Internal communication is the easiest form of public relations to practice as the target audiences are captive and receptive to organisational messaging, employees are always committed to achieving the best they can and leadership provides positive role modelling.
Ah, if only life – and business – were so simple!
Then again, would we want it to be so straightforward, so tick-a-box, so lacking in crinkles, creases and subtleties? At times, I am sure the answer is a resounding yes, but if it were always like this then perfection would surely look a bit bloodless and antiseptic after a while.
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The discipline of internal communication may well seem simple, but this is profoundly deceptive.
It has many challenges, not least of which ‘everyone is a communication expert’, an hypothesis most professional communicators will have come up against.
Despite the fact we comms professionals may have degrees, including post-grad ones, and years of experience, it is the engineers, the MBA-garlanded management warriors and the IT boffins – amongst many others – who think they know best when it comes to communicating to, and engaging with, target audiences.
Whilst this is a situation all communicators come up against, I think it’s particularly prevalent when it comes to internal communication. Part of the reason for this is organisational politics.
The politics of positioning oneself as the most influential or important or prestigious within organisations is inextricably related to internal communication. This manifests itself in who:
- is being quoted or referred to, and thus who is being favourably positioned within the communication (and by extension, organisation)
- is directing the nature of the communication being undertaken
- is authorising the communication to occur.
There need not even be a Machiavellian rationale for the above three points occurring. It can simply be a need for rigour.
On the other hand, business is hardly Sunday afternoon croquet at the family estate. It can be ruthless and it is clearly competitive.
Organisational values? Yeah, I get it. But if there are two or more leaders jockeying for position in a race which has as its rewards recognition, promotion and prestige, I think we need to be pragmatic about these factors and deal with them.
Following are some fundamental human resources-related characteristics to consider when undertaking internal communication. In the future, I’ll discuss other important aspects of internal communication such as influencers and hubs, target audiences, customisation and storytelling.
Role modelling and looking to leadership
You can paraphrase this as leader-led communication. It’s the same principle as parenting. It enacts the walk the talk methodology. You can’t expect employees to undertake their work activities in a manner which is not mirrored by leadership, whether its the CEO or a team leader.
There are perhaps two fundamental aspects of this. The first is behavioural. Communication supports, and is also reflective of, organisational culture. Culture beats communication for importance every time, but you won’t achieve a positive former without a functional latter.
So the first port of call is making sure leaders operate in a way which enacts the values of an organisation, including the imperative tenet of supporting employees both professionally and, to a degree, personally. They need to be building a positive culture.
This is role modelling and it includes the secondary aspect how well the leader communicates with those who report to him and/or are influenced by her. For instance, is the leader proactive, honest and transparent with communication? Does communication occur frequently? Is it relevant and interesting?
Get these two inter-related dimensions right and it may just be the leader is an inspirational one.
Human resources and corporate communication: power partners
Surely it is common sense that an entity known as human resources will have a serious interest in all things concerned with employees, yet it’s often the case that HR is concerned almost entirely with the transactional nature of hire and fire. Whilst it may talk a grand-sounding talk on culture, in actuality it invests little more than tokenistic effort into the area.
Yet for communication to have any real impact on the internal workings of an organisation and, hence, its external results, it must be aligned with culture. Alone, communication has no hope of impacting positively on culture. It must be part of a more deeply rooted approach, one that is embedded in aspects such as:
- individual position descriptions and performance evaluations
- whether employees are promoted or given pay rises
These aspects are not in the communication function’s remit. Certainly, it can espouse, lobby and influence, but it cannot undertake this activity.
It is only when working in concert with HR can internal communication have any significant effect on organisational outcomes. Whilst this could be said for many of an organisation’s business operations, especially in regard to discrete campaigns or programs whic are targeted at limited, discrete units only of an organisation (e.g. engineering, call centre), there is no internal communication which is not relevant to the manner in which human resources are managed.
Have you worked hand-in-hand with HR in your internal communication work? What did you learn from this partnership and process? Where and how do you think internal communication can make the most positive impact on an organisation?
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