Priya Bates is the President of Inner Strength Communication and an award-winning professional communicator with a passion for driving strong performance from the inside out. In her 20+ year career, Priya has led communication for organizations including Loblaw Companies Limited, HP Canada and Compaq Canada.

Chuck Gose: Fun fact Priya. Did you know you have the longest “tagged” name on LinkedIn?

Priya Bates: Because of all the abbreviations??

CG: Indeed. Let’s go through what all of them mean. First, ABC?

PB: Accredited Business Communicator. A designation that IABC used to provide. I got that in 2004?

CG: MC. . . like MC Hammer?

PB: LOL. I am nothing like M.C. Hammer. It means Master Communicator. Kind of like a lifetime achievement from IABC in Canada for communication professionals.


PB: New certification sponsored by IABC. Communication Management Professional. Certification that is a new global standard.

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What I’m learning here is that IABC likes to hand out abbreviations. The last one is IABC Fellow. I think a lot of communicators have probably heard of it but don’t really know what it means to be an IABC Fellow.

PB: Another IABC recognition, but it’s not that easy to earn. Globally they select up to five recipients. They include the people I look up to like Shel Holtz, Jim Schaffer, Sheri Rosen ...real gurus of Internal Communication. There are three areas that need to be included in a nomination: Service to IABC (as a volunteer and leader), contribution to the profession, and career advancement.

"It’s the people who work for organizations and communities that inspire me. That every day person who goes to work 40+ hours. I want to make sure they have pride and purpose and passion when they’re doing their jobs."

CG: When I look back to early in my career, the reason to join IABC was largely driven by a local chapter. But the benefits they provided are almost redundant thanks to other networking and learning opportunities. From your perspective as an IABC leader and Fellow, why should a young professional, or maybe even one more seasoned, join IABC?

PB: I believe IABC has been an integral part of my success. When I was starting in the field, IABC gave me a chance to learn basics and use volunteering as an opportunity to round out the skills I didn’t get in entry level jobs. Through those opportunities I learned from a great network of professionals who are now my friends. I got to lead teams locally at the chapter level and eventually nationally and globally. It’s the reason I got my first opportunity to manage people in a career role because of my volunteer involvement. The network helped me get jobs or be referred for them. Later in my career, I enjoyed the continuous learning and most recently I was the person to lead the rebranding of the organization.

CG: What were some of the lessons you learned from that rebranding effort?

PB: We learned that there were distinct things that made IABC different. These became the values -- We create connection -- No other organization creates the kind of personal and professional connections that IABC does.. I love the idea that despite cultural differences, communication professionals around the world have the same issues and opportunities. We are a diverse community - not only culturally but in the communication disciplines we are in. Finally we focus on insights and delivering results. This is the gold. . . That’s always inspired me.

CG: What else inspires you day to day?

PB: It’s the people who work for organizations and communities that inspire me. That every day person who goes to work 40+ hours. I want to make sure they have pride and purpose and passion when they’re doing their jobs. When they do, the organizations they work for thrive.

"I’ve seen engagement if the organizations I’ve worked in connect employees in a way that feels like magic."

CG: On the topic of employee engagement, Mike Klein shared his thoughts on ICology. He said that engagement has been a “double-barreled” disaster for internal communicators. Do you agree?

PB: I think we’ve been measuring engagement incorrectly and communicators and leaders often focus on engagement programs. If you look up engagement online - you get lists of 5, 15, 45 ways to engage employees that include celebrations, parties, recognition programs. I think Engagement is a system that is dependent of setting the right goals (the real ones) and looking at how the entire organization supports (or doesn’t support) them. But I’ve seen engagement if the organizations I’ve worked in connect employees in a way that feels like magic.

CG: Let’s take one step back but for a simple question. Do you think employee engagement is measurable?

PB: Yes. I have my four Ps.

  • Performance - How do we want the organization to perform (business results)
  • Participation - What do we need employees, members, customers to do exactly
  • Promotion - What do we want them to say on social and around the watercooler

And finally what do we want them to be…

  • Proud of - this is an intangible but necessary when focused on real engagement

These goals have to be specific and measurable.

CG: So other than engagement, are there other areas that when you go into a company that you see them making very simple mistakes but ones that are quite costly to the overall impact internal communications is having?

PB: I see two areas of challenges or opportunities. Companies who have invested in internal communication quite significantly, are delivering a ton of stuff, but not strategically. They create noise versus having an impact on real issues. Second, with those organizations that are just starting to invest in internal communication, they start with junior support and tactics. I think the conversation is usually about we need to fix communication, let’s create a newsletter and hire a writer versus we have a problem, let’s create the plan to fix it. I’m a big supporter of planning first before communicating.

CG: Let’s say a communicator is like “Yes, Priya. Let’s plan.” What are a few good first steps?

PB: Ask the right questions. I have some templates on my website (shameless plug) that they can download. Start by asking what success looks like. If everything ran smoothly, what would employees be aware of, understand, do, and believe. It’s a good place to start.

CG: And when you say, “ask the right questions,” who should be communicators be talking to?

PB: Ideally leaders… but definitely the business leader of initiatives. We have to start with their strategies and goals and make sure there is consistency.

CG: It’s great to have the thoughts from those high up, like the CEO, but shouldn’t communicators also find out what employees want or are interested in?

"We, as a profession, need to change from order takers to strategic advisors that are integral to a project’s, organization’s success."

PB: Yes. Part of planning also involves asking the audience and creating a solid stakeholder analysis. I think internal communicators play an integral role in being the voice of the stakeholder when consulting with leaders. We have to provide their perspectives to be successful.

CG: There was a report recently where someone within the communications department at Walmart said at an event that “internal communications is dead.” Did you see this and if so, what’s your take?

PB: Public relations, marketers, external communication pros see internal communication as simply another audience to broadcast to. What they don’t understand is that strategic internal communication done right helps organizations have conversations with their people, builds trust, enables individuals to deliver the brand promise consistently, creates pride, helps them navigate change….I could go on and on.

CG: My concern is that now other companies could begin asking the question and it could make things really hard on internal communicators.

PB: If you’re an internal communicator who simply broadcasts messages and takes orders, it will be hard to fight this perception. We, as a profession, need to change from order takers to strategic advisors that are integral to a project’s, organization’s success.

CG: Nothing against the USPS or other postal organizations, but I used to compare some communicators to them. Without adding any value, all they did was take a message from one place and deliver it to the next.

PB: It’s weird. I often come into organizations when a leader asks me to come help change things. The communicators are afraid of what change looks like. The whole idea behind Inner Strength was to help them build the bench from the inside out.

CG: There’s this belief in communications that we all want a seat at this magical table where all decisions are made. What do you see communicators doing to earn this “seat” or what do you see them doing to hold themselves back?

PB: I was thinking of creating a session called “Bring your own seat.” Sometimes we need to ask to be invited and once we’re there, we need to provide value beyond order taking. In my last organization, we worked our way onto a variety of programs and as projects became successful, we were able to grow the team and got asked to more tables. Everyone wants success. We need to make sure they know that those projects succeeded because we were there doing the right work to deliver results.

"We represent the stakeholder audience and employees. No one else at the table ever takes that role."

CG: Everybody has opinions. But it’s the perspective, or as my friend Heather Wagoner from the BBC believes, it’s about having a point of view that others may not have.

PB: Yes. And we represent the stakeholder audience and employees. No one else at the table ever takes that role.

CG: I like this next question. It’s become a staple of Chuck Chats. Describe how you feel about internal communications, or your perspective on internal communications, with an emoji.

PB: kiss-emoji We’re connecting and showing love and building trust in the organizations and it can be contagious.

CG: And finally, are you adding any more abbreviations to your LinkedIn profile anytime soon?

PB: Funny you should ask. I just got an email from IABC today about the new SCMP program - Strategic Communication Management Professional. I can’t take the test in Washington DC but if it comes to Toronto, I will consider it.

CG: You can’t help yourself.

PB: I love to learn new things and feel like some folks are watching what I do to decide whether the program has credibility. I want to set the right example for others.

CG: Thanks Priya. I’m pretty proud of myself for this one. No Canadian jokes throughout.