We all know the drill by now: the remit of the internal communicator is changing, as roles like advisor and facilitator are added to our repertoire. So why is it that when it comes to communicating strategy it can still feel like we’re late to the party?
Guess my invitation was lost in the post…
Behind closed doors your management team is coming up with a new company strategy, deciding to make it a reality. They emerge from a meeting room and thrust a bulleted list under your nose: “We need to get these messages out. Can you work your magic?”
But the invitation to this particular party has come too late. The drinks are warm, the music is uninspiring and the guests are bored. You needed to have a say before it got this far.
Now the party’s over, and you’re left with the difficult task of engaging employees with dull, corporate or just plain incomprehensible messages.
Are we gate-crashing?
Now before we’re accused of intruding, there are plenty of reasons why it’s important for internal communicators to have the chance to shape – and not just share – company strategy and its messages.
As communication specialists, we have an extensive knowledge of our employee audience, particularly their needs and preferences. This knowledge is vital to creating a strategy that is relevant and applicable to its audience in the first place. If it isn’t, no amount of ‘working our magic’ will help it stick.
There’s also an added danger in shutting internal communicators out of strategic discussions that mean big changes for employees.
It creates a communication vacuum that leaves room for the rumour mill to start churning. Because you can bet that if the internal communication team doesn’t know what’s going on, most other employees won’t either.
By communicating openly throughout the strategy’s development, you’ll be building the foundations for its eventual success, using facts to quash rumours before they can take root and helping employees understand strategic decisions.
And who knows, you may even receive some useful early feedback that stops you taking the strategy in the wrong direction before it’s too late.
Getting on the guest list
So how can internal communicators make sure – to paraphrase the mighty Ke$ha (for anyone unfamiliar with noughties electropop, get googling) – that the party don’t start ‘til we walk in?
Admittedly, redefining your role in the eyes of the management team from so-called tidier-upper to business strategist will not be easy, and it’s not going to happen overnight. You will need to invest time building strong relationships and proving your worth.
For starters, you need to insist (nicely) that you’re included in important meetings and decisions. Then show where you can contribute by drawing up a communications plan for the strategy’s inception, as well as the usual one for its launch.
Or if you’d prefer a gentler approach, organise a regular catch up with a friendly insider so you’re kept in the loop as the strategy progresses. That way there will be no nasty surprises when it’s time to put your communication plan together.
In short, internal communicators need to go from being late to the strategy party to being its life and soul – or, at the very least, an important guest.
By Becky Leonard, Editor, Sequel