A tree in a crowded forest must grow tall if it’s to compete for sunlight. As that tree extends upward and outward, it becomes more vulnerable to new forces. A windy day can topple a seemingly resilient and healthy tree. Why? The root system wasn’t nurtured to provide the essential foundation needed to keep it upright during the strongest storms.
For my internal communications work, that strong wind was the COVID-19 pandemic. Like other communicators, I was supporting a remote office employee base, new safety protocols for field staff and rapid technology deployments. The communications tree didn’t break, but it swayed and was sometimes stressed to the point I thought it would topple.
When work slowed in late 2020, I knew fundamental changes to our internal communications were needed, but I was having trouble putting my finger on the root issue. So, I turned to a fellow internal communications professional. After telling her how I was feeling, she furrowed her brow and said, “You’re trying to build the plane as you fly it, but you don’t have a design.”
It cut right through to what I was experiencing. My head had been in react mode for over six months (or more), and I hadn’t come up for air or taken a step back. I hadn’t applied the quality communication practices I had learned throughout my educational, professional and life experiences. It was time to grow my roots.
Shortly after that conversation, I signed up for the fall 2020 Accelerate program. Over three days, we covered 10 hallmarks of communications and I connected with like-minded peers across North America and Europe.
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Here are my three key takeaways from the program:
1. Get aligned.
The starting point for internal communication planning should always be the strategy, goals, priorities, issues, challenges and opportunities the business itself is grappling with. If you don't align your work with where your organization is going, you'll always feel like you’re struggling to get support for your initiatives. The Accelerate program reminded me that while I had been busy rolling out tactics, I should have stopped and first understood what I needed to do and why. To quote a line from the Accelerate resources, “A strategy is about thinking; a plan is about doing.”
2. Measure. Measure. Measure.
To prove the value of internal communications, you need to measure and report on outcomes. If your measurement systems are early in their development, you may not be able to answer all of the questions below, so report on what is available. The Accelerate program shared the levels of measurement that we should all be striving for, including:
- Distribution: Are you reaching your audience?
- Awareness: Are your audience members at the very least aware of what you’re trying to communicate?
- Appreciation: Do your audience members understand what you’re trying to communicate?
- Action and Advocacy: Is your communication activity helping change behavior?
- Business Impact: Is your communication contributing to organizational goals?
- Return on Investment: What financial return is the organization getting on its investment?
3. Connect with remarkable individuals.
One of the best aspects of Accelerate was the opportunity to connect with and learn from other internal communications professionals. We came from diverse backgrounds with varying levels of experience, from those running a one-person team to communicators working in multinational conglomerates that had over one hundred internal communicators.
Throughout our three days together, we shared stories, perspectives, new ideas and experiences. We took opportunities to troubleshoot challenging situations and help each other succeed. I’m grateful for the valuable connections who will readily help me if I need to talk through a communications challenge.
Reset With Accelerate
Roots take time to grow and properly anchor a tree. While the changes I need to make won’t happen overnight, the Accelerate program reconnected me with why I love communications and why it matters. For me, it was about slowing down so I could once again speed up and grow an internal communications function in a thoughtful, strategic way.
Bryce Bowman, MBA
Bryce Bowman, MBA, is an internal communications professional who enjoys applying strategic communications to solve business problems. He has an MBA, a bachelor of management and a diploma in marketing. Each day revolves around learning, utilizing new ideas and analyzing their impact — a communicator’s work is never perfectly tuned. Born and raised in Southern Alberta, he is currently the internal communications lead at McElhanney Ltd.