‘Constant change and disruption’ are the new normal for communicators

Rattling cages is the latest method for effective corporate communications, according to several of the Eurocomm conference speakers.


Does the prospect of having to deal with an ever-changing communications landscape make you anxious? According to Phil Weiss, chairman of the International Association of Business Communicators’ 2013 Eurocomm conference, you’d better get used to it.

“Constant change and disruption” are the new normal, he said in a Simply Communicate webcast from Eurocomm. “Disruption isn’t an excuse for incompetence. You can make more mistakes, but you have to learn from them.”

John Smythe, author of “The CEO: The Chief Engagement Officer” and co-founder of Engage for Change, added that communicators aren’t just responsible for convincing themselves, either. Smythe suggested that communicators have to push their colleagues—particularly executives—to step out of their comfort zones and encourage bottom-up engagement. So far, that hasn’t really happened much.

“We’ve been preaching to the converted,” he said of the speakers at the International Association of Business Communicators conference. “The moment you step into the C-suite, you get a lot of blank looks.”

Leaders should share decision-making with their employees, Smythe suggested. They should be “guides, not gods,” he said, in that they’re “the enablers of other people’s thinking.”

Enabling the ‘game changers’

Another speaker interviewed in the webcast, Celine Schillinger, director of stakeholder marketing at Sanofi Pasteur, forced top executives at her company to listen when she noticed women simply weren’t being promoted. She sent an email to the CEO and a few of her other colleagues suggesting the company should figure out ways to make effective use of its entire talent pool.

“It triggered an intense conversation around gender balance,” she said.

A “think tank” of 12 people began meeting to talk about issues that affect men and women, such as work/life balance. Two years later, that think tank comprises 2,500 members in 50 countries.

“We’ve contributed to significant evolution,” Schillinger said. “Community is a very powerful driver for engagement.”

Schillinger says such building communities can effect change in ways individuals can’t, though she says companies should find ways to listen to the people she calls “game changers.”

“Companies too often try to neutralize the people who speak up,” she said.

Smythe said it’s a communicator’s job to make sure that doesn’t happen.

“Up until recently, the job of the communicator has been to report on the actions of the few to the many,” he said. “Now, the communicator’s role is still to do that, but it is also to set the stage so that decisions can be contributed to.”

That doesn’t mean companies have to be complete democracies, though. It means communicators should find the people who can add value to new ideas and initiatives, Smythe said.

Disruption

Aurelie Valtat, head of digital communications for the Council of the European Union, listed three potential roles for internal social media: You can use it as just a tool. You can use it as a working method. Or it can be a disruptor.

It should not be something that only communicators use, she said; it should make everyone a communicator.

“Everybody should be able to use social media,” Valtat said. “The blurring between internal and external in companies is just going to get bigger and bigger.”

Weiss agreed. Communications isn’t a specialized field that is separate from all others, he said. Everyone in the organization should be doing it.

The best attribute communicators can have is agility, Weiss said. They should also learn “to embrace being idiots” and never be afraid to ask, “Why?”

Additional tips

The hosts also interviewed Rav Dhaliwal, customer success manager at Yammer, who took questions from the audience. One of those questions was about how to get older workers to make use of internal social tools.

Dhaliwal suggested educating those employees about the benefits of using those tools. Answer the “What’s in it for me?” question.

What about executives? “Frame a tool like Yammer in business terms,” he offered. Show them how using the tool aligns with strategic objectives.

Matt Wilson is a staff writer for Ragan.com.

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