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Three things – internal communication: what it isn’t; what it is; and why it matters

Date: Mar 04 2019
Three things – internal communication: what it isn’t; what it is; and why it matters

Last week, I delivered a guest lecture for the Corporate Communications Masters students at Bournemouth University.

I teach the group the CIPR Internal Communication Diploma each year as they complete their Masters degree.

This week’s session on Friday was designed to give a taster of internal communication.

Over the years, I’ve found that assumptions of what internal communication is and what it isn’t are often quite different to the reality of what it is and can be, and how much impact it has.

My session covered three points:

  1. What internal communication isn’t
  2. What it is
  3. Why it matters for 21st century organisations

This forms my three things for this week, and I’ve adapted for my blog.

What it isn’t

A sentiment I hear a lot from other communicators is ‘I’m so busy’. It’s true, we have a lot to deliver and a far-reaching responsibility. Being “busy, busy, busy,” was a line from the Cosmopolitan feature back in September 2017, where the internal communication strategist complete with headset talked of being constantly being busy, organising birthday parties, celebrations and more…

The internal comms strategist – Cosmopolitan magazine September 2017

Whether this article is tongue in cheek or not, it got a lot a of attention from comms folk during September 2017. There’s a truth in that comms people have often been given the job of organising the office parties and other events, because they have the people and organising skills to do it. But there is much, much, more to our repertoire and organisational impact than organising the bake sale, parties or indeed producing lots of brilliantly crafted content.

Meanwhile, there has also been a preoccupation in recent years of comms people talking about getting a ‘seat at the table’. It’s been a refrain at industry conferences more than I care to count. It does seem, at last to be a less regularly repeated trope, thank heavens. Having a ‘seat at the table’, is not necessarily where we need to be, or indeed should be.

What it isn’t – being the party and celebration maker, or the postmaster just sending out stuff, or attending never-ending meetings all the time.

What it is

Being successful in communication, means being immersed in the business. It means finding out how the business works, how people work in it and how communication can help people be more successful and achieve the business objectives.

Strategic communication

There are more channels, methods and messages than ever that we’re asked to manage and convey. Our skill is in understanding what will work, when, for which objective and message and for which people.

Skilled communicators focus on building their business acumen, using data and knowledge to drive their communication activities and focus on what makes an impact. They’re looking for ways to make an impact, to help those they work with. This spans influencing leadership and how they communicate and behave (not necessarily being in all their meetings), coaching and supporting line managers who need support with their communications, to helping employees know quickly and easily what they need to do or understand in their work.

Our worlds are noisy, so good communication should not add to the cacophony, but instead be the bright spot, providing clarity and reassurance making it easy for people to understand what they need to do or understand.

Constant learning

As individuals we have a responsibility to keep our knowledge sharp and that means learning, constantly.

Why it matters

Great communication is needed to help business perform better.

Engagement and productivity levels at work is pretty woeful. Against a backdrop of constant change, uncertainty and volatility across the globe, work is a place where people should be able to find some sense of connection and stability.

UK productivity

In 2018, the OBR (Office for Budget Responsibility) Report on UK productivity found that Britain is 15% less productive per employee than the average of its EU competitors. Productivity is linked to employee engagement.

State of the workforce

Gallup’s 2017 State of the Global Workforce report, showed that 85% of employees globally are not engaged or actively disengaged at work.

The economic consequences of this global “norm” are approximately $7 trillion in lost productivity according to Gallup. In the UK, we have 11% engaged, 68% not engaged and 21% actively disengaged according to this report. Those 68% are indifferent to your organisation, just imagine if they were engaged the power and energy they could bring to their work.

How do you get better employee engagement?

Four enablers from Engage for Success are a good place to start:

  1. Strong strategic narrative – we know where we came from and where we are going
  2. Engaging managers – give focus, treat people well and help them grow
  3. Employee voice – employees are heard and contribute to the organisation’s direction and success
  4. Integrity – we’re all judged by our actions, and the values we ascribe to are how we behave.

Together these four enablers drive engagement in organisations. And it’s communication that underpins them.

From the clear and authentic story of the organisation, coaching managers to be great communicators to support their teams, giving employees the tools and opportunities to have their thoughts heard, shared and responded to, through to ensuring that the values we hold are true to our organisations and not just something written on the wall.

It takes time and persistence in everything we do. Communication provides the backdrop, the explanation, the recognition and the spotlight to the things that matter in the workplace.

And we have a huge opportunity in business to turn engagement around and be more productive. What’s more this year’s Edelman Trust Barometer puts trust at work front and centre of its findings.

Edelman Trust Barometer 2019

Edelman Trust barometer – overview through the years

Work and leadership have been present over the years, but not so explicitly as they are this year, with Trust at Work being the key theme.

Not only does it headline, but trust at work is a critical aspect in five of the Top ten findings in the research:

  1. “My employer” is widely trusted – 75% trust score globally for employers
  2. CEOs are expected to lead on change – 76% expect their CEOs to take action rather than wait for government to impose it
  3. The New employee-employer contract – employees have an expectation that employers will join them in taking action on societal issues – 67%
  4. Trust cements employer-employee relationship – employees who trust their employer are far more likely to engage in beneficial actions on their behalf (39 points) are more engaged (33 points), and remain more loyal (38 points) than their more sceptical counterparts.
  5. Companies can improve society and do well – 73% agreed that a company can take action to improve local communities, economic conditions, and increase their profits

Check the Edelman Trust Barometer for full details and stats.

An employee’s relationship with work and their employer is unique. At a time when society and our political systems are in a state of flux and uncertainty, individuals are looking for business to take the lead. Great communication, at a strategic level can help them do just that and be competitive and attractive employers.

The opportunity

For communication to move beyond turning out content and coordinating cake sales, we all need to take it more seriously and show it for the value it brings to organisations. This year’s Edelman Trust Barometer presents a brilliant opportunity to put the spotlight on communication at work for organisations of all sizes.

As communicators we need to seize the opportunity and help our employers be better places to work.

For organisations, this is a chance to change and adapt, to be ahead of the competition and show what it is that makes your business more attractive for great employees who’ll look after your customers and be productive.

Communication matters for successful companies in the 21st century.

Thanks for stopping by and reading my thoughts. I hope you’ll be inspired.

I work with businesses of all shapes and sizes to help them communicate clearly, reveal the human connections that matter and get meaningful results. If you would like to find out what people think and feel about your business, and communicate with them better, get in touch.