How do you describe internal communication? If you had to write it in a sentence, what would you put? What does it mean to you?
I asked this question via Twitter recently and through this article you’ll discover what your peers around the globe state as their answer. Thank you to everyone who took the time to share their thoughts.
I run this as an exercise in most of my All Things IC Masterclasses at the start of the day. I then lead a discussion into comms theory and reality, before asking attendees to review their sentence and decide if they want to change it as a result of our time together, Many people do edit theirs.
This article is a long read, grab a cup of tea and a notebook. Ready? Let’s go…
I’ve had numerous conversations with my clients over the past couple of weeks about clarity, certainty and consistency when it comes to our roles and the language we use.
One of the biggest mistakes I see companies making is leaving this all up to chance.
If you feel like your stakeholders and employees don’t understand what you do, it’s your job to communicate it clearly. No one is going to do this for you. I look for evidence of this in organisations. I want to see how you describe internal communication (and who is responsible) at induction/on-boarding and want to see how you outline what’s expected of your line managers. At the very least, I test to see if how you describe internal communication in your IC strategy matches with how the team talk about it, how they work and how you recruit to the function.
I’m going to start this article by defining what I mean. Regular readers of my blog will recognise this, I also talk about it during my keynote talks:
- Internal communication = the overarching view of how a company communicates.
- Internal communications = the tools, tactics and channels.
There’s a difference, but we often use them interchangeably. What do you say? Do you differentiate?
Everything you do as an IC practitioner has to be aligned to the objectives, goals and purpose of the organisation. It’s why we exist. When I’m analysing an organisation’s internal communication team, strategy, plans or work, I’m looking for a clear correlation between what the business is striving to achieve and what the Comms team’s focus is.
Further reading: These are the skills you need to be an IC practitioner – featuring the revised profession map from the Institute of Internal Communication, IoIC, which has just been released and is pictured below.
What’s the purpose?
I believe the purpose of internal communication isn’t telling people what to do, but creating a shared understanding and meaning. Only when that happens can employees align themselves with a company’s purpose.
Internal communications (IC) is the function responsible for effective communications among participants within an organisation. The scope of the function varies by organisation 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 organisation’s participants. – Wikipedia
Does that work for you? Let’s look at some comms theory and ideas…
(Internal communication is)…”The planned use of communication actions to systematically influence the knowledge, attitudes and behaviours of current employees.” – Tench, R and Yeomans, L (2006). Exploring Public Relations, Pearson, Harlow (quoting Strauss and Hoffman).
Russell Grossman, Director of Communications, Office of Rail and Road and Government Communication Service Head of Profession for Internal Communications says: “Internal Communications’ function is to help leaders in your Department or Agency inform and engage employees, in a way which motivates staff to maximise their performance and deliver the business strategy most effectively. It is not about ‘sending out stuff’.”
Dr Kevin Ruck, founder of PR Academy, describes it as: “Corporate information provided to employees that is also tailored to specific internal stakeholder groups (middle managers, line managers, functional and project teams, and peer groups) combined with the concurrent facilitation of employee voice that is treated seriously by all managers.” in his book Exploring Internal Communication, (Gower, 2015).
“Organisations need to communicate effectively with their employees. It sounds simple, but the reality is less so. And as organisations get bigger, this becomes a more complex challenge. At the most basic level, you have to communicate well at the right time so employees know what is expected of them and what is happening in the organisation. At a deeper level, for employees to feel engaged with their workplace and give their best, they have to believe their organisation cares about their views and understand how their role contributes towards overall business objectives.” – Institute of Internal Communication (IoIC).
In my blog post in 2017, What is Internal Communication?, I described internal communication as: The way a company interacts with its people and they interact with it. This has provoked discussions in my Masterclasses, with delegates talking about what we mean when we describe a company as ‘it’ – who do we mean?
The two-way element is critical when thinking or talking about internal communication. For me, it has to include how we drive employee voice, you’re not communicating to/at people, but for and with them. When it comes to who is responsible, I believe IC is too important to be left to one team. department or person, it is everyone’s responsibility.
The Government Communication Service’s The IC Space states internal communications:
- Help the business to deliver its objectives
Internal communications is important not because we like to give staff interesting things to read and make them feel happy, but because we have business objectives to deliver. Although obviously it’s nice when we make people feel happy too! It’s time to focus on delivering internal communications that have a hard and fast link to business delivery and to ensure that we can demonstrate that through evaluation of everything we do. To do this we have to provide internal communicators with the skills and support to be excellent in their job. The IC Space is one way of doing just that.
- Help staff see the connection between their job and the organisation’s vision
If staff understand and believe in your organisation’s vision and values then this can lead to increased staff loyalty and advocacy. It’s not about forcing a corporate message on staff, but helping to get staff to emotionally connect with the vision and be able to easily translate this to the personal offer they make to customers in their day-to-day jobs.
- Understand employee engagement and what drives it
Employee engagement is about more than job satisfaction; it’s about the two-way relationship between the employee and your organisation. Getting it right will have a positive impact on organisational performance, innovative thinking and a commitment to delivery; leading to higher levels of customer service.Understanding and measuring employee engagement is critical to motivating staff to do the best for your organisation where it matters most: at the point where an exchange takes place with a customer. This personal and sometimes emotional experience is where reputations are won and lost, sometimes forever. If it’s handled with skill and care it can lead to increased customer loyalty and future brand advocacy.
- Help managers communicate better with their teams
The single-most influential factor in effective internal communications must be those who have face to face contact with staff day in, day out. Leadership is said to account for two-thirds of the impact on employees’ attitudes and behaviour. In comparison, the formal channels – where internal communication traditionally spends most of its efforts – account for less than 10 per cent of the impact, but takes up the majority of the time and budget.No amount of technological sophistication can replace an honest and meaningful conversation with your manager.
Let’s turn to the question I asked via Twitter @AllThingsIC recently.
Thank you to everyone who has taken the time to share their thoughts. If you want to read more on this topic, see my blog post: What is internal communication?
Here’s what I asked…
Calling IC practitioners around the globe… How do you define internal communication? I ask every All Things IC Masterclass attendee to write it in a sentence and would love to collate answers here too.
— Rachel Miller, All Things IC (@AllthingsIC) January 16, 2020
Here are some of the answers. The variety is staggering and I’m fascinated to read the answers from Internal Communication practitioners around the globe.
Common threads include IC being the glue in our organisations, listening, business objectives and conversations. In short, they all feel right. You will probably vary what you say dependent on the culture of your organisation, but it’s important you have a definition that you use inside your organisation..
What do you think? Is there a particular definition you use or that resonates from this list below?
Thank you to everyone who answered my Tweet.
What would be on your postcard during one of my Masterclasses? What would you write?
As ever, you’re welcome to comment below or Tweet me @AllthingsIC.
What internal communication means to me
I love working in the field of internal communication. I’m 20 years into my Comms career and it’s the best job in the world. I consider it a privilege to oversee a business that is dedicated to IC practitioners. The reason All Things IC exists and the core focus of my work is to increase the skills, knowledge and confidence of internal communication practitioners. I do this in a variety of ways through consultancy, training and advice.
Every single day I speak with Comms pros who are passionate about the work they’re doing. You have unfiltered access to your organisation, you can see under the hood and uncover how communication does or doesn’t happen, you can map the impact of the barriers and blockers and use this insight to make recommendations and improvements.
I also see a lot of frustrated people who feel like communication isn’t happening in the right way in their company. The reasons they cite are numerous – from lack of quality channels, ineffective line managers, no company strategy, no IC strategy, a tactical team who need to say no more to stakeholders and many other reasons.
Done well, internal communication can be incredible. If you have a known and consistent approach, with everyone understanding what they can expect from you (the Comms practitioner or team) and what you expect from them (e.g. for line managers to communicate well with their team), that clarity allows people to focus on the task at hand, which is the purpose of your organisation.
Whether you’re curing patients, making widgets or transporting people. your company purpose can only be realised when your people know, understand and act in accordance with the job they’re there to do.
You need to listen to their voices, take their views seriously and keep your promises. Your channels need to be targeted, timely and relevant. Your team need to know your business, take the time to truly understand your workforce and plan and measure their work based on those insights.
If you need help with this, I can help you. Do get in touch and ask for help.
Feel like your current company is not providing the right opportunities for you to thrive in IC? If you’re on the hunt for a new role, see my Jobs page.
Further reading about internal communication via my blog
- How can you help your organisation live its values?
- The word I’ve banned from every internal communication conversation
- How do you find a job that won’t send you round the twist?
- How to get help with your internal communication
- How to write an internal communication strategy
- How to communicate your personal brand
- Glossary of internal communication.
- How to create map and keep stakeholder relationships
- New competency framework launches for IC pros
- How to measure internal communication
- How to teach internal communication
- Eight internal communication myths
- How to study internal communication
- How to structure your intranet
- Ideas to help you launch Yammer
- All you need to know about Facebook at Work (Workplace)
- What’s the true cost of your internal comms?
- All change for your IC career?
- How to explain what you do in 10 words or fewer
- How long does employee advocacy last for?
- Why you need to focus on The People Business
- How to do employee engagement badly
- Why you need to focus on employee experience
- How to create an internal communication strategy from scratch
- The latest employee engagement evidence
- A new model for engagement and wellbeing
- How to strengthen employee engagement through communication
- The role volunteering plays in engagement
- A focus on: All things employee engagement
- Is gamification a winner for employee engagement?
Come and learn about internal communication with Rachel
Would you like to learn more about internal communication? I run monthly Masterclasses, bespoke team days and VIP sessions for IC practitioners at the All Things IC Hub, my dedicated office space for my client work and Masterclasses.
You can see behind the scenes via the short video below:
What’s on in 2020:
- 18 March: Microsoft 365 Masterclass
- 6 April: Mental Health Leadership Masterclass
- 21 April: Strategic Internal Communication
- 22 April: Internal Communication
- 28 April: How to be a Consultant – Exploration
- 29 April: Microsoft 365 Masterclass
- 10 June: Change Communication
Your investment is £599 +VAT per person. IoIC and CIPR members can earn CPD hours/points from attending my courses.
As a Fellow of both the Chartered Institute of Public Relations (CIPR) and Institute of Internal Communication (IoIC), I offer 20% discount for CIPR and IoIC members, plus nonprofit organisations.
My 2020 courses will be at my new All Things IC training venue, the All Things IC Hub in Ealing, West London.
Want to spend time talking through your career, internal communication plans or to pick my brain?
Book me for 1-2-1 consultancy and we can spend the day brainstorming together and concentrating on you.
I also develop and run bespoke Masterclasses for small teams and large teams. I also offer consultation calls including one-hour, 90-minutes and two-hours, check out my training page and do let me know how I can help.
Thank you for stopping by, I hope you found this article useful.
First published on the All Things IC blog 15 February 2020.