How internal communicators can ‘future-proof’ their jobs

The times, they are a-changing—and they’re not likely to stand still. Curation, community management and shaping your organization’s mission are in the offing.

How often do we internal communicators look ahead and consider what skills and knowledge we’ll need to future-proof our jobs?

Some predict that if we do our jobs well now, we’ll create organizations full of communicators, making ourselves redundant in the process.

At the recent #ioiclive16 conference, organizers asked delegates to put their heads together to build the internal communicator of the future and identify what skills we will need. There were some great insights, so we thought we’d add a few of ours to the mix:

Curation

For years, internal communicators have lovingly crafted content for various channels, complete with perfect grammar and spelling. Now, with the dawn of ESN and social media, everyone has the opportunity to be a writer. For many organizations it has provided a much needed injection of authenticity, openness and honesty, creating a new culture where employees have a voice and aren’t afraid to use it.

Where does that leave us?

There’ll always be communications that need a professional writer’s touch to ensure messages are delivered in the right way to the right audience. For most everything else, we’ll step into our new role as curator of content. Supporting the creation, placement and promotion of content, our role will be invaluable as the connector and sign poster to meaningful, relevant information.

Community management

Community is making a comeback. For a while there, the modern world took us down a path where we no longer knew our neighbors or shopped locally, creating a self-serving and materialistic culture.

Not anymore. Organizations are realizing that to engage your workforce, you need a sense of social conscience, purpose and community.

Through communities, people support, share and collaborate. What business wouldn’t want its best people coming together to brainstorm even better ideas?

How do you facilitate that sense of a community in often disparate organizations, with people staring at computer screens all day? You use an internal communicator.

Whether it’s an online or offline community, we have a role to play in bringing together the right people and the right information at the right time.

At #ioiclive16, presenter Paul Thomas spoke about how internal communicators must be less sedentary and must get out there meeting people, listening to people and ultimately bringing people together. We’re in a hugely privileged position where we’re often involved in all aspects of a business, giving us an enormous insight and reach. In the future, we’ll be called on to wield that power wisely.

Translation

Strategies are often cumbersome, 50-page documents, full of buzzwords and jargon that no one will ever read. Yet it’s our job to make sure that people do read them. Or is it?

Another good point that was made at #ioiclive16 is that it doesn’t matter if people read the strategy word for word—or at all, for that matter. The internal communicator’s job is to translate the essence of the strategy into key points that help people understand what’s in it for them.

The future internal communicator will be that trusted adviser who understands business and strategy and can distinguish between what top execs need to know and what information people on the shop floor require.

Empathy

Empathy entails seeing the world through others’ eyes. As internal communicators, we’ve got that covered. We’re fluent in making sure people understand “what’s in it for them,” right?

Yes, but if we we’re honest with ourselves, how many of us are guilty of telling people what’s in it for them, rather than fully understanding what matters to them?

At #ioiclive16, Helen Schick spoke about how we often overlook that employees have personal lives and outside interests. Understanding what other external messages you’re competing with will help you to appreciate what matters to your people.

You can learn that only by getting out there and meeting people.

Value demonstration

Obviously, if we’re going to future-proof our jobs, we must demonstrate the value we add to the business. Can you say you’ve provided to your CEO tangible evidence of internal communications’ contribution?

Measurement isn’t easy, of course. We can record hits to the intranet, run annual surveys and facilitate focus groups, but there are so many variables that it’s not enough.

We must boldly and creatively identify the measures of projects’ success.

Say you’re communicating a new piece of legislation that your people should be speaking to clients about. In your next client satisfaction survey, why not include questions asking specifically whether an employee had broached the subject and how useful that exchange was?

If you’re engaging your people in an external marketing campaign, measure how many employees share and involve themselves in conversations on Twitter, LinkedIn, etc. Those stats are just as much your success as the marketing team’s.

Credibility

How often have you been brought into a meeting to be asked whether you could “make a couple of posters”?

Internal communications has an image problem. Many people in a given business simply do not understand what the internal communications team does and why.

It’s never been more important to promote yourself, your work and the value you bring. To do that, you must make sure you’re adding value. There’s a raft of resources—blogs, courses, conferences, books, white papers, Twitter, etc.—so there’s no excuse for lagging on the latest thinking.

We must be seen as experts to have a seat at the table from the beginning, rather than being invited to the party at the last minute and being asked to “do a bit of comms.”

There is a role for us in the future, but we must adapt to the changing world. Take stock of your current skills, and consider what you ought to do now to ensure your survival later.

Helen Deverell is a freelance internal communicator having set up Helen Deverell Communications in 2016. Helen previously spent eight years working in a variety of in-house and agency roles. She shares her insights on internal communications in her blog justthewayicit.com and on Twitter at @helendeverell. You can also visit her website, www.helendeverellcommunications.com. A version of this article originally appeared on Alive with Ideas.

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