There's a creepy, clinical edge to how many people refer to employee communication. Anyone who has taken a PR diploma, attended an IABC conference or reads the trade publications serving our field knows what I'm talking about. Strategic internal communication is all about "changing behavior," "aligning the interests of employees and the enterprise," "securing buy-in," "increasing mindshare," or "leveraging human capital."
Yuck. Could we be more Orwellian than this? The term "internal propagandist" comes to mind.
And yet the spirit behind these icky terms is not a bad one -- everyone wants to do meaningful work and to make a difference. It so happens that employee communicators are in the business of influencing behavior and changing attitudes, even if it's in relatively benign ways like making sure people understand the latest changes to the benefits program or urging them to try not to waste money.
But I sure don't like the terminology. It doesn't reflect the changing values of our society, which is rebelling against the hierarchy and paternalism that defined the generation that, thank goodness, is on its way out. And it doesn't reflect how most internal communicators think about their role.
So, instead of influencing behavior, we earn trust and support. Instead of aligning interests, we listen and learn. Instead of leveraging human capital, we tell stories that help build strong internal communities. And instead of securing buy-in and increasing mindshare, we support positive change and start meaningful conversations.
This shift in language is not just turning unattractive words into cute ones. It represents a shift in attitude. It rejects a paradigm centered on clinical control, and recognizes the humanity of what we do.