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November 27, 2017

The Simple Secret to Better Communications - Guest Blogger, Microsoft's Robert Ford


Your heart sinks and frustration sets in. Your communications task just got that much trickier when the senior leader you support delegates critical in-person discussion time to a semi-informed surrogate. As the deadline looms, the guessing game of what really needs to be said begins, and the stress mounts.

Welcome to the world of internal communication, where we all walk that thin line of either being a trusted counselor – advising the leader on connecting and inspiring teams – or the magician speech writer, guessing context and editing prose in isolation to at least make a semblance of sense. As communicators, we can play both roles, but we all know which one feels best and produces the best outcome. 

What Communicators Can Do Better

So, what can be done to improve the way we do our work? Great question, and one that I am sure has many answers based on circumstance and personalities. From my experience, there is one thing that everyone responsible for internal communications could do better as we attempt to secure that rarest of resources from our stakeholders – human attention. We can be far more effective simply by making clear our role in helping the leaders succeed. By doing so, we can capture their attention better than a triple espresso macchiato first thing in the morning (I’m in Seattle so I couldn’t resist that metaphor).

In the end, the level of engagement we get from leaders is in direct proportion to how well we express our function’s purpose and value, and our passion to help the leader succeed. This may sound sort of obvious? That’s because it is, yet we still don’t seem to do it often enough.

Great internal communication helps employees connect the dots between overarching business strategy and their role. This free eBook explains the business value of successful internal communication and gives communicators tools and strategies for getting the entire organization on board. Click here to get started.

Here’s One Way to Find Your Purpose

One of the best first ways to articulate the valuable purpose we serve is to sit down and explain it to ourselves. Why not start by looking in the closest mirror and explaining to yourself what your purpose is in communicating and how it can help your business succeed. Do this in less than 10 words and without a lot of corporate speak. What you see and hear in front of that mirror is what your stakeholder will, and this will determine where on the scale of councilor versus speech writer you end up landing.  

As for my team, what did we do to improve our communications processes? After asking the important questions about our purpose, we flushed our systems of corporate speak.  Our extensive whiteboarding efforts would have put consultants to shame. We then set aspirations to make our communications more personal, and we put our thoughts in terms that would encourage leaders to listen. We worked to inspire our audiences by connecting them to the bigger picture. We helped our team members know how they can contribute and told them why they should care. 

Committing Your Purpose to Paper

We also came up with a shared purpose for internal communications that so far has made a world of difference in the role we play and how we engage. We also put our purpose in terms that people can actually remember: “Connect with me, Inspire me, and I will act.”

What I’ve learned through this process is the simple power of reinforcing for leaders that smart and purposeful communication can play a big role in realizing a business outcome. When communicators approach leaders with that type of message, leaders come to see communications as an opportunity to connect and inspire a workforce to give discretionary effort, and move them to act on what’s important. Once leaders buy into this approach, communicators can bring their considerable experience, skills and creativity to bear, and life is good (or gets better).

What is your internal communication team’s purpose, and how can you maximize your effectiveness by making your purpose clearer?

—Robert Ford


About the Author

Robert Ford is Senior Director of Core Services Engineering for Microsoft. He tells the Microsoft IT story to customers and partners by showcasing how Microsoft does IT.

Download the Going Slow to Go Fast eBook and learn how to navigate the core challenges that today’s communicators face:

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