On Linked In today, I read a request for a Communications Futurist for a speaking engagement. Two thoughts quickly ran across my brain:
- 1. That’s a new and different skills descriptor
- 2. Am I that? Could I be that? Should I put up my hand to speak?
What is a futurist?
It mostly refers to; authors, consultants, organisational leaders and others who engage in interdisciplinary and systems thinking to advise private and public organisations on such matters as diverse global trends, plausible scenarios, emerging market opportunities and risk management.
I’m in the field of communications, or employee engagement, or whichever name describes my work of better connecting people to strategy and their employer. I talk a lot about creating belonging at work.
Alejandro Formanchuk perfectly summed up the connection between employee communications and futurism when he said that organisations asking for help to strengthen, or modernise their internal communications and design 2.0 strategies really just want the ‘technological tools’ i.e. blogs, forums, twitter, wikis. Go and explore Alejandro’s approach – it’s right on target. I suspect this may be borne from Facebook-thinking i.e. all our employees are being social and connecting on Facebook – if we provided the technology, they could do something like that at work. You know, like, collaboration and commenting.
That thinking though, risks ignoring some very important basics as we chase the next shiny, new app. A lot of the client work I do points to organisations with a consistent lack of effective leadership, variable communication capability and disengaged employees with a strong appetite to know more and have a better work experience.
But here’s the thing, futurism is not about the technology. It’s about culture.
Collaboration, cooperation, dialogue, community, feedback, recognition are things your people do. Communications don’t do those things, nor do digital channels. Your culture enables those things to happen. Yet, many of my clients are asking for digital channels to do those things. Switch the mindset to enabling people to do those things first, then consider what they’ll need. If you do that, then you’ll start asking questions of your culture first – how does it enable?
No amount of blog comments or forums will replicate an effective manager who meets with her team, listens, involves and responds.
And another thing that irks me somewhat – if you’re talking about ‘modern’ technology’, or ‘new channels’ of communications or ‘we need to look into digital channels’ you’re too late. It’s not the future, it’s happening today. And there isn’t a virtual world, it’s all real.
That means my thinking has changed with some browsing and head-space – originally I thought I should write, or speak about the technology available and how internal communications needs to catch up and embrace it all. They do. But in reflection, we need to think of technology enabling the connections that matter. Internal comms and engagement professionals need to stay ahead of how people choose to connect, and at the same time be grounded in what really needs to happen.
I’m as convinced as ever that we crave better face-to-face and leaders at work, not more tools. I like one of Alejandro’s quotes “when we work we focus on the people, not the tools”.