Monthly Archives: July 2011

Are we just Talking Heads on a road to nowhere?

Kevin Keohane – CommScrum Queensway

PWC’s 2011 Global CEO Survey puts the talent agenda – that is, branding, acquiring, inspiring, developing, mobilising people – as the number one issue that will result in driving change & growth in 2011-2012.  Clearly, employee engagement and communication are at the heart of all of this.  The Economist Intelligent Unit Companies at a Crossroad report says the same thing. McKinsey Quarterly focuses on Organisational Health as a source of competitive advantage. Again, processes aside, it’s all about communication.

The IABC Research Foundation publishes a study telling us that the economic downturn has had an effect on budgets, manager communication is important, email (83%) and intranets (75%) are key channels, social media is catching on, and people use surveys to measure employee opinion.

OK, I know, I seem to bash IABC a lot, but honestly it’s in the way that you get frustrated when someone you love acts like a complete idiot and embarrasses themselves time after time, when you know their heart is in the right place.  Really – take that report off the site and hide it, and refund its cost pro rata to members.  For environmental reasons if nothing else.

But really, we might as well take the word BUSINESS out of the organisation’s title.  Because we just don’t talk business, it seems, in IABC content anymore.  Measuring business isn’t business.  Surely the IABC study should be about how communication and engagement can deliver all these growth imperatives for leading businesses; strategies and tactics for how business communicators can be the drivers of these critical success factors.  Instead … well, read the report if you can stomach it.

IC needs to start thinking in C-suite terms.  I’m not saying we should all aspire to be CEOs or CFOs, but at least think in terms of how what we do delivers the stuff that CEOs need (and it isn’t about the tactics, though we seem relentlessly committed to staying in that comfort zone).  The irony is that, in my experience, these conversations are easier at C-level anyway since you save all the insecure, jargon-littered territorial pissing across functional silos.

Sigh. Thoughts?

Dan Gray – CommScrum West Brompton

Plus ca change (as your Publicis masters in Paris would say), n’est-ce pas?

I find myself looking back to our very first CommScrum ruck and, in particular to Mark Schumann’s comment on it – how the communication world he entered bore little resemblance to the one we’re in now, and about how IABC was in the process of kicking off a major piece of research to get to grips with the consequences.

Judging from your links above, the results of that exercise don’t appear to have born much fruit, do they?! (“We’ve learned from our mistakes, as a result of which we can now repeat them exactly!”)

Looking back over those words, I think I can see part of the reason why. Just look at the wording of the purpose of the research…

…so we learn, firsthand, what it takes for a professional association to be relevant, and to deliver value that professionals consider essential. [emphasis added]

i.e. not the essential function of communication in a changing business context, but specifically the function of communication associations; not guided by what business leaders / employees / customers / investors / communities consider to be communication’s essential contribution to their lives and livelihoods, but by what its own existing member base thinks about what they need. Go figure if all that’s farted out is more of the same. (Not meant as an ad hominem attack on Mark, btw – far from it – rather the inertia seemingly brought about by a counterproductive, narrow-minded interest in self-preservation on the part of the wider institution.)

Look, we all know what needs attention and why – perhaps best articulated by Mary Boone in her great comment on our ‘glass ceilings’ debate a while back.

My one overriding thought on all of this is that it’s a bit like the debacle at Copenhagen last year. If that taught us anything it’s that, if you believe that something has to be done urgently to tackle the ‘perfect storm’ of climate change, population growth and diminishing resources, there ain’t much point in waiting on politicians to take the lead. You have to just get out there and do what you already know needs to be done.

In the same vein, it’s time for us to forget about what professional associations are or aren’t doing (they’re always going to be behind the curve) and just get on with doing it ourselves.

Commscrummer Lindsay Uittenbogaard in The Netherlands

I guess there’s only so much theorizing you can do about internal comms without it needing to be backed up by good practice before we can justify moving to the next level. And this discipline doesn’t seem to be getting to that next level, judging by the level at which the content in those reports is pitched. In fact, if we’re going to be darned depressing about it, sometimes it just feels like we are going backwards, in a catch 22.

Our work can only as good as the leaders we support (through their enablement, sponsorship and leadership) – and leadership appreciation of communication – has that stepped up? And just like other support functions – IT, Finance – people only notice when it’s not working: let’s face it IC will never reach 100% effectiveness. And then there’s the reciprocation angle – communication is a two way street – does IC have participation or is it met with auto-delete? Well I guess all that comes down to how good your work is – which takes some time to cultivate in your own unique working context.

So you need time, skill, management patience, management comms appreciation and talent, management sponsorship, a forgiving yet open culture, and a budget. So the odds are on that most of us are going to fail… perpetuating the lack of management patience, comms appreciation and talent, sponsorship: hence the catch 22. On the other hand, those who can stomach this as a backdrop and succeed can take it all. So I don’t want to bash IABC, I think they’re just pitching at a level where most IC professionals are still working.

By the way – although I agree with you, Kevin – measurement is business – a part of it at least.

Mike Klein: Commscrumming away in the land of the almost-midnight sun

We’re not on a road to nowhere.  Neither is IABC, though the road they are taking to satisfy their middle-market constituencies leaves them vulnerable to some criticism.  But I do believe that old-school, broadcast, channel-focused internal communication is in the process of a downgrade.

Increasingly, business success is dependent on smaller groups of people with bigger impact.  As this is shifting external communication away from a pure focus on press relations, it is shifting internal communication away from an emphasis on broadcast media and dutiful measurement.

Both kinds of work will still be necessary, but seen as more implementational and junior than it has been in recent years. In contrast, the drive for “social business” continues apace, and may well be where practitioners are seen as having the highest value-add, particularly if they show a penchant for identifying and mobilising high-value audiences and constituencies as opposed to just being able to maintain a suite of online accounts.

Sure that’s a long way from IABC’s current research, but it’s also a way from where the newly enlightened communication converts of McK and PwC sit as well.    It’s nice at a certain level that the management consultancies recognise what we recognised about organisational communication years ago, but it will be interesting to see if they have any intention to staff up or skill up professionally, or simply to blag their way into the business with amateur skills and a dated approach.  Indeed, it would be very interesting to see if anyone at McK or PwC might find the IABC research useful?