INTERNAL COMMS (IC): LEARNING FROM THE PAST AND EMERGING TRENDS Rachel Miller
There is no such thing as pure internal communication any more. Professional communicators need to acknowledge the blurred lines between internal and external comms and fast. Discover why it’s important and the opportunities ahead.
• How internal communication is evolving
• The importance of learning from the past
• Five trends IC pros need to know to #FuturePRoof their careers
Evolution of internal communication
Internal communication as we’ve known it is over. Historical house organs and company propaganda from the late 19th century are being replaced by engaging, collaborative and relevant internal communication, informed by employees and external channels.
Well, that’s the theory. Here’s two realities:
• Companies separate themselves into internal communication and PR and seldom combine ideas, budget or messaging
• Broadcast or one-way communication techniques translate into a traditional, hierarchical top-down approach. There’s scarce room for employees’ voices to be heard
Could you remove the separation and have an integrated and multi-skilled team? If you’re a budget-constrained organisation, you probably already have one person overseeing all communication, so don’t have a choice. But what if you did?
Is it possible to integrate a communication team to focus on the content being produced rather than the function? The short answer is yes. Organisations such as the Post Office in the UK are already doing this.
Consistency is king
Consistency is king, particularly when thinking about messaging. What it’s like to be an employee should match up to your external material and brand promises. Communication is at the heart of this.
Communication teams need to respond to the needs of their organisation. This means drawing on internal and external communication expertise. This could be two teams working alongside each other, or as an integrated department.
You cannot operate in a silo and wonder why the experience employees report via websites like Glassdoor (TripAdvisor for organisations), reveal a gulf in what you say about your company and what it’s actually like.
Internal communicators need to have effective working relationships with external communication colleagues. Times have changed; disputes and disconnects inside companies over content and budget need to stop.
I expect to see more companies integrating and uniting teams while still respecting the skill sets of each discipline. There’s not a one-size-fits-all approach, you need to make an informed decision about the Generalist/Specialist structure that suits your organisation. Edelman state communicators need to become deeply knowledgeable in the shallowest of niches.
Why do you need internal communication?
According to Liam Fitzpatrick, Managing Partner at Working Communication Strategies, there are normally five main reasons for having an internal communication operation:
Effective internal communication is all about conversations. You need two-way methods in place to listen to employees, where they can provide input and know it will be acted upon.
Employees’ patience is thin and demand for interaction and answers is high. Think real-time, authentic communication and you’re on the right tracks. An annual feedback survey is not enough, you need to be continuously tuned into the conversations, rumours and realities of your organisation.
Channels encouraging participation have grown exponentially over the past decade. From employee-generated films to Tweets and Enterprise Social Networks, the variety and richness of formats and options continues to rise.
However, organisations are typically sluggish to respond, using antiquated channels and methods. Or those which are too new and shiny and introduced without the required care and attention. Both fail to resonate.
We’re heading towards user-generated content and the loosening of the grip of internal communication teams. I call it wonky comms. It may not be perfectly formed, on message and polished, but it’s real, authentic and resonates.
Learning from the past
There are many models showing how the role of internal communication has changed.
Melcrum’s Eras of Internal Communication model (2012) shows the evolution. We have technology to map employee graphs to understand spheres of influence and advocacy. They’re being built into software such as Delve in Office 365, and will become the norm.
ERAS OF INTERNAL COMMUNICATION Source: Melcrom 2012
The role of internal communication is to equip, empower and enable employees to deliver the business strategy. Everything we do as professional communicators should facilitate the company or client to achieve their goals.
You need to identify links between company objectives to communication objectives, outputs, outtakes, outcomes and organisational impact.
Why isn’t that always the case? How often have you seen campaigns launching because they’re pet projects, rather than being tied to a wider organisational strategy? Exactly.
Internal communication goes beyond one person, team or function. It may be on the job titles of a particular department, but it will be in the job description of many people across a company. All employees have a role to play to ensure effective organisational communication happens.
Everybody is now a communicator. They always have been. What that means for professional communicators is a shift in perspective and our position.
This worries some communicators, who feel they are losing something as ‘everyone thinks they can do my role’. You need to modify your mindset and focus on operating as strategic business partners. Professional communicators need to be masters of their trade.
You are the difference between effective communication and noise. We’re moving from content creation to curation and your skills have never been more relevant. This means educating and guiding employees and encouraging them to publish stories, take photographs and share their view of the world.
Internal communication in recent years has seen communicators vying for the latest must-have tools and techniques. We’ve seen all sorts of shiny and whizzy gadgets, apps and platforms come and go. I call them comms bling.
Comms bling is when you’re tempted to discard everything you know about your culture and what works for your employees, in favour of the latest kid on the block. Regardless of whether it is the right thing to do for your company. Your budget is precious and needs to be invested wisely.
Once the dazzle has faded, you realise your precious gem can’t live up to its promises. If that’s you, admit it. Embrace the failure of a channel or idea, learn from it, regroup and move on.
I oversee my household from my Apple Watch and iPhone; from changing the lighting or heating, to viewing my children’s baby monitors from wherever I am, I have access to information to help me influence their world. The same is true for us as communicators. Technology exists to help us enhance employees’ experience of their workplace, but you have to know what communication methods are out there and choose wisely.
For all of the software trying to replicate face-to-face communication, companies are realising they need to stop trying to replicate and start doing. They’re investing time, money and effort in upskilling managers, creating face-to-face opportunities, identifying influencers and encouraging user-generated content.
Five trends IC pros need to know to #FuturePRoof their careers
1. Know your numbers
Get smart with data. Numbers are the currency of Exec teams. Understand how employees interact with content and access information.
2. Think beyond communication
Demonstrate your understanding of your business, from financial results to competitors. Show your leaders how you add value as a strategic business partner beyond communication.
3. Research the future
Understand automation, the internet of things, digital workplaces and chatbots and how they could relate to your company.
4. Know your audience
Audience implies a performance and one-way communication. That’s the opposite of what you need. Know who you’re communicating with, what’s important to them and how information and knowledge flow inside your organisation.
5. Be curious.
Experiment with new channels, read industry press and never stop investing in your learning.
The future of organisational communication is bright. It’s a fascinating world and you need to keep up. So learn from the past, embrace what’s happening now and invest in your personal development to #FuturePRoof your career.
 Seen what your employees are saying about you? http://www.allthingsic.com/glassdoor/ All Things IC blog, January 2015
 Do you have the right skills to do your job? http://www.allthingsic.com/generalistspecialist/ published on the All Things IC blog January 2016
 Edelman’s Cloverleaf research: http://www.allthingsic.com/edelmanclover/, published January 2016
 Calling the right tune with internal communication? http://www.communication-director.com/issues/calling-right-tune-internal-communication#.V6eyZ1cydo6, Communication Director Magazine, August 2016
 The rise of wonky comms: http://www.allthingsic.com/wonky/, All Things IC blog, February 2016
Rachel Miller is the Founder of All Things IC consultancy, offering senior level counsel to help organisations and communicators achieve excellence. She is a multiple award-winning professional and Fellow of both the Institute of Internal Communication and CIPR. Her thoughts have been featured in a number of best-selling PR books and she regularly shares her knowledge through her popular blog and All Things IC Masterclasses.