Internal Communicators as the Company’s Historians


About 8 years ago my supervisor at a previous employer handed me a list stating my roles and responsibilities as an internal communication professional. In that, I recollect was a line which read ‘the company’s historian’. Then, as a junior member of a growing communications team it only meant ‘collating and updating’ company news. The focus was so much on getting the basics right that it never dawned on me how powerful that specific responsibility was. Today as I look back I can relate quite easily to the expectations. Knowledge farming, retention and reinforcement should be high on any internal communicator’s radar.

sun, sea and sand

sun, sea and sand

In a recent case, I helped an organization put together a timeline and a video on completing 10 years of operations in India. Interestingly, nothing previously existed in terms of a formal history timeline till the time we got down to creating one. Though the experience was phenomenal the process of putting the content together was harder  since most of the information was anecdotal and in peoples’ inboxes.

Creating the company’s history ensured there would always be something employees could refer, have a sense of culture, work ethics, progress and accomplishments. It also opened up numerous avenues for employees and managers to reflect and imbibe the fabric of the organization. Now the timeline and video are a part of the company’s induction, their team meetings, reference for press releases, social media sites and large forums.

So why is this a role of an internal communicator? In our role (and this is my understanding) – we are expected to connect the organization, enable managers and leaders to communicate effectively and provide opportunities and forums to recognize employees. Connecting the organization includes engaging the workforce by rallying around a common theme and direction, creating artifacts and repositories that enable better conversations and capturing moments that define the organization’s DNA.

So how can one go about playing this role?

Here are a few learning from the role I got to play as a ‘historian’.

a)       Have the end outcome in mind: Understand how the final result will look like. We had a timeline that got hosted on the intranet along with a video that we played for engaging local offices

b)       Keep your ears on the ground: I discovered a few sources and ‘servers’ where content was saved in the past. By asking employees I navigated to primary areas for information. One employee sent me a home video that they created that captured how the team kept fit by doing push-ups during overnight project releases!

c)       Tap your ‘history champions’: Social media research identifies two key groups – ‘collectors’ and ‘connectors’ who drive change across organizations and in the social media world. Do we know who they are in the organization?

d)       Google your company: I came across some interesting snippets from the press which we converted into a press timeline for a history module

e)       Make it accessible: Convert the ‘history’ modules into usable models such as flash files and pdfs.

f)         Be open for feedback: After we created the timeline, we opened it up for employees to comment and share their inputs. Quite like how the company evolved, the timeline also had the same effect.

Also, you may want to check out the History Factory. I received an invite via Linkedin from Warren Levy who shared this interesting website. In his words “history and heritage are more powerful communication tools than most organizations realize.”

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3 thoughts on “Internal Communicators as the Company’s Historians

  1. Back in the 80’s, some large UK multinationals actually had archivists. These roles were to preserve company history, and innovations, to share more with the outside world than internally, although we internal communicators used the resources from time to time.

    I recently produced a DVD/Webstream for the opening of a Data Centre, as it was the first time my client, a major bank, had outsourced this strategic facility. We wanted something to reflect the experience. Over 20 people appeared in the DVD, including some of the third party provider, as it showed the team work over two years, and the history of their very outdated facilities. The team enjoyed the collaboration and the webstream was very popular, with many hits on the Intranet and a great case history for the Global IT conference.

    My interim role finished with the opening, but I recommended that it was used for IT inductions, to show the scale and scope that new hires could get involved with. It was a really great experience.

  2. Hi Aniisu, thank you for contacting me via my blog. I’m interested to read your views from India and enjoyed reading your history post. Will be sure to add you to my blog roll and check back to your site. Kind regards, Rachel.

  3. Aniisu, I think you have hit on a very important role for internal communicators. As you noted, we’re really talking about reinforcing the culture here. One way to do that is to tell the company’s story and to remind employees of the journey the company has undertaken over the years.

    I worked for a small weekly newspaper as a reporter in the 1980s. The publisher of the paper felt a great responsibility to be the “newspaper of record” for the community — to be the source of the most important events, and even some of the everyday occurrences that created the fabric of the community.

    I believe internal communicators have a similar role. One important difference is that we are always using history to connect people to the organization so that the future is assured.

    Robert

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