Communication Breakthrough #9 with Mike Klein

We all experience ‘lightbulb’ moments of insight or inspiration that shape how we think and work. Sometimes they are defining moments in our careers. In our ongoing Communication Breakthrough series we share our members’ stories in the hope they will inspire your own professional journey.

Welcome to our ninth issue in which we see that the relationship between internal and external communications is much closer than you may think.

Introducing … Mike Klein

Mike KleinA former political consultant in his native United States, Mike holds an MBA from London Business School and has focused mainly on internal communications strategy and editorial since receiving his degree in 1998.

Mike first joined IABC as a member of the UK chapter in 2001, and has served on the UK board as well as the EMENA regional board and those of Belgium, Scandinavia and the Netherlands. 

What’s your specialisation, Mike?

I focus mainly on the editorial and messaging side of internal communications: on aligning language and themes and supporting organizational coherence during times of change. 

What was the background of your breakthrough moment?

Choosing to borrow $100,000 to go business school — and moving to a foreign country to do it — was a bit of a scary proposition.

I had reached a logical point in my political career after finishing my first statewide campaigns in Alabama. I loved the work but it was an extremely seasonal and volatile business, fully dependent on the timing and geography of the electoral calendar.

I knew I wanted to make my political experience translate into something I could use more effectively in the business world, but had no idea what that would look like in practice.

So what was your actual breakthrough?

I had the good fortune to land an MBA internship with Eli Lilly and Company’s UK affiliate. Their assignment was clear: perform a comprehensive audit of Lilly’s UK communications activities.

Originally, my remit was to focus on the external side, but when my classmate (who was tasked with the internal side) opted for another internship, they offered me both.

Initially, external comms seemed to be more interesting and attractive. It was what the sponsor was prioritising, and where most of the money was going — even in a country where direct-to-patient advertising was directly prohibited.

But upon going on a business trip to Newcastle with one of their sales reps, a recent MBA grad, and watching him speak with doctors, pharmacists and other health professionals, it hit me that this rep — an employee — was indeed the customer’s key external communication channel.

Paths

That was proof positive that internal communication that drives external communication to a very large extent. That, in essence, was my breakthrough.

By recognising the dependence of viable external communication on effective internal communication in Lilly, other elements of my previous political experience then came into play: namely an understanding of how peer-to-peer communication influences messaging and behaviour.

That was then reflected in my audit recommendations such as developing an interactive employee directory with biographical profiles — which predated similar internal communications services like Jive and Yammer by more than a decade.

That is a great breakthrough, Mike. Do you have you any lessons to share?

Convincing communications professionals and senior leaders about the importance of serious, strategic internal communication is difficult. It is often counter-intuitive, hard to measure, and not always visible. And so the temptation is to focus on what is visible on the surface: quantity, speed, visuals.

However, a company’s prospects for success depends on employees’ willingness to accept their company’s version of the truth, share it with each other — and with customers. That is why that temptation to focus on the superficial needs to be resisted, or at least mitigated if the force from ‘above’ is too great.

Whether externally or internally, employees are a company’s primary communication channel. And they should be treated as such. Acknowledging the importance of peer-to-peer communication, and keeping a strong focus on messaging and behaviours rather than the superficial will help you succeed on all communication fronts—internal and external.

Connect with Mike
LinkedIn: Mike Klein
Blog: Changing The Terms
Twitter: @MikeKlein

Want to share your own story?
Drop us a line on [email protected]
We’d love to hear from you!
— IABC EMENA Board