To say change is a constant in today’s world is cliché, but true nonetheless. Times are changing, as is the role of the communicator who is being asked to do more in 2018 than ever before.
In the past, communicators were expected to produce “stuff” for the business, with unknown or little-demonstrated value to the bottom line. Picture a fast food drive-through: pull up, order this week’s article, newsletter or town hall deck, pick-up your order at the next window, and pull away, only to return when you need something new.
This is not to say that producing content is not valuable in the current communication landscape. On the contrary, communicators are expected to be “always on” publishers. But above all, the big opportunity for communicators is to demonstrate value to the business.
Through our work, we’ve identified six trends that are shaping the corporate communications function of the future as savvy organizations leverage communicators as a strategic partner to accomplish their goals.
1. The Lines are Blurring: The distinction between internal and external communications no longer exists, period. And, if there is a disconnect between what a company says externally versus what it does on the inside, it shows badly.
Employees and consumers alike demand transparency. When a company tells conflicting or confusing stories, doesn’t walk the talk or worst of all, is acting unethically (whether perceived or real), trust and credibility vanish. Today, smart communicators break down silos between internal and external, to enable one voice across geographies, business segments and stakeholders.
2. Content Rules: As mentioned, communicators today are not only content generators but also publishers, with many taking the “always on” newsroom approach to telling their company story. Instead of blindly creating disconnected content day after day, progressive organizations are formalizing how they prioritize, generate and manage content to create one voice. Enter the content strategy.
A content strategy is more than an editorial calendar. It is about pinpointing the stories you want to tell that align with your organization’s reputational goals, and amplifying them – inside and outside the organization. This ensures your organization is telling the right story to the right audiences, in the right ways at the right time.
3. Engage the Messy Middle: We know leaders must be empowered, equipped and accountable for telling the company story and inspiring employees to rally around it. While senior leaders are where communicators generally focus their efforts, there is another group that is absolutely critical: middle managers.
According to a Harvard Business survey, 76% of respondents said that developing communications skills among middle managers is a priority. Why? Most middle managers are not leveraged as communicators, but they are the crucial link to employees at the team level, this is where the communication rubber meets the road!
Activating the messy middle can be especially challenging with larger, more dispersed organizations, but effective communicators are putting their time and energy into galvanizing this critical group as a key to achieving their communication and business goals.
4. Employees as Advocates: Reputation is no longer built on the backs of communications or marketing – today, your people are your brand. People want to hear real stories from real employees just like them. The employee story is far more powerful and credible than any coming from your organization, the media, or even your CEO.
Communicators today are leveraging employees as storytellers – inside and outside the organization. Tools such as Dynamic Signal make it easy for employees to share the stories through their social networks, while other corporate channels can be used as a platform for employees to tell their own stories. Did an employee do something truly innovative? Let them tell the story. Did the organization accomplish something magnificent? Encourage your people to share it. Bottom line: don’t let the power and reach of your people go to waste.
5. The Rise of Employee Social Networks (ESNs): We’ve all heard it before…mobile communications are trending. But unlike other “trends,” this one is here to stay. On average, about a third of our day is spent looking at the screen of our phone. So it’s no surprise that organizations have taken steps to integrate employees’ mobile devices into their work life, making it easier for employees to access the information they need and connect at any time and from anywhere on the globe.
ESNs such as Workplace or Yammer create an informal, always available platform where employees can participate in dialogue, ask questions and get the information they need on the go. Best-in-class organizations are using it as the solution to other organizational challenges too. For example, dispersed companies like Starbucks have implemented ESNs to break down barriers and connect employees, regardless of geography. Using the tool, employees can better collaborate, share tips or best practices, and feel connected to the company as a whole beyond their teams.
6. Communicators Can’t Drive Change and Culture Alone: It’s worth saying again: change is the new constant, and companies that can’t keep up with the pace of change are doomed. It is not the responsibility of one leader or function to drive culture and change across the organization, and one function acting alone in this capacity will not be effective.
The best communicators are those who collaborate with leaders and other functions like HR and marketing to tell the change story, and drive it through people and business processes. The communicators who equip leaders and employees to navigate the change and culture journey are the ones who are truly drivers of value. Those who claim that these types of activities are not part the role of communications risk becoming less relevant, and as a result, less valued.
When you take a step back, all of these trends have one thing in common: communicators and communications have a lot of value to add. There is a risk to not enabling your corporate communications team to the be all it can be. Today, a best-in-class communications function is the secret sauce for success. Invest in your corporate communications team, and the results will follow.