As human beings, we all hoard to one degree or another. We acquire new things and hang onto them well beyond their use-by date. If we’re not careful, we go “full-hoard” just like those we see on reality TV. Our homes become so full of stuff that our rubbish starts consuming us.
It turns out that people aren’t the only hoarders — organizations and governments hoard too.
They’re weighed down by a corporate clutter of processes, technology, rules and regulations, policies, projects, superfluous meetings and, dare we say, communication and words. There is a tsunami of stuff that destroys clarity, confuses and seriously compromises the ability to function.
In our recent “Road to Alignment” whitepaper, we explored the lessons learned about alignment and communications with 27 senior communication leaders, and as one lamented:
“Every big company faces the same challenge: the bigger you get, the more internal email mailing lists there are! So, every day, employees struggle to keep up. Which new initiative, new customer win, training program, or leadership message is the most important and needs to be read right now? Meanwhile, the professional communicator is too often the only voice crying out in the wilderness, trying to control it.”
—Genevieve Hilton, Head of Communications APAC, Lenovo
In 2020, COVID-19 gave us a glimpse of what’s possible when we put aside all this corporate clutter. It was a bright spot in an otherwise dark year.
‘There Is Nothing Like a Crisis To Clarify the Mind’
The celebrated strategist, Richard Rumelt, once said: “There is nothing like a crisis to clarify the mind.”
In the early days of COVID-19, many organizations were able to move mountains to help their people work remotely. In effect, they found a gear they didn’t know they had.
It’s realistic to say a large contributor to this success was sheer commitment and workload. People were asked to do a lot and they happily stepped up.
There was, however, another factor at play: clarity. There were a small number of clear outcomes and guiding principles for those who adapted well. Everything else fell away. Everyone knew exactly what they needed to do, why they needed to do it and they did it.
As a result, organizations achieved things they would not have thought possible, a fact that’s been celebrated in news articles and research papers all over the world.
Now we’re left with a question: How can we replicate this performance as our standard practice, sustainably and without burn out?
The answer is to kill all this corporate clutter and get clear on what really matters. And comms professionals have a big part to play in doing this.
How Comms Pros Can Kill Corporate Clutter
There are three ways that the communications team can start to kill the corporate clutter. The first is our favorite: simplify your story.
Most organizations today have managed to accumulate purpose, vision, values, strategy, brand statements, culture statements, employee and customer value propositions and more. Often, individual departments construct their own versions as well.
On a good day, the organization’s story is lost in the clutter of all these statements. On a bad day, these statements can conflict because they are created by different teams at different times for different reasons.
The result is that no one understands what the actual story is. Unfortunately, when this happens, people (aside from comms pros) won’t sit down and try to piece the puzzle together. They’ll just ignore the whole thing — or worse still, try to create new statements.
The opportunity for comms professionals is to cut through this maze and build clarity around the beliefs, priorities and behaviours that are important to the organization and its people.
You are one organization. You ultimately only have one story: who you are, where you’re going and how you’ll get there. Everything else anchors to that.
The story needs to be simple, credible and inspiring so that people get it, buy it, share it and ultimately live it. So, find this story and jettison everything else.
The second way is to simplify your workload. Focus your efforts on the real business value drivers, even if it means dropping some of the lower value or “hobby” projects. The impact this can have on the value you deliver, quality of your work and morale of your team can be significant.
As two of our “Road to Alignment” contributors said:
“One of the other things communicators need to constantly do is look at their own list of priorities, vanity projects and stuff that consumes their time. They need to say, hang on a minute. What is it that's actually going to help me move the needle on this? Because when I get the organization to a better level of maturity, then I can do some of the other wonderful projects that currently don't land or don’t have impact.”
—André Oberholzer, Group Head Corporate Affairs, Sappi Limited
“We can really overcook things and we have to invest so much in change because we're burdening people with difficult stuff that gets in their way. But if you make some smart choices about what to focus on this year [and] get it done properly, then next year you can focus on item number two and number three on your list. But we always go after all three at the same time. And everyone does that.”
—Danielle Bond, Group Director Brand Marketing & Communications, Aurecon
The third way to kill the corporate clutter is to simplify and prioritize the content and channel choice based on context.
“There's always a risk that people equate online contribution with volume. There’s an adage that the intranet should not be a rubbish dump for content, and equally our Workplace (from Facebook) all-company page is not a rubbish dump. So, if it’s not interesting enough to do a media release around it, sometimes it's good to have a conversation with the 10 other people who care on Workplace, who have a great engagement, and the people who are interested will be interested while the rest of us won't need to come across it.”
—Jason Laird, Executive Corporate Affairs, National Australia Bank
This need for a simplified approach to content is even greater these days, given that remote working will become at least a partial reality for many of us. In this world, the only real estate we have to work with is a computer screen.
“People are absolutely, totally fatigued with so much content. And in this world that we're in, it's this big pipe that I'm looking at right now that comes at me [referring to the computer screen].”
—Derrick Rozdeba, Vice President Communications, Bayer Canada
“In a traditional office space, a poster in the pantry is a viable option as an internal communication tool. But in the past year, all information of any kind —personal, corporate, retail, or anything else - is competing for this space right here [pointing at the screen]. And that's it. That's the only channel.”
—Genevieve Hilton, Head of Communications APAC, Lenovo
When it all boils down, there’s a message behind all of this: Less is more. Kill the corporate clutter.
It’s simple, but incredibly important, particularly in the world we live in today. The opportunity to interact with a person is a privilege, an opportunity. Not a right. Especially these days.
Let’s treat it that way.
Read more about the lessons from 2020 on alignment and communications in the Road to Alignment whitepaper. Download your free copy.
Wayne Aspland and Zora Artis, GAICD, SCMP
Wayne Aspland is a writer and communicator with more than 15 years’ experience in corporate, leadership and internal communications (including Head of Function). He has also lectured in communications at Deakin University, and acted as a member of the IABC Victoria Board (past) and the IABC APAC Board (current).
Aspland believes the purpose of all corporate communication is to bring people together, to create a connection. It’s the CEO seeking to unite her people behind a strategy or transformation. The group of stakeholders trying to find common ground. The salesperson and his potential client thrashing out a deal. The marketer creating collateral that will hopefully turn browsers into buyers. It’s all communication and it’s all about bringing people together. That’s how you get things done.
Zora Artis, GAICD, SCMP, FAMI, CPM, is Australia’s leading alignment strategist, working with leaders to unlock value in their organizations, people and brands to drive performance. She is the CEO of Artis Advisory, a current director of International Association of Business Communicators (IABC) Asia Pacific region, past director of the IABC global executive board, and vice-chair of the IABC World Conference 2021. Artis has almost three decades in business, marketing, communication, advertising and branding, and has worked with a breadth of organizations, including ABInBev, adidas, AusNet Services, AIA Australia, A2 Milk Company, GSK, LendLease, Weir Group, Marsh and the Victorian Government.