What skills and competencies must internal communicators have to be ready for the future? How can internal communicators upskill, reinvent and stay relevant?
According to a Gartner survey, a majority fo the workforce (80%), a significant number of managers and leaders (92% and 77% respectively) are inadquately ready to face the future. Furthermore, 40% of employees are doing tasks beyond their regular roles. The World Economic Forum’s Future of Jobs Report highlights that globally 50% of all employees will need reskilling by 2025 and the top two skills needed will be critical thinking and problem-solving. What’s interesting is that self-management (active learning, resilience, stress tolerance and flexibility) as skill is valuable in the world we live in.
If employees are expected to have these skills and mindsets, mustn’t communicators be sufficiently equipped and revisit how it impacts work?
From tactics to strategic focus
Between January 2007 and March 2008, a researcher, Sally Chalmers, reviewed 234 separate relevant job advertisements in PR Week to check if practice followed theory, especially on recommending skills, competencies and expertise while hiring for internal communication roles. On analysis, she found that the most frequently mentioned expectaton was for the internal communication manager to have a strategic approach (50%), followed by tactical skills (40%) and relevant experience (40%). Sally discovered that while the role of the internal communications practitioner as a tactician remains key, there is recognition of the strategic focus especially because “Business Partner” was frequently asked as a title. Among the top 3 personal attributes were the need for self-motivation, creativity and crediblity. Seems like self-management skills continue to be relevant even today.
Internal communications as a function and profession has seen signficant changes over the last few decades. The ‘Eras of Internal Communications’ identified communicators as craft experts around the 1940s, as strategic partners till around 2000. This era covers progressing from entertaining, informing and influencing. The expectations become sharper with the communicator seen as instrumental to change management, adopting social media into the mix, involving staff and building communities as business connectors.
Since then, internal communications has come a long way. Numerous communication models were proposed and most had four key stages – research, planning, implementation and measurement. Each stage expected varying skills sets of the communicator. The first stage needed skills related to conducting studies with internal and external audiences. The second stage expected skills related to articulating messages and segmenting audiences. The third stage was about engaging stakeholders to execute on plans. The final stage assessed the impact of the communication and sought feedback to improve future plans. In 2008, the International Association of Business Communicators (IABC) outlined a Competency Model that looked at management (ethics, crisis, planning etc), communication (writing, research, presentations etc) and knowledge skills (reputation, public relations, consulting etc) needed at all levels within the function and also expectations from a personal effectiveness, workplace and academic context. The skills need by a communicator cumulatively grew during the course of the career.
More recently, the Institute of Internal Communication went further by defining the professional skills framework that covers behaviors, skills and knowledge expected from practitioners and provides a pathway for them to measure progress and advancement.
Helping stakeholders succeed
The types of skills and mindsets internal communications professionals will need in the future is based on how organizations and leaders appreciate the function and their impact. Adding news skills doesn’t mean being available at all places and all times. The key role of the communicator is to shape the narrative, drive adoption and empower leaders to get stronger with what they do.
- There is the ongoing debate of internal communicators as generalists vs specialists. With the broadening of skill sets and the evolving expectations from organizations, the need to be adept at varied skills is important. Although I would argue that those skills beyond the core domain of internal communications can be taught to stakeholders so that they become adept as communicators.The focus of the communicator needs to be on connecting people to the purpose, storytelling, inspiring stakeholders to get stronger with their own communications and provide a consistent experience for staff. Internal communicators, need to empower teams and managers to get better with doing their own communications, including training them to be the ‘extended’ arm of the communications team.
- Internal communicators can invest in the core skills by demonstrating value and linking them to business outcomes. Communication is everyone’s responsibility and the role of the internal communicator is to raise the standards within the organization by getting all key stakeholders equipped to be smarter with writing, presenting, persuading, coaching and more. Apart from looking at research led-insights, communicators can invest by getting trained by leading storytellers, broadening their horizons by imbibing lessons from other walks of life – science, theatre, art, drama, music and more. Professional development needs to be more about strengthening core skills and increasing niche skills like behavioral sciences, nudges, influencing techniques among others.
- More and more employees expected their leaders to speak up and act on issues that impact the world – from climate change to ethics in technoliogy; from inclusion and diversity to immigration. Leaders need coaching and to enhance their digital skills to be ready to engage on such topics. Coaching is an important skill for ommunicators while they help leaders and managers get better at what they do. However, coaching also means, having the ability to step back from the situation and allow the stakeholder to make the right choices. Coaching can only work when the stakeholder trusts the communicator and trust comes from consistently demonstrating value and showcasing influence over time. Stakeholders will only approach the communicator for coaching needs when they believes there is substantial benefit from engaging. Giving advice is different from coaching. Advice may or maynot be taken appropriately. With coaching, you can see tangible improvement and stronger relationships. Instilling a culture of coaching takes time and internal communicators who have established strong credentials will be able to contribute the most.
As the world copes with the post-pandemic disruptions and the geopolitical changes, the role of the internal communicator will continue to stay relevant and grow. With the return to ‘human’ interaction becoming a priority, the sooner we balance skills, competencies and mindsets for the future, the stronger the function will get and organizations can thrive.
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Here are Internal Communications resources you can use:
- Learn: Internal Communications Fundamentals Course on Thinkific
- Internal Communications Series: https://forms.gle/KcqmPzLwq7NQi5Km6
- Internal Communications workshops: https://bit.ly/2zdBRl1
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