’s mightily helpful to be a multi-skilled generalist when there’s plenty that the organisation is asking from the communication function–supporting change initiatives A, B, and C, manning the intranet, setting up the press conferences and top-200 hootenannies and fine-tuning the Senior VP’s Powerpoints. Indeed, it is unlikely that the vast majority of in-house practitioners could survive without being able to do all of those things simultaneously, and, often a communicator’s broader credibility is often linked to consistent tactical success.
Still, a major problem with organizational communication is the gap between what the leadership asks for, and what the business actually needs. The Melcrum “Black-Belt” approach to internal comms “competency” is great at giving practitioners the skill and confidence to say Yes to their managers when asked to handle specific tasks. But in an environment where the business is exposed to potentially existential threats from inside and out, a higher level of knowledge and confidence is required that transcends mere skill.
Definitions play a role as well. If internal communication is seen as a delivery discipline, no matter how well we execute, our importance may be limited and perhaps not worth the investment. If communication–and its internal importance and mechanics–are appropriately defined and seen as being on a par with marketing, finance and operations, there’s a different game to be played.