Speaking truth to power: A lesson for internal communicators

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First off, this isn’t a condemnation of U.S. White House press secretary Sean Spicer. Anyone in communication understands that’s an extremely difficult and demanding job, regardless of who the president of the United States is.

A recent Globe and Mail article authored by two former communication directors for Canadian prime ministers sought to share advice for Spicer to make his job a bit easier. They provided four rules, but with an external communication focus. I noticed that there is a direct alignment in their advice with how internal communicators should act with CEOs and other senior leaders.

Here are the four rules, with an internal communication slant:

Rule #1: Your job is not to suck up to your boss

Article authors Peter Donolo and Jason MacDonald use the phrase “speaking truth to power.” And I love it. They say that a huge part of begin a communication adviser is telling your boss what they need to hear, not what they want to hear. Many in internal communication are guilty of being afraid to tell their boss/CEO/whomever the truth if it’s not what the leader wants to hear. You represent the voice of the employee and are not the company’s internal mouthpiece. This is likely where employee engagement has been damaged the most.

Rule #2: Never lie to the media (or employees)

Idealistically, the rule should end with “lie,” but let’s move on. Just like external communication people should never betray the trust of the media, internal comms professionals shouldn’t with employees. Again, internal communication is the voice of the employee. And with trust on the decline everywhere, you simply can’t afford a lie. You help perpetrate a lie and employee trust in you will vanish. You need to be a trusted advocate and facilitator.

Rule #3: You shouldn’t be the story

Usually this isn’t an issue with internal communicators. Just make sure you’re taking credit for your work and recognizing others who have made contributions. Communication isn’t about you. But you have the access, reach and responsibility to create stories about others. You represent the employee voice. Continue to let employees be the stars.

Rule #4: When you’re in a hole, stop digging

You know when stories just aren’t resonating with employees, or when they just don’t care about the message or the channel. So you either get creative or just drop it. If you’re going to roll out the same campaigns year after year or month after month, just stop. I’ve seen communicators simply change a few dates and the design and don’t think employees will notice. They do. And they also notice when extra time and creativity is involved.

Learn how to introduce new technologies into the workplace and boost user adoption during Chuck Gose’s session, “The role of technology in the employee experience.”

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About the Author

chuckChuck Gose is a self-proclaimed Skyline Chili connoisseur and Duran Duran fan with nearly 20 years of experience in marketing, corporate communication, and internal communication. Gose is the founder of ICology, a resource and podcast for internal communicators, and the vice president of business development and partnerships for StaffConnect, an enterprise mobile app developer. He also got to fly in a blimp once.

This interview originally appeared in the CW Observer

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