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.

Learn to read between the lines.Talk with executives, managers, department heads, employees in the office and employees on the front line. Make a point of identifying any gaps in knowledge, perception and attitude. Put yourself on the invitation list for meetings and strategy discussions held across the organization.

Be a trusted advisor

Trust is earned based on the confidence that you will deliver on your promises to a high level of excellence. When trust exists in a relationship people listen intently, allow their assumptions to be gently challenged, are open to new ideas and work with you toward a common goal.

Cultivate strong relationships with decision-makers, and take advantage of the opportunity to educate them about the power of internal communication to influence business results. Be ready with empirical data demonstrating ROI. People support what they help to create, so encourage informed conversation across the organization. Omni-directional dialogue opens communication channels, creates understanding and motivates changes in behaviour. It has a significant impact on employee engagement and business results. Listen, respond and incorporate your understandings into the internal communication strategy.

Trusted advisors have a place at the table that creates the buy-in needed to implement communication strategy and a gateway to work with leaders building communication skills.

Set clear, meaningful objectives, track, measure and share

It’s surprising how many communication professionals still don’t understand the differences among goals, objectives and tactics.This fundamental understanding is critical to demonstrate business value. Still, if objectives are set and not tracked or measured, everything else is academic.You won’t have anything to share with stakeholders that builds their confidence in strategic communication.

A good objective is:

  • Measurable in quantity, time, cost, percentages, quality or another criteria

  • Realistic and meaningful

  • Aligned with business needs

  • Can be a combination of output-based statements (volume, increases), and outcome-based measures (attitudes, opinions, behaviours, and business results.)

Tactics, approaches, and supporting strategies describe the vehicles, channels and activities used to achieve objectives. Make sure you understand the differences, and above all make sure you track and share results.