Best Practice

10 things I have learned about internal communication over the past 10 years

I have been studying, researching and teaching internal communication for 10 years and here are 10 things I have learned 

They are based on academic research, industry reports, case studies and discussions with hundreds of IC managers, which I expand on in the newly published 4th edition of my book, ‘Exploring Internal Communication’.

  1. Comms is culture. Culture is comms. Leaders have been grappling with culture change for decades. The notion that ‘culture eats strategy for breakfast’ is well established, with good reason. And yet the thinking on culture often omits detailed discussions of communication. Changing the approach to communication can change cultures.
  2. Listening to employees is not an optional extra. Employee voice is an enabler of engagement and supports employee wellbeing. In my research, listening to employees was found to be more strongly associated with organizational engagement than communication with their line managers. But it has to be done in a systemic way. Ad-hoc listening lunches are not enough. When fully embedded in day to day comms plans, employee voice can change cultures (see above).
  3. Line managers are not the problem. The ‘problem’ is expecting line managers to present corporately produced information that they have not been fully briefed about. Cascade team briefings often just cause confusion. In my research, employees told me that they expect their line manager to communicate about team-related tasks and issues. Not broader organizational topics. That should come from senior managers, in person.
  4. Senior managers are human. They just tend to go into ‘corporate’ mode when doing presentations to employees. Worse, they sometimes think they have to be like a game show host on speed. Employees simply want them to be themselves and explain things in everyday, informal, language. Employee ratings for senior manager communication in my research were not good and worse than for line managers.
  5. Less is more. Sending out the same stuff on more channels is counter-productive. Mapping information to the right channel pays dividends. This requires a channel strategy and insights into what information employees are interested in and which channels they prefer for different briefings. The good news is that there is so much more data about channels and content now.
  6. Employees like email briefings. And face to face meetings with managers. This has been the case for many years now and continues to be the case alongside the rise of internal digital platforms. However, the potential for closer employee connections through digital communication is significant…if the culture supports it.
  7. Tabloid internal journalism can be a turn-off. Treating employees as if they are readers of tabloid newspapers when providing important information about their organization is disrespectful. Today, most employees expect a more adult to adult approach to communication. That said, informality is good. Perfect prose is passé.
  8. Employees are interested in their organization’s plans. In my research, when employees were asked to rank topics for interest they put ‘plans’ at the top of the list. It’s natural for people to want to have a sense of belonging where they work and to know what their organization plans for the future.
  9. Proper planning saves money and avoids pointless vanity projects. Using existing data and good research ensures that comms is prioritized and links to engagement and wellbeing. As more and more comms people develop good plans, so they are seeing the credibility of what they do increase.
  10. The future is more than digital. It’s also automation and artificial intelligence. This offers the potential for a reinvention of the internal communication role. One that becomes more about strategic guidance and governance than copywriting. And one that enhances digital working across the organization.

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