What to do about employee communications?2004-09-10
Back on August 28, I wrote an entry in which I stated that employee communications as a profession has been a failure. Advocates of strategic internal communication (myself included), along with associations like IABC that represent the profession, have argued for years that effective employee communications aligns employees with company goals and objectives. We maintain that solid internal communications produces bottom-line results. But a study from Accenture reveals that executives believe their employees are not aligned, that they don’t understand how their jobs fit into the bigger picture.
From where I sit, that means internal communications has failed to produce exactly the results we claim make it an asset to the organization.
I’ve heard from several people since writing that piece. One, for instance, notes that communicators can’t do it all themselves—that our job, in large part, is to counsel executives so they can do the communicating. I couldn’t agree more. Most of the literature on employee communications (including my book) spell this out clearly. Yet it seems that too many communicators spin their wheels producing intranet content and newsletters and, ultimately, fail to produce the kinds of results our organizations need.
The problem isn’t vague and the solution is obvious.
The problem is that there is no common set of standards for employee communications. Anybody who studies public relations will learn the same material. They’ll learn about campaigns, media pitching, public opinion, crisis management. When they get jobs at public relations agency—any agency—they’ll perform similar types of work. A career on the external side of the organizational communications profession produces a consistent understanding of what goes into effective PR. It’s not a guarantee that everybody who works in PR will practice what they’ve learned, but at least they all have the same tools to work with.
On the internal communications side, though, there is no such training. In fact, there is no standard curriculum for employee communications, no agreement in academia or even in the profession about what it takes to be a qualified employee communications professional. Sure, there are accreditation programs, but far too few professionals avail themselves of these programs to have an impact across the business spectrum.
If employee communications is ever going to produce the kind of business-wide results it needs to remain viable, we need to identify those skills that every internal communicator should be taught, those models and processes that every internal communicator should understand. We need to institutionalize the final list so that every university teaching communications incorporates it into their curricula. We need to ensure that professional associations focus some effort on setting the bar based on these standards. Then the profession may stand a chance of rising out of its current state and fulfill its potential.