If Brexit offers a lesson for internal communicators, it is that substance has won its 20-year battle with style.
The era is over for carefully crafted, cunningly cosmetic messages. The people want warts-and-all honesty – and if you try to trick them, they’ll sniff a rat.
Because June 23, 2016 was the day that spin died. And, mark my words, we are seeing a change in the culture of communication.
Yes, it may be true that the Brexit battle was characterised by chronic misrepresentation from both the Leave and Remain camps.
But does this overturn my argument? No way.
Faced with two sets of apparent untruths, near equal in their flakiness, the people decided that the one it least trusted came from the voice of authority.
And despite being confronted with the prospect of a life less comfortable – with jobs and savings at risk, overseas holidays more expensive, homes devalued – they raised two fingers to official advice and voted to leave the European Union.
This defiant act was a profound rejection of Britain’s 20-year addiction to rule by spin – and the power of the vast machinery that has grown up around Government to deliver it. Since the mid-90s, no leader has felt confident without a battalion of spin doctors.
Spin won three elections for Tony Blair and two for David Cameron. It took us to war in Iraq and it shaped the nation’s news bulletins and the way governments made policies and announced decisions.
But now it has gone the way of avocado bathrooms. Spin is passé.
And I confidently predict that it will soon become fashionable to tell the truth.
It is no mistake that even across rival parties, Theresa May – with her honest and unpretentious persona and less-than-slick delivery – is currently Britian’s most popular politician.
But in IC, we cannot sanctimoniously say: “I told you so.”
Because the fact is that although though we might promote ‘integrity’ in our ‘dialogue’, it is not unknown for us to enjoy the occasional dalliance with the devil.
In even the most freethinking and forward-looking organisations, there’s an extent to which we think it’s okay to control conversations and manage the truth. All too often, IC is still seen as a way of manipulating moods.
‘New IC’ is nothing to do with message management. In sharing news and information, it is about truth, trust and transparency.
But more importantly than this, New IC is an enabler rather than a doer.
It provides platforms for people to collaborate, network and communicate – to share ideas and experiences, ask questions or offer opinions in a free, unregulated and unspun way.
It doesn’t attempt to persuade people how to behave or tell them what they should be doing. It respects their integrity as equal members of a community and trusts them to participate without fear or favour.
Such open-ended confidence will throw up challenges to conventional wisdom, just as Brexit left much of the establishment aghast that its expert advice went unheeded.
Something to fear? No way.
The writing may be on the wall for old-style spin and message management. But the New IC has far more dynamic role to play in helping organisations to unleash the potential of their people.