AB Thinks  →  15th June 2022

Releasing your inner sceptic

AB Thinks

In the 64th episode of The Internal Comms Podcast, host Katie Macaulay has an electrifying conversation with Martin Flegg, founder and co-owner of The IC Citizen, an internal communications consultancy.

Martin has over 20 years of experience in the world of PR and internal communication. The pair talk about his extensive career, from unlikely beginnings to becoming a tutor on CIPR‘s Internal Comms Certificate and working as an independent consultant. The conversation touches on a broad range of topics, from measuring success to unlocking the true value of internal comms, to job interviews and advice for young IC professionals on asking the right questions to potential employees.

They even touch on a phrase that Martin has heard in the industry that didn’t sit well with him, and inspired him to change the way we think and speak about internal communications as a profession. Martin encourages us to jump off the bandwagon, take an independent point of view, and release our inner sceptic.

Here are a few key moments from the discussion.

#1 Don’t be afraid to speak up
Martin’s entire career shifted thanks to one fruitful conversation. Before working in internal comms, Martin had an unlikely start to his career as a tax inspector. And one day, he said to Jim Harra – now Permanent Secretary of HMRC – “The internal comms is awful around here, Jim, you need to give it to me and let me sort it out.”

His response? “Well, okay, you can do it then. Get on with it. Make stuff happen Martin.”

And so that’s exactly what Martin did. He made stuff happen. That’s how Martin’s career as an internal communicator started, by not being afraid to speak his mind. He eventually signed up for the CIPR’s Internal Comms Certificate course, to help further his career aspirations, and is now a tutor on the course, and an independent consultant.

#2 The true value of internal comms
In a world dominated by social media, content creation and publication internal comms professionals have had to carve out a new identity. Or, as Martin puts it, we need to think about our real purpose within organisations.

How do we research? How do we create a plan, and set objectives? What is strategy, and how do we use it? How do we take the theory learnt in internal communications courses, and translate it into something useful in day-to-day practice to benefit our organisation? These are all questions we have to ask ourselves to unlock the true value of internal communications.

#3 Make change like a Roman invasion, not a Norman conquest
This was something Martin learned from a team of linguistic consultants. And that’s a lesson in itself; don’t be afraid to draw knowledge and experience from individuals outside of your specific profession. These linguistic consultants applied the metaphor of presenting change within an organisation as a Roman invasion rather than a Norman conquest.

The Norman conquest forces change on people. Telling them to forget the past, and to only focus on the new ways of working. The Roman invasion is more of assimilation. To make a truly impactful change that employees will embrace, you must preserve the things they care about: professionalism, self-respect, and positive aspects of a culture that have been built up over years.

#4 Don’t ask a comms professional to “Comms it up.”
A few years ago, Martin was working in an organisation, when somebody presented some information and had one request. “I just need you to comms it up for me. Can you just comms it up and get it out there?”

And that sparked a thought in Martin and the rest of the team. What exactly does “comms it up” mean? This one phrase changed the way he saw internal communications as a profession. He reiterated that the phrase is unintentionally disrespectful; you wouldn’t ask somebody in finance to “finance it up.” Internal communications is a truly strategic function within an organisation, yet many don’t give the profession the respect it deserves. That respect can start with the language we use in our own profession.

#5 Release your inner sceptic
On The IC Podcast, we always close by asking one simple question. If you could have a billboard for millions of people to see, with any message you like, what would be on your billboard? And Martin’s answer: “Release your inner sceptic.”

One of Martin’s core beliefs is to approach life with an independent point of view. Don’t jump on trends and bandwagons. Scepticism is much different from cynicism and doesn’t have to be negative. Scepticism can help you challenge the norms, ask the right questions, and look for evidence to support your point of view.

“I think all of us, whether we work in internal comms or not, would do a lot better if we asked a few more questions more often.”