The Three ‘Non-Negotiables’ of Internal Communications

By Ryan Flynn

While proactive and targeted media campaigns will always be critical components of any organization’s strategic communications operations, OpenAI’s botched leadership restructuring last year highlights the importance of effective teamwide messaging. The unnecessary drama that unfolded surrounding Sam Altman’s employment status underscored that modern workers’ trust in their employers is tied directly to the C-suite’s commitment to transparency and consideration of key stakeholder sentiment – and further demonstrated what happens when poor messaging severs that trust.

Understanding how to maintain employee morale and confidence has never been more important to long-term teamwide success. We routinely have seen that the most effective internal communications strategies elicit responses that help drive an organization forward. Whether explaining a marked shift in strategic thinking or navigating difficult conversations surrounding a reduction in force, there are three “non-negotiables” when executing productive internal communications initiatives.

  1. Deliver the news directly from the source – not through the grapevine.
    When delivering an announcement that will alter the course of an organization’s future, leaders are often operating under circumstances such that their employees, investors, clients, commercial partners, and other key stakeholders will be at least partly surprised by the news. Because these directives are often communicated during periods of increased organizational stress, it is critical that affected individuals both inside and outside the company learn the news directly from senior leadership, not via the press or through rumor and speculation.

    Although OpenAI’s board of directors accomplished this objective when announcing Sam Altman’s termination, there were several other critical strategic failures that led to this unique communications disaster.

  2. Clearly present the facts.
    While crafting the right language and setting the proper tone are principal elements of any teamwide messaging, it is essential that leaders provide their colleagues with as much accurate and relevant information as possible.

    When OpenAI’s board announced Mr. Altman’s firing, their teamwide note failed to cite any indicators of poor performance beyond “communication issues." This messaging failed to provide a direct, comprehensive summary of the facts, which has routinely proven to be the best approach to avoid the worst-case scenario – having to immediately reverse a decision or issue an organization-wide follow-up to correct the record.

  3. Understand – and empathize with – potential stakeholder reactions while making your case.
    While the OpenAI board’s failure to provide any firm reasoning was a key component of this internal messaging debacle, their apparent disregard of potential reactions from key internal and external stakeholders ultimately forced them to quickly reverse course.

    This incident exemplifies that the most effective internal messaging anticipates and addresses head-on the potential consequences, both positive and negative, rather than ignoring or dismissing inevitable concerns. Such communications must also make the case for why announced changes will benefit the entire organization. These core elements of a productive internal communications operation help address stakeholder questions in a manner that conveys leadership’s understanding of the organization’s goals and the current mindset of the rest of the team.

As the OpenAI story has proven, a company’s reputation is often defined by the steps taken and words spoken during moments of upheaval and uncertainty. In the current professional and media environment, first impressions are paramount and getting your message right the first time can be the difference between an organization’s successful transition - or bumbling into its next chapter.


Building a Team of Dynamic Practitioners from the Ground Up

By Rich Myers

Throughout my career, I have been fortunate to help lead communications campaigns for multinational alternative asset managers, up-and-coming startups, governmental offices and political entities. At each stop along my long professional journey, I have found that behind nearly every successful communications operation is an extremely capable, driven team of practitioners executing at the highest level. You may consider that a given, but the magic of a great team can’t be pulled out of a hat.

Forging this kind of highly skilled and cohesive unit takes hard work, focus and believing in some fundamental leadership principles. Here are just a few of the many lessons I’ve learned on effective teambuilding in the communications space:

  1. Courtesy, respect and instilling a pleasant culture goes a long way. Who wants to work with a bunch of nasty colleagues? Plus, PR is a creative business. Our clients rely on us to have dynamic, creative ideas, and a stifling work environment stifles creativity.
  2. On your team, everyone’s career is as important as yours. Treat their career development like your own. They will appreciate that commitment.
  3. Consider everyone on the team a professional development instructor. I am not the exclusive director of professional development at Profile – everyone here helps and teaches everyone.
  4. Continually identify and evaluate each team member’s inherent strengths, potential strengths and areas where they can improve. Share this with them. Team members want to know what they need to get better at as much as they want to hear about what they’re already great at.
  5. Be demanding and don’t “over-expect.” Explain the deliverables needed and be a resource to help your team execute. Be realistic regarding how much experience someone has on a given skill and then be reasonable on what you expect them to accomplish to improve that skill and deliver the proper work product.
  6. Provide opportunity and don’t confine team members to certain issue areas based on seniority. Let the team stretch out of their comfort zone and experience the excitement of trying something new (and potentially nerve wracking) and accomplishing it.
  7. Only penalize people for one thing: not trying hard enough. Mailing it in is strictly prohibited. If someone tried their absolute hardest and the work product still wasn’t great, then maybe you should spend more time helping them.
  8. OK – there’s a penalty for one more thing: Being a jerk to your colleagues.

Sometimes leadership involves a bit of trial and error, so if you make a mistake, own it and store away the lesson for next time. There are lots of ways to go about creating a high-performance team. But I believe that when your colleagues know that you are rooting for their success and care about their career, then that kind of attention and interest pays off in their development, job satisfaction and overall contribution to the firm.


Finding Our Footing: Early-Career Lessons from Profile’s Junior Associates

By Madi Belusic and Daisy Steinthal

The transition into your first job is daunting for every post grad — especially if you are entering into a client-facing industry like public relations. As junior associates, we have spent the past year embracing this new terrain, and we wanted to pay it forward to prospective PR professionals by sharing a few insights that we’ve gotten from our time at Profile so far.

  1. Your Job (and Career) is a Marathon, Not a Sprint
    As a part of the workforce, project timelines and professional development are often longer than when you were a student or an intern: projects, deliverables and growth often occur over years or months rather than semesters or weeks. This wholesale change forces you to hit the breaks, reframe how you manage your time and construct a long-term professional development plan.
  2. Make and Own Your Space
    Another key component of your first job is developing your workspace and finding a routine that suits you. Whether remote or in person, it is important to take time to build an environment and processes that allow you to thrive. Simple things like choosing a fun desktop wallpaper, mousepad or special mug can let your personality shine through and help you connect with your team. Don’t be afraid to try new ways of organizing your workflow, too - you’re doing different work than what you did in school, so it’s okay to adapt.
  3. Mold Your Professional Identity
    When entering your first full-time job, think broadly about your professional identity, interests and core competencies. What are you naturally good at or interested in? How can that help your team? Even early on, you can leverage your academic or internship experiences to showcase your unique perspective, build your confidence and establish yourself as the day-to-day expert on an area within your team.
  4. Embrace Feedback, But Don’t Beat Yourself Up
    While receiving feedback during the early days of your career can feel overwhelming, incorporating constructive criticism is a vital part of everyone's professional development. Your more experienced coworkers do not expect you to join the team as a flawless professional, but they are looking to see if you are open-minded and continually challenging yourself.
  5. Get Your Reps In
    Feedback is a launchpad off which you can learn and grow. Developing your skill set requires practice: whether by writing sample press releases, drafting social copy or reading daily news clips. Through repetition and dedication, you will begin to strengthen your confidence and open the door to higher-level strategic communications abilities.

These five insights are just a sliver of the many, many lessons we have learned so far at Profile. While everyone is bound to hit a speedbump or two during their first year on the job, we hope that aspiring young professionals find these reminders reassuring during their initial days out in the “real world.”