I’ve seen a lot of talk around the interwebs about artificial intelligence, how AI will impact internal communications, and what internal comms teams need to do now to prepare for its inevitable rise.
As of 2018, 40% of communication professionals around the world were leveraging AI tools in their work, and many others just like you are preparing to embrace this new reality. While AI will undoubtedly make internal communications more effective, it cannot and should not replace the value of the other, more important AI: actual intelligence.
Let me explain.
As someone who’s been working exclusively in the internal communications industry for over 30 years, I’ve seen a clear pattern emerge. Every year, a shiny new object hits the market in the form of emerging technology. Internal comms teams feel the pressure to keep up and evolve and immediately put plans in place to start chasing said shiny new object.
The problem is that they often fail to do their due diligence and ask the important questions: Will this new thingamabob truly help drive our business outcomes? Despite its shiny luster, is this thing actually a good fit for our company culture? Have we even perfected the old shiny new object we started chasing last year?
AI is the perfect example of this “shiny new object” syndrome. It’s new, it’s pretty, and promises to bring unprecedented efficiencies. It is also a major distraction for internal communications teams who need to spend more time digging into actual intelligence.
Merriam-Webster defines artificial intelligence as “the capability of a machine to imitate intelligent human behavior.” In other words, without the human element, artificial intelligence would fail to exist. On its own, AI does not add value to your internal comms. It’s the gathering and application of our actual intelligence that makes AI powerful.
So, before you start making big plans to pursue artificial intelligence (or any other shiny new object, for that matter), make sure you have some actual intelligence in place. Start by asking yourself these questions:
Who are our employees? Truly, who are they? Do we completely understand them?
What do they want? More importantly, what are they sick to death of and want us to stop?
Why do they work for this company? What would make them love that work and this place more?
What matters most to our employees? Hint: it’s not usually what matters most to the company.
What makes them feel connected (or disconnected) to each other, our customers, this company, and our purpose?
How are our leaders succeeding or struggling? How can we help them? Do they even know they need help? Do they want it?
Are we recruiting the right people to work here? Who gets to define what “right” is? Based on what?
The way we gather this artificial intelligence matters tremendously. When asked for the best way to understand employees, most people in our industry will point to surveys or focus groups.
Respectfully, I call bullsh*t on that. There are no shortcuts to gaining actual intelligence.
The only way to truly understand your employees is to get out of your chair and go be with them. After all, you are one of them, too, remember? Eat lunch with them in the breakroom, visit all of those lovely small towns and the factories where they live and work, sit in on their meetings, learn their jobs, be impressed by their pride of craftsmanship, attend church with them, grab a beer with them, play a game of softball with their local team.
Get to know your employees, listen to their dreams and fears, and use that knowledge to inform your decisions and strategic counsel. THEN use those surveys and focus groups to validate what you yourself have discovered in person and on your own.
Our value as internal comms professionals comes from our ability to gather this actual intelligence about our employees and apply it, regardless of channel, function, and who in our companies is typically responsible for these pursuits (I’m looking at you HR). When we can connect the dots between what we know about internal comms, what we know about our employees, and what we know about our companies, we have everything we need to make sharp, relevant recommendations and serve as true business partners and trusted advisors.
Despite all its shiny newness, high tech is rarely a good substitute for high touch. The best path to the promised land of internal comms artificial intelligence starts with you embracing your role as the company’s lead gatherer of actual intelligence.