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When to start using internal communication

When is the right time to start thinking about internal communication in an organisation?

What size company needs an intranet?

What size should a company be before introducing internal comms channels?

If these are questions you’re grappling with, you’re in the right place.

I’ve been working in the field of internal communication since 2003.

Over the past few months I’ve been surprised to find my feelings about internal communication have changed.

Why? I now have a permanent in-house team of my own. Team Teal and I are focused on internal communication from the inside out.

The past few months have rocked the roots of my thinking. But they’ve held firm and gone deeper.

What I knew theoretically and from my in-house and consulting experience works in reality. As a leader and employee, I’m impressed and amazed by the power of internal communication.

What I knew theoretically, and from my in-house and consulting experience works in reality. As a leader and employee, I'm impressed and amazed by the power of internal communication.

Rachel Miller All Things IC

Thank you to everyone who responded to my LinkedIn post and encouraged me to document these thoughts.

I’ve been keeping a journal and this article forms part of my continued efforts to work out loud.

These thoughts keep whizzing around in my mind. They keep me awake at night and I find myself devising new methods and techniques to try in my own company.

I am experiencing the potential of internal communication in a new way. I hope you find my musings helpful as you analyse your own work.

Have I got it all right? Time will tell, but I’m open to continue iterating, evolving and experimenting.

Further reading: How to work out loud.

Further reading: What startups need to know about internal communication.

How to use internal communication inside an organisation

I started my career as a Journalist in 1999, which helped me learn about people, how the world works and how to communicate. I spoke about this recently via Sam Bleazard’s podcast, which has just been published.

I worked in-house from 2003 to 2013 for various organisations including Visa, Novartis, Visteon, Tube Lines and London Overground Rail Operations Limited.

The majority of these roles were internal communication, but London Overground’s Head of Comms role saw me overseeing external comms too.

I also worked for six months agency side, running internal communication accounts for GSK, Sky and L’Oréal.

Every role taught me about people, how the world works and how to communicate. From heavily unionised workforces, to remote workers, global employees and navigating multiple languages and timezones, those experiences expanded and shaped my thinking about internal communication.

I saw firsthand the impact of leaders being visible, open and vulnerable. I felt the difference when employees were empowered to use their voices, and the frustration when the opposite was true.

I failed, made mistakes and mucked up. But as I refined my knowledge as an in-house communication professional, I also had successes, moments of elation and immense pride.

The start of an organisation…

In 2013 I founded All Things IC Limited while on maternity leave with my daughter.

The company exists to advise organisations and nurture internal communicators. That’s as true today as it was nine-and-a-half years ago.

All Things IC artwork what happens inside is reflected outside

I worked as an independent practitioner for five years, welcoming my twin sons to my family in 2014 and creating a business model around my children.

My wonderful PA Louise Mackenney joined me in 2018, becoming a permanent employee in 2021.

I’ve enlisted the help of excellent associate Comms Consultants over the years to support and guide clients. Thank you to Helen Deverell and Debbie West in particular for using your knowledge, passion and internal comms expertise to advise my clients.

In April 2022 the marvellous Caroline Cubbon King and Dan Holden  joined the business as Communication Consultants. Their energy, expertise and commitment to nurturing our clients makes me proud every day.

I’d had the pleasure of working with Caroline as an associate Comms Consultant since the end of 2020 and she’s now officially part of the team.

The past two months have given me a new lens on all things IC related. I didn’t expect that to happen after working in this field for so long.

The past two months have given me a new lens on all things IC related. I didn’t expect that to happen after working in this field for so long.

There are conversations that happen constantly with Comms friends and clients. I answer based on my skills, knowledge and experience.

However, as a business owner, I now have an enhanced perspective when analysing the following questions:

  • Why does my company need internal communication?
  • What size should a company be when thinking about internal comms?
  • Why is it important to create IC channels?
  • What’s the right channels mix?
  • What size company needs an intranet?
  • How do you connect a geographically dispersed workforce?
  • How important is autonomy?
  • Why do Founders need to systematise their thinking?

I’ve also learnt how to shift a business from ‘me’ to ‘we’.

Building a strong personal brand business over many years was enjoyable. However, the true joy has been involving others and being able to serve more clients by having a fantastic team.

Here are my answers to those questions above.

These are my personal answers based on my experience as a business owner. They differ slightly from what I would have said to date. That alone has surprised me.

Rachel-Miller-All-Things-IC-mentoring

Companies without internal communication waste time, money and effort as their people search for trusted and reliable sources of truth.

Why does my company need internal communication?

Organisations need internal communication to make sure every employee feels connected, empowered and inspired. They need to know how they fit into the company, have access to leaders and have their voices and views heard.

Internal communication creates a shared understanding and meaning of the organisation – who we are and how we work – so employees can align their effort and energies.

Companies without internal communication waste time, money and effort as their people search for trusted and reliable sources of truth.

Internal communication creates consistency, clarity and certainty, it binds an organisation to itself and brings culture to life.

Further reading via All Things IC: What start-ups need to know about internal communication.

What size should a company be when thinking about internal comms?

If you have two people in an organisation, you need to think about the way you communicate.

You have to create a cadence, or rhythm, that works.

For Louise and I we created certainty through regular touch points. This included weekly meetings, in-person strategy days and attending events together.

Now we’ve doubled the team, I am thinking about internal communication – the overarching way the company communicates, and internal communications – the tools, channels, tactics and methodologies constantly.

You can be thinking about internal communication without having a dedicated internal communicator in place. The most important thing is to make sure everyone in the organisation knows how communication happens – see our channels matrix below for an example.

Internal communication is too important to be left to one team, department or person, it is everyone’s responsibility.

Three quarters of our team are internal communication professionals, so it’s fair to say we are all responsible and mindful of how we communicate!

Internal communication is too important to be left to one team, department or person, it is everyone's responsibility.

Why is it important to create IC channels?

It’s important for someone in the company to set the standards, tone and channels. For All Things IC it’s been me.

When I onboarded Caroline and Dan in April 2022, I spent time sharing the story of the organisation, where we’ve come from and where we’re heading, plus the techniques we use to communicate.

We work with a lot of external advisers including our Accountant, Tax advisers for our non-UK client work, HR Director, Office reception team, IT advisers and many more. I wanted to make sure everyone knew the names of the people they’ll hear Louise and I talk about.

Louise and I spent time at our recent strategy day in May analysing our channels matrix. Only four weeks in to having a larger team, we realised we needed to refine and tweak it again to reflect the reality of how we are all communicating.

What’s the right channels mix?

I’ve shared an extract from our channels matrix below. Our face-to-face strategy days and team building aren’t on here.

In terms of creating the right mix, you can feel when it’s not right.

There are a couple of gaps I’ve identified, such as an informal session for knowledge sharing – lunch and learn style. We also have brainstorming sessions via Teams to problem solve for clients, which could be a separate line item, but I’ve included it under Teams.

We believe what happens inside an organisation is reflected outside. The wrong channels mix would be to have a whole list of one-way, broadcast methods.

The culture we are nurturing within All Things IC is one where people are valued, listened to and respected. A purely broadcast-style suite of channels would not allow that to happen in the same way.

This is how we communicate internally as a team:

All Things IC Channels Matrix

We have a separate Channels Matrix for our externally-facing communication channels.

You’ll see we have a lot of two-way channels, lots are ‘owned’ by the company, but there’s autonomy for the team in others.

The internal communication methods in place at All Things IC are:

  • Team Teal Projects meeting
  • 1-2-1 with Rachel
  • Team Teal Cuppa
  • Teams
  • WhatsApp
  • Teams Chat
  • Email
  • Phone calls
  • Voice notes
  • Intranet.

I’ve created a cadence for our channels, so we know what to expect when.  For example every Monday morning we have a projects meeting and I have weekly 1-2-1 conversations with every member of the team.

Caroline and Louise implemented a model working week for me during the pandemic, which has created focus and certainty.

I have a couple of ‘volume down’ days a month. (The phrase was coined by Not on the High Street Founder Holly Tucker). On those dates I am available to my team, but not for client-facing work. This enables me to work ON, not IN the business on those days, which is essential for Founders and helps me to keep moving the business forward. I also, occasionally, take a day off.

Rachel Miller All Things IC

What size company needs an intranet?

I’m investing in an intranet for All Things IC. So my answer to that question is a company of four people.

I view an intranet as a window into the culture of an organisation.

I should be able to look at it and get a sense of the organisation – who the people are, what you work on, what matters to you and what makes the company special and unique.

I view an intranet as a window into the culture of an organisation. I should be able to look at it and get a sense of the organisation - who the people are, what you work on, what matters to you and what makes the company special and unique.

I’ve lost count of the number of intranets I’ve seen over the years, both through my work and as an industry awards judge.

Sometimes I feel like I could cover up the logo and it could be a generic organisation.

An intranet should not be the place where PDFs go to die, but unfortunately they are often graveyards of good intentions and a dumping ground.

An intranet can be amazing. Honestly. My husband Jon is an independent Microsoft 365 Consultant. He creates beautiful, functional intranets for his clients. He’s doing the same for All Things IC too.

The beta version went live this week. I started to sketch out the wireframe (the layout of an intranet) and Jon transformed it into an intranet for us. It’s a work in progress, I know we will be evolving it as we go, but it’s wonderful to see it live.

As you’ll see from the purpose listed in the channels matrix above, I want it to be a vibrant place that accurately captures how we work. In fact, I don’t just want it to be that, I need it to be that.

Why? Because my incredible team inspire me daily and our intranet needs to reflect that vibrancy and culture we’re building.

How do you connect a geographically dispersed workforce?

Geographically dispersed workforces (like mine) need internal communications – channels, tools, techniques and methodologies – that work when you are apart.

We work remotely, but are not distant.

I am in constant contact with the team via our various methods. Everyone has their own styles and we use our channels to suit the way we work.

For example, Caroline and I leave regular voice notes for each other. This is helpful when I am teaching all day in the All Things IC Hub as I can then listen back to her updates. Audio isn’t always the best medium for me as I have hearing loss, but messages shared with no background noise, that I can listen back to again are useful. They are usually for information, not action. Action-based information is shared via written mediums such as email or Teams 1-2-1 chat.

I’ve spent the past couple of days with Caroline near her hometown, which is in the north west of England. You truly can’t beat face-to-face communication, we covered so much!

 

Caroline Cubbon-King LinkedIn post

Anything that needs a decision or discussion is shared via Teams chat.

You’ll see Team Teal Cuppa listed on our Channels Matrix. We meet via Teams on the last Thursday of the month to have an hour focused on checking in with each other and not talking about work. I’ve sent everyone a matching cup (you can guess the colour), and we all have a cup of tea and spend time together.

This is vital in any team, but particularly one that is not in the same place as each other.

Dan has been showing me additional features in Teams, such as the whiteboard. We had a brainstorming session with Caroline recently via Teams and seeing as we are all huge stationery fans, it would have been great to have been together, Sharpies in hand around a flip chart. The technology we have allowed us have a way to visually see Dan’s thoughts on a conundrum we’re currently exploring as a team.

I mentioned thoughts keeping me awake at night. Belonging is one of areas I’m focused on.

Regular readers of this blog will know I’ve written about it a fair bit too and there’s an episode of my Candid Comms podcast episode on the topic.

If you’re thinking about internal communication for a geographically dispersed team, or for a team that are not in the same place very often, do check it out.

Further reading: How to create a sense of belonging.

Further reading: My first week in Team Teal – by Caroline Cubbon-King. My journey from in-house to consultancy – by Dan Holden.

Creating a sense of belonging for employees is underscored by three key things connection compassion confidence

How important is autonomy?

If you’ve read Drive by Daniel Pink, you’ll know he writes about autonomy, mastery and purpose. He also writes about the difference between intrinsic and extrinsic motivation.

I am learning to encourage autonomy. According to Collins Dictionary, it’s the ability to make your own decisions about what to do rather than being influenced by someone else or told what to do

I have an incredibly smart team and I trust them. Stepping back from certain tasks and activities creates opportunities for them to thrive, further their development and enhance their skills.

If you subscribe to our emails and receive the water cooler newsletter each month, you’ll start to notice all of our names. Dan is overseeing our content creation including emails and writing some blog posts. As someone who has written solo on the All Things IC blog for 13 years (apart from guest writers), that’s a big change for me. I’m loving his energy, insight and fresh approach.

Louise knows the business from the inside out, having been with All Things IC for years. She knows me incredibly well too, preempting what I will need, often before I realise! She is a wonderful person to work alongside and I know clients enjoy conversations with her as much as I do. Only this week an existing client contacted Louise to discuss some work they’d like me to advise on. Autonomy in her role varies from trialling new software, which she’s been doing this week, to creating better processes.

Caroline designs and delivers ways of working for us, guided by our TEAL methodology: thoughtful, experienced, attentive and always listening. Autonomy means coming up with solutions before I’m aware of a problem, smoothing out bumps and constantly creating and refining how we support and nurture our current and future clients via consultancy, training and mentoring.

Why do Founders need to systematise their thinking?

It is not helpful to my team if everything about the business is only in my head, heart and notebooks.

Over the past couple of months I have been translating nine-and-a-half years of thinking into systems, models and processes.

This takes time, but is incredibly important if I am to set them up for success.

It’s a work in progress. Every week over the past couple of months we have had conversations where I’ve realised I need to document my thinking, explain a process or detail a decision. I’ve done a lot of deep thinking and spent a lot of time working ON not IN the business.

Thank you Team Teal for continuing to teach me so much. It’s a pleasure to be on this journey. I know our clients are benefitting from our ability to serve them and I’m so proud to watch you in action.

The wonderful world of internal communication is a great teacher.

As a team we talk a lot about the importance of continuing professional development (CPD) and invest in it constantly. I’m proof there’s always something new to learn. Being open to new perspectives enhances your ability to serve your employees and clients.

Thank you for encouraging me to write this article. I’m curious to see how my thinking evolves over the next year or so about the future of work.

I wonder if something I’ve shared has resonated with you? Feel free to comment below.

All Things IC Online Masterclasses

Learn about internal communication with All Things IC

If you want to learn more about internal communication, check out our range of Online Masterclasses.

See the dedicated website to access all the latest courses. They are packed with bespoke text lessons, videos, workbooks and quizzes to help you learn about the wonderful world of IC at your own pace.

They are pre-recorded, which means you access the content at the time you choose. Most courses have 12 months’ access and there are VIP options available on some of them, which means you’ll submit assignments to me for personalised feedback.

Choose from:

Thank you for stopping by,

Rachel.

Post author: Rachel Miller.

First published on the All Things IC blog 15 July 2022.

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