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Podcast: How to create an effective internal communication team

Do you know how to create an effective internal communication (IC) team?

This week’s episode of the Candid Comms podcast focuses on this topic, to help you think it through.

It covers:

  • The questions IC pros ask each other
  • The purpose of internal communication
  • How to structure an internal communication team
  • Questions we need to ask ourselves when creating an IC team
  • How to test the maturity of your organisation’s internal communication.

and much more.

You can find the Candid Comms podcast on your favourite player including Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, Spotify and Podbean.

How to create an effective IC team

Resources mentioned in this episode:

Pinaki Kathiari

About Candid Comms

The Candid Comms podcast launched in January 2021. It is a weekly show designed to connect internal communication professionals to the advice and guidance, to help you thrive in your role.

You can find the Candid Comms podcast on your favourite player including Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, Spotify and Podbean.

Do let me know what you think of this episode and don’t forget to rate, review and follow, so other Comms pros can benefit too.

Thank you to my Producer, Debbie West of Seren Creative.

Transcript of this week’s episode

You’re listening to the Candid Comms podcast with Rachel Miller. Join me every week for practical advice and inspirational ideas to help you focus on all things internal communication-related. Hello and welcome to the show. On this week’s episode you and I are going to be focusing on how to create an effective internal communication team, and you will leave with one thing to know, one thing to do, and one thing to think about. I’m really looking forward to this one. Are you ready? Let’s get started.

The reason I’m looking forward to this episode is because this is a constant conversation for me, Comms friends, and I’m sure it is for you too. When you meet another internal communicator, be it via a virtual event or pre-COVID when we met in-person, very soon the topic of conversation will turn around to, how many members do you have in your team and where do you report into and how big is your budget and how many channels do you have? These are the sorts of conversations that we have with our comms peers. And the reason being is we try to get a sense of what other people do.

There are many different layers that make up what being an effective internal communicator mean and particularly when we’re thinking about how to structure teams. Through my work at All Things IC I get involved in this a lot from all different angles. From being on interviewing panels to interview Comms Directors or Heads of Internal Comms when organisations are investing in internal comms for the first time or they’re recruiting new team members. I also help Heads of Internal Comms and Comms Directors restructure their internal Comms teams. I help them look at their job descriptions and make sure that they’re fit for purpose. There’s that phrase that we love that we’re looking at, do we have the right people in the right roles, or most important for me is do we have the right requirements in place for what the business need?

If you’re thinking about restructuring an internal communication team or setting it up for the first time you need to be focused on what the business requirements are, so this is something that we need to know. Now, depending on the maturity of internal communication inside an organisation, the purpose around why you’re investing in a team or creating a team for the first time could vary. So I encourage you to think this through. When you’re looking at internal communication, imagining that you are an in-house internal communicator, what’s the purpose of your team? What are you here to do?

The purpose of internal communication isn't telling people what to do, it's to create a shared understanding and a shared meaning, so our employees can align their efforts with the company's goals and purpose.

I believe the purpose of internal communication isn’t telling people what to do, it’s to create a shared understanding and a shared meaning. Only then can employees align themselves to our company’s purpose, whether we’re curing patients, selling widgets, transporting people, whatever the organisation is here to do the aim or the purpose of internal communication is to connect the dots, it’s to connect our people to our purpose, and it may also be to help facilitate the flow of communication inside the organisation, connecting the right people to the right information to help them do their jobs.

What is the purpose of internal communication inside your organisation?

You need to know this because if you’re thinking about investing in more people or creating a team, then that lens of what is the business problem that we’re trying to solve. Is it, we’re trying to make sure that our frontline workers have credible, accurate, reliable information that they can then share with our customers and clients? When I’m creating a team I’m making sure that the business priorities are top of mind. I want to be crystal clear what is the business strategy, and therefore what does the communication strategy need to be and therefore who are the people who need to be in place to deliver it.

Now, it’s really tempting. If you are trying to reimagine or recreate your internal comms function, it’s really tempting to focus on the people. And the reason I think that I get called in to do this for organisations is because often you’re really close to those people. They’re your peers, they’re your colleagues. Actually you need to be really objective and take out the names of the people and look at what are the business priorities, what’s the purpose of our business and therefore how does communication need to support that?

This is internal communication, the overarching way a company communicates, not internal communications, the tools, tactics, channels, and methodology. We’re looking at broader, more strategic view in terms of this is what we are here to do as a business, these are our business priorities, this is our business strategy therefore we need to be able to communicate it effectively. And in order to do that, what are the different types of roles that we need to have in place?

We may need to have a role focused on our frontline workers, we may need to have a role focused on our leaders. We may need to have a more creative role in place, maybe a designer, or perhaps a videographer. And you can really get into the weeds here but if you’re creating your team you need to rise above the people and above the roles that you currently have and look at how does this function need to function? How can I set it up for success? And then we go into, well, these are the types of roles that we need to have, and you map out the job descriptions.

And you can use all sorts of things, industry evidence to help you. Maybe something like the Institute of Internal Communication’s profession map, for example, which is focused in four levels. Most roles in an internal comms team are level one and level two. And what you’re looking there is do our job descriptions align with the way that internal communicators need to work? How do we set those people up for success and those roles up for success? And then do we have the right people in those roles at the moment or are there any skills gaps?

There’s a lot in there.

You can hopefully see that just from that conversation alone, that when you’re thinking about creative and effective internal communication team what we need to know is what are the business priorities and therefore that informs our communication priorities, and therefore it should inform the structure of the internal communication team.

The second thing I want us to focus on today is what we need to do to create an effective internal communication team. Imagine we’ve done all that heavy lifting, comms friends, we’ve analysed the business priorities and the strategic priorities. We’ve created a structure in terms of what are the different types of roles that we need to have in place? What are the objectives behind the team? What’s that strategy that sets them up for success?

And then let’s think about those people. If you want to create an effective internal communication team you need to make sure that you invest in those people. And I’m talking time, money, and effort here. In particular is vital that we invest in professional development. There are a number of ways that you can do that. It may well be that you don’t have a lot of budget, that shouldn’t stop you. There are so many free resources out there to equip internal communicators with advice and guidance to help them do their jobs and I count my blog in that. It’s 12 years old, there’s 1,500 free articles on all things internal communication-related. That’s the equivalent of 11 books worth of content.

I was joking with Debbie this morning who produces the show. And we were creating an All Things IC Online Masterclass, and we were doing a bit of research. And I was joking with her saying, “I always seem to come back to my blog. Whenever I’m stuck on something if I search online there’s normally an article that I’ve written.” And for me I always think, “Oh, I know what I think on that topic. Well, what do other people would think?” and she said to me, “Rachel, your blog is so helpful because people do have these conversations when they’re trying to find a solution to their problem. If they’re stuck on something, they do go to your blog.”

This is what we can do as internal communicators, each share content and resources with each other. We are spoiled for choice, comms friends. If you’re trying to invest in your professional development then there are so many opportunities to learn, you don’t need to have a big budget. I imagined part of the reason that you’re listening to this podcast is because you’re curious about learning, you want to improve constantly and that is brilliant.

When you’re thinking about professional development for a team make sure that you are setting standards, so what does good look like? If you are the leader of a team or a head of internal communication, a director of comms, how can you equip that team and set them up for success?

Part of the investment of time, money, and effort is not just about what they do day to day but how you invest in them for the longterm. I think the more that we invest in our people, the more that we equip them and enable them to thrive, the better it is all around for everybody. When you can connect your people with excellent training courses or give them opportunities to go to conferences or attend webinars, whatever that looks like, when you’re giving them the permission and the budget to invest in themselves they benefit, you benefit, your organisation benefits and your employees benefit.

If you’ve listened to the Candid Comms podcast before you will know that I sign off every single episode with what happens inside is reflected outside. That mindset is so critical for me. And particularly when I’m working with internal communication teams to set a team up for success we need to make sure that we are investing in them because what happens inside, inside that team is reflected outside. I wonder what you’re doing to invest in your team. How can you create an effective internal communication team?

What happens inside is reflected outside

Let’s just flip it on its head for a moment. If that feels quite hard to answer for your own organisation, and let’s flip it, and I do this a lot when I’m stuck on something, if I can’t really articulate what I think good looks like then turn it on its head, what does bad look like? What does it mean to have an ineffective internal communication team? Take a moment to do that, just map that out.

So maybe think about what makes an effective internal communication team for my organisation even if it’s a team of one, and I have been a team of one when I was in-house, I hear you. I feel your pain if there’s just you, but for you it’s even more important. How can you maximise your time? How can you maximise your resource and your efforts and your energies?

So thinking about it from what does an ineffective internal communication team look like? That’s often a lot easier to answer. It is when we’re stretched, it is when we’re overloaded. It’s when we’re saying yes to stakeholders when we really should be saying no, and there is a whole podcast episode on that topic, comms friends, in Season 2, I encourage you to look it up. Think about that. How can we invest in professional development? And career opportunities inside our organisation is not just about going to courses or webinars, or reading books, or listening to podcasts, or reading blogs, but how can you connect your people within the networks of internal comms?

There are so many professional bodies. Whether it’s the Public Relations Society of America, or the Public Relations Institute of Ireland, the Chartered Institute of Public Relations, the Public Relations and Communications Association, the Institute of Internal Communication, we are spoiled for choice, comms friends, there are so many professional bodies out there, industry bodies and memberships where our teams can learn and our teams can network and meet other people.

But think about that from inside your organisation and inside your own network, how can you connect your people, your teams with other people who could be great for them to listen to or learn from? How can you do informal knowledge sharing or information swapping? I used to do that when I was in-house. Quite regularly would invite other internal communicators along to our offices to share ideas and swap tips before there were any formal networks like the IC Crowd which I co-created with two friends of mine, Jenni Field, and Dana Leeson.

So how could you connect your team with people that you know, with people that you used to work with, for example? Think about that in terms of mentoring, how could you equip your team to either be mentored or perhaps offer mentoring themselves? There was a lot in there. We are going to take a short break and when we come back I’m going to leave you with something to think about.

How to be a strategic internal communicator

In the final part of today’s episode I’m going to leave you with some things to think about. Now, we’ve talked about creating an effective internal communication team through various lenses today. We’ve looked at understanding what your business priorities are and needs are and therefore making sure that your internal communication team structure is aligned with that. We’ve also talked about how to invest in the team and in their professional development to make sure they’re set up for success.

In the final part of this episode I want us to focus on the skills that you need to have to lead a team effectively. People will look up to you when you are ahead of internal communication or a director of internal communication, for example. You need to step into that space. How will you establish and maintain trust in that internal communication team? That’s super important.

What does that look like for you? How will you develop relationships? Part of that is making sure that your own internal communication within your team is super effective. So how do you have regular cadence, your rhythm of internal communication as a team? Whether that’s a weekly call on a Monday morning, whether that’s a one-to-one structure with every member of the team every week, how can you set them up for success to make sure as the leader of a team that you’re aware whether it’s effective or not.

There’s multiple reasons why you’re doing those sorts of meetings are important. It’s not only an opportunity for you to spend time with your team members but to listen to them, to build trust, to spot any problems, and to be there as a sounding board if they’re having any difficult conversations or situations that you need to be aware of. It’s important that you maintain that trust. It’s not just about establishing trust but you’re maintaining it as a team.

I want to share some resources with you and all of these will be in the show notes at allthingsic.com/podcast. The first is a maturity model that I featured on the All Things IC blog and it’s by Local Wisdom. And Pinaki and I, who’s the CEO of Local Wisdom we were about how to create an internal communication team. And he’s got a brilliant model that maps the maturity of organisations and it’s got all different levels on it and it’s what you can expect to find at each level. It’s quite hard to describe visually so I’m going to include it in the show notes at allthingsic.com/podcast. And there’s an activity there where you can plug in a map yourselves against the model and see where you are on that scale and maybe get a sense of what other people are doing.

Further reading: How mature is your internal communication? – featuring Pinaki Kathiari’s model I mentioned.

Thinking about what other people are doing, a resource I want to point you towards is the State of the Sector survey from Gatehouse Gallagher, which comes out every year. And there are some questions in there which are super useful. One of the questions is what department does internal communication report to in your organisation? And in the 2021 State of the Sector, 47% of people said that their internal communication team report into corporate communications, PR, and corporate affairs, they were all lumped together so some kind of comms reporting.

24% of people said that their internal communication team report in through HR. 13% said marketing, 9% said the MD, the managing director, the CEO, chairman, or chief of staff. 3% said strategy and transformation and then there was 4% who said as part of another business unit or a different department. So that’s 47% of people report in directly through a dedicated comms function or be it perhaps with corporate comms, PR, and corporate affairs. Now, I’m not going to get into a discussion about where internal communication sits inside an organisation but if you’re having those discussions internally and you’re thinking about creative and effective team, having those sorts of stats at your fingertips could be helpful.

One of the other questions in the State of the Sector survey from Gatehouse Gallagher is how many full-time equivalent dedicated internal communicators are there in your organisation? Are you curious about this one? I know people are always curious to know, so I’ll include this again in the show notes. But if you have, and this is broken down by the number of employees. If there are up to 499 people inside an organisation, very typically you will have two dedicated internal communicators. Don’t throw things at your phone if you’re listening to this thinking, “Too, we don’t have that.” I think it is a really contentious topic so let me just go through the numbers with you.

Up to 499 people it’s quite typical to have two internal communicators. 500 to 2,499 employees it’s likely you’ll have three. If you have 2,500 to 9,999, employees it’s typical to have up to seven full-time equivalent dedicated internal communicators. If you have an employee size from 10,000 to 49,999 it’s likely you could have up to 10 internal communicators. And if you’re bigger than that, if you have 50,000 employees plus you could have 15 full-time team of dedicated internal communicators. Again, I’ll include that table in the show notes for you so if you could have a look at it. It’s normally a real bone of contention.

There used to be a figure years ago from Melcrum which was you have one internal communicator per 1000 employees. If you look at that numbers here we’ve got 500 to two and a half thousand, roughly is three people so kind of similar figures, but again I’ll include that. And also there’s a question in there about budgets, so what’s your budget currently allocated to internal communication campaigns excluding salaries and platform subscriptions? This is the average internal comm spent based on the size of an organisation.

Again, this is broken down into number of employees. An organisation with up to 499 employees a low spend is 27,200 and a high spend, so this is the average spend, is £56,600. Again, there’s a lot of information here I’ll include it in the show notes, but as a snapshot this is the typical amount, the average internal comm spend, and it goes right up… Hold onto your mugs of tea if you’re listening with a cup of tea in hand, it goes right up to if you have 50,000 plus employees a low spend is £340,300 a year and a high spend is 402,300, so you can see these are really chunky figures. They go from a low spend of £27,200 right way up to £402,300.

Such a wide range there. Again, I’d include the State of the Sector survey in the show notes because I know how useful it is to be able to see what other people are doing and what other people are spending. Another resource I’m going to link you to is the International Association of Business Communicators, IABC. I didn’t mention them in the list earlier and I should have done so I will make sure I include them, particularly as I am an IABC member, apologies IABC for missing you off my list, I will make sure you are in the show notes.

There you have it, comms friends, lots of advice and guidance on creating an effective internal communication team. The final thing I want to leave you with today, as somebody who judges a lot of industry awards if you have an internal communication team in place and you are doing brilliant work, you are having a real impact inside your organisation then I encourage you to find opportunities to recognise honour and reward that hard work. Whether that’s entering industry awards and looking for external recognition where you are putting yourselves up against your peers and submitting your work, there are so many awards out there for all different categories, from digital categories, to cultural categories, to business transformation, to internal comms channels, can we all spoil for choice? I’ll include some links to some of the awards that I’m aware of in the show notes at allthingsic.com/podcast for the notes for this episode.

If you don’t have the budget to enter awards, and lots of them are actually free, please make sure that at the very least you are taking time to reward and thank your effective internal communication team by saying thank you to them by showcasing their work where you can. Maybe that’s giving external recognition, maybe that’s coming to write a guest post for my blog about how proud you are of all the work that’s happened inside your organisation. Or maybe you can create your own post on LinkedIn or write an article on LinkedIn and share that wisdom with the rest of us internal communicators.

As ever, I would love to hear from you. What are you taking away from this episode, what’s been really useful for you? You can find me online @AllthingsIC on Twitter. Look me up, Rachel Miller, on LinkedIn. I’m @Rachelallthingsic on Instagram, or why not send me a note via my website, allthingsic.com/contact. Thank you for tuning in and remember, what happens inside is reflected outside.

See you again soon.

 

 

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How to be a strategic internal communicator

Thank you for stopping by,

Rachel.

First published on the All Things IC blog 1 August 2021.

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