Addressing these reasons can save time, heartache, wasted effort while accelerating confidence and connectivity

It’s still early, but for many corporate communications leaders and managers, organizational or internal communications approaches and programming are already headed for less than anticipated results.

So, what is it that diminishes promise into anxiety?   Below is a brief summary of what we’re finding as to reasons for such an untenable future:

No ‘Uber’ Business Goal (Tactical vs. Strategic)

The key omission for internal communications is the lack of an overall business goal.   This can take the form of many different types of priorities related to strategy.  Does the organization want to reposition itself in the marketplace?  Is it looking to increase retention of talent?  Is it looking to recruit more effectively?  Is the company moving from a product to customer strategy? Is it looking to rebrand?  Is clarity of strategy and direction (or lack thereof) getting in the way of progress? Organizing and implementing internal communications against a strategic business goal catalyzes thinking and provides a pathway for conducting and measuring communications in support of the business and not for communications sake.

No Overarching Story Line 

A major miss for communicators in developing internal communications centers around a Narrative.  When we assess effectiveness, one of the first things we look for is a consistent, coherent story line.  What do all the elements add up or lead to?  Without a central theme or narrative, communications is often rambling, incoherent and ultimately meaningless to improving employee confidence.  Note: a story line or narrative is different than just telling stories – see below.  It is the core teachable point of view from which the workforce derives purpose.

Worried About the Wrong Things

In instance after instance, we are finding communications execs fixated on assessing their performance in internal communications against artificial objectives vs. peer benchmarks. Or, chasing quantity over quality. Or, Awareness over Dialogue, Discussion, debate. Or, still relying heavily on e-mail for interactions and information dissemination.

Chasing Content vs. Audience (Relevance)

If you’re paying attention, Content is the new buzzword in communications.  For internal communicators, content is often discussed (and debated) as it relates to relevance.   How can we ensure what’ s being communicated is relevant to the workforce?  The truth, though, is that today’s workforce is not a homogenous group. Rather, it is an amalgam of different generational groups, interest, attitudes, experiences, and beliefs.  Relevance can’t be in the hands of the communicator.  Relevance is owned by the audience segment.  In that vein, internal communications is quickly moving to an “on-demand” model where content is cultivated, shaped and shared by community allowing employees to choose their own adventure aka experience.

Holding Onto Methods That Don’t Work – Overcompensating the Social/Digital Solution

From intranets that aren’t being used, to newsletters no longer being read, to social collaboration forums selling furniture not ideas or collaboration, communicators can’t seem to part with things that no longer hold value.  People, regardless of generation, still prefer face-to-face communication especially for major announcements and sensitive issues.  However, many organizations communications systems ignore this approach favoring informal digital and social channels.  Think about it, there’s a reason Yammer is not being utilized as envisioned.

Not Connected to Important Parts of the Business – Decision-makers

A very subtle, yet powerful, driver for effective internal communications is how connected the communications team is to various parts of the organization from the C-Suite to Business Units and Operating Functions.  A lack of connectivity to any one of these areas often minimizes the role and importance of internal communications.

Worse, it separates communications form the inner workings of the enterprise robbing it of important knowledge and information needed to ensure alignment of communications with the future state of the business.

Metrics That Don’t Accelerate Business Priorities

Even now we still see metrics that track awareness or attendance and not engagement.   Analytics have enveloped the entire profession and none more profound than inside the company.   Do employees share or amplify information internally and externally?  Are they raising or continuing discussions on important topics with colleagues or peers?  Are they recommending talent to join or stay?

Broadcast vs. Conversation Model

When all is said and done, internal communications strategies and plans still boil down to the traditional “broadcast” model – pushing information across channels irrespective of intent, interest, or efficacy.  In a social and digital world, the workplace is demanding conversation or the ability to process, discuss, share, comment, debate and challenge everything from strategy to products, from promotions to investments.  It’s all about belonging to the organization in a personal way.  In this model, social channels and digital platforms complement face-to-face resulting in a conversational loop.

Intuition Based vs. Data Driven

Where is the data?  Where are you most vulnerable to employee flight?  Union representation or labor unrest?  Who is most interested in strategy?  Who uses your portal? When? For what? What stories get the most attention?  All of this and more can be assessed, analyzed, measured, and probed for deeper meaning and insight.

Cheerleading or Provocative?

In reviewing content, messaging, and events, we tend to find an overly positive tone that belies the reality employees are experiencing in their daily work.   Studies show that being provocative in tone and context not only breaks through but also improves trust as people appreciate being treated as professionals.

You’re Not Telling Stories or Using Visuals

We relate to a story.  We expect a backdrop and context setting to truly grasp meaning.  And, over 70% of us are visual learners according to research.  So, why are internal communications often dry, filled with corporate speak, lacking context and one-dimensional?  Time to be story-tellers and artists.

As a large number of organizations grapple with the changing dynamics of a shifting marketplace – global, complex, multi-faceted – engaging employees as integral to decision-making as well as being advocates for the business and its value is central to maintaining competitiveness and ensuring relevance.

From an organizational communications standpoint, avoiding the pitfalls cited above, can reduce risk achieving the right balance of performance and engagement.

Here’s hoping your internal communications in 2017 exceed expectations!


It’s a new year!   For leaders, it’s a time to reinvigorate the organization.  To inject passion, hope, and belief in the future.  For employees, it’s an opportunity to see something new, different.  To reorient thinking around what’s possible.

For the entire workforce, it’s about choice.  What you will make time for?  Put effort into?  Monitor and progress? Believe? Pursue?

But what can leaders do to ensure that the first few months of a new year are not squandered and that every behavior, action, communication, and decision helps people make sense of the world around them?  And, in doing so, allow them to reconcile the hypotheses they have about the business and the future.

The following proven techniques actually constitute a core competence that leaders should consider adopting to gain acceptance and engagement

1. Don’t assume people comprehend what happened in 2016

They don’t.  It’s important to capture the overarching story for the past year – successes and failures – so people can place in perspective.  CEOs and leaders possess the context to make sense of the past year and seize the opportunity to translate it into a storyline that provides lessons, solutions, and insights to improve organizational judgment going forward.

2. Identify markers for progress in 2017 but don’t complete the picture

The major flaw leaders and communicators make in attempting to motivate the workforce is to overcompensate on platitudes or worse, provide a solution to questions that have yet to be asked. Don’t predict the new year.  Spell out  and highlight the areas the company is focused on in the coming year and maintain a discussion going forward.  This keeps it real. Your workforce and the marketplace will ultimately determine the fate of the business.  Your role is to guide, shape and support where necessary.

3. Eliminate non-value habits

A new year opens up an incredible opportunity for organizations to discard non-value processes, systems, procedures, and behaviors.  It’s how internal cultures transform. So, what are they?  Talk about them throughout the enterprise.  Eliminate them from job descriptions and performance metrics.

4. Listen to your customers

So obvious yet often overlooked.  What are customers telling you via conversations and actions that directly impact your business? What did they tell you via their actions and behaviors in 2016?  What did they buy? Complain about?

5.  Know your interpreters 

Each year opens up new networks of influencers and interpreters – people who follow, comment, share, inform and interpret decisions and opinions about your brand, your business, your future, and your leadership.  Who are they? What are they talking about?  What are they doing?  How are you using digital intelligence to drive relevance and performance?

6.  Trust your people

There is no  better time to convey to employees how important and appreciated they are than the beginning of a new year.   One of the most effective methods is encouraging a discussion in January and February across the business on a specific subject.  Rather than empty rhetoric, engaging people on a real time basis via salient topics conveys trust.

Leaders have an incredible window at the outset of each year to fill the natural void in comprehending the previous 12 months – making sense of myriad activities – to better direct their work in the coming year. Helping people make the argument themselves results in a more confident workforce and a level of organizational clarity necessary to operate in today’s global marketplace.

7. It’s all Culture

Culture is a byproduct of organizational design, structure.  It directly reflects how leadership thinks, behaves, and what it deems important.  It is a blend of logic and feel.

What is your organization’s culture?  Spend time here and strategy becomes gets implemented more effectively.

Why should these become a core competence?

The traditional way leaders usher in a new year is with pro forma message cheerleading the troops to do more and achieve greater results touting all that went well.  The truth though is that people already formed hypotheses about what happened and its impact on them and their careers and work.

Applying the techniques above can improve organizational performance through clear, collaborative and connective communications encouraging people to challenge, react, and assimilate individual and collective growth while strengthening trust throughout the business.

In an age of enlightenment, facilitating peer-to-peer discussions at the start of each year based on a clear organizing principle is essential to opening up minds and freeing people from the baggage of the past year.

As CEO and leaders of the business, there is nothing more important for achieving sustained success.

Happy New Year!


Believe it or not, 2016 is coming to a close. Q4 is a great time to reflect on the year’s accomplishments and look forward to the coming year. What’s on your list? One goal many of us integrated communications and marketing professionals can always strive for is to continue breaking down internal silos for the betterment of our teams and companies.

Working at an agency, I am continually impressed with how efficient and resourceful my colleagues are. We constantly ask ourselves, “What is the most valuable use of my time?”

Here are three tips for breaking down silos for a more valuable time spend:

#1: Put yourself out there

Place yourself in as many conversations and meetings as possible with colleagues outside of your discipline. Do it so often that it becomes a habit. I try to teach my direct reports this as soon as they come on board; in fact, I encourage them to add it to their professional goals. A 15-minute get-to-know-you coffee with a designer, data analyst, or operations manager can go a long way in making you a smarter and more well-rounded person. It will also inevitably help you learn about other teams’ initiatives and goals, and will offer you a fresh perspective when approaching a challenging situation. Figure out what motivates your colleague. What are they driven by? What are their pet peeves? You might be surprised to learn that their goals are not always the same as yours – but that there are little things that both sides can be doing to achieve together.

#2: Identify the right people who should be involved at each step in the process

Aaron Aders, co-founder and CSO of Relevance, poses three questions you should ask yourself to make sure you’re involving the right people at the right time.

  • Whose perspectives can significantly improve the project outcome? Identify the people and teams who know what’s happening in the market to ensure that the strategy of your initiative aligns with real market dynamics; this can include making sure marketing efforts are based on sales data, and that the issues being addressed are rooted in real customer service concerns.
  • Whose buy-in will help move the project forward and ease implementation? When you find yourself at the inflection point of a project, consider whose buy-in might help move the project forward. Are there one ore two stakeholders who should be on board with the project goals from the outset? To avoid having too many cooks in the kitchen, choose these stakeholders carefully and consider the timing of when they should be brought in.
  • Who is likely to sabotage the project? You can probably imagine these people now. Turns out there are often a couple of colleagues who you can expect to have a negative reaction ahead of time, and – usually – they bring up valid points that should be addressed. Bring these people in as early as possible so that they are involved every step of the way and feel as connected to the project’s success as you do.

#3: Measurement

How do you measure your success? Consider establishing benchmark metrics at the beginning of the year that can serve as a framework for success. But don’t just do this with your team in mind. Sit down with your colleagues from other teams and ask them to share the metrics they measure themselves against; you may find that you’ll want to add a few to your list – or even replace some of yours.

How can you expect to be innovative if you’re doing the same thing day in and day out? At BrewLife and W2O Group, we believe in breaking down silos to build better teams, products, and – ultimately – value.

In today’s social/digital reality, Relevance has become the new reputation. This means that an organization must connect consistently and authentically on multiple levels with its key audiences — in areas that are both meaningful to the business- its core purpose and strategic direction – as well as areas that are meaningful to its audiences. What makes this different is the speed at which relevance forms and dissipates and the agility necessary to harness it for sustained growth and success.

In an age where information is ubiquitous and people move from one subject to another in a blink of eye, if your brand, product, service or company isn’t on their radar you don’t exist.

It’s all about connection.

In this issue of Common Sense for the C-Suite, we explore how organizations can drive growth and sustain efficacy in a crowded, distracted business environment.

Please click on the cover image to view the report.


img_8514This blog post was co-authored by Rob Jekielek, Managing Director at W2O Group. He brings deep expertise building and leading multi-year corporate brand and reputation strategy relationships, working as an adviser to senior executives at some of the world’s largest and most influential organizations.