As with many other business practices, the discipline of internal communication (IC) has had a slow development in Latin America. This reality provokes feelings of frustration and uncertainty in communication professionals, due in part to the fact that the operating model that’s so prevalent in Europe, (often referred to as ‘DIRCOM model’ in the Spanish speaking world), has not translated well across the pond. This model projects the communication director role as the person responsible for ALL interactions between the organisation and its stakeholders.
The DIRCOM model in Latin America has grown as a result of businesses’ expectations and IC is not an exception; organisations in Latin America think in terms of internal communication platforms being launched, as opposed to a strategic vision of the positive impact that IC management could have.
We are now in the process of evangelising CEOs and decision-makers about the importance of IC, leaning on our deep understanding of company challenges and our active participation in business life. This requires more effort on our part: we have to earn our position as big influencers, and this is no easy task – especially when we, as IC professionals, are neither mentally nor emotionally prepared for it.
Additionally, the IC function used to principally sit in the Human Resources department – which was positive, given that we had access to useful information about business decisions relating to career development, employee engagement, workplace culture, and training programmes. However, being positioned in HR had its limitations as well, including giving IC a low profile within the company and reducing IC professionals’ role to exclusively covering HR requirements.
My personal experience has shown me that it does not matter where you are positioned within the business; what matters is your awareness of the company’s goals and how you can strategically support them. This support can be achieved through creative messaging and actions that aim to develop employees’ connection, commitment, and sense of ownership within the organisation.
For me, the DIRCOM model is an unachievable utopia for Latin America – not because it is good or bad, but because it was built in a distant reality, making it ill-suited to the complex environment in Latin America. Here, many things happen at the same time. Organisations have to cope with constant flux. In this situation, many react with discomfort and doubt.
In the Latin American context, this discomfort is even stronger given that the human component of businesses is often not a priority. For instance, business leaders have grown in terms of technical expertise but not in the ability to manage people. This includes the capacity to communicate with assertiveness and drive understanding of company goals. It also includes giving effective, continuous feedback and listening to employees’ insights and feelings. So, rather than an unadaptable DIRCOM model, the unique characteristics of Latin America require the implementation of a bespoke model.
With all of this in mind, I can see four key objectives for Latin America’s internal communication profession:
1. Establish internal IC capabilities: Internal mechanisms are important for communication within a company; however, they are not the best way of informing employees of company goals and policies. Because the practice of IC in Latin America is nascent, many companies have internal communication departments only for tactical activities – but simply actioning these initiatives does not necessarily guarantee that employees feel that they are well-informed. Internal communicators must take heed of this and carefully evaluate the effectiveness of their actions to propose the most appropriate and strategically viable solutions in the future.
2. Gain more participation in business life: Because IC is not a core function in many businesses, the internal communicator has to undertake more active participation in projects, initiatives, and decisions. Though internal communicators working in other countries across the globe may be more likely to be held accountable for their input and performance, this is something which, I know for a fact, does not happen in Latin America. We cannot just sit and wait; we have to be more proactive and always propose strategic solutions, even if no one asks for them.
3. Take advantage of employees’ new roles: Employees can have a more direct role in the success of a business when they assume the role of natural spokesperson. We are facing a new era of “prosumers” – consumers with the power to create content about what they consume – and our employees have this role, too. This is something internal communicators in Latin America can and should tap into to bring their organisation one step closer to achieving its strategic goals – having employees advocate the success of a company helps maintain high reputation levels.
4. Raise leaders’ awareness about the importance of consistency: In Latin America, like in other regions, we frequently discuss inspirational leadership; however, the challenge is even greater in this region because we suffer the ill-effects of social phenomena such as corruption and violence. These phenomena infiltrate organisations and produce behaviours such as poor ethical decisions and aggressive language towards employees. The IC professional needs to be an advisor for leaders by helping them understand the value of “leading by example” and maintaining consistency between their words and their actions.
Our region is still a novice in the field of IC. We have a fantastic opportunity to create a new communication model that is bespoke to this part of the world. Many influencers, including CEOs, communications experts, agencies, and – of course – academia, could have a part to play in paving the way towards a strong, strategically-inclined IC industry in Latin America. By sharing best practice and listening to how other professionals have solved their problems, we are creating new and invaluable knowledge to help IC develop in the region. We, as IC professionals, must always be on the lookout for ways to position ourselves as vital strategists that are integral in creating a healthy organisation.
Sofia is a strategic corporate communicator and trainer working with executives in more than 50 companies and public institutions in Latin America.
Sofia leads the branch office of ECO Resultores in Peru, a Colombia-based corporate communications agency.
Since 2015, she is the Postgraduate Program Coordinator of Corporate Strategic Communications Management at the Universidad de Lima, one of the largest universities in Latin America.
Find her on Twitter: @soficono