Best Practice

Why we need to reframe the value of internal communications

I recently interviewed C-suite executives exploring the connection between employee engagement, alignment and the value of internal communications to business.

One of my interviewees, a CEO (former CCO), referenced Sir Humphrey Appleby in the classic British comedy series Yes Minister: “Politicians like to panic. They need activity: it’s their substitute for achievement.” 

He highlights this quote when talking about the need for better internal communications. He’s interested in great not good communication, and in impact, not outputs. It aligns with the recent work from IC Kollectif, Gatehouse, and Mike Klein.

There’s a clear need to reframe what we do as communication professionals in terms of tangible value to business. As a senior corporate affairs expert emphasised “we’re not in communications, we’re in business” when talking about this exact point. 

In a new white paper published by Poppulo, Going beyond engagement: The business value of internal communications for the C-suite, I explore what internal communication professionals need to do to be the strategic advisors their C-suite leaders need at a time of rapid business, technological and political disruption. It also looks at the importance of communications for attracting and retaining scarce talent, the happiness, and welfare of employees and the impact on the sustainability of organizations. 

Change isn’t constant. It’s accelerating

While organizations have long accepted that change is the new normal, the scale and acceleration of change has been startling. Organizations that adapt will be able to achieve both short-term business performance and long-term sustainable stakeholder value.

Those who keep a ‘business as usual’ mentality will risk being left behind and irrelevant. Just think Sony Walkman or Kodak, and then think of the disruptors like Uber Eats, WeChat, TaoBao, Lyft, and Amazon. 

So what are the forces driving this rapid growth in change?

Firstly, there’s the impact of Millennials. By next year (2020), they will account for a third of the global workforce. Their numbers will equal that of Gen Xers. Depending on when you read this, this may already have happened. 

Millennials expect more from their employers. Organizations will need to show how their cultures’ values reflect those of this cohort in order to attract them. They will need to be transparent and authentic. Millennials expect their employers to acknowledge their voice. They also expect them to take a stand and lead changes on social issues.

Another force driving change surrounds how people feel about institutions. Edelman’s Trust Barometer shows trust in organizations, media, government, and NGOs has been slipping for the past two decades. 

What’s interesting is that people appear to be moving their trust away from institutions to relationships they hold some sway over. Three out of four are transferring it to their employers. 

While this offers an enormous opportunity for employers to rebuild societal trust, it also comes with greater employee expectations. Unfortunately, employers are falling short.

Staying ahead of change

The opportunity for internal communicators is to drive value. We do this by reading trends, seeking out the insights and helping our organizations move more quickly than the changes. By adapting quickly, organizations should be better placed to balance short-term business performance with long-term sustainable stakeholder value. 

This balance was highlighted in a Conference Board study of what future-ready organizations for 2025 could look like. Concerns that the C-suite voiced in this report included turbulent business environment, disruptive technologies, managing costs and developing the next generation of leaders.

While concerns varied in priority by region, they found two internal stress points were consistent with all organizations – these being talent and strategy. 

It’s clear that people are central, whether they were leaders, managers or workforce. I go into more depth and analysis in my paper, ‘Going beyond engagement: The business value of internal communications for the C-suite’.

Executives are already under pressure to have more oversight of alignment – that of the organizational goals, values, and behaviors, with the voices of employees and customers. They see their organizational culture as an enabler and part of their social license to operate. Boards and senior executives need to recognize how important culture and people are to drive these outcomes.

Internal communications needs to step up

Growing external disruption, changing workplace expectations and C-suite perceptions of future-ready organizations – these create an opportunity for internal communications to step up to help create more tangible business value.

And there’s real desire by internal communicators to be taken seriously as strategic advisers driving organizational value, rather than just tacticians. The interviews I conducted with C-suite leaders for my report show they value both the strategic and executional input from internal communicators.

In order to elevate, we need to speak the language of business. We need to understand financials and risk, then confidently create and present the business case. We also need to identify the relevant metrics, then evaluate and adjust so that we can deliver positive results for the business. Just like any other business professional.

You can read more in “Going beyond engagement: The business value of internal communications for the C-suite”. I explore the context of change, expectations, and perceptions of the C-suite, workforce expectations and where internal communications, particularly employee communications, can deliver tangible value. Download it here. 

This is the first of three publications I’m authoring for Poppulo. The upcoming papers will be in-depth studies on “How the C-suite can drive business growth through internal communications” and “Business acumen in internal communications – Why it matters and how to build it”.

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