Internal communications angst: the debate is on

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles,"

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles,”

November 28, 2013—There’s been a good, spirited, and uplifting discussion going on about the role and nature of internal communications on LinkedIn.  Some of the profession’s heavyweights have been adding their thoughts and expanding the debate. I particularly recommend the back-and-forth between Shel Holtz and David Murray, with this added insight from Mike Klein. The comments, for the most part, have been thoughtful and experience-based. They have made us all think more carefully about the forest, not just the trees, of internal communications.

The discussion revolves around the provocative question by Roger D’Aprix of whether internal communication strategists are “intellectually lazy”. By that, he meant do such strategists question what they are doing and how, or do they merely follow the latest industry trends dispensed by the most recent guru through professional webinars or other fora?

It’s been surprising to see how many people admit to not being as intellectually rigorous as they might be, excusing this by saying they are really, really busy in doing their jobs. Of course, part of doing any job well is taking a step back and understanding what it is you’re trying to accomplish, and what is the smartest way of doing that. Hopefully, you will have data to back up your strategy and ensuing tactics on implementation.

I’ve taken data-driven decision-making and smart strategy as a given, and have added two comments based on my experience:

1) Employees crave explanation, interpretation, and understanding of corporate communications from their direct manager, the person with the most credibility in their professional lives. But they also want the corporate information, too. They want to know they are being told the same things that everyone else is, but their own manager will explain what it means to them and their own unit’s particular responsibilities.

In other words, internal communications is not only about face-to-face manager interaction OR corporate content delivery (via any and all channels, such as social media, that are most appropriate to the audience). It’s about BOTH if we want employees to feel connected to their employer. It’s also about two-way communication, vertical and horizontal.

This means empowering and enabling employees to tell their managers and higher-level bosses what they think, while also telling other employees in other departments how they view things. The whole process is called corporate conversation. Always difficult, sometimes messy, and often unpredictable – but healthy and eventually productive.

2) Internal communications metrics as to what works and what doesn’t, what employees want and need, and what they need to understand, is important. But keep in mind that not all employees have the same hierarchy of communication needs. Some “get it” quickly, others need more time or multiple prompts to digest, reflect, and come to conclusion on their views and attitudes towards their work.

This is particularly true in large global, and hence multicultural organizations. Internal communications research, strategy, implementation, and measurement must always be accompanied by a certain amount of compassion.

Sometimes I think, though, that we’re being a little too hard on ourselves and the employees we’re trying to communicate with. Rome wasn’t built in a day, neither is employee engagement or corporate cultures. But it’s exciting to keep building.

If you have thoughts or experiences to share, do it in the space below.



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