“My students are obedient”, explained the Director of a well-known B-school that I recently visited for a campus recruitment initiative. She spoke in the context of students living up to the expectations of the industry by doing what is expected of them. It sounded strange to me and indicated a widening gap in what the corporate world expects and what students are asked to demonstrate. Does the industry expect people who conform to rules? Aren’t students taught to challenge the status quo?
My fears were confirmed when I attended a user design experience over the weekend. I heard experienced designers ask speakers how they could play a role in the evolving landscape and participate in the digital revolution. I could feel a palpable sense of helplessness among the audience on how to navigate the changing environment. Somehow it seemed like they believed that someone needed to tell them what to do and how they must go about looking at their work. No one had a point of view – quite odd for people who usually have opinions about politics, sports and what have you!
The industry isn’t expecting people who conform but those who can challenge the status quo and add value to systems, people and processes.
When I relate it to the world of internal communicators how do we know that they are able to think on their feet and ‘get’ it for clients?
In a recent report the VMA Group identifies the top 5 skills (most lacking) among internal communication professionals and they include influencing, coaching leaders, strategy setting and crafting messages. Simon, an internal communicator took a turn of creating a profile of an internal communicator as desired by a hiring manager and what struck me is the gap between the perceptions internal communicators have of their role and what is expected of them.
However I believe there are fundamentals which every internal communicator needs to have to be effective in the role.
Ability to clarify the need: Whenever an internal client seeks to communicate a message it is expected that the internal communicator will probe and ask the right questions to take the right decisions.
For example, questions such as the following can guide the conversation to a point where the internal communicator knows how to intervene appropriately: can you tell me more about the need? Is there a plan to communicate your message? What are the outcomes you want to achieve? What are you trying to solve? How will you know that you have succeeded?
Help stakeholders understand the process: It is expected that the internal communicator will educate stakeholders on what it takes to craft effective internal communication. Very often, there may be gaps in understanding the role or the process of internal communication.
Lead with a point of view: The internal communicator is expected to be the subject matter expert and therefore must have a point of view on how communication needs to be done. Sometimes, the individual may need to take a tough call on NOT doing a communication especially if he or she strongly believes it will not add value to staff.
Partner with internal teams on communication management: There will be situations where by asking for inputs or a plan can help you coach the internal stakeholders on the right timing or the right placement. By intervening early the internal communicator will be seen as a consultant and less as a doer of tasks.
Think from the end-user’s perspective: Putting your end user’s perspective in mind while creating or approving content can make a world of difference when it comes to influencing communication strategy and managing clients. You can take feedback from a sample set of employees so that you catch issues or errors before a rollout.
Take a stand: Sometimes since we know best about what will work from an internal communication perspective it is important to explain the rationale to our internal stakeholders so that they are aligned. Very often, such decisions can be unpopular and we need to stand by what we recommend.
Gain consensus: The internal communicator is expected to lead the way in terms of arriving at a common ground so that all stakeholders are aligned and stay on brand. Helping them see a common vision is a crucial role of the internal communicator.
Present thoughts and ideas coherently: It is expected that the internal communicator will invest time to think through how ideas can be presented in a way that is lucid and easily understood by stakeholders who may not have the entire context.
.Recommend practical solutions that work: it is expected that the internal communicator will work through requirements and recommend practice solutions that make sense for staff.
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