Tuesday, 21 May 2013

What challenges do Internal Communication professionals face in 2013?

Internal communication is rising high on the management agenda.  The demands being placed on internal communication professionals are also increasing. 

Internal Communication
Effective Internal Communication
While internal communication may have been seen historically as ‘nice to have’, senior leaders are increasingly aware of its importance in maintaining a healthy and robust organisation that is fit for the future.

More and more evidence backs up these expectations.  A Towers Watson study comparing communication and financial effectiveness found that organisations that ensure effective internal communications are 1.7 times more likely to outperform their peers financially. The same study found organisations with effective communication and change management processes outperformed peers without this focus by a factor of 2.5.  The ‘Engage for Success’ movement is amassing a significant volume of evidence to show the business value of providing an engaging workplace environment.  Their work also demonstrates how communication and employee voice is a vital strand at the heart of a strategic approach to engagement.

This changing landscape provides a new set of opportunities for the communication professional – but a whole set of fresh challenges too. While developing and managing a communication infrastructure remains important, leaders are increasingly likely to demand support from senior communication professionals with real clout – who can provide guidance on how to communicate in the trickiest situations, and have earned the respect and credibility to be listened to.

So what are some of the challenges facing today’s internal communication professional?

  • Developing an ability to ‘think business’:  at Executive and Board level.  Plus an understanding of how senior leaders think – and make decisions.  All important aspects of knowing how best to influence in a positive way. Understanding and navigating the political and power structure helps too
  • Having the gravitas to promote communication strategies supporting business objectives – and the knowledge to explain why they make sense.  That means getting an understanding of what makes different people tick – the psychology of communication.  It also means having the listening and research skills to apply that knowledge with the various groups that make up the organisation, developing strategies that acknowledge their different world views. One approach doesn’t fit all.  
  • Getting to grips with the culture (or cultures) of the organisation and identifying communication approaches that will work – and those that won’t.  As well as understanding the complexities involved in ‘changing culture’. 
  • Responding to the opportunities of a more connected world.  Gone are the days where communication = telling. Digital communication can open up dialogue and sharing across – and beyond – the organisation.  It can also be the latest corporate toy to crash and burn. The internal communication professional can make all the difference here.
  • Having the confidence and skill to coach leaders at all levels in their leadership communication style.  The way that leaders – from top to bottom of the organisation – promote dialogue is the foundation for an engaged and healthy organisation.
  • Providing opportunities for the organisation to both communicate and to listen while avoiding communication overload.  And ensuring that measurement, evaluation, and continuous improvement  are part of ‘business as usual’.
Of course, the core craft skills of writing and creating compelling communication materials remain as important as ever. But the time is right for internal communication professionals to be raising our game.

What do you see as the core challenges facing communication professionals today?
Share your experiences below:

Liz Cochrane
Course Director, Masters in Internal Communication Management

Monday, 13 May 2013

As a manager, do you know your impact or are you relying on your intentions?

“It is not enough that your designs, nay that your actions, are intrinsically good, you must take care they shall appear so.” (Henry Fielding).

An effective manager is one of the most significant and valuable assets that the team can possess and the very things the manager does and says could increase the effectiveness of the team - the “Hawthorne Effect” (the increase in productivity and effectiveness that occurs due to the impact of the motivational effect on the team as a result of the interest being shown in them) is prevalent.
Effective Management - A Manager's Intentions
Effective Management
But there is a danger that the manager can be the single biggest thing that gets in the way of people performing. In their actions and behaviours, managers - who are human after all - may mean well but it is worth considering that it is the impact of what the manager does, not the intention behind actions and behaviours that ultimately matters.

“Impact not intention” – this must be the manager’s mantra.
Consider the manager who:

  • always books things in their teams diaries “to save them the effort” 
  • filters communications for the team because “they are too busy to do it themselves” 
  • takes on the frequent checking of work with an individual “because it shows I am interested” 
  • insists on a weekly one to one with each of their team “because it shows I care”
  • pays special attention to underperforming individuals and allows the good performers to carry on without managerial input “because they don’t need me” 
Sound familiar?

“But I meant well, it’s just what they want, what they need,” is the cry that goes up. But who decided that? Are these the best thing for the individuals involved to help them perform?  What are these actions really saying to the team?

How do you know whether your actions and behaviours when managing the team are the ones that are most effective for them?
These managers may be misguided but all want the same thing – for the individual to perform. But what do individuals need from their manager in order to perform?  Why not start by asking the individual?

Whilst it is important to remember that managing people is a collaborative approach and the team cannot decide in isolation what they get, in the managerial process of seeking to ensure that people are developed, the team is built and the task is achieved it is valuable to keep in mind that we are talking about the individuals job and their performance so their voice is crucial.

“Seek first to understand. Then to be understood” wrote Steven Covey.
For a manager, getting feedback on own performance is often ignored in favour of giving feedback on others. But reflect on how valuable it would be to know those behaviours and actions that support and reinforce and those that disturb, disrupt or damage.

There are a few things worth considering:
  • Developing and establishing a 360 (or 180) degree feedback system
  • Building in time at the end of performance meetings to discuss what you do that supports or gets in the way of your people
  • Getting other managers to observe your performance and feedback
  • Having effective performance discussions with own line manager, ensuring that objectives relating to the management of people are agreed, measured and fed back on  
Samuel Johnson said "Hell is paved with good intentions."
No manager wants to live in hell so create the opportunity and take the time to check your impact matches your intentions.

Written by David Mathieson, a learning consultant at Capita Learning & Development.