How can internal communicators step up their game with innovation? What can they do to take the initiative and get a seat at the table? Why do measurement and analytics play a key role in reshaping the communication agenda?
Get answers to these questions and more in this free-flowing chat with expert communication consultant Mike Klein in the 31st edition of Intraskope’s Spotlight Series. Mike is a seasoned and expert communicator based in Reykjavík, Iceland. He shares specifics on how communicators can gain confidence and lead with data. He addresses changes leaders must make to adapt to the evolving changes in the workplace. Mike is the author of “From Lincoln to LinkedIn, the 55 Minute Guide to Social Communication,” a manual for mobilizing peer-to-peer communication in communities and organizations. He has also spoken at ESSEC, the University of Belgrade, Reykjavik University, Quadriga University of Applied Sciences in Berlin, and at IABC World Conferences in New York, Washington, Toronto, Montreal and Vancouver. Mike is the Founder of #WeLeadComms and a Superconnector
It is always a pleasure to chat with Mike Klein, a good friend and ‘Superconnector’ in the communications world!
In this conversation, Mike shares what stops communicators from getting accepted as ‘trusted’ partners, how we can bring in rigor and respect to the practice and how measurement in communications can reshape the perspective that stakeholders have of us.
“We shouldn’t think our data has less value than others – everyone is making their recommendations based on estimates, samples and instincts and intuition about what happened in the past and what will happen in the future. Our data has as much right to presented like anyone else’s data”, believes Mike.
Interview (excerpts from the conversation)
- There is a lot spoken and written about innovation in communications. How do you see the evolution of this domain and the role of initiative?
Innovation and initiative come down to us. Communicators tend to be ‘busy’ trying to do a lot of things for managers, senior managers and leaders who have specific KPIs which they want the communicator to focus on. While the communicator has a deeper understanding of what must be done from a communication standpoint. We need to take a stand about the quality of the communications and the data and the facts and the knowledge we bring to those conversations. If we don’t fix the issue, it ends up with communicators getting into the cycle of endless order taking. We shouldn’t feed the cycle of endless collateral.
Innovation is often about taking ideas from two different disciplines or branches and making something new and different. One thing my political communication background has given me is an ongoing ability to challenge and rethink how we do things in internal comms and see where we can have more impact
- What aspects play a key role in driving communication innovation, especially related to communication functions?
The most important aspect is the willingness to learn, the willingness to listen and the willingness to find out what else is happening the field. Most internal communication professionals largely work in isolation. They rarely have peers at their level and work under NDA and are unable to discuss the work or substance of their field with others. They get inputs mostly from stakeholders they engage with. Therefore, building strong relationships with other communicators is valuable. The associations we have in the industry are much needed because as communicators we can ask each other for tips on ‘how to’ get things done in situations we often face. It isn’t about leveraging best practice because by the time something becomes a ‘best practice’ it is often stale. It is about “next” practice – and having a conversation and bringing a combination of practices where innovation occurs.
About confidence in communicators. Since the 2000s we had conversations in the industry about the competent communicator and many leaders wrote and discussed this subject. That conversation was about competency through skills. Today, we need to have the discussion and move it beyond skills – to strategy. We need to not just say ‘we can fix the problem you have’ to ‘you actually have a different problem’. That requires a different level of confidence – a deeper understanding of business and present reality based on data that may differ from what leaders think ‘reality’ is. That’s when we get into discussions on measurement, research on the company and what priorities are.
- How valuable are emotional competence and technical acumen in terms of communication innovation?
It is a combination of practical, tactical, emotional and knowledge based. You need to have the facts even if you have the most empathy for senior management. We should be able to project how our work can improve or impact the business and audiences. If you can’t say that convincingly, you are not going to have a seat at the table. Not because they don’t like you – it is because there is nothing extra you can add. It isn’t about click-through rates. Tell me about EBITDA, tell me about attrition or attitudes or engagement score or employee NPS. Tell me about numbers I care about. We’ve talked way too long about “competent” communicators. We now need to focus on creating and unleashing confident communicators.
- What is the role of measurement and analytics in proving communication innovation?
The biggest innovation internal communicators can do is to convert the words that they collect into data that management understands. The greatest area of opportunity I see is around how internal communication folks select, interpret and share data with their leaders. You can do this. There are practical and useful methods to conduct these measurements.
The current data sets we have: engagement scores, click rates, open rates, eNPS – are not context specific and don’t support us in demonstrating the impact we add to the delivery of organizational outcomes. The engagement score doesn’t tell you about where EBIDTA is going. Lot of the companies which are seeing ‘Quiet Quitting’ etc had perfectly good engagement scores. If you ask staff questions where you expect them to say ‘yes’, you will get the answer you want. How many will say they don’t know the strategy of the company? Not many employees trust the employee survey and the extend to which they will open up is very limited.
- We work in a hybrid environment. How difficult or different is it to be innovative with communications?
We have different levers in any environment. In an office based environment, there are expectations on how you appear in person. In a hybrid environment, the expectations are similar but it is more about how you present yourself, how do you engage with other staff when you are not in formal meetings? How you meet people and is there a role for internal communication in facilitating introductions – between new and existing staff and functions and silos. How do you navigate visible (in office environments) and invisible rules (in remote working situations) so that people can understand and reduce friction in the organization. Or challenge them and reduce some of the dysfunction in the organization. There is a huge role for internal communicators to codify the cultural and work practices. Some organizations have tried to replicate ‘office cultures’ in the online world and that has created dissonance because in people’s minds they still think of the offices but there are no reference points. It can help to involve employees as the rules and practices are codified. The ‘HQ’ is no more the physical space or office but the set of internal communication platforms that you are using.
- Do big crisis events move us backward? For example, COVID-19 and Queen’s passing away etc.
The recent crises require a lot of fairly basic internal communication practices to support people – to help them know the rules, when things are happening, where they are occurring and when they have stopped happening! Internal communicators are tasked because it sounds logical that they own it. However, that doesn’t mean they ‘have a seat at the table’ now!. The seat at the table is not bought with very basic, one way distribution initiatives. It is bought when we actively seek partnership with other leaders, when we can get them to start listening to the insights we provide. That means we need to bring data to the table that they will understand. We also need to present the data with the same confidence that the CFO or Operations Head would. We shouldn’t think our data has less value than others – everyone is making their recommendations based on estimates, samples and instincts and intuition about what happened in the past and what will happen in the future. Our data has as much right to presented like anyone else’s data.
Watch this interview with Mike to learn more.
In the Spotlight on Internal Communications Series, I talk to thought leaders on topics interrelated with internal communications such as culture, crisis, change, executive presence and leadership. The goal is to help unravel why they matter, what can leaders and communicators learn from experts and how we can put insights to practice.
Watch the complete video interview on YouTube or read the complete transcript above.
Missed the earlier episodes? Watch them here: D. Mark Schumann (Culture), Peter Yorke (Executive Presence), Sia Papageorgiou (Leadership Communications), Dianne Chase (Strategic Storytelling), Gloria Walker (Communication Planning), Rebecca Sangster-Kelly (Stakeholder Management), Ray Walsh (Localizing Employee Communications), Prof. Matt Tidwell (Reputation), Geri Rhoades (Manager Communications), Erik K Meyers (Business Acumen), Russell-Olivia Brooklands (IC Practice Governance), Paul Barton (Public Speaking and Business Communication), Cyrus Mavalwala (Digital Communication), Elvera N Makki (Social Impact Communication), Philippe Borremans (Communication Preparedness), Magdalena Petryniak (Influence in Communications), Priya Bates (Communicating Diversity & Inclusion), Zora Artis (Communication Alignment), Diana Bonczar (Communication Execution), Jane McConnell (Gig Mindset), Paul Mathews (Trust & Communications), Brad Whitworth (Creativity in Communication), Zane Ewton (Podcasting), Andrea Greenhous (Employee Experience) and Jonas Bladt Hansen (Digital Technologies), Luis Suarez (Data Analytics & KM) , Laura McHale (Neuroscience in Communications),, Christopher Flores (Internal Communication Hiring) Chaya Mistry ( Human Leadership) and Jenni Field (Organizational Productivity).
You can also look up the ongoing Intraskope’s Spotlight on Internal Communication Series featuring practitioners from around the globe sharing best practices and perspectives.
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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
- Chat with Aniisu – Internal Communications: https://www.instamojo.com/intraskope/connect-with-aniisu-60-minute-personalized-d/?ref=store
- Internal Communications workshops: https://bit.ly/2zdBRl1
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