Whither the Soft Stuff: Does Culture-Building Communication Still Matter?

[Our perspective by Michael Voss and Jennifer Rock]

The Internal Communications field has undergone a revolution over the last 20 years. In the 80s and 90s, we were relegated to the culture-building bin, producing hard-copy newsletters featuring birthdays and bowling scores. Today, IC professionals counsel CEOs, translate complex financial information, manage an array of digital and social channels, and develop richly textured strategies to engage employees in their organization’s vision and direction.

It’s hard to argue against this kind of progress – after all, this is precisely where many of us aspired to be when we signed onto the internal circuit. Still, it raises an interesting question about the content often derided as “the soft stuff”: To what extent does cultural communication belong in today’s more strategic, business-focused IC approach?

We believe communications that engage the hearts and minds of employees must be an integral component of any holistic communication strategy. The key is to identify how the concept of cultural communication has evolved along with the IC function itself.

Companies can no longer rely on the occasional baby shower or company picnic as their primary cultural tactics. The truth is, culture-building is an ongoing, strategic activity. Where an IC function can and should take the lead is in telling the stories that reflect who your organization is on its best days. Cultural communication is about holding up a mirror to your leaders and employees and reminding them what makes your company special – why it’s a great place to work, and why they should be proud to be a part of it.

However, keep in mind that creating a stand-alone cultural vehicle or tactic dilutes its power. It must be a part of your organizational communication philosophy, and the stories you tell must be strong enough to stand astride your strategic, financial and business-related content.

That said, there are vehicles and tactics that better lend themselves to the cultural aspects of your communication strategy.

In a previous life, we worked closely with a world-class video production team who used its medium to maximum effect, developing entertaining, business-related content that also created emotional connections with viewers. Long written off as dead, a printed piece can also be effective. We once a produced a four-color magazine distributed to thousands of locations, highlighting stories and photos of employees across the company alongside feature stories about business strategy. And never discount the power of face-to-face communications. There’s no substitute for a story well-told by an inspirational, knowledgeable individual.

In the end, cultural communications will vary across companies because the culture of every organization is unique. The key is to recognize the value in this often overlooked part of the communications arsenal, and to allow for its day in the sun.

©  rockdotvoss.com



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