Internal Communication

8 Uncommon Internal Communications Insights from the 2018 World Cup

As the 2018 World Cup wrapped up and France emerged the winner, many stories ahead and during the tournament shaped the outcomes of matches and how audiences perceived the FIFA brand as well as the game. Much like how employees are instrumental in shaping the reputation and brand of any organization of repute, the World Cup offers us many opportunities to observe and reflect upon.

Four years ago, I blogged on a few key lessons for communicators from the 2014 World Cup. This year, the tournament had its share of newer and more complex challenges for teams and countries alike.

To begin, geopolitical and global events have had a significant impact on how people around the world perceived the tournament and the host country. Corruption charges plagues FIFA and sexism continues to be a concern in what is still considered a man’s game. The image of a host country is always in the spotlight and it is no different this year with cybersecurity riskshooliganisminternal dissent, sanctions and other issues that Russia had to grapple with.

Taking a multidimensional view of your internal communication planning can prevent unwarranted surprises. Gaining a sense of how your internal brand is perceived before communicating can help structure your messages better.

Spain, one of the key contenders to win the Cup were jolted when their coach got sackedtwo days from the start of the tournament. Nothing can be more demotivating than to have a leader leave when you are about to participate in a big event. This is a crisis the country never wanted especially when the coach had led them through numerous matches without a loss. Similar crisis also hit Croatia, who found their star player involved in a corruption caseahead of the World Cup. Spain unfortunately crashed out early in the tournament while Croatia had a dream run.

While we can’t predict crises, staying on course, having and sticking to smart plans and building agile teams can turn these situations into positive outcomes.

When Nike refused to kit the Iranian soccer team due to sanctions imposed on the country that doesn’t allow companies to engage with the country, the message of political overtures got carried to the World Cup. With digital media opening up more access to people and information, what the teams’ wear and does attracts a lot of attention as well. How Swiss players’ celebrations of a goal had political ramifications for a nation known to be neutral. With the Thai football team’s cave rescue episode taking place during the World Cup good gestures like the FIFA offering them tickets to watch the finals and other footballers extending support were well received.

The medium is often the message with internal communication as well. Employees’ actions can cause serious challenges for your organization’s brand and reputation.

Managing expectations of your staff during events which take ‘larger than life’ proportions is crucial for the success of any organization. To a point where having a policy for such global events can be considered! Depending on where the World Cup is played the distraction can lead to a dip in productivity due to the time zone differences. There are surveys run to evaluate the scale of this disruption. For example, in the Gulf, it was predicted that productivity will drop due to the event.

Factoring in distractions and detractors can be useful for organizations while planning work and engaging staff.

With this World Cup, the gap between top ranked teams and low ranked teams dramatically reduced. It isn’t any more about your ranking but how you play to your strengths and understand your opponents. Few examples include Germany losing to Mexico and Korea, Russia beating Spain and Argentina being held by first-time participant Iceland. Technology does play a huge role in bringing this divide between the best and the rest. Introduction of Video Assistant Referee changed the course of some matches. It also matters how each player performs – the assists, the passes, the tackles won among others to make a difference to the team’s overall impact. Knowing which player steps up at the right time can help in effective decision making.

Appreciating key insights and which channels work best for your internal audiences can improve your chances of success with engagement. Internal communicators need to be prepared for disruptions in how the world operates.

Knowing each player’s capacity is important for the success of the team. Players cover about 8-12 km during a match, consisting of 24% walking, 36% jogging, 20% coursing, 11% sprinting, 7% moving backwards and 2% moving whilst in possession of the ball. For example, VO2 is considered as the greatest rate of oxygen consumption measured during strenuous exercise, which increases in capacity and stress intensity, is often used to indicate the aerobic potential of an athlete, especially among soccer players. V- stands for volume and O for oxygen. After a certain point the amount of oxygen needed to continue at a higher degree of performance plateaus. The point where it plateaus is where the individual has reached his or her endurance potential and used as a metric to gauge a person’s ability to succeed in events.

Like soccer, internal communication is a team sport. How individuals pull their weight can determine the collective success or failure of the organization. Each role sets clear expectations of the individual – be it thinking strategically, business partnering, creatively delivering a plan and managing crises.

Every major tournament is a huge brand building opportunity or risk (as some will see it) for the host country. It can make or break a nation. While the expectations from Russian fans of their own national team was low, the performance and progress they made in the matches garnered respect. The tournament also received good feedback in terms of the infrastructure, facilities for teams and the overall experience. It also provides opportunities for other nations to prove their worth, on and off the field. One country that did delight the world was Japan. The Japanese team and fans endeared themselves through their actions. Not only did they give eventual semi-finalist Belgium a scare, they cleaned up their dressing room after their loss and left a thank you note! Their fans cleaned up after themselves in the stadiums where their team played. What a wonderful showcase of a country’s culture and values.

Demonstrate your team’s character by leaving behind a legacy of great work and commitment. Nothing can beat when agreed values are lived through authentic actions.

Last but not least, fair play has always been important in any sport. For the first time ever two teams were differentiated by the number of yellow cards they collected helping to make a decision on who progresses into the next round. Japan made it at the expense of Senegal.Some of you may have also seen a video from the past going around as a Whatsapp message. It showed how Denmark let go of a penalty when Iran’s player has mistakenly picked the ball up when he heard a whistle in the stands. Interesting to see how fair play and sportsmanship continues to be in the consciousness of people despite other issues that threaten to mar the game’s image.

If there are any doubts about how to behave or communicate, go back to the basics – reference it against the organization’s values and ask if the messages are aligned or not. You will most often find your answer.

Interested to hear your insights from the 2018 World Cup. Do share them here.

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