The top five things internal communicators need to stop doing…right now.
Internal communications has come a long way, but we still haven’t quite got everything right. It’s not uncommon to find an internal communicator playing photographer for the day at the staff conference, editing images in photoshop, or sorting through all the entries for the latest employee competition.
Communication has never been more important, and leaders are looking to us to step up and lead the way. But to do that successfully, we need to stop doing certain things that aren’t adding any value or furthering our reputation.
So, here are the top five things we think internal communicators need to stop doing right now. What would you add to this list?
- Stop saying yes to everything
Be clear on what it means to be an internal communicator within your organisation and stick to it. Yes, it’s nice to be helpful, but once you agree to organise the catering for the next leadership team away day, you won’t find yourself being involved in important strategic discussions.
It’s never easy to say no, and there’s always the fear that you’ll get a reputation for being difficult. However, it’s important to explain why you’re saying no. Tell people about your key priorities as an IC team and what you’re there to do.
It’s highly unlikely that you’ll find HR, IT or other disciplines doing tasks that are out of their remit and it’s important to remind yourself of that when you’re feeling guilty for saying no to a colleague.
- Stop talking to leadership about things they don’t care about
Leaders are busy people with a lot of decisions to make and people to please. Use the time you have with them wisely. Make sure you understand the business you’re working in and what is likely to be keeping leadership awake at night.
For example, if your business is going through a merger, make sure you understand what TUPE means or the correct language to use when consulting with employees during redundancy.
Don’t feel the need to justify your existence by detailing every project you’re working on, share with them the key ones that will support the business and provide evidence and data for the decisions you’re making and what impact it will have.
It’s also important to challenge, advise and coach. It takes time to build this type of relationship but if you want to be valued and involved in the right conversations this is an important area to focus on. Leaders don’t need yes people, they need experts to guide them.
- Stop working without a strategy
The latest State of the Sector report by Gatehouse Group found that 45% of respondents don’t have a strategy. There are common reasons I hear about why this is:
- The organisation is in the process of reviewing their strategy and the IC team are waiting for that. I’d argue you can put in place an interim strategy for things you know you need to focus on, until you get sight of an overarching business strategy.
- You haven’t got time to set one because you’re firefighting constantly. This is where you quickly get caught in a vicious cycle because if you had a strategy, it would be easier to say no to things which would help you to focus.
- Everything is changing so quickly, there’s no point in having a strategy. I disagree with this. Strategies need to be living, breathing documents that evolve. They also don’t have to be laborious. Having SMART* objectives and measures of success is essential for any internal communication team.
The simple fact of having a strategy demonstrates to other teams and leadership that you’re not a tactical function. If you don’t have clarity on where you’re going and what you’re trying to achieve, how will you know when you get there?
- Stop saying meaningful measurement isn’t possible
Because it is. Again, the State of the Sector report found that 39% of respondents don’t measure the impact of IC campaigns on behaviour change and business outcomes. Without measurement how can we build a strategy and prove to the business that we’re having an impact? How can we be surprised when the business doesn’t understand the value of internal communication?
Start small and don’t try to measure everything. Instead focus on what matters most to the business and set clear objectives that will make it easier to measure success.
Remember you don’t have to work alone. Organisations are full of data and teams like HR and IT will have a wealth of information that can help you measure the impact you’re having. Work with them from the outset to understand what information is available and agree objectives that are realistic.
- Stop being so defensive
A slightly controversial one maybe but whenever we are asked to sprinkle our magic on some content, we’re all quick to join in a group moan about how misunderstood we are. But I think there are alternative ways to look at this.
Firstly, if we genuinely aren’t being taken seriously, then we only need to look at the points above to see that we have some responsibility in that. And while some of us will be nailing it, unless we create consistency across our profession (within reason as every organisation is different) there will be a mixed understanding of what we’re there to do.
Secondly, sometimes people mean it as a compliment. Yes, we are there to do more than sprinkle our magic, but they might just mean that you are the expert at creating engaging content that will cut through the noise and clearly communicate the key messages. The fact they’ve come to us and asked for help is a big win and we can take this further by asking the right questions to demonstrate how we can help them even further, for example: who is this for? What are you trying to achieve? Have you thought about a different approach?
Sometimes it’s a sign that we’re more valued than we realised.
Internal communicators are doing great work, but it is important that collectively we raise the profession up to one that advises and supports the businesses we work in. That means having a strategy, measuring outcomes, providing insight and creating clarity around the value we add.
*SMART objectives: Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic, Timely
By Helen Deverell for Alive with Ideas