Liam FitzPatrick, Managing Partner at Agenda Strategies, together with colleague Klavs Valskov, have just released their new book ‘Internal Communication: a manual for practitioners.’ This week, I met Liam, the well-known communicator to learn more about what to expect from their latest work.
Gloria Lombardi: Today there are plenty of manuals on internal communications. Why write another book? What did you need to say that hasn’t been said already?
Liam FitzPatrick: You are right. There are many books out there – and some are great. In particular, there’s a lot of literature explaining the key philosophies and theories behind the profession. However, we found a gap in terms of the basic instructions.
When writing our book we had in mind someone who has just started working on internal communications. We asked ourselves, ‘What would be the resource this person would pick up straightaway to get started?’ We thought that a similar manual didn’t really exist.
GL: In your book you argue, “organisations need professionals who can coach leaders to drive behaviours through communication.” What skills do internal communicators need for doing that?
LF: They need two fundamental things. The first one is attitude. It is about constantly challenging leaders, asking them “Do you really know what you are saying? Do you really know what impact your communications have on the organisation?” This can be done at any level, not necessarily at a senior one. Even the person writing the newsletter or the employee organising the Christmas Party can be in a position to challenge.
However, what makes them able to challenge, is having a deep understanding of the organisation and its people; this is the second key thing. Internal communicators need a robust knowledge of their business and colleagues. From day one, they need to be thinking, “Do I know everyone here? Have I met them? Am I spending time with them? Do I have ways of tracking how they think?”
Only by having that deep understanding of the company, can internal communicators stop agreeing to doing things that aren’t effective, as well as to say ‘no’ to weak ideas. They will be able to come along with insights. Plus, senior leaders will respect their opinions much more.
GL: In terms of leadership, how do you see their relationship with communication?
LF: It is very hard to find leaders who don’t think that being a good communicator is part of their job. While many of them may know that communication is important, at the same time they don’t know how to be good at it. Quite often they would take advice from the nearest people to them. Our argument in the book is that internal communicators can get close to leaders by knowing their audience and always being on hand with data.
GL: You also write, “our argument is that great communications advisors are less obsessed about the process of communication than the outcomes it needs to deliver”. Could you explain with an example?
LF: If someone in a meeting says, “I’d like you to put this story on the intranet” the smart internal communicator doesn’t immediately go out and start developing the article. The smart communicator would stop and ask: “what’s the outcome that we want to achieve? What’s the behavior we want to drive?” With that goal in mind, they will be able to look at the best way to get the results that the business needs.
Which enables them to reply back: “Well, do you really think that an article on the intranet is the best solution to solve this problem?” Maybe it isn’t. If they are able to stop the conversation at that point, they can invest time and resources more effectively.
Quite often people go to internal communicators with a predetermined idea of what the solution is. But, the smart communicator needs to add value – that can be done only by having a clear idea of the result the business wants to achieve.
GL: What’s your opinion about the social enterprise? Do you think it is changing the role of the internal communicator?
LF: Yes and no. We slightly avoided addressing that topic in the book since anything that we write today is going to be out of date very quickly. Having said that, we are naturally nervous of people claiming that the technology is the answer. We believe that everything internal communicators do should start with the question: “what do we want people to do?” It could be that the organisation needs to implement and drive a new social platform; but they can only be successful by being clear about the result they want to see. In the end, whether is it social media or face-to-face communication, it always comes back to the basic rule – it’s always about the outcome not the process.
GL: How about employee engagement? Your book doesn’t have a chapter on that.
LF: Without specifically addressing it, the topic runs throughout the book. Our key point is that in every given situation, an internal communicator has to ask, “Why are we communicating? What’s the outcome we want to achieve?” We see employee engagement as one of those outcomes. But, we also believe that there are many others – from including helping colleagues to understand what their job is, or why a particular change is happening, to encouraging them to be ambassadors. Crucially engagement is key; however, it is one of the several reasons why organisations need to communicate with staff.
GL: Finally, what advice would you give to the younger generation willing to build a career in internal communications?
LF: The piece of advice that I would always give is: “From day one in the job, get to know your audience better than everyone else”. That means going out, spending time with people, seeing them doing their job, working alongside them, understanding how they think and how they speak. Investing time in this gives you the courage and insight that allows you to keep asking “what is going to matter enough to people and allow them to do the things the organization needs of them?”
Get that right and everything else follows…