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Dusting off the DeLorean – how IC pros can become time travellers

Ever wished you could time travel? Chances are if you work in internal communications, you already do. And when you spend your days zipping back and forth from the CEO’s vision of the future, to the employees living in the here and now (not forgetting the ones still living in the past), the old comms DeLorean racks up quite a few miles….  

However, in some organisations it doesn’t matter how many times you tell employees living in the present how great the future is going to be, they just don’t buy into it. Maybe they’re too busy, or it feels too far away, or they simply don’t see how they fit into it. 

So how do we as internal communicators translate the vision of our CEO into something meaningful for everyone else?

Get chummy with your CEO

Establishing a good relationship with your CEO is an important first step. Getting to know them as an individual and what’s important to them, will help you understand their vision for the business. We all know good relationships are built on trust, and that’s key to getting the CEO on board with ideas of how to translate their vision into something tangible for the people on the ground. This may mean spending a considerable amount of time in the future.

Suspend disbelief

The great thing about ideas and visions is that they are supposed to be interpreted.

Upon hearing your organisation’s vision for the first time, your reaction could be one of disbelief – disbelief because it is so far removed from reality, or disbelief because it is unbelievably uninspiring and lacks a large dollop of ambition. 

But the great thing about ideas and visions is that they are supposed to be interpreted, and everyone’s interpretation can be slightly different, which gives you a huge opportunity. So, suspend your disbelief and open your mind to the possibilities this presents (unless of course you have an opportunity to shape the CEO’s vision, in which case you are a true comms hero).

Tell your employees first

It’s not unusual for organisations to invest large sums of money on marketing campaigns to transport their clients and contacts into the future. Which is great until you look over your shoulder and see that your employees didn’t jump on board. For a vision to become a reality, you need to take your employees on that journey first, as they will be the ones making it happen. Get that wrong, and it’s very hard to win them back. 

What’s in it for me?

For people across the business to take ownership of the vision, everyone from the CEO to the cleaner needs to understand the part they play in it.

Time travelling can sometimes be a bumpy ride. Even the smallest blip can change the course of the future, so you need your employees to be fully bought in to the journey you’re taking them on, ready to face the challenges ahead and passionate about what you can all achieve together. 

Everyone knows the story of the cleaner at NASA, and for good reason. It perfectly articulates how we want all our people to feel, but in case you haven’t heard it, hold on to your hats, we’re going back in time… 

In 1963 President John F Kennedy visited the NASA Space Centre, and stopped a cleaner and asked what he was doing. The cleaner replied “I’m helping put a man on the moon”. 

For people across the business to take ownership of the vision, everyone from the CEO to the cleaner needs to understand the part they play in it. This means, you guessed it, you’re going to need to spend a considerable amount of time in the past and present too. You need to understand your audience in relation to the vision. What are their concerns about it? What are their ideas for making it a reality? And take that feedback to the senior leaders in the future. 

Tell a story

A story can help you explain why we’re doing this and why it’s important. It’s the sense of purpose around your vision that lends itself so well to storytelling. And be honest about the challenges you’ll face along the way, that’s what makes it interesting and is often how you involve people, as you’ll need ideas, skills and teamwork to overcome them.  

Hopefully, by building relationships and zipping about in all three time zones, you can convince others around the organisation to join you. Leaders will always need to look ahead, and employees will tend to concentrate on the now, but that doesn’t mean they can’t visit each other from time to time. We don’t even need DeLoreans anymore, just effective communication and we can all become time travellers. 

By Helen Deverell for Alive!

Wednesday, February 01, 2017

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