That thing we call Internal Communications has evolved since it first emerged two decades ago. Once upon a time the entire IC department was Sheila who put together the company newsletter around her other duties; today it (Internal Comms, not Sheila) is a thriving partner to business growth, an essential function that bridges the gap between company leaders and the frontline workers. (Though we’re sure Sheila’s still pretty important, too.)
Yet Internal Comms is stuck in a Catch-22: it needs to be more strategic to be taken seriously by the C-suite, but resources and budget have internal communicators stuck in tactic-land. The chasm between Internal Communications best practices and reality can be wide in some companies. And without the time and space to build a business case and Internal Communications strategy for more budget and resource, the Head of Communications is unlikely to prove to the Board that IC is worth the investment. And around we keep going.
Internal communications specialists must move out of the mindset of internal comms channel mix and engagement-baiting gamification, but 20 years of tactic-driven working prove a hefty weight around the ankles. In this guide, we endeavour to look at where Internal Communications has come from and how it can get to where it needs to go, all with the input of some of the IC world’s brightest names.
Keep reading to find out:
- What exactly is Internal Communications and where does it sit in an organization
- What makes a good Internal Comms specialist
- The impact an engaged and happy workforce can have on your bottom line and company growth
- The importance of thinking strategically in Internal Communications, and how to develop an Internal Comms strategy
- The major Internal Communications barriers, and how you can overcome them
- How technology is driving 21st century Internal Communications
- The essential nature of measuring your Internal Communications methods and impact, and some tools to help your build your business case
- Some Internal Communications best practices
- The essential IC influencers to follow for guidance
- And, what the future of Internal Communications looks like, with input from Mike Klein, author of Happeo’s Present and Future of Internal Communications series
What is Internal Communications and what role does it play in an organization ?
How we describe Internal Communications
Every Internal Communications specialist and everyone involved in a business describes Internal Communications in different ways. At its essence, when we discuss Internal Communications we mean the way a company interacts with its people and how they interact with it. It’s about bringing clarity to an organization’s objectives so its workers can align to the same goals.
IC influencer Rachel Miller writes on her All Things IC blog: “I think the purpose of internal communication is not telling people what to do. It is to create shared understanding and meaning. Only when this happens can employees work together towards a company’s goals.”
Dr Kevin Ruck, founder of PR Academy, agrees with Miller, saying Internal Comms is “corporate level information provided to all employees and the concurrent provision of opportunities for all employees to have a say about important matters that is taken seriously by line managers and senior managers.”
Good ol’ Wikipedia makes it even more simple: “Internal Communications (IC) is the function responsible for effective communication among participants within an organization. The scope of the function varies by organization and practitioner, from producing and delivering messages and campaigns on behalf of management, to facilitating two-way dialogue and developing the communication skills of the organization’s participants.”
But those definitions are missing an essential ingredient: they don’t talk explicitly about engagement or culture, and arguably a company’s culture is a result of the way it communicates internally and enables its employees to have a voice. This definition from Enplug adds a little flavour: “Internal Communications is the systematic study of the best ways to help employees communicate with each other and with managers more effectively. Strong Internal Communications creates a culture that fosters the company’s values internally, such as creativity and productivity.”
However you look at it, it’s clear when we talk about Internal Communications we mean a few things:
- The sharing of information within an organization for business purposes
- The way we share that information — the “channels” and methods chosen
- The way we create the information — the messaging, writing and design
- The platforms we use to share the information
- The way we help employees understand the business’s goals, objectives and values
- How employees work and share with each other
- And how all of this contributes to the overarching culture of the organization
The history of Internal Communications, from staff magazines to tech-driven operations
We might joke about the staff magazine, but that’s where the origin story for Internal Communications lies. In fact, the UK’s Institute for Internal Communications was originally called the British Association of Industrial Editors, emphasising the early importance of internal newsletters. There’s even evidence of internal newspapers developed and written by employees dating back to the 1840s.
Dr Kevin Ruck writes of three broad phases in the evolution of internal communication:
- Publication: the practice is dominated by industrial editors between the 1840s and 1970s who published newspapers and magazines to tell management-led stories. Dr. Ruck says this reflects a “command and control” management mindset.
- Process and Persuasion: the scope of practice widens in the 1980s and 1990s as more channels become available and planning and measurement gain importance. There’s also more focus from Internal Comms specialists on persuasion, which makes sense as these were times of industrial unrest and change – especially with the beginnings of the digital workplace.
- Participation and Professionalism: the 21st century practice of Internal Communications continues to widen as technology transforms the way we communicate. There is more focus on giving employees a voice, and Internal Comms specialists can access specialist qualifications. The importance of Internal Communications strategy becomes a focus.
The first textbook on Internal Communications was released in 1942 - Alexander Heron’s Sharing Information With Employees - which took into account societal and cultural influences on employees and companies and defined a new way of doing business. But business didn’t really listen, and much of the 1940s, 50s, 60s and 70s centred on top-down and instructive comms.
Things changed in the 1980s as the ad world infiltrated new parts of business. Journalists moved in-house to help slicken-up what was dubbed “internal marketing” — but, says the CIPR in this potted history of Internal Communications, this was largely a triumph of style over substance.
The employee started to get more of a focus in the 1990s as employee engagement emerged as an Internal Communications best practice, with a push for the workforce to express itself physically, cognitively and emotionally at work. The ideal was that employees’ self-worth would be tied up in what they did and who they did it for. Yet, layers and layers of middle management diluted the messages.
The new millennium brought with it new technology and new ways to reach the masses, and this infiltrated Internal Comms practice, too. No longer just a team to pass out information, Internal Communications began to shape the way to do business and the Internal Comms strategy became paramount. The concept of the employee value proposition (EVP) emerged, too, and IC worked hand-in-hand with HR to deliver value and attract the best talent.
Today, it’s more about “internal conversation” than communications in Internal Comms best practices. Great businesses recognise the need to take the employee voice seriously — though internal communicators still struggle for the budget and resource to upskill and be truly strategic. That’s the next battle...
What work are you responsible for in Internal Communications?
While there’s a definition and broad understanding of what Internal Communications is, every company differs in what that team is responsible for. You could be classed as an Internal Communications Manager in one company and be creating articles for the intranet and sending out the weekly newsletter, yet jump into another company and that same role will be setting strategy and overseeing the development of new communications platforms.
Sometimes the Internal Communications specialists get a bad rap — just as marketing can be viewed as the “coloring in department”, so Internal Comms can be seen as fluffy and unimportant. There was an article in Cosmopolitan magazine in 2017 that said the IC role was “seemingly about organising people’s birthday cakes” — cue the uproar from the industry; you’ll still see social media references to being #busybusyverybusy by Internal Comms specialists!
In general, the internal communication specialist will act as:
- Staff copywriter — writing the messages for posters, screens and other mediums
- Staff journalist — writing articles for the intranet, newsletter and magazines
- Staff copy editor — whipping into shape those things written by non-writers
- Staff scriptwriter — helping senior leaders to communicate better verbally
- Staff ghostwriter — writing blogs and other communications on behalf of senior leaders
- Staff managing editor — collecting and planning communications and publication dates
- Staff designer — ensuring communications look and feel professional
- Staff publisher — owning and growing the comms channels
- Staff software developer — working with tech platforms to ensure they’re fit for purpose
- Staff project manager — owning roll-outs and acting as a go-between
- Staff event manager — running town halls, meet-ups and other events to bring people together for collaborating and learning
- Staff campaign lead — creating and developing campaigns to get staff on board or informed
- Staff engagement lead — ensuring employees are engaged and understand the role they play
- Staff coach — training and coaching employees at all levels in communications best practices
- Staff counsellor and agony aunt — taking feedback from the business about what can improve and distilling that into language the leadership will act on
- Staff strategist — devising and following-through on a strategy that drives all of the above and aligns with business needs
- Staff spin doctor — putting the polish on all of this and getting people behind the cause
The “Internal Communications department”: Where does IC fit into an organization?
And just as there is disparity in the tasks that fall under the Internal Communications specialist’s role, so too will you find Internal Comms sitting in different parts of an organization.
“This has been a great debate for many internal communicators for a long time,” says Advita Patel, Chair of CIPR Inside, the Chartered Institute of Public Relation’s dedicated Internal Comms committee. “There are various positives and negatives for each home, and some people have a very strong view while some don’t.
“My Internal Communications roles have always invoked HR — they’ve sat within the HR function — though a few did sit with corporate communications. Some even sit within IT. It’s a really varied role, and is dependent on what’s happening in the organization at that point.”
Advita believes the decision of where the IC function sits should be made by looking at where you can “best influence the business”: “If change is a big thing in the organization, you may find the best influence and advice you can give is sitting in the HR function and working closely with that stakeholder. If it’s more commercially-driven with more outward-looking objectives, you might be better in PR. It’s about looking at where the business is and what it needs.
“Ideally, you would be a standalone function with a dotted line to corporate affairs and a direct hardline to the chief executive. That’s where your role as a trusted advisor would benefit the business the most, where you can influence the strategy and project at the top level without going through different routes.”
You can make a strong argument for Internal Communications specialists to sit in one of the following.
Internal Comms and HR
Given the employee engagement remit of Internal Communications, and the fact this team is dealing one-on-one with the workforce, there’s a clear case for it to sit in the HR team. Even where the Internal Communications specialist might be located elsewhere, you will often find a “dotted line” of reporting to the Head of HR to ensure the EVP runs through Internal Comms.
Internal Comms and IT
It might seem odd to place a team responsible for communicating in amongst the IT boffins, but there is a rationale here: often the Internal Communications team grows up around the intranet, and as that’s a software platform it is often owned or worked on by the in-house tech team. But Internal Communications is about more than platforms and channels, and reporting to IT leaves the Internal Comms specialist at risk of being seen as not strategically important, more of a comms enabler than an essential strategic partner to the business.
Internal Comms and the Marketing and/or Communications department
Perhaps the most natural home for the Internal Communications team lies among those whose sole function is to communicate messages and bring in audiences. Whether the Internal Comms specialist reports to the CMO, the Head of Communications or a specific MarComms outfit, within this framework the Internal Communications specialist can ensure his or her work is aligned with company messaging as a whole. They could, however, lose the opportunity to directly influence at the top table as marketing and communications functions encompass a whole world of responsibilities, and the focus could end up on sales and stakeholders rather than employees and Internal Communications strategy. That’s why the HR team’s input is so essential in Internal Comms.
Internal Comms as its own department
There is a distant utopia in the Internal Communications world, one most practitioners only dream of: that company where they have a dedicated, separate IC function that speaks directly to the C-suite and builds its own Internal Communications strategy based on Internal Comms best practices brimming with ideas. As Internal Communications wins the fight to be seen as more strategic, this utopia may become a reality...
What if there’s no dedicated team?
...yet there are still companies that don’t have a dedicated Internal Communications function, often placing responsibility for this essential function among a multi-hyphenate job role. It could be a communicator’s remit to look after the intranet and staff emails, but also social media, the company blog and advertising copy. This usually results in Kate the comms girl being stressed and on the verge of burn-out. If your company is more than a handful of people and doesn’t yet have a dedicated Internal Communications specialist, you can always seek support from the community on how to build a business case for Internal Communications best practices and get that much-needed extra resource for focusing.
The people behind Internal Communications
So, what kind of background do you need to work in Internal Communications ?
While today you can study Internal Communications at degree level, it wasn’t always that way. The people who ended up as Internal Communications specialists often came from a PR, marketing or journalism background — they understood how to get a message across, and how to hook and reel in an audience. (That’s when Internal Comms wasn’t tossed to a PA or HR officer to deal with.)
But even Internal Communications isn’t immune to niching, says Dan Holden. Dan is the man behind Horizon Comms UK, an online resource dedicated to helping “newbies” to find their way in Internal Communications jobs. He says the internal communications specialist is often an “emotional gauge” for the business, which in itself needs a special skill-set.
“A few years ago I would have said yes, there is a typical career trajectory in Internal Communications jobs in that we enter as an exec, take up an officer role, move into management and then look to be the head of comms.
“More recently though, as the needs of organizations change and the profile of Internal Comms increases, we have more freedom to specialise in Internal Communications jobs. Now you’ll find IC practitioners who specialise in change communications, employee experience or wear a dual hat across the wider corporate communications field.”
Developing your career in Internal Communications, from entry to leader
“We are in such a privileged position to work with everyone in the business, shape the behaviour of leaders and make a real impact into the working lives of colleagues,” continues Dan, a proud member of the IC community. He says if you’re looking for a new Internal Communications job or want to pivot your career, you should ask yourself what you enjoy most about Internal Communications.
“It can be easy to look at moving to another company, but sometimes you can go straight into the same role but with a different logo,” he says. “Don’t be afraid at exploring specialist areas such as Internal Communications channels, content, engagement and change, where you can focus on what you enjoy.
“For anyone reading this at an executive or officer level, I’d say don’t feel pressured into jumping up the career ladder with your next Internal Communications job. Enjoying your job is fundamental and getting into strategic work isn’t always as glamorous or easy as people might make out — it has its own challenges.”
The IC newbie: a tale from the frontline
Jessica Williams-Chadwick is a freelance digital marketer who recently found herself thrust into an Internal Communications job through a contract assignment. She’s found some of her old world bleeds into the new, but she’s had to quickly upskill to remain on top of things. She shared her thoughts on Internal Communications as an outsider looking in.
“As a freelancer, I often have to wear several hats, or adapt to different styles or methods, so it wasn't difficult for me to change my approach to fit Internal Comms,” she says. “It's definitely one small part of my role within the company, and I didn't claim any expertise in it, but I see why they asked me and I'm pleased to be able to add another string to my bow.
“Internal Comms is firmly in Marketing at this company, but I work closely with a cross-team squad and can ask for pretty much everything I need. Some of it involved new (to me) software that no one seemed to know how to work, so I stayed up late one evening and plugged through a load of tutorials and followed them up with some trial and error until I had it. This probably says more about my stubborn nature than the company!”
Jess found no formal Internal Communications strategy — apart from channeling comms through Slack, and using an Internal Comms TV network as Internal Communications methods — so she’s using her digital marketing background to develop an Internal Communications plan to handover when she moves on. She’s also combating what many in Internal Comms find themselves up against: “dinosaur processes” and a lack of understanding of how to use Internal Communications channels.
“You're still talking to a certain audience, grammar is still important, the message is still key, and how you communicate it is still delicately balanced, but it's hard to do well without knowing a company well — a bit chicken and egg I suppose,” she says. “My main contribution to Internal Comms channels at first was emoji-based, but this didn't seem to gain much traction. I'm still learning what works and what doesn't.
“I never expected to be doing Internal Comms, but at the heart of it it's just networking and supporting people, which are two of my favorite things.”
Essential Internal Communications jobs skills
Jess’s experiences with Internal Communications channels but no Internal Comms strategy is, unfortunately, not unique to where she’s working.
“The biggest gap I have observed is that people don’t always come into the profession knowing the full value of Internal Communications,” says Dan Holden.
“If I did have to pick a skill gap in particular, both from my own learning and that of others, it would be persuasion, as it can be hard to stand up and challenge managers and leadership teams,” he continues. “As a junior IC professional it not only takes time to build up the confidence to stand your ground but often we have never been taught how to effectively handle such situations.”
Dan says good internal communications specialists need a mixture of empathy, influence, coaching, leadership, adaptability, mediation and persuasion skills, as well as the ability to “listen beyond the noise”. When it comes to harder skills, it helps to know copywriting, be business literate, be able to conduct strategic analysis, and be comfortable with public speaking.
Organizations that can help you upskill and stay informed of new Internal Communications ideas
Whether you find yourself “suddenly” in IC or you’ve chosen a dedicated career path, Internal Communications specialists today are spoiled for choice when it comes to career development. Around the world there are numerous dedicated industry bodies running training and professional development courses, as well as offering accreditations and opportunities for volunteering and getting your name out there. They’re all about encourage new Internal Communications ideas, spreading Internal Communications best practices, and highlighting new Internal Comms methods. These bodies also advertise Internal Communications jobs and awards regularly, so it’s worth following them or signing up to the mailing list to keep in touch.
The roots of FEIEA lie in France, when in 1948 a French association of communicators invited representatives of national associations to Paris for an exchange of views — the first European Internal Communications conference. In the intervening 80 years there have been many meetings, conferences and summits, and the FEIEA now upholds a code of ethics: it’s dedicated to supporting and encouraging cooperation and best practice among its national member associations. It recognises service to the IC industry through its Honour Diplomas and holds an annual awards which is a good place to see best practices from across the continent.
The IoIC has been engaging people at work and driving standards in the Internal Communications industry for more than 70 years. Its qualifications, leadership and communities are among the best out there, and it claims to be the voice for internal communication by driving the agenda and building a movement of passionate, dedicated professionals. It also works with international partners, including FEIEA, to promote and develop the profession across the world.
The UK’s Chartered Institute of Public Relations has a dedicated arm for Internal Communications, CIPR Inside. It operates under a mission of IMPACT: it aims to be inspiring by promoting brilliance; to measure what matters; to support professional development and help members flourish; to advise and share generously; to change our work for the better; and to inspire trust and confidence. Its website has a plethora of resources to help both new and experienced internal communicators, and it has dedicated training and accreditations, too, as well as offering chartership for Internal Comms specialists.
The IABC is “the only global association connecting communication professionals with the people and insights they need to drive results.” It strives to advocate for the profession, represent Internal Communications best practices, define the global standard and live by a code of ethics. The focus is on insights and results, with new Internal Communications methods and Internal Comms ideas often the focus of their own channels.
Claiming to be the “standard bearer for professional development in the discipline of employee engagement”, the EEA operates around four core goals: learn, share, discuss, and act. Members get access to targeted training and development courses to help them overcome Internal Communications barriers at discounted rates plus access to networking events, awards, conference and industry benchmarking.
The US’s largest professional organization servicing the communications community, the PRSA is on a mission to “make communications professionals smarter, better prepared and more connected through all stages of their career”. Though it’s not specific to the IC industry, the communications learning is wide and varied, and the various local chapters and districts can prove fruitful for networking and sharing experiences and new Internal Communications ideas.
The importance of employee engagement and Internal Communications to the bottom line
What is employee engagement?
So why do we go to all of this trouble? Internal Communications, as we said earlier, developed from a focus on the good ol’ staff magazine to a discipline based around employee engagement. But what is employee engagement? We asked Swiss-based comms expert Imogen Hitchcock of consultancies 3D Communications and Beaumont to give us the low-down.
“An engaged workforce is one that comes into work every day with excitement and purpose,” says Imogen. “They are motivated, productive, innovative, and dedicated to delivering on business objectives. They understand where they sit in the business and how their work directly impacts the business’ success. They understand the company’s vision and what success looks like. They have a voice. They know they can offer ideas and views which are listened to and considered when decisions are made. They are part of a team with clear goals who are empowered and trusted to make difficult decisions. They are loyal, authentic, and willing to go the extra mile to get things done. They live and breathe company values and act as a trusted ambassador and advocate.”
Yes, engaged employees are exactly the kind you want driving your business forward. But employees don’t come automatically engaged — you need to work at it, and that’s where your Internal Communications specialists come in. Working hand in hand with senior leadership, HR and IT, Internal Comms practitioners bring employee engagement to the forefront through a focus on Internal Communications best practices.
The impact of employee engagement and Internal Communications methods on profitability and productivity
And yet: “Creating an engaged workforce isn’t as simple as holding a couple of town halls and putting bean bags in the break room,” says Imogen. “Engagement needs to be built through the company culture – the personality of the company. Culture is difficult to define as it isn’t something tangible or written down. It’s a feeling, anchored in unspoken behaviours, mindsets, and relationships. As Frances Frei and Anne Morriss from HBR put it: “‘Culture tells us what to do when the CEO isn’t in the room’.”
Higher levels of employee engagement, and the ensuing culture of productivity, is associated with revenue growth, higher profits, better customer satisfaction, higher productivity, innovation and lower employee turnover, says Imogen. She brings out the big guns: the stats to prove it.
- 85% of adults worldwide are not engaged or are actively disengaged with their work (source: Gallop’s State of the Global Workplace)
- Companies with high communication effectiveness had a 57% higher total return to shareholders during the five-year period from 2000-2004 (Source: Towers Watson Change and Communication ROI study)
- Companies with engagement scores in the top quartile had twice the annual net profit of those in the bottom quartile (Source: Engage for Success)
- Companies with high levels of engagement show a turnover rate 40% lower than companies with low levels of engagement
- 59% of engaged employees said that their job brings out their most creative ideas against 3% of those less engaged
- Happy employees are up to 20% more productive than unhappy employees (Source: Social Market Foundation)
“In short, happy workers mean better business,” says Imogen. “Happy employees are less stressed and more productive. Productive businesses work faster and smarter. Smarter businesses beat their competition. Engaged employees transform employees into ambassadors, turn groups of individuals into a team, and bring customers into the heart of your business.”
Employee engagement is not just about the hard stats
Imogen continues: “Over the last 10 years, the way the way in which people work has changed exponentially – and it continues to evolve at a staggering rate. Technology, changing priorities, and new generations entering the workforce have all led to shifting expectations about how organizations talk and listen to their employees.
“In this new workplace, teams have less time for office politics. They expect full transparency from their leaders (and aren’t shy about giving feedback when this doesn’t happen!). They want to work collaboratively and require the tools and environment to help them succeed. They want to participate in business decisions and feel a sense of achievement when objectives are met.”
There is strong evidence that, as well as increased business performance, employee engagement is linked to better health and wellbeing, and fewer instances of burnout, says Imogen, citing a Gallup report that suggests disengaged employees are nearly twice as likely to be diagnosed with depression, have higher stress levels, and are at greater risk for heart disease. This shows the importance of Internal Communications to the wider work world.
That report, the 2017 Gallup State of the Global Workplace survey shows:
- Engaged workers are more aware of their surroundings. Highly engaged businesses release 70% fewer employee safety incidents and 58% fewer patient safety incidents.
- Of actively disengaged workers in Germany, 53% say they felt burned out at work in the past 30 days, but only 17% of engaged employees report having the same feelings.
- Businesses that prioritise basic human needs for psychological engagement — such as positive workplace relationships, frequent recognition, ongoing performance conversations and opportunities for personal development — get the most out of their employees.
- Says Imogen: “Companies that prioritize employee engagement will be the ones that help their country achieve social stability and higher living standards.”
How do you create employee engagement opportunities when your workforce is remote?
- All of this sounds great — unless your business is characterised by remote working and field-based operatives. Remote and non-desk based workers are consistently named one of the biggest Internal Communications barriers, and yet the annual Gatehouse State of the Sector report shows it’s not being moved into the priority pile. This was frustrating Jenni Field, President-Elect of the CIPR and Director of Redefining Communications, so she partnered with SocialOptic to research what remote workers really want from Internal Communications teams. The result is Remotely Interested, released in April 2019.
“One of the main things we found is they just want to be listened to,” says Jenni. “They care about what they do, about customers, about service, but they don’t feel they’re listened to. A lot of stuff coming from the centre - especially in highly unionised workplaces - is seen as propaganda. You have such a gap between what the head office sees and what the people on the frontline see. It’s about exposure and language — for example, we used the term ‘organizational news’ in the survey, and people asked if we meant the company.”
Remotely Interested’s key findings highlight Internal Communications barriers, and includes insights into Internal Communications methods and Internal Comms ideas to help overcome those barriers:
- Other than email, most workers get their information about their industry from colleagues rather than any other channel.
- Only 63% of remote workers believe they have all of the information needed to do their job well.
- Only 36% of remote workers believe their line manager is an accurate source of information.
- 27% of remote workers had too little information about their organization.
- Even for remote workers, the intranet and company website are the main channels for information about their organization.
- TV screens and text messaging were rated as the least interesting channels.
What does this mean for employee engagement when your workforce is dispersed? Jenni says you should start with insight to get the data that sets a benchmark, and then focus on the audience by talking to people to find out what they want: “The executive team will say they need to have this, but you’re not trying to talk to the executive team. I’d rather know what the workers want, and if they want a printed newsletter emailed to them because they don’t want to have to log into a different platform while on the move, then that’s what I’ll do.”
Most importantly, though, Jenni says you need to give remote workers a space to have a voice — but don’t let it be an echo chamber. Make sure workers know that voice is heard, make sure anything you do in response is real and authentic, and make sure you’re using the language that your workers use. Use technology to make it as easy as possible for those not based behind a desk to engage with and speak with each other and leadership.
Overcoming Internal Communications barriers
Influencing the business from the top
Internal communications specialists face many of the same challenges as external communicators - knowing your audience, understanding channels, measuring effectiveness to prove ROI - but there are some challenges unique to Internal Communications that bear investigating.
First and foremost lies the reputation of the industry itself as being non-strategic — and the fact that reputation can mean the internal communications specialist has to go through middle men to influence the business. Without a direct line to the C-suite, the job is that much harder.
“Nowadays IC people are pushing themselves forward a bit more and insisting on direct conversation with senior leaders — the profession is growing and maturing,” says Advita Patel, Chair of CIPR Inside. “There is still a long way to go, though. We’re still fairly new if you compare Internal Communications to other specialisms in comms and PR. It’s only in the last 10 years that people are getting the confidence to step out from being an SOS messenger post-box. Now they’re putting themselves forward and saying, ‘we’re a professional industry and we have talent and skills to help you achieve objectives and support culture fit’.”
“People are realizing that employees are bigger advocates of your business if you treat them well, that if you ensure they’re tuned in internally then they’ll be supportive of the business outside too. People are realising the impact Internal Comms can have on that. I’m hearing more and more every year that goes by that an internal communications specialist can contact the chief executive whenever they want, that it’s a trusted relationship. That really helps to overcome Internal Communications barriers.
“Sadly, there is still a huge number of people who don’t have that and don’t really understand what impact Internal Comms can have on the business. If you don’t have that support, you do end up being a post box and don’t have a right to stand up and say that’s not the right way to do it. That’s what we do at CIPR Inside — we give someone the avenue to ask questions, but also the professionalism behind it. If you have the qualifications and a professional membership behind you, you get more of a platform. Business leaders understand what it means to be chartered, they know what you have to go through to get that status.”
Business acumen: the skills gap in Internal Communications
Which brings us to the question of skills: a lifetime of being driven by editing newsletters and focussing on tactics means the Internal Communications profession is not seen as strategic. To overcome this, practitioners are increasingly focussing on upskilling in strategic areas such as business acumen.
“As an Internal Comms specialist, you have to be three or four steps ahead of the business, you need to preempt what’s needed,” says Advita. She says the role has evolved; that while writing and traditional skills are still important, to make an impact you do need to understand how business works, what the drivers are for CEOs and MDs.
You don’t have to be a financial expert, but you do need to have some knowledge,” she says. “You need to understand how things like EBITDA and profit and loss work because when you’re sitting in a meeting it will come up.
“Having business acumen as an internal communications specialist will put you leaps and bounds ahead of any other communicator out there because you can talk the language and add value. That’s a skill some IC people don’t really consider they need, but if you’re writing comms you need to understand what the business is about.”
But this is a fixable skill gap. Advita suggests shadowing people in your business, from teams like finance, HR, commercial and marketing. Ask questions and get to know what they do. This can help inform your Internal Communications strategy as well as highlight new Internal Comms ideas as you’ll hear direct from the workforce.
“The first thing you should do in any business is to understand who the people are — sitting behind a desk sending emails isn’t going to help when you first start out. Move out from the desk and get meetings and coffees and ask questions. Start with the annual report, read through it, highlight queries and find the people responsible for those areas. If you’re still struggling with business acumen, the Open University do loads of free courses. Find a professional body that works for you, that you think will add the most value in your life, and join it.
“The important thing is you need to put yourself out there. You can’t expect someone to take you in hand and tell you what to read. Take responsibility for your own professional development.”
Culture isn’t just about the company — nationalities can impact Internal Comms, too
Cultural barriers can be a big issue for Internal Communications specialists, even if you’re not working across borders — the world we live in is a global one, and it’s likely a single office is home to multiple cultures.
Mr Seiji Sengoku is the HR Manager at Matcha Inc, one of the biggest web media companies focusing on travel in Japan for foreign tourists and headquartered in Japan. The company is around 30-strong, with employees coming from diverse nationalities: Japanese, German, Romanian, American, Taiwanese, Thai, Bangladeshi, and more.
Mr Sengoku believes that diverse cultural base makes internal communications methods incredibly important. They use Japanese as the common language in the office to avoid misunderstanding, and use Slack to communicate online as an Internal Communications channel. Every morning they have a short office meeting where each staff member shares something new or good that they’ve experienced before getting on with the day as a way to focus minds. There’s also a longer staff meeting at the beginning of every month where teams share the projects they’re working on; this meeting is followed by a shared meal.
It’s important for Matcha to support their international workforce as much as they can, so they help with dealing with government departments as well. They measure the impact of Internal Comms strategy through an employee net promoter score, or eNPS, to get insight into what employees think of working at Matcha.
But even with all of this Internal Communication and support, cultural misunderstandings still come up. Mr Sengoku believes face-to-face conversation is preferable to most Internal Communications channels as an Internal Comms method to overcome these misunderstandings - the human touch is still important in a tech-driven world.
The need for localisation and transcreation
Particularly when you’re working to unite an international workforce behind a common goal, a knowledge of cultural differences and the different work practices in different countries becomes essential for an internal communicator. For example, the Dutch and Germans are very direct with their communication, which can be seen as rude to someone from a more indirect country like India.
It’s not just the manner of communicating or the Internal Comms channels used, either; a recent story out of Australia showed the culture clashes that can happen over simple workplace practices. A French company was awarded the contract to build submarines in Australia, but found that “not everyone thinks like the French” — little things like turning up to meetings fashionably late or eating lunch at your desk can cause conflict. While these aren’t strictly the remit of the Internal Communications specialist, they are the sorts of disruptive cultural clashes that need to be kept in mind. The Internal Communications specialist may need to pull on their mediator hat or seek out new Internal Comms ideas to mitigate culture risks.
This is where localisation becomes incredibly important for employee engagement. Don’t go thinking that your “fun” English game will be seen as fun in the more reserved Chinese office. Reams of prescriptive “how to” copy may be seen as helpful in Warsaw but patronizing in London.
When devising your Internal Communications strategy and considering the global roll-out, try to incorporate localisation and transcreation — that’s not a strict word-for-word publishing, but taking the crux of the message and putting it into local context. Where multinationals can handle the resource, it’s worth considering regional Internal Communications specialists to help with this, or bring in local champions to help get the global message across on dedicated Internal Comms channels.
“Poor translation can have numerous knock-on effects,” writes Mihai Vlad for HR Director. When a key piece of information or meaning is lost due to the misinterpretation of a cultural nuance, it can mean the difference between an employee taking the right course of action, or not.”
He continues: “In China, for example, the colour red is a symbol of prosperity, whereas in most Western countries it represents danger. Stocks that are up are green in the U.S., while stocks that are down are red. In Taiwan, it’s the opposite. And, of course, British football fans will become quite incensed whenever the beautiful game is referred to as soccer. It’s vital, therefore, that businesses factor in these cultural idiosyncrasies when localising their communications, to ensure that what they’re delivering the intended message to each region.”
Internal Communications barriers can be overcome — even global ones
Mathew Love is a communicator in Sage’s South Africa office. He’s experienced first-hand the issues of working and communicating in an international organization.
“Internal Communications in a multinational organization is tricky,” he admits. “There’s no real one-size-fits-all, blanket approach that works across the different regions because different types of people send and receive communication differently. And as much as this cross-cultural communication can be a strength, it’s also a barrier.
“Without due diligence, a message sent from the headquarters of the organization may not necessarily be received the way it’s intended to be received by everyone in the business. Likewise, a message from a colleague or manager that’s based in a different region may become a little fuzzy in the noise of cultural dissimilarity. This is why it’s essential to ensure that the receiver of the message understands its contents as well as its intention, which can only be done if there is good, two-way communication in place with a well-oiled feedback mechanism.
“I find that the best way to overcome this barrier of cross-cultural communication is to not only assume responsibility for the way a message is sent, but also for the way it’s delivered. Question whether the intended target of the message has received the message, understands the message, is able to contextualise the message and is able to digest the message from their perspective without it losing its original meaning and pass it on if necessary.”
Mathew works to overcome these internal communication challenges by making sure everyone involved in a project understands its value and why their input is necessary — which can mean breaking them out of their natural style.
“The best way to work through something like this is to reach out and communicate the necessity, value and success factors that make the effort worthwhile,” he says of an Internal Communications best practices to handle local Internal Communications barriers. “It’s good to let them know that you understand it is outside of their comfort zone, but also let them know why it is rewarding—not only for them, but for the greater good as well. The important thing is to make sure they feel included and part of something, rather than excluded because of their reluctance.
“Bad communication is like a red wine stain on a white shirt: if you don’t target it immediately with the right detergents, it tends to spread and taint the whole shirt no matter how many times you try to rinse it.”
Unsurprisingly for a software company, Sage works in the cloud, enabling easy sharing and collaboration. Mathew believes an “anywhere, any time environment” is essential for a global organization and its Internal Communications methods — he can work on a slide deck with a colleague based in the US at the same time, both making changes and communicating to get the job done together without any need for version control or back-and-forth emails.
Developing an Internal Communications strategy and framework
What’s the difference between an Internal Comms strategy and an Internal Communications plan?
So we’ve talked a lot about this need for Internal Communications to be seen as a strategic partner to the business, but what do we mean by that? Surely if you have an Internal Comms plan, you’re being strategic?
In a word, no. A plan does not equal an Internal Communications strategy. An Internal Communications plan tends to focus on tactics; the strategy is the reason for the tactics.
However, Gatehouse’s State of the Sector 2019 report found more tactical tools than strategic ones being used by internal communications specialists, with:
- 57% having a written 12-month Internal Communications plan or calendar
- 45% having an Internal Communications channel framework
- 41% having regular dashboards or reports on their activities and impact
- 38% having a written Internal Communications strategy covering a period of more than one year
- 17% having audience profiles
- And 19% having none of the above
“People in Internal Comms get a bit scared by the word strategy,” says Helen Deverell, Internal Comms specialist and director of HD Comms. “And it can be difficult. If the organization isn’t clear in its own objectives - for example, a lot of businesses are somewhat on hold due to Brexit right now - it can be hard to link an Internal Comms strategy to business outcomes, but we should as we’re there to support the business. If we’re to get the credibility and support of leadership that we need to deliver our Internal Communications strategy, then we need to be doing something meaningful and impactful for the business.”
Emphasising the difference between an Internal Communications strategy and an Internal Communications plan, Helen says that where business outcomes are unclear, such as the current Brexit dilemma, then an interim Internal Communications plan can help to get the house in order — but an Internal Communications strategy is always the preferred end goal.
“I would say strategy is the overall approach, the objectives and measures of success - it sets out key things to achieve - whereas an Internal Comms plan is literally a step by step plan of activity. Within a plan you’d have what messages are going on which date — an intranet article followed by a video from the CEO and a roadshow, and so on. The actual activity to deliver strategy is in the Internal Communications plan. It’s good to have an overarching calendar of activity to make sure there are no clashes, and that everything is complementing the strategy.”
What does an Internal Communications strategy need to cover?
So how do you approach that Internal Comms strategy? Helen suggests you start your Internal Communications strategy process with some thinking: what is the current situation? Where are you now? This will give you the background and context for what you’re going to be doing.
Then, look at what you want to achieve, and why you want to achieve it. This is where you align with the organizational strategy as a whole. By looking at the company’s objectives and direction you can work out what’s needed from employees to get there, and then see how you can support both the business in achieving those objectives, and the employees to understand what’s needed from them to get there.
“Everything you’re doing must be tied back into the business objectives, otherwise you should question why you’re doing it,” says Helen. “You are ultimately there to support the business.”
Just as with strategies of any kind, your Internal Communications strategy should include SMART objectives — those that are specific, measurable, achievable, realistic and time-based. It’s no good to say you want to “help grow employee engagement” — what does “grow” mean specifically? How will you know if it’s grown — how will you measure it? Once you’ve been specific about how much you want to grow it and set a target against that, make sure the target is realistic and achievable — it’s better to aim small and grow from there. And finally, give yourself a deadline otherwise you’ll never know if you’ve achieved your strategic goal.
“We need to get better at setting objectives in our Internal Communications strategies that are SMART,” says Helen. “We’re good at saying we got this many hits on the microsite or this many responses to the survey, but are we clear about what that microsite or survey was trying to achieve in the first place?”
Audiences, too, are key to strategy. “Employees” is not a targeted audience; think instead about job roles, locations, or where they are in the employee lifecycle. Segmentation is needed before you start communicating, and stakeholder mapping can be an important exercise for your strategy, too.
Finally, remember your timeline — and if your Internal Communications strategy is for a specific project or campaign, don’t forget to include plenty of time for sign-offs in the Internal Communications plan: “Be clear who has to sign off and when so that’s taken into account in the strategy and the project doesn’t fall at the final hurdle,” says Helen. “Internal Comms is notorious for sign-off by committee, and things fall down because you can’t get hold of people or they’ve just forgotten about it. Be clear in your strategy about roles and responsibilities for overall delivery.
“I always remind my clients to focus on outcomes rather than outputs in their Internal Communications strategies,” she continues. “It helps to have intranet statistics, but it’s more interesting to look at changes in behaviour and tangible impacts on the business. If the business is starting a new service, then an objective will be communicating the service and engaging employees around it, but you will want to link your measures to the success of the service.
“Obviously Internal Comms can’t take all the credit for a successful new service. There are multiple departments involved — but we’ve traditionally not been very good at pointing out we have played a part in business success at all. A lot of things wouldn’t land as well if they didn’t have good Internal Communications behind it, but we can only do that by working with other departments to prove success through their measurements.”
To recap, when designing your Internal Communications strategies you should make sure you:
- Understand your current state
- Know where you want to get to
- Set goals and objectives to help you get there
- Research and segment your audience, including stakeholder mapping
- Decide which channels will reach that audience best
- Design your measurement process to track progress
- Know what success will look like
- Create a timeline that includes specific milestones
An Internal Communications plan needs the employee voice
Imogen Hitchcock of 3D and Beaumont believes a strong Internal Communications strategy can create a team of motivated, productive and engaged employees — but to get there, the company needs to both talk to and listen to its employees. “The problem is that,” she says, “too often communications departments are seen as a service provider, relegated to the production of SOS communication (Send Out Stuff). They are not viewed as strategic counsellors to the business.”
She suggests your Internal Communications framework should seek to:
- Join the dots: Internal Communications specialists should help build an organization that’s purpose driven. Employees need a sense of reason and a clear vision in order to fully engage with their job. They need to understand what the company is aiming for, how we’re going to get there, and how their work contributes to business objectives. Communicators need to stop concentrating on the ‘what’ and the ‘how’ of the business and start looking at the why.
- Help leaders walk the talk and live the culture: Leaders can’t pick and choose situations in which to follow the company’s values. They need to live the culture — it should be part of who they are and how they work. The culture should be ingrained into every part of the business - from setting business hours, to the layout of the office, to how the company deals with consumers - and employees should be reminded of their role in doing this.
- Share challenges and celebrate success: Everyone, from the leadership downwards, should be encouraged to celebrate and appreciate the work of their teammates. Taking the time to say thank you to employees who embody the company’s values will go a long way to embed a constructive culture.
- Be built on authenticity, consistency and staying in control: No matter what’s going on, it’s important that the company is transparent. In the absence of communication, the void will be filled with rumour and supposition. Good or bad, employees should know what is going on and how it’ll impact the team. Leaders should avoid small talk and encourage people to address issues directly. Employees need to find out important company news from leaders – not at the coffee corner.
Internal Communications channels
Tactics and platforms are important to delivering the Internal Communications strategy, though. Internal Communications has definitely come a long way since those days of printed newsletters, and technology is making it easier for the employee voice to be heard.
All communications need a home, and the intranet is traditionally that home for Internal Comms. Today’s intranet, though, is more than just a desktop publishing platform — as an Internal Communications channel, it enables discussion and two-way communications, collaboration on projects, and streamlined productivity. Where an intranet really comes into its own is not just as the disseminator of news, but as the go-to source for all internal processes and questions.
Chat systems and team working
The curse of the overloaded email inbox can be overcome: technology platforms such as the G Suite and G Suite intranet enable communication outside of the inbox. The beauty of a chat system is that threaded conversations limit crossed wires and lost sections of the conversation, while the G Suite enables real-time collaboration on documents that mean no more version control and a much speedier project time.
Internal Communications apps
With the 9-5 workday largely a thing of the past, and with social media blurring the lines between work and play, employees who want to stay connected on the go have the option to do so through Internal Communications apps. Whether it’s a G Suite intranet app, getting your email on your phone, being able to post to the intranet or a chat system on the go, Internal Communications apps can get you there now.
Of course, working in the cloud means everything is available to anyone anywhere at any time. Google’s own research into the value its customers achieve by implementing the G Suite found a 304% ROI over three years, risk adjusted and US$8 million in collaboration efficiencies by working together in real-time, saving employees up to two hours per week.
How to get buy-in for your Internal Communications strategy
We’ve said a few times that there is something of a gap between what internal communications specialists want to do, and what business leaders think they should do. Research conducted by the CIPR in 2017, titled Making It Count, sought to start bridging that gap, the beginnings of meaningful conversation about what we should focus on to demonstrate value to leadership.
“We discovered that while CEOs felt what we did was really important and valuable, we felt they still didn’t get the breadth of what we could do and the impact we could have — that there’s a lack of alignment in understanding between Internal Comms specialists and CEOs,” says Helen Deverell.
To get buy-in for Internal Comms strategy - and to get the resources and budget you need to be more strategic - it’s important to sit down and have a conversation with your business leaders. Any Internal Communications strategy you develop must be aligned to their own business objectives for it to be taken seriously as a growth enabler.
You also have to be able to bring evidence, says Helen. “If you’re starting from scratch that can be more difficult, but you could use case studies from other businesses to show the tangible impact IC can have, including the ROI. Make sure you speak the language of leadership and understand what matters to them. Link back to their goals — they don’t care about intranet reads unless it led to increased productivity and profit.
“Understand your leadership and what is important to them, but also know what they’re expecting from you. Once you sit down and write a strategy, make sure it links back to those measures that are more about outcomes than outputs, and measure what matters to the CEO. That should help them to pay much more attention.”
And remember, it’s ok if something doesn’t work, as long as you’ve approached it strategically, had good measurement in place and can explain what happened. You’re not the only cog in the wheel, and you can’t have complete control over all outcomes, says Helen. “Really, it’s about an ongoing conversation with leadership and knowing how to demonstrate value. If you speak their language, understand what matters to them and can demonstrate how you're impact that or adding value to that, you’re on your way to getting buy-in.”
Internal Communications methods for measuring impact
Key metrics for Internal Communications
Measurement, though, has been a bugbear for the Internal Communications specialist for many years. While it’s essential to link Internal Communication methods to business results, the level of measurement has presented a real challenge. Many organizations have tracked employee engagement as evidence of Internal Comms effectiveness, and the annual employee engagement survey has been seen as the ultimate determination of ROI.
The IC Kollectif, a non-profit global organization dedicated to the strategic management of internal communication as a business function, released a 164-page global report looking at the business value of good Internal Communications. In it, it details 22 Internal Comms standards as key measurements, divided into outtakes, outcomes and organizational impact. As Helen talked about earlier, outputs are not an effective measure of Internal Comms.
Outtakes were defined as whether employees received, paid attention to, comprehended or retained particular messaging, including:
Outcomes were seen as evidence of changes to or reinforcement of opinions, attitudes or behaviors, including:
- Discretionary effort
And finally, organizational impact looks at if and how internal communication has influenced organizational performance, with measures including:
- Continuous improvement
- Employee retention
They’re still quite nebulous concepts, though. To make it more clear, Dr Kevin Ruck summarises four categories of measurement that he calls the AVID framework:
- Alignment: is the IC team’s work aligned with the business strategy? Do employees understand the business’s objectives?
- Voice: do employees feel they have a voice and that it is heard?
- Identification: how emotionally connected are employees to the business? Do they share the values and are they proud to tell people where they work?
- Dialogue: conversations are central to Internal Comms; Kevin’s ICQ10 framework sets out 10 questions to ask that can be used to help us measure effectiveness in employee engagement.
Internal Communications measurement tools to make tracking easier
The measurement tools you use to gauge the success of these terms and concepts can be as varied as the people who work for your business. There are some fairly simple things you can measure, including:
- Employee engagement — that is, responses to surveys or employee net promoter scores (eNPS).
- Opens and click-through rates for communications — indicating your comms are being read.
- Responses and feedback — the dialogue and conversation that is happening within your channels.
- Staff turnover rate — poor communication can lead to poor culture, and while IC isn’t solely responsible for turnover it can have an impact on helping to slow that stat down.
Measurement doesn’t have to cost the earth. It doesn’t cost much to run focus groups and hear directly from employees in their own words — but technology is making the task of measuring much easier.
“Internal Communications is about “think, feel and do”,” says Helen Deverell. “We need to measure those things in a meaningful way. You don’t have to have a lot of money, and can work with other departments to understand what data they have — we work in organizations that are full of data and insight. But it’s not just about what the data tells us. Focus groups are good, as is using line managers for feedback.”
Working with a G Suite intranet can simplify some of those measurement conundrums. Using Google Analytics can help you track what’s working and what’s being read — as well as those sections of the intranet that are a ghost town. Plugging a chat system like Slack into your ecosystem can help encourage dialogue and collaboration between employees — what about adding a channel for questions that senior leadership answer? And of course, because this is all digital you can then get statistics on impact and effectiveness that you can plug into your strategy and ROI measures.
Be careful what you focus on
But, measuring for measurement’s sake is not helping anyone. Internal Comms guru Mike Klein has conducted a research series for Happeo based on the present and future of Internal Communications. He’s found a lot of the problems people are having are more to do with business alignment than engagement — that what IC has traditionally focused on isn’t linked to what they want to be seen to influence.
“There’s an opportunity to get this on the agenda, but there are a lot of people sleepwalking right now — particularly in-house practitioners,” Mike says. “They’re too busy trying to protect their jobs, to not piss off the C-suite and to not make any mistakes that they’re missing the boat when it comes to measurement and alignment.”
One of Mike’s respondents refers to Internal Comms being in “victim mode”. His response is simple: “I think Internal Comms needs to take ownership of what they can take ownership of and push ownership back to the business where that’s possible. Forget the ROI - tell me what it’s worth to your business to have me facilitate the investment in the first place.”
Wrap-up: What does the present and future of Internal Comms look like?
It’s clear, then, that Internal Communications is a profession in flux — one that is trying to be seen as more strategic, but that is often too bogged down in tactical operations and lacking in the budget or resources to fulfill that dream.
“Part of the problem and defensiveness is that roles, particularly mid to senior level Internal Communications roles, are severely over-specified,” says Mike Klein. “To be even considered for most in-house senior jobs, they’re looking for somebody who’s a strategist, meeting planner, editor, webmaster, priest, counsellor and accountant. What they end up getting is people who are a grab bag of skills rather than people who actually have strategic perspectives that transcend and integrate all those skills. If you want people who can do so much stuff, they’re going to spend their time making sure stuff gets done rather than making sure the right stuff gets done.”
There’s also a focus on trying to wring as much out of in-house staff as possible without seeking external input, says Mike, and that ends up with a lot of “half-baked solutions because people decide this is as good as it gets with what we have in-house.” This is especially a problem where senior leaders just want to tick a box for Internal Communications and IC can’t make the case for doing more than that. This influences technology and Internal Communications app choices, too.
“If a business invested in technology three or four years ago, they don’t want to invest in the same type of technology again unless there’s a real issue with people not engaging with the current technology,” says Mike. “They want to sweat the assets rather than start over with a more up-to-date and effective platform. It’s an attitude of ‘we have this already’.”
“Businesses see technology as an IT function rather than a business function. Most IT managers are about efficiency not effectiveness, and you end up with a false economy which is the biggest enemy of Internal Communications — it makes it difficult to get resources, time and bandwidth to do things properly, so you have to rig solutions.”
He refers to the practice of “provide and pray” when it comes to IC tech, where organizations introduce a piece of technology and assume or hope it’s going to be adopted.
“The problem is it’s never about the tool; the only thing that’s important is the extent to which people driving adoption can make a case for the need and ease of use. People don’t spontaneously train themselves to use exotic features.”
“Whoever owns Internal Communications needs to own the adoption, that’s absolutely critical. There's context, there’s rules, there’s opportunities. There’s examples of how to use these tools so they benefit the user. Internal Comms is in a far better position to tell that story than IT is.”
The present of Internal Communications, then, is clouded by issues with relationships with the C-suite, of too much focus on tactics and not enough on outcomes, of a skills gap in terms of business acumen and strategic thinking, of support for the right tools and technologies, and on what HQ thinks rather than what workers want. What does this mean for the future?
“I think it’s fair to say that Internal Comms will be important in the future — whether internal communicators will be is still an open question,” says Mike. “It’s kind of like the old joke: Brazil is the country of the future and always will be. We’ve been having this conversation about Internal Communications being the future for the last 20 years, and a little less than 20 years ago it got sidetracked because Internal Comms got subsumed into employee engagement to an extent. That was disastrous for the discipline because it connected Internal Comms with a lot of nebulous concepts, and disconnected Internal Comms from being seen as a business enabler in its own right.
“Internal Comms is now getting a second chance, but the window is not very wide.”
How are you making Internal Communications an essential business partner, and ensuring you grab that second chance with everything you can? Let us know on Twitter or LinkedIn using #IC1POINT0.
- Internal Communications is the sharing of information within an organization for business purposes, the way we share and create that information, the platforms and channels we use, the way we help employees understand the business’s goals, and how all of this contributes to the overarching culture of the organization.
- While experts recommend Internal Communications sits as its own function, you’ll usually find it as part of the HR, IT, comms or marketing departments, which can hinder the internal communicator’s ability to strategically influence the top table.
- Internal communications specialists need a diverse skill-set, but the focus is shifting to business acumen and an ability to influence senior leadership. Soft skills like empathy are key, as are hard skills such as writing, project management and facilitation.
- Industry bodies exist to help internal communications specialists upskill, but practitioners should take their own responsibility for professional development.
- Internal Communications is inextricably linked to employee engagement, and an engaged workforce comes into work every day with excitement and purpose. They can also have a direct impact on the bottom line, which makes the strategic importance of Internal Communications even more clear.
- Internal communicators barriers and challenges include building relationships with the C-suite, having the business acumen needed to speak the language of the business, and the cultural differences found in the ways different nationalities work.
- There’s a big difference between an Internal Communications strategy and an Internal Communications plan, but internal communications specialists can get bogged down in tactics and planning if they’re not careful. A robust Internal Communications strategy includes SMART objectives and is aligned to the business’s goals.
- Measuring the impact of Internal Communications is key to acting more strategically, but how and what to measure can be a tricky decision. It will be impacted by the tools you have at your disposal, and what your strategic outcomes will be. A G Suite intranet can help the measurement question through deployment of Google Analytics.
- Internal Communications is at a crossroads, and which path it chooses will impact the profession for the next generation.
Finally, who should you follow for Internal Comms wisdom?
The Internal Comms community is inspiring for its close-knit and incredibly supportive nature. We asked social media who the top Internal Comms influencers are - those people they follow for insights and advice - and these are some of the names that came back to us. Follow these Internal Communications specialists for top Internal Comms ideas.
Rachel Miller, All Things IC and co-founder of The IC Crowd
When we asked for IC influencers, the one name that came up again and again was Rachel Miller. The industry’s go-to source for advice and information, Rachel’s All Things IC business has her flying all over the world to share her wisdom. She helps internal communicators to thrive by boosting their skills, knowledge and confidence. She’s one of the founders of the IC Crowd, too. There’s not much more we can say about Rachel apart from: go follow her.
Helen Deverell, Helen Deverell Communications
Having worked in-house and in IC agencies, Helen Deverell now heads her own IC consultancy and helps organizations to communicate effectively. She’s seen the perception of IC transform from something based on messaging and channels to an essential strategic partner to senior leaders. She’s Vice Chair of the CIPR Inside committee, a frequent speaker and a former rising star (now: just a star) of the IC world.
Suzanne Peck, President of the FEIEA (European Association of Internal Communication), President of the Institute of Internal Communication (IoIC), and Managing Director at Sequel Group
Suzanne’s just taken up the role as President of the European Association for Internal Communication (FEIEA) following on from her 12 years as President at the IoIC (a role she still holds). If you want to talk about influential IC royalty, you can’t get much royaller that Suzanne. She still gets her hands dirty as the head of award-winning IC agency Sequel Group, and she travels Europe spreading the IC gospel to all and sundry.
Mike Klein, Chair, International Association of Business Communicators (IABC) EMENA and owner of Changing the Terms
Mike is a writer and internal communicator, and his Changing the Terms blog was named as one of Europe’s top PR and Communication blogs by Communication Director magazine. He’s worked all over Europe and the US as a writer, and is the author of From Lincoln to LinkedIn: The 55 Minute Guide to Social Communication as well as Happeo’s own series on the Present and Future of Internal Communication. He’s also Chair of the International Association of Business Communicators' for the Europea, Middle East and Africa region.
Dr Kevin Ruck, Owner, PR Academy and Editor, Exploring Internal Communication
Websites: pracademy.co.uk and www.prplace.com
Author, researcher, speaker, lecturer and all-round comms and PR guru Dr Kevin Ruck is the co-founder of PR Academy, the largest provider of PR education in the UK. But don’t let that external-sounding bio stop you from following Dr Kev: he’s also the editor of Exploring Internal Communications, now in its third edition and described as one of the most comprehensive tomes on IC you’ll find. He’s on the CIPR Inside committee and spent many years in-house at BT, so understands the plight of the Internal Comms manager.
Bruce Daisley, VP EMEA, Twitter, and author of The Joy of Work
Website and podcast: http://eatsleepworkrepeat.com/
Bruce might be VP at Twitter, but you really should be following him for his workplace banter. The author of #1 bestseller The Joy of Work and host of the Eat Sleep Work Repeat podcast, Bruce is a tireless campaigner for happiness at work. On his podcast, he interviews psychologists, neuroscientists and workplace experts to understand how we can improve our jobs — always based on science, not gurus. Bruce has also been voted Individual of the Year by The Drum’s Social Buzz Awards and called one of the most talented people in media by Campaign Magazine. So, yeah, you might want to give him a follow.
Martin Flegg, Director, ggelf and Founder of the IC Citizen
Internal Comms consultant Martin is the founder of The IC Citizen movement, formed to address the issue of internal communicators who are “in” the profession but not “part” of it — not active in continuous professional development, who don’t connect with other internal communicators and are not a member of a professional body. He believes this is holding back the profession and diminishes the power of the collective. Though the movement is still new — they’re developing a manifesto as we type! — it’s already been embraced by influencers and mere mortals alike.
Ale Formanchuk, Director, Formanchuk & Asociados
Argentina-based Ale has led Formanchuk & Asociados for almost 15 years, working on more than 1000 projects for over 250 organizations in 16 countries. He’s a regular speaker on the IC circuit and espouses the virtues of developing a communication culture within an organization. Testament to Ale’s creative brain, he’s also a member of Imagine Creativity Centre in Silicon Valley, acting as a mentor to entrepreneurs from around the world and encouraging them in design thinking and pitching. An all-round creative IC guru on an international scale.
Aniisu K Verghese, Corporate Communications Lead, Tesco Bengaluru
Website: www.intraskope.com and www.aniisu.com
Internal communication expert, career coach, speaker and author Aniisu has two decades’ experience in Internal Communications working in IT, financial services and consulting organizations. He’s the Vice President of Finance for the South India Chapter of the IABC and a CSR champion. He’s also a prolific blogger, with content aimed at students, practitioners and academia.
Jenni Field, Director, Redefining Communications, CIPR President-Elect and Co-founder, The IC Crowd
President-Elect of the CIPR, Jenni is Director of Redefining Communications and one of the more outspoken (in a good way!) members of the IC community. She specialises in helping organizations understand how communication can drive better business results, using her background across both internal and external comms and media relations to speak strategically with the C-suite. She’s also incredibly curious and has just released research on engaging remote workers; we’ll talk more about that shortly.
Advita Patel, Chair, CIPR Inside and #CommsRebel
Named on Northern Power Women’s Future List in 2018, Advita is Chair of the CIPR Inside committee and a self-proclaimed #commsrebel. She specialises in employee engagement, channel strategies, and change and transformational comms, particularly in large organizations with a remote workforce. Advita is a regular speaker, and she shares a wealth of information and a few opinions, too.
Katie Marlow, Director, Little Bird Communication
Katie’s on a mission to help workplaces work better with great internal and external communication, and believes your people should be at the heart of your communication strategy. Founder of Little Bird Communication, she’s also the course lead and lecturer for the CIPR Internal Communication Diploma through Bournemouth University, so a good one for newbies to engage with.
Chuck Gose, Co-founder, ICology
YouTube: Chuck Gose
Website and Podcast: learnicology.com
Long-time volunteer for the PRSA and IABC, Chuck Gose is the founder and host of the ICology website and podcast — it’s dedicated to interesting people doing interesting things in the world of Internal Communications. Chuck definitely gets around, so keep an eye on his feeds to see inside the world of an IC influencer, then listen to the podcast to be inspired by the amazing people that make up our industry.
Katie Macaulay, Managing Director AB and host of the Internal Comms Podcast
Katie is one of those people that just glows with authority. She’s the author of From Cascade to Conversation: Unlocking the Collective Wisdom of Your Workforce, the host of the Internal Comms Podcast and a frequent speaker on the circuit. Her day job is as Managing Director of AB Communications, and she’s got a wealth of experience you can soak up.
Lee Smith, Co-founder, Gatehouse Group
Gatehouse Group is often held up as the bastion of IC knowledge, with its long-running State of the Sector report hotly anticipated every year. Lee Smith is co-founder of Gatehouse, but he didn’t stop there: he created and leads the IoIC’s Accelerate programme, a flagship four-day immersion programme for internal communicators. He’s also a past Chair of the CIPR Inside committee, and a popular blogger on employee communication. In other words, this guy knows his stuff.
Victoria Ford, Director at Perago-Wales
Perago-Wales provides end to end business transformation services, which plays into the need for IC to be about the whole business, not a siloed team that pushes out messages. On Twitter, Victoria supports the Welsh comms community, especially women working in communications, and is great for hearing about the impact communications can have on a business as a whole.
Kelly Fisk, Head of Communications at IRESS
Based in Sydney, Australia, Kelly is passionate about designing, building and delivering communications strategies with real impact. She’s also indicative of the many hats much of the IC community must wear: as Head of Communications at IRESS, she’s not only designing and executing a global employee-communications strategy, but she’s also in charge of media relations, driving a culture of collaboration and client focus, and counselling senior executives on best practice in communications.
Justine Stevenson, Head of IC at London Stock Exchange Group, and Awards Director at IoIC
With roles as the head of IC at companies including Deutsche Bank and SAB Miller - and now at the London Stock Exchange - Justine knows how to communicate across a complex, matrix, global organization. She’s also on the board at the Institute of Internal Communications and is responsible for their awards, so she’s right across best practice in the field.
Alan Oram, Director, Alive With Ideas
Alan is Creative Director at Alive With Ideas, a UK agency with a reputation for pushing the creative envelope. As the name hints, this work is all about the ideas, and you’ll find attention-grabbing comms using fresh and innovative ideas to use as inspiration. Alive doesn’t just work in IC — there’s digital, events and brand development, too.
Trudy Lewis, Director, Lewis Communicate
Trudy’s got almost two decades’ worth of Internal Communication, employee engagement and change comms experience, working across retail, hospitality, rail and constructions. She focuses on how to develop strategic communication to reflect the culture, values and mission of an organization, and aims to positively impact engagement, change and performance.
Jane Revell, Senior Communications Business Partner at Kier Group
Nominated by the Chair of the CIPR Inside committee, Jane is a prolific tweeter on all things IC, often with a glimpse into the various events put on by the UK’s Internal Comms community. Follow her both for her insights and work at Kier Group, but also to see which communities, events and chats you should join.
Jo Twiselton, Change, Communications, Engagement and Leadership Coach at Twist Consultants
Jo’s known for her straightforward style across consultancy and leadership, and she works to help senior leaders deliver people-focused change that delivers against goals, minimises disruption and increases alignment. Her background is in tech, defence and airlines, so she’s a good one to follow if you’re in some of those more complex industries.
Rachel Dakin, London Director at the Institute of Internal Communication and Internal Communication Manager at KPMG
One glimpse at Rachel’s Twitter timeline shows how passionate she is about employee engagement and Internal Communications. She’s a big supporter of the IoIC’s #WeMatterAtWork campaign, and in her role as that organization’s London Director she’s often at events and pushing events — if you’re in London town, you won’t be left wondering what’s going on! She’s also passionate about mental health, and is a Trustee at the Mental Health Research UK charity.
Russell Grossman, Director of Communications at the UK Office of Rail and Road (ORR)
Russell’s got IC pedigree in spades. A former International Chair at the International Association of Business Communicators (IABC) and a Board Director at Engage for Success, his current day job is as a head of comms in the UK civil service. He shares information about jobs, awards and industry developments as well as the work he’s doing at ORR — and is clearly passionate about building #ABrilliantCivilService.
Dan Holden, Founder of Horizon Comms UK and Senior Internal Communications Officer at Which?
Twitter: @holddani and @HorizonCommsUK
We’ve heard from Dan already in this article. He has made a name for himself as something of a big brother to new internal communicators. His Horizon Comms website is full of useful resources, and his blog includes advice and guest posts from those in the industry. He wants to help you find your feet and build your knowledge as you grow into your new IC career. Ain’t that sweet?
Further reading and other resources
- Employee engagement — that is, responses to surveys or employee net promoter scores (eNPS).
- Rachel Miller’s All Things IC blog
- Dan Holden’s Horizon Comms blog
- Martin Flegg’s IC Citizen project
- Chuck Gose’s ICology podcast
- AB’s Internal Comms Podcast
- Happeo’s Internal Communications Podcast
- The Joy of Work, by Bruce Daisley
- Strategic Internal Communication: How to build employee engagement and performance, by Dr David Cowan
- From Cascade to Conversation: Unlocking the collective wisdom of your workforce, by Katie Macaulay
- Creating Authentic organizations: Bringing meaning and engagement back to work, by Robin Ryde and Lisa Sofianos
- The Digital Renaissance of Work, by Paul Miller and Elizabeth Marsh
- HR Fundamentals: Employee Engagement, by Emma Bridger
- The Future of Work: Attract new talent, build better leaders and create a competitive organization, by Jacob Morgan
- Making the Connections: Using internal communication to turn strategy into action, by Bill Quirke
- This post on 22 Life-Changing Books for Internal Communicators from BananaTag — they’re not IC-specific books, but were nominated by the IC community as must-reads
- And finally, Start With Why, by Simon Sinek — it’s not strictly an IC book, but it’s all about inspiring people and thinking strategically