Do as I say, not as I do


How genuinely self-critical are you – should you be – about your role in your business? Over the past few years many people have come to acknowledge the potentials of social media inside the business and of collaborative working, characterised most recently by concepts like ‘working-out-loud’.


And yet. Many conversations about these concepts with CEOs and internal comms, HR and marketing managers can lead to contradictory conclusions. On the one hand, they all say they’re receptive to change and are keeping up with the latest thinking – but on the other, in reality it’s invariably just talk.


Enterprise or Employee Social Networks (ESNs) will continue to gain traction, but will they ever truly deliver if people stick to pre-social working practices, defined by job titles and reporting structures? Genuine collaborative working needs individuals to be encouraged to develop and use their skills, unconstrained by labels and set tasks. Yet the ‘functionaries’, who define themselves by their function not their skills, tend to get in the way.


Social platforms challenge the meaning of the role of many specialized functions, notably management itself. So for their potential truly to be realised, managers will ask themselves:


Is internal communications management a function or a skill set?

Social originated outside the business, and it’s revolutionized marketing. So perhaps it’s not surprising that, of all the key areas in a business, the marketing department is the one that has most clearly realised that its core skills are no longer its own exclusive domain. In the social world, every single employee can contribute to marketing by being a brand ambassador. Many businesses are discovering that, if the marketing skill-set is not transferred to all employees then the business won’t compete effectively in future – whether for customers or for quality staff.


Will internal communicators also recognise that all staff need communication skills? The authentic crowd-sourced message makes compelling reading – and internal communication managers need to nurture it, not censor it.  In future an IC manager will be defined not by function but by skills channelled into realising strategic outcomes and, to some extent, made transferable to all employees. That means seeing business communications in the round, incorporating all employees but also part-timers, contractors, partners, supply chain and distributors. Perhaps we’ll be seeing more communication strategists, to distinguish this new skill set from traditional internal comms.


Is community management a function or a skill set?

When a new technology is introduced, it’s tempting to assume that new roles will be needed to manage it. Remember when websites required the web team – a new silo – to post the content? Sophisticated Content Management Systems have done away with the role of web editor. But it’s happening again with the introduction of ESNs. The internal communications team could see this as an opportunity to develop new skills, but often they let the ‘intranet manager’ or ‘community manager’ take over. Why? The basic skills of community management are being socially adept and empathetic, editorially aware and well organised. Are these so far away from the skills required for comms?


The role of community management was, and for many still is, an essential function that ensures the vibrancy and value of the community. Yet the role is changing. While the use of online communities, external and internal, is increasing, more people are leaving community management than entering it. With more intuitive technical platforms, the required skills are essentially about management of human interactions.  These skills already exist within the business – especially in internal comms. IC managers need to acquire the skills of community management, to support their comms work.


Will cross-functional teams be the new norm?

Introducing social into the business surely involves an aspiration – at the least – to involve all employees in the areas of customer loyalty, employee engagement, knowledge-sharing, collaboration, emotional support, advocacy and innovation. But can you expect pre-social siloed working methods to deliver on this? Cross-functional team working is the natural outcome of introducing an ESN, so the business had better be prepared to embrace it.


The traditional company hierarchy is the great enemy of cross-functional teams; and the people who have most invested in that hierarchy are the managers, especially the middle managers. (Note – this may include the IC managers and community managers!) So we need middle managers – including IC managers – to reinvent themselves as facilitators and advisors, and acknowledge that being a ‘manager’ can get in the way of doing the right thing.