Internal communication is ‘about engaging everyone inside your organization around your purpose, vision and values. Everything else follows on from that.’
👌 That’s how Paul Osgood opens up his definition of ‘what is internal communication’ (which you can read in full in this post).
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Here’s the thing, internal communication is hard work. When done right, it can completely change the way an organization performs and when ignored... well, I think we've all been there at some point in our careers... it can make employees dread the idea of work.
As a concept, it's quite complex:
1️⃣ Internal communication VS corporate communication VS marketing communication VS employee communication VS workplace communication?
2️⃣ The boundaries between these titles are constantly blending.
3️⃣ Different businesses, of different sizes and different industries have different communication needs and therefore need to approach it differently.
Call me crazy but that right there is why I’m so intrigued by this space. After all, this change and evolvement is a good thing. It creates room for opportunity, growth and innovation. Hmm, my favourite words.
So, in order to put an end to the mystery, I decided to take matters into my own hands and ask 16 of the biggest leaders and influencers in the space of internal communication what their take is on the simple yet tricky question: ‘what is internal communication, really?’.🕵️
⏱️ In a rush? Here's a quick video summary👇
Grab a coffee, get comfortable and let's dive right in! Here’s what the experts had to say, grouped into 5 categories:
Internal Communication = Influencing an Organization’s Dynamic
Principal, Changing The Terms
For me, it's about influencing and agitating an organization's internal dynamic: "the combination of the messages, structures and processes above the surface, the relationships and connections below the surface, and the values, principles, purpose and priorities that form the organizational context."
Much of what is done under the title of "internal communication" is either very tactical - campaigns, messages, maybe the maintenance of channels and platforms. Some of it has particular goals - increasing employee engagement scores, improving receptivity towards specific initiatives or the embrace of specific outcomes.
There are more powerful opportunities available, though. Getting a better knowledge of relationships and connections inside an organization can improve targeting and reduce noise. Developing a better understanding of how values, principles and purpose map onto actual activities can drive improved alignment and reduce the risk of an employee activism backlash. Engaging leaders in co-creating measures and metrics can not only improve internal communication, but drive more appropriate valuation of our activities and their impact.
'Internal communication is at a crossroads. By seizing powerful opportunities and using them to build confidence in what we do, communication professionals can build our influence as we increase our impact.'
Coach, Trainer and Communications Consultant, Google
It is a function that enables an organisation to communicate authentic and compelling narratives with its people in ways that keep them engaged and inspired throughout their experience and aligned to the vision. We do this by connecting people, creating meaningful relationships and building a shared understanding.
'Successful internal communications create a culture and environment of mutual understanding.'
It forges connections between people, allowing them to perform at their best, both individually and collectively. An organisation that communicates well with its people can achieve greater productivity, innovation, reputation, talent attraction and retention.
How we communicate at work has the power to transform working lives by helping people feel engaged and purposeful – that they matter at work – making for better organisations and a better society overall.
President, Inner Strength Communication Inc.
Internal Communication has the power to enable, engage and empower an organization’s internal audiences. I used to consider internal audiences as employees only, but I’ve since expanded this group to include contractors, employees, vendors, and members (if you are a part of a club or an association).
Whenever an initiative inside an organization goes wrong, people often say it was because they failed to communicate. They failed to make people aware of strategies, initiatives and programs; they failed to bring them to life through clearly articulating the behaviors and actions needed by employees to be successful. They failed to recognize the right behavior through actions and stories; and they failed to measure and communicate milestones to create pride.
'Internal Communications greatest power is not in delivering communication on behalf of an organization but influencing how an organization, its leaders and its people communicate.'
When done right, we see the building of consistency, community, collaboration and confidence. Internal Communication done strategically creates the conditions where information flows easily from leaders and from employees both up and down, but also peer to peer.
In my career, I’ve used my expertise in Internal Communication to help organizations navigate disruption successfully. Whether it was mergers, acquisitions, divestitures, reorganizations, competitive pressures, new processes or technology implementations, Internal Communication supported leaders and initiative to ensure employees were aware of changes, understood why they were necessary, responded with the right actions, and believed in the direction. It’s an undervalued discipline that has the potential to help employees deliver the brand promises or, when ignored, create distrust and disengagement.
Internal Communication = Two-Way Communication
Internal Communications Manager, Hotels.com
Internal Communications is about being able to traverse the organisation from the top to bottom – taking on board ideas, listening to feedback, making suggestions, distilling the complex down to the simple and advising leaders. You work strategically, tactically and practically to get the job done and when executed well it has an unseen yet positive impact on the engagement levels of a workforce.
I believe internal communications is multi-directional storytelling. The movement of information from the top to the bottom and from one side to the other across functions. Never in one direction, always packaged within the circular feedback loop of a company’s ecosystem.
The ability of your middle management team to interpret the company’s strategy, execute an operational plan, gather feedback at the coal face and between functions, reiterate, improve and report back on progress.
CEO and Executive Creative Director, Tribe, Inc.
Internal communications is how we create two-way conversations — between leadership and employees, between geographical locations, between silos, functions and peers. It helps us build human connections across large enterprises. It allows us to make heroes of the employees doing the work of the company. It enables us to align employees with the company vision and values, and to help them see the greater meaning in their work.
Head of Digital Communications, Europol
Internal communication is about communicating consistently and continuously to all your employees how the business works and about the course for the future. The job of communication never stops. A steady stream of communication is one of the main ingredients of successful organisations and communication between the management and employees should flow genuinely both ways, up and down.
Internal Communication = Helping Employees Discover Relevant Content
Chief Marketing Officer, Lenovo Data Center Group
Internal Communications used to be about blasting information to employees in a one-to-many format. In most cases this was through email. Today, Internal Communications is really about driving engagement and dialog with your employees.
The challenge is, how do you break through the noise? Employees are constantly inundated with information, so as communicators we need to be more creative and precise in how we get information in the hands of our employees. Is has to be compelling, easy to access and readily available in a mobile, digital format.
There are a number of different technologies that enable you to deliver information to employees how and where they want to consume it.
'Even more critical is that technology enables the organization to track what information is being consumed and actioned therefore informing your internal communications strategy moving forward.'
Principal, W2O Group
Actually internal communication is about how smart you want and need your employees to be...in a digital reality it’s about discover vs sell and the ability to have people discover or find what’s important and meaningful in order to live their lives - personal and professional - in the best way possible.
Deputy General Manager, Corporate Communications, Lupin
Internal communication is a branch of communications which is responsible for interactions with the internal stakeholders of the organization through various channels like electronic (Intranet, Social Media,), print (Newsletters, magazines,), Face-to-Face (Town Hall) and Workspace (Notice board, Internal TV/Channels etc.).
Internal Communication = Empowering Employees
Head of Group Communications and Investor Relations, Ferratum Group
Internal communications should give people a feeling of a clear direction, their own purpose, and being one team.
'Ideally, internal communications enable people to understand the companies goal, their role in it, how to get to that goal and this is then reflected in all actions and decisions.'
When the goal and path are clear, decision making and taking responsibility is easier for everyone, and things move along smoother. It also lets people share thoughts and progress, see the great colleagues they have, celebrate successes with them and benchmark among teams and functions.
Managing Director, Madison IFM
Internal Communication (or Information Flow Management as we prefer to call it at Madison IFM) is about proactively creating the opportunities for connection, discussion, mentoring, sense-making, clarity, well-being and leadership (with a small L).
It is NOT about slide packs, posters, the intranet or the management sending materials.
In its simplest form, IC is about giving employees and contractors the time to understand what important work to do, with whom and most importantly why.
That's how the world's best companies grow the bottom line while people build their careers there.
Internal Communications and Engagement Partner, Missguided
By making, telling and sharing stories, Internal Communication helps empower colleagues to deliver a vision and authentically live values. Internal Communication is about creating business conversations and keeping messages flowing. It also helps develop a culture of two-way dialogue and feedback, as well as drive an organisation’s engagement strategy.
Internal Communication = Relevant Communication (Internal or External)
President, And Then Communications
Internal communications is evolving rapidly. The walls between internal and external are dissolving, as employees become brand ambassadors, activists and engage in new social channels in new ways. Our challenge is to remain advocates for our company values, while helping our companies succeed.
Global Head of Internal Communications, Clifford Chance
It's about engaging everyone inside your organization around your Purpose, Vision and Values. Everything else follows on from that. Internal communication should therefore equip everyone to be active advocates for your organization. Without doubt, it's critical that every individual understands the organisation's strategy and how they can contribute to this.
But, for internal communication, the devil is in the details:
- Engaging everyone – this means that internal communication must be able to handle the advocates, the cynics and everyone in between
- Equip everyone – this means that internal communication is about going way beyond telling people or sharing with them; it's about giving them the enthusiasm, the tools and techniques, along with the time and space to do something that moves your organization forward
- Active advocates – this means that internal communication doesn't just involve the passive observers, not just the ambivalent archetypes, but real people who are saying and doing positive things that move themselves and your organization forward with each and every one of its stakeholders
- Every individual understands the strategy – this means that internal communications need to explain your strategy and explain again through leadership, through peer discussions and through all your channels; it's about regularly testing views and understanding of some of the simplest parts of your strategy and also testing views of your most complex challenges
- How they can contribute to this – this means that internal communication needs to work to create links between every role and individual and the strategy. We need to create understanding about how and why simple everyday contributions are equally important to what might be seen as macro initiatives and plans.
Defining Internal Communication
After reading through these 16 brilliant answers, I feel it’s my duty to come up with my own definition of what internal communication really is. 🤓
Clearly, there are some patterns and priorities we can spot across the input gathered from the experts. Internal communication needs to:
- Reach every single employee
- Influence an organization’s dynamic
- Align employees around the organization’s vision, values and goals
- Blend with external communications (create brand ambassadors)
- Deliver two-way communication; not top-bottom
- Target employees with relevant communications, not all comms are relevant to all employees
- Combine strategy with technology to drive engagement (bring your communications together in one place to avoid channel fatigue)
- Be measurable
That last point is an interesting one. Measuring internal communication. Everyone is talking about, wants to do it, but how many are actually doing it? That’s because it’s easier said than done. Until you start measuring who is seeing, reading, clicking and sharing each of your messages, you’re running blind. And that’s a big challenge with a lot of traditional internal communication channels (like email or intranet). Learning what resonates with your audience is the first step towards improving your communications.
So, what is internal communication? Drum roll please! 🥁
'Internal communication refers to the art of reaching and engaging every employee with relevant information to drive alignment and brand ambassadorship.'
So, there you have it! Agree? Disagree? If you think your own definition should play a part here, let me know!
For now though, I hope you had as much fun reading through this as I had putting it together and, of course, thank you to our experts for their contribution!
👨💻Psst! if you need help reaching every employee with relevant communication, try Smarp.