Several studies and whitepapers published by the Big Four regarding the impact of AI on professions are alarming if we assume that our communication skills will soon be replaced by computers. Competences like analysing, writing and translating, and more have indeed already been automatised to an important extent. However, the influx of technology is rather augmenting our human potential, and attributing increased responsibility and competences to our profession as communicators. If we understand that disruptive technology is not replacing but rather enhancing the needed skills of us communicators, we will be able to redesign sustainably the tasks of our profession. But we have to let go of old paradigms and embrace – and also question – new ones.
Fast moving digital technology and subsequently changing business models and communication paradigms have disrupted every industry in a very short time. Online platforms have altered business reality to an extent and with a speed that communication has difficulties keeping up with: Airbnb, Uber, TripAdvisor, Amazon, eBay, Alibaba, you name them… Huge networks of peers communicating, interacting, sharing, building relations, advising and inspiring each other. Thousands of people without a single communicator in between to inform, analyse, propose, coordinate, or monitor… Have we become obsolete?
Quite the contrary is the case. The hesitation towards digital transformation of many board and management teams, the lack of knowledge, adequate structures and human and financial resources are the major reasons for the reluctant adoption of this change in many structures. This applies especially to SMEs for all the above reasons and because succession planning absorbs a lot of their time. SMEs represent close to 56% of the European turnover and 66% employees (Switzerland included). The need for coaching and support regarding digital transition is particularly strong in these small structures and should not be forgotten.
As co-developers of governance, enablers of internal cross-functional structures and methods and developers of up-to-date communication strategies we must be technologically literate for sure, we must understand the signification and impact of data aggregation and data use, and we must be agile, and ready to collaborate in an interdisciplinary way with marketing, HR and other departments. But mostly our personal and social competences in terms of leadership and strategic thinking are requested like never before. Enabling leaders to engage in this huge transformation process responsibly and ethically requires empathy from our side and the art of listening. Understanding their needs, and, ultimately, empowering them in turn to act empathetically, and to understand and respond to the needs of their staff.
Governance and ethical behaviour are key in this process. “To drive consumer behaviour” is a commonly used phrase not only by marketers and communicators, but also by company leaders and politicians. Meant is data-driven marketing or communication which is not just used to understand the consumer but intends to influence consumer behaviour substantially for economic or political goals. This is of course not new. But what is new is that the consumer pays a huge price for it today. He pays with his privacy, with the virtual identity of himself, made of an accumulation of algorithmic bits and pieces, and he pays for it with the potential use of his virtually distorted data to an unknown end.
What do we communicators do with this? Just because technology allows it, is it right? We are solicited today to ask ourselves this question both as professionals and individuals. How do we advise corporate and political leaders on digital transformation and its infinite possibilities? At what moment do we step out of our personal and professional comfort zone? When do we take a step back and reflect on our own understanding of social responsibility? “Integrity has no need of rules”, said Albert Camus. Formerly an inside-out gatekeeper, we are today a gatekeeper of responsibility and ethical behaviour.
What does this mean on a day-to-day basis? Let’s take storytelling – very much liked today both by communicators and marketers. Try and google “storytelling” and you will find countless advice, rules, musts and don’ts aiming at generating customer empathy. Advice you on how your stakeholders’ emotions can be influenced over specific techniques and recommendations, on how to capture their attention and make them eager for more in order to drive sales and growth. Is this authentically engaging with people? Are purpose and intention right? “Why” is the key word if as communicators we want to be in line with governance and ethical behaviour. Why is a story told, what is its goal? Is it true? Is it in line with corporate behaviour? Meaningfulness comes over authenticity. And authenticity is not generated over the use of virtual stakeholder data gained over or used for ethically indefensible practices. Walking the talk… Story-doing instead of storytelling. By focussing on pull communication strategies for instance we discover a universe of possibilities and tactics how we can optimise our authentic dialoguing and interacting with stakeholders, and how to reach the optimal meeting point between the customer and the company journey.
Digitalisation is not a threat. In fact, it helps building or restoring trust into companies in many ways. True, close and more human engagement with stakeholders is possible. Our fundamental task as communicators is to engage in more human relations with leaders and stakeholders. Changes of paradigms are not easy, and we have to overcome our own reluctancy regarding this transition too. Engaging with empathy and consciousness about professional and personal vulnerability (including our own) with our stakeholders will empower us.
#ethicalbehaviour #responsibility #listening #empathy #purpose #integrity #governance