Central comms is out, team comms is king.

Monologue post-starter from Lindsay Uittenbogaard Commscrumming from The Hague

Your annual communication survey results have just come in. On initial inspection, they show a fairly healthy appreciation and appetite for managed communication. As the comms responsible, you sit back feeling proud and a little bit smug actually, that the steps you took to encourage more frequent dialogs between senior leaders and staff; to ensure that Line Managers had enough of the right information to brief their teams on the latest developments on a regular basis; and to refresh your intranet pages – however painstaking it was, all paid off.

You take the results home and decide to spend a half day the following morning going through the freeform comments (while drinking your favourite coffee in your favourite mug as a kind of mini celebration).

So then, as you pore over the data – a scary thread emerges. There are some 20,000 staff in the organization and most of the respondents seem to be saying that their communication requirements differ quite considerably from the need that is articulated in your strategy in subtle but crucial ways. Many of those staff members are contractors, with an average employment duration within the organization of about 3 years. They work all over the world, although there are a few office hubs in key locations. You see that their world starkkly splits into ‘operational topics’ and ‘management topics’ with these needs:

for operations
– a great sharepoint platform with good support and site development resources, including external site capability for collaboration with suppliers and customers
– the availability of ad hoc communication support on 2 levels:1) = intelligent information administration, 2) = project management
– top quality, readily available soft skill training in, for example Best Practice customer interfacing, virtual teaming etc
– a clear, simple and intranet site with a great search function so that all of the general company information like admin forms, organigrams, latest company presentations etc can be easily sourced
– a good onboarding program, tailored to each location
– a mechanism for capturing and sharing learnings.

for management
– for their line managers to keep them in the loop at least once a month on overall organizational developments that affect their teams, as well as other developments in general
– for senior leaders to be visible and accessible enough that each staff member could have a voice and a connection at that level should they need it – but to be able to read about what the top level agenda looks like and why from the CEO via the newsletter on a monthly basis as a way of double checking what their manager tells them as well as assessing how safe the company is as an employer.
– a big, professionally managed annual event / roadshow that takes stock of the year past and the year ahead and allows people to celebrate, face to face.
– and an unspoken given – alignment with external comms, affiliation with the brand identity and professionalism.

What they say they don’t want is:
– to have to fight for communication support for their work / try to find their way around company communication and information management resources on their own.
– an intranet homepage that assumes it is their landing page, hosting a round up of news and links from in and outside of the organization. If they want to find something, google is better. The intranet is not maximised on their desktop all day long.
– a company newsletter that assumes it is the answer to all of their communication requirements, including information on staff joining and leaving, public holidays and the recipe of the month. They will scan a newsletter for around 50 seconds to see if there’s anything they need to know and that’s it. Recognition is nice. Staff appreciation is important but they don’t want to be part of a cringey, false club that is the equivalent to a ‘welcome drinks do’ on the first night of a package holiday. Real societal connections at work are local.
– a warm and cuddly communication style. People have their own lives: they don’t need their employer to ‘be their friend’, they don’t trust the ‘published communication line’ very much anyway (or they read it in context).

In short, communication management has become less about ‘mass engagement’ but more about how comms can support a team within an organization. It can facilite better quality team engagement with the overall company vision so that each member of that team knows how its work can best contribute to overall value. It can provide the right resources when needed so that team can meet the stakeholder engagement and information management requirements of teams and projects. That’s it. Forget leader as servant, forget central comms as being the centre – the team is king and the better we can support that, the more valuable we are and the more solid our footing.

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7 thoughts on “Central comms is out, team comms is king.

  1. Indy says:

    This is great stuff Lindsay. Echoes my experiences – I usually just concentrate on about how comms people ignore the operational too much, but I like the distillation down of management communication too.

    Although of course, “access to senior leaders” is one of the hardest things to deliver on.

  2. Sean Trainor says:

    Great. Indy. Lindsay and Sean seem to have gone to the same school.
    Except I bunked the “Importance of senior leadership” class to go smoking with the workers behind the bikesheds!
    I am gradually concluding that the importance of senior leadership is only important to senior leaders. They get about as excited about their own self importance just as the media get excited about reporting about the media. Yet, I see too many examples of highly engaged workforces with really shite leaders and highly disfunctional and disengaged workforces with inspiring leaders. Work that one out?

  3. commscrum says:

    From Lindsay

    We must have gone to the same school!

    1)on the importance of senior leaders …so we come back to the dominance of perspective. Senior Leaders are unable to see things from the exact same perspective of one of their employees… which is not a shortfall, it’s just how we are as humans. I guess if they spent 2 weeks shadowing, they’d get there. We need to help them see what kind of mass communication people need and support the delivery of that I suppose…
    2) on the disconnect between engagement and the capability of leadership inspiration… doesn’t that reinforce the emphasis on TEAM?

  4. Rachel Berry says:

    GREAT post. And actually I am 100% on board with what Lindsay had to say about the importance of senior leaders. It’s basic self-preservation to need to see what the top leaders are saying – to plan your next career move, to know what to say to them when you see them in the elevator, to judge how well the organization’s culture is aligned with what they’re saying publicly (see point above about planning next career move.)
    As a card-carrying Sharepoint-hater, however, I can’t quite believe that everyone is saying they need a great Sharepoint platform. I’d be more inclined to believe they are asking for a terrific, flexible platform that has great IT support, manages knowledge well and integrates well with the external tools they are using…but possibly their vocabulary to describe this is limited to “Sharepoint.”

  5. Amen. I think my article in the Telegraph (next week or two Sunday supplement) supports this view with two thumbs up! (woo-hoo)

  6. Mike Klein says:

    While mass engagement is fading as a raison d’etre of corporate and internal communication, I don’t necessarily buy that the “team” will replace it on the altar.

    Programmes, projects, cross-functional groups and even unofficial stakeholder “tribes” are also important elements of the emerging picture. In an environment where communication expertise is still rare, rationing according to audience value will likely increase, with less valuable teams given perhaps some basic comms training and air traffic control to keep them from running amok.

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