How do you turn internal communication strategy into action and get more value from your work? It’s all very well having a top-notch plan, but how does it translate in reality and how do you know when you’ve got it right?
I first came across Bill Quirke’s books when I was studying for the Internal Communication Management post-graduate diploma at Kingston University, London, in 2008/9. They are a staple in my annual reading lists and I continue to recommend them.
Quirke’s Making The Connections. Using Internal Communication to Turn Strategy Into Action book has caught the attention of comms pro Gloria Lombardi @lombardi_gloria (pictured).
She recently wrote for my blog about The CEO: Chief Engagement Officer by John Smythe and she is back to share her thoughts on this book.
I contacted Bill to let him know this article is on my blog. I asked him whether he’d like to add anything, bearing in mind the book was first published a few years back and the world of internal communication is constantly evolving.
The Making The Connections book is now in its second print run and is continuing to prove extremely popular because it is such a useful read.
He kindly provided this quote:
“Social media is rapidly changing the rules of the game, and cross cultural communication is becoming much more important, but the fundamental importance of internal communication in turning strategy into action still applies.”
Gloria has a BA in Science of Communication, MA in Business Communication, post-graduate certificate in Management Studies and post-graduate certificate in Internal Communication.
She’s currently studying a post-graduate diploma in internal communication focused on employee engagement, is a keen researcher and writer on both topics and a CIPR Inside member.
How to get more value from IC
People with a major interest in internal communication might have already read this popular book, which was published in 2008. Yet, I believe there are some key points worth remembering and recalling when dealing with the discipline.
One chapter of the book in particular, More Value from Internal Communication, caught my attention as soon as I read it, particularly this quote: The first step to realising the value of internal communication is to expect it to have some. Communication is vital to creating value. Its importance lies in turning strategy into action.
I think Quirke explains it well when he says: “For strategies to succeed, people need to understand what the strategy is, the context to the strategy and the rationale behind it. They need to know their own role and the specific actions they should take”.
This may sound obvious, yet can be challenging to achieve and get accomplished. This is because “an organisation’s communication must be able to help employees share knowledge and information, extract meaning from them and make decisions that add value”.
To do that, Quirke suggests viewing the internal communication as the function that helps people convert information into action by:
- Providing content: providing employees with data, information, ideas and concepts
- Putting it in context: employees need to be able to process that information, and to make it relevant to their situation
- Having conversations: employees need to explore, test and understand the implications of what they are doing. This is best done through sharing views and perceptions
- Gathering feedback: ensuring that communication has been understood as intended.
One point reported in the book, which I found of real value, is that if organisations concentrate on the first element only, delivering content: “There is no true communication in that case but just the distribution of information and the broadcasting of messages”.
Indeed, key is to view communication as a process. One way of doing this could be to use Quirke’s suggested virtual circle of communication, which involves seven links.
They are: strategy, leadership, planning and prioritisation, channel management and content development, role of the internal communication function, face-to-face communication and impact measurement. (The word cloud on this page was created using these words – Rachel)
The first three links focus on doing the right thing by making the connection between business strategy and the communication strategy:
- Strategy: this implies organisations to clearly identify their strategy, identify the attitudes and behaviours they need from their people and target the communication towards helping achieve those attitudes and behaviours
- Leadership: leaders should communicate in a way that inspires others and build a sense of commitment to shared goals. The critical success factors reported by Quirke are clarity of message, clarity of purpose, clarity of principles and focus
- Planning and prioritisation: for communicators to help the business achieve its objectives, they should be involved earlier in the planning process. In that way communicators would be better enabled “to focus on business objectives and identify issues from both the organisation and the employees’ viewpoint”
The next four links focus on doing things right by having efficient and effective processes:
- Channel management and content development: In that respect, one main point that the author reports and which I found important to remember is that “communication is about creating meaning, not simply the passing on of messages”. Therefore, organisations should tailor messages in a relevant way to address their employees’ interests and concerns.
- Role of the internal communication function: for internal communication to deliver value, Quirke suggests it should be located close to the heart of the business.In fact, even today there are studies on the function that highlight how internal communicators often can feel frustrated as they try to work more on the strategic side of the business, while still being considered as a function devoted to the tactical works (see ‘Professional Development in Internal Communications 2012-2013 published by VMA for example). The suggestion given to communication professionals by Quirke is to “be of high standard, with the skills and experience to understand business strategy” (this is also highlighted by Comms recruiters VMA). Through this, the leadership team might be “more likely to realise that internal communication needs to be more than a production department”.
- Face-to-face communication: within this link, the relevance of having conversations, discussions and giving employees opportunities for dialogue is highlighted: “Employees need to be given time to think through information, react to it and discuss it”. Perhaps, today we could add, that these form of conversations, dialogue and interactions could equally be taken within the digital workplace and achieve quality results (e.g. ‘Yammer on Tour’ event that was recently held in London, highlighted many ways for improving team collaboration, internal communications and employee engagement through quality conversations happening within the internal social media space).
- Impact measurement: finally, measuring results against the original intention of any communication programme is very important, together with setting clear principles and standards – so that “the boundaries of communication are less open to interpretation”.
In conclusion, I believe there are some key valuable points to be taken from Quirke’s ideas, especially viewing internal communication as a process focused on creating meaning – not simply sending messages – to reconnect people to the business agenda.
This would imply creating understanding for people, bringing clear meaning to their information and simplifying the complex.
In fact, Quirke says:
“it is not enough to tell employees that you have a strategy, for them to be able to repeat the corporate values or recite the mission statement”.
Post author: Gloria Lombardi.
Thank you for sharing your thoughts Gloria. Have you read this book? What did you think of it? You’re welcome to comment below or Tweet her @lombardi_gloria.
Got a recommended read you think other comms pros would like to know about? Have a look at my guest guidelines and do please get in touch with your article idea,
First published 21 October 2013.