There has never been a better time to be a strategic internal communication professional. I’m amazed at how many leaders and organizations are reaching out for support to align their employees and internal audiences to help deliver their business goals.
Even technology solutions are now focused inside-out to engage employees operationally in delivering results. My guess is that 80% of sponsors at the recent IABC World Conference in Montreal were employee-facing solutions – employee apps, influencer-identification tools, internal email and newsletter solutions.
What I’ve also noticed is an increase in senior internal and corporate communications roles focused on employees-first, along with traditionally external-facing public relations (PR) agencies starting to offer internal communication services.
It’s interesting, as organizations prepare for disruption driven by technology and demographic shifts, there is finally an acknowledgement that maybe, just maybe, there is an important role for internal communication that enables, engages and empowers employees. I’ve always maintained that we can make a bigger difference from the inside-out, especially when we ensure employees are ready to deliver on those external brand promises.
Here’s my concern. As external practitioners and PR agencies take on the opportunity of internal, I’m seeing a lot of internal communication simply done wrong. I’m not saying every PR-first practitioner gets it wrong, but I believe strongly that if they use traditional newsroom and PR techniques for an internal audience, they will simply not get the results leaders are looking for.
Here is where things can go wrong:
1. Implementation versus Impact
If the focus of the internal communication conversation is on tactical execution versus bottom-line business impact, there is a problem. A strategic internal communication strategy must always begin with the question, “What does success look like?” Success should never be simply sending out the memo or delivering the newsletter, brochure of video; it should focus on the business impact. When leaders reach out to our team, it’s because they are trying to resolve real business problems. Make sure the impact, as an expected result of communication, is clearly articulated.
2. Newsroom and broadcast focus
From employee app implementations to the intranet, I’ve heard a number of practitioners from a number of organizations treat internal channels like newsrooms. Perhaps it’s the fact that so many practitioners started out as journalists, and believe the communicator needs to focus on the headlines, the story, and speak from a neutral position. If an internal communication professional’s role is to help employees understand company direction, help them deliver on that direction, and believe it’s in the organization’s best interest, our role is providing context and facts from the leaders and the company point of view. In a world of fake news, it is our responsibility to provide the organization's perspective clearly so that managers and employees are in the position to explain it consistently through their channels.
3. Launch-and-leave programs
True internal communication helps an organization play the long game. If leaders and practitioners are serving up quick-fix, short-term solutions that don’t stick (as we’re repeatedly seeing with technology implementations that don’t get adopted), the program has failed. It could have been really creative, fun while it lasted, and beautifully executed, but if there was no sustainable impact, we need to question the resources spent in the first place. Employees across the organization are talking about the flavour-of-the-month launches that are leading to a lack of trust and disengagement. A holistic strategy that results in sustainable change is worth the time and effort.
4. Command and control
Traditional practitioners are still fighting the ownership battle. Who owns communication? Who owns the intranet? Who can speak on behalf of the company? We do need governance and policy to protect our organizations, but the truth is the lines between ownership are blurring and I’ve always maintained that the true power of the internal communicator is not to speak on behalf of the organization, but to influence how the organization – its leaders and its people – communicate. We need to learn to let go of ownership and focus more on collaboration and preparing leaders and employees with the content to represent the organization consistently (actions and words) whenever they have the opportunity.
The days of the one-size-fits-all solution for communications are behind us. With soon-to-be-five generations in the workplace, technology, and virtual workforces around the world, we need to think about targeting our messages and tools. A central plan and consistent overall messaging are important but we need to meet employees where they are with content that resonates. What we want to avoid is teaching employees to ignore us because we continue to communicate irrelevant messages and measure ourselves by the stuff we send out. The truth is that emerging technologies make it easier to get the right messages to the right people at the right time.
Let us help!
As the need for strategic internal communication grows, many of my clients complain about the lack of expertise in the field, especially at a senior level. Our goal is to help build the bench in organizations and help practitioners build inner strength.
If you’re interested in learning more, get in touch. We’re happy to train and coach communication teams, human resources teams, and agencies on tools and techniques for internal communication done right.