Is Your Internal Communication Strategy Doomed to Fail?

Mark Terry - August 7, 2018
Internal Communications

3 key points

  • Show each employee where they fit in the overall vision

  • Every activity must lead to change

  • Where you sit is less important than how you add value

Why you need an IC strategy

A robust Internal Communications strategy will help your organisation speak with a consistent voice, and make sure that employees have a clear view of both:

  • its overarching vision and specific business goals

  • the individual part they have to play in achieving them.

You might find it useful to define a single narrative that runs through the whole business. Alternatively if the organisation is vast, varied and complicated, a central team will be less effective then localised Internal Communicators.

Whichever approach you adopt, all Internal Communicators would do well to remember this:

Big point: Don’t think you have to control or shape every communication ­– it’s a fallacy that will only waste your time and probably drive you mad.

On the other hand, it is true that employees are your best channel of communication to the outside world.

Your core strategy should therefore be to:

  • Ensure every communication will be dovetailed to specific business goals.

  • Give employees what is known as “line of sight”: this is when they grasp the company’s overall vision and their personal role within it.

  • Make sure every activity leads to action that changes something.

An effective IC strategy is particularly important in times of crisis when the messages circulating internally have to match what employees are reading in the press or on social media outside.

How to create an effective IC strategy

You will need to make sure your IC strategy can do three things:

  1. Deliver brilliant content and tools through writing, design and digital. This is essential to getting information out there when and how it is needed, whether that be through an engaging staff survey, app or a clip on your corporate YouTube channel

  2. Forge partnerships across the business with individual leaders or teams to address specific problems. These IC business partners can:

    a) help local leaders communicate effectively and

    b) make sure that the organisation’s central focus is not lost in a blur of activity.

  3. Offer strategic advice to leaders. You can do this by compiling data-driven analysis of how employees are thinking and reacting, and so help to predict how they will behave in the future. This insight will set you apart from the guesswork of other senior people.

Big point: Good communication is the remit of everyone in leadership so it is contradictory to believe that a single team can control all that is said.

Setting up an IC team

When you are setting up an Internal Communication team, it can be helpful to think in terms of a virtuous circle. An excellent model is provided by FitzPatrick[1], reproduced here, but you may develop your own:

internal-communications-plan_stages-1080

[1] Internal Communications, A manual for practitioners, Kogan Page (2014)

The recommended process is to start by defining what you need then adapt to what is possible with your budget.

You will need the discipline to make sure that IC delivers a consistent story across the organisation whatever location, department or group of workers you are talking to. Communication is a two-way process so you will also need to be able to see how your audience is reacting so that you can amend, repeat or build on your message as required.

Where do we sit?

As you are setting up your team, defining responsibilities and working out what your budget allows you to do, a thorny question often arises: where should we sit? This conundrum occurs because:

  • HR thinks IC is a natural fit with the central mission of people management, so should be incorporated with the HR department.

  • PR people want to own IC so they can align it with external messaging.

  • Marketing want to make sure staff have got all the right messages when they talk to customers.

Where your desks and chairs are situated matters far less than understanding what you are trying to change and where you can add value to the business.

Internal communication will happen no matter where the central team is sitting. Your priority should be how to make it count.

Read our comprehensive guide and discover the seven essential steps to  improving internal communication within your organisation.

A word about change

Have a change strategy in place so that when the moment comes – probably unexpectedly – your team are ready to move quickly, are excited about working in an uncertain climate with goalposts that keep shifting, and keen to try out new tools and techniques.

You will find it helpful to have different strategies for different stages of change:

Stage 1: Prepare for change

Stage 2: Manage the change

Stage 3: Re-connect with staff to sustain the change.

Fallacies and flawed IC strategies

Your big DO NOTs:

DO NOT believe that a single message expressed in the right way will reach and be understood by every employee. There are 7 billion varieties of human …

DO NOT assume the change that galvanises leaders will be just as welcomed by those  further down the pecking order. They may be afraid of the disruption it brings.

DO NOT try to communicate with factory workers through an intranet they probably never get to see, or use the company newsletter to try to talk to van drivers out on the road all day long.

DO NOT communicate the same upbeat message about axing an unsuccessful product to shareholders and shop floor alike.

DO NOT assume that one document/campaign will do the job for everyone. In an engineering firm, for instance, there will be PhDs rubbing shoulders with school-leaver apprentices. They are likely to need different amounts of information.

DO NOT believe that someone on the shop floor cares nothing for the organisation’s big-picture future. Likewise, higher up the hierarchy you may find timeservers with no interest in what’s going on outside their own job spec.

Getting it right

A good guide to defining what your IC needs to do is Quirke’s model[2], which charts the interest an employee has in a message against the impact it will have on them. You can use this table to work out what form your Internal Communication should take: 

Stuart-internal-communications-plan_-_2

 

[1] Internal Communications, A manual for practitioners, Kogan Page (2014)

[2] Making the Connections: Using internal communication to turn strategy into action, Gower Publishing Ltd (2008)

Internal Communication Guide