Monday, December 13, 2010

Institutes, inertia and a time to break out of the circle

Last Friday, I was chased for my annual subs for the Institute of Internal Communication - and organisation I've been a member of in the UK for 20 years. It didn't take me too long to decide that I didn't want to renew.

Under its British Association of Industrial Editors guise, I began to make the switch from consumer magazine journalist to internal communicator, successfully acquiring a Certificate in Industrial Editing. As the organisation morphed into the British Association of Communicators in Business, I became one of the last people to be awarded a Diploma in Business Communication. Under its Communicators in Business Guise, I was a national committee member and was made a Fellow of the organisation. But, as the recession bit and my career direction turned more to academia, CiB (or the IoIC as it now is) and I began to diverge in thought and action.

Today, internal communication plays only a small part in my business output. I write about it, but have found that B2B and B2C work is both easier to pick up and, at the moment, more satisfying. For me, that's because too many businesses have shown their true colours during the economic downturn: turning to organisational communication not to help engagement and build for the future, but to slip back into the default of command and control - telling people what to do if they want to still have a job.

It has been dispiriting. At a time when we should be making a paradigm shift to more open, transparent, enabling and effective communication, underpinned by a far wider armoury that should be built on the opportunity of social media, top teams have been slow to change, and communicators have been weak in championing the necessary cultural shift. There are, of course, pockets of brilliance - but the practice or organisational/employee/internal communication has actually moved far more slowly and covered a lot less ground than it thinks it has in the past two decades.

The fundamental for me is the focus on and rewarding of output over outcome - reflected ingloriously in the organisations supposed to represent the organisational communicators' role and advocate its ascendancy.

The revolution hasn't happened: the 'new' has a distinct whiff of emperor's new clothes; and organisational communicators remain in low earth orbit when we could be reaching for the stars.

I'm going to keep on doing what I'm doing - though probably ever more in b2b and b2c. Internal communication isn't dead - but it seems to need some radical new medicine.