Internal Communication and the Devil Inside

The communicator's most important duty is to find breaks in the organizational narrative, explore them and put them back together again. Inhabiting the breaks rather than denying them heals the dysfunction that causes poor communication in the first place.

It's a cycle, briefly:
  • Lack of unity ---> dysfunctional organization.
  • Dysfunctional organization ---> fractured communication
  • Fractured communication ---> lack of engagement, lack of credibility, mistrust
  • Mistrust ---> lack of unity
...and the cycle perpetuates itself.
If you step back and look at the big picture, it becomes clear that poor internal communication is a symptom, not the disease. That's why communicators depend on executive sponsorship to get the job done. Without the backing of leadership, effective internal communication cannot happen.

This was the entire premise of the popular TV shows “24” and “House.”

* On “24,” “Jack Bauer” got his hands dirty to get to the truth – and the President backed him when he had to take action.

* On “House,” the brilliant but drug-addicted and totally rude diagnostician “Dr. House” could see what was really wrong with the patient, no matter how politically incorrect – and “Dr. Cuddy” took the heat and covered his back, so that he could actually do the procedure the patient needed.

Here's another parallel: the concept of “possession.” The “devil” occupies the soul of an innocent and a religious figure is called into drive them away.

In every depiction I've seen of an “exorcism,” the victim roars hysterically as the priest banishes the devil from their soul. It's tempting to arrest the priest. But the family has to know, has to be confident that the priest is doing G-d's work and ignore those blood-curdling cries.

It's the same thing with the dysfunctional organization. Very poor communication is a sign of “possession” by a “devil” of some kind, that has led it astray from its “normal,” meaning functional state. A state in which the equivalent of diagnosis, surgery and excision (or exorcism) is required.

Leaders are often tempted to think that internal communication means executive messages, informational web copy, factsheets, things like that. All true. But if there is something else going on behind that – and we should take this as the norm – then any model of internal communication is incomplete unless it contains some element of organizational development.

Therefore, the communicator's role overlaps closely with the organizational development specialist, the business process specialist, the strategist, the project manager: This person must identify what is going wrong, what “devil” has taken hold of the organization. It should be noted that the communicator cannot in and of themselves exorcise the devil – but they should be sufficiently resourced and supported to get rid of one when they see it.

The process of healing involves looking at the devil agnostically, impartially, as part of an integrated project team. Just like in medicine, when there's a complex problem, you bring in a group of specialists. And they ask: What's going on, what kind of a devil is it, from where did it come? And then working across the organization to deal with it, disempower it, render it limp and useless and dead.

The above should make clear that brilliant leaders alone are no longer the heart of the organization. The maniacal dictator who can throw people around is no longer effective. Rather, organizations are led by healthy teams. It's critical that communication leaders look objectively at what is getting in the way of team functioning, and stare that devil down no matter how strong it may seem.