It’s been a while since the original post in the ‘Conversation Evolution’ series, and while this has been more by accident than design, the intermission has actually proven somewhat serendipitous. I’ve had the opportunity to attend a couple of information sessions run by IABC in Victoria and Queensland where I encountered some good discussion that triggered more thought and even more dialogue around the topic. It’s a subject that appears to be a growing fascination among communicators – and understandably so.

The Conversation Evolution series started as a personal articulation of recent developments in corporate communication and what would now be considered best practice in the area. Really, it was just me trying to put my thoughts in order about what it means to be a corporate communication practitioner. My journey started as an aim to get a sense of what organisations should be doing – what is considered best practice. I wanted to identify the ultimate destination that we should be heading towards, i.e. what constitutes communication excellence and how is it achieved?

The first two posts of the series examined the types of conversations occurring in organisations:  the existing conversations, compared with those that ‘should’ be occurring, and why there might be a gap. This third post is intended to discuss what the new rules, models, and new ways of thinking and conversing in a hyper-connected world might mean for corporate communicators.

Road maps and landmarks along the journey of my first two posts included  The Cluetrain Manifesto and its concept of markets as conversations, and various models and dialogues put forward by the likes of change guru Jennifer Frahm and the learned folk over at Park Young.

So, during the interim, I’ve read (though perhaps not widely enough), discussed, examined and considered, and what I’ve come up with, for the main part, is – nothing. Yeah, really.

All bets are off.

The rules are: there are no rules

In our brave new world of hyper-connected conversations, the rules are,  in many ways, that  there are no rules. The old rules need not apply – but there are no new rules. Not hard and fast ones, anyway. They’re for us to make up as we go along and apply as appropriate.

I like rules and guidelines – in many ways they make my life easy. Don’t get me wrong, I’m pretty happy to bend and step outside such structures, but I need to know what they are in order to circumvent them. I think it’s reasonable to assume that this is so for most communication professionals. And for most organisations, rules and structure = safety, control and risk management.

So, if the rules are that there are no rules, all bets are off, and markets consist of conversations, but organisations, (and if we’re honest, communicators), like some kind of structure or road map, what does it mean for the modern day communicator and the stories she is telling to her people, both within and external to the organisation?

Obviously, there isn’t going to be a correct answer here – we’re all still learning about letting go of structure, rules and control. So, for what it’s worth, here’s my two cents worth …

Trust – and the old soft-shoe shuffle

I think it’s about taking baby steps. It’s about listening. It’s about transparency. It’s about being real and human and authentic. It’s about diverging from the party line and questioning – when the time is right – what is being ‘spun out’ and delivered to the troops. It’s about understanding rich organisational histories and taking into account the conversations that have gone before – and why they have occurred.

It’s a soft shoe shuffle of change. And like any dance, there has to be trust between the partners – and this is a whole new routine with new music.

The structures we now work within are bigger and broader and sweeping. They don’t accommodate micro-managing of key messages or attempt at control by an organisation of how it might be perceived. The networked marketplace and its conversations are the control. They let the detail take care of itself – as long as you are honest and true then the conversations are real.

But such freedom is heady after so many years of constraint. As corporate communicators, we have to be kind to our old, slow moving, constrained businesses and help them see a common ground. We need to use the past to shape the future and demonstrate how fewer communication restraints are not so much a risk, as a catalyst to empowering an organisation to be the best that it can.