Greg Dyke, arguably the BBC’s most successful director general, articulated his transformation strategy in just three words: Cut the crap.
As a strategic narrative, it was superb. Simple, succinct and memorable. A decade later, it has huge relevance to our world of internal communication.
The crap Dyke referred to was the complex labyrinth of meetings, form filling, administration and procrastination that was choking the organisation’s creativity and consuming much of its cash.
His people, 23,000 of them, instantly understood what he meant.
And he delivered: in four years he cleared out the bureaucrats and consultants, halved running costs, put programme makers back in the driving seat and returned the spirit of creativity and innovation to the BBC.
Despite the scale and speed of this enormous change, he carried his people with him.
So much so that when he quit over the Hutton Report, vast numbers of them wept openly in a display of emotion unheard of in corporate life.
Dyke cut the crap in more ways than one. His achievement was that he expressed his vision in a language that people understood – that resonated with them. They bought into it and bought into him as well.
As internal communicators, we can learn as much from Dyke’s choice of words as we can from the strategy itself.
Because the truth is this: we should all be crap cutters. We should be helping our organisations to develop and express their visions and strategies in a way that people understand and want to buy into.
But instead we have let ourselves become consumed by complexity, and are in danger of making ourselves an irrelevance.
Instead of guiding our bosses in how to communicate we have started speaking their language – and forgotten what we were here for in the first place.
We know the value of straight talking, just as we understand the importance of “living the values” or “walking the talk”.
So why, then, do we talk in riddles? How did our heads become full of employee value propositions, key messaging frameworks, stakeholder engagement strategies, diversity and inclusion initiatives and CSR agendas?
Even a little “strategic narrative” would struggle to strike a chord with most of the people who make up our audiences.
As communicators, our passion should be for communication.
Yes, it is a science that needs structure and process. But that is the easy bit and we are often quite good at it.
It is also an art. The intuitive understanding of language, tone of voice, how messages are best conveyed and received, how to make them relevant, and how people will react or interact.
This is where we can add real value to the organisations we serve.
But it often calls for bravery: the confidence to stand out in the face of internal politics. To stand up for what we know is right and will work.
Dyke was brave enough to break the mould of BBC director generals, stand up with confidence and speak in a manner he knew would strike a chord with his people.
I fear that internal communication has become institutionalised. We are so close to the people we are trying to cure that we have caught the disease.
We are on the wrong path. But all is not lost.
Ours is a young discipline and growing pains are inevitable.
The opportunities for us, and the organisations we serve, are brilliant. But we need straight thinking, straight talking and a clear vision.
So let us please cut the crap.
Only then will we rise to the challenge of genuine communication, and see the benefits it can bring.