Storytelling, the customisation of content and being an effective organisational cheerleader are critical axes of internal communication. Each of these are vital if we are to achieve internal communication nirvana: employees as an organisation’s number one brand advocate.
Customisation and target audiences in communication
As professional communicators we are always seeking to customise the message/content and the communication mechanisms/conduit to have the greatest impact on the target audience. In some ways, internal communication possesses greater challenges than external comms, as the target audience is often so small any significant expense cannot be justified on the basis of ROI.
This means, quite possibly, no grandiose launches, campaigns, gimmicks etc.
On the other hand, as interpersonal, face-to-face, leader-led communication is going to have the most impact almost every single time (internal comms or external comms), in theory internal comms should be much easier to get a result in than external comms.
Of course, this necessitates leadership buy-in and endorsement of the messaging and, without question, it means actively communicating this with teams, not just assuming they know it.
Other reasons why internal comms can hit some pretty big home runs these days includes:
- Intranet – most employees will access the intranet on a daily basis. For employees in many organisations, when the browser is loaded up the intranet is right there in your face, making it the first port of call in work-related communication (not that this means all employees read its content, of course…)
- Email – a very much abused and underestimated means of communication. How many times have you heard, well, if they don’t like it they can just delete it…? This is an attitude which contributes to the undermining of email as a useful communication mechanism (e.g. spam). The customisation of email lists can help alleviate this spamming attitude and make the communication approach relevant to as many employees as possible
- Video – corporate communication teams are becoming increasingly adept at video production. Visual communication is a winner. ‘Moving picture’ visual communication is an even bigger winner. Simply extrapolate what’s driving social media usage into an internal context. No brainer, folks…
- Photography – same as video, but less so, yet still extremely helpful in conveying information, giving a turbo boost to written and spoken communication and engaging with target audiences.
Don’t get me started on the laziness which can be exhibited by leaders when it comes to communication and the preference of many for images and video, however. The reliance some people have on visual communication poses the risk of subtlety, context and depth being lost in the communication mix.
I don’t think it is so much a symptom of the social media sharing age – i.e. images, video, punchlines with no narrative – as it is of information and responsibility overload. Quick wins and not taking responsibility for providing context and implications are bedevilling the competency of contemporary management.
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Storytelling for internal communication
Generating narratives with resonance and relevance for the entire organisation is a critical step in achieving:
- an understanding of, and subscription to, the desired culture
- an awareness of what the organisation actually does and why it is relevant to its external stakeholders
- productivity and efficiency, including the outcome of employees staying longer at an organisation and so, therefore, reducing churn.
As a sage government relations expert ex-colleague of mine, Jason Froud, has said, “Culture is an amalgamation of stories.” An implication of this is that not every story has to resonate with every single employee, which is true. But for the bigger picture, the strategic direction if you will, to be clear to all employees there must be a common understanding of what the aspiration/objective of the organisation is.
It’s a paradox, but one which can be easily tolerated. The narratives relevant to only a few will often still have an approach, theme or sentiment which is encountered throughout multifarious stories. It could be something as uncomplicated (but important) as good customer service or telling the truth or having a positive attitude.
Good narratives help humanise an organisation, make it an entity which is people-driven and peoples’ values-driven, rather than one which is a corporate edifice and little else.
Internal public relations: always a cheerleader
The role of a communicator is by default that of a cheerleader. It is one of the terrific aspects of public relations; it focuses on the positive.
PR also identifies the potential negatives and develops approaches to help protect organisational reputation.
And the third, and potentially most important aspect of public relations is identifying perspectives and behaviours which are not aligned with the organisation, understanding this, then providing strategic counsel to the organisation which enables it to become more aligned with stakeholder (including employee) expectations. Ipso facto, changing the organisation, as well as changing stakeholders’ knowledge, opinions and behaviour.
The communicator needs to be careful when focusing on the positive that it is not being done in a manner which is so obvious as to be inane and saccharine-sweet. This could lead to literal, metaphorical and behavioural eye rolling – the actual undermining of organisational credibility rather than building it.
The other negative of focusing on the positive with a little too much gusto is if there is actually a seriously negative dimension to what is being discussed (e.g. redundancies, safety-related issues). This can lead to perceptions of spin or manipulation, which employees have a very sensitive nose for.
In fact, as employees are very intimate with an organisation’s business, it can be much more challenging dealing with some issues which require communication than in external comms.
One reason for this is the informal networks and relationships employees have across the business. It doesn’t take long for one piece of information to spread like wildfire through unofficial means. In many organisations, bosses will have strong relationships with those lower down the food chain than themselves, sharing information which shouldn’t really have been provided.
What is your experience in the use of video and imagery in internal communication – or even external for that matter? Is there a risk that context and fine detail is lost which then undermines the utility of the communication? How have you addressed the challenge of making storytelling relevant for the whole organisation when the stories can be particularly focused on one part of the business?
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