Why the Internal Communication story needs to change
— February 20th, 2020
A lot of things have changed in the past 10-15 years. For example, the story of the phone has been rewritten, and that rewriting has changed our lives in ways we never could have imagined.
Fifteen years ago, no one (maybe besides Steve Jobs) would have thought that the last thing you would do with your phone would be to phone someone.
For a lot of reasons, the smartphone has become the epicenter of disruption for internal communication. However, not everyone has noticed yet. Let’s start to have a look at how the current story about internal communication looks.
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Today’s story about internal communication
My experience from conversations with IC professionals, listening to presentations at conferences and from my own consultancy work is that the current story of internal communication is about:
- Informing employees:
- Keeping staff informed about what is going on. The main channels seem to be Email, the Intranet, Digital Signage and Enterprise Social Media.
- Producing “corporate content”:
- There is a heavy focus on what I call corporate content. Content that is focused on the organization as a whole rather than bits and pieces of the organization – and often with a heavy focus on the top management.
- Measuring engagement through reach:
- Most IC departments measure how many have read or engaged with their content to find out if their content was successful or not.
Why the story needs to change
The smartphone gave IC departments the opportunity to reach all employees – in theory. In the beginning, many struggled with inadequate tools that offered underwhelming user experiences.
Often, because the tools weren’t made for mobile. Today, a lot of native apps have been built and organizations are moving into the cloud, which opens up for a lot of new opportunities.
On top of this development, voice interfaces, mixed reality, AI and machine learning will all challenge the current story about internal communication.
The downside to all this is that internal comms is now competing for attention with social media platforms like Facebook, LinkedIn, Instagram and Snapchat. They are capable of offering timely, relevant and snackable content. In short, everything the internal communication department dreams of.
But this is also the upside. By using the right tools and techniques Internal Comms could do precisely the same.
However, it’s not only a question of what technology is able to deliver but a question of what we are able to get out of it!
Let’s look at three things that will change but at the same time gives us an opportunity to grow the impact of internal communication.
Today it is possible to reach everyone on a mobile device. This is a huge opportunity to engage with frontline employees, which has been difficult for many organizations right up to just a couple of years ago.
We can’t expect to get people’s attention anymore. IC is competing with a lot of other, smarter platforms pushing out engaging content. You just won’t get a lot of attention with a long read about the latest on the corporate strategy.
Timely, snackable and relevant are keywords here. Therefore, I believe that internal communication will be less about producing content and more on facilitating conversations.
We can’t know what is relevant for everyone. Rather, people want to get the information from people they can relate to.
Try to find the “micro-influencers” in the business and let them tell the stories. Focus on knowing which tools would help our colleagues in sharing knowledge and relevant information themselves – and focus on facilitating that process.
Thanks to the technological evolution I mentioned earlier, it is necessary for us to challenge the way we measure the impact of internal communication. Today it is possible to gather far more data than ever before.
This means that it is possible to go beyond measuring outputs (how much content did we produce) or outtakes (did our colleagues read our article/did they understand it). Instead, we should try to link what we do to business outcomes to see if what we do helps increase sales, improve compliance, retention or other things. This is challenging because it requires people to think across silos.
Let’s take an internal communication department in a large retail company. The HR department might have data on how well-informed people feel they are.
The Sales department could have information about the customer experience and how the customers rate the level of product knowledge.
The Internal Communications department could have data on what has been communicated and how much people in certain stores engaged with the content.
Bringing this data together would be a first step to work towards a common business outcome – improving the customer experience by focusing on what people need to know in order to deliver it.
This cross-department collaboration could be time-consuming but the results of the work will be worth the effort.
But if you’re not trying you will never figure out how to measure the value of internal communication in the future organization.
Tomorrow’s story about internal communication
I believe the new story about internal communication will be about:
- Inspiring colleagues to act
- Let people inspire each other by sharing stories about things they’ve learned or done. Internal comms can help amplify the best stories - and/or help find the right tools to do so.
- Facilitate conversations
- Change is happening at an unprecedented pace. I believe, that this requires a lot of conversations in the organization to make sense of it all. Communicating change should not be a one-way, top-down process. Instead, find the “micro-influencers” in your organization and inspire them to have conversations about the change that is about to happen.
- Measuring business outcomes
- Link activities to the business strategy. Search for correlations between internal comms activities and business outcomes. Your impact should not be reduced to creating awareness.
Where will this take internal communication?
Working in the communication business is always a struggle between managing urgent day-to-day tasks and being strategic. My experience from working in and with large organizations is that too often, the day-to-day tasks take over and we forget about what impact we could have if we’d do things differently.
Often the focus is on getting things done in order to survive the next day. This is not sustainable and is why I would argue that internal communication needs a new story.
However, the future story will only prevail if we manage to stop doing what we’re doing, evaluate what we could be capable of doing and start doing things in a different way.
I hope this blog can help you shape a common mindset to create a new story of internal communication.