hallway meeting
PHOTO: Charles Forerunner

Much of traditional internal communications has been about the delivery of fake news. Staff have not been fooled.

Over the years, it really struck me how the output of most internal communications departments was disconnected from the real needs of the staff in their organizations.

Unfortunately, in many organizations, internal communications is a megaphone for the ego and spin of senior management. Rarely is the result about communicating reality and being up-front and honest with staff. Rather, the focus has been on warping reality and publishing happy clappy content that condescends to its audience. Everything must be positive!

I’m sure there must be organizations out there where this sort of management propaganda works. I just haven’t come across them. Over the years, when I interact with staff outside the communications bubble, they almost universally showed a skepticism and cynicism towards much of the ‘news’ they were getting.

Many of the communicators I have met — particularly younger ones — were aware of their roles as propagandists, and were clearly unhappy with having to do these things. They understood that the world has changed, that staff were far more skeptical and demanding.

When I think back over 20 years of consulting on intranets, it was communicators almost every single time who were the most innovative, who saw the broader picture and the potential to create a digital workspace. The fabric of the digital workspace is words and content. It is such things that make up the digital workspace interface and for all intents and purposes, the interface is the workspace.

When we recently asked staff in a large organization what their top tasks were, about 65 percent of the vote was for work-related tasks, about 30 percent was connected with their employment and career. Less than 5 percent of the vote went to news-related tasks. 

This is not atypical. Staff have many more sources for news today than they had in the past.

So what is the role of internal communicators? Huge. Traditionally, organizational information on policies, procedures, guidelines, how-tos, systems and tools, were designed and written for professionals. So, an HR policy was not written with a staff member in mind, but rather with an HR professional in mind, who would know how to interpret and explain a particular policy. A meeting booking system was to be used by secretaries, who would figure out shortcuts through its appalling design because they were using it multiple times a day.

Here’s what then happened. A super-amazing business case was presented. Buy this fabulously fantastic content / document management system. Migrate all the content to it. Fire lots of HR people and secretaries. Let staff self-serve. Watch all those savings roll in!!

This model has been an abysmal failure because nobody can find what they need, and even if they do, they can’t understand it or use it, or else it’s woefully out of date.

Communicators have great basic skills that can turn this mess around. To communicate means to share or exchange information. A good software interface communicates instantly how to use it. A good policy communicates quickly what is and isn’t allowed. A good how-to guide communicates quickly how to solve the problem.

The digital workspace will only truly succeed if it creates content and interfaces that are easily understandable by non-experts and infrequent users. Who better to help do this than a communicator?