Internal communications is like a cereal box

with 5 Comments

KENSINGTON — There’s not much that is ‘commercial’ in my house.  Maybe a few dozen old newspapers with adverts in them.  A poster on a child’s wall that promotes a museum or a football team.  One doesn’t expect to be sold to at home.

However there is one exception: the cereal boxes.

We’ve got seven of them.  All different.  All placed at eye-level in front of the kids first thing in the morning.  All shouting something different.  They’re like little, print-based sirens.

And they work.

“Dad! What’s ‘riboflavin’?!”

“How come I’ve never been to Alton Towers!”

“Can we enter this contest?”

When I was a boy Shreddies used to have the most amazing-looking plastic toys at the bottom of the box.  They never quite flew, danced, floated like they did on TV… but what fun.

My cereal boxes were turned upside-down and by the time they were re-assembles they were missing panels and the internal bags hung out the side like… well like things you only usually see in med school.

And that’s why Internal Comms people are a bit like cereal boxes.  Not the medical school part.  The other bits.

Internal communicators have a privileged position in a business.  They are the only broadly condoned public organ. (Stay focused now.)  You are the one publisher allowed to clog up the airwaves, billboards and brainwaves of the busy occupants of the building.

Internal communications people only have a short time with people.  You can’t expect (nor should you aim) to distract people from their daily grind for more than a few minutes a day.

And that remains a privilege, not a right.  If you mess it up you’ll be banished like Cocopops and Frosties.

The contents of the box needs to be right.

Yesterday I heard for the first time in a long time about an organisation where the entire internal comms function had been shut down.

And why not?

Orange juice anyone?


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5 Responses

  1. David Ferrabee

    Right. Enough people have asked:
    ri·bo·fla·vin (rb-flvn, -b-) n.
    An orange-yellow crystalline compound, C17H20N4O6, the principal growth-promoting factor in the vitamin B complex, naturally occurring in milk, leafy vegetables, fresh meat, and egg yolks. Also called lactoflavin, vitamin B2.
    Yea, you wish you’d never asked.

  2. Jon Weedon

    Nice piece David. Very sweet analogy. In answer to your ‘why not’ shut down the entire Internal comms function question I have a few thoughts.

    In no particular order:

    When every member of staff understands the company’s strategy and how his/her individual and collective efforts contribute to achieving it;
    When every member of staff has the emotional commitment to supporting the company achieve its strategic goals;

    When your senior execs are walking the floors, holding regular roundtable meetings, video blogging, and contributing to online discussion boards without being prompted;

    When every member of staff knows exactly where to find that form, that policy, that guidance, that phone number, that latest internal vacancy and that internal killer app – or if not knows who to ask;

    When every member of staff has the capability to retrieve and make use of that form, that policy, that guidance, that phone number, that latest internal vacancy and that internal killer app;

    When every decision maker in the company knows everything that he/she needs to know to make great decisions;

    When every line manager knows exactly what to tell his/her team about the latest companywide initiative;

    When the CEO understands completely what fat and friction is preventing staff from doing their jobs as best they possibly can;

    When every member of staff would unconditionally and without reservation recommend the company as a place to work to his/her closest friends and family;

    When every member of staff knows how to submit an idea to improve the business in such a way that it will not be ignored – and they will receive recognition for doing so;

    When every member of staff knows they can speak up without fear of retribution;

    Then – but only then – feel free to shut down the entire Internal Communications function, it clearly is no longer needed!

  3. David Ferrabee

    Thanks very much. And just to be clear I am not advocating shutting it down.
    However, I do have two questions for us:
    1) What makes Internal Communicators the right people to do all that? What special skills, tools, insights, abilities to IC people have?
    2) How many people have those things listed above in their JDs?
    Okay, three questions:
    3) If all that was in the JD how could they be measured so that a bonus could be paid?
    I don’t know the answers.

  4. Jon Weedon

    Apologies for taking up so much space here David, but I can’t resist a good challenge!

    Q1. What makes Internal Communicators the right people to do all that? What special skills, tools, insights, abilities to IC people have?

    A. IC people may or may not be the right people at all, however unless the organisation has a dedicated employee engagement team, no one else is better placed to champion these things. If your IC function exists simply to disseminate corporate messages, fine, ditch it right now, it’s contribution to the bottom line will be negligible. However, if it exists to help employees find all of the information and tools they need to do their job to the best of their ability, now you’re talking. If it exists to increase cross functional collaboration and innovation, we’re really motoring. In respect of special skills, insights and abilities, that is a very long answer and I can do no better than refer you to a great study (quite old now) which I really rate when it comes to defining the desired skill set for IC practitioners:

    Q2. How many people have those things listed above in their JDs?

    A. Probably not many but why not? Many of these aspirations fall under the banner of things like ‘develop a strategy for increasing leadership visibility’ or ‘create new opportunities for staff to share ideas’ which are certainly personal objectives I have worked to in the past.

    Q3. If all that was in the JD how could they be measured so that a bonus could be paid?

    A. Measurement is tough in our profession. Sure, you can be held accountable for coming in on budget, or even cutting it by X percent. You can deliver projects to agreed deadlines. Beyond that you have the obvious feedback mechanisms like staff surveys, focus groups, snap polls, desktop ‘drive bys’ etc – but can IC professionals be held accountable for improving the company’s employee engagement score? Not really when so many factors beyond their control can blow all their efforts out of the water. Can you be held responsible for the behaviour of managers? No. Can you be held responsible for creating a communications support framework that provides them with corporate content for them to use in their team meetings? Yes.

    In truth, I’m one of those lightweights who believe we have a tendency to over complicate measurement. I’m a fan of the old pig farmer saying; if you want to fatten a pig don’t weigh it, just feed the damn thing.

    I don’t know the answers either but I’m thoroughly enjoying my ongoing search to find them:-)

  5. Sean Trainor

    Interesting insight David. I predict more IC “functions” closing down.
    Why? I believe employee communications is a management discipline, and I agree with you David that there is a “privelege” of being part of a discretionary function.
    @Jon I don’t really buy the “indispensable IC man” theory and I struggle to see why your list of tasks belong to IC and I don’t see anything in the list that supports or upskills line managers to engage with their teams, which is a surprise. If I was to create a role based on that JD, it would probably be “colleague concierge” rather than an “IC manager”
    If anyone in IC is feeling indispensable then try this one over brekkie..
    (1)stick your hand in your box of cereal
    (2)move your hand around in a circlular motion, stirring up the contents to create movement, snap, crackle and pop
    (3)after a few minutes, remove your hand, then watch to see how long it takes for the cocopops to settle and listen to hear how long it takes for the rustling sound to subside.

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