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 Tom Murphy | Microsoft
Tom Murphy is the Director of Communications at Microsoft Digital, Services, and Success (DSS), and he is based in the USA. His team is responsible for global communications for Microsoft Digital, Services, and Success, including executive communications, internal communications, employee engagement, PR, analyst relations, events, and internal intranet sites. Microsoft Digital, Services, and Success (DSS) employs 23,000 people and operates in 140 countries.
What are the main challenges and opportunities facing your team at your company?
Microsoft Digital, Services, and Success is an organization of 23,000 people in 140 countries. Employees work across a range of disciplines from professional services and consulting to service and support and customer success. We create digital solutions to help our customers achieve more. For the past three years, our group has been on its own transformation journey changing our organization to better serve the needs of our customers in a rapidly changing world.
Internal communications plays a critical role in landing those new business priorities. While managing organizational change is a fundamental element of our work, today we live in a world where change is not an isolated event but a constant. This creates challenges for internal communications and also creates some compelling opportunities.
Communications teams must provide clarity on vision, strategy, and direction. To do so we must meet our audiences and stakeholders where they are, reflecting the changes in how people work, and how they search, find, and share information differently.
We shouldn't forget that the basic tenets of effective communications remain unchanged, however, we have an opportunity to better measure progress, gather actionable insights, and engage people in new ways, delivering the information and resources they need, when and where they need it.
We have an incredible opportunity to learn and experiment. There’s no longer one way to approach communications, rather you must measure the effectiveness of your programs and combine that with insights into your organization. How well do people understand your organization’s priorities? Are people able to find and use the resources they need to get their job done successfully? How engaged are they?
One of the major areas of change for internal communications is how we leverage technology to drive better business outcomes. This ranges from utilizing social channels to gathering insights from machine learning and artificial intelligence, and how that impacts our traditional execution. For example, can we use bots to not only supplement traditional intranets but help people find the information they need more quickly? How can we apply machine learning to gather valuable insights from the increasing volume of information we’re getting from our people?
It’s exciting, but it requires agility and flexibility. Experiment, measure, adapt. I can think of no better rallying call for internal communications.
How does your organization ensures internal and external communications are aligned together?
Since the advent of the internet, the reality is that information is fluid and there’s little or no friction between information moving inside or outside the organization. I’m sure most, if not all internal communicators start with that in mind, although in reality the vast majority of content never makes it beyond the firewall.
Today, the alignment between internal and external communications is critical. At Microsoft, all our external communications are managed centrally by our Corporate Communications team. Part of their remit is also driving top-level internal communications initiatives across the company. Most major divisions across Microsoft have their own internal communications function. In our case, we have someone on our team who works in lockstep with the corporate communications team and ensures that they’re aware of any important or critical issues and the correct steps are taken ahead of any communication. We also partner closely to address ad hoc issues as they arise.
What are some of the key mindsets, behaviours, and practices helping your organization to be effective at internal communication?
The starting point for any internal communications function is understanding the business and being clear about how we can contribute to its success. At Microsoft, adopting a growth mindset is a core tenet of our culture. It is a belief that everyone can grow and develop, and that we need to always be learning and curious. We need to be willing to embrace uncertainty, take risks, learn from mistakes, and be open to the ideas of others. Robust measurement and analysis open great opportunities to try new things, evaluate existing tactics and programs, earn and get better. All these qualities are essential for modern communications, both internal and external.
Customer obsession is at the heart of what we do. From products to services, we’re helping our people deliver better outcomes for our customers. Invest time in understanding how the communications team makes a difference. Connect your work to outcomes.
Think big. Make time to pause, move away from the crazy day-to-day routine and think about big, bold, ambitious goals. Think beyond existing tactics and programs. Consider where is the future going and how we evolve communications to get there.
Keep it simple. When we’re involved with a complex, global project, we put a premium on thinking through how we can simplify it or think differently. Internal communications should aim to bring clarity to the complex.
We’re a people business. In a world of condensed news cycles and constant change, communicators need to invest time in their work-life balance. What I’ve learned from all the teams I’ve worked with is that everyone’s view of work-life balance is different. If you want to perform at a high standard, understanding what works for you and committing to owning your right balance is vital.
Creativity isn’t just about tactics. Creative thinking has a positive impact across the entire plan from how you’re mapping your objectives to business priorities, to how you’re creating effective strategies. Technology can’t replace creative thinking combined with insight and experience.
One last thought. Internal communications has a critical role in helping organizations create a more diverse and inclusive environment for everybody. That is top of mind in everything we do.
Which proven strategies do you and your team use to help business leaders understand the value of internal communication?
To help business leaders understand the value of internal communication, we start by understanding the business. Where is the business today? What are the external market challenges we face? What internal barriers are holding us back? What are the key investment decisions that need to be made? Becoming a trusted advisor and demonstrating the value of communications starts with understanding the business and bringing communications insights to business discussions.
At the planning stage, anchor your communications objectives around the core business priorities. Where can communications help? Great communications is grounded on what’s important to the business. It makes demonstrating value far easier.
Demonstrate the value that internal communications is delivering through a balanced scorecard grounded in business priorities. Don’t just track and demonstrate performance. Become a proactive early warning system for identifying issues or problems. Put communications on the agenda and be prepared to discuss how things are performing whether it’s good and bad, what you’ve learned, what you’re seeing, and how it accrues to the business.
How do you demonstrate the impact of internal communication on organizational goals to business leaders?
Demonstrating the impact of internal communications starts with communications having a seat at the table. You must understand the business and participate in the discussions, especially around where communications can and can't contribute to addressing business opportunities or challenges. Be ready to share your insights on what’s going well and where there are challenges.
We have a balanced scorecard bringing a set of qualitative and quantitative measures together. These measures provide actionable insights. This could include annual and monthly employee surveys, insights from employee engagement activities, other surveys, reports on email effectiveness, intranet usage, and enterprise social engagement. By bringing these measures together and using them to inform action, you can have a rich, constructive conversation about the value of communications.