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Keep calm and carry on?

Organisations don't think. They don't argue and they don't question themselves. Not very well, anyway.Keep calm and carry on

In this compelling talk, Margaret Heffernen — a veteran of the corporate world — reveals that 85% of the people leading our organisations today are afraid. They're afraid of speaking up and airing the problems they know are there.

And, more than likely, so are you.

Heffernan's speech is as stirring as it is disturbing. And, as communications professionals, it should make us wonder about our role in bringing these fears, issues, problems — and subsequently their solutions — to the surface of organisations. It makes you wonder just what kind of dialogue communications professionals should be facilitating, and if we're taking that seriously or indeed succeeding.

Perhaps the trouble with formalised communications inside corporates is that at least half of the job (more in some roles) is really about not communicating at all. It's about extinguishing debate, silencing critics and staving off dissent or alarm.

Instead of raising constructive voices of dissent to the surface, we are often called in to calm them. We're charged with the task of applying a sanitised wipe to the words and thoughts of our organisation's leaders. No matter how dire the message, it must scream, ‘Nothing to see here, people! Keep calm and carry on!’

Many of us love editing and finding grammatical errors in the CEO’s emails and that's okay. But a sanitised wipe isn’t all we’re meant to be. After all, if we don't stand up and find ways to be the voice that balances dissent with resolution, who will? 

Ask yourself this: When was the last time I asked one of my senior leaders a really tough, uncomfortable question in an interview for the internal magazine/website/blog?

In fact, when was the last time you pushed for a more honest or complete answer to an employee question or customer email? How's that in-depth response coming along to the blogger who raised a valid issue about your product faults?

While we’re busy feeling like it would be rude, silly or just plain naive to alter our honed practice of toeing the company line, we might just be feeding the greatest threat to our organisations’ ability to innovate, absorb customer insight and adopt change. While we get oh-so-busy thinking we're doing our jobs, we might be hindering performance — big time.

Banality and platitudes have become our job. It’s what we believe people cannot do without us. This is what we pin our value to. But are they right? And more importantly, are we right to see this as our core purpose?

Who will be the 15% that asks the question the CEO really needs to hear? Watch Margaret Heffernen’s talk and give us your take.

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