Challenge & Opportunity: Internal comms must become what business needs for these times
— September 2nd, 2020
As I consider where we are within internal communications (IC) right now and I hear the many discussions across the industry, all that comes to mind is the great opportunity we have to be established and add value.
Demonstrating value can be tricky. It has to be clear to leaders, senior management, and stakeholders. They need to see the real value of the function and its impact, beyond the tactical work done to help the organization communicate.
At the same time, practitioners need to be consistent and high performing, balancing both the strategic and the tactical.
It can be taken for granted that because communication is important and recognized that leaders/stakeholders understand the need and purpose for having a professional IC function in place. It can also be assumed that they fully embrace the fact that it is key to enhancing engagement and productivity. But that is not always the case.
IC is often the last place leadership head to for advice and answers. And especially when significant decisions are being made, like those related to change. IC is often excluded or brought in very late.
IC's challenges haven’t changed – we are still trying to engage leaders, be relevant, and add value at a strategic level. Some have experienced success, but for many, it’s still a struggle. At the senior level end of the business, there is a lack of inclusion for IC professionals to be involved in key business priorities. This suggests that as a profession, we haven’t positioned ourselves as an essential business function in the minds of leaders and decision-makers. Therefore, it’s no wonder that some believe there is a threat to the strategic function of IC that, in the future, might bring into question the role of senior-level communicators.
In the main, these are not necessarily critical problems. We could stay exactly as we are today and do nothing.
The only issue is that other disciplines – for example, management consultants – will eventually step into the strategic aspects of our role, displacing the requirement for us to speak at this level.
These disciplines also offer help to organizations to articulate the vision and create the narrative that we would normally develop to engage employees.
Despite these challenges, there is indeed an opportunity if as professionals we decide to become what businesses and organizations need for these times.
The ultimate guide to internal communications strategy
An opportunity not to be missed
For us to capitalize on this opportunity, we need to become the kind of advisors, leaders can trust and depend on to provide a high level of support. We need to have a strong understanding of the business and challenge to ensure there is consistency and that ethical behavior is upheld by leadership.
But with the distraction of pandemics, crisis, and change – the focus on getting technology to communicate with remote audiences and the speed at which this is all happening – we might be missing two key areas of focus: reputation and trust.
For now and for the future, leaders and organizations need the support of people who will ensure they maintain their reputation and position of trust as leaders. I believe that the main way that happens is through reliance on communication expertise that will set them apart as they lead.
Research has told us that employees are looking to leaders who can be trusted, are clear on purpose, direction, and social issues (Edelman Trust Barometer 2019/2020). Communicators need to be the catalyst to include these into communication planning and support of leadership through engagement and activities. It’s a call for leaders to stand for something and express that consistently through communication and having the ability to be genuine, visible, and live those values openly.
Reputation and trust can be impacted by having strong ethics and morals and the IC practitioner can play a pivotal role to ensure leaders are not caught out by mixed or contradictory messaging. This goes beyond the creation of propaganda that features the latest trend and a definite opinion and stand on current issues.
I recently read an article by Kasper Ulf Nielsen Chief Strategy Officer, The Reptrak Company – the reputation monitoring company that highlighted this, he said: “Now more than ever, it’s crucial for companies to manage their public ESG (Environmental, Social and Governance), perception through effective communications strategies so current and future consumers, employees, and investors alike will view their brands in a positive light”.
The role of IC, however challenging, is to address behavior, activities, and representation that will damage reputation internally. It’s not always focused on employees, but it should be the starting point. Internal and external communication is currently heavily aligned as employees are exposed to the same information as customers. There is no longer a need to censor what internal audiences receive and it’s necessary to make sure that things presented externally are shared internally first. The understanding that people need to be respected and included for trust to flourish can’t be understated.
In addition to being the keys to developing reputation and trust, IC practitioners might need to use this time for a bit of reinvention. Perhaps re-presenting the profession to clients and bosses at this time when the attention is heightened, to showcase the value of good communication. Taking the bold step to assert the value with confidence that internal communication can have towards achieving engagement and business success.