Internal Communication has a strong journalistic heritage that casts a long shadow over current practice. When Heather Yaxley and I researched the history of Internal Communication for the new edition of Exploring Internal Communication, we found that practitioners were often originally called ‘Industrial Editors’. The focus of practice in the 20th century was edited newspapers that majored on profiles of senior managers and corporate news, with little room for input or comment from employees.
Contemporary practice remains grounded in news items and briefings for employees and writing skills are therefore as important today as they’ve always been. However, employee expectations about the way that their organization communicates with them are becoming much more sophisticated. My research suggests that a regular, well written, email briefing is helpful for employees. They like short summaries with links to more details on the intranet. Images and infographics in email briefings are also valued. The language used in briefings is, as we know, very important. Employees are sometimes irritated by overly crafted pieces and value informal and friendly written copy. Today, Internal Communication practitioners need to understand business strategies and achievements and ‘translate’ corporate business terms into meaningful information for employees in different parts of the organization. A ‘one size fits all’ approach may be the best way to get information to as many employees as possible in one briefing, but it potentially fails the ‘so what does this mean for me’ test. Understanding different employee groups and segmenting them for email briefings is, of course, much easier now that we have access to more detailed levels of data.
Although keeping employees informed through email briefings remains an important core Internal Communication function I believe it should be seen as the basis for further communication, not ‘the be all and end all’ of practice. If Internal Communication practice is restricted to keeping employees informed with the information that senior managers want them to have, using the angle that senior managers wish to push, then it is open to the charge of internal propaganda. Employees expect to be able to have a say about what goes on and by this they do not mean that the organization has an annual survey that is then often ignored. In my research, employees stated that they expect their senior managers to be visible and approachable and they would like to discuss what the organization is doing in an informal environment where what they say is treated seriously. Listening to employees forms the other half of the Internal Communication story. 21st century practice is, at last, moving well beyond industrial editing and becoming a distinct management function in its own right based on research, analytics and a combination of keeping employees informed and giving them a voice that is treated seriously.
This new approach to Internal Communication, which I call ‘Informed Employee Voice’ underpins the approach taken throughout the new 3rd edition of Exploring Internal Communication published by Gower. It is available at exploringinternalcommunication.com a discounted rate of £26, including postage and packing within the UK, direct from PR Academy.