Many companies talk a great training strategy, but when it comes to aligning that strategy with the goals of the business and seeing it through with a program that delivers the specific skills sets required, engages employees and has measurable outcomes, actual results can often fall short of expectation. Ironically, one area of the business that consistently highlights this shortfall is internal communications (IC).
This is not necessarily news, of course. Seen in the context of a wider frustration frequently expressed by employees when it comes to feeling stretched, intellectually challenged and inspired in their roles, the opportunity for training to meet these needs is clearly there.
In 2017, Question & Retain’s annual pulse check revealed the extent to which employees could benefit from a more focused and clearly aligned training strategy. Only 9 percent of those asked felt their employer was good at challenging people intellectually, for example. Just as tellingly, a mere 19 percent said the intellectual challenge of their role made them happy at work.
Thanks to a recent report by market research firm ComRes and headhunter company Ellwood Atfield, we can build a more specific picture of sentiment among IC practitioners. Only 54 percent of the survey respondents said they had access to the training they need to be effective in their role. If, as the report concludes, IC professionals are to fulfill the role that is increasingly demanded of them – to be internal advocates for the business’ strategy – it surely makes sense to invest in developing the skills and knowledge to meet these important goals.
Jennifer Sproul, chief executive at the Institute of Internal Communication (IoIC), agrees: “Fundamental to achieving a more central place in strategic planning, internal communicators must build their skills and knowledge to understand the strategy, goals and environment of their business and the role its people play in its success,” she says. “Developing commercial and business acumen is becoming increasingly important. It strengthens the role of IC professionals, enabling them to build an influential voice in the organization, particularly when talking with the leadership team.”
Coaching and facilitation are a key technical strand in the IoIC’s profession map, and they are vital in helping IC practitioners to identify and acquire the skills and knowledge that will fill the gaps in their strategic abilities. According to executive coach Helen Martin, these gaps are often exposed as the role of IC expands and professionals become the messengers and flag-bearers for transformational change in the organization.
“Very few of these professionals have an understanding of neuroscience, organizational development and behavioral change,” she says. “I believe that IC professionals will only be given a more central place in planning once they start showing a true understanding of what makes people tick and [how to] facilitate behavioral change.”
Martin’s view is shared by Liam FitzPatrick, a consultant at Quiller, who says that while IC training is great for developing writing and events management skills, strategic learning is generally only picked up as people go along: “As with any staff function, the true value comes when senior leaders are supported and advised – but too often the development of these skills is neglected.”
If it gained traction in the C-suite, this recognition might herald a new dawn of more personalized training and development, which evolves with the company’s strategic needs and helps all employees keep up with new trends and demonstrate added value. The time is right for a more innovative approach. But existing investment in expensive training programs can make organizations resistant to change – and a slow-moving corporate administrative machine can become a real barrier to flexibility.
Progress might be slow, but it is happening. Carol-Ann White, chief talent officer at brand consulting firm Landor, says we are moving away from linear career paths as we encompass a more diverse workforce and their needs: “I am increasingly focused on creating an environment that enables our people to move laterally, whether cross-function, cross-office or cross-client,” she says. “With this approach, we can create both a far more effective knowledge share across our offices and more intellectual stimulus to expand, engage and inspire our people.”
Whichever way we look at it, one thing is absolutely clear: When it comes to the potential for training to enable strategic alignment with the business’s story, IC professionals are no different from the employees they are striving to engage. While 2018 is still young, there could hardly be a better time to make this the year when personal development and intellectual fulfillment emerge as powerful strands in helping IC practitioners own their role as important enablers of strategic alignment across the business. Let the training commence.