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The end of the beginning

A new shape for the future of internal communication emerges

By Mike Klein

“Now this is not the end, nor is it the beginning of the end. But it is, perhaps, the end of the beginning.”

  - Winston Churchill


Having in my first report described the present situation in Internal Communication as largely unchanged over its first twenty years as a distinct corporate function, my second report identifies some emerging trends that will define a sharply different future, and one that is quickly unfolding:


Wider demands


For its first twenty years, Internal Communication has mainly focused on leadership messaging, manager communication and employee engagement.  In my conversations with twelve leading pros around the globe, a broader agenda becomes clearer, adding:


  • Business strategy

  • Change communication

  • Digital workplace

  • Employee ambassadorship

  • Employee experience

  • Internal influence

  • Internal-external convergence

  • Listening and feedback


Transition from function to discipline


With wider demands and largely overstretched Internal Communication functions, there will be a need to simultaneously drive better understanding of internal audience dynamics more broadly among communication practitioners.  The same communicators might handle communication with investors, customers and employees. But the key to success will be in understanding the distinctions between each audience and how each interacts with the others.  This will require todays IC experts to shift from being managers and towards being guides, coaches and exemplars. It will also require accessible, scalable and impactful IC education to become much more widely available. There will also be a demand for standards that create greater consistency in IC maturity between and within organizations.


Recognition of employees as the ninja audience


This is not a new idea - as evidenced by PR icon Richard Edelman’s speech in Davos two years ago. 

"The best play is for CEOs to do inside out. Focus on their employees. The number one way to get trust back is to pay your employees well and get them to speak well about the company,"  Edelman said at Davos.

"The world has flipped upside-down. It used to be a pyramid of authority, now it's upside down. The influence actually rests with the mid-level people, who speak peer-to-peer. If they're for you, you win",  he added.


What is new is the recognition among practitioners that they need to agitate for the ability and resource to make employee ambassadorship actionable.  Said one practitioner:


"How can you expect your employees to drive differentiation if you don't differentiate your employees."


Moving from distribution to connection


Our practitioners report that the increased demands and expectations of internal communication coincide with a decrease in appetite for information, with pressure intensifying for communicators to “reduce organizational noise.” This pressure indicates a need for communicators to move beyond IC’s traditional focus on mass message distribution and get involved with enabling deeper and faster connection between individuals, teams and functions. 


Said one in-house practitioner: “We could help people connect more directly across the business - we could play a role in collapsing silos.”


From “centralization” to “centrality”


Also aligned with the need to reduce noise is greater willingness to accept that employees will use external tools to communicate. This is shifting focus away from centralizing control over all internal communication tools, and towards a leaner approach that emphasizes the “centrality” of one or a few authoritative tools as “central sources of the truth.”  Embrace of modern IC technologies is accelerating this trend.


A trend towards optimism


Among the respondents, even with the current challenges facing IC, there is a wide degree of optimism - particularly about improvements in the ability to practice and prioritize more effectively, and in terms of the willingness of businesses to better acknowledge and utilize the value IC practitioners bring to their organizations.  One international consultant even went so far as to close by saying:


“Businesses (in my country) are starting to think ‘if you are going to go to war, you have to have your own house in order first.’ Internal is becoming the key communication competence in forward-thinking organizations.”


Download the second report on The Present and Future of Internal Communications.



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Lise Michaud is the only party authorized to represent, negotiate and accept any agreements, contracts, partnerships, or any other forms of association, lucrative or non-lucrative, on behalf of IC Kollectif and/or involving the IC Kollectif's brand.

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Mike Klein of Changing The Terms is a communication consultant based in Holland. A London Business School MBA and former political strategist, he has focused on internal communication planning, research and writing for twenty-plus years.

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