Tuesday, December 19, 2006

A collective voice for internal communication in the UK

Tomorrow I'll be attending the last CiB Council meeting of the year, and it's set to be an important one as we discuss the direction the organisation must take if it's to break out of its circling pattern and emerge as the voice of internal communication in the UK.

Last month I chaired a meeting to look at membership and what the organisation must do to move from 1100 members (or thereabouts) to being a truly attractive proposition to anyone working in or around organisational communication who has a foothold in IC.

At the moment there are a number of organisations operating in the UK with a finger in the IC pie. They range from the commercial end - the likes of Melcrum, ASPIC and Simply Communicate, to IABC which operates in a very similar space to CiB and to everyone from CiM, through CiPR, the Work Foundation and IVCA who all want to own a little bit of the space.

Through its heritage, geographical reach in the UK and Ireland and through aspiration, CiB is well placed to take the IC high ground. Yet it has barriers to overcome to get there. The perception is that it's an agency organisation focused on craft skills. There's certainly not enough substance in the organisation to attract - and more so, to retain - senior communicators, and it's still too close to its roots in catering solely to those who have come into IC from external journalism.

CiB is still best known for its awards at regional and national level, and the majority of these still recognise excellence in media rather than in the enabling of organisational success.

But things are changing. At my meeting we focused on some 'must haves' for CiB to be credible as the IC expert organisation. First, we need to formalise accreditation. IABC has its 'ABC' accreditation - but it's a small organisation in the UK and lacks focus as to its clear purpose. CiB needs to build on its former certificate and diploma accreditation to offer an industry-supported qualification recognising proficiency (capability based) and then excellence in internal communication.

We need to recognise that the IC world has moved on - being able to write and edit does not necessarily make you a good internal communicator. Any accreditation will have to embrace the strategic end of communication - focusing on the 'why' before even considering the 'how'. We also need to be more savvy towards the impact of social media and recognise that communicating organisations are those where everyone is empowered as a communicator - not just those wearing the IC hat. We need to recognise too that IC has stepped out of its 'message manager' box too and that to be effective, it has to be wound through the organisation's people agenda and be a full player in financial and operational success.

We also saw a great need to build up a research base in IC. At present, CiB talks a good game, but too little is formally evidenced - that must change.

Third, we saw great value in creating new and powerful networks of communicators across communities of interest.

Our strength in this is that CiB is a 'not for profit'. The likes of Melcrum, Ragan and similar organisations do an excellent job in creating opportunities for communicators to come together - but their motive is profit. Fair play to them, but there's always the feeling that when you respond to a Melcrum e-mail, they see it as an opportunity to gain revenue. As a not for profit member organisation, CiB can be different - more independent; no axes to grind and no shareholders to please.

Turning round many decades of being an organisation for 'industrial editors' isn't easy - the perception battle is the biggest one to win. And doing it on volunteer goodwill and tiny budgets doesn't help. But the aspiration is there and momentum is building. Tomorrow's could be a very interesting meeting.

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