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"We need to be able to understand the dynamics of sociology and political science in organisations as much as psychology and neuroscience."

This month we caught up with Mike Klein, Principal of Changing The Terms. Mike is based in Reykjavik, Iceland, and has a huge range of global communications experience. He is an accomplished writer and advocate of the value of communications - particularly from an internal comms perspective.

We asked him about the challenges that will face the internal communications discipline post-pandemic and got his take on where organisations need to focus to grow.


What do you think are the biggest opportunities for engagement and internal communications post-pandemic?

I think the biggest opportunity is to find a way to play a driving role in conversations about the future workplace - and whether they end up favouring moves towards remote, office-based, outsourced or hybrid outcomes.

I get a sense that there is a movement towards hybrid working, almost by default. But there is a lot more to it than just adapting the closest thing to what we have had in the past to what has worked during the pandemic. Internal communicators can help organisations evaluate the options as well as helping to frame the decisions that are made.  

The worst case would be where badly made decisions get handed over to communications to share and socialise.So, we need to find a way to get in front of these conversations and help shape the outcomes.

On the other side, there is also a huge opportunity for us to help create resilience in the future workforce. We can help people understand the common realities, get a stake in them, and align in the right direction..  

What do you see as the biggest threats to the effort to further professionalise internal communications as a discipline?

I think the biggest ongoing threat actually has todo with professionalisation. People being brought in without the experience and the perspective to do communication roles undermines those that have the skills, mindset and capability.

I also think there is a less visible threat as a discipline which is the isolation of senior communications professionals. Most senior IC people in particular don’t have a peer they work within their organisations.  They might have a great subordinate or team, but no one at their level focused solely on internal communications to collaborate with or bounce ideas off of.

That’s why associations, professional bodies and consultancies are so important to this group. These networks are important in sharing knowledge and helping pros not reinvent things.  

I also think excessive engagement of internal communications in the wellbeing conversation is a threat. I don’t think it’s an area we are well suited to, and if we are doing that as the bulk of our work, we won’t be able to contribute to other more business-central topics like M&As and strategic alignment where our involvement can be more impactful and tangible.

What skills and mindsets do you think we need to develop if we want to continue to professionalise internal communications?

I think we need to be able to understand the dynamics of sociology and political science in organisations as much as psychology and neuroscience.  

There is a lot of talk about personalisation, but I think we need to remember we can “mass personalise”. People operate in tribes which means that we can still make content feel relevant and personalised if we take the time to understand what drives tribe mentality and what connects the group.

It is our job to mediate between leaders and the people, so I think mediation represents a fresh area of opportunity where we need to build skills.  

We don’t need to be able to do everything. Organisations want to get the greatest number of skills from the fewest number of people. But we don’t want to get defined by our executional skills because we risk the perception of our strategic contribution being undermined.

What disciplines do you think we can learn more from that would add to our sharpness?

As I said before, I think we need to look at sociology and political science and how groups work together and take some of the pressure of neuroscience.Organisations like to communicate with individuals because it takes the edge off group power, but it doesn’t make it go away.

Where do you see the emerging workplace going (remote, hybrid, back to the office or outsourced), and what implications do you think this will have on internal communications?

I think it will head in all four of those directions.

In a way it will become the great differentiator for recruitment. I have a bias as I am based in Reykjavík – for me it is remote or bust to a large extent. The challenge is anything you can do from home you can out source, but this isn’t being discussed too much at the moment and neither is automation.  

I don’t think the hybrid model will work without a shift in the office environment. It assumes people will go to an office for a given number of days which still limits businesses to a local talent pool which might make them less competitive financially and talent wise. And it assumes that companies will be willing to pay for a lot more real estate than they actually need.

How can internal communications teams support the recovery of their businesses?

The most important thing we need to get ahead of is articulating and understanding where the business they work for is heading.  

A lot of people in-house are working so hard and they don’t have time to focus on this.

There is a lot going on with home schooling and ever-increasing tactical workloads. It’s no joke at the moment. But if we can’t stay ahead, we risk becoming ‘order takers’ at the end of this.

What advice would you offer someone coming into internal communications now?

My biggest piece of advice is if you are going in-house, immediately start building or expand a network outside of your business. If you are joining the consultancy and agency side, rollup your sleeves and contribute to the larger profession wherever you can.  

You need to seek ways to stay relevant and connected.

What can internal communications professionals do to improve the business climate in which we operate?

We need to be much more proactive when it comes to the measurement agenda. When we are asked to do things, we need to interrogate the value of each activity. When we have identified effective ways of measuring the impact and value of what we do we need to, we need to share that across our industry.

Doing this at scale could transform our discipline.