“No man is an island entire of itself…” John Donne wrote in 1624. Ah, but get that man, or woman, to work and he or she can be positively insular.
Large, public companies, midsize firms and tiny operations, to some degree, all find communication between parts of the enterprise to be a challenge.
In addition, as you might expect, getting disparate parts of a company to work together—what usually is called integration—is an issue, too.
Certainly, in large, multinational companies with operations in various parts of the world, internal communications and integration are critical. You’d expect the challenges to be time zone and cultural differences as well as language barriers.
Fortunately we’re living at a time when many corporate leaders understand and appreciate the need for you, the professional communicator, whose experience, relationships and skills allow you to mobilize and coordinate elements of a brand’s global workforce. How hard is that? Ever try to get a family of four mobilized and out the door on time? OK, now multiply that by thousands. Communicators, we'll give you a moment to commiserate.
You might be able to help, however. More on this below.
One Hand Doesn't Know What The Other is Doing...
As a neophyte in a large company with myriad offices, I learned eventually that nearly every piece of communication I was assigned to create from scratch existed elsewhere in the corporate thicket, aka the company’s public-facing site or its intranet. The trick was finding its hiding place, modifying and updating the content to fit the current corporate emphasis and conditions.
The sadder thing in terms of integration and communication was that my supervisor, a company veteran, didn’t realize the content existed. Not surprising, since our office was the company’s smallest outpost. In addition, communicators at the center expended little effort in making the office I worked in feel like part of the company. (Needless to say, there are several lessons from this example for communicators and corporate leaders alike.)
I know what you’re thinking: "Companies that lack integration and have poor internal communications are relics. They’re doing business in an old way and are bound to experience all sorts of issues internally and externally.” You’re right. Still, look at your company, large, medium or small: Are important things communicated between departments well? Are critical choices explained to employees, potential employees and customers and potential customers? What about integration? Have silos been broken down?
Another Hand Example
As we know, social media has changed the expectations millennials, and the rest of the population, have of brands. Recently I stayed at a hotel in NYC whose brand you would know; it’s iconic. The day after my stay ended I received an email asking me to take a brief survey about my experience. I did, explaining in the comments section that the room was so noisy from an internal source (plumbing, perhaps) that I couldn’t sleep. (Yes, there was the usual racket from NYC, but it’s hard to blame a hotel for that.)
The day after, I received a personal email from an executive at the hotel apologizing for my unpleasant stay. Well done! Within minutes after that, however, I received a note from the brand thanking me for staying at the hotel and hoping my stay was pleasant. Sure, I received an automated message, but I expected more integration from this brand. I emailed the executive who’d earlier sent me the personal apology. I told her of the note. I’ll conclude it was an integration issue; the note I received baffled her. She had no idea where from within the brand it came from. Her manager, she said, also was baffled. Very nicely, and, I imagine, sheepishly, they asked me to forward the note to them. Ouch!
Communicators Can Answer the Bell
The reasons for a lack of integration are basic and well known. They include self-confidence issues (department chiefs sometimes fear giving up responsibilities) and budgetary ones (they're also fearful of reduced budgets). That said, implementing the changes needed for integration is far from easy (for more, see this article in PR News). Integration issues exist outside of business, too. A PR pro asked a famous conductor if the conductor’s home orchestra was the best in the world. The conductor responded, "When they play together they are." The PR pro laughed. The conductor was not kidding.
Communicators should be able to help, though.
Torod Neptune, Verizon’s VP of corporate communications, likes to say communicators “work in the shade…between departments” and so are well placed to assist companies many things, including communications and integration between departments. A recent report from The Conference Board reached a similar conclusion.
It seems there’s plenty of work to be done.