C-suiters see Internal Communication as driver of competitive advantage
By Mike Klein
"When internal communication is done right, it can supercharge an organization." - Marc Barone, Chief Executive, Continental Europe, AECOM
"High quality, purpose-led internal communication aligned with business goals could be a true business differentiator." - Darren Boarnet, Consultant and former US HR chief for an international oil company
In my preparation of the latest report on the Present and Future of Internal Communication with C-Suite decision-makers, these were two of the quotes that stood out the most.
Much of the conversation about internal communication these days is inward-looking - about optimizing performance, doing things better tactically, and as top Danish communication consultant Anders Monrad Rendtorff says: "getting your house in order before you go to war."
Yet, in the comments of Marc and Darren, a bigger prize awaits those who take their internal communication challenges and opportunities seriously - the chance to use internal communication as an immediate driver of differentiation and competitive advantage.
The opportunities for differentiation come in different shapes and sizes:
Better execution means clearer alignment, less noise and less friction compared to competitors who make IC less of a priority
Use of better tools and platforms increase participation and engagement
Treating employees (and especially leaders and influencers) as a preferred audience makes them more knowledgeable than customers and makes them better briefed for interactions with customers and other stakeholders
A cultural revolution
More than just upgrading platforms, messaging and interactivity between and among employees, a desire to differentiate through a framework for getting internal communication right can sow the seeds of a true cultural transformation.
Francois Ortalo-Magne, Dean of London Business School and a research participant,'characterizes this by saying "We need to provide the right guidance, mindsets and frameworks for people to act on their own initiative within our context."
A need for commitment
Still, even if one’s goal is “a better approach to IC than competitors”, rather than being at a global gold standard, certain principles are absolute - not the least of which are interactivity and consistency.
Former corporate chief compliance officer Enrique Aznar said "there's an opportunity for more dialogue instead of one-directional messaging. The worst thing in terms of culture and communication is for employees to feel like they are being told what to do. They want to participate, they want to co-create." He adds "If you have a situation where you are telling people to act one way and the leaders behave another, it's potentially fatal."
Network thinking - a true differentiator
Philippa Penfold, a Singapore-based consultant who was until recently a senior HR VP, sees understanding and leveraging internal influence and social networks as decisive. "The world does not work on command, control and organization charts. We need to leverage the internal social network. We need to give employees the tools to cut white noise and facilitate positive employee-to-business and employee-to-employee communication."
IC as differentiator
Based on my conversations for this latest Happeo report, three things become evident
Ensure that your own house is in order - especially in terms of consistency with stated values, purpose and business objectives, and in terms of appropriate tone.
Focusing initially on tangible, measurable improvements, particularlyu] in terms of platforms and processes
Drive further improvements in areas like internal influence and organizational dialogue which are seen as valuable, but not being leveraged widely
What's on the other side? Darren Boarnet says "Companies that get IC correct will have a higher degree of alignment and mobilization towards short and mid-term goals."
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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