THE BUSINESS VALUE OF STRATEGIC INTERNAL COMMUNICATION
THE REALITY ON THE GROUND
What does strategic internal communication look like inside organizations? This is one of the aspects examined in the global report The Next Level: The Business Value of Good Internal Communication. We interviewed 33 in-house communication professionals from 25 countries and representing 20 industries, and asked them 5 questions. The original version of the following interview was published in The Next Level.
Interview with Leslie Quinton | BRP
Leslie Quinton is the Vice-President, Global Corporate Communications, and Events, at BRP (Bombardier Recreational Products). Based in Canada, she is responsible for internal, external and dealer communications and, corporate and dealer events. BRP employs 10,000+ employees and is active in over 100 countries.
What are the main challenges and opportunities facing your team at your company?
One of the opportunities I see in our organization is to transform the communications function into a truly international one with the right models and processes that this scope requires to build our brand internally and externally. From my experience in other organizations, this challenge seems to be a universal one. How do we create the right balance of structure and autonomy throughout a global company with an appropriate number of guidelines to create consistency but also flexibility to account for cultural differences? Whether it is internal or external stakeholders, companies like ours need to be ever more responsive and adept at keeping in touch with all those we need to reach, even if getting the buy-in for the right tools, processes and technologies sometimes take longer and more persuasion than we would like.
How does your organization ensures internal and external communications are aligned together?
I have heard some people state that internal and external communications are now essentially the same thing. While often true, this is not entirely the case and there are almost always reasons to target your communications differently according to the audience. The old belief is still valid. You need to communicate to your publics not only in the tone and language that will be most appreciated by them but also through the means that will have the most impact on influencing the kind of behaviour you want to impact. Thus the argument for different approaches to internal and external communications.
The single biggest game changer in narrowing the divide between external and internal communications is obviously social media. Your employees can read about what is happening to the company in real time and can reinterpret the message faster than and far beyond the official communications channels, depending on the issue. This makes rapidity of response from the external team, who need to alert and keep the internal team in the loop, more important than ever. The two teams work in tandem with one another. While they are separate, they are tightly connected and frequently work on projects that integrate members of both teams seamlessly.
What are some of the key mindsets, behaviours, and practices helping your organization to be effective at internal communication?
The internal communications function is largely one of relationships. If it is seen as an opportunity to further the strategic goals of the organization through well-planned and thoughtful initiatives, it becomes the gateway to influencing behaviour as change management at the highest level. Successful internal communication professionals must be seen as facilitators, strategic leaders, and creative partners, not simply fact-checkers and proofreaders. I have seen a number of internal communications teams go through a syndrome where they are considered simply as a means to an end, channels used to share information but without the authority to actually add value to the content being produced. The last-minute nature of a lot of internal communication makes it difficult to add this strategic element to certain announcements but if the relationships are good with the internal clients, more and more IC teams can leverage their knowledge and best practices to serve the company’s ultimate goals.
Which proven strategies do you and your team use to help business leaders understand the value of internal communication?
Internal communications is one of the roles that is sometimes underestimated in organizations, especially where it is seen strictly as a channel or tool as opposed to a strategic partner. By demonstrating the impact on employee engagement and strengthened culture on the bottom line, it is easier to convince business leaders of the ROI in investing in strong employee communications. Organizations that have let their internal communications programs become completely reactive have lost sight of the positive impact that can happen to productivity and on retention and attraction statistics when you have a well-organized, thought-out internal communications plan. The single most important key stakeholder internally is Human Resources. Without the buy-in of the human resources team and complete coordination of the two groups to achieve the respective objectives, neither team can succeed. Good internal communications can be the canary in the coal mine, an early warning system that allows the communications team to take the pulse of the organization and react accordingly, which can also have an impact on external stakeholders. Communicators can’t be shy about sharing their successes and highlighting instances when strong IC strategies ended up contributing to CSR programs, risk management plans or other critical success related to the bottom line.
How do you demonstrate the impact of internal communication on organizational goals to business leaders?
There are three ways to show the influence and impact of internal communication on the realization of corporate objectives. The first and least intuitive is to show what happens when IC is not involved. This is counter to much of our thinking as problem-solvers but I have sometimes recommended to my team in previous situations as a last resort that rather than impose ourselves, let something fail to demonstrate the value of the internal communication presence. This is a bit radical and not the preferred method to show the usefulness of the function, but it is sometimes a powerful last recourse.
The most common way of linking IC outcomes to organizational strategies is to correlate the objectives of the IC plan directly to those of the organization and talk about it. Good internal communications programs ultimately have exactly the same objectives and pillars as the overall global corporate strategy for the business, but unless the links are explicitly made to the management team, that may or may not be perceived and appreciated.
The third way to share the impact of IC on corporate objectives and the one that tends to be the most effective in my experience (rightly or not) is the case study and statistical approach. Don’t forget that communications tends to exist in areas that are more experiential and qualitative than most business leaders are comfortable with. If you can share third- party data and analysis that shows ROI and quantitative impact on business, it is sometimes the best tool for convincing management of the need and utility for robust, well-equipped internal communications teams, which is another reason for IC to keep excellent KPIs and internal results tracking to justify their programs and tactics.