Technology’s evolution and a culture shift have spurred a metamorphosis among communications pros. Over the last few years, a common theme has emerged when talking about the future of the communications profession: a shift from creating communication to enabling it.

That doesn’t mean that what I’ve spent years learning and practicing is worthless. To me, it implies that I now need to take everything I know and learn how to apply it differently.

I’ve noticed that many employee communicators would rather wrestle with words on paper than engage in live conversation, much less negotiate with clients who think they already know what they want. Probably the toughest thing I’ve ever had to do is force myself to confidently push back and persuade a client to stop long enough to consider taking a different approach.

That’s why I’m so passionate about measurement. If you can measure it, you can sell it to senior management! [Hear, hear! Ed.]

Add in the challenge of convincing a client that it’s time for them to learn something new to become a better leader and communicator—now that’s hard. And for me, the advent of employee social networking requires looking at everything I do from different perspective and developing completely new skills. It’s already time to move from enabling to connecting.

Here’s what I mean: At Avery Dennison, we’ve rolled out a complete suite of social networking tools for employees as an add-on to our traditional intranet portal. Suddenly, employees are in control of the content—not me, nor our executives.

Sure, we can still push messages out, but now those communications are in competition with the energy, creativity, hands-on expertise and passionate exchange of ideas that is occurring among employees, without our help. This meant we needed to change how we thought about, planned and executed communications.

Our response
First, we relaxed our internal “corporate” voice to be more conversational and engaging. Frankly, that’s something that needed to happen anyway, and it has made employees stop and actually pay more attention to corporate messages.

Second, rather than expecting our executives to suddenly become expert social networkers—or even become experts ourselves—we’re mining the rich content that employees are developing to highlight stories that best serve the company’s vision, objectives, values and leadership principles. We’re not eliminating corporate news stories or leadership messages, we’re just giving MORE space and attention to what employees at every level are saying—encouraging, elevating and celebrating the good work that’s already happening.

People move in the direction of the things they talk about. So, why not find the good “talk” that’s happening and get people talking about it even more?

This has fundamentally changed the work I do and how I do it. I write less than ever before—and I’m actually OK with it! For me, corporate employee communications is no longer about getting direction from business leaders and then sitting down alone to develop strategies and formal written communications. It’s about being curious about what other people are doing and saying, shaping a consistent and meaningful voice out of the communication noise—wherever it is generated—connecting ideas and people, and collaborating.

Not everyone is excited about or comfortable with the changes happening in our profession, and there is still plenty of room for those who prefer writing to socializing and connecting. But I’m more interested in outcomes than output, and I’m excited to see how all of this plays out.

What about you?
Heather Marks is director, Communications Technology, Corporate Communications, for Avery Dennison Corporation, the producer of consumer products, pressure-sensitive adhesives and materials.


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