Employee communication is a web that reaches and influences every single person in an organization. Often it goes unnoticed how much work it takes to set up and run internal comms. On average, you’ll find 1 communication practitioner for every 1,000 employees. With this much responsibility on their shoulders, IC professionals have to master various disciplines, channels, tools & skills to be able to reach every employee with relevant information.
Over the years, internal comms have evolved into a complex strategic role essential for a company's success. To be able to qualify as an expert in the field, a modern IC practitioner has to be at the forefront of innovation, creativity, and change. With that in mind, we decided to conduct this research to find and systemize the required skills for modern communication practitioners.
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This research is based on the materials from G2, The Institute of Internal Communication, and the book on Successful Employee Communications by Sue Dewhurst & Liam Fitzpatrick. We also reached out to seven IC professionals for their practical input on this topic. All of it, combined, has crystallized into a Skillset Map of a Modern IC Department which you can download in high quality from our resource page here.
Disclaimer ⚠️ The skillset map is designed to show how broad and complex are the requirements for internal comms specialists in 2020. It may look complex, but it's supposed to be so. Take your time to explore it and apply it to your profile. It’s about quality, not quantity. Mastering even one of the skills listed here can make you a valuable asset. The skills listed here do not make a checklist ⏤ it's a guideline that can help you identify areas for further development as a professional and move towards a more strategic role in your organization.
Without further ado, let’s see what skills do internal comms practitioners see as essential in 2020. 👇
Attention is Your Gateway. Seven Tips for Achieving Audience Engagement
John Twombly, Senior Consultant, Internal Communication at St. Louis Children's Hospital
Employee communication involves listening to the voice of the employee to advance an organization’s goals and culture. It means giving staff the information they need, when and where they need it, to better serve the customer, colleagues and themselves.
In my experience, success starts with the ability to attract people’s attention credibly and repeatedly. It's the gateway to everything else in regular and effective communication.
In many organizations, we bombard staff with too much information and too many distractions. The top advice on surveys from employees is that they’re at work, they’re busy, and they don’t have time – so get to the point.
Our metrics bear this out – they spend, on average, 2 minutes scanning a weekly newsletter.
With this in mind, we should ask ourselves:
- Do we focus on people?
- Do our headlines hook readers?
- Do we include compelling images and video?
- Do we check the readability level of our copy and avoid corporate-speak?
- Do we simplify our copy and images for maximum impact?
- Do our metrics show content engagement – clicks, views, likes, comments, shares?
- Do we compare our content engagement with industry benchmarks?
Business + People Formula for Strategic Communications
Andrea Greenhous, Founder of Vision2Voice Communications
Business and people savvy are the two skills that will make you valuable in 2020 and beyond.
Business savvy is really about being dialed into the business challenges that your organization faces and understanding the results that are needed to succeed in this era of disruption. Get out of the internal communication box and understand what’s going on with the global economy, climate change and the world of business.
People savvy is about understanding the people in your organization. To really connect with employees, you need to understand what they want and need to thrive. Data and metrics can help you with understanding, but you also need a fundamental understanding of neuroscience and empathy to truly be able to listen, understand, and help leaders develop meaningful, effective communication that drives business results.
Strategic internal communication comes from combining these two skills.
The Power of Community. Why Building Relationships is a Backbone of Employee Communications
Csaba Szücs, Project Manager at IBM
Building (and managing) relationships is an important skill every internal communications practitioner should have. Maybe “stakeholder management” is the one that pops into your mind right now. Yes, it is a core competency, however, I look at it from a different angle — community management.
We are beyond the times when internal social platforms were the shiny new things within the enterprise. Yet, I bet we use them only to a certain level. For example, getting the message out there, sparking some conversations about the latest internal news, events and so on. Rarely do we build relationships between people, motivate members - our peers - to do things on the platform, to be active and curious.
Building a strong community doesn't require advanced tech skills. We don't need to be tech-savvy to do it, we need to be enablers, trusted advisors, facilitators. At the same time, we have to know how the platform & the community fits into the overall business strategy.
When I worked as an Employee Engagement and Communications Specialist for Citi, I was among the early adopters of their Internal Digital Platform. I trained my colleagues. Not only did I cover technical side of things but also community management best practices. I know it was not a waste of time based on the feedback from my colleagues. One of them even mentioned my training helped her advance in her career.
Stay Curious. How Empathy Can Help You Boost Employee Experience
Stephanie J Ramos, Communications Manager at Mount Sinai Beth Israel
Curiosity and empathy enhance storytelling, but not only that. These skills also empower internal communications professionals to understand employees and their daily work.
Making great content is half of the internal communications equation; getting that content to your employees and engaging them in meaningful conversation is the other half.
Healthcare is a great example. Clinical employees are overwhelmed with information daily and forced to toggle between dozens of technical systems each hour. Adding more software, emails, or even additional clicks distracts them from getting the information they need and makes their day more difficult.
Internal communications professionals must constantly ask themselves: “How can employees receive the information they need/want exactly when they need/want it? How can we meet them where they are?” Curiosity and empathy can help turn internal communications professionals into the investigators, process improvers, and experience designers that help elevate employee satisfaction.
It All Comes Down to Human Behavior
Roland Burton, Founder of Comms & Effect
Communication is about achieving change — if not, why are we doing it? Underpinning this is influencing how people behave, and in order to do that, it's vital to have an understanding of human motivation.
To operate at a strategic level, being able to practically apply the principles of behavioral science is increasingly important. The specific words we use, how we frame change, and how we build campaigns can have a binary effect on how people respond. Advertisers have known this for years but IC often adopts an unscientific, subjective approach.
A simple real-life example I frequently see is too much focus on the benefits of a change, and a reluctance to focus on the consequences of not changing. But evolution has pre-programmed us to respond far more rapidly to threats to our existing possessions, than the potential of gaining something new. This is uncomfortable for stakeholders worried about seeming alarmist but finding proper gearing is critical to achieving results.
There are hundreds of similar examples and when you start to view communication through these filters, it challenges us to not fall back on assumptions and dig deeper into the science behind human behavior. That’s what will give us more credibility because the results we deliver will be measurable, tangible and lasting.
Dare to Become an Advisor
Caroline Tjan, Head of Global Internal Communications at Nouryon
As an internal comms professional, I think it's extremely important to be able to take an advisory role.
Fortunately, now IC professionals are getting much more involved in strategic positions than before. We have to dare to be advisors, and not only to senior management but also to different departments. Internal Communications have such a central position in any company, we work together and collaborate with many of the departments so it's natural to be advisors for those teams around us.
The second essential skill is project management. It probably comes from my background as a marketer. Our work is all about translating the communication goals into projects, programs, and campaigns. The way you prepare your concepts, turn data into outputs, turn it into content, turn content into messages, share those in the right channels — all of that is about executing your projects.
Measure. Analyze. Act. Repeat
Ankit Nanavati, Internal Communication Professional in multinational bank
The modern-day IC function has moved up the value chain to claim more prominence than ever before. This paradigm shift reflects the fast growing acknowledgment of the power of internal communication in helping organisations manoeuvre through complex challenges to achieve desired business goals.
With this elevation in stature and responsibilities, the modern-day IC professionals must constantly upgrade their arsenal. Here are my top two recommendations:
Weave an integrated brand story. Great brands are built inside out. As communicators, we must own the prowess to seamlessly integrate the brand narrative for our internal and external audiences. This enables IC professionals to create a consistent persona for the organization which in turn can foster a strong sense of pride and belief amongst employees, thereby creating an army of advocates for any business organization.
Measure. Analyze. Act. Repeat. While communicators are widely perceived to be right-brained, IC professionals must marry the art of communication with the science of measurement. It's absolutely essential that communicators deploy the right metrics to evidence the efficacy of all campaigns, messaging and channels. A well-crafted measurement framework is crucial to the success of the function as it can help to translate communication outcomes into business success.
First of all, I want to personally thank all the contributors for sharing their valuable input for this project. Every expert featured in this post offered a unique and inspiring angle on the IC profession. It’s a pleasure to learn from you and support knowledge sharing within the comms community! 🙌
Secondly, I want to thank you, the reader, for getting this far. 💪 I know it was a long read, but I hope it was an interesting one. Employee Comms as a profession is evolving constantly, and so are we. It wasn't easy to define and systemize this skillset. Let us know your thoughts & ideas at firstname.lastname@example.org. We can improve the next version together. If you would like to participate in our next IC project, please, feel free to reach out. We are looking forward to hearing your thoughts, ideas, and advice.
Lastly, if you want to learn more about how you can engage and align employees by creating, aggregating and distributing company and industry news to your entire workforce in their preferred channels and devices when it matters ⏤ let’s connect.