When communicators become facilitators

No one believes what the CEO is saying. No one cares what the executive committee is doing. Employee engagement has never been so low. And yet, many corporate communicators are still churning out messages and creating content that no one notices or cares about.  Fascinating conversations take place elsewhere in the organisation that we, corporate communicators, are often not even aware of. Céline Schillinger’s recent blog posting, Can we save Corporate Communications, sums up the desperate space Corporate Communicators now find themselves.

I dream of a world where corporate communicators no longer exist because everyone is already communicating with each other and accessing the information they require directly in a self serving centre. But until that time comes, the role of the communicator is an important one and it is rapidly changing. If we are to successfully influence our communities and bring true strategic value to our organizations, instead of just being a message function, we need to learn to listen, to collaborate, to engage, to coach and to accompany our fellow colleagues in neighbouring functions. We are no longer “doers” but enablers. We need to learn a whole new skill set! But what are these skills and how can we acquire them?

Two years ago I met Martin Gilbraith, a professional facilitator, at IABC’s European conference EuroComm in London. When he told me that part of his job was to “make things easier” for a group to function, it occurred to me that these were exactly the skills that communicators needed to develop. Our role is no longer to cascade messages, as Katie Mccaulay, so eloquently expresses in her book, From Cascade to Communication, it is to create environments and cultures where communities flourish. The communicator is responsible for nurturing spaces (on and offline) where we can all innovate together, find common solutions and truly be involved in shaping the strategy and the future of our organizations. Only then can we hope to engage our teams long term.

From facilitators, we must learn the art of conversation. We must ask probing questions without fearing the responses, we must engage our audiences by listening and then we must structure those conversations to enable the group itself to find its path. 

Mike Pounsford, IABC UK Vice President and an experienced communicator specializing in employee engagement and change, told me that “the more strategic the communications, the more facilitation skills are required”. However, I go a step further and say that even those specializing in writing, messaging and operational communications add no value if their words and actions are not noticed. Even moderating online groups and social media, creating interactive enewsletters and organizing participatory games or quizzes requires some facilitation skills, such as listening, asking questions, creating a dialogue and engaging the audience.

The corporate communicator holds an extremely privileged position, but we must work in the trenches and get out there on the shop floor. We must leave our ivory tower where, all too often, we are sitting behind our computers writing speeches at Head Office.

  • Interested in learning more about facilitation skills? Take a look at the International Association of Facilitation, and if you want to see some facilitation methods in practice including world café, appreciative enquiry or even graphic facilitation, join us in London at IABC EuroComm, 27-28 March 2017.   

Author: Kasha Dougall, Corporate Communicator & IABC EMENA Board Member. Follow her via @kashadougall

Posted in Board blog.