4 ways Internal Communication can turn change to its advantage

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As the global marketplace continues to become faster and more complex, Internal Communication (IC) must evolve to meet it. Thriving, not merely surviving, in the midst of change is what’s needed. Megan Sheerin explores four smart shifts internal communicators must make to keep pace.

If there’s one thing that tires the hardiest of communicators, it’s relentless, unpredictable change. The kind that frustrates Internal Communication’s day-to-day work as much as its long-term planning. The kind that buries us under old strategies, communication plans—and complaints from employees that what we previously communicated to them is no longer relevant.

In today’s complex and fast-paced world, near-constant change is a given. Companies that can adapt—and quickly—have a competitive edge. Managing this change successfully is where Internal Communication can help. Yet knowing where to start can be overwhelming, especially when we’re dealing with deeply entrenched workflows that once worked well.

Letting go of, or adapting, some long-held paradigms is the key to communicators meeting the expectations of an increasingly fast and more complex global marketplace. But you can’t simply drop a new approach on top of an existing one and expect to win. Before you tackle changing processes and structures, it’s critical to first shift attitudes and beliefs. Only then will your Internal Communication function—and organization—reap the benefits.

Melcrum’s research reveals four paradigm shifts IC should consider, to achieve exactly that:

1. Moving from extensive, sequential planning to adaptive, iterative planning.

Rigid sequential planning wrongly assumes change happens only before or after a communications campaign. But in reality, change can occur at any point during a campaign—or even throughout it. This means as internal communicators, we need to revamp our linear planning processes to be more adaptable. It’s about being flexible and learning as change takes place, then revising our next steps to take that new knowledge into account.
EMC is one company that does this well.

The IC function in this leading IT company manages its campaigns in short cycles—working in ‘communication sprints’ to create intermittent deliverables, in turn pulling forward returns on their campaign investments. Internal Communication works alongside its Marketing partner organization to scale these campaigns quickly, pulling in expert resources from across the enterprise and prioritizing important campaigns so that everyone is aligned.

2. Moving from favoring the change curve to employee moments of truth.

The linear change curve assumes employees progress through change in a predictable way. It’s a framework that’s served Internal Communication well in guiding workflows when the business environment was more stable. However employees today are more likely to jump around, skip over and jolt backward as they learn to adapt to change—especially when it keeps occurring and employees have more and better information sources to refer to.

In this new context, employee ‘moments of truth’ become our reference point for successful engagement with change. These ‘moments’ are relatively few in number—but show when employees invest a high amount of emotional energy and make the greatest progress.

At ING, achieving this involves IC relying on a network of communications and non-communications talent to share contextualized insight on how well or poorly the workforce is aligned to strategic change. Internal Communication then communicates these usable insights, or ‘moments of truth’, back to the strategy team for local recognition, as well as follow-up action where that’s needed.

3. Moving from the business partner model to go-to-market priorities.

Business partners can be a great way to identify and understand executives’ needs and wants more deeply. However many Internal Communication practitioners have now become tethered to their partner executives—who aren’t always aligned with business priorities themselves. This gets in the way of Internal Communication delivering against these go-to-market priorities, taking us off-track. But by aligning IC resources to core objectives first—this allows your function to focus foremost on the end customer.

Cisco, for example, structures its communicator teams according to business priorities, providing business partner, channel and content resources to a pool of senior executive spokespeople who represent a core business priority. This ensures its most expensive resources are tethered to the most important objectives of the organization.

4. Moving from Internal Communication specialists to communication generalists.

Historically, communication specialists succeeded when they became experts at their craft. But specialists locked into one area of expertise don’t have the breadth of experience or knowledge to meaningfully collaborate with others in the organization on key business priorities. By broadening communicators’ business expertise and skills so they’re more ‘generalist’ than specialist, they can lean in when things change and the need demands.

At Bell Helicopter, experience-based frameworks help redefine talent excellence by breadth of skill, rather than tenure or managerial rank. As a result, Bell creates a flexible, adaptable pool of communicators who can navigate and support complex company priorities as the need arises.
By re-working or moving away from these outdated paradigms, many internal communication practitioners have already made great progress towards managing change more effectively, and getting an edge on the competition.

The key is to start small: break flexible strategies into small steps, test incremental deliverables, and listen, learn and revise for a smarter approach.

The importance of change and the ability to manage it well is a topic Melcrum is exploring further in its upcoming study. Due to launch this March, the new research focuses on the role of an organization’s top 300 leaders as key agents of change—and how Internal Communication can help them sustain long-term, organization-wide alignment to strategy.

Megan SheerinMegan Sheerin is the head of content marketing at Melcrum, a global leader working with leaders and teams around the globe to build skills and know-how in Internal Communication.

She is also a brand storyteller and strategist and over the last 17 years has brought thoughtful ideas and sharp skills to a wide range of clients – from small entrepreneurial companies, to award-winning advertising and marketing agencies, and some of the world’s most respected and trusted global brands.

Connect with Megan www.linkedin.com/in/megansheerin or follow via Twitter: @MeganAtMelcrum

Thanks to IABC UK’s partnership with Melcrum, members receive preferential rates to the Black Belt Training Program

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