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IOIC Live 2016 (part 1)

May 26, 2016
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Three weeks on from the excellent IOIC Live 2016 conference I am struck by several thoughts.
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The first is that working life, day to day demands, quickly close in over our experiences and pose a real threat to retaining or applying what we have just learned. Some of the IC professionals at that event will have taken away concrete intentions to apply or to further research something they saw. Others, whose role includes reporting on, or educating within, IC will be helping to preserve and sustain some of the best… in the face of our tide of ‘business as usual’. Impressively IOIC leaders clearly intended to distil much of what was said into a refreshed take on competencies, training and support.
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I’m not an IC professional, I was there to deliver an introductory workshop on mindfulness, but had decided to take up a generous offer to participate in the whole event. In this I drew on my past experience in the early days of applying social media within organisations. In the conversations I had during the two days I found much that was familiar, but also things that have moved on – in particular where social media has directly or indirectly overthrown any residual tendency for internal communications to be one-way traffic.
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I also found a group of people who were enthusiastic and optimistic about how their profession was developing, and about the part that it could play in changing organisations – changes that necessarily reflect shifts within society, and changes which equip organisations to cope with increasingly dynamic environments. Not just to cope, actually, but to begin to regard this elusive, morphing world as an opportunity… and adventure! Something else that struck me was how sociable [a phrase used by others too] this event was, how open everyone was to the ideas and experiences of their colleagues, how curiosity heavily outweighed cynicism. Of course you could argue that this is a characteristic of people who attend such conferences, in contrast to those who don’t, but I felt a real difference here.
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It would be hyperbole to suggest that IC professionals are in a unique position to influence the future development of our organisations. But I think they are in a very unusual and rare position relative to those organisations. In particular:
  1. They are required to communicate in all directions.
  2. This is no longer an alternative or a choice. The wide range of social media channels outside the control of the organisation mean that any ignored or suppressed feedback will quickly surface elsewhere.
  3. Similarly they are required, and therefore empowered, to scrutinise internal communications for congruence with the external projected brand image or messages
  4. This puts them in the front line as guardians of the organisation’s *authenticity*.
  5. This periodically requires them to ‘speak truth unto power’ [a recurring phrase during IOIC Live 2016] although, perhaps as a result…
  6. The IC function, and IC professionals, are therefore increasingly represented within the leadership team. [Something that was new to me a few years on]
  7. Most interestingly of all there was a clear positive, to set against much of the above list of managing potential negatives, and this was the case for the direct benefits of two-way communication, openness and authenticity. These are benefits in knowledge sharing, creativity, clarity of purpose, engagement, shared identity, brand advocacy… the list goes on and on.
  8. Finally, just stepping out of that line of argument for a moment, I think that IC professionals can be a great force for SIMPLIFICATION. In its origins this aspect was sometimes perhaps a patronising, or paternalistic, way of making the business understandable to ‘unsophisticated workers’ on a shop floor somewhere. But many things have changed since then and simplification is something that organisations themselves struggle for, not just in communications with colleagues and customers, but in keeping hold of what it is they are trying to do!
I noticed an item in Rachel Miller’s @AllthingsIC twitter stream last weekend which echoes some of this last point. So, with hat-tip, here’s the parody account post she quoted from @IntComGuru

 

In a way, that thought about simplification brings me back to where I started. IOIC Live 2016 was for me informative, enjoyable and sociable. But the rest of my life is quickly closing in over that sense and memory and intention. For something to persist, and be actioned, I will need to simplify it… and quickly!

I think that the remarkable combination of demands and privileges I listed above puts IC professionals in a situation that is both exciting and pressurised. They definitely have to walk a lot of talk – balancing openness and honesty with prudence and judgement. This is a recipe for almost losing oneself, through having to adopt any number of points of view or positions of interest. How do you adapt, and make yourself understood, to so many different groups without losing your grip on the anchor of your own values, beliefs and purpose?

In the end, for me, this was encapsulated by a phrase which slipped from my own lips during the Friday evening exercise. I’m not taking credit for it – it simply formed on the spur of the moment. A couple of groups had independently lighted upon the metaphor of the chamaeleon. But at the same time this chamaeleon couldn’t simply keep changing colour. At times they would have to take courage and confront one party or another with something they didn’t want to hear. This escaped from me as the phrase “stand-up chameleon”.

I came to IOIC Live 2016 with a thesis about how mindfulness was particularly appropriate to the working life of an IC professional. By and large this seemed to survive the test. I emphasised Listening, Culture and ‘coping with Change’. The latter leading to actually thriving within change.

But I came away with much more to think about. This is now beginning to simplify to

How can having a mindfulness practice help someone to function as a ‘Stand-up Chameleon’? ”

I’m still thinking, but intend to write a short piece on this some time in the next week or so.

In the meantime – a big thank-you to the organisers of IOIC Live 2016 for their invitation, flawless logistics and hospitality, and to all those delegates I met and talked to, for their openness and positive outlook.

[Footnote: I just went to check a few things and, in googling, alighted on the landing page for IOIC Live 2015. Where I found a huge… … chameleon. So maybe this was being echoed a year later. I’m not sure whether this strengthens or weakens my case]
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