What future for communication directors ?

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In the popular “what will my job become”, today I’d like to focus on communication directors. I’ve been asked the question of the future of communication directors many times over the last months so I’d like to share the thoughts that came to my mind.

To sum it up in one sentence : the future of communication directors is to be communication directors.

So, no change to expect ? Of course yes. Everything will change. As a matter of fact communication directors have been managing anything but communication.

The future of communication directors is to manage communication, not the image anymore

Their real job used to be to protect the image. A role inherited from an era when businesses had the monopoly of the communication about them and when building a good image and covering it with a glass bell to make sure nothing could soil it was enough. Since the only risk face by the brand was a conflicting message, everything was done to prevent anyone from communicating about the company.

Hence the many “political” profiles that can be found in this job, the role having long been rather the one of an hatchet man than a communicator. But I think that the times of hatchet men in this job are over and that if there’s still a room for them in the company, it will be in another function.

Today, with employees and customers having tons of means to share and communicate about the gap between the promised experience and ethe actual one, the old paradigm is collapsing. Communication directors won’t survive as image protectors and will become  real communicators. Communicators and even change drivers.

The new communication director : a multifaceted communicator

Of course, and there’s nothing new here, communication directors will have to manage how the company speaks. But what changes is that the company now speaks in a context that has nothing to do with was it used to be 10 or 15 years ago : confused, scattered with new stakeholders and interlocutors. It requires a new posture.

This new posture is first about the tone of voice and the channels. If the official corporate voice still have a fundamental purpose, the more personified it is the more impactful it will be. So the communication director will have to help others to have their own voice. And it will start with leaders. I say help and not manage since this voice must be authentic and personal to be impactful. Either internally or externally, it’s easy for anyone to see the difference between a leader who tweets and blogs himself and someone who has his messages written by the PR department.

So a new posture is required because, at the end of the day, communication directors will have to empower and let things go : provides with the means and tools, trains, coaches but loses control and is less and less involved in execution.

From mass communication to a mass of communicators

But that’s not about leaders only : the company’s best spokepeople are its employee. All its employees. When it comes to this point, communication directions will have to put a definite end to the schizophrenia that makes them dream of every employee being an ambassador of the company and have nightmares about one of them making a mistake at the same time.

Knowing that preventing people from speaking is impossible, that their speaking as already regulated by laws and employment contract (yes…there are things no one should talk about in public), that it’s impossible to force them to speak either, the best approach is to provide employees with the tools, best practices and reflex to manage their personal brand. That requires accountability and will have an impact on their professional voice. Having a look a books like The Social Employee will be helpful.

Finally, communication directors will rather set information in motion rather than produce it. Of course they will produce a part of it but il will account for a more and more small part of the global volume. As a matter of fact when people (employees and customers) become information producers, the role of communication becomes more about curation and sharing. We see communication departments doing more and more crowdsourcing work, starting from employee generated content to identify what should be shared or further investigated to make it a company news.

Employees become communication partners

Another thing is going to change : the way internal communication will deal with employees. Of course employees will still be in many cases the target of the message. But they will also become partners. Externally speaking (ie the customer) that’s obvious, but internally too. We all know how reluctant employees are when it comes to pay attention to internal communication. But when the message is liked, shared by one’s network, the idea that “maybe it’s worth paying attention to it” easily emerges.

Communication directors as change drivers

Like CHROs, communication directions can’t change everything in the company but can be change drivers by identifying and reporting irritants and matters of unsatisfaction on both the customer and employee side.

If we agree that the speech of an employee or customer depends on the difference (positive or negative) between the promise and the actual experience, that’s a real-time barometer of what works or not in the company. If the gap is real and perceived in a negative way, communication directors (and CHROs for the employer brand) are at the forefront to identify weak signals and ask for adjustments. The response to such signals must never be an opposite signal but an internal realignment to align the promise with the reality (knowing that breaking the thermometer will never help to lower fever).

Image Credit : Corporate communication by Khakimullin Aleksandr via Shutterstock