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The communication conundrum: how to turn employees into communicators

An internal communicator, HR manager, and an L&D manager all walk into a CEO’s office. The CEO says, “I need everyone in this organisation to be better communicators. Whose job is it to make that happen? 

It sounds like the beginning of a bad joke. And in many ways it is. For communicators, nirvana is everyone across the organisation taking personal responsibility for communication (even if it means doing ourselves out of a job in the process!). But who should be leading that drive to turn everyone into good communicators? 

Is it us as the communication experts? Or would we be stepping on the toes of L&D who are responsible for training and coaching? Or is it the job of HR to ensure that communication is a key component in job specs and appraisals?

An uncomfortable truth

At The Big Yak in September, this topic was discussed at length along with the question – are internal communicators even skilled enough to be coaches or trainers? A fair question, and maybe an uncomfortable truth, as being good at something doesn’t automatically qualify you to teach it. 

But on the other hand, as our role continues to evolve and we do less doing and more advising, is it time that coaching becomes a core skill we need to add to our ever expanding tool belt? 

Maybe the first step is instigating conversation around how we change workplace cultures to ones where all employees take responsibility for communication. And just because we drive the discussion, doesn’t mean it’s our sole responsibility to make it happen. 

Grab a chair

At another recent conference. CIPR Inside’s Closing the Gap, several IC pros in the room despaired at the discussion of how we get invited to the top table. Many felt that we should stop waiting to be asked and take our own chair. And once we’ve taken our seat, it’s so much easier to get communication on the agenda. 

We need to deviate from our job titles because in the modern workplace, it's about much more than what is written in the job description.

But is this symptomatic of a bigger problem in our businesses? We view our job titles and job descriptions in such a black and white way that we don’t deviate from them, unless we ‘want’ to, whether for progression or a desire to move roles. Actually, we ‘need’ to deviate from them and recognise that in the modern workplace, our job is so much more than what is written on the job description.

And communicators are far from alone in our quandary. Security teams will have similar tales of woe, where their biggest risk isn’t technology or hackers, but their own employees assuming security isn’t their job. 

And business development teams will often bang their heads against brick walls, trying to convince employees that upselling through existing relationships or advocating the brand on social media will reap far more rewards than starting from scratch. 

Drumroll please

So maybe the punchline of the joke is actually ‘everyone.’ Not in a cop-out kind of way, but in the sense that maybe it’s time representatives from each business function got around the table UN style (and everyone brings their own chair) and we all agree that the success of the business relies on us working together. 

It means that when a sales manager wins a big deal, a step in their process is to share that story with the business (and maybe even beyond). That a marketing executive files their timesheet on time because they know it makes the job of the finance team that much easier. That a communications business partner stops someone in the hallway who isn’t wearing an ID pass to check they are an employee, because a security breach affects us all. 

Ultimately, does it matter who drives the conversation, as long as it’s taking place?

By Helen Deverell for Alive

Saturday, October 22, 2016

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