Professional associations for internal comms are the living parody of the Cheshire Cat

For the past decade "IC is at a crossroads" has become a clichéd topic in books, conferences and online discussions.

Professional associations are a living parody of the Cheshire Cat, writes Trainor
Professional associations are a living parody of the Cheshire Cat, writes Trainor
For me, it conjures the image of Lewis Carrols’ Alice seeking direction from the Cheshire Cat sitting in the bough of a tree at a fork in the road.

`Would you tell me, please, which way I ought to go from here?' 
`That depends a good deal on where you want to get to,' said the Cat. 
`I don't much care where--' said Alice. 
`Then it doesn't matter which way you go,' said the Cat. 
`--so long as I get somewhere,' Alice added as an explanation. 
`Oh, you're sure to do that,' said the Cat, `if you only walk long enough.' 

If the internal communications practitioner is represented by Alice, the professional associations are a living parody of the Cheshire Cat. 

Appearing and disappearing at will, engaging Alice in amusing but sometimes vexing conversations that raise philosophical points that baffle her.

This parody highlights an interesting dynamic between the future role of internal communications practitioners and the professional associations that represent them.

The future of the professional association
When you look at the professional associations in the UK, the first thing that strikes you is that there are far too many. Some would argue this gives choice but I’d argue it is divisive. Conflicting agendas peddling similar services - events, awards, professional qualifications and training which are disparate enough to create barrier to creating professional standards. Despite the oversupply of membership associations, subscribing members have been short-changed over the years and commercial publishing organisations have only been too willing to step in and provide better training and events at even more cost.
But the pay-to-play model is getting tired and practitioners have become jaundiced with agencies presenting their case studies as best practice at paid for slots. Volunteer-organised networking events and conferences, online networking communities and Massive Online Open Courses (MOOCS) challenge the future business model of the membership organisations. Perhaps this challenge will lead to converging paths rather than a crossroads.
The future of the practitioner
Inside organisations, internal communications have always been at the intersection between workplace organisation and workplace communications. A complex network of workflows and conversations that connect colleagues with the purpose of the organisation and each other, rather than a crossroads. This requires skills more like an air traffic controller than a boy scout reading a map.
Internal communicators are in a privileged position to make sense of these networks, facilitating conversations that connect communities that transcend internal and external organisational boundaries. Technology hasn’t created these networks, it has just facilitated their connections, increasing transparency and efficiency.

Far from making internal communications more difficult, technology has helped break down silos and create a culture of self-service, shifting the focus on top-down functional communications to mission-critical conversations. The efficacy of internal communications has never been greater.

Practitioners have taken their place on top of their perch grinning ear to ear.

Sean Trainor is an independent consultant specialising in employee communications

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