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Thursday, November 29, 2012

Internal Communications: You Get What You Pay For

A colleague of mine once said that Internal Communications is the "neglected stepchild" of the communications profession and over the years it is easy to figure out why.

There is absolutely no glory in it.

Internal Communications isn't glitzy. It's not about press, or social media, or trade shows. You don't get interviewed on TV. It's not multimedia.

It's about talking to your people. Sort of like - here we go - keeping the family together!

And we know how much fun Thanksgiving Dinner is when you've got all those old dynamics swirling around.

I did not even know there was such a thing as Internal Communications until I came to work for The Brand Consultancy, where they did something called "Internal Branding."

Basically, this was training the employees to operate in accordance with the mission/vision/values espoused by the brand.

Early on I realized that training did not work. Because people are not morons (largely), they are thinking adults and they will resist being robotized at all costs.

It is absolutely amazing that one even has to articulate this but if you think about the bubble in which most executives operate you can start to see what the issue is.

Most executives operate too far from the frontline to see their employees as people. Rather they see themselves, in an exaggerated form, and then their external audiences.

The staff matters, but in sort of a distant way. Like marble chess pieces. You care about them and don't want them to crack, but you don't really see a beating heart inside.

In any case. Not every executive is like that of course. I have been privileged to meet and work for several who have an unbelievable level of sympathy and empathy for their employees.

One of these served at the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency, where I worked when I first joined the Federal Government.

This individual spent all his time - and I mean all his time - concerned with the welfare of the employees. Teaching people to treat each other better. Proving to them that "the pie gets bigger." I do not know what his motivation was, only that it was during this time that I had permission to do a whole lot of things. For example:

* We audio-casted an internal meeting about an upcoming reorganization to the field - this was a big deal around 2003

* We transformed the employee publication into a photo-centric glossy in which the employees were the focus - it was People Magazine just for them

* In the publication we "advertised" internal services that were already available for free

One thing I did not get to implement was a prototype publication online where we had an Amazon-style rating system for the articles, so people could give an article four stars for "great" or one star for "horrible." I guess they thought it would hurt people's feelings, that they were not ready. They were probably right.

When I think about the projects I've done that went very far, versus the ones that did not, each and every time there was an executive sponsor who either believed in the work or trusted me to run with it.

That is the thing with Internal Communications. You have to trust the person in charge. They are, in a sense, the professional parent to the workforce, the person they go to cry to when they're getting beaten up at school.

I have seen this function work and not work. I've seen people get their heads handed to them because they made a mistake and it embarrassed someone.

Internal Communications is not child's play. It is very serious and very important work and it will only get more so.

You've got to trust the people you pay to execute on it for you, if you want to get results.