Internal Communication Comes of Age

Claire Watson

Not long ago, sharing vital business information with employees was often an afterthought, and typically came via email, if at all. Employees learned what their organization was up to through an unreliable grapevine, customers or the media.

Enter the age of employee engagement and change management. Willis Towers Watson studied the impact of internal communication and change management for over a decade.Their 2014 Change and Communication ROI Study demonstrates that best practice companies are highly effective at both communication and change management, and 3.5 times as likely to outperform their peers. It became crystal clear that not only are employees an important audience, they are the most important audience.

The value of internal communication took a giant leap forward, no longer playing second fiddle to its sexier sisters, corporate communication and marketing.When strategically aligned, managed and measured, the often overlooked sister bloomed, casting a halo effect over all business results, including employee engagement, customer retention, revenue, profit and social impact.

The evolution of internal communication as a key business driver presents opportunity and challenge for communication professionals. Beyond the ability to write, the menu of knowledge and skills needed to deliver solid business results has grown exponentially, rivaling the degree- laden marketing profession.

Be an expert at strategic communication management

The ability to manage communication strategically is a mainstay for all communication professionals, but in particular for those working in the internal communication space. The lines that once separated internal and external communication are converging, and within organizations communication functions are increasingly integrated.

Convergence and integration demand collaboration to develop common strategy aligned with business needs. Research and audience analysis is shared, key messages are consistent and the binding ingredients, a strategic approach and jointly delivered implementation plan, means that internal, corporate and marketing communication focus their resources on the same objectives to drive results.

Competent strategic communication management stretches beyond communication planning, although a solid plan is still the backbone of success. The all-encompassing management function embraces creativity, stakeholder and change management, alignment of vision, mission and values with business needs, mentoring leaders and influencers and inspiring audiences to take action.

Know the business inside-out

Communication professionals cannot deliver results without intimately knowing the business. Far beyond reading the latest annual report, understanding business needs means looking at it from all angles. Study the competition, the market environment, customers, media and other external audiences. Analyze the internal environment and culture.What influence will culture have on communication? How does the executive team measure success? Understanding business and audience needs relies on more than your ability to read and analyze research. It means having your feet on the ground, listening skills finely tuned and creating opportunities to learn from the audience.