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March 14, 2017


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I disagree completely. Strategy means the communication is designed to achieve a goal by meeting specific, usually measurable, objectives. It means you start with the goal, establish objectives you'll use to know you've met the goal, and done some research (do the results of the last survey reveal a low level of trust among audience x?) before you decide which tactics to employ. (Face to face? An article? A video? Engagement of internal influencers?).

I'll give you an example.

The day I arrived for my first interview at Mattel in 1984, the company was in turmoil. Its financial performance was so poor, thanks to a couple failed lines of business, that the Mattel had been forced to sell every business it owned other than the toy company (Ringling Brothers, Circus World, Monogram Models, Western Publishing, and so on). They got a cash infusion in exchange for giving up three seats on the board. Yet the employee newsletter, a copy of which was on the table in the lobby, featured a profile of an admin who was among the square dancers performing at the opening ceremonies of the Summer Olympics. Somebody said, "That's a nice story. Let's put that on the front page." There was not a word in the entire publication about the state of the company, which was filled with employees wondering if they would still have jobs in a month and who (I found out later) had no clue what was going on at the corporate level.

When I got the employee communications job, our strategy (that is, our plan of action designed to achieve a goal) was to advance business literacy, to present employees with the company's plan for rebuilding and to keep them informed about its progress, and to establish lines of communication between the front line and the C-suite (aka "line of sight"). I was able to measure how we were doing and report the results.

There's nothing magical about being strategic nor is it a complicated idea. It does, though, separate communication that supports the business plan from those that are crafted because "that would be such a cool story."

I'm looking forward to tomorrow's post.

Shel, I'm sure most of our disagreement has to do with what you may see as a purist definition that I have of communication, which will be illuminated by tomorrow's post.

It has to do utterly with THE OTHER PERSON, which is what makes it less predictable and goal-oriented than the laudable employee education work you did for Mattel.

I think there should be a different word for corporate information broadcasting (even if it has a social media dimension) than for the human thing human beings do with each other: communication.

We have "employee engagement," not "corporate intimacy." Why not separate terms for personal and corporate "communication," too?

Well, we do—we have publicity, persuasion and propaganda. But we don't like those terms. OK, how about "corporate education." No, that sounds too cold!

Obviously, I do not advocate for random stories in employee publications any more than I encourage speechwriters to hammer out speeches for their bosses off the top of their heads.

But I do believe that the only really compelling communication—corporate or otherwise—comes when an artistic-minded human being is thinking at least as much about the art of the words and pictures and the eyes and ears and hearts of the audience as he or she is about the measurable outcome of the effort.

There sure is nothing magical about being strategic. But there must be something magical about communication, if it is to take place. More tomorrow.

I'm looking forward to tomorrow's post, David. You can expect a comment (which, I'm sure, doesn't surprise you). I take a fairly simple approach to the definition of communication: An exchange of information.

I certainly agree that there's nothing magical about being strategic, yet it astounds me how often I see organizational communication (should we put quotes around that?) that is not. I also agree that whatever we write (or commit to video or images) needs to be both compelling and relevant to the receiver.

That said, I also believe there is far more to employee communication than applying journalistic principles to the broadcast of content. I hear frequently from communicators whose departments have been eliminated because all they do is broadcast content and, let's face it, employees no longer rely on an employee communications department to find out what's going on in their company. They have Glassdoor, every business publication on the planet, enterprise messaging apps, and a host of other means to get that information. Internal communicators have to concern themselves with how employees communicate with each other. Right now, few companies have a "message mission control" that dictates how IT reps talk to employees calling a support line, how HR reps talk to employees with a dispute, how AP talks to employees trying to get a vendor paid...these all contribute to the employee experience, and a bad experience can taint their view of the company (or their engagement...or intimacy...let's not get started on that, since engagement has some distinct characteristics that are different from, say, satisfaction).


I've never believed a company could or should have employee communicators who serve as "message control" throughout the organization.

I think of communication is an exchange of a hell of a lot more than information, and that may be where we differ.

I'm also afraid that you'll feel let down by my post tomorrow, but I hope you don't feel set up; I wrote it last week.

I look forward to your comment in any case—as I look forward to all your comments, and have done for twenty plus years now!

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