Penelope Newton-Hurley of CommPassion gives her views on the state of our industry, challenges facing internal communications within an organization – and what communicators must do in order to meet the challenges.
What was your path to working in internal communications?
By accident! I had been working in international marketing for eight years and was considering my next move when a former colleague offered me a 9-month part-time Internal Communications contract, working on an organisational change project. My initial response was to decline, the role not being my core profession. After some research into what Internal Communications was (as it was still a relatively new and evolving function at the time), I realized my skills and experience could be transposed. I took the role and the 9-month contract turned into a 7-year project to transform the internal communications culture of the company. Fifteen years on I feel very grateful to that first contract, as working in Internal Communications continues to be the most challenging and rewarding work I have carried out in my career. (Read What was your career path to Internal Communication?)
What are the skills you think a internal communicator needs to successfully implement an IC strategy?
Internal Communicators need to be all-rounders. Understanding the business and what makes it tick is essential to keeping their eye on the end goal, whilst marketing skills help them to see employees as their customers and work with them (as marketers do with their customers) to assess changing needs, develop product/services (comms channels, training, corporate messages etc.), deliver and provide those products and services at the right time to the right people, for the right cost (providing the business with good ROI). Added to that I believe they need excellent active listening skills, a personable character, a good level of emotional intelligence to lead by example, and of course creative writing skills.
What’s the biggest challenge internal communicators face right now?
Ensuring managers buy into good communication skills and processes, even when team and personal targets/workloads are high, as communications can often be viewed by some as a non-core task, and can easily slip. Also, encouraging accountability from individuals for their own communication – both in terms of their skills and what they communicate, but also in how they see and receive communication. Perhaps one of the greatest challenges is when the leader of the company isn’t wholly 100% committed to prioritizing internal communications. Those leaders who communicate naturally and genuinely are able to bring people with them, right down the line; those who don’t, require guidance, especially when one of the strategies is to be ‘open and honest’, and often also need convincing of the worth of good communication.
What is your personal view of the place of social media within large enterprise?
In my opinion, social media is a highly important part of the mix of communication channels in any organization today – we need to embrace this ever-changing technology for the benefits it can give us. And, at the same time, the need for the ‘mix’ is also all-important. I don’t think any organization with an Internal Communications focus would view social media as superior to other channels but it is a question of balance – so it is vital it sits alongside other electronic and face-to-face channels within the strategy. Interestingly the latest Towers Watson report showed that only 28% of respondents overall found social media to be cost effective – but then only 15% on average had the tools to effectively measure this. So I do think we have a way to go before we can be sure of the long term benefits of social media, though it is clearly brings benefits of immediacy and range of message, collaboration and community building, visual aspects of photos and videos, multi-directional communication, feedback and input, etc.
Penelope Newton-Hurley is a Communication Consultant and Trainer, Workplace Mediator, and owner of CommPassion Ltd. Through a genuine passion, long-tested experience and innovative techniques, CommPassion helps organisations transform their communication culture, to provide a positive working environment that stimulates mutual respect, collaboration, a sense of contribution and achievement – leading to greater financial performance and business success. ‘Companies that are highly effective at communication are 1.7 times as likely to be high performing than companies that are not highly effective at communication.’ Towers Watson, ROI Survey 2011-12. Visit her blog.