At the turn of every year, like many of you, I feel a sense of promise as I put together my annual internal communications plan. Just like my annual “this is the year I lose the extra weight” New Year’s resolution, I have that buoyantly hopeful sense of thinly re-enforced optimism.
However, this year, for the first time in my over 20 year career, I feel a real momentum shift in our workplace. To be fair, the signs have been there for a long time: how long have we been using the phrase “new normal” and spoken about the ever-increasing pace of change in the workplace? How long has our employees’ consumer digital experiences been outpacing their work experiences? We’ve been talking about the effects of Millennials for so long that now Gen Z is college age and interning in our offices.
The idea that this is just talk is over; our workplaces are already changing. To me, these changes translate into real opportunities to expand the boundaries and influence of what we do in internal communications. So looking at 2018, I see 5 opportunities for internal communications that have a foot in the past, but also feel new, pressing, and exciting:
- Creating a true Digital Workplace. ESNs will be around for a long time and so will e-mail (no surprises there). But what is different are the growing cloud-based digital work systems , accessed anywhere, anytime, and fully integrated. To me the epitome of this model is Microsoft Office 365, although Google has some claim here.An integrated, cloud-based system refocuses the point of innovation and creation from the individual to the team. Even more amazing, because an integrated set of tools sees who you are collaborating with, what documents you are working on, and who you are e-mailing, it is able to use machine learning to recommend other relevant documents and experts in your company who can help you with a current project. Yes it’s a little creepy, but it does fulfill the true potential of working in a large corporation by connecting you to people who you would not normally think to connect with. Finally — and here’s the real philosophical, late-night, dorm room question — if everything is in the cloud and is integrated, does that mean that everything becomes the intranet or perhaps nothing is the intranet. Discuss.*
- The Rise of People Marketing. My CMO, Jeanniey Mullen, coined the term “People Marketing” to talk about the importance of engaging employees in external marketing campaigns and converting them into advocates. When I was a marketer, some of my biggest failures were because I forgot this rule; and this was back in the stone age before social media. Now it’s not just about playing defense, but playing offense. On January 1 of this new year, I have a new “People Marketer” starting on my team. It is a brand new position who focuses on three things: (1) working with marketing to make sure every major external campaign has an internal campaign embedded within it; (2) collaborating with social to continue to recruit active employee advocates; and (3) partnering with sales enablement to ensure our customer facing colleagues present the full Mercer brand instead of just the piece they happen to be selling. With this role, we are attempting to create a catalyst in blending the external with the internal.
- Talking about Automation in the Workplace. This is a tricky challenge that many of us have been facing, or will soon need to face. As robots and AI are introduced into the workplace, Internal Communications is going to have to help leaders understand how to talk about it with employees. In a 2016 study by the World Economic Forum of 15 major economies concluded that the rise of robots and AI will destroy a net 5 million jobs by 2020. And Pew Research Center found that 72 percent of Americans were “worried” about a future in which robots and computers substituted for humans (there was less worry in other countries, particularly those with stronger public safety nets for healthcare and retirement). Very few, if any, workplaces will be spared this phenomenon, and helping employees embrace this inevitable change will be one of our biggest challenges as a profession.
- Getting Comfortable with Change. The ideal of a “change adaptable” organization is something we (with our partners in HR) have been trying to puzzle out for a few years. Related to my 3rd opportunity, I have a feeling that this could be our last year in which having a work culture that is comfortable with change still may be considered a competitive advantage versus what it will inevitably become: table stakes. What I have learned is that simply launching one change after another is not going to be enough to help; no matter how many times employees are asked to accept changes, they still hold out hope that this will be the last one. Great change communications help with each change, but not in evolving the culture and frankly, human nature which is organically anxious about change. If anybody has any thoughts in this area, I would welcome them.
- And yes, measurement, of course. I know, I know. You’ve heard this one before. It is starting to sound like the “this is the year I get in shape” New Year’s resolution. However, every year, the output/activity metrics get better and better. Especially, as we move to a digital workplace, measuring how people are communicating and collaborating will become easier. Of course, the difficulty still is in the outcome metrics of around what business good was achieved. It is frankly one of the reasons I continue to work closer with our social team. Employee advocacy has real measurable outcomes that are tied to real revenue and retention.
These are, of course, just a few of the challenges that my team and I will need to focus on in 2018; however, these feel to me like the ones that will move the needle significantly in terms of the value we can add to our organization’s success.
What have I missed? What are the major opportunities you are facing in your company?
*By the way, if you want to read from someone who is truly expert in this space about what is on the horizon, I recommend Paul Miller, CEO of the Digital Workplace Group. For instance, his recent My 10 digital workplace predictions for 2018 is excellent.