Why do we need internal communications? It’s a question we hear occasionally in meetings when the importance of internal communications as a discipline, role and department is being questioned. The argument goes that now digital workplace tools can make anyone a publisher and informal messaging tends to resonate more than formal “corporate” messaging, the need for internal communications has diminished. This logic may point to intranet analytics which show that most employees use the intranet to get things done rather than read news. IC teams, therefore, are no longer essential for the effective flow of communication across an organisation.
Of course, this is a thoroughly misguided view. Actually, we need internal communications now more than ever, with relying on a professional internal communication team being essential to deliver a strategy and co-ordinate effective messaging around the organisation. In this post, we’re going to explore ten reasons why internal communications is critical because of the value it brings to organisations and employees.
Defining internal communications
Before we explore the reasons why internal communications is successful, it helps to define the term. Rachel Miller, an influential voice across the IC community, differentiates between internal communication (“the overarching view of how a company communicates”) and internal communications (“the tools, tactics and channels”). She goes on to define IC in its simplest form as “the way a company interacts with its people and they interact with it”.
Internal communications is therefore about applying coherence, structure and co-ordination to the messages that go out to employees, and the dialogue that ensues. It’s also about adopting a strategic view to ensure messaging has both purpose and impact, as well as taking a professional approach to internal communications and involving trained internal communicators.
The reasons why IC is important tend to fall into two different categories. The first is the general business impact that IC brings, such as increased employee engagement; the second is more about the specifics of taking a professional and co-ordinated approach to messaging.
Let’s explore the reasons why IC is so critical.
Engaging employees and amplifying the culture
Employee engagement and the employee experience are both regarded by HR functions as critical as they have a positive impact on a variety of important areas including employee turnover, productivity and even profitability. The value of engaged employees is a huge topic that is best left for another article, but internal communications plays an important role in various aspects of employee engagement, including shaping:
- How employees feel about their leaders and whether they trust them
- How they fit into the overall strategy of the organisation and perceive their role
- Whether they feel valued and listened to
- How they perceive organisational purpose and values
- How they relate to organisational culture
- Whether there is an organisational commitment to transparency and accountability
- How they feel about the future of working at your organisation.
Internal communications also plays an important role in amplifying and celebrating organisational culture that can make a company more fun and engaging to work within.
By not applying a professional and co-ordinated approach to managing internal communications, organisations are missing a huge opportunity to positively influence employee engagement.
Keeping everybody informed and aware
Internal communications plays an essential role in keeping everyone informed and aware of what is going on throughout an organisation. This can help equip employees with the right operational and strategic knowledge to put their daily work into perspective and be fully aware of the things they need to know in order to effectively carry out their role. Employees have a huge amount of information thrown at them every day; effective internal communications can help to make this more manageable and reduce the noise.
Clarity during a crisis
There’s never a stronger case for internal communications than during a crisis. The COVID-19 pandemic has shown the need for clear, authoritative and unambiguous crisis communications which are trusted by employees. The role of IC teams here is not just to make sure messaging is crystal clear and consistent, but also that it’s properly managed, leaving no room for misunderstandings.
During COVID-19, the clarity of messaging achieved through good communications supports employee wellbeing while also minimising risks to the continuity of business operations at an incredibly difficult time. Internal communications functions have played a hugely important role during 2020 and 2021 in helping to provide clarity during a crisis.
Strong messaging to support change
Another example of internal communications’ significant impact is in change situations. This can be anything from following a new company strategy, to mergers & acquisitions, to introducing new ways of working. Change and transformation are a constant in organisations, and taking a professional IC approach is essential to bring employees along on that journey and get their buy-in.
Targeting messages to diverse, global workforces
Workforces are highly diverse, with different roles, locations, languages, regions, divisions and departments. Modern intranets and related channels offer opportunities to target items to these groups, making digital communications relevant and finessed to the needs of all parts of the organisation.
Internal communicators play a role here in making sure content targeting is properly applied and messaging is optimal to different groups; without an IC approach, organisations miss a massive opportunity to ensure communications resonate with all parts of the organisation. One size definitely does not fit all.
Making the best use of omni-channel
These days, internal communicators have a plethora of different tools and software to choose from in any given digital workplace. Intranet, email, print, social channels, apps and public-facing sites all have a potential role to play.
In a truly omni-channel environment, it takes skill and experience to coordinate messages across different channels, use different tools for the best impact depending on message and audience, and know the strengths and weaknesses of each channel. Planning a campaign, for example, needs oversight of which channel to use and when. Here, a professional internal communications approach is necessary to make the very best use of omni-channel, and ensure messaging has impact.
Advising on best practices for non-communicators
An increasing role for IC teams is to act as internal consultants and experts, helping to advise on best practices for the rest of the business and provide guidance to leaders. This role has real value. People within the business are not trained communicators – senior leaders need support from professionals to get their message across, and support functions need guidance on how to create and execute campaigns. Given the importance of communications to various aspects of organisational life, it’s essential to have an internal champion for best practices who can provide professional communications support and advice right across the organisation.
Managing the volume of messaging
Taking a professional approach to internal communications means there is a more coordinated and centralised view of communication flows. One area where this drives value is managing the volume of messages received by employees at any one time so they are not overwhelmed. For example, a classic problem where there is no IC control over “all staff” email communications means employees receive multiple single message emails, many of which are not relevant to them., and employees just end up deleting them. When this happens, messages are missed and ignored, time is wasted and employees get fed up. When there is a more coordinated approach, however, messaging is better presented, consolidated into fewer messages and consistently relevant.
Ensuring the right timing for communications
An underrated advantage that IC teams bring is to optimise the timing of messages. Sometimes, this is about getting a message out quickly, while other times it’s about planning campaigns with the right sequencing of messages, choosing the right timing relating to change management aims, and co-ordinating the timing of different messages so employees aren’t overwhelmed. When organisations don’t apply IC approaches and the timing of messages is sub-optimal, the result can be a free for all with messages arriving at the wrong time.
Driving dialogue and conversations
Internal communications is not just about broadcasting corporate messages – good internal communications can drive dialogue and start conversations. This can be of enormous value, not only in driving engagement, but also in providing insights for leadership about how your workforce is feeling. When internal communications creates dialogue in some kind of structure which can be used to derive insights (and make sure conversations are finished too), this can inform better management decisions. Dialogue and listening have been especially important during the pandemic so that organisations know how to support their employees in the right way. Intranets and social collaboration platforms like Yammer provide excellent opportunities for internal communicators to foster dialogue.
Internal communications in your digital workplace
Internal communications and internal communicators bring enormous value to organisations. If you’d like to discuss delivering internal communications in your digital workplace, then get in touch!