Views: Moving from being ‘comms managers’ to being ‘intent managers’ and ‘attention managers’

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What would you do if you were told your job description was obsolete? If the tasks and intent behind the description were actually sending you away from success?, ask Lizabeth Wesely-Casella and Mike Klein.

You’d probably want to know what the new definition of success is, and if you are positioned to achieve it, right?

In the case of internal communication professionals, the definition of the role has shifted away from “managing comms” to “managing intent” and “managing attention.”

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The problem

The unfortunate reality is, “Internal Comms” doesn’t always have a seat at the leadership table. It is often seen as a task-oriented job rather than a skill set, and as such, it isn’t afforded the time or resources to create lasting engagement and influence.

Without explicitly redefining that the internal communications manager is the professional who crafts the messaging strategy to support the intent of leadership and gain attention and engagement, the job and successful outcomes are misaligned.  

Of the two new role definitions, the first – managing intent – is the one that aligns most naturally with management’s expectations. We are expected to drive intent that comes down from leadership and then distribute a multitude of messages centered on what leaders think is important, often with limited discretion to pique employee attention.

Here’s what we mean:

Delivering leadership’s intended message over multiple channels and various styles to meet the needs of the workforce – This is good. It’s exactly why we have a job.

Delivering leadership’s intended message without being able to use the creativity and tools it takes to stimulate attention – This is not good. It’s where we’re set up to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory.

Often, the expectation is that “the message” is sent verbatim and with narrow guardrails that align with leadership’s understanding of how messaging works. Or that it comes from a disembodied corporate voice or a distrusted leader, rather than someone who is seen by employees as credible.

Remember, leaders lead, but they don’t often communicate well with large groups of employees.

The big idea

In an ideal world, and that’s what we can build during this time of disruption and innovation, internal communications can take the intended root message from leadership and turn it into a layered intent and attention management strategy that meets employees where they’re at and honors their communication needs.

The following prompts can help you do two things: Build an effective communication strategy, and visually describe to leadership what it takes to create engagement and attract attention within your workplace.

Sit down with leadership and together, ask the following questions: Is your channel assessment up to date? and do you have established policies, standards or guidelines in place?

If yes to both questions, the key stakeholders need to work through some basic steps to allow an approach that integrates intent with attention

Step 1 = clarify roles and authority 

Step 2 = identify the known ‘communication moments’ and plot them on the content calendar

Step 3 = Discuss additional ‘intent’ messages and how they fit into larger themes and campaigns and add to the content calendar

Step 4 = Review for message overlap, holes, etc.

Step 5 = Assign campaigns to specific channels

Together these steps form the foundation of a communication plan.

The next step involves creating multi-layered campaigns, conveying slightly different but integrated takes on the chosen intent through each distribution channel.

These should be tracked with regular measurement – by conducting small-sample research activities asking qualitative and quantitative questions to gauge how employee attention, understanding, and engagement align with corporate intent.

The research will offer some clear guidance about how to pay attention towards the intent, and where the gaps may continue to be. Do you need to connect the “why” or the “how” to the messages?

How are you using your research to calibrate engagement metrics, message desirability, and effective distribution?

Do you need to connect messages to larger goals?

Are you segmenting your messages?

Are you writing with brevity or in a style that meets your team’s needs?

Are you distributing the right information on the right channels?

The bottom line

Embracing the evolution away from “communications management” toward “intent management and attention management” will not only improve your content, it will ultimately improve your impact and the quality of your professional life.

If you can engage leadership in this conversation, you will effectively sidestep issues related to proliferation of unnecessary content, disengagement and diffused attention, reduce inbox overwhelm and noise, and heightened pressure to deliver random content.

Moreover, it will place you more clearly at the centre of the relationship between leaders and employees, while giving you a clearer, cleaner and more structured relationship with each.  

Lizabeth Wesely-Casella is the founder and CEO of L-12 Services Corp., a Washington DC firm focused on operational excellence.

Wesely-Casella works with businesses to improve internal communications and operations functions, including workflow, processes, and culture.By leveraging the institutional knowledge of existing team members, her team prevents attrition and creates attraction, making her clients the ‘must-have interview’ for high-caliber talent.

In addition, Wesely-Casella and her team create alignment and personal investment within the organization to enhance innovation, collaboration, cooperation, and overall engagement.

Wesely-Casella is a nationally recognized speaker and travels throughout North America to share internal communications best practices.

To contact Lizabeth, please email or connect on LinkedIn. Visit the L-12 Services website.

Mike Klein is a communication strategist, consultant and trainer, and is the founder of the global #WeLeadComms recognition initiative. 

Klein focuses his consultancy practice on research, measurement and the social analysis of enterprises and communities. Author of “From Lincoln to LinkedIn, the 55 Minute Guide to Social Communication,” he has worked in a diverse range of organizations, ranging in size from Cargill, Shell and the US Government to NGOs, political campaigns and startups. 

A fervent supporter of Tottenham Hotspur Football Club, Klein is an MBA graduate of London Business School and is based in Reykjavik, Iceland.