Communicators, don’t let the crap come back

You put unnecessary communication on the shelf during the pandemic. Will it stay there?

By Jim Ylisela

Beware of the backslide.

The COVID-19 pandemic transformed internal communicators into something they’ve always wanted to be: essential.

Typically the poor country cousin to PR and marketing, internal comms was thrust into the spotlight 18 months ago, when the world as we knew it—and certainly the world of work—changed, possibly forever. Employee communicators stepped up big.

They were in the middle of everything, helping to run their organizations’ COVID-19 command centers and putting out news, sometimes multiple times a day, feeding an employee audience hungry for information. The metrics were off the charts.

And they worked side-by-side with their executives, every day, to help them navigate the disruption and fear caused by the pandemic. They pushed aside some less meaningful communication and the clunky, time-consuming ways they had been producing it.

Almost overnight, “we’ve always done it this way” turned into “we don’t need to do this at all.”

Those leaders always knew internal comms was there—sort of—but communication during the pandemic really opened their eyes.

“They were true partners,” more than one C-suiter has told me in recent months. “We simply couldn’t have done it without them.”

But that was yesterday.

Today, even with the threat of COVID still very much with us, and so many other changes affecting our work lives, something else is happening.

The crap is starting to come back. Can you feel it? It’s oozing back into the organization, and onto your daily to-do list. You may not notice it at first, but it’s out there, and it’s coming for you.

Searching for an appropriate metaphor, I turned to one of my favorite horror films: 1958’s cheeseball classic, “The Blob,” starring a young Steve McQueen: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FEJhqHiffbE .

Yeah, kind of like that. Seeping. Creeping. And then overwhelming.

More unnecessary emails, adding to the pile not yet read and ultimately ignored. Long, boring leadership messages. Dumb photos and ponderous talking head videos.

All the flotsam and jetsam that has been choking the life out of internal communications as long as anyone can remember—it’s all coming back.

At Ragan Consulting, we do a lot of communications audits, to assess what’s working, what isn’t and what’s needed. Because of the pandemic, many organizations want to restart or reset their communications.

To paraphrase (steal) from my colleague Kristin Graham, it’s like everyone wants to find the dot on that site map at the mall, the one that says, “YOU ARE HERE.”

When we do audits, it gives me a chance to talk with communicators and leaders about what they’ve seen and how they’re feeling about communication.

More than one executive has told me that once they realized how much crap there was—by virtue of having to push it aside during the pandemic—they now fear its return. They worry about the backslide, the notion that once things return to quasi-normal, everyone will revert to the way they did things before.

As one CEO put it, “We can’t let that happen. We just have to focus on what matters.”

I agree, but don’t underestimate the power of “the blob.” You have to actively fight against it before it eats your brain. And let me clear: Not everything that got pushed aside is crap. Some is worthwhile communications than can be done better, faster—and maybe through a different channel.

The trick is not to just eliminate all that stuff but to figure out a way to do less—but do it better.

And we’d better get on it, because there’s new work for internal communicators that wasn’t there before. First, COVID-19 isn’t over, by any stretch. There is still the threat of the virus, what to do if there’s an outbreak, when to impose vaccine mandates or testing, what’s the best way to return to the workplace.

And behind all of that is an even bigger issue. Where’s your culture? Is it the same as it was before the pandemic? Hardly. How do you stay connected with a workforce that is here or there, sometimes in and often out?

And the biggest question of them all: Does your culture make people want to stay, while attracting new talent to join you? Every organization we talk with is struggling with this question.

It’s time to see where you are, what you need and where you want to go.

But watch out for “the blob.”

Jim Ylisela is co-founder and senior consultant at Ragan Consulting Group. He loves movie references that his far younger colleagues have never heard of, or seen. RCG specializes in corporate communications training, consulting and strategic counselSchedule a call with Tom Corfman to learn how we can help you improve your communications. Follow RCG on LinkedIn here.

 

 

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