Reflections On A Conversation Across The Ocean

I’m just reflecting on a great conversation (#iabcacrosstheocean) we had between the IABC members in San Francisco and the UK. We will post a full recording of the conversation soon.

We set out to explore how we manage communication in the UK and in the USA. Rather than having an expert come to talk to us about the cultural differences and the implications of these we decided to use the knowledge and experience of our members to explore the theme.

So, what came out? First of all, thoughts on the role of communication:

  • We all agree (not just on the panel, but also in our pre-conversation survey) that communicators are increasingly acting as business partners and that our role encompasses
    • Helping to connect people to make them feel part of one company with shared goals
    • Helping leaders communicate effectively so that they share that narrative
    • Support line managers by supporting leaders – more effective leadership communication helps provide the knowledge and role models that support line managers in making connections with their people
  • What it is not: communications professionals should not be responsible for the communication skills of line managers, but we influence through the way we help leadership communication

On the challenges facing communicators today the conversation covered:

  • It’s important especially in large global organisations to be very clear about the boundaries and responsibilities in communication teams
  • One of the key challenges of new technology is helping leaders understand how they need to adapt to exploit it fully. This is not just about responding to an “always on” environment by managing different channels, media and responsibilities; it is also about a change in mind-set and a change in style. We talked about the need to be bolder and more informal
  • Demographics is an issue. Young people strain at the leash and are keen to learn and get involved, older people provide an invaluable resource and pool of experience that we would be foolish to ignore

What do communication people need to help them in their roles?

  • Less of us may now come from journalistic backgrounds, but we need to keep the key competencies and values of attention to detail, checking facts, being truthful and honest
  • We need global mind-sets. It’s not just about managing large organisations with offices all over the globe, it’s about sensitivity to the needs and demands of people in different places operating in different time zones and in different cultural environments

What are the cross-cultural perils?

  • We need to pay attention to language. Catherine supplied a great story of an acquisition in which the American parent celebrated the UK company’s habit of an annual event in which UK employees threw pies at leaders (don’t ask!), describing how they wanted to honour the tradition of tossing at the boss

It’s difficult to capture in a few bullet points the richness of the conversation that we had. These points are my take outs from the discussion. There were lots of us involved so please add your comments below.

We did not address in depth the central hypothesis that there are major differences between the UK and the USA in how we manage communication, other than Catherine’s story about the language problem. We also ended up focussing on internal vs external communication challenges – a reflection perhaps of the experience of the panellists. So, there is much more to explore in this debate and we hope to have some more of these conversations designed to put the I into IABC at the chapter level.

Finally, a big thank you to the panellists who helped in the conversation and who were brave enough to face a live audience. They were:

  • Catherine Rudiger, Vice president of ICF in San Francisco
  • Howard Krais, Communications Director, GSK plc and President Elect IABC UK
  • Daniel Schraibman, Independent Consultant and Board member IABC UK

I’d also like to record a big vote of thanks to Gay Flashman and her team from Formative Content whose technology made the whole thing possible

Mike Pounsford

President IABC UK

 

 

 

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