Mike lives in the Netherlands, where he runs his firm Changing the Terms. He’s worked in internal communications for more than 20 years and feels practitioners have the power not just to edit copy, but to “edit organisations”.
His book From Lincoln to LinkedIn: the 55-Minute Guide to Social Communication examines the changing IC landscape and the timeless merit of word of mouth in today’s social media age.
Here are five key learnings from his broad-ranging conversation with Katie.
#1 – The magic of multi-directional conversation
“Two-way conversation is dead and it’s the millennials who are killing it. They’ve been part of a multi-directional conversation their whole lives – they don’t do two-way communication.
“We’ve got millennial managers at 40. We’re going to have millennial CEOs in the next five years. A lot of the structural biases are going to go away – if we do this right, the interaction, the handing of the torch between the generations could actually be quite magical.”
#2 – Creating and telling your company’s story
“The power of the written word in a corporate context is immeasurable because it does so many different things. It doesn’t just simply inform people. It also creates a process through which leaders, communicators and perhaps readers align on certain visions of reality. The most important part happens before we publish, because it’s us getting the story straight. Then the delivery of that story is important to an extent.
“Physical print adds a certain era of permanence to an organisation’s reputation. And in a time when everything’s changing and unstable, a physical magazine with timeless evergreen content is something that has intrinsic value itself.”
#3 – Focus on the communication, not the platform
“Social media is a platform. Social communication is the conversation that takes place on, in, around, over and away from the platform.
“Even though internal social media tools, like Happeo, Speakap, SocialChorus and others are fantastic. They themselves do not drive the conversation. They are platforms. They are dance floors, they are pictures. And they create fantastic and better conditions for social communication. But the intent needs to be on the communication and not necessarily on the platform.
#4 – Understand the pressure cooker environment you work in
“I’d been looking for the perfect analogy to explain how and why internal comms is different from external comms. Then something hit me when I was having Kentucky Fried Chicken at my mother-in-law’s this summer. And it’s that there’s a fundamental difference between Kentucky Fried Chicken and regular fried chicken, fried in a pan.
“You take the exact same ingredients, a chicken, 11 herbs and spices, some oil, some flour and you throw it in a pan or a pressure cooker – and what comes out of that pressure cooker will be unrecognisable from what comes out of that open pan even though the ingredients are exactly the same.
“So what is it about that pressure cooker? It has a sealed boundary, the temperature’s higher, things move faster, it’s much more intense inside the pressure cooker than it is inside the open pan.
“That’s the difference between internal and external comms. Internal comms, particularly today, is developed in pressure cooker environments – managers, leaders, employees are under unprecedented pressure to deliver, and to deliver in ways which may or may not be comfortable to them.”
#5 – Measure baselines rather than benchmarks
“There’s a lot of things you can measure – observable behaviours, attitudes, recall of official terminology, positive and negative repositioning. You can measure all this stuff, you can create a baseline, and you can track it. Forget about benchmarks, it’s time to start thinking about baselines.”