Of all the company disciplines, Internal Communications is among the least defined. We all know exactly what Sales are trying to achieve. There’s no question what the role of Accounts is. And it’s very clear what happens in the Production department. But when it comes to internal communication, the clarity of purpose can be harder to pin down. It doesn’t help that there are numerous definitions floating around, each of them different from the other, each pulling out a different focus and function.
In this blog, we take a look at the definition of internal communication in its various forms and drill down into the common key purposes behind them. It becomes clear that the internal communication definition has many interpretations, but behind them all is a distinct and straightforward purpose that can easily be applied to your organisation.
Is it ‘Internal communication’ or ‘internal communications’?
Let’s start right at the beginning and get our terminology right. Should it be internal communication (singular) or internal communications (plural)? Is there a difference between the two, and if so, what is that difference? In this case, there is a simple and clear-cut answer.
The comprehensive view of how a business communicates with their employees
The tools, tactics and channels that enable this internal communication
So, it’s clear that in this instance we are defining the practice of internal communication in the singular, and how this can be directed to meet your business needs.
Is internal communication the same as employee engagement?
Another query that often arises when trying to create an internal communication definition, is the apparent cross-over with employee engagement. While there are many similarities between the two – employee communication, talking to managers, encouraging feedback, developing a strategic narrative – they are different processes.
Internal communication is an action
It is a function that uses information and interaction to inform and motivate employees.
Employee engagement is a reaction
It is the outcome you get as a result of investing time, money and strategy into communicating with employees.
It’s also important to recognise that employee engagement is affected by issues that sit outside the internal communication remit. Salary, training, recruitment and cultural policies will have a crucial part to play in the overall levels of employee engagement across the company.
Some definitions of internal communication
So, what is internal communication? We have an abundance of internal communications definitions to explore. Some are very simplistic in their approach; others attempt to encapsulate every element of the internal communication function. Let’s take a look at some of the options:
“The sharing of information within an organization for business purposes.”
“The function responsible for effective communications among participants within an organization.”
These two top line definitions are a good starting point, focusing on the basic elements of the function of an internal communications department within an organisation. Ultimately, the fundamental role of the department is to ensure all employees are kept fully informed and up to date with company developments.
However, if you’re looking to improve internal communication within your company, you may want to take this further. Tench and Yeomans look beyond the simple sharing of information and explore the possibility of positively influencing the mind-set of employees:
“The planned use of communication actions to systematically influence the knowledge, attitudes and behaviours of current employees.”
Tench, R and Yeomans, L Exploring Public Relations
Along these lines is the consideration that internal communication can be used to motivate employees in order to improve their overall performance, as proposed by Grossman.
“To help leaders inform and engage employees, in a way which motivates staff to maximise their performance and deliver the business strategy most effectively.”
Russell Grossman, Government Communication Service Head of Profession for Internal Communications
Another crucial point is providing an opportunity for a two-way conversation between employees and management. Kevin Ruck’s definition focuses on the importance of the employee voice being given serious consideration:
“Corporate level information provided to all employees and the concurrent provision of opportunities for all employees to have a say about important matters that is taken seriously by line managers and senior managers.”
Dr Kevin Ruck, PR Academy
While the words and focus differ with each definition, it’s clear that effective internal communication is not just a matter of sending information out. It is a strategic service, responsible for helping employees understand the overall company vision and motivating them into achieving your objectives. It is also a listening service. It’s there to help you identify staff issues and giving you the opportunity to fix problems before they start affecting your bottom line.
The common key purposes
Although there are numerous definitions available, each taking a slightly different approach to the issue of employee communication, there are common factors that keep cropping up. These internal communication best practices and functions are fundamental to a rounded understanding of the concept.
It may be obvious, but it’s not always so easy to carry out effectively. Every internal communications strategy should have a strong focus on not just delivering corporate information, but also clarifying and explaining so it is readily understood by all. Selecting the right methods of internal communication are crucial to deliver on this point.
The importance of internal communication is never more tangible than when employees begin to see the meaning in their work. When employees are fully informed, they are able to understand the impact of their role and what part they personally play in the bigger picture.
Your aim is to ensure everyone is working towards a common goal. Of all the internal communication ideas, this one is crucial to a fully aligned workforce. You need to be selling the CEO’s plan for the future of the company, and at the same time giving employees a voice so that it becomes a shared vision for all.
Your internal communication channels need to be focused on building connections between leadership and employees, between departments and divisions and between individual colleagues. If you’re having trouble breaking down barriers, consider an internal communications platform to help you reach out to every employee.
Authenticity and openness are key to success. Especially in times of tension, you need to establish a steady confidence in your leadership. When communicating change, or managing a crisis situation, communication from the leadership team needs to be 100% trustworthy in order for employees to be willing to step up to the challenge.
A robust internal communication plan will not only inform and connect employees, it will also inspire them. By building a culture of recognition and purpose, individuals will feel empowered to go above and beyond the limits of their role in order to serve the higher purpose of their company vision.
One of the common internal communication mistakes is the failure to actively listen to what your employees have to say. By implementing two-way channels that give your employee a voice and a platform on which to raise it, you will be fulfilling one of the key purposes of internal communication.
One of the vital types of internal communication is the pulse survey. It’s critical to know the overall mood of your employees. Only by keeping a pulse on the organisation can you proactively address emerging issues and queries, correct misunderstandings and adapt your strategy to suit.
Measuring internal communications is the secret to a successful strategy. If you’re looking to optimise the impact of your messaging, an employee engagement app will help you effortlessly monitor and track the effectiveness of your communications. Never underestimate the need to continually evaluate.
Ultimately, the definition of employee communication is not easy to pin down. However, we can see that there are core elements to every internal communication strategy that define and delineate what you should be aiming to achieve. It should be aiming to align employees to the company vision by informing, influencing and engaging people across all levels of the organisation. In addition, it should be doing this by a variety of two-way communication channels which resonate and connect with every employee. Once you have this in place, then you will have achieved a solid definition of internal communication.