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The mandatory pre-conference blog post and social update: #IABC19 Edition

I thought about a lot of #comms things on the way to Vancouver ahead of #IABC19 and this is my jetlag-fuelled take on why this is a crucial time for Communication Professionals.

It’s WCE. World Conference Eve. Already this week, fellow airline passengers from all parts of the globe have been subjected to communication professionals explaining their job and answering questions – the airline seat/UBER pitch is longer than the elevator pitch – as they wended or in some cases still wend their way to Vancouver for IABC’s annual tribal reunion.

In Vancouver, it’s 11.22pm Friday as I begin to write this, but back home in Australia it’s already Saturday at 3.52pm. I travelled back in time almost a full day as a result of crossing the International Date Line. Maybe I am feeling retrospective as a result.

Time accelerates as we age. I’m the same age as IABC, and I know with the number of changes I’ve experienced in the past year (from personal, professional and purpose perspectives) that sometimes, time moves a little too fast to allow the list to ever be entirely crossed off. So, here we are in June, the night before the Biggest Gathering Of People Who Do What I Do (henceforth called ‘the comms tribe’) and I am writing a blog post because…well, because you can’t not have something to show. It’s WC, people!

IABC World Conference is an interesting wormhole that brings the past, the present and the future together along with the comms tribe. It is the fire that we gather around to tell the stories that make sense of our professional world: Where did we come from, where are we going, why am I here?

IABC is approaching it’s 50th year as an organisation in 2020, with roots going back much further than that. The business of communication is not new. Here’s a paradox, though. While the practice becomes professionalised, new research is developed, the technologies both of communication and of the businesses we seek to improve continue to develop. And yet, the core challenges of the communication profession often seem inscrutable, constant and wicked:

Information is not communication.

While the former grows meta-exponentially, often fuelled by the activities and technologies of ‘communications’ we see greater problems than ever in terms of facilitating shared meaning. This isn’t a new problem.

There’s more noise than signal.

Ok, we know the sender-receiver model was talking about technology and not about people so it’s a very flawed way of viewing human communication. But, as a metaphor, it is truer now than ever.

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Internet Minute 2009

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Internet minute 2019.

Emotion trumps fact.

Communicating things that matter in a way that matters is really hard work. Complexity is inevitable. And it’s increasingly hard to fight misinformation because of the aforementioned noise, biases, bubbles and shareability.

Bad information = shareable. Good information = lost in the noise.

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Not a fake tweet.

Everyone and everything communicates.

Our species has been communicating for hundreds of thousands of years. It’s a little arrogant of us as communication professionals to rock up at well after 11.59pm on the evolutionary clock and think we’re suddenly going to be in charge. But our career-ancestors, the shaman and the priests, the academics and the jesters, the town-criers and the cave painters, the scribes and the documenters – the leaders – have been doing this much longer than we have, and in very few cases have they ‘got everyone on the same page’. At best, they’ve been able to create resonance, or motivate, or inspire or lead. At worst, they’ve been propagandists or censors, Inquisitors and snake-oil sellers. I’ve gone on a tangent, but a relevant one. At the worst points have they ‘controlled the story’ or ‘silver-lined’ it, neither of which promotes understanding and shared meaning. If we think we are in the business of control, we have to ask which of those professional columns we will be in when the AIs machine-learn the history of communication somewhere shortly down the path.

Which leads to another wicked problem.

Communications technology has been the tail wagging our collective dog.

Pretty much since Gutenberg.

A quick review of any of the literature of the past 50 years of communication practices shows that what we do has been play catch-up with channels as communication vehicles as they are developed largely by people who are not human-communication professionals. Do any of us want to go through the 2010s retrofitting ESNs to corporate cultures because IT got a bulk license when they did the infrastructure deal? No. But here’s where we have learned. There are multiple current studies and approaches being developed by communication leaders and academics dealing with the next big technological wave: AI and what it means for communication, business and society.

(For all the issues with the World Economic Forum, Davos can at least be relied upon to make sexy the issues that communicators strive to educate their businesses and clients for the preceding three to five years.)

It’s hard but we got this.

Bear with me. I know this got dystopian and at the moment seems pretty far from an inspirational post. There’s no “15 seconds of a baby elephant chasing geese” distraction in this blog.

Well, one GIF maybe.  But only to sustain us to the end of the story.

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Ok, back in the room. Focus people.

Because we – as people who are employed by business, governments, lobby groups, public organisations to use our knowledge, skills and profession to achieve outcomes that wouldn’t be as effective without us – have a pretty competitive and tough job at the moment. We’re fighting disinformation, tech change, other professional disciplines who don’t wait for permission.

The ‘where did we come from…’ is different for many communicators. You know on Survivor, when they merge tribes? Communication as a profession is still at that stage when Jeff gets everyone to throw their buffs in the fire. (Best Jeff Pobst voice: There is no internal comms tribe, no external comms tribe, no brand tribe, there is just Professional Communication.)

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But we’re a bit ahead of Survivor contestants. We have our Global Standard and Code of Ethics to guide us. Which is exactly why coming back to the cave of #IABC19* is so important. I am so excited about what I will hear over the next few days.

The problems faced by the tribe will be near-universal. Wherever they are. Whatever the maturity of the organizations and industries they support. Someone else will have felt that pain. But someone else will also have found a different way, using the approaches and skills and disciplines we have collectively arrived at.

One example recently I witnessed was a panel presentation at the Australian Corporate Affairs Summit (#theCAS) where each panelist cited what was working in their organization, and each type of example was something not new for IC, but that was new to their organisation or sector, and applied with learning and insight. In comms, with professionalisation, we are seeing survival of the fittest practices: those that have had measurable impact.

KNOW FEEL DO (1)

In business, we communicate to create change

What do we do? We can take courses, we can join webinars, we can build our skills and stay current. But, communicating with each other, sharing stories, is still the most meaningful way to make sense of it all.

To paraphrase broadcaster and conference speaker and Celeste Headlee from her podcast interview with Dan Gold** a few weeks ago it’s through listening deeply, inquisitively and critically to those stories from all of our #comms tribe that we continue to advance and develop ourselves and the profession.

Happy #IABC19 everyone.

*If not in person then on LinkedIn, or Twitter, with the tag #IABC19.
**Correction. An earlier edition of this post incorrectly called Dan Gold Mike Gold. I think what I meant was ‘Dan Gold, who is great on the MIC…’

Disclosures: In addition to being an independent communication advisor I work with IABC to develop the Corporate Membership offering in the Asia Pacific region. I attended The Corporate Affairs Summit as a representative of IABC APAC, and this is my late homework. 

No such thing as BAU: how can internal communication professionals manage in changing times?

Earlier this year I was working with a Head of Communications in a government agency that has undergone significant structural transformation and operational change over the past two years.

She was working on deepening the engagement between leaders and employees in different areas and had asked for some advice on how to ensure communication was flowing two ways. I asked, “What business as usual channels do you rely on today?”

“We don’t use the term BAU any longer. Transformation is going to continue. Change is business as usual and we now adopt a continuous improvement approach” she said.

It was a moment of absolute clarity for me. How many of us think of ‘BAU’ communication as distinct from the projects and initiatives that come through the door, or into the inbox.

BAU is dead. What now?

As part of the IC Kollectif IC In 2017 Project, I had some thoughts at the start of the year about how communicators can work with other areas to learn, innovate and adapt. But this realisation, half way through the year, made me consider what communicators can do in times of perpetual change, not just to service their organisations, but to ready themselves for ‘no more BAU’.

Read my full response on the IC Kollectif IC In 2017 Project.

  • Strength in shared practices. Continue to talk about what works, not just with other communicators, but across disciplines. Ask the questions like “why did this work in this environment?” But don’t just ask communicators. Ask marketers, change managers, leaders and innovators.
  • Invest in development. Don’t wait for your company to value you. Skill up, both communication skills and non-traditional skills: design thinking, user experience and business acumen.
  • Change what you can. Look for the opportunities to add the value that our profession can deliver. Be brave.  
  • “It’s not me, it’s you.” Know when to stop pushing the rock uphill. There are amazing organisations that foster and grow innovation. If yours is not one of them, find one that is.
  • Keep the faith. As a communicator, a great day at the office or in the field is a humbling thing. Bank those experiences as a reminder of why great internal communication matters.

 

 

What does a great day in the office or the field look like?

When did your communication activity lead to an outcome that furthered the organisation, the employees and the leaders? Creating connection, improving performance, perhaps just a moment of insight quoted back to you. Share what your ‘great day in the office’ looks like below.

A Time Of Transition

Rethinking strategy for changing times

Strap yourself in, it’s going to get fast

If a week is a long time in politics, three years is an eternity in business. The speed of technological, social, political and economic change is rapid, and as is illustrated by global events such as Brexit, sometimes unpredictable. Decisions made by global leaders can impact whole industries with little notice and less consultation.

Traditional strategic plans for corporations are blueprints for development over a three- to five-year time frame. Let’s do a tiny experiment in time travel. If you got into a room with your colleagues at the start of 2013 to work on a three- to five-year strategy for your business, you did so making assumptions about the trends that would shape your markets, your access to labor, your competition.

Now, look around at the business environment. How many of those priorities, drivers and forces remain in place today? Disruption and seismic shifts are the new normal. The forces that require a strategic response today are, for many industries or sectors, already significantly different to what had been anticipated even three years ago.

How can communicators establish a strategic response to changing times?

  • Become part of the planning team
  • Treat strategy as a process, not a product
  • No more set and forget
  • Understand the relationship between strategy and bottom line

Organizations exist for a purpose, and for the majority, that purpose is financial return. The process of strategic planning provides direction for all parts of an organization to align to deliver on the purpose, through building capability, responding to external factors, mitigating issues and risks and focusing effort. The opportunity for communication is to contribute to the business outcome through the tools and capabilities of our profession.

This is an extract from my article for Communication World, Rethinking Strategic Communication for Changing Times – Communication World in the February edition of Communication World.

Release Control of the Corporate Narrative—and Reap the Rewards | IABC World Conference

What lesson does Disney’s Frozen have for internal communicators?

In the lead up to the IABC World Conference, this came up in the conversation with Natasha Nicholson, Executive Editor of IABC’s CW Magazine about how transmedia storytelling is changing the game for internal communication.

We discuss the difference between stories and story worlds, seeing the corporate story from multiple perspectives and the idea that sometimes, communicators need to ‘let it go’ when it comes to trying to control the message.

A good story is still a good story, but the ways in telling it are now very different and the ways of sharing it are a lot more open.

Release Control of the Corporate Narrative—and Reap the Rewards | IABC World Conference.

The full interview runs 14 minutes and is available here.

IABC World Conference Banner

IABC World Presentation : Transmedia storytelling for internal communication

In the era of the remix and mashup culture, I am really excited to be presenting a session on two topics that need to meet: transmedia storytelling and organisational communication. The IABC World Conference in June has me presenting the following session:

The end of the story: Corporate narrative in a transmedia universe

 Traditional approaches to corporate narrative are being disrupted by the multiple forces of technology, social change, trust and a shift in the role of the corporation. In this environment the role of the communicator is shaping, telling and retelling the story of the company is shifting. Employees are co-creators, subject matter experts are curators and traditional business models become opportunities for collaboration. This session will explore:

  • The death of the corporate story
  • Sense making through social media
  • Co-creation as a model for true engagement
  • Empowering employees to own the narrative
  • How IC is the original transmedia communication strategy

As the conference approaches, I will add some pre reading here on the blog.

http://wc.iabc.com/sessions/the-end-of-the-story-corporate-narrative-in-a-transmedia-universe/

IABC communication resources for disaster management

In addition to all the residents, businesses and travellers impacted by the catastrophe, my thoughts are with the communication teams working through the current situation in Queensland and northern NSW.  So many of you will be working through your crisis communication plans and business continuity programs.

If you are managing communications during a crisis for the first time, there are a number of IABC resources that may assist.

The February 2010 CW Online featured Social Media for Crisis Communication:http://www.iabc.com/cwb/archive/2010/0210/

A prior CW Online edition on spokesperson training includes links to some disaster & crisis related resources. Includes links to reactive messaging. http://www.iabc.com/cwb/archive/2009/1109/RelatedResources.htm

If you are an IABC Discovery subscriber, there are a number of case studies that may be useful for the recovery phase. http://discovery.iabc.com/phrase.php?phrase=crisis+communication

Google has established a single landing page for the key official information sources (Government, emergency services, donations).

http://www.google.com/crisisresponse/queensland_floods.html