Urban dictionary: ‘A culture vulture is a person who adopts something from a different community and makes it their own.’ Is internal communication becoming a culture vulture?
One of the key findings in this years’ Gallagher State of the Sector Report surprised me. That for the first time (on average) more internal communicators (74%) said that the purpose of internal communication is to support culture and belonging, overtaking our assumed long-standing purpose of creating strategic alignment (67%).
This revelation made me wonder exactly what elements of culture internal communicators think they are shifting with their efforts. As Gallagher rightly points out in some of their analysis, culture can be defined in many ways and communication alone cannot ‘fix’ it if it is perceived to be broken.
Gallagher attempts to answer my ‘which bits of culture’ question by highlighting the components they believe internal communication can influence. The usual suspects are there, DE&I, authenticity, tone, connectedness and (our perennial nemesis) unlocking the communication potential of people managers.
For me some this seems to be a bit ‘cart before the horse’, in other words thinking about the communication interventions that might be required to shift culture, without really understanding what organisational culture is in the first place.
This is not a criticism of the Gallagher report, they only have the data set they have collected to work with to unpack their findings. However, this often leaves me with the burning question ‘why’ did internal communicators respond in this way? What is driving the profession to conclude that supporting culture is now our ‘new’ primary purpose? Why wasn’t creating strategic alignment a good enough one before?
A new purpose, or is it?
In some ways this is a continuation of a discourse that has been developing in the internal communication profession for some time. I’ve written before about my observations of this developing crusade to establish a new purpose for internal communication, and give us ‘responsibility’ for a whole shed load of issues, which other functions in organisations should really be stepping up to the plate on.
Hybrid working, wellbeing, diversity and inclusion, EX, CSR, ESG and sustainability have all been held up as our new raison d’être over the last few years and now we seemingly think that we need to add organisational culture to that long list too.
The thing is, these are not a ‘purpose’ they are just things which need to be communicated about in organisations. Our real purpose as a profession is grounded in what I term ‘The Knowledge’. It is the internal communicators key to remaining relevant and effective in a rapidly evolving world of work adapting to the impacts and after effects of the pandemic.
Perhaps we just don’t see our unique skill set as being a defining and strong enough purpose, because we feel we are competing with other functions in organisations which seemingly have a more strategic or compelling reason for existing.
Why are we so confused about what we are, and what we should be? This lack of confidence seems to be unique to internal communication as a specialism in PR. The topic for another blog, perhaps.
IC shouldn’t be a ‘culture vulture’
So, let’s get back to culture, which I think has historically been the preserve of the Human Resources or Organisational Development functions, at least in the places where I have worked.
If you start with the premise that ‘culture is the behaviours you tolerate’ then it strikes me that HR is best placed to lead on any culture shift initiatives in organisations and internal communication should collaborate on this (at least the bits that communication can influence), rather than own it as a ‘purpose’.
Similarly, other functions should be taking the lead on other fundamental organisational issues. I suspect that there are many internal communicators grappling with thorny issues such as wellbeing, ESG, and DEI when their organisations have given them absolutely nothing tangible to work with, because there is no real or deep commitment from the organisation to address these issues properly.
These are also not a ‘purpose’ however firmly we are on the hook, in some places, for shifting the dial on them.
We don’t need to be ‘culture vultures’ and make culture (or anything else) our own.
We already have a good enough purpose.
Image by Christel SAGNIEZ from Pixabay