The ‘lived experience’ of practicing internal communication is not the same for everyone who works in the industry and our individual circumstances are often very different. There has been a recent explosion in the number of internal communication podcasts where advice for practitioners, founded on the lived experience of others, is liberally shared. Should we be asking ourselves if this advice is universally applicable to all, and if for some of us it is more a case for ‘pod off’ rather than ‘pod on’?
There are certainly a lot of internal communication podcasts to choose from now.
I wonder if there are actually too many, and if there is too much choice for internal communicators. More choice is not necessarily always a good thing, so I asked the audience in a recent Twitter poll. Whilst hardly a representative survey, nearly half of the respondents thought that there were now too many.
Of course, despite the ever-growing number of podcasts, we all have a choice as to whether we listen to them or not. As the number has increased my personal enthusiasm for them has waned, perhaps a feature of my time poor existence and the diminishing value which I feel I get from listening to them. For me it has been more a case of ‘pod off’ rather than ‘pod on’ recently.
On the radio
In some ways I find this a strange reaction, not least because I love radio as a format. In our rather shallow world where image and what things and people look like seemingly matter more than anything else, and the visual impact of entertainment is sometimes valued more than the content, I often find refuge and solace in radio programming. With no visual distractions there is just more opportunity to have information, entertainment and discourse delivered and received in a more thoughtful and considered way.
One of my favourite radio shows is called ‘The Moral Maze’. It’s a discussion amongst invited ‘expert witnesses’ and commentators about an ethical issue or challenge. It’s both thought provoking and amusing at the same time, as everyone ties themselves up in moralistic knots with the debate rarely concluding in any consensus view or resolution.
A recent episode examined whether or not the ‘lived experience’ of those who have direct experience of hardship, discrimination and exclusion, should be prioritised over the knowledge and wisdom of academics, politicians and experts when making public policy to address these issues. In other words, to understand and resolve these issues properly you need to have experienced first-hand what it is like to be on the receiving end of them, rather than to have only researched or studied them.
Our lived experience
It was a fascinating debate and one which made me think about my ‘lived experience’ as an internal communicator. Was this so consistently similar to the lived experience of other internal communicators, that it gave me the right and permission to use that experience to give advice to others?
Quite a few of the internal communication podcasts I’ve listened to have taken this approach. Like the Moral Maze, an internal communicator is often wheeled out as an ‘expert witness’ and dispenses advice and opinion based on their lived experience of working in internal communication for a long time, or through working on specific projects or issues.
I’ve been there myself as an invited guest on a few podcasts, and never really questioned whether or not I should be there dispensing advice to others. After all, I’ve worked in internal communication for over 20 years so why wouldn’t you take notice of what I’ve got to say, god damn you!?!
The thing is, our individual lived experience of working in internal communication is not the same.
This is predominantly a feature of there being no common or universal understanding of what internal communication is for or how it should be practiced in the huge range of organisations and settings where we work.
What internal communication ‘is’
What internal communication ‘is’ in organisations is shaped and driven by a number of factors. What it is aligned to for starters. I’ve worked in internal communication teams that have been variously a part of marketing, HR, organisational development, the CEO’s office, IT and corporate affairs amongst others. Every time this has driven the agenda of what I worked on, shaped my licence to operate in the organisation, the permission I had to do things and how I practiced internal communication overall.
Then there are all the other factors, such as whether or not you work alone or in a big or small team, how much budget you have, whether the CEO and leadership ‘get it’, your seniority, the technology you use, your permission to influence, whether or not your boss is an internal communicator and the sector you are in.
All of these things shape our individual lived experience of working in internal communication. Our circumstances are not all the same and we should be aware that holding something up as a norm which all internal communicators ‘need to do’ may not be good advice for some, or even possible for many.
Similarly, industry reports which claim to be representative of all of us may not be. Before positioning them as the definitive view, we should consider the possibility that they might only reflect the lived experience of a select few working in well-resourced teams in the upper echelons of our industry. Not the views of the army of lone internal communicators, or the under resourced and underappreciated teams battling to keep the wheels on the bus every day, particularly in our current circumstances.
Those of us working in internal communication who seek to influence and inform others should be mindful of the provenance and origins of the knowledge and advice we dispense.
It may not be universally relevant to everyone, delivered via a podcast or anywhere else, and there may be some internal communicators who justifiably should be telling us to ‘pod off’.
The Moral Maze is presented on BBC Radio 4