Employee Comms

James Harkness - insight into today's internal communication challenges


 — December 10th, 2013

James Harkness - insight into today's internal communication challenges

Today's internal communication guest blogger is James Harkness, Partner HarknessKennett and CIPR Inside Chair.

Like many, my route into internal comms was not straightforward and certainly not planned! After a retail graduate training scheme I joined the Industrial Society, where although I was an Adviser and involved with Team Briefing, my focus was on customer service learning and development. I then joined a marketing services agency. It was there that a neighbour said to me that Internal Communication was where it was at and he connected me with Smythe Dorward Lambert. Having been agency side I hankered after the inhouse perspective and spotted an opportunity at The Body Shop to be their first Head of Internal Communication. That role hooked me in. It certainly helped working with leaders, like Anita and Gordon Roddick, who really understood the value of internal communication and what we’d now all refer to as employee engagement.

How internal communication has changed over the last ten years

But having been agency side and running HarknessKennett for ten years now internal communication has changed so much. This year I took on the role of chair for CIPR Inside in March. Since then membership has grown by 18%. We’ve introduced webinars for our members, run informal Ask the Guru events, held the best attended internal communication conference to date this year, and are currently receiving entries for the #insidestory awards (deadline is 13 December – so don’t miss it).

We held a webinar last week about internal communicators moving from tactical work to being strategic advisors in business. I facilitated a session with my colleague Jane Mitchell and we covered what we consider to be three critical factors in taking your internal comms role from tactical to strategic.

  1. Clear purpose. How do you measure success? What’s important to your business?
  2. Right capability. Have you and your team got the right skills? Sure it’s about communication, but it’s also about your ability to influence, plan, and consult .
  3. Credibility. Can you prove your worth? Show the outcomes of what you do.

So I believe that there’s a combination of more ‘communication’ professionals moving into the area of internal comms or taking on aspects of it as part of their roles, as well as a growing recognition that engaged employees can help businesses be more productive and successful. Many organisations are switching on to the value that internal communication can bring. Practitioners are leveraging this opportunity to be there, be a part of it and become the strategic advisors.

There are still huge challenges. Some are a result of greater expectations. Challenges include greater expectations for faster news. Then there is the raft of collaborative tools and how they are used. And leaders and organisations are under more pressure than ever before. The blurring of the divide between internal communication and external communication is a great opportunity for us but means we need to be consistent on messages otherwise we’ll add to the noise. And noise is a problem. The technical savvy generation are used to editing through mountains of content, and they’ll happily use the delete key!

Supporting change is also a challenge. But I believe what is referred to as ‘change’ is often just business as usual. At HarknessKenentt we provide resources (or Interim Consultants) to organisations experiencing change. It’s been a growth area for us. And what is interesting is that whilst many of these initial assignments are for three or six months these Interims are often extended and people end up doing business as usual roles. The skills for change communication professionals are very similar to strategic internal communicators. What they do need is an understanding of where their audience is at, what communications are most appropriate for the change, the role that leaders should play and some strong influencing skills.

So in essence my view is you need to invest in your own development like never before. You can get a lot from organisations like the CIPR, but whatever route you choose, investing in development will pay not only pay dividends, it’s essential.

Newsweaver has developed a suite of How To Guides for Internal Communicators. If you're interested in better insight and measurement for your IC programs, check out our guide on 'How to demonstrate the value of internal comms and get noticed by your boss'.

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