Recently I had the pleasure of visiting two companies. Each company had a successful business model and a distinctive culture.

In both cases, communications leadership had put into place internal communication strategies that were authentic to the organizations. The two communication strategies couldn’t have been more different! The philosophies, program, tools, tactics– even the comms function org structures–were as unalike as could be! Yet, in each case, the internal communications work flow and program worked well.

I mentioned my observations to a communications leader, who I greatly respect, and she shared her insights as to what helps keep communications strategies authentic to organizations. I’ve distilled her wisdom into two points to pass along to you.

Roots

As experts in our field, we strive to stay on top of our practice. Of course! We research best in class methods, and seek out how other companies communicate internally, looking for new and fresh ways to reach people.

In the worst case scenario, however, we get so caught up in an if-it-works-there-it-must-work-here mentality that we forget about our most vital source of internal opinion: our roots, comprising our leaders, managers and employees who are stakeholders in the internal communication ecosystem. It’s critical that we invest equal (if not more) time and attention on our roots. Our attention will likely yield new and interesting insights, because talent, roles and responsibilities are ever-changing.  And as we listen, we need to apply what we hear to our strategies and plans, just as much as we apply the latest shiny new idea.

Procedures

We manage communication demand with limited resources and within tight time frames. As a result, many of us template procedures. That’s smart! How the procedures work depend on the tactic, unique comms org structure and our relationship with our internal partners and clients, but typically these steps start off making sense.

What happens over time? Our procedures are embellished to mitigate every risk, real, imagined and political. They become more and more unwieldy and bureaucratic, which in turn reflects in our communications strategies and plans, which fosters a “gotcha” environment, stifles innovations, and leads to the check-the-box approach to communication.

So, how about changing those procedures? Are you kidding? The fear of risk (and consequence) is a powerful motivator to keep them over complicated.

My suggestion is that we need to feel the fear and address the procedures anyway. Let’s commit to assessing them periodically. We should strive for procedures that work, and are elegant in simplicity and natural in execution. If we get our procedures right, that sensibility will be reflected in our strategies and plans.

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After speaking with this wise communications leader, I thought more about the companies I had visited, and their internal communications forums and tools. I imagined applying one approach to the other organization, or vice versa. It wouldn’t have worked. I think the fact that each company paid attention to its roots, and kept procedures simple made the difference. What do you think?

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