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Internal Communications Rising in Importance, Opportunity

It may be a cliché to say that organizations don’t value internal communication as much as they do external. In the U.S., at least, it’s mostly true, and that’s disappointing.

In past years, you’d read that “this is the year when internal communication comes into its own,” or something similar. It was usually related to some sort of whiz-bang, usually electronic communication tool. Enterprise social media (or networks – ESN) like Yammer and Jive was supposed to be the game changer. For some organizations, it’s been a useful addition. Some, for example, use ESN to replace broadcast email and allow for better segmentation of internal audiences. But others point to a lack of executive leadership participation in these tools and a corresponding decline in overall adoption as a result.

We are excited about the digital workplace tools because they unify the communication and operations functions of intranets. That offers hope for true efficiency leading to saving time and money. (Sean Williams will be investigating at the upcoming IceByIgloo conference in Nashville in September.)

So, yes, we believe we will see positive changes in the perception of value of internal communication. But it will be us–the practitioners–who will have changed much more than our tools.

What is the role of internal communication?

In most organizations, it’s disseminating information. That accounts for the relatively low esteem such organizations have for the function. In the best organizations, the internal communicators:

  • are forging partnerships across silos,
  • building strong relationships deep into the organization, and
  • have the chops to serve as counselors at the highest level on the process and function of communication within the enterprise.

Internal communicators are discovering that employee engagement needs a business outcome beyond mere engagement. They’re using research to better understand the connection between engagement and metrics outside human resources to that end. They’re acting as gatherers of business intelligence, fostering knowledge processes, and delivering value well beyond simple message delivery. Sean leads a project for the Institute for Public Relations on establishing standards for measuring internal communication that includes measuring more deeply than mere outputs.

Not just tactics, please

The modern internal communicator isn’t wedded to their communication tactics, opting instead for a flexible approach that shies away from trendy toys not supported by research.  They’re answering questions, such as:

  • How well do employees understand our business strategy and their role in it?
  • How connected to our organization are they?
  • What is their level of enthusiasm for us as a place to work? To what extent do they identify with us apart from their paycheck?
  • What actions do they take in support of us? Whom do they influence at and away from work?

As the internal communicator prioritizes subject matter, there’s a clear distinction between nice to do and mission critical. That depends less on leadership sponsorship than receiver utility. They represent for the recipient, always asking, “what do we want people to think, feel or do as a result of this communication?” They’re not satisfied when someone answers that question with, “awareness.”

That’s not a pipe dream

Consider:

  • The most recent GAP study (2014) from the University of Southern California shows that in organizations where communication functions are well-integrated and coordinated are much more likely to score high on internal success factors, suggesting that the function has a more valued role internally.  Integrated communication functions permit greater coordination, reduce waste and result in better communication outcomes. That’s good for internal comms.
  • Organizations that manage change effectively and that have effective communications are 2.5 times as likely to outperform their peers in financial performance, according to the Towers Watson Change and Communication ROI study. The study also notes that managers and leaders continue to be critical to both communication and change management success. Thus, the best internal communicators are essential partners with leadership in service of change effectiveness.  Never has internal communication been as relevant and urgently needed as today.
  • Organizational reputation depends on user experience, and user experience on direct communication with  employees. The emerging trend, therefore, is an internal communicator who carries a robust understanding of customer service, strategy, operations and the process of communication.

We still have to write, edit, shoot, analyze

We still will need peerless skills in the world of words, whether as writers or editors, and much as with journalists, we’ll need visual communication capabilities too – still and video photography, multimedia, etc. We will need technical expertise, understand how to dig into the data and glean insights, and apply them appropriately.

As long as we recognize and embrace this shift to a more robust skill base and a stronger business acumen, we will seize the day. We are becoming what we always wanted, and needed, to be.

Let True help you enhance your internal communication program. Find out how we can help.

Note: A version of this article appeared previously on Sean’s previous blog.