What Star Wars can teach us about internal comms
‘Star Wars: The Last Jedi’ ended 2017 at the top of the global box office charts. If you’re planning to see it, but haven’t yet, it’s probably best if you stop reading now. On the other hand, if you want to explore how internal communications can prevent people from turning to the dark side, this is the blog for you.
As those who’ve seen the film will know, a large part of the plot rests on a renegade, undercover mission undertaken by a small handful of Resistance heroes. I’ll summarise as briefly as I can: the entire Resistance cohort (they’re the goodies) is aboard a craft that’s being tracked through space by a First Order destroyer ship (they’re the baddies). The Resistance’s commanding officer has made a decision to have all the Resistance troops abandon ship and make a run for it. Dismayed by the prospect of admitting defeat, a handful of committed and heroic junior officers decide to launch their own covert mission to turn the tide of the battle.
Unfortunately for everyone concerned, the unauthorized mission fails. But here’s the rub: what the renegade junior officers didn’t know is that their Commanding Officer had a strategy. Her apparent admission of defeat was actually a plan that would leave the First Order tracking a decoy, thus providing the best hope of long-term success.
Most internal communicators will recognise this as a painfully common IC problem (minus the space ships). Many organisations have intelligent, well-intentioned leaders and committed, engaged managers and employees. However, when these businesses reach a difficult point in their development, long-term success can be jeopardised because of a breakdown in communication.
Transaction scenarios and restructurings are a classic example. These are inevitably difficult times for organisations. Leaders are making difficult decisions, hopefully in the long-term interests of their business, but there are often sacrifices to be made and uncertainty to overcome. Too often in these situations, leaders clam up. They’re reluctant to talk to managers and employees about what’s happening, either because they don’t have all the answers yet or because they’re afraid of spreading fear or discontent. The problem is that, in the absence of open dialogue, even the most engaged employees can start jumping to their own conclusions, fueling the rumour mill and acting in ways that aren’t aligned to what the business is trying to achieve.
In these situations, it’s incumbent on us, as internal comms folk, to bridge the gap. We need to act as trusted advisors to leadership. If leaders are reluctant to open up to employees, we need to help them see the dangers of leaving a comms void. By keeping our IC ear to the ground in the organisation, we can give leaders real-world examples of what people are saying and how they’re acting in the absence of constructive communication.
Internal communications people aren’t Jedi knights. We can’t move rocks with our minds or control people’s thoughts with a wave of our hands. We can, however, be a force for good when tough times make the dark side of working life feel a bit too close for comfort.